Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken about the challenges faced by the wholesale sector and related businesses in a call for continued fiscal support for businesses as some schemes face the prospect of being wound down. Many small businesses in the isles rely on wholesaler businesses services, which have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.
Speaking in Parliament virtually, Mr Carmichael said:
“I want to talk about one particular industry, based on a conversation I had with a local businessperson just this afternoon, and that is the wholesale sector.
“For communities such as those in Orkney and Shetland, the wholesale sector provides a range of business services that goes well beyond the support of local retail businesses. Its operation, done from small family businesses, is vital to the efficient operation of our health service, our care homes and our schools. The Scottish Wholesale Association tells us that the pre-Covid level of its businesses was some £2.9 billion, with 6,000 employees. In the last year, they have already lost 10% of their workforce. In the first lockdown, food service members of the SWA lost 80% of their business on average. For some, it was as high as 95%.
“[Even] after the ending of that lockdown and the easing of restrictions, food service wholesalers are operating at 30% of their pre-Covid levels.”
Recognising support given to date, he said:
“To give credit where it is due, the Scottish Government introduced the Scottish wholesale food and drink resilience fund, but even then, they did not reach every business that needed the help. It was supposed to be a six-month package, but it has been overtaken by events. The Scottish Wholesale Association is looking for an immediate top-up of the fund in the region of £50 million, and that is needed now, not in the next financial year.”
Mr Carmichael concluded:
“I have spoken about the wholesale sector, but I could have spoken about many others. I could have talked about the hospitality and visitor economy; the same thing would have been true. We are coming to a point where the continuation of lifelines such as the furlough scheme and business support grants will be crucial. If we do not keep these lifelines going, frankly, we have to wonder why they were put in place at all.”