COVID-19 has 'laid bare' the weaknesses of UK systems of governance, committee says
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a “devastating impact” on Scotland’s key sectors and has “laid bare the weaknesses built into the UK systems of governance,” the Scottish Affairs Committee has said.
In a report on the coronavirus and Scotland, the Westminster committee urged the Scottish and UK governments to start holding regular meetings in order to reduce levels of “mistrust” and better coordinate responses to the pandemic.
The committee also said that a lack of key workers in health and social care and other sectors was an “aggravating factor” in the pandemic in Scotland and called for the UK Government to do more to increase workers through immigration.
The report found that all key sectors of Scotland’s economy had been adversely impacted by COVID-19.
While the committee praised the effectiveness of financial support packages from both Westminster and Holyrood, it said that pre-existing issues “compounded” the problems caused by the pandemic, particularly in the food and drink and health and social care sectors.
A shortage of key workers in these sectors was made more acute as recruitment was hindered when the virus hit, the committee said.
The report welcomes the recommendations made by the UK Migration Advisory Committee in September to make it easier for nursing assistants and senior social care workers to immigrate to the UK for work after Brexit.
But the committee said this “does not go far enough” and urged the UK Government to make it easier for all health and social care workers.
The committee also repeated calls for the UK Government to respond to its 2018 report on immigration and Scotland by the end of the year.
The effectiveness of intergovernmental working relations was also called into question by the committee.
Echoing comments made in previous reports on devolution and relations between the UK and Scottish governments, the committee said that “a lack of trust” continues to exists between both governments.
A lack of regular meetings between Scottish and UK government ministers was highlighted as a cause for concern by the committee.
In particular, the committee raised questions about the bypassing of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) and other formal mechanisms in favour of ad hoc informal meetings.
The committee called on the UK Government to justify why it has chosen not to use the JMC as the formal point of contact with devolved governments and also called on all four nations to begin holding regular, structured, minuted meetings again.
The committee also said that the future public inquiry into COVID-19 committed to by the Prime Minister should include a section dedicated to examining how the pandemic has affected Scotland and the relationship between the Scottish and UK governments.
Committee chair Pete Wishart said: “Coronavirus has taken a devastating toll on Scotland’s economy and health. Thousands in Scotland have had their lives significantly impacted by the pandemic and it has taken a huge toll on a number of key sectors in Scotland. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who have worked at the coal face throughout the pandemic. Without them the damage would be immeasurably worse.
“Our report found that the unparalleled economic support from both the UK and Scottish Government’s provided a critical lifeline to crucial parts of Scotland’s economy to offset the reduction in trade.
“However, pre-existing shortages of or difficulties in recruiting such key workers have contributed to the already enormous impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This is particularly the case in the food and drink, and health and social care sectors that ensure Scotland is fed and healthy.
“Immigration remains a major issue here. Both sectors are reliant recruitment from abroad, and despite efforts domestic recruitment could not fill the already depleted staffing levels when the virus struck. We’re calling for the Shortage Occupation List for Scotland to cover all health and social care workers and for the UK Government to increase the numbers on the Seasonal Workers Scheme.
“Although immigration is a reserved power there are levers at the Scottish Government’s disposal that could help the situation; more could be done to encourage a larger share of migrants to live in Scotland.
“We need to use the lessons of the present pandemic to ensure that we are better prepared for the next.”