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FM's frustration with Treasury

UK ministers accused of muddle over furlough pay

Nicola Sturgeon

First Minister is facing a dilemma

A second UK Government minister today cast doubt over Scotland’s ability to claim furlough payments if the country should go into lockdown later than England.

In Westminster the SNP’s shadow Chancellor Alison Thewliss asked if the Treasury will ensure that it will make full furlough support of 80% available to any part of the UK that requires it after the 2 December when England’s lockdown ends.

Treasury Minister Stephen Barclay dodged the question, prompting Ms Thewlss to accuse the UK government of overseeing a shambles and “sowing confusion among Scottish businesses”.

Mr Barclay’s failure to give an answer followed earlier hesitancy from housing minister Robert Jenrick who told a TV interviewer this morning that the decision was yet to be made.

The Prime Minister yesterday appeared to confirm the furlough extension will apply to Scotland if it goes into a second lockdown.

That “decision” left First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with a choice over sticking to the current five-level system or shutting down Scotland to take advantage of the Treasury’s additional support for workers’ wages. 

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The First Minister’s five-level system came into force yesterday on a council-by-council basis.

However, introducing a lockdown across the entire country would enable Scottish businesses to access the additional support.

Employees in England will be paid 80% of wages up to £2,500 a month which has meant putting on hold the less generous Job Support Scheme, which was due to pay 67% of wages.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I made clear last week that we might yet have to go further and we can’t rule out a move to level four for all parts of the country.

“While that decision would never be easy, there is no doubt that the availability of a more extensive furlough scheme would make it slightly less difficult, because workers would have more of their wages paid.

“The decision we have to weigh up is should we take the opportunity of more generous financial support to step harder on the brakes now, to drive down infections.”

Regarding the extension of the scheme to Scotland she added: “It cannot be right that the only time that additional financial support is made available is when the south of England needs to go into a lockdown. That just isn’t fair given the situation we are dealing with.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, said in a speech on Monday morning that “this has to be cleared up, now”.

Help for self-employed extended

Further help has been pledged for the self-employed during England’s extended lockdown, but once again, millions of individuals working via their own limited company have been overlooked. 

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be doubled from 40 to 80% of income. However, many freelancers, contractors and small business owners are still unsupported.

Seb Maley, CEO of tax advisers Qdos, said: “Many sole traders will rightly receive the help they need once more, but millions of freelancers, contractors and small business owners have been overlooked yet again.

“It’s a deliberate, short-sighted and callous move to ignore these individuals simply because they work via their own limited companies.

“The irony, of course, is that it will be these workers who the government needs most to kickstart the economy. It’s vital, therefore, that the Prime Minister tailors the support available to this key sector of the workforce before it’s too late.” 

IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) said the government seems to be “wilfully ignoring a third of the self-employed”.

Derek Cribb, CEO of IPSE, said:“While the increase in SEISS is welcome, however, it is deeply troubling that the government has still not fixed the devastating gaps in SEISS, despite urgent recommendations from the Treasury Select Committee.

“After so many calls to resolve the problems, it now looks as if the government is wilfully ignoring a third of the self-employed.”

There are still many businesses and individuals who have through no fault of their own not yet been able to access any government support since the start of the pandemic

– Adam Marshall, BCC

British Chambers of Commerce director General Adam Marshall said:  “Bringing the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme in line with the extended furlough scheme will help many through a period of hardship and closure.

“New grants, paid faster than previously planned, and extended loan schemes, will also help to ease cashflow concerns. However, ministers must immediately consider extending the support on offer for a longer period, given the difficult winter ahead.

“Despite this extension, there are still many businesses and individuals who have through no fault of their own not yet been able to access any government support since the start of the pandemic. They too will require help to sustain their businesses and avoid further increases in unemployment.”



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