NICOLA Sturgeon has come under fire for crucial business support grants being handed over to traders “at a snail’s pace”.

At First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross pressed Ms Sturgeon over concerns raised by businesses they have not yet received funding to mitigate restrictions rolled out by the Scottish Government in response to the Omicron surge – despite previously being assured the cash would be handed over by Christmas.

Ms Sturgeon appeared to put the blame onto necessary red tape as councils give out the funding to protect against fraud.

Mr Ross pointed to his opponent’s pledge on December 14 that ”vital financial support…would be delivered before Christmas” but claimed that “the First Minister has failed”.

He added: “Many businesses have contacted us to say they can’t even apply for that funding yet, let alone receive a single penny.”

But the First Minister insisted that local authorities in partnership with the Scottish Government “are working to get that money to businesses as quickly as possible”.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon says Douglas Ross dismissal shows Westminster's 'utter contempt' for Scotland

She said: “There are some checks that councils have to do to guard against fraud – that process is ongoing for the hospitality strand, for example.

“Businesses who previously got support have been contacted – the vast bulk of those have been contacted. They have been asked to complete a declaration and the money will start to flow when those declarations have been returned.”

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that “many councils are in the process now of making payments”, pointing to Edinburgh and Midlothian.

She added: “Nightclubs are being asked to submit an application – as soon as they do then money will be allocated to them within days of that.

“This is an ongoing process, but everybody is working hard to get the money into bank accounts of businesses as quickly as possible.”

But the Scottish Tory leader stressed that the blame lies with the Scottish Government.

He said: “She stood in this chamber and promised to do everything possible to deliver the funding before Christmas and here we are in the middle of January.

“Businesses are telling us the process is going at a snail’s pace. But the First Minister somehow defends it or blames councils for not acting quickly enough.”

Mr Ross added: “The responsibility is on the Scottish Government. The SNP in Scotland added these restrictions, which have impacted businesses, but they’ve not delivered the funding.

READ MORE: No.10 refuses to give confidence backing to Douglas Ross

"The SNP are quick to demand more funding form the UK Government but very slow to actually get it out to the businesses that need it.”

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs in a Covid update on Tuesday that the Government believes there are currently 30,000 new infections each day, while a projection last month suggested the figure could be as high as 50,000 by mid-January.

Mr Ross said the projection was “wrong” and hospitality businesses are still being “held back” with restrictions on social distancing and table service extended for at least another week.

But Ms Sturgeon was adamant that “the projections before Christmas were not wrong”.

She added: “What happened is that we didn’t just fold our arms and accept those projections as inevitable.

“We took proportionate, sensible, balanced action.

“The public responded – as they have done throughout this pandemic – magnificently and we were able to change the course of those projections.”

In response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Scottish Government put restrictions in place including shuttering nightclubs, limiting outdoor events to 500 people, indoor seated events to 200 and indoor standing to 100, along with social distancing in public places and table service for hospitality businesses selling alcohol.

Ministers also urged people to limit their household contacts as much as they could in the run-up to Christmas.

Only the cap on large outdoor events has been lifted, with the change due to come into effect on Monday. A decision is expected next week on the remaining restrictions.