Scottish Government’s handling of support for rural businesses has been branded ’shambolic’ by Shadow Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Rachael Hamilton.
The Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and the Borders has claimed too many businesses are still being ’left in the dark’ as regards their eligibility for Covid-19 related business support.
More specifically she has claimed many businesses ranging from sporting estates to self-catering cottages have been left out of the Scottish Government’s Coronavirus Business Support Grant, with no reasonable explanation from Ministers.
She has rejected Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s explanation that sporting businesses had been ‘inadvertently’ excluded.
Rural stakeholders such as the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Countryside Alliance have had some reassurance support is coming, albeit with very little detail.
Both organisations have raised concern about the lack of support and the impact it is having on businesses trying to stay afloat at a time when bookings are down and staff are losing their jobs.
Ms Hamilton said: “Sporting and self-catering businesses are furious they were not included in the criteria for business support at the beginning, and they are still unclear as to what they are now eligible for several weeks into this crisis.
“If businesses were ‘inadvertently excluded’, why did Fergus Ewing not communicate that to the Finance Secretary Kate Forbes?”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said it was working hard to provide financial support to as many businesses as possible, including those in the tourism and country sports sector that do not operate from business premises.
Diversified farm businesses relying on tourism have been hit hard by the Covid-19 lockdown but some support is now appearing.
Freda Scott-Park who runs the Portnellan Farm business on Loch Lomond with her husband David and son Chris was pleased to see £10,000 from the Small Business Grant Scheme in their bank account on Tuesday some three weeks after applying for it.
"We have income from Basic Payment Scheme, our organic beef enterprise, self-catering and glamping accommodation, and moorings on Loch Lomond.
“We are very glad to see the payment in the bank because there is no income from the tourist side of the business and our biomass boiler packed up the other week.
"Fortunately our organic beef sales have been really strong. Living in such beautiful countryside we are luckier than many but it will be great to welcome visitors back to the farm again.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy has spoken to industry representatives and reassured them that the Scottish Government is working hard to provide financial support for as many businesses as possible, including those in the tourism and country sports sector that do not operate from business premises.
“The Scottish Government is going to great lengths to support businesses and our total package for businesses now totals £2.3 billion – which is more than the consequentials we received from the UK Government.
“Because of the decisions the Scottish Government has taken, thousands more self-employed people and small businesses will be able to benefit from support compared with elsewhere, and we have been able to help sectors of the economy that are not being supported in other parts of the UK."
The spokesperson added: "We have announced a £100 million fund to support the self-employed and SMEs which includes a £34 million Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund, a £20 million Creative, Tourism & Hospitality Enterprises Hardship Fund for creative, tourism and hospitality companies not in receipt of business rates relief and the £45 million Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund.
“We are also doing more to support the seafood sector than the rest of UK and have put in place a package of support for the seafood, fishing and aquaculture sectors of nearly £23 million.
“We are listening to concerns as we continue to explore how best to support businesses during this unprecedented economic challenge.”