Sturgeon says Holyrood may need new borrowing powers
Sturgeon: ‘we need to be able to do it ourselves’
Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would apply for new borrowing powers if its lockdown lasted beyond the dates set by the Treasury for providing support to UK companies and workers.
The chancellor on Friday set out a timetable for winding down the furlough scheme and the levels of support available, but he made no reference to the different lockdown timings in the four nations.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, noted thast the UK government’s new tapered approach to the furlough scheme is not aligned with the Scottish Government’s route map out of lockdown.
At her briefing today, Ms Sturgeon insisted there must be an ability to respond to increases in transmission, either nationally or locally.
She said discussions with the Treasury are ongoing and will continue.
“If the financial support was not extended, the alternative would be to allow the Scottish government to borrow more, she said.
“My view would be that if the Chancellor did not want to extend the financial support [in the event of Scotland still being in, or going back into lockdown], then the alternative is to transfer the power to the Scottish Government to borrow more so that we can do that ourselves.”
“I am up for having all these discussions but the fundamental point here is that … we cannot find ourselves in a position that for financial and economic reasons we are unable to take action necessary to suppress a potentially deadly virus.”
Call to turn bounce back loans to grants
The SNP has called for the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) to be turned into grants.
Drew Hendry MP, the party’s Shadow BEIS spokesperson, warned that the loan scheme in its current form could force thousands of small businesses to close their doors for good, due to taking on unmanageable debt and being unable to repay loans due to the economic cost of the coronavirus crisis.
Dire warnings raised by the banking sector revealed that up to half of the loans issued under the scheme will be unable to be paid back by hundreds of thousands of small businesses who are in increasing financial difficulties and could collapse.
Mr Hendry said: “The financial support measures brought forward by the UK government so far have been welcome, but the Treasury needs to go much further in its support if it is to ensure a strong economic recovery, protect thousands of jobs, and prevent many businesses from going under.”
Sir George Mathewson, the former Royal Bank of Scotland boss, also argued that the UK government should write off government loans, warning that that “we need to ensure that all our businesses in Scotland survive this crisis, and that will not happen by giving them loans.”
Ministers have warned that new lockdown restrictions will be imposed if the public continues to ignore the guidelines.
Public areas drew large numbers as many people took advantage of the warm weather to enjoy a release from their homes.
However, there was some alarm among ministers that disregarding the guidelines will see a return of the virus and force a new lockdown.
Police issued almost 800 dispersal notices on Saturday for lockdown breaches in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said during the Scottish government’s daily briefing today.
“We won’t hesitate to do that if we think it’s necessary for the collective safety and wellbeing of the population,” she said.
Early statistics from Transport Scotland show a significant rise in traffic in parts of Scotland:
Traffic levels across Scotland on Saturday were 60% up on the previous Saturday and by 70% on Sunday compared to the previous week.
On the A82 at Loch Lomond on Saturday the increase in traffic was more than 200% higher than the previous Saturday.
Transport Scotland will give further details on travel data as part of their regular update later this week.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said: “We have only been able to ease some of the lockdown measures as the public have followed guidance closely up to this point, so I would urge people to continue to play their part.
More traffic on the roads (pic: Terry Murden)
“We have seen a significant rise in traffic this past weekend. At Loch Lomond, traffic levels were more than three times higher than the previous Saturday – and in the middle of the afternoon over four times higher. On our rail network, Balloch station saw an increase in passenger numbers.
“These volumes go beyond what would be expected to be generated by local residents, nor are they in keeping with people staying within five miles of home or by people travelling a reasonable distance to meet loved ones.
“While you can leave the house for exercise and recreation, the guidance says you should not be going any further than five miles from home and to avoid tourist destinations and beauty spots. You should also maintain physical distancing when you do go out and wear face coverings on public transport”
“I realise that this is difficult for everyone, particularly with the weather being so good, but we can only take steps towards a less restricted lifestyle, and then consider taking further steps to ease lockdown measures, if people continue to follow the guidance.”