South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has urged the Scottish Government to provide better clarity over which workplaces should remain open during the coronavirus pandemic, and bring in tough enforcement powers to stop work at firms flouting the rules.

The local MSP has received a barrage of complaints from workers and members of the public over businesses continuing production, including Gates in Dumfries and Prestwick Maintenance Limited in Ayrshire.

The Scottish Government’s advice is that businesses whose activity is not “essential or material to the effort against the virus or to the wellbeing of society”, and which cannot “practise safe social distancing and comply with ALL other standard health and safety requirements” should cease activity.

However, despite workers’ and the public’s concerns, the companies are claiming to be “essential services” because they supply sectors classed as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sectors.

There are 13 designated CNI sectors (Energy; Communications – Telecommunications, Public Broadcast, Postal Services, Internet; Government; Transport; Finance; Civil Nuclear; Defence; Chemicals; Space; Government; Health; Food; Water and Waste; Emergency Services).

Colin Smyth has written to all the firms involved but has urged the Government to make it clearer which businesses should close and bring in powers to force closure on those who ignore the advice.

Colin Smyth said: “It’s clear for everyone to see that the Government’s guidance over which businesses should remain open during the coronavirus lockdown is not working.

“The overwhelming majority of firms are being responsible and locking down. Sadly a small number are using loopholes in the rules and claiming they can continue production because they supply goods to a certain sector, even though there is nothing urgent about that work and it certainly is not being carried out to fight coronavirus.

“There are also still no powers from the Government to force companies to stop working if they ignore the guidance anyway.

“I know corporate bosses at national and international level make many of these decisions and local managers feel under pressure to keep factories open. But even the best efforts cannot guarantee proper social distancing and frankly some firms are just ignoring the need for people to keep a safe distance in the workplace.

“I know this is a tough time for businesses and there needs to be more support for them, but people’s lives are being put at risk by some firm’s decisions to continue production.

“That’s why we need clearer rules from Government and enforcement powers to stop those rules being broken so we can ensure health and safety in the workplace isn’t continuing to be flouted. In the meantime, I would plead with businesses to stop production now unless what they are doing is essential in the fight against coronavirus.”

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