Forth Road Bridge: Businesses demand clarity over timetable

The Forth Road Bridge will remain closed to traffic until at least next month. Picture: Scott Louden
The Forth Road Bridge will remain closed to traffic until at least next month. Picture: Scott Louden
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BUSINESS representatives have called for greater certainty on when the Forth Road Bridge will reopen amid fears small firms could struggle to secure short-term financial support.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland raised concerns that firms may not be able to get help from banks unless there is clarity on the issue.

The bridge is due to reopen in the New Year after repairs to a crack in the structure but engineers say progress is “vulnerable to weather conditions”.

Colin Borland, the FSB’s head of external affairs in Scotland, said many small businesses relied on a busy December to pay for the quieter January and February months.

He told BBC Radio Scotland: “It doesn’t take a significant lack of cash to kill businesses that don’t have large reserves, so I think the priority has to be dealing with short-term cash flow difficulties.

“A lot of that has to be around about getting some certainty about when the bridge is going to reopen and on what basis.”

Mr Borland highlighted difficulties faced by some businesses during the Edinburgh tram works in securing short-term financing from banks.

He said: “Any bank manager who wants to keep his job, the first question he is going to ask you is ‘okay how long is this going to last?’.

“So if we’re going to have to put in short term financial measures to make sure people survive and that we don’t turn this temporary closure into permanent damage to the economy then we need to get some certainty about when the bridge is going to open and on what basis.”

Scottish Transport Minister Derek Mackay announced yesterday that traffic restrictions put in place after the closure of the bridge would be eased to allow vans to use the priority A985 route for heavy goods vehicles and buses, a move welcomed by FSB Scotland.

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “We are acutely aware that this is a very challenging time, especially for small firms.

“Ministers have been clear from the outset that the absolute priority is to get the bridge reopened as quickly as possible - to all vehicles. Engineers are working round the clock to make this happen.

“We have already secured a relaxation of the enforcement of drivers’ hours and working time rules. Together with bus and freight priority measures, this will also help mitigate impacts on businesses transporting goods and people.

“The FSB have welcomed the refreshed Travel Plan and the decision to relax restrictions on the A985 corridor and we will continue to engage with the business community and listen and respond to their feedback.”