Covid-19 Lockdown: Next Steps

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 21st May 2020.

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The First Minister:

I broadly agree with Richard Leonard’s questions and certainly with the sentiments behind them. We have a duty to steer the country safely from where we are now to a position in which the economy is operating again, but none of us is under any illusions—I am certainly not—about the damage that has been done by the lockdown restrictions, essential though they were to the economy, or about the action and efforts that will be needed to repair that damage. As we come through the phases, we will be working hard to look at how we do that.

Richard Leonard is right to talk about the risk of unemployment, particularly for certain groups including young people and women, as we spoke about in the chamber yesterday. I spoke about that briefly the other day when we announced additional funding to support young people in particular back into work when we come through this. These will all be pressing and difficult challenges, but they are vital challenges. We are already working with the STUC and trade unions, and I give a commitment that we will continue to do so and will seek to work with parties across the chamber.

This is one of the things that will be easier for all of us to say than to do, but it is important that we remind ourselves that, although we want to repair the damage and get things back to normal, we must also take care not to simply slip back into old and bad ways of doing things. There are opportunities for change, and all of us want to try to grasp them.

The announcements that I have just made on schools mean that, for a potentially considerable time, parents will have a very difficult balancing act between the need to work and the need to care for children when they are at home rather than in school. That is one reason, but not the only reason, why we have to look at different working patterns. We should no longer only be talking about things such as a four-day week; we should be encouraging employers to look at embracing them. There is a whole range of things that fall into that category.

The Presiding Officer is about to get justifiably irritated by the length of my answer. In short, Richard Leonard is right about this. We will not agree on everything, but I hope that we find the space to work together and find consensus on as much as possible.