Forth Road Bridge: 'More certainty' needed over reopening
Small firms could struggle to survive unless there is greater certainty about when the Forth Road Bridge will reopen, a business group has warned.
The bridge is due to reopen in the new year after repairs to its structure are completed.
But small firms are worried banks may restrict their access to finance unless it is clearer when it will reopen.
Transport Scotland said the "absolute priority" was to get the bridge reopened "as quickly as possible".
On Friday it announced a travel plan easing restrictions on a priority route for HGVs and buses close to the Kincardine Bridge.
It means vans and other light goods vehicles will be allowed to use the A985 priority corridor between Rosyth and Kincardine while the Forth Road Bridge remains closed.
Engineers have been working around the clock on the bridge, but they have warned that progress is "vulnerable to weather conditions".
The bridge was shut completely on 4 December after a crack was found in a truss end link member at the North Tower.
The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland (FSB) welcomed the easing of restrictions on the A985, but said hospitality and retail businesses on either side of the Forth Road Bridge still needed "some certainty" about when it would reopen.
The group said it based its concerns on its experience in Edinburgh, when small firms whose cash flow was hit during the construction of the city's tram system found it very hard to access financing from banks.
'Some certainty needed'
FSB head of external affairs for Scotland, Colin Borland, said: "The closure could not have come at a worse time because many businesses in hospitality and retail in particular depend on a strong December to pay for the dead months of January and February.
"It doesn't take a significant lack of cash to kill businesses that don't have large reserves, so I think the priority has to be dealing with short-term difficulties.
"The lack of certainty makes it more difficult for banks to provide finance because they don't know how long it will be before the bridge will reopen."
He added: "We completely understand that we will not be able to get a 100% concrete date for the reopening, but if we don't want to turn this temporary closure into a permanent damage to the economy, then we need to get some certainty about when the bridge is going to open and on what basis."
Some businesses in the vicinity of the bridge also expressed concern that they might lose staff if the repair work went on for too long.
Rowland Thomson, general manager of Craigie's Farm Deli and Cafe in South Queensferry, said eight members of staff were having to travel from the north to get to work.
He said: "The danger is that if [the reopening of the bridge] is left open-ended, or looking like six months or so, a lot of staff...would find it so difficult to get to work that they end up looking for alternative arrangements - a new job, perhaps closer to home across the bridge.
"That would be a real shame."
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "We are acutely aware that this is a very challenging time, especially for small firms.
"Ministers have been clear from the outset that the absolute priority is to get the bridge reopened as quickly as possible - to all vehicles. Engineers are working round the clock to make this happen.
"We have already secured a relaxation of the enforcement of drivers' hours and working time rules. Together with bus and freight priority measures, this will also help mitigate impacts on businesses transporting goods and people."
He added: "The FSB has welcomed the refreshed travel plan and the decision to relax restrictions on the A985 corridor and we will continue to engage with the business community and listen and respond to their feedback."