Coronavirus: Retailers call for reopening date for Scots shops

By Jamie McIvor
BBC Scotland

  • Published
Buchanan St GlasgowImage source, PA Media

A date must be set for shops to reopen, the trade association has said.

The Scottish Retail Consortium has called for the Scottish government to announce a provisional reopening date.

The Scottish government said its total package for businesses during the "unprecedented economic crisis" was now in excess of £2.3bn.

Only essential shops such as those selling essentials including food and medicine can open in Scotland at present.

So-called "non-essential shops" in Northern Ireland, such as clothes shops and bookshops, are now open again and a full range of shops in England can open again from Monday.

The SRC is concerned about the ongoing economic impact of the lockdown and worried that after shops in England start reopening, the problems for retailers here might grow.

On 23 March all shops other than essential retailers including food stores and chemists were ordered to close as the UK entered lockdown.

Ewan Macdonald-Russell of the SRC said: "We really need an indicative timetable so we can put the right measures in place so we're ready to trade and customers can have a bit of confidence when they can come back to shops and get the products we're all hoping they'll want to buy."

Mr Macdonald-Russell stressed he did not want shops to reopen until it was safe.

From Monday the vast majority of shops in England will be able to reopen although some such as hairdressers will remain closed for now. In Northern Ireland, they reopened on Friday.

No date has been set yet for the reopening of shops in Wales but it is hoped they may be able to start welcoming customers again within a fortnight.

The Scottish government has published a route map to lead the country out of lockdown including different measures which can be taken at different stages. These include stages where smaller shops and then large shops might reopen.

No dates are attached to the phases themselves and the government has indicated the move between phases could be gradual - with certain sectors or aspects of life at different phases of the return.

The next government review of the lockdown measures is due on Thursday.

Don't 'presume too much about the future'

The Scottish government said: "We have a review point on Thursday at which time we will consider further, safe progression through the route map.

"Our total package for businesses during this unprecedented economic crisis now exceeds £2.3bn. This support, which is under constant review, includes almost £900m of non-domestic rates relief and a £1.3bn business grants scheme.

"Importantly, we have extended the eligibility criteria for our small business and retail, hospitality and leisure grants and we have extended the upper threshold for retail, hospitality or leisure properties with individual rateable values of up to £18,000 each.

"We have also published workplace guidance to support the retail sector's return to trading."

The Scottish government's National Clinical Director Prof Jason Leitch told BBC Scotland he was hopeful there could be good news for retailers soon.

Prof Leitch said: "We've tried to avoid as far as possible indicative dates because we don't want people to presume too much about the future."

Provisional dates have been set for the reopening of businesses such as hotels and the return of children to school. These are 15 July and 11 August respectively.

Prof Leitch added: "Shops will be part of our conversation this week as we move towards hopefully phase two of the route map on Thursday and Friday and conversations around next weekend."

Image source, PA Media

Retailers argue they would like a provisional date for a number of practical reasons. These include preparing shops for social distancing measures, bringing back staff and planning sales promotions.

There is a concern in areas close to the Scottish border that customers might head to shops in, for example, Carlisle or Newcastle if there is no indication soon of a reopening date.

However, shoppers doing this would contravene the Scottish government's advice on non-essential travel.

Retailers also fear that keeping shops closed for longer will simply drive more customers to the internet and lead to more empty units on the high street.

If shops were given little notice of a reopening date it could also be problematic. For instance, some may not be able to reopen for a number of days while they put social distancing or protective measures in place.

While shops want customers to return, some would be anxious about the prospect of large queues on the day they reopened.

Social distancing is likely to mean only a certain number would be allowed in at any one time. Some shops would hope some customers might shop at what are normally the quieter times of the week to help prevent queuing and spread out business.