Banks must ‘do their bit’ in Covid-19 crisis, says Scottish Finance Secretary

Scotland’s Finance Secretary has pledged to put pressure on banks if they fail to help individuals and businesses left struggling during the coronavirus outbreak.

Kate Forbes she would “expect” banks to be supportive to requests to defer payments from those who have fallen on hard times.

But if they do not, she said she would “most happily put pressure on them” as ministers “expect the banks to do their bit”.

Ms Forbes, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, said she had taken part in a virtual roundtable meeting on Tuesday with banks and other financial services.

During the talks, she said she had been stressing that “they need to be sympathetic to requests for payment deferrals, for mortgage holiday and other things”.

The Finance Secretary said: “This is about getting through the next few months, this is about ensuring we still have an economy at the end of it and that businesses that have struggled can bounce back and people have money in their pockets.

“So if there are cases where banks are not sympathetic I will most happily put pressure on them. We expect the banks to do their bit to support communities and support businesses through the next few months.

“And where they are not, that should be flagged and I will most certainly take it up with the banks.”

She also insisted a “credible mechanism” must be found to help self-employed people through the crisis, adding that as the best way to do this is through the tax system, it is a matter for the UK Government.

There are about 330,000 self-employed people in Scotland and Ms Forbes said Scottish ministers have made “multiple” calls for help to be provided to them, with Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw also pressing Chancellor Rishi Sunak to act.

Ms Forbes added: “I think there is a will there to help self-employed people, the question is around delivery.

“Our call was the wage support schemes should be extended to cover the self-employed, they have done that in Norway and Denmark, and we think there must be a credible mechanism to support the self-employed.

“It is challenging but that doesn’t take away from the fact that people are struggling right now and we need to make sure they have money in their pockets to pay bills, to look after their families and to feed themselves.

“If we’re going to get through the next few months people need cash and the only way of doing that is direct support to self-employed people.”