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Covid in Scotland: Licensed trade warns of 'battle' to survive

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image captionScottish pub and restaurant businesses have been shut down by the coronavirus lockdown

Scotland's licensed trade is facing a "battle" to survive after short-term Covid restrictions were extended, according to industry leaders.

The country is due to move to a five-tier system of virus alert levels from 2 November.

Until then the temporary regulations, targeting the central belt in particular, will continue.

The Scottish Hospitality Group warned the extension would have "devastating consequences".

The Scottish government said it had made a range of grants available to help businesses weather the financial pressures.

But campaigners are demanding wider ranging support for the embattled industry after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it would "not be safe" to ease any restrictions in the short term.

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Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, told BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime: "I don't think there is any doubt that very many successful businesses will not be able to ride this out and might not be able to open again.

"The battle is on to save the licensed trade in all its different forms."

Neil Douglas, who runs the Ardnamurchan restaurant, said the sector was "enormously frustrated" and added: "If we get to the end of the year without losing people I would be amazed."

Bars and restaurants in five NHS health board areas - containing about 3.4m people - were closed on 9 October as part of what Ms Sturgeon called a "short, sharp action to arrest a worrying increase in infection".

Hospitality venues in other parts of the country can only serve alcohol outdoors.

These measures were originally meant to expire on 26 October, but on Wednesday the first minister said they would now continue until a new "strategic framework" comes into force.

This multi-tier system will involve different levels of restrictions that can be applied nationally or regionally depending on the level of infection.

It is due to be published on Friday, and debated by MSPs after Holyrood's half term recess.

media captionNeil Douglas, who runs Ardnamurchan, says: "If we get to the end of the year without losing people I would be amazed."

In the meantime the Scottish government has pledged additional funding for businesses affected by the temporary restrictions:

  • Businesses required to close by the regulations will qualify for one-off grants of up to £4,310
  • Those that may remain open but are directly impacted by the restrictions may qualify for a hardship fund grant of up to £2,155.
  • Additional grants of £1,650 will help those firms that are required to close to help meet the 20% employer's contribution under the UK government's furlough scheme.
  • The one-off grants cover the period until 2 November and will be replaced by a new system of business support to complement the five-tier system.

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: "While the extension of the restrictions is based on the fundamental need to reduce transmissions of the virus, I understand that many business owners will be very disappointed that they cannot reopen next week.

"Our funding plan will help these grants reach businesses as quickly as possible to protect jobs over this period and I encourage business owners to apply for support."

She added that the grants are "the maximum level of support" that can be provided before the new system is introduced next month but confirmed more help is being sought from the Treasury.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionStaff wore protective visors as they served pints at the SWG3 beer garden in Glasgow when it reopened in July after lockdown

Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: "Recent restrictions were framed as a 'temporary' short, sharp shock, but the extension is an indication that we can only expect a continued government stranglehold on hospitality that will have devastating consequences."

Mr Montgomery said the proposed £40m funding package, which was announced to coincide with the initial 16-day closure, was a "drop in the ocean" for the country's 16,700 licensed hospitality businesses.

In Manchester he said business owners could receive up to £31,000 per licensed premises from the UK government's £60m support package compared to the Scottish government's "woefully inadequate" grants.

Mr Montgomery added: "Without further financial support, Scotland's hospitality industry will be crippled to the point of no return."

'Sacrificial lamb'

After the first minister's announcement the Save our Jobs campaign demanded support from Holyrood and Westminster to protect jobs in bars and restaurants across the country when the furlough scheme ends on 31 October.

Michelin star chef Tom Kitchin said: "Our industry is in a real need of help, especially having only just partly recovered from the first lockdown.

"We have worked so hard to keep our guests and diners safe in hospitality settings, taking all safety precautions needed to remain safe while enjoying good food and drink.

"Eliminating the risks of the virus is obviously our greatest concern, but there needs to be a balance for the hospitality future of Scotland."

Signature Group boss Nic Wood said he hopes the campaign would highlight the "plight" of the young hospitality workforce, with 50% of all staff aged between 16 and 24.

The Campaign for Real Ale described the week-long extension as a "hammer blow" to pubs and breweries across the country.

Joe Crawford, director for Scotland, said: "These businesses feel like they are being offered up as a sacrificial lamb without sufficient evidence that pubs - who have done everything they have been asked to track and trace customers and make their venues Covid-secure - are responsible for transmission of the virus."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionIndustry leaders have warned many pubs forced to close may not reopen.

Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron said many employers have invested heavily to create safe and controlled environments in a bid to reduce the spread of the virus.

Ms Cameron added: "We have been living with this virus for seven months now. We should be able to deliver the capacity to provide test and protect in every business premises and in every airport in Scotland."

Meanwhile, the Scottish drinks industry charity has issued a warning about the mental health impact of the pandemic on the "unbelievable" number of workers who now face an uncertain future.

John Hutchinson, president of The Ben, told Drivetime: "The stories are harrowing.

"It can genuinely bring you to tears when you hear that people are living week to week with under £1 in their bank accounts, trying to support their families and keep their house warm.

"As we get into winter and times are getting tough people are now looking at eviction and really just losing their house as well."

Mr Hutchison said the charity has teamed up with Breathing Space and urged those struggling to contact the free support service.

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