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Letter from food sector

Top chefs warn that social distancing isn’t workable

Nick Nairn

Nick Nairn: among those expressing concern

Concern over the future of Scotland’s hospitality industry is growing as top chefs and restaurant owners say that new social distancing measures are unworkable.

Tom Kitchin, Nick Nairn, Martin Wishart, Gordon Campbell Gray and Tom Lewis have called for urgent action to save the industry from collapse.

It comes as the Casual Dining Group chains Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas face closure and after warnings that a third of pub and restaurant owners plan to shut outlets.

Scottish ministers have made it clear that, due to the nature of the industry, it will be one of the last to have lockdown restrictions lifted in the coming weeks. 

But in a letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the chefs and restaurateurs warn that reopening with restrictions in place is not the solution.

“Social distancing simply does not work in most restaurants, bars and hotels,” they say.

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“If furlough ends and restaurants, bars and hotels are allowed to reopen but with social distancing enforced and no income from major events and festivals, the result will be a tidal wave of business closures and mass redundancies, increasing Scottish unemployment and the strain on the welfare system.”

Close to a quarter-of-a-million jobs in Scotland depend directly on hospitality but hotels, bars and restaurants have been in lockdown since the end of March.

The letter adds: “We are all hard-working business professionals, not used to seeking subsidy and support, contributing significantly to HMRC but this is an emergency situation like no other.

“Against this background, we are asking for you to use the power and influence you have to rescue our sector.

“We are desperate to be back in business, employing people, supporting our world class producers and suppliers, paying taxes and enhancing Scotland’s worldwide reputation for food, drink and hospitality but we can only do this with your support.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said in a statement: “Scotland’s hospitality industry is vitally important, economically and socially, to everyone who lives here and who visits Scotland and we are carefully considering how we plan the restart and long-term recovery of the sector and wider economy.

“The Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group, chaired by VisitScotland, has been in place since the beginning of the crisis and has developed a plan to respond to the impact of the virus on the sector and that work will help inform how we move forward as we slowly and carefully emerge from this crisis.

“Our package of support includes 1.6 per cent rates relief for all non-domestic properties in 2020-21 and 100 per cent relief for properties in retail, hospitality, leisure and airports.

“We will look carefully at all of the suggestions put forward and press the UK Government to ensure that the correct support is available as we come out of the lockdown.”

Extra bank holiday

UK’s tourism agency Visit Britain has proposed an extra bank holiday in October to partly compensate for those lost in the lockdown.

The idea has been backed by Kate chief executive, Kate Nicholls, who said: “A bank holiday in October may provide a welcome boost for hospitality businesses, not least at a time when consumer confidence will hopefully be returning to healthy levels.”

Hospitality sector ideas requested

UKHospitality has been asked to contribute to the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, chaired by Benny Higgins.

Executive director for Scotland, Willie Macleod said: “This is a sensible approach from the Scottish Government. There will need to be a pooling of resources and brain power in order to give businesses the best chance to survive and get back to some degree of normality after the crisis. 

“We will certainly be speaking on behalf of Scotland’s hospitality sector and we look forward to liaising with both the Scottish and UK Government to support reopening.

“Scotland’s hospitality sector is incredibly diverse, not least of all in the variety between urban and rural areas. We will make sure the Scottish Government has absolutely all the information it needs to make an informed decision to support our fantastic industry.”

Hospitality represents 10% of UK employment, 6% of businesses and 5% of GDP.

It is the third largest private sector employer in the UK; double the size of financial services and bigger than automotive, pharmaceuticals and aerospace combined.

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