Furlough figures underscore challenge for MSPs

Andrew McRae
Andrew McRae, FSB Scotland's policy chair

Between 2,700 and 39,500 people on jobs scheme in every mainland council area

MORE than 300,000 jobs were supported through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in the spring, according to official figures published last week and highlighted by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) ahead of the first meeting of the new Scottish Parliament session.

Congratulating the successful candidates at the Holyrood elections, FSB’s policy chair for Scotland Andrew McRae said that new and returning MSPs need to focus on the economic and employment challenge ahead.

Andrew McRae said: “This was an extraordinary election during exceptional times. On behalf of Scotland’s local business community, I offer my congratulations to those that have been successful at the ballot box and thank all the candidates for their commitment to their community.

“Recovery from the covid crisis was a key talking point during the campaign, and our new and returning MSPs now need to turn their rhetoric into action. Official figures show that in every corner of the country jobs continue to be supported through the furlough scheme. As this initiative winds down, our parliamentarians and government need to focus on building back the strength of our local and independent firms that are so vital to employment.”

At the end of March, Glasgow had more people furloughed than any other Scottish local authority area (39,500) which is perhaps unsurprising as the country’s most populous council area. The city was closely followed by Edinburgh (35,400) and then Fife (19,700), broadly matching the population shares of these areas.  

However Highland and Perth & Kinross council areas had the joint highest percentage share of workers furloughed (17%), followed by South Ayrshire (16%). Across Scotland, around one in seven (14%) eligible workers were using the jobs scheme in the spring. 

Andrew McRae said: “While these figures were published before the most severe restrictions were wound down, they show the great challenge Scotland has on horizon. While many businesses are already bringing back workers, it looks unlikely that this will be the story across all sectors and industries. The recovery isn’t assured just because businesses can re-open their doors.

“That’s why we need to see the Scottish Government give workers and firms the tools to adapt to the world changed by the crisis. That means the SNP delivering on their manifesto commitment for new grants for firms to help them build their digital capabilities. Incentives to help firms recruit must deliver for firms no matter their size or location. In addition, we must see smarter programmes to help more workers develop the skills that’ll help power the economic recovery.”

As at March 2020, there were 361,875 small and medium sized enterprises operating in Scotland, providing an estimated 1.2 million jobs. These businesses accounted for more than half (56%) of private sector employment.

After the financial crash of 2008, nine in ten unemployed people who re-joined the workforce did so by being recruited small business or by setting one up.

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