Operators slam new trade ‘lockdown’

Bar and restaurant owners repeat calls for evidence behind “ludicrous” restrictions

Scott Murray of Cru Holdings and Nic Wood of Signature Pub Group

OPERATORS across Scotland have slammed the Scottish Government’s decision to effectively lockdown bars and restaurants from 6pm tomorrow (Friday October 9), saying the industry is being used as “scapegoat”.

Pub, bar and restaurant owners have told SLTN they are furious at first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday that all licensed premises in the central belt must close from 6pm tomorrow for 16 days; and those outwith the central belt can only trade indoors between 6am and 6pm for the sale of food and non-alcoholic drinks; alcohol sales will only be permitted in outdoor areas up to 10pm.

Outlining the tougher restrictions in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Sturgeon said a Scottish Government ‘evidence paper’ showed the R number “seems to have risen above one approximately three weeks after the hospitality sector opened up”. “We know that more than 1/5 of people contacted by Test & Protect report having visited a hospitality setting,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that is absolutely where they got the virus but it does show these settings pose a particular risk of transmitting the virus.”

But operators have slammed the new restrictions, saying the trade has been “kicked in the teeth”.

Gary Thomson of Fuller Thomson, which operates six venues in Dundee and Edinburgh, said: “It’s just a joke – to say one in five had visited hospitality premises… where else had they been – in someone’s house, a shop, a gym, a library? And four in five hadn’t been in hospitality premises.

“It is madness and doesn’t make any sense.

“I think I could accept it more if the rationale was there, but it isn’t.

“We’ve all done so much to make our places as safe as possible yet we’re being closed down. The trade is just an easy target for them.”

Alan Cawley, whose Cawley Group operates six venues including Duck Bay at Loch Lomond, River House in Stirling and Coast in Langbank, said: “The trade has done everything to create safe environments but this is closing down venues that are all set up for it and forcing more people to houses where there are no safety measures.

“It is also insulting the public; to tell them you can go for lunch but you can’t be trusted to have a glass of wine – you can have a glass of wine before you go or after. It’s just ludicrous.”

Paul McDonagh of The Bon Accord

Glasgow publican Paul McDonagh, who runs The Bon Accord, agreed.

He said: “If they’d closed all off-licences and kept people in places with Track & Trace it would stop the house parties. These are safe, controlled environments which have spent a fortune implementing [COVID safety measures].

“Sixteen days, they say. But what happens if, in 14 days, the infection rates are still the same? Then we’re not opening. We’re actually closed indefinitely.”

Scott Murray, managing director of Inverness-based Cru Holdings which operates six bars and restaurants in Inverness and Nairn, said: “If [Nicola Sturgeon] could present evidence that absolutely proved beyond doubt that hospitality was the reason behind the spike, but they can’t. It’s pubs she’s got an issue with; supermarkets are still allowed to sell alcohol.

“They’ve said that houses are the perfect environment for the virus to spread in. Why is it OK to drink alcohol in your house but not in a controlled, safe environment?

“I don’t think I just speak for myself when I say I’ve had enough. They’ve taken a thriving trade and turned it into a group of frustrated, angry and vulnerable people who feel they have little left to lose – and that’s a very dangerous position for any government to be in.”

Nic Wood, owner of Signature Group which operates more than 20 venues, said: “We have invested £250,000 in Covid-19 safety measures, training, additional staff numbers to aid service, communication, signage and other hygiene measures and this destructive force has swept the feet from under us – at a time when we weren’t exactly steady on them in the first place.

“This is a brutal blow for the sector based on circumstantial and anecdotal evidence and, once again, hospitality is the scapegoat.”