Question Time: Tory minister doesn’t know furlough closed to new entrants 3 months ago
A Conservative minister appeared to not realise the cut off to new entrants into the Government’s furlough scheme closed 14 weeks ago.
Apprenticeships and skills undersecretary Gilligan Keegan suggested hospitality staff who lost work when Bolton went into local lockdown overnight in September could’ve signed up for the support package.
However, after reiterating it was “still in place today”, the MP for Chichester was quickly informed the scheme had been cut off to new applicants on June 30.
The gaffe came during Thursday’s Question Time amid a heated row with Labour’s Mayor for Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.
The former Cabinet member in Gordon Brown’s Government had said he would challenge the proposed closure of pubs and restaurants across northern England using “whatever means I can”.
Due to a surge in coronavirus cases, Bolton was thrust into a local lockdown with little warning on September 9 during which hospitality venues were restricted to takeaway only.
“You closed pubs and restaurants in Bolton overnight just a few weeks ago,” continued Mr Burnham.
“But the people who work behind the bars in those places – or in the kitchen – got no support at all. Do you think that is right?”
Ms Keegan said: “Well, the people would be entitled to furlough.”
“Well, they weren’t,” answered the mayor.
“Why weren’t they?” asked the minister.
“Because it was closed overnight. Their jobs were just taken away from them,” he said.
“Well, their employers could have put them into furlough,” said Ms Keegan.
“That’s exactly what that scheme is there for. Everything was closed overnight on the March 23 – everything was closed overnight.
“Look at the skies, you won’t see hardly any planes flying. Go on a train, there’ll be hardly any people on the train.”
Mr Burnham said: “People who work behind a bar can’t easily be put into furlough schemes.”
However, the minister insisted: “But they were put into furlough schemes all across the country.
She then went on to say: “For some reason, Andy, you don’t seem to realise that the furlough scheme in March – which is still in place today, which we’ve spent £40 billion on…”
Programme host Fiona Bruce then cut in to tell her: “Gillian, as I’m sure you know, it closed to new entrants.”
Ms Keegan, appearing to have become tongue-tied, then said: “Yes, but it’s in place until the end of this month…”
And was cut off by Mr Burnham, who repeated: “It closed to new entrants. The Bolton staff did not have access to that scheme.”
Ms Bruce then clarified: “It closed on June 30.”
An increasingly frustrated Mr Burnham said the people of Greater Manchester had been “put under local restrictions without support and that’s happened all summer”.
Earlier in the row he challenged Ms Keegan – in light of the proposed new traffic light system – to commit to a “proper support scheme so we don’t see major loss of jobs, major business failure”.
“What we are presented with is restrictions without support. And that is not acceptable,” he then said.
“Furlough ends at the end of this month and industries like aviation, for instance, can’t come back.
“The damage you’re going to do for people in those regional airports as combined with the local restrictions means fragile economies in the north are going to be…
Ms Keegan said: “Can I just correct you? It’s the damage that the coronavirus has done, that the global pandemic is doing.
“The Government has been there to help as many people as we can.”
Mr Burnham retorted: “The Government are choosing to close bars.”
Under the proposed traffic light system, all areas in England would be assigned a colour, with toughest restrictions in ‘red’ areas.
Pubs and restaurants in the worst-affected places would be forced to close again, and people would be banned from mixing with other households.
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