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Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Volume 683: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2020

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the extension of the coronavirus job retention scheme in Scotland. (908449)

Today, on the 11th day of the 11th month, I am sure the whole House will join me in remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.

I have regular discussions with my Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of how we support the entire country, including Scotland, through the covid crisis. The coronavirus job retention scheme has always been a UK-wide scheme, and it has now been extended until the end of March 2021, with employees across the UK receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked.

May I associate myself and those on the SNP Benches with the comments of the Secretary of State?

At the last Scottish questions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) raised a very serious concern about levels of poverty when the job retention scheme ended. The Minister at the Dispatch Box said that November would be the right time to look at a targeted scheme, as if he had some magical powers of poverty prediction. Imagine our surprise, Mr Speaker, when the south of England went into full lockdown and the full force of furlough came back into force. Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the notion of “targeted” is really targeted at the south of England, with a huge disrespect to Scotland and the rest of the devolved nations?

Absolutely not. The Prime Minister was clear from the get-go, following Cabinet on the Saturday when we discussed the new economic situation in England, that it was a UK-wide scheme. It is 80% for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is a simple scheme and it is for our whole country and he has been absolutely clear about that from the start.

The UK Treasury has provided an up-front guarantee of £8.2 billion to the Scottish Government to help protect jobs and to help the Scottish Government tackle coronavirus, yet we are still to hear from the Scottish Government about where more than £2 billion of that funding is to be spent. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government need to provide details urgently about how they will use that funding to support Scots?

I agree with my hon. Friend. There has been substantial extra funding, guaranteed funding, to the Scottish Government—£8.2 billion, as he correctly identified. That is money received through the Barnett formula. The Scottish Government must not shirk their responsibility to be open and transparent about how that money is being spent. We need accountability so that the people of Scotland can judge whether it is being spent wisely.

The Minister has recently said that the job retention scheme will last into next year, but he has also said that there will be no referendums on Scotland’s future for a generation. The Edinburgh agreement, signed by a Tory Prime Minister, provided the legal framework for the 2014 referendum, so can the Minister tell where it says in that agreement that there cannot be another referendum?

I commend the hon. Lady for trying to get a referendum into questions about the job retention scheme. While we are all fighting this pandemic and trying to secure and support people’s jobs, it beggars belief that the SNP carries on talking about independence referendums and about separation. I find it really quite disappointing. The answer to her question is that it was mentioned many times in the White Paper that the SNP Government produced in advance of that referendum. The words “once in a generation” were mentioned on a number of pages.

I thank the Minister for confirming that there is no legal basis for his assertion on the timing of a future referendum. Given that it was also agreed cross-party that nothing in the Smith commission prevents Scotland from becoming an independent country in the future, can he tell us whose decision is it whether Scotland has another referendum?

Order. The question must have some relevance. The first question got through, but you were trying to push your luck the second time. We cannot do that. The question must be relevant. Sorry about that. We had better move on.

The extension of the furlough scheme demonstrated again how the UK Government continue to support jobs in all four nations of the United Kingdom, and we need that support and joint working to continue following the positive news about a potential covid-19 vaccine. Will the Secretary of State outline the work done between the Scottish Government and the UK Government to ensure that there is a seamless roll-out of this vaccine that has given us so much hope here in Scotland and across the UK?

We have invested more than £230 million in manufacturing any successful vaccine. The vaccines have been procured and paid for by the UK Government on behalf of everyone in the United Kingdom. Doses will be distributed fairly and across all parts of the United Kingdom according to population share.

A business operator in my constituency contacted me four days before furlough was supposed to end. He operates two bars in my constituency. As a responsible employer, he had kept on his 44 staff and taken on the debt from bounce back loans, but he was absolutely at the end of his tether with this Government and their last-minute decisions. Will the Secretary of State apologise to that business operator in my constituency for the severe stress that the Government’s dithering has caused him and for the distress that it has caused his employees, as well as to the many people who could not keep on their staff or who lost their jobs due to this Government’s incompetence?

The hon. Lady will recognise that this is a dynamic and unprecedented situation, and we have to take decisions as we see what is in front of us. The employers of those who lost their jobs after 23 September, but were in employment and furlough up until 23 September, are allowed to bring those employees back and put them on furlough.