By Kristy Dorsey

Business owners and trade body leaders have been left dismayed after the Scottish Government said it has no plans to reverse its stance on the allocation of coronavirus support grants to firms with multiple properties.

The divergence in Scottish policy from the rest of the UK emerged earlier this week after grant applicants reported that the funding package is not available on the terms they had been led to believe. The Scottish Government initially said on March 18 that it would fully replicate measures in England and Wales, where businesses are receiving £25,000 for each qualifying property.

In a statement released yesterday to The Herald, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes confirmed the Government will limit grants to one per business, regardless of how many outlets they trade from.

“Because there are more businesses eligible for the £10,000 grant in Scotland due to the more generous Small Business Bonus Scheme, and recognising the other business support available to cover wages, we have decided to limit the £10,000 and £25,000 grants to one per business,” she said.

“This has allowed us to offer support to other important sectors, including creative industries, aviation and fishing, which are not receiving support elsewhere in the UK. As such, parity with other nations could require us to strip those sectors of support, which could arguably cause even greater hardship.”

The owners of small chains and their trade body representatives were enraged yesterday by the news, which has been variously labelled as “misleading” and “a betrayal”.

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), described it as “blood boiling” after the “misleading statements from the Government when this support was first announced”.

“The Minister and this Government are going to seriously have to justify this decision to all of us involved in the hospitality and tourism sector, one of Scotland’s leading industries, or it was until this,” he said.

Mr Wilkinson was additionally angered by the Finance Minister’s failure to reply to a joint industry letter asking for clarification on coronavirus grant funding in Scotland.

That letter was sent on Sunday morning and was signed by Mr Wilkinson as well as the heads of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, the Scottish Retail Consortium, the Scottish Tourism Alliance and the Scottish director of UKHospitality. In it, they noted that the proposed £25,000 grant scheme “seems to have become much more restricted” than when it was first announced on March 18.

“In her remarks then the Business Secretary, and indeed also the Rural Economy Secretary later in the debate, mentioned that the £25,000 grant would be applicable for each ‘property’ operated by a business,” the letter says.

“This was re-stated in the accompanying press statement (18 March – ‘£2.2 billion for business’). Indeed, this was reaffirmed only yesterday (28 March – ‘Supporting tourism through coronavirus’), in which the Rural Economy Secretary once again said it was ‘properties’ that would each benefit.”

Nicole Bernard, whose Wax Bar chain of beauty salons operate out of six sites across Scotland and the north of England, has joined up with fellow Edinburgh-based businessman Jon Sharp to launch an online petition in support of overhauling the policy. She said that failure to do so would be “a devastating blow from the SNP” on SMEs in Scotland.

“Scotland’s business community is being misled by what grants and funds are on offer,” she said. “The monetary support that is being provided does not match that of our English and Welsh counterparts, with jobs and lifelong careers at risk in the days ahead.”

Greig Anderson owns two restaurants in Glasgow, Moyra Janes in Pollockshields and MJ’s Brasserie in Williamwood. While he is eligible for the £25,000 grant on Moyra Janes, he said he will receive just £1,960 of support for MJ’s under the Small Business Bonus Scheme set-up.

“Even after taking into account support from the Scottish Government’s Small Business Bonus Scheme, I will be at least £8,000 worse off than if I was trading south of the border,” he said.

“I hope that the Scottish Government will reconsider this approach and stand by their original pledge that I will be as well supported as those similar businesses south of the border.”

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said many firms such as these had made decisions on things like store closures, staffing and cash flow management based on last week’s initial statements from the Government.

“These firms – who sustain hundreds of jobs across Scotland directly – now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to think afresh about the cash flow challenges they face,” he said. “That challenge has now become immeasurably more difficult at the very time when they have had to shut their shops.”

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