Data gaps limit analysis of COVID grant distribution

Not enough detail on how money was distributed and how quickly applicants received funding, says Audit Scotland


DETAILED analysis of where almost £5 billion of COVID-19 business support was distributed is not possible due to gaps in data, a report by Audit Scotland has found.

The Scottish Government is said to have provided around £4.4 billion of grants and non-domestic rates relief between March 2020 and October 2021, most of which was paid out to businesses by councils. A further £375 million of business support was announced by the Scottish Government in December 2021 following the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Public spending watchdog Audit Scotland said that while “steps were taken to improve the management of funding during the pandemic” there was “not enough focus on gathering detailed data on how money was distributed and how quickly applicants received funding”.

It said this means that the Scottish Government “does not have an analysis of the total amounts paid out from the more general schemes to different economic sectors”, and that around 20% of the payments from sector-specific funding administered by national organisations, such as Scottish Enterprise, cannot currently be matched to council areas.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “These business support schemes were administered at pace in exceptional circumstances. But knowing where the money went matters.

“To get future policy development and delivery right, it will be important for the Scottish Government to fully understand how funding was used to support specific businesses and groups over the last two years of the pandemic.”

Economy secretary Kate Forbes said the report recognises “how quickly the Scottish Government was able to establish a wide-ranging business support package in order to help safeguard thousands of businesses and jobs”.

“I am equally pleased this report reflects the unique and challenging context in which new support packages had to be established, and that despite the speed and scale of our response, we were able to work closely with industry, our enterprise agencies and local authorities,” she said.

“Every decision the Scottish Government has taken has centred around ensuring businesses got the support they needed when they needed it – resulting in over £4.5 billion being allocated to businesses across the country, including around £1.6 billion in rates relief – which is more generous than the other UK administrations so far.

“We will now carefully consider the findings of this report and of course any lessons will be learned, but fundamentally this report shows the decisions we took ensured lifeline support reached key businesses promptly and our economy continued to grow by 7.1% despite the necessary public health restrictions.”