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Following FoI requests...

Ministers ‘admit no sector evidence’ for closing bars

Stephen Montgomery

Stephen Montgomery: ‘government needs to listen’

A hospitality group says the Scottish Government has admitted it has not produced or sourced any specific evidence to support the restrictions on Scotland’s pubs, restaurants and hotels. 

All bars and food outlets have been severely impacted by months of closures despite providing figures showing their investment in health and safety has kept transmission of Covid-19 at very low levels.

After three and half months of enquiries for information on the research undertaken by the Scottish Government, the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) has received a response through freedom of information stating that there is no “sectoral” evidence.

The government stated: “Neither the Scottish Government, the Chief Medical Officer’s Advisory Group nor SAGE have produced evidence papers on a sectoral basis.

“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.”  

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SHG – which represents a number of hospitality companies – says that in its first refusal to provide information, which came well after the 20-day deadline for responding, the government claimed there were potentially 3,000 documents in scope.

This was reduced to 2,000 after SHG further restricted the scope of its request. Eventually, the government released one document which SHG said was “of no significance to the request.” 

SHG is appealing a refusal to provide some information on the grounds that it is protected by personal data exemptions, asking instead for such information to be redacted.  

Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for 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.

“It’s also deeply disappointing to see no thought given to the knock-on effects of closing hospitality, such as driving people towards house parties, which we know has been a major issue. 

“Incredibly, the government is asking us to believe that there was no email correspondence with the office of the National Clinical Director about the evidence base for restrictions on hospitality, considered by them to be one of the main transmission vectors.

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“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.

“Now that we’re approaching an easing of restrictions, there’s still time for the government to listen to businesses and make sensible changes to the levels system to give us a viable trading chance.

“These levels must not leave us disadvantaged to our colleagues in England. If we don’t get this right now, and allowed to open soon, we will be facing a 4th, and 5th winter.”  

Brief analysis of government response 

Two key points from the government response relate to documents already in the public domain.  

The first is contained in this document: Covid-19: Note by the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Nursing Officer and National Clinical Director (October 2020). Point 34 says: “Up to 15th July, hospitality was closed. Following entry into Phase three of the route map, hospitality reopened. Our modelling of R at that time shows that around three weeks after the opening of hospitality, R rose to 1 and above. While this cannot be entirely attributed to hospitality, it is likely to have played a significant role.” 

SHG says there is no evidence cited for this very broad and vague assumption and that there is no assessment, or even mention, that closing hospitality may have consequences for transmission elsewhere, e.g. driving people into unmonitored and unregulated private spaces. 

SHG also points to this paper: S0824_SARS-CoV-2_Transmission_routes_and_environments.pdf  

It says: “The evidence given is deeply unconvincing. The supposed effects in hospitality are mixed up with examples given from a range of venues, including churches, gyms, cinemas and transport.

“It also mentions examples where there is poor practice, e.g. not wearing face masks and inadequate ventilation.

“Most of the examples are given from other countries where different rules, conventions and circumstances will apply. And the paper is out of date now, citing examples from early in the pandemic when much less was known, let along put into practice.”



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