HOSPITALITY groups that have struggled with Covid restrictions in Scotland need financial help until "at least March 2022", industry chiefs have told Scottish politicians.

The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) is also pushing for VAT on food and accommodation to be permanently cut to 5% which is currently in place until March 31.

The industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic with some unable to open since the initial lockdown in March 2020.

The plea to politicians was made by SHG in a new manifesto published ahead of May's Holyrood election.

The group wants all candidates running for the Scottish Parliament to acknowledge the key role the sector – which employs some 285,000 people – plays in the economy.

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All those seeking to be elected as an MSP on May 6 are also being urged to visit a local hospitality business – as soon as restrictions allow – to see the “extraordinary measures” firms have put in place to keep staff and customers safe amidst the pandemic.

The manifesto makes the case for emergency help that would guarantee grant support for businesses unable to open due to government-imposed restrictions continuing until “at least March 2022” – adding that a sector-specific version of the furlough scheme should also be in place till then at least.

It also demands that Bounce Back Loans and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans should be converted into grants for the hardest-hit sectors, along with more direct support for the parts of the hospitality that are most in need, such as nightclubs – many of which have not been able to open since the initial lockdown in March 2020.

The National: Stephen Montgomery is spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality GroupStephen Montgomery is spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group

Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the SHG, said they were making a number of “simple non-political requests”.

He added: “If a candidate isn’t prepared to support them then it suggests voters might like to ask them some serious questions about their views on this vital industry.

“Hospitality is worth £10.6 billion to the Scottish economy annually and employs 285,000 people, many of whom are young Scots under 25.”

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It would like to see a phased lifting of restrictions when Scotland returns to a tiered system of restrictions, calling for businesses in levels 2 and 3 to be open until “at least 10pm, whilst adhering to appropriate safety measures”. These would mean in Level 3 areas – the second toughest tier of restrictions – no alcohol would be served.

Montgomery said: “Our manifesto has been produced by industry professionals and outlines a clear plan for how the SHG can work with the Government to ensure our industry survives.

“It may be a tired phrase, but we continue to live in unprecedented times, and it is of paramount importance that the Scottish Government continues to liaise with the hospitality sector to ensure we receive the support we need. People’s livelihoods depend on it.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “There is no doubt that tourism and hospitality are among the sectors that have been hit the worst by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’re providing more than £3 billion in support for businesses affected by restrictions including grants for hospitality and tourism, and an extension of non-domestic rates relief for 2021-22. We will continue our regular discussions with these sectors and will continue to press the UK Government to ensure key support packages, such as the furlough scheme and VAT relief is kept in place for as long as is needed.”

The UK Treasury has been contacted for comment in regards to VAT reductions.