Nicola Sturgeon urged to involve UK Government in Scots Covid plan

The Scottish Government is being urged to liaise with the UK Government and the country's business community as it draws up the country’s new tiered system of coronavirus restrictions.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak heads up the UK Treasury

The pro-union business body SBUK (Scottish Business United Kingdom) is calling for Scottish ministers to re-establish the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery (AGER), which would allow "direct input" from the UK Treasury, led by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and the Scotland Office, as well as industry chiefs.

Ms Sturgeon has already hinted that she may be ready to adopt a tougher approach to restrictions within the "tiered" regime being adopted in Scotland, amid concerns that even the higher level three tier south of the Border may not be enough to suppress transmission of the virus.

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But SBUK says a "joined-up" approach to securing the economic support required north of the Border is now needed.

A member of the public walks past a TV screen at The Sound Counsel in Edinburgh as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon takes part in a virtual sitting of the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

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AGER was suspended in the summer, but should now be re-formed, the body says, with input from senior business leaders to ensure decision-making takes into account the economic impact of future restrictions.

SBUK’s chief executive Struan Stevenson said: “It is telling that since the first AGER published its plan in June, there has been no standing advisory group monitoring their delivery and neither has there been consistent, independent business advice to government on the economic impact of industry lockdowns.

"The creation of the new three-tiered lockdown framework is an opportunity to set this right so that the needs of businesses, and their speedy recovery, are fully considered in the months ahead."

Mr Stevenson, a former Tory MEP, called on Scottish ministers to work more closely with the Scotland Office in shaping the new AGER to help improve communication with the UK Treasury on Scots business needs.

"Business owners know that it’s the strength of HM Treasury support that counts the most in helping companies survive the winter and support continued employment," he said.

SBUK has published The Union beyond Covid-19: A strengthened case for business resurgence, a newly-updated prospectus for reforming devolution following the pandemic.

The organisation calls for the Scottish and UK governments to work more closely than ever on a jobs-based economic recovery.

The document states: “Businesses in Scotland have had enough of the risk and uncertainty that the endless threat of separation entails.

"Yet it’s equally clear that the SNP Government will continue trying to take down the roof over our heads by advocating on a divisive referendum on partition.”

Ms Sturgeon has warned there will be “no return to normality” in Scotland when the current restrictions in Scotland, which has resulted in the closure of all pubs and restaurants in the Central Belt, expire on 26 October.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We take on board as many views as possible from businesses, and the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery is just one of a number of mechanisms the Scottish Government used to inform its approach to shaping Scotland’s economic recovery.

“We are doing everything we can with the limited financial powers we have to respond to the pandemic, but we clearly require more powers and greater financial flexibility to help rebuild the Scottish economy. We engage regularly with the UK Government, and we continue to urge them to offer greater financial flexibility, including maintaining furlough support at 80% of salaries.”

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