Groups welcome reopening date but renew calls for social distance review

Two-metre social distance one of “a number of challenges” still facing pubs

Scottish Parliament

HOSPITALITY and tourism trade groups have welcomed the announcement that Scotland’s pubs, bars and restaurants should be able to reopen on July 15, but have stressed that “a number of challenges” continue to face the industry as it prepares to reopen.

Scottish tourism minister Fergus Ewing announced in the Scottish Parliament yesterday (June 11) a provisional date of July 15 for venues to reopen, dependent on the coronavirus being effectively “suppressed” by that time.

The Scottish Government is due to announce on June 18 whether it will approve the reopening of outdoor areas.

Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) managing director, Colin Wilkinson, said the provisional date for reopening venues “is an important step to a return to some sort of normality” but added that the “main question” for the trade is now around social distancing.

“The SLTA and other industry bodies have asked the Scottish Government to give serious consideration to reducing the current two-metre parameter as we have seen in other countries and to bring the level in line with the World Health Organisation,” said Wilkinson.

“If the current distancing measures are maintained, normal capacities could be reduced by between 60% and 80%, and each business will need to assess the practicalities, cost and viability of complying with the new guidance.”

This was echoed by the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA).

SBPA chief executive, Emma McClarkin, said that although the provisional reopening date “gives some much-needed clarity for the sector”, there are “still a number of challenges for pubs that can’t be forgotten”.

“Under the current two-metre social distancing rules, we believe up to two-thirds of Scotland’s pubs will need to remain closed,” said McClarkin.

“It is imperative for the hospitality sector that the Scottish Government explores the World Health Organisation’s suggested one-metre rule for social distancing.

“Other countries, like New Zealand have allowed their pubs to safely re-open up at one-metre distance. If this was followed in Scotland, we could save thousands of jobs which otherwise will be lost through redundancies.”

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, pointed out that venues are not the only part of the industry that will be affected by the two-metre rule.

He said addressing the two-metre rule was “urgent” in order to “enable economic viability for many businesses”.

“This is especially true of the capacities on our ferries as it will significantly impact island economies where tourism is the lifeblood for so many,” said Crothall.

He added that there will be a need for longer-term support for the sector going forward.

“A longer-term support package for the sector will definitely be needed to ensure the survival of many businesses over the coming nine months,” said Crothall

“Most are reliant on there being an optimum spring, summer and early autumn trading period to cover their costs and fixed overheads in the winter months and recovery projections are still likely to be slow.”

Willie Macleod, executive director for Scotland at UK Hospitality, agreed.

He said: “Businesses will need ongoing support – many to see them through to the Spring of 2021 – this support includes grants to those with rateable values above £51,000 and any underspend on grants made available thus far must be directed in this way.

“The proposed recovery task force is a welcome step and there will be a need for radical steps including a substantial reduction in VAT to kick-start the tourism economy.”

The Scottish Government response to these requests has so far been mixed.

While ministers have written to Westminster to make the case for extended support for tourism and hospitality businesses, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated she is not currently in favour of reducing social distancing parameters.

When asked at first minister’s questions yesterday (June 10) whether she would consider reducing the current two-metre guidance to one-metre, as advocated by the World Health Organisation, Sturgeon responded that social distancing “is not a simple equation”.

Referring to a study published in medical journal The Lancet Sturgeon said the report “makes the point that as you reduce the distance you do increase the risk of transmission and there is also the relationship between the distance and the time that it is then safe for people to be in contact”.

“So right now, two metres for 15 minutes or more is what we advise,” said Sturgeon

“If we reduce that distance, we may also have to reduce the time and some countries that have a shorter distance also have different requirements in terms of face masks and face coverings which, of course, we are currently looking at whether we want to make face coverings mandatory.

“These are not straightforward or simple equations; we have to take a very careful analysis, and right now all of the advice I have at my disposal from our own advisors says that we shouldn’t reduce the two-metre rule but we will continue to look at that and in the context of everything else that we do we will continue to make judgements that are safe in terms of the suppression and the transmission of the virus to allow our economy to operate as close to normal as possible.”