Business leader warns furlough scheme must be extended to protect Scots jobs at greater risk during Covid-19

A prominent Scottish business leader has called for an extension of the UK government’s furlough scheme, warning that jobs north of the border are at greater risk, in part due to the “firmer” stance taken by the Scottish Government on the opening of non-essential businesses.

Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. Picture: Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. Picture: Glasgow Chamber of Commerce

Stuart Patrick, chief executive of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said that the job retention scheme (JRS) - which allows employers to claim cash grants worth up to 80 per cent of wages, capped at £2,500 a month per worker - must continue operating “for as long as any businesses are told to stay closed.”

The initiative, introduced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as part of a package of support to protect jobs and businesses, is only scheduled to run until the end of June.

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But Mr Patrick said that uncertainty over how lockdown measures in Scotland might diverge from the rest of the UK meant it was essential the scheme remained in place.

Pointing to research by the Fraser of Allander Institute and international law firm, Addleshaw Goddard, which found that 90 per cent of businesses surveyed were either adopting the scheme, or planned to do so, he said it suggested that there are proportionately more jobs at risk” in Scotland.

Writing in The Herald, he explained: “That isn’t especially surprising since the Scottish Government has taken a notably firmer stance against non-essential businesses attempting to stay open. Scottish jobs may now depend more on the job retention scheme than elsewhere in the UK.

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“In mid-March we argued hard for such a scheme to be introduced and more recently for its extension for as long as the lockdown lasts. Indeed, we are now making the case that for as long as any businesses are told to stay closed the JRS will need to be operating for those businesses or unemployment will simply be delayed until the moment it stops.”

He added: “If Scotland chooses to stay in lockdown for longer or in a different manner than in the rest of the UK, we will ask how the Scottish Government will arrange with the UK Government to extend the JRS as well. Otherwise more businesses and more jobs will disappear.”

Mr Patrick also said a series of small business grants from the Scottish Government, which ranged from £10,000 to £25,000, have been a “saviour” for thousands of companies, allowing them to meet overheads that the furlough scheme does not cover.

But he warned that the impact of those grants “can only last for so long,” stressing: “With a ‘new normal’ stretching out for months ahead the UK and Scottish Governments should be working together to consider how the financial support programme is redesigned to match those circumstances.”

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