Readers' Letters: It may be our fault restaurants are in trouble

Your comment on the dangers facing hospitality (13 December) and reports of the First Minister’s call to Boris Johnson for more support for industry (16 December) invite reflection on how different Scottish hospitality might be, and in many ways already is.

Scottish food stars Tom Kitchin, Martin Wishart, Carina Contini, James Thomson, Nic Wood, Stefano Pieraccini, Scott Smith, Michele Civiera, Mark Alston, Katie O’Brien and Andrew Radford got together last year to boost eating out in Scotland (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Scottish food stars Tom Kitchin, Martin Wishart, Carina Contini, James Thomson, Nic Wood, Stefano Pieraccini, Scott Smith, Michele Civiera, Mark Alston, Katie O’Brien and Andrew Radford got together last year to boost eating out in Scotland (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Anyone old enough to remember the Stanley Baxter skit that offered guests “After Eight mince” knows that today’s Scotland has food choices that were unknown in the relatively recent past. From street stalls to celebrity chef Instagram-ready venues, world cuisines are available. Local produce abounds; artisan bakers, patisseries and gin are the new normal. Brexit has been a disaster for enterprising food businesses who have built internationally respected export trades, but these industries also raised domestic expectations for everyone’s night out. The hospitality trade nonetheless hangs by a thread because its maximum revenue period of three weeks or so in December is threatened. That’s not the industry’s fault; it’s not Nicola Sturgeon’s fault – but it might be ours.

Is it because we find the commercialisation of the wider Christmas industry so seductive that we pile into restaurants in December, but then abandon them from January to March? The weather doesn’t change that much from December to early spring. The evenings are still dark, the food is still appetising; variations in seasonal produce bring new menu options. Yet the poinsettia table centres and paper hats seem to overwhelm the appeal of crisp linen, fresh flowers and an absence of panic-stricken “seasonal fun” after 1 January.

No one who holidays abroad ever thinks “I can’t eat out because it’s not Christmas”; everyone slips into when-in-Rome mode. Why not at home, in November or February? Statistics for the French restaurant industry show revenue reaching roughly the same levels in September and December 2019 and rising slightly higher in November 2019 and January 2020. Steep losses were related to Covid in April – not over-dependence on “the festive season”. The hospitality industry must be rescued now, but a stable future depends on a cultural shift among the many who have reined in their December spending. Many believe Scotland is “a nation in waiting” for its place as a modern, independent, European country. When the present virus crisis passes, support Scotland’s stellar food and drink industries. Live like a European. Eat out more often. Focus on inventive, creative menus, not the calendar. How hard could that be?

(Dr) Geraldine Prince, North Berwick, East Lothian

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Priorities please

The Scotsman letters page is full of complaints about the measures taken by Holyrood to mitigate the effects of Covid in its successive varieties. No-one can doubt the profits of the hospitality and other service industries suffer and that families are disappointed, but can there be any serious case for giving priority to these interests over the need to save lives in over-stretched hospitals?

James Scott, Edinburgh

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Wrong person

The construction of the Edinburgh Tram system is a civil engineering project which has gone hugely over budget, as did the Holyrood Parliament civil engineering project. The mystery is, why do those in power always insist on appointing a lawyer to investigate the reasons for these financial disasters?

Suitably qualified civil engineers should be appointed to investigate these projects and give an informed report on the failings, so that future projects do not repeat the same mistakes, and those at fault can take responsibility for their actions. I am sure we would then get final reports in a much shorter time.

Lawyers do not expect to get their work investigated by engineers, so why does the opposite happen?

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Bill McKenzie, Penicuik, Midlothian

Time to invest

Andrew H N Gray (Letters, 17 December) refers to Scotland’s deficit but forgets that we are part of the UK that has the highest deficit in Europe and nobody is suggesting the UK relinquish its independence. Opponents of self-government have never explained why Scotland, with massive renewable energy potential, uniquely could not be as wealthy as Norway or Denmark etc. Almost a third of the notional deficit is interest attributed to Scotland on a UK National Debt that we didn’t run up. We are also charged billions a year for a share of defence expenditure, of which less than half is spent in Scotland, so more than pay our share for armed forces helping to give out jags. Norway and Denmark invested oil riches into developing renewable energy manufacturing and modernising shipyards but successive UK governments failed to similarly invest in Scotland while penalising our renewable industries with the highest grid transmission charges in Europe.

Mary Thomas, Edinburgh

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Poor leadership

While our First Minister continues to enjoy the free airtime on her Covid soapbox she remains fixated on ripping the UK apart while blaming Westminster for a lack of financial support. We are in effect being eased into lockdown again while no support packages are in place for hospitality and businesses that require footfall.

The suggested rules are confusing and not scientifically based, we don’t need a raft of silly rules that don’t work. We need to make vaccinations mandatory and we need a negative test result prior to mixing in larger groups.

We hear now that £100 million has been found to support businesses affected by the latest raft of restrictions but there is no plan as to how and when business will access this support, at a time when people are looking for real, accountable leadership, not the smoke and mirrors we are fed on an almost daily basis from both Holyrood and Westminster.

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We are seeing a gross abuse of the Scotland Act, an act which requires devolved nations’ deficits to be bailed out by the UK. Within the UK Scotland’s deficit sits at around £11 billion per annum; thankfully the UK has stepped in year on year, which it certainly won’t do if Scotland was to break away from the UK. Do we really want to suffer another decade of the failing, division-fuelled SNP destroying our great nation? I know I don’t.

PS: Omicron is on holiday on 24, 25 and 26 December, so enjoy the freedom.

Conrad Ritchie, St Combs, Aberdeenshire

The X factor

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Dr Gwenetta Curry writes that there is “not enough data on the mortality of Black populations to make a clear inference about Covid’s impact” (Perspective, 16 December), despite her assertion on 3 June this year that those of black African origin had the highest death rate among ethnic minorities even after pre-existing conditions, geography and socio-economic status were considered.

So does she now accept that the facts are more complicated than she previously thought when, without citing any evidence, she accused the UK of “systemic racism” and “discrimination”? Eg, is there a possibility that such increased prevalence is caused, like sickle-cell disease, by something in such groups’ genes?

Sadly, there are other examples of misleading or partial viewpoints, such as Lois Chingandu of Frontline Aids in Zimbabwe (Perspective, 7 December) accusing rich countries of corporate greed with bosses sitting back, watching and “counting their profits”. Not so Astra-Zeneca, which supplied its UK-developed vaccine at cost for a fraction of the price of the German/US Pfizer vaccine.

John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife

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Off the rails

Alastair Dalton asks: “What has happened to three-hour HS2 Scotland-London trips?” (Perspective, 17 December). In the Highlands we keep asking: “What has happened to the three-hour Inverness to Edinburgh rail passenger journey time?” This was promised as an average by December 2012 by First Minister Alex Salmond after the Cabinet meeting in Inverness on 5 August 2008. In December 2008 the Highland Main Line (HML) was to be third priority in the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR). The Queensferry crossing and the EGIP rail improvements (which were first and second priorities) have been delivered, but the HML remains crippled by long lengths of single track which limit capacity and cause knock-on delays.

The May 2022 timetable consultation suggests a few more minutes will need adding, increasing the average to 3 hours, 37 minutes, with an average speed of only around 50mph. The new STPR2 is to be published shortly. The word “Strategic” in its title should surely result in priority capacity improvements for this overcrowded line serving a huge swathe of Scotland, especially given the Climate Emergency objective to carry freight more sustainably, which means using rail or sea.

R J Ardern, Inverness

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Irony in the fire

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “litotes” as “ironical understatement”. Two excellent examples of the device are Rishi Sunak’s recent proclamation after the PPE contracts scandal that the government “must do better” and John Redwood’s comment after the North Shropshire by-election humiliation that the government must “raise its game”. These remarks were shrouded in an arrogance only a government that considers itself indestructible might make.

They suggest that the jaw-dropping corruption of the awarding of huge PPE contracts to friends and family, the billions of taxpayers' money wasted on a useless Track and Trace system, the MPs’ second jobs scandal, their failure to abide by the Covid rules everyone else has to observe, the honours bestowed upon Tory donors and the catastrophe that is Brexit are merely a little local difficulty. And let’s not forget the tissues of lies they have told from the moment they were elected.

May I suggest they look up the word “hubris”?

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D Mitchell, Edinburgh

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