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"The wider impact of these restrictions on communities in Scotland is devastating " - Scottish hospitality owners react to the roadmap out of lockdown

Scottish business owners in the hospitality sector have given their thoughts on the first minister's announcement on the easing of lockdown.

Published: February 23, 2021
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On Tuesday 23 February, first minister Nicola Sturgeon set out details of the easing of lockdown restrictions in Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon unveiled a “revised strategic framework” in the form of four phases, which detailed how restrictions will be gradually lifted in the country.

The announcement included when we can expect to see the reopening of shops, hotels, bars and restaurants.

The tentative time scale for this is from late April onwards, with Scotland moving back into a levels system from the last week in April.

Ms Sturgeon's announcement has been compared to Boris Johnson's plan for England, which despite both saying they'd be led by data and not dates, had dates for the reopening of various sectors.

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Hospitality business owners have reacted to the news, with some of the leading names in the business coming  together to propose UK-wide full unlock and reopening of the tourism and hospitality industry on 17 May.

This new proposal from some owners is line with the date set out for England on Monday 22 February.

Responding to The Scottish Government’s roadmap out of lockdown announcement at Holyrood over 80 hospitality businesses across Scotland have joined forces to form the ‘Hospitality & Tourism Action Group’ and the set out their own timeframe for getting the industry back on its feet again after almost 12 months of government-imposed lockdowns and other trade restrictions.

Tanja Lister from the Kylesku Hotel, said: "We’re calling for a more strategic alignment of tourism opening across the UK. The current plans, confusion and loss of confidence risk devastation for our industry and the lives and livelihoods linked to it.

"Also, the financial support on offer in 2021 is very much lacking in comparison to last year. We’re calling for full proper furlough reinstated until their businesses are allowed to open.

"Anything less risks many of our businesses not reaching the starting line. We need more meaningful grant support that is index linked to the rateable value of businesses.

"Leaving our businesses with such a significant shortfall now risks some falling at the last hurdle and would result in previous financial support having been in vain."

James Thomson, owner of Prestonfield House in Edinburgh, added: "With this extended period of forced closure and inadequate support, many businesses across Scotland now face the real risk of permanent closure and potentially losing their trusted suppliers and staff. The wider impact of these restrictions on communities in Scotland is devastating.

"Last year, I had to make the incredibly difficult decision to close The Tower in Edinburgh after operating it for 22 years.

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"Prior to the pandemic we were in a very positive position of having a team of excellent, highly-skilled staff – many of which were young people.

"I fear the worst for them and for businesses like ours who have to make awful decisions based on the current circumstances. Increased support and opportunity to trade throughout the summer months could make a huge difference to many."

Fiona Campbell, Chief Executive, Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC), said: "The First Minister had the opportunity to provide detail, clarity, and certainty to the thousands of self-catering businesses across Scotland today and the Scottish Government failed completely to do so.

"What makes this muddle even more disappointing to us, and to Scotland’s tourism sector as a whole, is that it effectively means we are lagging behind our colleagues south of the border who already have an indicative date to reopen and as a result have already seen bookings come pouring in for late spring.

"We are now not only having to cancel and refund existing bookings, but we are also having to turn down bookings from south of the border.

"Worse still, unlike those in other sectors, the self-catering sector has yet to see any of the sectoral support packages announced on December 21st reach the bank accounts of self-catering operators, there is no certainty that ongoing financial support will be forthcoming once we exit Level 4 and with no bookings in the foreseeable future many are in a perilous state.

"As an industry, we stand ready to lead the way for tourism to reopen in Scotland when it is safe to do so, by offering families a safe and managed environment to finally find respite after months of harsh lockdown."

Those not part of the ‘Hospitality & Tourism Action Group’ also aren't reassured by the plans.

Amy and Jack Elles, co-owners of The Harbour Café, Elie had hoped for a date for re-opening for bookings, saying: "In line with English restaurants, we are hoping to re-open our bookings from 15 March, for the end of April, although we will have to see what the coming weeks bring.

"Elie is a holiday destination and opening the cafe during Tier 3 and 4 restrictions was simply not viable for us.

"With our seafood shack right on the beach, we really need travel restrictions for Edinburgh and Glasgow residents to have been lifted before we are able to re-open and welcome visitors.

"The Harbour Café at Home boxes have been a lifeline and we will continue to offer these indefinitely as the foodscape has really changed in the past year.

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Will Docker, Founder of Balgove Larder, Chair of Food from Fife praised loyal customers, saying: "The easing of Scottish lockdown restrictions hasn’t been explained and the hospitality industry must have a clear plan.

"We are so grateful to our loyal local customers here at Balgove Larder, but we are also desperate to operate in a safe and secure manner and can’t understand why we aren’t able to do so based on current reducing COVID case levels.

"Our team are eager to return from furlough and we dearly want to expand our takeaway offering to enable them to do so.

"However, we are left without clear explanations for how outdoor and indoor hospitality will look this spring let alone this summer. Businesses need further concise guidance from both the Scottish Government and local councils.

"We cannot even begin to plan our return to trade based on interpretations from today’s muddled announcement."

Roberta Hall-McCarron, chef-owner of The Little Chartroom added: "After yesterday's announcement from the prime minister, we were feeling really positive and looking forward to hearing Scotland's road map out of lockdown.

"But in reality, it was very vague and doesn't allow us to plan at all. At least if dates are given with the understanding that these may change if the data supports the decision to change, we all know there is a possibility and can adapt accordingly.

"But with no dates or mention of hospitality we have no idea of when we should open our bookings. Restaurants cannot be told to open next week and be expected to manage to fill their tables in that time."

Lisa Wedgwood, co-owner of Wedgwood the Restaurant had similar thoughts on the matter. She said: "After today’s announcement we are none the wiser as to when we can reopen.

"We understand why the restrictions are in place and the importance of keeping people safe, but we need more guidance.

"We can’t plan ahead, which is worrying for us as a small business. We rely on advance bookings to staff the restaurant and order from suppliers. Clearer guidance and instructions are crucial for us just now.

"On top of this, we need clarification on whether the tier 3 restrictions will remain the same. Will there still be a curfew and restrictions on alcohol sales?

"Once clarified, we can then make a fair assessment on whether we will open or not during this period."

Frank Whitaker, chair of Aberdeen City and Shire Hotel's Association discussed disappointment from their members.

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He said: "Today's much anticipated announcement was a disappointment to our members and the wider tourism sector, especially after the whole UK nation listened to Boris Johnson's outline yesterday of an earlier planned easing of restrictions in England.

"The implication that, when hotels, bars and restaurants are able to reopen again in the last week of April Scotland will be in level three, is a hammer blow to businesses which have in effect had very little revenue generating potential since March 2020.

"When hotels were able to open their revenue was severely restricted by the differing measures at any given time such as corporate travel restrictions, no alcohol or closing at 6pm.

"Hotels which have been forced to close still carry significant cost liabilities which they are contractually bound to, and in many cases are losing tens of thousands of pounds per month.

"However, opening in level three would not be financially viable for many hotels as their revenue potential would be severely affected.

"Manning costs remain the same whether an establishment is serving a guest one cup of coffee or a more profitable bottle of wine or a bedroom.

"The previously implemented VAT reduction has been of little benefit to hospitality businesses which have been forced to halt trading. Realistically, and reading between the woolly lines of today's statement, revenue recovery for hotels cannot be expected until late June 2021 at the very earliest.

"The booking window lag for hotels has also to be taken into account. Hotels are not like shops; we will receive bookings from the moment we are able to open our doors, however, unlike shops, our revenue won't be immediate.

"Hoteliers who, in 2020 erected outdoor marquee structures, are also nervous about whether they may now have to seek building warrants or further planning permission for these structures - which will, again, incur further expense.

"We're calling for the Scottish and UK Governments to give us clarity today about the way forward instead of offering a three week lapse before the next update; for the VAT reduction for hospitality to be extended for a full 12 months from the time we are able to reopen.

"We want the reassurance that the Job Retention Scheme, or furlough, will be extended for the hospitality sector until at least the end of Q3 of 2021 and for the temporary space for people measures that allowed outdoor hospitality in marquees to be extended until the end of 2021 too."

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related.

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