Optimism won’t allow businesses to plan: only a clear routemap to re-opening will

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Commenting on the First Minister’s statement to Parliament, Alan Mitchell, Chief Executive of Fife Chamber of Commerce, said: “The First Minister’s positive tone and her messages about the likelihood of returning to near normality because of the vaccination programme are welcome.  Her caution about giving even indicative re-opening dates beyond the return of all pupils to school and the move to Tier Three of all parts of the country currently subject to Tier 4 restrictions in the last week of April is not unexpected: but it is still disappointing.   None of the legitimate questions that businesses have were really answered.  They have effectively been told to ‘wait and see’. 

“Waiting and seeing won’t help a company boss and his or her staff form a plan to keep the business afloat.  It won’t let them plan with any degree of confidence what operations they will be able to run in the next few months.  It won’t allow them to have a discussion with their bank about how much longer they will need their overdraft facility.  It won’t allow managers to have a conversation with their furloughed staff about when they might be able to return to work or even reassure them that there will still be a job for them when they do finally re-open.

“This was very much a ‘no’ statement for business.  No indicative opening dates.  Definitely no sense when the most socially interactive sectors, such as live music or theatres or night clubs, might be able to open.  No guarantee that the Strategic Framework Business Fund will continue to pay out while restrictions persist.  No certainty about what Tier 3 restrictions will look like if that’s where most of the country moves at the end of April, although it looks as if it will be more restrictive than previously.  No clear guidance on what will trigger movements between Tiers when we revert back to that system beyond the WHO’s rather vague criteria. 

“There are references in the updated Strategic Framework to the harms caused by the Covid suppression restrictions but no sense that anything other than direct Covid-harms and statistics will continue to determine decision making.  This will be a blow to everyone who has already been harmed by those restrictions or faces harm as long as they persist.  The First Minister began her statement by saying that behind every Covid statistic is a name and a life.  The same is true of those who have been, are being or will be harmed by restrictions, so we must get more clarity about when they will end and our businesses, communities and lives can resume normally.”