First minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced a £55 million fund to support taxis, hairdressers, and sports and tourism operators who have been hit by the new Covid-19 restrictions introduced last month.
Ms Sturgeon said the extra money would be split with up to £28m for taxis and private hire drivers, £19m for services such as beauticians and hairdressers, £5m for sport and £3m for tourism.
The funding was announced in the Scottish Parliament after Ms Sturgeon confirmed Covid self-isolation rules in Scotland can be reduced to seven days – as long as people don’t have a fever and record two negative lateral flow results.
However, Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Russell Borthwick described the latest funding as a “drop in the ocean” and said thousands of jobs were at risk.
Economy needs to reopen
He said: “Despite mounting evidence that Omicron is far less severe that previous Covid-19 variants, we have a continuation of this economic lockdown, which is affecting a range of sectors, effectively shutting down businesses and starving high streets of the footfall required to survive.
Be in no doubt that tens of thousands of jobs are at risk here.”
Russell Borthwick, Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce chief executive
“The funding being made available to businesses remains a drop in the ocean compared to the losses being incurred, and this is being compounded by the fact that it is not reaching firms quickly enough.
“Be in no doubt that tens of thousands of jobs are at risk here.
“The choice facing the Scottish Government should be clear – either put in place a scheme that provides full reparation for lost income and increased costs to companies affected by the stricter measures introduced in December, or allow the economy to re-open now with proportionate safeguards in place.”
Funding allows ‘an inch more flexibility’
The money, which will be available through local councils, comes on top of the £200 million from the total £375m support the government plans to give to businesses affected by Covid-19.
Federation of Small Businesses Scotland policy chair Andrew McRae said: “The welcome revisions to self-isolation rules outlined today will give smaller Scottish employers an inch more flexibility.
“But ministers must remember that many firms have faced a dramatic slowdown in trade over the last few weeks that’s putting them under intense pressure.
“We endorse the expansion of grant help to include taxi drivers and those providing beauty and hair services.
“Financial support should also be provided to other operators, like independent retailers and businesses allied to the tourism industry, outside the scope of current schemes but facing hardship.”
He also called on Ms Sturgeon to “shed more light” on circumstances that would see current restrictions lifted.
“If the Omicron-variant has changed the rules of the game, local and independent firms deserve to know what those rules are,” he added.
Bars and restaurants staff down 30%
Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) welcomed the reduction in the number of days people who test positive will need to quarantine, adding that it was also “good news” that close contacts of positive cases will not now need to self-isolate and will be required to take a lateral flow test every day for seven days if they are fully vaccinated, including the booster.
SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson said: “This will help relieve the pressure on staffing issues in the licensed hospitality industry – we have heard from some of our members that 30% of their staff are having to self-isolate while some premises have had to shut down completely as they have insufficient staff levels.
“This change has already been made in England, Wales and Northern Ireland so it makes sense for Scotland to follow the same path.”
He added he hopes to see restrictions ease the next time the Scottish Government is scheduled to address the effects of the pandemic later in the month.
He said: “We now hope that the current restrictions in place, including table service and one-metre physical distancing between groups of customers in premises serving alcohol, plus the limits on events which are hugely impacting the late-night industry which has been hit particularly hard since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, will be lifted on January 17.”