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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th March 2020.

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The First Minister:

This is a statement of the obvious, but we are in an incredibly difficult time for businesses across our economy and for the workers who staff those businesses.

I welcome, as does the economy secretary, the support that was outlined by the chancellor earlier this week. We have confirmed, and we will continue to ensure, that every single penny of funding that comes to Scotland to support businesses is passed on to businesses in Scotland. The economy secretary has already set out some of the initial detail of that. For example, all small businesses that receive the small business bonus scheme or rural relief will be eligible for a £10,000 grant. We will provide 12 months’ relief for properties in hospitality, leisure and retail and a £25,000 grant if those properties have a rateable value between £18,000 and £51,000. On top of that, we have taken steps to effectively halt the inflationary increase in business rates that was due in April. Taken together, that is a £2.2 billion support package to help sustain businesses and, crucially, to help them pay their staff and treat their staff fairly. As Jackson Carlaw said, that is initial support. It is inevitable that further support will be required and we continue to discuss that constructively with the UK Government.

I will be as brief as I can be on the point about how businesses will access that support, which is very important. We want to make it as simple as possible, but given the different kinds of support that we have announced, we are approaching the situation in three different ways. I will briefly summarise those. We are working to make sure that the universal rates relief that is available for all properties will be available automatically so that businesses will not have to apply for it. The 100 per cent rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure will require some form of application from the sectors involved, but we are working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and local authority finance directors on how that can be administered in the most straightforward way possible. In the meantime, we will bring forward legislation next week to enshrine that relief from 1 April.

Things are slightly more complicated when it comes to grant schemes. We have set out two grant schemes: the £10,000 small business grants and the £25,000 grants for retail, hospitality and leisure. We are in discussion with COSLA, councils and business associations about how those can be efficiently distributed. I know that the same challenges are being faced in England with grant schemes there. There is no simple answer, but we want to do this as straightforwardly and quickly as possible, and I undertake to make sure that information and guidance are distributed to MSPs and business organisations as soon as the detail is clarified.