We are regularly told by the First Minister that the best way to support jobs and businesses is to control the coronavirus, and that there is a direct correlation between public health and the public economy. There is; we know all too well that keeping the virus down will keep the economy open.
However, there is still a high transmission rate, there is the tragedy of the high death rate that we have witnessed, and there is the failure to test—which is perhaps the Government’s biggest mistake—and the failure to isolate and quarantine. Those basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored, so the First Minister is right: all of that does correspond with the high rate of business closures, the deeper crisis of economic failure and the higher level of job losses than were inevitable. That is what the Government has presided over. W e face a 10 per cent crash in output, we expect unemployment to double, and our town and city centres are being hollowed out.
Do not get me wrong: I am not attributing the situation that faces small businesses and people with jobs in retail entirely to the pandemic. We cannot lose sight of the fact that we have been hearing for years warnings that our high streets and town centres are at risk. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, in its report “Transforming Towns: Delivering a Sustainable Future for Local Places”, one in 10 town-centre properties across Scotland has been vacant since 2014.
This week, 25,000 jobs are at risk across the United Kingdom in big retailers the Arcadia Group and Debenhams. When such giants are crashing, and when we know that small independent businesses in high streets and town centres across the country are also facing the threat of closure, it is time for action.
Small business Saturday is this weekend, but it will have a hollow ring to it this year, because small businesses in level 4 areas, which serve more than 40 per cent of the Scottish population, are not open for business. In fact, too many of them are boarded up. The Scottish Retail Consortium has estimated that non-food shops will miss out on £270 million—more than a quarter of a billion pounds—in lost revenue over the three weeks of restrictions across the 11 local authority areas that are currently in level 4.
That is why we say that the Scottish Government’s strategic framework business fund does not go far enough. To some, it offers only a fraction of the losses; others, it does not reach at all. That is why we do not support the Scottish National Party’s amendment, which would remove the call in our motion for more business support.