The Scottish Conservatives have accused the Scottish Government of hoarding a “war chest” worth £2.2 billion ahead of the election rather than providing support for businesses hit by the pandemic.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said claims of unspent cash in the budget were “ridiculous” as MSPs debated business support at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.
A motion from Scottish Labour said many small companies still needed financial help and called on the Government to “urgently outline how it will allocate the remaining £2.2 billion of Barnett consequentials to provide this support”.
The Tories’ economy spokesman Maurice Golden said the UK Government’s intervention had been “without parallel”.
He said the SNP was “hoarding billions in cash that could be spent right now”.
Mr Golden said: “We know what their priority is, the one thing that trumps all others, it’s independence and independence at all costs.
“We heard again this week that the First Minister may push for an independence referendum next year.
“They’re sitting on this cash, as they see it as a war chest in the run-up to the election and the furtherance of their independence goals.”
Ms Forbes said Mr Golden “knows precisely where the money is going” and that there had been additional funding announcements since the last budget revision.
The Finance Secretary said she had so far announced £2.3 billion to support business and recovery.
She said: “The reference to £2.2 billion in the Labour motion is frankly ridiculous as anybody with a calculator would know and I can assure you that all funding available to us is being and will continue to be used to support business.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the Government’s scheme was failing to prevent companies from closing.
He said: “We are facing a 10% crash in output. We are expecting unemployment to double and our town and city centres are being hollowed out.”
Mr Leonard added: “Of course it’s right that lives are put before commerce, but it is also right that there must be mitigation for business as well.”
Green co-leader Patrick Harvie hit back at any suggestion money was being hoarded by Scottish ministers ahead of a future independence vote.
He told MSPs: “This money is not sitting idle, as some would misrepresent it. Certainly not as a suggestion that billions of pounds are being set aside for a secret plan for independence.
“I don’t think we should lean into that kind of nonsense.
“It is clear that no cabinet secretary, no matter which party was in government right now, would be able to formally allocate all of this to specific budget lines at the moment, given the continued uncertainty.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the Government had been able to find the cash for the “thank you” payment to health and social care workers, which amounts to £500 for full-time staff.
Speaking about the Finance Secretary, he said: “We know that when she says she has no money left, what she means is she can find £180 million when the First Minister needs to make a speech to conference.”