Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, National Planning Framework, Fisheries Negotiations 2021, Point of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, One Hundred Years of the Poppy in the UK, Correction


Portfolio Question Time

Justice and Veterans

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good afternoon. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is portfolio questions, and the first portfolio is justice and veterans. I remind members that questions 4 and 8 are grouped together and that I will take any supplementaries to those questions after both have been answered. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or indicate so by entering the letter R in the chat room during the relevant question.

Police Scotland (Control of Dogs)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting Police Scotland to implement and enforce legislation on the control of dogs. (S6O-00337)

The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Regan)

I am aware that Emma Harper’s Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 came into force at the weekend. I pay tribute to her and to all who were involved in making that important legislation a reality. The Scottish Government worked with Police Scotland and others to help arrange the commencement of the legislation.

More generally, Police Scotland is a valued member of the Scottish Government-led dog control and dangerous dogs working group. Work carried out by the group includes a review of the control of dogs joint protocol agreement between Police Scotland and local authorities, as well as the establishment of a national dog control database, which will assist enforcement of dog control measures.

Emma Harper

As the minister said, my Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 came into force last Thursday. The act strengthens the penalties available for those who allow out-of-control dogs to worry or attack livestock, and it extends the power of the police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to investigate such offences. Has any guidance been produced for police officers and vets on the investigation and enforcement of those offences?

Ash Regan

I am pleased to confirm that officials have worked closely with stakeholders to assist with the development of guidance that has been prepared for private vets on what should happen if a live dog is seized by the police and presented to a private vet for examination. I should stress that we think that that is unlikely to be a frequent occurrence. The guidance has been discussed in detail with Police Scotland and with veterinary organisations, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association, and with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The guidance is close to agreement and it will be published on the Scottish Government website by the end of November.

Domestic Violence (Support for Victims)

2. Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reported Crown Office findings that there has been a 9 per cent increase in reported charges with a “domestic abuse identifier” during the Covid-19 pandemic, what action it is taking to support victims of domestic violence. (S6O-00338)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

We all recognise that during the coronavirus pandemic, for some people, home has not been a place of safety. Sadly, that has been reflected in a 9 per cent increase in the number of domestic abuse charges reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in the past year. That is why, in its first 100 days, the Government directed £5 million of new funding to domestic abuse services and rape crisis centres, to help to cut waiting lists for specialist support services. That was in addition to the £5.75 million that was allocated last year to support front-line organisations’ Covid response and recovery, so that they could respond to an increase in demand from victims of abuse.

Colin Beattie

What steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that more people are aware of the support that the cabinet secretary outlined in his answer, and what support will be given to local organisations to help them to deliver their services?

Keith Brown

I am sure that the member and other members will be aware of the many advertisements on television and in other media about this issue. For our part, the Government remains committed to raising awareness of domestic abuse, and we support Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline, which is available 24/7 to support anyone with experience of domestic abuse. Later this month, we will launch a campaign to reach those who are most at risk and to ensure that survivors are aware of the support that continues to be available.

We continue to invest significant levels of funding in specialist front-line services. Our new delivering equally safe fund recently confirmed allocations to 121 projects from 112 organisations that are working to provide key services and prevent gender-based violence.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Four in five victims of domestic abuse are women. We all agree that that is a truly shocking statistic, but it remains true that more than 10,000 incidents of domestic abuse involved male victims. Will any of the funds that the cabinet secretary mentioned be allocated to charities such as Abused Men in Scotland and other organisations that support male victims of abuse, so that they get a fair and proportionate share of Government support, too?

Keith Brown

The member raises an important point. We are absolutely clear that there is no excuse for domestic abuse, regardless of the gender of the victim or of the perpetrator. Although the victims in more than 80 per cent of cases are female, we recognise that men can be victims of domestic abuse, too, whether that abuse is perpetrated by women or in same-sex relationships.

We are funding a range of services to support male victims. That includes the provision of nearly £190,000 between 2017 and 2023 to run the Respect helpline, which signposts male survivors of domestic abuse to support services. Over the same period, we are providing £5.6 million to the advocacy, support, safety, information and services together, or ASSIST, project, which, as part of its work, provides advocacy support to male survivors of domestic abuse in the west of Scotland and the Lothians.

As I mentioned, we also fund the Scottish domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline, to support male and female victims and survivors.

Does the domestic abuse identifier include any evidence of increasing abuse of pets—usually dogs—which are used by perpetrators to coerce and control their partners?

I cannot say that it does, and if it does, I have not seen such evidence. I am happy to look into the matter and, if we have more information that I can provide, to write to the member with that information.

Question 3 comes from Michelle Thomson, who joins us remotely.

Legal Services Regulation

To ask the Scottish Government how it will ensure that the views of consumers are adequately heard in its consultation on legal services regulation reform. (S6O-00339)

The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Regan)

A public consultation based on Esther Roberton’s recommendations from her independent review of legal services regulation was published on 1 October and will run until 24 December 2021. We have also published a summary consultation, which is designed to allow participants without detailed knowledge of the current framework of regulation to share their views on and priorities for legal services regulation reform. In parallel, we are undertaking a series of consultation focus groups to increase the opportunity for the public to respond to the consultation in part or in whole.

Details of the consultation have been shared on the Scottish Government’s Twitter page, and we continue to engage with stakeholder networks, such as Citizens Advice Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, to amplify and promote the consultation to ensure that we reach as wide an audience as possible.

The consultation is available on the Scottish Government website, if anyone is interested and wants to respond to it.

Michelle Thomson

I declare that I am an interested party, as I have a current complaint.

Section A of the consultation, which is on potential regulatory models, requires strong responses from consumers, particularly those such as me who have recent direct experience of the current system. At present, I believe that the system is heavily biased against the consumer’s interest.

Will the minister meet me to hear about my experience? Will the Government issue an urgent call to Consumer Voice to ensure that not just the lawyers and their representative bodies, but consumer voices, are heard?

Ash Regan

I agree. I think that a strong response from consumers and those with lived experience will be very important as ministers consider the reform of legal services regulation. I am clear that the future framework should place consumer interests at its heart.

I assure the member that the Scottish Government is actively encouraging consumers to participate in the consultation. We engaged early with the SLCC consumer panel to seek its advice on how to do that. I call on all consumers with an interest to participate in the consultation that I mentioned in my previous answer.

I would be very happy to meet the member to discuss the matter in more detail.

Veterans (Wellbeing)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure the dignity, security and wellbeing of Scotland’s veterans. (S6O-00340)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Last year, my predecessor presented to Parliament our response to the United Kingdom-wide veterans strategy, which set out the commitments that we have made to the veterans community to improve service delivery and mainstream support right through to 2028. Progress against that is reported through our annual update to Parliament, which I will deliver tomorrow.

In addition, Scotland was first in the UK to establish an independent veterans commissioner, whose recommendations have assisted and, occasionally, challenged our work over the past several years and ensured that our wider policies have been developed with views of the veterans sector firmly represented.

I welcome that we have doubled funding for the veterans fund this year. Will the Scottish Government elaborate on how interested parties can apply for support from the veterans fund?

Keith Brown

The application period for next year’s Scottish veterans fund is currently open. It closes on Friday 12 November. Interested parties are able to apply for the fund via the Veterans Scotland website. This year, we particularly welcome bids that promote collaboration and partnership among and outwith the veterans charitable sector, as well as projects with a focus on early service leavers.

We continue to have financial support in that from the company previously known as Aberdeen Asset Management. I am not entirely sure how to pronounce its new name, but that is what it was then.

Veterans (Support)

8. Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken to assist veterans in readjusting to civilian life. (S6O-00344)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Our response to the veterans strategy sets out our ambition to make Scotland the destination of choice for service leavers and their families. We have made several commitments on how we will support veterans to transition into civilian life, including inputting into the Ministry of Defence’s holistic transition policy and working with the defence transition services. The Scottish Veterans Commissioner has also published two reports—on employability, skills and learning, and on housing—both of which focus on the transition from military to civilian life. We accepted all the recommendations in those reports and have outlined to the commissioner how we intend to take them forward.

Jackie Dunbar

I was have recently contacted by a national charity, Veterans First Point, which highlighted that some veterans struggle to engage with support services—specifically, housing services—when no veterans or serving officers are involved and engaged in their case. What engagement is the Scottish Government having with veterans charities to ensure that the support that we provide is accessible and fit for purpose for all our veterans?

Keith Brown

We fund Housing Options Scotland to provide housing advice and advocacy to older and disabled people. That funding includes support for the military matters project, which has the specific aim of helping veterans. We also commissioned the Veterans Scotland housing group to develop a pathway to prevent homelessness for veterans. The group has regular and wide-ranging dialogue with veterans, as does Veterans Scotland. That initiative looks at transition from the armed forces and at the reasons why veterans become homeless, sometimes many years after leaving service. The report, with its recommendations, is due to be published later this year. Furthermore, we continue to fund Veterans Scotland to support its capacity to deliver leadership, communication and co-ordination across the veterans charitable sector.

Antisocial Behaviour (Fireworks)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact its revised rules on the use of fireworks have had on antisocial behaviour complaints related to bonfire night. (S6O-00341)

The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Regan)

I pay tribute to the police officers and firefighters who responded to incidents of antisocial behaviour around bonfire night this year, and I condemn the individuals who chose the occasion to launch attacks on them. The contribution of emergency services at this time—including their planning and preparation—alongside the work of local authorities and community safety partners, has helped to promote safety and wellbeing in our communities.

Initial data from Police Scotland suggests that the number of complaints this year is down on previous years. Over 4 and 5 November, the number of calls about fireworks was down by 20 per cent on last year, while calls about fires were down by nearly one third. Data from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service reflects a broadly similar experience. That is encouraging and is likely to be due to the preventative activity to which I alluded, as well as to several other factors, including the new legislation that deals with the sale and use of fireworks.

Nonetheless, the level of antisocial behaviour and disruption to our communities remains unacceptable around the time of bonfire night, so I am committed to making further progress with the bill that we promised in our programme for government, which we hope to introduce to Parliament shortly.

Neil Gray

I reiterate the minister’s tribute to emergency services personnel who responded to complaints over the weekend.

I am really pleased that the Scottish Government has taken action to restrict the sale and use of fireworks. Bonfire night is normally great fun for families, but it can be frightening for some people, including veterans and people with autism or sensory issues, and it can be frightening for animals.

Will the minister elaborate on what the Scottish Government will do to review the new restrictions and to consider whether more needs to be done alongside the United Kingdom Government, which also has responsibility in the area?

Ash Regan

I share Neil Gray’s concerns about vulnerable groups, which were prominent in our publicity campaign around bonfire night this year. We are following up with our partner organisations to review the impact of the new restrictions. Initial indications are positive, but we understand that more is required. We have a commitment to introduce a bill to implement the fireworks review group’s remaining recommendations. That introduction will happen shortly.

As far as the UK Government is concerned, I have to say to Neil Gray that I am not very hopeful. When the issue was raised by Patricia Gibson MP, the leader of the House of Commons responded to her by quoting a nursery rhyme and telling everyone to stop being killjoys. I do not think that that demonstrates quite what we are looking for.

We will use all the powers that are available to us in our bid to change Scotland’s culture around fireworks.

Community Sentencing

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on community sentencing. (S6O-00342)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Sentencing decisions are, of course, a matter for the independent courts. However, evidence shows that community sentences are more effective than short custodial sentences, and action continues to be taken to encourage a shift towards more widespread use of community sentences and other interventions, where they are appropriate.

Our most recent criminal proceedings statistics show that 22 per cent of all convictions in 2019-20 resulted in a main penalty of a community sentence. That is the highest proportion in the past ten years and is up from 14 per cent of convictions in 2010-11, and from 19 per cent in 2018-19.

Of course, there are challenges—not the least of which is the impact of the pandemic on capacity to deliver community sentences. We welcome recent reports and scrutiny from Audit Scotland, the Scottish Sentencing Council and the Public Audit Committee. In addition to on-going consultation and engagement with stakeholders, those will inform the development of a revised community justice strategy next year, and consideration of how best to build on progress over recent years to build more capacity and confidence in effective community-based interventions.

Craig Hoy

Research that was commissioned by the Scottish Sentencing Council found that 77 per cent of the public believe that a first-time offender who is caught with indecent images of a child should serve a prison sentence, but such offenders are, in reality, most likely to receive a community payback order—a sentence that is supported by only 2 per cent of the public, in a system that is being undermined by a Government that let criminals get off scot free by cancelling a quarter of a million hours of community sentences earlier this year. Will the minister now commit to reversing the Government’s presumption against short sentences so that people who commit crimes such as possession of indecent images of children actually go to jail?

Keith Brown

I do not pass sentences and the Government does not: in this country, sentences are delivered by the independent courts. I have just mentioned the fact that community sentences are more effective than the short sentences that Craig Hoy mentioned. It is worth mentioning, as I said to the Criminal Justice Committee this morning, that more people in the prison sector now are spending more time in prison than has been the case in recent years.

On the subtext of being accused of taking a soft justice approach in this country, we have 40 per cent more police officers per person than there are in England and Wales; we have given the police a pay rise that the police in England and Wales have not received; and we have the lowest recorded crime in living memory and the lowest recorded number of homicides—every one of which was solved. That is anything but soft justice.

Police Scotland (Complaints Handling)

7. Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to incorporate the recent Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland findings in relation to Police Scotland into the on-going response to the independent review of complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues conducted by Dame Elish Angiolini. (S6O-00343)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Police Scotland’s response to the HMICS report is a matter for the chief constable, with a clear role for the Scottish Police Authority in overseeing the implementation of the recommendations. I am aware, however, that Police Scotland intends to consider the recommendations alongside the work that is already under way in relation to Dame Elish’s review.

The governance and reporting framework that the Scottish Government established plays a vital role in overseeing and providing assurance to ministers and, ultimately, to Parliament on progress towards implementation of Dame Elish’s recommendations across all partners.

The Scottish Government published its first thematic progress report on 24 June 2021. The report showcased the progress that has been made. Work is under way to develop the next thematic progress report, which is due for publication by the end of this year.

Willie Rennie

I am concerned that, a year on from the Angiolini report, there are few signs of improvement. There have been more reports of sexism and a high proportion of ethnic minority officers—way more than other groups—leave the service. Our research has found that only 1 per cent of top policing jobs are held by people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Officers have little confidence in the leadership of Police Scotland when it comes to effecting change. Does the cabinet secretary have more confidence?

Keith Brown

I have confidence in senior police officers in Police Scotland to effect change. That is based on a number of conversations, meetings and reports that I have had on the matter. I am especially convinced of the earnest intent of officers at a very senior level—deputy chief constable level. However, Willie Rennie is right to say that that is neither here nor there if it does not permeate right through the service. Serious initiatives are under way to make that happen.

A number of the recommendations in Dame Elish’s report have been implemented. Others will require legislation, which will take more time. I am thinking, for example, of barred and advisory lists that ensure that Police Scotland does not employ people from other forces who have conducted themselves inappropriately. We also have to legislate in relation to the practice whereby a police officer can behave badly then retire their way out of an investigation.

I assure Willie Rennie that I believe that Police Scotland is serious about the matter, and that Dame Elish’s recommendations and the points in the report of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland are being taken seriously.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

In the interests of transparency, will the minister reconsider the Conservative Party’s suggestion of an online action tracker, so that the public can see exactly what is happening—or not happening, as the case may be—in respect of each one of Dame Elish Angiolini’s 111 recommendations?

Keith Brown

In the interests of consensus, I undertake to look at that suggestion. I am certainly more than happy to give a full account of where we are in relation to all the recommendations—some of which have been taken forward by the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland, and some of which rest with the Government. Russell Findlay might want to publish that himself. I undertake, if what he suggested is possible, to look at the matter and to get back to him in due course.

What steps are being taken to ensure that policing by consent and a rights-based approach continue to form the core of policing practice?

Keith Brown

That is a fundamental question. The traditions and approach to which Audrey Nicoll referred continue to lie at the heart of policing practice and the policing ethos in Scotland. When trust goes, consent can go too, so we are keen to ensure that we maintain trust and consent.

The Scottish Police Authority has a responsibility for holding the chief constable to account for policing. Through its board and committee meetings, a series of checks and balances are in place to ensure that major decisions about policing are made transparently and appropriately. That helps to ensure that Scottish policing is based on public consent, in a way that commands respect and builds public trust and confidence.

In addition, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland has wide-ranging statutory powers to look into the state, effectiveness and efficiency of Police Scotland and the SPA.

Finance and the Economy

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move on to portfolio questions on finance and the economy.

If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or indicate that in the chat function by entering the letter R during the relevant question.

Budget (Public Sector Workers)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to allocate additional funding in its forthcoming budget to provide pay increases for front-line public sector workers. (S6O-00345)

The cabinet secretary who is responding to question 1 is Kate Forbes, who joins us remotely.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy (Kate Forbes)

The Government is currently in the process of developing its budget for next year and, as agreed with the Finance and Public Administration Committee, I will bring proposals to Parliament on 9 December.

We have offered a progressive pay policy over recent years, balancing reward and affordability, protecting the most vulnerable and supporting our front-line staff. I recognise the achievements of our public sector workforce, and accordingly we will look to retain our fair approach to pay.

Foysol Choudhury

The pandemic has demonstrated the true value of social care, despite the low pay that is endemic throughout the sector. Social care workers have been at the forefront of caring for and protecting our loved ones who have been most vulnerable to Covid-19. Will the Government show that it is serious about investing in social care by delivering an immediate uplift to £12 per hour for social care workers?

Kate Forbes

The member will know that providing our front-line workers in the social care sector with financial support was a key part of the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care’s announcement just a few weeks ago. I agree that we need to continue to recognise their efforts, including through our pay policy. That is why this year’s pay policy prioritised support for those who are earning the least and ensured that all workers in the social care sector are paid at least the living wage. We did all that despite no consequential funding coming from the United Kingdom Government, because there was a pay freeze south of the border.

Public Sector (Consolidated Accounts)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will produce consolidated accounts for the whole public sector in Scotland. (S6O-00346)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy (Kate Forbes)

We are committed to producing additional consolidated public sector accounts that cover the devolved public bodies in Scotland. I hope that the member will recognise that the pandemic has impacted timescales for the production and audit of accounts across all sectors. That affects the availability and timeliness of information for further consolidation. However, an outline plan is being developed with Audit Scotland for a staged approach to producing additional accounts for the 2020-21 financial year.

Richard Leonard

Will the cabinet secretary accept that the consolidated accounts were promised to Parliament and to the people back in 2016? They were then promised during 2018, then by March 2019. In November 2019, they were promised in due course. By February this year, we were told that it was no longer possible to set out a timetable at all. Will the cabinet secretary accept that this is about public transparency and trust? It is about good government, open government, good democracy and open democracy. Why can the cabinet secretary not set out a timetable? When will the cabinet secretary finally address this breach of a promise to Parliament and to the people by publishing these whole-Government accounts?

Kate Forbes

I want to clarify that we already comply with all financial reporting and auditing requirements. We are committed to developing the financial reporting to support the transparency that the member talks about. The Auditor General for Scotland and Audit Scotland recognise that that is a complex task and that work has been done to make progress to date.

The member asked for a timetable. The first stage will involve producing a draft account that covers the Scottish Administration and reflects the wider composition of the Scottish budget, as authorised by Parliament. The aim is for that to be audited and finalised by spring 2022. That will be followed by further work in summer 2022 to develop a wider output, including that relating to local authorities.

We want to minimise the burden on public bodies. The member will be aware of the pressures that have been placed on all public bodies during the pandemic. I think that most people understand that this is a complex issue that requires time and capacity from all members of the Scottish public sector.

Question 3 is from Gillian Martin, who joins us remotely.

Just Transition (North-East Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting the economy of the north-east in terms of a just transition for workers away from oil and gas. (S6O-00347)

The question will be answered by Richard Lochhead, who also joins us remotely.

The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work (Richard Lochhead)

The Scottish Government is committed to producing sectoral and regional just transition plans. This year’s programme for government includes a commitment to develop our first just transition plan, for the energy sector, alongside a refreshed energy strategy. We will work with communities and with those who are most impacted across Scotland, including our highly skilled oil and gas workforce, to co-design that plan. We will support our planning process by taking forward a 10-year £500 million just transition fund for the north-east and Moray.

Gillian Martin

The minister will know that many routes to certification and accreditation for oil and gas workers over past decades have been through private companies. In the past, employers have largely picked up the tab for that training, but many workers who want to transition into low-emission energy sectors tell me that they have to pay for that training, and those sums are not affordable for many people. What routes are being investigated using publicly funded institutions, such as North East Scotland College, to deliver training using the expertise that they have, and how could the Government support them to quickly develop courses that are accessible to people who cannot be available during the working day and need a flexible offer?

Richard Lochhead

I thank Gillian Martin for highlighting that crucial issue about the just transition. We are working with organisations in the north-east, who in turn are working with local further and higher education institutions to make sure that the right skills are available for people who are moving out of fossil fuel sectors and into decarbonised industries.

Gillian Martin will be aware that the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater, is working out proposals for a skills guarantee. We are also working with the energy skills alliance, which is a newly created cross-industry collaboration group that has been established to develop an integrated skills strategy for a net zero energy sector. One of its workstreams focuses on the development of an all-energy training and standards programme, which will assess transferability of skills to ensure that the workforce skills that we require are available so that people can move easily across industries.

We are working with a number of publicly funded organisations and the further and higher education sector on that important issue.

Tess White (North East Scotland) (Con)

As part of the fair and managed transition to renewable energy, does the minister welcome the North Sea transition deal and the joint Government and oil and gas sector investment of up to £16 billion to reduce carbon emissions by 2030?

Richard Lochhead

The Scottish Government is taking action, as is the United Kingdom Government, which we welcome. The Scottish Government has also announced, as I mentioned in response to Gillian Martin, a £500 million transition fund for the north-east and Moray over the next 10 years, and we have asked the UK Government to match that investment. I hope that the member supports our appeal to the UK Government to do that, because it is important to make sure that there are good green jobs available for people in the fossil fuel industry as we go through the transition in the coming decades.

Question 4 was not lodged.

Employment Gap (Disabled People)

5. Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle the employment gap for disabled people, in light of the reported findings from the annual population survey 2020-21 that the employment rate for disabled people was 47.4 per cent, which was lower than that for non-disabled people. (S6O-00349)

The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work (Richard Lochhead)

In “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: employment action plan”, which was published in 2018, we committed to halving the employment gap between disabled people and the rest of the working population by 2038, and we are making early progress towards that. Support for disabled workers is a key element of our employability programmes such as no one left behind, the young persons guarantee and fair start Scotland. We are working with disabled people’s organisations and others to produce a refresh of the action plan, which is due to be published in spring 2022.

Martin Whitfield

The third annual report on fair start Scotland revealed that the scheme did not reach as many people with disabilities and health conditions as the Government set out that it would. That is not good enough. Why is the Scottish Government failing to support as many disabled people into employment through fair start Scotland as was intended?

Richard Lochhead

Fair start Scotland delivers for people with a variety of circumstances and backgrounds, and there was recently an evaluation report on that. In relation to support for disabled people, it is clear that, like many other people in our society, disabled people have been impacted by Covid over the past year or two, and we are still analysing the scale of that impact.

As I have said, the issue is important; disabled people have a lot to contribute to our economy and should be given the opportunity to work. As we refresh our action plan, we will take into account all our experience of the issue and lessons learned over the past couple of years, particularly given the impact of Covid.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

It is vital that we press ahead to reduce and remove the barriers that prevent disabled people from benefiting from our economic recovery. Will the minister provide an update on the Scottish Government’s latest assessment of the disability pay gap and give information about the further action that the Scottish Government can take to reduce that gap?

Richard Lochhead

On average, rates of pay are lower for disabled people than for non-disabled people across the whole United Kingdom. In 2019, the median hourly pay for disabled people in Scotland was 16.5 per cent lower than that for non-disabled people.

As I said, we are producing a refresh of “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People: employment action plan”, which will be published in 2022. Later this year, we will consult on proposals to expand the existing duties on public authorities to publish information on the gender pay gap so that they include reporting on disability and ethnicity pay gaps, through a review of the public sector equality duty’s operation in Scotland. We are taking a number of measures to tackle the barriers that many people in our society, and particularly disabled people, face.

Support for Co-operatives

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress with the support available for co-operatives for the transition to a new economy. (S6O-00350)

The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work (Richard Lochhead)

Co-operative business models can play a critical role in economic recovery by supporting the Scottish Government’s aim of creating a fairer, stronger and more democratic country and economy. We will continue to work through Co-operative Development Scotland and the enterprise agencies to support the growth of co-operative and other alternative business models.

We will set out how we will provide tailored support for businesses with alternative ownership models, including co-operatives and social enterprises, with a view to increasing their representation in the Scottish economy. That work includes considering how we can bring support for such models into mainstream activity to ensure more values-led outcomes.

Maggie Chapman

Across many sectors, from agriculture to energy, there is a recognition that inclusive and efficient co-operatives and producer organisations can play a key role in supporting small businesses and marginalised groups, including women and young people. Such organisations empower their members economically and socially and create sustainable employment through business models that are resilient to economic and environmental shocks.

Significant opportunities exist for such models—especially perhaps in rural and peri-urban areas—in sectors such as food supply chains, housing, energy production and tourism. Will the minister provide a bit more detail on the funding and financing options for co-operatives across different sectors, including tax reliefs, and on the timescale for those options?

Richard Lochhead

As Maggie Chapman outlined, the issue is aligned with the Scottish Government’s fair work agenda. It is important to say that, since its inception, Scottish Enterprise has delivered Co-operative Development Scotland’s services to support business growth across Scotland and assist in the creation of more co-ops and employee-owned businesses.

Such work includes the promotion of the co-operative model; the direct provision of business advice, particularly for start-up co-ops; and the provision of training in co-operative business skills. We have limited opportunity for financial and tax incentives in Scotland but, if the member wishes to write to me, I will speak to finance colleagues and explore what is in place and what more might be possible.

Enterprise Agencies (Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government how the enterprise agencies support economic growth in Ayrshire. (S6O-00351)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy (Kate Forbes)

Our economic recovery implementation plan committed Scottish Enterprise to working intensively with partners in Ayrshire to support economic recovery across the region. Last year, Scottish Enterprise spent just over £16 million in Ayrshire, when Covid support grants are taken into account.

Scottish Enterprise is contributing to projects under the Ayrshire growth deal and is working with local authorities and Business Gateway to produce regional business support plans and to support regional company growth pilots. The agency continues to offer expertise and investment in strategic sites, such as the HALO enterprise and innovation hub in Kilmarnock. I could go on, but I will draw my comments to a close in the interests of time.

Willie Coffey

As the cabinet secretary knows, Ayrshire trails behind the rest of Scotland on employment levels and is one of the three areas that the Scottish Government identified as requiring the most support for economic recovery. Will she outline what progress has been made towards identifying and supporting the important regional company growth pilots?

Kate Forbes

That is an important question. For context, it is worth noting that Scottish Enterprise has supported 37 inward investment projects in Ayrshire in the past decade alone, which have created 2,330 jobs.

A joint operational team that involves the three Ayrshire councils and Scottish Enterprise has been established to develop an integrated and consistent company support landscape. That team has a number of priorities. One is community wealth building to promote local procurement, fair work and climate action. Another is supporting local businesses to implement digital transformation projects, which I know is an interest that is close to Willie Coffey’s heart. Targeted grant funding comes from the Ayrshire food and productivity fund to support Ayrshire companies in delivering productivity improvements that result in automation and reduced carbon emissions.

Understandably, the key players that are involved in the development of the growth pilot and the regional business support plan have focused their efforts in the past year on delivering Covid support, but businesses and organisations are now increasingly focused on economic recovery.

Public Procurement (Ferries)

8. Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent changes it has made to its public procurement policies, including as a result of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee report on its inquiry into construction and procurement of ferry vessels in Scotland. (S6O-00352)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy (Kate Forbes)

Any changes to procurement policy over the past year have focused largely on Covid and on driving socioeconomic outcomes and best practice. Changes to Scottish procurement policy notes and construction policy notes are published on our website. Those policy changes have no correlation with the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s report on its inquiry into the construction and procurement of ferry vessels. There have been no recent changes to procurement legislation.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

I would usually thank the cabinet secretary for her answer, but I am slightly disappointed to hear that. She knows that the issues are not only about the waste of millions of pounds of public money; they are examples of communities losing out on vital lifeline services. The problems at Ferguson Marine are on-going, but we also know that Scotland has an ageing ferry fleet that requires not only maintenance but serious investment in replacement vessels in the coming years. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that lessons will be learned and that the failures that we have seen—most notably in relation to the ferries that still lie unfinished at Ferguson Marine—cannot and will not happen again?

Kate Forbes

I understand the sentiment behind Jamie Halcro Johnston’s question. Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, which is the procuring authority for new vessels, operates under the Utilities Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2016, which serve the same purpose as the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015. It also complies with the statutory and legislative requirements that derive from the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014.

To answer the question directly, CMAL continues to employ more robust processes, following lessons learned from previous projects and from the output of the REC Committee. Those processes include employing a ship broker early in the procurement process to provide a greater understanding of the market, enhancing the level of evidence about finance, refunds and technical abilities that is required from bidders and undertaking site visits at the invitation to tender stage. I hope that that reassures the member that lessons have been and are being learned.

That concludes portfolio questions. There will be a short pause before the next item of business.