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Highland businesses need clear steer on re-opening of economy after latest Covid lockdown

By Hector MacKenzie

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David Richardson
David Richardson

Hard-pressed Highland businesses need an indication of when they are likely to be able to re-open as the region comes out of lockdown.

And failing that, some firms wondering whether they will make it to the end of the year given the drawn-out coronavirus crisis, will need more government support.

That's the view of the Federation of Small Businesses following the latest statement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the return of some younger children to school, and the reopening of nurseries.

This will include the reopening of early learning, nursery and P1 to P3 classes and a limited return to school of older pupils from tomorrow.

The First Minister though insisted in a statement to Holyrood that the Scottish Government would be "driven by data and not dates" in assessing the gradual opening up of schools to all pupils and the economy.

She also strongly advised against people making holiday plans for Easter given the still uncertain nature of the crisis, despite encouraging signs and the rollout of the vaccination programme.

However business groups have lamented the absence of further details on the reopening of the wider economy.

Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses’ Scotland policy chair, said: “Half of Scotland’s business owners are worried about whether their firm will make it through to the end of this crisis.

"While self-employed and working parents of young children will cheer the return of early years education, the announcement won’t allay the wider fears of those who are battling to stay afloat.

“We welcome the news that Ministers will detail the conditions that need to be met before a wider re-opening but we’d urge them to provide dates, however provisional.

"A draft timeline would allow many debt-laden operators to put in place measures to give them the best chance of surviving.

"We can’t see local businesses collapse during the final mile of this marathon just because they don’t know the finish line is around the corner.”

David Richardson, the FSB’s Highlands and Islands development manager, said: “The situation is critical across Scotland but no-where more so than in the Highlands, where 54 per cent of businesses are currently closed, 45 per cent of them by law.

"This compares to 35 per cent of all businesses in Scotland as a whole and only 20 per cent in Glasgow.

"Moreover, 35 per cent of Highland businesses describe themselves as ‘really struggling/barely staying afloat’, compared to 28 per cent for Scotland and 25 per cent for Glasgow.

"The Highlands is dominated by its visitor economy and times are really hard. The future of many of our great businesses depends on a relatively early reopening or, failing that, substantial government support to tide them over until we do.”

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