Coronavirus and Scotland: Interim Report on Intergovernmental Working Contents

Appendix 1: Intergovernmental mechanisms

Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland (the Scotland Office)

The Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland—known as the Scotland Office—supports the Secretary of State in promoting the best interests of Scotland within a stronger United Kingdom. It ensures Scottish interests are fully and effectively represented at the heart of the UK Government, and the UK Government’s responsibilities are fully and effectively represented in Scotland.

The Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland lists its objectives as:

Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC)

Joint Ministerial Committees (JMCs) are meetings of Ministers from the UK and devolved Governments. The JMC, in its plenary form, is a meeting between the Prime Minister and the devolved First Ministers as well as the UK Government territorial Secretaries of State that is expected to meet once a year.147 It is intended to be the primary heads of government forum in which the devolved administrations can air their views to the UK Government.148

There are a number of sub-committees that meet to consider specific issues. There are currently two JMC sub-committees—the JMC (Europe) and JMC (European Negotiations). The former meets roughly four or five times a year to consult on UK Government positions on EU issues which affect devolved matters ahead of European Council meetings.149

The JMC’s remit is to consider non-devolved matters which impinge on devolved responsibilities, and devolved matters which impinge on non–devolved responsibilities;

COBR or COBRA

COBR or COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Room) is shorthand for the Civil Contingencies Committee that is convened to handle matters of national emergency or major disruption. Its purpose is to coordinate different departments and agencies in response to such emergencies. COBR is the acronym for Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms, a series of rooms located in the Cabinet Office in 70 Whitehall.151

Ministerial Implementation Groups (MIGs)

Ministerial Implementation Groups (MIGs) are a form of Cabinet Committee. Cabinet committees are groups of ministers that can “take collective decisions that are binding across government”.152 They are partly designed to reduce the burden on the full cabinet by allowing smaller groups of ministers to take decisions on specific policy areas. These committees have been around in some form since the early 20th century.153

MIGs have been used during the coronavirus pandemic. Four new implementation committees were created focusing on health, public sector preparedness, economy and international response.154

Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE)

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) is responsible for ensuring that timely and coordinated scientific advice is made available to decision makers to support UK cross-government decisions in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR). The advice provided by SAGE does not represent official government policy.155 SAGE has been activated to advise on the UK Government’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic”.156

During the pandemic SAGE has typically been Chaired by the UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Advisor, Professor Chris Whitty.157

Members of SAGE come from over 20 different institutions, covering a broad range of scientific expertise.158 Amongst the members of the group are the Scottish Chief Medical Officer, Dr Gregor Smith, the Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, Dr Sheila Rowan, and Professor Andrew Morris, Chair of the Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group.159

Scottish Government Covid-19 Advisory Group

The Scottish Government has appointed its own scientific advisory group: the Scottish Government Covid-19 Advisory Group.

This group was formed as “the Scottish Ministers, the Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Chief Medical Officer in Scotland, in consultation with the Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland have identified the need for additional scientific analysis of the impact of COVID-19 in Scotland, based on regularly updated advice and modelling from the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), and other emerging scientific evidence”.160 It meets every Thursday.161

It is chaired by Professor Andrew Morris, Professor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and Director of Health Data Research UK.162 The Group reports through the Chief Medical Officer directly to Ministers in Scotland.163

Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC)

The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) was announced on 10 May to bring together expertise and analysis to inform decisions on tackling Covid-19.164 It brings together experts on disease incidence and control—epidemiologists—with other analysts from across government to give UK Government ministers, via the Chief Medical Officer, joined up advice on decisions about managing the disease.165

The JBC intends to look at evidence and biosecurity threats in England, although the Government has said it “will engage with the devolved administrations to explore how the centre can operate most effectively across the UK, as it is established”166

On 5 June the JBC announced the appointment of its Director General Claire Gardiner167 and currently has just under 200 staff.168


146 Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, About us, accessed 3 July 2020

147 Scottish Parliament, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, Intergovernmental Relations, accessed 3 June 2020

148 Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Sixth Report from the of Session 2016–17, The Future of the Union, part two: Inter-institutional relations in the UK, HC 839

149 Institute for Government, Devolution and the Joint Ministerial Committee, February 2018

151 Institute for Government, COBR (COBRA), January 2020

152 UK Government, List of Cabinet Committees, accessed 10 July 2020

153 Institute for Government, Cabinet committees, July 2020

155 UK Government, Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), accessed 15 May 2020

156 UK Government, Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), accessed 15 May 2020

157 UK Government, Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), accessed 15 May 2020

158 UK Government, List of participants of SAGE and related sub-groups, accessed 3 July 2020

159 UK Government, List of participants of SAGE and related sub-groups, accessed 3 July 2020

160 Scottish Government, Scottish Government Covid-19 Advisory Group, accessed 29 May 2020

161 Scottish Government, Scottish Government Covid-19 Advisory Group, accessed 3 July 2020

162 Scottish Government, Scottish Government Covid-19 Advisory Group, accessed 29 May 2020

163 Scottish Government, Scottish Government Covid-19 Advisory Group, accessed 29 May 2020

164 Institute for Government, Joint Biosecurity Centre, May 2020

165 Institute for Government, Joint Biosecurity Centre, May 2020

168 UK Parliament, Written Question - 62376, 2 July 2020




Published: 23 July 2020