NICOLA Sturgeon has apologised to Scottish businesses that have faced Covid rules changing at short notice – acknowledging a feeling that “communication has not met your needs”.

The First Minister made the admission at the National Economic Forum as she pledged to “strengthen the relationship” between Scottish Government and the business community.

Also speaking at the event, Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes warned that “funding will be a challenge” as businesses emerge from the pandemic, pointing the finger at the UK Government for " taking a more interventionist approach” over the Budget.

In her virtual address, Ms Sturgeon insisted that businesses have “endured restrictions that none of us would have previously contemplated”. She added that “we are not out of the woods on Covid” but stressed “we are able to plan for recovery”.

The First Minister acknowledged her announcement to Holyrood yesterday that it is unlikely any part of Scotland will move down a level and have restrictions eased at the next review date of June 28.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon signals delay to lockdown easing

But Ms Sturgeon added: ”Vaccination means that although the Delta variant may be slowing our progress out of restrictions, I am really confident that it will not stop that progress.

“We are very firmly planning for how we can hopefully ease restrictions in the future and, I hope, in the not too distant future – so over the course of this summer.”

The First Minister pointed to the Scottish Government's physical distancing review being published next week, which she admitted “is of huge importance” to businesses and “to assessments of how businesses can trade and operate sustainably in the medium to longer-term".

Ms Sturgeon moved to reassure traders that for as long as restrictions remain in place “we will give businesses as much support as we possibly can” and as attention turns to recovery, “the needs of business and the economy generally will be central to our thinking”.

The First Minister directly addressed complaints of businesses and traders over delays in vital funding reaching them during the pandemic and rules changing almost overnight, insisting the Government has “had to set up support schemes as quickly as possible” and “often had to make changes to rules and regulations at very short notice”.

READ MORE: Covid: Scotland's councils 'sitting on £30m unspent' business support

She added: ”Very often that has involved striking a very difficult, at times what has felt like an impossible balance.

“A few weeks ago, for example, we delayed a decision on whether Glasgow would stay in level 3 or move down to level 2. There was a very good reason for that – we had to base our decision on the best possible data, but we also had to act in a way that protected public health.

"The delay in that decision of course caused frustration for many businesses, I understand that.

“The point that I’m making here, that is although we have genuinely tried incredibly hard to communicate with the business community – I know the nature of what we have been dealing have meant that at times you may be feeling that communication has not met your needs. I’m genuinely sorry about that, when that happens.”

The SNP’s Finance Secretary highlighted the “levers we have at our disposal” to help businesses recover from the pandemic.

HeraldScotland: Finance and Economy Secretary Kate ForbesFinance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes

Ms Forbes added: “Looking ahead, I think funding is going to be a challenge.

“When it comes to our outlook on the Budget, I think that’s going to be a challenges, not just because of the public finance challenges created by Covid – but also because we are seeing the UK Government take a very different approach to funding, particularly on capital funding where the funding we have direct control over in terms of capital is being reduced and the UK Government is taking a more interventionist approach when it comes to levelling up.

“We need to make sure that Scotland gets its fair share.”