Tourism jobs concern amid government grants row

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The Scottish Government has responded to opposition criticism that businesses are waiting too long to get vital grants.

Scottish Conservatives claimed the government was ‘sitting on funds’ and said only seven of 30 business funds already announced had been launched.

Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron, who also serves as the shadow cabinet secretary for finance, said many businesses across the Highlands and Islands are still waiting for money ‘promised months ago’.

‘We have had numerous announcements from ministers, but very little has actually been disbursed, and more than £700m of UK Government funding for Scotland is still waiting to be spent. This is putting jobs and livelihoods at risk,’ said Mr Cameron.

His party circulated a document from the convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) as local councils play a lead role in distributing government grants to businesses in their areas.

Mr Cameron said it showed some funds would not launch until February or March and that as little as £6 million of new funding announced since late October had reached businesses.

However, a spokesperson for the Scottish Government said some of the claims made by the opposition were ‘out of date’ and that nearly £600 million of the £715 million allocated for business support since October 2020 was now ‘live’.

It said: ‘When we announced £185 million additional funding last month (December) we were absolutely clear this funding would be available to businesses in January. That is still the case.

‘Funding for taxi drivers, retail, brewers, the wedding sector, culture organisations and others will be available this month.

‘We recognise those businesses are waiting for funding they desperately need and we are working with local authorities and other partners to accelerate delivery.’

Mr Cameron said he is ‘particularly worried’ about funds reaching tourism and hospitality businesses which have had to close, as they are important to the Highlands and Islands economy.

‘We need to see far more urgency in terms of business support and the administrative log jams must be broken down. This is no time for red tape and bureaucracy,’ said Mr Cameron.

Kate Forbes MSP, cabinet secretary for finance at the Scottish Parliament, announced a significant top-up to the grant support already available to hospitality, retail and leisure businesses across Scotland closed by level four restrictions.

In addition to the grants they receive through the strategic business framework fund, she announced eligible businesses would also now get a one off grant of:

£25,000 for larger hospitality businesses on top of the four-weekly £3,000
£6,000 for smaller hospitality businesses on top of the four-weekly £2,000
£9,000 for larger retail and leisure businesses on top of the four-weekly £3,000
£6,000 for smaller retail and leisure businesses on top of the four-weekly £2,000

Ms Forbes said Scottish Government support for business and the economy had reached almost £3 billion since the start of the pandemic – equivalent to more than a third of its entire coronavirus funding.

She said this demonstrated the SNP’s commitment to provide as much help as it possibly could to businesses.

Ms Forbes added: ‘As promised, this additional support for hospitality, retail and leisure businesses will be available this month, in some cases doubling or tripling the amount of support we are providing. Applications are open now and payment will be made this month.’