FIVE of Scotland’s hospitality industry bodies have joined forces to start legal proceedings against restrictions imposed on the licensed trade by the Scottish Government, claiming their trade has been a “sacrificial lamb” in the tackling of the pandemic.
Pub, restaurants and hotel businesses have seen near collapse of their trade since the first lockdown in March, and again when those in the Central Belt were shut down again three weeks ago.
A new tiered restriction system yet to be announced by the Scottish Government is also expected to keep many closed indefinitely.
As a result the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, The Scottish Licensed Trade Association, UKHospitality (Scotland), the Scottish Hospitality Group and the Night Time Industries Association Scotland have sent a “pre-action letter” to the Government and said the “battle is on to save the hospitality sector”.
They claim the restrictions have been put in place without any scientific evidence to support them, and legal advice from Aidan O’Neill QC says a judicial review of the Government’s actions “would be warranted”.
The group’s spokesperson, Paul Waterson, said the “battle is on to save the hospitality”.
“It is with regret that we now commence with this first stage in the legal process,” he said. “We understand and entirely support the goal of suppressing the virus, but our sector is at breaking-point.
The letter requests a response to legal challenges from the Scottish Government by 4pm on Wednesday 28th October 2020, failing which matters could move forward with a petition for judicial review.
“Despite having more mitigation measures than other sectors and the vast majority of operators going above-and-beyond in ensuring customer safety, our sector has been repeatedly targeted without consultation and without the evidence.
“Anecdotal evidence is not the way to go about making government decisions and the sector should not be used as a balance to uncontrollable risks in other far less regulated and unmonitored sectors.
“Evidence just published in Northern Ireland clearly states that the closure of hospitality only has an “0.1-0.2 impact on the R number” and that the lockdown there has been brought about to ensure behavioural and policy compliance in other areas. Effectively confirming that the hospitality industry has been held up as the sacrificial lamb.
“The economic support offered to premises doesn’t come close to compensating the businesses and means jobs are being lost and livelihoods ruined. Any measures must be proportionate and be backed up by evidence, we do not believe that is the case here.
“The industry simply cannot endure the extension of the current restriction, further restrictive measures expected from the 2nd of November or get into a stop start situation. We are now facing the end of our industry as we know it.
“The battle is now on to save the hospitality sector.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are using the powers we have to help businesses, offering support which now exceeds £2.3 billion, including 100% rates relief for pubs and restaurants for the year and we will extend financial support available to businesses who must stay closed or continue to restrict their trading to cover the additional week of restrictions.
“We are confident the temporary restrictions are essential and proportionate to the risk posed by coronavirus if we are to prevent a return to the dangerous level of infections experienced earlier this year. We will respond to the letter in due course.”
The government has until 4pm on October 28 to respond, or the bodies will petition the Court of Session.