Five hospitality industry bodies have joined together to launch legal proceedings against the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Beer & Pub Association, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, UKHospitality (Scotland), Scottish Hospitality Group and Night Time Industries Association Scotland served notice of the action on Wednesday morning.
They say coronavirus restrictions imposed on the licensed trade sector have placed businesses under intense pressure and left many fighting for survival.
The trade bodies launched their action after receiving an opinion by legal expert Aidan O’Neill QC.
A deadline of 4pm on Wednesday, October 28 has been set for a response from the Scottish Government, with a petition for a judicial review being submitted if none is forthcoming.
Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, issued a statement on behalf of all the groups launching legal action.
He said: “It is with regret that we now commence with this first stage in the legal process. We understand and entirely support the goal of suppressing the virus, but our sector is at breaking point.
“Despite having more mitigation measures than other sectors and the vast majority of operators going above-and-beyond in ensuring customer safety, our sector has been repeatedly targeted without consultation and without the evidence.”
Pubs and restaurants in central Scotland were all but closed – except for takeaway services – from October 9 to stem the spread of Covid-19.
And First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Wednesday those restrictions would be extended by a week.
Cafes across the five central health board regions – Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian, and Forth Valley – have been exempt from the shutdown as long as they do not serve alcohol.
Across the rest of Scotland, pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes have only been able to operate indoors between the hours of 6am and 6pm. They have been prohibited from serving alcohol inside, but can still serve drinks outdoors until 10pm.
Waterson said: “The economic support offered to premises doesn’t come close to compensating the businesses and means jobs are being lost and livelihoods ruined. Any measures must be proportionate and be backed up by evidence, we do not believe that is the case here.
“The industry simply cannot endure the extension of the current restriction, further restrictive measures expected from the 2nd of November or get into a stop-start situation.
“We are now facing the end of our industry as we know it. The battle is now on to save the hospitality sector.”
The Scottish government said it would respond to the letter in “due course”.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are using the powers we have to help businesses, offering support which now exceeds £2.3 billion, including 100% rates relief for pubs and restaurants for the year, and we will extend financial support available to businesses who must stay closed or continue to restrict their trading to cover the additional week of restrictions.
“We are confident the temporary restrictions are essential and proportionate to the risk posed by coronavirus if we are to prevent a return to the dangerous level of infections experienced earlier this year.”