NICOLA Sturgeon is considering whether pubs and restaurants under level 2 and 3 restrictions could open later to serve evening meals – but has warned the measures are in place to “reduce the number of people coming together”.

In tier 3 of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 strategy, local authority areas including Edinburgh and Fife have restrictions placed on hospitality businesses. Currently, no alcohol can be served to customers and traders can only operate from 6am until 6pm.

But businesses have appealed to the First Minister to “tweak the tiers” and shift the opening hours to let them offer a dinner service.

The Scottish Hospitality Group has suggested an extension in trading hours in tier 2 and tier 3 to 10pm, claiming there is no scientific evidence to support forcing premises to close their doors early.

The sector has stressed that by extending opening times by just a few hours, it means businesses can operate a full dinner service and bring in enough money to cover fixed costs such as rent, furlough contributions, and staff pension payments.

Nic Wood, director of the Signature Pub Group, added: “The more viable we can be then the less of a burden we will be on the country and we will still provide safe places for people to socialise. 

“The Scottish Government must sit up and listen to what industry is saying to them or the majority of hospitality businesses, particularly the small, independent operators without deep pockets, will not be here past Christmas.

"Just tweaking the guidance slightly will save thousands of jobs and save the taxpayer millions while still giving the public a safe place to meet friends and family.”

Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern, Daniel Johnson, has appealed to the Scottish Government to think over the plea – and has written to Ms Sturgeon on behalf of Edinburgh businesses, asking for a re-think.

He said: “Those business owners collectively run more than 100 premises across the city, and they estimate that, in total, almost 700 jobs have already been lost, with no changes for level 3.

“They fear that 500 more will be lost with the continuation of the restrictions.”

Mr Johnson said reducing the hours from 6am until 6pm to 12pm until 9pm “would enable two evening meal services”.

He added: “That small change could prevent half of the projected job losses.

“We all understand the need for restrictions, but the First Minister must surely agree that we must also review them to balance the economic cost of the public health measures.”

The First Minster said she will “consider” the proposal.

She added: “I work on the basis that if people who are being affected by this pandemic and the restrictions put forwarded proposals about how the impact could be lessened or made less difficult, we have a duty to consider that.

“We won’t always be able to agree with these proposals.”

Ms Sturgeon warned that in general terms, the needs of businesses and the requirement to stop people mixing don’t always align.

She said: “Sometimes what businesses propose are different ways of the hours that are restricted, which allow them to have more people though their businesses.

“From the businesses’ perspective, that is entirely understandable. But from the public health perspective, the reason for the restriction is to reduce the number of people coming together.

“Sometimes it may not be consistent with the public health objective and that’s why we have to make a careful assessment and come to a balanced view.”

The First Minister added: “If a restaurant is saying ‘instead of making us close at 6pm, let us open later and close a couple hours later as well’, from a business perspective, I get that because it allows a dinner service.

“But if it means that actually, a lot more people are going to be coming together, it might not be possible from a public health perspective.”