Scotland’s Covid response ‘curtailed’ by lack of cash, Sturgeon tells MSPs

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Scotland and the other devolved administrations will get more money to help with their efforts to combat Covid, the UK Treasury has pledged – at the same time as Nicola Sturgeon complained the response to the virus was being “curtailed” by a lack of cash.

The First Minister said the UK Government’s decision not to bring in further restrictions in the wake of the new Omicron strain,  meant no additional cash for business support had been generated.

Ms Sturgeon added there were “further steps” that the Scottish Government “could and would have considered today – particularly around hospitality – had we the financial ability to do so”.

But she said her government would now issue “strong guidance” for people north of the border to limit household mixing, with people being asked to keep any gatherings to a maximum of three households.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had found “around £100 million that we will use to help businesses” that are affected.

But she added that because the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments are not able to borrow cash to help them tackle the virus, they were forced to “rely on the Treasury”.

The First Minister continued: “Because the UK government is at this stage not proposing any further protections – a position I do not agree with – there is no funding generated to compensate businesses for any protections we think are necessary and wish to put in place.

“That is not acceptable in current circumstances and, with the Welsh and Northern Irish governments, we are pressing for a fairer approach that takes account of our devolved responsibilities for protecting public health.

“But for now, this is the situation we are in, and it means our public health response is curtailed by lack of finance.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the UK had ‘stood together as one family’ during the pandemic (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

More details of the cash will be revealed in the coming days, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak insisted: “Throughout this pandemic, the United Kingdom has stood together as one family, and we will continue to do so.

“We are working with the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to drive the vaccine rollout to all corners of the United Kingdom and ensure people and businesses all across the country are supported.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the money came on top of the additional funds given to the Scottish Government to tackle Covid and a “record core funding settlement” from Westminster of £41 billion a year for the next three years.

Mr Jack said: “The UK Government has provided unprecedented support to people in all parts of the UK since the very beginning of the pandemic, and that support continues.

“With the Omicron variant, we now need to do everything possible to get booster jabs into arms as quickly as possible.

“The UK Government has made clear today that there will be further, additional, funding for the Scottish Government to support this – as well as the ongoing support of our incredible armed forces.”

Ms Sturgeon welcomed the additional cash, saying that while she had no details of this as yet it was “very good progress”.

She told MSPs at Holyrood her government would “look at the impact of the UK funding when we have the detail of that”.

Businesses and union leaders meanwhile stressed the need for more financial support.

Andrew McRae, Scotland policy chair for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Governments in Edinburgh and London must cooperate to ensure the amount of cash support available to firms matches the scale of the restrictions.

“The financial firepower to help firms during this stage of the crisis must be found.”

Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary Roz Foyer stated: “We are calling for urgent action from the UK Government to bring forward support including the re-introduction of the furlough scheme.”

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