Trade demands clarity on easing of restrictions

Detail needed on how venues can operate from 9th August

A masked waiter is serving orange juice to customers.

OPERATORS and trade groups have demanded clarity on the easing of restrictions scheduled to go ahead on Monday (9th August).

First minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed yesterday (3rd August) that Scotland will move ‘beyond level zero’ of COVID restrictions from 9th August (, when “no venues will be legally required to close”, meaning nightclubs will be able to open for the first time in over a year; and social distancing – including limits on gatherings – will no longer be legally required in hospitality settings, although current face mask and Test & Protect rules will remain in place.

But operators and trade groups have demanded detail on the easing of these restrictions, including whether customers will be able to drink at the bar, and how the face mask rules will apply to customers standing at the bar – and to those in nightclubs.

UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson welcomed the move beyond level zero saying it will enable many hospitality businesses to increase capacity with the end of physical distancing.

“However, it is not clear yet how the mandatory wearing of face coverings might continue to impact on venues where customers are likely to be standing, including in pubs and nightclubs,” he said.

“Businesses need more detail, along with a complete set of guidance from the Scottish Government – and they need it quickly.

“Similarly, the Scottish Government needs to work with us to identify ways to build the resilience of the sector. After almost 18 months of closure and restricted opening, businesses are carrying unprecedented amounts of short-term debt – much of it due for payment now. After coming this far these viable businesses must not be allowed to fall at the last hurdle.”

The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) also welcomed the move ‘beyond level zero’ and said Scotland’s hospitality sector now needs “an industry-specific recovery plan if it has a chance of recuperating to pre-pandemic levels”.

“Scotland is moving in the right direction, and we welcome the easing of restrictions, but it needs to go further,” said SHG spokesman Stephen Montgomery.

“We need a recovery plan now that will entice people back into the sector and give them the confidence that they are entering a stable industry again.

“The lockdown has shown how hospitality can adapt in city centres and we are willing to put our weight behind new ways of operating, but we need support behind us to ensure that there are long-term solutions supported by the country and we are not left on our own again.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA), said: “It is estimated that Scotland has lost 285 pubs for good since the start of the pandemic and hundreds more remain at risk, with a need to reduce the tax and regulatory burden that they face.

“Consumer confidence also remains fragile, meaning it is vital that we get the recovery phase right. Our businesses are faced with a range of pressing challenges, including staffing issues and supply chain pressures which will require the government to continue to work closely with us to support recovery. With the correct support, the sector can be at the forefront of Scotland’s economic recovery, creating jobs and reviving our towns and cities.”

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), welcomed the easing of restrictions but underlined the need for clarity.

“We are particularly relieved that physical distancing restrictions can be dropped as the one-metre rule made trading very difficult for some premises, particularly smaller ones – premises can now get back to operating at maximum capacity,” he said.

“Since [the] announcement the phone has been ringing with operators asking if customers can stand and drink at the bar, for example, and I hope to get clarification on this and more of the final detail [as soon as possible].”

The Scottish Government said it will update guidance but hasn’t provided a timeframe.