Scotland’s hospitality sector is facing a “day of reckoning”, industry leaders warned as they told how firms will stop receiving Government support in less than two weeks.
The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) accused ministers at Holyrood of “needlessly cutting a financial lifeline”, before many businesses will be able to fully reopen.
Under the current Scottish Government roadmap for easing restrictions, venues such as cafes, pubs and restaurants can open for business again from April 26.
From this date they will be able to serve customers indoors until 8pm – though alcohol sales are not permitted. Alcohol can only be sold in outside seating areas, with these allowed to stay open till 10pm.
As it stands, bars and restaurants are not expected to be allowed to serve alcohol indoors till May 17.
But less than a quarter of licensed premises in Scotland have outdoor areas, the SHG said, adding that operators in the sector had taken on average debts of £80,000 just to survive lockdown.
The industry body added that firms would stop receiving help from from the Scottish Government’s strategic framework business fund from April 19 – when they expect to get a one-off grant aimed at helping them with the costs of restarting.
SHG spokesman, Stephen Montgomery, branded the Scottish Government proposals “senseless”.
He said: “A day of reckoning is coming for debt-strapped Scottish businesses and as politicians prioritise the electoral trail, they are needlessly cutting a financial lifeline.
“The only certainty the SHG can take from this roadmap is that our strategic grant support will be ended on April 19. It’s senseless and again highlights Ministers’ lack of knowledge of our sector – 12 months down the line this is pitiful.
“Grants should be maintained until a business can return to trading normally.”
He added: “We are relieved that some hotels and restaurants will be able to open this month, but Scottish ministers cannot just wash their hands of the thousands of operators left stranded and unable to trade viably.
“These constraints are simply not feasible for most bars and the late-night premises that will remain closed for weeks if not months, and we are calling for a workable solution.”
He demanded the Government “appoint a senior representative with a business background who is capable of grasping the unique challenges facing the sector such as the level of complexity and scale of our industry and the punitive restrictions forced on us”.
Nic Wood, of the Signature Pub Group, said he fears that many smaller businesses in the sector may not survive.
He stated: “As one of Scotland’s independent operators, we have 21 premises with only seven able to open on April 26, leaving 300 of my staff reliant on furlough for longer.
“Most of our venues are landlocked with no outdoor space. It’s just terrifying that the Scottish Government believes you can trade as a pub, viably and supporting jobs, while not being allowed to sell alcohol.
“But these limitations are endless for smaller, city-centre bars, late-night premises, nightclubs, entertainment and live-music venues that, now starved of financial support, just won’t make it through the next couple of months.”
Asked about the ending of the strategic framework business fund, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted it was a “fundamental mischaracterisation” to suggest support was being “pulled”.
She explained that a reopening grant would be paid out instead, as a direct response to feedback from businesses.
Ms Sturgeon said: “For hospitality businesses, that will be a grant payment at the end of this month of up to I think £19,500 – which is actually more generous than if we just continued the closure support that had been in place.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe