Hospitality will not be able to open in Scotland until 26th April at the earliest, according to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. At this point, the variable levels approach will be reintroduced and the whole country will move to level 3.
The Scottish government will publish a further document in mid- March which the First Minister said would put “flesh on the plan” of the new Strategic Framework.
The much-anticipated announcement was disappointing, to say the least. Whereas Boris Johnson’s announcement had more detail than expected, Nicola Sturgeon’s had much less.
The Prime Minister said England (data allowing) would come out of all Covid-19 social restrictions by 21st June. The first crucial date for hospitality was 12th April – the date pencilled in for outdoor hospitality to open and on the 17th May all other hospitality venues could open.
However, the First Minister in what was quite obviously a dig at Boris Johnson’s announcement, said she wanted to “avoid giving false assurance” and “arbitrary dates.”
She also added that the Business Strategic Framework Fund would include further help for businesses with the fund now running until the end of June and that there may be further tapered support. However further funding was dependent on Barnett consequentials.
To summarise: In Scotland, there will be a three-week gap between easing dates. The 15th March the second phase will see schools reopening, and priority students attending University and colleges, and outdoor socialising rules relaxed with 4 people from two households able to meet. From 5th April – stay at home restrictions will be lifted – schools will fully return – and communal worship with restricted numbers will be allowed. On the 26th April businesses may be allowed to open in Level 3.
Stephen Montgomery of the Scottish Hospitality Group said, “The 26th April is a date, but that is all it is. It is hardly a route map. We want a clear and decisive pathway. We need to be having discussions now about the criteria for Level 3. At the very least we need to be open from 10am to 10pm, without alcohol. But not only that we need a minimum of three weeks notice of an opening date so on 5th April we need to know for certain that we can reopen on 26th. We need to rehire, train, organise supplies etc, and with parliament dissolved from 25th March due to the election, it is important that we start having these discussions now.”
He continued, “Four weeks extra support is also not enough with the CBIL’s, Bounce Back loans and VAT deferral repayments starting shortly.”
Opening under the current Level 3 restrictions mean that hospitality would only be able to open with no alcohol with last entry 5pm. Only 6 people from 2 households allowed. This tier also, at the moment, only allows essential travel from and to level 3 or 4 areas.
Michael Bergson, of Thundercat and Buck’s Bar, voices the frustration many in hospitality when he says, “It is clear that the government does not have a clear plan on how to get us out of this. They keep saying they have to assess the level of effectiveness of the vaccine. If the vaccine is not as effective as they hope – then what? What exactly are all these restrictions doing when you look at what is happening abroad – we remain the worst in Europe with more restrictions than anywhere else in the world right now. Is the Scottish Government actually saving anyone? I know what poverty does to life expectancy and this appears to be being ignored.”
He continued, “We were told to shut on 9th October for 20 days, then told we had to remain closed. Closing all hospitality in the west of Scotland did not cause the ‘R’ number to come down. I am just so angry and disappointed.”
UKHospitality Scotland Executive Director Willie Macleod said, “We need much more detail, to really get to grips with the challenge of reopening. We will need details of the type of restrictions businesses will be under and the timeframe for easing them.
“It appears that hospitality will be shunted back into unrealistic level 3 restrictions, which will be immensely damaging for the sector. We cannot expect businesses to survive such severe constraints on trading over such a prolonged period and face yet more uncertainty. It seems that Scottish residents will remain unable to travel beyond local authority boundaries, visitors from the rest of the UK will be prevented from travelling to and within Scotland and international travel remains strangled.
“We must remember that severe restrictions seriously undermine a business’s ability to trade and we cannot expect them to survive if restrictions remain in place for too long. We need confirmation from the Scottish Government at the earliest opportunity that this will not be the case.
“It is crucial that businesses remain supported in the run-up to reopening and beyond. The Scottish Government has already extended the business rates holiday, and this is welcome; but we need much more than this and the grants available under the Temporary Closure and Business Restrictions schemes are, quite simply, inadequate for the job. These schemes must urgently be reviewed to provide businesses with realistic funds to enable them to survive this prolonged period without any revenue. The UK Government must use next month’s Budget to extend the VAT cut, extend furlough and deliver a sector-specific package of support with consequential funding to the Scottish Government to ensure businesses survive the coming months.”