Criticism of furlough extension now England set for lockdown after requests denied for Wales fire-break

The furlough scheme has now been extended for the period of England's lockdown. Credit: PA Images

Welsh Government ministers have questioned why the decision to extend the furlough scheme was not made when Wales' fire-break was announced but has been now England is set for lockdown.

The Prime Minister announced yesterday that England would enter a four-week lockdown from next Thursday and the furlough scheme, which was due to end on October 31, would be extended to December 2 as a result.

Wales' First Minister tweeted to say they had previously asked the UK Government to extended the scheme, which pays for 80% of workers wages, to support Welsh workers during the last week of the fire-break. However, the UK Government had decided not to do this.

Mark Drakeford also said their requests to bring forward the Job Support Scheme were denied at the time by the Chancellor when "it's now clear he could have said yes".

Jeremy Miles MS and Ben Lake MP also criticised the timing of the decision.

The extension means that the furlough scheme will now continue for the second week of Wales' fire-break and beyond, until early December.

Mr Drakeford said that he would be talking to the Treasury on Sunday "to ensure Welsh businesses get full access to the support outlined" by Mr Johnson.

He also reaffirmed that Welsh Government ministers would meet on Sunday to discuss any border-related issues resulting from England's lockdown.

Wales' Counsel General Jeremy Miles quoted Mr Sunak's announcement and added "this should have been extended a long time ago. And if you believe 'We Stand Together' - why didn't you act when it was business workers in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England who were looking for the support?".

Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson, Ben Lake MP, also criticised the UK Government for only extending the scehe when lockdown was announced for England.

The MP for Ceredigion said: "The Chancellor repeatedly ignored Plaid Cymru’s calls to extend furlough for workers in Wales ahead of the firebreak. The UK Government even refused to bring forward the Job Support Scheme by a week, arguing that it was impossible to do so.

"I welcome the Chancellor’s swift action to support businesses in England, but it is regrettable that Welsh workers were not prioritised in the same way. People across Wales have been made redundant in recent days due to the UK Government’s dithering."

A spokesperson for HM Treasury highlighted that the decision to extend the furlough scheme will now mean that Welsh workers are supported throughout the whole fire-break and until December 2.

They said: “The furlough scheme is UK-wide and all changes to the scheme apply UK-wide, as they have done throughout this crisis. We are not treating Wales differently to England.

"As part of the local and regional approach to tackling the virus, we provided targeted local support on top of UK-wide measures. In Wales this includes £4.4bn extra funding this year through our Barnett guarantee.

"It is now clear that much broader restrictions are needed right across the country to contain the virus, so we have extended our financial support across the UK to help millions of people continue to provide for their families."

The furlough scheme paid for 80% of UK employees' wages. Credit: PA Images

On BBC's Andrew Marr programme, the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said ideally a UK-wide lockdown would be imposed but he understands that Mark Drakeford is "frustrated" at "a lack of communication" from Boris Johnson.

When Mr Starmer was asked if he would push for Mark Drakeford to extend Wales' lockdown beyond the fire-break, he replied that Mr Drakeford wants "better communication with the Prime Minister to agree a way forward and I'm sure he'd be up for that if the Prime Minister phoned him this afternoon".

In response to Mr Starmer's comments, a Welsh Labour spokesperson said: "Keir Starmer was talking about Mark Drakeford's repeated calls for a ‘regular, reliable rhythm’ to inter-governmental communications.

"He was not saying that Mark Drakeford would be willing to extend Firebreak in Wales.

"Mark has made it clear publicly that firebreak will end on Nov 9. He’s also been pretty open about wanting four nation approach but there being a ‘vacancy at the heart of the UK’ Government."

The First Minister will hold a press conference in Monday to outline what rules will be in place when Wales leaves its fire-break on November 9.

He has repeatedly confirmed that the fire-break will not be extended beyond that date but will be replaced by a new set of national rules.