South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has stepped up his call for regulations closing non-food pubs under level 2 Covid-19 restrictions to be axed as a matter of urgency.
Pubs in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders have been thrown into complete chaos following weeks of conflicting advice about which of them can open and which must be shut.
Two weeks ago, 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, last Friday, the Scottish Government changed their stance and published regulations to enforce the new framework which meant ALL pubs had to close from last Monday (Monday 2 November) unless they sold food.
Colin Smyth questioned Finance Secretary Kate Forbes about the move in the Scottish Parliament last week but did not receive a satisfactory response.
Speaking in the debating chamber on Tuesday, he said: “When the Scottish Government published its strategic framework, it was stated that, as part of the protection for hospitality, non-food pubs in level 2 and 3 areas would be able to open, albeit with varying restrictions on where and when they could sell alcohol.
“However, on Friday, with not even a hint being given in Parliament on the preceding days, the Government published regulations that closed all non-food pubs in level 2 and 3 areas. I understand why the Government did that—it did it to allow non-food pubs to access the new job support scheme (closed) that was supposed to come into effect this week.
“However, given that the UK Government has eventually agreed to extend the original furlough scheme, which is paid to businesses regardless of whether they are legally closed, will the Scottish Government urgently rethink the regulations that it published on Friday and consult the sector on whether non-food pubs, many of which will have invested a lot of money in providing safe open outdoor spaces, might want to open, particularly in level 2 areas, where it might be viable for them to do so, in line with the framework that the Government published last week?”
Speaking afterwards, Colin Smyth said: “The Scottish Government must urgently reassess its advice and allow wet pubs in level 2 areas to open and sell alcohol outside if they wish.
“Some pubs will simply want to remain closed but others, including those who may have invested heavily in beer gardens, will want to open. Pub owners must be able to decide and now that the UK Government’s furlough scheme has been extended to the spring, they have a lot more options before them.
“Over the weekend I’ve heard some really concerning stories from pubs in Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders about the conflicting and contradictory advice they’ve been given about whether or not they can open.
“We know that these restrictions are likely to go on indefinitely and it is vital the Scottish Government rethinks 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.”