Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Businesses (Government Support)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd December 2021.

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Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the support that it is providing to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. (S6O-00568)

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The minister also joins us remotely.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

We recognise the difficulties that omicron brings for businesses and their employees, which is why we are providing £375 million to support sectors that have been impacted by the necessary additional public health measures. That funding includes the £100 million that was announced last week for those who have been directly impacted during this key trading period, and it provides £66 million to the hospitality sector and £8 million for the food and drink supply chain, including wholesalers. An update will be provided on the allocation of that funding as soon as possible.

The budget also continues support for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors by delivering 50 per cent rates relief for the first three months of 2022-23—capped at £27,500 per ratepayer—as well as the lowest poundage in the United Kingdom for the fourth year in a row and a total relief package that is worth an estimated £802 million.

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

Although I welcome the significant additional funding to support businesses that the Scottish Government has announced, I also recognise that we cannot go far enough to fully compensate for the substantial impact of omicron within the restrictive resources that are currently available to the Scottish Government. Does the cabinet secretary—I mean “minister”; I nearly promoted Ivan McKee there—agree that businesses now need the scale of financial support that they received earlier in the pandemic and that that can come only from the UK Government, which has the necessary borrowing powers that the Scottish Government does not?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

Absolutely. We know that the scale and urgency of the omicron challenge require that there be financial support for businesses and their employees on a scale similar to that at the start of the pandemic. Although we have announced significant funding for businesses to deal with the impact of omicron, totalling £375 million—significantly more, proportionally, than the chancellor has announced for the UK as a whole—it is worth noting that, of course, that will not fully compensate businesses and their staff. That is why we continue to call on the UK Government to put the necessary support schemes, including furlough, in place to protect workers, given that, under the current UK funding arrangements, only the Treasury has the borrowing powers to provide support on such a scale.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I will take two brief supplementary questions, which are both from members who join us remotely. I would appreciate succinct questions and answers.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

The minister will be aware of the problems that are faced by the travel sector, particularly companies with retail stores. Glasgow-based Barrhead Travel, which is the largest travel agent in Scotland and an employer of more than 500 people, contacted me this week to say that business has been badly hit by the recent announcements but, as of yet, there has been no indication of specific support from the Government. What discussions has the Government had with the travel industry about extending support to the industry? Will he meet me and representatives from Barrhead Travel to hear at first hand how the lack of support from the Government is suffocating one of Glasgow’s biggest companies?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I have previously met representatives of Barrhead Travel, along with other businesses in the travel sector, to understand the extent of the challenges that they are facing. It is a difficult time for the sector, and I continue to meet regularly with its representatives, as does my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, who meets businesses across the wider hospitality, leisure and travel sector with regard to the level of support that is available.

I have just spoken about it, so the member will be aware that, yesterday, the First Minister announced that a total of £375 million has been made available to support business, including businesses in the travel sector. In the context of the first £100 million, there was specific mention of the travel sector. The details of how that and the other £275 million will be distributed are being worked through at pace with representatives and will be communicated as soon as we have the final details.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That was neither a brief question nor a brief answer. Let us see whether we can do better.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I would not get your hopes up, Presiding Officer.

The minister just mentioned furlough. For how long should the scheme be in place, because workers are struggling? Should there be a furlough scheme every time there is a new wave of the virus? What plans does he have to support workers who are really struggling?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The member makes a good point. We believe that a furlough scheme for affected sectors should be introduced when necessary. Given the restrictions that are now having to be put in place for good public health reasons in hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism and other heavily affected sectors, we think that the UK Government should put in place a furlough scheme that supports workers in those sectors.

We are doing what we can to support business but, without the employment data that only the UK Government has, we are in a difficult position when it comes to supporting workers directly. That is why we are calling on the UK Government to step up to the plate and put in place a scheme that supports those affected workers at this difficult time.