BUSINESS groups have called on the Scottish Government to use “unspent” COVID response money to help businesses cope with rising costs, after a report estimated that several billion pounds of funds have not been spent.
A report from Audit Scotland claimed that the Scottish Government has spent £11.8bn of the £15.5bn allocated for its COVID-19 response.
Groups are now calling on the Scottish Government to release the unspent funds in order to help businesses cope with issues such as the drastic increase in energy prices.
Leon Thompson, executive director for UK Hospitality Scotland, said the report “highlights a considerable underspend in the allocation of COVID support funds”.
“The funds spent by the Scottish Government provided a lifeline to businesses, but the challenges for hospitality continue,” said Thompson.
“With increased energy bills, of up to and in some instances exceeding 200 per cent, rising supply costs and customers already scaling back on discretionary spend, now is the time to consider how it can allocate this underspend to support businesses.
“An obvious way for the Scottish Government to help would be to extend business rate relief for the remainder of this financial year. Ministers should also look at ways to support businesses manage their uncapped energy bills. Our sector remains in a fragile state. If the Scottish Government has unspent business support funds then they must be used to help businesses through these new challenges.”
Andrew McRae, Scotland policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said any remaining money “should be reallocated to help firms weather the current energy storm”.
“Repurposed grant funding could help businesses make investments to reduce both their bills and their carbon emissions,” he said.
“Nine in ten Scottish businesses are warning their overheads are on the rise. New financial help for firms to tackle rising energy costs could help businesses that survived the COVID crisis thrive in the future.”
Commenting on the publication of the report, Scottish finance secretary, Kate Forbes, said the Scottish Government will “carefully consider the Audit Scotland report and engage with relevant sectors to ensure that future decision making is as informed as possible and best supports the people of Scotland”.