December ‘horrendous’ for hospitality industry, says Sturgeon

The First Minister admitted that businesses were 'at the sharp end' of new coronavirus restrictions.

December ‘horrendous’ for hospitality industry, says Sturgeon Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon has said December was “horrendous” for hospitality businesses, as an industry body warned most were no longer viable.

The First Minister admitted that firms were “at the sharp end” of new coronavirus restrictions, which shuttered most businesses in the central belt of Scotland throughout December and enforced strict opening times on those elsewhere.

The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) said on Thursday that its members took just 20% of last year’s earnings during the Christmas trading period, losing £12,000 per week per premises on average.

The group also said that support during the pandemic had been “completely inadequate” and had often taken months to arrive.

When asked at the coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh if she believed the support had arrived quickly enough, Sturgeon said: “I always want things to happen more quickly.

“I want to see the money, the substantial amounts of money we are rightly making available to businesses that are impacted, get to those businesses as soon as possible.

“There’s more than £2bn gone to businesses already and with hospitality in particular, where businesses are closed for a lengthy period, the money is paid every few weeks, so it’s an ongoing support.”

Sturgeon also pointed to “top-up” payments announced before Christmas for hospitality to help recoup some losses from the festive trading period.

“We will continue to work with local authorities to speed the provision up as much as we possible can,” she added.

But SHG spokesman Stephen Montgomery accused political leaders of “squabbling” with one another.

“Without Christmas, when we earn around 30% of our entire annual income, most hospitality businesses just aren’t viable,” he said.

“We’ve had the worst December’s trading in living memory and we’re facing the worst start to a year ever. Instead of helping, our political leaders are squabbling with each other. It’s like arguing about who throws the lifebelt when someone’s already underwater.”

SHG said that during lockdown, businesses continued to spend on average nearly £6000 per week per premises on fixed costs and contributions to the furlough scheme.

The organisation, which represents businesses including the DRG Group, Signature Pubs and G1 Group, called on the Scottish and Westminster governments to work together to support the sector.

Mr Montgomery said: “The continued furlough scheme is welcome but it’s there to protect jobs rather than businesses, and we still have to pay all sorts of fixed costs.

“Even those businesses that survive will seriously struggle to recover this year. Not only is the support completely inadequate, in many cases what little is available hasn’t appeared months after it was promised.”

Mr Montgomery said the group would soon be proposing “specific, realistic measures” that would help to give the sector a “fighting chance” of getting back to normal by 2022.

A spokesman for the Treasury said: “We’ve taken swift action throughout the pandemic to protect lives and livelihoods, and this week’s cash injection will ensure we continue to support businesses and jobs through to the spring.

“We’ve already extended the furlough scheme until April, providing certainty for businesses as they navigate the months ahead.

“And we’ll have a Budget in early March to take stock of our wider support, and set out the next stage in our economic response.”

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