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Insider UK
Peter A Walker

Business leaders’ warning as Sturgeon ponders renewed Covid restrictions

Nicola Sturgeon is to reveal if further coronavirus restrictions - including an extension of Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme - are to be brought in to help combat rising numbers of infections.

Business leaders, however, have claimed almost two thirds of firms are opposed to the measures being considered, fearing they could “place thousands of firms and jobs at risk”.

A total of 65% of companies surveyed for Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) were against vaccine passports being used more in the hospitality and leisure sectors, together with increased home working and greater use of face coverings.

The poll, which almost 700 firms took part in, also found that 24% of businesses face “severe financial consequences” if vaccine passports and home-working measures are widened.

The First Minister and her cabinet will consider if such further restrictions are necessary when they meet today, with Sturgeon to update Holyrood on their decisions in the afternoon.

Speaking ahead of that, SCC chief executive Liz Cameron warned: “Any reintroduction of restrictions will act as a painful economic deterrent for businesses across Scotland.

“We urge ministers not to take a massive step backwards in our economic recovery from the pandemic which would place thousands of firms and jobs at risk.”

Cameron insisted: “It is critical that our economic recovery does not lag behind that of competitors across the globe.

“Going backwards at this stage will put our recovery at risk, create further uncertainty and undermine consumer confidence.”

She added: “If restrictions are to be reintroduced under legislation, then companies will of course be forced to accept them, but ministers must urgently outline the evidence for these decisions, detail what financial support the Scottish Government will make available to affected sectors and provide an end point to burdensome restrictions.”

Her comments come after Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith warned recently that the country was “now in a period of growth of Covid-19 cases again”.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney revealed last week that Scottish Government is considering extending the vaccine certification scheme - already in place in nightclubs and at other large events - to more parts of the hospitality and leisure sector.

Swinney stressed a decision has not yet been made but said Covid-19 was at a “concerningly high level” and Scotland is in a “precarious and unpredictable” position.

He added that ministers were also considering steps to increase home working and “whether changes are needed to extend use of face coverings”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said no decision had yet been taken about any forthcoming changes.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has provided more than £4.4bn to help businesses cope with the impact of Covid-19,” the spokesman said.

“We continue to support retailers and other businesses as we rebuild the economy following the pandemic, including through the work of the retail strategy, the Town Centre Review and City Centre Recovery Taskforce, as well as the Scotland Loves Local (SLL) £10m multi-year support programme.

“This includes a fund, a SLL marketing campaign and a SLL gift card which supports local online businesses and aims to help increase footfall and activity while revitalising local places and town centres by encouraging communities to think, choose and love local.”

Separately, Scotland’s hospitality trade bodies released joint research results highlighting the financial situation that the extension of vaccine certification would put the sector in.

A survey of 152 business owners and operators last week revealed the extent of the impact any extension would have on the hospitality sector, with 83.6% of businesses stating that turnover is already down by over 10% on pre-pandemic levels.

If vaccine passports were extended to wider hospitality, 76.2% of businesses would not survive with the winter without further government support, while 95.4% would have to cut staff hours if trade reduced as expected.

The survey also found that 95.2% say trade has been negatively impacted, while 87.2% have seen trade reduced by over 20% since the introduction of the scheme. Less than 1% say business has been unaffected.

In a joint statement, the trade bodies said: “From this survey it is clear to see that Scotland’s hospitality sector is in a precarious situation, making the recovery period all the more important.

“Given that turnover has reduced by 20% to 40% for businesses impacted by the scheme, this would be a devastating blow for the sector’s 100,000 workers just in the run-up to Christmas.

“The Scottish Government must take this into consideration when making the decision on any extension of the Covid certification and provide the economic support to keep thousands of businesses afloat.”

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