Responding to the First Minister's update today outlining Scotland's roadmap out of lockdown, Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said:

"It's Groundhog day all over again. Effectively we were all told that large swathes of the economy will remain closed for a further two months plus. Almost like it doesn’t really matter. Kicking the can down the road.

"The phrase ‘data and not date driven’ is certainly true in respect of the fact that detail on timelines was indeed vague. It is also glib and disrespectful to business. Exactly what data are being used to justify these measures?

"Certainly not the ONS Labour market overview which tells us that three quarters of a million less people are on payroll than a year ago and job vacancies are down by over a quarter.

"Not the Centre for Economic Performance report that suggests 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.

"Neither the PACE data which shows us that over a third of the 30,000 people currently recorded under this scheme as facing redundancy in Scotland, are in the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire areas.

"And clearly not the vaccination levels or infection rates either.

"We already have a third of all adults including many of the most vulnerable groups in Scotland ‘jagged’ with all over 50s scheduled by the end of April. We know that this virus has predominantly affected the over 60s most seriously and that efficacy levels after a single dose are higher than hoped.

"Currently Aberdeen City has just 26.7 cases per 100,000 population. In Aberdeenshire it’s 31.8. Only the Northern Isles are lower.

"This Chamber had called for a return to regional measures at local authority area level so we should be happy with what we heard, right?

"Wrong. Even with case figures at this low level today, these variations don’t kick in until April 26 when level 3 restrictions will apply. Previously, such low numbers would have suggested an area moving from level two to one; and that was without any vaccination programme.

"Step 6 of the World Health Organisation conditions for safe easing specifies that communities have a voice, are informed, engaged and participatory in the transition. We are being failed badly in this regard.

"So, we invite a senior representative of Scottish Government to stand up in front of our members and the wider regional business community to confirm exactly what data is selectively and subjectively being used to justify this unacceptable and economically ruinous approach.

"From a business perspective there is little to recommend what we heard today although there is a smidgeon of good news in the announcement of transitional support for businesses in the reopening phase as the rebuild demand and cash but we need to see more detail before we get over enthusiastic about this.

"And as was the case previously, businesses operating cross-borders are scratching their heads as to how to operate and why two neighbouring nations can’t align approaches on a matter of such scale."

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