Lockdown restrictions are “devastating” for Aberdeen businesses, chiefs have said.
Last Wednesday further localised lockdown restrictions were implemented for Aberdeen, which included closing down bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as imposing a travel ban of five miles for travel for leisure and recreation purposes.
Now, calls have been made to assist hospitality businesses in the area.
It has been said many hospitality firms are “balanced on a knife edge.”
Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “The unfortunate rise in cases which led to these latest restrictions being put in place are devastating both for businesses in the city and for consumer confidence which had been starting to return. Our city centre is not closed for business with many retailers still open and government messaging and actions need to support this.
“The hospitality sector has been particularly hard hit in recent months with the survival of many SMEs balanced on a knife edge. Having come through the last four months and invested in safely reopening, through no fault of their own many venues are now facing existential challenges and the job losses that would follow. To be clear, none of the listed venues were found to have breached guidelines.
“They need detailed information now about local grant support as we saw in Leicester, with no rates related eligibility criteria, additional support through the job retention scheme for the duration and an extension of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme into September by the number of weeks lost.”
He added: “The Chamber has been saying for some time that people will be confident in returning to businesses that have clearly made reasonable adjustments. But there has to be an element of personal responsibility taken too. Behaviour that fails to accept that things are different for now doesn’t just risk people’s health but could spell the end of the line for some venues.
“It is not good that Aberdeen was the first major city in Scotland where these measures have been deemed necessary but it could easily have been somewhere else. So it’s important that all stakeholders learn the necessary lessons to ensure future responses are proportionate, that support measures are in place and communication is clear. It is it be hoped that the actions taken mean that we can reset then quickly and safely reverse these closures.”
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Meanwhile, MSP Maureen Watt has also asked the Scottish Government to consider additional support for businesses impacted by the lockdown, beyond the job retention scheme.
The Scottish Government has provided an estimated £62m to hospitality, retail and leisure in Aberdeen city as part of Covid-19 relief and £28m for small business support grants.
However, the additional impacts which may have been brought about by the restrictions are currently being looked at by the government.
Ms Watt said: “I am encouraged that case numbers in Aberdeen are decreasing and I am optimistic that the seven day review announcement will provide further clarity for residents and businesses as to the progress being made in tackling the outbreak.
“I’ve called for the impact of the lockdown on local businesses to be looked at and for additional support to be offered if necessary. I am also further encouraged that the Government is in dialogue with local businesses in light of these recent developments.”
A petition has also been created by a city centre restaurant in a bid to ensure Aberdeen can still benefit from the Eat Out to Help Out initiative.
It was created by Khalis Miah of Riksha Streetside Indian Restaurant, in Union Square.
A UK Government funded scheme, it gives diners a discount of 50% up to the value of £10 per person if they eat out at participating restaurants on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays throughout August.
It has been designed to encourage residents to visit establishments and dine indoors to boost the hospitality sector after several months of closures.
So far, almost 100 signatures have been raised on the petition, which hopes to get the UK Government to alter the timescale.
Khalis Miah of Riksha Streetside Indian Restaurant, said: “The Eat Out To Help Out scheme proved to be a successful incentive for diners to come out for eating.
“Businesses in the hospitality sector in Aberdeen experienced a real boost of confidence after a prolonged period of no income.
“Even before completing the first week, Aberdeen has been forced back into lockdown.
“We are now left with an uncertain future. I request all business community, families and friends to get involved and support this petition which could save a lot of independent businesses.”
The petition has been backed by north-east MSP Lewis Macdonald.
He said: “Many people who run restaurants and cafes in the city are really distressed about going back into lockdown mode, through no fault of their own. They have done well to survive so far, and all they want is for Eat Out to Help Out to help them out too.
“I hope many of the customers who love Aberdeen’s great cafes and restaurants will back the petition, and that Ministers in both Holyrood and Westminster will lend a helping hand.”
He has also written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him to reschedule the scheme in Aberdeen to start after local lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Speaking in Parliament, Cabinet Secretary Jeane Freeman, said: “There are impacts I recognise on businesses in the city because of the decisions that have been taken and the restrictions that have been imposed.
“I know there has been additional financial support to Aberdeen as to elsewhere in Scotland but I know that the economy secretary is speaking with local business organisations in the city to see if there is more they will do and I’m very happy to ensure she is aware of that petition and can take a view on how she might want to proceed.”
To sign the petition, click here.