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As VAT cut predicted...

Pubs and restaurants await social distancing change

Pubs still have no date for reopening (pic: Terry Murden)

UPDATED 21 JUNE: Pubs and restaurants will intensify pressure on the Scottish government to relax the two-metre rule if Westminster this week announces a change to the social distancing guidelines.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said today that the UK government has been reviewing the advice, amid warnings that thousands of businesses will not survive under current rules.

Mr Sunak, who is also said to be considering a cut in VAT to help stimulate the economy, said: “I can’t pre-empt the findings of that review but suffice to say we have made really good progress over the past few months in tackling this virus and we all want to see our pubs and our restaurants spring back to life.”

Boris Johnson has said he hopes to reopen pubs, restaurants and hotels from the beginning of July, if safe.

Scottish Tourism minister Fergus Ewing this weekend issued guidance for the sector – including pubs and restaurants – to reopen on 15 July, also on condition that the virus was under control.

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The measures on limiting numbers, installing signage and screens, contactless payments and frequent cleaning comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Friday moved Scotland into phase two, which will allow zoos, garden attractions and shops to open again from 29 June.

However, the critical two-metre rule is “under review” and Ms Sturgeon stalled earlier plans for pub gardens to reopen, saying bars and restaurants were “hot spots” for transmission of the virus.

Mr Ewing’s new guidance was issued just 24 hours after closure of the Tower restaurant at the National Museum in Scotland was announced as a result of the two-metre rule.

Only a third of visitor attractions to open

There are fears that it could become the first of many. A new survey found that a third of visitor attractions will stay shut, partly because of social distancing requirements.

Social distancing rules mean that only a third of Scotland’s visitor attractions are likely to open when the tourism industry restarts in the middle of next month, according to a survey published in Scotland on Sunday.

Nearly half of the nation’s museums, galleries, castles and palaces may have to be “mothballed” completely until 2021, says the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) which found that just 31% of its members planned to reopen on 15 July.

Concerns over the cost of new health and hygiene measures, reduced capacities and an expected huge reduction in the number of overseas visitors are thought to have made reopening of many sites financially unviable.

The tourism minister said: “We want a strong tourism and hospitality sector to help drive Scotland’s economic recovery and future prosperity.

“Industry is telling us what it needs and we are listening.

“Last week, we provided clarity on a potential reopening date and announced a specialist task force to look at the recovery process we face.

“Now we have published guidance to help get the sector up and running again safely.

“We have also pushed the UK Government for more support, including a VAT reduction and an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

“The coming months will be extremely challenging but the Scottish Government is doing everything in its power to ensure this vital sector bounces back.”

Visit Scotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead said: “We are delighted to start seeing real clarity for the tourism industry – both through the proposed date and these new guidelines which we will help to promote across Scotland.

“It is understandable that people will be anxious about travelling and crucial that they are reassured that the tourism industry is doing everything it can to restart the holiday season as safely as possible.

“Everyone is excited about being able to get tourism up and running again and these guidelines will give the industry the insight they need to reopen.”

VAT cut expected

The Chancellor is rumoured to be planning a mini-budget in early July.

A report this weekend suggests he will slash VAT and pump billions into the economy.

Mr Sunak’s plans include a cut in the headline rate, and zero rating more products for a fixed period, according to The Sunday Times.

Alistair Darling, Chancellor in the last Labour government, reduced VAT from 17.5% to 15% for 13 months after the 2008 crash. It is currently 20%. Some VAT powers are due to transfer to the Scottish government.

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