Businesses in Scotland will receive a package of support worth £320m to help with the impact of coronavirus, the finance secretary has said.
Kate Forbes said small businesses in the worst-hit parts of the economy, such as retail, tourism and hospitality, will receive grants of at least £3000 from an £80m fund.
Those sectors will also receive 75% rates relief from April if their rateable value is less than £69,000.
All business properties in Scotland will get a 1.6% rates relief, effectively reversing a tax increase announced in the Budget.
Pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 will receive rates relief of up to £5000, starting in April.
Ms Forbes will also write to all local authorities urging them to accept requests from rate payers asking to be able to defer payments for a fixed period.
The money is expected to come from Non Domestic Rate consequentials from the UK Government, which will all go towards supporting Scottish companies with the Covid-19 outbreak.
Ms Forbes said: “We know that the tourism and hospitality sectors are facing immediate pressure, which is why we have directed support to them in particular.
“Businesses receiving support are being encouraged to operate with fair work principles including supporting staff to self-isolate when they need to and if they have caring responsibilities and to consider keeping staff in employment where at all possible.
“We continue to work closely with our partners to identify what further support is needed and I’d encourage any businesses with questions relating to the impact of Covid-19 to contact the helpline we launched this week.”
The phone line – 0300 303 0660 – will be open Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 5.30pm, and will provide guidance on coronavirus.
Scottish Retail Consortium director David Lonsdale welcomed the measures, estimating that the reversed tax rise will save retailers £10.3m.
He added: “In the face of this public health emergency, Scottish ministers are taking vital steps to support businesses and the economy.
“These are the right decisions for the present, albeit both the UK and Scottish Government may have to take further steps as this very unpredictable and unprecedented situation evolves.”
Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, said: “These are substantive steps from the Scottish Government that will be hugely welcomed by business. Sector-specific support is vital in hospitality, leisure and retail.
“Freezing rates and introducing direct grants are also important elements – and more may be needed, as knock-on effects are emerging daily in sectors and businesses of all sizes.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie called for the deferral of payments to be extended to council tax and said: “Support is also needed to individuals, and there is already a widespread problem of extremely poor employment standards in these sectors.
“People on very low pay, with precarious contracts and no adequate sick leave, need protection every bit as much as their employers.
“We would urge the government to ensure that fair work standards are expected of businesses in these difficult times, rather than merely hoped for.”
The Federation of Small Businesses’ Scotland policy chairman, Andrew McRae, described the announcement as “a substantial attempt by Ministers in Edinburgh to help perfectly sound businesses facing severe short-term cash flow problems”.
He added: “Time is of the essence, so this new money must be easy to access. This is no time for bureaucratic hold ups.”
Scottish Tourism Alliance chief executive Marc Crothall, said: “Many need help to get through this situation; we do not want viable successful businesses to fail because of a short term crisis.
“Businesses of all sizes are at risk. Many good businesses that have been around for generations, others that are newer and were building sustainable futures. None are immune.”