Today’s news that 90-year-old Margaret Keenan has become the first person to receive the Covid-19 vaccine is good news for us all. It marks the first step on the road to our national recovery and feels like a big step forward. When that is coupled with the news that 11 local authorities that are under the most severe restrictions will see them being loosened, there is a real sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
However, we must be cautious. For people who are still unable to see relatives, who have to work at their kitchen table or who watch as the doors of their small business remain firmly bolted, the difficulties that have been brought on by tackling Covid persist. For businesses in local authority areas in which the number of cases, and every other indicator, gave them hope that they should have been placed in a lower tier, it is a bitter pill to have been told today that they will not because it is Christmas and—ironically—they might get too much trade.
News of continued restrictions means that not only does support need to be announced, but it needs to be delivered—quickly. Therefore, tomorrow’s announcement from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance will be welcome, particularly because the Scottish hospitality trade has had lower levels of support than the trade in England and Wales, but support needs to reach its intended targets.
Three weeks ago, the First Minister unveiled a £30 million discretionary fund to help people who have fallen through the cracks of Covid support, such as taxi drivers and people in the supply chain who were not forced to shut but whose business has dried up due to other closures. That fund was to be administered by local authorities and would consider applications from across the piece.
Fast forward to last week, when the First Minister repeated to Parliament that the fund’s money would flow in the near future. She went on to confirm that councils had signed off how the money would be split up last month. However, as of today, local authorities still have not received the funds and are not able to open applications. The fund is designed to help people who do not qualify for other grants and who are on their knees. They are watching the clock and are aware that many council workers will be going on Christmas leave, which means that the time for processing applications will be reduced.
The First Minister announced the fund three weeks ago, with a promise to get it up and running soon. Is she now able to give hard-pressed taxi drivers and supply-chain workers a date for when her Government will release the funds to local authorities, and when they can start applying for that support?