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Row grows over support

Tories and SNP lock horns over small business grants

Jackson Carlaw

Jackson Carlaw: ‘divergent approach’ (pic: Terry Murden)

Support for Scotland’s lockdown-hit businesses is at the heart of a political war of words as the Tories accuse the SNP government of shortchanging small firms.

Cash-strapped businesses in Scotland are being offered a single £25,000 grant, even if they have numerous outlets.

In England and Wales, they are given the cash for each property they own.

The Tories are supporting small firms who have warned that this divergent approach could cost jobs and damage high streets as the country battles coronavirus. Tory leader Jackson Carlaw has called on the Scottish Government to match the policy south of the border.

However, SNP MSP George Adam, said: “If Scotland simply copied the system in England it would mean hundreds of firms, and specific industries important to the Scottish economy, would lose out.

“Unlike the UK government, the Scottish Government cannot simply borrow more money to fund these schemes.

“If Jackson Carlaw wants to increase the funding to some businesses, he needs to spell out what other firms he thinks should lose out – otherwise this is simply a rash and thoughtless attack on vital funding.”

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes insists the government is allocating in full all the money made available by Westminster to support businesses.

She states that the package of support reflects Scotland’s higher share of employees in small and medium size businesses than England and the rest of the UK.

Kate Forbes new

Kate Forbes: ‘vital support’ (pic: Terry Murden)

The row has erupted as new data reveals that only 5,000 small businesses across the UK have received cash under the Treasury’s coronavirus loans scheme more than three weeks since it was launched.

Ms Forbes said last week that Scottish Government support is being spread more evenly across a number of sectors and sizes of companies.

Today, reaffirming the government’s position, she said: “We have been very clear that every penny we receive from the UK Government for this purpose is going directly to support businesses,” she said.

“It is our responsibility to ensure this vital financial support helps as many businesses as possible, while also reflecting the nature of Scotland’s economy.

“Because of the decisions we have taken, hundreds more businesses are benefiting from our support compared with elsewhere and we have also been able to help sectors of the economy that are not being supported in other parts of the UK such as aviation, seafood fishing and fish processing, the creative industries and charities.”

However, thousands of businesses have signed a petition accusing Scottish ministers of reneging on a promise to match in full the grant terms offered south of the border.

The Scottish Conservatives have collected feedback from businesses ranging from takeaways and coffee shops to clothing stores and pubs.

Stuart Atkinson, who has three fast food business in Angus, said: “Given that my business will only receive a third of the support that is being offered elsewhere in the UK it is highly unlikely to survive.

“We were promised parity with the rest of the UK, but the Scottish Government’s application of this support falls far, far short of that promise.”

The SNP should pay attention to the businesses who are facing collapse

– Jackson Carlaw, Scottish Conservatives

Karen Forret, managing director of nationwide clothing company Wilkies, added: “The idea behind a grant per property is to protect each of our high streets. One per business will simply not achieve this.”

Coffee shop owner Jon Sharp has already said that if his six outlets were in England, his business would be receiving several times the support being provided by the SNP in Scotland.

Mr Carlaw said: “If the SNP doesn’t want to listen to political opponents on this matter, it should at least pay attention to the businesses who are facing collapse.

“We’ve been clear that we would support Nicola Sturgeon in her efforts to help businesses survive this crisis.

“But where her government takes a divergent approach, she has to be able to show why this will be of benefit.

“Instead, this disparity is only making things worse for the Scottish economy at the worst possible time.”

Slow delivery of loans

Only 5,000 small businesses across the UK have received cash under the Treasury’s coronavirus loans scheme more than three weeks since it was launched.

The slow delivery of badly-needed finance is raising concerns that emergency money is not reaching companies in need, says the Sunday Times.

Fewer than one in 60 of more than 300,000 inquiries about chancellor Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus business interruption loan scheme has resulted in cash being approved, according to banks charged with making the loans.

The scheme, designed to encourage banks to lend by offering them a government guarantee for 80% of the amount, is seen as critical for keeping many of Britain’s 5.8 million small businesses alive.

However, despite Mr Sunak’s promise to do “whatever it takes” to save the economy, business owners have complained that the scheme is snarled up in bureaucracy.

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