Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s decision to extend the UK Government’s furlough scheme until March has been broadly welcomed.
Scotland’s Finance Secretary welcomed the latest extension to the UK Government’s furlough scheme, saying it is “positive but long overdue”.
Kate Forbes has responded to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement on Thursday that the scheme will continue to the end of March.
New funding for the devolved administrations was announced on Thursday, which the Conservatives said will lead to an extra £1bn for the Scottish Government.
The support scheme for self-employed people has also been extended.
Forbes said: “I welcome the Chancellor’s positive but long overdue announcement that the Job Retention Scheme will be extended until March 2021.
“We have repeatedly urged the UK Government to safeguard jobs by guaranteeing that this support will be available for as long as employers need it.
“Months of unnecessary confusion caused by the UK Government means that some employers have already taken the difficult decision to make people redundant because they expected the scheme to be withdrawn.
“I welcome the Chancellor’s indication that, as in March, employers may be able to bring back people they have made redundant and include them in the furlough scheme, which could go some way to addressing this.”
Forbes said the guarantee of further funding to the end of the financial year meets another of the Scottish Government’s long-term requests.
But she added some other issues are unresolved, such as how funding will be provided for business support if it exceeds the share allocated through Barnett consequentials.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Chancellor said the scheme shows the “strength of the union”.
He said: “The furlough scheme was designed and delivered by the Government of the United Kingdom on behalf of all the people of the United Kingdom – wherever they live.
“That has been the case since March, it is the case now and will remain the case until next March.
“It is a demonstration of the strength of the union – and an undeniable truth of this crisis – we have only been able to provide this level of economic support because we are a United Kingdom.
“This Treasury is, has been and will always be the Treasury for the whole of the United Kingdom.”
The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) agreed with Forbes that the announcement was overdue.
Its general secretary Roz Foyer said: “The Chancellor finally seems to have listened on furlough and appears to have finally clarified the situation with respect to Scotland.
“This is his fourth new plan in six weeks and the uncertainty caused by his dithering has had a terrible impact on many people’s jobs and livelihoods.”
The Treasury said the Scottish Government has received an additional £8.2bn to cope with the pandemic.
It said 123,000 jobs in Scotland are currently being supported by the furlough scheme, down from a peak of 930,000 in June.
About 126,000 people have also benefited from the self-employment income support scheme.
Glasgow Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stuart Patrick said: “While we warmly welcome the extension of the Job Retention Scheme until March the pressures on business finances from unfunded overheads will continue to grow.
“The solution to this crisis cannot be repeated lockdowns, however generous the JRS remains.
“Over the next few weeks both UK and Scottish Governments must dramatically improve the testing strategy so that we can keep the economy open even whilst case numbers fluctuate.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the Chancellor has “gone above and beyond” with the extension of the scheme, which pays 80% of workers’ wages.
He said: “We’ve worked constructively with the UK Government and pushed them for answers where necessary.
“Rishi Sunak has now gone above and beyond. He has blown the SNP’s grievances out of the water with an extra £1bn for Scotland and shown again that the UK Government will do whatever it takes to support jobs throughout this pandemic.
“This massive financial backing to protect Scottish jobs is only possible as part of the United Kingdom.”