Governments ‘asleep at the wheel’ at start of pandemic, Labour leader claims

Sir Keir Starmer made the comment during an online question and answer session.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has told a grieving woman who lost her fiance to coronavirus both the Scottish and UK Governments were “asleep at the wheel” at the start of the pandemic.

During a Call Keir online question and answer session with people in Lanarkshire, Connie McCready told him: “We should have closed down earlier.”

Speaking on what would have been her wedding day, Ms McCready told the Labour leader her otherwise healthy 51-year-old fiance died with Covid-19 in May.

Ms McCready said she felt like people who have lost loved ones have been “pushed aside”.

She added: “We are not getting any support from anybody to help us deal with grief.”

After expressing his condolences and pledging to try to put Ms McCready in touch with MSPs or MPs, Sir Keir said: “This is the same in Scotland and in England, governments have just been too slow to react – asleep at the wheel, if you like.

“I’ve said this strongly in relation to (Boris) Johnson but I think it’s the same in Scotland as well, they were just too slow to respond.”

Sir Keir said he was concerned about “not getting into lockdown quick enough”, issues with distributing personal protective equipment to where it was needed and the governments’ apparent failure to recognise the risks in care homes, which he said: “were completely left unprotected for far, far too long”.

On the issue of Scottish independence, Sir Keir said “talking about the constitutional position isn’t really the most important thing” with an economic crisis looming.

He said: “We’ve been through the most dreadful health crisis where lots of people have lost their lives –  and we heard from Connie just now who lost her fiance – and people are genuinely really scared about if it’s safe to go out, can their kids go to school?

“These are massive issues and, frankly, I think we should focus on that.

“We are about to hit an economic crisis, the likes of which we haven’t seen probably for a generation.”

He added: “I think – because of furloughing, because of support that has gone in – people are being shielded from this economic crisis and it hasn’t hit us but it’s about to.

“There’s a whole generation of people who’ve never felt what two or three or more million people out of work feels like – but it’s dreadful.

“It’s going to have an impact on every single family and my strong feeling is that we should be focusing on that – that’s what’s going to actually hit people really really hard in the next few weeks, months and years.”

Asked what he would do to support a recovery if he was Prime Minister, Sir Keir said he would “fast forward infrastructure projects”, ensure there was not a “cliff-edge” with financial support such as the furlough scheme, particularly for the tourism and hospitality sectors, and protect otherwise viable businesses from going bust as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

“The other thing I would do if I was presenting a Budget in July is to put in place something like a future jobs fund,” he said, citing the last Labour Government’s jobs guarantee in 2009 after the banking crash to help unemployed people back to work.

He added: “Unemployment is bad, long unemployment is even worse.”

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