All the talk this week has been vaccine, vaccine, vaccine. Whilst it is, without doubt, the great news we have all been eagerly awaiting, we really need to park this for now, and not allow it to distract us from the issues we still face as an industry. It would be very easy to allow the excitement of the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ to let drift into the dreams of what it will be like to have back some form of normality, as we listen to the First Minister deliver the news on how excited we all should be. The stark reality is that the normality that we dream of is still some time away if the Government don’t step up to the mark, pull their finger out and start listening to what we as a sector are trying to tell them.
Today we see business owners from the Central Belt area that were forced to close on 9th October for the 3 weeks “short sharp shock”, still awaiting the famous 20% furlough top-up. which This turned into a minimal £1,650 payment promised by the First Minister from a special £9m fund. How would your bank react if you didn’t make a loan repayment 8 weeks after it was due? As I have said on many occasions, the preparation, planning and execution of this has been at least a shambles, and at worst derogatory.
Tweak the Tiers has been a campaign spearheaded by the Scottish Hospitality Group. The background to the idea was to make ministers aware of the issues facing business owners in all the tiers in regards to trading times. The word ‘viable’ comes into them all.
Tier 1, late-night bars, cocktail bars, music venues are not viable, Tier 2 with 8pm close isn’t viable for restaurants when evening peak trade time is between 5.30pm and 9pm, but by the time you get to the restaurant after finishing work at 5pm, it’s usually around 6pm, settle down, order your meal and a well-deserved glass of wine it’s probably 6.30 and then you need to race your meal to be out for 8pm. As for Tier 3, well the 6am to 6pm times are simply arbitrary, and relate to nothing in the licenced trade. For hotels, neither tier 2 or 3 work, because when you look at it, a resident isn’t allowed a glass of wine with a meal after 8pm in tier 2.
Allowing a small tweaking of the tiers would deliver more flexibility, income, and would make for a more relaxed evening dining experience for our customers, in what we already know is a safe environment. There are so many plus reasons for this, and it would also allow us to have some financial contributions towards our fixed costs. It would, more importantly, allow us to stagger our customers out during the evening, instead of everyone trying to be served before closing at 8pm. Let’s not be fooled by this 8pm closing time, it is actually a 6.30pm close. You can’t rock up to a restaurant at 7.45pm and expect to enjoy a fillet steak, so in effect your peak trade time is only 5pm to 6.30pm
The call for financial support is never off the radar within the Scottish Hospitality Group. Yesterday we saw that our colleagues within the trade in Wales are set to be given an average of £11,300 for a 6 week period, by the Welsh Government. Pressure must now be mounting on the Scottish Government to at least match this with a similar scheme, especially when the Scottish Government gets more funding than Wales does through the Barnett Formula. The question therefore obviously needs to be asked, that if they won’t, why not? If the argument is that they don’t have the funds to do this, then where has all the money gone?
It seems quite obvious to me that Wales is leading the way by looking at building the foundations to support and prop up their hospitality sector to allow them a long term survival and future. The Scottish Government really needs to take a leaf out of Mark Drakeford’s book and dig deep into the latest £1.7 Billion Westminster funding received in November, or use the returned rates relief money from the supermarkets, to mirror the approach taken by Wales to help in the medium to long term future of hospitality. The truth is this; we are a major part of Scotland’s tourism, and without hospitality, there is no future for tourism in Scotland.
Again I would ask the First Minister to open the door, pull out a chair and offer us a better chance to discuss and put forward our issues, and to discuss and put forward solutions, because as SHG have always said, we ARE a part of the solution, not part of the problem.
On a lighter note, I would like to take this opportunity to say a massive well done to all those who won awards at the Dram Awards last week, and to Susan and her team for putting the evening together. It was a great evening, and for me an absolute honour to have been awarded Trade Champion 2020. Needless to say, I am sure next year’s award night will be a massive event, and one we will all look forward to.
Leigh get the door……..That’s maybe the First Minister looking for a wee chat.
Stephen Montgomery, Scottish Hospitality Group.