PM urged to hold quarterly summit with Drakeford and Sturgeon after ‘breakdown’ in engagement
The Prime Minister has been urged to meet with the leaders of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland every three months after a “breakdown” in engagement during the Covid-19 crisis.
The recommendation by Unionist think tank Our Scottish Future came in a report that said that the relationship between the Prime Minister and Nicola Sturgeon had become “dire”.
In September of last year, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford revealed he had not had a phone call from Mr Johnson for four months – a situation he called “simply unacceptable”.
The Our Scottish Future report insisted a “fundamental review of relations” is needed in an attempt to “examine the root causes which lay behind the failure to co-operate during the Covid crisis”.
It called for the creation of “permanent, formalised and open lines of co-operation” between the governments on shared health challenges.
The think tank found the “absence of communication between the UK Government and the devolved administrations reduced the opportunity for effective engagement between the centre and the nations and regions”.
“Good crisis management relies entirely on clear lines of reporting, forums for collaboration and good information-sharing so that, even when stakeholders have different views, those differences of opinion can be aired and resolved speedily,” it said.
“This was missing entirely during a crucial part of the pandemic response – the period we had to ‘get our act together’ before an inevitable second wave.”
Report authors Eddie Barnes and Evie Robertson said: “Ministers and officials from across the UK were faced with an unprecedented emergency in March 2020 and, at their best, they performed heroically in search of common solutions.
“This was exemplified by the way the various NHS agencies across the UK mobilised at speed to prepare for the first wave, and by the remarkable vaccine effort earlier this year, when genuine collaboration and co-operation supported a national effort to protect thousands of lives.”
But they added that, at other moments, “relatively minor differences in emphasis and presentation between key politicians across the UK led to a breakdown in effective engagement between the centre and the nations of the UK, potentially putting public safety at risk”.
The authors said: “If we are to learn the lessons of the pandemic, avoid political turf wars, and create a truly co-operative Union, then a more formalised working relationship between the UK Government and the devolved administrations should be mapped out with urgency.
“This will not just support better governance of the next health crisis to hit the UK but will also deliver better government across the United Kingdom in every area of public policy.”
A UK Government spokesman responded to say: “We have faced the pandemic as one United Kingdom, working together with the devolved administrations to support jobs, back public services and deliver our hugely successful UK-wide vaccine rollout programme.
“There is already regular communication between all levels of the UK Government and the devolved administrations, and we want to build on that meaningful engagement as we focus on our collective recovery; from getting people back into jobs, tackling NHS backlogs, and catching up pupils on lost school hours.”