By Scott Wright

INDEPENDENT pub owners in Scotland have given a cautious welcome to the extended measures provided by the UK Government to support the hospitality sector last night.

Paul Waterson, spokesman for the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), said the one-year business rates holiday applied to all businesses in the pub, leisure, hospitality and retail sectors was “a start” as business owners struggle to get grips with the crisis, assuming the break is also applied to Scotland.

The measure was part of an enhanced package of support unveiled by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak last night, which included £330 billion of government-backed loans and a three-month mortgage holiday to ease people’s financial worries.

Mr Sunak also sought to allay fears that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had devastated the hospitality industry by advising citizens to stop visiting pubs and other leisure venues.

Industry figures reacted furiously to the advice, declaring that because the Government had not ordered the closure of outlets operators would be unable to make insurance claims for business interruption. Mr Sunak said the advice offered by the Government meant business owners could make claims.

Mr Waterson said the SLTA has been calling for respite from business rates since the crisis erupted. Stressing the importance of the measure being extended to Scotland, he said the move was one of the biggest fixed costs pubs would continue to face “even if we turn the key on the door” and close because of coronavirus.

He was cautious in response to comments from Mr Sunak that the government advice would allow business owners to make insurance claims, saying that more detail was needed and that it would depend on the content of individual policies. Mr Waterson said it was encouraging that the Chancellor will look to models in other countries for supporting people’s wages, as in Denmark. But he said is not convinced people in the industry would have the appetite for taking on more loans.

Shortly after Mr Sunak’s speech, Scottish hospitality group Manorview Hotels announced that it has suspended trading. But the company, whose venues include the Busby Hotel and Boclair House in Bearsden, said it would not be making any of its staff redundant. Staff, including directors and managers, will receive 50% of their average weekly earnings until further notice.

Earlier in the day, hospitality operator Andy McCartney had declared that government measures on both sides of the border were not enough to deal with the crisis. Mr McCartney, who has been forced to delay the planned opening of a new restaurant on Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square, said: “There needs to be a cash assistance to help people through this period, irrespective of what happens with the insurers, or the closures,” he said.

“Insurance claims will take months… this is about the here and now of providing support for people, potentially suspending payments of people’s rent, people’s mortgages. I want to see a blueprint from the government for what they are doing to assist employees and employers in terms of the cashflow problems that everyone is going to face.

“There is an immediacy about this situation that has not been remedied. Unfortunately, rates relief is small fry compared with the scale of what we are about to face. We’re on the verge of closing the doors. Will they re-open? It remains to be seen. It is incalculable the impact this will have.”

Leisure industry veteran Brad Stevens, who opened his latest outlet, Mamasan, in Glasgow this week despite the unfolding crisis, slammed the advice given by Johnson on Monday night.

He said: “Most people in this industry have business disruption insurance. Now, if you are not forced to close you can’t claim it on your insurance. He has told the public not come, but he has not forced us [to close], so he is basically playing two hands. He has thrown us under a bus.”

Celebrity chef Nick Nairn warned the industry may collapse following the advice, declaring that Johnson had devastated his trade "in two minutes" with his comments. Mr Nairn, who runs the Cook School at Port of Menteith with wife Julia, said that 90 per cent of his business had been wiped out overnight, adding that a similar picture could be found across Scotland.