FMQs: Covid restrictions 'rushed and ill-thought through', claims Anas Sarwar

The current Covid restrictions which can see thousands of football fans congregate in Glasgow, but parents barred from school sports days show the First Minister is “losing her grip on communication” with the public, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has claimed.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 1:41 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th June 2021, 1:41 pm

Speaking at the final First Minister’s Questions before the Scottish Parliament's recess, Mr Sarwar said the public needed “vital clarity” on the timetable for changes to the Covid rules, and criticised the more recent alterations as “rushed and ill-thought-through”.

His criticisms came as Manchester mayor Andy Burnham continued to raise concerns about the Scottish Government’s ban on Scots going to Manchester, and vice versa, claiming there had been a “concession” that he should have been told prior to the restriction being put in place.

On BBC Radio Manchester, Mr Burnham said he had raised his concerns with Nicola Sturgeon in a four-nations Covid call on Wednesday.

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar during First Minister's Questions. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar during First Minister's Questions. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire

He said: “I wasn’t going to go into details, but since the Scottish Government did, all I can say is a concession was made that we should’ve been told in advance. Second, it was conceded we’re owed an explanation of policy.

"We’ve never been given criteria on which decision was made.”

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In Holyrood, Mr Sarwar raised the issue, saying it was an “avoidable argument”.

He said: "The government has previously communicated well during this pandemic, but that has started to slip, risking public trust and confidence.

“In recent weeks we’ve allowed 3,000 people to attend a fan zone, but said parents can’t attend an outdoor sports day. Trampoline centres can open, but soft plays can’t. Hospitality venues can open late for penalties, but the government says it’s not safe on other days and we’ve had an avoidable public argument between the Scottish Government and the mayor of Greater Manchester.

“Communication has to be clear and decisions consistent. The government’s own polling says one in five people don’t know what’s expected of them, and that’s before recent decisions.

"We now have the hospitality sector, aviation sector, the wedding industry, retailers, children’s play sector and more all speaking out expressing frustration. Will the First Minister engage and listen to them and have a can do approach to this new stage of our pandemic response?”

Ms Sturgeon said she would “avoid easy slogans like a ‘can do approach’,”. She added: “We all want to get back to normal and we have a greater degree of normality than at any time in the past 15 months, but there is a further distance to travel and we have to do that carefully.

“Case numbers today show another just short of 3,000 cases reported over the course of yesterday … these are rising case numbers and we need to be cautious.

“As we come out of restrictions, and things get easier in many ways, but more complicated, then communication is more challenging and I will continue to do my level best to communicate clearly with people the reasons why certain decisions are taken and why some things can happen and others can’t even if that seems to be inconsistent.”

The First Minister said that many of the apparent inconsistencies had been arrived at for “pragmatic reasons”, including the issue of “opening times during football matches that might go to penalties”.

This was, she said “to avoid people crowding out pubs at the same time … it’s trying to avert a risk".

"I do understand that this is one of the most difficult phases of the pandemic as we try to navigate away from here and back to normality,” she said.

Mr Sarwar also raised the case of 24-year-old Cammy Hudson, a wedding photographer from Edinburgh, who last year was meant to work at 49 weddings, but instead only covered four after the pandemic hit.

“His 2021 bookings are all, but gone and now many people are choosing to book as far as 2023, leaving the 2022 bookings looking sparse,” said Mr Sarwar. “He can’t afford to turn down a job.

“That’s why two weeks ago he found himself driving from Brighton to Inverness overnight in order to accommodate two weddings.

“It meant 39 hours awake and driving 600 miles overnight.

“Cammy has applied for every UK and Scottish Government support package that he is eligible for and, even then, his income is around a quarter of what it was before the pandemic. He fears that without urgent action his business and many others will go to the wall.”

Mr Sarwar said while bigger businesses needed support, so did sole traders like Mr Hudson “whose incomes have fallen through the floor”.

"The government’s current approach is not working for this stage of the pandemic and it needs to change,” he said.

The First Minister said: “Every single impact of this is horrendously difficult for people, so I’m not going to defend the horrible situations people find themselves in. But nobody is doing this to people deliberately or for any reason other than to try and keep the country as safe as possible.

"For many couples having to postpone and re-postpone weddings has been one of the most difficult impacts.

"Just yesterday a request was made by the representative body in the wedding sector to see if, when we go to level zero in July, we can bring that forward to the 16th so weddings that weekend can go forward, and we are actively considering that and trying to be as flexible as possible.”

After the session, Mr Hudson said: “All anyone in the wedding industry wants is a chance to do the jobs we love. I did what I needed to do through this pandemic, but I saw my income fall by 75 per cent.”

“Changes announced this week won’t make a difference to my pay-check until next summer – but the government don’t seem to understand the lead time in our industry.

“There aren’t many weddings in November in Scotland.”

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