Scots firms demand clarity

Johnson: ‘Go to work if you can’t work from home’

Strong resolve: Boris Johnson addressing the nation

Business leaders and politicians in Scotland demanded more clarification on Holyrood’s lockdown policy after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Britain’s workers to go to work “if you can’t work from home”.

In an address from Downing Street, he reiterated the need for firm measures to beat the coronavirus, while offering the first tentative steps towards easing the restrictions.

“This is simply not the time to end the lockdown,” he said, confirming a new five-point alert system.

“So, work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.”

This included “those in construction or manufacturing” who “should be actively encouraged to go to work.”

He urged people to avoid public transport, to walk or cycle, and to stick to the social distancing rules.

Mr Johnson acknowledged that different parts of the country are “experiencing the pandemic at different rates” and the government needed to be “flexible” in how it responded.

But, he added: “I believe that as prime minister of the United Kingdom – Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, there is a strong resolve to defeat this together.”

However, his comments on encouraging construction workers to return, and his softening of the stay at home guidelines were in stark contrast to advice in Scotland.

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In particular his shift in policy threatened to reignite calls in Scotland for construction and factory workers to be allowed to return to work.

Furthermore, from Wednesday people in England can take “unlimited exercise”, including sitting in their local park or driving to destinations for exercise, also against the advice in Scotland.

Business leaders called for a ‘road map’ for Scotland to avoid confusing the public and to ensure businesses north of the Border do not get left behind.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “We need clarity on when more sections of the economy are permitted to re-open in Scotland.

“We urge the Scottish Government to update their framework for decision making to set out a return to work, as soon as it is possible, so that businesses in Scotland do not fall behind their counterparts in England.

Liz Cameron

Liz Cameron: ‘There is a risk of confusion’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“There is also a risk that variations in the approach between the nations will inevitably cause confusion for business owners and employees.

“We recognise the unique balancing act of decision making our politicians are currently undertaking to reflect different conditions and data on the spread of the disease. However, if we don’t have clear line of sight out of lockdown, businesses will struggle to survive and struggle to protect livelihoods.”

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said “While the Prime Minister’s remarks confirm that there will be no immediate return to trading, they do provide retailers in England at least with a clearer path towards a phased re-opening of shops.

‘”Scottish retailers of all sizes and formats are working hard to get ready to re-open safely, putting in place the necessary social distancing and hygiene measures to protect customers and staff. What is needed now here in Scotland is visibility on the route out of lockdown and a sense of the likely timeframes.”

There was also concern among opposition parties. Scotland’s First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon claimed she first knew about the new Stay Alert slogan from reading it in the media.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “This statement raises more questions than it answers, and we see the prospect of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland pulling in different directions.

“The Prime Minister appears to be effectively telling millions of people to go back to work without a clear plan for safety or clear guidance as to how to get there without using public transport.

“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those.”

in Scotland over the growing divergence between England and Scotland and call for evidence as to why medical advice appeared to be different.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “We need to see the evidence and hear from the scientists as to what has changed.

Willie Rennie: the First Minister must explain what justifies a different message (pic: Terry Murden)

“The sudden change from the Prime Minister to abandon the stay at home message and to encourage people to go to work needs a full explanation if the public are to trust him and follow him.

“The route map to gradually release the lockdown has some merit but the milestones need further scrutiny.

“The First Minister has set out the differences with the guidance in England but she and her scientists need to explain whether Scotland is at greater risk, which justifies a different message.

“We have benefited from clear messages so far but that is about to change. The First Minister must now explain why this is necessary.

“People have sacrificed so much to get this far so it is incumbent upon us to get the next stage right. We need a rapid expansion of the testing capacity which is necessary for the next stage.”

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