4. To ask the Scottish Government what cross-Government strategies have been identified, as part of its work on Covid-19 recovery, to support any communities and businesses in the Highlands and Islands that have not received any or substantial help throughout the pandemic. (S6O-00791)
The Scottish Government is committed to supporting a fair recovery from the pandemic, including for businesses and communities in the Highlands and Islands. Since the start of the pandemic, businesses in Scotland have benefited from £4.5 billion in support from the Scottish Government, and we have engaged extensively with businesses to ensure that our support is effective.
Last week, we announced a new £80 million Covid economic recovery fund that will target support for businesses and communities as we move into a new phase in the pandemic. Subject to parliamentary approval, councils in the Highlands and Islands will receive more than £8 million from the fund and they will have flexibility in determining how best to use the funding to support local businesses and low-income households.
I welcome that flexibility, but the cabinet secretary will be aware that the funding that was made available during the first lockdown left many businesses behind. Despite the time that elapsed, the same funding was issued subsequently. That was extremely frustrating for businesses that received no funding on either occasion, some of which are close to going under. Will the cabinet secretary consider ways in which he can help businesses that have missed out on substantial funding over the piece to start up again, to survive and to go forward in order to help the economy in the Highlands and Islands to recover?
I am very happy to engage on that question. If Rhoda Grant wishes to supply me with further examples or areas where she believes that to be appropriate, I will happily consider them.
The Government designed a host of different business support schemes, some of which applied to a particular sector, such as hospitality. We tried to design them to have as broad a reach as we possibly could, but I accept that some businesses will not have been neatly caught by any of them. That is why we put in place discretionary relief funds for local authorities to do exactly as we envisage with the £80 million fund that the First Minister announced a week past Monday. It is designed to give local authorities the ability to address the issue that Ms Grant puts to me, which is that there might be businesses that have not been reached by discrete funds that could be supported by more general provision.
I will be happy to receive some further information and thoughts from Rhoda Grant on that question, but I also encourage her to point businesses in the direction of local authorities, which have been given substantial discretionary relief funds to try to address exactly the circumstances that she puts to me.