An eventful couple of weeks to say the least. The long-awaited return of low-level background music after a farcical ban on 14th August, and an argumentative decision on keeping Edinburgh in a level 3, whilst allowing the covid hotspots of rammed retail stores to open at 6am… enough to make you reach for an out of date bottle of beer in level 3!
That feeling of your heart sinking when you are sitting on the edge of your seat as the First Minister delivers her weekly Covid update for the levels, and you’re muttering to yourself “level 2 level 2, go on, level 2….and you are routing for your colleagues to give them a boost for the few weeks that are left to attract some trade for Christmas and you hear those words…….”Edinburgh City will remain in level 3”. It was the worst feeling. I felt so angry, so sorry and heartbroken for those business owners who had planned yet again on opening up and bringing their teams back to work. There followed a legal challenge on this which the courts did not side with. The feeling yet again that hospitality was being kicked to death in the streets of villages, towns and cities across Scotland was again being felt by us all. What exactly have we done wrong?
My honest and open opinion on all this is quite simple, and one which our Scottish Hospitality Group has been proposing now with Scottish Government since October……..”TWEAK THE TIERS”.
On the request of the Cabinet Secretary Mr Ewing, who I get on very well with, and to be fair has stepped to the fore in listening to us, we have submitted quite a substantive paper of proposals which would create a much better trading and customer environment, and which don’t change the high safety standards which we already have. This included things like allowing a 10pm trading time in levels 2 and 3, and 120-minute time slots, which has 2 positive outcomes. Dwell time is limited, and people can really only consume so much alcohol in 2 hours. This ticks both boxes of the concerns of the CMO. The fact that it would also cut out the confusion we see from customers not knowing when we are open, when we close, or if we are even allowed to open. A simple 10am to 10pm, aligned to off-sales makes sense, whilst tailoring support then to LNVs.
The return of low-level music brought with it some positives. Something we all took for granted being allowed to return brought with it a welcomed boost to staff morale for sure, and it gave them confidence again. It gave our customers atmosphere where it had lacked for 4 months, and allowed them to relax and not worry if the table next to them could hear their conversation. There was a buzz of atmosphere, a sense of some kind of normality which has not been seen for long enough. The simple things!
News of funding for hospitality now through, an absolute minimal amount, and a fraction of what’s needed, somewhat reminiscent of my younger years when I used to get 50p pocket money and told not to spend it all at once! As we go into the year of 2021, a year of uncertainty, a year which will without a doubt start off with tough measures after the more or less “free for all” over the 5 days of Christmas, it is an absolute must that we see sector-specific targeted funding come from Scottish Government. If that means they have to knock on the door of the Treasury in London then so be it, I’ll even drive them there myself if need be! One positive I guess will come from this……..again, they can’t blame hospitality, as this my dear colleagues is the fault of the decision-makers, and I am sure I speak for all when I say that it is totally against the wishes of the hospitality sector, who can not be held prisoner or punished in any way for this decision in January.
Looking back on 2020 is hard, and we will all be glad to see the back of it I am sure. It has certainly been a year like no other. For me, it has been a year of an emotional rollercoaster. The starting up of the SHG with those who have now became my very good friends and colleagues, has been an amazing journey, and I have to say a big thank you to everyone involved in the group for your continued support, and I hope that in 2021 we continue to grow from strength to strength as a group. We are certainly well known throughout the industry and our name reverberates along the corridors of Holyrood, and I have no doubt that will continue through the friendships and working relationships we have gained with Ministers.
As the year comes to a close, I have some special thank yous. To Colin at the SLTA, Paul at the SBPA, and Willie at UKH, colleagues at NTIA, Caroline and colleagues at TLT, Jack Cummins and officials in our weekly working group, it has been a pleasure to work with you over the past months on joint issues, and I look forward to extending this relationship into the future as we battle through what will be a rough road ahead. To those in Government who have listened to me rant and argue and push for change, thank you… but it has only just begun, there will be more, much more.
To all my colleagues within the Scottish Hospitality Group, and Susan Young, you have all been fantastic, and to my friend Janet Hood, thank you also for your supportive calls. To my own teams thank you for taking control of the business and sticking with it when everything looked bleak, my own Mum and Dad for your support, and finally, to everyone in the trade, stick with it, we WILL get through this
Leigh, get the door………that will be Santa with more grant money!!
Scottish Hospitality Group