Debt-laden Scottish businesses face a “never-ending hell” and “another lost summer” after the First Minister indicated a three-week setback in relaxing coronavirus restrictions, business groups have warned.
Extending restrictions without a corresponding increase in extra support cash would also be “unforgivable”, said the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The warnings come after Nicola Sturgeon said it was “unlikely” that any area would see restrictions eased on June 28 – the date it had been hoped all of Scotland would move into the lowest level of the tier system, Level zero.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the news will be “frustrating and painful for many Scottish businesses who were gearing up to make the most of a boom in summer trade over the coming weeks”.
She said: “Scottish businesses understand the need for restrictions to protect public health and it’s clear that the vaccine programme is the silver bullet that will facilitate the reopening of our economy.
“Any delay must be used to expand the vaccine rollout and deliver the crucial second doses that will move us out of lockdown restrictions faster.”
Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group, said: “This is a never-ending hell for hospitality workers and the businesses that employ them, especially those in the music and night-time sectors.
“However, if the Scottish Government is seriously going to consider better ways of managing our path through Covid, then we would welcome that.
“Now is the right time to revisit the practical suggestions we put forward several times at the government’s request, such as tweaking the tiers so it’s easier for responsible businesses to trade viably while still protecting people’s health.”
He called for politicians and decision-makers “to get out from behind their desks to understand how better policy decisions can work for everyone”.
Andrew McRae, the FSB Scotland policy chairman, warned “any unlocking delay comes with consequences for Scottish businesses and jobs”.
He said: “Hospitality and tourism firms face further weeks of restrictions which make it difficult to cover their overheads, never mind pay down their debts.
“We must remember that nightclubs, softplay centres and much of the events industry remain unable to trade at all.
“That’s why the bare minimum FSB expects is for state support to be proportionate to the scale of the restrictions.
“It would be unforgivable if governments in Edinburgh and London wound down the help on offer for firms while prolonging their difficulties.”
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association’s managing director Colin Wilkinson said: “The hospitality sector is at breaking point with today’s announcement that the brakes are on for further easing of restrictions.
“There needs to be an extension to the current support schemes available such as furlough, VAT reduction, deferral of loan repayments and so on.
“Our pubs and bars have already invested millions to provide a safe environment as we all learn to live with this virus and we need to be able to open without restrictions as soon as we can.
“Currently, we can only operate at around 30% of our capacity, but with increased staff costs to provide table service and fewer tables because of social distancing rules, most business continues to operate at a loss, racking up further debt every time they open the doors.
“For those still unable to open because of their size or the entertainment they provide, such as late opening premises and nightclubs, it is another devastating blow for an abandoned sector crippled by restrictions and with no route map out of the pandemic.”
Level zero, the lowest in Scotland’s five-tier system, is only currently in place in the island authorities of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, with all mainland areas having either Level one or Level two restrictions applied.
Relaxations have also been delayed in England, with the so-called Freedom Day of June 21 pushed back by four weeks to July 19.