Caithness businesses' concern as Nicola Sturgeon announces delay to decision on vaccine passport scheme extension
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A Caithness business leader remains concerned for local businesses after the First Minister said a decision would be made on whether to extend the vaccine passport scheme next week.
Speaking at Holyrood on Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon said her cabinet had been discussing the possibility, but wanted to wait to see if further evidence showed it was a necessary move.
She told the Scottish parliament that any potential extension of the scheme, along with any other measures deemed necessary, would come into force from December 6.
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce had warned earlier this week that a "backwards step" in Covid restrictions would put thousands of businesses across the country at risk.
A snap poll of nearly 700 companies revealed that many firms are struggling with existing measures – and that 24 per cent face severe financial consequences if vaccine passports and home working measures are widened.
Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of firms polled by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce Network are opposed to more restrictions, with 45 per cent already feeling that the measures currently in place are no longer justified.
Ms Sturgeon said: "We intend to take a final decision on this next Tuesday and publish an evidence paper this week. We are assessing current and projected uptake rates and looking at the option of providing negative test results (instead of vaccination status) and we are also considering if the expansion to more settings would be prudent.
"As yet we have not taken a decision to extend the reach of the scheme, but I can confirm in advance for business owners that the venues considered would be cinemas, theatres and some licensed hospitality – exemptions will remain for under 18s and for medical reasons and exclusion would also include for worship, weddings and funerals.
"All decisions must be motivated by a desire to get through a tough winter without bringing back restrictions on trade – if certification expansion can do this it would be irresponsible not to do it."
Trudy Morris, the chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said businesses across the north Highlands would have breathed a sigh of relief that restrictions will not be immediately extended.
“The current restrictions continue to prove extremely burdensome for businesses across many sectors and evidence from snap polling by Scottish Chambers of Commerce shows that almost 25 per cent would face immediate financial peril should any extension be put in place," she told the Caithness Courier.
“We were deeply concerned to hear that the Scottish Government continues to consider expanding the vaccine passport scheme to a wider range of hospitality venues.
"The festive period is crucial to the success and survival of these businesses and introducing additional restrictions at this time could sound the death knell for those who are already struggling to recover from the impact of previous measures.
"If any such expansion of the scheme is put into force, it must come with a substantial package of support for those businesses most affected.”
She also criticised the Scottish Government over its communication, after Ms Sturgeon announced that the £25 million business ventilation fund would open for applications next week.
“It is vital that Scottish Government communicates and consults closely with business communities over the coming weeks," Ms Morris said. "As those on whom the burden of restrictions will fall most harshly, business owners need to have their voices heard as part of the decision-making process. We also need the Scottish Government to communicate clearly and early on any future changes to regulations to ensure that businesses have plenty of time to prepare.
“The Covid-19 ventilation fund is a prime example of where the Scottish Government could do better in its communications with business. [Tuesday's] announcement by the First Minister of specific types of business which can apply is the first confirmation any of us have had of the potential scope of this fund.
"Given that it opens for applications next week – the first we have heard on timings also – that gives businesses very little time to prepare an application at what is for many the busiest time of the year."
The fund, announced in September, is aimed at improving ventilation in business premises to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
Small and medium-sized businesses such as restaurants, bars and gyms will be able to claim back costs of up to £2500 to undertake work such as the installation of carbon dioxide monitors and remedial improvement work to windows and vents.
Ms Sturgeon said: “All of these basic mitigation measures are really important at this stage but some of them are also valuable long-term investments. For example, better ventilation won’t just reduce the spread of Covid – it will also help reduce the spread of other airborne viruses, now and in the future.”
More information on eligibility for the fund has been published on the Find Business Support website.