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Call for Scottish Government to engage Westminster over lack of clarity on North Sea furlough scheme

North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald.
North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald.

A north-east MSP has called for the Scottish Government to engage Westminster and provide clarity to North Sea firms over who qualifies for the Covid-19 furlough scheme.

Lewis Macdonald, Labour member for north-east Scotland, challenged Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse to support the sector and obtain clarity from the UK Government on the “confusion” around the scheme.

He also asked Mr Wheelhouse to make clear to oil and gas companies that furlough is an option, even if there is a risk that the staff may have to be made redundant at a later date.

Under the current Oil and Gas UK guidance, UK employers should be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary if they cannot maintain their current workforce due to the adverse effect of the Covid-19  pandemic on their operations.

Mr Macdonald, who tabled his question during today’s Scottish Parliamentary meeting, said: “There have now been a number of oil and gas and supply chain companies who have announced significant redundancies in the North East and across Scotland, including just yesterday when EnQuest revealed over 500 jobs were at risk.

“Every aspect of the economy is struggling as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic, but the oil and gas sector has been hit doubly hard as a result of the industry downturn, and it is clear that some companies are choosing to make staff redundant rather than use the Job Retention Scheme to put staff on furlough.

“Ministers at Holyrood and Westminster need to work proactively with Oil and Gas UK and North Sea trade unions to ensure that as many jobs as possible are protected going forward.”

In response to Mr Macdonald’s question, Mr Wheelhouse said he was “aware that concerns have been raised” around the difficulties some may be experiencing in drawing upon the Job Retention Scheme to furlough staff.

Mr Wheelhouse added: “A number of oil and gas operators in the UK have already announced their intention to utilise the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme to furlough workers and/or are encouraging their suppliers to do so.

“My colleagues and I are maintaining contact with our UK Ministerial counterparts and will continue to raise issues with the UK Government across a range of forums.”

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