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10pm curfew on bars and pubs could be the death knell for many Highland businesses

By Matt MacPherson

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Safety measures have been put in place at the Malt Room, which is owned by Matt MacPherson. Picture: Callum Mackay
Safety measures have been put in place at the Malt Room, which is owned by Matt MacPherson. Picture: Callum Mackay

The Malt Room has no TVs or wi-fi as I have always wanted to encourage actual conversation.

Whether that be about whisky or yesterday’s football result, it doesn’t matter, as long as people are engaging and aren’t endlessly scrolling social media.

The two topics I do think should be avoided are religion and politics – but I’m going to break my own rule here and have a bit of a rant about the recent 10pm curfew that has been imposed across the hospitality sector.

It’s the inconsistency that really winds me up. We went into complete lockdown in March and I believe we had no other option to do so to protect one another.

We were delighted to open our doors on August 1 and welcome back customers. The government pleaded with the public to show bars and restaurants support.

Here we are in autumn and a 10pm blanket curfew has been sentenced to bars and restaurants to prevent a second wave – I must have missed Matt Hancock’s speech that explained the part about Covid only being spread late at night.

I can honestly say that if I thought the curfew would “save lives and protect the NHS” I would be the first to support it, but the numbers just don’t suggest it will.

The government data shows that just five per cent of infections out of the home are related to hospitality. Where such curfews have been put in place locally, they have not cut infection rates, merely harmed business and cost jobs.

At the time of writing, you are not allowed to go and visit other households but you can meet them in a bar or restaurant. I’ve seen a lot of criticism over this and I admit it does initially sound ludicrous but here’s my thinking on it.

The hospitality sector has adapted and created safe environments for people, there are screens, staff all wearing masks, surfaces constantly disinfected and staff policing people. The chances of infection in that environment are very low.

Compare that to your house and you can begin to see why this rule has been put in place – I know I don’t have a sanitise station at my front door.

This curfew is going to be a death sentence for many fantastic businesses. The furlough scheme is coming to an end and a lot of bars, including ourselves, make the majority of our sales after 10pm.

Add to this that the majority of businesses here in the Highlands make the lion’s share of their turnover during summer and things all start to look very bleak.

The government is calling this a balance between keeping the economy open and public safety. The reality is they are allowing us to open under ridiculous restrictions so that they can wash their hands of any financial support.

It’s easy to criticise but what would I do as an alternative? I’d impose really strict sanctions on the operators who are ignoring the guidelines and leave the those who have worked hard at adjusting their business to trade safely.

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