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Covid: Licensed traders threaten legal action over Scottish curbs

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image captionThe current restrictions in Scotland have hit the hospitality industry

Five Scottish hospitality industry bodies have launched a legal challenge against the Scottish government's Covid restrictions.

The trade bodies say they will petition for a judicial review if the current curbs are not withdrawn.

The move was announced after the restrictions, including pub closures in the central belt, were extended.

Nicola Sturgeon said businesses had the right to challenge decisions, but she added they were not "taken lightly".

Spokesman for the traders, Paul Waterson, warned the sector was "at breaking point".

The organisations behind the proposed legal bid include;

  • the Scottish Beer & Pub Association
  • the Scottish Licensed Trade Association
  • UK Hospitality (Scotland)
  • the Scottish Hospitality Group
  • and the Night Time Industries Association Scotland

They issued a pre-action letter to the Scottish government demanding it withdraw the current regulations and enter into a "meaningful consultation with the [hospitality] sector".

The group says it wants an answer from ministers by 16:00 on Wednesday 28 October and if a satisfactory response is not received it will petition for a Judicial Review.

Mr Waterson explained: "It is with regret that we now commence with this first stage in the legal process. We understand and entirely support the goal of suppressing the virus, but our sector is at breaking-point.

"Despite having more mitigation measures than other sectors and the vast majority of operators going above and beyond in ensuring customer safety, our sector has been repeatedly targeted without consultation and without the evidence."

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image captionBar owners in affected areas have protested that the restrictions could kill off the hospitality industry

He cautioned "anecdotal evidence" should not be influencing government decisions and the sector should not have to pay the price for "uncontrollable risks" in other parts of the economy.

Mr Waterson compared the sector to a "sacrificial lamb" and highlighted new evidence from Northern Ireland which states that the closure of hospitality only has an "0.1-0.2 impact on the R number".

He added: "The economic support offered to premises doesn't come close to compensating the businesses and means jobs are being lost and livelihoods ruined. Any measures must be proportionate and be backed up by evidence, we do not believe that is the case here.

"The industry simply cannot endure the extension of the current restriction, further restrictive measures expected from 2 November or get into a stop start situation. We are now facing the end of our industry as we know it."

During her daily media briefing on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said emergency laws had been put in place to deal with the "quite unique challenge of a global pandemic".

While accepting the right of businesses to challenge her decisions, she said: "People in that sector are entirely understandably stressed and anxious and deeply worried about the future of their businesses and the future of their jobs.

"When I talk about 'the buck stopping here' - that includes people wanting to criticise and be angry at the decisions government is taking. I understand that and I accept that as part of my job.

"I suppose all I will keep stressing is that these decisions are not taken lightly. The idea that I willingly or lightly put restrictions on businesses ability to operate could not be further from the truth."

She added that the country was in a "most horrendous situation right now" and stressed she was trying to balance and minimise impacts of the virus on public health and the economy.

Peaceful protest

The Scottish government said it would respond to the letter in "due course".

A spokeswoman said: "We are using the powers we have to help businesses, offering support which now exceeds £2.3 billion, including 100% rates relief for pubs and restaurants for the year and we will extend financial support available to businesses who must stay closed or continue to restrict their trading to cover the additional week of restrictions.

"We are confident the temporary restrictions are essential and proportionate to the risk posed by coronavirus if we are to prevent a return to the dangerous level of infections experienced earlier this year."

Meanwhile, one Glasgow restaurant is offering complimentary sit-in meals for the needy as part of a peaceful protest.

Buck's on West Regent Street is inviting nominations for a table of two to enjoy a complimentary meal between 14:00 and 17:00 on Monday.

Email nominations close on Thursday and both diners must be from the same household.

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