By First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon
The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge we have faced in our lifetimes and the measures we take to deal with it must reflect its magnitude.
Containing the virus has required an unparalleled response from Government. We have seen our way of life change overnight and all of us have a role to play in stopping the spread.
As many of you will be feeling acutely, the coronavirus crisis is two-fold. It is both a major public health emergency and a major economic emergency.
I recognise how tough it has been, and continues to be, for our business community. Our economy has been hit hard by the crisis and previously profitable businesses across Scotland have seen demand for their products and services dry up overnight, through no fault of their own.
I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to all of the businesses and their workers who are following the guidance. Whether you have adapted your business model to allow for working from home, or to those who have made the difficult decision to furlough employees, the decisions you have taken, whilst incredibly difficult, are saving lives.
I would also like to commend the essential sectors and their supply chains who are continuing to keep our country running.
In addition, I have been impressed by the many firms who have repurposed in order to support the national response – such as those producing PPE or hand sanitiser. We are seeing the best of Scottish business come to the fore and it’s this spirit of togetherness and innovation that can give all of us hope we will weather these darkest of times.
I am committed to working with the Scottish Chambers of Commerce to provide the support businesses need to deal with COVID-19 and its impacts. The economic recovery from coronavirus continues to be a top priority for this Government and we will take all possible steps to safeguard Scotland’s economic interests.
We are listening carefully to feedback and as a result, the Scottish Government is going further to address gaps in the UK support for people and businesses. We are delivering a strong package of funding for businesses worth approximately £2.3 billion. This includes almost £900 million of rates relief, and £1.3 billion in business grants being delivered in conjunction with local authorities.
I encourage you to visit https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/ to identify which of this support is available to you.
There can be no doubt that we will be dealing with the economic fallout from the pandemic for some time to come. We need to start looking ahead and you, our business community, are key to how we navigate this post-crisis world.
It will look very different and we need to be as prepared as possible for the challenges ahead. Easing restrictions will not mean returning to how things were before the virus. Physical distancing, hand hygiene, and other critical behaviours will be essential in each sector.
Our economic strategy moving forward will be based around a four-step plan: response, reset, restart and recover.
So far our response has been focussed on taking immediate action – to provide essential support to our health and social care services and to protect businesses, workers and household incomes from the immediate impacts of the health crisis.
The economic approach to the crisis has also involved thinking about how we support the economy to reset during the crisis period. This has enabled the mobilisation of industry to repurpose effectively, particularly to support our health response. It has also involved preparing guidance on safe operating, and what a safe restart will look like across the economy and what needs to be done to help businesses deliver this.
Together with industry sector leads and trade unions we are developing specific guidance to give assurance and confidence as closed businesses begin to re-open and restart economic activity, that they can do so safely.
The process of restarting the economy will only begin when both the health and scientific advice states it is safe to do so.
I have been clear, I do not want our economy to suffer for a minute longer than necessary and to support this restart, the Scottish Government has created the Economic Recovery Advisory Group, chaired by Benny Higgins. The group will be responsible for engaging with our business community and more widely with trade unions, local government, the third sector and environment agencies. They are tasked with bringing solutions to the table by the end of June that will help us to build a strong, green, wellbeing economy that is capable of recovering quickly.
Economic recovery will require a long-term vision and it is certain that we will emerge into a different economy with different business practices, markets and behaviours.
The ability of business and industry to innovate and to find different ways of working in this new environment will be critical in protecting public health and recovering economically. The Scottish Government is committed to working with you every step of the way as we adapt to this new normal.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, we were focused on making Scotland more green, fair and prosperous. This vision has not changed.
It is essential that we take the opportunity from the crisis and be radical in our recovery.
We will continue to invest in an inclusive, sustainable, wellbeing economy and progress towards our goal of net-zero.
Scotland will recover from these dark times and the Scottish Government is determined that we will emerge stronger and fairer with more opportunities for all of us.