23,600 Scottish jobs on the line as 87% of pubs say 2-metres not viable

It won’t be financially viable for nearly nine out of 10 pubs in Scotland to open on 15th July if social distancing is not reduced to 1-metre. This puts 23,600 jobs on the line according to a new survey conducted by the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SPBA) in conjunction with other members of the licensed trade. The news comes as official figures put Scotland’s unemployment at 4.6%, the highest rate in the UK. 

The survey, which covered 318 Scottish pubs, over the period 11 June – 14 June 2020, (around 7% of the total), found that it would not be financially viable for almost nine out of ten landlords to reopen their doors if the two-metre distancing guidelines were still in place – potentially leading to the direct loss of over 23,600 jobs within the trade.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, said, “The results make for stark reading. Not only will 87 per cent of those surveyed be unable to open, but those that can trade at the two-metre mark will also potentially have to let 52 per cent of staff go. This would lead to over 23,600 jobs losses in our sector alone.

“Keeping a two-metre rule in place simply does not make financial sense and the fall out will see the loss of thousands of jobs affecting both the Scottish economy and local communities in the process.

“We have seen within the survey that whilst implementing a controlled environment to protect both customers and staff and dropping social distancing measures to one metre, we will see 82 per cent of licensed businesses being able to open their doors to the public and provide a much-needed boost to the industry.

The SBPA and wider group which includes Star Pubs and Bars, Belhaven, Hawthorn Leisure, Admiral Taverns, Punch Taverns, Caledonian Heritable Ltd, DRG, Buzzworks, Montpeliers, Manorview, Signature Pubs, Lisini and Caledonia Inns are keen to point out that as responsible license holders, not only could venues be classed as ‘controlled environments’ that would allow them to track and trace customers through a number of different methods – over 85 per cent of those surveyed planned to use PPE for staff when able to reopen.

Lisa Wishart, MD of the Lisini Pub Co, which operates venues such as Angels in Uddingston, comments, “Here at Lisini’s, it is simply not viable for us to reopen on 15 July due to the current social distancing rules. However, if we followed the World Health Organisation’s directive, not only could we provide a safe environment for our patrons, we would be able to safeguard most of our employees’ livelihood’s as we return to a new normal post Coronavirus.”

Gavin Stevenson from Gellions in Inverness said, With two-metre social distancing our nearly 200 capacity venue reduces to just 11 people. In a normal year, our profit margin is less than 5 per cent of turnover and obviously, there is no way for us to get even close to financial break-even with such huge reductions in trade. We’d lose more money opening under the proposed restrictions than we would staying closed.”

Nic Wood from Signature Pubs added, We cannot operate all of our businesses with 2m social distancing restrictions, and closures in the sector will sadly continue with bars and restaurants mothballed beyond the end of furlough. We are not ignoring the transmission rate or the health issues, merely stating that 2m makes some businesses unviable.”

Emma McClarkin concluded, “What’s clear is that the majority of licensed premises will simply not be able to operate under the proposed two-metre distancing, leading to mass unemployment within the sector. We are calling upon the Scottish Government to both reassess the current measures in place if they wish to kick-start the industry and work with us to safeguard over 23,600 jobs.”

The survey showed: 

  • If the 2-metre restriction remained in place, on average 52.59% of staff in the pub sector are expected to be made redundant. This is 23,648 jobs in Scotland.
  • Only 12.8% of pubs believe it is financially viable to open at 2-metres, in contrast, 82% of pubs believe it is financially viable to open at 1-metre.
  • The survey covered 318 of Scotland’s 4,647 pubs equating to around 7% of the total number.

Comments from around the country:-

  • Kevin McGee from Athletic Arms ‘Diggers’, in Dalry, Edinburgh said:

“I’m bored silly, I’m a people person and can’t wait to open the doors. If it’s 2-meters it’ll most likely be me working with one other on reduced trading hours. In contrast, a 1-meter difference and we can get more staff off furlough, trade longer, start to pay off some bills and support the local community again.”

  • Stuart McPhee from Siberia Bar & Hotel in Aberdeen said:

While we have a vast floor space and a versatile outside area within Siberia, the ability to service this at two-metre social distances takes what would normally be three people in a kitchen down to one on a given shift, and four people behind the bar when busy halved to two.

“Regardless of how many people you can fit outside or inside customer wise, there is a direct impact on what kind of service our staffing levels can achieve. Where we will try and maintain our staff by diversifying our service style and rotating in teams post-Covid, it is clear that tough operational choices lay ahead.

“We have solutions and we have things we can implement such as entry temperature checks, PPE & disinfectant fogging now that can make our environments COVID secure and regulated, that could mean we as an industry could be permitted to lower the distance to survive and prevent further job losses across the sector.”

  • David Stein from Cafebar 1807 in Linlithgow said:

“While I believe we need to listen to the experts, it will be completely unviable for us to open in any capacity until we have a 1m rule.”

  • Mo Clark from Kained Holdings, who operate several bars including Lebowskis in Edinburgh and Glasgow said:

The current guidelines of 2m distancing would not allow for the majority of bars to operate profitably. Reducing some sites to 40 per cent trading capacity which simply does not work under most business models.

“The focus for bars and restaurants across the sector which wish to remain viable will be to reduce their cost base which will undoubtedly lead to significant redundancies. Those who are unable to find a path through this will have to shut their doors completely, further increasing the inevitable redundancies.

“Particularly, where vertical drinking has made a business viable, the continuation of the 2m distancing means that many businesses couldn’t even open their doors, let alone be profitable.”

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