Coronavirus and Scotland: Interim Report on Intergovernmental Working Contents


Coronavirus and devolution

1.The coronavirus outbreak has been the biggest public health issue that Scotland has faced in recent memory. Lockdown restrictions have had a huge impact on individuals and businesses nationwide with unprecedented interventions being required from both the UK and Scottish Governments to avoid the most severe social and economic consequences.

2.At the heart of the response to the crisis has been the need for effective relations between the two administrations. However, the response to the pandemic has thrown up new ways of intergovernmental working and has further tested the existing intergovernmental structures.

3.Our predecessor Committee in the previous Parliament carried out a significant amount of work on intergovernmental relations. Its June 2019 report on the relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments found a lack of trust between them.1 Despite the significant changes in relations over two decades, alongside regular disputes, the report concluded that the infrastructure to support intergovernmental working, primarily the Joint Ministerial Committee has, remarkably, remained largely unchanged.2 It is with the former Scottish Affairs Committee’s report in mind that we have published this interim report, part of our major inquiry into coronavirus and Scotland. We focus on the nature of the joint working relationship between all four nations of the United Kingdom. In the report, we analyse and evaluate what has become known as the four-nations approach, a novel way of managing the relationship between the UK Government and devolved nations of the UK. In particular, we provide analysis of the dynamic between the UK and Scottish Governments during the pandemic.

4.As our report concludes, there has been unprecedented coordination through the four-nations approach but, more recently, divergence has occurred in policy areas. The handling of COVID-19, in London and Edinburgh, is likely to be a defining point in the future of intergovernmental relations and could raise fundamental questions about the assumptions that have underpinned the operation of the intergovernmental machinery since devolution.

Our inquiry

5.We launched our inquiry, Coronavirus and Scotland, on 12 May and published a call for written evidence to address the following terms of reference:

i)How effective has the four-nations approach been in tackling the coronavirus pandemic? What improvements could be made to formal intergovernmental structures, such as the Joint-Ministerial Committee, in light of the pandemic?

ii)To what extent has the Four Nations Action Plan (published 3 March) been fit for purpose? How was it designed, and did it reflect the right balance of expert advice?

iii)How will the UK Government’s ‘Stay Alert’ message, announced on 10 May, impact Scotland? How effective was the coordination between UK and Scottish Governments, and their respective advisory groups, in relation to the ‘Stay Alert’ message?3

iv)What implications are there for divergence in UK and Scottish Government policy in tackling the pandemic? Should there be further divergence between nations in easing lockdown restrictions?

v)Have the UK’s funding package and support schemes been sufficient in supporting Scottish businesses, employees and self-employed people in Scotland? Have they been able to reach all sectors in Scotland?

vi)Has UK and Scottish Government policy around key workers been effective? What further policy changes are required to support: a) seasonal workers; b) social care workers; and c) other key workers?

vii)What more could the UK and Scottish Government do to ensure that Scottish key workers have been able to gain access to personal protective equipment (PPE)?

viii)How has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted a) the oil and gas industry in Scotland; b) the Scottish food and drinks industry; and c) the rural economy? What support ought to be provided by the UK and Scottish Governments?

ix)Have there been particular Scottish issues relating to coronavirus that have not been addressed by a Government response?

6.We held seven oral evidence sessions prior to the publication of this report and would like to thank all the witnesses who contributed to the inquiry, particularly in these unprecedented and very busy times. Given that this report focuses on intergovernmental relations throughout the pandemic thus far, we intend to publish further work addressing the impact of COVID-19 on various sectors in Scotland at a later date.


7.Throughout the pandemic there have been economic interventions by the UK Government directly into Scotland and through the Scottish Government via increased Barnett funding. The Scottish Government has also contributed to Scotland-only support schemes.

8.We recognise the economic support put in place by the UK Government, which has benefited those living and working in Scotland. This includes direct support such as the furlough scheme (officially known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme), the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, Bounce Back Loans and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.4 The UK Government also provided support through Barnett consequentials. Direct support and Barnett consequential financial support totalled over £10.5bn by June 1st.5

9.We also recognise the financial support measures provided by the Scottish Government which saw a re-prioritising of existing budgets that had been set before the pandemic (£255 million) and spending from the Scottish Government’s reserves (£66 million).6 We note the Scottish Government view that a review of the fiscal framework could be necessary, to ensure that the Scottish Government has the powers to deal with emergencies, such as pandemics, in the future.7

10.We will provide a more detailed analysis of the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as sectoral impacts, in our future report, which is scheduled to be published later this year.

Report structure

11.Chapter 2 considers some of the key milestones reached via the four nations approach. Chapter 3 examines the effectiveness of the four-nations approach and the main mechanisms for intergovernmental relations during the pandemic, as set out in Appendix 1. Chapter 4 provides a brief summation of final thoughts.

1 Scottish Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2017–19, The relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments, HC 1586

2 Scottish Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2017–19, The relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments, HC 1586, para 4

3 This text was agreed before the Scottish Government, and other devolved administrations, changed their own messaging during the pandemic.

4 Q21 [Rt Hon Alister Jack]; UK Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19): Information for individuals and businesses in Scotland, accessed 16 July 2020

7 Q208 [Akash Paun]; Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, Towards a Robust, Resilient, Wellbeing Economy for Scotland, accessed 16 July 2020; The Press and Journal, State of the nation: Economy experts give recommendations on path forward as Scotland emerges from pandemic, 22 June 2020

Published: 23 July 2020