The UK government is “open to” the extension of the vacation schedule, insisted by a senior member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will use a four-nation summit with the Prime Minister on Thursday to press for the job retention program to continue beyond the current September expiration date.
Now Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove has indicated that it could continue.
When asked about the possibility of doing so, he said: “We are open-minded, yes.”
Ahead of the Four Nations Summit to Combat Covid, Mr Gove said the initiative, in which the taxpayer pays cash for workers’ wages, was a “great success” made possible only “thanks to the broad shoulders of the UK Treasury Department” be “.
The UK government minister insisted that spending continue in response to the coronavirus pandemic as the country as a whole seeks to “rebuild better”.
The Scottish government has raised concerns about a possible return of the Conservatives in Westminster to austerity, but Mr Gove told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland program: “We are going to spend more.
“We’re going to be spending more on the NHS, we’re going to be spending more on education, we’re going to be spending more on the criminal justice system because in all of these areas it’s absolutely important that we build better.
“The additional funding for all continues and it is important that we all learn from one another how this money should be spent.”
His comments come ahead of a virtual coronavirus recovery summit involving Mr Johnson and the leaders of decentralized governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
The rescheduled meeting was supposed to take place last week but was postponed after the first Wales and Scotland ministers resigned because they wanted it to be “a meaningful discussion with substantial results”.
Both Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford then wrote to the Prime Minister asking for more substance and clarity about the summit.
In the run-up to the summit, the Scottish First Minister called on the British government to extend the vacation again – and to ensure that existing inequalities are not exacerbated by the crisis.
Ms. Sturgeon said: “With the limited powers we have, we have done everything we can to combat inequality and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on people’s livelihoods, but we cannot allow this to happen as we move on to the next Phase of life with the virus.
“A return to pre-pandemic austerity would be disastrous for jobs, for public services and for people and families across Scotland.
“With the UK government in place with the main financial levers to help us recover from this, I will be asking them to commit to maintaining public spending during the recovery period and extending the vacation program for as long as it is necessary to protect businesses and People who have had to stop working to protect others and I will emphasize that this is being handled sensitively and in a way that supports longer term recovery.
“I have been assured that this will be, and must be, a meaningful discussion.
“Working on the recovery from Covid cannot be a PR exercise – it has to be a collaborative process that adequately respects the decentralization regime.
“The Scottish Government requires certainty about funding.
“Without them, people across Scotland who have endured so much in the past 14 months would not have the assurance that their jobs will be protected and that their public services will continue to be adequately funded, whatever the virus may have in store – that “is the bare minimum of our expectations.
“For this summit to be in any way productive, all British nations must work together.
“In doing so, the UK government must ensure meaningful cooperation with the decentralized administrations in negotiating and managing trade agreements and respect the decentralized parliaments by not diverting funds for UK ministers’ spending.”
Mr Johnson called for the post-general election meeting in Wales and Scotland last month as he called for a common approach “to address the significant challenges of the Covid recovery”.
The virtual summit will be attended by First Ministers and Deputy First Ministers of the four nations as well as Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Mr. Gove, and the British Government Foreign Ministers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Gove said, “I am delighted that the leaders of the decentralized administrations have all responded positively to the Prime Minister’s invitation to attend this important meeting on the recovery from Covid.
“During the pandemic, we worked together to stop the spread of the virus and bring life-saving vaccines to market.
“Our mutual success has shown the world what we can achieve as the UK.
“We must address the difficult challenge of rebuilding our economies and public services from the harmful effects of Covid-19 as well.
“It won’t be a quick or easy task, but we’ll all do better if we rise to the challenge together.”