THE First Minister’s recent announcement of a strategy for living with Covid-19 in the coming months is something CBI Scotland has been calling for since the summer. It provides a dose of much needed clarity for individuals and businesses that have spent most of the past year making decisions on the hop.

For the public, last minute decision-making can be deeply frustrating with best laid plans changing on a day-to-day basis. That takes its toll, not just mentally, but often financially as we juggle work commitments, family responsibilities and more. In the case of businesses, that jeopardy ramps-up significantly. A lack of planning time can make the difference between keeping going and shutting up shop for good.

There’s no disguising the fact that the Scottish Government faces a difficult balancing act. Loosen restrictions too far and increase the chance of rising transmission rates. Lockdown too harshly and damage our prospects for economic recovery. But this is no Hobson’s choice. The balancing act may be difficult but it’s also absolutely necessary.

Lives and livelihoods are deeply intertwined, and we ignore either at our peril. Most of us remember what a Scotland without economic opportunity looks like: job losses, widening inequality, generations lost and long-term physical and mental ill-health. The 5-tier strategy marks the start of the process to get the balance right, and government must now make business an integral partner in putting it into practice.

Make no mistake, business is serious about playing its part in reducing transmission and making our communities as Covid secure as possible. There can be no recovery while infections rise.

Throughout the pandemic most businesses have gone above and beyond. Make premises safe for staff and customers – absolutely. Firms have invested significant sums in screens, masks and modifying operations to meet social distancing guidelines. Shortage of PPE and ventilators – firms across the country stepped up, pivoting operations at breakneck speed to bolster supply in the face of vital demand. The biggest relief for business about the 5-tier approach was the clear attempt to avoid a second national lockdown or Welsh-style circuit breaker. Firms are adamant that they should remain open if it’s safe to do so, and that they should be financially supported if forced to close or if more general restrictions impact demand.

But while the devil is usually in the detail, this time it’s in the delivery. The announcement of criteria outlining how areas will move up and down tiers, alongside regular reviews, helps deliver some of the much needed transparency CBI members have called for. But questions remain about how critical business support will be delivered, how government will make businesses aware of these resources and how quickly support will reach firms in urgent need. Time is of the essence to address these issues and protect firms on the brink.

There’s no doubt that a combination of seasonal illness and Covid-19 will put our health system and economy under considerable pressure in the months ahead. And it remains to be seen whether this new strategy will achieve the desired results in terms of lowering transmission and protecting businesses.

But the key thing now is for everyone to play their part – government, business and individuals. That means partnership at all levels, between the UK and Scottish governments and between business and government.

Widespread compliance, leaving no stone unturned to protect vulnerable businesses and bolstering Test and Protect would go some way to delivering a workable ‘new normal’ – until we have a working vaccine. We simply can’t allow a tough winter to force us to call last orders on some of our favourite pubs, cafes and shops.

Tracy Black is director of CBI Scotland