Nicola Sturgeon under pressure for ‘oversubscribed’ business cash

NICOLA Sturgeon has faced criticism for the lack of urgency in business help being issued after she admitted one fund “has very quickly been oversubscribed”.

The Digital Boost fund has been forced to close within 24 hours of being launched after being swamped with bids for the emergency cash.

Pressing Ms Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Tory Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson suggested the problem illustrated how “desperate” traders are for emergency support during the pandemic.

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Ms Davidson claimed that leaked documents reveal that only seven out of 30 support funds announced by the Scottish Government have actually launched and are handing out money to those who need it.

She added that the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland has complained vital funding is “trapped in an administrative log-jam”.

She said: “Businesses are crying out for funding, but the funds aren’t opening and the guidance hasn’t been delivered.”

Ms Davidson pointed to the Falkirk Council website, where 16 funds that could help are listed, but the webpage also advises businesses: “Please do not contact us about these funds because we do not have details yet.”

HeraldScotland: Falkirk Council has warned it doesn't have details of support schemes Falkirk Council has warned it doesn’t have details of support schemes

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government has allocated £715 million to business support since October.

She stress that “£600 million of that is already live” with the “vast majority” of funds not yet open for application due to do so later this month.

The First Minister added: “Payments are flowing to businesses.

“And at the end of this month, businesses that are eligible for additional top-up payments will receive those payments.

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“I haven’t seen the leaked documents Ruth Davidson referred to, I am happy to have a look at them and see whether they are up to date or whether they are perhaps out of date.

“But since October we have allocated £715 million to business support.”

She said this included “bespoke funding” for sectors such as tourism and culture that have been “hit particularly hard” during the pandemic, as well as financial aid for other groups like the newly self-employed and taxi drivers.

Ms Sturgeon also said she has discussed with Finance Secretary Kate Forbes “how we do support councils to get the money out of the door more quickly and into the pockets of businesses more quickly”.

But yesterday, council leaders warned that the “burden” placed on officials by dealing with emergency support grants during the pandemic “reduces councils’s ability to respond to local needs and demands”.

READ MORE: Councils call for extra £1.5bn and ‘no cap’ on council tax

The fears raised by Cosla highlighted that “the way in which Covid funding is being provided by the Scottish Government presents challenges and restrictions”.

The organisation warned that “as of the end of December, there were 30 different ring-fenced/directed pots of funding” which it claims “all come with an additional administrative burden” for councils.

Ms Sturgeon added: “Ruth Davidson seeks to give the impression no money has flowed to businesses, that is not the case.

“We have announced many additional streams of support as different sectors have made the case for additional funding.

HeraldScotland: Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister's QuestionsNicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions

“When we announce that of course we have to put the arrangements in place, usually through local authorities. Local authorities often ask us for additional guidance about eligibility for that.

“That is an ongoing process we will continue to speed up and accelerate as much as we possibly can.”

But Ms Davidson said the Scottish Government must “get to grips” with the issue.

She added: “The Scottish Government is great at making the announcements but this is about getting money delivered into people’s pockets and it is not getting there.

“Way back on March 24, Kate Forbes said the aim was to make payments in 10 working days. Right now there are sectors out there who would delighted if they could see promised cash in 10 weeks.”

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