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Donald MacLeod: Sunshine and showers but two-metre rule is a big black cloud over our hopes for recovery

© PAA two metre marker
A two metre marker

The last few days have seen my mood change like the weather we’ve been “enjoying”. I’ve been veering from hot to cold, sunshine to showers, in the space of minutes, never mind hours.

Even when there has been relatively good news worth celebrating, like Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing’s midweek announcement that the Scottish Government plans to allow hotels, self-catering accommodation and campsites, as well as some pubs, restaurants, cinemas and galleries, to reopen from the middle of July, it has been hard to raise a smile, let alone a glass of my favourite plonk.

Sadly, though, for many businesses, large and small, this important news has arrived too late, particularly for thousands of the 220,000 employed in this vital sector. Last week the Crieff Hydro Group, owners of seven rural hotels, including the world-famous resorts of Crieff Hydro, Peebles Hydro and Ballachulish Hotel, gave notice that 224 staff face redundancy at the start of August. A shattering blow.

On the very same day Mr Ewing made his announcement, Macdonald Hotels announced that, due to a collapse in income, it had sent 2,299 consultation notices to its employees and could be forced to slash 1,800 jobs. And that is just the tip of a huge iceberg that has just crashed into our economy.

Deal or no deal, furloughed or not, open or shut, more than 40,000 jobs are expected to go in the hospitality and tourism sector alone in the coming months. Based loosely on figures supplied by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) of 628,000 Scottish employees currently on the job retention scheme, it is anticipated 150,000 of them will lose their jobs, before or after, the scheme runs out at the end of October.

Marc Crothall, the extremely hard-working chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, a veritable master in the art of the Zoom conference call, said of the announcement that it “marks a hugely positive milestone in our road to recovery”.

And I totally agree with him on that point. It will be, especially for Scots who can afford a summer staycation and are lucky enough to find somewhere that’s open and able to safely accommodate them. However, as ever, and particularly so in these dark times, the devil is in the detail.

And here the detail is still very patchy, and will be until the Nicola Sturgeon’s formal review is announced next week. But one thing that sadly won’t be up for review – but should be, given that it’s the main obstacle preventing all businesses, from all sectors, opening and returning to some form of normality – is the two-metre social-distancing rule and the Scottish Government’s refusal, despite the infection rate falling, to remove it or even reduce it to the WHO recommendation of one metre.

The longer social distancing and restrictions on people’s movements remain in place, the longer it will take for society to shake off the lockdown blues and the longer it will take for the economy to recover and avoid a catastrophic depression.

Let us hope, our weather, my mood and the economic prospects for my industry all take a sunnier turn soon.