By Bill Heaney
Labour’s Jackie Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond has given a lukewarm welcome to the package of post lockdown financial measures from the UK Government.
While Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie has moved to halt people being furloughed from their jobs being ripped off by unscrupulous pub chain bosses.
Ms Baillie told the Holyrood parliament: “It can be viewed only as a first step in tackling the economic crisis. On the scale of the economic stimulus, given that France has a package of €15 billion and Germany has a package of €14 billion, it seems that the £3 billion from the UK Government is much less than required.
“What proportion of the Scottish budget can the cabinet secretary set aside to deal with the economic recovery?
“I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement about LBTT, but she will be aware that any delay in implementation causes postponement in house sales and purchases, which is unhelpful to the housing market.
“Can the cabinet secretary tell us how quickly she will move to put in place legislation? What is the time delay? I welcome the £100 million that the cabinet secretary announced for youth unemployment. However, given that she has received only £21 million in consequentials, can she set out where that money will come from?”
SNP government Finance Secretary Kate Forbes told her: “On the money that we have set aside for economic recovery, we have already taken the early steps that I set out in my statement to ensure that any capital underspend is recycled in order to provide jobs.
“As Jackie Baillie will know, there is already significant investment through our budget, with £2.3 billion for the initial response for businesses.
“However, the challenge, and the reason why yesterday was incredibly frustrating, is that, as Jackie Baillie knows full well, in order to provide additional support, the primary source of additional finance for the Scottish Government is through UK Government consequentials.
“For all the talk of £800 million, which is warmly welcomed, it is largely for personal protective equipment and funding announcements that have already been made.
“There is only £21 million of additional resource from the economic stimulus package.
“We will use every penny of that to continue to invest in the economy but, until there is additional support, it will be difficult to do that, and we will have one hand tied behind our back.
“Of course, if we had more significant borrowing powers, that would be much easier.
“On LBTT, we will move incredibly fast. It is not a problem with the Scottish ministers—we will move quickly. However, there is a legislative process to go through, and Revenue Scotland needs to be ready so that the change can be introduced effectively and efficiently.
“We will move very quickly. I cannot give a precise date just now, and I do not think that it would be particularly helpful to do so, given the issues of uncertainty in the market.
“On youth unemployment, we are aware that we will need to do far more.
“Next week, Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture will set out a far more comprehensive and detailed package of policies to protect jobs and support people to get back into work.
“There will be significant detail in there.I agree with Jackie Baillie that much more is needed. As I look across the budget, the challenge is to ensure that we free up any headroom that is available—there is not much—to have that singular focus on protecting and creating jobs.”
Dumbarton born Patrick Harvie spoke about the hospitality sector. He said: “In relation to the measures on hospitality, I am looking forward to getting back to the pub as much as anyone, but I want to do that when it is safe.
” I also want to do it when I know that the people who are working there are being treated decently.
“The announcements from the UK Government come in the same week in which we heard that G1 Group in Glasgow, one of our biggest hospitality employers, is announcing another wave of redundancies—doing so, it seems, well in advance of the end of the furlough scheme, which could keep those jobs going for a bit longer.
“Union organisers in Unite hospitality tell me that the staff who are affected were not consulted in advance in the way in which they were supposed to be and that younger workers with less than two years’ service are being targeted, because they do not have the same employment rights as others have.
He added: “There is genuine concern that the employer is using furlough money to pay people’s wages in lieu—an approach that even the UK Treasury wants to rule out.
“What can the Scottish Government do to ensure that employers do not abuse the measures that have been put in place, that recovery does not become another race to the bottom on wages and employment standards, and that a sector that has endemic problems of poverty pay changes and starts to look after the people who do the work that earns it its profits?”
Kate Forbes replied: “Employers are starting to make decisions about redundancies in part because they know that the furlough scheme is coming to an end and that there is a cliff edge in October.
“There was an option for the chancellor yesterday to extend the furlough scheme, albeit on a sectoral and phased basis, as France has done, for up to two years, which I think would avert a rapid increase in redundancies, particularly in the hospitality sector.
“Patrick Harvie’s point about ensuring that fair work practices are in place is important. I assure him that all our support for employability, skills and retraining and for businesses to keep people in work will have fair work at its heart.
“As I said, Fiona Hyslop will set out the details soon, and I give an assurance that we want to ensure that individuals—particularly young people—who find themselves in one of the most challenging job markets in a generation are supported not just to be in work but to have fair wages and meaningful contracts.”