WHAT a month. Since the last time I penned this column, the Aberdeen city region became the first in Scotland to experience a local CV-19 lockdown.

We might have the inglorious badge of being the first but we hope our experience can help ensure this never happens again, either to us or others, and that our citizens and local businesses are given the best possible chance of recovery.

Balancing the public health priority with the economic damage caused by lockdown is certainly not easy. The lifting of the restrictions was testament to the hard work undertaken by many organisations across the city and we were impressed by the further efforts of venues in working together to ensure lessons were learned and practices adjusted.

The impact of the lockdown however has been felt by a large number of firms, many of whom were operating in sectors outwith those directly affected by the restrictions. While the broader hospitality sector was worst impacted by virtue of their forced closure, the consequences of the restrictions hit the small producers who supply them and led to a significant decline in footfall and sales in retail across the city.

We had started to see increased footfall and a buzz return to the city centre before the local lockdown setback and it is important that we regain this momentum safely and quickly.

The resultant public perception of the lockdown was that Aberdeen was a city closed for business and that had a measurable impact on forward bookings in the accommodation sector, not just in Aberdeen itself but in Aberdeenshire too, as tourists cancelled bookings.

It was welcome to see the Scottish Government respond to our request with a £1m local support fund to support affected businesses but in reality, the maximum grant per business of £1,500 won’t make a meaningful difference to the survival or not of venues forced to close for a month.

Encouraging spending is key and rebuilding consumer confidence sits at the heart of the recovery. Our message has for some months been that we need a soft ‘contract’ between businesses and people to get the economy moving again.

We believe people will chose to go to places that have clearly made reasonable adjustments to ensure, as best as they can, the safety of their staff and customers. In turn, each and every one of us must take personal responsibility for adjusting our own behaviours in those places.

The work we are doing with North East Now seeks to nurture this sense of community by making it easy for people to do their bit and support local. It supplies information on which local products are available in shops and supermarkets links to a wide range of directories, news articles, blogs and inspirational stories from across the area.

In addition to invigorating a response at a local level we have also been calling for consideration of a restart voucher scheme, tied to local high streets and to act as an incentive to encourage consumers back into stores – such schemes have already been piloted in China, Taiwan and Malta.

It is also important that the UK Government responds positively to our ask around flexibility in the job retention scheme. We have already seen business failures and now fear more will follow, with the job losses that will accompany this.

This has been a tough few weeks but we are very much open for business and need the message to be heard loud and clear that we are still a great – and safe – place to live, work, study and visit.

Russell Borthwick, chief executive, Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce