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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Business Motion, Programme for Government 2022-23, Programme for Government 2022-23, Decision Time, Commonwealth Games 2022 (Team Scotland)


Topical Question Time

The next item of business is topical question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, short and succinct questions and responses would be appreciated.

Drug Deaths

To ask the Scottish Government how it is responding to the report, Drug-related Deaths in Scotland in 2021, which was published on 28 July 2022. (S6T-00841)

The Minister for Drugs Policy (Angela Constance)

Every life lost to a drug death is a tragedy. The report that National Records of Scotland published in July showed that we lost 1,330 people to drugs in Scotland in 2021. Those are not statistics but are lives that ended far too soon, each one underlining that we are still in the midst of a public health emergency.

I will give a full statement on the issue on Thursday, and I will appear before three committees meeting jointly next week. However, this Government’s response will be to redouble our commitment to the national mission on saving and improving lives. The principles that will guide us through the emergency are that we will follow the evidence, invest to transform services and trust our lived and living experience.

Claire Baker

It is three years since the Scottish Government announced a public health emergency, yet the figures demonstrate little emergency response. It is no wonder that the accusation, “We keep dying; you keep talking” continues. The progress on medically assisted treatment standards, in particular, is lamentable. Although a target has been set to introduce standards 1 to 5 within a year, implementation is now more than a year behind the timescale that was initially promised. What action has taken place over the summer to push for effective delivery of the MAT standards?

Angela Constance

We should not underestimate the scale of the loss of life in Scotland. Drug deaths are, of course, preventable, unacceptable and tragic, and we all have a responsibility to play our part in turning the tide.

Regarding the MAT standards, Ms Baker will be aware that, for the first time in Scotland, the Government has issued ministerial direction. All authorities—whether those are the chief executive officers of local authorities, integration joint boards or health boards—have received letters. There is a clear expectation and demand that improvement plans and implementation plans will be submitted to the Government by the end of this month. We are in the process of gathering and scrutinising that information and I will, of course, in line with my previous commitments to Ms Baker and to Parliament, keep Parliament fully updated on the crucial, life-saving MAT standards. They are not a tick box and they are certainly not optional.

Regarding activity over the summer, Ms Baker will know that we have published our national mission strategic plan. The vital final recommendations of the Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce have also been published.

Claire Baker

A figure of £250 million has been committed over five years, and we have heard many announcements, but the key task is to prevent deaths. What is the Scottish Government doing to monitor the impact of interventions? How is it able to increase investment or expand activity in areas where progress is being made? What additional support is the Government committing to ensure that we see progress and that the figures start to come down significantly?

Angela Constance

As I said in my initial answer, I will respond to Parliament on the vital report by the Drug Deaths Taskforce.

On resourcing, I hope that Ms Baker and others accept that the national mission moneys are a 67 per cent real-terms increase. I have also endeavoured to ensure continuity of funding, both to alcohol and drug partnerships and to vital grass-roots organisations. We are pursuing a belt-and-braces approach by funding front-line services while also directly funding organisations.

Ms Baker makes the point that investment is not only about quantum but is also about targeting to ensure that resources reach where they must. That comes down to monitoring and evaluation. We are publishing more information than ever before to ensure both efficacy and transparency. How we allocate money is also vital, so that we get cross-government and cross-sector collaboration. We are serious about both reducing harm and supporting recovery in this country.

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

We all know that residential rehabilitation is absolutely life saving, and it needs to be front and centre of the Scottish National Party Government’s efforts to end Scotland’s drug-related deaths epidemic. I was shocked to learn yesterday from my constituent James, who is a resident at Calderglen house in South Lanarkshire, that it is more than half empty right now. There are 13 empty beds at present.

The minister said that it is imperative that resources reach where they must reach. I say to her that three people every day are dying. Why are people not able to access those beds?

Angela Constance

I appreciate that question from Ms Webber. I am, indeed, a powerful advocate for residential rehabilitation as part of that recovery-oriented whole system of care. Ms Webber will be aware that this Government has committed £100 million. Thus far, we have made commitments of around £23 million, which is both about utilising the unused capacity in the sector and about increasing capacity in the sector over and above that.

For the first time ever, we have, in effect, ring fenced money to alcohol and drug partnerships for residential rehab. Also for the first time ever, we are monitoring the number of residential rehabilitation places that each ADP is funding, so I know that, over the course of 2021-22, over 500 placements were funded.

If there are particular issues about the care pathway for the member’s constituent, I would be more than happy—indeed, it is my duty—to hear about it, so she would be very welcome to contact me separately on that matter.


To ask the Scottish Government whether it can confirm whether hull 801 will be delivered by May 2023 and hull 802 by December 2023 and within the latest cost to complete budget of £123 million. (S6T-00844)

The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise (Ivan McKee)

The target date for the completion of hull 801—the Glen Sannox—remains by the end of May 2023, and for hull 802 it is by the end of December 2023. The current budget to complete both vessels remains £123 million, as was set out in the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy’s update to Parliament on 23 March 2022.

The Deputy First Minister and the Minister for Transport were able to see at first hand the progress made on both vessels during their visit to the shipyard on 2 August this year. We continue to press the shipyard to continue to progress to completion of the vessels in that agreed timeframe and within budget.

Edward Mountain

The answer is that they will be delivered on the latest timescale and on the latest budget. We know that there is only £30 million left in the budget pot and at least another 15 months of build time, so, to be frank, an overspend is probably inevitable.

Given the latest disastrous information on harbour upgrades, in what year will both ferries be operational on their planned routes?

Ivan McKee

As I indicated, the completion dates for the ferries are by the end of May 2023 and by the end of December 2023. Both ferries will go into operation, obviously, after those dates. Work is continuing to make sure that the turnaround in the yard is delivering those results, and the yard is increasingly becoming more competitive to allow it to bid for other business going forward.

Edward Mountain

There we have it. We have a Scottish Government that does not even know when the infrastructure will be in place to allow the ferries to operate on the routes. We have a Scottish Government that mucked up the contract, with the nationalisation of the yard. It will overspend its budget and delay building the harbour infrastructure that we so desperately need. What more could possibly have gone wrong?

Ivan McKee

The member is incorrect. The harbour infrastructure is being put in place to ensure that the ferries can operate. The completion dates for the ferries are as I have already indicated, and the work continues to make the yard more competitive so that it can bid for and win more work on the open market. That is what this Government is focused on—saving the jobs, saving the shipyard and making sure that commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde has a future.

If we had listened to others, we would not be in that position today, and we would not have saved more than 300 jobs over that period of time. That is what is important, and that is what this Government cares about—the industrial future of that sector on the Clyde.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

The Scottish Government has demonstrated its crystal-clear commitment to the communities that are served by the ferry services and its strong commitment to ensuring that the proud tradition of shipbuilding continues in Port Glasgow on the Clyde and that jobs are protected from those who would have closed the yard. What can the Government and Ferguson Marine do to give the yard a secure future and guarantee jobs and skills for generations to come?

Ivan McKee

Stuart McMillan is right to highlight the need for us all to work to give a secure future to the yard and to future generations of employees. Potentially, work will be available from the Government; we have said that we will have a small vessels programme, and there will be longer-term proposals to invest in new ferry vessels. We want Ferguson Marine to be in a position to secure some of that work. However, whether work comes from the Government, other public sources or the private sector, the yard needs to be competitive. We have made clear our expectation in that regard, and we continue to monitor progress closely.

A lot of changes have been put in place since the new chief executive was appointed earlier this year, and we can now see, and say, that significant progress has been made and that the yard is back to being a serious contender for future vessel contracts. I hope that all members will welcome and get behind that.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

The substitute vessel that is being used on the Ardrossan to Arran route is 38 years old. Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd says that it has looked at more than 600 vessels in recent years but has managed to procure only one. Will the minister confirm when the work on project Neptune will be published, and will the Scottish Government commit to bringing forward a more sustainable plan to build capacity and construct vessels here in Scotland?

Ivan McKee

I make Katy Clark aware that my colleague the Minister for Transport will be in the chamber on Thursday to give an update on those issues. I look forward to hearing from the minister about the progress that has been made and the plans that are in place to address the issues that the member has raised.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

The minister was asked about harbour upgrades but did not give a very clear answer. The Ardrossan harbour task force was formed more than six years ago, but we still have no agreement on who is going to pay for what or when the work will be done. When will Ardrossan harbour be ready to take the MV Glen Sannox?

Ivan McKee

Graham Simpson will be aware that Peel Ports is the owner of that facility, but the Government is committed to making sure that the issue is resolved. My colleague the Minister for Transport is working on that and has said that we are working to ensure that matters are in place for when the ferries will be operational.

That concludes topical question time.