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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 8, 2024


Portfolio Question Time

Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is portfolio questions, and the first portfolio is rural affairs, land reform and islands. I invite members who wish to ask a question to press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question.

I advise members that we are extremely tight for time across the whole of the afternoon. There is quite a bit of interest in all three of the portfolios on which there will be questions. Therefore, the usual plea for brevity in questions and answers has added emphasis this afternoon.

Land Reform (Scotland) Bill (Urban Community Assets)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to incorporate the ownership and management of community assets in urban areas into its Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. (S6O-03388)

The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill sets out ambitious proposals that will change for the better how land is owned and managed in our rural and island communities. I appreciate that one size and, indeed, one bill most definitely does not fit all. The Government recognises the need to continue to develop policies and programmes for land in urban areas that reflect local needs and priorities. That is why, in March, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands announced a review of the community rights to buy to look at how effective our current powers are in urban and rural areas.

Foysol Choudhury

In 2020, after the Heart of Newhaven primary school was closed, a community asset transfer brought the building into public ownership, allowing it to serve its area as a community hub. Local engagement is so important, yet the provisions on community engagement in the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill apply only to holdings that are thousands of hectares. Can the minister advise how the Scottish Government will ensure good use of areas of land that are smaller than those that are mentioned in the bill?

Jim Fairlie

I absolutely take on board the point that Foysol Choudhury raises. The regeneration investment programme is supporting communities to develop and take ownership of land and assets across Scotland. To date, over £265 million has been invested through the regeneration capital grant fund, supporting nearly 230 community-led projects, and almost £27 million has been invested through the vacant and derelict land investment programme. That programme has brought back into use just over 112 hectares of persistent vacant and derelict land.

We will continue to deliver the vacant and derelict land fund. Five eligible councils are currently receiving a share of £7.65 million in 2023-24, and a figure of £5 million is planned for 2024-25.

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

Although we want communities to benefit from land ownership, it must be done in a way that is fair and proportionate. How will the Scottish Government determine when the lotting of land is in the public interest? What steps will the minister take to ensure that the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill complies with existing property rights?

Jim Fairlie

The cabinet secretary is taking through the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, and I am answering on her behalf, so I apologise if I do not give a full answer.

My understanding at this stage is that the Government was looking at a figure of over 1,000 hectares—it might be 3,000. I cannot honestly give the right numbers for that, but I know that the cabinet secretary has been looking at the issue, so we can get a fuller answer to the member in writing.

Forestry and Land Scotland (Meetings)

2. Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when the rural affairs secretary last met with Forestry and Land Scotland. (S6O-03389)

I note my entry in the register of members’ interests regarding forestry and renewable energy.

The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

As Alexander Burnett will be aware, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands regularly consults officials from Forestry and Land Scotland. I know that the member is aware that the cabinet secretary raised issues around flooding with Forestry and Land Scotland on his behalf. She regularly meets the organisation. The two most recent meetings, which were focused on finance, took place on 28 March and 1 May this year.

Alexander Burnett

New freedom of information figures show that, last year, more than a million trees on public land were felled to make way for wind farms. Constituents, such as those near Brown Hill forest at Craig Dorney, are reporting that forest roads that are owned by the Scottish Government are being improved to a higher specification than is required for simple timber extraction. That is clearly being done in expectation of wind farm developments that have yet to be consented, which makes a mockery of the approval process. Is the minister aware of such activity? Does he approve of it? Will those additional costs be met by wind farm developers, or are they just another cost being borne by the taxpayer?

Jim Fairlie

I reiterate the point that I made to your colleague Rachael Hamilton: this is not my bill or my area. I was not aware of the issue that you have raised, but I will get the cabinet secretary to write to you with the details.

Speak through the chair, please.

A number of members have requested to ask supplementary questions, which will need to be brief.

Elena Whitham (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)

Forestry and Land Scotland is a key institution in relation to Scotland’s land management. What role does the Government envisage that FLS will play in the next chapter of Scotland’s land reform journey as we strive to ensure that our land benefits the country as a whole, not just a privileged few?

Jim Fairlie

Over the past five years, Forestry and Land Scotland has worked with community groups that want to be more involved in managing Scotland’s national forests and land. The community asset transfer of national forests and land has been integral to the creation of businesses, tourism and recreational opportunities and to the establishment of affordable housing, woodland crofts and community renewable energy schemes, with 25 transfers having been completed to date.

Asset transfer has also empowered communities to address challenges with rural housing and to create new woodland crofts and affordable housing. Communities have benefited from renewable energy developments on national forests and land through community benefit payments from large-scale wind farm creation, for example, which has created substantial funds for local communities to draw on.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, will large FLS land holdings be required to produce publicly accessible land management plans for consultation, thereby bringing much-needed scrutiny by communities and other stakeholders?

Jim Fairlie

I am not quite sure what Mark Ruskell is asking. As far as I am aware, Forestry and Land Scotland is already publicly accessible. If that is not a full enough answer, I ask Mark Ruskell to come back to me, and I will ask the cabinet secretary to write to him.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Government ministers have repeatedly said that we need to have the right trees in the right places, but farmland in my constituency has recently been bought for tree plantation even though it is useful for food production. Will the minister use any more controls to ensure that we truly get the right trees in the right places?

Jim Fairlie

As Willie Rennie said, I have consistently said that we should have the right trees in the right places, but I should point out that it is farmers who sell the land to plant trees in the first place. If we bring in controls at a later date, that will be done through the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, which is being taken forward by the cabinet secretary.

Forestry Grant Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the forestry grant scheme is fit for purpose. (S6O-03390)

The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

The forestry grant scheme has consistently delivered the positive outcomes that are set out in the Scottish rural development programme. Since 2015, 85,000 hectares of new woodland have been supported, including 40,000 hectares of native woodland and 8,000 hectares through natural regeneration. The forestry grant scheme also contributes to a broad range of other priorities, including public access to woodland, rainforest restoration, priority species conservation and rural development.

Under the Scottish rural development programme, a formal evaluation of the forestry grant scheme from 2015 to 2023 is under way, and the report will be published during 2024.

Richard Leonard

Three weeks ago, I wrote to the cabinet secretary about the revelation that the private global investment company abrdn was paid a public grant of £2.5 million from Scottish Forestry in August 2023 for planting trees in the Cairngorms, even though the company increased its shareholdings in coal and oil and gas corporations in the US by £234 million in the same year. Last week, I received a reply from the cabinet secretary in which she told me:

“Scottish Forestry does not restrict funding to companies based on their wider business interests.”

What is the moral justification for that? Does the minister think that that is right? Why is this Government so soft on corporations and so tough on everybody else?

I am not entirely convinced that that is correct, but I will get a much fuller answer to Richard Leonard, and I am happy to meet him to talk about such issues.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Today, the issue is not so much whether the right tree is in the right place, but whether we have the right minister in the right place.

In February, the Minister for Energy and the Environment said that

“other sources of funding for tree planting”—[Official Report, 1 February 2024; c 9.]

would be increased to make up for the savage £32 million cut to the forestry grant scheme. What other sources of funding for new woodland creation does the Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity expect to become available? Specifically, how many additional hectares does he believe that that funding will deliver in the coming financial year?

Jim Fairlie

The honest answer to that is that I do not know. I am answering questions on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, and I do not have the answer to that question, but we will write to the member with a suitable answer.

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I seek your guidance. We are here for rural questions, but we have had not one answer other than the scripted ones. Could the cabinet secretary not have come to rural question time and then dealt with whatever she had to do following that, given that she has been seen on social media at Bute house?

I thank Rachael Hamilton for her point. She will be aware that the content of ministerial responses and, indeed, whom the Government chooses to respond to questions are matters for the Government.

Forestry and Land Scotland (Economic Benefit)

To ask the Scottish Government what Forestry and Land Scotland is doing to deliver economic benefit from the land that it manages, including through supporting mountain bike tourism. (S6O-03391)

The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

Forestry and Land Scotland is the custodian of the nation’s forests and woodlands, and it recently marked the fifth anniversary since it was formed by this Government. The agency’s works in our forests and woodlands represent at least 40 per cent of the total forestry activity in Scotland and contribute some 10,347 full-time equivalent forestry jobs and £382 million in gross value added to Scotland’s economy.

We also host enough renewable energy infrastructure to produce more than 1 billion watts of energy, which is sufficient to power 600,000 homes.

FLS is a key partner in delivering the “Strategy for Scottish Mountain Biking 2023-2025”. Our forests and woodlands welcome 11 million visitors annually across Scotland, of whom 8 per cent are mountain bikers. In the Scottish Borders, that figure increases to 33 per cent.

The “Glentress Masterplan” resulted in a £6 million public investment in trails and car parks. Other master plans are either in development or have been developed for other sites. Those plans act as frameworks for investment; for example, they helped to inform the £5 million 7stanes redevelopment project in the Borderlands growth deal.

Forestry and Land Scotland is also actively working with the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland project, trail associations and event organisers across Scotland to support mountain biking.

Craig Hoy

I recently met—unlike the minister, clearly—with businesses that represent mountain biking groups that use Glentress mountain biking trails, which are owned and operated by Forestry and Land Scotland. Following last year’s UCI championships, they are concerned that the positive outcomes that were promised from the event have so far failed to materialise or have not fully materialised. The trails at Glentress are partially closed, and the master plan has apparently stalled.

If the minister is still in post at the end of the day, will he join me in urging Forestry and Land Scotland to work with local stakeholders, including Scottish Borders Council, and with the local businesses and community groups that form community trail advocacy in the Tweed Valley, to ensure that they secure a positive economic, social and tourism benefit from last year’s championships.

Jim Fairlie

I see that Craig Hoy is clearly looking for the collegiate approach that we are trying to get across the chamber, but it is obviously not working.

Forestry and Land Scotland works with a number of partners on use of volunteers for management of cross-mountain bike trails. I will always be happy to meet stakeholders to see how we can advance things.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Forestry and Land Scotland should be looking at providing health benefits as well as economic benefits. As the minister will know, many people like to walk and cycle in the forests, but Forestry and Land Scotland has imposed parking charges that are putting a lot of people off. Will he consider a review of that policy to ensure that everyone has equal access to our forests?

The straight answer to that is yes. I will have a look at that and get back to Rhoda Grant.

Wild Bees (Welfare)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what steps it is taking to protect the welfare of wild bees. (S6O-03392)

The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

The Scottish Government is committed to halting and reversing the declines in wild bee populations. The “Pollinator Strategy for Scotland 2017-2027” sets out the actions that we are taking to address the pressures that are experienced by wild bees, including creating and restoring habitats for those species. We provide updates on those actions in the strategy’s annual progress reports.

Through the nature restoration fund, we are supporting projects that restore and enhance habitats for our pollinators. That includes providing more than £200,000 for the Pentland to Portobello greening project, £140,000 for the Tweed project and £89,000 for the Irvine to Girvan nectar network.

Graham Simpson

I am sure that the minister will agree with me that species-rich grasslands are some of our most biodiverse habitats. They provide a lifeline for wild bees and offer multiple other benefits, including storing vast amounts of carbon. We have seen catastrophic losses of those habitats, however. If the Scottish Government values Scotland’s grasslands as it values peatlands and woodlands, would it be willing to develop a national grasslands action plan?

Jim Fairlie

I absolutely take on board the point that the member makes about species-rich grass. I used to plant it for exactly the reasons that he has mentioned. There are areas of the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through Finlay Carson’s and Rachael Hamilton’s hands, that will address environmentally friendly issues in order to help pollinators. I am happy to discuss that further with Graham Simpson.

What steps is the Scottish Government taking to deal with the threat that is posed to Scotland’s bees by the parasitic Varroa mite?

Jim Fairlie

In 2022 we updated “The Honey Bee Health Strategy 2022-2032”, which aims to address the challenges that are facing honey bees and beekeepers. The strategy is supported by an implementation plan that details a number of actions specifically aimed at minimising the spread of Varroa, under the auspices of the dedicated Varroa working group. Those include activities to protect the precious few remaining Varroa-free areas.

We are also providing funding for the apiculture specialists at Scotland’s Rural College, who provide education and a support service for beekeepers, focused on disease prevention, good biosecurity and treatment for Varroa mites.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I declare an interest as a beekeeper, and I should also mention that I am the new species champion for the moss carder bee, which is one of Scotland’s rarest bee species.

Too often, conservation funding is very time limited. What long-term support is available for conservation programmes to secure the future of rare pollinator species such as the moss carder bee?

Jim Fairlie

Clearly, I cannot give any commitments today. However, as I have said, the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill is going through stage 2 at the moment. The Scottish Government is clearly seeking to protect pollinators through all the pollinator strategies that we currently have.

Question 6 has been withdrawn.

Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (Review)

7. Fergus Ewing

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands has had with ministerial colleagues regarding undertaking an immediate review of the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011, in order to allow proactive watercourse management to assist farmers, crofters and land managers to protect agricultural land from flooding risks themselves. (S6O-03394)

The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

I continue to work with my Cabinet colleagues to ensure that Scotland has a sustainable water resource for food production, energy and drinking water. I recently convened a water resource planning round table, which highlighted the need to manage both water excess and scarcity in the face of a changing climate.

While watercourse management can play a role, it is not always effective in reducing water levels, and it can have an impact on downstream populations. We are bringing environmental regulations, including the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011, into an integrated authorisation framework, and facilitating a clear process for applications.

Fergus Ewing

That sounded a bit like a “No”.

I will cite one farmer, who told me that

“Farmers and landowners must be allowed to clear riverbanks and in some cases dredge rivers. SEPA stops them at every turn.“

I have spoken to three other farmers who have identified an overly complex prescriptive system, and they say that they are rarely allowed to remove silt and only use bank protection such as gabion baskets for insufficient lengths of time to avoid resultant flooding. They say that damage is being done to public roads, for example the B740. In some cases, farmers are actually threatened by SEPA with withdrawal of their single farm payments, for infraction, so that many farmers are afraid to have sheep on their farm. Is not the system a complete failure?

Jim Fairlie

No, I do not believe that the system is a complete failure. There is a complete dichotomy between what farmers are asking SEPA to do and what SEPA believes should be done. SEPA does not ban dredging.

Land managers can undertake certain works without the need for SEPA authorisation, including clearing subsurface field drains and man-made ditches. Litter debris and in-stream vegetation can also be removed without SEPA authorisation. Regulatory controls are proportionate to the risk, and sediment removal in agricultural ditches and straightened rivers can be carried out under authorisation, which is subject to good practice.

There is absolutely no doubt that we are getting far heavier rainfall and far more surface water coming down. We have to find a way of holding that water back. Last week, I had a conversation with Martin Kennedy from NFU Scotland. The idea is to clear the rivers and get the water down more quickly. However, if the water comes down more quickly, it floods somebody else further down. We need a much more integrated approach to managing our water, in the longer term.

Tim Eagle (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

As has just been mentioned, that is simply not enough. The minister might be aware that, in Moray, the communities of Garmouth and Kingston have suffered terrible flooding damage to agricultural fields, as well as to homes and businesses. Many locals can remember parents and grandparents entering the river to clear shingle banks, which helped to control the waters of the Spey in years gone by. Will the minister consider changing the regulations to ensure that such local knowledge can be used in the future?

Jim Fairlie

I will not give that commitment right now, but I can say to Tim Eagle—I am not saying this to dampen down the debate—that there is an issue with water. Between flooding and drought, we now have a far bigger problem with water; they are much more extreme than they have ever been in the past. Water is not held in the hills with snow, but the upland areas could catch a lot more water. If it can be held up there earlier, we will not get flooding downstream.

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

The minister will be aware of the repeated flooding that residents in Angus have faced during the past nine months or so. What reassurances can he give them that effective watercourse and river-basin management will protect them from flooding in the coming months?

Jim Fairlie

The Government is very alive to the fact that those flooding events have taken place; we have put money into the Brechin area in particular. However, the Government is consistently looking at what we are going to do about water management, which is why we held a round-table meeting last week, or the week before.

Island Economies (Cross-Government Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what cross-Government action it is taking to support Scotland’s islands and their economies. (S6O-03395)

The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

Scotland’s first national islands plan was published in 2019 to co-ordinate cross-Government actions aimed at improving outcomes for island communities. To date, delivery of the plan has been supported by more than £12 million for critical infrastructure. That is additional to our investments in regional growth deals and our carbon neutral islands project, which further benefit the islands. The islands cost crisis emergency fund, which has already distributed £2.4 million to help island households and businesses, will be worth £5 million in 2024-25. We will publish a second national islands plan next year in collaboration with island communities and local authorities.

Neil Bibby

During the past month, the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry route saw 57 cancellations in three days when no ferries sailed at all. The current condition of Ardrossan harbour has led CalMac to claim that it can no longer berth overnight because of the risk of damage to vessels, which means that it can no longer operate the first sailing of the day. That is having a significant impact on the local economy, deliveries and workers. CalMac and Peel Ports are pointing fingers at each other while the multimillion-pound upgrade that was approved six years ago has been paused. Will the Scottish Government use its influence to get all parties around the table to ensure that people travelling between Ardrossan and Brodick have a reliable ferry service?

Jim Fairlie

I fully take on board the member’s point. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands is keen to ensure that we get people around the table to find a solution so that this brilliant island community, which has so much resource going for it, gets a solution to get the ferries back on course.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I am pleased to say that there is an Ardrossan harbour task force meeting next week.

Arran’s business community faces additional challenges this summer because of reduced ferry capacity and heightened disruption from the closure by Peel Ports of Ardrossan’s Irish berth. However, despite the negative media caricatures of the island, Arran remains open for business. How can the Scottish Government and CalMac promote that message? What practical assistance is being offered to minimise the impact of disruption on the viability and sustainability of Arran’s businesses?

I take on board the point that Kenneth Simpson regularly makes for his constituents.


Kenneth Gibson. The Scottish Government is consistently looking to ensure that people understand that all our island communities are open and that they are brilliant destinations.

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

On 13 March, I asked the minister in this chamber whether a derogation to the North Sea cod avoidance plan in order to allow fishing for squid inside 12 nautical miles—which is extremely important for the Shetland fishing industry and its local economy—would be considered. The minister said that the matter was one for the cabinet secretary, and that he would ask her to respond to me directly. Nearly two months later, I have still not received a reply from the cabinet secretary. Is such a derogation being considered? Has the idea been rejected, or has it been accepted?

I will chase that up with the cabinet secretary and get back to the member.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

What engagement has the Scottish Government had with the United Kingdom Government about developing short subsea tunnels between some of Shetland’s islands? May I request that, if the minister is unable to answer, he provides a response in writing?

Jim Fairlie

I will definitely provide a response in writing, but I can tell Beatrice Wishart that I have met the Shetland Islands community to talk about the issue, which she has raised previously with me. I will be happy to give her a response in writing.

National Health Service Recovery, Health and Social Care

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The next portfolio is NHS recovery, health and social care. I remind members that questions 2 and 7 are grouped together, so I will take any supplementaries on those questions after both have been answered. Anybody who wishes to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question. Again, there is a lot of interest in supplementaries, so the questions and, indeed, the responses will need to be brief.

Specialist Alcohol Services

1. Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what value it places on specialist alcohol services, such as the primary care alcohol nurse outreach service in Glasgow, in dealing with the reported public health crisis in relation to alcohol. (S6O-03396)

The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health (Jenni Minto)

The Scottish Government values all initiatives and actions that are taken to help to address the public health crisis in relation to alcohol. Specialist services play a key part in helping to address that emergency, and initiatives such as the primary care outreach nurse service help to deliver co-ordinated and person-centred assessment, advice and care for people who have been impacted by alcohol.

Jackie Baillie

Last week, the Glasgow alcohol and drug partnership decided to downgrade the alcohol nurse outreach service by transferring it to a more generic drugs and alcohol service. That was done as a result of Scottish National Party cuts to the primary care budget. Does the minister accept that there is a need to ensure parity of response for alcohol and drug addictions, and will she ensure that the most vulnerable people with alcohol addiction in areas of the greatest deprivation in Glasgow are not let down by that decision?

Jenni Minto

As Jackie Baillie pointed out, the decision has been taken to amalgamate the alcohol nurse outreach service, which was a pilot that was set up by the health and social care partnership, into the alcohol and drugs recovery service. That will bolster an existing very successful service with nurses. That service is already accessed not only by people who have a drugs issue but by people who have an alcohol issue. According to the information that I have received, it is a good service that will absolutely support people who are in need of such holistic care.

Can the minister provide an update on what action the Scottish Government is taking to reduce health inequalities when it comes to alcohol-related harm?

Jenni Minto

The Scottish Government is determined to do all that it can to reduce alcohol-related harm. We continue to implement actions that are outlined in our alcohol framework, which have a strong focus on reducing health inequalities, protecting children and young people, and building on existing measures to change Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. Those include our world-leading minimum unit pricing policy, which, the evidence suggests, has contributed to reducing health inequalities, as the largest estimated reductions in deaths attributable wholly to alcohol consumption have been in men and those who live in the 40 per cent most deprived areas. Alongside MUP, we continue to invest in treatment and a wide range of other measures, including funding for alcohol and drug partnerships, which rose to a record £112 million in 2023-24.

NHS Lothian Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support NHS Lothian in reducing the CAMHS waiting lists across the region. (S6O-03397)

The Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport (Maree Todd)

We continually monitor child and adolescent mental health services waiting times performance and engage with all health boards, including NHS Lothian, and direct tailored support to those with the longest waits, providing access to professional advice. We commissioned health boards to submit performance trajectories up to March 2025, which will be updated annually and used to continue targeted improvement work, ensuring that all boards consistently meet the CAMHS standard. Boards were allocated £55.5 million in 2023-24 via the mental health outcomes framework to improve the quality and delivery of mental health services for all, in addition to the core funding that health boards receive.

Sue Webber

One of my constituents is only eight years old and has been on the neurodevelopmental waiting list for an assessment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder for 96 weeks already. The frustration and the distress that the family is experiencing because of that wait are unacceptable. Despite the school being supportive and offering my constituent one-to-one adult support, he continues to have outbursts that the family is finding difficult to manage.

I have already raised that case with you, minister, and you advised me to contact NHS Lothian. I had already done so prior to contacting you, as had the family—

Speak through the chair.

Sue Webber

That is hardly a tailored response. The family has been waiting almost two years for only an assessment and contacted me as a last resort. What action should the family take next in the face of those unacceptable waiting times?

Maree Todd

We are working closely with national health service health boards and local authorities to improve services and support for children and young people and their families. We will continue to ensure that long waits are appropriately addressed.

We are supporting boards to implement the national neurodevelopmental specification. As part of that, we have provided more than £1 million to fund five pilots, which focus on implementing various aspects of the specification, including getting it right for every child and multi-agency working. We intend to revisit the neurodevelopmental specification to ensure that it continues to be relevant and meets the needs of children and their families. That will involve reviewing learning from those who are implementing the neurodevelopmental specification to date and understanding how we can better measure that. We will support health boards and local authorities to work together, in line with that specification, to ensure that the support is there for the children who need it, regardless of whether they have a diagnosis.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Waiting Times)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what measures it is putting in place to reduce waiting times for access to CAMHS. (S6O-03402)

The Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport (Maree Todd)

In my answer to Sue Webber, I set out how we monitor the performance of child and adolescent mental health services, engaging regularly with all health boards. The CAMHS specification was published in February 2020, setting out the level of service that children, young people and families can expect from CAMHS across Scotland.

It is really positive to see the significant and sustained improvement in CAMHS waiting times over the past year. Most notably, national performance against the 18-week CAMHS standard is the fourth highest since records began and the highest achieved since the quarter that ended in March 2016.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

So far, the Government has still failed to meet the target of 90 per cent of children and young people being seen by CAMHS in 18 weeks, and one in four are turned away, which not only impacts access to support for their mental health but has an impact on pupils having their needs met in schools, as evidence to the Education, Children and Young People Committee suggests.

Does the minister agree that delays to healthcare that impact education are unacceptable? What conversations has she had with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills on improving joined-up working?

Maree Todd

Pam Duncan-Glancy will be aware that we operate the policy of getting it right for every child. It is not necessary to wait for a health diagnosis to put in place support in schools. A delay in accessing healthcare should not delay access to the support that is required to fulfil a child’s right to education. That is really important for people to understand.

Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned rejected referrals. That language is difficult for me to accept. It is important that we consider that many of those referrals are inappropriate and that people are redirected to more appropriate support for them rather than receiving an outright rejection. That is not a denial of the difficult situation that children are in; it is simply signposting towards more appropriate support than CAMHS, which is a specialist mental health service.

There are a couple of supplementary questions. They will need to be brief, as will the responses.

Will the minister provide any further update regarding the latest assessment of CAMHS waiting lists and how they compare with last year’s?

Maree Todd

As I have said a number of times in the chamber, we are seeing positive signs of improvement across the waiting lists compared with last year. The statistics that were published on 5 March 2024 show that overall CAMHS waiting lists decreased by 27 per cent from the previous year, the number of children waiting for more than 18 weeks decreased by 53 per cent from the previous year and the number of children waiting for more than 52 weeks decreased by 74 per cent from the previous year. We remain committed to supporting all boards to meet the standard that 90 per cent of patients start treatment within 18 weeks of referral.

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

NHS Scotland’s waiting times stipulate that children and young people should only be removed from the CAMHS waiting list once they have attended an initial appointment and, where appropriate, when treatment has commenced. However, some health boards are removing people from the CAMHS waiting list simply when an appointment date is received. What is the Government doing to ensure that health boards are removing people from the CAMHS waiting list only once they have started treatment?

Maree Todd

Accuracy of data in the mental health system is absolutely crucial to understanding the countrywide situation that we face and the means by which we should tackle the challenges that we face. I would be more than happy to meet Paul Sweeney to discuss in more detail what exactly is happening not just with the CAMHS waiting list but with other waiting list targets to ensure that we are working on accurate data making accurate progress.

Ambulance Turnaround Times

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what steps it is taking to improve ambulance turnaround times. (S6O-03398)

The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health (Jenni Minto)

The Scottish Ambulance Service continually engages with health boards while optimising services including flow navigation centres and the integrated clinical hub, which provide care for patients at or near home, thereby reducing pressures on accident and emergency departments. The call before you convey protocol is being used, and cohorting areas have been established at challenging sites, ensuring that ambulance crews are freed up during high-demand periods.

Tim Eagle

It is a matter of life and death that ambulances are ready and able to swiftly respond to emergency calls, so it is alarming that we regularly hear reports of ambulances stuck outside A and E departments. Average turnaround times regularly exceed 45 minutes, and we have reports from A and E staff, consultants and general practitioners that sick patients who need a hospital transfer are waiting hours and hours for an ambulance. Does the minister recognise that that is happening on the Scottish National Party’s watch and that it is placing huge strain on our key national health service workers? Will she ensure—with all her energy—that hospitals have the beds, space and resources available to ensure quick turnaround times for our ambulances?

Jenni Minto

I thank Tim Eagle for his question and recognise that we have to ensure that ambulance turnarounds are as quick and safe as possible. We have many examples of where work on that is being done, and the Government has regular meetings with the health boards to discuss what they are doing and where there might be blockages. For example, NHS Grampian has established an area with six overspill beds, which has been robustly staffed over the past month and is available over a 24-hour period.

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

Figures that were obtained by Scottish Labour for my region show that the longest turnaround times for ambulances at Ayr hospital and Dumfries and Galloway royal infirmary were more than 24 hours. In addition, waits of well over an hour have been recorded for critical purple-code call-outs. Does the minister agree that, although our paramedics and NHS staff are working hard and are under pressure, this Government’s mismanagement of the NHS is failing patients and staff? Will the minister explain what work—beyond holding meetings—it will do collaboratively across the NHS to address the pressures on ambulance services?

Jenni Minto

Patient safety remains our top priority, and I apologise to anyone who has experienced a wait for an ambulance team to reach them. The Scottish Ambulance Service is currently reviewing 2024-25 recruitment plans to reflect the expansion of innovative services such as flow navigation centres and the integrated clinical hub, which aim to provide as much care as possible for patients at home or close to home without conveying them to hospital. That is one action that we are taking.

It is important to understand where the pressures are and find the right solutions to them, and that is what the Scottish Government is committed to doing.

Social Care

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work that is under way to support people to have more choice and involvement in how their social care is delivered. (S6O-03399)

The Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport (Maree Todd)

It is vital that people can make informed choices and that they have control over how their social care is delivered, through self-directed support. That is why, in April, as part of the self-directed support improvement plan, we relaunched the support in the right direction programme. Over three years, £9.9 million will provide independent support, advice and advocacy to help people to access the care that they want.

Also in April, we reopened the independent living fund to new applicants. An initial £9 million investment will help up to 1,000 additional disabled people with complex needs to arrange the care that they need to live more independently.

James Dornan

I welcome the additional investment of £9 million for the support in the right direction programme. Will the minister expand on how the programme enables organisations to deliver independent support and advocacy to help people to live independently and participate in all aspects of life?

Maree Todd

The programme was launched by the Scottish Government in 2018 with the aim of increasing the delivery of independent support to people who need social care. In 2023, we agreed to fund the multiyear programme from 2024 to 2027 with £3.3 million per year. The programme is delivered through partnership agreements with third sector organisations in local authority areas across Scotland. Currently, 33 organisations across all 32 local authority areas in Scotland are funded by the Scottish Government. Those organisations provide advocacy, brokerage, information and social care planning services to people who need them.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Testing for Adults) (NHS Ayrshire and Arran)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to NHS Ayrshire and Arran to improve access to ADHD testing for adults. (S6O-03400)

The Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport (Maree Todd)

The Scottish Government recognises that more needs to be done to support neurodivergent adults, including those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although it is the responsibility of local areas to provide support and services, we are taking a range of supportive actions.

We provided £650,000 for adult neurodevelopmental pathways pilots in 2022-23. Following the pilots, we are funding and working with the national autism implementation team—NAIT—to take forward the recommendations of its 2023 report. Support from NAIT is being given directly to health and social care partnerships to develop action plans, introduce adult neurodevelopmental pathways and provide professional learning workshops. We are funding a new neuro-affirming community of practice, which was launched in October 2023, and there has been positive engagement across health boards with that. We are publishing guidance on shared care and prescribing ADHD medication to adults following private sector diagnosis, and we are providing £1 million annually for the autistic adult support fund—AASF—which offers support that is not diagnosis dependent to people who have autism, many of who will also have ADHD.

Elena Whitham

As the constituency MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, I have received many requests from adults who are looking for support to access ADHD testing. They recognise that the difficulties that they have faced throughout their entire adult life are symptoms of ADHD. Many have faced multiple challenges, including difficulty in maintaining employment or relationships, and periods of incarceration or self-medication. Given the advice that NHS Ayrshire and Arran has insufficient capacity in existing services to assess and treat in a timeous manner, I would be grateful for the minister’s advice and any information on what the Scottish Government can do to assess that health board and other health boards.

Maree Todd

I have made inquiries with NHS Ayrshire and Arran about the actions that it is taking to address waiting times, and we have offered support from the national autism implementation team. I understand that the chief officers received a report in February and are currently considering their next steps.

Nationally, we continue to look at how best to develop and support single neurodevelopmental pathways for adults, working with NAIT, local health and social care partnerships and NHS boards. Additionally, there is a NAIT facility and an adult neurodevelopmental professionals network, which I am aware that NHS Ayrshire and Arran is part of.

We are committed to working together to improve the position for individuals and their families and to ensure that people can access support when they need it.

National Health Service Consultants (Rural Areas and Islands Visits)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how the NHS supports the health of rural and islands communities through regular visits from consultants. (S6O-03401)

The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health (Jenni Minto)

The Government recognises the importance of ensuring equitable access to healthcare for patients in rural and island communities. Individual boards and integration authorities are responsible for planning and delivering services to meet the needs of their communities. That includes understanding the needs of their populations and designing services that can deliver high-quality care. It requires a variety of approaches, including local delivery where possible and, where more appropriate, supporting patients to access specialist facilities.

Alasdair Allan

My constituents in Uist are concerned that recent flight timetabling is understood to have prevented some visits by consultants from Raigmore hospital in Inverness. Can the minister indicate what can be done to ensure that the timetabling of transport links is harmonised, giving due consideration to the needs of island communities, to ensure that the level of healthcare to which islanders should be entitled is not detrimentally affected?

Jenni Minto

As an inhabitant of an island, I recognise the pressures that Alasdair Allan talks about. The Scottish Government recognises that more can be done to bring transport planning and health service planning together. However, the timetabling of commercial flights is a matter for the airlines involved.

In 2023, we prepared the draft transport to health plan and we have been working with regional transport partnerships and other partners to deliver the commitments. The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership recently convened a meeting of health boards in its area to discuss the establishment of a health and transport action plan, and this issue is exactly the type of thing that the action plan should be considering.

Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The question mentions rural healthcare, which allows me to ask about the campaign to reopen the Burghead and Hopeman surgeries. The minister sat through a debate that I held on 21 March and the Government gave commitments that the Evan Beswick review would be published imminently, but the review has still not been published. Jenni Minto promised to meet the save our surgeries campaigners, but they have still not been offered a meeting and have said today that they are being kept in the dark. When can we see the Evan Beswick review and when will Jenni Minto meet the save our surgeries campaigners?

Jenni Minto

It was a pleasure to meet the member’s constituents, who have been campaigning hard for the re-establishment of their general practitioner surgeries. I will check to find out when the Evan Beswick report will be published. I will also chase up my diary, if I remain in this role, and hopefully get the meeting booked as soon as possible, as I have connections to Moray.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I urge the minister to have that meeting as soon as possible, because the matter is urgent. Could I also ask her to have a meeting with Western Isles Council and the health board? Due to budget cuts, the council has changed its subsidised air service provider and the aircraft that is now being used to go from Uist to Stornoway to access consultants is not accessible to anyone with mobility issues, so our disabled people and elderly people are not able to see a consultant in Stornoway. Therefore, can I urge the minister to take that action?

I am concerned about what Rhoda Grant has reported with regard to access for elderly and less mobile constituents of hers. I would be happy to chase that up and respond to her in writing.

Dental Care (Older People in Care Settings)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure good dental care provision for older people in care settings. (S6O-03403)

The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health (Jenni Minto)

Building on the recommendations of the 2018 oral health improvement plan, a bespoke training and mentoring programme was introduced in 2019 to establish a new programme of enhanced domiciliary dental care, supported by regulation changes. Under those arrangements, independent dentists are provided with specific training that allows them to be accredited to provide dental care to people who are living in care homes.

The overall aim of the programme is to ensure that the appropriate service providers—sorry. The overall aim is to ensure that the appropriate service provides the appropriate care in the appropriate setting—there were too many appropriates there—allowing the public dental service to concentrate on more complex domiciliary care and treatment.

Alexander Stewart

Under changes that were introduced late last year, elderly residents in care settings are seeing the frequency of dental check-ups halved and dentists who see multiple patients on a single visit are being financially punished for their efficiency. Dental practitioners have contacted Scotland’s chief dental officer outlining those concerns and proposing a fair solution. Will this Government embrace that fair solution?

Jenni Minto

After receiving feedback, we recently consulted the sector on the issue. As a result, last month we introduced an amendment to the statement on dental remuneration, which allows enhanced skilled practitioners to claim the regular domiciliary fee in addition to the item of service treatment payment and the enhanced skills care and treatment allowance. That means that enhanced skilled practitioners are now able to claim an additional £89.05 for every care home visit. I think that that example shows that the Scottish Government is listening to dentists.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

This week, the British Dental Association said:

“We just can’t recruit. We have enough dentists but we don’t have enough that want to work in the NHS.”

Does the minister recognise that our new fee system is just not working? What is she going to do about it?

Jenni Minto

I disagree with the premise of Willie Rennie’s question. The new fee system was introduced only in November, and we are still working through it. As the member will know, if all things remain equal, we will have a round-table meeting tomorrow in the Parliament to discuss dental services. It is important to recognise that the Scottish Government is also considering a range of workforce initiatives, including looking at how we can better utilise dental therapists to provide national health service care.

This is not just an issue that affects Scotland, so I have met my counterparts in other United Kingdom nations to discuss how we can improve the pipeline for overseas dentists to work in the UK. I am pleased that the Westminster Parliament is looking at the issue.

Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

There are 140 care homes in Glasgow. For many residents, domiciliary dental care is vital.

I visited Woodside dental practice, where 96 per cent of patients are receiving NHS treatment. The practice operates care-at-home services, with more than 1,000 residential patients, and its dentists have advanced training. It has said that the Scottish National Party is not listening to dentists. It finds that, under determination 1, the financials simply do not work. Payments have been cut by a third, and it will be forced to end the care-at-home service before the end of May.

Will the minister commit to tackling this latest crisis in NHS dentistry, or will the SNP let this vulnerable—


Jenni Minto

I thank Sandesh Gulhane for his question. As I said in my response to his fellow Conservative MSP, Alexander Stewart, we have listened to feedback. We have consulted the sector and have changed the fee for dental remuneration.

Can the minister provide an update on what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the number of NHS dentists in Scotland and how that compares to elsewhere in the UK?

Jenni Minto

NHS Education for Scotland provides regular data on NHS dental workforce head count. The long-term trend is positive, with the number of high street NHS dentists increasing by almost a quarter from September 2007 to September 2023. We have maintained a strong track record in growing the NHS dental workforce in Scotland, with 57 dentists per 100,000 of the population, compared with 42 in England and 46 in Wales.

That concludes portfolio questions on NHS recovery, health and social care. There will be a brief pause before we move to the next item of business, to allow front-bench teams to change position.

Social Justice

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is portfolio questions on social justice. Should a member wish to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or, if they are online, enter the letters RTS in the chat function during the relevant question.

Rural Affordable Homes for Key Workers Fund

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the rural affordable homes for key workers fund. (S6O-03404)

The Minister for Housing (Paul McLennan)

I recognise the importance of good-quality affordable homes, including those for key workers, to attract and retain people for the benefit of our rural and island communities. I know that a number of local authorities are actively looking to bring forward proposals under the demand-led fund and that four affordable homes have already been approved in Orkney. I have written to all local authority chief executives to encourage collaborative working between authorities and relevant partners. I am engaging with local authorities and others, including business interests, to maximise uptake of the fund.

Liz Smith

I suppose that having four homes in Orkney is better than zero homes, which is the figure that my colleague Miles Briggs was given when he asked the same question about the £25 million fund six months ago. Does the minister accept that that situation is entirely unacceptable, given the pressure that the rural sector faces when it comes to attracting the workers that it needs? John Swinney highlighted that in his interview in The Courier, which was published this morning. In light of the collapse of the Bute house agreement, will the needs of our rural communities finally become a priority?

Paul McLennan

They are a priority. I have visited a number of local authority areas, including Orkney, as I mentioned, as well as Shetland and the Western Isles to talk about that. We have written to and contacted chief executives about the subject. It is important that local authorities take that forward and take a strategic overview. Mr Lochhead and I met key stakeholders in Perth just before Christmas, and I have a follow-up meeting.

As I said, the fund is demand led, and I am happy to meet Liz Smith to discuss the issue further. We have made a number of interventions with local authorities to ask them to ensure that they are working strategically with key partners to deliver the demand-led service.

Housing (Scotland) Bill

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the ending of the Bute house agreement will have on the Housing (Scotland) Bill. (S6O-03405)

The Minister for Housing (Paul McLennan)

The Housing (Scotland) Bill was introduced on 26 March 2024. If passed by Parliament, the bill will enable the delivery of our commitments for longer-term private sector rent controls; tenants’ rights and other protections; duties aimed at the prevention of homelessness; and supporting social rented sector tenants who are experiencing domestic abuse.

I will continue to engage with stakeholders. Of course, Parliament will determine the timetable on which the bill will proceed. We will work constructively with all members to support the passage of the bill.

Willie Rennie

The ending has had no effect whatsoever—that is how I read that. I have repeatedly said that, if we are to take the significant step of introducing rent controls, we need evidence of the impact of the current and previous arrangements. There is a real danger that rent controls will create a rent floor rather than a rent ceiling. Is the minister absolutely confident that he has sufficient evidence before proceeding with the bill?

Paul McLennan

I am confident. As part of the bill process, we will be taking evidence. The bill will go through the committee stage, when there will be a call for evidence. I would have thought that that would result in stakeholder responses on the issue.

We are confident with what we have just now. As I said, part of the process is to continue to engage with stakeholders, but we will also go through the bill process, which involves calling for evidence.

We have some supplementaries.

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

There is a lot to welcome in the bill, and we have welcomed many parts of it, but rent controls, which are part of the bill, are hugely damaging the market in Scotland. Rent controls have led to a decrease in supply. Some 17 per cent of landlords are saying that they will sell or consider selling their property. Rent controls are also driving up rents, and we have the highest increase in rents anywhere in the United Kingdom. I ask the minister a very simple question: now that the Bute house agreement has come to an end, will he agree to review the bill and work with parties that want to ensure that the bill will help renters in Scotland, not hinder them?

Paul McLennan

Mr Briggs and I have a close relationship when it comes to housing matters, and we meet regularly. When the bill was introduced, we discussed it. I engaged with him and said that we would continue to do that.

On rent controls, as I said, we will continue to listen to stakeholders to get the right balance between getting investment into the sector and protecting the most vulnerable. I am happy to meet Miles Briggs at any time to discuss the bill.

Will the minister outline how the Government plans to proceed with the bill and ensure that its critical measures on tackling homelessness are achieved?

Paul McLennan

If the bill is passed by Parliament, the homelessness duties will help to prevent homelessness before it occurs and ensure that households do not face the trauma and disruption of homelessness. We will work with stakeholders, including those in health and justice, to get the guidance and training right to support the duties and identify the best timing for implementation.

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

In light of the historic decision by Reidvale Housing Association shareholders to reject a takeover by Places for People in recent months, will the minister consider making provision in the bill for enhanced protections for community-based registered social landlords to ensure that they are not unnecessarily taken over, perhaps by raising the threshold for tenant ballots to two thirds, which is the same as that in the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014?

Paul McLennan

Mr Sweeney has raised the issue in the chamber a number of times, and we have had a couple of discussions about it. He will know that housing regulators are also involved in the process but, if I am still in post, I will be happy to meet him again to discuss the matter. As I said, there will be continuous engagement with members throughout the bill process, but I am happy to meet him to discuss it.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I am pleased that the minister still supports the principle of rent controls, but he will be aware that some people are lobbying for the vested interests of landlords, not tenants, and are seeking to water down those proposals—for example, in relation to between-tenancy rent increases and automatic rent condition assessments. Will he assure us that he will oppose such measures, which, if taken forward, would be as useless as the old rent pressure zones, which have never been in effect anywhere in Scotland? [Interruption.]

Before I ask the minister to reply, I ask all members to show courtesy and respect to the member who has the floor—that was not any of the members who were seeking to make sedentary comments.

Paul McLennan

The key thing, as I mentioned in previous answers, is that we will continue to engage with stakeholders and other members. When Mr Harvie was in post, he and I met stakeholders, and I am happy to engage with him as we go through the bill process, to discuss the points that he has raised.

Mental Health (Welfare Benefits Changes)

3. Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, regarding any potential impact on devolved benefits in Scotland, what representation it plans to make to the United Kingdom Government regarding its proposed changes to welfare benefits for people with mental health issues. (S6O-03406)

The Minister for Housing (Paul McLennan)

Last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice sought urgent clarity from the Department for Work and Pensions that people who receive adult disability payment will continue to receive the reserved benefits that they rely on. She has also sought assurances that the UK Government will not seek to impose cuts to expenditure on the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government will never accept the cruel welfare reforms that are being pursued by the DWP and which further stigmatise and impoverish disabled people. In contrast, in 2024-25, we are committing a record £6.3 billion to benefits expenditure, which is £1.1 billion more than we receive from the UK Government for social security.

Scotland’s social security system is designed on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect. Those are the values of this Government and of the people of Scotland.

Rona Mackay

I welcome the minister’s response. Does he agree that the UK Government should look to the Scottish Government model of Social Security Scotland and start treating people with dignity, fairness and respect by scrapping the proposed welfare cuts for people with mental health issues?

Paul McLennan

Yes—I agree with that. The UK Government’s heartless approach to social security appears to be entirely focused on reducing the support to those who need it. Disabled people’s organisations in Scotland have already warned that the UK Government’s planned changes are “cruel, punitive and ineffective” in getting disabled people back into work.

Meanwhile, our compassionate and caring approach, which is fundamentally different from that of the DWP, has been backed by experts. The Scottish Government completely rejects the proposed changes, and I call on the UK Government to halt those plans, so that they can be properly scrutinised.

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

The minister will recognise that the waiting times for benefits in Scotland are longer than those for DWP benefits. Will he take action so that people who are waiting to hear whether they are entitled to a claim are not left with the stress of waiting for months before they get a response from Social Security Scotland?

I know that the member has an interest in the area, and he has raised it with the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice on a number of occasions. I will engage with her and feed the answer back to Mr Balfour.

Rent Control

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to introduce long-term rent controls. (S6O-03407)

The Minister for Housing (Paul McLennan)

I refer the member back to a couple of answers that I have already given. We will continue to engage with stakeholders on an on-going basis, and Parliament will set out the committee process.

As I mentioned, at the start of the process, I met Mr Briggs, Mr Griffin and Mr Rennie, and I am happy to meet Dr Gulhane to discuss any issues. The Parliament will set its own parliamentary process for that, including the committee stage.

Sandesh Gulhane

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests: I own a property in Glasgow.

Rents for two-bedroom properties in greater Glasgow have increased by an average of 22.3 per cent from the year before, largely due to the Scottish National Party-Green rent cap.


Unlike Patrick Harvie, does the minister recognise that impact, or is the SNP still beholden to Green dogma?

Paul McLennan

As I said, I will continue to engage with stakeholders on an on-going basis in that regard and I will take all the evidence that we get from them. The committee stage will be incredibly important for that. We will be speaking to the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee about homelessness and social justice, and I am happy to engage with the member on that. As I said, at the committee stage, there will be a call for evidence and I imagine that we will get evidence on the particular point that he mentioned. I am happy to meet him to discuss that further.

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

Having a fairer well-regulated private rented sector is in the interests of both tenants and responsible landlords. What lessons has the Scottish Government drawn from our European neighbours, where rent controls have been implemented successfully?

Paul McLennan

We have considered a wide range of information on evidence on rent controls, including a bespoke research briefing from the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, which included assessment of and references to earlier academic work on rent control systems in both Berlin and Ireland. We also met members of Ireland’s Residential Tenancies Board. We continue to consider the experiences of other countries’ rent control systems and to work closely with a range of stakeholders to understand their perspectives as we deliver a rent control system that is right for Scotland.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

Will the minister provide a timetable for when a rent control system will be in operation, given that the system that was recently introduced by the now-departed Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights introduced a complicated system of transitional measures? Does the minister envisage that those measures will be in operation until there are rent controls?

Paul McLennan

As I mentioned previously in the chamber, I will take the Housing (Scotland) Bill forward, if I am in the same post after today. When the new First Minister is in place and has a chance to discuss it, the matter and the process around it will be reviewed, although part of the process will be determined by the Parliament. I will be happy to come back to the member on that point.

Tackling Poverty and Inequalities in Clackmannanshire (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to organisations in Clackmannanshire to tackle poverty and inequalities. (S6O-03408)

The Minister for Housing (Paul McLennan)

The Scottish Government is supporting a range of work in Clackmannanshire to tackle poverty and inequality. About six months ago, I visited the Clackmannanshire Citizens Advice Bureau in Alloa to discuss the issues in that area. Our work includes collaboration with the local authority; the family wellbeing partnership, which is supporting improved local services and outcomes; the early adopter community project, which funds the local authority to build a system of childcare by developing services and supporting children and their families with childcare costs; and a range of third sector and grass-roots organisations through different funds that are intended to tackle poverty and inequality and improve outcomes for children, families, adult learners and communities.

Keith Brown

I am aware that there will be a ministerial visit to Clackmannanshire shortly to learn more about some of the innovative work that is taking place between the local authority, the third sector and communities in the family wellbeing partnership, which is delivering significant positive outcomes. What more can the Scottish Government do to support such early intervention and prevention initiatives, which help those who are experiencing the greatest disadvantage?

Paul McLennan

As the members says, the Scottish Government is a key partner alongside the local authority and the Clackmannanshire family wellbeing partnership. Officials regularly meet colleagues from the local authority to progress and support the partnership’s aims to tackle poverty and inequality and to improve services. The partnership is, in turn, supporting wide-ranging engagement with local partners and stakeholders. Additionally, senior Scottish Government officials, including the permanent secretary, visited in March to learn about the work in Clackmannanshire, with the Deputy First Minister and the Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise visiting in August and October 2023 respectively.

Rent Cap Expiry

6. Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I remind members of entry in the register of members’ interests, in that I rent out long-term family homes in Moray.

To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has carried out on any prospective rent rises following the expiry of the rent cap. (S6O-03409)

The Minister for Housing (Paul McLennan)

Following expiry of the rent cap, we continue to closely monitor all available evidence on the private rented sector.

The regulations that came into force on 1 April to temporarily modify how rents in relation to most tenancies are determined on referral to rent service Scotland or the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland housing and property chamber—in order to smooth the transition out of the rent cap and to protect tenants from steep rent increases that could have been experienced if there was a sudden move back to open market rent levels—will provide important data to consider on rent increases going forward.

Edward Mountain

That is interesting. The missing point is that, since the removal of the rent cap, on average, rents have increased by 14 per cent. In addition, landlords held back on improving the fabric of their properties while the rent cap was in place. The rent cap has seen bigger than average increases, and climate targets have been threatened. Is the Government as proud as the Greens are of achieving those negatives?

Paul McLennan

There are a number of points there. As I said, we are learning from the process as we come out of it. There are different examples of rent increases in different parts of Scotland, and that is part of the evidence that we need to consider carefully as the bill progresses.

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

Will the minister outline how the new regulations that have come into force build on the existing protections that were in place for tenants prior to the emergency rent cap measures, and how they continue to ensure that the Scottish Government provides much greater protection for tenants than the protection that is provided anywhere else in the United Kingdom?

Paul McLennan

Even before the emergency measures, tenants in Scotland were able to refer rent increases to a rent officer, who had the power to vary the rent that was proposed by the landlord. The temporary modifications to rent adjudication mean that a rent officer will not set the rent higher than what a landlord originally proposed and will maybe set rent at a lower value, in line with the tapered approach that is in place to support the transition away from the emergency measures. In England and Wales, the residential property tribunals will not set a disputed rent below the market value and tenants may be required to pay tribunal fees.

Homelessness in Ayrshire

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to tackle homelessness in Ayrshire. (S6O-03410)

The Minister for Housing (Paul McLennan)

Local authorities have a legal duty to help people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. The three Ayrshire local authorities will receive almost £970 million in 2024-25 through the local government settlement, which is used to fund a range of services, including homelessness services. On top of that, the Scottish Government is providing £30.326 million in 2024-25 to the Ayrshire authorities to deliver more affordable homes and £611,000 to support them with the transition to rapid rehousing. The aim of rapid rehousing is to ensure that people have a settled home as quickly as possible.

Sharon Dowey

There is widespread concern about the Scottish Government’s £200 million cut to housing. I recently visited Barnardo’s Scotland’s South Ayrshire services. During the visit, Shine, its women’s mentoring service, highlighted concerns about housing provisions for women, which mean that women may leave prison and custody without knowing where they are to sleep that night. That can lead to barriers to accessing further support, as many social security applications require a home address. What action is the Scottish Government taking to tackle that on-going issue? Is the minister willing to meet me and this group to discuss the issue further?

Paul McLennan

There are a number of issues. I mentioned the homelessness prevention duties that will come on to local authorities, which I think will make a real difference. I am already discussing that with local authorities.

The member will be aware that an additional £80 million over two years was announced for the affordable housing supply programme, which will support the continuation of the previous national acquisition programme, which delivered more than 1,000 affordable homes. At the end of this month, I will meet all local authorities to discuss that acquisition plan. Of course, I will be happy to meet Sharon Dowey and colleagues to discuss the issues that she raised.

New Build Heat Standard

8. Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the Minister for Housing has had with ministerial colleagues regarding the potential impact of the new build heat standard on the completion of new homes. (S6O-03411)

The Minister for Housing (Paul McLennan)

I regularly meet ministerial colleagues to discuss various associated portfolio interests, including the heat in buildings policy. The standard was scrutinised by the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee and approved without opposition. It is an essential part of our commitment to reach net zero and will have a positive impact on new housing. It was subject to full consultation in 2021 and in 2022, with both consultations showing strong support.

Obviously, we have heard the concerns that have been raised about the new build heat standard in rural and island communities and are taking those on board fully.

Liam Kerr

Since 1 April, the new build heat standard has banned direct emission heating systems, including those using bioenergy sources, such as wood-burning stoves. The consultation draft of the Scottish Government’s bioenergy policy statement says:

“as a renewable, and potentially net zero, energy source bioenergy may represent the best option to help decarbonise some homes”.

Will the minister listen to his Government colleagues and review the ban on wood-burning stoves in Scotland’s homes, or are the Government’s strings still being pulled by his former Green Party colleagues?

Paul McLennan

As I mentioned, we have heard the concerns about the reliance on wood-burning stoves in rural areas and are taking them fully on board. Just last week, I visited Eigg and discussed a number of issues up there. That issue was raised, and I said that I would come back to the people there on that particular point. Of course, the Scottish Government recognises that emergency use of heating, including wood-burning stoves, will sometimes be required. However, as I said, we will continue to engage fully with stakeholders and others in that regard. Again, I am happy to engage with Mr Kerr on that point.

That concludes portfolio questions on social justice. There will be a short pause before we move on to the next item of business to allow the front-bench teams to change position, should they so wish.