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UK mulls centralizing health data amid Scottish independence fight

LONDON — British ministers are considering collecting key health data centrally in a bid to allow easier comparisons between services in England and the rest of the U.K.

Some government figures are concerned that the lack of standardized data on health and other outcomes masks poorer-performing services in Scotland and Wales, making like-for-like comparisons between the U.K.’s constituent countries more difficult. It comes as the government in Westminster tries to fight off calls for Scottish and Welsh independence and preserve Britain’s union of four nations.

Under the plan, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics would be given greater responsibility over collecting and publishing U.K.-wide data, according to two government officials.

The lack of centralized data was also seen as an issue in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, one official said.

Some ministers unsuccessfully pushed for laws to empower the ONS in the Health and Care Bill earlier this year and now want the fresh powers to be included in May’s Queen’s Speech, when the government sets out its legislative program. Key health data is currently collected by separate agencies in Scotland and Wales.

The change comes amid internal divisions in Boris Johnson’s government over the strategy for strengthening the Union and the best way to reduce support for nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Michael Gove, the Cabinet minister who oversees intergovernmental affairs, has long favored a more constructive approach and has pointed colleagues to internal polling that suggests voters want to see the devolved administrations and the U.K. national government working together, according to one government official. This has led to a characterization of the government’s Union strategy as “Project Love.”

But others in government believe this stance has so far failed to drive down support for nationalist parties and argue Westminster should take a more combative stance towards the Scottish and Welsh governments.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

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