Coronavirus and Scotland: Interim Report on Intergovernmental Working Contents

2Coronavirus and intergovernmental working: the story so far

12.The following timeline provides an overview of the pandemic so far and the key moments in the UK and Scottish Governments’ response. The boxes highlighted in grey record the evidence sessions undertaken by our Committee:

Date (2020)


20 January

Calls between the four nations, arranged by the UK Department of Health and Social Care to discuss COVID-19 began.8

22 January

The UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) met for the first time to discuss COVID-19.9

24 January

COBRA held its first meeting in ministerial form with leaders from the four nations.10

31 January

First UK cases of COVID-19 with two people from the same family testing positive.11

2 March

The first coronavirus case in Scotland is confirmed after a patient was diagnosed having recently travelled from Italy.12 However, concerns were raised about the presence of coronavirus at a Nike conference in Edinburgh in February.13

3 March

The UK-wide action plan, one of the first examples of substantive four-nation cooperation, is published. It set out what the UK as a whole had done, and planned to do, to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

11 March

World Health Organisation declares the virus a pandemic.14

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announces a £12bn package of emergency support to help the UK in his first budget.15

13 March

First death of a patient in Scotland from COVID-19.16

16 March

Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised everyone in the UK against “non-essential” travel and contact with others.17

17 March

Ministerial Implementation Groups (formerly Ministerial Implementation Committees) were developed in four key areas: health, public services, economic response and international.18

The UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser said that if the number of UK deaths could be kept below 20,000, that would be a “good result” from the COVID-19 pandemic.19

20 March

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announces the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the first of an unprecedented £330bn package of support measures from the UK Government.

Other measures include: Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS), Self-employment income support scheme, Bounce Back Loan scheme for small businesses, Deferral of VAT and income tax payments.20 The UK Government has also provided the Scottish Government with £3.8bn in Barnett consequentials.2122

The Scottish Government allocated a £2.3bn package of support for businesses throughout the pandemic. These include a Business Support Fund, rates relief, 100% rates relief, self-employed and SME support, support for fishing and associated industries.23

23 March

The Prime Minister announced UK-wide lockdown restrictions,24(followed by respective announcements by the devolved nations) Lockdown came into force in England, Scotland and Wales on 26 March and Northern Ireland on 28 March.25

25 March

The Coronavirus Act 2020, which gave additional powers to the devolved administrations to deal with the pandemic, is given Royal Assent.26 Officials from each of the devolved administrations worked together from mid-February to ensure the legislation was drafted to meet their needs.27

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announces the establishment of a COVID-19 Advisory Group for Scotland.28

10 April

UK-wide plan for the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) announced by the Department of Health and Social Care.29

15/ 16 April

Lockdown extended in all four-nations of the UK following the first review of restrictions.30

17 April

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said divergence in Scotland could be justified “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”.31

28 April

The Scottish Government advised people to wear face masks in public in limited circumstances as a precautionary measure.32 However, at that time, UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said that the UK Government’s position had not changed and that there was “weak science” on the use of facemasks.33 As the scientific advice changed, face coverings were made mandatory on public transport in England from 15th June,34 and Scotland followed seven days later on the 22nd June.35 Face coverings in closed public places have been made mandatory in Scotland from 10 July,36 and in England from 24 July.37

Early May

Following the second review, the four UK nations made different decisions about their lockdowns. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a change from the ‘Stay at Home’ to ‘Stay Alert’ message in England. He also announced changes to guidance in England on working from home where it was not possible, unlimited exercise and two people meeting from different households.38

The Scottish Government, and other devolved administrations, kept the ‘Stay at Home’ message with First Minister being critical of the UK decision. Scotland changed guidance to allow for unlimited outdoor exercise.39

14 May

Scottish Affairs Committee holds first evidence session on Coronavirus in Scotland with the Secretary of State Rt Hon Alister Jack MP, Minister Douglas Ross MP and Gillian McGregor, Director of the Scotland Office.

21 May

Scottish Affairs Committee takes evidence from Scottish Government’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith, Chief Scientific Adviser Prof. Sheila Rowan and Prof. Andrew Morris (University of Edinburgh and Chair of SG Covid-19 Advisory Group).

27 May

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Liaison Committee that there had been fantastic co-operation, collaboration, between all four nations of the UK and that differences “are very marginal”.40

Late May

The third review of lockdown restrictions again led to divergence between the four nations with England progressing with further lifting of restrictions. On 28 May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that from 1 June in England, regulations on gatherings would be relaxed to allow people to meet outside in groups of up to six people.41 Gradual reopening of schools/ colleges and retail throughout June42 and an announcement made on ‘support bubbles’.43

In Scotland on 28 May, Nicola Sturgeon announced easing of restrictions to allow people to spend more time outside for recreation, but public still urged to stay at home as much as possible. From 29 May, two households allowed to meet in outdoor up to a maximum of eight people.44

Wales and Northern Ireland also made more modest changes to their lockdown rules.

11 June

UK Government published figures showing that, up to the end of May, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme had furloughed 628,000 Scottish jobs, and the UK Government has spent £425 million on supporting 146,000 self-employed people in Scotland through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.45 46

11 June

Scottish Affairs Committee takes evidence from Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman OBE MSP, and Clinical Director of Healthcare Quality and Strategy Prof. Jason Leitch.

18 June

Scottish Affairs Committee takes evidence from Akash Paun, Institute for Government, Prof. Nicola McEwen, Centre on Constitutional Change, Prof. Linda Bauld, University of Edinburgh and Prof. David Bell, University of Stirling.

Late June

On 23 June, the UK Government announced that in England from 4 July: pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and some leisure facilities and tourist attractions would be able to reopen; two households would be able to meet indoors; “staycations” in England would be permitted and “accommodation sites” in England would be reopened; and weddings with a maximum of thirty attendees would be permitted.47

In Scotland, the First Minister announced the move to phase two of its response to coronavirus on the 18 June. This included some changes to Scotland’s lockdown laws: Three households were permitted to meet outside, those living alone were able to visit or be visited people one other household. This essentially allowed people in Scotland to form “support bubbles” as those in England had been able to do since 12 June.48

In Wales, retail reopened from 22 June, requirement to stay local would be lifted from 6 July.49 People would be able to form an “extended household” with one other household from the 6 July.50

The Northern Ireland Executive announced on 18 June that: Hair salons, barbers and other beauty businesses would be able to reopen from 6 July; visitor attractions from 3 July, holiday and caravan sites from 26 June; hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes and coffee shops from 3 July with some restrictions.51 On 23 June the Executive announced that people would be able to meet in groups of up to six inside someone’s home.52 On 29 June the Executive announced that outdoor gatherings of up to 30 people would be permitted.53

25 June

Scottish Affairs Committee takes evidence from Jonnie Hall, National Farmers Union Scotland, Karen Betts, Scotch Whisky Association, and James Withers, Scotland Food and Drink.

2 July

Scottish Affairs Committee takes evidence from David Phillips from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Alasdair Smith from the Scottish Fiscal Commission as part of its Coronavirus and Scotland inquiry.

3 July

Scotland’s five-mile travel limit lifted.54

The UK Government brought in changes to quarantine rules, which came into force from 10 July.55

6 July

Scottish Government announces reopening of pubs outdoors immediately and indoors from 15 July.56

8 July

Scottish Government announces changes to quarantine rules, which came into force from 10 July.57

9 July

Scottish Affairs Committee takes evidence from the oil and gas sector on the impact of COVID-19. Witnesses include Colette Cohen OBE from Oil and Gas Technology Centre, Deidre Michie OBE from Oil and Gas UK, and Prof. John Underhill from the Institute of Petroleum Engineering.

16 July 2020

As of 16 July, there were 292,552 COVID-19 cases and 45,119 deaths across the UK. As part of that, in Scotland, there were 18,384 cases and 2,490 deaths.58

13.In the early stages of the pandemic, it was clear that, whilst each part of the United Kingdom has different needs and demographics, a significant amount of joint working between its four Governments would be required. As the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman OBE MSP told us on 11 June, “the virus is no respecter of national boundaries, so cross-national and, indeed, international learning and co-operation is critical”.59 This is especially so, given that many of the relevant policy areas are devolved.

14.We are pleased to see evidence of joint working between the four nations beginning in January 2020, some time before the first UK cases of COVID-19 were reported. The UK and devolved administrations worked together on the UK-wide joint action plan in early March, the point when the term ‘four-nations approach’ was first used. There was also input from the devolved nations into the UK Coronavirus Act which conferred a range of new powers on the administrations in Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont. As Akash Paun, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government, told us: “the Governments were literally at that stage on the same page”.60

15.The use of intergovernmental structures to co-ordinate policy responses have varied throughout the pandemic. We note from the start of the crisis that familiar mechanisms for intergovernmental relations, such as the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC), have not been used for the UK and devolved Governments to coordinate their response. Instead, during the crisis, intergovernmental discussion has taken place predominantly with First Ministers attending the Civil Contingencies Committee (COBRA) and five new Ministerial Implementation Groups (MIGs) that were established to look at specific aspects of the coronavirus response. Scientific cooperation has taken place between the Chief Medical Officers and Chief Scientific Advisors of the four nations, the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 Advisory Group which was set up in March.

16.When the Prime Minister announced lockdown restrictions on 23 March, the devolved administrations immediately followed, and throughout this initial phase there were only small variations in timing rather than fundamental policy differences.61

17.However, while the four nations continue to cooperate on a scientific level, and in areas such as the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing, there has been increasing policy differences since the second review of lockdown restrictions in early May. Each nation published its own plan for easing the rules and reopening parts of the economy. At every stage since, England has moved at a faster pace than the rest of the UK in terms of its messaging, the activities permitted and the businesses, such as non-essential retail, that could now reopen. As we discuss later in this report, a coordinated approach can still mean the four nations taking different measures in accordance with their needs, but we note that this divergence has coincided with the main mechanisms for cooperation, COBR and the MIGs, ceasing to operate.

18.It is without doubt that, with so many aspects of the pandemic requiring cooperation, there has never been greater need for effective intergovernmental relations. We agree with the Secretary of State’s comments that “both a four-nations and a UK-wide approach have been essential to tackling the [COVID-19] pandemic”.62

8 Oral evidence taken before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 23 June 2020, HC (2019–2021) 377, Q62, [Michael Russell]

9 Oral evidence taken before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 23 June 2020, HC (2019–2021) 377, Q62, [Michael Russell]

10 Oral evidence taken before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 23 June 2020, HC (2019–2021) 377, Q62, [Michael Russell]

11 BBC News, Coronavirus: Two cases confirmed in the UK, 31 January 2020

13 UK Parliament, Written Question - 49656, 20 May 2020

14 Scottish Parliament Information Centre, Timeline of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Scotland, accessed 16 July 2020

15 Scottish Parliament Information Centre, Timeline of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Scotland, accessed 16 July 2020

16 Scottish Government, First death of patient from Coronavirus (COVID-19), accessed 16 July 2020

18 Institute for Government, UK Government coronavirus decision making: key phases, June 2020

21 UK Parliament, Written Question - 903985, 1 July 2020

23 Scottish Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19): support for businesses, accessed 16 July 2020

24 House of Commons Library, Coronavirus: the lockdown laws, July 2020

25 Institute for Government, Coronavirus lockdown rules in each part of the UK, July 2020

26, Coronavirus Act 2020: Explanatory Notes, accessed 3 July 2020

27 Institute for Government, A four-nation exit strategy, May 2020, p 4

28 Scottish Government, New expert group to study the spread of COVID-19, accessed 16 July 2020

29 UK Government, Government sets out plan for national effort on PPE, accessed 16 July 2020

30 Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Foreign Secretary’s statement on coronavirus (COVID-19), accessed 16 July 2020; Scottish Government, First Minister COVID-19 update - 16 April 2020, accessed 16 July 2020; Welsh Government, First Minister of Wales’ statement on coronavirus lockdown extension, accessed 16 July 2020; Northern Ireland Executive, Covid-19 press conference - 15 April 2020, accessed 16 July 2020

31 Scottish Government, First Minister COVID-19 update, accessed 16 July 2020

32 Scottish Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19): public use of face coverings, accessed 16 July 2020

34 UK Government, Face coverings to become mandatory on public transport, accessed 16 July 2020

35 Scottish Government, Face coverings mandatory on public transport from 22 June, accessed 16 July 2020

36 Scottish Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister’s speech 2 July 2020, accessed 16 July 2020

37 UK Government, Face coverings to be mandatory in shops and supermarkets from 24 July, accessed 16 July 2020

38 UK Government, PM address to the nation on coronavirus, accessed 16 July 2020

39 Scottish Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister’s speech, accessed 16 July 2020

40 Liaison Committee, HC 322, Oral evidence from the Prime Minister, Q13, 27 May 2020

43 UK Government, PM statement at the coronavirus press conference, accessed 16 July 2020

44 Scottish Government, Lockdown begins to ease in Phase 1, accessed 16 July 2020

45 UK Government, UK Government supports nearly 800,000 jobs across Scotland, accessed 16 July 2020

46 Updated UK Government figures to the end of June show that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme had furloughed 736,500 jobs in Scotland; UK Government, Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme Statistics: July 2020, accessed 21 July 2020

47 UK Government, PM announces easing of lockdown restrictions, accessed 16 July 2020; HC Deb, Covid-19 update, 23 June [volume 677, c1167- 1170]

48 SP Deb, Meeting of the Parliament Tuesday 18 June 2020: Covid-19: Next steps, c2- 11

49 Welsh Government, First Minister announces further steps to unlock Wales, accessed 16 July 2020

50 Welsh Government, Extended households will enable families to be re-united, accessed 16 July 2020

51 Northern Ireland Executive, Executive agrees changes to help families and most vulnerable, accessed 16 July 2020

52 Northern Ireland Executive, Executive moves on indoor visits, accessed 16 July 2020

53 Northern Ireland Executive, Executive Daily Update: Initiatives to deal with Coronavirus, accessed 16 July 2020

55 UK Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19): travel corridors, accessed 16 July 2020

58 UK Government, Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK, accessed 16 July 2020

61 Institute for Government, Coronavirus and devolution, July 2020

62 Secretary of State for Scotland (COR0012)