SHETLAND Islands Council leader Steven Coutts says any potential change in the level of coronavirus restrictions for the isles needs “meaningful consultation” after first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was considering more severe restrictions in the country.
Sturgeon said on Monday that this was under consideration because it was her belief that extended furlough money from the UK Government may only available for Scotland during England’s month-long lockdown in November.
However, prime minster Boris Johnson suggested in the House of Commons later on Monday that the furlough scheme – which the UK Government oversees – would “continue to be available wherever it is needed” across the country, now and in the future as well.
Sturgeon had said earlier in the day that there was a “dilemma” over whether Scotland should temporarily enter into more severe restrictions to take advantage of the furlough scheme was restricted to a certain time period.
When speaking about the next few weeks Sturgeon said she could not rule out a move to level four of Covid restrictions, the most severe, for “all or parts of the country” – with the wording of her statement perhaps giving a sliver of hope for areas of low prevalence like Shetland.
Under level four hospitality would be shut, as would be public buildings, while only essential retail would be allowed.
Sturgeon welcomed Johnson’s comments but said the Scottish Government was seeking urgent clarity on if it would be “furlough beyond 2 December, non time-limited and on same basis as available through Nov, including on eligibility and 80 per cent wages paid”.
The issue of timing was raised in the House of Commons, with Johnson saying: “The furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme and will continue to be available wherever it is needed.”
Shetland Islands Council leader Coutts said on Monday afternoon that it was “a complex picture across the UK and Scotland”.
The councillor said the new tier system which came into place today (2 November) was very welcome, adding that he would expect that “any potential change in tier for Shetland would be subject to meaningful consultation with the local authority”.
“We absolutely need to be responsive to what the evidence shows and also crucially the real social harm that any future nationally imposed lockdown on us will bring,” Coutts said.
Speaking during her daily briefing earlier, Sturgeon said: “It would be wrong to say we have no concerns about the next few weeks. Clearly that would not be correct. We still face a lot of uncertainty as all countries do.
“That is why I made clear last week, when I set out the levels that would apply initially, that we might yet have to go further – and that we can’t rule out, and should not rule out, a move to level four for all or parts of the country.
“And while that decision would never be easy, there is no doubt that the availability of a more extensive furlough scheme of the kind the prime minister announced on Saturday, would make it slightly less difficult – because workers would have more of their wages paid.”
Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston welcomed the prime minister’s comments on the furlough scheme following a question from Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross.
“No part of our union should be treated differently to another, and Douglas Ross was absolutely right to seek this assurance from our UK colleagues,” he said.
“I am pleased the prime minister has confirmed that, as it has throughout this pandemic, the UK Government is ready to step up its support of jobs and livelihoods across the Highlands and Islands.
“In tough and uncertain times, our strength has been in working together to face the challenges of Covid-19”.
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