ONE in eight Scots are facing a return to a near total coronavirus lockdown from Monday, it has emerged.

A leaked Scottish Government letter sent to council leaders today warned ministers are considering imposing tough new restrictions on North and South Lanarkshire.

The two councils are home to more than 660,000 people, or 12 per cent of the population. 

They are current subject to the same, lesser restrictions as the rest of the central belt, which are considered the equivalent of Level 3 under the revised system.

The rest of Scotland is currently under the equivalent of the new Level 2.

If the Government does impose Level 4 restrictions across Lanarkshire, it could mean the closure of non-essential shops and a ban on non-essential travel in and out of the areas.

Level 4 is also expected to include the closure of all pubs, restaurants, cafes, non-essential workplaces, public buildings, gyms, sporting venues, cinemas and bingo halls.

There would also be no “close contact services” such as hairdressers and beauticians.  

It follows a hundreds of new cases of Covid being reported each day in NHS Lanarkshire.

Dundee City Council could also be raised one step to the level as the central belt at present.

However ministers are also considering relaxing the restrictions currently in place in five Highland and Island councils which are home to just over 400,000 people.

Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles councils could be downgraded to the new Level 1 status from onday

The Government is currently discussing the prospect of imposing Level 4 on Lanarkshire with the council umbrella group, Cosla.

MSPs are due to vote tomorrow on an overall “strategic framework” for the new five-tier system for Scotland, which runs from Level 0 to Level 4, with the three middle levels roughly the same as Tiers 1, 2, and 3 in England.

Once passed, ministers and councils would discuss the initial Scottish levels, which would then be announced later this week and take effect on November 2.


The full text of the memo


Sally Loudon

Chief Executive


Verity House

19 Haymarket Yards


EH12 5BH


26 October 2020


Dear Sally,


I am writing to ask for your help with rapid engagement with local authorities on

implementing Scotland's Strategic Framework for suppressing COVID-19, both across

Scotland as a whole and in every part of Scotland.


As we have discussed, I and my colleagues ask that local authority Chief Executives consider this letter with their Council Leaders and Directors of Public Health and feed back their views to us in the course of today and tomorrow. I set out at the end of this letter how we propose to manage that process.

We anticipate that the Deputy First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Communities & Local Government will then discuss Scotland's Strategic Framework and its  implementation with council leaders in calls on Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 October, in parallel with Parliamentary debate and other discussions, before decisions are reached and implemented in the days leading to Monday 2 November.

This is, I know, a challenging timescale in challenging times. I am grateful for the help that you and colleagues in COSLA and SOLACE have already given us, and will give in coming days, as we work through it together.

Scotland's Strategic Framework

COVID-19 threatens life, health, society and prosperity in Scotland. The Scottish Government is committed to suppressing the virus to the lowest possible level, and keeping it there while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible. After success in doing so over the summer, we are now experiencing high numbers of cases, and a rising challenge.

Scotland's Strategic Framework, published on Friday 23 October, sets out a levels-based system of measures to suppress the virus, based on the "four harms" approach set out in our COVID-19 Framework for Decision-Making.

The five levels are set out in the Framework. Each higher level is designed to have progressively stronger effects in suppressing the virus and the illness and deaths it causes (harm 1), by breaking chains of transmission. 

Measures to suppress the virus themselves cause harm to wider health and care (harm 2), society (harm 3) and the economy (harm 4). Though we have designed the levels to mitigate them as much as possible, consistent with suppressing the virus, these wider harms and economic impacts are stark, especially at the higher levels. We are profoundly aware of their impacts on people, businesses and communities across Scotland. We know, however, that failing to suppress the virus, while it remains a threat to public health, would do even greater damage, and result in the loss of many more lives.

The levels complement other measures, such as promoting compliance with the FACTS guidance and use of the Protect Scotland app, Test & Protect, and self-isolation by those with symptoms and/or a positive test.

As with the restrictions now in place, the new levels will only be applied where that is justified, necessary and proportionate in the face of the threat of the virus running out of control, and only kept in place for so long as that remains the case. Ministers wish to work in partnership with Local Government and others to mitigate all four harms, and to monitor and respond to impacts on people, society and economic activity. I say more about this later.

The effects of exponential growth

The modelling and advice available to Ministers shows that measures to suppress the virus are more effective when they are applied as soon as they are needed. This is challenging, since it means decision must be taken quickly, and often in circumstances  that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Decisive action, however, can mean that measures can be in place for a shorter period with a greater effect than would otherwise be necessary.

Where delay lets the virus get a hold, the measures needed to get it back under control have to be more severe and in place for longer. 

This is because, when cases start to rise, indicated by a reproduction number or R above 1, they do so exponentially, and we have seen how the numbers of new infections can double in little more than a week. The most serious effects, including admissions to  hospital and intensive care, and deaths, lag behind new infections by between two and three weeks. This means it is necessary to take measures early, in order to save lives and prevent the NHS being overwhelmed.

The approach set out in Scotland's Strategic Framework is designed to help get the right level of measures in place as quickly as possible, for the shortest necessary time, to bring the virus under control in each part of Scotland. Success means bringing R below 1, and seeing case numbers drop. 

Intervening early is also the best way to reduce the long-term economic impact of the virus. Getting it back under control quickly avoids still more severe measures, of the kind that had to be used from March this year, or longer periods of lesser but still damaging restrictions.

Applying higher levels creates economic harm, as is painfully clear; but doing so as soon as they are needed and only until they have worked is the best way to avoid still greater harm.

Measures to suppress the virus have been in place across Scotland since 9 October.

Though it proved necessary to extend these, there are now signs justifying cautious optimism that they are bringing the virus back under control in many parts of Scotland.

Engaging Parliament, Local Government, health boards, and others

Scotland’s Strategic Framework sets out an approach to applying restrictions only where necessary, and removing them as soon as they have achieved their effect. Ministers have set out the framework with an open mind, and have committed to engaging with Parliament, Local Government and others on its implementation.

The framework itself will be debated in Parliament on Tuesday 27 October. In parallel, Ministers are keen to engage with Local Government before taking decisions which will affect every community and citizen in Scotland. 

Ministers intend to reach final decisions later this week on both the levels set out in the framework and their application. These will be set out and implemented in regulations effective from Monday 2 November, and replacing measures currently in place. Ministers intend that, from that date, each local authority area in Scotland will be placed in one of the five levels set out in the framework.

This is a rapid and challenging timescale in which to engage effectively. It is necessary because every day counts in suppressing the virus.

There are three issues on which Ministers particularly want to engage Local Government leaders.

1. Reaching decisions on initial levels for local authority areas in implementing Scotland's Strategic Framework;

2. Understanding how levels will affect each area, and identifying the areas, sectors and issues where partnership between the Scottish Government, Local Authorities, Health Boards and others can be most effective in coming weeks and for as long as the Framework remains necessary; and

3. Gathering other comments on Scotland's Strategic Framework ahead of its implementation.

While all three are important, the first is the most significant, given the timescales. I say more about each below.

In parallel, Ministers are also being advised by the National Incident Management Team (NIMT), drawing public health expertise from Health Boards and their Directors of Public Health. Through the NIMT, Ministers have asked that Directors of Public Health support local authority Chief Executives and Leaders in their areas in responding to this request for help.

Similarly, I should be grateful if Chief Executives would draw on support from Directors of Public Health in considering this letter.

Indicators and ranges

Scotland’s Strategic Framework sets out (on pages 22-3) how Ministers propose to reach and later review decisions on initial levels for each local authority area in Scotland. These decisions are ultimately judgments for Ministers, taking account of all the facts and considerations relevant at the time they are made, in relation to the areas directly affected and for Scotland as a whole. Ministers are committed to ensuring that decisions are informed by data and analysis, and have set out the indicators they will review in reaching these decisions. It is our intention to keep these indicators under review and update them as, for example, new or improved data become available or conditions change. 

As you know, Scottish Government analysts, working with the NIMT, expect to make available shortly a paper setting out in more detail how the indicators set out in Scotland’s Strategic Framework are being used to inform the levels-based approach. This will include consideration of how ranges can be applied to the data to signal when consideration of the relevant indicator is needed, as part of reviews of the application of levels. Decisions on levels will, however, be judgements informed by these data and other considerations, not the result of an algorithm. This will always be the case. I will of course share that paper with COSLA as soon as it is available.

We are also working to share data with COLSA on the social and economic structures of Local Government areas. We are drawing on these and other data to extend our “four harms” analysis from the whole of Scotland to individual local authority areas. As we do so, we are committed to working closely with COSLA and SOLACE to ensure that Local

Government has full and transparent access to these and other data informing decisions, and to extend our “four harms” analysis from the whole of Scotland to individual local authority areas so that we have a shared understanding of the effectiveness and impacts of the levels-based approach across Scotland. For that reason, COLSA and SOLACE have been invited to take part in meetings of the NIMT and of the Scottish Government’s “Four Harms Group” of chief advisers and lead officials. I say more on this partnership approach later.

1. Initial levels

No decisions have yet been made on initial levels. This is in order to allow decisions to be informed by the latest available data and public health advice. Ministers intend to set out initial levels later this week, along with a statement of reasons for these decisions, for implementation along with the levels approach from Monday 2 November.

I hope it will be helpful if I set out the approach being taken to these decisions. The starting point is the measures currently in place. These are broadly equivalent to Level 3 in the central belt, and Level 2 elsewhere. Changes from these levels, whether up or down, need to be justified by the data, supported by public health advice and consistent with the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 Framework for Decision-Making.

Because of the severity of the impact of the measures in the highest level, Level 4, Ministers will only consider using it if necessary. The data currently indicate that level of concern for two areas: Level 4 is being considered for North and South Lanarkshire. There are, however, some signs in the latest data that the situation in those areas may be stabilising. Ministers will not reach a decision for these two areas until the latest possible point to ensure that they can take account of the fullest possible picture of the effect of measures already in place; but at this stage the use of Level 4 cannot be ruled out. If it was necessary, it would be used to avoid still greater harm, including many deaths.

No changes are currently being considered in relation to other central belt areas. If that remains the case and is confirmed later this week, these areas would remain in Level 3 for the time being. There are some signs in the data of progress in the east of the central belt area, for example in Edinburgh and East Lothian, but some further consolidation of that progress is likely to be required before it would be safe, on public health grounds, to move them to Level 2.

The data for Dundee City also gives cause for concern, with rising numbers of cases. Again, a final decision will be made on the basis of data becoming available in the next few days.

Meantime, consideration is being given to moving Dundee City to Level 3 in the new framework, broadly equivalent to the measures currently in place in the central belt. Further consideration is also being given to the interaction between Dundee and neighbouring areas within the Tayside Health Board area.

At this crucial stage in suppressing the virus, with higher case numbers, the winter approaching, and the introduction of a new strategic framework, the public health advice to Ministers is that it would not be safe to move any area straight to the lowest level, Level 0.

There are, however, encouraging signs in the data, signaled by the indicators, in relation to some of the areas presently at Level 2. These are Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland, and the Western Isles. Presently, consideration is being given to moving five areas from Level 2 to Level 1, with two additional safeguards. The first is maintaining “no in-home socialising” in Level 1 for a period from 2 November (as indicated in the footnote to page 58 of Scotland’s Strategic Framework). The second is reinforcing communication of the travel advice set out in Scotland’s Strategic Framework in order to bear down on the risk of infection being introduced to these areas from areas of higher prevalence.

Other areas presently at Level 2 would remain there on 2 November, if the data and other considerations remain unchanged in the coming few days.

Scotland’s Strategic Framework makes clear that the levels, once introduced, are likely to remain in place for between two and four weeks, but will be reviewed weekly – a process in which we ask COSLA and SOLACE to be involved – in order to ensure that restrictions only remain in force for so long as they are justified, necessary and proportionate. We anticipate that the first such review will take place in the week beginning Monday 9 November. Any proposed movement up or down the levels will be discussed with the relevant local authority Chief Executive and Council Leaders in advance of Ministers taking decisions.

2. Partnership

Close partnership working and a “Team Scotland” approach has never been more important than now. We are already drawing in this crisis on structures, co-operation and common purpose developed over many years of working together as Resilience partners, through SGoRR, and through Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE). In the next phase of the response to COVID-19, Ministers seek local authorities ’views on how best this partnership can be focused. Ministers have in mind, and would welcome comments on, three areas for early partnership working:

1. In areas facing particular challenges and impacts, we will want to work with you to support your efforts to coordinate a whole-system effort at the local level recognizing that councils are uniquely placed to do this.

2. We are engaging in parallel with the hospitality sector across Scotland, including Local Government for its environmental health, economic development and other relevant roles, building on existing close engagement and focusing on how best to ensure compliance with necessary restrictions and make hospitality settings as safe as possible, recognising the particularly severe impact on this sector resulting from a necessary focus on preventing the virus spreading in indoor environments where people from different households come into contact with each other.

3. Partnership working could build on “four harms” analysis of the impacts of the virus across Scotland and on particular areas, communities, individuals, and business sectors, building on the analysis summarised in the attached paper and in evidence and assessment papers published as part of the Scotland’s Route Map series. This work would be rooted in our commitment to understanding and acting upon the inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic.

We should welcome views from local authorities on these and other priorities for partnership working.

3. Other comments on Scotland’s Strategic Framework

Ministers have set out the framework and its five levels with an open mind, and have said that they will consider proposals for changes to the levels. They and officials are engaging in parallel with local government, through the process described here, with Health Boards, with business interests and other stakeholders, and with Parliament, which will debate and vote on the framework on Tuesday 27 October. Parliament will also scrutinise regulations implementing the framework.

Ministers will therefore also welcome the view of councils on the framework as a whole, which is intended to bring greater clarity to measures to suppress the virus, making it possible to communicate these more effectively and secure the widest possible understanding, support and compliance with them. Everyone has a part to play in suppressing the virus; and by playing our part, we can help reduce the level of measures needed to keep it in check.

Councils may have views in particular on the measures which make up each level in the framework. These have been designed to secure the necessary suppressing effect on the virus with the minimum of additional harm: but it is not possible to suppress the virus without impacting on wider health, society and the economy. It is worth noting that  changing the levels in ways which weaken their effect on the virus would make it necessary, other things being equal, either to apply a given level for longer or to apply a higher level. The best way to reduce the level of restriction necessarily applied to how we live our lives is to do everything we can to prevent it spreading, including following the FACTS guidance. If we do that, the virus will be denied the chance to spread, and more of Scotland will be able to move back to lower levels in the framework.

While Ministers intend that, for clarity and consistency, the same levels definitions will be used throughout Scotland for any given period, adjustments to the definitions of levels may be made from time to time. For example, the strategic framework indicates that, in some circumstances, indoor household socialising may be prevented even at Level 1 (page 58 of Scotland’s Strategic Framework), and I have said above is under consideration; and restricted hours in hospitality settings may vary from time to time (page 68).

Contacts and next steps

I appreciate your help and that of SOLACE in gathering view from local authorities as rapidly as possible.

The next step in that process is that you have agreed to forward this letter to every local authority chief executive today.

Within the Scottish Government, this process will be led by my colleague Stephen Gallagher, with assistance from others. One of them will be in touch with each local authority chief executive shortly after they receive this letter. Thereafter, Ministers will be in contact with Council Leaders in the course of Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 October.

Stephen and I will continue to stay closely in touch with you and colleagues in SOLACE each day this week.

Finally, let me thank you once again for the close, constructive and positive engagement I and my colleagues have had with you and yours as we work together in these exceptional times. I could not be more grateful.

Yours sincerely,



Director-General Constitution and External Affairs