THE Treasury has refused to say whether Scottish businesses would still be entitled to receive support from its job retention scheme if Scotland came out of lockdown later than the rest of the UK.

Asked if Chancellor Rishi Sunak would keep the initiative in place north of the Border if the rest of the UK was out of lockdown, a spokesman said the situation was under review.

He told The National: “The scheme will continue to be monitored to ensure people and businesses can get back to work as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

Scotland along with the rest of the UK went into lockdown on 23 March and the decision by both the Edinburgh and Westminster governments to extend the restrictions for a further three weeks was announced last Thursday.

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Both administrations agreed lifting the social distancing measures would cause further harm to people’s health and the economy.

But the First Minister has hinted she may follow a different path from the rest of the UK when it comes to deciding when lockdown is lifted.

She is to set out within the next 48 hours the key principles which will determine when Scotland’s coronavirus lockdown can be lifted.

Scottish secretary Alister Jack last week argued the whole of he UK should come out of lockdown at the same time. He told BBC Radio Scotland: “I would suggest that this is not the time to muddy the message by talking about exit strategies or getting into arguments about sectors or geography or demographies or anything else.”

Asked about Jack’s remarks, Sturgeon told reporters: “This virus doesn’t respect borders or boundaries, that is obvious ... that is why the Scottish government has been working so carefully and collaboratively and closely to align our thinking and decision with the Welsh, UK and Northern Irish governments. But if the evidence and the science tells us that because we are all at different stages of the infection curve we might need to do things slightly differently, it would be astounding for any first minister to say that they would simply ignore that.”

And responding to the question at Tuesday’s press briefing, the First Minister said: “Trying to do things in a four-nation way given the geography of the four nations – or three of those nations in particular – seems to me to make sense.

“This is a virus. It doesn’t respect borders or boundaries ... it makes sense ... to align our activity as much as possible.”

She added: “But I will never be a prisoner of that if something different is required for Scotland.”

She also reiterated some differences between the two governments’ courses of action, including an earlier decision on banning mass gatherings in Scotland, an announcement on school closures earlier, and that lockdown happened earlier on in the virus’ spread.

She was then asked whether Scottish firms would continue to benefit from the Treasury’s job retention scheme where the UK Government pays 80% of the wages of workers put on furlough. The First Minister said discussions were taking place on the issue.

The job retention scheme started taking claims on Monday and it is not yet known how many Scottish-based firms have applied for support.

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