Fiona Hyslop calls for furlough extension
Economy Minister Fiona Hyslop has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking the UK Government to consider extending the coronavirus job retention scheme.
She described the furlough scheme as “a vital safety net” for people and businesses and urged Sunak not to end the scheme “prematurely”.
Hyslop made the call as new figures show that almost 780,000 people in Scotland have been supported by the scheme.
The coronavirus job retention scheme, or furlough scheme, was launched in March, initially for a period of three months.
It was then extended to October by Sunak in his summer economic statement.
Figures released by the UK Treasury show that over 930,000 people in Scotland had been supported by either the furlough or Self-Employed Income Support scheme since March.
The Scottish Government as well as some opposition parties in Holyrood have previously said that the support scheme should be extended, particularly for the sectors worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, like hospitality and tourism.
But Sunak said during a visit to Scotland in August that the scheme cannot run “indefinitely” and suggested that the scheme could be masking the true levels of unemployment.
He said that the UK Government was instead focussed on trying to “provide people with new opportunities”.
Hyslop called on Sunak to reconsider, saying that European nations such as France and Germany appear to be extending their furlough schemes and that the UK should do the same.
She said: “We have again and again asked the UK Government to reconsider the premature needing of this lifeline.
“With indication given this week that Germany is likely to extend their furlough scheme to two years, the UK must really think again about withdrawing blanket support.”
Hyslop said that the Scottish Government did not expect the hospitality and tourism sectors to have made a full economic recovery by October and said those sectors needed special support.
She also argued that greater flexibility would be needed in order to support workers who might be affected by city or region-wide lockdowns and also for people who cannot work because they have been told to self-isolate through the Test and Protect system.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she shared Hyslop’s “significant concerns” about these issues.
Hyslop said: “It’s also clear that people should not be made to choose between complying with public health guidance and being able to survive financially.
“Therefore I’ve also asked the UK Government to provide support for business and workers in the event of local lockdown arrangements being put in place to manage outbreaks.
“I’m also asking them to provide support for individuals who are told to self-isolate for a period of 14 days through the Test and Protect scheme and cannot work from home.
“We know this latter point disproportionately affects workers on lower incomes as they are less likely to be able to work from home.
“So it’s no exaggeration to say this support is a vital lifeline. Families and businesses across Scotland are dependent on it to survive financially and we must do all that we can to ensure that they remain protected.”