Nicola Sturgeon 'must not use furlough extension to put Scotland into lockdown', businesses warn

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Simon Johnson
·4 min read
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Business groups have urged Nicola Sturgeon not to put Scotland into full lockdown - AFP
Business groups have urged Nicola Sturgeon not to put Scotland into full lockdown - AFP

Nicola Sturgeon must not exploit the Chancellor's extension of the furlough scheme until next March to put Scotland into full lockdown, business leaders have warned.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said a second lockdown north of the Border "can’t become more likely because of these financial changes" and urged Ms Sturgeon to stick with her new five-tier regional system.

Andrew McRae, the business group's policy chair, said that even with 80 per cent furlough a national lockdown "would cause devastating harm to businesses, workers and communities."

His intervention came after Rishi Sunak said his announcement demonstrated "the strength of the Union and an undeniable truth of this crisis we have only been able to provide this level of economic support because we are a United Kingdom."

The Chancellor also handed the SNP government an extra £1 billion to support businesses, taking their additional Covid-19 funding to £8.2 billion.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, welcomed the UK Government's "massive financial backing" and said it had "blown the SNP’s grievances out of the water."

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour's deputy leader, welcomed the Chancellor's "U-turn" and demanded the SNP get the extra money to businesses quickly "to prevent a tsunami of job losses this winter."

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However, the FSB expressed concerns that Ms Sturgeon would now instigate a national lockdown, knowing that employees in businesses forced to shut would get 80 per cent of their wages covered.

The First Minister told MSPs that tough restrictions on household visits and hospitality are starting to have an impact and the R number - the average number of people each carrier infects - had dropped to around one. A further 1,216 cases and 39 deaths were declared yesterday.

But she refused to rule out a national lockdown as she wanted a clearer reduction in case numbers as Scotland moved deeper into winter.

Ms Sturgeon has also warned that some local authority areas could be moved "up a level" when her five-tier system is reviewed for the first time next week, including to the highest level 4, which is equivalent to almost full lockdown.

Mr Sunak's announcement came after Boris Johnson confirmed earlier this week that Scottish workers would receive furlough payments if Ms Sturgeon imposed a lockdown after England's ends on Dec 2.

The Chancellor told the Commons: "I also want to reassure the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The furlough scheme was designed and delivered by the Government of the United Kingdom on behalf of all the people of the United Kingdom, wherever they live.

"That has been the case since March, it is the case now and will remain the case until next March."

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, said: "Never has the strength of the Union, and the might of the UK Treasury, been more important. Together, we will get through these difficult times.”

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Mr McRae said it was the "right move" but added: "A full-scale lockdown in Scotland can’t become more likely because of these financial changes. Bute House needs to give their commendable targeted restrictions strategy a chance to work." 

Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: "This announcement gives Scottish businesses a glimmer of hope that we may be able to survive and work through this crisis.

"Movement in the management of the virus must be towards the re-opening of the economy, with support such as the furlough scheme available to support businesses if restrictions need to be imposed."

Kate Forbes, the SNP's Finance Secretary, welcomed the announcement was said it was "overdue" and "some employers have already taken the difficult decision to make people redundant because they expected the scheme to be withdrawn."