By Scott Wright

A FRESH call has been made to support rural firms in Scotland through the Covid-19 crisis after a survey revealed a clear majority have halted business entirely because of the pandemic. It comes as separate surveys highlighted concerns that grants and funding approved under coronavirus support schemes are not reaching businesses quickly enough.

More than 60% of rural firms in Scotland have stopped all trading, with only 8% reporting that they are operating as usual, a survey of nearly 250 rural firms in April found. It follows concerns recently raised by GrowBiz, the Perth-based enterprise group behind the survey, that the pandemic is having a disproportionate effect on rural businesses.

Chief executive Jackie Brierton said: “The spread of Covid-19 presents enormous challenges for businesses across Scotland and especially for small and micro-businesses in rural Scotland.

“Rural business contribute £37 billion to Scottish GVA (gross value added) every year and our survey shows the devastating and potentially irreparable damage that has been done over the past few weeks of the pandemic and the urgent need for a strategic approach to supporting rural businesses and the communities which rely on them so heavily.”

Fewer than 8% of respondents said they were willing to apply for business loans in the current uncertain circumstances. Around one-third said they hope to access HM Revenue & Customs’ Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, reflecting the large percentage of self-employed workers in rural areas in Scotland.

The findings emerged as the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland highlighted its concern over the pace with which grant funding is reaching firms.

The FSB said Scottish Government figures show that £621 million of coronavirus grant funding has been released to 53,765 Scottish businesses, out of a total allocation of £1.2 billion. While £139 million was released between April 21 and 27, £95million was dispersed the following week, the FSB found.

British Chambers of Commerce said the pace of delivery of funds approved under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) “remains disappointingly slow”. However the group said there has been a steady increase in the number of firms accessing the scheme.