Scots business chiefs demand “timeline” for resumption of economy

The Scottish Government must set out a clear "timeline" to fire up the economy and avoid previous "contradictory" guidance about which firms could operate, MSPs have heard.
Tracy Black called for an economy  timelineTracy Black called for an economy  timeline
Tracy Black called for an economy timeline

Business leaders warned that there is likely to "significant and sustained" economic damage with large parts of industry having been effectively mothballed for the past two months.

Firms are now "restless" to resume trading again when health chiefs give it the green light, Holyrood's economy committee heard today.

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The UK Government has unveiled plans for return to economic life south of the border and leading business representatives urged Scottish ministers to set out its own strategy today.

Tracy Black, Director of CBI Scotland said: "The economic damage is likely to be significant and sustained - there are no quick fixes.

"There has been a lot written about businesses being restless to re-open - and that's true, they are.

"They want to protect their operations and their staff from further economic hardship.

"But they also know that initiating economic restart requires public confidence."

A "health first" approach is viewed as essential otherwise staff won't go back to work and customers are likely to stay away, MSPs heard.

The UK Government has already moved to restart the economy south of the border, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging staff to go back to workplaces if they can't work from home.

Ms Black added: "A safe and phased re-opening of the economy also requires timelines.

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“They don't need to be concrete. In fact, they shouldn't be. We will move as the health and scientific advice allows.

"But we do need to be indicative to give businesses time to prepare and put in place the necessary social distancing measures."

She added: "In England, they've produced clear, stated goals for when business can re-open, we've seen the same in Norway.

"Now these timelines can absolutely be flexible and of course must be set by the science and medical community.

"But they give a clear outline to business that they can't just restart overnight. They need to get their supply chain back in place, they need to get their staff trained up on social distancing measures and they need to look at their cashflow.

"This is where the unified approach is absolutely critical.

"We absolutely support a four-nations approach with differences supported, but there needs to be clear evidence to do so, so that it's in interest of the nation’s health and economic well-being.

She added: "It's a key role of both Governments to bring together stakeholders to develop a consensus on how we approach the restart.

"What we really want is to avoid a repeat of the tensions we saw between employers and workers that were partly caused by contradictory guidance on which businesses could continue to operate during lockdown."

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There was confusion among many firms about the differing guidance emerging from Holyrood and Westminster about which firms could reopen north and south of the border, MSPs heard.

"It's been very difficult for Scottish businesses to keep track of the changing environment," she added.

"It was difficult in the early days when you see the UK Government encouraging business to stay open.

"So if you're a biscuit producer you can still get a chocolate Hobnob, but you're being told in Scotland you can't make shortbread. Or you can get English gin on the supermarket shelves, but you weren't able to get Scotch whisky."

Ms Black accepted that the timing for businesses returning may differ based on scientific evidence.

But she added: "We don't believe the `how` has to vary.

"And where we would strongly urge Scottish Government to look at the UK guidelines which came out last week is on workplace settings. The reality is that if you're entering a shop in Glasgow, or you're entering a shop in London, you're running a bottling line in Glasgow or you're running a bottling line in London, it's exactly the same."

Ms Black said that any divergence between Scotland and England must be based on a "clear, evidence based reason."

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