With less than a month to go until pubs across Dundee can open their doors and gardens again, landlords are again having to prepare for yet another reopening.
Many fear that even after investing thousands of pounds to stay afloat during lockdown they will still struggle to survive, while others have admitted they have neither the finances nor the enthusiasm to begin all over again.
Under the current route out of lockdown guidelines, it is hoped from April 26 hospitality venues such as restaurants or pubs can open until 8pm indoors (no alcohol) and 10pm outdoors (with alcohol).
It would also mean a maximum number of four people from two households can meet up inside a hospitality setting.
‘It’s costing me £30,000 to reopen’
Among those spending tens of thousands of pounds in a bid to welcome back customers is well known Dundee publican Jimmy Marr, who runs the Perth Road Pub Company.
Late last year Jimmy revealed that financial pressures caused by Covid-19 forced his tenant landlord in 172 The Caird to hand back the keys.
Jimmy has taken the hotel back on himself and is now attempting to get ready for reopening on April 26.
He has also reached an agreement with Dundee City Council which will allow him to serve food and drink on the pavement outside at one of his other well known pubs, the Tay Bridge Bar in the Perth Road.
Jimmy said: “Like many other publicans across Dundee I’m doing everything I can to get the doors opened once more next month.
“I’m lucky that I have the money to invest at the moment but it’s already costing me £30,000 to prepare to open and there’s no guarantee that we won’t be forced to close yet again.”
Jimmy said that he has bought marquees for the beer garden at the Caird and has employed tradesmen to build 15 pods to allow customers to stay dry when sitting outside.
There will be 10 of these pods – wooden, covered style picnic benches to seat six – at the Caird and another five will be situated in the small layby at the front door of the Tay Bridge.
Jimmy said: “I have reached an agreement with Dundee City Council that will allow me to use that area, in the short term, to seat customers outside the bar, allowing me to open up.
“I’m doing everything I can to get reopened. We are already fully booked for April 26 but there are a lot of concerns about how this will work.
“I’m employing extra security staff because we can only offer two hours slots but other pubs are doing the same and we will inevitably have people coming along here with a few drinks on board having come from other pubs.
“I’m sure it would be safer all round to allow people to just stay in one place.”
Jimmy admitted he was also concerned about the mental wellbeing of people who frequented city pubs on a daily basis for social contact.
He said: “There are old guys who for many a couple of hours in the pub a day is there only social contact.
“They come along, have just a couple of pints but they are with other people for a chat and a bit of a get together.
“I have one customer, an older guy, who tells me he is just sitting in his house now watching the clock and the television and is seeing no one.
“The pubs provide a huge service here and it’s these kind of pubs that are the least likely to be able to afford to keep going.”
Jim Sorrie of Fairfield Sports and Social Club said he is also preparing for an April 26 opening of his beer garden.
Jim said: “I spent £1,500 on a marquee for the last opening but unfortunately that was totally destroyed in that heavy fall of snow in January.
“It’s beyond repair and I can’t afford a new one so we’ll just have to take out chances outside.”
Jim said he was scraping together every penny in a bid to get ready for all the regulations required for reopening.
He said: “Yet again we will have to have hand sanitising, social distancing and other measures to keep everyone safe.
“My biggest concern is that we make most of our money from functions and I reckon it’s going to be months before we can hold any.
“No one is going to book an event at very short notice so I think it will beat least October or November before we start to have big earners again.
“In the meantime the bills keep rolling in.
“My greatest fear is another lockdown when we are forced to close yet again.
“I just couldn’t afford that and right now I’m feeling pretty depressed about the whole thing and not even feeling at this stage that I want to open up again at all.”
Dundee City Council has revealed that they are seeking urgent clarification from the Scottish Government on the funding grants they can give to landlords.
Their pledge comes as two Dundee publicans have admitted they are fighting for survival fearing that “minor” breaches of Covid-19 regulations has lost them tens of thousands of pounds.
Paul Rae of the Albert Bar and Lynn Mackie of Ross’s Bar, both in Stobswell, are seeking urgent clarification of the rules after the local authority has refused them discretionary funding, administered on behalf of the Scottish Government.
Paul and Lynn claim that they have both lost around £25,000 in government funding and that the future of their pubs is in doubt as a result.
The pair both received short term licensing bans for breaches of Covid-19 regulations last year and both are now fearful that the council is using “unclear” guidance to withhold Scottish Government funding from them – that could mean the difference between going under and survival.
Both however are adamant that their breaches were not serious and are concerned the action taken against them is disproportionate to the offences committed.
Paul was found in the pub with a drink on the bar while he his partner and brother were on the premises while he cleaned the pipes and Lynn was found guilty of giving away a pint to a painter who had been working in the bar.
Now the pair have launched a last ditch attempt to secure the vital funding.
Paul said: “If I don’t get any money I will lose my pub and also my home.
“Due to lack of income for much of the past year I haven’t been able to pay my mortgage.
“I believe I am being completely unfairly treated.”
“In my case it is seven months since the offence and I have complied ever since.
“How much longer do I need to pay the price?”
Lynn said she too was concerned she was being harshly treated by the city council.
She said: “I have received a letter stating their position remains the same and they are not providing funding where Covid-19 breaches have occurred.
“They also said that the Scottish Government would provide further details for councils and applicants on a range of issues including exceptional circumstances where any discretion in respect to Covid-19 breaches may be applicable.
“I genuinely believe my breach falls into that category. The offence happened last May, I served my suspension and have no arguments about that but I feel the punishment is going on and on.
“I am only going to be able to reopen thanks to my family lending me money but it is a dire situation.”
Maryfield councillor and depute convener of the council’s licensing committee, Ken Lynn, said he had sympathy for both publicans and was also seeking clarification.
Mr Lynn said: “I have asked the council to clarify how long after a breach does the ban on funding apply and to consider the seriousness of the breach.”
A spokesman for the city council said: “We are awaiting further guidance from the Scottish Government.
“In line with measures taken last year, the council is supporting the use of outside space for licensed and non-licensed premises.
“This week sees the start of processing applications for 2021 which will take up to 14 days to approve.”
The Scottish Government did not respond to a request for comment but its guidance on the strategic business framework fund for the hospitality sector states applicants for the fund “must not have breached wider Cocid-19 regulations/requirements”.