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Outside caterers ‘falling through the cracks’ of Covid relief

Suki Hudson, from Hudsons Catering, says outside caterers have "fallen through the cracks" when it comes to Covid support.
Suki Hudson, from Hudsons Catering, says outside caterers have "fallen through the cracks" when it comes to Covid support.

Business owners have been dealt a “double Covid blow” – after having previously-granted rates relief snatched back.

Dozens of small companies were told they qualified for specific coronavirus financial aid but, after the decisions were double-checked, were informed the award had been made in error.

A number of businesses are in categories which have “fallen through the cracks” in this way – prompting calls for the Scottish Government to change legislation and cover more ground.

Currently only hospitality firms classed as pubs, nightclubs, restaurants, self-catering holiday accommodation and timeshares are eligible for the discount.

It offers business owners 1.6% off their business rates payments, with further help depending on their rateable value.

For some, this could free up thousands of pounds to be spent elsewhere in their company.

But outside catering firms, such as Blackburn company Hudsons Catering, have been left unable to qualify.

Owner Suki Hudson was left “shocked” when she was told a re-examination of her application meant her rates bill would have to be recalculated.

“Businesses like ours are not being recognised,” she said.

“We’ve fallen through the cracks – and I think that’s perhaps people just don’t know exactly who we are and what we do.

“We don’t have a shopfront and aren’t public facing, like hotels, restaurants and bars which are getting looked after.

“Outside caterers get all the jobs done from behind the scenes.”

West Aberdeenshire And Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie has now written to the Scottish Government asking for the laws to be changed to include more companies.

In a letter to Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop, he said: “While support has been given to many businesses in the hospitality sector, there are a significant number who have been, and continue to be, overlooked.

“I refer particularly to catering and outside hospitality businesses who have received very little in the way of grant support.

“On top of this, they are now facing the withdrawal of business rates relief as they do not fall into any of the categories outlined by the Scottish Government.

“Not only have these previously viable companies been prevented from generating a proper income for almost a year, they are now going to have to shoulder these significant additional costs.

“This has led some to feel as though it is only a matter of time before they will have to close their doors for good.”

Mr Bowie has urged Ms Hyslop to “reconsider the existing categories relating to rates relief” to include more businesses, including outside catering.

As the specific traits a business must have to fall into one of the categories is outlined in coronavirus relief legislation, any changes could require amendments to the law.

Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett said: “I understand as many as 25 Aberdeenshire catering firms have fallen through the cracks of the Scottish Government’s relief system.

“They have been dealt a double Covid blow – there has been no support and now rates relief has been pulled at the last minute.

“This is deeply unfair.”

The Scottish Government and Aberdeenshire Council have been contacted for comment.

An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said around 25 businesses, of almost 1,400 applicants, had their relief withdrawn during routine checks.

He said the legislation specifically sets out which companies are eligible, adding: “We are unable to award relief if the business purpose is not contained within this.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We understand that all businesses face significant difficulties during the pandemic and we are committed to providing continued assistance, within our limited resources.

“Since the start of the pandemic we have allocated almost £3 billion of support directly to businesses. This includes monthly grants of up to £3,000 for businesses required to close by law and up to £2,100 for those that can remain open but are required to modify their operations by law.

“In designing the Covid-19 reliefs, we aimed to help as many businesses as possible but ultimately we are restricted by budget constraints and limitations on our financial powers. We continue to urge the UK Government to transfer the appropriate financial levers needed to fully respond to the pandemic.”

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