Continued chaos on Scotland’s railways could lead to a “perfect storm” for bars and restaurants trying to recover from the pandemic, an industry body has warned.
Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said upcoming industrial action, which will see almost 2,000 train services cancelled in Scotland, could be “very serious” for the hospitality industry.
It was announced on Wednesday that just 180 ScotRail services will run on June 21, 23 and 25 after Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members from Network Rail Scotland voted for strike action.
Cross-border train operators LNER, CrossCounty, Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express will also take part in the walkout.
RMT has said it will be the biggest strike on the railways since 1989, with more than 50,000 railway workers set for industrial action across the UK on June 21.
It comes as disruption to the regular running of Scotland’s rail services is set to continue for another month as train drivers consider a 5% rise as part of an improved pay package.
RMT members in Scotland are also locked in a separate dispute with ScotRail, having rejected a similar pay deal offered to Aslef last week.
With just a handful of trains running between 7.30am and 6.30pm during the strikes next week, SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson warned that members of the public are likely to stay home rather than visit hospitality venues due to transport issues.
“If there are no trains or if the last train home is 6.30pm, people won’t bother going out at all and who can blame them – nobody wants to be worrying about how they will get home after meeting friends in the pub, enjoying dinner, attending an event or going to a nightclub,” he said.
“There’s also the safety aspect to consider as every business and venue wants to ensure that their staff and customers can get home safely late at night – many rely on trains to get home.”
Mr Wilkinson added the industry body was aware of hotel and restaurant bookings being cancelled due to a lack of train services.
“To put it bluntly, the hospitality sector just can’t take any more,” Mr Wilkinson said.
“Hospitality businesses cannot afford to lose any more trade, particularly as we approach the crucial summer season.
“We urge both the UK and Scottish governments to intervene. After enforced closures and restrictions during the pandemic and the spiralling cost-of-living crisis now having an impact on licensed hospitality and many other sectors, it is crucial that across the UK there are reliable and efficient train services along with late-night public transport provision.”
The warning comes amid a study from Barclays Corporate Banking which found the hospitality and leisure sector’s post-pandemic recovery could be severely hampered by the cost-of-living crisis and a widespread lack of staff.
It found hospitality and leisure businesses in Scotland report that their utility bills have already spiked by 36% year-on-year on average as 96% of hospitality and leisure businesses in Scotland struggle to recruit personnel.
“With soaring utility bills and other cost increases, serious staffing issues and now disruption on the railways, this summer is shaping up to be a ‘perfect storm’ for Scotland’s hospitality businesses,” Mr Wilkinson added.
On Thursday, UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said the Government plans to introduce legislation to enable the use of agency workers on the railways during industrial action “if the strike drags on”.
The cabinet minister also issued a direct plea to those embarking on three days of walkouts next week, stating they “risk striking yourselves out of a job”.
“Don’t jeopardise the railways, and therefore by definition, the jobs that come from the railways,” he said.
However Shapps denied his comments on jobs were “a threat”, describing them as a “statement of the reality”.
In response, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The threats made by Grant Shapps today to railway workers’ livelihoods and their right to strike are disgraceful and will make RMT members even more fiercely determined to win this dispute.
“Instead of playing to the gallery for his own personal political ambitions, Mr Shapps needs to act like a pragmatic Transport Secretary who is willing to meet with the union and help us reach a negotiated settlement.”
An Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While this dispute is a matter for the RMT union and the relevant employers, we would of course encourage all parties to engage in meaningful dialogue to ensure a satisfactory agreement can be reached for the benefit of passengers and staff alike.
“This is particularly important given the current cost of living crisis.
“It is important to highlight that this dispute does not involve ScotRail staff, and there should be no conflation of this GB-wide dispute with pay negotiations for ScotRail staff, which are a separate matter.
“The Transport Minister has written to Grant Shapps making this clear and also that we will be very clear with the public where the responsibility for this issue rests.”