Cutting hours will negatively impact trade – as well as health
“What fresh hell is this?”
Those words of Dorothy Parker, the American novelist, come back to mind as soon as the first minister embarks on a Coronavirus review.
Last week, in a clumsy expectations management exercise, we’d been warned to expect the worst on both sides of the border: a “circuit breaker” – as Boris Johnson put it – choosing a patronising euphemism for a second lockdown.
So, perhaps the news that Scottish hospitality wasn’t facing a new lockdown – just 10pm closing – was supposed to be a win for the trade.
Instead, the immediate reaction was one of anger and disbelief with senior industry figures united in questioning the benefits of the early shutdown – and warning that, for many businesses, this could be the final nail in the coffin.
In her address to the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon characterised the announcement of new measures as “additional restrictions that the Scottish Government believes are now necessary to get COVID back under control”.
The 10pm curfew will almost certainly drive the growth in house parties.
Necessary? There is absolutely no evidence – let alone credible evidence – that chopping a precious few hours off a pub’s trading time will make any appreciable impact on the spread of the virus.
In fact, the evidence points in the opposite direction.
According to Public Health England data, of the 729 outbreaks in the week to September 13, only five per cent occurred in food outlets such as restaurants and pubs – 45 per cent were in care homes, 21 per cent in schools and 18 per cent in places of work.
There’s no reason to believe that the Scottish position is significantly different.
In fact, Sturgeon said last week: “We know from the data available to us through Test & Protect that a high proportion of new cases come from social interactions between different households in our homes.”
The early closure is not only a disproportionate response but one which – ironically – is likely to lead to easily-foreseeable negative public health consequences.
Remember when public health pundits told us that it was far better to have alcohol consumed in a properly regulated environment such as a pub, as opposed to the risk of over-consumption of cheap alcohol at home, leading to a raft of adverse outcomes including domestic abuse?
The 10pm curfew will almost certainly drive the growth in house parties, even if the “rule of six” has become “the rule of zero” for the whole of the country.
It’s delusional to believe that parties will simply stop.
We may see an end to large gatherings likely to attract police attention – but the simple truth is that large swathes of the public, particularly young people, will defy the law in a way that is simply incapable of detection.
We already have evidence of this reckless mindset: convenience stores are seeing an increasing number of customers refusing to comply with the requirement to wear a face covering.
One shop owner told BBC News that his staff are constantly at risk not just from the virus but also having to cope with abusive customers.
But, while there are calls for Police Scotland to make enforcement a greater priority, it’s impossible to see how sufficient resources could be made available – and the same resource problem absolutely guarantees that a boom in house parties will go largely unchecked.
There’s a real tragedy unfolding here. The vast majority of trade operators have struggled valiantly to honour their legal obligations as conscientiously as they can, despite constantly-changing complex regulations and guidance.
They’ve supported Test and Protect, operated with viability-threatening capacities, faced up to the music ban and done everything in their power to keep customers safe.
Yet, as one trade colleague put it, they’re suffering death by a thousand cuts.
Jack Cummins is one of Scotland’s leading licensing lawyers. Every month he writes on licensing law and answers readers’ questions in SLTN.
Do you have a legal question for Jack Cummins?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Legal Clinic; freepost PEEBLES MEDIA GROUP
Jack Cummins is unable to enter into personal correspondence on readers’ questions. The advice offered in SLTN is published for information only. No responsibility for loss occasioned by persons acting or refraining from action as a result of material contained in SLTN can be accepted by the author or publisher.