Here's why Scots hospitality industry needs better support than this piecemeal approach - Murdo Fraser

Dave Barclay, who runs the Airlie Street Bar in the centre of Alyth, Perthshire, is not a happy man.

The Piper Bar in Glasgow is among the hundreds of pubs in Glasgow which have been forced to close during the ongoing coronavirus restrictions.

His traditional pub which he has run for the last eight years has no outside space, and does not have the facilities to serve food. With the current Covid restrictions in place, he can only stay open to serve soft drinks, which for him is simply not viable.

Mr Barclay has had no alternative but to close his premises and look to the Scottish Government for support. The maximum he is now entitled to in terms of a grant from the Scottish Government is £2155. However, this is precisely half what is available to businesses in the Central Belt of Scotland, who can now receive £4310.

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To Dave Barclay, this is Central Belt bias from the Scottish Government. They would no doubt argue that the reason for the discrepancy is that restrictions in the Central Belt are stricter than those in areas such as Perthshire. But for a pub that does not have any outside space, and does not serve food, there is no difference at all.

The case of the Airlie Street Bar simply illustrates the piecemeal approach that Scottish Ministers have taken to supporting the hospitality sector across Scotland. I have been contacted by numerous hotel, restaurant and pub owners who simply cannot understand the rationale behind the restrictions that currently exist. Why, for example, can hotel residents be served an alcoholic drink in their own bedrooms, but they are not able to have a glass of wine served to them at the table in the dining room where they are eating?

The Scottish hospitality industry was already facing a long hard winter even before the latest 5-tier system of restrictions was introduced. It is now looking at even more difficult prospects, with few travellers enticed by the prospect of a hotel stay where the bars are only open to serve non-alcoholic drinks.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that five hospitality industry bodies have joined together to launch legal proceedings against the Scottish Government. The Scottish Beer and Pub Association, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, UK Hospitality (Scotland), Scottish Hospitality Group and the Night-time Industries Association of Scotland have taken legal advice, and believe that they have a strong case to challenge the restrictions that have been put on the sector.

Paul Waterson, Chief Executive of the SLTA, has stated that: “The economic support offered to premises doesn’t come close to compensating the businesses and means jobs are being lost and livelihoods ruined. We are now facing the end of our industry as we know it. The battle is now on to save the hospitality sector”.

If we are to have more severe restrictions on businesses such as pubs, restaurants and cafes, then it is essential that the Scottish Government provides adequate financial support. With an additional £700 million guaranteed by the UK Government in funding, taking the total in this financial year to a minimum of £7.2 billion, the funds have certainly been put at their disposal to do so.

A failure now to support properly businesses like the Airlie Street Bar in Alyth, and many similar across the country, would be devastating for the Scottish economy, and for jobs.

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