More details about a £40 million Scottish Government fund to help the hospitality sector cope with new coronavirus restrictions could be revealed on Friday, Nicola Sturgeon said as she told how she grapples with decision making with “lives in one hand and jobs in the other”.
The First Minister said ministers are attempting to “the best of our ability” to balance the needs of protecting lives during a pandemic with the needs of businesses and the economy.
She said it is “an impossible, almost, balance to strike”, as she accepted there will be “difficult” consequences from the latest restrictions she announced on Wednesday.
Pubs and other licensed premises across most of central Scotland will be forced to close for just over two weeks from Friday, while those in other areas will have new restrictions to comply with.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard accused Ms Sturgeon of keeping the hospitality sector “in the dark” on the new restrictions, which industry leaders have warned could result in tens of thousands of job losses.
During First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Mr Leonard said: “The First Minister did not get up yesterday and decide to impose restrictions on pubs, restaurants and other hospitality establishments, it must have taken several days to come to that conclusion.
“Which is why there should have been consultation with the industry and with the trade unions who represent the workforce in that industry.”
Ms Sturgeon said there are “ongoing” discussions with businesses, trade unions and others.
But she added: “These are not normal times and these are not normal decision making processes, and I know how difficult the consequences of these decisions are for businesses and for individuals.
“I don’t expect these decisions to be welcome or popular, they are tough decisions, but they ultimately have to be made by Government.
“And every day right now we are facing decisions where we literally have lives in one hand and jobs in the other.”
On the £40 million being made available to help businesses affected, Ms Sturgeon said her Government has “dug as deep as we can” within its “finite budget” to find the cash.
She was pressed by Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie on how the cash will be spent, as he told her unions are already reporting staff being asked to take unpaid leave to cover the period of restrictions.
He said: “Right now workers across Scotland are faced with financial hardship, job losses and uncertainty, especially in hospitality businesses.
“How many full pay jobs will this amount protect and does it match the scale of need?”
Mr Sturgeon responded: “We hope to announce detail of how the £40 million will be allocated shortly.
“Our current expectation is the funding will be distributed through a two-tier support system, that we would look at grants for affected businesses based on rateable values but also that we would look to deploy a discretionary fund for businesses impacted by the restrictions, even if they are not being required to close.”
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