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Fears that up to a million more people could be made unemployed at the end of the furlough scheme prompt Highland MP to call for it to be extended beyond October

By Scott Maclennan

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MP Drew Hendry MP during PMQs.
MP Drew Hendry MP during PMQs.

Highland MP Drew fears the country could see a return to 1980s levels of unemployment and social upheaval unless the Chancellor reverses his decision to end the furlough scheme at the end of October.

The SNP’s shadow business secretary Drew Hendry said Rishi Sunak must heed the calls from devolved governments, opposition parties, businesses, trade unions, charities, economists and even the Bank of England and change course.

It comes after the former Pizza Express boss Luke Johnson estimated that of the three million people currently supported by the scheme: “At least a million… will be made redundant” if it is not continued.

The Office for National Statistics revealed the UK's unemployment rate has risen to 4.1 per cent while Scottish Government analysis shows 61,000 jobs could be saved if the scheme is prolonged.

Mr Hendry said: “With the infection rate worsening and further restrictions coming into effect, it would be completely reckless for the Tories to scrap the furlough scheme next month. The Chancellor must rethink this decision and extend the scheme to protect jobs and businesses.

“The SNP has been warning for months that ending the scheme in October would be premature – given the likelihood of a second wave of the virus which we are now seeing – and result in thousands of people losing their jobs and good businesses going under at the worst possible time.

“If the Tory government bull-dozes ahead with its plans, unemployment could soar to 1980s levels and inflict lasting social damage on communities across Scotland and the UK.

“Ireland, France, Germany and other normal independent countries have already extended their furlough schemes and delivered investment to save jobs. In stark contrast, Westminster is choosing to leave Scotland powerless and failing to save 61,000 jobs.

“Scotland should not have to wait for Westminster to act. The only way to properly protect Scotland’s interests is to become an independent country.”

The call was made a day after new UK-wide restrictions were announced, further limiting businesses by calling on all people to work from home where possible while restaurants and bars must now close by 10pm – reducing their profitability.

Highland MSP and Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes said: “In cracking down on the virus now we can protect each other, as well as jobs and education in the long run. These are not easy, but the new restrictions implemented will hopefully minimise disruption whilst dealing with the risk.

“But to ensure we keep schools open, restart NHS services and keep as many people in work as possible, we have to comply with the guidance.”

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, said: “Sadly, I fear there will be more job losses particularly in the hospitality and tourism industries due to the 10 pm curfew. Many of these businesses are hardly managing at the moment.

“The UK Government must now look at extending the furlough scheme and help for the self-employed. Businesses must be supported through this as many are already on a cliff edge and this could well tip them over.”

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