More than 5,000 workers in Aberdeen are at risk of losing their jobs, council leaders warned as the local lockdown was extended for a third week.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced £1million fund to help Granite City firms survive lockdown as she continued restrictions on non-essential travel, indoor gatherings and the forced closure of all pubs, restaurants and cafes for another week.
The money will be made available immediately through the local authority and will provide grants of up to £1,500 to hospitality firms told to shut up shop.
As much as £100,000 of the fund can be used to help businesses outwith the hospitality trade who have still been hit hard by their closure.
A council briefing prepared for the government ahead of the review, and seen by The P&J, shows there are at least 5,100 jobs at risk in the city – although the actual number is likely higher as the government source for the figures doesn’t include firms planning to cut fewer than 20 roles.
Aberdeen’s shopping centres report a “60% collapse” in footfall since the local lockdown.
Across the city, footfall has fallen to 13,000 having returned to 40,000 as lockdown was eased.
The document also shows hotel occupancy has fallen from historically low 40% to around 20%, with rates falling to as low as £12 per room.
Moving too quickly with transmission levels as they remain just now would in our view would risk the hard work and progress the people of Aberdeen have made.”
Lockdown was imposed on Aberdeen’s nightlife after a local outbreak was traced through pubs and bars – so far 226 people have tested positive for coronavirus as a result.
Another 172 people – with no link to the cluster – have tested positive since July 26.
Despite experts noting this original cluster was “increasingly under control”, Ms Sturgeon said it was “not yet safe” to lift the restrictions due to a maintained level of community transmission, not linked to the pubs outbreak.
“It is really important at this stage in the pandemic we continue to take a precautionary approach,” she said.
“Moving too quickly with transmission levels as they remain just now would in our view would risk the hard work and progress the people of Aberdeen have made.
“We just need a little bit more time to be confident this is coming under control.
“We will continue to discuss with the council the impact of the restrictions and what more can be done to help – but I have to be frank with people, we have limits to the overall amount of resource we can call on.”
She announced there would be a review of the measures again on Sunday, in the hope of reopening “low risk” venues such as cafes as soon as Wednesday.
Politicians and business leaders have rounded on the government for the lockdown extension, accusing ministers of ignoring expert advice.
It is understood the north-east’s incident management team (IMT) had recommended lockdown be lifted in part as quickly as Saturday, with the remainder – including pubs – to follow in midweek.
NHS Grampian would not confirm the advice its experts had given the government, instead a spokeswoman said: “The IMT supports a precautionary approach and the decision by Scottish Government to maintain these protective statutory restrictions for the next seven-day period, with a further national level review planned for Sunday.
“We want to encourage everyone in Aberdeen City to keep following the enhanced restrictions.”
The co-leaders of the council preempted the lockdown extension, chastising the first minster before she had even made the announcement.
I will never complain about a single penny of funding for Aberdeen but the £1m fund simply doesn’t go far enough.”
Aberdeen Labour’s Jenny Laing and Conservative coalition partner Douglas Lumsden said they “do not support” the decision, but reinforced that everyone must follow the rules “whether we like it or not”.
Mr Lumsden said: “The IMT recommendations were not something made up by politicians, they came from the local health professionals.
“So it’s really disappointing to see the Scottish Government ignore that advice and continue the lockdown.
“The first minister has said a lot of the decision-making is a balance of competing harms – and the collapse of our local economy cannot be overstated.
“I will never complain about a single penny of funding for Aberdeen but the £1m fund simply doesn’t go far enough.”
Mrs Laing added the local authority had been ready to police the reopening, and revealed fears “the perception and reputation” of the city is being damaged the longer lockdown lasts.
Meanwhile Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce said he was “disappointed and surprised” to hear full lockdown measures were continuing – and “fully backed” the stance that they should not continue beyond the weekend.
He warned: “The resultant public perception of all this is that Aberdeen is being portrayed as a ‘city closed for business’ and that is having a measurable impact on forward bookings in the accommodation sector, not just in Aberdeen itself but in Aberdeenshire too, as tourists cancel bookings.
“The inexplicable continuation of the five-mile travel restriction is also making the city centre a ‘no go’ area for many local residents.”
But the council leaders’ outspoken stance was not welcomed across the board.
Councillor Ian Yuill, group leader of the Liberal Democrats, branded their comments “irresponsible”.
“For councillors Laing and Lumsden to try and second-guess the interim chief medical officer and his colleagues is arrogant beyond belief,” he said.