Opposition MPS are queuing up to take pot-shots at the SNP minority government in Edinburgh over its policies during the coronavirus emergency

David Stewart, Scottish Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, hit back today (Wednesday May 6) at the Scottish Government over “uncaring” comments regarding business support and funding for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) amidst the coronavirus crisis.

In a response to a written Parliamentary Questions from Mr Stewart, the SNP Scottish Government refused to commit to reversing the 5% or £2.954m funding cut to HIE this financial year to support economic recovering in the region following the Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Highlands and Islands Enterprise can raise its own income to supplement the funding allocated”. 

Mr Stewart said: “The Scottish Government’s refusal to reverse the nearly £3m budget cut to Highlands and Islands Enterprise and their view that  they can simply raise their own income to supplement the funding allocation has revealed how uncaring this government is to the disastrous economic impact that Covid-19 is having on the region.

“HIE’s primary source of funding is Grant in Aid (GIA) and other forms of income (e.g. grants) from the Scottish Government and this is why a 5% budget cut at this time will do so much harm to the region’s economy.   

“HIE is able to source additional income from rents, loan interest, European Union funding and generate capital receipts from loan repayments and the sale of assets. 

“However, these additional income streams are now under coming under threat due to COVID-19 and consequently there may be a significant reduction in income opportunities this year and going forward.”

Meanwhile Conservative Shadow Finance Secretary Donald Cameron has expressed dismay after Finance Secretary Kate Forbes dismissed concerns over when the Scottish Government will deliver £155million of extra cash from the UK Government direct to local authorities.

Mr Cameron said: “To suggest, as the Finance Secretary did, that this is matter is merely a "storm in a teacup" shows a massive failure of judgement on her part.

“It also betrays a stubborn refusal to listen to calls from councils across Scotland for the immediate transfer of the £155m which is being provided in recognition of the huge pressures being placed on them.

“In my own region of the Highlands and Islands, our councils have seen their reserves whittled away by years of unfair treatment from Holyrood, and now they are faced with the extra costs of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our local councils are at the forefront of delivering vital services to the most vulnerable people and the SNP Government needs to hand the money over without further delay.”

Yesterday  in the Scottish Parliament, in response to a question from Scottish Labour Local Government spokesperson Sarah Boyack, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes, called COSLA’s demand that councils receive the entirety of the £155m they are entitled to via Barnett Consequentials a “storm in a teacup”.

Scottish Labour Local Government spokesperson Sarah Boyack said:

“Councils across Scotland are under unprecedented strain due to the pandemic and are delivering daily for those in need.

“For the Finance Secretary to term their call for the £155m they are entitled to a “storm in a teacup” smacks of arrogance and displays an almost wilful ignorance of the tremendous pressure councils are under.

 “She did not acknowledge that telling local authorities to use their reserves while she decides how to allocate these consequentials will lead to uncertainty and will not help cash-strapped councils who have had to deal with years of SNP underfunding.

“Scotland’s Councils are no longer asking for the funding they need, they are demanding it.”