Sturgeon hopes easing lockdown can aid economic recovery

The easing of lockdown restrictions later this week will aid recovery of the economy, Nicola Sturgeon said as she addressed a rise in unemployment in Scotland.

Data released on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics shows unemployment in Scotland rose to 4.6% – 127,000 people – between February and April and is now higher than the UK unemployment rate of 3.9%.

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister said Covid-19 has “created an economic crisis which demands our full focus and attention” but stressed suppressing the virus is the “essential foundation” for a “sustainable economic recovery”.

The First Minister revealed a total of 2,453 patients have now died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, up five from 2,448 on Monday.

She said 18,045 people have tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up 15 from 18,030 the previous day.

There are 986 people in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, an increase of 116, while 19 people are in intensive care, an increase of one.

“Difficult though all of this is, we must guard against a reckless relaxation of lockdown measures,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“If we ease measures too quickly and allow the virus to run out of control again, that would be economically counterproductive but would also cost many more lives.”

She said on Thursday she will announce the outcome of the review into lockdown restrictions and she expects to be able to confirm a move into phase two of the Scottish Government’s four-step plan to lift measures.

But she said not all measures will be put in place “overnight”.

In the coming weeks, staff will be able to return to factories, construction would be able to continue its restart plan and non-essential retail firms will have an opening date, she said.

She added: “None of this will restore the economy immediately to full health but it will be a significant and sustainable improvement on our current position and that is, of course, important.

“That gradual re-emergence from lockdown is crucial, that is how we allow our businesses to start to operate and to make money again.”

The First Minister reiterated calls for the job retention scheme put in place by the UK Government to be extended.

She also announced £230 million worth of support for the economy, which will be laid out by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

The First Minister said the funding will go towards maintenance for college and universities, roads and public transport, as well as investment in “companies of high potential”.

She said: “It will support and is designed to support projects that can provide an immediate boost to jobs and growth, while also helping to prepare our economy and our public services for the future.”

Ms Sturgeon said there will be investment made in training and skills development by offering individual training accounts to those who are out of work on on low incomes.

Addressing food poverty in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon announced the Scottish Government will be extending its free school meals project throughout the summer holiday period.

She said: “We know families are under considerable financial pressure just now and free school meals are a vital help to many but they’re also really important to the health and well-being of children.

“We will provide £12.6 million in funding to local authorities to enable the continuation of free school meals during the period from the end of June to the start of the new term in August.”

The First Minister said the funding will be allocated “in a way that allows councils, as many of them do, to co-ordinate school meal provision with wider support that they make available to families”.

She added £15 million will also be made available to councils to continue to provide extra support to those in severe poverty or who face other barriers to accessing food.

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