finance

Business leaders urge Sturgeon to ease Covid-19 restrictions



Tougher coronavirus restrictions in Scotland have failed to make a “meaningful difference” to infection levels and are causing “enormous damage” to some sectors, business leaders have claimed.

Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) spoke out as a poll of its members found that almost two thirds (65%) believe that the measures in place are no longer proportionate to the risk posed by the Omicron variant.

With more than two fifths warning they could have to cut staff if the restrictions are not eased, AGCC policy director Ryan Crighton demanded: “The First Minister must announce the end of these damaging restrictions this week.

“Not doing so places the very survival of many businesses at risk and jobs on the line.”

His comments came as more than three quarters (76%) of the 170 businesses in the North East, which were surveyed by AGCC between Friday and Monday, said the Scottish Government was not balancing health and economic harms correctly with its Covid-19 policy.

A total of 42% of firms warned they may have to cut staffing numbers if the restrictions continue beyond 17 January – with almost a third (31%) saying there was either a moderate or high risk their business could collapse.

The First Minister introduced tougher restrictions after Christmas in a bid to counter the threat of the Omicron variant – with these seeing nightclubs forced to close their doors again, while pubs and other places selling alcohol had to reintroduce table service.

Meanwhile, a cap on the number of people allowed to attend events has impacted football matches, and also led to the cancellation of Hogmanay celebrations.

Sturgeon will update MSPs on the impact of restrictions when Holyrood returns from recess on Tuesday.

But speaking ahead of that, Crighton called on the Scottish Government to lift the curbs on 17 January or earlier.

“The latest data suggests that the Scottish Government’s gamble with our hospitality sector and high streets has failed, despite weeks of warnings,” he stated. “We have been calling for ministers to recalibrate their response since before Christmas following the publication of various studies on the severity of Omicron.

“Our position has been that if you are going to close or restrict businesses, then you need to compensate in full for the losses incurred.

“However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the funds simply aren’t available to support companies.”

Crighton concluded: “Two things are now beyond question: one, that the restrictions currently in place are doing enormous damage to a number of business sectors; and two, that they have failed to make any meaningful difference to case numbers in Scotland.”

“Where businesses and government now appear to be aligned is on the fact that we need to find a way to live with this virus – the exceptional roll-out of the vaccine has put us in a strong position and that new reality needs to start now.”

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