The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest-hit during the pandemic and now the Scottish Government’s time frame sees first plans for its reopening take shape in two months’ time. But is it too late for businesses?
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed Parliament today, outlining her plans on when she hopes hospitality will be able to reopen in the coming months, having forced venues across the country to close indoors and outdoors since last year.
Following the data and not dates approach, the First Minister highlighted that the roadmap out of lockdown would prioritise getting more school children and secondary school pupils back in classrooms, with restrictions on hospitality staying in place until the end of April at the earliest. By then, the First Minister hopes the whole country will be put into Level 3 and will be able to reopen the economy.
In Level 3 restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars can open indoors and outdoors until 6pm for the consumption of food and non-alcoholic drinks, with no alcohol being allowed to be served. A maximum number of six people from two households only can meet up.
While more announcements will be made mid-March to firm out plans on reopening the economy come late April, many in the hospitality industry have been left feeling disappointed following today’s announcement.
Restrictions on click and collect will be adjusted on April 5, and three weeks later on April 26, the country will hopefully move to Level 3.
Director of Siberia Bar & Hotel and spokesperson for Aberdeen Hospitality Together, Stuart McPhee, is one of those disappointed with the outcome from today’s briefing saying it was “the most infuriating yet”.
He said: “It’s a holding pattern. It wasn’t committal and we all just have to deal with it. Everyone is confused and it is all very vague. We’re roughly running about two weeks behind England in reopening outdoor hospitality. I don’t understand why we can’t operate at the same time.
At first glance our outside hospitality opening is 2 weeks behind England’s, why? Levels system geographically, why? My biggest growing concern is that some of these restrictions become how we live our lives going forward. I cannot tell you how infuriating that announcement was
— Stuart McPhee 🏴 (@stuartmcphee19) February 23, 2021
“Everyone should be opening at once and we’ve heard nothing about Level 3 changing, and it isn’t viable for 70% or more businesses in Aberdeen within the sector. It is lockdown by the back door.
“I’m really concerned about the approach we are doing. There’s going to be disparity of what support we’ll get in comparison to others as they won’t marry up, and the way that this is being shown in the last few weeks, are we just going to be stuck with these restrictions and will have to live our lives by them forever and a day? What freedoms are we losing going forward? What will we be left with?
About sums up my feelings for today. That light at the end of the tunnel is pretty faint pic.twitter.com/EmLFuSf5ml
— Stuart McPhee 🏴 (@stuartmcphee19) February 23, 2021
“Out of every announcement, this is the single most infuriating one. It was nothing. You knew five sentences in she wasn’t giving a road map or anything. Everything is at a slow pace. I’m frustrated and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t there anymore.
“I advocate that we need to lockdown for as long as possible until we can open forever. We need to be in a position where we’re not flip flopping. The impact this is having on mental health, the economy, the NHS and everything else they deal with is simmering away and we just need to be okay with that. It was a giant nothing.”
While the hospitality industry didn’t get the news they were hoping for, one sector of the industry which hasn’t been able to reopen since the pandemic first hit the UK 11 months ago is the nightclub industry.
George Mackenzie who is the general manager of S&G Aberdeen Limited, which boasts venues including Cheerz Bar, Bardots Karaoke Bar, The Lounge and Cotton Club in Aberdeen, said it has been frustrating. With no dates or real plans in stone, George says planning for the business now is harder than ever.
“It was more disappointing than I thought. I was hoping she’d tell us more. How she expects businesses to plan is unreal,” said George.
“I was annoyed at Boris’ comments the other day and for him to treat us as non-essential, after shops, we should be exactly the same as non-essential retail and we have a much more controlled environment so should be treated the same. We’re losing money every month we are shut. Cheerz doesn’t have space for an outdoor area because of the taxi rank and the requirements for getting an outdoor space aren’t easy as Aberdeen City Council want an architect to draw it. For the sake of a month or two, or not even happening.
“I know Nicola wasn’t going to give us dates, but we are losing £1,000 a month for staff to be on furlough while we are temporarily closed. I’m grateful that we got the Coronavirus Recovery Fund which saved our business, if we didn’t have it we wouldn’t be here. It ends in March and then there’s the Strategic Framework Funds, but because of the framework we’re still losing money. Once we find out the budget we’ll know where we stand. VAT relief, if it applies to drinks sales this time, will be interesting to see what comes.
“I really don’t like the Level system as some of the stuff which continues to concern me is restrictions around substantial meal in hospitality and curfews. I was hoping she would follow England and even they have restrictions up until June in place for bars and clubs, so what will that look like for us? If she still has these curfews it makes it even worse for us to plan.
“Bardot’s is a karaoke bar but we could have socially-distanced events in the venues if we could get an indication on when live entertainment will return, but there’s no indication on when it will. We just have to sit and wait. We’ve made it so far, I just want to make it through these few months.”
Also speaking out about the lack of plans outlined in the First Minister’s proposals is Allan Henderson, director of McGinty’s Group in Aberdeen.
He said: “Disappointingly, it was a very vague statement with a lack of detail specifically for our industry or a road map out of lockdown as England now have.
“With the Level systems coming back in place, we need to ensure they work for our sector and vitally, make it viable for businesses to reopen so changes will be required in order to protect jobs and our industry.
“Under the current Tier conditions businesses will not reopen. Restaurants and bars need to open as per their normal opening hours without the conditions previously attached to the Tiers. It is essential the government works closely with the hospitality sector when creating the new tier restrictions if they want businesses to survive.”
‘Bitter pill to swallow’
In the north, Don Lawson, owner of Johnny Foxes and The Den in Inverness which comprises of an Irish bar and a nightclub, is as disappointed as the other figure heads, saying the situation is “a bitter pill to swallow”.
While he reopened the Irish Bar indoors and outdoors when restrictions allowed last summer, adding more seating outside so more punters could enjoy its fare. The Den, however, has remained shut since March last year.
He said: “I’m very disappointed. It is a bitter pill to swallow. I think she mentioned hospitality once as an afterthought. She mentioned hospitality would be moving to Level 3 by the end of April, but Level 3 means no alcohol sales inside or outside, just meals. At least Boris Johnson has a plan, Nicola has no plan. He gave dates so industries can prepare and have an end in sight. We have no end in sight.
“My expectations were high. We were sitting at 17 cases out of a population of 240,000. in the Highlands and I understand that she has to be cautious but we were expecting a road map and never got that. Hospitality was an afterthought. We didn’t get anything from her. Moving the whole of Scotland into Level 3, well pubs can’t open then as they can’t serve alcohol. I am really disappointed and I think everyone in hospitality will be disappointed.”
‘Too late for many’
Leading industry trade group the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said that while today’s announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon brings hope for the country, a late spring reopening “will sadly be too late for many and for those who do survive there remain serious challenges ahead”.
Paul Waterson, SLTA spokesman, said: “Brighter days lie ahead – there’s no doubt about that. However, pubs, bars and restaurants have been unable to open since before Christmas – under significant Covid constraints – and large swathes of 2020 were lost to lockdown closures or severely limited trading conditions.
“While it is encouraging that our sector can hopefully reopen from the end of April, we are concerned that a return to the previous tiered system will lead many operators to decide that such restrictive reopening conditions are simply not worth the time, effort and money involved.
“Hospitality is not a ‘one size fits all’ sector given the breadth of premises that operate within it – pubs, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and so on – and depends on events and functions to survive.
“Of course, we welcome today’s news that the Scottish Government is committed to continuing financial support for those firms suffering as a result of the pandemic, and we also welcome the First Minister’s announcement that she is considering support for businesses facing trading restrictions after they are allowed to reopen.
“However, our response to today’s announcement is one of disappointment for the licensed hospitality industry which has been among the hardest hit by trading restrictions throughout the pandemic, an industry that invested an estimated £80 million on becoming Covid compliant.
“For us, it is now a case of waiting to hear what the First Minister puts on the table in her next announcement in three weeks’ time – until then, we will work with her officials to help the Scottish Government make the best decisions for our industry.”