Time is running out to save thousands of jobs as the Chancellor seems intent on pursuing his reckless plan to scrap the furlough scheme next month. We have not heard a single plausible argument for ending this support, and along with my SNP colleagues, the business community and leading economists, I’m urging him and the Treasury to look again.
The ONS has already confirmed that the UK is in recession – the deepest on record and worse than any other G7 country so far. It should be unthinkable that the Chancellor would pull away support that is protecting jobs in the middle of a global health pandemic.
Make no mistake this is a political choice – these job losses are not inevitable. Our European neighbours in Ireland, France and Germany, are already extending their furlough schemes. They recognise the measures are necessary to get families and businesses through this period.
It doesn’t make sense that while these countries are strengthening support, the UK Government is choosing to end its furlough scheme prematurely. After all, the economic impact of the pandemic has not gone away for these businesses – indeed for sectors like tourism, they now face a double whammy of trying to survive through a pandemic and their historically toughest trading period – the winter season.
During a debate this week, I will be asking the Chancellor – once again – to do the right thing. The furlough scheme was a welcome lifeline for businesses and kept money in workers pockets. The conditions have not changed enough to justify pulling this support; COVID is still here; the businesses that have survived are still struggling to keep the doors open and our communities are still fragile. It is reckless and unnecessary.
Instead of abandoning businesses and workers, the Chancellor can choose to strengthen financial measures, fix the gaps in support, and put in place sectoral packages for the hardest-hit sectors such as tourism, hospitality and retail. He can choose to do the right thing.
With the normal powers of an independent country, Scotland would be able to extend the furlough scheme and deliver the scale of fiscal stimulus needed to adequately protect our economy. Until then, if this Tory Government continues to refuse to extend support, then they should devolve key financial powers to enable the Scottish Government to deliver a tailored response to save these jobs.
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