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The Latest news from Dumfries and Galloway Chamber of Commerce -

Keep up to date with the latest news and stories from across Dumfries & Galloway.

 

SMYTH CALLS ON ENTERPRISE AGENCY TO ESTABLISH A DEDICATED LOCAL FUND TO SUPPORT BUSINESSES

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has called on the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency to establish a dedicated local fund to support businesses during the current Covid-19 crisis.

 

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The local MSP has spoken to dozens of businesses across the south of Scotland who have been impacted by the pandemic but who are not eligible for any, or only very limited, financial support from the Scottish and UK Government funds.

The key issues raised have been:

· The Business Support Grants scheme has a cliff-edge in support for properties with a rateable value over £18,000, or £51,000 in the relevant sectors. Many businesses with a rateable value even slightly above the relevant threshold have been left with no support whatsoever, regardless of the impact Covid has had on their business.

· The Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund was the primary way in which businesses with higher rateable values can access support, however due to the broad criteria and the high level of demand, many businesses who could have benefitted from this scheme had their applications rejected, even where they were able to clearly demonstrate eligibility.

· Business Support Grants were, with limited exceptions, only available to businesses that pay Non-Domestic Rates. This meant businesses who do not pay rates, for a range of reasons, missed out on the scheme.

· The thresholds for £25,000 Business Support Grant was higher than England, meaning those in the relevant sectors with a rateable value between £15,000 and £18,000 received £15,000 less than they would have if they were based a few miles south of the border.

· The payment of Business Support Grants came at an early stage in the pandemic and for many, a grant of £10,000 will have been used up but the road to recovery will still be some way off.

· There has been no support available to freelancers who make the majority of their income from short-term PAYE contracts, rather than through typical self-employment.

· Self-employed people otherwise eligible for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme with income above the threshold received no support whatsoever, in contrast to furloughed staff who received a capped amount.

· The eligibility criteria for the Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund and the B&B Hardship Fund excluded anyone who had received Universal Credit, regardless of the amount of Universal Credit they received. This has excluded many of the people these schemes should have been designed to help.

In response to concerns, Colin Smyth has written to the Chief Executive of the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency, Nick Halfhide urging the Agency to set up a South of Scotland Business Hardship Fund.

Colin Smyth said: “The south of Scotland is facing massive economic uncertainty in the coming weeks and months.

“The decision not to extend the furlough scheme for sectors such as tourism and hospitality, and others that won’t need staff to fully return for some time, was a massive blow to this area.

“From the start of August, the furlough scheme begins to be reduced, and ultimately ended in October, which can only mean more redundancies for the area.

“The furlough scheme should have been extended for some sectors until next year but instead, we now see many companies who can’t afford to pay workers lay people off, adding to the already record high level of unemployment.

“Since the start of the pandemic I have been contacted by dozens of businesses who have fallen through the gaps in the various grant schemes that have been provided by the UK and Scottish Governments and many have lost out locally.

“That’s why I have written to the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency about the creation of a dedicated south of Scotland scheme to allow local flexibility in how that is allocated, and I'll continue to put pressure on both the Scottish and UK Governments and their agencies to bring forward new grant schemes. The whole reason the Agency was set up was to provide local support tailored to local businesses, and that support will be more important now than ever.

“As we continue to fight to suppress this terrible virus, we must also do all we can to mitigate against the economic consequences.”

SNP Minister challenged on station's lack of Wi-Fi

RAIL travellers in Annandale are being treated like poor relations by the SNP Scottish Government.

 

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That was the claim from local MSP Oliver Mundell after he lodged a question with the Cabinet Secretary for Transport on why the region's only West Coast Main Line station at Lockerbie remains without Wi-Fi.

The Dumfriesshire constituency representative was asked to raise the issue by regular passengers, some of whom commute to Edinburgh, Glasgow and further afield.

In a short written reply, the Minister, Michael Matheson, stated: "This is an operational matter for Abellio ScotRail."

Mr Mundell expressed disappointment at the dismissive tone of the response.

He said: "Lockerbie is a gateway to the region for passengers arriving on main line faster trains as well as being used by an increasing number of local travellers.

"My constituents deserve the level of service they can expect at busy rail hubs elsewhere in the country.

"Abellio ScotRail have responsibility for operating Lockerbie Station but it appears to be a low priority for them when it comes to their investment programme.

"It is shameful in this day and age that such a busy rail halt has no Wi-Fi provision and that the Minister appears to have 'passed the buck' rather than applying pressure on this issue directly with Abellio ScotRail."

Mr Mundell plans to write to South of Scotland Enterprise to see if they might help facilitate Wi-Fi, which is particularly appreciated by business travellers waiting on trains

MSP McALPINE HIGHLIGHTS THREAT TO SCOTLAND’S POWERS TO PROTECT JOBS AND INDUSTRY

South Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine has highlighted a threat to the Scottish Government’s ability to protect industry and jobs from the Tory’s Brexit bill.

 

The SNP MSP raised the issue during a Ministerial Statement by the Minister for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, Mike Russell in the Scottish Parliament last week.  She asked him what he thought the implications of the UK Government's Internal Market white paper would be for the Scottish Government's ability to protect strategic infrastructure,  jobs and industry here in Scotland.

Mr Russell’s response made it clear that he believes the Scottish Government’s powers to intervene with state aid were under threat from the Tory’s Brexit power grab.

Commenting, Ms McAlpine said,

“I raised the issue of the UK Government's intention to grab powers to set laws around state aid and asked him what he thought the consequences would be.

“Mr Russell said that having an effective state aid regime is essential and has played a role in the Scottish Government's industrial strategy and in developing and building buinesses in Scotland. He added that the reason it was devolved in the first place is because it should be carried out by those with a knowledge of the Scottish economy.

“We know from past experience that the UK Government cannot be trusted to run a subsidy system for companies that puts Scotland first. The crisis at the Pinney's factory in Annan revealed that the UK Government had subsidised a fish processing plant in Grimsby that took jobs away from Annan.

We also saw in the past how a UK Tory government allowed the Scottish steel industry to be run down, showing that they either don't know or don't care about many aspects of the Scottish economy.

“Recent examples of Scottish Government intervening to save infrastructure crucial to the Scottish economy include rescuing Prestwick Airport and the Ferguson shipyards from collapse. I don't have confidence that either would have been safe in the UK Government's hands nor do I believe that the Tories would prioritise Scottish companies if there were clashes of interests across the border.

“Mike Russell also warned that Dominic Cummings' plan could be to stop ANY government intervention whatsoever and that's a real concern. lt would leave the Scottish Government powerless to intervene to protect vital strategic industries and jobs here in Scotland.

“It’s clear that Scottish interests aren’t being served by the Tory government in Westminster so it’s very worrying indeed that they’re also removing Scotland’s ability to protect itself.”

IT Consultant Daniel Russell qualifies as a Cisco Certified Specialist

An IT Consultant from David Allen IT Solutions has recently qualified as a Linux Professional and Microsoft Certified Azure Administrator Associate as well as passing his CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) Enterprise Core exam.

 

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Daniel Russell, 27, has worked for David Allen IT Solutions for four years. Originally from Dumfries, Daniel began his career working for a Dumfries provider. When his family re-located to Gretna, Daniel began his career with David Allen.

To qualify as a Cisco Certified Specialist an individual has to demonstrate their knowledge of implementing core enterprise network technologies including dual stack architecture, virtualization, infrastructure, network assurance, security and automation.

Daniel said: “The business offers a great working environment and provides me with the ability to exert my knowledge and skills on implementing and developing new systems whether it be for internal use or for a client. It’s also a great team to work with.”

Daniel continued: “I am very passionate about self-development and like to learn new technologies. There are so many benefits from studying and learning about how different technologies work, particularly in IT which operates at a very fast pace. It is important to diversify your skillset and keep things at the front of your mind.”

Daniel has plans to further his knowledge by completing the Azure Technology qualifications as well as completing the CCNP Enterprise exam.

We understand the importance of investing in our employee’s education. Daniel’s new qualifications will allow him to carry out projects which continue to add value to our client’s businesses by introducing efficiency, reliability and stability.

We will continue to support and help Daniel achieve this by providing technical projects that he can use to develop his skillset and deliver valuable projects. In addition to this, the team will support Daniel with the client consultancy jobs he will be delivering in the times ahead.

DGChamber Welcomes New Funding for Tourism & Hospitality Sector in Scotland

Two new funding packages worth £15 million will support the tourism sector as it continues to feel the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

A £14 million Hotel Recovery Programme will help to secure up to 3,000 jobs at Scotland’s larger hotels until the start of the summer 2021 tourism season. Eligible businesses can apply for individual grants of up to £250,000 in addition to a suite of wrap-around business support and advice.

The Programme will be jointly administered by the Scottish Government’s enterprise agencies and builds on the existing funding and support for tourism businesses through the Creative, Tourism and Hospitality Hardship Fund and the Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund.

VisitScotland will also deliver £1 million in grants to self-catering businesses that have not received any other Scottish Government COVID-19 support. Businesses that apply and meet the criteria will be eligible for a one-off £10,000 grant to support them through the winter season.

 

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Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing said:

“We recognise the important contribution the hotel sector makes to tourism and the wider Scottish economy, supporting approximately 46,000 jobs across the country. 

“Scotland is home to many of the world’s iconic hotels and they, like much of the sector, have suffered considerably this year from the impacts of coronavirus. The Hotel Recovery Programme is a dedicated funding package designed to safeguard jobs in these establishments and offer some security until the new tourist season begins in summer 2021.

“The Scottish Government is doing everything in its power to support the tourism industry, however without significant borrowing powers at our disposal this action will always be limited. Whilst we very much welcome measures taken by the UK Government, such as accepting our call to cut VAT rates for the tourism industry, longer-term support for jobs is necessary. I hope the UK Government responds positively to our ask for an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.”

 

Kenny Bowie

Responding to the announcement by Cabinet Secretary Kate Forbes MSP of two new funding packages to support the tourism & hospitality sector in Scotland, Kenny Bowie - DGChamber President, said:

“This will be very much welcomed by eligible hotels and self-caterers across Scotland who have faced struggles to access support funds previously. This new support will help to secure some jobs in the sector that have come under serious threat of being lost, for the time being.

“However, while this support will be appreciated by these businesses, concerns remain that ongoing costs coupled with low demand continue to place tourism and hospitality jobs at severe risk. Getting those sectors who support our bars, cafes and restaurants back to work in the safe environments they have created is critical if we are to save jobs and livelihoods.

“Further support and reliefs will be required in the future in order to secure the long term viability of the sector. We will continue to make this case and work alongside both the Scottish & UK Governments.’’