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Trade groups take legal action over hospitality restrictions

Five trade associations have launched a legal battle against the Scottish government’s restrictions on the hospitality industry, which they argue has been treated as a “sacrificial lamb”.

The hospitality sector “has been held up as the sacrificial lamb”

The Scottish Beer & Pub Association, The Scottish Licensed Trade Association, UK Hospitality (Scotland), the Scottish Hospitality Group and the Night Time Industries Association Scotland have teamed up to begin legal action against the government.

Licensed venues in Scotland’s central belt were ordered to close on 9 October to stem the spread of Covid-19 under new measures branded a “death sentence” for the industry. Across the rest of Scotland, hospitality venues were restricted to indoor service between 6am and 6pm, and could remain open until 10pm for outdoor service.

On Wednesday (21 October), Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon extended the hospitality restrictions until 2 November. The measures were due to end on 26 October.

The five trade groups have now begun legal proceedings to save hospitality businesses of all sizes across the country. The groups said hospitality venues are “under intense pressure and are fighting for the very survival of their businesses and for the jobs that they provide”.

The Scottish government was given notice of the legal action this week after the trade bodies were advised by legal expert Aidan O’Neill QC, who said a judicial review would be justified.

The letter has given the government until 4pm on 28 October to respond, otherwise the groups will move forward with a petition for judicial review.

Paul Waterson, spokesperson for the trade associations, 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.

“Anecdotal evidence is not the way to go about making government decisions and the sector should not be used as a balance to uncontrollable risks in other far less regulated and un-monitored sectors.”

‘Sacrificial lamb’

Waterson pointed to evidence in Northern Ireland that noted the shutdown of hospitality had the potential to impact the R number by between 0.1 and 0.2.

He said the move confirms the hospitality sector “has been held up as the sacrificial lamb”.

Waterson continued: “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.”

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