Scotland’s hospitality industry faces being “decimated” as nearly 90% of pubs are left unable to open under the Scottish Government’s two-metre distancing rule, a survey has found.
The Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SPBA), in conjunction with other members of the licensed trade, has warned more than 23,600 jobs could be on the line if guidelines are not re-examined in time for the provisional reopening of premises on July 15.
The survey, which covered more than 300 pubs across Scotland, found it would not be financially viable for almost nine out of 10 landlords to reopen their doors if the two-metre distancing guidelines remain in place.
Those who are unable to find a path through this will have to shut their doors completely, further increasing the inevitable redundancies.”
Mo Clark, Kained Holdings
Industry leaders have called on the Scottish Government to fall in line with the World Health Organisation’s guidance and reduce the limit to one metre in a bid to “kick-start the industry and save jobs in the hospitality sector”.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, said the results make for “stark reading” and warned of looming “mass unemployment” in the hospitality sector.
“Not only will 87% of those surveyed be unable to open, those that can trade at the two-metre mark will potentially have to let 52% of staff go,” Ms McClarkin said. “This would lead to more than 23,600 jobs losses in our sector alone.
“Keeping a two-metre rule in place simply does not make financial sense and the fall-out will see the loss of thousands of jobs affecting both the Scottish economy and local communities in the process.”
Business owners forced to stay closed
Tony Cochrane, who runs Club Tropicana, Aura, Duck Slattery’s and Fat Sams in Dundee, as well as more than a dozen venues stretched across every city in Scotland, has warned businesses face a “big turning point” in the coming weeks.
He said it would be “impossible” to open any of his pubs and clubs with two-metre social distancing in place and confirmed the venues will remain closed despite the provisional reopening on July 15.
“Even a metre would be a huge help,” Mr Cochrane said.
“Especially for places like Duck Slattery’s – that would work at one metre – but two metres is just impractical because your rent’s the same, the staffing costs are the same.
“You may even need to put extra staff on because you have to monitor toilets and make sure people stick to the rules. It just wouldn’t be practical to operate.”
Mr Cochrane said a reduction to one metre would make a “huge difference” for his business, and some operators may face a decision “in the next few weeks” over whether to roll out staff redundancies.
“The furlough eases off and there’s a burden on the operators to start paying but there is zero income,” he said. “Some of the bigger places haven’t even had grants.
“If they are saying to us the situation in Scotland won’t change from this until there is some sort of cure, then we will have to pay full wages come October but we won’t be open – it’s just impossible to do.
“I can imagine lots of people having their jobs at stake here. People need to make their decisions because it’s just a month or two away until operators need to put their hands in their pocket.”
Mo Clark from Kained Holdings, which operates several bars including Lebowskis in Edinburgh and Glasgow and Rogue in St Andrews, said some sites could be reduced to 40% trading capacity by the current measures.
He said: “The focus for bars and restaurants across the sector that wish to remain viable will be to reduce their cost base, which will undoubtedly lead to significant redundancies.
“Those who are unable to find a path through this will have to shut their doors completely, further increasing the inevitable redundancies.”
Meanwhile, Gavin Stevenson, from Gellions in Inverness, said the business would lose more money by opening under the two-metre rule than staying closed.
“With two-metre social distancing, our nearly 200-capacity venue reduces to just 11 people,” he said.
“In a normal year our profit margin is less than five per cent of turnover and obviously there is no way for us to get even close to financial break-even with such huge reductions in trade.”
Stuart McPhee from Siberia Bar & Hotel in Aberdeen said the restrictions would mean cutting the number of kitchen staff on each shift by two thirds, while the number of people behind the bar would need to be halved to two.
“Regardless of how many people you can fit outside or inside customer-wise, there is a direct impact on what kind of service our staffing levels can achieve,” he said.
“Where we will try to maintain our staff by diversifying our service style and rotating in teams post-Covid, it is clear that tough operational choices lay ahead.”
First minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she too is “frustrated” by the restrictions put on businesses but insisted they are necessary.
Speaking at her daily briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said: “If you’re frustrated about two-metre distancing in a workplace, all I would say to address that is, I’m frustrated too. I don’t want to live like that.
“But we still need to have restrictions in place and exercise a degree of caution. That I’m worried enough about the implications of not doing that should tell you it’s necessary.
“The Government will not keep restrictions in place any longer than necessary but this is a serious, serious virus and we cannot be complacent about the impact of that when we still have so much to learn.”