Audit Scotland report highlights the pace of COVID-19 financial support
The Scottish Government worked collaboratively with local authorities and other key partners to direct significant public spending in unprecedented circumstances, according to a new Audit Scotland report.
Evaluating the financial response to the Covid-19 pandemic – which saw the Scottish Government allocate £15.5 billion between 2020-2022 – the report highlights the significant challenges faced across the country.
The report acknowledges that despite these extraordinary difficulties existing Scottish Government systems were utilised efficiently to help deliver financial support as quickly as possible, whilst developing new, streamlined processes that minimised the risk of fraud.
Audit Scotland also found that the Scottish Government maintained a balanced budget and that short notice UK Government funding was directed quickly by the Scottish Government to tackle the wide ranging impacts of the pandemic.
In total, over £5 billion was allocated for health and social care to support vital services and public health infrastructure for testing and vaccinations programmes, while more than £4.7 billion was allocated to businesses in lifeline support
The report revealed that local authorities were allocated £1.8bn to fund vital general and targeted services, including £200 million to cover councils’ lost income
Finance secretary Kate Forbes said: “The COVID-19 pandemic created challenges on a scale our economy and people have faced in living memory. At every stage, the Scottish Government worked to safeguard lives, businesses, jobs and livelihoods, acting as quickly and efficiently as possible to support people and businesses.
“Despite the impacts of the pandemic, many of which are still being acutely felt, we worked collaboratively with all sectors of the economy to identify those most in need and then with local authorities and partners to utilise existing systems to ensure financial support was delivered swiftly and effectively.
“We also set up a number of new support streams, to make sure businesses were being paid as quickly as possible. My thanks go to all of our partners who worked with us to deliver support at pace.”
She added: “It is important to remember the severity of the pandemic and that decisions were taken at pace as we considered how best to allocate funding to support business and people through the necessary public health restrictions.
“We will now carefully consider the Audit Scotland report and engage with relevant sectors to ensure that future decision making is as informed as possible and best supports the people of Scotland.”
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland has highlighted that the Scottish government has “reported estimated actual spending of £11.8bn up to December 2021 on measures related to the pandemic.”
Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chair, said: “This new report from Audit Scotland calls for clarity from public sector decision-makers about remaining covid funding.
“At FSB we would ask whether any leftover cash could be reallocated to help firms weather the current energy storm. Repurposed grant funding could help businesses make investments to reduce both their bills and their carbon emissions.
“Nine in ten Scottish businesses are warning their overheads are on the rise. New financial help for firms to tackle rising energy costs could help businesses that survived the covid crisis thrive in the future.”
The FSB says that while the design and delivery of financial support for businesses during the crisis was imperfect, it still played a vital role in keeping local firms afloat.
Mr McRae added: “The coronavirus pandemic is an event without modern precedent. In the jaws of the crisis, governments in London and Edinburgh were right to support financially businesses faced with ruin because of strict public health rules.
“FSB campaigned hard for grant funding to be expanded to include more operators, and for cash to reach local firms more quickly. However, our current economic situation would be far worse without the cash support we saw for local operators.”