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Nicola Sturgeon hits out at Rishi Sunak after £1bn fund increase: ‘What took you so long?’

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Nicola Sturgeon said it was regretful the Government “took so long” to decide in favour of an extension of the furlough scheme and to provide extra cash to help Scotland through the coronavirus crisis. Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed on Thursday the Scottish Government will be receiving an additional £1billion to help businesses as COVID-19 restrictions force them to stay shut. Ms Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government will do everything within our power and within the financial resources that we have to support people through the winter who are out of work, whose businesses are struggling or who remain unable to work because of the restrictions.

“I warmly welcome the Chancellor’s announcement on the extension of furlough but I deeply regret that it took so long to get to that point.

“The Scottish Government and others have been calling for a furlough to be extended significantly and at an 80 percent level for months now.

“The failure to do that before unfortunately has meant that many have lost their jobs who may not have lost their jobs had the commitment to furlough been there earlier. And businesses will perhaps have not been able to continue.

“So I think that is a matter of regret.”

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Ms Sturgeon also added the financial certainty provided by Rishi Sunak will allow the Government to take further decisions on Public Health ground instead of facing the pressure to take advantage of a limited window of opportunity.

The First Minister confirmed Scotland recorded 31 deaths from coronavirus and 1,072 positive tests in the past 24 hours.

Ms Sturgeon said the death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – has risen to 2,997.

She said 70,732 people have now tested positive in Scotland under the latest data, up from 69,660 the previous day.

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But forestalling criticism from the First Minister, the Chancellor reminded Ms Sturgeon of the financial powers she and her Government have to raise additional funds.

Addressing the Commons on Thursday, Mr Sunak said: “I can confirm that the CGRS is a UK-wide scheme and we will continue to apply the furlough to each part of the UK equally, treating every citizen the same.

“Scotland will receive an upfront guarantee worth £8billion, that’s an increase of one billion on the previously agreed upfront guarantee.

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“And it’s that funding for the Scottish Government to use as they see fit. It is, of course, up to the Scottish Government to make those choices about what to do with that money and we look forward to seeing what they plan to do.

“And it’s also worth bearing in mind that the Scottish Government has the ability to raise taxes.”

He added: “The Scottish Government has the ability to raise the funds it needs, to fund the projects it wants and, if these things are important, then the Scottish Government will be able to make those decisions on behalf of the Scottish people and be held accountable.”

The job retention scheme has been extended until March 2021, meaning the Government will cover up to 80 percent of wages for all furloughed employees.

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