Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has urged the Scottish Government to give businesses one week’s notice to prepare for anti-coronavirus measures imposed against them.
Mr Ross made the plea as he hosted an event where business leaders spoke of the devastating impact the Scottish Government’s coronavirus restrictions are having on their industries.
Hospitality representatives called for better enforcement of restrictions rather than blanket measures that threatened the industry.
Nicola Sturgeon’s administration also faced calls to engage with the UK Government’s free port scheme as well as complaints about the punitive rates paid by those in the north-east.
Peterhead Port Authority chief executive Simon Brebner said the Scottish Government had suggested it might “reject” the opportunity to create zones where there are no trade barriers such as duties or tariffs post-Brexit.
The creation of free ports is a flagship UK Government policy and Peterhead and Aberdeen have been suggested as possible beneficiaries.
Mr Ross outlined his own approach to helping businesses struggling with coronavirus restrictions, which included a renewal of his calls for an urgent Scottish winter economy plan from the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Tory leader also recommended:
- A new Coronavirus Business Restrictions Advisory Council to inform decisions on easing and introducing restrictions.
- A one-week minimum ‘adaptation period’ between the announcement and the introduction of measures.
- An automatic, standard Scottish Business Restrictions Grant, so no businesses are left waiting for support once restrictions are announced.
- Urgent action to bring in Scottish Conservative proposals such as a Hardship Fund for businesses in local lockdowns and Job Security Councils for workers who lose their jobs.
‘No assurances’ from Holyrood on free ports
On the issue of free ports, Mr Brebner, who is also vice-chairman of the Scottish Ports Group, said the concept had the ability to transform regions.
Mr Brebner said: “The (UK) Government’s confirmed a bidding process and will be opening shortly. The details will be related by the bidding prospectus and obviously the UK Government will work with devolved administration in Scotland and we await next steps as to what will happen.
“But at this stage in our discussions with the Scottish Government we haven’t been given any assurances they will take part in the free ports process. In fact, they’ve even said they might even reject the free port opportunity.”
Mr Ross urged the Scottish Government to get behind the UK Government’s plan.
“If I was the Scottish Government right now, I would be looking at every opportunity to support and stimulate the economy and I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Mr Ross said.
“I think it is really disappointing they have taken this approach to the free ports for ideological reasons. They need to get behind this because of the opportunities it will bring to parts of Scotland and the benefits that will roll out across the wider country.”
Call to support coach industry
Liz Cameron of Scottish Chambers of Commerce expressed concern that revaluation of non-domestic rates was being postponed from 2022 to 2023 and called for the Conservatives to vote against the delay.
Mr Ross said his party would look at the issue, adding: “I know in the north-east of Scotland – Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire businesses are paying far more than the economic conditions they are operating in mean they should be.
“I have concerns about any delay to the review. I am concerned they are only tinkering around the edges. We need wholesale change to this system.”
Fiona Campbell of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, warned her industry had been “devastated” by the one-household rule and had been left with “no financial support whatsoever”.
Meanwhile, Kevin Mayne of Maynes Coaches Ltd of Buckie in Mr Ross’s Moray constituency called on the UK Government to support his industry.
Mr Mayne said: “Around 7,100 coach industry professionals have already been made unemployed, out of 42,000 folk within the coach industry. There are 100-plus operators gone since March.
“When will the UK Government stand up and support the coach industry that has done so much for the nation?”
Mr Ross said he was “right behind” the coach industry.
“This an issue right across the UK and I have raised it in parliament with treasury ministers and transport ministers and I want to see our two governments working together to support the coach industry,” Mr Ross said.
This really blunt hammer has been taken to the problem – hospitality is being fingered as the harbouring of viral spread and yet I know and my industry colleagues know that responsible hospitality is not.”
Alasdair Houston, chairman of Gretna Green Ltd, warned that revenues are down by around 83 per cent from last year.
He said: “The vast proportion of hospitality businesses have done everything and more than was the base requirement.
“We’ve really jumped through hoops to provide a safe environment. So I don’t think it’s a lack of regulation that’s the issue, what I don’t hear being discussed enough at the moment is the enforcement of the people that are not following the rules, which seems, to me, where the problem really lies.
“This really blunt hammer has been taken to the problem – hospitality is being fingered as the harbouring of viral spread and yet I know and my industry colleagues know that responsible hospitality is not.”
He accused the Scottish Government of using a “big blunt hammer that will hammer down this industry beyond perhaps recovery point”.
Ewan Macdonald-Russell from the Scottish Retail Consortium said his sector “remain baffled” by the Scottish Government’s move to reintroduce two-metre distancing in shops, claiming “we didn’t really see a clear evidence base” for the decision.
Minister for trade, investment and innovation Ivan McKee said: “When it comes to free ports we haven’t ruled anything out, but as it stands the UK Government’s plans lack detail, and despite our requests, they have yet to share with us clear evidence of the benefits they offer.
“We will continue to press the UK Government for evidence and continue to engage with stakeholders in Scotland to assess both the risks and opportunities they could bring to Scotland’s economy and businesses.
“We are clear, however, that free ports cannot and will not undo the damage being caused to Scotland’s economy by the UK Government’s decision to take us out of the world’s biggest single market – especially if no deal is agreed by the end of the year.”