Confusion reigns as Government appears to backtrack on access to furlough scheme for Scotland
The UK Government has refused to confirm Scotland will have access to the furlough scheme if it goes into another lockdown.
Yesterday Boris Johnson's answer announced that furlough money would be available for Scotland if it went into lockdown in a situation that applies "not just now, but of course, in the future as well."
However, today the PM’s spokesman and the Chief Treasury Secretary Steve Barclay both appeared to row back on the commitment, instead saying “direct economic support would be available”.
The PM’s spokesman said: “The furlough scheme is a UK wide scheme that is available where needed.
“The UK Government has intervened in an unprecedented way to save nearly 1 million jobs.
“The Scottish Government also benefited from £7.2 billion in support.
“Furlough has always been a UK wide scheme, and as the PM has said the furlough scheme will be available to support all parts of the United Kingdom.
“If other parts of the UK decide to go into measures that require direct economic support we will of course make that available to them.”
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Barclay also refused to confirm the furlough scheme would be available, even when asked directly by his own MPs.
He said: “Furlough has always been a UK wide scheme and as the PM said the Government will always be there to provide support to all parts of the United Kingdom.”
Asked for a yes or no answer by MPs from the SNP and Liberal Democrats, Mr Barclay simply repeated himself.
Neither clarified if that would mean the government would continue paying 80 per cent of employees' wages, up to £2,500 a month, if they were unable to work because of the lockdown.
It comes after the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick this morning claimed that access to the scheme for Scotland under a future lockdown was not guaranteed, and would be a decision for Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
The Conservative MP said: “Everybody in the UK can be assured that furlough, at 80 per cent, will be available until the 2nd of December.
"We will continue to ensure the UK furlough scheme is UK-wide, it was always UK-wide from the start, and we want it to be in the future, so if it’s necessary to be deployed again, that is a decision for the Chancellor in the future.”
The SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford claimed the situation had created “real confusion”.
He explained: "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 is 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."
Earlier today the First Minister had praised the announcement by the PM, but called for clarity on how it would work.
Nicola Sturgeon said: “I welcome that commitment, although I do so with a necessary degree of caution.
"We haven’t yet seen any detail of what that commitment means when translated into hard practice and, in particular, we have not yet had confirmation from the Treasury that continuation of furlough in Scotland beyond December 2 would be beyond the 80 per cent level.
"We have always known there would be some form of furlough scheme continuing after December 2 - that’s never been the point at issue.
"The point is at what level and we await confirmation that it will be on the same basis, eligibility and the 80 per cent level that will apply throughout November.
"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."
The confusion over the announcement came despite Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross claiming there was “no doubt” Scotland would have access to the scheme.
He said: “I have not been shy about calling out the UK Government when it’s necessary.
"But I am in no doubt that the UK furlough scheme, which has already protected nearly a million Scottish jobs, will be there to save Scottish jobs again.
“After the Scottish Conservatives argued strongly that extending furlough was an absolute must, the guarantee to protect Scottish jobs has been made.
“The Prime Minister’s commitment is definitive.
“What’s most important here is that the UK furlough scheme will be available to save Scottish jobs again – and the Prime Minister has confirmed beyond doubt that it will be.”
The SNP's Shadow Chancellor Alison Thewliss MP claimed the issue was an “utter shambles” and demanded an apology.
She said: "The repeated refusal by Tory Ministers and the Prime Minister's own spokesperson to confirm Boris Johnson's earlier commitment is beyond shameful and is leaving devolved governments, businesses and workers in the dark at this critical time.
"This entire shambolic episode has also become a serious question of judgement for Douglas Ross, who has been left without a shred of credibility if commitments made to him are unraveling.”
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