Recently it was announced that five of Scotland’s industry bodies are raising legal action against the Scottish Government following news that recent increased COVID-19 related restrictions on licenced trade, which were due to end on Monday (26th October), will now be extended.
Whilst everyone can appreciate the difficult position the Government are in, ongoing confusion has left many business owners frustrated and demanding transparency in the Government’s decision making. Earlier this week Eusebi’s Deli in Glasgow managed the first successful court challenge against the local authority’s notice to close. Upon obtaining an interim interdict Giovanna Eusebi presented evidence her venue was a café, not a restaurant. The Council are expected to receive a spate of similar challenges, however, not all businesses will be successful in challenging these decisions.
At the beginning of the month demonstrations were seen in Glasgow with pub and bar owners dumping ice in front of the City Chambers following the Government’s announcement of tighter restrictions over an initial 16 day period in a bid to suppress the spread of coronavirus. The tighter restrictions across the central belt has seen 3.4 million people facing the strictest of the restrictions announced by the Government. Now, the initial 16 day restrictions has been extended to allow a tiered approach to be introduced leaving many businesses concerned that ongoing uncertainty poses an irreparable risk to the hospitality industry, who say they are now at “breaking point”. Businesses across the country are concerned that without an easing of restrictions or further immediate and substantial support put in place by the Government they may not survive much longer.
The group seeking judicial review are The Scottish Beer & Pub Association, The Scottish Licensed Trade Association, UK Hospitality (Scotland), the Scottish Hospitality Group and the Night Time Industries Association Scotland. A joint letter was issued to the Scottish Government, who have until 4pm on the 28th October to respond or risk facing a petition for Judicial Review.
This has come in the same week the teachers’ unions have called on the Government to set out what will trigger school closures as part of the tiered approach that is due to be introduced within the coming weeks. The Government thus far have continued in their reluctance to discuss what the threshold is before schools will be considered for further closure due to the rising number of cases stemming from classes. The First Minister made it clear that one of her top priorities was to keep schools open, however, this has left the joint group frustrated. In their letter the joint group drew upon a report published in Northern Ireland showing hospitality has a comparatively small impact on the infection rate spreading and increasing.
Earlier this year the Scottish Government faced similar challenges when Scottish businesses argued about the fairness surrounding the Governments Small Business Grant (SBG) Scheme, which was designed to compensate businesses for rent and running costs. Initially businesses would have only been able to claim £25,000 but after heavy criticism the Government changed this to allow recovery of up to 75% of site business fees. Even with the changes the joint group have argued it does not come close to the loss suffered by business, especially those who have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic.
Despite “cautious optimist” the Government extended the restrictions on restaurants, pubs and bars until 2nd November, by which time the new tiered system will be introduced. The new system will mean more localised restrictions, subject to the infection rate within the local area. To make matters worse, the furlough scheme is coming to an end as of next week putting jobs (already at risk due to restrictions) into even more turmoil.
Blog by Daniel Canning, Solicitor