Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon will use a four-nations summit with the prime minister on Thursday to push for the job retention scheme to continue beyond its current September expiry date.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has now indicated it could be continued. Asked about the possibility of an extension, he said: “We are open minded, yes.”
Mr Gove said the furlough initiative – which sees the taxpayer pay cash towards workers’ wages – had been a “huge success” that was only possible “thanks to the broad shoulders of the UK Treasury”.
Earlier on Thursday, Scotland’s deputy first minister John Swinney said he believed that it should be possible to have additional, targeted furlough support for the hard-hit arts sector.
Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Gove responded: “We will certainly look at the case that was made by John [Swinney] and reflect on it.”
Ms Sturgeon said she would use today’s summit to call on the UK government to “extend the furlough scheme for as long as it is needed to protect businesses and people who have been required to stop working to protect others”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in March that the furlough scheme, which pays 80 per cent of employees’ wages, would be extended until the end of September.
Employers will be expected to pay 10 per cent towards the payments for hours staff do not work in July – rising to 20 per cent in August and September as more businesses reopen.
Ms Sturgeon and her team has voiced concerns about a possible return to austerity from the Tory government in the autumn, but Mr Gove insisted: “We’ll be spending more.”
The cabinet minister claimed: “Extra funding for everyone will continue, and it is important we all learn from each other about how that money should be spent.”
Thursday’s rearranged meeting was due to take place last week but was postponed after the first ministers of Wales and Scotland pulled out because they wanted it to be a “meaningful discussion with substantive outcomes”.
Ms Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford subsequently wrote to Mr Johnson asking for more substance and clarity about the summit.
“I’ve been given assurances that this will be a meaningful discussion, and it must be,” said the SNP leader. “Working to recover from Covid cannot be a PR exercise – it must be a collaborative process.”
She added: “The Scottish government requires certainty over funding. Without it, people across Scotland who have had to endure so much these past 14 months would lack the reassurance that their jobs are protected.”
Ms Sturgeon also called for “meaningful” discussion on the negotiation of post-Brexit trade deals, and to “respect the devolved parliaments by not diverting money to be spent by UK ministers”.
The SNP has rejected UK government claims that a freed trade deal with Australia could offer a big boost to the Scotch whisky industry.
Britain is seeking to remove a 5 per cent tariff on exports of Scotch whisky to Australia in an upcoming trade deal, trade minister Liz Truss said on Thursday.
But the SNP’s trade spokesperson Drew Hendry MP responded: “People will not be fooled by the Tory government’s Brexit rhetoric, given its record on selling out our vital sectors in pursuit of deals.”
The virtual summit is due to be attended by the Mr Johnson, first ministers and deputy first ministers, as well as Mr Gove, Mr Sunak and the secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
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