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‘It’s like the prohibition era again’: Dismay as pubs and restaurants are banned from selling alcohol and told to close indoors at 6pm

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Hospitality business owners and representative bodies have been reacting to the new measures announced by the First Minister with one warning the regulations were “a death sentence for many businesses”.

The north’s hospitality sector has once again been left reeling after the imposition of tough new measures to limit the spread of coronavirus which will see no alcohol served indoors in hospitality settings for 16 days from Friday evening.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament today, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said restaurants, bars and cafes would be banned from selling alcohol up to and including Sunday, October 25, with indoor venues told to close at 6pm.

For businesses in five health board regions within the central belt – Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley –  the restrictions will be tougher and could last longer, with licensed premises ordered to shut completely apart from for takeaway services.

Elsewhere, pubs, restaurants and cafes will only be able to operate indoors during the day until 6pm for the service of food and non-alcoholic drinks only, and can continue serving alcohol outdoors until 10pm.

Hotel restaurants will be allowed to operate indoors beyond 6pm but only for residents and without alcohol.

The hospitality businesses affected by these new measures will be able to access financial support from a £40m fund that is being set up by the Scottish Government.

In Aberdeen Paul Clarkson, operations director of hospitality group PB Devco, which operates a portfolio of bars and restaurants, had already started preparing for the new restrictions after rumours circulated online.

He said: “It was kind of expected after the rumours that were going around. It is interesting allowing outdoors to be open until 10pm – that certainly does give us and a few other operators in the city the opportunity to stay open. It might be looked on as an unfair advantage, but we, like many others have invested in outside areas. But what is an outdoor area? The goal posts seem to change with regards to the regulations around this, so it would be good to have guidelines to clearly outline what that is. We need further clarification on this.

“People have invested a lot of money in these outdoor areas, but it is just a case of seeing what happens. The likes of The Chester Hotel, The Dutch Mill, Soul Bar, No.10 Bar & Restaurant, The Spiders Web in Dyce will all hopefully still be able to use their areas and serve alcohol outside until 10pm.

“The likes of Soul Bar, we would just go back to operating outside. But then the next question is ‘what time should I be open?’.

Paul Clarkson , operations director of PB Devco.

“[The first minister] put it across three weekends, too, and across the October holidays. It is disappointing for The Queen Vic and The Howff, The College and some of our other venues. Lunchtime trade in the city centre has been non-existent so I don’t see the point in opening Vovem Meat & Liquor for a few hours from 4-6pm. No one will have dinner at 4pm. We’ll have to put staff back on furlough and at least most businesses will hopefully be able to take advantage of the £40 million she’s mentioned. To put all of our staff back on furlough would cost the company a significant amount of money – a five-figure sum.

“I guess it is good, in terms of fairness for the whole of the country, that we’ve seen stricter restrictions put in place in certain areas.”

Adele Callan, owner of 210 Bistro in Aberdeen, had just introduced a Work from 210 initiative designed to give individuals the opportunity to work from the popular eatery, offering a change of scenery instead of professionals being stuck at home all of the time.

She said: “As a restaurant, only being permitted to be open until 6pm and not being allowed to sell alcohol, we may as well be closed. Since reopening after the initial lockdown every single customer has followed our strict Covid-19 safety measures, even when alcohol has been consumed. These new restrictions make absolutely no sense, especially in an area where there is currently a low prevalence of coronavirus cases.

Adele Callan, owner of 210 Bistro.

“The recent outbreaks in the central belt should been dealt in the same manner they were addressed in Aberdeen in August. Allowing beer gardens as the only places permitted to sell alcohol is going to result in the same issues we had back in August with large queues and gatherings around the few establishments with outdoor space.

“Unless there is significant financial support from the government for all licensed premises these restrictions are going to result in many more redundancies and closures.

Nic Wood, owner of independent bar and restaurant operator, Signature Group,  expressed his concerns for the hospitality industry and the workforce that supports it.

He said: “Not only does a bar or restaurant job provide much-needed money for young Scots, it gives them the people skills and experience that are vital in building their careers.

“It will be heart-breaking if we are forced to make redundancies because the government has shut us down again.

“Young people in Scotland will once again bear a disproportionate amount of the burden and coming on top of all the issues that students and young people are facing already, this will be a step too far.”

William Cameron (Willie Cameron) of Cobbs Group

Business development director of Cobbs Group, and Highlands and Islands food and drink and tourism ambassador, William Cameron, is also disheartened by the news.

He said: “These 16 days were probably going to be the most important in the industry since reopening in July, to get the October holidays and staycation period before the end of furlough and winter.

“It is very disappointing, however, they are putting £40 million on the table. It goes back to how do businesses get it? Who gets it? What do they get and how do they apply? What are the hurdles you have to jump to access that money?

“A lot of businesses fell through the cracks last time. It is like giving with one hand and taking with another.  We’ve been geared up for the October holidays by taking on staff, getting stock in, making alterations to premises and investing in this.

“Why they are doing away with alcohol is ridiculous as the reality is you can go into a supermarket and buy as much as you like. The earlier places close, the earlier people will drink. It is going to create a sub-culture of people drinking at home, in their sheds, basements you name it. They are going down the wrong track. The Scottish Licensed Trade Association and the Hospitality Association and so on, we’re the professionals and know how to keep people safe. People at home won’t be as controlled as our venues.  It is almost like the Prohibition era again.

“This is destroying the culture of our country. Nicola Sturgeon has been on about alcohol before and she is using this as a political tool. You’re not going to get rid of Covid-19 in two weeks, never mind two months, or even two years. Why clamp down on the Highlands and our area when there isn’t many cases up here?

“Tourism and hospitality in Scotland is a huge money earner and is a serious part of the rural communities. The recovery period is going to be a lot longer than two years to get back on our feet. Two weeks isn’t worth the paper it is written on and is just going to create another gap with regards to redundancies and so on. People are so passionate in the industry and it has been a great employer for the youth of our country and other nationalities. It’s like teasers all the time and puts people off.”

In Inverness, Gavin Stevenson, director of Mor-Rioghain Group and member of the Inverness Hospitality Alliance, said: “This news is devastating for the sector. Over 100,000 Scottish jobs and thousands of small Scottish businesses are now at imminent risk without urgent additional government support and we await details of those proposals. However it is now clear that the previous additional restrictions Scottish hospitality businesses have suffered over their English counterparts has failed to make any meaningful difference to transmission rates between the two nations.

“Hospitality Businesses have invested many thousands of pounds each in creating Covid-safe premises, training staff on control measures, and ensuring customers abide by ever- increasing restrictions that also mean many businesses can no longer trade viably. However we are now told that these previous sacrifices have been in vain.  This new closure of premises is an admission of failure in the management of the pandemic by a government that is rapidly losing the confidence of small business owners, their employees and customers.”

Press and Journal readers took to Facebook to share their views:

Michael George said: “Social distancing, no music, reduced capacity, table service only, table size limits, household limits, mandatory masks for staff, mandatory masks for customers moving around, enhanced cleaning routines, controlled entry with track & trace procedures..
What more do you want? Hospitality ain’t causing any of this. Stop punishing an industry which doesn’t deserve it.”

But Richard Colvin said he supported additional measures. “I’ll take the advice of the experts advising the Scottish Govt and trust the Scottish Govt’s decisions are science-based and sensible. I won’t quibble about it too much. I’m certainly not going to pay attention to the conspiracy theorists and the anti-SNP fanatics. What do they know? Answer is, next to nothing.”

With venues in the central belt potentially facing 6pm closures and a ban on alcohol beyond the initial 16-day period, Glasgow entrepreneur Oli Norman who owns a number of pubs in the city as well as the itison deals website today told BBC Radio Scotland the First Minster “had better come with her cheque book ready.”

He said: “Personally I do not think this is the way you run a country. We’re all becoming really quite tired of this management strategy and particularly in hospitality it feels as though we’re the scapegoats.

“We’ve been running here since July very safely, we’ve yet to have a single confirmed case of Covid in relation to track and trace and I think that’s how the hospitality sector feels as a whole.”

He added: “Our First Minister better come with her cheque book open because, along with the entire industry, we are hurting. We had an okay August with Eat out to Help out, September started to decline and consumer confidence is at an all-time low.

“What problem are they trying to solve?  That’s what we really want to know. If it’s all about alcohol then really the starting point is banning supermarket [sales] banning off-licenses. Pubs are controlled environments and we’ve all been doing a spectacular job to make that the case.”

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association described the latest measures as “cataclysmic” and warned of hundreds of business closures and thousands of job losses.

Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director, added: “Our research already tells us that many in the industry are on the precipice of business failure and these further restriction measures announced today and the much quieter winter season approaching leads us to only one conclusion: the sector is now heading into a scenario of ‘last man standing’.

“Details of the First Minster’s announcement of a £40 million financial support package are awaited but the question is: will this be enough? In our opinion the hospitality sector in general needs substantially greater and far more reaching support than has just been announced and does not come anywhere near to saving our industry.

“Responsible operators are running safe, carefully monitored establishments so in our opinion there is no need for the Scottish Government to ‘go further’ on pubs. Actions by governments are meant to be proportionate and evidence based and despite reference today to newly-released ‘evidence’ the industry continues to call on the Government to provide the evidence for infection rates stemming directly from the licensed trade.

“Industry figures suggest that there are very low infection rates of staff within our pubs and bars which suggests to us that the industry is doing everything that it can and is providing as safe an environment as possible – otherwise, if we were a major causal route of infection, this would surely be reflected in the infection rate of hospitality staff.

“It would appear again that Scotland’s licensed trade is the sacrificial lamb and paying the price for other sectors that do not operate under such restrictive measures as we have seen recently.”

Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said the First Minister had “signed a death sentence for many businesses across the Scottish hospitality industry, while the real problem is socialising at home”.

He added: “We have repeatedly implemented the safety measures required by Government and more to protect our customers and staff. We are part of the solution to combat this virus not part of the problem.

“This latest blow from the Scottish Government will create fear and anger across our industry. This is not a ‘short, sharp shock’, rather a crippling stranglehold that will result in many Scottish pubs and restaurants unable to reopen in lockdown areas if this becomes indefinite. While some premises may remain open, banning alcohol indoors will mean that many smaller businesses, family operated and at the heart of local Scottish communities, will not survive past winter and the longer-term impact will be felt for years to come.

“We have repeatedly asked for scientific data from the Scottish Government to validate these escalating restrictions and yet we have been singled out, charged and found guilty without any supporting evidence. Similarly, there is no evidence that alcohol is a transmitter of coronavirus, yet people can eat out in a restaurant but will now be refused the choice of a glass of wine with their meal. We understand that restrictions have to be put in place but decisions must be based on evidence, anything else is disproportionate and unfair.

“We have warned the Government that this approach is catastrophic for an industry which is vital to the fight against Covid-19. As well as the public health risks of shutting down the Scottish hospitality sector, the economic cost will be catastrophic for an industry worth £10.6 billion to the Scottish economy annually and which employs 285,000 people, many of whom are young Scots under 25. Countless jobs will be lost forever if businesses which are already on their knees are forced to close.

“If the hospitality sector is being singled out for specific restrictions then it is only fair that the Government provides sector specific financial compensation and while welcome in principle the £40million funding announced by the Scottish Government, we will need to see more detail on how this will actually work for our sector.”

For more…

‘This will push people over the edge’: Leading hospitality figures react to prospect of ‘circuit breaker’ measures

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