Friday 29 January 2021
Scotland’s Finance Secretary, unveiled a draft budget that secures a major cash boost for the NHS, more investment in local public services and further financial support for families.
The statement included record funding of over £16 billion for Scotland’s health services, with a further £869 million to directly support the fight against the pandemic. Public sector workers will also receive a pay rise.
£90 million will be made available to local authorities to freeze Council Tax levels, keeping more money in the pockets of families, while a majority of taxpayers will continue to pay less than they would elsewhere in the UK.
In addition, over £1 billion was announced for the creation of a Green Workforce Academy to help people build skills for the future, £711 million to create more affordable housing, £98 million to improve broadband speeds and mobile coverage and £567 million to support an ambitious childcare programme.
Full details of the budget can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/budget/
News this week on the takeover of the Debenhams chain is extremely worrying. It was confirmed the new owners will not be re-opening the stores but will instead trade online only which means huge job losses.
This will come as a blow to many and I took the opportunity to ask the First Minister what support the Scottish Government will offer the employees who are facing redundancy. In addition, I asked what action the Scottish Government could take to support our high streets when so many businesses are moving to an online presence only.
You can access the full exchange here: https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/ReportSelectPage.aspx?type=plenary&year=2021&page=0&meeting=-1
The Scottish Government continues to mitigate against the impact of the pandemic and I was pleased with the announcement of additional funding this week for brewers, travel agents and indoor football centres.
From this week, local authorities will start to approach brewers, travel agents and indoor football centres inviting them to claim grants of £10,000 or £25,000. A higher payment of £30,000 will be available to the largest brewers.
Councils will brief around 400 eligible businesses on their potential entitlement and ask them to provide supporting information and bank account details. Owners do not need to apply, or contact the local authority.
More information on the brewers fund can be found here: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/service/funding/brewers-support-fund information on the travel agents fund can be found here: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/service/funding/support-for-travel-agents and details on the indoor football centres can be found here: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/service/funding/support-for-indoor-football-centres
Glasgow Kelvin is home to thousands of students and of course further and higher education institutions. The statement from the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills will come as welcome news to those who have been struggling throughout the pandemic.
The statement confirmed students experiencing hardship as a result of coronavirus will be supported by £20 million of Scottish Government funding. A further £10 million has also been allocated to universities and colleges for income lost in providing rent rebates.
To complement the additional £30 million, the Scottish Funding Council is also repurposing £5 million of student support funding towards discretionary funding for FE students in the college sector.
More details on the fund will be announced shortly and I will keep everyone updated.
A £25 million fund to support the wedding sector and its supply chain will open to applications this week.
In recognition of the ongoing challenges faced by the sector, a further £10 million has been added to the £15 million announced in December.
The fund will provide one-off grants of up to £25,000 for eligible businesses in the sector impacted by the pandemic, including wedding venues, photographers, caterers and suppliers.
The fund will be managed regionally by Scotland’s three enterprise agencies – South of Scotland Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
More information on the fund can be found at: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/service/funding/scottish-wedding-industry-fund
EU Visa and Trading
We are not only dealing with the impact of the pandemic but the fall out from being taken out of the EU. Many businesses and individuals are feeling the effects and none more so than our creative sector.
I raised this very issue during portfolio questions this week in Parliament seeking support from the Scottish Government for action by the UK Government to reinstate visa free touring for professionals and their crews. It is utterly shameful that the UK Government chose to reject this offer by the EU in their negotiations.
I also took the opportunity to raise the issue of the recently reported advice being given to businesses by the UK Government to relocate to the EU to avoid the red tape as a consequence of Brexit – you could not make this utter nonsense up and only reinforces the need for independence.
You can access both the exchanges here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=13081&i=118371
We will remain in the current restrictions for the time being. However, the First Minister confirmed the numbers are indicating that the virus is being suppressed but the threat posed by the virus remains extremely high and our NHS is still under severe pressure.
We must continue to follow the guidance and stick with the restrictions for the time being. It was completely irresponsible for Boris Johnson to travel unnecessarily to Scotland when the message for everyone is to stay at home. Mr Johnson and his cronies are clearly running scared and I would suggest the flying visit was more to do with recent polling than anything else.
For clarification nobody who lives in a Level 4 area should leave or remain outside their home except for essential purposes.
Working from home arrangements will be strengthened through updated statutory guidance. Working from home should now be the default position for all businesses and services, and only those who cannot do their job from home should be asked to go to the workplace.
Non-essential click and collect retail services will be prohibited in Level 4 areas. Timeslots will be required for collection and people should not enter a store to collect an item. Businesses providing takeaway food will also operate on a ‘non-entry’ basis only, meaning customers cannot enter the premises when placing or collecting orders.
All of the guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/
The First Minister confirmed that as of this week around 60% of people over 80 and living in the community have now had the first dose of the vaccine.
The Scottish Government are on track to complete first doses for over 80s by the target of the end of next week. The over 70s will start to be vaccinated next week and all of them – along with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable – will have had the first dose by the middle of February.
As I relayed to you last week the Scottish Government have launched an information campaign on the vaccination programme which you can find out more details here https://www.nhsinform.scot/rollupyoursleeves or call 0800 030 8013 (available 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week).
As always please follow the Scottish Government guidance and remember the FACTS: Face coverings, Avoid crowded places, Clean hands and surfaces regularly, Two metre distancing; and Self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms. Please also if you have not already done so download the Protect Scotland App which you can access here: https://protect.scot/