In response to the First Minister’s announcement that local lockdown restrictions are to remain in Aberdeen city, Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said:
“It is very disappointing that the full local lockdown restrictions are to stay in place despite a slowing of new infections in the city. The situation is devastating both for businesses in the city and for consumer confidence, which had been starting to return. The longer it goes on, the greater the negative impact we will see on the perception of the area from outside, impacting tourism, student recruitment, inward investment and business start-ups.
“Aberdeen is not closed for business with many retailers and other parts of the economy still open. Messaging and actions from national and local government must support this.
“Hospitality and tourism businesses have been hit particularly hard with the survival of many SMEs balanced on a knife edge. Having come through the last four months and invested in safely reopening, through no fault of their own many venues are struggling to survive. To be clear, none of the listed ‘cluster’ venues were found to have breached guidelines.
“The sector and its supply chain need immediate local grant support as we saw in Leicester with no rates related eligibility criteria. Also additional support through the job retention scheme for the duration and an extension of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme into September by the number of weeks lost.
“Although the various financial support schemes have been vital, the only thing that will make our economy viable once more is restoring consumer confidence and demand. The virus has not gone away and it was always to be expected that we’d see a small increase in cases as restrictions were eased.
“It is important that lessons are learned from this by policy makers and our population. What should the trigger points, scope and duration of local lockdowns be? The measures taken must be proportionate and targeted. Where they are imposed, support measures need to be clearly defined, immediately available and communication much improved.
“There has to be an element of personal responsibility taken too. Behaviour that fails to reflect that things are different for now doesn’t just risk people’s health but people’s livelihoods as it could lead directly to some businesses closing permanently.
“We rightly mourn each of the 2,800 deaths attributed to this in Scotland, but we should also mourn every single business failure and job loss and ask if we have the balance between public health and economic health right?
“We now know that the economy contracted by over 20% between April and June - an unheard of drop. Yet we are closing down vibrant cities with just 0.07% of the population known to have tested positive for the virus.
“Decisions taken now by policy makers will determine whether we end up swapping COVID-19 for years of different physical and mental health, social, employment and economic challenges that will dwarf those seen over the last few months.”