By Bill Heaney

West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute could face a hospitality unemployment crisis if SNP ministers do not step up the fight for jobs as restaurants re-open, it was claimed today.

Jackie Baillie, MSP for Dumbarton Constituency, has warned that if the furlough scheme ends before a quality Jobs Guarantee Scheme is in place, thousands of workers in restaurants, bars and cafes could be laid off. There is a strong case for extending the furlough scheme in the hospitality sector as recovery is likely to be slower.

The Scottish Labour Party has calculated that the hospitality sector directly employs 2935 people across West Dunbartonshire and a whopping 4840 people in Argyll and Bute.

Jackie Baillie MSP said: “Across both West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute, many people will be enjoying their first meal out since March, and many chefs, waiting staff and kitchen staff will be back at work for the first time since then.

“But necessary social distancing measures mean businesses are unable to trade at normal levels. The effects of this are already being seen, with some workers having been laid off in spite of government support.

“The UK Government has responded to pressure and offered restaurants support – but only in the short-term. Otherwise a hospitality unemployment crisis could cause serious damage – not just for the workers laid off, but for everyone in my constituency. With almost 8000 workers employed in the sector across West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute, the local economy depends on hospitality jobs, and our local hospitality sector needs jobs for good. Extending the furlough scheme in this sector could provide a lifeline to thousands of workers.

“The Scottish Government must step up the fight to save these jobs. Businesses need greater support to make the adaptations they need to accommodate greater social distancing, allowing them to keep more staff on their books.

“A quality Jobs Guarantee Scheme could stimulate demand as well, so that when the furlough scheme ends in other sectors workers can still afford to visit restaurants and bars.”

Meanwhile, the MSP has called on the Scottish Government to intervene and support jobs for women amid Scotland’s “alarming” new gender unemployment gap.

Between May 2019 and May 2020, the percentage of women in Scotland who were unemployed rose from 2.9% to 4.4%– a rise of 1.5 percentage points.

Within this period, the percentage of women in Scotland who were unemployed rose by 0.7% between March and May 2020 alone.

Jackie Baillie has called for a quality Jobs Guarantee Scheme supporting women of all ages – in contrast to Conservative and SNP plans to support only young workers.

West Dunbartonshire has also been hit particularly hard by Covid-19 related unemployment. Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show that unemployment in the area rose from 2885 in March 2020 to 4440 in April 2020. West Dunbartonshire’s figure of 7.8% unemployment is second only to North Ayrshire’s 7.9% unemployment in terms of the highest rates of unemployment in Scotland. Unemployment is also a threat in the neighbouring local authority of Argyll and Bute. Youth unemployment in Argyll and Bute grew by an astonishing 127.5% between February and May.

Jackie Baillie said: “The rise in unemployment among women in Scotland is truly alarming.

“Unless the Scottish Government sets up a quality Jobs Guarantee Scheme which includes targeted support for women as well as young people, the progress we have made in narrowing the gap between men and women in the workplace will be set back decades.

“The gap has widened rapidly during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is likely to have been caused in part by hospitality job losses and childcare pressures amid the closure of schools.

“There is still too much uncertainty about schools going back, and it is likely that job losses when the furlough scheme ends will disproportionately affect women. So to properly tackle the jobs crisis the Scottish Government needs to do more for women and young people.”

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