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Highland businesses hoping easing of restrictions is just the start

By Scott Maclennan

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David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB.
David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB.

The easing of restrictions imposed before Christmas will do nothing to help small hospitality businesses across the Highlands according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said limits of 500 attending large outdoor events in Scotland will be lifted from Monday but organisers will have to check at least half those entering venues.

That is good news for large stadia and events but pubs and restaurants still have to have table service for alcohol and a one-metre distance rule while nightclubs had to close – or start operating like pubs.

Restrictions on indoor events and venues – 100 to standing events and 200 to seated – will remain in place at least until January 24.

The Scottish Government imposed the restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

The number of cases that was predicted fell short of government fears with 30,000 new cases daily instead of 50,000.

But that dealt a severe blow to hospitality over the festive season, while England, with fewer restrictions, suffered a lower infection rate than Scotland.

Conservative leader Douglas Ross said this was down to the Scottish people learning to live with the virus rather than the government.

Now the Scottish Government should put small companies at the heart of recovery after 20,000 firms went out of business over the pandemic.

Highlands and Islands development manager for the FSB, David Richardson, said: “Small Highland businesses will be fervently hoping that Scotland has turned a corner in the battle against the coronavirus, and that the announcement from the First Minister about the relaxation of some outdoor event rules is the beginning of the end of the current restrictions.

“For the fact is that Covid rules place a disproportionate burden on smaller operators, especially with regard to things like vaccine passports.

“So let’s hope that next week’s announcement goes further, for there was nothing to help the many small, local, independent hospitality firms that play such important roles in Highland communities’ lives like cafés, restaurants and pubs.

“Fingers crossed that Omicron is waning, that no new variants appear in 2022, and that trading conditions return to normal soon, but of course lifting the toughest Covid rules doesn’t mean that Scotland’s small business community will return to full strength overnight. Far from it.

“The trade lost over Christmas, combined with the debt accrued by firms over the length of the pandemic, will mean tough business decisions for many in the weeks and months to come.

“Now is the time for the Scottish Government to put local firms at the heart of its recovery plans, recognising that Scotland lost 20,000 small businesses in the first year of this crisis alone.”

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