Businesses suffering from the impact of Covid will get as much support as possible for as long as restrictions have to remain in place, Nicola Sturgeon has pledged.
The First Minister made the commitment as it emerged that Scotland’s economy shrunk by 1.9% in real terms over the first three months of this year – a larger fall than the 1.5% drop experienced by UK GDP.
The latest Scottish GDP figures came the day after Sturgeon confirmed the further relaxation of restrictions that had been planned for the end of June will “likely” have to be delayed for three weeks after a surge in cases of the virus.
Speaking to the National Economic Forum, Sturgeon acknowledged the “whole of the last 15 months has been really difficult and really disruptive”, adding that “many people have had to keep businesses closed for extended periods of time”.
While she said “we are not out of the woods on Covid”, she insisted the vaccination programme means “we are able to plan for recovery”.
The First Minister said: “Vaccination means that although the Delta variant maybe slowing our progress out of restrictions, I am really confident it will not stop that progress.
“I said yesterday that in all likelihood we won’t be able to move any parts of the country down to level zero as we had hoped would be the case.
“But notwithstanding that we are very firmly planning for how we can hopefully ease restrictions in the future, and I hope in the not too distant future, so over the course of this summer.
“I know that any delay in easing restrictions is frustrating, let me assure you it is frustrating for all of us after 15 long months of having to endure them.
“But I still expect – and this is the note of optimism I want to be very clear about today – that as vaccination reduces, as we believe it is, the direct health risk caused by Covid, we will be able to continue our route back to much, much greater normality than we have become accustomed to over this past year and slightly more than that.”
That message was echoed by finance and economy secretary Kate Forbes, who said that despite the problems caused by Covid “our minds are increasingly turning to recovery”.
She added: “We’re able to now lift our eyes, as it were, to the horizon, beyond the here and now and the immediate challenges.
“I hope, like each one of you, that one day restrictions will be a thing of the past and with those freedoms we will get the opportunity to restore and rebuild our economy.”
Her “mission”, she insisted, is to work to “create the best conditions for businesses to seize the opportunities” that come with recovery.