Swinney: Scottish Government will not offer Manchester travel ban compensation

A war of words began over the weekend between Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and the Scottish Government over the ban.

John Swinney in Holyrood
John Swinney in Holyrood

The Scottish Government has said it will not compensate people and businesses from Manchester after a travel ban was put in place this week.

In the latest flashpoint in a growing row between Scottish ministers and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham – although he has said he hopes to find a “political route” to end the dispute – the Covid Recovery Secretary, John Swinney, said they would not acquiesce to Mr Burnham’s demands for compensation.

The announcement came after the Scottish Government was rebuked for not announcing the ban on Manchester and Salford to MSPs, but through a written question, despite the Scottish Parliament sitting when the announcement was made.

Andy Burnham speaking
Andy Burnham said the Scottish Government should compensate those in Manchester impacted by the ban (Barrington Coombs/PA)

Speaking in Holyrood on Tuesday, Mr Swinney said: “The Government does not believe that would be appropriate.

“Travel to the north west of England has previously been prohibited last year, before local levels regulations were introduced and no compensation was offered.

“We are all responsible for putting in place, in our respective parts of the United Kingdom, the financial support to arrangements for business and that’s exactly what the Government will continue to do here in Scotland.”

Over the weekend, Mr Burnham claimed the move was made without consultation with Greater Manchester authorities, adding it was hypocritical of the Scottish Government, which he claims regularly complains of being steamrolled by Westminster.

But, despite the rejection by Mr Swinney, it looked as though the row is set to be resolved, with Mr Burnham saying on Tuesday he would be seeking a “political route” to end the dispute

“I anticipate having the opportunity to discuss it with the First Minister tomorrow and obviously we will want clarity on elements of the policy that are currently unclear to us in terms of the criteria that are being used here, the exit strategy, the process for lifting the restrictions on the boroughs affected,” he said.

“We just want to seek resolution and a better way of doing things going forward.

“The political route is the route to pursue.”

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Burnham said he had received 50 emails about the ban, citing one who said they were due to marry at Gretna Green before touring Scotland on their honeymoon, while another has had to cancel plans to travel north to scatter the ashes of a loved one.

A Greater Manchester hotel, the mayor told reporters, has also lost more than 200 room nights as a result of the ban.

Earlier in the session, the Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone, rebuked the Scottish Government for how the change was announced.

Initially, a Government-initiated question – a written question from an SNP MSP which is used to announce policy – was answered by John Swinney on Thursday, detailing the change before it was announced publicly by Nicola Sturgeon on Friday at the coronavirus briefing.

The Scottish Parliament was, however, in session on Thursday and Ms Johnstone, along with opposition MSPs say the announcement could have been made then and scrutinised in Holyrood.

“Concerns have been raised regarding the use of a Government-initiated question (GIQ) to announce the addition of Manchester and Salford to the list of areas where common travel restrictions apply,” she said.

“I understand this mechanism has been used on earlier occasions to make such announcements. Notably, in this case the announcement was made by GIQ on Thursday, 17 June, a sitting day when there may have been an opportunity for members to scrutinise the decision in the chamber.

“I would therefore ask the minister for parliamentary business to reflect on whether GIQs are an appropriate method to use for these announcements on days when Parliament is sitting.”

In response, the Covid Recovery Secretary said the Government would take the comments on board.

“I completely accept and respect the words that the Presiding Officer has expressed today and the Government will reflect very carefully on the point the Presiding Officer has made,” he said.

Mr Swinney went on to say a GIQ had been used to announce a similar travel ban at the end of May, however, it was pointed out by the Tory leader, Douglas Ross, that Parliament was not sitting on the day the announcement was made.

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