– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th September 2016.
8. To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is ensuring accelerated funding and additional business support in light of Brexit uncertainty. (S5F-00183)
Earlier this week, I announced that we intend to use the strength of our balance sheet to establish a new Scottish growth fund. Over three years, that will provide small and medium-sized enterprises with up to £500 million of investment guarantees and some loans up to a maximum of £5 million per eligible business.
I also announced 16 projects that will support and create employment as part of our £100 million capital investment package. They include a £20 million investment in energy saving measures for homes and public sector buildings, £23 million to upgrade the higher education estate, and £10 million that will go towards local economic development projects throughout the country. All of that spending is, of course, accelerated into this financial year.
Responding to the Federation of Small Businesses, we have also created a new single point of contact for businesses in Scotland to enable individual companies to submit any questions or concerns that they have about the impact of Brexit.
Does the First Minister agree that it is high time that the United Kingdom Government followed our lead and announced its own economic stimulus package rather than continuing to brush off all concerns about the future of our economy by repeating its meaningless mantra “Brexit means Brexit”?
Yes, I do. On 10 August, when I announced the £100 million package, I called on the UK Government to urgently develop its own economic stimulus plans. One month on, we have not seen any meaningful action to alleviate uncertainty. For goodness’ sake, we do not yet even know the date of the autumn statement. That is the extent of the uncertainty that currently engulfs the UK Government.
I have great confidence in the resilience of Scottish business, but there are real concerns that the damage to the economy and jobs from the Brexit decision and the UK Government’s confusion since then will be severe and long lasting.
The Parliament has given the Scottish Government a mandate to seek to protect Scotland’s interests, and that is exactly what we will continue to do.
Can the First Minister reassure our farming businesses across Scotland that the shambles of this year’s direct farm payments will not be repeated in the coming year? Never mind accelerated payments, I had farmers at my door at the weekend telling me that they still have not received the payments that were due from the Scottish Government nine months ago.
As we have said previously, we acknowledge our shortcomings when it comes to making payments to farmers this year. We have apologised for that, and I do so again today.
As of 5 September, of 18,300 eligible farmers, more than 17,700 have had payment, more than 17,400 have been paid in full and we have paid loans to those who are still awaiting the payment.
Fergus Ewing will give a full update to Parliament next week, on 13 September. As well as giving an update on payments for this year, he will set out our intentions regarding the 2016 payments.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sure that all members—back-bench members, anyway—will appreciate the new arrangements for First Minister’s questions, which give back-bench members more opportunities. Could I clarify with you that supplementary questions on question 3 and question 4 do not have to be sent in advance to your office, and that they can be more spontaneous?
Also, Presiding Officer, you wrote to us about the subject matter of questions. Could you confirm that, although a subject might have been raised at general questions, that does not preclude it from being raised at First Minister’s questions? To give an example, I had hoped to ask about the downgrading of Monklands hospital and to issue a request to the health minister to attend. That was a subject matter at general questions but not at First Minister’s questions. Is that the kind of question that would be in order at question 3 or 4?
The Presiding Officer:
I thank Elaine Smith for the question, and yes—she is correct on both points. Members do not have to submit to me the supplementaries that come after the final leaders’ questions. It might help if you do, if you think it is likely to increase your chances of being selected, but do not feel obliged to—it might decrease your chances. [
Secondly, Elaine Smith is right that members cannot ask the same question as is on the
Business Bulletin for First Minister’s questions, but if the subject has been raised in general questions, they should feel free to ask again. I hope that is helpful.