Chancellor Rishi Sunak should not be able to decide what is a “viable job”, Scotland’s Finance Secretary has said.
The Job Support Scheme announced by Mr Sunak on Thursday is intended to replace furlough when that form of support ends next month, but only jobs that are deemed viable will be eligible for the new payment.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Kate Forbes expressed concern at the new measures, which she said should have also included an extension to the furlough scheme.
Ms Forbes said: “I don’t believe it’s the Chancellor’s job to decide what is and isn’t a viable job, because this scheme requires people to be in some form of work.”
She said localised lockdowns are not taken into account in the scheme, and neither are parts of the economy such as nightclubs which have not yet been allowed to open at all.
She added: “Where we’ve seen localised lockdowns during furlough, businesses have been able to re-furlough their staff and get access to critical support – this scheme won’t allow for that.
“The other thing it won’t allow for is sectors that haven’t been allowed to reopen, either because they have to remain shut or because business hasn’t increased.
“These are viable jobs, they’re good jobs – but because of the nature of lockdown right now, people have not been allowed to reopen.
“The Chancellor’s scheme is, wrongly in my view, trying to determine what is and isn’t a viable job in a way that does not appreciate the reality of the situation we are living in.”
Under the new scheme, employers will continue to pay staff wages for the hours they work. But if they are not required to work their full hours, the Government and the employer will each pay one third of their equivalent salary.
It means employees who are working shorter hours than normal will still be paid two-thirds of the hours for the time they cannot work.
Employees must be working at least a third (33%) of their usual hours and will receive at least 77% of their normal pay.
Ms Forbes also said she hoped clarity would have been given earlier for what was going to replace the furlough scheme at the end of October.
She said furlough should have been extended for businesses not yet allowed to open to ensure some support for staff who are unable to return to work at all.
Ms Forbes added she has had “no indication” of Barnett consequentials coming to the Scottish Government as a result of the Chancellor’s winter economy plan, and is still waiting for information on extra funding from previous announcements such as the self-isolation payments set out in August.
A spokesman for the Treasury said: “The UK-wide package announced yesterday was broadly welcomed by business groups across Scotland and provides welcome support for businesses and workers.
“As the Chancellor has said, it would be fundamentally wrong to hold people in jobs that only exist inside the furlough.
“Our focus will continue to be on creating new opportunities for people in Scotland and supporting them into viable and secure jobs.”
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