Scottish hospitality asks: what does the route map out of lockdown mean for businesses?


As people across the UK look for certainty on when life will return to normal, leaders are under pressure to provide a clear route out of lockdown

In Scotland, the updated Strategic Framework looks to provide the answers that people were calling for. However, there are concerns, particularly in hospitality, that its interpretation of normality does not fully allow for life as we once knew it.

What does the Strategic Framework say?

The Strategic Framework, published on 23 February 2021, includes 94 pages that set out “how we [the Scottish Government] plan to restore, in a phased way, greater normality to our everyday lives”.  At its heart is the overall aim: “to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible.”

As always, the devil is in the detail!  It is only when you consider the entire document do you get a picture of what the strategy may mean for hospitality.

What does “normal life” mean?

Across the hospitality industry, there are concerns that the Scottish Government’s view “normal life” is not necessarily what it once was. The published aim is not to remove all social restrictions on a nationwide basis, as the current plan is for England. Instead, it looks to recalibrate and relaunch the regional level framework with levels 0 (close to normality) to 4 (lockdown).

Interestingly, level 0 still imposes physical distancing, restricts socialising indoors to groups of 8 from 3 households and 15 from 5 outdoors, nightclubs remain closed and events (festivals and conferences etc.) are only permitted with a restricted capacity. For hospitality, these restrictions are still a significant limit to business as usual.

Hospitality leaders are almost universal in the view that business viability is only possible in level 1 or below and physical distancing is an existential threat to the industry and needs to be removed as soon as it is safe to do so .

You can see the Government’s infographic on the different levels here and full detail on what is permitted in the levels is available here.

How quickly does the Scottish Government expect to ease lockdown restrictions?

We are all currently in level 4 in Scotland, and it is likely that we will not move to level 0 very quickly.  Once the current lockdown restrictions have been gradually eased based on the target date is of 26 April to move the country into level 3. Thereafter, the data around infection rates per 100,000 and test positivity rates becomes key.

It is important to flag that the Scottish Government set out fresh criteria and thresholds when it updated the Strategic Framework. Scotland will now align with the ranges proposed in the WHO guidance for the cases and test positivity associated with each protection level. These will be incorporated into our domestic level system.

You can see the criteria in the table below. The “current range” is the range used in the framework prior to the Boxing Day lockdown, whereas the “WHO range” is what will be used going forward.

   Level 0  Level 1  Level 2  Level 3  Level 4
 Weekly cases per 100k  Current range  < 20  20-75  75-150  150-300  300+
 WHO range  Close to 0  <20  20-50  50-150  150+
 Test positivity  Current range  <1.5%  1.5-3%  3-5%  5-10%  10%+
 WHO range  Close to 0  <2%  2-5%  5-20%  20%+

It is clear that there is a significant reduction in the number of cases per 100k at each level. Level 0 (still not normal) has cases per 100K and test positivity results at “close to 0”.  There are concerns that “maximum suppression” actually means elimination. This is not just semantics – this is hugely important for businesses as it is markedly different from the Westminster approach.

Local Authority Rate per* 100,000
Aberdeen City 24.5
Aberdeenshire 28.3
Angus 53.4
Argyll and Bute 11.6
Clackmannanshire 145.5
Dumfries and Galloway 36.3
Dundee City 65
East Ayrshire 118
East Dunbartonshire 90.2
East Lothian 117.7
East Renfrewshire 96.3
Edinburgh 79.1
Falkirk 189.6
Fife 62.9
Glasgow City 132.5
Highland 39.9
Inverclyde 57.8
Midlothian 129.8
Moray 42.8
Na h-Eileanan an Iar 29.9
North Ayrshire 98
North Lanarkshire 144.4
Orkney Islands 0
Perth and Kinross 62.5
Renfrewshire 132.3
Scottish Borders 23.4
Shetland Islands 0
South Ayrshire 66.6
South Lanarkshire 110.8
Stirling 153.9
West Dunbartonshire 154.1
West Lothian 142

*7-day data as of date of publication

What can we expect over the coming months?

We all hope that case numbers drop as the vaccine rolls out but given that the framework is commencing from the end of April/ start of May, enthusiasm may need to be tempered.

The Framework states there will be a formal review of the levels every three weeks and the Government will aim to give five days’ notice of any reduction in levels.  So, changes down the levels will be at most every 26 days. However, when it comes to changes up i.e. tighter restrictions, it will not always be possible to provide advance notice, and this could cause ongoing difficulties for hospitality businesses.

When will Scotland get back to “normal”?

Based on the Strategic Framework, it is clear that “normal life” may be some way off yet for Scotland’s hospitality sector. Having said that, the pandemic has taught us that plans are certainly not fixed.

As hospitality opens up across the border, even if cases are higher in England, lots of businesses in Scotland will no doubt feel frustrations. It will be interesting to see if, and when, people question the plans, and how the Scottish Government responds. For the hospitality industry in particular, the Scottish Government will need to further justify its basis for stopping short of setting a target to remove all social restrictions allowing for business as usual.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at March 2021. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.


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