Businesses in Scotland affected by the latest Covid restrictions may not receive any financial support until the end of this month, the Deputy First Minister John Swinney has admitted.
Mr Swinney said he was unable to say exactly when the cash grants for struggling firms would be paid, but that within the next two weeks would be a “reasonable” estimate.
It means that nightclubs, pubs, restaurants and other struggling hospitality businesses are facing a month-long delay in receiving financial help from the Government.
Under the measures imposed since 27 December, nightclubs have shut down completely and other venues selling alcohol have had to return to table service only, with 1m social distancing between different groups of customers.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that while restrictions on large outdoor events such as football matches would be lifted on Monday, the hospitality rules will remain in place until at least 24 January.
Gavin Stevenson of the Night Time Industries Association said on Wednesday that “not a single penny” of the promised £375m of extra funding had so far reached businesses.
He told the BBC that nightclubs across the country had not even been sent application forms allowing them to apply for the one-off grants, which range from £25,000 to £55,000.
“As of today not a single penny of the funds that were promised before Christmas has reached businesses, and that of course is putting businesses in an incredibly difficult situation, wondering how on Earth they are going to pay their staff this week when they have got no money in the bank,” he said.
Asked when the grants would be paid, Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government was moving “as quickly as we can”.
He added: “It is difficult for me to give a precise timescale, I would think within the next two weeks would be a reasonable expectation, but obviously we are working with local authorities and it depends very much on the administrative systems that are put in place.”
Scottish Conservative Covid recovery spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “It’s unacceptable that struggling businesses already on their knees as a result of Scottish Government restrictions are still waiting to receive a penny in financial support – and are now being told it may be a further fortnight before they do so.
“Many of these businesses are in danger of going under, so every day counts.
“The SNP Government received funding from the UK Government weeks ago and promised to pass it on before Christmas, so it’s not good enough for John Swinney to blame local authorities for the delay in issuing compensation.”