By KEITH MACKENZIE
Previously thriving Highland firms will “fall through the cracks” and go out of business without adequate support to see them through the coronavirus crisis, a Skye hotelier has warned.
Anne Gracie Gunn, owner of the Sonas Hotel group, urged the Scottish government to follow the rest of the UK and pass on emergency grants in full to firms that have more than one property on their books.
On Wednesday, following criticism of the Scottish Government’s approach, Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes announced a package of additional support for business.
Mrs Gracie Gunn had discovered that although she runs three hotels on Skye, only one of them was eligible for aid in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
On 17th March the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, launched a scheme to allow eligible businesses access to £25,000 for each property they have.
Scottish economy secretary Fiona Hyslop initially pledged that the scheme would be replicated in Scotland, but businesses like the Sonas group were told that just one of their hotels will receive funds.
Across its hotels at Toravaig, Duisdale and Skeabost the family firm employs 77 staff – most of whom are now in furlough.
Mrs Gracie Gunn said her company would need bank loans to get them through the crisis.
She told the Free Press: “The Scottish Government has said it wants to spread the money as far as it can, but looking around the Highlands there are going to be businesses who aren’t going to survive this.
“We can access funds for Toravaig, which has a rateable value of under £51,000, but not for our other two hotels.
“We’re trying to look after 77 jobs. It feels like we’re falling through the cracks.”
Mrs Gracie Gunn said her firm’s position also hadn’t been helped by online travel agents refunding deposits for bookings which had been rescheduled due to the pandemic.
She added: “It’s been a nightmare unfolding in front of us, and you don’t know where or how it will end.
“The first priority is people’s safety and their health, and we would only want restrictions lifted safely.
“I’m optimistic as a person, but there are huge concerns and uncertainty.
“When we come out of it we’ll need to hit the ground running, but we have a great product and an excellent brand in Skye – and that will still be here.
“I think the general response of the public has been great. People are observing the restrictions.”
Scottish Finance secretary Kate Forbes said that “having listened carefully”, £120 million would now become available to extend the current grant scheme on a per property basis, at 75 per cent per additional property.
£100 million was also pledged to aid small and medium-sized businesses currently ineligible for the support measures.
Ms Forbes pledged the eligibility criteria would also be widened, and a fresh applications process would open at the end of April.