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Amid calls for speedier grants...

Plea for earlier opening of self-catering units

Rachael Hamilton: ‘decision compounds earlier error’ (pic: Terry Murden)

Self-catering properties should be allowed to reopen earlier than the government currently allows, say the Scottish Tories.

Rachael Hamilton, Conservative shadow rural economy spokesman, wants self-catering units brought forward from Phase 3 of the lockdown to Phase 2.

Currently, they are included alongside hotels and B&B and Ms Hamilton argues that self-catering units should be considered separately as the majority have no shared facilities and represent a negligent risk in terms of social contact to users and staff.

The UK Government has identified self-caterers in its ‘amber’ recovery phase while hotels are in the ‘red’ recovery phase. The Welsh Government’s roadmap also includes the opening of “accommodation businesses without shared facilities” in its amber phase.

Ms Hamilton says the Scottish government’s decision “compounds an earlier error” when self-catering businesses were excluded from the eligibility criteria in the first round of support grants.

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She said: “Once again the self-catering industry has been left behind by the SNP Government.

“First it was their ineligibility for Covid-19 business grants, now they are being pushed to the back of the queue for lockdown easing.

“Self-catering properties are clearly socially distanced and should not be considered in the same category as hotels.

“The impact of being in phase 3 of lockdown easing means properties can’t even begin to take bookings again.

“Self-catering would provide a safe way for families to enjoy a staycation, boosting income across Scotland.

> Let firms pass a health test and get back to work

The Scottish Tories and Labour have claimed that the government is being too slow in allocating grants to small firms.

New figures show more than 16,000 businesses are still waiting a decision on their applications. They include one in five firms working in retail, leisure and hospitality.

The Scottish Conservatives have warned the delay could cost thousands of jobs and have additional consequences for the economy.

Jackie Baillie

Jackie Baillie: call for cap to be removed (pic: Terry Murden)

Scottish Conservative shadow finance secretary Donald Cameron said: “The SNP needs to buck up its ideas and get these companies the support they deserve.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said during a debate on Tuesday that these unallocated funds amounted to £449 million but the latest data shows the figure to have risen to £476m.

She has called on ministers to lift the 75% cap on grants for firms with a chain of properties and bring it into line with England where companies receive 100% grants on all properties.

Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland policy chairman, said: “These grants really are a lifeline for many in business.

“While it is good to see money reaching firms – there’s still a backlog of applications that need to be processed. The Scottish Government and local government should set a deadline to process the outstanding requests for support.

“We were impressed with this week’s announcement from Ministers that they’re going to extend financial assistance to many independent enterprises currently excluded from help, following representations from FSB.

“This help can’t come soon enough for many local firms like market traders and new-start businesses in co-working spaces.”

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As measures are introduced to return to work, the FSB is asking ministers to consider financial support for workplaces that are required to re-close because staff have been in contact with the virus.

Mr McRae said: “Many in business hope that the track and trace system is the key to unlocking our economy. Independent operators stand ready to play their part in making the initiative work.  

“However now is the time to consider whether we need a new financial support scheme for firms asked to close because of virus re-transmission risk. 2020 has been a torrid year for many in business.

“Once the economy re-opens, it would be a devastating blow for a firm if they were asked to close once or multiple times.”

Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary, said that applications for grants are still coming in and, defending the grant regime, added: “We may make tweaks where it is necessary do something else.”

She has written to the Treasury in London demanding an answer on why it withdrew £60m of consequentials allocated to Scotland as part of a £617m funding scheme for businesses, such as those sharing offices, that pay business rates through a rental agreemen.

Ms Forbes also confirmed she is engaged in talks with the Treasury to help those with rateable values above the current cut off threshold of £51,000.

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