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Forbes package ‘like a Christmas cracker joke’

George IV pub

Pubs says they still face a struggle for survival

Taxi drivers, wedding photographers and visitor attractions are among those receiving new support from the Scottish government, though one organisation described the help on offer as like a “Christmas cracker joke”.

Small businesses, including the self-employed, will share £185 million of consequentials distributed from Westminster, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes announced.

She said there will also be additional one-off payments to hospitality businesses in January to help them deal with the traditional post-Christmas dip in demand. These will be sums of £2,000 or £3,000, depending on rateable value.

However, there was criticism of some of the packages on offer and concern at the lack of detail and when businesses can expect to receive the new funding. Business groups say there can be no delay in getting the money to those most at risk.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association’s managing director, Colin Wilkinson, said the one-off payments of either £2,000 or £3,000 to hospitality businesses “is as bad as hearing a Christmas cracker joke”.

Kate Forbes: ‘I am listening to the needs of business’

He said: “The industry keeps being told by Government that our concerns are being listened to but this announcement confirms the government needs to get a serious grip on the reality of the cataclysmic devastation facing the licensed hospitality sector and those that it employs.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the support was “too little, too late” and that businesses won’t be able to apply for the new funds until January. It said full details of the schemes are still not available.

However, TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, gave his “full backing” to the support aimed at helping the travel trade in Scotland and said there was now “no more excuses” for Westminster not to follow suit. 

Ms Forbes told MSPs: “Today I am pleased to confirm an allocation of £185 million for new and additional business support in the new year. We have listened to businesses and this assistance will be provided on a sector-by-sector basis, targeted at those who need it most.

“We are developing grant schemes for hospitality, for the events sector, live music and cultural venues, for the arts, indoor football centres and for the food and drink sector, including £1.8 million for brewers.

“We will give £1.5 million to travelling show people ineligible for other support, while a new £19 million fund, plus a one-off grant, will help taxi drivers.

“I can also announce that further support of £60 million will be provided to the tourism sector, details of which will be developed in consultation with the industry.

“I am listening to the needs of business and we will continue to review and refine our COVID-19 support offer within the available resources.”

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Ms Forbes said she had written to the Treasury calling for Scotland to receive its share of rates relief reimbursed by supermarkets “to ensure this is spent on those areas hardest hit as part of Scotland’s recovery from COVID-19”.

Supermarket groups and some other retailers, such as the B&Q owner Kingfisher, have returned about £2 billion to the Treasury following better than expected trading during the pandemic.

The Federation of Small Business Scotland has estimated that Scotland’s share amounts to £190m, but Ms Forbes said she was in talks with the Treasury to determine how any funds will be distributed to the devolved governments.

Specific support detailed in today’s announcement includes:

  • £15 million for the wedding sector and its supply chain, including photographers
  • one-off grants totalling £15 million for mobile close contact services, such as hairdressers
  • a £19 million fund and one-off grants for taxi drivers
  • £5 million for travel agents
  • almost £6 million for coach companies and tour operators
  • £1.5 million for visitor attractions

More detail on the package will be announced in the coming days and businesses can expect to apply for all the new grant schemes in January.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “A further £185million to support the hardest hit businesses in Scotland is welcome but will be cold comfort to many businesses who have so little cash left they have only weeks to survive. We are not convinced that the urgency of the need to pay our rent and other costs are fully understood. 

“For many, January will be too late to save business owners, their families and their employees from economic ruin. This should be the top priority for all organisations who are going to be involved in supporting businesses.’’

Liz Cameron

Liz Cameron: ‘we are not convinced urgency is understood (pic: Terry Murden)

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the package of support would be “very much welcomed by the tourism industry, especially by those who have had little or no support to date.

But he added that “there will be widespread disappointment and frustration from many across the industry that the detail on what level of funding businesses can expect to receive, how these funds will be distributed and when, was not made clear in today’s statement.”

He said: “This is what businesses had hoped for and expected from the Finance Secretary; they have been left to make hugely difficult decisions within a continued context of unknowns.”

Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, said: “A large number of Scottish businesses – particularly those in hospitality, retail and tourism – remain in a precarious position, with thousands of jobs still hanging by a thread.

“It’s vital that details of the new support schemes are communicated clearly, that the application process is simple, and that funds reach firms in need as quickly as possible.

“These resources could provide a vital lifeline for businesses as they look to stay afloat through to spring, when the impact of widespread vaccination is likely to be felt.”

Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chairman, said: “These new funds should close some of the most yawning gaps in coronavirus business support, and help many Scottish smaller firms who were forgotten during previous initiatives.

Andrew McRae

Andrew McRae: ‘should help close yawning gaps’

“While we’d like to have seen a speedier and more systematic approach to supporting local businesses crushed by the crisis, we’re pleased that Ministers have seen the light following our representations.

“However we’re now left with a myriad of schemes at various stages of delivery, with much of the cash unlikely to reach firms until the new year. In the future, we need to see policymakers in Edinburgh deliver help for local businesses at the same pace as they implement restrictions on the economy.”

Mr McRae also repeated his call, also demanded by the Scottish Retail Consortium, for a vouchers scheme, similar to that which Northern Ireland is operating, to help local retailers.

The Scottish Wedding Industry Alliance said: “We must thank the Scottish Government for being the first UK government to create a wedding sector specific funding package and for recognising the wedding industry as a vital sector in the Scottish economy.”

The wedding sector will share £15m. However, it warned against delays in re-opening.

“Whilst this funding is extremely welcome, and undoubtedly recognises the value of the wedding sector, it must be said that without being given a clear route map to re-opening by the end of January 2021, a recovery by April/May next year will present further difficulties for the sector.”

Scottish Conservative shadow finance spokesman, Murdo Fraser, said: “The SNP have finally got around to using the extra funding from the UK Government but for many businesses, this will be too little, too late.

“Businesses have their backs up against the wall and need access to the additional grants right now – they can’t wait until January with countless jobs and livelihoods on the line.

“The Scottish Conservatives have outlined a plan of action to help businesses across Scotland, including carrying a rapid review of business grant limits.”



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