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Dingwall pub landlord fears popular watering hole may not reopen because of Covid-19 impact

By Scott Maclennan

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Sean Kennedy of The Mallard in Dingwall fears the popular watering hole may not re-open because of the impact of the coronavirus.
Picture: Gary Anthony
Sean Kennedy of The Mallard in Dingwall fears the popular watering hole may not re-open because of the impact of the coronavirus. Picture: Gary Anthony

THE landlord of one of the best-known pubs in Ross-shire has warned it may be financially unviable to reopen because of the devastating impact of coronavirus.

The plight of The Mallard, located in the heart of the county town right next to Dingwall Railway Station, reflects the grim situation facing many and comes on the back of two hotel closures in Ross-shire.

Landlord Sean Kennedy, a well-known local face, fears the mounting rent bill could prove unmanageable and that social distancing rules could prove disastrous on income.

And he is far from alone according to the Scottish Licensed Trade Association which told us: "Quite simply many of the pubs are not going to reopen."

The news will come as a shock to many locals, football fans and visitors who stop off at the pub close to Ross County's stadium.

Mr Kennedy said: “The real problem isn’t now it is in the future. When we come to reopen, God knows what people’s attitudes are going to be, but in my opinion social distancing in pubs is not a practical thing to make it safe for my customers, for my staff and myself."

While acknowledging the grants and furlough system, he says ongoing expenses are a concern: “I have spoken to some suppliers and most are taking a reasonable approach– Sky Television, BT – they have cancelled everything because there is no sport. The big pub owners are not cancelling anything. We would have to pay them back all the money owed at a time when, because of social distancing in pubs, we would be taking in less.

“If it gets to Christmas time, I would be owing not far off £50,000 and then you’ve got to open to a hugely reduced trade, with these suddenly huge overheads – you’d be stupid if you didn’t turn around and say 'take the keys back'.”

A spokesman for the SLTA said: “There are pub-owning companies that have waived the rent altogether and there is split down the middle between which companies are doing that and which are taking an entrenched position insisting on rent – and it is the biggest companies that want the rent. Quite simply many of the pubs are not going to reopen and with social distancing it means they won't be able to make the money to pay these rents. So there is no alternative."

He said it is "a ridiculous situation when pub owning companies are demanding rent from pubs that are closed".

Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Graham Mackenzie said: “The possibility that the Mallard might not reopen would certainly be a blow to the town. It is a fixture of the local night life for many young people and it is frequented by visiting football fans who aim to make the most of their time in Dingwall. There are quite a number of people employed by the pub on a long-term basis, so the impact on them would be another issue that concerns me.

“I would also hate for the first thing visitors see when getting off the train to be the Mallard shuttered. For quite a number it is their first and last port of call when taking the train on elsewhere and I sincerely hope that continues.”

Kate Forbes MSP said: “I am concerned about the businesses that might be risk when we start to transition out of lockdown.

“At the moment, many of them will be able to access funding and all their competitors are closed. However, I am mindful than in moving on from lockdown, competition and ineligibility for the furlough scheme might make it very difficult to trade even. I recognise Mr Kennedy’s worries to that end.

“It is partly why I was pleased to see some flexibility included in the furlough scheme from August, to allow people to work whilst claiming support. I hope that might help with the transition back to operations.”

Related: Ross-shire hotel falls victim to coronavirus impact

More coronavirus news from Ross-shire

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