MSP Harper raises concerns over treatment of D&G hospitality sector with Rural Minister

South Scotland MSP Emma Harper has contacted the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing MSP, to outline serious concerns about the nature of enforcement of restrictions on pubs attempting to operate across Dumfries & Galloway.

The South Scotland MSP has been contacted by a number of publicans and hoteliers throughout the region with regard to a variety of issues arising from recent visits to being made by both Council Trading Standards officials and Police Scotland officers to various establishments.

Dumfries & Galloway is currently at Level 2 restrictions in the Scottish Government’s five tier system which aims to supress coronavirus yet enable parts of the local economy to open whilst avoiding a full, national lockdown which is the current situation in England.

Level 2 restrictions require pubs which don’t serve food, sometimes referred to as ‘wet bars’, to close and this is mandated by law. Whilst most wet bars would not be viable just serving alcohol outside, by being forced to close they become eligible for the furlough scheme and a grant of £2000, or £3000 every four weeks, depending on whether the business’ rateable value is under or above £51,000.

Other pubs and hotels which normally serve food or have the required facilities - such as an onsite kitchen and the required health and hygiene certifications - may serve alcohol inside to accompany a meal, until 8pm, and outside - with no necessary meal provision - until 10pm.

Visits by officials have taken place at licensed premises across the region in a bid to ensure pubs are complying with Level 2 restrictions in terms of providing meals indoors, with which alcohol can be an accompaniment. However, an increasing number of publicans are reporting negative experiences in relation to visits from officials with some pubs challenged over what constitutes a main meal and being incorrectly told to close due to assessed lack of compliance with the guidelines.

 

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Ms Harper commented;

“I’ve been contacted by a number of owners of licensed premises from across the region with a variety of concerns regarding visits they’ve had from Trading Standards Officers and Police Scotland officers. Whilst officials have been directed to act ‘in a supportive manner’, it appears some have not been doing so. There seems to be also some confusion, with regard to an officials’ view of what constitutes a ‘main meal’.

“I know of one pub owner, who has a Food Safety Certificate and a kitchen on the premises, who was told that he could not remain open because the official did not agree that the food being served met the Scottish Government definition of a main meal. However, after reviewing the pub menu and Scottish Government guidance, it is clear to me that the food being served did meet the criteria. This particular pub has now lost days of business due to being instructed to close.

“In addition to this, I have been contacted by a number of bars across the region who do not fall under the Scottish Government definition of wet bars. While these bar owners have not been mandated to close due to meeting the food and meal criteria, they have reported due to the rurality of their locations, that it is not economically viable for them to open. Indeed, many of these pubs have described that they have regular elderly customers who use the bar for socialisation purposes and stay in the bar for long periods during the day without purchasing food. This is not possible in accordance with the current regulations.

“Whilst I completely understand why restrictions are in place I am seeking clarification from the Cabinet Secretary on these matters. In all cases there must be a supportive approach offered to businesses at this extremely challenging time, not a punitive one and I have asked him whether any briefings are planned for officials to ensure they are fully aware of government guidance. I have also asked about more support for businesses which have not been mandated to close and whether there is any discussion at government level to change the current restrictions in relation to wet bars in areas which are successful in achieving Level 1 status in Scotland’s Strategic COVID-19 Framework.”