Business Support

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

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I have worked closely with Kate Forbes on financial support for individuals and businesses, and I have to say that she is good at listening and responding. In fact, she listened so carefully to Richard Leonard and me when we proposed a bonus for health and social care workers that she found the money for it. I hope that that listening carries on today, because when she says that she has no money left, that means that she can find £180 million when the First Minister needs to make a speech to conference. I am therefore sure that she will forgive us if we are a little bit sceptical when she pleads poverty once again.

I am pleased that the Government has responded to concerns about the effectiveness of the self-isolation payments. I hope that the changes will result in a higher success rate than 24 per cent. I also hope that those who require to self-isolate in advance of a hospital appointment can claim from the fund in future.

The minister needs to work to simplify the business grant application process. It has become overly complex with short timescales, and the teams handling the claims are short-staffed. I know that councils are, in large part, responsible for that, but I hope that the cabinet secretary will work with local authorities to make those improvements.

My main requests today cover three areas. The first is the quite niche area of travel agents, outbound and inbound. That includes golf tourism, which is important to my constituency, attracting customers from the USA and all around the globe to play on the world’s best golf courses. Also included are travel agents who send local people to far-flung parts of the world. Almost all their business disappeared overnight in March, but the companies were not able to furlough their staff because the staff had to dedicate their time to getting customers’ money back for all the holidays that had been cancelled. They have been running on empty for months. Despite getting some business rate grants earlier this year, many of them do not have shops or offices, and they have been losing money every single day while paying their staff.

I know that there have been discussions between ministers and the sector and I hope that the minister will update us on those in summing up.

Secondly, taxi drivers are another niche area, although Richard Leonard raised that issue as well. The new council discretionary fund is available only in level 4 areas, but in level 3 areas taxi drivers’ work is significantly affected by the restrictions and they are struggling to keep afloat.