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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Confusion at the Top

by our Scottish political affairs correspondent

Sometimes it is difficult for ordinary people to know what level of government is responsible for particular functions. The national government, devolved assembly and local authority all have their different jobs to do, but with overlapping responsibilities.

Things get more serious when ministers seem confused about such matters. The new SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who took over from her disgraced predecessor on Budget Day, made a fool of herself last week when she promoted a policy to give handouts to businesses affected by the coronavirus crisis. In particular she promised that: “Hospitality, leisure and retail properties with a rateable value between £18,000 and £51,000 are eligible for a £25,000 grant.”

There was only one problem with this. It accurately described the £20 billion system of compensation made last month by the UK Chancellor that has been adopted across England and Wales. The rules for Scotland however, which are administered by Forbes, are very different. In England, chains of shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels receive grants of up to £25,000 per property, enabling a chain of six to recoup £150,000. In Scotland, where the grants are made per business, an equivalent company with six outlets receives only £25,000.

Predictably, this has not gone down well with the Scottish bourgeois who think they ought to get more of the Scottish £2.2 billion slice of the money.

The 125 year-old Wilkies department store chain of 14 shops in Scotland said it faced collapse unless it received the kind of rescue package initially endorsed by Nicola Sturgeon and implemented elsewhere in the UK. It will get £25,000 instead of £350,000 had it had the foresight to be based in England.

Jon Sharp, the founder of a chain of six coffee shops in Edinburgh employing 35 people, said the Scottish scheme was “incredible, almost unbelievable”.

He has launched a petition calling for “equal support” for Scottish business, which has nearly 10,000 signatures. In a letter to Forbes and Fiona Hyslop, secretary for the economy, he said he knew of many well-known Scottish companies who would “disappear as a direct result of this policy”.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “The decision by SNP ministers to only offer one grant of £25,000 to each business could destroy the few small chains left in Scotland, and put competitors south of the border at an advantage.”

The SNP were later forced to conceded that they “did communicate it correctly, it’s just we’ve made it bizarrely more complex than it needs to be for no reason, which made it difficult to communicate” – which clears things up nicely.