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Nicola Sturgeon blasts ‘spin’ over Covid support as Boris Johnson skips talks

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Nicola Sturgeon has blasted Boris Johnson for skipping talks over further Covid support for businesses as she accused the UK Government of trying to “spin” a lack of additional cash.

The Treasury claimed on Sunday it has “doubled” the amount of additional funding available for governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to a total of £860 million, with £440 million coming to Scotland.

However, that money is in effect an advance on what is expected to be passed on from extra spending by government departments at Westminster – and may need to be repaid.

How the cash is calculated

The amount of funding the Scottish Parliament receives from Westminster is calculated based on equivalent spending in England.

Any last minute increases to departments’ budgets is typically confirmed by January or February, and the money received by Holyrood is then adjusted to reflect this.

The Treasury has confirmed its announcement means the devolved administrations will be given “early certainty to spend additional funding rather than having to wait for the new year”.

It is not yet clear whether that means any extra money will actually be made available.

Scottish Parliament.

The treasury confirmed that if the money due to Scotland from the recalculation in the new year is actually lower than the announced £440 million, the extra sum will need to be paid back in the 2022/23 budget.

If the amount due is higher than the £440 million, the devolved administrations will be allowed to keep the cash.

The announcement suggests the UK Government may be expecting to have to increase spending in England to mitigate the impact of new Covid restrictions on businesses.

Firms pushed to the brink

It comes following a week of demands from Nicola Sturgeon for more funding, with the first minister making clear she would have gone further with measures if she had the cash to compensate struggling industries.

We reported on Friday how hospitality businesses in particular are being pushed to the brink by new rules to reduce crowding, guidance to limit social contacts and a lack of the type of financial support seen earlier in the pandemic.

The SNP leader said she is seeking confirmation whether the money announced by the Treasury is “additional”.

“To the extent it is new/additional, the Scottish Government will make sure it goes in full to helping business and the overall Covid effort,” she said.

Nicola Sturgeon Omicron update
Nicola Sturgeon

Ms Sturgeon said there is a need for “much more urgency” in action and support from the UK Government so that the devolved administrations do no have their hands tied as “infections soar and businesses suffer”.

“To that end, it was disappointing and frustrating that neither the PM nor the Chancellor attended this evening’s COBRA,” she added.

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “We will continue to listen to and work with the devolved administrations in the face of this serious health crisis to ensure we’re getting the booster to people all over the UK and that people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are supported.”

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