Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)
Meeting date: Thursday, June 9, 2022
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, NHS Staff Recruitment and Retention, Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, Census, Covid-19 Inquiry, Scottish Local Government Elections (Candidacy Rights of Foreign Nationals) Bill: Stage 3, Decision Time, Ukrainian Refugees (Trafficking)
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- NHS Staff Recruitment and Retention
- Business Motion
- Portfolio Question Time
- Covid-19 Inquiry
- Scottish Local Government Elections (Candidacy Rights of Foreign Nationals) Bill: Stage 3
- Decision Time
- Ukrainian Refugees (Trafficking)
General Question Time
Good morning. The first item of business is general question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, I would be grateful for short and succinct questions and responses.
Teaching Profession (Diversity)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the diversity in the teaching profession Scotland annual data report, published in May, which states that there is a continued chronic and disproportionate lack of minority ethnic teachers in Scotland’s schools. (S6O-01206)
The Scottish Government is clear that the continued underrepresentation of minority ethnic teachers at all levels in Scotland is unacceptable and requires urgent attention.
Work is already under way. The diversity in the teaching profession and education workforce sub-group, which is part of the wider race equality and anti-racism in education programme, is taking forward a number of actions, including working with the Scottish Council of Deans of Education to develop a robust framework for initial teacher education providers to identify and address the barriers that impede minority ethnic student teachers. That will result in them being better supported throughout their journey into permanent posts.
We are also working with the newly appointed General Teaching Council for Scotland senior education officer—a post that is supported by Scottish Government funding—to establish effective leadership at all levels within local authorities, regional improvement collaboratives and schools in order to facilitate improved racial diversity within the teaching profession.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s response.
The statistics are stark. In 2017, only 1.2 per cent of primary teachers and 2.1 per cent of secondary teachers were from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. By 2021, those figures had risen to only 1.4 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively. The figures for promoted posts—primary principal teachers, deputes and head teachers—are even more concerning. In 2017, only 0.4 per cent of such posts in primary schools and 0.8 per cent of such posts in secondary schools were from BAME communities, and in 2021, those numbers rose by only 0.2 per cent to 0.6 per cent and by 0.1 per cent to 0.9 per cent respectively.
Will the cabinet secretary join me in calling on local authorities as employers to actively explore positive action measures, as allowed under the Equality Act 2010, to address underrepresentation, particularly at senior levels? Measures could include initiatives such as the current pilot project by Glasgow City Council to support five acting PT roles for BAME teachers.
The positive action that Glasgow City Council has taken in this area is absolutely to be commended. The diversity in the teaching profession and education workforce sub-group is considering the ways in which to capture and measure such actions, so that it can support other local authorities to be similarly ambitious.
I concur absolutely with Kaukab Stewart’s sentiments that those figures are unacceptable. The Scottish Government is determined and it will continue to work with all local authorities to ensure that we can, and will, do better.
Superfast Broadband (Orkney)
To ask the Scottish Government how island communities in Orkney can be involved in decisions about how superfast broadband is rolled out in their areas. (S6O-01207)
I have met the member twice, along with Orkney Islands Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to discuss the issue.
The R100—reaching 100 per cent—contract build is being delivered in phases determined by the successful bidder. A key part of the deployment of 16 new subsea fibre cables that will enable the delivery of full fibre broadband to our islands has started. Installation to connect seven islands began last week and will be completed by September.
I thank the cabinet secretary for her response and for her engagement with me and the Orkney Islands Council. She will be aware from those discussions that there is growing concern in Orkney that the Government’s R100 programme will fall short of connecting 100 per cent of households. Those subsea cables are being laid, but once landfall is made, there seems little prospect of many, if not most, of the households in each of those islands actually being connected under the contract. The Government’s own maps show the extent to which households are set to miss out.
Will the cabinet secretary agree to meet me, Orkney Islands Council and other local representatives again to discuss how affordable access to Openreach’s fibre backhaul might be granted to companies that are willing and able to plug those gaps? Will she look to take steps to ensure that island communities can be more actively involved in the roll-out of the programme?
I am very happy to meet the member again. It is off the back of those previous meetings that I have been pushing the bidders—in this case, Openreach—to extend R100 contract coverage, by using available contractual headroom as far as possible. It remains my commitment to ensure that we connect more properties than we were originally expecting to. Obviously, properties that fall outwith the reach of the R100 contracts or commercial builds are still eligible for a voucher that is worth up to £5,000 through the broadband voucher scheme.
The United Kingdom Government’s project gigabit is also an opportunity to complete the job on islands. I have had extensive conversations with the UK Government because, at the moment, the thing that is stopping us from using project gigabit to finish the job on island communities is the arbitrary cost cap, which does not work for rural areas. However, I am sure that Liam McArthur and I can discuss those issues further in a meeting.
Despite the reserved nature of telecommunications legislation, the Scottish Government has had to intervene, using its own resources, to extend access to digital infrastructure across the country. In particular, I welcome the installation of 16 new subsea fibre cables that the cabinet secretary mentioned, which will improve the connectivity of island communities in my region. Can the cabinet secretary expand a little more on what specific improvements are expected to be realised as a result of that welcome announcement?
The member is quite right to remind the chamber that telecoms is wholly reserved to the UK Parliament. Despite that, our investment of £384 million, in the R100 north contract alone, will be truly transformational. That is an example of where, because of its importance in Scotland, we are prioritising funding in an area that is not necessarily within our powers. That funding will deliver access to gigabit-capable fibre to premises and connections to more than 59,000 properties across the north of Scotland, including many of the islands. The 16 subsea cables that the member referenced will deliver future-proofed fibre backhaul. Alongside existing subsea cables, which were delivered through the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme, that will provide connections for more than 10,000 properties in island communities.
Benefits (Implications of Resource Spending Review)
To ask the Scottish Government what the implications of its resource spending review are for the roll-out of Social Security Scotland’s planned programme of benefits. (S6O-01208)
The resource spending review sets out our investment of more than £4.2 billion in benefit expenditure in 2022-23, which is more than £460 million above what has been received from the United Kingdom Government. That £4.2 billion is an investment in people and will provide support to more than 1 million people, including low-income families and households, disabled people and carers.
The funding highlights the strength of our commitment to social security and takes into account the benefits that we are due to introduce, including the extension of the Scottish child payment, the national roll-out of adult disability payment, our new low-income winter heating assistance payment and, of course, the transfer of 700,000 cases.
The cost of living crisis will hit families hardest, and tackling child poverty must be the main focus of Government. Bearing in mind the limited scope of Scotland’s social security powers under devolution, what impact are Scottish benefits having to mitigate of the worst excesses of the cost of living crisis?
This year, we are investing almost £770 million through a package of cost of living support measures and social security support that is not available elsewhere in the UK. Our five family benefits include the Scottish child payment, which we have doubled to £20 and will increase to £25 by the end of the year, when we will extend it to under-16s, which will mean that it covers around 400,000 children.
This month, carers will also receive one of our two carers allowance supplement payments, which will be tangible financial support of more than £42 million for around 90,000 carers this year. In addition, we have our low income winter heating assistance payment, as I mentioned, and households with severely disabled children and young people will receive our child winter heating assistance.
Green Economy (Alignment of Education System)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that Scotland’s education system is properly aligned with the future workforce requirements of the emerging green economy. (S6O-01209)
The Scottish Government is committed to a just transition to net zero. Building on action to date, including the publication of the climate emergency skills action plan, the national strategy for economic transformation sets out our commitment and approach to adapting the education and skills system to make it more agile and responsive to our economic needs and ambitions, including our net zero targets.
The coming years must see radical change in many existing sectors of the economy, from home heating systems—including the Government’s commitment to retrofit 200,000 homes per year with heat pumps—to our growing demand for electric vehicle and hydrogen vehicle servicing. Delivering the workforce with the skills to provide those services and to manufacture the products that are required will take time to develop. The Scottish Government has committed £1.3 million to the national transition training fund to support energy efficiency and retrofitting skills. Does the minister accept that that will cover but a fraction of the amount that is needed to support colleges and small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland to prepare pupils for a net zero future?
The member is right to highlight the extent of the challenge, which we are focusing on. The climate emergency skills action plan sets out the actions that we need to take to ensure that our workforce across all sectors is able to support the transition to net zero.
Given that Aberdeen is on the cusp of a just transition, this will be of great interest to families in my constituency. Will the Scottish Government clarify how it is working with schools and apprenticeship bodies to ensure that Scotland’s future workforce, such as apprentices who are learning a trade in plumbing and heating, learn the vital skills that are needed to work effectively with the emerging technologies in renewables?
It is vital that we provide the skills that the economy needs both now and in the future. That is particularly true in Aberdeen, where there is a need to diversify the regional economy away from carbon-intensive industries and to capitalise on the opportunities that the transition to net zero will bring.
Apprenticeships are a key way for employers to support the transition and to continue to invest in their workforce. Agile and responsive work-based learning, including apprenticeships, will support those ambitions. The climate emergency skills action plan notes the importance of developing new work-based learning pathways to capitalise on net zero opportunities and to maximise the uptake of apprenticeships and green jobs.
Before we move on to the next question, I ask members to avoid indulging in conversations while questions are being asked and answered.
Consultant Oncologists (NHS Tayside)
To ask the Scottish Government, with regard to the recruitment of consultant oncologists in NHS Tayside, how many candidates have proceeded to interview stage to date and from which countries. (S6O-01210)
In the past two years to 31 May 2022, four applicants have proceeded to interview. All four were working in the United Kingdom, but their nationalities were British, Australian, Sri Lankan and Singaporean. NHS Tayside remains in on-going dialogue with two potential overseas appointees who are currently based in Canada and are of Indian origin. Additionally, one trainee at the centre has recently taken up a full-time post there, and it is pleasing that they have seen their long-term future at Tayside cancer centre. We know that NHS Tayside’s breast cancer service has been particularly challenged, and securing the long-term future for the service has been a priority for me and for the board.
In 2019, the Royal College of Physicians conducted a service review of NHS Tayside oncology. We understand that it found that staff in NHS Tayside cancer services were subject to a culture of management bullying and intimidation. NHS Tayside ensured that the report did not see the light of day, and it remains a secret. In the interests of transparency, and given the serious concerns that members have regarding NHS Tayside cancer services, will the cabinet secretary ensure that that report is released to Parliament, because the staff and patients of NHS Tayside deserve to know?
I will certainly look into the issue that Dr Gulhane has asked to me to look into. As he knows, there have been further reviews of and reports on NHS Tayside’s breast cancer service. I met the clinicians not too long ago, and they are still concerned about the breast cancer service, but we have a committed team of clinicians who provide the highest possible level of cancer care. They are—as I am and as the board is—looking to the future to ensure that we have a stable breast cancer service for the people of Tayside.
The cabinet secretary says that there is a committed team there, but the reality is that the last breast cancer oncologist left Dundee two weeks ago. There is no breast cancer oncology service in Dundee, and patients are having to travel hundreds of miles to access those services.
I back the calls of the other member regarding the publication of that report. The flawed Health Improvement Scotland report, which was commissioned by the Government, is actually at the core of the recruitment issue.
I raised this issue with the cabinet secretary on 27 January, and he said that he was
“deeply involved in the issue”.—[Official Report, 27 January 2022; c 5.]
What progress has been made to ensure that this service can be retained in Dundee?
A number of actions have been taken. For example, there have been more recruitment drives. In fact, there have been six adverts out this year and another three revised adverts are to come out shortly.
On the breast cancer service, I agree with Michael Marra that it is not a satisfactory situation. He and I do not dispute that. However, to put it into context, about 150 patients are referred to the breast cancer service in Tayside each week. Of those 150, around seven will have to travel for treatment. That is clearly suboptimal for the seven people involved. However, it is important that the vast majority of people who are referred and then go on to get treatment will get treatment from NHS Tayside.
Debt (Essential Bills)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to a report by StepChange Debt Charity Scotland, which highlighted that clients’ average arrears on essential bills had increased by £659 to £2,961. (S6O-01211)
The Scottish Government is acutely aware that households are facing the cost of living crisis and rising energy bills, with people on the lowest incomes being hit the hardest. It is therefore very concerning that those who are struggling are carrying a growing burden of debt. That is why, with our limited powers and resources, we are investing almost £770 million this year through a package of cost of living measures and social security support not available anywhere else in the United Kingdom to support people in need. We are also investing approximately £12 million this year to support free income-maximisation, welfare and debt advice. That includes funding of over £1 million to StepChange Debt Charity Scotland.
The minister might know that a StepChange report says that a growing percentage of its clients are tenants in the rented sector—62 per cent in 2021. Can the Scottish Government suggest what help is available specifically for tenants who find themselves in severe financial difficulty?
We are providing a total of £83 million for discretionary housing payments. That includes over £68 million to mitigate the bedroom tax and an additional £14 million to mitigate the damaging impact of other UK Government welfare cuts, including the benefit cap—as far as we can within our powers—and changes to local housing allowance rates.
In addition, the £10 million tenant grant fund helps private and social tenants who are struggling the most financially as a direct result of the pandemic and prevents homelessness. The action that we are taking through the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill to permanently introduce pre-action protocols for those who are in rent arrears will formalise the steps that a private landlord should take, as early as possible, to support a tenant who has fallen into rent arrears.
National Health Service Waiting Lists
To ask the Scottish Government what new steps have been taken to tackle national health service waiting lists, which now reportedly stand at over 680,000 patients. (S6O-01212)
The latest waiting times statistics, which were published last week and cover the quarter to 31 March 2022, reflect on-going significant challenges as a result of the pandemic and the inevitable backlog that has built up as a result of pausing non-urgent care. We are working with NHS boards to get those who are waiting for treatment the care that they need as quickly as possible. A key part of our recovery is the creation of the national treatment centres. Four NTCs are due to open over the next year, which will provide additional ring-fenced capacity for planned care. As well as investment in new infrastructure, the new NHS Scotland centre for sustainable delivery is leading work on new and innovative practice to reduce waiting times.
Since I lodged this question, as the cabinet secretary refers to, reports have shown that, yet again, there has been an increase to waiting lists, and there are now over 700,000 people waiting. Long before the pandemic, data was showing that NHS waiting lists were rising year on year; 120,000 people were waiting in March 2020. The cumulative impact of waiting lists clearly shows that the Government’s recovery plan is not robust enough to tackle this significant challenge.
Will the cabinet secretary commit today to real and meaningful action to tackle delayed discharge; to implement a real NHS cancer plan, including funding for more temporary clinics and dedicated treatment centres; and to proper pay and conditions for staff in health and social care?
I say to Paul O’Kane that we are taking forward many of the actions that he requests. We are in active negotiations with the trade unions on pay. Figures that were released this week show record staffing levels in the NHS—almost 30,000 whole-time equivalents have been recruited to our NHS since we came to power.
Having anybody on a waiting list is, of course, unsatisfactory and suboptimal, and we do not want to see it. We were making progress pre-pandemic. If the member looks at the pre-pandemic figures, he will see that the number of out-patients who were waiting for a first appointment reduced by more than 20 per cent. Over the same period—the 18 months up to March 2020—the number who were waiting more than 12 weeks for an out-patient appointment fell by more than 30 per cent.
We were making progress, but then we were hit by the global pandemic, which has affected health services up and down the country and, indeed, globally. We will continue with our £1 billion recovery plan and continue to invest in our national treatment centres. Most importantly, we will continue to invest in NHS staff, who are pivotal to that recovery.
That concludes general question time. Before we move on to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to the gallery His Excellency Markus Leitner, Ambassador of Switzerland to the United Kingdom. [Applause.]