Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 3:34 pm, 25th June 2020

The circumstances in which we find ourselves are unprecedented, and unprecedented times call for unprecedented action. What may have seemed unthinkable to this Government a few short months ago is now not only thinkable but absolutely essential to support UK industries.

The Government’s actions to save jobs through the job retention scheme by allowing workers to be furloughed was universally welcomed, although there were too many gaps in it, which was deeply unfair to workers who fell through those cracks. But the current plan to reduce support for furloughed workers and self-employed people is sending unemployment soaring. The plans to cut back on furlough support has seen tens of thousands of jobs lost before our eyes: 9,000 jobs at Rolls-Royce; 10,000 jobs at BP; 5,000 jobs at Centrica; 10,000 jobs at British Airways; more than 3,000 jobs at Virgin Atlantic; 2,600 jobs at OVO Energy; 2,500 jobs at Travis Perkins—I literally do not have time to go through the thousands of jobs that are being lost.

The whole point of the job retention scheme was to save jobs—an aim that we can all support—but if the furlough support is withdrawn too early, it will have failed in that goal. In addition, Government loans need to be converted into grants to save our businesses. I first petitioned the Chancellor on this issue on 15 April in a letter to which I still await a response. The guiding principle here must be to save businesses, jobs and our economy. We are very far from “job done”.

The Bank of England has said that the UK Government should treat the debt that has been incurred as war debt. That is absolutely correct. It should not lead to greater austerity, because that will only compound the challenges that we currently face. A war has indeed been fought—a war on our health and our economy—and the Government must continue to throw every mechanism and tool at their disposal at securing victory as we face the worst economic depression in more than 300 years.

UK Government borrowing will reach £340 billion and quantitative easing will reach £645 billion this year, so why has Scotland been allocated a relatively meagre £10 billion? While the UK Government borrow and Scotland is sold short, the powers, levers and financial flexibility that Scotland has are insufficient to manage Scotland’s response to the host of challenges that we face. With the requisite powers in Scotland, we could do it better for ourselves, as we always do. The current powers do not allow us to do that. We need to be armed to face the economic tsunami that is heading our way at great speed. If this Government will not do more, we in Scotland need more power to do it for ourselves.