Council chiefs and business leaders have written to the first minister calling for Aberdeen to be lowered to level one status at the next review of the five-tier lockdown structure.
Both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have been placed in level two status, and the letter says moving down a level would help the region “mitigate the economic harm” caused, particularly by the localised lockdown the city was placed under in August.
It has been penned by Aberdeen City Council co-leaders Jenny Laing and Douglas Lumsden, alongside Frank Whitaker, chairman of the Aberdeen City and Shire Hotels Association; Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce; Adrian Watson, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired; Stuart McPhee, chairman of Aberdeen Hospitality Together and David Groundwater, development manager of the Federation of Small Businesses.
The letter urges the Scottish Government to place Aberdeen into level one at the nearest possible review point, while setting out an indicative date for when it expects the city to be able to move to level 0.
It asks for businesses moving between levels to be alerted as soon as possible so they can prepare, and that a refreshed route map should be created to focus on resolving “key challenges which are creating serious economic harm.”
The letter,states: “We have all been working together as partners in response to Covid-19, trying to minimise the extent of economic harm to the city as a result of the virus. We understand the need for health protection levels to be identified as part of the on-going response to the pandemic, and welcome the corresponding public health interventions provided by the Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework for each health protection level.
“However, we feel that the approach adopted by government does not in practice give equal consideration to the four harms outlined in the framework. Aberdeen has experienced a greater extent of economic harm due to the city lockdown in the summer and recently published data suggests that we are seeing some concerning trends in terms of our local economy. Economic harm should be seen as a significant factor in decision making around the levels.”
It also states that Aberdeen and its businesses have complied with regulations and have implemented measures to ensure the economy could continue to operate while also focusing on safety and social distancing.
As a result, the leaders say footfall was beginning to rise in the city following on from the national lockdown in July, prior to localised restrictions.
The letter adds: “However, the city was then placed under a local lockdown for three weeks in August and average footfall levels fell to around 50% of June/ July levels, and the food and drink sector lost the benefits of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme operating at that time.
“The hotel sector is struggling to get revenues back to levels even prior to local lockdown, and that initial pipeline demand has not returned. Accommodation bookings and wider spend depend on travel from different regions of Scotland, the UK and internationally, and city centre hotel demand is predominantly driven by business travel.
“Unemployment in the city has more than doubled between March and September, and the number of people receiving universal credit assistance has more than doubled to more than 17,000 people.
“At the same time, we have seen a significant decrease in the total number of job vacancies in the city, and, looking at notified potential redundancies, the city accounts for 35% of all Scottish notifications, some 6,400 jobs.
“Our concern is these levels are more than four times that of Edinburgh and six times that of Glasgow; the impact is apparent across sectors, and we are seeing a significant proportion in hospitality.
“All of this has an impact on confidence and the messaging of Aberdeen as an international business location. We are concerned about the legacy effects on the city and the economic harm beyond the immediate challenges we face, and particularly the impact on lower income households. As a matter of urgency, we need to send a signal of confidence in Aberdeen to businesses – within the city region, and to UK and international business and investors.”
Desire for speedier progress understandable but these decisions have been taken carefully. We are at a crucial moment & it will take work in coming weeks to maintain progress & not have to return to the stricter restrictions many other countries are facing. Compliance is vital. https://t.co/K29MsorGM8
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) October 29, 2020
In a tweet responding to the letter the first minister said: “Desire for speedier progress understandable but these decisions have been taken carefully. We are at a crucial moment & it will take work in coming weeks to maintain progress & not have to return to the stricter restrictions many other countries are facing. Compliance is vital.”