Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, writes about the need to extend the furlough scheme
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all of our lives and continues to do so in many different ways.
While it is true that some people, such as farmers, have been working throughout the pandemic, there are many sectors that are not even close to working at full capacity.
People have been adapting to new ways of working with some not able to go into their workplace at all. This is particularly true for our rural areas which have higher shares of jobs in the most-exposed sectors such as tourism, hospitality, sea fish and shellfish sectors.
Throughout the pandemic, we have provided support to alleviate hardship in numerous sectors, with our total package of financial assistance for businesses now more than £2.3 billion.
As rural economy secretary, I have done all I can for the areas of my portfolio.
This includes funding packages worth £15 million for hotels and self-catering businesses, grants of more than £5m through the Scottish Government’s Seafood Resilience Fund and the launch of a loan scheme to support farmers and crofters by giving them vital financial support earlier than the Common Agricultural Policy payment period.
There is no doubt the furlough scheme has been valuable for employers to ensure their workforce remains part of the labour market, but that lifeline is expected to conclude at the end of October.
As the days and weeks pass, we are heading even closer towards a possible tsunami of unemployment that is likely to have a serious impact on our friends and family members, particularly those working in the hardest hit sectors.
This does not need to happen. This can be avoided.
Beyond doubt, the extension of the furlough scheme is the most important action that needs to take place. It would protect potentially hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland from redundancy and provide people with some security in these uncertain times.
This is something we continue to make clear to the UK Government and yet with just five weeks until the scheme will end, there is no sign of an extension.
Research by the Scottish Government’s chief economist shows extending the furlough scheme for eight months could reduce unemployment in Scotland by 61,000 through the first half of next year.
We have even suggested a more targeted job support package for sectors of the economy who will not have recovered or fully reopened by October, such as hospitality and tourism. But again, this has been ignored.
Many in the tourism sector in our rural and island communities have a season which only lasts from April to September. However, 2020 has effectively been one long winter.
This matter is of the utmost importance.
The message is clear – extend the furlough scheme or give the Scottish Government the power to make a major difference to the economy by protecting the jobs of our people and provide them with security and stability.