Scottish Government evidence needs to be "more compelling" to justify lockdown, business leaders warn

The evidence behind the blanket closure of hospitality businesses across the Central Belt needs to be more “robust and compelling” to justify the economic sacrifice, business groups have warned.

Restaurants will have to resort to takeaway during the two week closures.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today announced that all restaurants and pubs would have to close for 16 days from Friday in central belt areas including Edinburgh and Glasgow, while alcohol sales would be banned indoors throughout Scotland in a bid to control rising coronavirus cases.

But business groups warned that the closures could leave many outlets in dire financial circumstances, saying that many businesses could collapse – and called on the government to consult with the industry over the changes.

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Joanne Davidson, director of policy at the Edinburgh Chambers of Commerce, said: “Everyone in the country acknowledges the pandemic is a serious public health issue and we appreciate that Government has to make hard decisions in the current climate. However, it is an issue we need to tackle together, and that means involving businesses in the process. Taking decisions without recourse to those whose lives, businesses, employment and well-being are torn apart by these decisions is not the way to bring our country through this process successfully.

“Along with all of our colleagues in the Chamber network, we call on the Scottish Government to consult in a genuine way with business, to provide more robust data on which serious decisions are being based, and to seek solutions and meaningful engagement with the business community which minimise the impact and ensure adequate and appropriate financial support is made available to protect jobs and livelihoods.”

They have called on the Scottish Government to consult with the industry and ensure that support is available. The government is set to support hospitality businesses with a £40 million fund.

Chef Nick Nairn tweeted that the money would not go far divided between Scotland’s 15,000 hospitality businesses.

"Lucky if that covers the 20 per cent employers contribute,” he said, referring to the furlough scheme.

Tracy Black, director of CBI Scotland, said: “Businesses would welcome further clarity on what these additional measures are expected to achieve and how their impact will be measured. Transparency around decision-making processes is crucial and a visible strategy for living with COVID-19 through the autumn and winter will be vital to protecting lives and livelihoods across Scotland.”

James Calder, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers, said: "Small breweries lost 82 per cent of their sales with the closure of pubs during the national lockdown and have been struggling through the summer at around 50 per cent of their normal sales. Devastatingly two small breweries a week have been shutting up for good.”

He added: “Pubs and small breweries are in a fragile state because of the Covid crisis and for many this sudden shut down in Scotland will be the final blow. The Scottish Government needs to urgently publish the full evidence for this lockdown and guarantee that small breweries will be eligible for the financial assistance package."

Ms Sturgeon said today: “The need for action is highlighted by today’s figures and, more fundamentally, in the evidence paper published today. To try to interrupt this trajectory, we must act now. While the measures will feel like a backward step, they are in the interests of protecting our progress overall.”

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