In advance of the living with covid announcement on 21 February, ministerial colleagues discussed our living with covid strategy with the devolved Administrations. Officials were also in regular touch to understand the approach being taken by each Administration and any implementation issues.
Happy St David’s day to the people of Wales. The views of the Welsh Government—and of three of the four Governments of these islands—on this question are very clear. The Government in here appear to be in a minority of one, yet again. When someone takes a lateral flow test and reports a result, it does not do them any good at all, but it can have significant benefits for their friends, family and close contacts. When the results are reported in sufficiently large numbers, that can have significant wider public health benefits. With that in mind, what assessment has the Minister made of the likely reduction in the number of daily tests being taken if people have to pay for them, and how does that compare with the advice from all the UK’s chief medical officers on the level of background asymptomatic testing that is advisable to give us the quickest possible warning of the next wave of a new variant of covid?
As the Prime Minister announced last week, free tests will continue until April. He also stated that if the SNP in Scotland wished to continue to offer free tests after that date, it is certainly at liberty to do so. I am proud that, because of the amazing success of the vaccination programme, covid rates are coming down, hospitalisations are coming down and deaths are coming down. It is because of that that we can now live with covid and reduce the ongoing expense of testing and bring it to a proportionate and manageable scenario.
Scottish taxpayers paid their contribution towards the provision of free lateral flow tests. Scotland is allocated its share of UK debt, yet we are supposed to believe that covid support is somehow at the benevolence of the UK Government. Now we see the UK Government, again, making a decision that directly affects Scotland because we have a fixed budget. The Minister says the SNP Government can continue to provide free lateral flow tests, but is it not the case that Scotland needs its own borrowing powers so that it has much more fiscal responsibility and the proper levers of power?
The Department of Health and Social Care asked the Treasury for £5 billion to continue testing, which was refused, yet it has been revealed that the UK Treasury has effectively written off £4.3 billion given to fraudsters during the pandemic. Does the Minister think it is wrong to write off losses that have enriched fraudsters while refusing to support the continuation of free testing?