Coronavirus (COVID-19): Stakeholder Recovery Roundtable minutes: May 2021

Minutes from the first meeting of the group on 25 May 2021.

Attendees and apologies

  • Attendees:
  • John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery
  • Kate Forbes MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy
  • Humza Yousaf MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
  • Ben Macpherson MSP, Minister for Social Security and Local Government
  • Jim Savege, Chief Executive, Aberdeenshire Council
  • Frances Mair, Professor of General Practice, University of Glasgow
  • Karen Reid, Chief Executive, NHS Education for Scotland
  • Robbie Pearson, Chief Executive, NHS HealthCare Improvement Scotland
  • Sally Louden, Chief Executive, COSLA
  • Steve Grimmond, Chair, SOLACE
  • Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Professor of Housing and Social Police, Heriot-Watt University
  • Jim McCormick, Chief Executive, Robertson Trust
  • Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, Police Scotland
  • Fiona Duncan, Chair, The Promise
  • Louise MacDonald, Chief Executive, Young Scot - moving to Institute of Directors
  • Ima Jackson, Expert Reference Group on COVID and Ethnicity
  • Heather Fisken, Interim Director/Head of Policy and Research Team, Inclusion Scotland
  • Jimmy Paul, Director, WEAll Scotland
  • Sandy Begbie, Chair, Scottish Financial Enterprise
  • Liz Cameron, Director & Chief Executive, Scottish Chambers of Commerce
  • Susan Love, Head of External Affairs, Federation of Small Businesses
  • Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive, SCVO
  • John Connaghan, Chief Operating Officer, NHS Scotland
  • Paul Johnston, Director General Communities, Scottish Government
  • Caroline Lamb, Director General Health and Social Care, Scottish Government 
  • Gary Gillespie, Chief Economist, Scottish Government 
  • Clare Hicks, Deputy Director Police Division, Scottish Government 


  • Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government – Shona Robison

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

DFM welcomed partners to the meeting which would begin an early conversation on Covid recovery. The Government were committed to involving as many people as possible in shaping the approach to recovery and he would be leading this work with his Ministerial colleagues. He noted that a cross-party group on Covid recovery would meet on Wednesday 26th May and the thinking from all these discussions would  inform government decision making. 

DFM opened with an assessment of the current position of our response to Covid. There were grounds for optimism with the vast majority of country in level 2, increasing evidence of the impact of vaccinations in minimising harm and the consistent approach to adherence with restrictions should allow further easings to take place over the next few weeks. But with that there would be a need to tackle underlying issues either created or intensified by Covid. 

Scottish Ministers are considering how we can make the maximum impact to support people through the recovery, given the wide range of challenges we face, in order to maximise the tangible benefits to our citizens. 

There are clearly choices to be made regarding prioritisation and therefore it is critically important to engage in dialogue with partners to inform these decisions. The FM has given DFM responsibility for the direction of Covid recovery, it is his responsibility to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. To support ministerial colleagues in decisions of where, time effort and resources can be focussed and avoiding compartmentalism. 

Ms Forbes noted her three priorities: protecting the economy; working across boundaries to protect employment as part of a national endeavour for economic recovery; and longer term economic transformation. 

Mr Yousaf noted that the Covid response was still ongoing and that the foundation of the recovery lies in our response. In relation to the remobilisation of health provision, he is asking leaders across the sector to work collaboratively and challenge the way things that have gone before. Through the response and into recovery, we can disrupt and addresses inequalities and drive the economy. Mr Yousaf noted the economic potential of the health service and noted his commitment to working across boundaries, making the tent as big as possible in order to find ways to do things better. 

Reflections on recovery

In discussion the following points were raised:

  • welcome collective national focus on recovery and discussion of how this could be a national endeavour. Recognition that attitudes, willingness and culture of working together has changed during the pandemic and there is an opportunity to capitalise on this. The relationship between national direction and local delivery is crucial
  • our approach to recovery should be delivery focused, what are the tangible outcomes we are seeking to achieve and how will we know we have been successful
  • COVID has impacted on people unequally, some services have digitally transformed and this transformation risks leaving some citizens further behind. We need to acknowledge this and deliberately address it
  • how do we capture and galvanise the community support there has been for the necessary intervention in their lives and harness this towards a “community-led” recovery
  • while planning for recovery we must recognise the importance of resilience in our communities, society and businesses and continue to support this resilience
  • many small businesses feel they are still in the middle of the pandemic and feel that the relationship between business and government has been damaged due to the speed and level of government intervention. The pandemic has highlighted weaknesses that were already in our system and deliberate and systematic work will be needed to improve communication across government
  • recovery presents an opportunity to do things differently, to reshape and improve public services. First through technology, service redesign and transformation, but also through education, training and skills
  • one of the big challenges is to close the gap between policy and practice. There is no shortage of aspirational policy but have we taken the opportunity to consolidate some of these excellent ideas. Are we driven by existing boundaries of service delivery rather than concentrating on what individuals need? There are opportunities to find efficiencies by having a person-centred approach
  • 10 years on since the Christie Commission there is an opportunity to refocus on prevention and participation and resetting relationships between sectors and ultimately the people we serve
  • the last 14 months have seen some excellent examples of decision making at pace, but some of that pace could have been faster if we addressed the complexity of how some of our public services are designed. One example of this is youth employment. There are known skills gaps and opportunities for young people and reskilled older people which we can capitalise on. There is an opportunity to consider how the young person guarantee feels for each individual rather than considering how the system seeks to deliver it
  • the last 14 months have further marginalised many disabled people, the employment gap is widening and the experience of disabled people reflects the perception that policies are being designed with a one size fits all approach
  • there is an opportunity for our anchored public services to provide place based leadership with an opportunity to reflect the aspirations of our communities alongside a broader economic influence
  • looking through the lens of homelessness and extreme poverty there are positive Scottish approaches which we can learn from. The Scottish Welfare Fund could play a bigger role, and there is an opportunity for housing associations to capitalise on their place-based roles within communities. One of the most positive outcomes from the pandemic was the reframing of homelessness as a public health issue and therefore providing opportunities for social work and health to work together to address individual’s particular circumstances and improving relationships with clinicians. Housing First need to have weight with health colleagues and not be left to social care and social work. There are tools to combat the potential surge in homelessness including lower rents in Scotland, and opportunities to harness private rented sector. Central government is important in all of this, has to lead, particularly in providing national leadership to local delivery partners
  • from young people’s point of view, there may be mid and long term scarring effects of the pandemic, how do we mitigate these, acting now and acting quickly. Concerns re social isolation for young people as well as concerns about employability and skills. Some young people feel a sense of frustration that they were not unleashed as part of the solution, we need to consider young people’s essential role in making a resilient society
  • the pandemic shone a light on where we need to improve e.g. sharing data we need to know where we are and where we want to get to and therefore need to improve data and the sharing of data
  • key opportunity to bridge the gap between good intentions and what will make the difference
  • racialized inequality became very clear during the pandemic. While planning for recovery we need to deliberately consider the equality and diversity impact of our proposals. We have the tools through Equality Impact Assessments and there is an opportunity to learn from what we know works internationally. Don’t replicate the old systems
  • the creative and cultural sector has an important role in wellbeing. These are places and spaces of safety and creativity and should be a big part of the conversation about recovery
  • we have an opportunity to build better forward and use recovery as a route to building a wellbeing economy. Implementation is the real challenge. We need to ensure that our net zero ambitions, climate and the environment are also central to the recovery

In conclusion the DFM thanked partners for the  helpful start to the conversation which must continue. He noted that there are multiple fronts on which it is argued Scottish Government should be active. Choices will need to be made regarding what and how we prioritise and this will challenge public sector leadership. 

The DFM noted he was seized of the challenge between rhetoric and reality. There is a lot in the Christie Commission report which would give a strong foundation to the approach to Covid recovery. The Government is committed to good and deep understanding with business community. We must remain focused on improving the lives of individuals. We will need to process and revisit these conversations and continue to involve partners in the national endeavour. The Scottish Government can help orchestrate the leadership and direction but needs to continue to work with Local Government, private sector and voluntary sectors. From this engagement we will need to prioritise our activity with a clear focus on the tangible improved outcomes for individuals which can be touched and felt.

The DFM closed the meeting by thanking partners for their time and committing to a future discussion where this forum could consider some propositions for targeted recovery actions.

Covid Recovery Secretariat
May 2021

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