Music ban in Scottish pubs could be having 'opposite of desired effect'

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Let it play: pub operators have reported their takings are down after a music ban was introduced two weeks ago in Scotland
Let it play: pub operators have reported their takings are down after a music ban was introduced two weeks ago in Scotland

Related tags: Coronavirus

A ban on background noise has caused an immediate drop in trade of more than 20% for some venues in Scotland, the body representing licensed businesses there has said.

The Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA) has called on ministers to repeal its ban on music and sound from TV, a change included in new regulations for the sector on 14 August.

The Scottish Government moved quickly to mandate pubs to follow Covid-secure guidelines including asking customers for their details for contact-tracing purposes.

It has banned hospitality businesses from playing music as the risk of aerosol transmission of coronavirus may be increased if customers raise their voices to be heard over background noise.

However, the SBPA said some businesses have seen trade impacted by more than 20%, in addition to the existing reduced capacity and footfall businesses are experiencing amid the pandemic.

Safety concerns

One operator feel the sting of the ban is Louise MacLean from Signature Pubs based in Edinburgh, who said her customers do not want to go into “silent and awkward” pubs.

She said: “The music ban is having a direct impact on our business and in some venues trade is moving in the wrong direction. We strictly adhere to all social distancing and the restrictions to trade which has affected the atmosphere in bars prior to the music ban.”

The operator said she was happy to work with officials to set decibel levels.

MacLean added: “Otherwise the future for bars in Scotland looks bleak as autumn approaches and inside spaces become more important.

“Hospitality denotes warmth, ambiance and welcome not cold, clinical and sterile. Let the (soft) music play! We can do this safely.”

Aberdeen operator Martin Farmer runs two bars in the city and recently reopened one for guests after five months of closure. 

He said: "Although it was great to have guests back it was odd to have in a venue with no music. Both of our venues are small and can now only sit 36 people under the current guidelines at the one time. The lack of people allowed in the venue coupled with no music makes an empty feeling venue which really doesn't make it appealing to the guests.

"People like to go to venues to enjoy themselves and use it as a sense of escapism, without an atmosphere, what's the point? The ban in music will 100% impact our venues."

Middle ground

SBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said the ban could encourage sport fans to watch games in home environments, where social distancing may be less followed.

She added: “Not only is it hammering the recovery of our sector, but there is evidence to suggest the policy is having the opposite of its desired effect. A lack of commentary at football matches makes it harder to control customers watching the game. Customers seeking privacy in their conversations are more likely to lean in and whisper.

"Rather than go to their local, people are gathering at home where safety measures are not in place. There is an easy middle ground to be had here, where responsible pubs can be allowed to create an atmosphere and ambience that makes them what they are, whilst controlling noise to a level which doesn’t require customers to shout."

Venues are "losing more of their soul" without the ambience and atmosphere of music playing, McClarkin said.

Related topics: Legislation

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