Hospitality sector veteran Donald MacLeod has welcomed indications that Scotland’s national clinical director is willing to discuss how the entertainment and events industry can begin to safely re-open venues whose doors have been closed for more than five months amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr MacLeod, a concert promoter and owner of The Garage and Cathouse Rock Club in Glasgow, said comments by Jason Leitch at a recent private meeting organised by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce left him with little confidence that “any of us will be open in any sort of meaningful way” before Christmas. However, there was a “glimmer of hope” in that Mr Leitch, one of the Government’s chief medical advisors, said he was open to dialogue about how to move forward.
“He is willing to engage, and from our side we are ready to take him up on that,” Mr MacLeod said.
He and others in the industry have warned of mounting job losses as the night time economy remains largely shut while the clock ticks down on Government support programmes. Starting this month, the key job retention scheme will be capped at 70 per cent of a furloughed worker’s wages, falling to 60% in October before coming to close at the end of that month.
Mr MacLeod said social distancing will not be viable for most events venues. If the return of university students who fuel much of the night economy does not lead to an unacceptable spike in infection rates by October, that will be the time to start looking at other options.
“At that point, if we are still on a downward curve, we have got to get going,” Mr MacLeod said. “We can’t stay shut forever.”
He said ministers need to consider that using licensed venues on a restricted capacity could curb the incidence of illegal raves and other unregulated gatherings that have led to clusters of outbreaks. Infections in such circumstances are harder to contain, as there is “no track and trace in those and trace in those environments”.
“And they will happen,” Mr MacLeod added. “Young kids want to get out there and dance, they want to meet, and they want to be social.”
He would like to see an immediate review of the ban on background music in pubs and restaurants, and further suggests that larger venues could initially re-open at reduced capacity. For example, The Garage could go from of 700 to 400, or the Barrowlands from 2,000 to 1,000.
Mr MacLeod was speaking following Monday’s Glasgow Business Resilience Council meeting organised by the local chamber of commerce. At that meeting, Mr Leitch outlined the Government’s current stance on managing the pandemic before fielding questions from an audience of about 70 chamber members.
“If he is opening up the door for dialogue and discussion, as he was saying yesterday, then I am a happier man,” Mr MacLeod said.
“Let’s get things moving – doing nothing is not an option.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said Ministers are “acutely aware” of the potential impact on people’s livelihoods, but for public safety, clubs must remain closed “for now”.
“Our top priority is to stay safe, protect others and save lives – and, as Professor Leitch has said, we are of course keen to explore with the sector how a safe re-opening could be brought about.
“It is because we’re listening to the sector that we will outline shortly which parts of the £59 million emergency rescue package for arts, culture and heritage which we announced on Friday will apply to nightclubs.”