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'Sword of Damocles' warning as Caithness Chamber of Commerce chairman calls for clear roadmap out of pandemic


By Alan Hendry

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Stephen Sutherland: 'Businesses not only need to have an input into the decision-making process but a clear understanding of how, why and when restrictions might change.'
Stephen Sutherland: 'Businesses not only need to have an input into the decision-making process but a clear understanding of how, why and when restrictions might change.'

Caithness business leader Stephen Sutherland has said the hospitality sector will welcome the news that there is to be no extension of the Covid certification scheme – but warned that many companies are continuing to operate with the "Sword of Damocles" hanging over them.

He was speaking after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave her Covid-19 update to the Scottish Parliament this afternoon.

Mr Sutherland, the chairman of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said: “Businesses across the north Highlands, particularly those in the hospitality sector, will be pleased to hear that no further extension of the Covid certification scheme is being proposed at this stage.

"The festive period is vital to the success and survival of the beleaguered hospitality sector and it is vital that the Scottish Government continues to consider economic as well as health impacts as part of its decision-making process going forward.

“The First Minister promised that the Scottish Government will continue to liaise with businesses, and we welcome this. Businesses not only need to have an input into the decision-making process but a clear understanding of how, why and when restrictions might change either for better or worse so that we have time to prepare.

"It is not fair that many businesses continue to operate with the Sword of Damocles hanging over them – aware that, despite today’s further temporary reprieve, harsher restrictions may come into force at very short notice.

“It seems clear from today’s update that the vaccination programme is proceeding well and that Scotland’s battle against Covid is progressing significantly better than in many of our European neighbours.

"What we now need to see is a clear roadmap from the Scottish Government of a route out of the pandemic and a plan for the reduction and removal of restrictions and towards our economic recovery.”

Mr Sutherland added: “Today’s announcement represents a major win for the Scottish Chambers of Commerce network. Following a snap poll of nearly 700 companies across Scotland last week, the chamber network has worked hard to present the views of business on this vital issue, and we are pleased that the First Minister has listened to the concerns of the business community.”

The Federation of Small Businesses’ Highlands and Islands development manager, David Richardson, said: “Ripples of relief will be spreading throughout the Highlands’ many small, independent hospitality and leisure firms at this news.

"We know from our survey work how worried the owners of some of the businesses hit hardest by the pandemic – small cafés, restaurants and so on – were that an extension of the scheme would have put pressure on their staff and driven up costs, undermining their plans for the festive period.

“However, the First Minister is clearly right – citizens, government and businesses of all sizes have roles to play in keeping this virus under control, which is why we are urging all smaller firms to look again at the current Covid rules and ask themselves if they’re playing their part to the full.”

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