AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN says restaurateurs and forecasters share the same frustration at the latest setback to their plans
When Harold MacMillan was once asked what was the most troubling problem of his Prime Ministership, he replied: ‘Events, my dear boy, events’. Similar sentiments must be running through the hospitality sector just now after a series of statements that have brought many year-end celebrations to a shuddering halt.
Stephen Gow of The Chester Hotel in Aberdeen, left work on Thursday night expecting 263 guests at one of his Christmas party events. By 10am this morning that number had dropped to 18. More cancellations are expected. He is not alone.
Thousands of parties around the country are facing the same fate after Public Health Scotland chose to issue a media announcement at tea-time calling for festive gatherings to be put on hold, just as many people were planning to head out for the night.
More to the point, it came just an hour after the national clinical director Jason Leitch said it was okay to party. Today the First Minister has chosen to side with Dr Phin at Public Health Scotland.
What is going on?
Everybody agrees that tackling the pandemic is the number one priority, but the chaotic handling of announcements is little short of farcical and gives the public no confidence in the guidelines, particularly as the constant contradictions and changes make it increasingly difficult to know what is expected – let alone how to plan. That’s on top of growing cynicism after the Downing Street capers last year.
As for the economy, there is now a big waiting game as businesses most impacted demand more financial support from the government in order for them to get through what they thought would be a life-saving festive season. Acting swiftly to control the pandemic is one thing, but restaurants, pubs and hotels have spent thousands of pounds on food and other stock, as well as organising staff which is difficult enough just now. An event I attended on Thursday night was staffed partly by waiters brought in from the Midlands.
If we are facing a what the FM describes as a ‘tsunami’ of cases then we must expect it to last some time. Therefore, more financial support has to come through from government. As Andrew McRae of the Federation of Small businesses says it is unsustainable for policymakers to put smaller businesses “in a vice” by discouraging their customers while not offering them any financial help.
We might also expect quite a degree of indifference to the latest instructions. Because the First Minister has said the party ‘ban’ applies to work events, what will stop staff or anyone else simply organising a house party? Call it a birthday or anniversary event. Don’t let anyone be surprised if homes around the land are buzzing while the pubs and restaurants stay shut. Madness.
The timing of the party announcement, just hours after Kate Forbes delivered her Budget, has thrown her a curve ball and put many of her plans and forecasts into disarray.
The same applies to the forecasters and other number crunchers who have been delivering their verdicts on the Finance Secretary’s statement and will now be forced to re-calculate the impact of all this disruption.
As Ms Sturgeon said, none of this is easy, but it could at least be a little more consistent and understandable.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business