Freeman: Scottish ministers cut out of UK Covid-19 response

The health secretary raised issues over communication between the devolved and UK governments over coronavirus.

Jeane Freeman: A vacuum has developed. Getty Images
Jeane Freeman: A vacuum has developed.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman has suggested the Scottish Government has been cut out of joint decision-making with the UK on coronavirus.

Appearing before the House of Commons Scottish affairs committee, she raised issues over communication between the devolved and UK governments over coronavirus.

Freeman questioned why there have been no Cobra meetings since May 10 and said a “vacuum” had developed in discussions and decision-making between Scottish and UK ministers.

Cobra meetings were convened regularly in the run-up to and early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, where crucial decisions such as the four-nation action plan against the virus were made.

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The health secretary told MPs: “There is a vacuum in shared discussion and decision-making at ministerial level.” 

She went on: “Cobra has not met since May 10. Cobra seems to me be an important place for the four nation co-operation to be undertaken at a practical sense.

“It is a concern to me that we have gone so long without that – Cobra has worked and in its absence there needs to be an alternative at that level.”

Freeman raised concerns over the disbanding of ministerial implementation groups (MIGs) involving relevant ministers from the devolved and UK cabinets – the results of which had been feeding into Cobra meetings.

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The health secretary said: “Co-operation and collaboration requires discussion, it is not simply the communication of decisions.

“I know that the Prime Minister and the First Ministers have calls.

“I have a weekly call with my four counterparts… where we discuss some issues that are pressing in terms of health matters.

“But recently, MIGs are to be disbanded and replaced I understand by two different committees.

“But it’s not clear what they are yet.”

She continued: “I do not know why the MIGs are to be disbanded. I do not know what is coming in their stead.

“That’s not my version of proper collaboration, which is based on a degree of shared respect and consultation and decision making.”

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Conservative MP Andrew Bowie asked the health secretary if the handling of Covid-19 in care homes had been the “single biggest failure of devolution”, which she denied.

In response to a question from committee chairman Pete Wishart – an SNP MP – about recent pushes from the Scottish Conservatives to have Freeman resign or be sacked, the health secretary said it did not “hamper” her work on the pandemic.

She added: “I’m absolutely determined to do that job and to continue to do it.

“I do regret it, though, because at the very outset… the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Jackson Carlaw said very clearly, and his comments were very welcome, that this was not a place for party political point-making, it was not a place for pejorative rhetoric.

“I regret, in as much as that has shifted, that is the shift.”

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