Businesses in Aberdeen and the Shire have reacted in fury at what they regard as an indecisive, inconclusive and poor roadmap out of lockdown issued by the Scottish Government.
Yesterday (23rd Feb) Nicola Sturgeon addressed the Scottish Parliament outlining the SNP Government’s plans to finally bring Scotland out of lockdown.
Critical dates included April the 5th when stay at home restrictions could be lifted and April the 26th when hospitality and non-essential retail will be allowed to open.
However, whilst Boris Johnson and the UK Conservative Government gave a definite date for when social distancing restrictions will end – June the 21st – Nicola Sturgeon only a gave a loose guarantee that Scotland will enter tier 3 of lockdown at the end of April.
Sturgeon said to parliament yesterday: “I can say with confidence we are looking at a bright life a head. This depends on us continuing to suppress the virus now and continuing to accept some trade-offs for a period, for example in international travel, but if we do so I am very optimistic in returning more normality to our lives and to the economy.”
In response Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson said the SNP’s plans fell short of expectations and failed to offer the public help.
Immediately after the First Minister’s address, Ms Davidson said: “We didn’t get information about when measures like social distancing will end and when we will be able to do something as basic as give a loved one a hug.”
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Local businesses react with fury at Sturgeon’s plans
“It (Sturgeon’s roadmap) was indecisive, it was inconclusive. It was weak. It gave no clarity. We’re just sitting watching it happen. We think it could be the death knell of our business.”
A large response from local businesses in the North-east has been that of fury towards a roadmap out of lockdown described as “hazy” and “vague”.
Businesses, forced to remain shut, are under huge financial pressure.
Including the government’s latest roadmap announced yesterday, non-essential businesses in Scotland would have been forced to shut for 121 days from Boxing Day 2020 to 26th April 2021.
Fraser Milne, director of popular retailer the Inverurie Garden and Machine Centre, was left livid by the First Minister’s plans, going as far as saying they could mean the “death knell” for his business.
Mr Milne said: “It (Sturgeon’s roadmap) was indecisive, it was inconclusive. It was weak. It gave no clarity to business at all. I was hoping for some firm dates. We can’t operate a commercial operation on a maybe. She refers to the virus being critical, operationally we are critical.
“Homebase next door to us are open. We’re shut. Tesco is selling compost. Everyone is going to Tesco and Homebase for their compost now. We’re stocked but we’re shut. If we were both open we would have shared the customers and kept a better distance.
“She’s given us no roadmap for reopening. We are going to lose our Spring trade which is two thirds of our annual turnover. All our trade is going to Homebase next door. We’re just sitting watching it happen. We think it could be the death knell of our business.”
Simon Robertson, head of the restaurant in the Inverurie Garden Centre told The Reporter back in December he was ‘gutted’ when the second lockdown was announced.
This time around Mr Robertson tried to portray some enthusiasm towards the plans, but was ultimately left confused and frustrated.
Mr Robertson said: “If she’s basing everything on statistics, how come we’re going into tier 3 when we have the lowest number of cases in the whole of Scotland?”
“Opening in Level 3 would not be financially viable for many.”
Mr Milne and Mr Robertson are not alone in their anger. A host of businesses across the North-east vented their frustrations at Sturgeon’s speech.
Director of Siberia Bar & Hotel Stuart McPhee said the announcement did nothing to help the hospitality sector.
Mr McPhee told the Aberdeen P&J: “Everyone is confused and it is all very vague. It was nothing. I’m frustrated and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t there anymore.”
Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS which owns Aberdeen airport, said: “We received no plan or framework in which we can start plotting any form of recovery.”
Frank Whitaker, chairman of the Aberdeen City Shire and Hotels Association, said: “The implication that when hotels, bars and restaurants are able to reopen in the last week of April Scotland will be in Level 3 is a hammer-blow to business. Opening in Level 3 would not be financially viable for many hotels.”
Helen Crawford of the Old School Shop in Beauly said: “We could potentially be reopening two weeks after the rest of the UK . I don’t see the thinking behind that.”
Not everyone was opposed to Sturgeon’s plans. Aberdeen University medical microbiologist specialising in infectious diseases Professor Ian Gould said that data shows when lockdowns are lifted cases are still rising.
Professor Gould said: “If you look at the data from when the second lockdown was eased off in October it was just rampant rise in cases. There’s still a lot of covid out there and there’s still a long way to go.”
Salon owner in Kintore Rebecca Carr said that at least the end was in sight.
“We have been given a date. At least we know where we’re going which is a big help.”
Analysis: The importance of a date
The fundamental difference between England and Scotland’s route maps out of lockdown is a date.
The UK Conservative Government have led on a 21st June end for social distancing. The Scottish Government has gone with a target driven approach to be implemented in three week phases that ends with a move into tier 3 on April 26th.
People in England are buoyed by the June 21st finish. People in Scotland are left frustrated at no end in sight.
Sturgeon won a lot of support for her cautious approach to restrictions throughout 2020 and into 2021. This announcement seems to be too cautious and all the favour the First Minister gained is ebbing away fast.