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Covid-19: Response Throughout the UK

Volume 681: debated on Wednesday 7 October 2020

What recent steps he has taken to help ensure a co-ordinated response to the covid-19 outbreak throughout the UK. (906989)

An effective response to covid-19 does indeed need to be a co-ordinated response across the UK. On 25 September, the UK Government and the three devolved Administrations published a joint statement on our collective approach to responding to covid-19. We reaffirmed our shared commitment to suppressing the virus to the lowest possible level and keeping it there while we strive to return life to as normal as possible for as many people and businesses as possible.

I raised this matter with the Secretary of State for Health yesterday, because of local concern that people in the south of England were being asked to travel to Inverness for covid tests. That is why I am concerned about the level of co-operation between the two Governments. May I press the Minister further to give me specific examples of co-operation between the two Governments?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Like me, although on a much larger scale, he has a rural constituency—I believe it is one of the largest rural constituencies, if not the largest. Pooling resources and using the strength of the UK economy enables the UK Government to support jobs and businesses, but the decision making on public health of Ministers in those devolved Administrations has been fully respected. There are examples of UK-funded measures that have been delivered but managed locally by the devolved Governments: we have six UK-funded drive-through testing facilities; four, or five as I believe it is, walk-through testing facilities; and up to 22 mobile testing facilities, some of which have been used to effect in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Covid-19 has been rising rapidly in many parts of Scotland and, indeed, across much of the north of England, including in my own constituency, leading to the introduction of tighter restrictions. Given the impact that these restrictions are now having on the economy, particularly on those hardest-hit sectors, will the Minister ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to revisit his previous refusal to continue the furlough scheme with a sectoral-based approach in those nations and regions of the UK that are worst affected?

The UK Government have provided a host of measures to support tourism and hospitality businesses throughout this crisis. As well as the job retention scheme, which has already been extended to the end of October, new measures announced in the Chancellor’s winter economic statement include the new job support scheme, the extension of the very welcome reduction in VAT to 5% for hospitality and tourism, the deferral of VAT and other tax payments and greater flexibility in the paying back of Government-backed loans.