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Owners of Lochaber’s hospitality businesses are now seeing their hopes and dreams for the future put in jeopardy by the Scottish Government’s latest raft of restrictions aimed at tackling a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.
That was the view of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) FSB Highlands & Islands development manager, David Richardson, giving his reaction to the Lochaber Times after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed her government’s new measures.
Business groups issued dire warnings about the impact of new 16-day restrictions on Scotland’s hospitality sector which came into force on Friday.
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said the clampdown on selling alcohol indoors would ‘spell the death knell’ for many, while the Scottish Tourism Alliance called them ‘nothing short of devastating’.
Ms Sturgeon said pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes can now operate indoors on a ‘very restricted’ basis only.
It means that between 6am-6pm, they can provide food and non-alcoholic drinks only. Hotel restaurants are able to operate beyond 6pm, but only for residents and without serving alcohol indoors.
The current restrictions on meeting a maximum of six people from two households in indoor public places still apply.
Bars, pubs, restaurants and cafes can continue to serve alcohol outdoors up to 10pm, and subject to the six people from two households rule.
Exceptions will be made for weddings already booked and funerals, said the First Minister.
Due to high levels of infection, stricter restrictions are in place across five health board areas – Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire & Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley. In these areas, all licensed premises – with the exception of hotels for residents – have had to close. Takeaways, however, are permitted and hotels remain open for residents.
Mr Richardson told the Lochaber Times: ‘Hospitality businesses in Lochaber will be horrified at the First Minister’s announcement. With some three months’ trading under their belts since unlocking, squeezing every last penny out of the season has been of paramount importance to their long-term viability, and now they are seeing what for many will be the premature ending of the 2020 tourist season.
‘Moreover, while it is still perfectly permissible for people from the Central Belt to holiday in the Highlands, there appears to be confusion, and there are lots of reports of cancellations.
‘Not only will these additional restrictions pile even more pressure on hospitality businesses at an extremely delicate time, they will have a significant knock-on effect on our tourism sector as a whole, the hospitality supply chain, and on night-time economy operators like taxi drivers and takeaways. How many businesses will be forced to close as a result?’
Mr Davidson said the concerns were not just for the viability of businesses and the ‘precious jobs’ that go with them.
He added: ‘First, the presence of hospitality businesses plays a massive role in the quality of life enjoyed by local communities, their closure affecting almost everyone, and second, there is the mental health of business owners to consider.
‘These are people who have complied with every challenge that has been thrown at them since this nightmare began in March, and many are now seeing their hopes and dreams for the future put in jeopardy.’
And while Mr Richardson said the £40million support fund was very welcome, he wondered if it would be enough.
‘Owners must now take major and very urgent decisions about their businesses’ futures, and they need to know where they stand before doing so,’ he told us.
‘FSB Scotland is working closely with the Scottish Government in a bid to ensure that individual schemes are devised as quickly as possible, and that the money reaches those businesses in greatest need – including those indirectly affected by the changes – in the shortest possible time.’