“I really do not know how to exhaust my affirmative vocabulary any further,” Boris Johnson told an SNP MP in the Commons yesterday, as he was asked for the umpteenth time if the government would agree to fund a furlough scheme beyond November, if Scotland needed a lockdown but England didn’t. “They won’t take yes for an answer.”
This issue has been bubbling for three days now and this afternoon in the Commons we should finally get a resolution. It might sound technical – Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will explain how furlough policy might operate going into the new year – but it’s about how power and spending is distributed around the UK, and about the extent to which devolution will allow lockdown policies to vary.
Tl:dr – London seems to be giving up a bit more control.
Health policy is devolved, but furlough policy is decided by Westminster, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have complained that this means they cannot order their own lockdowns if the Treasury won’t pay to help the firms that have to close. In the last month or so the issue has become acute because the three devolved administrations have started their own firebreak lockdowns well ahead of England.
English regions do not control their own health policy, but the areas placed under the strictest tier 3 conditions were complaining that workers were only getting 67% of their normal salary under the Treasury support, not the 80% that applied under the original furlough. But, magically, as soon as the government decided the whole of England would have to go into lockdown (ie, the south, and not just parts of the north), the money became available for an 80% scheme.
This week the government has been under pressure to agree that, if devolved administrations want to hold their own lockdowns after November, or if strict regional lockdowns continue in England, the 80% furlough will remain available. On Monday all we got was a vague promise that the UK government would be supportive. By yesterday Johnson was sounding more specific and today we will get the full announcement. Here is my colleague Richard Partington’s preview of what we are expecting.
And here is the key extract.
The chancellor was preparing to announce that the flagship wage subsidy scheme – which pays 80% of workers’ wages – would continue to be made available for parts of the UK under the highest levels of Covid restrictions, sources said, in a significant climbdown for the government.
But will this be enough? And what will happen if, say, Scotland wants a four-week lockdown, but the Treasury thinks it is unnecessary and refuses to pay.
Here are some of the comments we’ve had ahead of the announcement.
From Carolyn Fairbairn, outgoing director general of the CBI
From Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary
Working families need financial security to get through the times tough ahead. And employers need an end to last-minute decisions. The chancellor must extend the furlough scheme and support for the self-employed into the spring.
From Kate Forbes, the Scottish government’s finance secretary
Despite repeated calls this week for full details of the prime minister’s commitment to a Scotland-only furlough and SEISS [self-employed income support] scheme, we are still no further forward and remain in the dark about what these schemes will look like … I hope that today’s statement will at last give us the clarity we require.
From Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester
We’ll find out later.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The ONS publishes data on the economic impact of coronavirus.
10am: Sir Tom Scholar, permanent secretary at the Treasury, and other officials give evidence to the Commons public accounts committee about the Bounce Back loan scheme.
10.30am: A health minister answers a Commons urgent question on how the lockdown affects the ability of people to travel abroad for an assisted death.
11am: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, speaks about Welsh living standards at Resolution Foundation event.
11am: NHS Test and Trace publishes its weekly performance figures.
Around 12pm: Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, makes a statement to MPs about the furlough scheme.
12.15pm: Ken Skates, the Welsh economy minister, gives a coronavirus briefing.
12.20pm: Nicola Sturgeon takes first minister’s questions in the Scottish parliament.
Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
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