Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of sacrificing Scotland’s pubs, restaurants and thousands of jobs, after she tore up plans for a “temporary” shutdown of hospitality venues and instead left some businesses facing indefinite closure.
The First Minister sparked fury from the hospitality sector after she admitted on Wednesday that a blanket closure of pubs and restaurants in the Central Belt, which she initially said would last for just 16 days, had been extended by a week because she had changed her mind.
Some of the affected venues will then face further restrictions under a new five-tier lockdown system, which will come into force on November 2, immediately after the extension expires.
The current rules have also meant venues in other parts of Scotland face significant curbs, with some choosing to temporary close down voluntarily.
While the exact details of what the different tiers will mean are yet to be published, hospitality venues in areas with high virus rates will continue to face significant restrictions, with an “extreme” upper level, which would resemble a full lockdown, to be a feature of the Scottish system.
Which area will enter what tier is yet to be decided, although it is understood to be currently unlikely that any area will enter the top alert level when the new system comes into force.
The Scottish director of CAMRA said that pubs and breweries felt as though they were being “offered up as a sacrificial lamb without sufficient evidence” while the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said businesses were “absolutely devastated” that “restrictions now look to be in place indefinitely.”
The organisation also raised concerns over Ms Sturgeon’s plans for a five-tier system, calling for businesses to have more influence over the rules and saying vital financial support for firms was being treated as an “afterthought”.
“Hospitality and tourism sectors are crucial to Scotland’s economy - the longer restrictions go on the harder it will be for these businesses to survive or play a full part the in recovery."
Our statement as restrictions in Scotland are extended 👉 https://t.co/3J8f4MmD0p pic.twitter.com/i0mnODVYWW
— Scotch Whisky Association (@ScotchWhiskySWA) October 21, 2020
When Ms Sturgeon announced the new restrictions on October 7, she said it was her “firm intention” that they would remain in place for just 16 days, meaning they would have been lifted on Monday, with the measures designed to “slow down” the spread of the virus.
She said she believed the measures have been successful in slowing a surge in infections, but admitted that she “changed course” over their temporary nature as she feared the progress could be reversed if they were lifted "prematurely".
While a rise in infections has been “blunted” over recent days, Scotland on Wednesday recorded 28 coronavirus deaths - the highest daily total since May 21.
Watch: Coronavirus - Scotland heads for new tiered system as COVID-19 restrictions extended
“Businesses in the hospitality sector and across the supply chain will be absolutely devastated that restrictions now look to be in place indefinitely,” Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said.
“We were advised that temporary restrictions would help to reduce spread of the virus. But now the temporary restrictions have been extended which make it impossible for businesses to rebuild and protect jobs.”
Dr Cameron added: “This short term, reactive approach is no longer enough. Where is the plan that we can all get alongside to help Scottish Government to both manage the virus and ensure the economy can also return to health?”
The new restrictions were confirmed as new figures were published showing recovery of the Scottish economy since the exit from full lockdown had slowed. GDP rose by 2.6 per cent in August, compared to 6.4 per cent in July, with the latest figure 9.4 per cent lower than in February.
Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: “Recent restrictions were framed as a temporary short, sharp shock, but the extension is an indication that we can only expect a continued government stranglehold on hospitality that will have devastating consequences.
“Without further financial support, Scotland’s hospitality industry will be crippled to the point of no return.”
Meanwhile, Maurice Golden, economy spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said: “Businesses were led to believe they would be able to open again soon and it seems they’ve been misled.
“Moving the goalposts on short notice like this, again, makes it close to impossible for businesses to plan for how they survive this crisis and keep their staff in work.”
Speaking at her daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon rejected claims that bringing in a five-tier system, the details of which were revealed by The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, will prove overly complicated.
— Dan Sanderson (@DSanderson_85) October 21, 2020
Her system is broadly modelled on Boris Johnson’s three-tier system, with an added “extreme” tier, under which restrictions would be almost as severe as a full lockdown, and a lower “Tier Zero”, which would mean life would be similar to pre-pandemic normality. The three middle tiers will closely resemble the medium, high and very high levels in England.
Full details of the proposed framework will be published on Friday. Ms Sturgeon said she believed it was “very logical” to move to five levels, which she said was the same as countries such as Ireland.
The First Minister also denied displaying “control-freakery” over her refusal to hand councils a formal role in setting restrictions for their local areas, claiming it was her responsibility to take “horrendous” decisions.
On her reversal over the hospitality closure, Ms Sturgeon insisted she did not underestimate the impact on businesses, but said a £40m support package would be extended to cover the extra week.
She said: “If we weren’t prepared to shift the goalposts occasionally, in the face of a virus that’s pretty nasty, then the virus will beat us hands down.
“So yes, we hoped we would have these for two weeks, the advice is we think they’re working but we would potentially undo that benefit if we lift them prematurely and it would be wrong for me to ignore that.”
Watch: How will England's three-tier local lockdown system work?