Business Support

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd December 2020.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue. The Labour motion acknowledges the critical role of small businesses, not only to our economy but to our communities and our society. It makes particular reference to the hospitality sector, and it recognises the risk that those businesses face and the need for Government, businesses and unions to work together to develop a long-term recovery plan.

However, I am concerned with the way in which the issue of unallocated resources is presented. I think that we can all acknowledge that that money is not sitting idle, as some would misrepresent it. It is certainly not the case, as we have just heard suggested, that billions of pounds are being set aside for a secret plan for independence. I do not think that we should lean into that kind of nonsense. It is clear that no cabinet secretary, regardless of which party was in government, would be able to formally allocate all that money to specific budget lines at the moment, given the continued uncertainty.

The Government has to address certain important issues regarding consequentials. The Government amendment corrects the unhelpful implication; it is a bit too self-congratulatory, which is not unusual for a Government amendment, but it acknowledges fairly the necessary actions that the UK Government is taking. Just two weeks ago, the cabinet secretary told the Finance and Constitution Committee that there were general areas that the so-far unallocated resource would be earmarked for. She listed maintaining transport networks, education, and payment for people who are self-isolating.

The recent announcement of the £500 payment to health and social care staff, a policy that I welcome, was not in that list, so less will be available from the unallocated resource for the priorities that were identified in evidence to the committee just a fortnight ago. The cabinet secretary has a responsibility to come forward with clear information on that point, as soon as possible.

There are some other issues that are missing from the Labour motion. I sought to raise those issues in an amendment, but it was not selected for debate. Business support must benefit the workforce, not just business owners. I am sure that Richard Leonard agrees with that principle.

Hospitality is one of the sectors that we are all concerned about, but it has a longstanding pattern of widespread poverty pay and exploitative employment practices from long before the pandemic. It also has a low level of unionisation, which is no surprise because low standards and lack of unionisation often go hand in hand. We should all therefore welcome the more than 11 per cent increase in Unite hospitality membership during the pandemic, as many more people see that the market will never protect their interests, the Government has failed to protect their interests, and so collective action can make the difference that they need to see in their lives. There are great examples of success in the collective action that is being taken around the country, with some hospitality employers being forced into reversing damaging decisions.

There is also far more to be done, such as challenging the lack of any minimum income floor in the furlough scheme. Minimum wages in this country are too low already, with even the highest bands lying well below the living wage. Discrimination against younger workers is an accepted norm that the UK Government has deliberately exacerbated. The job retention scheme now expects people to live on far less than their normal poverty wages, so a minimum income floor would give those workers some desperately needed protection.