BUSINESS leaders have called the return to a full Covid lockdown a blow to Scotland’s economic recovery which will cause “heartbreak” to smaller firms.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said cash support for struggling firms was now a matter of urgency.

It followed the First Minister announcing a legally enforced stay-at-home lockdown, similar to one last March, would start at midnight and last for at least the rest of January.

Face to face learning in schools has been postponed from January 18 to February 1 at the earliest, although online learning will restart next week.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs recent rises in the prevalence of coronavirus were extremely serious, with cases per 100,000 Scotland rising 65 per cent in the last week of December.

A key factor has been the spread of the more infectious UK variant of the virus, which she called a “massive blow” which now accounts for almost half of new Scottish cases. 

Responding to the return lockdown, Dr Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Today’s news is another blow to the private sector’s recovery from this pandemic. Whilst we fully appreciate the need for the Scottish Government to act in response to the worrying rise in COVID cases, we cannot ignore the direct impact this will have on business and livelihoods.

“The welcome news today that the Oxford vaccine has started to be rolled out reminds us that there is hope and we must focus all our efforts and resilience towards 2021.

“What is equally vital is that the Scottish Government also puts in place measures which will provide a springboard to private sector recovery when this latest round of restrictions is lifted. Support for businesses which have already been through so much and survived 2020, must be expanded and all cash support paid out urgently. 

“I look forward to being involved in the discussions on what more will be done to drive this recovery in the coming weeks.’’

Asked at Holyrood by Tory MSP Maurice Golden about the comments, Ms Sturgeon said: “I know this is a blow for businesses. Today is a blow for everybody.

“I’m not in any way unsympathetic to the plight of businesses or anybody else.

“But things would be much much worse if we don;t take firm, decisive action now to get this virus tinder control.

“We don’t have to look too far to see how much worse things will get if we prevaricate now and delay taking necessary actions, which is why this is tough.

“I don’t want to be here announcing this, but it is necessary in order to avoid the situation deteriorating.”

She saida range of funding streams were open to help businesses and those newly required to close would be able apply, including the Strategic Framework Business Fund and the local authority discretionary scheme for firms missing out on other schemes.

She said: “There is significant support already there. I’ve said openly before, it will not compensate every business for every loss, but I would encourage businesses to make sure they apply for all that support and we will continue to look at what more we can in the weeks ahead.”

The Federation of Small Businesses urged Ministers to provide more help, more quickly.

Scotland policy chair Andrew McRae said: “This hard lockdown will cause more heartbreak for Scotland’s smaller businesses. To stop deep disappointment turning into despondency, Ministers need to mitigate the impact on independent and local businesses with easier-to-access financial help and crystal-clear advice.

“We need to see support for the economy match the scale and pace of these restrictions. Help for Scottish business can no longer be a dollar short and a day late. 

For a start, the glut of new support schemes announced at the end of last year need to start delivering cash to firms. So far, few of these initiatives have paid out a penny. 

“Then Ministers need to urgently look at new ways to get money to the local firms who’ve borne the business brunt of this crisis.”