Covid-19 (Recovery Strategy) (Resilience)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 27 April 2022.

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Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government, as part of the delivery of a cross-government Covid recovery strategy, what efforts it is making to ensure the resilience of Scotland’s response to any future pandemic. (S6O-00990)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The “NHS Recovery Plan 2021-2026” sets out key ambitions and actions to be developed and delivered now and over the next five years. The recovery plan is backed with more than £1 billion of targeted investment, which will drive the recovery of our national health service not just to its pre-pandemic level but beyond.

In addition, the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill will help to build resilience against future public health threats, including any future pandemics. The provisions in part 1 of the bill will, if it is passed, allow Scottish ministers to respond swiftly, flexibly and proportionately to any infection or contamination that presents, or could present, significant harm to human health.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

As the pandemic begins, thankfully, to ease, I know that the Scottish Government has been in consultation with various personal protective equipment suppliers about the need to stockpile for future pandemics. However, concerns have been voiced about the huge costs in the procurement of PPE, and that suppliers and users could potentially be left with out-of-date and useless equipment, which is what happened the last time.

Can greater consideration be given to encouraging domestic manufacturers such as Alpha Solway, which is based in Dumfries and makes 150,000 respirators a week? Its production could increase to more than 2 million respirators a week, which would be enough to meet the entire needs of the NHS, because of its investment in using its own raw materials. Would the cabinet secretary look into that as a more cost-effective way forward for the long term?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

If my recollection is correct, Alpha Solway was providing supplies to the Scottish effort through the PPE network. I am very grateful to the employees and leadership of Alpha Solway for all that they contributed.

In all such circumstances, the development of the domestic supply chain is very important. That was a key priority for my ministerial colleague Ivan McKee, who did a tremendous amount of work in dialogue with the business community to enable us to manufacture more of the required PPE in Scotland, rather than relying on imports. Fundamentally, I agree with Mr Carson about the importance of that point.

I need to raise the issue of stockpiling. If we stockpile for the possibility of a pandemic and no pandemic arises, it is inevitable that there may well be stock that cannot be used within particular periods of time. However, efforts can be made to recondition stock to make sure that we maximise the effectiveness and efficiency of the arrangements. I assure Mr Carson that those arrangements are very much at the heart of the pandemic learning that we have undertaken, and that we certainly want to encourage the domestic supply chain to the maximum possible level.

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

I agree entirely with Finlay Carson that we need to be taking steps now to ensure the resilience of Scotland’s response to any future pandemic. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that that is the entire purpose of the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill, which the Conservative Party is vehemently and opportunistically opposing?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

As I said in my original answer to Mr Carson, the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill will help us to build resilience against future public threats, so it needs to be taken seriously and engaged with by Parliament. Without those legislative protections in place, the speed of our response to a pandemic and our ability to respond to its changing dynamics would be limited. I therefore encourage members of Parliament to engage constructively with the Government on the bill to produce a statute book that will simply bring us into line with powers in relation to pandemic management that have existed in England and Wales for more than a decade.

Photo of Foysol Choudhury Foysol Choudhury Labour

Culture is one of the sectors that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. What lessons has the Scottish Government learned from the experience of Covid in order to shield the culture sector from the impact of future pandemics?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Government has taken action in a range of different sectors, of which the culture sector is one. We wanted to ensure that we provided the sector with the maximum amount of support possible to enable it to navigate its way through the difficulties, when audiences could not be present and artistic performances and other events could not take place, and then to deploy its important cultural contribution in the aftermath, when people will perhaps need it even more in order to recover mentally and socially from the trauma of the pandemic.

The Government’s funding arrangements were designed to sustain the sector. There is on-going funding in the normal budget arrangements that are in place, and I know that my colleague Neil Gray, the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, is actively engaged in dialogue with the culture sector in order to maximise its contribution to Scottish society.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Question 2 is from Alex Rowley. He is not in the chamber, so we move to question 3, from Carol Mochan.