Aberdeen’s environmental health boss has admitted the local authority may yet fall into line with Aberdeenshire and other level 2 areas – risking the potential closure of a small number of pubs in the city.
The P&J was given an exclusive interview with Andrew Morrison, after highlighting an inconsistent approach across the north-east.
While Aberdeenshire Council has ordered the closure of 44 drinks-only pubs, Aberdeen City has allowed around a dozen to stay open.
Three other Scottish local authorities placed at level 2 of the tiered coronavirus restrictions have also prescribed so-called ‘wet pubs’ shut up shop.
While Aberdeen City Council claims it may be its tier 2 counterparts who change approach – dependent on the outcome of discussions with the Scottish Government – Mr Morrison admitted they may have it wrong themselves.
The protective services manager said it comes down to a grey area as the council “tries to walk a line” between the “main priority” of public health needs and allowing businesses to trade where safe to do so.
“This is partly reading the legislation in light of what we perceive to be the intention of it, as well as the letter of the law,” he added.
New regulations, which came into effect at the start of the month, ordered the mandatory closure of wet pubs – those without facilities to prepare a main meal – in level 2 areas.
Pubs able to serve food can stay open, even for customers only after a drink in their outdoor areas.
Mr Morrison said: “It then comes down to what are appropriate facilities if you have no intention to actually use them.
“That’s where we are looking – does it require a full kitchen? My personal view is that wouldn’t necessarily be the case.
“If someone said ‘we are going to have facilities to heat some ready meals and make them available to customers if they wanted them’ – even though they are not going to serve them?
“The difficulty is they have to have the facility to be able to do it but not use it.
“It’s a very difficult one, judging where the line is, it is trying to get the balance right and we may have got that wrong.
“Nothing is written in stone and we will take on board the advice we get and act accordingly, of course.
“From a risk perspective, if you have two bars – one that serves meals indoors or has the facilities to do so and another, operating in the exactly the same scenario but without facilities to prepare a meal, that does not increase a public health risk.
“From that perspective we were content it didn’t raise a risk so we went back to Scottish Government for clarity on the exact scenario and how it works.”
The Press And Journal previously reported how the Scottish Government claimed pubs allowed to remain open in Aberdeen could miss out on “the most appropriate level” of financial aid – a risk downplayed by the council.
Local authorities and the government remain in weekly talk to try to have consistency across the country, with Mr Morrison claiming this is the first ambiguity throughout the pandemic.
“We are just looking for confirmation on the government’s thoughts on how we are looking at it,” he concluded.
“Clearly the indication is coming that the letter of the law is what is wanted to be enforced and we will go along with that.
“The bottom line is public health is the main priority here. That’s the absolute line in the sand.
“We will not compromise that at all so where there are issues that compromise public health, that is an absolute line we won’t cross.
“What we are then doing is taking advice from Scottish Government to take engage, educate, encourage and only enforce when the other methods haven’t achieved the desired end.
“We don’t treat the licensed trade any differently from any other sector.
“There has been a lot of focus on the licensed trade but we are enforcing these rules on every business in Aberdeen; whether offices, shops or fish processors – every business has to comply.
“We don’t take any particular note of whether they are licenced or not – they just have to follow the rules that apply to them at that time.”