AFTER an incredibly tough year this has been a make or break Christmas for many of our local businesses.

Sadly, with the likelihood of us being locked into at least Level 3 for much of January given the relaxation of domestic visiting restrictions over Christmas, businesses, the economy and the jobs they support are still far from being out of the woods.

Six months ago Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce launched an initiative to help people ‘support local’.

North East Now was born out of an urgent need to help businesses across our towns and city to cope with the crushing financial impact of the coronavirus.

Its aim was to rebuild consumer confidence and demand by pulling together lots of great information into one central place to make it simple for everyone to play a part in getting the regional economy back up on its feet.

When the website went live in June we didn’t know how long it would be needed for, we just knew it was needed.

Providing information on which local products are available in shops and supermarkets, making choosing North-east brands in a weekly shop really simple for consumers, it includes sections on local businesses and those promoting local provenance operating across the food and drink, retail, wellbeing, lifestyle, fashion and beauty sectors and more.

It links to a wide range of directories, news articles, blogs and inspirational stories from across the area and aims to encourage people to think about other ways they could support local in the weeks and months ahead.

And they did, in droves. Thousands of people visited the site and hundreds more posted positive messages on social media, becoming champions of their local high streets and helping to spread the word about fantastic independent local retailers.

That sense of community that we saw in the early months of the outbreak, of coming together to support each other, is more important than ever as we reach the end of 2020.

Retailers in our city centre and towns had been planning for far from normal but passable Christmas shopping numbers but found around half of their catchments cut off with people unable to between Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, while many bars and restaurants plan to remain closed until at least February or longer.

Some might never re-open at all.

Support schemes remain in place for now however they do not begin to cover the costs of businesses forced to mothball or remain open with limited custom so we need people to make one of their New Year’s resolutions to continue to think local in the weeks and months ahead.

When the restrictions permit, please remember, our local businesses still need us and helping them and the jobs they provide, is in the gift of all of us.

Alongside that, although it is right to regularly review restrictions, it is clear that the Strategic Framework in its current form is failing to create the certainty that businesses and their customers need.

The Scottish Government must urgently undertake a further review of the framework.

This review should aim to publish a refreshed plan for re-opening the economy, similar to the original route-map following the national lockdown and setting out a clear timetable for the reopening of vital sectors.

Our governments must begin to trust businesses as part of the solution to getting our economy back on track – rather than as places that are treated

as the cause of the spread of the infection.

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