Businesses in Dundee have been shortchanged by “utterly inexplicable” decision-making on loosening lockdown restrictions and many will be left struggling to survive, a leading city business figure has warned.
Nicola Sturgeon announced on Thursday that non-essential workplaces will remain closed until at least September 14 but could stay shut long even longer as she warned working from home will remain the “default option” for the foreseeable future.
The first minister said Scotland will remain in phase three of the Scottish Government’s four-step routemap out of lockdown, and suggested the current stage could stretch beyond the next review date, in three weeks’ time.
Gyms, swimming pools, arts venues, sports stadia and other businesses have been given “indicative dates” for reopening but many firms will be forced to stay shut for several more weeks to avoid putting the reopening of schools at risk.
The first tranche of changes will come into effect from August 24 but Ms Sturgeon said no further easing is expected before September 11. She stressed non-essential offices should remain closed until at least September 14 – and possibly later.
“Even then, working from home and working flexibly will remain the default position,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“I know many office workers may miss seeing colleagues – although some may not – but by staying at home, office workers and employers are playing a vital role in helping suppress the virus and ensuring our transport network remains safe.
The first minister said gyms and swimming pools pose a “particular risk and require a cautious approach” so had been given an indicative reopening date of September 14 but will be reviewed again in three weeks.
Derek Marshall, chairman of Dundee Social Enterprise Network, said the announcement had left many of his members lacking the clarity needed to effectively plan their reopening.
“Many of the facilities, with only indicative dates for reopening, will struggle to survive and the first minister needs to provide additional financial support for those sectors she is demanding more sacrifice from,” he said.
“Many of our members have been asked to stay closed for longer with no additional support. That is not good enough.
“Nicola Sturgeon has seemingly prioritised the reopening of bingo halls, funfairs and concert venues over the community facilities and sports clubs that play a vital role in our communities and our health.
“That is utterly inexplicable, and more support and explanation is required urgently.”
Business leaders across the country have also expressed strong concerns at the announcement, and warned the measures could “upend” towns and cities.
Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland policy chairman, said the first minister had been right to prioritise the reopening of schools but must not forget local businesses.
“The pandemic is no more the fault of the local driving instructor or personal trainer than anyone else, but their livelihoods will take a greater hit,” he said.
“Similarly, it might be the right public health decision to keep non-essential offices shut, but long-term closures will upend town and city centre economies.
“With the suggestion that existing grant schemes may be underspent, if ministers want to keep certain sectors shut for longer they may need to provide additional support to operators directly and indirectly affected.”
— Duncan Bannatyne (@DuncanBannatyne) July 30, 2020
The news came as a particularly bitter flow for Scotland’s fitness industry, with gyms in England being allowed to reopen last weekend.
Former Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne, whose health and spa empire includes one of Aberdeen’s largest gym complexes, warned this week he may be forced to close his facilities in Scotland if they are not allowed to reopen by the end of August.
He accused the first minister of having a “hidden agenda” following the announcement on Thursday and called on her to publish the evidence behind the decision. He also claimed some of his Scottish members were driving to England to use his facilities.
“I know how much the mental health of some of our members is deteriorating but Nicola Sturgeon seems hell bent on keeping gyms closed regardless of the cost to users,” Mr Bannatyne said.
“She won’t take the time to visit one of our health clubs to see how we keep our members safe.”
PureGym, the UK’s largest gym company, said it was also “extremely disappointed” by the decision and called on the first minister to urgently re-examine the evidence and engage with industry bodies.
In a statement, the fitness giant said: “We have a vital role to play in the fight against obesity, which is a public health challenge in Scotland and right across the UK.
“More broadly, it strikes us as truly extraordinary that, in the middle of a health crisis, the first minister and her team have not ascribed any real priority to working with us and our sector to understand our capacity to help provide for the better health and wellbeing of the Scottish people at this time.”
Meanwhile, coronavirus shielding in Scotland will be paused from August 1, the first minister has confirmed.
The group will from Saturday be able to follow the same advice as the general population but Ms Sturgeon said those who had been shielding should be “especially careful” about using face masks, hand hygiene and physical distancing.