Boris Johnson has confirmed Scottish workers will be able to access furlough cash in future if Nicola Sturgeon decides on further lockdowns.
The confirmation came after pressure from the devolved governments and MPs in his own party, who were unhappy at support being made available for a month-long English lockdown but not necessarily for future lockdowns elsewhere in the UK.
Over the weekend the Treasury made clear to finance secretary Kate Forbes that if Scotland did decide to lockdown again from next month it would be without the support currently made available south of the border.
But asked about this repeatedly in the Commons, the prime minister eventually told Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross that the scheme would be made available beyond the December 2 cut-off if needed.
Mr Johnson said: “The furlough 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.”
The clarification opens up the possibility of Scotland going into an extended lockdown separately from the rest of the UK if the Scottish Government deems it necessary to clamp down on the spread of coronavirus.
‘Very welcome commitment’
Following the comments, Mr Ross said: “This is a very welcome commitment from the prime minister that Scottish jobs will receive the same backing as jobs in England and across the UK.
“The Scottish Conservatives argued strongly that this cast-iron guarantee was an absolute must and it’s great news that it has been given.
“We now know that Scottish jobs will be protected by the UK Government furlough scheme, as they have throughout this pandemic, in the event of a second lockdown.”
The SNP called on Mr Johnson to give “cast-iron written confirmation” of the pledge, given the prime minister – in addition to his response to Mr Ross – gave several non-committal answers on furlough to a number of Scottish MPs.
‘A democratic disgrace’
The party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said: “The prime minister must give a cast-iron written confirmation of the commitment he made in the House of Commons today – that the Treasury will make full 80 per cent furlough payments available to Scotland, whenever it is requested by the Scottish Government, over the coming months – and not just in periods when England is in lockdown.
“Scottish workers and businesses deserve a concrete guarantee – not the appalling catalogue of vague, evasive and confusing answers we have seen from Johnson today, which seemed to be a deliberate attempt to avoid the question. It’s not good enough for people whose jobs are under threat.
“Scotland has called for a full furlough extension for the past six months – but the Tory government has repeatedly refused. It is a democratic disgrace that they were only willing to act when England faced lockdown – and not when Scotland needed support.”
Mr Blackford said even if support is now forthcoming, “for many it is already too late”.
“Thousands have already lost their jobs unnecessarily and many good businesses have gone under, by withholding financial support and blocking the devolution of powers, the Tory government has deliberately hindered Scotland’s ability to respond to this crisis,” he said.
Asked to confirm that furlough cash would be extended beyond December 2 in Scotland, a Treasury spokesman told us: “As we have throughout this crisis, we will continue to listen and respond to people’s concerns and work closely with the devolved administration in Scotland.”