Nicola Sturgeon denies playing politics as she urges Boris Johnson to provide financial help 'to do more' in fight against Covid-19

Nicola Sturgeon suggested she would have closed pubs and restaurants if she had the ability to mitigate the financial impact of the decision.

Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 2:38 pm
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she might have closed hospitality businesses had she had the ability to mitigate the financial impact.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she might have closed hospitality businesses had she had the ability to mitigate the financial impact.

Nicola Sturgeon has warned the Scottish Government must not be “hamstrung” by financial limitations if it is do what is necessary to tackle Covid-19.

The First Minister said it was “likely" that, had the furlough scheme been extended or more money was made available by the UK Government to help hospitality businesses, she would have come to a “different decision” such as closure rather than impose a curfew.

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Ms Sturgeon added that she would be writing to the Prime Minister asking for “reasonable but necessary fiscal flexibility” and to reiterate the call for an extension to the furlough scheme.

She warned the Scottish Government may be forced to take decisions against public health advice due to the impact those decisions would have on the economy, if the UK Government did not provide more funding.

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister said she had gone “as far as we could within the powers we have”.

She added: “If the Scottish Government had the power to borrow money or extend the furlough job retention scheme so we could mitigate the impact on jobs, it is very possible, perhaps even likely, that we would have reached a different decision yesterday on hospitality.

"If I had the ability to bring more financial firepower to mitigate the jobs and economic impact, I probably would have gone further on pubs."

Ms Sturgeon denied playing politics, and said her letter to Boris Johnson would cover similar territory to the one sent by Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes earlier in the year which called for additional borrowing powers and increased investment in Scotland.

The First Minister said: “It is genuinely not intended to be political or constitutional and I know some people won’t believe that but it is absolutely the case.

"It reflects a genuine worry I have as First Minister right now and that is that we mustn’t be hamstrung in essential public health decisions by the lack of necessary economic mitigations.

"There is an argument and I’ve heard some experts articulate it even this morning that all of us across the UK should actually be doing even more right now.

"There is a danger that what starts to hold us back is not the public health analysis, but financial limitations.”

Ms Sturgeon added that she did not want to be “between a rock and a hard place” when making public health decisions.

She said: “Obviously no government’s resources are completely infinite but the UK Government has the power to borrow that we don’t, so that’s what I just trying to be frank about here.”

The SNP and the Scottish Government have been calling for an extension to the Job Retention Scheme and additional borrowing powers for devolved nations for months.

However, the chair of their economic recovery advisory group Benny Higgins said it would not be “reasonable” for the fiscal framework to be changed fast enough to deal with Covid-19.

The First Minister has previously laid out the fact there is no Plan B in Scotland to replace the Job Retention Scheme once it has ended.

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