Coronavirus in Edinburgh: Hospitality industry react to being 'thrown under a bus' by Boris Johnson

Hospitality workers in Edinburgh have faced massive financial, personal and professional loss following the government advice which urged the public not to go to pubs, restaurants and cinemas.

Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 11:21 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 11:21 am
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced backlash following advice to the public about not going out which has been devastating for the hospitality industry

Hospitality workers in Edinburgh have faced massive financial, personal and professional loss following the government advice which urged the public not to go to pubs, restaurants and cinemas.

The Scottish Government has been criticised of leaving the industries “in limbo”, as without an explicit order to close to protect public health, they cannot claim compensation on their insurance.

Scotland ‘working closely’ with UK government

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Small business such as The Little Chartroom are now facing worrying times as they are forced to adapt as footfall drops

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland yesterday morning Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government was expecting the UK government to push emergency legislation through Westminster to deal with the situation.

She said: “We’re working closely with UK government and some powers and levers to intervene lie with UK government.

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“Right now we do not have the powers to order premises to close. There’s emergency legislation that will go through Westminster which will deliver some of these powers

“I do think it’s reasonable for pubs and restaurants and the wider hospitality sector to seek clarity but we cannot order that right now, that’s why we’re advising people to stay away but the advice will develop in weeks to come.”

She added: “We have announced a package of business rates support for businesses in the hospitality and retail sectors and it’s inevitable that we will require to see significant additional measures taken.

“The key powers of intervention here both in terms of legal powers and financial resources lie with Westminster. I’m expecting to hear additional measures announced by the Chancellor today, and I guarantee that every penny of additional support that is announced by the Treasury as far as Scotland is concerned, will be passed on to those who need it.”

The Chancellor yesterday announced a further £780m for Scotland to help cope with coronavirus.

‘Boris has thrown us under a bus’

Following the government announcement, hospitality workers spoke out about their anger and have been forced to adapt to keep their businesses afloat.

Broughton Street restaurant Fhior in an Instagram post commented: “Without strong and decisive action from our government to close all bars and restaurants, Boris has essentially thrown our industry under the bus, leaving many of us little choice but to try and stay open, but only after telling the public to stay away. This leaves us no chance of compensation through insurance, nor any clear guidance to what help might come our way.”

“Pathetic and weak action from a government that needed to show some sort of leadership now more than ever.”

Amongst businesses adapting to the conditions are Wedgwood, Harajuku Kitchen and The Little Chartroom.

Roberta Hall McCarron, who owns The Little Chartroom, said: “There is a united front of outrage about how we’ve been treated. There’s no support and we just want some decisions made, we’re doing our best to adapt, we’re offering takeaway for collection only this week and then following week we’re closed for a week’s holiday. The plan is to reopen again but potentially just offering collection and delivery, we’re putting a menu together representative of our business and is desirable enough to take us up on the offer.

“I’m really angry with how the government has dealt with this, it’s understandable we need social distancing but they’ve just left us out to dry, who knows how long it will take us to come back from this.”

The restaurant tweeted to add: “We haven’t forgotten that barely a month ago our government deemed hospitality workers to be ‘unskilled’ and not eligible for post-Brexit visas. That was a real kick in the teeth but didn’t hurt nearly as much as this announcement.”

Businesses forced to adapt

Kaori Simpson of Harajuku Kitchen added: “We’re really uncertain and worried like other restaurants but we’re hopeful the delivery service will pick up as people are at home and there is no food in the supermarkets.”

By Tuesday morning, all of Edinburgh’s theatres had announced they were closed with ongoing performances put on hold indefinitely. The closures in the arts sector had a devastating effects on bars and restaurants in the surrounding areas.

Giuliano Bilanti, who owns Giuliano’s directly opposite the Playhouse described the situation as a “disaster” and a “catastrophe”.

He added: “I feel like a zombie, I don’t know what to think. There is no way we can pay wages without revenue and I don’t know what the government will do.

“We don’t have the answers as to what is going to happen but I have been here for 30 years and I feel like this will never go back to normal.

“If staff aren’t paid they will need to go on the dole and they have families, children and mortgages – what will they do?”

Jamie Forbes, who owns Henrick’s Bar near the Kings Theatre, has also felt the knock-on effect of the closures and even considered total closure of the bar.

“Since Thursday last week we have received most of our phone calls, and they’re all for cancellations,” he said, “For the fortnight ahead, bookings have dropped by about 70 per cent. We had a good weekend which just passed but going forward it is dire.

“We’re a small company so we can move quite quickly, but we are having to have a staff meeting and instead of redundancies we are asking staff to take minimum wage and a reduction in hours.

“We are working with the local church to see if there is anyone in need of groceries or meals in the local area.”

On top of financial worries, managers around the Capital have echoed that they do not feel as if they have sufficient information to provide to staff members asking important questions.

Reece Schmid, manager of Bar Salsa commented: “Last week’s take in general was way better than I expected it to be so I had some sort of idea that it was like a final blowout before going into isolation to a lot of people, but I honestly expected the announcement to be a mandatory closure for all bars and restaurants.

“The main problem for me is that it’s basically left me in the dark, up until last week I was laughing at coronavirus memes and I wasn’t really clued up on anything or even remotely worried about it but now I have ten members of staff asking me questions about sick pay, reduced hours and redundancies and I don’t know the answers to and until there’s a mandatory closure I don’t think any managers or owners really know what to do right now.”

Capital restaurateur Carina Contini said: “The hospitality sector employs approximately 10 per cent of the population, it contributes 6 per cent of GDP but most importantly it is the heart of many of our

high streets and rural communities.

“I’m calling on all our hospitality friends and customers to let the government understand they need to act in all our best interests through these horrendous times.”

As well as restaurants and bars being under threat, there are also reports of hotel chains laying off zero hours staff en masse as room sales fall through the floor.

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