GARDEN centres across Scotland will open today after the Government announced an easing of the lockdown.

Dobbies have said they will re-open all 12 of their stores, but with strict social distancing measures in place.

However, customers hoping for a scone will be disappointed as the cafes will remain closed.

Only a limited number of customers will be permitted in the stores at one time, with a queuing system in operation outside the stores.

As in most supermarkets, staff will be provided with PPE and protective screens have been installed at tills.

Graeme Jenkins, CEO of Dobbies, said: “We began reopening our other UK stores on Monday, May 11, and we have now successfully opened 56 stores across Wales, England and Northern Ireland. It has been a very positive start to trading, with customers most interested in buying plants, gardening products and outdoor furniture, as they are keen to spend time in their gardens this spring.”

However, the Horticultural Trades Association were critical of the Scottish Government for taking quite so long to reopen. The association’s chair, James Barnes, said the industry in Scotland had lost too many days during what was always a busy time of year.

He said: “The delay in reopening has meant that the Scottish horticulture industry is at a significant disadvantage to the rest of the UK, having lost a crucial trading period at a daily cost of £1 million.

“This has severely impacted growers and increases the need for the Scottish Government to bring forward a Dutch-style grant aid scheme for plant nurseries as soon as possible. We have raised this with the Scottish Government and will be following up with them on the immediacy of the issue for our members.

“Our priority now is to work with Scottish garden centres to help them re-open in a safe and managed way, as they have done throughout the rest of the UK following the Safe Trading Guidance.”

Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chair, said: “Many in business hope that the track and trace system is the key to unlocking our economy. Independent operators stand ready to play their part in making the initiative work.

“However now is the time to consider whether we need a new financial support scheme for firms asked to close because of virus re-transmission risk. 2020 has been a torrid year for many in business. Once the economy re-opens, it would be a devastating blow for a firm if they were asked to close once or multiple times.

“At this stage Ministers in Edinburgh should consider means to mitigate the impact of this scenario on individual firms, because the wider Track and Protect system is so important to getting the wider business community back on its feet.”

Today the Scottish Government has released figures showing that around 69,000 coronavirus grants, worth £790 million, have been distributed to Scottish businesses.

Around £48 million grants were paid in the last week, compared to £63 million in the week previous and £58 million in the week previous to that. Around 16,000 applications for grant support have yet to be processed.

The statistics follow an announcement that the grant scheme would be extended to businesses that share premises and for firms outside the non-domestic rates system.

Andrew McRae said: “These grants really are a lifeline for many in business. While it is good to see money reaching firms – there’s still a backlog of applications that need to be processed. The Scottish Government and local government should set a deadline to process the outstanding requests for support.

“We were impressed with this week’s announcement from Ministers that they’re going to extend financial assistance to many independent enterprises currently excluded from help, following representations from FSB. This help can’t come soon enough for many local firms like market traders and new-start businesses in co-working spaces.”