Politics

Covid Scotland: Crunch finance talks continuing ahead of further potential measures

A UK Government minister has insisted that Boris Johnson’s administration is handing “considerable support” to Scotland to tackle the Omicron surge – amid fears hospitality traders will struggle to survive without more help from the Treasury.

Crunch talks between Scottish and UK minsiters over funding are continuing over the weekend ahead of any potential measures being announced by the First Minsiter to Holyrood on Tuesday. 

Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly warned that more financial support is needed from the UK Government for pubs, restaurants and other businesses severely impacted by new Scottish Government guidance to restrict social contact and for Christmas gatherings to be deferred until next year.

It is also believed that any tighter rules potentially introduced by SNP ministers in the coming days will be contingent on receiving enough financial aid from the UK Government to help support businesses. 

The First Minster held talks with the Prime Minister on Friday and a spokesperson for Ms Sturgeon has insisted “the nature and extent of potential further measures is contingent on the UK Government making available the funding necessary to help mitigate the impact that this new variant has on jobs, business and our economy”.

But Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart, has claimed that support has already been made available – adding that the UK Government would be criticised for acting “too quickly” before knowing the full extent of the impact of the new variant.

READ MORE: Scotland Covid expert Helen Colhoun backs ‘targeted measures’ to keep vulnerable out of hospital

The UK Government has previously been cricisied, including from the Scottish Government, for its slow response to shut down international travel before the virus was reseeded into the UK from overseas after the initial wave of the pandemic.

Speaking on BBC Scotland’s the Sunday Show, Mr Stewart said: “I think we are providing, already, considerable help.

“This week, there was a £220m additional support announced.

“On non-financial terms, I have been this week negotiating with Scottish Government and my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence to provide additional army support to help get the booster campaign up and running.”

He added: “I know there are ongoing conversations this weekend. “There’s still a lot about Omicron we don’t know. You would be accusing us of reacting too quickly if we didn’t get a clear picture of what the affects of this variant are.”

Mr Stewart warned that “there are no cost-free decisions” in tackling the spread of the Omicron variant, adding that the UK Government has “introduced proportionate responses so far” – pointing to measures such as the re-introduction of face coverings in England.

He said: “We have a new variant of this virus – there isn’t a play book for this.

READ MORE: Covid: UK circuit-breaker lockdown needed before Christmas, warns SAGE member

“Every measure you take to provide public health restrictions because of the virus has other consequences, not just economic – it has effects on mental health and children’s learning. All these decisions have to be carefully balanced and make the right intervention on the basis of what we know about the variant.

“There are discussions happening this weekend about what the appropriate response will be to that.”

Mr Stewart added: “There are discussions ongoing about what other measures are required, to intervene, particularly for the hospitality and leisure sectors. There are big decisions that have to be made.”

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