Both UKHospitality Scotland (UKHS) and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) expressed disappointment as it was announced there was to be no firm decision from the Scottish Government on removing restrictions on table service and one-metre physical distancing between groups of customers in premises serving alcohol until next week.
UKHS executive director Leon Thompson said: “Restrictions, combined with messaging to avoid crowded places and to stay at home as much as possible, torpedoed hospitality’s hopes for a busy festive period, many businesses were left counting the cost when another opportunity to start their recovery was snatched away.
“Businesses and their workforce have been left to wait a further week to hear when things might change for them. In the meantime, hospitality businesses in England trade with far fewer restrictions and covid cases remain lower.
“The First Minister talked about a gradual easing of restrictions, but our sector has been closed or restricted for almost two years now.
“Any positivity that could be taken from possible changes on the near horizon were scuppered with further talk of vaccine passports and possible wider application. The phrase ‘living with covid’ sounds more and more like ‘living with significant ongoing restrictions’.
“The Scottish Government has produced no evidence limiting Scotland’s most important economic sector is leading to reduced rates of covid infection, the opposite appears to be true as people simply socialise at home, away from well-run businesses and in confined spaces, there is no justification for these ongoing sanctions against our businesses.”
The announcement from Sturgeon came as even more of a blow to the sector as it was confirmed people will be able to attend capacity sporting events from Monday, while hospitality businesses will remain bound by table service and physical distancing with nightclubs remaining closed.
SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson said: “It is encouraging that some restrictions are being lifted from Monday but the constant messaging from the First Minister to work from home where possible and limit contact with people is doing nothing to build consumer confidence and leading to growing frustration among business owners.
“That the licensed hospitality sector has to wait until next week to find out if existing restrictions will be lifted from January 24 is unacceptable as it leaves business in limbo. Of course, we appreciated the Scottish Government has to consider the health of the nation as well as the economy but more clarity is required.
Sector needs answers now
“Many sports fans will want to watch football and the forthcoming Six Nations tournament in the pub.
“If our pubs, bars, and restaurants are still required to have social distancing and table/seated service for some time yet, this will obviously affect the capacity numbers for these premises and spoil the atmosphere usually associated with major sporting events being enjoyed in licensed premises.
“Last week, the First Minister alluded to the Scottish Government’s new strategic framework on dealing with Covid which will be published in the coming weeks – she said exactly the same today so our question is: when will this be published because we need answers now.”