By Dr Liz Cameron

AS the Covid-19 pandemic escalates across the world we have seen governments and other organisations launch measures not seen in peacetime. While these actions are necessary to protect from the catastrophic spread of disease, it is clear that businesses in Scotland are in need of urgent support as people in the UK face weeks and months of lockdown.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has come to the table with a very welcome £350 billion package of support for businesses. It is also welcome that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has committed “every penny” of consequential funding to business support in Scotland.

The measures announced by Mr Sunak are essential if businesses are to survive and are a good start to filling the cashflow gap. We have urged both the Scottish and UK Government to provide access to these funds quickly and as easily as possible – any delays could lead to job losses and we must avoid this at all costs.

In the first instance, cash must reach businesses in the hospitality and leisure sector. Nor is this just in urban areas. Entire areas of Scotland are now facing uncertain futures as visits to pubs, bars and restaurants are not banned but essentially shut down. The knock-on effect for thousands of employees and casual workers cannot be underestimated, nor the impact on local economies as already fragile hospitality and tourism businesses face closure for a time that is yet to be determined and face the risk of not being able to open doors again for some time.

That’s why we must make sure business support touches every part of Scotland. The impact of the virus is indiscriminate and our business support must stretch as far as it can, to every business community in Scotland.

The Chancellor’s extension of the business rates holiday and upping grants for businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure and some of the smallest businesses are welcome. Likewise, interest-free business loans up to £5million will offer support and we look forward forthcoming details on how to access this from the British Business Bank.

The delay in deploying IR35 which would have had a significant impact on the self-employed and businesses that work with them offers relief for both. Micro businesses and the self-employed are just as important to our economy and are already experiencing major income reductions.

This is an unprecedented situation for business, communities and our society. We need to ensure these measures are constantly reviewed so the business and economic impacts continue to be mitigated and to ensure companies are supported quickly and with the relevant measures. We are ready to accept the UK Government’s invitation to work with them to design the necessary structures.

Even before the Prime Minister announced that people must work from home where possible and avoid non-essential social contact, businesses were already feeling the impact of the coronavirus spread. We have engaged with our members across the Scottish Chamber network on a daily basis and the responses have been eye-opening. Significant numbers are reporting issues over cancelled bookings, orders and cashflow; disruption to supply chains and facing wholesale redesign of their business models, which heap on extra cost burdens. Not to mention the impact on the workforce – all of these together have been having severe impacts across all sectors.

We fully appreciate we are in unchartered waters, but we are already seeing great examples of individuals, communities, and businesses all doing as much as possible to help one another. Let’s ensure that businesses are fully supported in getting through this difficult time.

Dr Liz Cameron is Chief Executive, Scottish Chambers of Commerce