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Ministers 'not listening'

Bars blast ‘sham’ report on Covid rule breakers

Bar staff have suffered low levels of Covid

Pubs and restaurants have reacted angrily to a report commissioned by the Scottish government which accuses the licensed trade of not adhering to Covid guidelines last summer.

Two trade groups say the Stirling University report, based on a sample of just 29 outlets, misrepresents the industry and ignores industry-wide evidence.

The Scottish Hospitality Group, speaking for premises employing 6,000 staff described the report as a “sham” and said the industry had called for tougher action on the few rogue operators months ago.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said the report “cannot stand up to scrutiny” based on its low sample and is at odds with UK-wide surveys which have consistently found that Covid-19 transmission rates in licensed hospitality venues have been “extremely low”.

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One widely reported survey, by industry group UKHospitality, spanned 12,522 hospitality venues across the UK that employ a total of 358,000 people.

It found that in the 14 weeks since 4 July, 1,728 staff members had been infected with Covid, equating to an employee infection rate of 0.48% across 20 million work shifts across the UK.

SLTA spokesman Paul Waterson said: “To present the results of a survey of just 29 premises when there are in the region of 11,500 premises in our sector the length and breadth of Scotland is ludicrous and is in no way representative of this country’s hospitality businesses.”

He added: “To the best of our knowledge, and despite asking the Scottish Government on numerous occasions, there are no Scottish-specific stats currently available on virus transmission in licensed hospitality.”

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Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, whose members include Montpeliers and the G1 Group, said: “It’s a farce that this report is even on the table for discussion. It is an out-of-date witch-hunt, that is wholly unreflective of our industry.

“While Scottish Hospitality businesses are left to fail daily, the government has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds on a six-month old study based on a tiny number (0.17%) of Scotland’s bars and restaurants.

“In reality we are talking about just a handful of premises. From those 29 targeted, criticism is levelled at, in their own words, a ‘substantial minority of observed bars.’ You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that basing the closure of a £10.5 billion industry on this sham of a report would be ludicrous.

“We made it clear to the government last year, long before hospitality reopened in July, that face coverings should have been made mandatory from the start and that the government should design a QR code system, both of which were ignored.

“Yet again, the government has failed to listen and work with our industry.

“We know that hospitality isn’t a vector and there’s no evidence to support that it is. The SHG members alone, which employ over 6000 people, have had only 32 positive cases of COVID-19 among staff since July. Over the period from July to 26 December, staff at SHG premises have worked around 1,150,000 hours, meaning there has been only one confirmed case for every 36,000 hours worked.

Stephen Montgomery

Stephen Montgomery: ‘government has failed to listen’

“Targeting the few bars and restaurants which are breaking the rules is the proper and proportionate way to proceed, but the vast majority have been adhering religiously to every regulation that has been introduced because we realise the very future of our industry is at stake.

“Where was this report last autumn when we could have educated the rogue operators on what they were doing wrong and corrected it, rather than releasing it so many months later?

“Our sector has a vital part to play in combating this virus. We have bent over backwards to ensure staff and customers are protected, with huge efforts being made by the vast majority of responsible operators in social distancing, PPE, track and trace and other hygiene measures, and all without any financial help from the Scottish Government.”



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