THOSE who drafted the First Minister’s route map out of lockdown are a hardy bunch. We know that because outdoor swimming is to be permitted in Phase 1, possibly commencing as early as today. Yet the ability to enter a shop and actually buy a suitable wetsuit isn’t allowed until Phase 2, still several weeks away at least.

The plan for exiting lockdown does at least provide a sense of the way ahead and plots a route back to trading for Scotland’s retailers. That’s important, as lockdown is costing non-food retailers in Scotland £130 million in lost revenue each week.

However, there is a reason most now use satnav rather than maps for journeys. Knowing where you want to go is important, but even better if you have a sense of how long it might take and of the potential delays. 

Our members in pharmacy and grocery have shown it is possible to operate safely during this coronavirus crisis regardless of the size of premises. It’s unclear therefore why Ministers have put larger stores to the back of the queue when it comes to the phased re-opening. Surely the focus ought to be re-opening safely, rather than size?

The route map is also thin on indicative timescales for moving between the differing phases, making it tricky for firms to plan ahead with confidence. ‘Personal retail services’ will be allowed to resume in Phase 3, but are undefined, so does that mean a department store can re-open but its cosmetic counters can’t? The sooner clarity is provided the better, for the retailers themselves, their staff who may be on furlough, and for suppliers.

Missing too is a plan for shopping, not just for shops. Our members know it won’t be a return to business as usual. Shopkeepers are working hard to re-open safely, and with all necessary social distancing and hygiene measures in place. SRC and Usdaw have supported these efforts by jointly producing a social distancing implementation guide, and official government guidance has been published now too. However, the missing piece of the jigsaw is a plan that allows safe navigation to and through our town centres and high streets. This has been promised in the Welsh route map, and councils in England have been awarded cash to prepare town centres, retail destinations and shoppers for the re-opening of retail next month.

Indeed, a baffling lack of consistency in approaches being taken across the UK is causing mounting exasperation. Retail is an industry where a great idea and solid proposition means you can scale up the business quickly. Many Scottish headquartered household names operate across the UK.

However, differing approaches and timings to exiting lockdown across the four nations of the UK make for a complex and confusing picture.

Layered on top is a patchwork quilt of retail industry-specific or generic official guidance on how firms should operate safely, entirely dependent on which of the home nations you operate in. Some sub-sectors of retail have even been discouraged from opening in one jurisdiction, but not in others. Why such differences exist when the onus ought to be on co-operation and alignment is unclear. It’s an extra headache at a time when retailers’ revenue streams are sparse or non-existent, and uncertainty abounds. 

Running a retail business is rarely straightforward, and the trading environment wasn’t exactly plain sailing prior to coronavirus. Times have got immeasurably more challenging over the past ten weeks. Only the toughest and hardiest retailers will survive this crisis. Come to think of it, perhaps they will be the ones braving the chilly lochs this weekend. 

David Lonsdale is Director of the Scottish Retail Consortium