COVID INQUIRY: SWINNEY PROMISES NO DELAYS AND BEREAVED FAMILIES WILL BE LISTENED TO

Lord Brailsford, Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie and Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

By Bill Heaney

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie has told the Scottish Parliament it is essential that there are no delays to the work of the judge-led public inquiry during the pandemic “in order to retain the confidence of those who have lost loved ones to Covid”.

The deputy Labour Party leader welcomed the news of the appointment of Lord Brailsford as the new chair and wished him well as he undertakes that “incredibly important work”.

However, she asked Deputy First Minister John Swinney if given the resignation of those at the same time as that of Lady Poole, could put a date on which the inquiry would begin.

He had not done so previously, she presumed, to do this as anttempt,  to avoid commenting on the resignation of senior counsel.

She added: “Let us be clear: he must not interfere with the evidence-finding activities of the inquiry, but he has a responsibility and indeed a duty to support the chair and ensure that the inquiry can function well.

“As such, will he tell me what delay there will be to the work of the inquiry?

“Will he ensure that the chair has all the necessary resources that are required and that the chair can, should he wish, appoint people to staff the inquiry who are entirely independent of Government?

“Finally, to follow up my [Tory] colleague Sandesh Gulhane’s question, will he confirm that consideration of the impact of long Covid is within the scope of the terms of reference of the inquiry?”

More than 20 residents of care homes in West Dunbartonshire died during the Covid crisis.

Two local care homes where people died from Covid.

Mr Swinney said he welcomed Lord Brailsford’s appointment – “When I spoke with him on Tuesday to advise him of my intention to appoint him, he indicated to me that he believed it to be an honour to be invited to lead the inquiry, and he said that in his public statement this afternoon. That speaks for what Lord Brailsford will bring to the inquiry. He realises its significance.

“I have also asked Lord Brailsford to engage with bereaved families, which he has agreed to do as an early priority. I totally accept the importance of ensuring continued confidence; indeed, just before I came into Parliament this afternoon, I had three separate discussions with bereaved families groups to advise them of the contents of the statement.

“There are very good reasons why the Government is not, and should not be, close to these matters. Those are questions for Lord Brailsford; he is engaged on those questions, and will be engaged on them tomorrow, when he assumes his formal responsibilities

“I unreservedly give the commitment that the Government will provide whatever support Lord Brailsford considers necessary, and I have made that offer to him.”

In relation to the delay to the inquiry, Mr Swinney reassured Jackie Baillie that, since Lady Poole’s resignation, she and staff have remained engaged and the work of the inquiry has continued – “The Government is undertaking work to support the inquiry in relation to requests for information that have been asked of us. That is all under way.”

On resources, he added, the inquiry already has more than 60 members of staff, so there are resources there – “If more resources are required, Lord Brailsford will advise me of the requirements. The Government—subject to ensuring that we can protect the independence of the inquiry—will give all operational support.

“However, Lord Brailsford will be the judge of that, as he is the custodian of the independence of the inquiry. I am very confident that he will exercise that judgment.”

On long Covid, Mr Swinney apolgised to Jackie Baillie that he omitted to deal with that initially – “I am not in any way avoiding the question, but we have set out the scope of the terms of reference and, in my judgment, long Covid issues are certainly within the scope of the terms of reference. Fundamentally, though, it is a matter for Lord Brailsford to determine as he leads the evidence in the inquiry.”

On the bereaved families, Mr Swinney said he could not stress to Parliament more the importance that he attached to the voices of bereaved families being heard in the inquiry.

He said: “I have asked a number of things of Lord Brailsford, including to chair the inquiry and to follow the terms of reference, but I have also asked him specifically to meet the bereaved families groupings as an early priority, because I think that that is important.

“As I said to the families, I have done my best to convey to Lord Brailsford what they have said to me about how they feel about the inquiry. It is critical that Lord Brailsford hears that from the families, and he has given me the undertaking that he will do so.”

Top picture: Court of Session in Edinburgh.

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