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Concern is growing over the possible impact of the new nationwide coronavirus lockdown on the traditional Easter start of the summer tourism season in Lochaber and the islands, a national organisation for businesses in the Highlands and Islands says.
The Federation of Small Businesses’ Highlands and Islands Development Manager David Richardson told the Lochaber Times the seriousness of the situation in which Scotland now finds itself was extremely worrying.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed to the Scottish Parliament last week that there would be a new nationwide lockdown until February 1.
Mr Richardson said, while the Covid vaccination programme is thankfully under way, it looked like the latest severe restrictions on activities announced to curb the spread of the new variant would be in place for some time.
And he added: ‘Clearly, Lochaber’s high dependency on tourism and hospitality makes the restrictions no less painful for businesses to bear here than anywhere else in the country. Covid has blown what would have been a good winter season apart and now there are concerns for the traditional Easter start to the main summer season.
‘If ever there was a time for businesses to receive comprehensive, easy-to-access financial support and crystal clear advice it is now and this includes businesses that have received little or nothing in the way of support to date: the forgotten.
‘Announcing new schemes is one thing; getting the cash into businesses’ pockets is quite another. Log jams must be removed and the process speeded up.
‘But it doesn’t stop there. Closing schools and nurseries undermines the foundations of local economies, placing huge strain on working parents who must juggle childcare with often extremely taxing jobs.
‘While we know Lochaber’s small employers will be as flexible as possible, this change heaps pressures on workers and firms and ministers must find workable solutions.’
Asked to comment, Lochaber constituency MSP Kate Forbes said businesses across the Highlands had already been hit hard and these latest national full lockdown restrictions will cause concern for businesses still reeling from the switch to tier four rules just days earlier on Boxing Day.
‘We’ve been able to enjoy a lot more freedom than much of Scotland for the past few months so it is a much tougher jump to Level 4,’ said Ms Forbes about the initial switch of Highland region into tier four on Boxing Day.
‘There is financial support available, through the Strategic Framework Business Fund, that has been open since November, and pays grants of up to £3,000 every four weeks in arrears for businesses required by law to close or modify operations.
‘Separately, we have also decided to provide a one-off top up for retail, hospitality and gyms as the festive period is often the busiest time for such businesses.
‘Payments for the last four weeks were paid before Christmas and £12 million has been given to local authorities to help accelerate the distribution of grants in the next four weeks.’
Ms Forbes told the Lochaber Times she did not dispute how difficult a time this was for local businesses or for elderly residents of care homes who had not hugged loved ones for 10 months.
‘It is difficult for family members who could not travel across borders to spend Christmas or New Year together. It is difficult for those who cannot attend a funeral or a wedding due to the limits on numbers,’ she added.
‘It is an impossible, heart-breaking situation for all of us and no amount of compensation or financial support will make up for the lost income, grief and separation wrought by the virus.’
NO F24 David Richardson – FSB – 1 (2)
Extra pics: Lochaber constituency MSP Kate Forbes. NO F35 KATE FORBES 02
The Federation of Small Business (FSB)’s Highlands and Islands Development Manager, David Richardson. NO F24 David Richardson – FSB – 1 (2)