Stephen Montgomery calls for Government to engage with Hospitality – his weekly update

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Engagement Engagement Engagement

The 3 words we need to get through to both Scottish Government and the UK Government.

Here we are, day 10 after the First Minister announced that the central belt would have what can only be described as a hospitality lockdown, and for those outside the central belt by its own nature of the restrictions, effectively the same rules applied. Wet led pubs throughout Scotland with no beer gardens, or even if they had a beer garden, left with no alternative but to shut, because it is totally unviable for them financially. Who could possibly survive on the income from the sale of a few coffees, or cans of soft drinks and a packet of cheese and onion? You possibly can if you are a cafe of course, but we won’t get into that debate…or will we?

For long enough now we have called on the Government to engage more with the trade on matters which affect the daily running of the business. We as operators need time to make decisions with the confidence in knowing that the decision we take is the correct one, and not being rushed into it because of 11th-hour guidelines coming out, or 1 day notice like we saw last week. Decisions on restrictions need to be discussed with trade weeks ahead of decision making. Whilst we all would understand that the science of the virus is fast-moving, with health being key, and sometimes quick decisions need to be made, how often have we seen it where snap decisions have led to catastrophic effects. A great example of this was the ban on music, where again it happened at the flick of the volume switch, and all music was off, and what did that lead to…the rise in the trend of house parties.

Licensed trade businesses throughout Scotland are tinkering on the edge of bankruptcy and mass redundancies, and not helped in any way by the looming end to a furlough scheme which in its infancy helped to save the very same jobs that it now will see lost.

The minimal and embarrassing amount of £40m which is being made available to help those directly, or indirectly affected by the latest restrictions won’t even touch the sides of an industry now on its knees and begging for forgiveness for whatever it has done wrong to have been put in this situation, even with having done everything asked of us. It will be interesting to see where exactly the extra £700m given to Scottish Government from the UK Treasury will be used. It is also may be time to seek clarification on where the underspend of £245m from the rate relief fund is?

So what have we done exactly? Well, we spent thousands on preparing our venues for reopening in July. We went from 15 outside, to 8 people in 3 families, to 6 people in 2 families, to a total music ban, to the compulsory wearing of face coverings, to a 10pm curfew, to being closed in the central belt, unless you were a cafe…there’s that word again..(did we ever get the right answer to whats a cafe?), to those outside central belt not being allowed to serve alcohol inside, and only allowed to serve food or soft drinks to the public until 6pm, or hotel residents until 10pm…to the normal right-thinking person in the street, they must be wondering like us, how much more can we actually take? Well if you look at the list of what we have done, it leaves only one more option the Government can take, and that is to shut us completely, or try rolling the dice to come up with a double 6!

We now hear of a proposed 3 tiered system to come into Scotland. So, my question here is, what’s the financial support looking like, who gets it, when or how will it be paid, and who is arranging this when the Holyrood recess is on, because the trade bodies have not been asked about it, so there’s that word again “engagement”.  With the current restrictions due to be ‘revised’ on 26th, will this be yet another last-minute decision we need to jump on? Businesses need a lead time for ordering stock, our supply chain needs advance notice, our hard-working staff need advance notice (if we have any left), and our customers need something that we call “hope”. We all need hope. For some, it’s the hope that the business will survive, and for others, it’s the hope that the wee local they go to every day for a chat with friends will still be there. 

There is another part to all this that seems to be forgotten about. Mental health. This brings with it a wide scope of areas, from the business owners to their staff who we all feel responsible for, their families, and our loyal loving customers who rely on “the pub” to socialise and meet friends.

My last words as we go into another weekend without much prospect are these:

The hospitality trade needs help. It needs help from both the UK Government and the Scottish Government. We are here, talk to us, don’t ignore us. We want to work with you to help everyone get through this. We may not have all the answers, and neither are we scientific geniuses, but together we can work through this, and get us to the other side.

Leigh, get the door, I fancy a wee bacon roll and broon sauce!

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