Covid Scotland: Businesses in a 'holding pattern' until mid-July, but 'landing zone' on horizon as restrictions set to be lifted
Business groups have warned the August 9 target date earmarked for Scotland to be free of most Covid-19 restrictions may not come soon enough for some firms struggling to stay afloat.
Reacting to the statement from Nicola Sturgeon in Holyrood in which she confirmed a further delay of relaxing restrictions until at least July 19, but set out a move beyond level zero on August 9, hospitality sector representatives broadly welcomed the announcement, but said the delay was “disappointing”.
Andrew McRae, policy chair for the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland said much of the business community would be left in a “holding pattern” until mid-next month.
He said: “Today’s statement confirms that Scotland’s business community will be locked in a holding pattern until at least mid-July. But the new late summer dates for the further winding down of restrictions offer firms a landing zone for which to prepare
“Ministers are right to try to plot Scotland’s course toward greater normality, but the lifting of restrictions does not guarantee recovery for firms, especially those saddled with new debt.
"That’s why we want to work with the Scottish Government to develop a small business recovery plan to help local firms across the country get back on their feet.”
The hospitality sector, which has been hardest hit by the pandemic, called on the Scottish Government to remove the requirement for social distancing.
The First Minister indicated such a move could happen ahead of the August 9 reopening date.
Paul Waterson, spokesperson for the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said: “There are still challenges and we remain concerned that being unable to open without restrictions means that businesses cannot trade at full capacity – it is absolutely crucial that the one-metre social distancing rule is dropped as soon as possible to allow premises to increase customer capacity.
“For those still unable to open because of their size or the entertainment they provide, such as late-night premises and nightclubs, the situation is even more serious. So we continue to call for further financial aid to ensure the survival of the licensed hospitality industry as it plays its part in rebuilding the economy.”
Tourism industry representatives also called for more to be done to support the sector due to restrictions being lifted well into the normal summer season.
Marc Crothall, the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, called for a campaign to attract the wider UK market to Scotland “well into the autumn”. He also requested further support for businesses impacted by the loss of international tourism business.
Mr Crothall said: “The First Minister’s announcement that the easing of restrictions will be delayed for the next three weeks will be disappointing for tourism businesses across Scotland, despite this being what we had all anticipated, particularly with schools breaking up this week and people planning days out and holidays
“This is particularly impactful on larger self-catering properties where the restrictions on the number of people who can stay in one property remain in place. The 19th July is almost three weeks into our summer season and I know that many within the self-catering sector will be extremely anxious about business losses during this period and will be hoping there will be some more support to compensate.
"[It is] a very big step in the right direction, after the most painful period on record for the tourism sector and a light at the end of a very long tunnel.”
Tracy Black, director of CBI Scotland, welcomed “tangible steps” towards living with the virus.
She said: “Businesses understand the need to embed vaccine progress and are relieved to avoid a return to damaging stop-start restrictions – with a path to normal trading finally visible. Irreversibility rather than speed is the key concern for firms that hope they are now in the home straight.
“There will undoubtedly be some dismay from hard-hit hospitality, leisure and tourism firms that will endure unchanged restriction levels into July, and the announcement brings into sharp relief the need to better support an international travel sector that’s so important to Scotland’s economy.”