The UK Treasury was right yesterday (Tuesday May 12) to announce the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until the end of September, says Isles MP Angus MacNeil.

However, the Chancellor should also remove all the complications which he is introducing to the so-called ‘furlough” scheme, he says.

Mr MacNeil has warned that the ultimate ending of the furlough scheme must depend on health needs in each devolved nation and not be guided by the policies chosen in only one nation.

Mr MacNeil said: “Last night in the virtual Commons I asked for the Treasury support which underpins health needs to be maintained and to follow the needs of all the health policies of each devolved nation.
“Therefore, the furlough scheme has rightly been extended but it cannot end when the needs of one nation are such that it is not needed.

“Certainly, Treasury support should not be kicked away when the health policy of England dictates it is no longer required in England, this is particularly important after the Prime Ministers confusing divergence from the health policies being followed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

“The Chancellor should make clear that any health decision being made in any devolved nation can be made on health grounds alone without his financial penalties.

"We have to make sure the welfare of everyone is looked after, when their government is taking steps for public health.”

Scottish Shadow Finance Secretary Donald Cameron has given a very warm welcome to the announcement by the Chancellor that the furlough scheme is to be extended by four months.

Mr Cameron, a Highlands and Islands MSP, said: “The confirmation by Rishi Sunak that the furlough is being extended is very good news for employers and their employees here in the Highlands and Islands and right across Scotland.

“This decisive action by  the Chancellor will help local businesses get through this crisis, save jobs, and be in a position to trade again when it is safe to do so.

“The United Kingdom is the sixth-largest economy in the world. We have never needed that strength more than we need it now.”

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, created by the UK Government in March 2020, helps employers who cannot maintain their current workforce because their operations have been affected by coronavirus.

It's intended to help employers retain their employees and, in doing so, protect the UK economy. 

The CJRS will continue to provide a grant to cover the lower of 80% of a staff member’s regular wage or £2,500 per month – it had been rumoured that the 80% contribution would be reduced. This includes regular wages, including non-discretionary overtime; non-discretionary fees; non-discretionary commission payments and piece rate payments. 

There will be no changes to the CJRS until the end of July 2020.  However, from August to October, although the CJRS will continue for all sectors and regions, there will be some greater flexibility.  The Government will look for employers to start sharing the costs of furloughed staff’s salaries.  It is still unclear exactly what this means in practice.

Although further details are to follow, from August, employers will be able to bring furloughed employees back into the workplace on a part-time basis.  Further guidance on the mechanics of the CJRS, post 31st July, are being promised by the Government on or before the end of May.

Meanwhile in a letter to the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard  has called on the First Minister to raise awareness of legislation which protects workers from recriminations if they absent themselves from the workplace to protect themselves “in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent”.

"As the Scottish Trades Union Congress has made clear, people should not be expected to go back to work until it is fully safe to do so. That means that testing and contact tracing should be in place, alongside adequate personal protective equipment and effective enforcement measures. We must ensure guidance is agreed with trades unions and employers on a sectoral basis, and that the jobs retention scheme is continued. 
"I welcome the Scottish Government's constructive engagement with the trade unions so far, and the First Minister's statement that Scottish workers should continue to stay at home where possible.

"But it is clear that Boris Johnson's irresponsible intervention on Sunday night has caused confusion. So we are asking the Scottish Government to remind employers of their responsibilities, and remind workers of their rights - as well as the benefits of trade union membership and collective action."

Mr Leonard has called on the First Minister to make a public statement “setting out this statutory right, and reiterating the duty of employers to ensure that workplaces are safe”. He said this information should also be included in the Scottish Government’s public information films on TV.

And he says Scottish Labour supports the continuation of the furlough scheme, and has called for it to be followed by a jobs guarantee scheme.