NICOLA Sturgeon has told licensed cafes in the central belt that they will now be able to remain open throughout the “circuit-breaker” lockdown, as long as they don’t serve alcohol.
The Scottish Government restrictions announced on Wednesday initially said only cafes without an alcohol licence in Ayrshire and Arran, Forth Valley, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire and Lothian would be allowed to welcome customers.
That led to a number of complaints from businesses who only had minimal liquor sales.
The issue was raised in Holyrood during First Minister’s Questions. East Dunbartonshire MSP Jackie Baillie told Sturgeon there were cafes across Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park in her constituency who would be forced to close their doors as a result of the new restrictions, even when “99% of what they do is about food – and only 1% is about alcohol”.
READ MORE: Study reveals people’s confidence in Scotland and England’s Covid responses
She asked the SNP leader to “consider whether there is a way of allowing these cafes to suspend their licences and continue to trade, offering just food?” Otherwise, she warned, “they may have to close their doors permanently”.
Sturgeon said she already had considered the issue.
She added: “And I’m delighted Jackie Baillie has given me the opportunity to clarify this point today. Cafes will be able to open whether they are licensed or unlicensed, as long as they don’t serve alcohol. The regulations that we will shortly bring forward to close certain premises will include a specific exemption for cafes.”
James Withers, the CEO of Scotland Food & Drink welcomed the change but said this “common sense approach” needed to be extended to licensed restaurants as well. He said: “That will at least give them the option of some sales during daytime. I have yet to see evidence that hospitality is the source of the rise in cases of recent weeks, so shutting down an entire business just because it holds an alcohol license and is in the central belt is disproportionate.
“These businesses are only just starting to get back on their feet and have invested considerable time and resource into making their premises safe for customers and their staff.
READ MORE: Almost half of Scots think economy can be stronger after pandemic
“We have to remember that these closures have a huge ripple effect, causing real damage to food and drink producers who supply hospitality.
“We also have to come up with a better way of announcing these changes. With hours to go until new laws take effect, rules are still changing.
“If you are trying to order stock, supply products and manage your staff, it is a nightmare.”
Scottish Tory health spokesman, Donald Cameron, said the SNP’s guidance was as “clear as mud.”
He added: “There is confusion across the country about which cafes and restaurants can remain open.”
Baillie welcomed the “about turn” but said the First Minister had clearly not taken “businesses and workers into account”.