Retail Sector (Covid-19 Measures)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th September 2020.

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Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

I certainly do not underestimate the gravity of the Covid situation or the difficult decisions and judgments that are having to be made, and I want to acknowledge the good communication that we have had in Scotland over this period.

However, I want to focus on the retail sector. When lockdown and social distancing began, a lot of retailers counted the numbers of people who were entering their shops, but that practice is starting to slip in some areas, which is worrying a lot of people. On social media yesterday, I saw a gentleman who I recognise and who I know has underlying health issues saying that he was in his local Co-op and there was no social distancing and people were not wearing masks. I have experienced that, too.

Will the Government talk to the retail sector about the fact that we have to remain vigilant and protect people? I have talked to a lot of shop workers, who are on the front line, and they are saying that their employers are not enforcing social distancing, so they feel at risk.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Alex Rowley is right to raise the concern. I recognised earlier, in my statement, the enormous amount of work that the hospitality sector has done to try to ensure that it is providing safe spaces for people, and I think that it is also appropriate for me to recognise the enormous amount of work that I know the retail sector has done. I am very grateful for that.

I will come back in a second to people who work in shops, because I do not necessarily want this to be directed at shop workers. In general, however, for businesses, as for individuals, the longer we go through this, the harder it is to comply with what is required. I understand that, but it also becomes more important.

I have heard anecdotes and have had emails sent to me saying that there are systems that were put in place at the outset—one-way systems, for example—that retail is not operating now. Shops are of different shapes and sizes and they have to put in place the systems that work for them, but there is guidance in place for sectors across our economy, and we expect those sectors to comply with that guidance.

In direct response to the question that Alex Rowley asked me, we will continue to engage with retail to make sure that that guidance is being applied properly in shops across the country.

Shop workers are on the front line. The job that they do is very different from the jobs of people on the front line of our public services, but they are on the front line and they are more exposed to the virus than many of the rest of us are. We therefore have a particular duty to help to keep them safe. Those that they work for also have a duty to keep them safe, and the public have a duty to help to keep them safe, which is why I appeal to the public. Make sure that you wear your face covering and take responsibility for physical distancing. Do not give any grief to shop workers who ask you to do those things, because they are doing their job, and they are doing it responsibly.

I keep coming back to this point. I do not want this to sound saccharine and clichéd, but it will take the effort of all of us to get through this—and we will get through this. This is the only time in my life that I can remember when it is true to say that none of us can cope alone; the collective efforts of all of us will determine how successfully and quickly we get through the pandemic. Every one of us has a part to play, and I appeal to everybody to play their part.

This is all an enormous pain in the neck, but the measures are really important in order to keep everybody, including shop workers, safe. At this moment, let us all resolve to tighten up our compliance with all the measures. If we do that, we will get through the pandemic more quickly.