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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th March 2020.

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The First Minister:

I absolutely echo those comments.

On the issue of key workers, we are in difficult and not straightforward territory, and we must get the balance right. Jackson Carlaw asked me directly about police officers. I fully expect police officers to be included—in fact, I think that it is inconceivable that police officers would not be included. Indeed, I fully expect all who work in the emergency services to be covered by the definition of “key workers”.

Beyond that, work is being done across all four nations to come to the right definition. I will make a couple of points about that, the first of which is the obvious one that Jackson Carlaw made. If we go too far and end up having too many children in our schools, we will undermine the public health reasons for regretfully having to close schools.

Secondly, while we will try to get as much national consistency on the matter as possible, it will undoubtedly be the case that some local flexibility will be required. The definition of who might be considered to be key and critical workers in a remote rural or island community might not be exactly the same as that definition in the centre of Glasgow or Edinburgh. It is important that we have that flexibility.

Understandably, the focus is very much on those workers who are required to keep our health and social care services running to cope with the Covid-19 crisis. Beyond that, there are the workers in some obvious other areas, such as the energy sector, who will make sure that we can continue to heat our homes and keep the lights on. Those workers who are required to get food to different parts of our country are another example. That work is on-going, and we will continue to update Parliament on it as the definition of “key workers” becomes clearer.

I began my answer by agreeing with Jackson Carlaw’s final point, and I do so again. I have given an assurance to people across the country that the Scottish Government will be as open and transparent as possible on an on-going basis. I have never been as acutely aware as I am right now of the inability of Government alone to deal with the challenge that we face. As First Minister, I will do my best to lead that operation in the months ahead, but I need the help of everybody across Scotland. What I can do is share as much information as possible. That will sometimes involve being frank about not knowing the answer to something immediately or being honest about the fact that certain things take some time to be put in place.

I will give an example of that. John Swinney will give as much detail as possible about the alternative arrangements that we are putting in place in the light of the school closures but, to be frank, that planning work will continue over the days to come.

This has to be a collective national endeavour. It will not be easy, but if all of us—Government, the public and all parts of the economy and the public sector—pull together, I have confidence that the country will be able to get through the current situation, notwithstanding how incredibly difficult and challenging it is.