BUSINESS groups in Scotland have welcomed Nicola Sturgeon’s plans to ease lockdown in Scotland.

The First Minister, in a speech to the Scottish Parliament, set out provisional dates for the reopening of shops, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers.

Under the framework, which is conditional on continued success in suppressing coronavirus, retailers such as click-and-collect services, garden centres, car dealerships, homeware and electrical repair stores and hairdressers will be able to reopen from April 5.

The stay-at-home order is to be removed on the same date, to be replaced by guidance urging people to stay within their local authority areas, which the Scottish Government hopes will be in place for no more than three weeks.

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All non-essential retail will also reopen from April 26, the same date it is hoped that travel restrictions across the country can be lifted, along with portions of hospitality and tourism businesses.

Bars and restaurants will be able to operate outdoors, with restrictions meaning indoor service will not be allowed to sell alcohol, while tourist accommodation will also be allowed to reopen.

Marc Crothall, the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: "The First Minister's announcement of an indicative timeline for the phased reopening of our tourism and hospitality sector will be massively welcomed by the sector today; it is the most positive news we have received in a long time."

He added: "Today's announcement will offer some very much needed light at the end of what has been the darkest tunnel for our industry."

The National: Scottish tourism chief Marc CrothallScottish tourism chief Marc Crothall

Fiona Campbell, the chief executive of the Association of Scotland's Self Caterers, added that she believes the plans "strike the correct balance between the needs of business, the desire across the country for increased normality, and the caution that we all have to continue to observe as we work together to beat Covid-19".

Scottish Retail Consortium director, David Lonsdale, also welcomed the news, saying: "Credit is due to government for listening to the representations from retail.

"This announcement provides much-needed certainty to the industry, and it's welcome to see moves to unwind a number of the elevated lockdown restrictions which were implemented at the turn of the year."

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Sturgeon announced that firms receiving support as a result of the restrictions would receive a "restart grant" in April to help their reopening, but Andrew McRae, the Scotland policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said there needed to be ongoing support after the lifting of restrictions.

"New Scottish Government restart grants are incredibly welcome, but that can't be the end of efforts to help independent operators both make it to the summer and eventually recover from this crisis," he said.

"While we should cheer the prospect of the end of lockdown, we need more action to help our local businesses deal with its long-term consequences."