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Federation of Small Businesses' Scotland urges Scottish Government to set out second wave help package amid imminent announcement of further Covid-19 coronavirus restrictions to control spread of the virus; First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out a return to full lockdown but FSB warns that uncertainty has led to fears in Highland business community


By Philip Murray

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David Richardson
David Richardson

HIGHLAND businesses need further Covid-19 support measures if the Scottish Government brings in additional coronavirus restrictions, a leading industry figure believes.

That is the view of the Federation of Small Businesses' (FSB) David Richardson, the development manager for the Highlands and Islands.

He has backed calls made at a national level by FSB Scotland, amid the likelihood that the Scottish Government will announce further restrictions to try to control the spread of the virus.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today stressed that this week's imminent announcement – expected on Wednesday – will not signal a return to a lockdown like that in March, and stressed that schools will also not be closing.

But she did say that some new measures look set to be introduced.

Mr Richardson believes that the Highlands and Islands' reliance on the hospitality trade make it particularly vulnerable economically – and that any restrictions "must come" with a support package.

He said: “FSB research agrees with that undertaken by Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) that this region is more vulnerable economically to the damage caused by the coronavirus than any other part of Scotland.

"This is due in part to our dependency on tourism and hospitality, and after no more than three months’ trading, the last thing that businesses need is another lockdown, however short.

"Should this happen at this time, with only three weeks of the 2020 season left, it will greatly impede the ability of many businesses to survive the winter, with serious and lasting consequences for the wider economy, local employment, and the quality of life that we all enjoy.

“Highland businesses will be praying that the Scottish Government does not introduce fresh restrictions at this delicate time, but if it does, the restrictions must come with a package of measures to assist them to retain their staff and survive.”

His call echoed that of the FSB's Scotland policy chairman, Andrew McRae, who has written to the First Minister urging the Scottish Government to outline the support it will provide to firms when new national or local coronavirus restrictions are announced.

He said that official figures show that one in 20 businesses remains shut in Scotland, and the FSB fears that new restrictions – however temporary – could increase the number of permanent closures.

Mr McRae added that the UK government detailed its standard grant package in the event of further lockdowns in early September.

“Ministers need to understand that new coronavirus restrictions will take a huge toll on Scotland’s small business community," he said. "Many Scottish independent firms’ reserves and credit-lines are close to exhaustion.

"The bare minimum that those in business expect is for the Scottish Government to set out their new package of help at the same time as they detail any new restrictions.”

He also stressed that days of uncertainty and speculation over what might be announced meant the Scottish Government had left itself with bridges to rebuild.

“Up and down Scotland, many in business are incredibly stretched," he continued. "Responsible local firms are knuckling down trying to balance the books while complying with the various coronavirus restrictions.

“However, days of unhelpful speculation regarding a new wholesale lockdown has harmed fragile business confidence and put new emotional strain on those that work for themselves. Ministers need the support of firms to tackle this crisis – action is required to rebuild trust between government and business.”

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