Aberdeen’s council and business leaders have spoken of their disappointment at level two measures being imposed on the city with it dubbed as a move towards a “winter of discontent”.
Both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire has been placed in level two of the Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework which will begin on Monday.
It was hoped the region would be included under level one, as the number of positive coronavirus cases is lower than many other local authorities across Scotland.
However, the decision of the Scottish Government to place both local authorities under tier two has been met with huge disappointment from Aberdeen City Council’s co-leaders Jenny Laing and Douglas Lumsden.
The pair blasted the transparency of the government around the allocation of the levels, after they said public health evidence showed Aberdeen should be placed in level one.
Ms Laing said: “We are bitterly disappointed that Aberdeen has been placed into level two, because the public health evidence shows we should be in tier one.
“It’s evident that the whole system isn’t as transparent as the government is trying to point out.
“It’s evident even more when you look at South Lanarkshire and North Lanarkshire which should be in tier four, but the Scottish Government have chosen to put them into level three, showing the central belt bias as they didn’t lock down Glasgow and the surrounding area quickly enough.
“I worry that if areas are put into more strict measures than are absolutely necessary people will have restriction fatigue, people will become disillusioned and start breaking rules, and that would be disastrous for us all.”
Mr Lumsden added: “This decision by the Scottish government is simply unacceptable for the city of Aberdeen and it is disgraceful that once again Aberdeen is being treated shabbily by the Scottish government. How south and north Lanarkshire can be in tier 3 whilst Aberdeen remains in tier 2 shows once again central belt bias against Aberdeen.
“It is clear that Scottish ministers have not acted in good faith and have changed the guidance to suit Glasgow and the central belt.
“We will be looking at these tier levels speaking to citizens and businesses to see if the tier in which Aberdeen has been set by ministers can be re-looked at given the facts from the framework.”
The level each region has been placed into will be reviewed every Tuesday, and then be implemented on Friday.
The next review date is set for November 10.
Ms Sturgeon has not ruled out another national lockdown as she urged compliance with the restrictions being implemented – and urged people not to travel into areas at a higher level than their own.
Meanwhile, a business chief has said the measures are taking the region backwards, and that the economy must be allowed to safely reopen following the damage caused by August’s localised lockdown.
Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “All of the language in the documents is around how and why to move places up tiers but not down. They talk only about ‘reducing transmission of’, not ‘learning to live’ with the virus. The five indicators for allocating restriction levels still relate exclusively to testing, transmission and future acute care needs with no clarity given on how these are weighted leaving us with the sense of decisions still being subjective.
“This is in fact a blueprint to go backwards taking us into a winter of discontent. Other than passive mention of ‘adequately mitigating wider harms’, we see next to no acknowledgement of the fact that many businesses, livelihoods and our wider economy are in need of intensive care. Where are job losses, company failures and the rise in other physical and mental health conditions in the calculations? We need better balance now between the public and economic health impacts of this.
“Unemployment in the city and the number of people receiving universal credit has more than doubled since March. At the same time, we have seen a significant decrease in job vacancies in the city, and, looking at potential redundancies, Aberdeen accounts for 35% of all Scottish notifications, some 6,400 jobs.
“Aberdeen initially emerged strongly from the controversial three-week full local lockdown in August with lessons learned and praise given by government and health agencies for measures taken putting us at the leading edge of best practice. So, our economy must be trusted and enabled to safely re-open before these figures get worse. Government must stop treating business as the problem and start working with it as part of the solution.”
Adrian Watson, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said: “Aberdeen Inspired won’t be alone in feeling disappointment that our city will sit in tier two of the new Scottish Government’s arrangements.
“Whilst we welcome this much called for framework and understand this will continue to be a dynamic situation, we feel Aberdeen’s current economic plight and relatively low instance of Covid-19 infection merited a tier one response as city businesses and public alike have overwhelmingly adhered to what has been expected of them.
“With footfall from March of this year well over 50% down on the same period last year, the city centre has never been so challenged and with current city unemployment figures and projected redundancies grabbing national headlines for all the wrong reasons, we feel a tier one placing will help mitigate some of the economic harm that this city is and will continue to endure for some time to come.”
Under Level 2 status time restrictions on hospitality will still apply – but alcohol will be permitted to be sold indoors with a main meal until 8pm. Outdoors the curfew would be extended to 10.30pm.
The relative easing of restrictions to allow the sale of alcohol with a main meal indoors, has brought relief for some, including Paul Mair, owner of Cafe Boheme in Aberdeen’s city centre.
He said: “It is a step in the right direction. It means I can have all my staff in place. We’ve retained all of our staff and I hope it moves to 10pm as soon as possible really.
“My job is to make sure all of my staff are safe and they will make sure my customers are safe. When the restrictions were at 6pm, I gave the staff two options: to go on furlough or for us or to come up with a concept to keep us open.
“My chefs came up with the idea of launching French afternoon teas and that’s now something we’ll use going forward. It has forced us to make decisions and now there’s a little bit more breathing room for the staff. We can now do the stuff we really enjoy doing like tasting menus and our a la carte offering.”
Meanwhile, George Mackenzie, general manager for S&G Aberdeen Limited which is responsible for city venues including Cheerz Bar, Bardots, Cotton Club and The Lounge Aberdeen, isn’t so happy about the new tier restrictions coming into play as he feels at a disadvantage in comparison to others.
He said: “I just feel a lot of the work done by the Scottish hospitality groups over the past few weeks has been ignored. From my point of view, we have a lot of regulars who will pop into the bar for one drink and then go home, they aren’t at any more risk than having a pint at a venue and then having a meal. This food stipulation really messes things up as none of our venues really do food.
Having invested heavily renovating the nightclub and bar Cheerz, George is at a loss in understanding what the future holds.
He added: “We invested a lot of money into making our venues really safe. It’s also very unfair as there’s a lot of places thriving right now as they have outdoor space or serve food. Their sales are probably the best they’ve been because the smaller independents maybe don’t have that and can’t open.
“We just spent a massive amount of money getting the bar and nightclub of Cheerz renovated and it is pretty much a new nightclub ready to go. The amount of money we have lost is probably around £100K.
“After the first lockdown we lost around £30K in stock and we’re away to go and do the same as I can’t open to sell the stock I have. It’s more loss that wasn’t necessary.”
After the announcement of which level local authorities would be placed in the first minister made a plea to Scots to “dig in and stick with it”, adding that success in suppressing the virus will lead to the easing of restrictions across the country.
“We are, as of now, making progress in Scotland,” she added.
“But cases are still rising and the situation we face is fragile. And across Europe the pandemic is accelerating.
“So I cannot rule out a move back to nationwide restrictions in the next few weeks, including at level 4.