A Perthshire business support group has claimed that rural firms are feeling a “disproportionate” impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Coupar Angus-based GrowBiz said the combination of a higher proportion of self-employed people, inconsistent broadband coverage, poor transport links and greater distances to food supplies and health services threatens the rural economy.
Chief executive Jackie Brierton said the support for self-employed people announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday evening – which included some self-employed people being able to claim 80% of earnings – was welcome.
But she said the delay in payments until June would see many “struggle to survive”.
She said: “The spread of Covid-19 presents enormous challenges for businesses across Scotland and especially for small and micro-businesses in rural Scotland, which contribute £37 billion to the Scottish economy every year.
“The support package announced by the chancellor on Thursday for business owners and the self-employed is obviously welcome but it’s not going to prevent serious financial hardship for many individuals and their families in rural areas.
“With a delay until June for any payments to be made, many will struggle to survive and those who have only recently started a business, and haven’t yet completed a self-assessment return, will have to use the benefits system.
“Self-employed people contribute billions of pounds into the UK economy through tax, national insurance and VAT payments and they also support other self-employed people as contractors, suppliers and customers.
“They are an essential part of our economy and adequate support needs to be delivered in a timely fashion.”
GrowBiz is providing phone and online support to anyone who is self-employed or running a small or micro-business in rural areas of Scotland.
In addition, the group is running a programme of online learning sessions and networking events for the rest of March and into April that are open to anyone looking for support.
Ms Brierton said: “GrowBiz is here to help rural businesses think through alternative strategies and different ways to reach their markets – and provide information on funding.
“We can also signpost to other sources of assistance.
“Our aim is to help anyone who is self-employed or running a small or micro-business in a rural area to get through the next few months.”