Tories dismiss SNP calls to have power to extend furlough scheme

Boris Johnson at the dispatch box, Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister,

The Tories have brushed aside the SNP’s questions on whether or not the furlough scheme could continue in Scotland if required.

The furlough scheme is due to run until October, for eight months. Over 8 million people are currently benefiting from the scheme, which will cost over £11 billion in total.

The scheme was brought about to ensure that workers would be able to keep their jobs when the lockdown finally comes to an end, and to help the economy ‘bounce back.’

SNP MP Mhairi Black asked Scottish Secretary Alistair Jack today whether or not the scheme would continue if lockdown in Scotland was extended beyond England’s.

She asked “Given England has decided to ease lockdown measures earlier than the other three nations of the UK, can he give assurances that the citizens of the devolved nations will still have access to the UK furlough scheme for as long as the lockdown must continue in the devolved nations?”

However, Alistair Jack said that this was a matter for the UK Treasury.

Rishi Sunak confirmed on Tuesday that the furlough scheme was time limited, and said that it would have to be wound up by October at the latest.

Mhairi Black also asked Alistair Jack if it would be possible for Scotland to implement a furlough scheme of it’s own, should lockdown measures differ north of the border.

She asked, “If this Parliament insists on following a policy of England’s way or no way and does not leave any leeway for the devolved nations, will he, as Scotland’s representative in Government, lobby the Prime Minister for the devolution of the fiscal powers necessary for the Scottish Government to implement their own furlough scheme?”

Jack replied ““The UK Government have given huge support to the whole United Kingdom through the furlough scheme, the self-employed scheme, the bounce-back loans and the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. There has been a huge package of measures to keep money in people’s pockets and to keep the economy as strong as it can be when we return to something near normal.

“Have I argued Scotland’s case? Yes, I have. We have an extension coming on August 1, running to October 31. I hope that we can get people back to work over that period and get the economy up and running, to save people’s livelihoods. While we are very focused on saving people’s lives, we must remember that after that comes saving their livelihoods.”

The SNP’s Marion Fellowes MP for Motherwell and Wishaw then pressed the Prime Minister later during PMQs and claimed that if Johnson refused to allow Scotland to ask for an extension to the furlough scheme, that it would undermine devolution.

Johnson replied “I just remind her, of course, that Scotland has benefited from about £1 billion pound of coronavirus funding in the last period and will get about £3bn overall which perhaps is a material consideration on which she might like to reflect.”

A Government insider said of today’s exchange in parliament “This is not a real issue. Scotland and other parts of the UK are not moving at hugely different paces in terms of easing the restrictions.

“A scenario in which Scottish businesses are locked down for significantly longer than other parts of the UK only arises if the Scottish Government is much less successful than other parts of the UK in controlling the virus. It’s a hypothetical grievance.”

Continuing on the subject after PMQs, Mhairi Black added “It would be completely unacceptable for the Tories to push households further into hardship by cutting off support during this public health emergency.”