Covid-19 updates should be made to parliament, says Leonard

Richard Leonard claims Scottish Government was not submitting itself to enough scrutiny from MSPs during outbreak.

Coronavirus updates should be made to the Scottish Parliament instead of the daily press briefings, according to the Scottish Labour leader.

Richard Leonard said the Scottish Government was not submitting itself to enough scrutiny from MSPs during the coronavirus outbreak.

The comments come after a change was made to the announcement of the “route map” out of lockdown, which was initially due to be announced at the daily briefing before being moved into Holyrood at the behest of the MSPs in the parliamentary bureau and Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh.

The Presiding Officer has told MSPs he is “very, very strict” on ensuring that major announcements are made to parliament in the first instance.

The Labour leader said the Scottish Government and individual ministers had not made themselves open to scrutiny during the pandemic.

Mr Leonard said: “We’ve said that parliament should be given the opportunity to scrutinise the government.

“I think it’s a reasonable criticism of the government that they have been keener to have daily press briefings where announcements are made, rather than going to parliament and holding themselves to account.”

He added: “Certainly in our group, there has been a great deal of concern that opportunities to cross examine, not just the First Minister but other ministers who have got a critical role to play in both how the pandemic crisis is handled and how we plan our way out of it.

“They’ve not been sufficiently open to scrutiny and accountability.

“The mood of the Labour group in parliament is one of great dissatisfaction that we haven’t had enough opportunity to put the government’s approach and the approach of individual ministers under the level of parliamentary scrutiny that we would like.”

Despite the criticism of the way the Scottish Government makes announcements, the Labour leader was complimentary about the handling of the virus in Scotland.

He said: “On the whole, I think they’ve handled it well. I think they’re precautionary approach is one that we support.”

However, Mr Leonard said there was a “concern” about the difference between “what they announce and what happens out there in the real world”.

The Labour leader pointed to the provision of personal protective equipment, which he said was slow to reach areas like the ambulance service and the care sector.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “It is wholly wrong to suggest that the Scottish Government has prioritised daily press briefings over parliamentary business in order to avoid scrutiny.

“The First Minister has undertaken weekly extended First Ministers’ Questions to allow MSPs additional time to scrutinise Government decisions, responding to every single supplementary question sought whenever parliamentary business has allowed this.

“Ministers across all portfolios have continued to put themselves forward for committee appearances to ensure legislation and decisions are properly scrutinised as we navigate our way through and out of the coronavirus pandemic, and are making every effort to maximise time in the parliamentary chamber to devote to the issue.

“Daily press briefings, being maintained alongside parliamentary activity, are vital to ensuring the public has the most up to date health advice to help suppress the virus and save lives.”

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