Scottish government admits no evidence for bar closures

5th March, 2021 by Nicola Carruthers

The Scottish government has failed to produce evidence to support Covid-19 restrictions on the country’s hospitality sector, a trade group has found.


The Scottish Hospitality Group said the government has provided no evidence to justify on-trade restrictions

Trade body the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request to the government in November, asking for any evidence to back up restrictions placed on the on-trade from 1 March 2020.

The SHG said the aim of the FOI request was to find out exactly what information the government had used to make policy decisions about Covid-19 restrictions on trading for the industry.

After chasing the government several times for a response in December, the government answered a month later and said it could not reply as it had potentially 3,000 documents to consider for the request. After the SHG restricted the scope of its request, the government said the number of documents was 2,000.

On 23 February, the government responded with one document featuring minutes of a meeting held with external parties.

A new response from the government to SHG read: “Neither the Scottish government, the chief medical officer’s Advisory Group nor SAGE have produced evidence papers on a sectoral basis. Instead we have used scientific evidence on transmission coupled with the social and economic benefits of particular sectors, which ministers have used to make decisions.”

‘No specific evidence’ 

SHG spokesperson Stephen Montgomery said: “After nearly four months we have finally secured the truth that the government has no specific evidence to justify the restrictions placed on our industry. It’s also deeply disappointing to see no thought given to the knock-on effects of closing hospitality, such as driving people towards house parties, which we know has been a major issue.

“Incredibly, the government is asking us to believe that there was no email correspondence with the office of the national clinical director about the evidence base for restrictions on hospitality, considered by them to be one of the main transmission vectors.”

The SHG said the government’s key points in its response related to documents that can be accessed by the public.

The SHG referenced one point from a government document that read: “Up to 15th July, hospitality was closed. Following entry into phase three of the route map, hospitality reopened. Our modelling of R [rate of infection] at that time shows that around three weeks after the opening of hospitality, R rose to 1 and above. While this cannot be entirely attributed to hospitality, it is likely to have played a significant role.”

The SHG said there was no evidence given for this ‘very broad and vague assumption’.

In addition, another point given by the government was a paper that combined the ‘supposed effects’ in the on-trade with a range of venues, such as gyms, churches and cinemas. The SHG said this paper was out of date.

Furthermore, the SHG is appealing a refusal to provide some information protected by personal data exclusions, asking instead for these details to be redacted.

Montgomery noted that the government could have worked together with the industry to implement measures that would protect health and jobs.

“We have repeatedly offered the government different solutions at their request and proactively ourselves,” he said. “Now that we’re approaching an easing of restrictions, there’s still time for the government to listen to businesses and make sensible changes to the levels system to give us a viable trading chance.

“These levels must not leave us disadvantaged to our colleagues in England. If we don’t get this right now, and allowed to open soon, we will be facing a fourth, and fifth winter.”

Last month, Scotland’s first minister said the reopening of non-essential retail and hospitality businesses could commence from the last week in April if certain conditions are met.

The SHG said it would be “extremely frustrating for operators in Scotland” to see their counterparts in England preparing to reopen their businesses, while they are unable to prepare “for a return to normality”.

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