Firms claim ‘betrayal’ over Scottish crisis grant support

SNP ministers are facing accusations of “betrayal” after deviating from a key measure funded by the UK Government to support high street businesses through the coronavirus crisis.
Boarded up premises in Glasgow. Picture: John DevlinBoarded up premises in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
Boarded up premises in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin

An online petition had yesterday attracted more than 1,000 signatures from business owners dismayed by a decision from Scottish ministers to pay only a single grant of £25,000 to owners of shops, pubs and restaurants, regardless of how many outlets they operate. This is in contrast to the approach announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who made clear the grant scheme was on a “per property” basis.

That formula is now being applied elsewhere in the UK.

The petition states: “Westminster passed money to the Scottish Government to provide the same support for Scottish businesses … jobs and businesses all over Scotland are now at risk. Scotland deserves the same protection as this rest of the UK.”

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The petition accuses the finance secretary Kate Forbes of “betraying” commitments made by Nicola Sturgeon and other Scottish Government Ministers to “replicate” the scheme announced by the Chancellor.

The Chancellor’s announcements resulted in £2.2 billion passing to the Scottish Government for business support.

In the Scottish Parliament on 18 March, economy secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “We will replicate the package of measures in full.”

She added: “We will provide a £25,000 grant for hospitality, leisure and retail properties with a rateable value of £18-51,000.”

However, Scottish business owners with more than one outlet who had taken this assurance at face value said they were left shocked to find, when they made application, they were limited to a single grant of £25,000 regardless of the number of properties.

In a letter to ministers, seen by The Scotsman, leaders of trade bodies representing Scotland’s retailers, tourism providers and publicans have warned of the implications for jobs and businesses, pointing out that many of their members “have already taken decisions in light of the 18 March announcement in order to combat the immense cash flow challenges that they 

The letter sought “early clarity on the situation so that we can advise these businesses and our wider membership”.

They have not yet received a formal response.

However, in a letter dated 1 April to Rachael Hamilton MSP, his Scottish Conservative shadow, tourism minister Fergus Ewing, confirmed: “One grant is available per property where the ratepayer has one property, and for those with multiple properties it is one grant per business”.

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Greig Anderson, co-owner of two bistros in the Glasgow area, said: “As things stand I am entitled to half of what two businesses in England or Wales would receive, which is very unfair when I am trying to keep afloat and carry on paying my not insubstantial ongoing costs during the Covid-19 crisis. I hope the Scottish Government will reconsider this approach and make sure we are as well supported as similar businesses south of the Border”.

Comments on the petition website were scathing about the Scottish Government’s approach, which it was claimed had not been announced to Parliament.

Matt Walker in Edinburgh wrote: “It’s a national crisis and it should be a wholly national response.” Kirsty Palmer in Midlothian added: “SNP support us or lose our support.”

Critics point out that businesses with several shops or restaurants within a region of Scotland often cross-subsidise internally and it is the least profitable branches which are likely to go to the wall without support. The Scottish Government was contacted yesterday for comment.

Ferry companies and port operators will meanwhile need urgent support to stop routes being axed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Scotland’s transport secretary Michael Matheson has conceded.

He said the lockdown has led to significant losses in recent weeks and warned companies may soon have to make “difficult commercial decisions”.

A joint letter from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments has urged UK transport secretary Grant Shapps to take action to prevent companies from collapsing. Suggested measures include relaxing competition rules to allow ferry operators to work together.