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‘Fatal blow’ warning from Dundee nightclub boss as hospitality firms face wait for Covid support

Nicola Sturgeon and Tony Cochrane.

A Dundee nightclub boss has warned hospitality firms face a “fatal blow” after crunch talks over Covid support between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson were kicked on into the weekend.

The first minister insisted during a briefing on Friday that it would be “unconscionable” for the Treasury to fail to make use of its borrowing powers and give extra cash to businesses pushed to the brink by the spread of the Omicron variant.

Ms Sturgeon acknowledged the damage already done to hospitality and events firms after Scots were urged to “stay at home” either side of Christmas.

The industry will receive £66 million as part of a £100m support package provided by the Scottish Government.

But the SNP leader argued she is unable to cancel large events – such as football matches – without more money from Westminster.

FM calls for further support for hard-pressed firms

Ms Sturgeon said she would ask the prime minister to bring back support schemes “available earlier in the pandemic” but stopped short of calling specifically for a return to furlough payments.

A phone call between the pair later on Friday was described as “constructive – though at this stage inconclusive” by the first minister’s official spokesman.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister Boris Johnson
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The two leaders will attend a cross-government emergency meeting at the weekend, along with representatives of the other devolved administrations, and agreed to continue talks over financial support for businesses.

It means hospitality bosses and staff face a further agonising wait – well into the final weekend before Christmas – to learn what support, if any, will be in place.

Clubs boss warns businesses are ‘clinging on’ for life

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, warned many firms are now barely “clinging on”.

His business reopened its doors less than six months ago and has already struggled to replace the staff lost during earlier lockdowns.

He says that without additional support beyond furlough, a further closure – either through a formal lockdown or because customers are scared off by health advice and government messaging – could be a death sentence.

“It’s a killer,” Mr Cochrane said.

Tony Cochrane
Tony Cochrane

“The furlough would help if we’re going to have to reduce the number of staff over the period but to close down entirely is just beyond thinking about.

“Furlough is one thing but this is our biggest month. If we have to close down between now and New Year it would just be fatal, a fatal blow to everybody.”

Mr Cochrane said even with new rules introduced to prevent crowding, the number of people coming in are enough “just to help us pay the bills and survive”.

But the nightclub boss said government guidance on Christmas has left the public with “no confidence” in the sector and that means bookings will continue to be cancelled at what is traditionally one of the industry’s busiest periods.

Swift engagement with the Treasury needed

The first minister’s official spokesman said that during the phone call with Mr Johnson she “emphasised the extreme urgency of the crisis” facing hospitality, events and culture-related sectors.

He said the prime minister agreed the need for “swift engagement with the Treasury on the immediate action needed”.

Ms Sturgeon also sought “clarity” on how funding can be triggered by any or all of the UK administrations in the event of further measures being necessary, the spokesman said.

A Downing Street spokesman said the two leaders “agreed on the importance of close collaboration for the benefit of citizens across the UK” and the pair “will continue to work together”.

New Covid restrictions ‘pose existential threat to Scotland’s city centres’

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