On 24 August 2021, the Scottish Government announced that they were going to establish a public Inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland. This noted that a Scottish Inquiry under the 2005 Act can only look into devolved matters which relate to Scotland.  It is intended that, so far as possible, an Inquiry will operate independently of the government. On 12th May 2021, the Prime Minister announced (his statement) that there will be a separate UK-wide Inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.
An Inquiry can be held under the 2005 Act where it appears to Ministers that ‘particular events have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern or there is a public concern that particular events may have occurred.’  Further background information, on the aims and principles have been published on the Scottish Government website. 
Overview of engagement
The overarching aim of the engagement process was to collect a range of views to ensure that the subsequent Terms of Reference for the Inquiry covered issues that have caused public concern. Further, that the Inquiry approaches its task in ways that the public would support.
Individuals and organisations were invited to share their thoughts between 24 August to 30 September 2021, in order to collect a range of views on the approach to setting up the Inquiry. This was done through email, online discussions or via the Dialogue platform. Social media responses were also gathered from Twitter and Instagram posts promoting engagement with the Inquiry through a link to the Dialogue Challenge. The end product of this 5 week engagement process is this report which summarises the input from across the three different evidence gathering approaches. Further details on the different forms of engagement and analysis are detailed in the next section and in Annex A and B.
Although this approach provided a range of means for people to submit views, it cannot offer a complete or representative view that reflects the concerns and insights of everyone in Scotland who has been affected by the pandemic. It is likely that there were views on these questions that were not put forward through the public engagement, and that there are ongoing and emerging issues for people that this engagement process was not able to fully capture.
The summary of information provided in this report sets out the broad range of positions that were made in response to the questions, and does not summarise some of the specific details from people’s experiences that would be relevant to the Inquiry itself.
Number of responses
- 415 email responses were received in the public Inquiry mailbox
- 308 of those responses were from individuals, 55 from third sector organisations, 15 from local government, 28 from the public sector and 9 from the private sector
- 11 meetings were arranged online with key stakeholders
- 187 responses were submitted on the Dialogue platform, corresponding to 87 distinct ideas (See Annex A for further detail)
Analysis and aim of this report
How the responses were coded
The analysis of responses was undertaken by social researchers within the Scottish Government, in line with Government Social Research (GSR) professional standards and code of practice. The method involved a framework analysis, where key themes were produced from a review of all of the responses and contributions that were provided. This analysis did not seek to provide a comparative or quantitative account of the issues that were raised, but sought to summarise the range of topics and responses that were made in direct response to the invitation to contribute, and also the points that were raised by people that covered other topics and issues that people felt it was important to raise.
The quotes that are provided through the report are intended to illustrate some of the points in respondents’ own language and terminology, and to capture some of the themes as they were written or spoken. These were selected by the authors for illustrative purposes. Therefore, quotes are not necessarily representative of other respondents’ views. Although there were views and responses that were heavily presented, there is inevitably a variety of different views and emphases across individual responses.
Aim of this report
This exercise aimed to capture a range of views and different perspectives. It did not seek to provide an assessment of the relative importance of any given issue, based on a measure of frequency of how often things are mentioned because some important issues may affect relatively few people. This report of engagement activity will not provide recommendations for the drafting of the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry, but will form part of the basis on which the Terms of Reference will be drafted.
Structure of this report
This report is organised into two main sections. Section one details views on how the Inquiry could operate. Section two details what topics the public and stakeholders thought Ministers should task the Inquiry with covering in its Terms of Reference.
However, before moving into the first section, we have included a summary titled ‘Goal of the Inquiry’ which foregrounds the report in some key issues that respondents’ raised on both Inquiry operational issues and the process of Ministers in establishing the Inquiry. The final sections of the report (Annex A and B) contain more detail on the engagement process and the analytical method.
Goals of the Inquiry
The four main issues that were raised are:
- learning for the future
In terms of how the Inquiry could operate, a key theme within the responses was for the Inquiry to be transparent. This spans a range of operational issues in relation to the design, running and outcomes of the Inquiry. Such as, transparency around the process: what is happening and why, informing the core participants (and all others involved) about who they are speaking with, and what is going to happen to their evidence. Also, in relation to reporting progress. For example, using websites and other forms of communication to update on progress and provide insight into the sources of evidence that are being submitted to the Inquiry.
“There should be transparent messaging around the Inquiry aims and objectives and a focus on a learning approach.” (Public sector, email submission)
Further, was the principle of justice. Specifically, the wish for the Inquiry to provide access to justice, particularly for those who became bereaved during the pandemic. In its broadest sense, this could include offering understanding into how and why particular events occurred during the pandemic and a sense of assurance that something like this could not happen again.
In terms of the overall aim of the Inquiry, a major focus of the responses was for the Inquiry to support learning. Principally, learning that can be applied to future pandemics and future emergencies and potentially learning that can be shared across the four nations. It was expressed that gathering knowledge and understanding of past events and processes will facilitate this ‘lesson learning’ for the future. There is a desire for the Inquiry to lead to recommendations, actions and outcomes.
“We want absolute clarity that this Inquiry is to support future learning.” (Local Government, email submission)
“A core design principle must be about the Inquiry facilitating “learning” - learning from the experience in order to strengthen preparedness of future responses.” (Local Government, email submission).
In terms of the actual Inquiry findings, the matter of ‘accountability’ was raised. This relates to the wish for the Inquiry to hold responsible organisations to account, and to scrutinize the decisions that were made during the pandemic, including where human rights were breached and duties not met.
“This is not just about engagement and participation but accountability.” (Stakeholder session, online discussion).
Respondents suggested that if the Inquiry makes recommendations, developing a monitoring plan for the organisation/sector to which any recommendations may apply - for example, Ministers, NHS, Local Authorities and so on - which would help promote accountability.
However, it was also raised that the Inquiry could consider the balance between ‘empowerment and accountability’ (Public sector, email submission). For example, being aware of the need to ensure that health and care workers, and other professionals, do not feel alienated by the Inquiry process and also considering the pressures on different professionals to be able to collate and give evidence.