AFTER months of concerted effort, monumental sacrifices and soul-destroying losses, the Aberdeen city region has made it to Level 1.

It goes without saying that it is positive to see progress and restrictions continuing to ease in the North-east, although there’s obviously some concern with the pace being slowed in other parts of Scotland. All progress is welcome but Level 1 still means restrictions for many parts of the economy, including hospitality, and parts of the night-time economy remain closed. So while we recognise we are more fortunate than many other areas, it is important for all that we continue to advance the roadmap to a true economic re-opening.

No sector or place across the UK has been left untouched by this pandemic which has created the greatest economic crisis in living memory. Evidence from the British Chambers of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Survey shows the largest and sharpest declines since the survey began in 1989.

In the second quarter of 2020 more than 70% of businesses reported decreased UK sales, and 64% decreased cash flow. Skip forward to March 2021 and the picture was still bleak, with two-fifths of firms telling us that they were suffering decreased domestic sales and cash flow, with sectors like hospitality and catering being hit the hardest.

The successful roll -out of the vaccination programme has allowed us to unlock three stages of the roadmap out of lockdown and businesses have welcomed a firm commitment from government not to go back. The good news is we are seeing some glimmers of business confidence tentatively improving, with 55% of firms recently telling us that they expect to see their turnover increase in the next 12 months.

However, many businesses say they feel hamstrung when it comes to planning for the future. They are desperate to play their part in the recovery but vital questions as to how they can do that remain unanswered.

We hope that the North-east is able to move to Level 0 as planned as long as the public health data is clear this is the right move. Crucially though, we have to be clear that Level 0 is not the end of restrictions, limitations on indoor socialising on live events and office return remain unclear.

Social distancing will continue to limit capacity for a whole range of businesses and we’ve certainly heard concerns from the culture and live events sector among others about how that can impact their viability. The Scottish Government announced a review of social distancing measures in May which is due to report soon. It’s really important we get the results of this and that the review itself provides firms with decisive clarity on the future of social distancing and when we’ll be able to ease these measures in the future.

Alongside that, the government needs to start outlining to businesses when we are likely to move into Level 0 and towards a true return to normality. To get the economic recovery that we’re all hoping for we need to outline the path ahead to give businesses the confidence to invest and create jobs.

Firms across the country have already invested heavily in following and often exceeding the rules put in place to protect employees and customers but many have not been allowed to implement these procedures. People will choose to go to places for work and leisure that have made reasonable adjustments to safeguard their health. And as staff and customers we must be treated as grown-ups who manage risk every day in all aspects of our lives.

At some point, we need to learn how to operate a fully open economy while still protecting public health. That time is now.

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