Scottish hospitality hit with 'knock-out blow' as Covid rules tightened once again

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Scottish hospitality hit with 'knock-out blow' as Covid rules tightened once again

Related tags Scotland Coronavirus Social Distancing Table service

Hospitality businesses in Scotland have been dealt a 'knock-out blow' after it was announced that tougher Coronavirus restrictions will be reintroduced after Christmas.

Yesterday (21 December), First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that Edinburgh's Hogmanay events are to be cancelled and football matches will be effectively spectator-free as part of a raft of rule changes that will come into force on 27 December for three weeks.

Under the rules, licensed hospitality venues will be required to operate table service only; while all indoor hospitality venues will be required to ensure there is a one metre distance between groups of people who are attending together, suggesting that nightclubs may have to close while the restrictions are in place.

In addition, from Boxing Day (26 December) attendance at large events will be limited to 100 people for indoor standing events, to 200 people for indoor seated events, and to 500 people for all outdoor events seated or standing.

Sturgeon told MSPs that the measures were intended to allow immunity from the accelerated booster vaccine programme to take effect.

She said: “This is not a choice between protecting health and protecting the economy - if we don’t stem the spread of the virus, both health and the economy will suffer.

“I totally understand the temptation to delay; to hope, after two long years of this, that further steps might not be necessary. But we are already seeing a significant impact from staff absences across the economy and public services - we must do what we can to stem this.

"We know from experience that if we wait until the data tells us conclusively that we have a problem, for example, with hospital admissions, it will already be too late to act to avoid that problem."

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), says the measures are a 'knock-out blow' for Scotland’s licensed hospitality operators.

“This announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that pubs and other hospitality venues selling alcohol must reintroduce table service and one-metre physical distancing between groups of customers from December 27 for a period of three weeks could well be the knock-out blow for many in the battered and bruised licensed hospitality sector in Scotland," he says.

“The limit of 100 people for indoor standing events and 200 for indoor seating events will hugely impact on the late-night industry, which has been hit particularly hard since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In addition, the cancellation of large-scale events such as Edinburgh’s Hogmanay will have a knock-on effect on the licensed hospitality sector."

Wilkinson adds that the damage was really done earlier this month when Public Health Scotland (PHS) advised deferring Christmas parties until another time​, and the key focus for the Scottish Government must now be to ensure that the financial aid package announced last week for the hospitality sector​ is made available as soon as possible.

However, he adds that the SLTA is particularly angered that this funding will not be specifically directed to those businesses that need it the most.

“It is utterly indefensible for businesses such as cafes, takeaways and even multinational fast-food outlets, which have not experienced the decimation that has been caused to the licensed hospitality sector at this vital trading period to now receive the same level of support funding as those hit by the PHS messaging to defer Christmas parties in Scotland’s pubs, bars and restaurants."

A 'final straw' for operators

On top of the initial £100m earmarked by MSPs to help businesses impacted by the new restrictions, it was announced that there will be fresh financial help worth £275m made available by the Scottish Government, which draws on funding announced by the UK Treasury at the weekend.

However, business leaders warn it will not be enough to offset the economic damage restrictions will cause.

UKHospitality Scotland's executive director, Leon Thompson, insists the sector will likely lose £1bn during December as 'public health messaging has hammered trade and threatened jobs and livelihoods'.

“This announcement of further restrictions across hospitality businesses will, for many, be the final straw as owners and operators weigh-up whether it will be worth remaining open beyond Christmas,” he says.

“With public Hogmanay celebrations cancelled and Scottish Government advice for people to stay at home and to limit social contact, hospitality will have little opportunity to trade.

"Hotels, bars and restaurants are once again left counting the cost as they receive more cancellations and losses pile up. Our businesses are the bedrock of communities and high streets across the country.

"The very fabric of our economy is in tatters.”

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