Calls from the SNP to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (commonly known as the furlough scheme) 'for as long as it is needed' are apparently being contemplated by the UK Government.
The furlough scheme has been applauded as a success across the UK and has kept many workers in employment throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. It has come at a huge financial cost, however, and it seems unlikely that the Chancellor will loosen the Treasury purse strings without a clear benefit to the country and the prospect of economic recovery.
Following a series of extensions over the past year and frequent changes and updates to the guidance, the latest extension is due to expire on 30 September. Changes will be effective from July when the maximum claim an employer may make for each furloughed employee is reduced from up to 80% of employees' usual pay, capped at £2,500 per month, to 70% of employees' usual pay. Although the employee will continue to receive 80%, it will be the employer's responsibility to top-up the payment. This extends to a top-up of 20% in August and September, with the government covering the remaining 60%.
Employers will continue to pay all employers' national insurance and pension contributions throughout.
There have also been concerns raised this week about the number of people available to work, especially in the hospitality and leisure sectors. Calls for relaxation to immigration rules have followed claims that, as the economy reopens and government support remains in place, there are many jobs left unfilled. This is causing some businesses not to reopen fully, or stretch the hours of the staff they have retained.
As with the virus itself, it seems that challenges to business and economy will follow for some time to come.
The UK government is "open-minded" on SNP calls to extend furlough, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has said. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants the job support scheme extended "for as long as it is needed". The call comes ahead of a virtual meeting between Boris Johnson and the three devolved administrations on how to emerge from the Covid pandemic.