B&Bs ‘waited too long for funding’

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A new fund to help struggling B&Bs, guesthouses and self-catering businesses pay council tax opens on March 15 but closes on March 22.

The short window and the time it has taken to roll out the fund has been criticised by opposition Highlands and Islands MSPs, and the local Federation of Small Businesses.

On January 21, tourism minister Fergus Ewing announced support to those which pay council tax instead of non-domestic rates to provide a grant of £2,000 every four weeks as the trade continues to be closed due to coronavirus.

Councils including Argyll and Bute, and the Highland Council had been waiting on guidance from the Scottish Government which arrived on Friday – six weeks later.

Criticising the delay were Donald Cameron MSP, the Conservative opposition cabinet member for finance, and Rhoda Grant, the Scottish Labour opposition member for rural economy and tourism.

Mr Cameron said the fund had been announced to a ‘fanfare of publicity’ yet ‘numerous’ local constituents had been frustrated by their inability to access it. Mr Cameron said: ‘Many small accommodation providers are facing real financial hardship and badly need support to tide them over.’

Ms Grant said the Scottish Government should ‘hang its head in shame’ over its handling of the process. In a statement, she said there is only a seven day window to apply for the fund, and added: ‘It’s been totally unfair and businesses owners have been left fearing for their futures.’

David Richardson, the Highlands Islands development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, welcomed the scheme but also believed it had taken too long.

‘FSB Scotland is consulted by Scottish Government officials several times a week about grant support for different sectors, and we constantly emphasise the need to bring announcements and launch dates much closer together. Jobs and livelihoods are at stake,’ said Mr Richardson.

Last week Argyll and Bute Council confirmed that it was waiting on guidance from the Scottish Government, which arrived on Friday.

It said this week: ‘The Scottish Government Fund will open for applications from 15 March to B&Bs, guest houses and self-catering properties, impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.

‘Information about the Fund, including the eligibility criteria can be found on the Scottish Government website https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/service/funding/support-for-small-accommodation-providers-paying-council-tax-fund

Elsewhere, the SNP’s Fiona Hyslop MSP, the Scottish Government’s economy secretary, has written to the UK Government seeking more help for Scottish businesses struggling to trade with the EU post-Brexit.

She has written to Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to say that a £20 million Brexit Support Fund to help businesses adjust to would ‘only go so far’.

She said evidence from 1,400 important EU traders confirmed that many exporters are encountering ‘significant additional costs, delays and non-tariff barriers’ as they try to navigate the new trading arrangements, she said.