Nicola Sturgeon seeks more powers from PM to fund Covid-19 decisions

Scotland’s First Minister has written to Boris Johnson in another effort to secure greater fiscal powers and avoid being “hamstrung” when tackling coronavirus.

Scottish ministers have in recent months made repeated calls for more powers to be given to the devolved administrations over borrowing.

On Tuesday Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs as she announced new measures to tackle Covid-19 that hospitality businesses may have been closed altogether had the Scottish Government been able to borrow money to continue the furlough scheme.

During her coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said she has written to the Prime Minister to ask for more powers or at least for an extension to the furlough scheme, which is due to end next month.

She said: “We mustn’t be hamstrung in essential public health decisions by the lack of necessary economic mitigations.

“All four UK nations agreed a joint statement to the effect that we would focus our efforts ‘on suppressing the virus to the lowest possible level and keeping it there’, and that is really positive.

“It puts aside forever the idea that we can just let this virus run, because we know it does real damage in lives and in health.

“There is an argument… that all of us across the UK should actually be doing even more right now and there is a danger that what starts to hold us back is not the public health analysis but financial limitations.”

She also said it is important that if scientific advice deems it necessary, more measures can be put in place, adding she does not want to feel she is “between a rock and a hard place”.

Ms Sturgeon added: “I think we need to come together across the UK to say ‘let’s do more with the right financial interventions’ and top of that list is extending furlough, or we have greater flexibilities for the devolved administrations where we can take these decisions without that constraint that we are perhaps all under right now.”

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister’s Questions

The First Minister said she hopes there can be “constructive discussions” with the Prime Minister and the UK Government on the issue.

She continued: “I don’t want to be in a position where the only reason I didn’t do more is powers outside my control.

“If I get the judgment wrong, that’s on me… but I don’t want to be thinking ‘I should be doing more here but I can’t because of financial constraints’.”

One of the First Minister’s scientific advisers has said it would be “far better” for hospitality to be completely closed, in a bid to tackle surging cases of the virus.

Professor Devi Sridhar tweeted: “Far better for controlling the virus to shut indoor hospitality, but Scottish govt does not have power to provide economic package or borrowing power. Without this, condemning an entire sector to going out of business & unemployment. UK gov’t has to extend furlough/support.”