Scottish trade groups call for levels rethink

Minor tweaks to tiers could save 60,000 jobs and contribute £1.2 billion to economy in short-term, study shows

SCOTTISH trade groups have urged the Scottish Government to rethink its coronavirus levels system – and have submitted an alternative reopening plan for the sector which they say could save more than 60,000 jobs and contribute over £1.2 billion to the economy in the short-term.

The Scottish Hospitality Group, UK Hospitality Scotland, Scottish Licensed Trade Association, Night Time Industries Association and the Scottish Beer & Pub Association are calling on ministers to mirror reopening plans for England as closely as possible, removing restrictions like the curfew and serving alcohol only with a ‘main meal’. The groups have suggested a series of small tweaks to the current levels system, which they say would allow the sector to meet both public health and economy objectives as strict COVID measures remain in place.

New research commissioned by Diageo from economic consultancy BiGGAR Economics shows that under the current Level Three restrictions (where venues are not allowed to sell alcohol and must close at 6pm), 54% of hospitality businesses could operate generating £269 million in turnover and supporting 21,900 jobs. Under the trade groups’ proposed Level Three rules (alcohol can be served with a meal and venues close at 10.30pm indoors and 11.30pm outdoors), 73% of businesses could operate, generating a turnover of £927m and supporting 53,300 jobs.

BiGGAR Economics’ study also found that under the trade groups’ proposed Level Two changes (where alcohol sales would be allowed without a meal, and there would be an indoors and outdoors closing time of 11.30pm), 91% of businesses could be operating, which would generate a turnover of £1.2bn and support 68,000 jobs. This compares to current Level Two restrictions (alcohol can be served indoors with a ‘main meal’ and outdoors with or without a meal, and venues must close indoors at 8pm and outdoors at 10.30pm), under which the study said 73% of business could operate, generating a turnover of £634m and supporting 34,900 jobs. The trade groups also proposed that nightclubs can operate at limited capacity in Level One.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon is due to give an update tomorrow (Tuesday 16th March) on plans for reopening the economy.

Willie Macleod, executive director for Scotland at UK Hospitality (UKH), said the proposals could avoid “catastrophic business failure” across Scotland’s hospitality sector.

“The trade bodies have worked closely to propose workable reopening measures to Scottish Government which would improve the viability prospects of hospitality and licensed businesses which have been among the hardest hit in any sector over the past year,” he said.

“UKH urges the Scottish Government to agree a plan for reopening that will remove any risk of vulnerable businesses failing at the eleventh hour.

“The plan for reopening Scotland’s economy has to acknowledge that hotels, bars and restaurants are still at severe risk and must place the survival of our sector, which will be integral to the economic recovery of the country, at its heart. The report from BiGGAR Economics shows how the reopening of hospitality venues can secure jobs, kick-start the vital supply chain and ensure that public health remains a priority.”

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), said the joint trade group proposals will “provide a more sustainable environment for hospitality businesses”.

“With all of the current levels in the Strategic Framework of restrictions affecting business viability across the board, changes need to be made if this important sector to Scotland’s economy is to survive, continue to provide jobs, contribute to the public purse and restart the important role it plays in local economies and the fabric of the community,” he said.

“By tweaking the restrictions in the various levels, the Scottish Government has the opportunity to throw a lifeline to the industry and those that it employs as we ride out the storm.”

Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: “We hope that this latest research will give the Scottish Government the push to re-address the current levels system which has unfairly targeted our industry since last year. All of SHG’s members remain committed to rebuilding consumer confidence so that we can begin trading safely in the coming months, and I am confident that these figures will solidify that trust amongst our customers.”

Scottish Beer & Pub Association chief executive, Emma McClarkin, said: “Our hope is that Scotland will follow close to the unlocking plans in England, which would help ensure our businesses are not at a competitive disadvantage. However, should the Scottish Government remain wedded to a regional levels approach then our joint plan would see an additional £658m in turnover and support an extra 31,400 jobs in Level 3 compared to the current system. Government must listen to the industry and give the thousands of operators a glimmer of hope.”

Mike Grieve, chairperson of NTIA Scotland, said: “The priority must be to set a clear roadmap out of lockdown as vaccination levels rise and hospitalisation rates drop, and to aim for full reopening of the sector at Level Zero with the complete removal of all trading restrictions, including social distancing, restricted capacity, restricted trading hours, curfews and restrictions on entertainment, performance, music and dancing.”

Dayalan Nayager, managing director of Diageo GB, who told SLTN last month how changes to trading restrictions could have a significant impact on the viability of businesses, said: “We support our colleagues across the hospitality sector in seeking a safe and sustainable reopening of businesses, with appropriate measures to protect people and communities while also securing the economic future of the industry and those who work in it.”

Graeme Blackett, director of BiGGAR Economics, said the study shows that the proposed changes to the levels restrictions “can place the hospitality sector and the wider food and drink supply chain in a much stronger position”.

“Adjustments to the restrictions could get thousands of people back to work and allow the sector to generate turnover and contribute significantly to the public finances in the coming weeks and months,” he said.