The virus has affected us all, but, although some have kept their health, they have lost their livelihoods.
There are more than 125,000 Scots looking for work. For many, the jobs simply are not there. It has been a devastating year for businesses, including small businesses and shops that are local employers. One example is LAH Travel in West Kilbride, which has completely lost its market. It is not alone. More than 8,000 travel jobs in Scotland have been lost or are at risk. Huge retailers such as the Arcadia Group and Debenhams employ thousands of people and they have been added to the long list of economic victims of this horrible virus.
We know that things are bad when the Government’s chief economist says that the jobs that we have lost during the pandemic might not return until at least 2023. I think that he is being overly optimistic.
Yesterday, I took part in a debate in the chamber about the mental health of young people. Youth unemployment now sits at around 14.5 per cent: it has nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic. That should be of huge concern to all of us.
We have already had a debate today about what happens when the Government does not get it right. Yes, Governments try to soften the blow, but let us face it—when Governments legislate to shut down businesses, ban travel and restrict people from leaving their homes, that comes at a cost to finances, physical and mental health and employment. I know that we are not alone; we are not unique. Parliaments all over the world are probably having debates just like this one.
I know from speaking to businesses in my region that the support that they get from the Government means so much to them. It has a direct effect on their ability to employ staff and stay open during these tough months. The furlough scheme, as much as it has been berated in the chamber today, is a direct intervention that does not come naturally to Governments but that has undoubtedly saved hundreds of thousands of jobs in Scotland. It has delivered, but no Government can afford to pay people to sit at home forever, because we have to build a resilient health and social care system and we have to properly fund public services. We need to get businesses back open, working, paying tax and employing people.
The UK chancellor promised from day 1 that he was prepared to do whatever it took to support Scotland and every part of the UK as much as possible throughout the crisis. I believe that he has lived up to that promise.
I do not often share an economic view of the world with Richard Leonard, but he is right to bring the debate to the chamber, because the lack of support that so many of our businesses need should cause us sleepless nights, because we shut those businesses down. They followed the rules, and we often gave them just a few days’ notice, under the premise of the public health emergency. As Daniel Johnson correctly pointed out, we said that they were not essential, but they are. Every job is essential to those who work in a business that is being closed.
Time and again, there have been gaping holes in what has been offered in support, compared to what is needed in support and what has actually been delivered in support. Following months of warnings about an existential crisis for outdoor education centres, only last month did they finally get some money.
We must be clear. If the finance secretary is sitting on Barnett consequentials—and there is debate about whether she is or is not—she must get that money to where it is needed. If, as she claims, there is no money left in the pot, the question is, where is it?
Every penny must be accounted for. Every penny that is due to Scottish businesses must go to them. Any money that is spent in the Scottish economy must go to the economy. Businesses need that support. They need it now. They need cash in the bank. The head-in-the-sand approach to the economic crisis that we face is not sustainable.