Coronavirus: Nicola Sturgeon demands clarity on future furlough payments for Scotland

Housing secretary appeared to back away from Boris Johnson’s promise

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 03 November 2020 13:15
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Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has demanded “clarity” from the government after a cabinet minister appeared to backtrack on Boris Johnson’s promise of help in future lockdowns.

The prime minister yesterday said that furlough payments would be made available in the devolved nations not only during the upcoming four-week English lockdown - due to start on Thursday and end on 2 December - but also in any later shutdowns imposed in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

But housing secretary Robert Jenrick this morning backed away from the promise, suggesting that the decision would be made by chancellor Rishi Sunak at the time.

The Scottish first minister responded on Twitter: “We need clarity on this urgently today. I’m sorry to say that @scotgov has no more detail now than we did before PM statement yesterday. Woolly words don’t pay people’s wages.”

And Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford also voiced concern, saying: “We take the PM at his word and would expect him to instruct any chancellor in a government led by him to do the same.”

There has been anger in recent days over Mr Sunak’s decision to make a generous 80 per cent furlough available when London and the south of England are facing restrictions which was not offered when northern cities like Liverpool and Manchester went into tier 3, when Wales imposed its 17-day “firebreak” lockdown and when tough measures were introduced in the central belt of Scotland.

Conservative leader in Scotland Douglas Ross warned on Monday that it would not be acceptable for “the taps to be turned on” for England, when the same support was deemed “unaffordable” for the other nations of the UK.

And Mr Johnson assured him in the Commons: "The furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme.

"If other parts of the UK decide to go into measures which require the furlough scheme then of course it's available to them, that has to be right. And that applies not just now, but, of course, in the future as well."

However, Mr Jenrick cast the policy into confusion this morning, telling Sky News: “That’s a decision the Chancellor will have to make at the time.”

Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes has written to Mr Sunak to seek a firm commitment to the funding.

She told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I see this morning that another Cabinet minister appears to have walked back on the Prime Minister’s commitment that furlough will be available to Scottish businesses.”

She added: “The problem is that this has been a theatrical shambles from the beginning, they could have given us an answer on Saturday night, when Scottish businesses were worried about what it would mean for them.

“They’ve dragged it out for two, now three days, with so many twists and turns, appeared to give answers and then appeared to walk back on them.”

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters: "Furlough has always been a UK-wide scheme and, as the PM has said, the government will always be there to provide support to all parts of the UK.

“As the PM said, if other parts of the UK were to go into measures which would require direct economic support, of course we will make that available to them as we have throughout the pandemic.”

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