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Business owners need some certainty so they can work and invest during pandemic

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Mike Smith, manager of Inverness BID.
Mike Smith, manager of Inverness BID.

Our thoughts are with all who are suffering from the effects of the pandemic, particularly those suffering illness, their families and friends, our wonderful NHS workers and all other essential workers who are helping give our lives some semblance of normality.

While we appreciate the medical implications of the new virus strain made it imperative to introduce additional restrictions on Boxing Day, the effect on city centre businesses has been enormous in terms of morale and financially.

The Scottish and UK governments face an unprecedented range of issues but they need to give clear messages and support programmes so that businesses can find a way forward and safeguard ongoing staff employment.

The scale of the problem was starkly set out by the Office of Budget Responsibility’s forecast that the UK economy is facing its biggest decline in 300 years with unemployment projected to rise from October’s 4.9 per cent to 9.7 per cent!

Following concerted pressure from business organisations, the UK government extended 80 per cent furlough until April although in the current circumstances, this isn’t going to be long enough.

When last week the UK government announced its £4 billion support package for English retail and hospitality businesses with cash grants (£4000, £6000 and £9000), businesses expected this would be mirrored here. But after Barnett formula funding issues, our government finally announced the temporary business closure grants £2000 per four weeks (£3000 for larger premises), which was disappointing.

Our feedback is that businesses are looking for a clearer, long-term support package continuing furlough till June at least, extending the 100 per cent rates relief until September and maintenance of the five per cent tourism VAT for the same period.

We welcome politicians’ optimism that the vaccination programme will eventually bring the virus under control but business owners need some certainty to enable them to continue working and investing during the current crisis – the cost may be huge, but so is the risk of economic failure and even more redundancies.

Mike Smith is manager of Inverness Business Improvement District

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