Hospitality hopes 'torpedoed' as Scotland extends restrictions

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Hospitality hopes 'torpedoed' as Scotland extends restrictions

Related tags Scotland Coronavirus Vaccine passport

Hospitality businesses in Scotland will continue to face tight restrictions on indoor trading for at least another week, with the sector accusing the Scottish Government of leaving it 'in limbo'.

It had been hoped that measures requiring licensed hospitality venues to operate table service only and all indoor hospitality settings to ensure there is a one metre distance between groups of people who are attending together would be lifted on 17 January, three weeks after they came into force. 

Yesterday (11 January) though, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the restrictions, which have also forced nightclubs in the country to close, would now last until at least 24 January. 

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister said the rules would be lifted in 'a phased and careful way', beginning with the removal of attendance limits on live outdoor events from Monday (17 January).

"Cabinet will next review the data at our meeting a week today," she said.

"I hope this will allow us to lift the other protective measures - limits on indoor live events, table service in hospitality and distancing in indoor public pleases - from 24 January.

"However, I will confirm this in my statement next week."

The SLTA (Scottish Licensed Trade Association) has expressed disappointment and ‘growing frustration’ that there will be no firm decision from the Scottish Government on removing the current restrictions until next week.

"It is encouraging that some restrictions are being lifted from Monday but the constant messaging from the First Minister to work from home where possible and limit contact with people is doing nothing to build consumer confidence and leading to growing frustration among business owners," says Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director.

“That the licensed hospitality sector has to wait until next week to find out if existing restrictions will be lifted from January 24 is unacceptable as it leaves business in limbo. Of course, we appreciated that the Scottish Government has to consider the health of the nation as well as the economy but more clarity is required.

“Last week, the First Minister alluded to the Scottish Government’s new strategic framework on dealing with Covid which will be published in the coming weeks – she said exactly the same today so our question is: when will this be published because we need answers now.”

Trade body UKHospitality Scotland adds that there is no justification for the ongoing sanctions and that the Scottish Government has produced no evidence that limiting the sector's ability to trade is leading to reduced rates of Covid infection.

“Restrictions, combined with messaging to avoid crowded places and to stay at home as much as possible, torpedoed hospitality’s hopes for a busy festive period," says Leon Thompson, UKHospitality Scotland executive director.

"Many businesses were left counting the cost when another opportunity to start their recovery was snatched away. After this statement from the First Minister, businesses and their workforce are left to wait a further week to hear when things might change for them.

“The First Minister talked about a gradual easing of restrictions, but our sector has been closed or restricted for almost two years now.

"Any positivity that could be taken from possible changes on the near horizon was scuppered with further talk of vaccine passports and possible wider application. The phrase ‘living with Covid’ sounds more and more like ‘living with significant ongoing restrictions’.

Sturgeon hinted in her statement yesterday that Scotland's Covid vaccination certificate scheme, more commonly referred to as 'vaccine passports', could be extended in the near future.

"As we do lift these other protective measures, it will be necessary to consider again if extending the scope of Covid certification to other venues might be a necessary protection," she said.

"To be clear, we have not yet taken any decisions on this and it will require careful judgment. But I want to be clear to Parliament that it is something we feel bound to give appropriate consideration to."

Prior to the implementation of these latest restrictions, 'vaccine passports' were required in Scotland for nightclubs; unseated indoor live events with more than 500 people in the audience; unseated outdoor live events with more than 4,000 people in the audience; and any event, of any nature, which has more than 10,000 people in attendance.

Wilkinson says the hospitality sector is concerned about what the possible extension of the scheme will mean for trade.

“If the passport scheme is extended to hospitality settings it will have a major negative impact on businesses.

“Many sports fans will want to watch football and the forthcoming Six Nations tournament in the pub.

“If our pubs, bars and restaurants are still required to have social distancing and table/seated service for some time yet, this will obviously affect the capacity numbers for these premises and spoil the atmosphere usually associated with major sporting events being enjoyed in licensed premises.”

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