The Night Time Industries Association has announced that it intends to take legal action against the Scottish government. It is seeking to challenge “the validity of all legal restrictions currently being imposed upon hospitality and night time economy businesses in Scotland” amid the ongoing pandemic.
COVID rules are different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, of course. Generally lockdown restrictions have been more severe in Scotland than south of the border, although – as in England – some restrictions are now starting to lift. However, the NTIA argues, not fast enough.
Under current rules in Scotland, pubs, cafes and restaurants can serve alcohol outdoors, and can also serve food and non-alcoholic drinks indoors until 8pm. People from different households are allowed to meet in groups of up to six, but are advised to stay physically distanced. Meanwhile, other entertainment and night time businesses such as music venues, cinemas and theatres are unable to open in any capacity.
In a statement, NTIA Scotland says that the country’s rules for the hospitality companies throughout the pandemic have “driven [many] to the edge of insolvency”, adding: “Scottish government support has been wholly inadequate to compensate for operating losses and a majority of businesses have now incurred unsustainable debt as a result”.
On average, it reckons, the average amount of debt incurred by a small business is £150,000, which “represents many years’ worth of normal profits”.
“Even worse”, it goes on, “all strategic framework funding has now ended while there is no end date for the restrictions that make these businesses commercially unviable”. This, says the NTIA, is putting 39,000 jobs at immediate risk.
“Social distancing is toxic for businesses across numerous sectors of the economy, from restaurants, pubs and bars, wedding suppliers, music venues, nightclubs, coach tours, travel, and tourism, and many more”, it says.
“These can result in declines in capacity and therefore income of up to 75% and force businesses to trade at substantial losses even if allowed to open. Additional restrictions on live music, dancing, mandatory seated drinking, table service, and more, further reduce the ability of premises to generate sufficient custom to survive”.
While accepting that “restrictions were initially necessary in the interests of public health”, the vaccine roll out now means that “COVID-19 no longer presents the threat to public health that it did even a few short months ago”.
NTIA Scotland states: “It is therefore the position of the NTIA that the restrictions imposed on hospitality businesses by Scottish government with regards to capacity, activities and operating hours are no longer justifiable or proportionate and any continued application of such emergency restrictions would now be in breach of article one of the first protocol to the European Convention On Human Rights, which applies in the UK by virtue of the Human Rights Act 1998”.
Commenting on the decision to commence legal action, NTIA Scotland Chair Mike Grieve says: “In light of the continued failure of the Scottish government to address or even acknowledge the plight of Scotland’s culturally vital and economically significant nightclub sector, NTIA Scotland has reached the conclusion that there is no alternative but to challenge the continued enforced closure in the Court Of Session”.
“As things stand, we have no ability to trade, no indicative date for re-opening, no ongoing funding, and no prospect of keeping our staff in employment”, he goes on. “Meanwhile, the oft quoted ‘scientific data’, backing the regular assertion from Scottish government that hospitality settings are a significant factor in COVID transmission, has yet to be produced. It is completely wrong to decimate an industry based on untested presumptions”.
“As an industry we accepted from the outset that we would be first to close and last to open and have continually offered to support the government in measures to inhibit COVID spread, whilst investing heavily in mitigating risks within our premises”, he continues. “Despite this we have been marginalised to the point where even now, as other parts of hospitality start to reopen, we are not even included in the dialogue about reopening at level zero. The Scottish government continues to treat us with complete indifference”.
This action follows a recent warning by the Scottish Music Industry Task Force that the entire Scottish music sector is on the “brink of collapse” as a result of ongoing restrictions.
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