Stephen Montgomery of SHG reflects on how he’s feeling ahead of today’s new restrictions

Stephen Montgomery

On the day when the Scottish government’s new restrictions come into force where pubs and restaurants in the central belt are to close at 6pm and will not reopen until at least 25 October, with no alcohol to be served indoors and bar opening hours limited in the rest of Scotland, Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) spokesperson and licensee Stephen Montgomery reflects on how he’s feeling…

Shocked, Stunned and Depressed. I really don’t know how I feel right now, so I can only imagine that everyone reading this is feeling somewhat the same.

We as a trade have done everything we have been asked to, and more, with regard to keeping our staff and customers safe,  and now we have been hit with that final blow.  It will see many of our trade shut their doors tonight for the very last time. It’s all too much to take in.

On Tuesday the First Minister took to the floor during her briefing to fire a warning shot out to us. She gave us the big speech about where the virus was more progressive, gave it the full story, and at that vital moment we were all at the edge of our seats and shouting at the TV ‘just do it, just tell us, come on’… it was just like watching an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire when the contestant is about to hit the £1m and they say… “come back after the break”!! So…as always she left us hanging on yet again for another 24 hours.

To be fair, on Wednesday the Scottish Government didn’t let us down, they effectively signed the death warrant on us, the return of the death penalty. The pitiful amount released of £40m to assist those locked down in the 5 areas isn’t even going to touch the sides. Modelled on the Aberdeen lockdown it will be distributed on rateable values, below £51k and over £51k by the sound of it. It beggars belief that a city of the size of Liverpool comes up with £40m to help its hospitality, however Scotland as a country can’t dig deeper to support those they have put on the naughty step for doing everything right, and who contribute to the £10.6 billion annually to Scotland’s GDP.

For those who are not fully locked down, it will be a scramble for a token payment, but given the fact that the maximum anyone will get who is in a full lockdown will be between £1500 and £2000, the £40m pot will be about empty before anyone else gets a slice.

In my view the planning preparation and execution of this latest restriction has been terrible. It is the equivalent of going into a battle without a map. The shot was fired on Wednesday to shut us down in whatever way, but then the First Minister said they would now take a day or two to talk to trade to decide the best way to distribute the pocket money. This should have already been planned and prepared prior to the announcement and ready for the execution. Again, as I have always said, engage more with us and we can help. Today as we go to print, we still don’t even have the definition of what is or is not a cafe.

So let’s look at where we’ve got to so far.

Pubs, Hotels and restaurants have repeatedly implemented the safety measures required by the Government and more, to protect our customers and staff. A recent survey of our Scottish Hospitality Group members showed that we had registered only 17 confirmed COVID cases among more than 1.8m customers and 6000 staff. We are trusted by our customers, and we as a sector are a vital part in the cog of helping the Scottish Government pave a path through this. We are the safest social space available anywhere, and play a vital part in our towns and communities for many many people. We are the solution to their problem, not the problem to their solution.

We have repeatedly asked the Government for scientific evidence that would prove the restrictions they impose, like the music ban and the 10pm curfew actually work, and yet they have singled us out, charged us and found us guilty without any supporting evidence.

I feel so sorry for every one of us caught up in this terrible situation, the nightmare that we can’t wake up from, but I also feel sorry for our young employees between 16 and 24 years old, who will be hardest hit by these restrictions. More than 25% of our members’ 6,000 staff are under 25 and it is that generation that is likely to pay the price for this latest lockdown.

Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop said in her message to Scotland’s young people, that the government would do everything it could to give them the opportunities they
need for skills, training and employment; give them the chance to succeed despite the economic impacts of coronavirus by ensuring everyone aged between 16 and 24 had the opportunity of work, education or training. How can she say this, when her Government’s ill-thought decisions are putting employers out of business?

What are our asks from Scottish Government? They are simple. Sector specific support with a tailored hospitality furlough scheme to enable us to retain our fantastic staff, financial support to help keep our businesses afloat, look at giving us a further rates exemption, and push the UK Government in extending the 5% VAT scheme.

Where do we go now? Who knows? One thing is for sure, the Scottish Hospitality Group will continue to be a voice, we will continue daily to put the concerns of grass route operators to the fore of every argument and obstacle that is put in our way in our endeavour to make sure that we get through this together. We will continue to ask the Government to speak to us, work with us, engage with us, and allow us to help them in keeping us all safe, because that’s what we do as hospitality leaders. I totally understand that Scottish Government have a hard job to do, it really cannot be easy, but speak to us more, involve us more and share the burden.

Need to go now…..Leigh, get the phone……probably just another cancelation!


The new restrictions broken down

  • All pubs and restaurants in the central belt – Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley health board areas – will have to close, both indoors and outdoors, from 18:00 today until 25 October, although takeaways can still be served.
  • Pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes in the rest of Scotland will not be allowed to serve alcohol indoors. They can only open between 06:00 and 18:00 for food and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Licensed premises away from the central belt can continue to serve alcohol outdoors until the 22:00 curfew.
  • All cafes can stay open until 18:00.
  • Hotels can serve evening meals to residents but without alcohol.
  • Alcohol can still be served at weddings and funerals, which are limited to a maximum of 20 people and can only take place in regulated premises.
  • The existing rules state that a maximum of six people from two households can meet together in hospitality venues, either indoors or outdoors.
  • Customers have to provide their contact details, and must wear face coverings while moving around and when not eating or drinking.
  • It is mandatory for staff to wear face coverings, and there can only be table service.