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Lockdown review

Allow ‘ready and able’ firms to resume work, says CBI

Tracy Black

Tracy Black: businesses should be encouraged to return (pic: Terry Murden)

Businesses that are ‘ready and able’ to meet social distancing guidelines should be allowed to return to work, says the CBI.

After First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said restrictions would remain in place for some time, CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said a phased return would help protect jobs and the economy.

The First Minister unveiled a framework for exiting the coronavirus lockdown, but said restrictions were likely to last until the end of this year and probably for longer.

Businesses acknowledged the need to put public health first, but also said measures are already being exercised by some companies to protect employees.

Ms Black said the CBI “recognises that the lifting of lockdown must be phased and put public health first, but where firms are ready and able to meet social distancing requirements, they should be encouraged to return to operations to protect jobs and the economy.

“Supporting businesses to prepare for a ‘new normal’ is welcome and will allow many SMEs to re-open their doors and help re-start the economy.

We are now confident that we have clear plans and processes in place

Pete Redfern, Taylor Wimpey

“The UK and Scottish governments must work in lockstep to ensure the lifting of restrictions is done in an effective and coordinated manner, while listening to and acting on evidence provided by businesses to inform decisions and timetables.”

Her comments came as house builder Taylor Wimpey said it was planning to resume work on some sites on 4 May, though only in England and Wales as Scotland has banned work on all non-essential construction sites.

The company’s chief executive Pete Redfern said: “We are now confident that we have clear plans and processes in place so we can safely start back on site in a phased way beginning on 4 May.”

Trade union Unite Scotland has demanded that all non-essential construction sites remain closed in Scotland to keep construction workers and their families safe. Unite has repeated its call following a virtual meeting involving its leading construction representatives across Scotland.

The union said it has been inundated with reports of construction work continuing at non-essential sites and workers having to use public transport or shared transport in order to comply with employer requests or face losing wages. 

Aston Martin Lagonda also plans to resume work at its new plant in South Wales.

David Lonsdale

David Lonsdale; ‘retailers will be ready;’ (pic: Terry Murden)

The company announced that it will resume operations at its St Athan facility, following guidelines from Public Health Wales and Public Health England to protect its workforce.

It said it will take “learnings in terms of health and safety” into account when it reopens its main car plant in Gaydon, Warwickshire, at a later date.

Jaguar Land Rover said it would resume production gradually at its factory at Solihull and at its engine manufacturing plant in Wolverhampton from 18 May. It will also reopen its facilities in Slovakia and Austria.

DIY chain B&Q has confirmed it has now reopened 155 of its UK stores as lockdown measures remain in place. After a trial at 14 stores at the weekend, 61 outlets reopened on Wednesday and another 80 on Thursday.

B&Q has introduced “social distancing controls”, such as capping the number of customers in-store.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Many of our members in pharmacy and grocery are already operating safely and responsibly in this new environment, investing significantly in social distancing and other health and hygiene measures and adhering to government advice in order to protect staff and customers. 

“When the time is right, retailers will be ready to safely reopen and help get the economy moving again.”

Scottish Conservatives leader Jackson Carlaw said a phased return for non-essential services, enabling thousands to return to work, should be considered.

Ms Sturgeon said today that restrictions would remain in place for some time as she unveiled a framework for exiting the coronavirus lockdown.

Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon: ‘starting a discussion’

It did not include a date for lifting the social distancing measures, but aimed to “start a grown-up conversation” around balancing the need for measures to stop the spread of the virus with a widespread desire to return to “a level” of normal life.

She said restrictions were likely to last until the end of this year and probably for longer.

“A return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future,” she said in her daily briefing.

“Big gatherings and events are likely to be off for some months to come.”

She said it is likely some form of shielding will be required for the old and vulnerable and said ideas being looked at for schools included dividing pupils into small groups and attending on alternate weeks.

“We are increasingly confident that measures we are taking now are suppressing the virus,” she said.

She unveiled the government’s next steps towards tackling the virus contained in a document, COVID-19: A Framework for Decision-Making.

It outlines how the Scottish government will determine the steps required to constrain the spread of the virus while minimising overall harm to health, society and the economy.

It also recognises that new ways of living – effectively a “new normal” – may have to be in place for some time to come.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Today I am seeking to start a grown up conversation with the public about the complex decisions that lie ahead of us as we look beyond lockdown.

Grassmarket and pigeon

Restrictions will stay in place (pic: Terry Murden)

“As we have done all along, we will seek to inform the public with the best scientific advice possible, but the science will never be exact and we are in uncharted territory so we also need to make careful judgements and be prepared to adapt and change course as we go.

“We want to ease restrictions, but we cannot rule out having to reapply them should the virus run out of control.

“It is only when we are sure the virus is under control that we can even start to ease any of the restrictions because the virus will not have gone away.

“As we start to lift the restrictions, the real risk is that COVID-19 runs rampant again so a return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future.

“What we will be seeking to find is a new normal – a way of living alongside this virus, but in a form that keeps it under control.

“Physical distancing and limiting our contacts with others will be a fact of life for a long time to come – certainly until treatments and ultimately a vaccine offer different solutions. But if we all keep doing the right things, there will be a way through – and we will find it, together.”

The UK Government is also under pressure to lift some of the lockdown measures to prevent economic meltdown.

Conservative MPs have called for an easing of restrictions, while the hospitality sector has warned that many bars and restaurants are unlikely to reopen even if there is a limited lifting of the lockdown.

CBI demands quicker support

The CBI has demanded that ministers beef up help for businesses in a “race against time” to save jobs and livelihoods.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI’s director-general, said government intervention had already saved millions of jobs but that a “new wave of support” was needed.

It came hours after figures showing £2.8bn has been advanced to struggling small and medium-sized businesses under a Treasury-backed scheme – which has been criticised for being too slow.

More than 16,000 loans have been approved under the scheme but that compares to an estimated 300,000 companies that have expressed an interest.

Carolyn Fairbairn

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn: race against time

It wants to see faster and simpler access for smaller firms to loans worth less than £25,000 as well as an increase in the government guarantee from 80% to 100% for loans up to £500,000 under the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS).

The business lobby group also wants companies to be given more time to pay back such loans.

Dame Carolyn said: “We need another big push to get money out the door faster.

“This is a race against time, and the only winning strategy is scale, speed and simplicity.

“The Treasury, British Business Bank and lenders deserve huge credit for their speed and ambition so far. The millions of jobs they have saved today are vital livelihoods protected for the future.

“But with the lockdown extended there is no room to pause. The financial strain on some businesses cannot be underestimated.”

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