Coronavirus: Confusion over furlough scheme in Scotland after minister rows back on extension promise

·3-min read

Nicola Sturgeon has called for clarity over whether the furlough scheme will be extended beyond 2 December in Scotland if needed.

Scotland's first minister made the call after Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News' Kay Burley it would be a decision for the chancellor to take after the nationwide lockdown in England ends at the beginning of December.

The day before, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said if other parts of the UK needed to go into measures that required the furlough scheme it would be available to them "not just now, but, of course, in the future as well".

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But less than 24 hours later, Mr Jenrick said: "It will be available to everybody in the United Kingdom until 2 December.

"At that point, I think the chancellor quite rightly will have to decide what its future is."

When asked if the furlough scheme will be extended to Scotland beyond that, he said: "That's a decision the chancellor will have to make."

Ms Sturgeon, speaking in her daily press conference, said: "The prime minister appears to have agreed access to the furlough scheme beyond 2 December at the same 80% level.

"We haven't yet seen any detail of what that means when translated into hard practice.

"In particular, we've not yet had confirmation from the Treasury that continuation of furlough in Scotland beyond 2 December would be at the 80% level.

"There has been some doubt cast over this commitment by a cabinet member in a television interview this morning.

"But, we hope this commitment will hold and the payments will be available on the 2 December on the same terms as November.

"We should all have access to the same financial systems, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales.

"We should be on a level playing field and I hope we get to that in the next few days."

Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP in the House of Commons, said it is only right that businesses and communities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales should have the same support as England.

He told Sky News: "I asked the PM a very straightforward question yesterday whether the Scottish government would have that and his first answer was simply 'yes'.

"He backed that up with other parliamentarians but there seems to be real confusion with other parliamentarians in London.

"This is not acceptable because governments have got to take public health decisions based on scientific advice, they need to know if they do that that the financial support people need will be there.

"What we're getting from Jenrick, is it the case that businesses in England will be protected but we'll have to see whether the same can be extended to other parts of the United Kingdom.

"It really does demonstrate that this is done to suit people in London and the south of England."

Scotland currently has a five-tier system, with different areas in a tier that reflects the number of COVID-19 cases and the growth rate for that area.

No area is above level three at the moment, with the highest tier, level four being almost a full lockdown, but only if absolutely necessary.