Coronavirus: trade groups respond to Scottish Government measures

busy bar

TRADE groups have welcomed measures from the Scottish Government designed to ease pressure on hospitality businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic – but say further immediate provisions are needed to support the industry.

Finance secretary Kate Forbes announced a £320million package for businesses on Saturday (March 14) which includes: a 75% rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a rateable value of less than £69,000 from April 1; an £80 million fund to provide grants of at least £3000 to small businesses in sectors facing the worst economic impact of COVID-19; 1.6% rates relief for all properties across Scotland; and a fixed rates relief of up to £5000 for all pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 from April 1.

The measures come as the Irish government called on pubs and bars to close from yesterday (Sunday March 15) and the Scottish Government advised ‘gatherings’ of 500 people or more should be cancelled from today (Monday March 16).

Kate Nicholls, UK Hospitality chief executive, described the Scottish Government’s measures as “generous” but said the hospitality trade is facing unprecedented times and is calling for more robust measures to come into force to alleviate pressure on the sector.

Nicholls said: “We have seen political institutions across the UK making generous provision for business. However, while these measures would be incredible in normal times, hospitality is at an existential crossroads, and much more is needed if we are to safeguard jobs and the incredible social and economic value that our sector represents to Scotland. The sector is genuinely facing catastrophe.

“With developments happening at breakneck speed, the Scottish Government’s measures effectively only bring its business support into line with chancellor Sunak’s Budget measures last week. The Budget proposals have already been dwarfed by the extent of the urgency in hand. Hospitality, as an integral part of Scotland’s tourism offer, is arguably even more important to Scotland’s economic fortunes than that of England’s or Wales’.

“We applaud the Scottish Government’s actions thus far but implore immediate further measures, including an instruction to local authorities to not collect business rates payments; encourage landlords to cancel Q2 payments and support measures for the UK Government to cover costs for temporary employment respites.”

This message was echoed by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which said: “Whilst these measures are welcomed, there is already criticism of the selective nature of the benefit and the fairly arbitrary £69,000 RV figure, more still needs to be done for this industry sector and the SLTA will be continuing to push for the Government to take further action to support the many small independent operators who will not benefit from these emergency measures because they will fall into the category of “large businesses” when it comes to paying commercial rates, due to the discriminatory and disproportionate rating system still applied to licensed premises in Scotland.”