Boris Johnson risks plunging tens of thousands of workers in the north-east into “untold hardship” if the furlough scheme ends prematurely, the SNP’s business spokesman has said.
Gordon MP Richard Thomson has warned that families could be financially “devastated” if the furlough scheme ends in October, as is planned, and a winter outbreak of coronavirus leads to lockdown being reimposed.
Mr Thomson is now calling for action and, referencing the £3.8 billion in Barnett consequentials paid by Westminster to Holyrood since the start of the outbreak, said cash “should not be contingent on England suffering first.”
Last week, the prime minister conceded in the Commons that if there were local outbreaks or it was nationally necessary to reinstate lockdown measures then “nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing”.
Mr Thomson told us: “The line out of the UK Government has basically been, you’ve had £3.8billion from us – go away and shut up.
“But that cash is just from Barnett consequentials, that is reliant on extra spend in England – what happens if Wales and Northern Ireland have to go back into lockdown but England doesn’t? There’ll be no Barnett cash, how will they pay?
“This money should not be contingent on England suffering first.”
He added: “The furlough and self-employment support schemes have been a lifeline to those that they benefited, but the Tories threatening to pull this safety net away of any reinstatement of lockdown measures risks pushing thousands of people into untold hardship if there is a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19.
“The prime minister is now on record saying that no one should face financial hardship for ‘doing the right thing’ and the SNP will hold him to this promise.”
Scotland Office minister David Duguid last week said the UK Government would “do whatever it takes to get all parts of Scotland through the coronavirus pandemic and ensure the economy can get back on track as we recover.”
More than a quarter of the UK workforce is now being supported by the scheme at a cost, so far, of £19.6 billion.
The scheme, brought in to mitigate the effects of coronavirus, allows employees to receive 80% of their monthly salary up to £2,500.
A similar programme for self-employed workers has seen 2.6 million claims made worth £7.5bn.
Scotland has seen 628,000 workers so far signed up to the scheme.
In the north-east there are 27,700 workers in Aberdeen benefiting, 29,700 in Aberdeenshire and 11,700 in Moray.
Across the Highlands and Islands more than 24,000 people are currently on the scheme.
Nationally, employers in the wholesale and retail sectors have furloughed the highest number of employers, covering 1.6 million jobs, followed by accommodation and food service employers furloughing 1.4 million.
As it stands, the scheme will continue until October 31.
Recent figures from the government’s independent economic forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), indicate that the cost of the government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic is expected to hit £123.2bn.
The OBR expects annual borrowing to equal 15.2% of the UK economy, which would be the highest since the 22.1% seen at the end of the Second World War.