'It's now beyond critical': Scottish nightlife firms in dire need of further support to stay afloat, says industry body
Firms operating in Scotland’s nightlife sector are “now out of time” – and in urgent need of the Scottish Government allowing them to trade without restriction or providing much more financial support, according to a leading figure in the industry.
Gavin Stevenson is vice-chair of the Night Time Industries Association Scotland (NTIAS) and director of the Mor-Rioghain Group, a portfolio of venues in the North-East, including the historic Gellions pub in Inverness.
He has described being “very disappointed” when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier this week confirming that as of this coming Monday, nightclubs will have to remain shut – while pubs, for example, will have a curfew of midnight.
The latest Scottish stance also contrasts with England, where nightclubs can reopen as of Monday.
Mr Stevenson said it had "become increasingly clear that hospitality businesses in Scotland are at a severe disadvantage to their counterparts south of the Border”.
He has previously pointed out that by April this year, each hospitality premises was, on average, £90,000 in debt, with larger venues facing debts of up to £150,000. NTIAS earlier this year launched legal action against the Scottish Government regarding Covid restrictions.
Those in the industry are “distraught”, he has now added, saying: “We effectively appear to be destroying the Scottish hospitality sector with absolutely no account being taken of the financial damage and the economic harms that are being done.
"Every day that goes by without lifting restrictions, more and more businesses are failing ... either the Scottish Government doesn't know the damage that their restrictions are causing – or they don't care.”
He also called for Scotland’s powers to be to speed up the pace of vaccinations, after the rate recently slowed.
The UK-wide NTIA has spoken out against proposed vaccine passports – a position backed by Mr Stevenson.
“We don't believe that vaccine passports are appropriate,” he said, highlighting the challenge that would be faced by hundreds of small premises across the country “trying to generate their own policy on that, or to try and establish proof”.
Mr Stevenson also said the Scottish Government “does not understand how the sector works, does not understand adequately the risks involved, have not, in any way, meaningfully consulted with this sector at all, throughout the course of the pandemic”.
He said unless Holyrood “wants to keep on penalising businesses north of the Border, then they have to radically up their level of support, if they don't want to see thousands of businesses go bankrupt and tens of thousands of staff losing their jobs”.
“It's now beyond critical,” he said. “Time has run out.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson stressed the financial support measures available for nightlife businesses, saying: “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 [NTIA] are fed into the decision-making process.
“As the First Minister has made clear, a gradual approach to the lifting of restrictions stands the best chance of being sustainable.”
The spokesman said nightclubs could be able to open from August 9 “should the evidence support it at the next review point”.