Sturgeon’s new Covid restrictions make trading ‘drastically more difficult’ for businesses

BUSINESSES have branded Nicola Sturgeon’s further restrictions to come in from Boxing Day as “the equivalent of receiving a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking” amid fears traders “may be left waiting until the New Year” to receive funding.

The First Minister said lare-scale public events will be scaled back for a three-week period – forcing large-scale Hogmanay celebrations to be cancelled while football crowds will be limited to just 500 spectators.

Ms Sturgeon also announced further restrictions in hospitality and other indoor public places she warned are “higher risk environments”.

She said: “I know how unwelcome this will be for everyone – but we believe these precautionary steps will help us navigate a difficult period more safely.

“I am also acutely aware that these decisions – and the advice we are giving the public – have significant financial implications for many businesses.”

READ MORE: Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon issues three-week Covid restrictions from Boxing Day

Table service only will be reintroduced for pubs and restaurants selling alcohol while indoor hospitality and leisure venues will be required to ensure one-metre distancing between groups of people.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said the new rules will be “another hammer blow for employers and Scotland’s economy.

She added: “Some businesses and sectors will view this update as the equivalent of receiving a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking, further compounding the downturn in trade they have experienced in the crucial run up to the festive period.

“Businesses now urgently need to see the guidance and regulations that underpin this announcement to understand the full impact these changes will have on their capacity, how they operate and if they will even be able to open at all.”

The First Minister said that she estimates further funding announcements from the Treasury amount to around £175 million for Scotland, despite claims from Westminster this will total £440 million – while her administration has allocated a total of £200 million to help businesses.

READ MORE: FM Covid announcement: Edinburgh Hogmanay Cancelled

Dr Cameron said the extra financial help was welcome, but warned “it still does not go anywhere near far enough to compensating for the enormous financial losses firms are experiencing”.

She added: “January is beginning to look increasingly bleak for businesses and the prospect of an early return to economic growth in the New Year is now clearly at risk.

“It’s essential that the Scottish and UK Government do everything they can to get financial support out to businesses as quickly as possible and go further to ensure additional financial support is made available as a matter of urgency or the viability of more and more businesses will be put in the balance.

“The vaccination and booster programmes remain our best way back out of this crisis and again, both Governments need to work together to accelerate the rollout over the coming days and weeks to enable the removal of these additional restrictions at the earliest possible moment.”

Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Business’s (FSB) Scotland policy chair, said: “The measures outlined today will make trading drastically more difficult for huge numbers of small businesses in Scotland.

“The social distancing restrictions will mean shops and hospitality firms can serve fewer customers. And the changes to events, such as sports matches and Hogmanay celebrations, will have a knock-on impact on local economies.

“After a disappointing festive trading period, these moves will heap pressure on local firms and the self-employed. The same group of businesses that took the greatest hit earlier in the crisis now face another gruelling winter and spring.

READ MORE: MSPs to be recalled to Holyrood over Christmas recess to consider Covid pandemic response

“These operators now face tough decisions about whether they open their doors with restrictions in place or stop trading until they’re lifted.

“New grant funding, though welcome, must now quickly reach the wide variety of firms now taking a hit. We cannot see restrictions imposed in days, but cash support taking weeks or months to get through.”

The Scottish Conservatives have pointed to the £440 million the Treasury said it has given SNP ministers and urged the Government to quickly hand it over to under-pressure traders.

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross said: “The Scottish Government has funding available – and Scottish businesses are crying out for it.

“We need to know when the first grants will start to reach businesses – and it really should be before Christmas.

“It’s unacceptable that small businesses may be left waiting until the New Year to get this vital funding that could be the difference between them surviving or not.”

He added: “It’s also absolutely crucial that we see the Scottish and UK Governments working together constructively, fully focused on tackling Omicron.

“Instead, over the last week, we have seen an unnecessary funding row that is a distraction from the task at hand.

“The Scottish Government have been provided with £440 million, far more than they asked for and, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies have made clear, it’s new money from the UK Government.

“The SNP must stop the political games and focus on getting the funding out the door to protect Scottish jobs and businesses.”

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