Like all MPs I am receiving a great deal of correspondence from businesses and individuals worried about the future. I have been trying to keep people updated. You can view my previous updates here.
Can I first thank everyone in the local community who are doing all they can to help others. The community spirit has been overwhelming and the organisations who are working all hours, every day, to help those in need is hugely appreciated by all. You all know who you are. Thank you.
Firstly, the Chancellor has just announced the UK Government’s furlough scheme has been extended until at least June. This has just been announced and you can read more here.
Support for the elderly and vulnerable
This has become one of the most critical and difficult issues. Over 70s, the most vulnerable, those with underlying health conditions, and many other categories of people have, rightly, been asked to isolate for 12 weeks.
My office has been overwhelmed by residents asking if we can help get them support for shopping, the collection of medicines and many other day to day issues. A major problem is getting those that require a shopping service on to the supermarkets list. In England and Wales the supermarkets were supplied with everyone the Government deemed to require such support.
After many weeks of pressure the Scottish Government sent a list to the supermarkets of everyone they considered to be vulnerable. This appears to be anyone who has a chronic illness but doesn’t include anyone who doesn’t have a health condition but is elderly or anyone who is being asked to self-isolate but is not chronically ill. Essentially if they don’t meet the criteria set down by the Scottish Government then they don’t get on the supermarkets priority delivery list despite being on the “self-isolate for 12 weeks” category list. Supermarkets are pro-actively contacting those on the Government list (those that have had the letter) direct. I have to say the supermarkets locally have been nothing short of utterly superb. Their staff and management teams have been incredible, and we should all thank them.
The problem is that there appears no formal provision for many of the elderly that have been in contact with my office (and I worry about the many that have not contacted any service for help). A 99 year old gentleman I spoke to yesterday had contacted his doctor to say he hadn’t received a Scottish Government letter only to be told that he didn’t meet the necessary criteria and that there was nothing they could do. So, while the Scottish Government are saying that those over a certain age should remain at home, they can’t get access to on-line shopping.
I will continue to work with the Scottish Government to have this sorted as soon as possible as many of the older people I’ve spoken to don’t have family close by and are relying on the goodwill of neighbours, churches and other organisations to help them. This has to be sorted at Scottish Government level. Simply replicating what has happened in other parts of the UK would resolve this situation.
If you can offer help please get in touch with my office, your local church, community centre or through the formal channels at the Council website.
Letter to Secretary of State for Scotland
The first thing I did when appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland was to speak with the Scottish Secretary about the Corona Virus response and what I could do to assist. I took the opportunity after the call to write to Alister Jack MP, to raise some of the instances where people are falling through the gaps in the Government’s support package. You can read my letter here but I have listed some of the issues I raised below:
1. The eligibility criteria for the Government’s furlough scheme meant that the scheme was only applicable to those who had been with their employer before 28th February. This unfairly precluded those who had recently started new jobs.
PARTIALLY RESOLVED – The government has now moved the date to 19th March, the day before the scheme was announced. I understand there could still be issues depending on how businesses process their payroll which I am investigating. More details below.
2. Many businesses who do not meet the Scottish government’s rateable value eligibility criteria are in a situation where they have no support at all. I pressured the UK Government to offer a tapered system so businesses with a higher rateable value would have access to some funds.
3. I am concerned about the large number of self-employed workers who are not being supported – in particular PAYE contractors and freelancers. It was the former Conservative Government which changed the legislation around freelancers, resulting in many organisations placing them on PAYE contracts. That means many were neither employed or self-employed at the end of February or were on short-term contracts. This is particularly prevalent in the film, TV, music, theatre and sports sectors – sectors which are historically lower paid.
4. I have been contacted by representatives in the hospice sector, stating a £200million UK Government package for hospices will not result in any additional funds being sent to the Scottish Government through the Barnett Formula. This would leave hospices in Scotland in a hugely perilous position as fundraising has fallen through the floor at a time when these services are needed more than ever.
Scottish Government partial U-turn on business grants
As you may be aware when the UK Government announced financial support for business the Scottish Government did not replicate same the system. This is despite the Scottish Economy Secretary, Fiona Hyslop stating in Holyrood that the measures introduced by the UK Chancellor in England would be “replicated in full” in Scotland. This gave some brief respite to businesses trying to survive in such unprecedented circumstances and they started to plan as such.
Since the implementation of the scheme many businesses in Edinburgh South have contacted me to say that the Scottish grant scheme pays per business, not per outlet as in England. So for example, a café chain which has four outlets in Hull would be eligible for £100,000 but exactly the same business set up in Scotland would only be eligible for £25,000. Now I do accept that in Scotland we have more small businesses per capita but businesses were promised replication and the Scottish scheme would have shut many small businesses. That is why I wrote to Nicola Sturgeon to raise the issue directly with the Scottish Government. You can read my letter here.
I am pleased that the Scottish Government has since performed a partial U-turn. An extra £220 million means that businesses with a more than one premises, will get 75% of the grant value for every additional premises as well as 100% of the grant for the first premises. The scheme is still not as generous as the scheme in England, however it is a vast improvement on the initial proposal and will help may local businesses who have been in touch with me.
You can read more on the new proposal here.
You may also want to have a look at the Federation for Small Businesses website for further information and resources.
The loss of businesses and jobs would be devastating for local economies in Edinburgh South and across the country. I will continue to do all I can to work with both Government’s to protect jobs and business.
Changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
As you will be aware, there are many gaps in the financial support the Government has offered during this pandemic. Last week, my colleague and Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Anneliese Dodds MP, wrote to the Chancellor highlighting all the concerns we had raised with her.
In this letter, we pressed the Chancellor to extend the Job Retention Scheme to people who started work after the cut-off date of 28th February.
Yesterday, 15th April, the Government announced that the eligibility date for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been extended from 28 February to 19 March 2020.
As you will know, the scheme allows employers to furlough employees with the Government financing 80% of their salary up to £2,500/month. Employers are able contribute the remaining 20% but are not required to.
The new extension means employers can claim for furloughed employees that were on their PAYE payroll on or before 19 March
Your employer needs to have made a payroll submission about you to HMRC on or before 19 March. This is done through the Real Time Information (RTI) system which updates the tax authority when someone is paid. Therefore, it seems that the Scheme will not cover people who were not put on the PAYE system after this date.
The Scheme will take applications from Monday from companies which have laid off workers.
HMRC has promised to release wages for furloughed workers by the end of April. The scheme currently runs until 1 June.
If an employer is considering rehiring a former employee in order to furlough them, the cut-off date remains 28 February.
Updated guidance for employers is available on GOV.UK
Updated guidance for employees is also available on GOV.UK
Although Government figures say this will allow 200,000 more recently employed workers to access the scheme, I am already aware of concerns that the extension will be nowhere near as effective.
I understand that a business pay cycle will determine whether the extension benefits you. For example, it does if a business pay cycle means wages were paid between 1 and 19 March to a new employee.
Those businesses who pay weekly, fortnightly and 4 weekly if the pay date falls within those dates, will now be able to include some people who started between the 1st and the 18th of March.
However, businesses who pay monthly at the end of the month are highly likely to miss out. For instance employers, particularly smaller employers, who run a monthly payroll and comply with the existing Revenue Guidance regarding when to notify HMRC of a new start (a date around the first time they are paid), is highly unlikely to be able to claim for an employee employed before 19 March as most won’t have notified HMRC of the new employee being employed by that date.
I will continue to raise these concerns with the Shaw Chancellor and directly with the Treasury to ensure all workers are properly supported during such uncertain times.
Self-employment Income Support Scheme
Please find below the most recent guidance from HMRC for the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS):
The updated guidance provides a number of clarifications to the scheme, including:
• detail of the treatment of losses, averaging and multiple trades
• clarifications on the calculation of self-employed profits and what is meant by total income
• confirmation that individuals are able to continue working, including taking on employment role
• confirmation that owner-managers of Ltd companies can access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) for their salary
• confirmation that individuals can access Universal Credit and the SEISS
• clarification on overlaps between the SEISS and CJRS (for example, you can claim the SEISS and continue working)
Financial support for Dental Practices
I have received a very large number of emails detailing concerns about lack of support for dental practices during the coronavirus emergency.
The British Dental Association (BDA) has emphasised that many practices feel left behind by a lack of financial assistance from the Government. I believe Ministers must provide greater clarity on what support is available for NHS, private and mixed dental practices.
I have already written to both the Treasury and the Scottish Government expressing these concerns.
I urge anyone affect to contact your MSP as the issue of rates, NHS support and many business support schemes are the responsibility of the Scottish Government.
I understand that the reality for many NHS dental practices is that this funding is not enough to cover staff costs alone, with the loss of patient contributions a significant factor affecting incomes.
Many dental practices also rely on private patients to subsidise NHS provided care. Some practices may feel they have no alternative but to abandon NHS contracts to try and find alternative financial support.
Ministers have said that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – to help businesses continue to keep people in employment – will apply to dental practices. While access to the scheme initially seemed to be limited to employers not in receipt of NHS funding, the BDA has now suggested that mixed NHS and private practices can make use of this scheme. The BDA suggests any practices wishing to claim against additional Government support should ensure that this is in relation to the proportion of private revenue only.
I know that the BDA is lobbying the Government to ensure that the needs of all dental practices are represented during this pandemic. It is pushing for clearer guidance on the clinical and financial impact of the outbreak. More widely, the BDA is calling on the Government to extend financial relief measures to include those who are self-employed or operating as private limited companies.
I will press the Government to investigate these issues as a matter of urgency and provide further clarity.
BEWARE – Coronavirus scammers target taxpayers
Fraudsters are continuing to take advantage of the package of measures announced by the Government to support people and businesses affected by coronavirus.
HMRC has detected more than 40 coronavirus-related financial scams to date, most by text message.
Take a moment to think before parting with your information or money.
Genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your PIN, password or bank details, or to withdraw money or transfer it to a different account.
Don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in texts or emails you weren’t expecting.
Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
If you think you have received an HMRC-related phishing/bogus email or text message, you can check it against examples published on GOV.UK.
Use the latest software, apps and operating systems on your phone, tablet or laptop. Update these regularly or set your devices to automatically update so you don’t have to worry.
Forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to firstname.lastname@example.org and texts to 60599.
Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, and report it to Action Fraud.
To Recap on previous updates, PPE, exit strategy and other support
My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have sadly died, and with those who have contracted the virus. We are immensely grateful to all our NHS staff, social care employees, and frontline staff who are working tirelessly to help us deal with this crisis. We have had a number of local people sadly pass away and it brings home how important it is to abide by the Government instructions. I have had a very large number of constituents contact me with breaches of social distancing and isolation etc, which is worthwhile, but please keep each other safe. It is the only way this will be defeated.
· This is a huge crisis and we want both the UK and Scottish Governments to succeed: to save lives and protect livelihoods. I am working constructively with both governments, supporting them where it’s the right thing to do.
· It is important not to disagree just for the sake of it, but it is critically important to challenge where we think there are mistakes that can be put right, and where we think something is not happening that needs to happen. This is particularly the case for issues that are being brought to me by constituents. These have been mainly around the support for care workers and our heroes in our NHS, or protecting businesses, renters, those on low incomes and those unable to access the services they require (especially the elder and most vulnerable) to keep them safe during the lockdown period.
· To date both governments have been slower than other countries in their response to this crisis. We want both governments to avoid repeating mistakes that were made especially in being too slow with testing tracing and PPE.
· Keir Starmer has also been demanding that Ministers should be clear about their exit strategy from the measures to defeat coronavirus and should publish it now or this week. This is in the national interest in order to both maintain morale and ensure planning is done right. We are not calling for an end to the lockdown, which is saving lives, but the public should know the details of any exit strategy, how restrictions may be eased at the appropriate time, and what the plan is for economic recovery to protect those who have been hardest hit. It’s about showing there is a plan and what needs to be in place and happening before any plan can be actioned.
· Testing and contact tracing will clearly be part of any solution to this crisis and that these tests reach those who need them most, including our frontline NHS staff and care workers, many of whom are having to self-isolate at home with symptoms who are willing to go back to work but don’t know if they are carrying the virus. The Scottish Government need to get on top of this so we can have maximum numbers of frontline staff in post.
· Part of any exit strategy will involve a comprehensive national vaccine programme so that as soon as a vaccine becomes available, we can begin to protect the population. That means establishing vaccination centres in towns and cities across the country, working with world leaders to guarantee global supply and ensuring key workers and the most vulnerable are at the front of the queue. The lack of an international response has been very concerning.
· It must be an absolute and urgent priority for frontline Scottish NHS and care staff to access the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need. We have heard too many stories from staff unable to keep themselves safe or adequately care for their patients. Blockages in the system must be addressed quickly and the Scottish Government must be doing more to get this PPE into the hands of those that need it. I am being contacted daily by frontline workers who are being denied or unable to get proper PPE despite assurances from the Scottish Government that it is on its way.
· We will also need to make the case for what comes after this crisis: we can no longer live in a society where care workers are underpaid and undervalued or our NHS is starved of funding. We can’t applaud front line workers every Thursday, and then just go back to business as usual after the crisis. We must all make the case for that better future and a fairer society with closer communities and a recalibration of what is important. Business as usual after this crisis cannot be allowed to happen.
· It is vital that social care gets the focus and priority it deserves. Millions of elderly and disabled people and their families depend on these essential services.
· A growing crisis in social care is being exposed, and we need a clear and detailed plan about how – and by when – the government is going to test more than 100,000 frontline social care workers in Scotland. This must include home care staff and Personal Assistants employed through direct payments, as well as those working in care homes.
· It is essential that people who are discharged from hospital into care homes are now going to be tested, but the Scottish government must spell out how and where those who have tested positive will be effectively isolated, and where the resources for this will come from.
· We are seeing more figures in Scotland about the number of deaths in care homes, but we still don’t really know the true scale of the problem and how fast it is spreading. They must also ensure social care has the resources it needs and that vital PPE and testing get to care workers on the frontline.
· For families and care staff, accurate and timely reporting of deaths of people in care homes is an essential step in tackling this problem and saving as many lives as possible.
Personal Protective Equipment
· Scottish Ministers have given Scottish NHS and social care staff big promises on PPE. But there has been a mismatch between statements from the daily First Ministers Press Conferences and the realities facing health and care staff on the ground.
· Staff have been raising the alarm over lack of PPE for weeks. The government must meet its commitment to deliver adequate supplies of PPE.
· The public have shown tremendous resolve in adhering to social distancing measures. But the silent pressure on families and communities across the country cannot be underestimated, and to maintain hope and morale the government must be clear about what comes next.
· We are not calling for the lockdown to be ended prematurely. It’s saving lives. The question now is not whether the lockdown should be extended, but what the UK and Scottish government’s position is on how restrictions can be eased at the appropriate time, and what criteria they will use in their decision-making on this.
· We are calling on both governments to outline the sectors of the economy and the core public services that are most likely to see restrictions eased, with a clear plan to protect workers and family members as well as an assessment of the impact such measures will have on the economy and existing government support schemes.
· We need this for two reasons: firstly, to retain public trust and morale. Across the country people are making huge sacrifices, and many will be struggling with their health and mental health, heightened concerns about making ends meet, or extended periods of separation from their loved ones. It is vital that the government takes the public with them to ensure the plan works.
· Secondly, we must have confidence that the government is taking the necessary steps to plan for what comes next, putting investment and infrastructure in place early to ensure we are able to ease lockdown restrictions. To date, the government has been slow off the mark. Whether on widespread community testing, contact tracing, or a national vaccine programme, mistakes made earlier in this crisis on being too slow in our preparations must not be repeated.
· This lockdown is not affecting people equally. In fact, it has exacerbated existing inequalities in our country. A family living in an overcrowded flat will have particular challenges. And it is hard to imagine the daily horror of someone trapped in a home with his or her abuser. Both governments have a duty to do what it can to alleviate these pressures on people.
· It is obviously not productive, helpful or necessary to be suggesting rival exit strategies at this time, as this is ultimately a decision for the UK and Scottish Governments to make. While they will rightly take scientific advice, these decisions will have wide-ranging implications across our society and, at a time of national crisis, it is more important than ever that they are taken swiftly and transparently.
· It is vitally important that the coronavirus economic schemes are effective so that we can protect people’s incomes, jobs and businesses and prevent a deeper and longer-lasting recession.
· We urgently need clarity about the future status of the Job Retention (‘furlough’) scheme, and clearer guidance about its implementation. The government must make clear to employers that the Scheme is not just available to them, but that they must make use of it wherever feasible.
· The government must also act to increase uptake of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), including considering offering a 100% guarantee as other countries have done. The government should also act urgently to protect the incomes of those who are falling outside existing schemes and onto Universal Credit. We are also calling for additional action to support those manufacturers who are not able to access the Coronavirus Corporate Finance Facility (CCFF). I have been speaking to the major banks about these schemes and they are being moulded as circumstances change. Please keep in touch with your bank.
· The patchy uptake and implementation of the CBILS has left too many businesses waiting or without any support at all. During this time of huge insecurity businesses, workers and those who have lost their jobs need security and to know that when the government says support is on its way, they will actually get this support.
· As Covid-19 has ripped across continents it has exposed our interdependence. We must redouble our commitment to global cooperation both for the immediate crisis and the rebuilding phase.
· The Foreign Secretary needs be leading a coordinated response to strengthen our international institutions and stop them from being undermined.
Recall of Parliament
· I have been calling for a recall of Parliament. It will return as a virtual parliament on Tuesday.
Stay home, stay safe, and stay well
Ian Murray MP