Scotland’s pubs have been hit with losses of £820 million over the last year due to the pandemic, a leading trade body has estimated.
The Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA) fears around 200 venues have closed for good amid the “devastation” faced by an industry working under Covid.
Since last March, restrictions have left many trading with reduced customer numbers and opening hours.
And, in recent months, they have all been forced to remain shut altogether.
But there is optimism a more detailed path forward will be revealed by the first minister later today.
The SBPA has urged Nicola Sturgeon to “align closely” with England’s plans, which are due to allow beer gardens to open on April 12, and indoor pub facilities on May 17.
Emma McClarkin, SBPA chief executive, said: “While we continue to assess the full damage to our sector, I urge the first minister to give our businesses the hope they desperately need.
“The previous levels were entirely unviable for the majority of hospitality businesses, and they are desperately hoping for a more straight-forward approach to unlocking this time.
“It is becoming all the clearer that the government must ensure all our pubs are fully re-opened as early as safely possible.
“This is when their recovery will really start and, until then, we stand to lose more pubs and community assets.”
‘We have to be careful’
One leading pub owner has urged caution when mapping out the weeks and months ahead.
Bruce Macgregor, who runs MacGregor’s in Inverness, is concerned the gradual lifting of restrictions could pose more problems.
“We’ve got to be very careful and patient with this, as we don’t want another lockdown,” he said.
“Last time we opened up we were packed but we had people travelling from all over the country – as far as Glasgow and Edinburgh – and they completely ignored the levels system.
“And we were spending just as much on PPE and dividers than we were taking in.
“We were only open to be open.”
He added: “I’d rather wait until it’s all under control, and we are totally satisfied people can enjoy themselves in the same way they used to with live music and meeting other people.
“I don’t see the point in limping along half-cocked.
“We opened as a place for people to gather and have a good time and when we reopened, it just didn’t feel right.
“A lot of places are desperate to get back to things, but we have to be careful.”
‘It’s bleak… but a lot have survived’
Over the last year a large number of venues have shut for good as a result of the pandemic.
Stuart McPhee from Aberdeen bar Siberia, and the spokesman for Aberdeen Hospitality Together, is hopeful surviving pubs will weather the final stretch of Covid restrictions.
He said: “For my own businesses, things have been extremely challenging – especially the opening and closing, and stopping and starting.
“The fact that so many others have gone out of business over this period – both large and small – really hits home.
“We’ve been able to stay afloat and look after our staff but we have lost a lot of business.
“The grants barely cover the furlough contributions we have to make, so how do you pay for the likes of insurance and utilities?
“A lot of businesses are struggling.
“I’m hoping we can get some more positive news with a roadmap out of lockdown but I’d say it will take three, four or maybe five years for the sector to return to its original position.
“It’s bleak at the moment but a lot have survived this far, so I’d hope they can survive the remainder.”
Gavin Stevenson, director of Mor-Rioghain Group and a member of The Scottish Licensed Trade Association, is also concerned of a long road to recovery.
He said the health crisis has inflicted “severe financial distress” on many, and added: “Many business owners will have to work for three years with no rewards or income just to pay off the debt incurred as a result of heavily restricted trading over the last 11 months.
“Unfortunately many businesses can actually sustain bigger operating losses while open but trading in a restricted manner than they would staying closed, as the levels system last year forced many businesses to operate in completely unsustainable and unviable ways.
“The industry has presented its recommendations for reopening to the Scottish Government, with a comprehensive plan that still mitigates risks but does so in a way which allows businesses to remain viable, and we hope that government is able to work with us in a way that protects jobs and livelihoods as well as protecting public health.”