Fergus Ewing warned islands and rural tourism businesses will suffer under the UK Government’s plans to end the furlough scheme at the end of October.
The Tourism Secretary renewed Scottish Government calls for the multi-billion pound initiative to help businesses through the coronavirus crisis to be extended.
His call came as UK Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart suggested the scheme would come to an end as planned and suggested the Scottish Government should be “more ambitious” when it came to kick-starting the economy.
Many in rural and island communities in the tourism sector have a season which lasts only from April to September. Therefore to cut off support just at the time when the season ends, from that point of view, looks to be pretty draconian.”
Fergus Ewing, Tourism Secretary
Appearing on BBC Scotland’s “Politics Show”, Mr Ewing said the impact on the Scottish tourism sector would be “so severe” that a longer term scheme was needed as well as a VAT cut.
Mr Ewing, the Inverness and Nairn MSP, said: “I am hopeful we can achieve something in Scotland but also in other parts of the UK where the need for this will be similar. November is a very bad time for the hotel sector. Many in rural and island communities in the tourism sector have a season which lasts only from April to September. Therefore to cut off support just at the time when the season ends, from that point of view, looks to be pretty draconian.”
Around 628,200 people in Scotland have been furloughed. Currently, the furlough scheme pays 80% of an employee’s wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.
Mr Ewing said he was “pretty confident” that the Scottish Government’s plan to re-open the tourist season on July 15 would come to fruition “unless we get into the dreadful, catastrophic scenario of a second wave of contagion or indeed localised spread.”
The Tourism Secretary added that he appreciated the disappointment of hospitality businesses when it was announced last week that plans to re-open outdoor eating and drinking facilities were postponed.
Mr Ewing acknowledged that the Scottish Government had been criticised for being “unduly cautious” with the July 15 date, but argued its approach gave businesses more time to prepare.
Scotland Office minister says Scottish Government should show more ambition
Also appearing on the Politics Show was Mr Stewart, the Milton Keynes South MP who was promoted to the Scotland Office following the resignation of Moray MP Douglas Ross.
Mr Ross resigned in protest at the UK Government’s handling of key adviser Dominic Cummings’s 270 mile trip during lockdown.
When asked about extending the furlough scheme in Scotland, Mr Stewart replied: “I don’t think it is going to be helpful to focus on that specific scheme beyond October.”
He was then asked if he had had conversations with the Treasury about the possibility of a Scottish extension.
Mr Stewart said: “I think the focus of the Scottish Government should be a