Scottish Government 'very surprised' by announcement of Glasgow drugs summit
The Scottish Government has accused the UK Government of organising a drugs summit in Glasgow “without any consultation with the Scottish Government and Glasgow”.
Earlier on Friday, the UK Government announced a Glasgow summit on “tackling drug misuse” would take place on February 27 with “drug recovery experts, health professionals, ministers and senior police officers from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.
However, Scottish Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick issued a statement that afternoon saying he had asked UK Government ministers “repeatedly to meet to discuss this issue and to attend a summit we were organising”.
“I was, therefore, very surprised that the UK Government announced a summit in Glasgow without any consultation with the Scottish Government and Glasgow,” he said.
“What Scotland faces in terms of drug deaths is nothing short of a public health emergency and we will engage constructively with any attempts to save lives.
“Regardless of how the UK Government have chosen to go about this, what really matters is reducing harm and saving lives. That’s why listening to, and engaging with, people with lived experience of drug use and those on the front line must be central to any summit.”
He said the Scottish Government would “now, again, attempt to work with the UK Government to facilitate” the summit.
The UK Government summit aims to “boost collaboration between the UK Government and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations” and those present will “discuss how to work together to best prevent deaths related to drug misuse”.
However, despite pleas from FitzPatrick last year, Home Secretary Priti Patel was not mentioned as attending. FitzPatrick has written to Patel on three occasions, asking her to “commit to attending” a summit on this issue.
“If you can give this commitment, we can work with your officials to start preparations for the summit and ensure your availability as quickly as is practicable,” he said, in the August letter.
In the most recent letter, on January 7, FitzPatrick also invited Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock to attend.
The UK Government said Jo Churchill, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care, and Secretary of State for Scotland Alister would attend the event.
UK Minister for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service, Kit Malthouse, who will chair the event, said: “People are dying from drugs every day across the UK, and this summit will bring us together to tackle the issue of drug misuse.
“We must have firm enforcement action and do all we can on prevention, recovery and treatment too. I look forward to meeting key individuals from across the UK and listening to their views on addressing this challenge.”
Professor Dame Carol Black, the independent reviewer of drugs, is due to present her findings to the devolved administrations at the summit.
The statement added, while the legal framework related to the misuse of drugs was a reserved power, “the Scottish and Welsh governments and the Northern Ireland Executive have their own approach to preventing the harms of drug misuse in areas where responsibility is devolved, including healthcare, criminal justice, housing, and education”.
Scottish Drugs Forum chief executive David Liddell welcomed the “high-level summit”, as it would bring the people who have “the levers of power necessary to implement the measures” around the same table.
“These measures should focus on an approach to social inclusion which involves better and swifter access to treatment, care, and support; alongside dealing with underlying issues such as housing, poverty, and issues of criminal law, which further marginalise people with a drug problem. This would mean that our approach here was more like Portugal’s. This is achievable if there is a will and consensus to do so,” he said.
“The summit has the potential to make a difference to the tragic loss of life we continue to face across Scotland and the rest of the UK.”
Jack said the high numbers of lives lost to drugs in Scotland was “a huge cause for concern”. “I am pleased that the UK Government is to bring experts together from all parts of the country, to share experience about tackling this terrible scourge,” he said.
Scottish Conservative Glasgow MSP and public health spokeswoman Annie Wells said the summit was “a huge opportunity for us to tackle the drugs crisis not just in Glasgow, but across the whole country”.
“The death toll, especially north of the border, is a matter of public shame and huge tragedy for thousands upon thousands of families. But now we can get the very best people together and start initiating real change,” she said.
“We must put our political and constitutional differences aside and come up with solutions here – the public will not forgive us if we do not.”
A Home Office spokesperson told Holyrood: “The UK Government’s summit is UK-wide and will address the challenges of drug misuse in the round. This is a problem that affects the whole of the UK, not just Scotland, and it is important to bring all affected nations to the table.
“We hope that the Scottish Government and experts in Scotland, as well as the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive, will accept invitations to attend the UK Drugs Summit. We believe they have an important contribution to make to the discussion.”
The Scottish Government has called for a change in law to enable the establishment of a safer drug consumption facilities, but this has so far been rejected by the UK Government.
The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland rose to 1,187 in 2018, the highest rate since records began.