Nightclubs and bars have launched legal action against the Scottish government’s coronavirus restrictions, describing the curbs as “no longer justifiable or proportionate”.
The trade body Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Scotland said it was mounting an attempt to end caps on venue numbers and limited opening hours.
In Scotland, hospitality venues are currently allowed to serve customers alcoholic drinks outdoors only, while the limited return of indoor hospitality has come with an 8pm curfew.
Announcing the judicial review, the NTIA said: “The hospitality sector in general, and late-night sector in particular, has been driven to the edge of insolvency by the severe restrictions in place since the start of the pandemic.
“Scottish government support has been wholly inadequate to compensate for operating losses and a majority of businesses have now incurred unsustainable debt as a result.
“Even worse, all strategic framework funding has now ended while there is no end date for the restrictions that make these businesses commercially unviable.”
The group said 39,000 jobs were at risk as a direct result of the restrictions.
An NTIA poll of the trade body’s members last month revealed that the average debt amassed by venues due to the coronavirus pandemic had reached £150,000.
The survey also found that fewer than a quarter of premises had licensed outdoor areas – a serious issue for the industry as indoor drinking remains off the table – while almost all respondents said they could not “trade viably” with social distancing rules in place.
The NTIA said it “accepts that restrictions were initially necessary in the interests of public health”, adding that it “fully supported previous measures taken”, but that due to the success of the vaccine programme, Covid “no longer presents the threat to public health that it did even a few short months ago”.
Pubs and bars in Scotland began welcoming back customers on 26 April, a fortnight later than those in England. Scottish hospitality and tourism bosses warned at the time that waiting two weeks before reopening would cost Scotland’s economy £20m.
The pandemic has hit the night-time economy particularly badly, with mounting questions about how bosses can make sure clubs in particular can return safely in the near future. To gather evidence on how large-scale events could operate safely as restrictions ease, the government launched a scheme in Liverpool on Friday in which clubbers enjoyed a day rave after receiving a negative rapid coronavirus test result.
The NTIA’s legal bid follows similar action taken in the run-up to England’s second lockdown last year, when a 10pm curfew was imposed on bars, pubs and restaurants. The curfew led nightclub operator G-A-Y to launch a legal battle against the Department of Health last October, questioning the logic behind the “arbitrary decision” of imposing the restriction, which saw sales plummet.
The Scottish government said: “We all want to get back to normal as soon as it is safely possible, but we must move very carefully to ensure continued suppression of the virus.
“The Strategic Framework Business Fund (SFBF) provided grants to businesses that were required to close by law or to significantly change their operation due to Covid-19 restrictions from 2 November 2020.
“Nightclubs were eligible for SFBF and will have now received restart grants of up to £19,500, equivalent to more than six months support provided by SFBF every four weeks.”