Scottish Government must keep coronavirus pledge to businesses – Brian Wilson
On March 13, I wrote that the Scottish Government must pass on UK Budget consequentials for business, saying “‘Thanks and snap – we’ll do the same things here.’ The longer the delay, the greater the prospects for obfuscation and diversion.”
A few days later, Chancellor Rishi Sunak brought the Scottish package to £2.2 billion. On March 18, Fiona Hyslop, Economy Secretary, told Holyrood: “We will replicate the package of measures in full.” So far, so good.
Mr Sunak’s package included a £25,000 grant for customer-facing businesses. Again, Ms Hyslop was very specific. “We will provide a £25,000 grant for hospitality, leisure and retail properties with a rateable value of between £18-51,000.”
This brought relief to owners of shops, pubs, cafes and so on – many owning more than one property. That scarcely makes them plutocrats. Indeed the likelihood is that better-trading outlets support weaker ones in poorer areas.
The scheme is operating as announced in England. However, when Scottish business owners went to claim the money, they found there was to be no “replication” – dictionary definition: ‘make an exact copy of’.
Instead, the Scottish Government intends to pay only one £25k per company – no matter how many outlets. The implications are “catastrophic”, according to organisations representing Scottish retailers.
Minimal integrity demanded another ministerial statement saying they now planned to use the money differently and justifying that alternative. That is not the way they operate and the deceit was only revealed to those directly involved at the point of applying. Surely this must be reversed and Ms Hyslop held to account? The alternative is a further degradation of Scotland’s semi-derelict town centres, more unnecessary job losses and another reason not to trust a word spoken at Holyrood.