Grant backs call for ringfencing on Covid funding to be removed

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, asked the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, if the Scottish Government will remove ringfencing from all Covid support funding and allow local authorities to deal with the differing needs of their own areas.

The MSP put her question to Mr Swinney after today’s (26/01/2021) virtual Ministerial Statement on Covid-19.

Mrs Grant said “After Covid business support funds are announced there is a delay while the Scottish Government issue the criteria for each fund to Councils. This builds in delays and, because these monies are ringfenced, also makes it difficult for Councils to meet the specific need in their own area. While there is discretionary funding available this is small in comparison. Will he consider removing the ringfence from all Covid business support funding and allow Councils to deal with the differing needs of their own communities?”

In response, the Deputy First Minister said he understands the difficulty here but “… the government is often encouraged to put in place specific funds for specific sectors to provide assurance to individual sectors that there is financial support available to them. He continued “There is a need to reflect both the general levels of business support and the specific funds that are available for individual sectors to try to make sure we are meeting the needs of everybody in these circumstances.

The Minister continued “We move at pace with local authorities to agree the eligibility criteria to ensure we can distribute money as quickly as possible and that is very much the thinking that goes into the approach behind the various schemes that we have in place for local authority distribution.”

Rhoda Grant said afterwards “Local authorities know their areas and needs better than central government. I am receiving calls and e-mails from business owners who are fighting for their survival complaining that they aren’t eligible for funding for a variety of different reasons.

“Having put these concerns to Highland Council, it then transpired that the hands of local authorities are tied as they are waiting for information from the Scottish Government on the eligibility criteria for many of the funding streams and this is having a knock-on delay in getting funding out to the businesses who so desperately need it.

Mrs Grant continued “It makes sense to me to have the ringfencing removed and I was happy to back Highland Council’s call on this. I am disappointed by the Scottish Government’s inflexibility here and would dispute the Minister’s statement that they move at pace to agree the criteria with local authorities. The constituents who have been contacting me would dispute this too, they are the people at the coalface who are telling me of the precarious situation their businesses are in.

She concluded “It is a dire situation and a little bit more leeway from the government could have allowed a lot of business owners to sleep a bit sounder in their beds, instead, their fear for their staff and their businesses rumbles on.”