By ScottWright

GLASGOW leisure entrepreneur Oli Norman has fired a furious broadside at the UK Government for its handling of the coronavirus crisis as he revealed he has been forced him to lay off nearly 200 staff.

Mr Norman said he has made the “heart-breaking” decision to temporarily close all seven of his bars and restaurants, including Brel, Sloans and The Griffin, on the day it emerged that schools and nurseries will close in Scotland from Friday under the latest dramatic moves to combat the virus.

Celebrity chef Tom Kitchin revealed on social media that he will suspend trading at his four restaurants across Edinburgh and East Lothian tomorrow (Thursday).

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Mr Norman joined a chorus of senior hospitality figures in condemning the approach taken by the UK Government to the crisis, which he said has “made a bad situation even worse”. He is furious that Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to avoid visiting pubs and leisure venues before putting radical measures in place to keep businesses afloat.

Mr Norman said: “While it is completely the right course of action for the Government to take, how they have done it, without providing any form of financial recompense or method for employers to deal with this situation, is completely thoughtless. And it has made a bad situation even worse.

“We had to let go almost a couple of hundred staff yesterday from really successful and profitable companies because the government has yet to provide any form meaningful way for us to cope in this.”

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The comments from Mr Norman, who said “hundreds, if not thousands” of business owners in Scotland are in the same situation, came as the Scottish Government announced an enhanced package of measures to support the business community.

The £1.9 billion package, which flowed from the £330bn of measures unveiled by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday, includes a full year of 100 per cent of rates relief for hospitality, retail and tourism businesses, grants of £10,000 for small businesses that receive the small business bonus scheme or rural relief, and grants of £25,000 for hospitality, leisure and retail firms with a rateable value of between £18,000 and £51,000.

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Mr Norman accepted the difficulty of the situation facing the UK and Scottish governments, but said more direct action was needed to provide a financial safety net for businesses. His company has put in place measures to look after staff affected, including advice on how to look after their finances and mental health.

Mr Norman added: “The message is we are going to come back, and we are going to come back even stronger. In the meantime, my primary concern is how do we ensure that all these individuals are looked after, the challenge being businesses don’t have cash reserves to even touch the sides of the challenge, therefore the government needs to step in.

“Business is not designed to be a welfare system.”

Meanwhile, trade at Mr Norman’s itison daily deals business has “dropped overnight”. He has redirected staff to focus efforts on helping vulnerable people.