- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Business leaders in Scotland face a “cocktail of elation and worry”, according to one expert, as the country prepares to move beyond Level 0 of its coronavirus restrictions.
Industry figures have reacted to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing that from Monday almost all of Scotland’s laws introduced last year as a result of the pandemic will be lifted.
The announcement included the removal of physical distancing laws and changes to self-isolation – although face masks will remain in place and Covid status certificates could be introduced in a new app being developed.
Andrew McRae, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland policy chairman, said: “Scottish business leaders will feel a cocktail of elation and worry as they absorb this afternoon’s statement from the First Minister.
“Firms will be relieved that the bulk of the remaining restrictions will be lifted. This will give many businesses the opportunity to increase capacity, create jobs and drive growth.
“But the removal of the public health restrictions doesn’t guarantee the recovery of either an individual business or a local economy.
“Operators now face trading conditions permanently changed by the crisis and new debt that they’ll need to manage in the months and years to come.
“Some business leaders are nervous that the sacrifices they’ve made will be forgotten.”
Marc Crothall, CEO of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), said: “This is continued progress for our industry towards a more normal trading environment relative to what our sector has experienced over the course of the pandemic.
“Particularly the removal of the one-metre physical distancing requirement which I know will be a huge leap forward for so many businesses which have continued to be severely impacted by restrictions in terms of capacity.
“Further clarity around the definition of ‘high-risk venues’ which may require Covid certification will need to be given over the coming days.
“It’s also hugely important that the legal requirement for wearing masks is placed on the consumer and not just the venue to enable businesses to maintain compliance and trade effectively without jeopardising licenses.
“This is very much the news that our industry has been hopeful to receive for some time… It is however important to highlight that with so many trading weeks lost and the requirement for debt to be repaid, the need for support for tourism and hospitality businesses cannot be overlooked.”
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) head of policy, suggested the Scottish Government could find ways to entice people back to the high street.
He said: “Retailers will hope next week’s relaxation of Covid restrictions will spark a shopping recovery after a very difficult year.
“However, many retailers are likely to maintain some existing measures to keep customers and colleagues safe.
“Hopefully the changes for events and hospitality should give customers a good excuse to return to the high street to restock wardrobes and homes; albeit that may be tempered as there is no timeframe for workers to be encouraged back to the office.
“Sales and footfall figures are still down on 2019 whilst the Scottish vacancy rate has spiked to 16.1%.
“If next week’s relaxation doesn’t spark some economic activity then the case for intervention from policymakers to encourage shoppers back to retail destinations will become more urgent.
“This could be through temporary free parking, an advertising campaign to encourage people back to city centres, or a high street voucher scheme like Northern Ireland is introducing.”
Stuart Patrick, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce chief executive, was similarly downbeat about the lack of workers returning to offices.
He said: “While there is a lot to be welcomed in today’s announcements, we are very disappointed that with Covid case numbers continuing to fall the First Minister did not openly encourage a return to the office.
“Glasgow City Council’s city centre footfall study for June stood at just over half the figure of the same month two years ago.
“Quite simply, city centre businesses have been left stranded for potential customer numbers which will only recover when office workers return.
“For many businesses in our city centre – especially hospitality, retail and travel – the pain caused by the pandemic is still acute and today’s announcements will leave uncertainty about the prospects for improvement.”