A tale of two cities: Joy in Edinburgh and gloom in Glasgow over hospitality rules

As hospitality venues in Edinburgh began to enjoy the greater freedoms afforded by the move down to level two, one bar group owner in the capital said she felt “very positive about the future”. Shifting focus some 40-odd miles to the west in Glasgow, which was held at the last minute in level three, a fellow bar boss reported feeling “punch drunk”.

Edinburgh, along with most of mainland Scotland, is now in level two, which means that food and alcohol can be served indoors until 10.30pm – as opposed to hospitality premises in level three being restricted to only serving alcohol outdoors, while dining indoors must be over by 8pm.

It was announced towards the end of Friday that Glasgow would remain in level three for another week, with Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch subsequently warning that this may be extended with a rise in cases in the nation’s largest city.

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Bar group owner Michael Bergson who owns three venues in Glasgow – two Buck's Bars and Thundercat Pub and Diner – said staying in level three is costing each venue more than £10,000 a week.

Edinburgh has today moved to level two - which means food and alcohol can be served indoors until 10:30pm. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

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His venues were fully stocked and ready to sell alcohol all week, but he believes the Scottish government wants to keep hospitality closed “for as long as possible without, in my opinion, justifiable data… there's absolutely no data that proves that not serving alcohol indoors with all the key measures that were put in place causes a risk”.

As for the mental health impact, he said this was “absolutely enormous”, adding that the restrictions were “totally and utterly disproportionate” to the threat posed by Covid-19. “This rhetoric that because you're having a drink with your meal increases transmission from person to person, it's complete nonsense.”

As for how he feels just now, he described it as being in the ring with boxer Tyson Fury, and every time he tries to get out he suffers another blow.

He also cited a lack of collaboration between hospitality and government, and the damaging knock-on effect of the recent level three decision on supply chains, points also highlighted by Stephen Montgomery, group spokesperson for the Scottish Hospitality Group, which represents major restaurant and bar businesses including The DRG Group, Signature Pubs, Montpeliers, and G1 Group.

He said: "Hospitality venues in Glasgow have worked tirelessly towards this date for reopening and have had all of their plans thrown up in the air with no notice. It’s bitterly disappointing to see these damaging decisions being made by people who simply have paid us lip service over the past 14 months, and still don't understand how a hospitality business works.

Unneccessary

"The unaffordable thousands of pounds wasted on unnecessary shifts and stock costs are just part of the price businesses will have to pay. There’s the impact of all this on staff and public confidence, not to mention the stress for operators, and it has all been avoidable. How bad does it have to get for businesses before this government realises they must work with us.”

It came as the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) and UKHospitality called for a half-hour call with Nicola Sturgeon.

In a joint letter to the First Minister, STA chief executive Marc Crothall and UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson, said: “While I imagine the decision to keep Glasgow at level 3… will have been a hugely challenging one for government in terms of balancing the public health crisis against the urgent need for businesses within all sectors to be trading as viably as possible, this has thrown a significant part of our industry and, indeed, the supply chain back into crisis mode and the mental health, resilience and commercial viability of the sector are of considerable concern.”

They said they expect the Scottish government to acknowledge the current situation and announce further financial support beyond the up to £750 per week offered per affected business.

Additionally, with non-essential travel in and out of Glasgow currently prohibited in level three, the Scottish Guest House and B&B Alliance echoed calls for more action from the Scottish government to support the sector during the current influx of Covid Cases – saying it was “deeply” worried about the impact on relevant members’ businesses.

Fraser Mathieson, a spokesperson for the group, said: “Our season has already been shortened, and we are fearful that if it is shortened anymore, that without ongoing support, some of these businesses so important to Scotland’s tourism infrastructure will cease to exist.”

Anna Lagerqvist Christopherson, who along with husband Mike owns and runs Edinburgh bar and restaurant group Boda Bars, said she would have been “absolutely furious” if her business had been subject to the treatment of peers in Glasgow because it would have stocked up to reopen under level two rules.

She also believes that overall, hospitality restrictions should be simplified. This time around, she said no one has any clue what the rules are, because they change so much.

The group currently has 21 staff on its books and two venues open – Victoria on Leith Walk and Joseph Pearce on Elm Row – down from seven sites in March last year and a headcount that previously exceeded 100.

She said it has been a “horrendous” year – but Monday had been a landmark moment. “It feels like a massive weight is off my shoulders – and heart and chest. It feels so nice... I will be able to pay my bills again.

"It’s just onwards and upwards from now on, I think, and I feel very positive about the future.”

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