Nicola Sturgeon has told the Prime Minister she expects him to stick to his word and provide Scotland with furlough cash if the country has to go into lockdown later than England.
The First Minister said she will be “very, very, very disappointed” if it turns out additional funding from the UK Treasury is not available if she announces a second coronavirus lockdown that extends beyond December 2 – the new date the furlough scheme is due to end.
On Saturday, as Boris Johnson announced a second lockdown for England, it was confirmed the job retention scheme would be extended for another month, with the UK Government continuing to pick up the tab for 80% of workers’ wages.
Since then the Scottish Government has been pressing UK ministers for more clarity on the issue.
Fears have been raised Ms Sturgeon might have to announce another lockdown while Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have failed to guarantee money will be available.
Speaking at the coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said: “If the UK Government comes out and says there is no extended furlough for Scotland beyond December 2, I will be very, very, very disappointed, and that is me using as diplomatic a word as I possibly can.”
Such a move, she said, would “run counter to the interpretation that the Prime Minister allowed to be put on his remarks” in the House of Commons – although other members of his Cabinet have appeared to row back on the commitment.
Ms Sturgeon admitted she has been “frustrated” at not receiving a detailed response but added: “My expectation is that the Treasury are beavering away on that right now and we are going to see the detail soon.”
She then warned the UK Government: “If that’s not the case I think not just me but people across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also be very, very disappointed and concerned by that.”
Ms Sturgeon, who brought in a new five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions for Scotland at the start of this week, stressed she does not want to “have to distort rational public health decisions to try to fit into a time-limited financial offer”.
But she said the availability or not of furlough funding could potentially be a factor in “tipping the balance” if decisions have to be made on a second lockdown in Scotland.
She stressed: “I have made the judgment right now, given I am expecting the Prime Minister’s commitment to be honoured, that we continue to take those rational decisions in our own timescale, driven by the public health data.
“I am going to choose to believe that the Prime Minister is going to stick to that commitment and going to ensure that the Treasury provide the detail of that commitment.”
Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes revealed on Tuesday that she has written to the Chancellor demanding full details of the Prime Minister’s commitment to a Scotland-only furlough and confirmation it would apply at the full 80% level currently available to businesses.
Ms Forbes said on Tuesday she wrote that letter after having four requests for a meeting with either the Chancellor or Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay turned down.