Nicola Sturgeon warns Boris Johnson over threats to 'intimidate' workers back to offices

28 August 2020, 20:45

The First Minister said the Government has been holding talks with business leaders
The First Minister said the Government has been holding talks with business leaders. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

Nicola Sturgeon has warned Boris Johnson not to "intimidate" workers into returning to offices by threatening redundancy if they refuse.

The First Minister said the Government has been holding talks with business leaders about a phased return to office working.

But she claims it is too soon for people to return to city centres and Scottish office workers should continue working from home.

It comes as the UK Government is planning a newspaper and television blitz to get people back into the office, with an unnamed source suggesting to the Telegraph that those opting to keep working from home could make themselves more "vulnerable" to redundancy in any post-Covid business shake-ups.

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister said reopening offices too soon would risk the virus spreading and compromise the ability to keep schools open.

"I will not countenance in Scotland any kind of narrative around this that is seeking to almost intimidate people back to work before, as a country, we have taken a decision that that is safe," she said.

Ms Sturgeon said people should not be told they risk being sacked if they do not go back to the office.

She said "we want to get back to normal as quickly as possible" and her Government will work in a "phased way" to support the return of offices that have not yet reopened.

But she added: "That has to be done in the context of suppressing the virus."

The First Minister continued: "It's for other governments to decide their approach, that's not the approach I'm going to have the Scottish Government take here."

Campaigns which say those working from home have less job security put "pressure on individual workers that is not fair", she said.

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She also told the briefing that 51 new coronavirus cases have been recorded in Scotland in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 20,107.

She said a walk-in Covid-19 test centre will open at Victory Memorial Hall in St Andrews, Fife, in a bid to make testing more accessible and available.

Six such facilities will be created before the end of September in areas with a high student population, the First Minister said, coinciding with the return of universities and colleges.

Ms Sturgeon also confirmed a £59 million package of support for the culture and heritage sectors.

The funding comes from the £97 million given to the Scottish Government through the Barnett formula, based on spending by the UK Government.

Theatres, galleries, comedy clubs, music venues and nightclubs are among the groups eligible for the new fund, with information on how to apply to be released next week.

The First Minister said: "The culture and heritage sectors are, of course, hugely important to our economy, but they're also really important to our wellbeing and happiness as a country.

"They've been very hard hit by this pandemic and we're determined to do everything we reasonably can to support them."

Funding will also be made available for Historic Environment Scotland, as well as support for freelancers, the development of new creative work, independent cinemas and youth arts.

Giving an update on ongoing coronavirus clusters in Scotland, the First Minister said there is no evidence in Coupar Angus of wider community transmission from the 2 Sisters factory at the centre of the outbreak.

NHS Tayside later confirmed 188 cases have been identified, up 11 from Thursday, of whom 164 are factory workers and 24 are community contacts.

The factory is due to reopen on Tuesday, with staff returning for training on Monday.

At Kingspark School in Dundee, where the First Minister said there is also no evidence of community transmission, two more cases were identified - taking the total number of cases to 36.

Of the 36 cases, three are pupils, 22 are staff members and 11 are contacts of staff.

In Aberdeen, where local lockdown measures were lifted earlier this week following a cluster, the First Minister said the situation is "under control".

Addressing a small cluster in Hawick identified on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said four more cases have been identified, bringing the total to 11.

Later, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said a "small number" of staff in the health board's diagnostic directorate are self-isolating at home, having been contacted by the Public Health Protection Unit.

A spokesman for the health board said he could not confirm the number of staff within the directorate testing positive for coronavirus, due to patient confidentiality.

The number of staff affected is understood to be fewer than 10. The diagnostic directorate includes radiologists, microbiologists and virologists.

The health board said in a statement: "We are liaising with the local team and we have reiterated to all our staff the importance of social distancing in the workplace."

Also speaking during the briefing, Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone addressed new powers given to officers from Friday to disperse large indoor gatherings.

Mr Livingstone said it is "vital" people stick to the rules, which have outlawed gatherings of 15 or more people indoors.

He said: "In essence, don't arrange or attend large house parties, please meet in smaller groups."