Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 1st December 2020.

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The First Minister:

First, on the £500 thank-you payment to NHS and care workers, let me take the opportunity again to say thank you to all those workers. Although no payment could ever properly express our gratitude, it is a small but important way of doing that.

All sorts of workers in all sorts of professions, occupations and sectors have gone above and beyond the call of duty in the past nine months and they have my deep and everlasting gratitude for that. We all recognise—it is why we stood on our doorsteps for week after week earlier in the year applauding health and care workers—that the contribution of that workforce is worthy of particular recognition. It is only a matter of weeks, I think, if my memory serves me correctly, since Richard Leonard at First Minister’s questions challenged me to do more to thank NHS and care workers, but, of course, as soon as we do so, he decides that that is not enough and asks for something else. However, in the face of public sector pay freezes being announced by the UK Government, we will continue to do everything that we can to ensure proper reward and recognition for not only NHS and care workers, but workers across the public sector who have contributed so much.

In relation to retail, we assess the impact of all the restrictions carefully through the four-harms analysis that we do. The reality is that, certainly on this side of the chamber, such decisions cannot be avoided. Unfortunately, the Government cannot abstain on such decisions in the way that I understand Labour is doing in another part of the UK today. We have to take decisions that suppress the virus to the extent that we can pave the way for the sustainable opening-up of the economy. If we allow the virus to run out of control, the impact on the economy will be longer lasting and much deeper than it would otherwise be.

We intend to lift the level 4 restrictions on 11 December. We will set out this time next week the levels that those areas will go into after the level 4 restrictions come to an end. We will continue to work with sectors, including retail, on recovery as we move into the next phase, start to vaccinate people and, I hope, quickly get back to a position in which the economy starts to trade and operate on a basis that is much closer to normality than it is right now.