Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that Scotland will move to Level 0 restrictions with some modifications to previous plans which has led to mixed reactions from the local hospitality bosses.
The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by restrictions, now, instead of the welcomed move down to Level 0 they have to change the way they trade once more.
As of July 19, venues will close at midnight instead of times set out by local licensing laws as previously expected.
Those wishing to attend hospitality venues will no longer be required to book a two-hour slot as in Level 2 but will need to provide contact details.
In public places indoors, the physical distance requirement will be one meter and masks are to be worn when not sat at tables.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said: “The confirmation that Scotland will move to Level 0 on July 19 marks another encouraging milestone towards the full re-opening of Scotland’s economy and business’s ability to recover.
“The fact remains though that the modified framework deviates away from what businesses had been preparing for and moving the goalposts at this late stage will cause uncertainty, negatively impacting on business confidence and recovery.
“Scotland’s hospitality sector, one of the hardest hit by restrictions, will be concerned that anticipated restrictions were not lifted, including little reprieve for the night-time economy, with challenging restrictions on trading remaining.”
‘A step closer to normality’
Scott Murray, who owns several bars and restaurants in Inverness as part of Cru Holdings, believes this is a “step in the right direction”. However, he pointed out that the modifications will still have an operational impact in his businesses.
He said: “You can now have more people inside, but it’s socially distanced to the point there’s not a table you can sit them around which defeats the purpose.
“For a long time we all felt like we were making these sacrifices and we weren’t really moving towards a positive outcome, it just felt like history was repeating itself over and over again, whereas now I think we’re starting to see the fruits of that labour. The sacrifices we made are now starting to have a positive impact and things are moving in the direction they need to be, and hopefully for the last time.”
Meanwhile, operations director of McGinty’s Group in Aberdeen, Alan Aitken, has commented that while the move to Level 0 is another step closer to normality the industry is still making a sacrifice.
He said: “We are obviously delighted as it’s another step closer to normality. It is disappointing that the opening hours for indoor hospitality have only been extended by an hour rather than back to “licensed hours” as originally planned but that’s a sacrifice we have to make in order to return to business as usual in a few weeks time.”
Director of Siberia Bar & Hotel and spokesperson for Aberdeen Hospitality Together, Stuart McPhee, has also welcomed the move as a step closer to normality.
Mr McPhee said his premises will still be operating bookings to facilitate people being at tables that are one meter apart to prevent it becoming a “free for all”. He explained that the time slots will also remain in place because the bar will need to flip tables to be able to make a profit.
He expressed concerns about the changes to the self-isolation policy and how that will effect staffing pressures the industry is experiencing.
Mr McPhee said: “You have to be double vaccinated and within two weeks of your second vaccination to now avoid being put into isolation if you have a negative PCR test. Really, a lot of people that work in the hospitality industry are not going to be doubled vaccinated until later in the year.
“I received my first dose three weeks ago, so my second dose will be due September time and I’ve got to wait two weeks past that point – but any time between now and then if I get pinged to self-isolate then I will have to. The pressures on staffing and operational levels are going to be enormous for a lot of operators for a number of weeks still and I think that’s something that has been a little bit overlooked.
“Staffing and operation challenges are one of the biggest issues and remaining open, because there’s such a high number of cases across the city.”
What about the late night venues?
Nightclubs are not permitted to open in Level 0 and now with the modifications in place for July 19 late night venues are unable to return to ‘business as usual’.
Late night venues typically have core trading hours between 11pm and 3am. Now that premises are required to close by 12am instead of licenced hours as previously planned these venues are having to cope with the changes.
George Mackenzie, operations manager of S&G Aberdeen Limited, which boasts venues including Cheerz Bar and Bardots Karaoke Bar in the city, said the announcement was an unexpected change.
“In a way I would have preferred a delay rather than a partial lifting of restrictions,” He explained.
“The creation of this amended level now causes further confusion for venues and customers who haven’t stayed up to date with the announcement and leaves some questions unanswered like whether support continues?”
He commented that the government contribution to the furlough scheme is decreasing and they are starting our repayments on the bounceback loan.
The company is losing money while they are operating at a reduced capacity and unable to increase their turnover with the restrictions in place.
He said: “Our premises license has a local condition requiring door stewards from 11pm making this extra hour unviable and leaving us at a disadvantage to other venues. We are currently querying with Aberdeen City Council on options to temporarily relax this condition given the venue is running at less than 20% capacity.
“With less than a weeks notice once again we are cancelling staff and scaling back plans to attempt to open one of our other venues.”
Mr Mackenzie also highlights that the venues have all the safeguards in place to keep people safe. With venues not being able to remain open he believes people may be more tempted to head to after parties where there are no controls in place.
“What is the reason for a curfew? There is no evidence to show this works.”