The National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) has said that the Scottish Government’s decision to postpone the re-opening of car showrooms will place jobs under “unnecessary economic risk.”
In a letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP the NFDA once again urged Ministers to consider an early exemption for the sector following the successful June 1 reopening of showrooms in England, followed by a June 8 re-opening in Northern Ireland and yesterday’s (June 22) re-start for Welsh businesses.
Scottish retailers were told last Thursday (June 18) that they would have to wait until June 29 – almost a month after their English counterparts – to welcome customers back to their showrooms after an 18-week COVID-19 lockdown.
NFDA director, Sue Robinson, said: “This unexpected delay means that our members will have incurred further substantial losses.
“NFDA recognises the need to protect the health and safety of citizens, but the automotive retail sector has addressed all concerns and was one of the first industries to develop tailored guidance to ensure that rigorous social distancing and hygiene rules will be respected at all times.
“The combination of low footfall, spacious retail footprint and strict and comprehensive industry guidelines means that showrooms are far safer for staff and customers than any other physical retail environment, including supermarkets and other essential retail segments that have been allowed to stay open throughout the crisis.
“Showrooms in Scotland are already prepared, with all the protective screens, sanitisers, equipment and social distancing measures in place for an immediate reopening.”
Sandy Burgess, chairman of the Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA) highlighted the lack of clear guidance for car retailers and criticised the delay to re-opening in an interview with AM earlier this month.
He said: “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.”
Commenting on the situation north of the border in the NFDA’s statement, issued today (June 23), Robinson said: “We urge the Scottish Government to engage with the automotive sector going forward.
“The lack of clear communication with our industry has meant hundreds of firms that were preparing to open today, have brought staff back from furlough to do so, are now having to shoulder the huge financial burden of a workforce who are not allowed to work.”
At the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) annual Summit, which was held online this morning, the industry body and OEM members appealed for the UK Government to offer fiscal support to the sector in order to support its recovery.
However, Scotland’s car dealers have been able to contribute fully to the SMMT's hopes of a post-lockdown car retail resurgence so far due to restrictions on their ability to trade.
Arnold Clark chief executive, Eddie Hawthorne, told AM a fortnight ago that he was hopeful the sector would be allowed to start trading ahead of other retail sectors.
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.”
The NFDA said that “postponing the reopening of car dealerships in Scotland until 29 June will expose many hundreds of businesses and the thousands of people they employ to profound and unnecessary economic risk”.
“It is the Scottish Government’s responsibility to protect jobs as well as health”, said Robinson.
Independent retailer, Trade Centre Wales, was celebrating a strong re-start for its businesses after they reopened their doors to customers for the first time in almost three months yesterday (June 22).
The ID50 retail group sold 145 used cars on its opening day of trading and reported queues outside its car supermarkets as it re-launched its three sites in Neath, Abercynon and Merthyr with an ‘Emergency Car Clearance’ promotion.
The clearance saw prices drastically reduced by up to £3,000 and no car reduced by less than £2,000.
Group chief executive, Andy Coulthurst, said: “We have cleared thousands of cars already in our England based Trade Centre UK stores and knew that Welsh car shoppers would be just as keen to snap up a bargain.
“We have replicated our already tried and tested instore safety processes, creating what we believe is the safest place in Wales to buy a used car.”