finance

Glasgow Chamber calls for closer business-government engagement



A “much closer engagement” between government and business is required to mutually develop measures to ensure a safe return to work when lockdown is lifted.

Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, also said that economic support measures may have to continue longer in Scotland than in England if the Scottish and UK Governments continue to take differing stances on the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

While welcoming the Scottish Government’s  COVID19 – Framework for Decision-Making  document which outlines the factors that require consideration as we move to ease the lockdown, the Chamber chief executive said his members want to become involved and contribute directly to sectoral restart plans.

He said: “The Framework suggests the Scottish Government will issue updated guidance on the measures businesses will need to introduce to operate safely. I would suggest that guidance can only be the first step.

“There has to be a much closer engagement between government and business, mutually developing the measures and actively learning what works and what does not.

“Smaller businesses are especially vulnerable, often lacking the resources and expertise to apply the guidance.

“Some of the budgets allocated to Scotland’s economic development agencies should for the time being be redirected to a programme of direct support to SMEs to help implement effective social distancing.”

Now that the initial weeks of crisis response were evolving into longer term thinking, Patrick said a fresh perspective was required on how we plan to help businesses and jobs survive.

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He said: “Whenever there has been a suggestion that Scotland, or other parts of the UK, might operate different approaches to the gradual lifting of lockdown restrictions I have always asked what the corresponding economic support measures will be. Scottish jobs may now depend more on the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) than elsewhere in the UK.

“In mid-March we argued hard for such a scheme to be introduced and more recently for its extension for as long as the lockdown lasts.

“We’re now making the case that for as long as any businesses are told to stay closed the JRS will need to be operating for those businesses or unemployment will simply be delayed until the moment it stops.

“If Scotland chooses to stay in lockdown for longer or in a different manner than in the rest of the UK, we ask how the Scottish Government will arrange with the UK Government to extend the JRS as well. Otherwise more businesses and more jobs will disappear.”

“With a ‘new normal’ stretching out for months ahead the UK and Scottish Governments should be working together to consider how the financial support programme is redesigned to match such circumstances.”

Patrick said one of the most common issues raised by his members has been the Scottish Government’s greater hostility to businesses attempting to operate, notably in construction and manufacturing, and noted that some construction companies were now opening their sites in England while those in Scotland remained closed.

He said the publication of the Framework was a good time to reset the relationship.

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