Business leaders have criticised First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s route map out of lockdown saying it does not contain the detail “around the pathway to reopening” for which many had hoped.
The framework includes the reopening of schools, care homes, relaxing rules on socialising, the reopening of the economy and a potential return to a level system on April 26.
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the provisional timescale of the gradual reopening of the economy is welcome.
However, he also said: “The detail announced today does not go far enough in giving our sector the clarity needed at this point to plan for reopening.
“The level system is a divergence from the route map set out by the Prime Minister yesterday and causes huge issues for businesses who we know are being contacted today with enquiries to book from those living south of the border.
“With no international tourism likely for some time, there is greater dependency on Scotland’s ability to attract tourism from within the UK and we need to provide a degree of reassurance that their bookings can be accommodated.”
Nicola Sturgeon announcement: Scotland’s new Covid framework
Mr Crothall said: “Our tourism industry is not able to accept bookings with confidence; not all will wait for our sector to gradually re-open to book.
“We’ve seen the huge spike in bookings from England for foreign travel over the last 24 hours and there is a great fear that Scotland’s tourism industry will lose out in what could have been a buoyant summer season.”
He said: “Given that Scotland will now be opening behind England, there is an even greater need for a marketing campaign to boost late summer and autumn bookings and ensure that Scotland’s tourism industry isn’t disadvantaged in the long term.”
Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, said: “While the strategic framework update does represent a small step in the right direction, many Scottish businesses will be left feeling deflated. Considerable uncertainty still remains over how and when they can reopen their doors.
“The business community recognises that data not dates must be the key driver of lockdown easing measures, and that a cautious approach remains the right one. However, firms will have been looking for more detail than the partial timetable that has been provided.
“For sectors like hospitality, retail and tourism, that have been hit so hard by the pandemic, the road back to a tier system at the end of April will feel like a long and uncertain one. Others, like tourism and aviation, face another prolonged period of hibernation.
“With jobs and livelihoods still in the balance, continued business support from both the UK and Scottish governments remains essential. All eyes will be on the forthcoming Budget for an update on the furlough and business loan schemes.”
Paul Waterson, Scottish Licensed Trade Association spokesman, said: “Of course, we welcome today’s news that the Scottish Government is committed to continuing financial support for those firms suffering as a result of the pandemic, and we also welcome the First Minister’s announcement that she is considering support for businesses facing trading restrictions after they are allowed to reopen.
“However, our response to today’s announcement is one of disappointment for the licensed hospitality industry which has been among the hardest hit by trading restrictions throughout the pandemic, an industry that invested an estimated £80 million on becoming Covid compliant.”
Depending on progress in combating the virus, non-essential shops may be permitted to reopen in nine weeks’ time, on April 26, many shuttered for 17 weeks. The Scottish Retail Consortium estimates that each week the current lockdown is costing these stores around £135 million in lost revenues.
David Lonsdale, SRC director, said: “Scottish Ministers are clearly proceeding with an abundance of caution, and the decision from early April to scrap curbs on click and collect and expand the definition of essential retail are encouraging. Hopefully, this will see garden centres and homeware stores readmitted to the list of essential stores.
“The industry stands ready to play its part in getting the Scottish economy moving again, after a torrid eleven months which has seen retail sales plummet and shop vacancies spike to a six-year high.”
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: ““Businesses have made it clear. The only route to protect livelihoods and jobs is to re-open the economy by enabling businesses to get back to trading, supported by a clear and transparent roadmap. Today’s announcement from the First Minister provides a direction of travel as to how some restrictions will ease and the conditions in which local business communities are allowed to re-open and re-build.
“More detail on the roadmap is essential as it will enable both consumers as well as businesses plan for reopening, and we need the Scottish Government to stick to its guns on these dates as much as is possible. It is important that Scotland remains as closely in step with the four nations as is possible. A competitive disadvantage to business communities elsewhere in the UK will only add insult to the injury already caused by the pandemic.”
Restaurants and pubs call for furlough extension
Hospitality businesses have said they will need financial help including a sector-specific version of furlough until at least March 2022 as they called on backing from prospective MSPs.
The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) is also pushing for VAT on food and accommodation to be permanently cut to five per cent.
Liz Cameron, Scottish Chambers of Commerce.
Opinion: Rishi Sunak must extend support
Businesses are in a race for survival and many have already fallen at the hurdles that have arisen since the pandemic started taking its toll almost a whole year ago now.
We have been very clear that, as Chancellor Rishi Sunak puts his Budget in place, support will continue to be needed until businesses can reopen.
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