Barrie Cunning: What the SNP and Tories have in common in Covid failings

The new normal is now the norm and it’s vital that governments understand this and support business.

This time last year life was very different in a way that we had never encountered before. If you wanted to have a drink you could only go to a restaurant and have one so long as you ordered food. Even then, all premises closed at 6pm with bars and pubs closed for trading and the highlight of the week for many of us was going to the supermarket to have some time out from the daily grind of being constrained to our homes.

Social isolation was at an all-time high with families having to resort to meeting up at service stations to exchange Christmas presents or standing outside a loved one’s house to get a glimpse and sense that they were OK in the hope that one day we would be able to be in their company for much longer.

What the pandemic did highlight was just how exposed people were to the vicissitudes of life that resulted in many people struggling to cope and in turn an increase in people experiencing mental health issues for the first time.

Towns and cities were deserted and had an eerie feeling about them as people embarked on their state sanctioned hourly walk past boarded up premises which fuelled the perception that this was the real-life version of the film Contagion. Underpinned by a national anxiety as we continued to live in some sort of normality as we combatted this invisible enemy which largely contributed to people talking about lockdowns as being the “new normal”.

There is no denying that Covid-19 has illustrated the fragilities of life and work. Even as I write this in a café in central London, people are wondering what the future holds for them should there be another lockdown and will they be able to have Christmas dinner with their loved ones.

A year on and I think it’s fair to say that we have adapted to this new normal. The way that people contextualise and talk about a lockdown now is very different to when it was first introduced. That said, the same level of anxiety is still there and how it could affect people’s daily lives.

Just one example is the impact that lockdown has had on the Scottish hospitality sector which has bent over backwards to work with the government to show them how they could still function in a way that was safe for both customers and staff. Sadly, their sector was in effect shut down, with very limited government support and if it wasn’t for the furlough scheme we would have been witness to many businesses in this sector going out of business.

Covid-19 and whatever new variants might come is here to stay and the new normal is now just the normal. It’s vital that the government and devolved administrations recognises this and start to have a four-nation approach to policy and understanding which people can easily understand and digest.

Business will always be impacted by government decisions but right now business needs clarity and a sense of what the government’s long-term strategy is. Without that, trust from the public in politicians will start to erode.

We now know from experience that there will be a focus on social mixing as we learn to live with the virus with service industry sectors like hospitality continuing to be impacted. As such the UK and Scottish Government need to devise policy that mitigates the future impact by new variants on this sector.

What would such a policy look like? Firstly, I think it would be a good idea for both the UK and Scottish Government to engage with the sector to better understand how they are impacted. But if no substantial support is made available in the longer term then we might find that due to the uncertainties that the sector faces, it could result in labour shortages as people look to work in a sector that isn’t subject to continual lockdowns.

But let’s not forget when the UK and Scottish Government talk about the public taking necessary steps to protect the NHS, what is the one thing that both governments have in common? In short, a lack of funding for our NHS. Whether it be Johnson’s Tory government or Sturgeon’s SNP government the rhetoric by both parties doesn’t marry up with the reality of their policies.

Barrie Cunning is managing director of Pentland Communications and a former Scottish Labour Parliamentary candidate

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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