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‘We can’t go further without additional funding’: Finance secretary says around £500million in Covid support is needed to keep business sector afloat

business support
MSP Kate Forbes says "we can't go further without additional funding."

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has renewed calls for the UK Government to provide additional funding to help keep Scotland’s business sector open.

Discussions are ongoing Holyrood and Westminster to secure around £500million in additional funding to help sustain the local economy.

The plea comes amidst the threat of the Omicron variant as the UK recording its highest rate of cases since the start of the pandemic.

Scottish health boards recorded 5,951 new cases on Wednesday as the UK registered a record-breaking 88,376 positive results.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to speak to Nicola Sturgeon in the “coming days” following an urgent appeal for financial help.

Speaking to BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, Ms Forbes said securing excess funding was crucial to support businesses.

She said: “The first minister will be setting out in a statement later our position, and I sincerely hope that she will have had the opportunity to speak to the prime minister over the course of today.

“Her calls are very similar to the calls of the Welsh government as well because neither the Welsh nor the Scottish Government have the ability to provide the financial support that would make a dent in the challenges faced by businesses right now.”

New Covid regulations for Scotland’s business sector

Hospitality businesses across the country have seen a surge in cancellations following guidance to cancel festive gatherings.

Last week, Public Health Scotland urged people to postpone their plans to help stem the spread of the virus.

Their plea as followed by a request by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier this week to minimise social contact as much as possible in the run up to Christmas.

Businesses are being encouraged to reintroduce social distancing measures and contact tracing to help minimise overcrowding.

Ms Forbes says people are “voting with their feet” forcing businesses into dire straits.

She added: “The hospitality industry has already said that the reduction in consumer confidence, i.e. people not going out for good reason to reduce their contacts, has cost them about £1billion pounds in cancellations.

“Businesses will quite rightly tell you, and tell me that that is not enough to deal with cancellations but we have been in intensive conversations with businesses over the last few days, with hospitality and wholesalers – in particular, if you think of the amount of food; pallets of turkeys and the amount of food they were storing for the holiday season.

“Also culture venues, the pantomimes and theatres where people are cancelling. I think the bottom line is that Omicron is spreading at an incredibly fast rate. Yesterday the first minister thought that by today it would be the dominant strain in Scotland.

“People are voting with their feet because of the message to reduce transmission so the argument here is if we were to go any further, we would absolutely need financial support.”

‘We can’t go further without additional funding’

Ms Forbes said the government priority is to “protect businesses into the new year.”

“I think ultimately what we want to do is protect businesses into the new year,” she said.

“We want to be able to ensure that when Omicron has passed, they have the capability to get up and trade fully again and a lot of that comes down to staff.

“If you think of the challenges that business have faced over the last few months, with staffing shortages, rising costs, inflation, its been a tough few months for businesses and right now they are seeing a reduced trade without the ability to get help for staffing.

“We know that we can’t go further without additional funding.”

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