Some of the biggest names in Scottish hospitality, food and drink have written to the First Minister asking for her support to prevent the collapse of businesses amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
The hospitality sector currently employs more than 220,000 people in Scotland, with many of them now furloughed or made redundant as hotels, bars and restaurants were forced to close in March.
In previous briefings, Scottish ministers have made it clear that, due to the nature of the industry, it will be one of the last to have lockdown restrictions lifted in the coming weeks. But now, leading operators are warning of swathes of business closures and mass unemployment in the near future if the Scottish government does not intervene.
In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, top chefs and restaurateurs, including Michelin-starred Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart, claim Scotland could lose its international reputation for food and drink if their concerns aren’t acted upon.
The letter read:
“We are writing to you as a group of leading hospitality industry professionals who are increasingly concerned about the economic impact coronavirus will have on our businesses, on the food and drink community and on the sector as a whole.
“Collectively we employ thousands of people and represent the best of Scottish food and drink to vistors and local consumers. However, as lockdown continues and our doors remain closed with no end to that in sight, the very future of our businesses and the wider food and drink network we support is at risk.
“With your support, over the past decade, we have helped change the worldwide image of Scotland when it comes to food, drink and hospitality. If we fail, that reputational change will be set back for a generation.
“We must thank you for what you have done so far. You have prioritised the public health of Scotland and we recognise nothing is more important than that. Alongside the UK Government, the furlough scheme and the loans and support on offer represent a lifeline to businesses impacted by the lockdown, avoiding immediate job losses and business collapses.
“However, the road maps emerging to allow the nation to unlock present us with real concern about our long-term future.
“Social distancing simply does not work in most restaurants, bars and hotels. People visit to enjoy a memorable experience with a high level of service and personal interaction, and this could never be achieved if staff had to maintain strict social distancing and wear PPE.
“Social distancing will result in revenue drops that will make most businesses unsustainable. There is also worrying evidence suggesting many people don’t feel it is safe to eat out and will avoid visiting us even after lockdown is lifted.
“If furlough ends and restaurants, bars and hotels are allowed to reopen but with social distancing enforced and no income from major events and festivals, the result will be a tidal wave of business closures and mass redundancies, increasing Scottish unemployment and the strain on the welfare system.
“We are desperate to be back in business, employing people, supporting our world class producers and suppliers, paying taxes and enhancing Scotland’s worldwide reputation for food, drink and hospitality but we can only do this with your support.”
The letter was signed by the following Scottish chefs and industry experts: Gordon Campbell Gray (owner of The Wee Hotel Company in Argyll and Skye), Tom Kitchin, Nick Nairn, Martin Wishart, Carina Contini (owner of Continis and other restaurants in Edinburgh), Roy Brett (chef proprietor of Ondine and The Fishmarket Newhaven, Edinburgh), Dale Dewsbury (general manager of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie), Tom Lewis (owner of the Mhor Collection, Loch Lomond), Stuart McCluskey (Bon Vivant Collection, Edinburgh), James Thomson (proprietor of Prestonfield House, The Witchery and The Tower restaurants, Edinburgh) and Peter Lederer (chairman of Taste Communications).
The signatories also asked for the following measures to be put in place:
Furlough: A specific extension for hospitality staff beyond October to give the sector enough time to get back on its feet.
Rent: They want more Scottish Government support against inflexible landlords who are still demanding full rent.
Business rates: They are asking for an extension of the business rates holiday into next year to give the sector time to recover.
Funding: They say Scotland needs an Independent Hospitality Development Fund to help businesses here adjust to new trading and target and build domestic tourism
Validation: With consumers nervous about venturing out again, they say a Covid Code is required to reassure the public that specific steps have been taken to keep them safe.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland’s hospitality industry is vitally important – economically and socially – to everyone who lives here and who visits Scotland, and we are carefully considering how we plan the restart and long-term recovery of the sector and wider economy.
“The Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group, chaired by VisitScotland, has been in place since the beginning of the crisis and has developed a plan to respond to the impact of the virus on the sector and that work will help inform how we move forward as we slowly and carefully emerge from this crisis.
“Our package of support includes 1.6% rates relief for all non-domestic properties in 2020-21 and 100% relief for properties in retail, hospitality, leisure and airports.
“We will look carefully at all of the suggestions put forward and press the UK Government to ensure that the correct support is available as we come out of the lockdown.”