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SMTA fears Scotland’s COVID-19 'politics' will cost car retail jobs

Sandy Burgess SMTA chief executive

The Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA) has said 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.

The National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) revealed the contents of a letter from Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, Fiona Hyslop MSP, which clearly stated that click and collect car sales could be completed during Scotland’s COVID-19 lockdown - provided customers do not enter the showroom environment.

Furthermore, it stated 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” of the country’s re-opening plan, which is expected from June 18.

But SMTA chairman, Sandy Burgess, has despaired at the lack of clarity from the Scottish Government to date and said that Scottish car retailers, and the economy, stand 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.”

Burgess said that the decision to keep car showrooms in Scotland closed as their English counterparts re-opened would cost SMTA members financially.

Stalling the ability to trade would dent revenues and also see Scottish dealers suffer more severely from the start of used car pricing movements as the larger English car market begun to trade once again.

And where the NFDA finally received their clarification on Scottish automotive retail’s re-opening schedule this week, Burgess said that many of his numerous questions directed to the Scottish Government in written correspondence remained unanswered.

He said: “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 public address yesterday (June 4), Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that “alongside a public health emergency, we are also now dealing with an economic emergency, on a scale none of us have experienced”.

Sturgeon highlighted the allocation of £2.3 billion to help businesses in Scotland through measures such as grants and business rates relief, “in addition to welcome UK Government measures such as the furlough scheme”.

As of yesterday, Scottish traders are also a little clearer about the scope of their current ability to trade and their showroom re-opening plans, although larger dealerships may still have questions about the legislation.

In her latter to the NFDA, Fiona Hyslop MSP 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.”

Hyslop added: “As you can appreciate, this is a rapidly evolving situation and our guidance will be updated and reviewed every three weeks in line with the Scottish Government's lockdown review.”

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