Coronavirus: Cáfe clarity and further support for businesses

First minister announces new business grants and employment support

Measures could be affected by announcements from chancellor Rishi Sunak later today

FIRST minister Nicola Sturgeon has moved to address the “lack of clarity” over the Scottish Government’s definition of a ‘café’ as premises across Scotland’s central belt prepare to close for a fortnight tonight.

The Scottish Government announced a raft of new restrictions earlier in the week, which will come into effect at 6pm tonight.

In the central belt this will see all pubs, bars and restaurants closing at 6pm and remaining closed for 16 days.

Initially licensed cafés in the central belt were included in the closure, before the Scottish Government altered its stance to allow all cafés – licensed and unlicensed – to be able to open between 6am and 6pm, without the sale of alcohol.

The announcement led to considerable speculation from lawyers and the trade over what constitutes a ‘café’ for the purposes of the restrictions. The Scottish Government issued a definition just after midday today which defined a ‘café as “an establishment whose primary business activity, in the ordinary course of its business, is the sale of non-alcoholic drinks, snacks or light meals, which may be consumed on the premises”.

Speaking at her daily press briefing Sturgeon acknowledged that there has been “a lack of clarity” over which businesses could remain open, but said “sometimes that’s the price we have to pay right now for trying to be as flexible as possible”.

She also stated that the definition would only apply to businesses “based on what a café already does”.

“It doesn’t allow a restaurant to now turn itself into a café,” said Sturgeon.

When asked by a journalist later about what businesses should do if they are uncertain whether or not they qualify as a café (and can therefore remain open) Sturgeon said in those cases the businesses should close.

“If a premises is in doubt then they should close unless an environmental health officer tells them they think they fall under the definition,” she said.

The closure of premises, said the first minister, is to “reduce the volume of places that people come together so that we can stop the virus spreading”.

And on the decision to exempt cafés Sturgeon said: “The reason for this café exemption is quite simple, it is to give people – particularly those who might be living alone and also working from home – somewhere they can still meet a friend for a coffee and a chat.

“And we judge that as important to help reduce the loneliness and isolation that comes with some of these restrictions that are in place right now.”

Sturgeon also referenced the Scottish Government’s £40 million support package for businesses, announced earlier in the week, stating that it will be comprised of three strands: employment support intended to top up the existing furlough scheme; cash grants for businesses of either £1000 or £1500 depending on a venue’s rateable value; and a discretionary fund for local authorities to distribute to businesses in their area.

However, she said the measures are likely to be impacted by a new UK business support package due to be announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak later today, and so further details of the Scottish scheme will be confirmed after Sunak’s speech this afternoon.