Aberdeen’s culture and hospitality venues must become a priority for additional Scottish Government funding or more businesses in the city will be forced to close their doors permanently, MSPs have been told.
North East MSP Liam Kerr has called for urgent action to support the city because initial funding spread across Scotland is “too little, too late” for business owners still struggling to survive the effects of the country’s first local lockdown.
Ministers imposed a five-mile travel limit and the closure of all hospitality venues last month following a coronavirus outbreak linked to the city’s pubs and bars but drew the ire of local council leaders over how long restrictions remained in place.
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, Mr Kerr highlighted the recent closure of Nox, one of Aberdeen’s biggest nightclubs, bars including Under the Hammer, and shared the concerns of comedy clubs such as Breakneck.
In a fiery exchange with economy secretary Fiona Hyslop, the Conservative MSP claimed the government had disregarded the effects of a second lockdown in Aberdeen, urging them to dig deeper into their pockets to protect the city’s economy.
“What is clear is that this funding is both too little and too late for the first city in Scotland to contend with a second lockdown,” Mr Kerr said.
“In the last few weeks one of Aberdeen’s biggest nightclubs, Nox, has closed its doors. Three other venues have had to launch a Crowdfunder to survive.
“Breakneck Comedy Club has also written to the SNP government, warning them Scottish comedy is at breaking point. Restaurants and pubs are closing including, just yesterday, the popular Under the Hammer.
“So can the cabinet secretary tell me – for all the warm words and self-congratulation, when will this SNP government finally start to take an interest in the north-east and provide some genuine support that might reverse this trend?”
Ms Hyslop hit back at the question and insisted the cultural organisations she had spoken to were “very grateful for the funding that has been announced”.
She said: “I can say to the member that, as of today, the £15 million cultural organisations and venues recovery fund that will help support many of the organisations he’s talked about, including the comedy sector, including the theatre sector, is open for applications and we would encourage those that want to apply for it to make sure that they contact Creative Scotland and do so.
“That’s action. That’s getting the money to cultural organisations and I think the people are very grateful for the efforts that have been made.
“It’s tough. It’s difficult for everyone but I would hope that he would encourage the UK Government to think about the other sectors, the events sector in particular, that cannot open any time soon and ensure they think about providing additional funds.”
Speaking later, Mr Kerr said the Scottish Government “seems to have forgotten that Aberdeen was put into lockdown for a second time”.
“The knock-on effects of this will be felt for months to come and this is why there needs to be more financial help coming from the Scottish Government,” he said.
“For too long Aberdeen has been brushed to the side and it’s shameful that organisations which form our wonderful culture scene across the city are being abandoned.
“It’s make or break for the future of several businesses across Aberdeen ,which is why it’s imperative action is taken now and not later.”
The row came amid warnings that a “blanket approach” to a national curfew for pubs and restaurants would be “catastrophic” for the hospitality industry, after Nicola Sturgeon said she was unable to rule out such a move earlier this week.
Stephen Montgomery from the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) warned tighter restrictions may encourage rogue traders looking to cash in on the sector struggling to maintain a united front, something he warned must be “avoided at all costs”.
“The current ‘rule of six’ restriction has meant that we are on life support,” he said.
“Further restrictions will flick the switch for many businesses that once closed, will not be able to open their doors again.
“This will principally hit late-night venue owners who have invested significantly to adapt their premises to bar service. We are asking that the Scottish Government does not take this blanket approach.
“Responsible bar, restaurant and late-night venue owners across Scotland have enhanced hygiene measures and controlled physical distancing in place. They are also essential to the effective use of the track and trace system.
“If people have nowhere to go you are massively increasing the risk of more house parties and irresponsible gatherings, where track and trace is almost impossible.”