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Chamber boss brands cancelling of Christmas parties ‘unacceptable intervention from the nanny state’

Aberdeen And Grampian Chamber Of Commerce chief executive, Russell Borthwick, pictured at the 2018 launch of the first Scotland's Urban Age report. He warns without similar insight in the months ahead, city centres might be left as 'urban deserts'.
Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber Of Commerce chief executive Russell Borthwick.

Boss of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) Russell Borthwick has reacted with fury over calls for Christmas parties to be postponed.

The chief executive has questioned the potential danger of the new Covid variant, Omicron, and called the latest advice from public health officials an “unacceptable intervention from the nanny state”.

His comments came hours after Dr Nick Phin from Public Health Scotland asked people to postpone their Christmas parties to “another time” when Covid – and the Omicron variant in particular – poses less of a threat.

‘They have gone too far this time’

Mr Borthwick, who said his comments posted on social media platform LinkedIn were “personal views and not those of the organisation I work for” said: “They have gone too far this time.”

He argued that illness and pressure on the NHS “happens every year” and that Scotland’s director of public health science should “ensure sufficient beds capacity rather than doing his best to destroy businesses and jobs”.

Mr Borthwick said: “Although I know from engaging for the last 20 months with hard-pressed business owners and leaders that very many would agree.

“So, Dr Phin thinks it’s ok to push out a late afternoon pronouncement urging the deferment of Christmas parties.

“Does he have the slightest awareness of the impact this will have on hospitality and related businesses, many of which have survived by the skin of their teeth and need a strong December to give them half a chance of survival. On what grounds?

“A new virus strain (this happens every year) and a possibly hard pressed NHS (another hardy annual narrative).

“Maybe his focus should be on ensuring sufficient beds capacity rather than doing his best to destroy businesses and jobs.

A new virus strain (this happens every year) and a possibly hard pressed NHS (another hardy annual narrative).”

Russell Borthwick, AGCC chief executive

“And it remains very unclear whether Omicron, although it may be easily transmissible, is causing any serious illness or hospitalisations.

“What there is clear evidence of is the damage being done to the economy by this ongoing overreaction.

“It really is time to trust companies and the public to take responsibility for their own health and safety without unacceptable intervention from the nanny state.”

Christmas parties could be put on hold.

Ryan Crighton, AGCC’s policy and marketing director also expressed his dismay at the latest announcement.

In a statement, also posted on LinkedIn, he said: “Eighty-nine minutes is a long time in Scottish politics.

“At 3.25pm yesterday, the finance secretary announced her budget, which had little support for hard-pressed businesses in retail and hospitality, plus an additional rates bill of £720million hitting the business community from April.

“At 4pm, Scotland’s national clinical director gives an interview saying that people shouldn’t cancel their Christmas parties, but should exercise caution.

“At 4.54pm Public Health Scotland then issues a release urging people to ‘defer’ Christmas parties, which is an absolute hammer blow to our high streets ahead of their busiest time of the year.

“The finance secretary also gave an interview later in the evening saying that there is no money for additional support for affected businesses, because she had allocated all available funds in her budget earlier.

“We need urgent clarity on this from the First Minister this lunchtime. And if the Christmas parties are off, the businesses which are being shafted by this need to be compensated for every single lost booking.”

Public Health Scotland spokeswoman said: “We have no further comments to make at this time.”

And in a briefing today, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted Mr Borthwick’s comments were “just not true”.

“Anybody who thinks that what we see in terms of pressure on the NHS from a global pandemic of an infectious virus is the same as what we see every year – I find that hard to believe that anybody would make that statement,” she said. “It’s just not true.

“What we are seeing and what we might see in terms of pressure on the NHS coming from this is of an order of magnitude bigger than what we would see in a normal year.

“You cannot staff a health service in normal times to always be at the level that we need to deal with during a global pandemic clearly.

Save businesses on the brink

Liberal Democrat MPs have called for an emergency hospitality summit to save businesses on the brink saying there is an urgent need for action with some restaurants already losing half their Christmas bookings.

Health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper MP and the party’s business spokeswoman Sarah Olney MP, have written to the business minister demanding action.

Ms Cooper said: “Independent businesses have worked hard and played by the rules throughout this pandemic, even when it has cost them dearly. In return, the government is pulling the rug from underneath their recovery from covid.

“There is no time to waste. We need an emergency package to save our town and city centres. The Government needs to hear directly from hospitality businesses what is needed for them to stay afloat, and then act upon it.”

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