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Call for furlough scheme to be re-introduced following spread of new Covid variant

By Gordon Calder

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A NORTH MSP has urged the UK Government to re-introduce the furlough scheme so Scotland can take protective measures against the Omicron variant while protecting jobs.

Highlands and Islands Green MSP, Ariane Burgess, said the funding is needed to support workers and businesses already suffering due to "a significant loss in trade and closures caused by local outbreaks" and to allow devolved governments to take public safety measures to stop the spread of the new strain of the Covid virus.

Without economic support, the options available to the Scottish and Welsh governments and Northern Irish Executive are more limited, she claimed.

Ariane Burgess wants the UK Government to re-introduce the furlough scheme
Ariane Burgess wants the UK Government to re-introduce the furlough scheme

The UK Government had been paying towards the wages of people who couldn't work, or whose employers could no longer afford to pay them, up to a monthly limit of £2,500.

At first it paid 80 per cent of the wages, but latterly the figure was 60 per cent, with employers paying 20 per cent. The scheme came to an end in September.

Ms Burgess said: "The UK Government has an utterly chaotic approach to Covid, with confusing messages undermined by the Prime Minister himself failing to follow the rules.

"Omicron is spreading fast and the UK Government must recognise the clear risks to vulnerable people and act decisively. The festive period is already disrupted, with many people cancelling plans for gatherings and hospitality businesses in the Highlands are struggling. It’s time for the UK Government to act responsibly and re-introduce furlough where it is needed.

"Self-employed people could be particularly effected this Christmas, so it’s vital those who missed out last time are included in the scheme, and that sick pay is enhanced to make it easier for people to self-isolate."

Ms Burgess was speaking after, Nicola Sturgeon, called for mixing among households to be kept to a minimum in the run-up to Christmas and immediately afterwards to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister warned that Omicron has "a very high attack rate" and she repeated her earlier prediction that Scotland is facing a "likely tsunami" of infections.

Omicron cases are rising "exponentially", she said, and it is on course to become the dominant strain in Scotland within days.

Ms Sturgeon indicated that businesses will be asked to step up the protections in place in their premises and said more people could be working from home than is currently the case.

She revealed the Scottish Government has identified, "within our own resources", around £100 million that will be used to help businesses, mainly those in hospitality and food supply.

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