A couple of columns ago, I reflected on the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and the effect that is having - and will continue to have for some time by the looks of recent events – on families and individuals, highlighted some measures taken by the Scottish Government to try to mitigate the impacts, and suggested some actions the UK Government should be seriously considering.
At a time when household budgets are constrained, it stands to reason there will be less money being spent in our high streets and on things considered as ‘desirable but not essential’. This is entirely understandable, with the cost of food, gas, electricity and fuel rising and set to rise further.
It is right and proper that there should be a focus on families, on people; and governments of both colours need to continue to offer support and, in some cases, step-up further with their offer.
It’s important though that our local businesses are not overlooked in all of this. Money spent locally tends to stay locally, benefitting the local economy. Research suggests that 70 pence in every one pound spent is recycled around the local economy. If we want to emerge from the other side of the pandemic with a sustained and sustainable local economy and the jobs that provides for many people, then these businesses need the support of their community as well as the government.
It’s good news then that just last week the Scottish Government announced a further scheme targeting support for businesses and communities as we move to a new phase in the pandemic.
The £80 million Covid Economic Recovery Fund allows councils to consider the needs of local businesses, communities and households and to target support to maximise economic recovery in their areas.
We know public health measures which were necessary to control Covid-19 have had a severe economic impact and, since the start of the pandemic, businesses have benefitted from more than £4.4 billion in support from the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Government has provided businesses with £2.884bn worth of grants since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. On top of grants, businesses also benefited from £1.576bn of business rates relief, with businesses in Scotland receiving 100% rates relief until March 2022 – a much more generous scheme than the partial relief offered by the UK Government to businesses in England and Wales.
In December, the Scottish Government announced a further £100 million support package for businesses to compensate for festive cancellations as a result of rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Public money can’t replace every penny of income that every business has lost due to a global pandemic, and nor should it. But at the heart of these funding schemes is something more fundamental. Our local traders on the high street – our commercial community – are in many cases so much more than simply just another a shop or a business. They are valuable local employers providing jobs. They are the businesses who will help sponsor local events or assist with the Christmas lights. They are there for us in ways that the large global concerns who operate online will never be. The bottom line is without them, our communities would be so much poorer in so many ways. They deserve a fighting chance.