So the Scottish government’s plan to allow pubs and restaurants in Scotland to begin serving customers outside from April 26 – two weeks after this was permitted in England – is entirely in keeping with the First Minister’s overall strategy.
However, one fairly obvious consequence of this is that people will start to “jump the border” – as the Scottish Hospitality Group pointed out – and travel to England to celebrate the new-found freedom there. A similar problem also affects self-catering holiday lets with those in Scotland still closed, while businesses in England have re-opened.
Missing out on the first wave of the pent-up demand among many people to simply have some fun will be a further blow to the hospitality sector, one of the mainstays of Scotland’s economy.
The First Minister has spoken about how she will be driven by “data, not dates” in making decisions over the lockdown and this is usually interpreted to mean that targets for re-opening could be delayed if there is a rise in the number of coronavirus cases. But it should also mean it is possible to move dates forward or allow a greater relaxation of the restrictions than previously planned.
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association has now warned that up to two-thirds of pubs and bars will not be able to re-open on April 26 because they will not make enough money to justify doing so.
Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the SLTA, went so far as to say that the planned restrictions were so onerous that “really, we’re not being allowed to open on April 26”.
So if the intention is to allow significant economic activity to take place from that date, then the Scottish government should perhaps reconsider in light of the feedback from industry.
Weighing the risk of infection against the risk to the economy is an almost impossible task, but it is important that the government remains flexible in its approach and willing to ignore opposition cries of ‘U-turn’ if circumstances – whether that be the infection rate or information about the effect of regulations – change.
And if there is a reason for Scotland delaying its opening and operating under different rules, then businesses need to be told. Above all, businesses need clarity of which there currently appears to be little.