Furlough scheme is 'the reason we've not collapsed altogether', says Jamie Stone
Get the Courier and Groat sent to your inbox every week and swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper
The north of Scotland has suffered exceptional damage during the pandemic and the UK government's furlough scheme is "the reason we've not collapsed altogether", local MP Jamie Stone has claimed.
The Liberal Democrat member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is pushing for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to be extended for the tourism industry to help carry it through the remainder of the peak season and the low season in winter.
Mr Stone is part of a cross-party group calling on Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to extend it until March 2022.
In a joint letter co-ordinated by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Future of Aviation, politicians warned that scrapping the scheme would risk significant redundancies – with a lost summer season coming on top of the worst 15 months in the history of UK aviation.
Mr Stone pointed out that before the pandemic 17.9 per cent of Highland jobs were in the travel and tourism industries. When the furlough scheme came into effect in June last year, 57.7 per cent of all people working in the travel and tourism industries had to take furlough leave.
For all other industries, the figure was 18.7 per cent. In January 2021, 75 per cent of people working in accommodation or for travel agencies had to take furlough.
Mr Stone said: “There is no doubt that the tourism industry is the one to have suffered most during lockdown. It provides thousands of jobs here in the north and is a lifeline to young people.
"But without help, I really worry for its future and the impact its potential devastation might have on our entire economy.
"Businesses have missed out on a large chunk of this year's high season. They missed out on most of last year's trade and are facing yet another long, dark winter – but this time with no financial support.
"It is critical that the Chancellor considers the exceptional circumstances suffered by the tourism industry and extends support through to the beginning of next year's peak season.
"In many ways, the offer of furlough is the reason we've not collapsed altogether here in the north. It's critical that we don't whip the rug from under these businesses' feet before they've even had the chance to grow again."
Earlier this month the UK government announced that more than a million workers came off furlough in the four weeks between the end of April and the end of May, which coincided with the start of restrictions being lifted.
Some 2.4 million people moved off the scheme between the end of February and the end of May as businesses reopened.
Another 2.4 million remained furloughed or "flexi-furloughed", down from a peak of nearly nine million at the height of the pandemic in May last year.
Mr Sunak said: "Our Plan for Jobs has supported people’s jobs and livelihoods throughout the pandemic and it’s fantastic to see so many people coming off furlough and into their workplaces with our restaurants, pubs and shops reopened.
"These figures show what we always hoped would happen – that the scheme is naturally winding down as the economy reopens, but continuing to support those businesses and employees that need our help."