Scottish car retailers will have to wait a further 11 days before re-opening their showrooms after Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlined phase two of COVID-19 lockdown easing north of the border.
The Scottish Government revealed that phase two of its re-opening plan would see on-essential retail outlets allowed to open their doors to customers for the first time since mid-March on June 29 in an announcement made this lunch time (June 18).
Sturgeon said: “From 29 June retail premises of all sizes can re-open, but only if they have outdoor entrances and exits.
“I am afraid that for the time being, indoor shopping centres will remain closed, except for access to essential shops such as supermarkets and pharmacists.”
Yesterday (June 17), AM reported that many Scottish car retailers had expected an exemption for showrooms, allowing them to re-open ahead of many other retail sector outlets.
Arnold Clark chief executive, Eddie Hawthorne, was among them. He said: “I think the Scottish Government realise that there was an exemption to be had there.
“The truth is that we have plenty of space in which to social distance, we don’t get the footfall of other retail sector businesses and half our business – the aftersales element – has already been re-opened anyway, so all our health and safety measures have already been implemented.”
Sturgeon acknowledged the frustration of certain businesses in her speech. She said: “We will feel frustrated at times, if that journey seems too slow. That is true for individuals – and also, I know, for business.
“The impact of this crisis on businesses, large and small, is colossal and we all want the economy to re-open as quickly as possible.
“But if – as I believe is the case – frustration, leading to a premature easing of too many restrictions, is our biggest risk right now, it is equally true that patience could reap our biggest rewards.”
Scottish car dealers were left frustrated by delays to Scotland’s reopening plans, along with a reported lack of clarification on trading guidelines and a schedule for a route out of lockdown, after England’s car retailers re-opened their showroom doors on June 1.
English retailers, including Vertu Motors chief executive, Robert Forrester, and Swansway Garages director, Peter Smyth, were among those who told AM that they had been encouraged by signs of pent-up demand entering their businesses as they return to trading proper over a fortnight ago.
But Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA) chairman, Sandy Burgess, said he feared that the politics of COVID-19 North of the border will cost car dealers financially and result in disproportionate job losses across the UK’s devolved regions.
Speaking to AM in the week starting June 1, Burgess told AM that Scottish car retailers, and the economy, stood to lose out due to the disparity between COVID-19 policy across the UK’s devolved nations in a week that saw dealers in England re-open their showroom doors to customers.
“We have been left in a political situation and that shouldn’t be the case,” said Burgess. “This is a health crisis first and foremost, then an economic crisis. The last thing COVID needs to be turned into is a political crisis.”
Speaking at the time, he added: “Our members have been put in a position where they cannot even plan for a return to showrooms trading as their English counterparts start to ramp-up their operations.
“It’s short-sighted and I fear it will cost the sector economically and in the form of jobs.”
In a response to a letter written by the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) regarding legislation to permit click and collect car sales during lockdown, Fiona Hyslop MSP oulined detail of the Scottish Government’s plan for easing lockdown last month.
She wrote: “This guidance states that retailers may open up to 800 m2 of their sales area, permitting some larger retail outlets such as car showrooms to re-open in Phase 2. Retail units larger than 800sq-m will be permitted to open in Phase 3.
“Each business will need to translate this guidance into the specific actions it needs to take depending on the nature of their business (i.e. the size and type of business, how it is organised, operated, managed and regulated).
“Our guidance has been designed to be applied to cover the spectrum of different retailers in Scotland and we have prepared an operational guide for retailers which includes a downloadable checklist with actions to consider.”
Hawthorne suggested that the main issue with the Scottish Government’s approach to easing lockdown measures for car showrooms had seen their inclusion among other retail businesses, such as high street stores and shopping malls.
Responding to the suggestion that the re-opening policy north of the border seems to contradict a sense that larger retail facilities make social distancing easier, he said: “The issue remains the classification of car dealerships.
“The size policy, I think, boils down to the fact that the initial re-openings will exclude large shopping malls. What the Government don’t want to see is people flocking back to those kinds of places.”
He added: “Early-on, Government’s handling of the crisis, it’s response, was exemplary. As time’s gone on it’s become apparent that its communication could have been far clearer.”