Dumfries and Galloway’s pubs have been thrown into chaos following days of conflicting advice about whether or not new Covid-19 restrictions mean they must close and whether they are eligible for furlough funding, according to South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth.
At the start of last week, the Scottish Government’s new COVID-19 Strategic Framework stated that in areas covered by level 2 restrictions, pubs could serve alcohol with a main meal, and also in beer gardens outside. Under the framework, pubs that didn’t serve food – so called “wet pubs”- would also be allowed to remain open in level 2 areas but only sell soft drinks inside and alcohol outside.
However, on Friday, the Scottish Government changed their stance and published regulations to enforce the new framework which meant ALL pubs had to close from today (Monday 2 November) unless they sold food. When the local MSP raised the issue with Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions last Thursday, the First Minister made no mention of any plans to make all non-food pubs close.
This u-turn was made by the Scottish Government to allow “wet-pubs” to access the UK Government’s planned new Job Support Scheme (furlough) Closed payment system which comprised a grant payment employers could use to cover 66.67% of an employee’s wages. JSS Closed would only come into play when a business was compelled by law to close due to Covid restrictions brought in by Government.
However, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcements on Saturday night, the JSS Closed scheme was withdrawn and the existing Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended for a month. This scheme means the Government pays businesses 80% of their any furloughed employees wages- with no need for the business to legally close.
So now, thanks to this extension of the furlough scheme, the Scottish Government didn’t need to close all “wet pubs” in Dumfries and Galloway as they can now access the full furlough scheme whether they were closed or chose to remain open.
The move has prompted Colin Smyth to call on the Scottish Government to rethink their regulations on pub closures.
Colin Smyth said: “Pubs in Dumfries and Galloway have been thrown into utter chaos in the past couple of days and so far, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
“Ever since the Scottish Government’s ‘circuit breaker’ announcement, pubs in Dumfries and Galloway have been able to serve alcohol outside and soft drinks inside. Many of those premises who didn’t have suitable outdoor spaces closed their doors because it just wasn’t worth opening but they lost out on the full grant from the Scottish Government.
“However, things went from bad to worse, as under the new level 2 restrictions, pubs were initially told they could serve alcohol with a main meal, and also outside in a beer garden. But on Friday, with no warning they have now been ordered to close unless they served food.
“I appreciate why the Scottish Government did this, even though it completely contradicts their original framework, but it meant those pubs could access the JSS Closed scheme, paying 2/3rds of the wages of affected staff. If they were not legally closed by Government under the rules at the time, they wouldn’t have been able to.
“But following Boris Johnson’s announcement on Saturday that the existing furlough scheme is to be extended, pubs are now left even more confused. The JSS Closed scheme has been withdrawn and all pubs, whether they are closed or not, can now access the full furlough scheme at least until the end of November. In other words: the Scottish Government’s legal closure of non-food pubs is no longer needed.
“Some pubs will simply want to remain closed but others, including those who may have invested heavily in beer gardens, will want to open. The Scottish Government therefore must urgently rethink regulations and change their new laws to give those pubs the chance to open, as their so called framework said they could happen in the first place.”