Chancellor has repeatedly refused to provide clarity on furlough cash, MSPs told
Scotland’s Finance Secretary has claimed the Chancellor has repeatedly refused to “provide clarity once and for all” on whether furlough cash will be available if the country decides on a second lockdown.
Kate Forbes said she has made four requests for a meeting with either Rishi Sunak or Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay since the UK Government announced the extension of the furlough scheme, linked to confirmation of a second lockdown in England, on Saturday evening.
She she told MSPs at Holyrood these requests have not been granted.
Ms Forbes added: “One suspects because they still don’t know what their own position is.”
Her comments came as fears were raised that Scotland could have to announce its own lockdown if the UK Government fails to provide firm answers to Holyrood on the issue.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Prime Minister “appears to have agreed” that access to the furlough scheme would be available in Scotland after December 2, if it was required, with the UK Government picking up the tab for 80% of workers’ wages.
But Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick seemed to row back on that commitment, saying it would be a “decision the Chancellor will have to make at the time”.
Ms Sturgeon said there must be a “level playing field”, with no part of the UK disadvantaged.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie warned: “If we can’t get a straight answer from the UK Conservative Government soon about the future lockdown and future furlough to support it, the Scottish Government will be forced to lockdown Scotland on Thursday.”
Ms Forbes complained that three days after the English lockdown and extension of furlough until December 2 were announced, UK ministers “still can’t give a straight answer as to whether Scottish businesses are of the same value in the Chancellor’s eyes as English businesses”.
She has now written to Mr Sunak demanding full details of the Prime Minister’s commitment to a Scotland-only furlough, and confirmation it would apply at the full 80% level currently available to businesses
The Finance Secretary is also seeking assurances there would be no reduction in eligibility for the scheme and that similar support would be available for self-employed people.
She said: “This boils down to a very simple question, does the Prime Minister and does the Chancellor place as much value on a business in Scotland and a job in Scotland as they do on a business or a job elsewhere in the UK?
“The UK Government wouldn’t budge when we asked for furlough to be extended, or when Wales asked, or when Northern Ireland asked.
“Now, at the 11th hour before furlough was due to end, it was extended because England was going into lockdown.”
At the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing earlier on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon said she had not received confirmation from the Treasury that the scheme can continue beyond December 2 – the proposed end date for the English lockdown – at 80% of wages.
Speaking as 28 coronavirus deaths and 999 positive tests were recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours, she did not rule out imposing tougher restrictions if necessary.
She stressed: “It is in nobody’s interest for public health decisions to be distorted by the need to effectively try to game a financial system.
“We should all have access to the same financial support.”
SNP Treasury spokeswoman Alison Thewliss raised the same issue in the House of Commons, urging Mr Barclay to be “honest” and say if the Treasury would make furlough available at 80% “to any part of these islands that requires it after December 2”.