Evening Telegraph (First Edition)

Plea for more support to rescue locked-down outdoor centres


OUTDOOR activity centres in Highland Perthshire are facing an uncertain future amid claims they have been “significan­tly undersuppo­rted” by Covid-19 relief funding.

Several struggling businesses have penned an open letter to local politician­s demanding increased aid for their sector.

They say they do not qualify for the Scottish Government’s Strategic Framework Business Fund (SFBF) but are eligible to apply for grants from a much smaller top-up pot announced in mid-January.

Steve Thomas, who runs the Freespirit­s Outdoor Company in Grandtully, on the banks of the River Tay, said his business received a total grant of £3,000, while other industries can claim up to £9,000, followed by £2,000 monthly payments.

“Businesses across all sectors understand­ably have grave concerns over the future survival of their companies,” he said.

“But unlike so many others, we find ourselves significan­tly undersuppo­rted with regards to grants and funding made available in response to the pandemic.”

Mr Thomas, whose firm offers white-water rafting, canyoning and kayaking, said the amount made available to the Marine and

Outdoor Tourism Restart Fund “hugely undervalue­s the contributi­on of outdoor activity providers to the Scottish tourism economy”.

He said: “It leaves a large proportion of these businesses struggling and there is the very probable outcome of them having to close permanentl­y due to the severe lack of financial support that this package offers.”

Mr Thomas, who has worked in the outdoor industry since 1983, said: “My business has considerab­ly high overheads, including the maintenanc­e of a fleet of three vehicles, upkeep and purchase of equipment, insurance, utility bills and an array of other monthly outgoings.

“None of these costs can be reduced during lockdown, but yet we still don’t qualify for the SFBF.

“It is a bit ironic that the package has been entitled Restart Fund when we have no idea when we will legally be able to restart, yet we are expected to use personal funds or savings to try and keep ourselves afloat.”

Mr Thomas’ letter includes a list of businesses he said are in the same situation, including the Rafting Company at Grandtully, the Loch Tay Boating Centre at Kenmore and Nae Limits, near Ballinluig.

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