SNP must get a grip on business grants before jobs are lost

The SNP Government must get promised funding out to businesses before lengthy delays in distributing grants cost jobs, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

At First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon couldn’t say if even a tenth of the promised funding had been delivered to businesses.

The First Minister claimed funding was “live” but repeatedly dodged answering Ruth Davidson’s questions of how much had actually been paid out, not just announced.

The Scottish Government has only published evidence of £6 million out of approximately £300 million reaching businesses.

A leaked Cosla document indicates only 7 of 30 business funds are even active and councils are still awaiting guidance on funds announced a month ago.

The Scottish Conservatives last week called for 10-day turnaround guarantees for all business grants, as the SNP originally aimed to do at the beginning of the pandemic last March.

Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said: “The parade of announcements are obviously welcome but what businesses really need is cash in their pockets now.

“The First Minister couldn’t answer if businesses had received even a tenth of the funding promised more than a month ago.

“One scheme that did open then had to close within hours because it was inundated and oversubscribed. That’s the measure of how desperate things are for the tens of thousands of businesses crying out for funding.

“At the start of the pandemic, the SNP aimed to deliver grants within 10 days. Now there are businesses who would be delighted to see the money within 10 weeks.

“The SNP need to get a grip on their handling of business support and get cash out the door before thousands of Scottish jobs are lost to their delays.”

On restrictions to click and collect and takeaway services, Ruth Davidson said: “Business groups have said the evidence for this decision has not yet been made plain to them and for many, these restrictions were unexpected only a week ago. They thought that their services would continue and in many cases, had invested heavily to make their premises safe to keep trading.

“I am pleased that funding will be made available at some point  – but is there not a case for extra compensation for businesses who were told by this government what to do to become COVID compliant - spent money making all of the changes ministers required of them - and are now being told they have to adapt again?”

Notes

Councils have still not received guidance for funds announced a month ago. The screenshot of the Falkirk Council website is attached, which states: “Please do not contact us about these funds as we don’t have any details yet.”

Kate Forbes said they would “aim to make payments within 10 working days” at the start of the pandemic. (Scottish Government, 24 March 2020, link).

The DigitalBoost Development Grant opened for applications on 12 January 2021, but at 19:24 applications were suspended. An announcement was made on the Business Gateway website at 19:24 on the evening of 12 January 2021. It said: ‘Fund Suspended: Due to the current level of applications for the DigitalBoost Development Grant, new applications have been suspended as of this evening.’ (Business Gateway, Digital Boost Development Grant, accessed 13 January 2021, link)

Only 7 out of 30 businesses support funds announced by the SNP are paying out to businesses. (The Scotsman, 13 January 2021, link)

There is no indication of how much has reached businesses from announcements totalling around £300 million (£185 million on 9 December, £55 million on 10 December, the £30 million Strategic Framework Fund and £30 million discretionary fund).

·         On 9 December, the SNP announced £185 million in support for various businesses. (Scottish Government, 9 December 2020, link).

·         The £55 million emergency funding package for Scottish sport was announced on 10 December. (Scottish Government, 10 December 2020, link)

·         There have been no subsequent updates from the Scottish Government if the schemes have paid money out, beyond £6 million from the Strategic Business Framework Fund as of late December.

We have twice called for the SNP to appoint a ‘Coronavirus Business Restrictions Advisory Council’ and Nicola Sturgeon said she was ‘sympathetic’ and would take it forward. She said: ‘We will take all the suggestions from all the amendments and try to take them forward as much and as far as we possibly can. I want to put that commitment on the record in relation to her specific point, and more generally as well.’ She then said: ‘I said that we would consider that proposal sympathetically; that remains the case.” (Scottish Parliament, Official Report, 29 October 2020, link; Official Report, 27 October 2020, link)

FSB Scotland said the government must end the ‘administrative logjam.’ FSB Scotland policy chairman Andrew McRae said: ‘councils and government need to break the administrative logjam preventing money reaching businesses.’ (Press Association, 5 January 2021, link)

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