Coronavirus: Business leaders warn of lockdown 'catastrophe'

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The coronavirus lockdown could be a "catastrophe" for businesses in Scotland, industry leaders have said.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) said 40% of businesses had reported a drop-off of 90-100% of all revenues.

And nearly half predict their cashflow will only keep them afloat for between one and three months.

The SCC said its research suggested fears over the damage that is being inflicted across all levels of the economy were "growing by the day".

The group's president, Tim Allan, told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme there was "phenomenal pain being borne by Scottish businesses".

He called on the Scottish and UK governments to help as many firms as possible survive beyond the end of the lockdown.

Scaling back

Mr Allan said: "Businesses are closing now and will not reopen.

"Businesses are going to fail, livelihoods are going to be damaged - but they should not be damaged unnecessarily by us not get our planning right."

Mr Allan said the Scottish business community "absolutely recognises that governments in Holyrood and Westminster have done the right things and are doing the right things".

He said: "The priority for government is to protect people's lives and then subsequently protect their livelihoods.

"Businesses have responded very responsibly and very successfully in scaling back and allowing workers to self-isolate.

"But there needs to be planning within the government for bringing the economy back up again."

Desperate plea for an exit strategy

It's clear the coronavirus is already delivering a hammer blow to the economy. It's a major long-term threat to many employers and prosperity in Scotland.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce are saying four in 10 of the companies they've spoken to have seen their income fall to virtually nothing.

Businesses understand the reasons for lockdown but they want clarity. They want to know if police will use powers to stop workers travelling to work. They want clarity on the difference in opinion between Holyrood and Westminster about whether construction workers should stay on the job.

Above all, they are desperate for an exit strategy. We've barely started this lockdown and businesses are asking if there has been enough attention about the risks to people's lives from the economic price we're paying.

Are we ready for a lockdown that will destroy businesses that have been built up over many years?

Mr Allan said that businesses should be involved now in discussions over who can go back to work and when.

However, he warned they would feel the effects of the coronavirus lockdown "on a multi-generational" timescale.

He said: "We are looking at the possibility of mass levels of unemployment and an economic catastrophe if we don't prepare for the moment at which we are going to be able to release the pressure of the lockdown.

"I am not saying that is the universal return to work of every worker in the private sector.

"But there has to be a joint approach in working out, in granular detail, who can return and when.

"The government should be able to communicate that effectively through all means - even if that means a job-by-job, company-by-company statement on a website."