Hospitality shutdown descends into chaos after Sturgeon springs 'cafe' loophole on businesses
Nicola Sturgeon made the U-turn at Holyrood, which led to confusion among the companies - JEFF J MITCHELL / AFP
Nicola Sturgeon's hospitality shutdown was in chaos hours before it went into effect after her government failed to define which restaurants could stay open if they stopped serving alcohol.
The First Minister offered licensed cafes in the central belt a last minute break on Thursday, saying they could stay open if they didn't sell alcoholic beverages but didn't define which outlets were "cafes", "restaurants" or "restaurants" would apply. Bars'.
This created confusion across the industry. Desperate business owners wondered whether their outlets were cafes that were allowed to stay open or restaurants were allowed to, so they had to close for 16 days at 6pm tonight. Pub owners who serve food also asked why the exemption could not be extended to them if they were run dry.
Confusion worsened Thursday night after Jason Leitch, Scotland's national clinical director, said it was up to the council's environmental health officers to make and enforce the rules, which Ms. Sturgeon's testimony contradicted only hours earlier when she said a "specific one." The exception "for cafes to do this would be laid down in regulations.
It was then contradicted by Scottish government officials who said the difference between cafes and restaurants will be defined in the new regulations.
Steven McGowan, partner and head of licensing for Scotland at law firm TLT, said if a definition of café were not legislated, it would lead to "absolute slaughter" nationwide, with the fate of companies being driven by "the subjective view of one Council Official ”.
He added: “My sincere best wishes to the parliamentary draftsmen who are tasked with drawing up a legal definition. Within hours. With thousands of companies biting their nails.
“There is no separate classification for cafes and restaurants under the licensing law. According to the Planning Act, cafes and restaurants are treated in the same class. The precise definition of what is meant by a café is therefore of crucial importance. "
The turmoil has led to growing criticism of the Prime Minister in recent days for failing to consult companies before drawing up plans.
The companies affected by their clampdown were still waiting for answers to the distribution of a financing package of GBP 40 million on the eve of the clampdown.
Meanwhile, Lord Forsyth, the Tory peer and former Scottish secretary, has urged companies to take legal action against the Scottish government over the new rules, which he described as "completely disproportionate and devastating to the companies concerned".
Stephen Montgomery, a spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said, “The problem in Scotland is that one license is suitable for everyone. So all rules must apply equally to everyone.
"If you have a coffee shop and pub next door, the virus doesn't understand what a pub and what a coffee shop is. If your main goal was to give the virus a sharp shirt, where do you draw the line?"
Paul Waterson of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association said the companies were "really confused" by the First Minister's statement and accused them of "turning things around completely."
He added, "We spoke to lawyers today and they are also confused. There is absolutely no definition of who can and cannot open."
Stephen Montgomery of the Scottish Hospitality Group - Stuart Nicol / Stuart Nicol Photography
"This is the livelihood of the people, businesses are hanging by a thread and in one sentence everything has changed. We have not been consulted and never saw it coming."
Ms. Sturgeon revealed the licensed café exception to First Ministers' questions. She replied to Jackie Baillie, vice-chairman of the Scottish Labor Party, who said cafes in her constituency had been forced to close even though drinks were only a tiny part of their business.
The Prime Minister said the regulations, due to be released on Friday, "include a specific exemption for cafes" and that these "can be opened regardless of whether they are licensed or unlicensed as long as they do not offer alcohol".
On Wednesday, Ms. Sturgeon said that all licensed venues in the Central Belt should close starting Friday. In the rest of the country, they are only allowed to open indoors from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Alcohol can only be served outdoors until 10 p.m.
James Withers, the executive director of Scottish Food and Drink, said the cafe gap issues could have been easily foreseen if companies had been consulted.
"I have a headache and I'm not trying to run a hotel business. I'm just trying to find the answers," he said. “Imagine you are a licensed café in the Central Belt. You have just told all staff to take the next two weeks off. You canceled all of your food and drink orders and then found out you need to bring the staff back to the rota and make the orders.
"It's incredibly confusing and an avoidable problem. And now you have to ask when a restaurant is a coffee shop and when a coffee shop is a restaurant. We need a sensible approach: if licensed coffee shops work and just can't serve alcohol, so should they." can also be transferred to licensed restaurants. "
Tom Kitchin, the leading Scottish chef, wrote in The Daily Telegraph accusing the Scottish government of "throwing fireballs at the sector" despite trying very hard to follow guidelines.
"Being completely closed for 16 days like we do in the central belt is difficult to understand," he said. "At first it was emotional, then it turned into anger:" Why do they choose us? "
When asked about the difference between a restaurant and a coffee shop on Thursday night, Mr. Leitch said, "The environmental health officers of the local authorities need to make these judgments. Some of them will be obvious at both ends of the spectrum, others will be a bit more difficult.
"These decisions are not binary, they are not easy decisions, and this is just another example of a complex decision-making process that gets us to the point where the virus needs to be suppressed."
Scottish government officials later said the regulations would tell the difference.
A spokeswoman said: "The temporary restrictions on hospitality, funded by £ 40million, are essential to curb transmission of the virus, particularly in the central belt.
“However, as the First Minister pointed out, we are allowing a very limited exception to allow cafes to be open during the day to socialize for those who are socially isolated or who live alone while reducing transmission. ”
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