PRESSURE is continuing to build on the Scottish Government to resolve a loophole leaving Forge Market traders without access to vital funds.

As market traders have now received official rejection letters for small business grants, MSP Annie Wells has raised the issue in Parliament while local councillor Thomas Kerr has written directly to the First Minister.

Businesses at the East End institutions have been fighting since April to have parity with other small firms entitled to receive £10,000 cash boosts.

Initially a loophole meant traders were barred from support because they pay business rates to the market owner, rather than directly to Glasgow City Council.

But the government then said it has listened to hard up businesses and changed the eligibility criteria, yet still excluded the majority of market traders.

Trader Drew Nicol meets three out of the four new criteria but is both the director and sole employee of the business so fails to meet the threshold, which includes having at least one employee.

He received his rejection letter this week.

He said: “I have done everything right: I pay my taxes, I pay my VAT each quarter.

“It is so hurtful to think that if I was a business on the high street then I would be entitled to the grant.

“I am managing to keep myself above water by being able to pay my suppliers and not take a wage but I know others who are totally struggling.”

Annie Wells, Scottish Conservative Glasgow region MSP, said: “Forge Market traders have been badly let down by the SNP.

“They’ve been made to jump through hoops that other businesses haven’t faced, and they still haven’t received the promised funding.

“The government pretended they had sorted this issue but that’s clearly not the case and time is now starting to run out for these businesses.

“They don’t need any more false promises, it’s time to actually deliver and give them the grants they deserve before they’re forced out of business.

“We need the SNP remove these unnecessary hurdles at once and secure the future of the Forge.”

Wells raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, telling Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, traders are devastated the government has “shifted the goalposts”.

But the minister replied: “The first thing I would say is that I object to the notion that we’ve moved the goalposts.

“What we have done is we have engaged with business organisations very clearly about the need to fill a gap that existed before this former scheme.

“In relation to the different approach, this is a different cohort of businesses.

Previously it was more straightforward because businesses were registered as being eligible for the small business bonus scheme.

“Clearly in this instance that’s not the case so it’s necessary to have some form of evidence provided to prevent any form of people drawing down support they are not entitled to.

“I recognise that creates a step that businesses have to take but it’s the proportionate and sensible thing to do because, after all, we are talking about public funds here.”

However, the NMTF, the trade body for market traders, said it had tried to engage with the government to find a solution to the issue and received no response.

Local councillor Thomas Kerr has written to the First Minister to demand answers.

His letter reads: “It seems that these criteria have been punitively designed to exclude market traders in Scotland from accessing the support they should be entitled to.

“As a resident of the East End of Glasgow with the power to enact change in this matter, I’m therefore asking you to personally intervene to ensure the survival of the Forge Market.

“Traders do not deserve to be treated differently from the many thousands of businesses that have been supported by grants during these challenging times.”

Trader Cliff O’Neil said: “Instead of saving thousands of small businesses like the sole traders of the Forge Market, they are destroying them.

“The only difference between these retail businesses and the businesses on the high street is that we pay our rates to our landlord and not to Glasgow City Council, so why treat us like lepers,

we all pay our taxes and national insurance, and we are a vital

part of the community and the economy.”

Norman Rodger has been trading at The Forge Market for more than 13 years and also has no employees. He said: “Why should I be denied this financial help only on the basis that I am a sole proprietor of a small business, especially when I meet the rest of this newly imposed qualifying criteria?

“Surely that makes no sense whatsoever and is totally unfair and unreasonable?”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman last night said that traders are being treated as self- employed.

She said: “As our guidance makes clear, our grant schemes are aimed at small businesses, with other support targeted at the self-employed.

“The extension to the Small Business Grants available from June 8 fills a gap left by other sources of funding available to business. It is deliberately targeted at small businesses and not the self-employed.

“The requirement for the applicant to employ at least one other person who is not a director reflects one of the original stated objectives of the Small Business Grants Scheme which is to ‘protect jobs’.

“The requirement to have a business bank account is an important counter fraud measure – especially necessary as these businesses do not pay non-domestic rates and therefore are not necessarily known to the local authority.

“The self-employed can apply for the HMRC Self-Employment Income Support Scheme or the Scottish Government Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund, which remains open.

“Our support, which is under constant review, includes almost £900 million of non-domestic rates relief, a £1.3 billion business grants scheme and a £185m package of targeted support for SMEs and the self-employed, as we aim to plug the gaps in existing UK-wide schemes.

“It’s precisely because we recognised that there were a number of individuals and smaller firms ineligible for support from the UK Government, or not yet in receipt of the funds they need to survive, that we introduced a £100m grant fund, which was topped up to £185m, to support SMEs and newly self-­employed people.”