A new study being conducted at Stirling University launched with the statement ‘New study examines lifting of pub and nightclub restrictions’ but all is not what it seems and the trade should be concerned. Janet Hood gives the DRAM her view.
At a time when the on trade has been closed for 2 months; when the trade fears that there will be no chance of opening or operating at anything like pre Covid-19 levels possibly for years, when we fear that upwards of 1/3 of our on sales businesses will be lost and at a time when Scotland’s on trade has received far less assistance from ScotGov than their colleagues in England and Wales – despite having been granted the same funding per business as the UK, the ScotGov has decided to spend £500,000 on a small number of research projects including one that seeks to, in my view, hinder not help the trade, and I for one am dismayed.
The University of Stirling “is seeking to understand how the easing of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on licensed premises can be effectively managed to protect emergency services”. The study is to consider – “the way consumers and venues might respond to any easing of restrictions – in terms of alcohol consumption, intoxication, violence, sales and promotions” remember it cannot gather evidence as on trade business are shut so this is just guess work.
I do not know who instructed the University of Stirling to carry out the research but Donald MacLeod of Holdfast (The Garage, Cathouse) has been assured by Fiona Hyslop the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, that this research will not form part of the hospitality sectors return to work guidance and that she will issue a statement shortly to clarify. Hopefully that will be the case, but my reservations are as follows.
As we are all aware over the last several years there has been a massive reduction in violence and other problems linked to hospitality in the on trade. Premises operators comply with the law preventing them selling alcohol to drunk persons and most to manage their premises in such a way as to prevent harm. This can be evidenced by the tiny numbers of premises licence reviews which have occurred in Scotland over the last 5 years.
This law will be in place post lockdown however Professor Fitzgerald who terms herself an expert in alcohol policy states – “Governments [actually ScotGov – singular] and the public are very interested in how licensed premises may begin to reopen – but there are risks involved.” The trade too have been considering the risks of re-opening post lock down for their customers; their staff; their communities and their profit margins.
What the trade does not need is further restrictions based on nonsensical speculation or modelling as it is otherwise termed. Professor Fitzgerald goes on to say
“Whenever restrictions ease, businesses may seek to recoup losses and customers may choose to celebrate by drinking more than usual.The actions of businesses and consumers could have implications for how intoxicated people get, and have a knock-on impact on our emergency services. It is really important therefore, to understand the options available for easing restrictions.”
“We will consult with a wide range of businesses, staff, policymakers and experts.” who will these people be one wonders and what is their expertise?”
One option could be to ease restrictions partially, or in a staggered way, potentially with measures remaining in place around sales, opening hours or venue capacities to minimise harm and impact on the emergency services.”
So far in the press we have seen suggestions from the temperance league such as “3 pints maximum and the other matters posited above”
It is well known that the on trade has been badly affected by the now ingrained habit of pre-loading – not only do premises operators have to deal with smaller takings but they have to deal effectively with pre-loaders turning up drunk to ensure they do not enter and disrupt their businesses and ironically try to make sure these people get home or get to a safe place. The burden of responsibility is huge and is met by the on trade.
The last part of the press release deals with MUP – heralded as a sweeping success by these policy experts despite the facts
Thanks to Paul Chase, Chase Consultancy a true expert in his field for the following:
Money spent buying alcohol rose by 9.8% during the year following the introduction of MUP
The volume of alcohol sold, as measured in litres, rose by 1.7%, and most crucially
There was an increase of 2,499,969 units of alcohol purchased
Alcohol-related deaths rose overall by 1%
– nothing should get in the way of a good story
It is highly unlikely our wonderful on trade will be operating at pre lockdown or full capacity for a long time – whether or not they can open and operate profitably [the trade is not a charity and is not supported by ScotGov funding], whether they will be able to pay staff/rent/and other on going costs on reduced numbers of customers should social distancing still be required. How to manage social distancing- how to tempt customers back into premises and overcome the fear factor.
The press release demonstrates that the University of Stirling and ScotGov have little or no respect for the people of Scotland, our visitors, nor our hospitality industry. An industry which brings society together, helps prevent loneliness by providing premises in which we celebrate weddings, births and the passing of our loved ones, where we meet friends and strangers, where we have fun, where we are looked after and cared for by highly skilled operators and their staff.
There are some 8000 on sales premises, which contribute 7% of GDP, employ directly some 250,000 people, and bring in £11 billion pounds per annum to Scotland. Those business encourage tourism and help drive inward business investment to Scotland. We must not put up further barriers to the trade.
ScotGov should instead be concentrating on persuading UKGov to cut VAT to 5% or below, should be cutting BUSINESS RATES for the on trade, should be cutting RED TAPE not adding to the burden.
We must nurture our precious hospitality businesses which are loved by tourists and locals alike lest they be lost forever.
Press Release from Stirling University
“New study examines lifting of pub and nightclub restrictions
A new University of Stirling study is seeking to understand how the easing of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on licensed premises can be effectively managed to protect emergency services.
The project – funded under the Scottish Government’s Rapid Research in COVID-19 programme – will examine policy options for reopening pubs, nightclubs and restaurants to minimise the impact on ambulance services, and to protect customers and staff from the virus.
The team will investigate how the re-opening of premises could be phased in over time, and whether and how licence holders could minimise infection risks. The study will consider the way in which consumers and venues might respond to any easing of restrictions – in terms of alcohol consumption, intoxication, violence, sales and promotions.
The impact of current restrictions on ambulance service callouts will also be examined, as well as the potential impact should establishments reopen.
Professor Niamh Fitzgerald, of the Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH) at Stirling, is leading the new project, which also involves Martine Stead, Deputy Director of ISMH, and Professor Jim Lewsey, of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow.
Professor Fitzgerald, an expert in alcohol policy, said: “Most pubs and nightclubs closed more than seven weeks ago, as part of the UK and Scottish Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Governments and the public are very interested in how licensed premises may begin to reopen – but there are risks involved. Whenever restrictions ease, businesses may seek to recoup losses and customers may choose to celebrate by drinking more than usual.
“The actions of businesses and consumers could have implications for how intoxicated people get, and have a knock-on impact on our emergency services. It is really important therefore, to understand the options available for easing restrictions.
“We will consult with a wide range of businesses, staff, policymakers and experts. One option could be to ease restrictions partially, or in a staggered way, potentially with measures remaining in place around sales, opening hours or venue capacities to minimise harm and impact on the emergency services.”
While it seems that the closure of bars and nightclubs across Scotland may have eased pressure on the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), concerns have been raised about perceived increases in house parties and domestic violence during lockdown. In addition, it is possible that the Service could experience an increase in callouts – even above pre-pandemic levels – when restrictions are eased, if large numbers look to take advantage of any relaxing of rules.
Professor Lewsey, an expert in medical statistics, said: “This study has only been possible because it builds on a strong existing collaboration with the Scottish Ambulance Service, to better understand the impact of alcohol on ambulance call-outs more generally. We are delighted to have the opportunity to support the Service with relevant research at this challenging time.”
The research team will analyse SAS data on ambulance call-outs, interview premises owners and key stakeholders and may also examine customer behaviour and venue operation once the restrictions are eased, depending on the timing of any re-opening.
Professor Fitzgerald added: “Our aim is to feed information quickly and directly into policy and guidance – both at Scottish Government and local level – regarding the easing of COVID-19 restrictions on licensed premises.”
The new study – set to complete within six months – will build on data and preparatory work for two other projects – ‘The impact of minimum unit pricing on ambulance callouts in Scotland’, a study also funded by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office, and a proposed study, ‘Evaluating later or expanded premises hours for alcohol in the night-time economy’, both supported by Scottish Ambulance Service.
The University of Stirling is leading 10 major projects investigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic after receiving almost £500,000 in Scottish Government funding. In addition to this study, two further projects within the programme address the impact of the virus on the SAS: one considering the challenges faced by paramedics and another providing insight into the effect of psychiatric emergencies.