Borders MSP calling for retraining to help avert threat of mass job losses after furlough payouts end

Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton at the Scottish Parliament last Thursday.Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton at the Scottish Parliament last Thursday.
Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton at the Scottish Parliament last Thursday.
Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton is urging Scottish ministers to come up with a coronavirus job protection scheme of their own centred on retraining to avert the threat of mass unemployment after the UK Government’s furlough payments end next month.

That call, made during a debate on employment support in the Scottish Parliament last Thursday, September 17, was prompted by Holyrood business, fair work and skills minister Jamie Hepburn issuing a plea for the furlough scheme to be extended.

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Mrs Hamilton said: “It is clear that we agree that the UK Government’s interventions were a lifeline in protecting nearly a third of Scotland’s workforce. In my constituency, around 11,000 jobs were furloughed.

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“Although that support for businesses in all parts of the UK was unprecedented, today we are discussing what more can be done with the economic levers that we have available here.

“Given that we have a shrinking economy now 21.1% smaller than it was in 2019, the Scottish Government must take affirmative action to help people at risk of unemployment and those who are furthest away from the job market.

“However, we cannot let workers dangle in perpetuity.

“A shrinking economy means less on the order books, fewer widgets and fewer employees. Less work leads to a reduced workforce, and sustaining the same number of employees in an organisation becomes unsustainable.

“What will happen if we are still in the pandemic eight months down the line or beyond?

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“The furlough scheme is almost like a holding chamber for the workforce, and I think that we should be looking beyond it to interventions that reskill, upskill and retrain people.

“Compounding the woeful economic outlook, there have been restrictions on many businesses because of government policies and localised and regional lockdowns.

“It is important to look at ways to support businesses more fervently. We all know that it is not their fault.

Nicola Sturgeon should consider the measures that are in the gift of her own government, such as extending the 100% business rates relief and repurposing areas of the Scottish budget.

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“It is exceptionally difficult to find employment at the moment, especially for young people and women.

“Furthermore, women are more likely to lose their jobs or to be affected by underemployment during a recession.

“That is also true for young people. Leaving school, college or university must be incredibly daunting right now.

“The latest universal credit figures, for June and July, show that a higher proportion of people starting on it –more than at any point in the past several years – have been in the 16 to 24-year-old group.

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“We have seen the UK Government act swiftly, through its Kickstart scheme, to provide an unprecedented £2bn in funding, along with the job retention bonus scheme.

“We have also seen significant financial and policy backing to help young people to get on the jobs ladder and to help businesses to retain employees.

“Concerningly, that ambitious package of measures sits in stark contrast to what is on offer from this government.

“We need to move on this. We have not got much time.”

Mrs Hamilton’s call for an alternative to an extension of the furlough scheme was backed by fellow Conservative Murdo Fraser, a list MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, saying: “What will we do next? The Scottish National Party has called for an extension to the furlough scheme.

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“It is, of course, the easiest thing in the world for the government to call for something to be done by somebody else when it will not have to pay for it and that somebody else will.

Rachael Hamilton made a really important point. We need to be supporting the people who are in jobs that might not have a long-term future because of economic change, and we need to use resources for retraining and support instead of for extending the furlough scheme for those people for a longer period.”

Responding, Mr Hepburn, MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, said: “The job retention scheme established by the UK Government, to its credit, has been an effective mechanism and a vital contribution in supporting and sustaining people.

“Surely our starting position should be to look at the scheme and consider an extension of it as a sensible way forward.

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“We know that the job retention bonus scheme Rachael Hamilton mentioned will be paid for through borrowing. It will cost £9.4bn. We also know that, at £10bn, a short-term extension to the furlough scheme would cost only marginally more.

“The National Institute of Economic and Social Research said that extending the furlough scheme by a further eight months, at an estimated cost of £10bn, ‘would have been a relatively inexpensive measure and, by preventing a rise in long-term unemployment, might have paid for itself’.

“We call on the UK Government to do what other jurisdictions in other countries are doing in extending their equivalents of the furlough scheme.

“We will continue to act in recognition of the challenge that the virus brings and the fact that it has not gone away.

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“We will play our part in responding to support people in the face of Covid-19, but so too must the UK Government.

“It must extend its income support schemes through the job retention scheme for as long as is needed.

“We cannot stand back and do nothing in the face of a potential tsunami of avoidable redundancies.”

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