Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, has today (Wednesday) called on Ministers to further amend the eligibility criteria for the Coronavirus Business Support Fund to allow more tourism businesses in the islands to apply for much needed support.
There has been confusion over recent weeks as to whether or not self-catering businesses need to prove that properties were booked for 140 days last year, or merely available to book. While guidance to local Councils suggested the former, a recent response from the Tourism Secretary, Fergus Ewing to Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart suggested the latter.
Mr McArthur wrote to the Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, seeking clarity and has been told that 140 days of bookings are required in order to be able to access support. Orkney’s MSP has responded by pointing to claims by the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) that requiring 140 days of bookings unfairly excludes most self-caterers who operate in areas where the tourism season is typically shorter, such as rural and island communities.
Commenting, Mr McArthur said:
“Getting the eligibility criteria right for these funding schemes was never going to be easy. The Finance Secretary deserves credit, however, for being willing to make changes based on feedback from myself and MSP colleagues, as well as businesses directly.
“However, almost two months into the lockdown, and it is clear that many self-catering businesses in Orkney are still falling through the gaps, despite being able to evidence self-catering as a primary source of income. This not only threatens the future of these individual businesses but also potentially Orkney’s wider tourism sector.
“The situation has not been helped by contradictions in the advice offered by different Ministers. The Finance Secretary has now addressed this confusion over eligibility criteria, but at the same time confirmed the sense that the bar has been set very high for applicants in many rural and island areas.
“As the ASSC point out, expecting self-caterers in the islands to be able to evidence almost five months of bookings for their property is often unrealistic given that the tourism season is typically shorter here than in other parts of the country.
“I have urged the Finance Secretary to look again at the criteria to ensure that they are properly ‘island proofed’ under the terms of the Islands Act. While there is a need to avoid making scheme rules overly-complex or confusing, it is also important that they achieve fairness for businesses wherever they happen to be based.”