Responding to the latest update on lockdown restrictions from the First Minister, Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said:

"Another week passes and we have no end in sight to the winter of discontent and ruin for many businesses. It’s positive that a return to school for our young people is being prioritised but we need a functioning, vibrant private sector to create the jobs they will fill in the future.

"The Centre for Economic Performance recently suggested that up to 900,000 SMEs, accounting for 2.5 million jobs, are at risk of imminent closure in the first few months of this year. Yet still no timeline, no visibility of reopening for businesses that are closed or with their operations severely limited. A process being determined solely at the pace of those concerned only with public and not economic health.

"If we fail to take the right decisions on the economy now and implement them with urgency, the outcome will be years of different physical and mental health, social and economic challenges that will dwarf those seen so far. This is the stark reality.

"We were promised the vaccine was the only available exit route. We now have well over a million of the most at risk people in Scotland having received their first dose. Yet, we are hearing worrying references from the people in charge of determining our future that those businesses currently closed will not be given the green light to re-open until May, June or even later.

"This is simply not tenable. We now need to understand the conditions under which these large parts of economy can begin to emerge from enforced hibernation and to get on with it. Only a clear plan to re-open will give companies the confidence to plan, hire and invest. And, given the relatively low case levels in the North-east, we need to urgently hear whether restrictions will continue to be determined nationally or returned to local authority areas.

"These are the things we expect to be addressed by government next week as they map out the plans that will determine the survival, or not, of thousands of businesses and livelihoods.

"All this being said, we welcome the announcement from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance today of a range of additional financial support for businesses. Extending out the vital business rates relief for retail, aviation, hospitality and leisure for the next financial year in full was an overwhelming ask of Chamber members and will be an important step to ensuring that these sectors can power our post-covid recovery. We still believe that more should be done to mitigate the disproportionate rates burden felt by firms in other sectors across the North-east of Scotland.

"The Chamber business community’s position remains clear. Financial support schemes are welcome and vital but no substitute for a fully functioning economy."

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