Covid Scotland: Scottish Enterprise brands pandemic criticism 'unfair'

Scottish Enterprise has refuted claims from business organisations that it failed companies during the pandemic.

The Scottish Parliament’s economy and fair work committee told Scottish Enterprise chief financial officer Douglas Colquhoun on Wednesday the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Scottish Chamber of Commerce felt the system of support during the height of lockdown was “not visible enough” and “still too complex and prone to duplication”.

The business groups gave evidence to the committee two weeks ago.

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Mr Colquhoun said he felt the criticism was “unfair” and the organisation had experienced the “most extraordinary year of delivery” in his 34 years there.

The economy committee heard evidence from Scottish Enterprise.

He said: “There's always lessons to be learned in a situation like we faced last year, but the criticism is a little bit unfair.

"I think we delivered record levels of support to businesses, last year investing £560 million into Scotland's economy. We pivoted very quickly to deploying staff into supporting businesses that have been affected by Covid.

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"We put out £220m of corporate grants that provides the critical lifeline to approximately 4,000 businesses and helped to safeguard more than 70,000 jobs.

"On top of all that we continue to deliver what we call a business's usual activities, in terms of economic development.

"It was a fairly extraordinary year in terms of performance. Personally I've got 34 years of experience with Scottish Enterprise and I think I'll look back on last year as perhaps the most extraordinary year of delivery that we've experienced considering our staff working remotely.”

Giving evidence to the committee earlier this month, Barry McCullough, head of policy at the FSB, said: “In some ways, when we were in the middle of the crisis, Scottish Enterprise was not there. It is important that we think about what we can do about that and what we can do differently as a result of the massive investment that we are talking about.”

An FSB report recently warned almost two-thirds of small firms said their operating costs had risen over the past year, while many exporters also said they were continuing to struggle amid rising shipping fees and loss of goods in transit.

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