Business Support

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

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Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

This is a time of year when we would normally be talking about small businesses in our respective constituencies and urging people to buy local, support our independent shops and cherish the diversity of offer on our high streets. In Aberdeenshire, those shops are thankfully still open, and those small businesses need our support more than ever. I make this plea to any of my constituents who are watching the debate to please get their Christmas presents, where possible, from the high streets of our market towns of Turriff, Inverurie, Ellon and Oldmeldrum; to support the struggling self-employed microbusinesses that have no Christmas fairs this year; to find their favourite local makers online where they continue to sell; to buy Christmas trees, wreaths and flowers directly from their local florists and garden centres; and to get their turkeys from our farm shops. This year of all years, doing that is more important than ever.

In Scotland, in contrast to other countries, the Government has had to make business support and public health decisions against the backdrop of other impactful decisions that were made in areas over which we do not have control. For the purpose of the debate, the most obvious one is the fiscal arrangement that we have as a devolved nation. The money that we have is the money that we have, and we cannot borrow any more.

With those constraints, the Scottish Government has still been able to deliver more than £2.3 billion-worth of support to a wider range of businesses than has been supported in other parts of the UK. That funding has helped those who have had to temporarily cease trading because of affected supply chains; it has provided grant support, which addresses the issues that the newly self-employed person faces because the UK Government has frankly ignored them; and it has given discretion and flexibility to councils to decide who is eligible. Throughout this period, I and my constituency office team have challenged a few decisions that the local authority has made regarding local businesses, and we have been able to get support to the latter when that flexibility has been a little bit wanting.

Is what we are doing enough? Of course it is not. The full green recovery will take so much more. To borrow 4 per cent of our gross domestic product, as Germany has done, to front load that recovery might be enough. That is what SNP members would like, and it would be immensely helpful if every MSP could get behind the Scottish Government in those calls for borrowing powers and more fiscal flexibility. I am an optimist—what can I say?

I would like to see a renewed focus on any remaining Covid business disruption support for the very small businesses that have fallen between cracks in eligibility—the hardest-hit people from the creative industries, for example, as well as businesses in the beauty and lifestyle, travel, tourism and events sectors, a high proportion of which are, incidentally, women-led. Many are sole traders who operate out of their homes, and we know that they have not had the benefit of furlough or support delivered through the rates system.

I have a plea for more help for those who have graduated from our colleges and universities this year. They do not need more training; they need opportunities. Many of those graduates were hoping to start their freelance careers in the sectors in which salaried secure jobs do not exist and have not existed for some time, such as the creative industries, and they need specific assistance.

I, too, welcome that Tesco is refunding the support that the Scottish Government gave it at the start of the pandemic. The cabinet secretary’s immediate commitment to give that £60 million to those businesses and communities that have been hit hardest during Scotland’s recovery from Covid is absolutely the right one. I hope that other large businesses that are now finding their feet will join Tesco in giving back, so that we can do what we can to redeploy those funds to the small businesses that are finding the situation that much harder.