Restrictions “squeezing the life out of our sector”
MORE than 60 hospitality operators from across Scotland have written to first minister Nicola Sturgeon to urge a review of the Scottish Government’s levels system of coronavirus restrictions, which they say is having “a devastating effect” on their businesses.
The letter calls on the Scottish Government to review the levels and associated restrictions, provide “adequate financial support to cover the costs of closure and compliance with restrictions” and to extend the current business rates waiver into 2021/22 in order to assist the recovery of the industry.
Willie Macleod, executive director for Scotland at UK Hospitality, and a signatory of the letter, said: “The restrictions being imposed upon hospitality businesses in Scotland are unfair, unjustified and squeezing the remaining life out of our sector.
“There’s no credible evidence that hospitality is a leading culprit in COVID transmission. Businesses have poured money into venues to make them safe and, overwhelmingly, the public feels confident in the steps that they have taken.
“Our sector wants to be at the heart of the Scottish Government’s plans to tackle COVID, by supporting communities socially and economically. Businesses can only do that if they are allowed the flexibility they need to survive.”
Other signatories include the heads of The Balmoral Hotel, Chardon Hotels, Pride of Britain Hotels, Buzzworks Holdings, Revolution Bars Group and Stonegate Pubs.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear First Minister,
Covid Restrictions Unfair for Hospitality
COVID-19 policy has left hospitality businesses out in the cold. The Level 4 restrictions imposed on 20 November have closed our sector down in eleven local authority areas and businesses have no certainty about what faces them after the review on 11 December. In Level 2 and Level 3 areas the restrictions are having a devastating effect on trading and are, in some instances, imposing closure on businesses that are legally permitted to remain open, not least because of travel restrictions. The relaxations announced for the Christmas period between 23-27 December may give heart to millions of Scots but bring no cheer to hard-pressed hospitality businesses that have invested heavily to provide COVID-secure, safe, welcoming venues but are denied the chance to open their doors. Nor is there much to be positive about following your comments about Hogmanay. Any beneficial change from level 4 in the Central Belt on 11 December is likely to come too late to allow businesses to capitalise on Christmas trade as they ponder what is likely to be a much quieter than normal first quarter of the year.
It is simply unjust that our sector is forced to struggle under increased restrictions when there is little evidence to show that hospitality is responsible to any material extent for transmission of COVID-19 infection. Data published by Public Health England (PHE) suggests that supermarkets are likely to be the most common source in England where people are exposed to the virus followed by secondary and primary schools, hospitals, care homes, colleges, warehouses and pre-school nurseries. Hospitality businesses were lower on the list. It is a matter of regret that there is no similar published research for Scotland, but it will be unlikely that findings would be materially different here.
The hospitality industry has taken its share of responsibility – and made a significant investment of time and money – to contribute to the national effort to protect public health through protective measures, changes to operating practices, training of staff, enhanced hygiene practices and management of customers. The industry provides a safe and controlled environment for staff, customers and local communities. Since March, the industry has complied with a raft of regulatory changes, guidance and restrictions – often imposed at impossibly short notice. Restrictions are forcing businesses to trade sub-optimally on a much greater physical and temporal basis than any other sector. There are parts of our industry that are still unable to reopen after initial lockdown in March.
There is an understandable sense of injustice in our sector when a YouGov poll demonstrates that the British public finds it least difficult to socially distance in hospitality premises compared to retail, shopping centres and public transport.
The ability to visit our regulated, supervised premises provides a lifeline to many young people and those living alone. We have invested millions and demonstrated that we can trade safely and responsibly. We offer one of the best pathways through this pandemic and we urge you to prioritise the following:
- Responsive review of levels and restrictions – The levels need to be reviewed weekly in December. The decision to not allow people gathered in Christmas bubbles to visit our premises over the festive period is arbitrary given what we have set out above. Please consider that the alternative gathering to safe, supervised premises might be unmanaged and unmanageable house parties. And, if cases continue to rise, please look at the settings where the virus is spreading rather than closing our doors at the earliest opportunity.
- Recompense for restrictions – We have committed resources to the reopening and are planning for the recovery which must surely come next year. We can avoid mass closures and job losses in January if the Scottish Government can provide adequate financial support to cover the costs of closure and compliance with restrictions on trade, extend the measures to prevent lease irritation to June next year and commit to the recommendations of the Scottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce … and if the UK Government allows us to draw down the Job Retention Bonus promised to us.
- Route to economic revival – We can provide a much-needed boost and support longer term recovery if governments at Holyrood and Westminster can agree this side of the New Year that the business rate waiver and VAT cut will be extended across 2021/2022.
We want to help both governments to roll out mass testing. We want to support community wellbeing in the cold, dark months of the New Year. We want to play a leading role in our economic revival. But we won’t be able to do any of this unless the Scottish Government looks again at both the evidence and our commitment and gives the Scottish public access to hospitality services which will get us all safely through the winter.
We look forward to your response.