22 Feb 2021

ABRS meet with Scottish Government

Lesley McCourt, George Baber (ABRS Trustee) and Anne Comrie (ABRS Member) have been invited to meet on Monday 22nd February, 2021 with the Scottish Government (Joe Brown, Head of Strategic Engagement and Co-ordination in the Directorate of Economic Development) for a sector discussion on the plight of riding school and trekking businesses in Scotland.  We have prepared a paper that sets out in clear terms the key issues, this is outlined below. We welcome greatly the opportunity for direct discussions, allowing us to present the undiluted case to Government and to work with them to find a way forward.  We will report back following our meeting.

Licensed Riding Schools Summary

  • There are approximately 175 licenced riding schools operating in Scotland. They are responsible for the welfare of around 4,900 equines.  In 2019, the equestrian industry was worth an estimated £335m in consumer spending in Scotland.  Riding is not only an activity which promotes health and wellbeing but it is a significant contributor to Scotland’s GDP.
  • On survey, 65% of respondent riding schools identify as sole traders whilst 91% report relying on savings, charity, or pension moneys to survive.
  • The average monthly fixed costs of a small riding school keeping fifteen equines are £5,310.50.
  • Many riding schools are not VAT registered – turnover derived from riding lessons is less than £85,000 per annum. This equates to delivery of 17 lessons per day at £18 per lesson (children’s group lesson price) on each of the average 285 working days per annum. Note: During term time, delivery is evenings and weekend only.
  • BBLS facilities would provide a maximum of £20,000 of support. This would be sufficient to cover four months of fixed cost but would result in a first payment of £375.00 – this is not manageable for many schools.  They are even less suitable for CBILS
  • Additionally, where riding school proprietors rent property, they were unable to secure local authority grant funding during the first tranche of support.

Funding Streams

Riding Schools have had the following issues with funding streams:

  • SEISS – this can be accessed but is capped at £7,500.00.
  • Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund – can be accessed but excludes application to LA Discretionary Fund.
  • Discretionary Fund – amounts differ by each authority, no increase despite Scot Gov increasing funding, rejection if £750 received per month in SEISS, rejection if any income shown in period of claim.
  • Marine and Tourism Fund – closed and required over 75% of turnover to be from trekking.
  • Country Sports Fund – expressly excludes riding lessons, may cover businesses with extensive income from hirelings (common ridings) but reported that required % too high to achieve access.
  • Small Business Bonus Scheme – most riding schools qualify for rural rates relief but in any case, Scot Gov has not confirmed that riding schools constitute “leisure” businesses.
  • Business Closure Fund – not applicable as not legally obliged to close.
  • Business Restrictions Fund – The only fund which currently provides the necessary ongoing support (but not a Tier 4). Disappointingly, although the guidance issued by Government specifies that:

“Sports and other facilities no longer able to provide group exercise, includes dance studios, exercise class/yoga studios”.

will qualify for support, every riding school that has applied to the fund has been rejected.  Rejections have included that:

  • “Colleagues have also considered whether a “riding school” could be classed as a facility that is no longer able to provide group exercise. However, looking at the types of businesses listed in the guidance it is not considered that riding lessons would class as “group exercise” under the SFBF scheme so these restrictions would not apply”;
  • “limitations on numbers does not qualify a business for a restriction grant”.
  • “Unfortunately, these grants do not extend to businesses which are experiencing reduced demand for products or services.”

Business Gateway has also informed that riding schools form part of a “list” of businesses that are not eligible.

On review of the relevant legislation and Government guidance, we can find no provision which would exclude riding schools from the receipt of funding via the Business Restrictions Fund.  In continuing to trade during Level 3, riding schools were clearly impacted by the imposition of legislative restrictions.  Riding schools have been required to:

  • Clean tack and equipment between lessons reducing available teaching time;
  • Clean toilets and communal areas between lessons reducing available teaching time;
  • Control access and egress points resulting in staggered lessons, reducing available teaching time;
  • Restrict parent viewing due to social distancing requirements, reducing the number of children under 12 in lessons; and
  • Manage restricted parking to ensure social distancing, reducing the number of children under 12 in group lessons.

Whilst these examples are not exhaustive, they have all been experienced by riding schools and are all examples of business restrictions and are not restrictions on the person.  Additionally, as riding schools have previously been rejected from this fund, they have been unable to access the top-up fund of at least an additional £6,000.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, Clackmannanshire Council (population 51,400) have received 77 applications to the Business Restrictions Fund in total with only 21 of these being successful. Our interpretation of this data is that it is unduly difficult for any business to access this funding stream.

There is no funding in place to support riding schools in level 4 as we have been informed that even if they were eligible to apply to the Business Restrictions Fund, this fund is not accessible in level 4.

In summary, we do not expect that riding schools should be provided with grant funding simply because they apply to a particular funding stream.  On the contrary, we fully support the application of objective eligibility criteria to aid effective decision making.  However, at present our local authorities are avoiding such objective decision making: “you’re not on the list” and this is wholly unacceptable.

Key Objectives:

Scottish Government to write to Local Authorities to confirm that Riding Schools:

  • Are permitted to receive the Business Restriction Grant if they can demonstrate that Business Restrictions have occurred.
  • May use the inability to provide Group Lessons as acceptable evidence of business restriction
  • Will be treated as leisure businesses for eligibility for Small Business Bonus Scheme

Scottish Government considers and approves the use of the Business Restrictions Fund for Tier 4.