The delay to the return of staff to offices will be a “bitter blow” for employers and employees, the head of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) has said, with the effects also to be felt in city centre businesses.
Nicola Sturgeon announced the Scottish Government would delay advising office workers to return until “beyond Level 0” – expected on August 9 – instead of when Scotland moved to Level 0 as was previously planned.
The country will take its next step out of lockdown on Monday, the First Minister said, with some changes to previous plans such as a nationwide midnight curfew for hospitality as well as the office delay.
“We had indicated that a gradual return to the office could begin from Level 0,” she said.
“However, given the current situation we intend to postpone this until we move beyond Level 0 – which we still hope will be on August 9.
“Until then we will continue to ask employers to support home working where possible.
“I know this will be disappointing for many businesses – and also some employees who are finding home-working hard.
“But this will reduce the extent to which people are meeting up in enclosed environments or travelling together, and so will help to contain transmission during this phase.”
But Dr Liz Cameron, the chief executive of the SCC, stressed the impact the change would have on workplaces as well as town and city centre businesses, which have seen a remarkable drop in daytime footfall as a result of the pandemic.
“The postponing of the phased return of offices will be a bitter blow for employees and employers alike, many of which had been getting ready to welcome employees back into offices from next week,” she said.
“This will also sound alarm bells for those town and city centre businesses, reliant on office worker footfall and custom, who now need to wait another month until those workers start to return.”
Ewan McDonald-Russell, the head of policy at the Scottish Retail Consortium, added: “Whilst we recognise the government’s desire for caution on encouraging workers back to offices, it is likely this will further push back the recovery for city centres and high streets where footfall remains almost a third lower than pre-pandemic levels.”
Leaders in the hospitality sector welcomed the announcement on Tuesday, but stressed the need for additional support for the industry – which has been hit by fluctuating restrictions throughout the pandemic.
“It is positive that we are to progress to Level 0, but the decision to maintain a curfew is hugely disappointing and will exacerbate the financial difficulty many hospitality businesses find themselves in,” said Emma McClarkin, the chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association said.
“The sector has suffered the brunt of the restrictions for over a year now and this last-minute change is another blow to the trade. The Scottish Government must look at reversing this decision or allocate further economic support to the businesses impacted.”
While Colin Wilkinson, the managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) called for the extension of current support schemes.
Despite being optimistic about how the changes would impact some licensed businesses, Mr Wilkinson the decision to maintain one metre social distancing in pubs would make it tougher for smaller venues, while venues such as nightclubs were “no further forward”.