Rural Economy and Tourism (Financial Support)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th December 2020.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will review the financial support for businesses in the rural economy and tourism sector that are affected by Covid-19 restrictions. (S5O-04834)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government will continue to engage with the business community, local authorities and others on the scale and effectiveness of United Kingdom Government financial assistance schemes in order to ensure that they are delivering for businesses in Scotland. We will seek to rectify gaps in those schemes, where possible.

We continue to monitor the funds that are available to support people and businesses, and any changes to funding or eligibility will be updated through the website.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I thank the cabinet secretary for engaging with me and others on development of the new funds for tourism. I am particularly pleased about the support for self-catering businesses and travel agents, including golf tourism businesses.

However, the clock is ticking for those companies; many are on the edge of going under. When will the cabinet secretary publish the guidance? When will applications be accepted? Will there be more funds for larger businesses or will there be a flat rate?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I think that there were three questions there. On 9 December, Kate Forbes announced a further package of £185 million and, at the same time, indicated that, in respect of tourism specifically, an additional £60 million is being provided in that, details of which are being developed in consultation with the industry. Those details will be announced shortly.

In respect of larger businesses, we have already supplied £14 million in the hotel support fund, which is specifically designed to support retention of about 3,000 employees in the largest employers.

I have engaged on three or four occasions with a number of senior representatives of the golf sector. Businesses in that sector are inextricably connected with international trade, with many customers coming from the USA, for example. Therefore, the future of that sector is, to an extent, linked to the resumption of international trade.

Mr Rennie has raised a number of fair points. I assure him that we will continue to work with him and with the industry on all those points to provide what support we can as soon as we can.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Can we have quick supplementary questions, please?

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

There will be increased vaccination and the tourism sector will slowly and tentatively be opening up again in the next year. Will the cabinet secretary outline what plans he has to promote and market Scotland as a destination when it is safe to do so?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

VisitScotland has worked up several marketing plans. Jamie Halcro Johnston, whom I welcome to his new responsibilities, will appreciate that the right time for marketing will be once the restrictions are clear. There is no point in marketing now when people cannot take a holiday, because that would be a waste of money. However, I assure him that a lot of thought has gone into that by VisitScotland and the tourism recovery task force, which made a series of recommendations that the Scottish Government has considered. It is absolutely the case that we will need, when the time is right, to market Scotland and to bring people back here from other countries.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary outline what support the Scottish Government is making available to wholesale food and drink suppliers, which have seen a significant proportion of their business being affected by tourism venues being forced to close or to limit trading due to the pandemic?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The impact on food and drink wholesalers has been severe, particularly for those that sell to the hospitality sector and the on-licence trade. Those wholesalers lost most of their business overnight.

Many food and drink wholesalers are also vital in terms of supplies to remote islands. That is why we have announced support through a £5 million fund that is targeted at wholesalers that sell to the hospitality sector. The fund closed on Sunday 13 December and we are assessing applications.

I pay tribute to Colin Smith of the Scottish Wholesale Association for his admirable work on that. That is not our Colin Smyth, Presiding Officer, but a different one, although that is no adverse comment on our Colin Smyth. Colin Smith of the Scottish Wholesale Association has done a great job in advocating the interests of his sector. That has helped us to come up with the package, which I hope will provide support to see those companies through the Covid period.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

On the subject of advocating on behalf of sectors, the point about the timescale is really important. It is now several weeks since the Government announced expansions to the discretionary funds that local authorities hold and, last week, we had the welcome announcement of support for coach firms, for example. However, businesses are really struggling at the moment, so I would like to know exactly when funds will begin to arrive for them.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Our Colin Smyth—if I can continue on nomenclature—raises a very fair point. Timing is of the essence. Therefore—to be serious—I say that we are determined to get all the funding in the various packages out as quickly as possible. Plainly, the schemes have to be administered carefully to avoid inappropriate payments, but local authorities are doing a power of work to assist us in that respect. I assure Mr Smyth that we spend a considerable time discussing and dealing with the issue; indeed, Ms Forbes and I discussed that very topic just this morning.