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The path ahead remains rocky and our small business community is going to need all the support that it can get, said the Federation of Small Businesses Highlands & Islands Development Manager, David Richardson, said, commenting on today’s Budget from Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

“By extending the furlough scheme and introducing additional emergency payments for the self-employed, the Chancellor is enabling the bulk of the Outer Hebrides’ small business community to struggle round what we hope will be the final lap on the road to recovery.

“However, the longer the current travel restrictions remain, the longer and bumpier the road for the islands important tourism and hospitality businesses will be.

“After all, these businesses, providing accommodation, food and drink, activities and a wide range of other services, many of them operating seasonally and in remote rural areas, still have to get through next winter.

“In short, we would have liked to see the Chancellor take a longer-term view.

“Right now, the furloughing extension and self-employed payments should be complemented by grant assistance for the directors of smaller companies, and looking forward, the Chancellor should have cut employers’ national insurance contributions to make it cheaper to create jobs.

“Moreover, while welcoming the extension of the VAT cut to September, many of our tourism & hospitality businesses will worry about what happens next.

“We’ve got to attract consumers back, and no-one knows when international markets will reopen and business return to something like normal. On the bright side, however, the freeze in fuel duty is very welcome.

“We must now hope that the Scottish Government will optimise its package of rates and grant support measures, ensuring that the focus is on helping the smallest businesses hit hardest rather than the biggest businesses who’ve avoided the worst of the restrictions.

Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has welcomed the Spring Budget which provides billions of £s to support businesses and families through the pandemic.

The Scottish Conservative MSP said: “Rishi Sunak’s budget rightly prioritises jobs and livelihoods.

“The extension of the furlough scheme until the end of September clearly demonstrates the commitment of the UK Government to protecting jobs.

“And the continuation of the Universal Credit uplift for a further six months, also represents a significant commitment in continuing to provide support for people during this challenging period.

“There is some very good news for the Highlands and Islands, particularly the reprofiling of the Argyll Rural Growth Deal from 15 years to 10 years, which will accelerate investment in the area, and assist the drive in securing more jobs.

“And, of course, I am sure our hospitality and tourism businesses, which have been hit so hard, will be pleased that the Chancellor is extending the 5 per cent reduced rate of VAT for a further six months until the end of September.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has said that Rishi Sunak’s Tory budget is a missed opportunity.  “This again was a budget for big business, wheeler dealers and people who believe Covid will be history by the summer. In Scotland we are a country of medium sized businesses, honest traders and people who accept the reality of Covid which means this budget did little for us in Scotland. We also know that the worst affected part of Europe by the Tories’ crazy Brexit idea is the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The budget definitely did nothing for that.

“The budget sadly gives nothing new to the NHS or the education system. For as long as Scotland remains devolved it is not going to see the funds to help these essential public services as a result.

“On Universal Credit, money that is the most recycled in the economy, it is already at a very low base compared to countries like Ireland, which is why footballers like Marcus Rashford become politically involved in trying to prevent malnutrition in children in a western country. The £20 uplift is indeed meagre, and it is very miserly to only say it is for six months. 

“Sadly, the UK government could not match the Scottish government which has already gone much further in support for businesses and households, with 100% rates relief, Council Tax frozen and a 5-year capital investment plan.

“The only way for Scotland to get what it votes for is to first vote for independence. If we continue like this, we will just end up training yet another generation that what we have to cope with is extremist economics from the Tory party, in bad times and in good.”