As the Scottish Government considers more coronavirus restrictions, food and drink business leaders in Scotland have made a plea for takeaway services to remain open.
Closing takeaways would be another nail in the coffin of food and drink businesses which have already seen much of their trade decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic, say industry representatives.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s suggestion that stricter coronavirus restrictions could be placed on takeaway services have prompted organisations across Scotland’s food and drink sector to make a plea for businesses to remain open.
Ten representatives have written a joint letter to the Scottish Government’s Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing MSP, asking that food and drink takeaway services must be able to continue.
The move comes after Ms Sturgeon said on Thursday that click and collect, and food-to-go takeaway were in the frame for being compelled to close under Covid-19 safety measures.
The industry leaders are concerned that the government is moving towards a “less considered approach” by not actively engaging with affected businesses in advance, which is in contrast to the “transparency” and “certainty” provided by the Strategic Framework in the final months of 2020.
Click and collect
And they are worried about the impact on businesses if “this commercial activity could be suspended – especially as there is no indication when these businesses will be able to return to normal trading”.
With food and drink businesses suffering huge losses due to being closed for the majority of the coronavirus pandemic, the representatives argue that it is a “chink of light” providing takeaway services to customers through a click and collect service which allows them to bring some money in.
They wrote that limiting businesses to delivery only will force many more businesses to close their doors, which they believe is unfair with operators having complied with every safety measure requested during the pandemic and invested huge amounts of money in an effort to do so.
It is further argued that this will result in more people purchasing food from grocery stores which will see larger groups congregating in smaller places.
In addition, the industry leaders wonder how any increased measures could be policed, arguing that it is almost impossible to differentiate between a bacon roll or a coffee sold from a pub, bakery or restaurant to that sold by a petrol station or grocery store.
While they stress that they want to work with the Scottish Government in the fight against Covid-19, they have seen no evidence that takeaways cause any danger to the public, adding: “If there is clear and unequivocal evidence measures in this area will proportionately suppress the virus we would recognise that. However, we haven’t been sighted on any data or public health evidence as to why takeaway services are a risk. As such, forced closure seems somewhat arbitrary and marginal in terms of contributing to the suppression of the virus – not least as the new ‘stay at home’ order has just come into effect and is substantially reducing footfall.”
The full text of the letter:
FAO Mr Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Scottish Government
Dear Mr Ewing,
Potential Restrictions on Food and Drink Takeaway
Last Thursday the First Minister stated she wanted takeaway businesses to switch to delivery where possible, and we understand from subsequent media reports Ministers are considering prohibiting food takeaway activity from taking place.
Food and drink, hospitality, and catering businesses are concerned at the move away from the transparency and certainty which the Government was able to provide in the final months of last year through the Strategic Framework. It is worrying we appear to be returning to a less considered approach – one which doesn’t effectively engage affected businesses in advance – which is less likely to provide the benefits of consultation and rounded decision making provided by the earlier approach.
It goes without saying food and drink businesses are facing an incredibly difficult time. The desired outcome of the current restrictions, with people broadly staying at home, means footfall for businesses has collapsed. The inability to offer sit-in facilities should hopefully help prevent the spread of Covid – but it comes at a very high economic price. In the context of a very uncertain economic outlook, these are very challenging trading conditions.
One of the few chinks of light in this dim outlook has been the ability for food and drink businesses to provide takeaway and click/telephone and collect services to customers. These services allow local businesses and suppliers to keep colleagues employed, provides a service to people – many of whom now are essential workers doing vital tasks – and of course are easy for smaller businesses to operate and establish. Limiting trade to home delivery only will force some businesses to close – and also ensure customers are more likely to purchase food and drink from grocers – ensuring more people are congregating in a smaller number of places.
Beyond this we are concerned at how any measures would be implemented into legislation. From our point of view how you would distinguish between a sandwich or sausage roll or hot or cold drink sold from a pub, bakery, café, restaurant, carry-out, newsagent, petrol station, or grocery store seems impossible to ascertain, but all are providing fundamentally the same service. The same applies across hundreds of product categories and thousands of businesses.
With these points in mind we remain very concerned at the suggestion this commercial activity could be suspended – especially as there is no indication when these businesses will be able to return to normal trading. Our members undertaking these services have complied with every change to government guidance and put in place many mitigation measures and invested significantly to keep shoppers and workers as safe as possible. They are providing an important service in difficult circumstances, helping to support key workers as well as the Scottish food and drink industry.
Of course, we all support every effort to tackle Covid. If there is clear and unequivocal evidence measures in this area will proportionately suppress the virus we would recognise that. However, we haven’t been sighted on any data or public health evidence as to why takeaway services are a risk. As such, forced closure seems somewhat arbitrary and marginal in terms of contributing to the suppression of the virus – not least as the new ‘stay at home’ order has just come into effect and is substantially reducing footfall.
Finally, it is only a week since the First Minister announced the new stay at home restrictions, which explicitly allowed takeaway businesses to trade. It’s very difficult for businesses to plan in any sense when government announcements emerge without warning, providing a metaphorical damoclean sword above any business trading right now.
These are very difficult circumstances for government. We want to work with you and your officials to continue to develop and deliver the proportionate measures which will suppress Covid and keep everyone safe. We hope you will look to engage constructively with us over the next few months.
Alasdair Smith, Chief Executive, Scottish Bakers
Colin Wilkinson, Managing Director; Scottish Licensed Trade Association
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Head of Policy; Scottish Retail Consortium
Jim Winship, Director; The British Sandwich & Food to Go Association
Jim Winship, Director; The Pizza Pasta & Italian Food Association
Marc Crothall, Chief Executive; Scottish Tourism Alliance
Paul Togneri, Senior Policy Manager; Scottish Beer & Pub Association
Dr Pete Cheema OBE, Chief Executive; Scottish Grocers’ Federation
Stuart Reddish, National President; NFRN
Willie Macleod, Executive Director, Scotland; UK Hospitality