As more retailers open...

Holyrood resistance to reopening business put to test

Praying for answers: Nicola Sturgeon deep in thought at today’s briefing

Scottish government resistance to reopening businesses was being tested tonight after the Northern Ireland executive announced that it will follow England and Wales and allow garden centres to open from Monday.

First minister Arlene Foster said updated medical advice meant the executive could now approve the “tentative first steps”. Recycling centres would also reopen.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today said there was no change to Holyrood’s policy to keep shops and construction sites closed, despite mounting pressure from house builders and retail groups to at least set out guidance for a return to work.

Responding to a question from Daily Business at today’s lunchtime briefing about a letter from 20 housebuilding company leaders, she said the Scottish government is working with the construction sector and others, but her priority was saving lives.

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She hinted that over the course of the next week the government will be looking at outdoor activity more generally, and specifically garden centres.

But she will be approaching the matter “carefully and cautiously”, she said.

“I know how important it is to get the economy up and running again,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon did not rule out easing the lockdown on a regional basis if some areas showed a low level of infection but she stressed that the government was not proposing that approach “at this stage”.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly said of today’s decision in Belfast: “We welcome this positive step to open another sector of retail to help keep jobs sustained, the economy going and to meet the needs of communities across Northern Ireland.”

UPDATE 15 May: The Horticultural Trades Association chairman, James Barnes, said: “We welcome the Northern Ireland Executive’s announcement that garden centres will be able to reopen from Monday.

“We are in peak season, so this news will be welcomed both by gardeners and the garden industry – providing an economic boost and enable access to the mental and physical well-being benefits that gardening brings.

“This now leaves Scotland as the last remaining country in the UK yet to announce garden centre reopening. The Scottish horticultural industry have been left at a competitive disadvantage relative to all other parts of the UK.

“Consumers in Scotland will be confused why garden centres cannot open in their local area. We have outlined to the Government that the industry has social distancing measures in place in order to reopen safely. They should now announce a reopening date as soon as possible.”

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