Cllr Meghan Gallacher is the Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Group on North Lanarkshire Council.
Last week, Nicola Sturgeon announced tougher lockdown restrictions across the Central Belt of Scotland, due to the stark increase of COVID-19 cases. As of 6pm on Friday 9th October, licensed premises, pool/snooker halls, casino/ bingo halls, and indoor bowling clubs, need to close their doors until 26th October. These further restrictions could be the final blow to many businesses, who have endured unprecedented hardship since the beginning of the pandemic.
As a councillor in North Lanarkshire, I am frustrated by the First Minister’s announcement. Local businesses have spent thousands of pounds renovating their premises to adhere to social distancing measures, which has meant reducing the number of people they can accommodate each day. They have also stuck to the rules, by taking customer details for track and trace purposes and asking people to comply by wearing a facemask and using hand sanitiser when entering and leaving their business.
To add to the woes of many business owners and staff, the Scottish Government’s new lockdown measures are as clear as mud.
Initially, when Nicola Sturgeon announced the new restrictions in Holyrood, she said that cafes with an alcohol licence must close. This guidance then changed to allow cafes to open but not sell alcohol, creating confusion to many business owners as to what constitutes a café. However, the confusion does not stop there. During a BBC Radio Scotland interview, Jason Leitch – the Scottish Government’s National Clinical Director – stated that it would be left to Scotland’s already overworked environmental Council officers to determine the definition of a café and to enforce these restrictions. I should add that this was the same Clinical Director, who, this time last week, was asking “the guys to look into it” to allow pubs to stay open beyond the 10pm curfew, should the Scotland vs Israel game go to penalties (which it did!). It’s clear that the Scottish Government do not have a handle on these restrictions and prioritise a football game over the livelihoods of others.
The First Minister has since attempted to clarify the definition of a ‘café’ by expressing that it is a premise, whose primary activity is the sale of non-alcoholic drinks and “snacks or light meals”. It appears that our First Minister managed to find time to look up the definition in the dictionary. However, in effect, Sturgeon has allowed café’s which may have alcoholic beverages on their premises to remain open, but restaurants and pubs, who sell snacks and light meals, must close. There are great discrepancies with the restrictions being announced and with only hours to go before the lockdown is in place, many businesses still do not know if they are to remain open or close.
The chaos caused over the last week by the Scottish Government will have a long-lasting impact on businesses in North Lanarkshire. Within each of our eight town centres, we have pubs, restaurants, and other businesses within the entertainment industry, which will have to close for a second time. I know many of them will adapt and run a take-away service, but for others, such as the indoor bowling alleys and pool halls, they have no option but to adhere to the restrictions enforced on them.
It is going to be a tough 16 days for businesses impacted by the new lockdown rules, and I hope that they receive the urgent packages of support from the Scottish Government that they deserve. Without our small, independent businesses, North Lanarkshire’s unemployment rate will soar as local businesses provide local jobs. In addition, it could be the catalyst which accelerates the demise of our town centres once and for all.
It is clear that the Scottish Government’s decision this week has been shambolic and will have a detrimental impact on those in the hospitality and entertainment sector. I just hope that this latest disaster does not deliver the final blow.