Covid Scotland: Edinburgh venues respond to clubs opening across the border on England’s ‘Freedom Day’
Venue managers have demanded more clarity on Covid restrictions for clubs from the Scottish Government as nightlife south of the border goes ahead on ‘Freedom Day’ in England.
Indoor nightclubs have been shut across the UK since March last year and have remained the only hospitality venues to not reopen at any point during the pandemic.
That all changed in England on Monday as nightclubs were given the green light to reopen.
The existing reopening date for nightclubs in Scotland is set for August 9, otherwise dubbed as ‘Scotland’s Freedom Day’, subject to meeting the ‘gateway condition’ that those over 40 are fully vaccinated by that date.
But those working in the sector say they feel they have been “left in the dark” as Nicola Sturgeon and her government have been unable to offer reassurance on further easing of restrictions that would allow businesses to finally emerge from what has been about 500 days of closure.
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"We are just desperate for some more clarity,” said John Spaczynski, who has been on furlough from his job at Liquid Rooms for more than a year.
The events manager said he has had to reschedule booked gigs about eight times at the venue given the uncertainty surrounding the regulations.
"We need zero physical distancing rules in place before we can reopen, and, in her last update, Nicola Sturgeon gave no indication of when physical distancing rules might be scrapped,” he said.
"She said we’d have them for the next three weeks at least, but that doesn’t give us any reassurance.
"As an industry we really need more than just a few days notice on whether we can reopen or not.
"We need the government to be more upfront and honest about what their reasoning is behind keeping these measures in place.”
Mr Spaczynski said seeing certain sport events drawing huge crowds in recent weeks, such as the Euro 2020 matches at Hampden Park, had been “frustrating” for the sector to witness.
His comments came as UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed proof of full vaccination would be required as a condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues in England from the autumn.
In response to clubs reopening in England, Nick Stewart, manager at Sneaky Pete’s, said the difference between mandating mask wearing in Scotland and leaving it to personal responsibility across the border was “stark.”
He said keeping the mandatory face mask rule in Scotland beyond August 9 could put a significant financial strain on the industry, putting some venues out of business for good.
"At Sneaky Pete’s we’ve never pushed for a position on what’s ‘safe enough’,” he said.
"That’s Scottish Government’s role to make a political decision about what the base level of tolerable risk is, above which people can make personal choices. They decide what’s safe enough and we follow.
“But they [the Scottish Government] have to keep in mind that continued restrictions could cause permanent closures of venues.
"So where they continue to have restrictions, they should ensure funding is in place to prevent those permanent closures.
"They did it before for live music venues, but that funding has run out and the link between continued restrictions and funding has been broken.
"It needs to be fixed as a matter of grave urgency or venues will shut before the last hurdle.”
He added: “Currently there’s no end point to when masks will not be mandated and the Scottish Government know that face coverings will have an effect on whether enough people will want to come back to nightclubs.
"They [the Scottish Government] have the ONS data – it can’t become a permanent feature of nightlife, so sooner rather than later they need to decide a ‘gateway condition’ for masks, so that there’s an achievable point where people are protected by vaccination and personal responsibility takes over.
"We suggest that should be when all adults are fully vaccinated. That’s not that far away; The First Minister has said that should be 14th of September. Government can’t be vague on this, they need to make the decisions now.”
The Scottish Government said that, between November last year and March, many businesses in the Scottish hospitality sector were eligible for payments of up to £3,000 every four weeks from the Strategic Framework Business Fund.
In April, many received restart grants of up to £19,500 as part of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework Business Fund.
The government also provided top up grants for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors of up to £25,000 per business. In addition, one-off grants for nightclubs of up to £50,000, based upon rateable value, were made available in October through the Covid-19 Contingency Fund.
Ministers are also set to extend 100 per cent non-domestic rates relief for retail, leisure, hospitality and aviation businesses for this financial year.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We do not underestimate the severe impact the pandemic is having on the night-time sector and restrictions will not be kept in place a day longer than necessary.
“We continue to engage regularly with businesses on the impact of restrictions and responses from the Night Time Industries Association are fed into the decision-making process. In addition, association members are invited to weekly calls with government officials, with last week’s being addressed by business minister Ivan McKee. Concerns raised at these meetings are shared across government.
“As the First Minister has made clear, a gradual approach to the lifting of restrictions stands the best chance of being sustainable and will help build people’s confidence to return to their normal lives and support these businesses.
“We have further reduced the restrictions imposed on businesses and have set the indicative date of August 9 for removing many more. Nightclubs will be able to open from this date should the evidence support it at the next review point.”