by Stephen Montgomery
As we stare at the mouth of Christmas and Hogmanay, a time which traditionally is a busy period for the sector, and an enjoyable time for our customers, we are also staring at the possibility of the further roll-out of covid certification, or Covid Passports, which they are now more commonly known, to other areas of indoor hospitality.
In its current policy format, many businesses have been unable to recruit door stewards to adopt and enforce the regulation which became legal on 18th October. This is because there is currently a shortage of qualified door stewards in Scotland. It is also an issue because the new policy requires those who have fallen into the scope of the new definition of “nightclub”, and who previously did not have the requirement on their license to have door stewards, now do. Those places are predominantly sites open between midnight and 1am or 2am, depending on the licensing policy in that area.
So, what has happened? Well, for some they have decided to close at midnight and for others they have taken themselves out of scope, by either pivoting the business model to take away the dancefloor or have ended music at midnight.
In both scenarios it just doesn’t help the business, with turnover levels currently down between 30 and 40%, but also this affects staff, who now have their hours cut, which ultimately leads to wage losses. So, what aid or help are businesses currently getting to support this? Nothing, that’s what.
As I write this, businesses within hospitality who are currently not within the scope are sitting with their head in their hands in a state of panic……cafes, coffee shops, sandwich bars, pubs, restaurants, and hotels all asking will it be us, how will it work, what do we need to do, will I survive?
These are the calls I am fielding just now, and it doesn’t matter how often you say “hold on, according to Mr Swinney, it’s only a possibility”, once someone of importance stands up and makes a statement then we all know the outcome……..project fear within a sector who have already been decimated during covid, a sector which is on average between £90k and £150k per site, in debt, a sector which has rolled over and taken every single restriction possible, from a 3 week short sharp shock which lasted over 200 days, to “that” background music ban, then you can’t drink inside but it’s okay outside, and its 6pm, 8pm, 10pm close.
Hospitality has always said that health must come before profit, however, health also includes the mental health of customers, staff, and the business owners. Of course, we all want to be safe, and hospitality has invested heavily throughout this pandemic in measures to make sure that everyone is safe.
At the Covid Recovery Committee last week, there was no evidence given to show that the introduction of the Covid Passport in “nightclubs” was having a positive effect. Asked again in the chamber on Tuesday, the same answer was given. If that is the case, then is there really any evidence to show that rolling it out further in our sector only, will have a positive effect? The evidence which SHG has given the Scottish Government on many occasions since the beginning of October has given them all the evidence they would need to show them that actually, it is having a negative effect. People are social animals by nature. Shutting down a person’s social rights, for example, the ability to go to a “nightclub”, which is maybe just their rural local bar, only has one outcome……they go elsewhere. They don’t go home and put their pyjamas on and go to bed. House parties, illegal gatherings, pubs built in back gardens…….are you getting a touch of Deja vu here? Remember what happened when the music ban came in?
Already people are asking for deposits to be returned for Christmas because they aren’t sure if people in the party will have had their second dose, so they will not in its current policy format be able to get into a place which may come under the new scope. People aren’t taking the chance, and many are just canceling events. Some have even canceled hotel stays in Scotland over Hogmanay and decided to hire lodges instead so as they can be together with friends and family.
This isn’t just about the licensed trade shouting about the effect it has already had on our business, it’s more than that. It’s about the rights of people also. To quote Prof. Stephen Reicher “Vaccine passports are a very double-edged sword, they create problems, they alienate people from authority. When you try to impose things on people, number one, you get social-psychological reactions, people reassert their autonomy, and secondly, it undermines their relationship with authority”.
I think he is right. The initial comment from the Scottish Government was that the primary reason for covid certification was to stop the spread, and the secondary reason was to drive the uptake of the vaccination in the younger cohort. Then it was changed to the other way around. Yes, there are maybe different elements to the reason for bringing them (covid passports) in, but the primary and secondary reasons should never change, because then the messaging around it changes, but it seems it just depends on who is asking the question at the time, and which way the answer fits best to suit the narrative.
Everyone knows that just because you are double vaccinated it doesn’t stop you from spreading it, or catching it, but we know it should stop most of us from getting ill, so in its current form does it really work? We hear the talk of every other country doing it but let’s look at the facts of that. Other countries including Wales allow the use of a negative LFT. I am in no way saying it will solve the issue in any way, but it may help ease the situation regarding ethnicity, religious grounds, fertility concerns, and fundamentally the rights of others in choice.
If I could say one thing to the decision-makers in Government…..and I don’t profess to be an expert in any way, but why just hospitality yet again? What do you have against us? Why not every part of society if you are serious about driving down the spread or whatever it is you are trying to achieve? Please don’t throw an extension to a policy, just because you think you need to do something. Don’t just throw it at hospitality because that’s always been the way you have done it.
The only way to make any sort of restriction work, whether it’s covid passports or anything else, is by talking. You need to discuss, talk, and listen to those it will affect. Take on board their concerns and issues, not just sit and hear them talk. You need to bring everyone on the journey with you, and by that, I don’t just mean the businesses, I mean more importantly, the public.
Hospitality has just about had enough, and along with the public, it has suffered unimaginable times, so please do not make it any worse than it already is. We all have respect to uphold, but to gain respect you must earn it and be seen to give it.