Scottish Government evidence for pub shutdown 'deeply unconvincing'

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Restrictions: a trade body representing Scottish pubs has lambasted the Scottish Government for how it responded to a request for evidence justifying sector coronavirus measures (image: HAKINMHAN, Getty Images)
Restrictions: a trade body representing Scottish pubs has lambasted the Scottish Government for how it responded to a request for evidence justifying sector coronavirus measures (image: HAKINMHAN, Getty Images)

Related tags: Scotland, Scottish, Beer, Pub, Government, lockdown, Coronavirus

The Scottish Government has failed to provide any specific evidence to justify the restrictions it imposed on the hospitality sector when pressed, according to one trade body.

The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to see examples of evidence used to justify pandemic measures on pubs and restaurants.

It said the Scottish Government responded after three months with documents already available in the public domain.

Stephen Montgomery from the SHG said: “After nearly four months we have finally secured the truth that the Government has no specific evidence to justify the restrictions placed on our industry.”

One of the documents provided, Covid-19: Note by the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Nursing Officer and National Clinical Director​ (October 2020), did not provide evidence for its conclusion the reopening of hospitality in July 2020 drove up the R rate, SHG said.

The document also did not take into account the potential health risks of closing hospitality, such as encouraging people to attend house parties, SHG said.

Deeply unconvincing 

Another paper cited by the Scottish Government, SARS-COV-2 Transmission Routes and Environments SAGE - 22 October 2020​, provided “deeply unconvincing” evidence, according to SHG. 

The document groups risk from hospitality with transmission risks from venues including gyms and cinemas, the group said.

It cites mentions of poor practice, such as inadequate ventilation, and is outdated with examples from early on in the pandemic, SHG said.

The group questioned the lack of email correspondence between the Scottish Government and the National Clinical Director, about the evidence base for restrictions on hospitality. 

The FOI submitted by SHG on 5 November 2020 asked for “any records relating to the scientific, statistical, or medical evidence for restrictions that have been put in place on the Scottish hospitality sector, such as pubs and restaurants, at any point between the date of this request and 1 March 2020.”

Lockdown necessary

In response to the FOI, the Government stipulated that no evidence papers were produced on a “sectoral basis” by the Scottish Government, the Chief Medical Officer's Advisory Group nor SAGE.

“Instead we have used scientific evidence on transmission coupled with the social and economic benefits of particular sectors which Ministers have used to make decisions,” the response to SHG stipulated.

SHG’s Montgomery added: “We completely understand that lockdown measures were necessary and remain so. But there’s always been the chance to work a lot smarter by partnering with the industry to have systems in place that protect both public health and people’s jobs.  

“We have repeatedly offered the government different solutions at their request and proactively ourselves.”

Officials must listen to businesses and make “sensible changes” to trading rules, Montgomery said.

The Scottish Government is yet to reveal details of how pubs will be permitted to reopen after lockdown, but it has been confirmed there will be some form of return to a levels system.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We fully understand the challenges facing the hospitality sector during the coronavirus pandemic, and no-one wants the restrictions in place a moment longer than necessary.

“There is extensive evidence which proves that the virus is transmitted particularly readily in environments with close contact at less than two metres, and where ventilation may be poorer. This is even more the case since the emergence of new and more transmittable variants. It is therefore essential at present to reduce the amount of time people spend in these non-essential settings, and this does unfortunately include hospitality. 

“We’re providing more than £3bn in support for businesses affected by restrictions including grants for hospitality and tourism, and an extension of non-domestic rates relief for 2021-22. We are also presently working on detailed preparations for the restart of tourism to be activated and published as soon as we are safely able to do so.”

Related topics: Legislation

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