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Scottish Enterprise (Suspension of Grants)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

8. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reported concerns that the suspension of grants by Scottish Enterprise is because of organisational mismanagement and not success in stimulating demand for strategic investment. (S5O-04293)

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Scottish Enterprise always has to consider how best to focus available resources, including grants. Because of its success in stimulating demand for strategic investment, it already has significant commitments for 2021 and beyond. To the end of February, 179 offers for large capital grants from Scottish Enterprise, totalling £103 million, have been accepted. That includes £66 million for 48 research and development projects, and £29 million for 82 regional selective assistance projects. Those represent more offers and more associated capital grant funding than in any of the previous three financial years.

Scottish Enterprise is also committed to working closely with customers and partners to understand the impact of Covid-19, and it will tie in with the £2.2 billion-worth of measures that the Scottish Government is introducing by supporting business through the Covid-19 helpline, as well as through the very fine findbusinesssupport.gov.scot website, which is the best way for businesses to find the information that they need.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The cabinet secretary will appreciate that the landscape has changed since I lodged my question. I appreciate what she says about the successes of Scottish Enterprise, but she will be aware that it ran out of cash well before the end of the financial year and that staff who were supposed to be helping businesses have been unable to travel without the authority of two managers.

There are suggestions that 40 per cent grants were offered when companies expected only 30 per cent. If that is not true, it is certainly heavily rumoured. I caveat this heavily, but when the time is appropriate, will the cabinet secretary look more closely into the matter to make absolutely sure that Scottish Enterprise did run out of money for the reasons that she has given today?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

It is very important that Scottish Enterprise makes sure that every penny of public funds is spent to develop business. That is what it has done. I do not base things on rumour and I certainly want to hold Scottish Enterprise to account. That is my job, and I have already done that. I am confident that it has managed to maximise income, as has been reported. The figures are much better than they have been in previous years.

At no point does Scottish Enterprise stop supporting business. I want to reassure Pauline McNeill on that.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

I recognise the critical role of Scottish Enterprise at this time. Can the cabinet secretary provide additional information on efforts to upscale the coronavirus business hotline?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

As I have indicated, clearly there is heavy demand on that hotline and, importantly, on the website. I encourage all businesses to access the website first. The findbusinesssupport website includes many frequently asked questions, most of which are about the United Kingdom Government announcements of Tuesday night and yesterday. Clearly, we want to ensure that business rates will be applicable immediately when they come in in April. The 100 per cent reliefs will be very welcome.

In terms of the additional information that is required, we want to focus efforts on the helpline, which had 2,300 calls on Tuesday and 1,850 calls yesterday. It has the resources that it needs. Five thousand businesses have now received the Covid-19 email newsletter, and we are upscaling with 80 additional staff to help to screen calls.

I appeal to members to direct businesses to the website in the first instance, because we understand that the great majority of the questions that are being asked are dealt with on it.