‘Fearmongering’ could keep Glaswegians away from bars, clubs and restaurants, business owner warns

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Hogmanay on Sauchiehall Street should have been a bustling, buzzing celebration of the new year.

For the bars, clubs and restaurants that line the street it is usually their busiest time as revellers cram into pubs and clubs ahead of the bells.

The pandemic changed all of that, with celebrations effectively shut down in 2020.

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And despite hopes that 2021 would be different, the festivities had to be altered again, as part of efforts from the Scottish Government to stem the spread of the omicron variant.

A customer sits with his beer in Jackson's Bar in the city centre of Glasgow. Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty ImagesA customer sits with his beer in Jackson's Bar in the city centre of Glasgow. Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images
A customer sits with his beer in Jackson's Bar in the city centre of Glasgow. Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

Restrictions will finally be eased from today and the task force leading the city centre’s recovery believes the historic thoroughfare should be “at the top of the priority list”.

But, after 18 months of the pandemic, a full and fruitful festive period had been needed.

Instead, nightclubs were forced to close or convert to bars, while pubs were required to revert to table service and ensure at least one metre physical distancing between groups.

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‘Nightmare before Christmas’

When the public health controls were first announced, Donald MacLeod, who runs The Garage on Sauchiehall Street, as well as Cathouse on Union Street, described them as a “nightmare before Christmas”.

The club boss said the city had been hit with a “double whammy” as omicron followed on from COP26. Halloween was a “cracker”, he said, but the United Nations climate conference crippled trade before the whole of the UK went “into paralysis” when the new variant emerged.

“At the moment, none of us can understand why we were shut down,” said Donald, whose venues have been closed since Christmas.

“Too many jobs are at risk, too many businesses have been risked. In many council areas, monies still haven’t come through. That is desperately needed money.”

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Support package

A £375m support package was announced for sectors affected by omicron restrictions. There are top-up payments for hospitality firms and a nightclub closure fund was launched, providing a one-off payment.

That fund, allocated by councils, will pay £25,000 to premises which have a rateable value up to and including £40,000. There is £35,000 for venues whose rateable value is between £40,001 and £75,000 and £55,000 for those which have a value of over £75,000.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said the nightclub closure fund isn’t live yet as staff await instruction from the Scottish Government. He added that almost 1000 payments to hospitality and leisure businesses have been processed in the last week.


At Broadcast, a bar and live music venue near The Garage, the manager, Kyle Byers, doesn’t expect business to pick up immediately and warns “fear-mongering” around the hospitality trade is “going to chase people away for a while”.

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“There have been times when there has been an hour between people walking past,” he said.

Broadcast decided to stay open, operating with table service, but this move has meant it isn’t eligible for the closure fund.

“Our takings have been almost half,” Kyle explained. “The primary issue, because we have been table service, is we’ve not needed as many staff.”

Reducing the number of staff has meant his workers’ incomes have dropped, with some then facing difficulties covering their rent.

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“It would have been beneficial to have something like the furlough scheme to pay staff,” the manager said.

Bid for funding

Trade bodies have also called for funding, for those eligible, to be paid out quickly, with a spokeswoman for the Night Time Industries Association in Scotland saying the money will help firms “retain and pay staff wages”.

She said employers’ ability to “fund payroll from existing cash flow” was “seriously at risk”, along with jobs supported by these businesses.

The city centre taskforce, which is made up of the public and private sector, including night-time economy representatives, launched a recovery plan last year, which aims to boost activity and footfall. Short-term aims include advocating for more financial support from governments.

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Donald said the council has been dealing with a “tsunami” of funding bids, but, while he is pleased the Scottish Government is providing money, he would “be a lot happier if money was coming into bank accounts”.

“These monies are needed, primarily to look after my 150 staff,” he said, adding he is currently paying them out of his reserves.

The club boss feels for smaller places, running week to week, which have been left in a “desperate” position after losing one of their busiest periods.

A bleak winter then, but as the New Year moves on and signs emerge of a possible end to the pandemic nightmare, there are reasons to be hopeful.

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Positive changes

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced last week that restrictions will be lifted from today (January 24). Nightclubs will be able to open again and mandatory table service will be scrapped in pubs.

Speaking at Holyrood, she said measures could be removed “given the improving situation”, adding booster vaccinations, the willingness of the public to adapt their behaviour and temporary restrictions had “helped blunt the impact of the omicron wave”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Too many businesses are still teetering on the brink, and too many workers have found themselves waiting for weeks with no support.”

In response, the First Minister said money, which was “not available in other parts of the UK”, was “flowing where appropriate from local authorities”. “We are working with local authorities and other agencies to get this money out of the door and into the bank accounts of those who need it as quickly as possible.

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“There are checks and processes that have to be applied to guard against fraud.”

Donald said the message had been “more positive of late — and not before time”, and called for the government to get business “back on track”. He believes “turning the tap on and off has got to stop”.

It should use “the same amount of energy to get people back out that they’ve used to close us down”, he added.

“The message has got to be more positive. We’ve had two years of doom and gloom. When I was 16 or 17, we had punk rock, which was an exciting time. Ten years later there was grunge.

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“Teenagers today are being scarred for life, living with restrictions. It’s really, really damaging.

“Can we move forward with a wee bit more positivity? Let’s put the smile back on the faces of the people of Glasgow.”

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