Hospitality leaders have said a national curfew on Scotland’s bars, restaurants and late night venues will have a "critical impact" on the already hard-hit sector.

The newly-formed Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG), which employs almost 6,000 across the country with a combined turnover of over £275 million, was responding to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s introduction of a 10pm curfew for bars and restaurants in Scotland from Friday, September 25.

The body comprises many of the country’s largest restaurant and bar businesses including the DRG Group, Buzzworks Holdings, Signature Pubs, Montpeliers, Manorview Group, Lisini Pub Co, Caledonia Inns, G1 Group, Siberia Bar & Hotel, Mor-Rioghain Group, and Caledonian Heritable. 

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The restrictions place pressure on the number of sittings restaurants can have per day.

Stephen Montgomery, SHG spokesman, said: “We are now staring into an abyss. A national curfew on Scotland’s bars, restaurants and late night venues will have a critical impact on those crucial later trading hours. Many of us are already trading at a loss and some members estimate that they will see their turnover plummet by more than 25% with the new measures.

“There is a real concern that the hospitality industry is being singled out for restrictions with very little evidence to support a link to coronavirus transmission. Across the SHG alone we have seen only a handful of positive cases since July. 

“With 90,000 Scottish jobs at risk we are heading towards a cliff edge and time is running out. We have been speaking with government and that will be ongoing but there is only a matter of months before the restrictions on our industry will have irreparable long-term damage on our sector. We are very keen to play our part but there has to be a balance. Without meaningful financial support from government many businesses will not survive further than Christmas."

He said: "With tighter restrictions even more will be plunged into the red and the consequences will range from redundancies as a minimum, to the closure of individual premises right through to insolvency.

“We have made significant investment to ensure that our premises are safely operating including  enhanced hygiene measures and controlled physical distancing. We are already seeing an explosion of house parties and closing bars and restaurants at 10pm will only increase this.

“Responsible operators that offer a controlled environment are a key part of the solution. These restrictions will only force bad behaviour underground, where track and trace is almost impossible.”

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “The First Minister’s announcement that bars, pubs and restaurants will close at 10pm from Friday will serve as a significant blow to many hundreds of businesses across Scotland who have worked hard to ensure compliance with government guidance to protect their staff, customers and to offer confidence that all possible measures have been taken to protect these groups. 

"Sadly, this is likely to be the last straw for many businesses which were only just managing to break even; the impact that this new rule will have on restaurants in particular in terms of restricting a second seating in the evening will result in a substantial loss of revenue, as indeed it will in other areas of hospitality."

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Mr Crothall said: "I have said throughout this crisis that our industry must continue to do the right thing and comply with every measure imposed on us for the good of all and to bring the virus under control. We welcome the announcement of additional inspection measures and enforcement to identify non-compliance.

"The evidence we have seen to date shows that incidences of the virus in hospitality businesses account for only a very small percentage of overall cases and I would therefore be hopeful that the further evidence we will gather in the coming days and weeks will feed into the review of this particular measure.

"There will be only one way forward for Scotland’s tourism industry in light of today’s announcement; the immediate survival and future sustainability of the industry is now dependent on a tailored furlough package for the sector, a permanent reduction in VAT to 5% beyond 2021, a business rates holiday until the end of March 2022 for all tourism businesses and a recapitalisation of borrowing – a mechanism for creating business liquidity for businesses which are quite simply running out of cash."

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, called for the urgent delivery of targeted support to businesses and hardest-hit sectors.

Ms Cameron also said there should be a clear timetable and routemap of additional restrictions including review periods, measurement criteria and trigger points to introduce or remove restrictions.

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She also called for the continuation of trading for businesses with robust Covid-secure environments.

Ms Cameron said: "Businesses across Scotland have already been following and even exceeding the rules put in place to protect our employees and customers. We have created Covid-secure environments to protect jobs and livelihoods. This will continue to be our priority."

"Health & safety is absolutely critical. As employers, we take our responsibilities very seriously. Human behaviour is key to reducing the spread of the virus and we encourage everyone to follow Covid-19 guidelines in and out of the workplace."

"Every restriction imposed is a risk to jobs. We need to see an immediate joint plan between the Scottish and UK Government with a package of support measures ready to go which gives businesses the confidence to plan, prepare and trade. We also require clarity on when the data and restrictions can be reviewed and lifted."

She added: "We are in a better position now than we were in March to be led by the health and economic data. Let's be in no doubt that stricter measures in Scotland are undeniably more dangerous for the survival of businesses. That's why both governments must support those employers who have worked hard to create safe working environments. They should be allowed to continue trading, with mitigations in place, if we are to protect jobs and businesses.”

The CBI, which across the UK speaks on behalf of 190,000 businesses across all sectors, said the move is a "bitter pill".

Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, said: "A second national lockdown would be devastating for Scotland’s economy, so it’s only right that the First Minister has prioritised bringing infections under control.

"But there can be no escaping the fact that earlier closing times for Scotland’s pubs, cafes and restaurants will be a bitter pill for a sector already hugely impacted by the crisis."

She said: "With prolonged remote working also looking likely, there will undoubtedly be a cost to our city centre economies.

“There must now be a new plan to support businesses this autumn. This should start with a successor to the Job Retention Scheme and allowing cash-strapped businesses to defer their VAT payments from the last quarter – a no-brainer given this latest blow to our economy.

“The Scottish and UK governments must work together to do everything they can to protect viable firms and jobs in the coming weeks and months.”

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