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Inverness landlord joins plea for more help for Scotland's night time economy

By Calum MacLeod

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Gellions landlord Gavin Stevenson is among those warning of the 'Armageddon' facing Scotland's pubs and clubs without further support.
Gellions landlord Gavin Stevenson is among those warning of the 'Armageddon' facing Scotland's pubs and clubs without further support.

The landlord of one of the oldest pubs in Inverness has added his voice to a call for the Scottish Government to increase its support for the nation's night time economy as it continues to suffer the impact of lockdown restrictions.

Gavin Stevenson is a director of the Mor Rioghain Group which owns venues in Inverness and Aberdeen, including The Gellions, which has welcomed Highland capital customers since the 1840s.

He is among the signatories of an open letter to the Scottish Government from night time economy leaders calling for financial assistance and a clear path to re-opening.

The letter from the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Scotland Commission, the body representing the businesses, employees, freelancers and supply chain that make up the night time economy across Scotland, warns that without urgent action the sector faces "Armageddon",

It goes on to state: "Without either a clear path to unrestricted opening, or extended and enhanced financial support, the Scottish Government is condemning thousands of businesses in our sector, most of them SMEs carefully nurtured over years, to bankruptcy with all the human, economic, cultural and social consequences that entails."

The letter also highlights what the NTIA Scotland Commission sees as unfair treatment of the sector, arguing that it is unacceptable for the Scottish Government to have announced an end to financial support without announcing the removal of restrictions and claims that financial support initiatives to date have been neither sufficient nor comprehensive enough to prevent many businesses falling into significant debt.

Mr Stevenson said: "The night time economy has been amongst the worst affected sectors in this crisis, first to close, and last to reopen. When we surveyed a number of city centre businesses last year they reported an average 71 per cent decline on normal business turnover while in Level 1, which is completely unsustainable. Support ends in April but the Scottish Government is still talking about our sector being unable to operate viably until November or later.

"This is simply unacceptable and we must urgently find a solution if we are to protect thousands of jobs and prevent businesses going under."

NTIA Scotland Commission chairman Michael Grieve said: "Enough is enough.

"Our sector is drowning in a sea of debt as rent and other costs keep being incurred. And there is despair that not only don’t we have a road map to re-opening, but we have a cliff edge at the end of April when what little financial support there is comes to an end and the restrictions carry on. We need more financial help and we need it to continue until we can fully re-open.

"The nature of our businesses means that we can’t operate sustainably with any form of social distancing and restrictions. We take no pleasure in setting that out. But it’s a commercial and economic reality that has to be faced."

The Gellions, like most clubs and venues, has invested in measures to keep its customers safe.
The Gellions, like most clubs and venues, has invested in measures to keep its customers safe.

NITA chief executive Michael Kill suggested Scotland compared poorly with elsewhere in the UK.

"At least in other parts of the UK we have a glimmer of hope in the form of a clearly set out roadmap," he said.

"I urge the Scottish Government to review their treatment of large parts of our sector. It is simply unconscionably unfair to let night time businesses fail in the form of a long slow decline into debt and bankruptcy when they are not to blame in any way and have consistently tried to work constructively with the Scottish Government."

Other signatories to the letter include Geoff Ellis of concert promoter DF Concerts & Events, Brian Fulton and Donald McLeod of Holdfast Entertainment, the parent group of well known Glasgow venues The Garage and Cathouse Rock Club, and Stuart McPhee, director of Aberdeen's Siberia Bar and Hotel.

Mr McPhee commented: "Aberdeen's city centre has already lost a number of businesses during the crisis, and it now feels like we're being hung out to dry still further. Support ends soon but there is no timeline for us to reopen properly and this is just not acceptable. The night time economy is critically important to city centres and we employ thousands of people in Aberdeen. There was a local government task force assembled within days when just one department store mentioned closing.

"The night time economy employs many times more people, and those jobs are equally at risk. Where is our task force?"

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