Leaders in Scotland’s hospitality sector have begged not to be hit with a new “circuit breaker” lockdown – claiming it would spell instant disaster for jobs.
Pub and restaurant owners believe they have done everything the Scottish Government has asked them to do to keep customers safe – and can prove that the spread of Covid-19 from properly run outlets is minimal.
They argue that any lockdown risks driving rule-breakers underground – meaning inevitable house parties and the rampant spread of the virus.
Signature Pub Group boss Nic Wood, who employs 640 staff at 22 bars, said he has adapted to every restriction put on his business, going over and above what the law requires.
But he pleaded: “All I ask is that the Scottish Government does not shut us down because that would be the thing that spells disaster.
“We will work with the Scottish Government and do everything you ask.
“We have accepted the need to stem the spread of the virus and we have done everything asked of us and more, with regard to PPE and maintaining the highest hygiene standards.
“The curfew is plainly not good for our business and we have lost two units already. But we have accepted it and tried our best to work within the parameters that places on us.
“We obviously don’t want to turn off the music in our venues – but that was the instruction and we have done it with good grace.
“But shutting us down would mean pub closures because the new furlough frankly doesn’t work.
“It would mean jobs being lost, which would have a major impact on young people.
“I’m not talking just about my group, it would be across the sector, in huge numbers and it would happen very quickly.”
Wood is a founder member of the Scottish Hospitality Group, whose members employ more than 6000 people and who believe further lockdown restrictions will drive will drive a boom in house parties and force many pubs, restaurants and hotels to close their doors quickly and permanently.
The group claims that despite more than 1.8million customers being served since July, there have been just 17 confirmed cases – showing the Government’s own measures are working effectively.
Wood’s Cold Town House bar in Edinburgh was visited by Nicola Sturgeon in July, when beer gardens were reopened.
He said she saw for herself the high standards of PPE, hand sanitising and social distancing employed.
Wood – son of Sir Ian Wood, one of Scotland’s richest men – claims that the furloughing of staff under new proposals, which demand more contributions from employers, would cost him £120,000 a week, which would make jobs unsustainable.
Wood added: “The frustrating thing is that we have no voice in all this and I am finding it very frustrating to keep second-guessing people when I don’t have any say in the discussions.
“That’s how it has been for six months and it has been brutal.”
Mario Gizzi built up the Di Maggio’s restaurant chain and now employs 1300 people within his DRG Group, turning over £40million before lockdown.
He said: “With all the safeguards we have put in place it seems that responsible hospitality businesses are a big part of the solution – we are not the problem.
“We have lost 150 staff due to this crisis, mainly with young international workers choosing to go home. There will be many more job losses if there are bans on people going to restaurant of any kind of circuit breaker.
“We have had mixed messages, with the ‘dine out to help out’ measures encouraging people to eat out and Nicola Sturgeon then telling people not to and warning people about our sector.
“My problem with some of the measures is that they don’t make sense. The 10pm curfew is encouraging binge drinking, with people rushing in two pints and three vodkas before 10pm before hitting the streets. That can’t be good.
“If we extend that thinking to a cicruit breaker, it will drive the whole socialising thing underground, where there will be no PPE and no social distancing.
“Compare that to what we have in place, with the best of PPE, hand sanitizing and proper track and trace measures. You don’t have to track and trace in a shop or supermarket or on a bus or a train.
“We are pretty much the gold standard and the facts show that it is safe to eat out at a well-run restaurant.”
Gizzi also claims that any new furlough scheme would cost him too much to preserve jobs.
He said: “If people can’t work, the new furlough will cost me £100,000 a week, given I’d have to be paying for 25 hours of labour in return for just 15 hours worked. The maths make it impossible.”
He added: “Make no mistake, we are fighting for our survival here already. If a circuit breaker is announced this week you will be hearing almost instantly of masses of jobs lost in this sector.”