Analysis missing

‘Gap in data’ hinders Covid support money trail

Shop and mask
Businesses were forced to change procedures (pic: Terry Murden)

A lack of detailed information meant there was no clear focus on how money from government support schemes was distributed to businesses during the pandemic, according to a new report.

Audit Scotland said it has been unable to properly analyse nearly £5 billion of Scottish Government Covid-19 funding because of this “data gap”.

It said the need to get money to firms as quickly as possible meant there was “not enough focus on gathering detailed data” on how the money was spent. 

Between March 2020 and October 2021, the Scottish Government made around £4.4 billion of grants and non-domestic rate reliefs available to businesses, most of which was administered by councils.

A further £375 million was allocated after the emergence of the Omicron variant at the end of last year. 

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Audit Scotland’s said the Scottish Government “placed reliance on the controls and systems that councils and others already had in place.”

Steps were taken to improve the management of funding during the pandemic, but there was not enough focus on gathering detailed data on how money was distributed and how quickly applicants received funding.

Stephen Boyle, the auditor general for Scotland, said: “These business support schemes were administered at pace in exceptional circumstances – but knowing where the money went matters.

“To get future policy development and delivery right, it will be important for the Scottish Government to fully understand how funding was used to support specific businesses and groups over the last two years of the pandemic.”

William Moyes, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “Councils’ fraud arrangements are generally robust, but they were heavily relied upon to ensure businesses were eligible for funding during the pandemic.

“Councils will need to continue to work closely with the Scottish Government to ensure a better picture emerges of how money was distributed.”

Scottish Labour’s economy and finance spokesperson Daniel Johnson was unimpressed by the Scottish government’s performance. He said: “The SNP’s disdain for economic transparency reached new heights during the pandemic.

“The lack of data highlighted in this report makes it impossible to determine whether these huge sums reached those who really needed it and delivered good value for taxpayers.

Stephen Boyle
Stephen Boyle: knowing where the money went matters

“The SNP must deliver the clarity and openness we need on how they spent public money and helped businesses through the pandemic.”

Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said: “I am pleased that both Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission have recognised how quickly the Scottish Government was able to establish a wide ranging business support package in order to help safeguard thousands of businesses and jobs. This includes providing direct support to over 4,000 businesses and over 5,000 self-employed people who were facing hardship but ineligible for UK Government funding support.

“I am equally pleased this report reflects the unique and challenging context in which new support packages had to be established, and that despite the speed and scale of our response, we were able to work closely with industry, our enterprise agencies and local authorities.

“This helped to ensure the delivery of the business support funding was a shared endeavour and minimised risk and fraud. Without the efforts of our partners, we wouldn’t have been able to deliver this lifeline support at the scale and pace necessary and I thank them for working so closely with us.

“Every decision the Scottish Government has taken has centred around ensuring businesses got the support they needed when they needed it – resulting in over £4.5 billion being allocated to businesses across the country, including around £1.6 billion in rates relief – which is more generous than the other UK administrations so far.

“We will now carefully consider the findings of this report and of course any lessons will be learned, but fundamentally this report shows the decisions we took ensured lifeline support reached key businesses promptly and our economy continued to grow by 7.1% despite the necessary public health restrictions.”

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