BUSINESS organisations have urged the First Minister and Prime Minister to draw up plans to protect thousands of hospitality jobs after a curfew on pubs, cafes and restaurants from Friday was announced.

Nicola Sturgeon said outlets will have to close every night at 10pm as one of the ways to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

But with the trade already hit by people working from home and by social distancing rules, Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, said the new restrictions would harm the sector further.

“There can be no escaping the fact that earlier closing times for Scotland’s pubs, cafes and restaurants will be a bitter pill for a sector already hugely impacted by the crisis,” she said.

Black called for a successor to the UK Government’s furlough scheme – which finishes at the end of October – and for businesses to be able to defy VAT payments.

“There must now be a new plan to support businesses this autumn. This should start with a successor to the Job Retention Scheme and allowing cash-strapped businesses to defer their VAT payments from the last quarter – a no-brainer given this latest blow to our economy,” she said.

“The Scottish and UK governments must work together to do everything they can to protect viable firms and jobs in the coming weeks and months.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Beer and Pub Association echoed Black’s call.

“Scotland’s pubs understand the need to continue to support measures to manage the risk of rising infection rates. As an industry, we take our responsibilities in helping to curb the spread of Covid-19 incredibly seriously and the vast majority of pubs have gone above and beyond in their commitment to providing safe environments for socialising,” he said.

“Make no mistake, a 10pm curfew will devastate our sector during an already challenging environment for pubs. Pubs were struggling to break even before today and these latest restrictions will push some to breaking point. Restricting key trading hours on top of fragile consumer confidence and the reduced capacity pubs already face in addition to the current ban on sound from televisions and background music they are already contending with will put hundreds more pubs and thousands more jobs at risk.

He added: “A curfew is particularly heart-breaking for the trade as there seems to be little available evidence that pubs, with their strict adherence to Government guidelines, are unsafe, so we are unsure that this blanket measure will make a major difference. Every hour of trading is crucial to the survival of pubs – for many this curfew will render their businesses unviable.

“The trade urgently needs a comprehensive support package to ensure that more pubs don’t close their doors for good because of this curfew. We need an immediate sector-specific furlough scheme to save the thousands of jobs that pubs support, extended VAT cuts and business rates holiday and a substantial cut to the rate of beer duty.”

Meanwhile, responding to the First Minister’s statement, GMB Scotland secretary Gary Smith urged the UK and Scottish governments to do more to protect key workers.

“While workers that can do will work from home, our key workers will go the extra mile once again – the least ministers can do is maximise their safety at work and recognise their incredible value to our communities and country,” he said.

“The frontline response will continue to be delivered on the backs of low paid and often exploited workers, many of whom are women or from BME backgrounds, and earn just under or just over £10 an hour.

“We support the Scottish Government’s calls for an extension of the UK Government’s furlough scheme, welcome the support grant plan for low-income households that must self-isolate, and we would reiterate again the urgent need to bring forward a jobs plan for Scotland to aid our post-Covid recovery.

“The GMB is asking the Scottish Government for a package of measures, including the guaranteed provision of full and proper PPE and workplace testing regimes, the enhanced role of trade union reps in workplaces, the extension of the Social Care Welfare Fund support package for carers and the delivery of a key worker payment.

Smith added: “After the applause of the first lockdown, many workers have been left to get on with it, and in some cases the working practices put in place to mitigate the spread of Covid are being eroded by employers who want to get ‘back to normal’.

“What’s needed now is co-operation, safety and value for the people who deliver care, collect our rubbish, clean our schools and keep the economy turning, and they need to be confident that Government and employers recognise their continued sacrifice as we tackle this pandemic.”