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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, May 11, 2023


General Question Time

Good morning. Our first item of business is general question time.

Gender Pay Gap

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to reduce the gender pay gap. (S6O-02220)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy (Neil Gray)

Figures from the Office for National Statistics for 2022 show that the median gender pay gap for all employees in Scotland, both full and part-time, is below the United Kingdom gap—as it has been since 1997—at 12.2 per cent, versus 14.9 per cent. The median gap for full-time employees in 2022 is particularly positive, at 3.7 per cent, compared with an 8.3 per cent gap in the rest of the UK.

We are not complacent and know that more work is required. Last December, we published a refreshed fair work action plan, which integrates tackling the gender pay gap with addressing the wider intersecting inequalities that are faced by women in Scotland’s labour market. Between 2021 and 2024, we will also provide funding of up to £700,000 to Close the Gap to change employment practices and workplace cultures in order to tackle the gender pay gap in Scotland.

Has the Scottish Government made a recent assessment of the potential merits of introducing compulsory gender pay gap reporting?

Neil Gray

I thank David Torrance for raising that important issue. Although employment law is reserved, the Scottish Government has repeatedly called on the UK Government to reduce the reporting threshold of 250 employees and to mandate employers to produce action plans in response to the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017.

Our fair work policy promotes fairer work practices across Scotland and aims to tackle workplace inequality for women by addressing the key drivers of gender pay gaps across the labour market. Among other criteria, our fair work first approach to public sector spending asks employers to tackle gender pay gaps and to offer flexible working from day 1 of employment, and has been applied to £4 billion-worth of public sector funding since 2019.The proportion of women employees aged 18 and over who are earning the real living wage or more has also increased from 83.9 per cent in 2021 to 89.7 per cent in 2022, which continues the upward trend since 2018. It is really important—

The Presiding Officer

Cabinet secretary, may I stop you there? I am keen to get through as many members as possible and would be grateful if we could have short and succinct questions and responses.

On that note, I call Beatrice Wishart.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Across Scotland, social carers can earn more by working in a German-owned supermarket than they can in the Scottish Government-run healthcare service. That does not help to close the gender pay gap, which is a tax on families, and structural sexism in society perpetuates the issue. When will the Scottish Government look holistically at the reasons for and causes of the gender pay gap in order to tackle the issue?

Neil Gray

That is an important question. Closing not only the gender pay gap but the gender employment gap is not only the right thing to do but gives us a huge opportunity to engender better economic growth.

It is recognised that increasing pay for the social care workforce would make a positive contribution to our commitment to reduce the gender pay gap. Improvement of pay and conditions for the adult social care workforce, which is 85 per cent female, is a priority for the Scottish Government. We continue to make progress in our work to improve that situation. For example, from April this year, adult social care workers who deliver direct care to commissioned services will see their pay increasing to a minimum of £10.90 per hour, in line with the real living wage rate for the 2023-24 financial year.

Prosecution of Criminal Cases

To ask the Scottish Government what measures can be taken to accelerate the prosecution of criminal cases. (S6O-02221)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

Decisions about individual prosecutions are matters for the independent Lord Advocate.

However, the Scottish Government is working with its criminal justice partners across a range of initiatives, both to reduce the overall time that cases take from start to finish and to improve people’s experience of the process. That will build on the successful introduction during Covid of new, more flexible and efficient, approaches to delivery of justice services and of use of digital technologies to streamline processes.

Furthermore, the Scottish Government has a strong track record on court investment and we continue to prioritise supporting justice partners to address the backlog, with a further £42.2 million budget being allocated in the 2023-24 budget.

Christine Grahame

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer. As the main witness in a trial for threatening behaviour to me, I had to give evidence on incidents spanning from 2017 to 2020, the trial having been deferred from 2022 to earlier this year. The case against Peter Morris was found to be not proven. No one can determine that the outcome was due to delays in prosecution, but what data is there regarding a possible connection between delays in the prosecution process and conviction rates?

Angela Constance

I agree whole-heartedly with Ms Grahame that justice is not best served by delays. That is why the recovery programme that is funded by the Scottish Government has seen the court backlog in summary cases fall by 37 per cent. We continue to invest £26 million in the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, which is confident that the summary backlog will be cleared by March 2024.

In relation to data that connects the processes and convictions, I will have to seek further information on the matter, but I point Ms Grahame to the fact that, for the first time, the Scottish Government’s justice analytical services is now publishing end-to-end journey times—from the start to the end of people’s justice journeys. That will give us far more detail, transparency and scrutiny to ensure that the investments that we are making are, indeed, delivering justice on the ground.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Justice delayed is, of course, justice denied. Many solemn cases in the High Court are taking up to four years to reach court. Survivors report self-harm, depression, anxiety and even attempted suicide, so it is clear that something is not working. What analysis has been done of why cases are taking so long? When will the horrendous court backlog finally be cleared?

Angela Constance

Mr Greene raises a very important point of crucial detail. Although we have seen significant reductions in the backlogs in summary cases, he is quite correct to point to the on-going challenges with solemn and High Court cases, and we know that that trend in cases coming forward, particularly to the High Court, is likely to continue.

That is why, in relation to the recovery programme, we have refocused our endeavours and investments on solemn proceedings and the High Court. For example, the criminal justice board agreed to create two additional High Court courts and six additional sheriff solemn courts from April 2023. That is on top of the additional High Court and sheriff solemn courts that were established in 2021.

I will, of course, keep Parliament updated.

Water Safety Action Plan (Lifeboat Provision in Arbroath)

3. Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is, regarding any implications for its water safety action plan, on future lifeboat provision in Arbroath, in light of reported concerns expressed by the local community about the service. (S6O-02222)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

The Scottish Government greatly values and appreciates the work of staff and volunteers at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, who work alongside other emergency services to provide a vital service in saving lives around Scotland’s extensive coastline. The RNLI played a key role in the creation of our water safety action plan and it continues to do so through its work with Water Safety Scotland.

The RNLI operates as an independent charity across the United Kingdom and any decisions on operational matters are rightly made by the institution.

Maurice Golden

I thank the minister for that answer, but it would be hard to overstate the anger in Arbroath over the RNLI’s decision to downgrade the town’s lifeboat station, especially as the community has contributed millions of pounds for the construction of an all-weather lifeboat. The fear is that the decision could compromise the safety of the crew or reduce operational capability, particularly in rough seas.

I appreciate the limitations that the Scottish Government is under, but does the minister share the community’s concern? Will the Government encourage the RNLI to enter a dialogue with the lifeboat crew, local volunteers and the wider community to find a solution?

Siobhian Brown

The Scottish Government takes water safety very seriously. It welcomed the publication in 2018 of Water Safety Scotland’s “Scotland’s Drowning Prevention Strategy 2018-2026”. The Scottish Government continues to provide funding, via the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, to support the operation of Water Safety Scotland, of which RNLI is a key member. We work closely with Water Safety Scotland and other partners to support the recommendations in its drowning prevention strategy, and to support initiatives to raise awareness of the hazards around water and to reduce deaths from accidental drowning. However, as I said in my previous answer, decisions on operational matters are, rightly, made by RNLI.

Net Zero Targets for Tree Planting (Finance)

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

To ask the Scottish Government, prior to the signing by the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity of the memorandum of understanding between NatureScot and financial partners, how much financing it had identified would be required to meet its net zero targets for tree planting. (S6O-02223)

The Minister for Energy (Gillian Martin)

Research by the Green Finance Institute in 2021 estimated that, to meet our desired outcomes, there is a finance gap of £1.3 billion for woodland creation and maintenance in Scotland up to 2031. The memorandum of understanding between NatureScot and its financial partners represents an important step in bridging that and the wider nature-related outcomes finance gap, and will ensure that private financing is used in line with our interim principles for responsible investment in natural capital.

I did not hear the answer. How much is needed to reach the net zero target for tree planting? What is the actual amount?

I apologise if Edward Mountain did not hear me. Maybe I did not say it clearly enough. The figure is £1.3 billion.

Climate Emergency (Involvement of Financial Sector)

To ask the Scottish Government what action is being taken to ensure that Scotland’s financial sector plays its role in tackling our climate emergency. (S6O-02224)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition (Màiri McAllan)

As the previous question and answer made clear, responsible private investment is crucial to delivering net zero. Given the scale of the transition that is required, there are real and growing opportunities for green financial services. In pursuit of those opportunities, Scottish ministers engage regularly with the financial services industry via the Financial Services Growth and Development Board.

Building on Scotland’s commitment to a just transition to net zero, we established the Scottish task force for green and sustainable financial services, which is chaired by David Pitt Watson. The task force is working on positioning Scotland as a leading global contender for green and sustainable finance that will maximise the economic and employment benefits for all.

Audrey Nicoll

It is welcome news that the most recent edition of the global green finance index has shown Scotland rising through the rankings in green finance. Two Scottish cities feature in that index, compared with just one financial centre in England. What assessment has been made of those findings, and what steps are being taken to build on that progress?

Màiri McAllan

Audrey Nicoll is absolutely right to reflect on the fact that our financial services industry is making great progress, and to pull out the figures that demonstrate that both Edinburgh and Glasgow rose in April’s edition of the global green finance index. Edinburgh moved up eight places to number 14, and Glasgow moved up seven places to number 46.

Given the scale of the opportunity, we are absolutely clear that Scotland must seize the momentum. Our task force for green and sustainable financial services is developing a road map that will identify areas in which we can build on deep specialisms to compete globally in green finance and, through Scottish Financial Enterprise’s five-year strategy, the industry has made financing the journey to net zero a critical priority.

Is the Scottish Government merely facilitating big profits for the private financial sector and international companies through exploiting Scotland’s resources and potential?

Màiri McAllan

The answer is a resounding no. The Scottish Government is absolutely clear, noting that the finance gap that Gillian Martin referred to in the context of tree planting stands at around £20 billion for overall natural capital. We know that activities such as afforestation and peatland restoration contribute massively to our net zero targets. We also know that there is a significant gap in funding and that the public sector could never be expected to meet that alone. That is why we are working on this. We have developed the interim principles for responsible investment in natural capital, which means that, although investment is welcome, it must be responsible, work with communities, be additional and verifiable and have integrity.

Bus Travel (National Entitlement Card Scheme)

6. Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to promote free bus travel through the national entitlement card scheme, particularly among people with a qualifying social security entitlement. (S6O-02225)

The Minister for Transport (Kevin Stewart)

I am proud that we are investing £300 million annually to provide the most generous concessionary travel schemes in the United Kingdom. Last year, we delivered a national marketing campaign increasing awareness of free bus travel for under-22s, with two thirds of young people now joined and more than 62 million journeys made. I was also pleased this week to mark the delivery of the choose the bus campaign with the bus industry.

Transport Scotland is working with Social Security Scotland to ensure that clear processes are in place for people with qualifying benefits and I would encourage anyone who is eligible to apply.

Clare Adamson

Support for people who qualify for social security entitlement, particularly disabled people, is vital. That cover also extends to a carer in receipt of free bus travel where it is required. Has the Government made any representations to the Department for Work and Pensions regarding the fact that many people transferring on to adult disability payment from personal independence payment seem to be unaware of that, in order to ensure that everyone in Scotland who is entitled to that support gets it?

Kevin Stewart

As I said, earlier this week I met bus industry officials in Galashiels about phase 2 of our choose the bus marketing campaign, which has a clear focus on concessionary travel. I said in my initial answer that we are working with Social Security Scotland to ensure that clear processes are in place. I say to Ms Adamson that we will try to extend that and see whether we can do similar with the DWP. I hope that the DWP will co-operate as much as Social Security Scotland has.

Swallow Roundabout in Dundee (Transport Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Transport Scotland regarding the Swallow roundabout in Dundee. (S6O-02226)

The Minister for Transport (Kevin Stewart)

The Scottish Government has not held any recent discussions with Transport Scotland regarding the Swallow roundabout in Dundee. I can advise that officials are in continued discussions with the developer of the adjacent Dykes of Gray Road development site. Those discussions are to finalise the legal and operational aspects for changes at the A90 trunk road Swallow roundabout, which the developer is required to make under conditions to their planning consent. Those are legal and commercial matters for the developer to progress and finalise before advising Transport Scotland.

Michael Marra

I am afraid that that is quite a disappointing answer from the minister. His predecessor took an active interest in the issue and brought Transport Scotland to the table to try and conclude the process, which has dragged on for more than a decade. Can the minister give some reassurance to the community that he will take a similar interest to that of his predecessor? What lessons can he draw for Transport Scotland and his Government about the failure of this project to be delivered?

Kevin Stewart

My officials will continue to work constructively with the developer, but the ball is in their court. We want to progress this and the outstanding issues and conclude the minute of agreement as soon as possible. Mr FitzPatrick is the constituency MSP—[Inaudible.]

If you could give me one moment, minister. Can we have the minister’s microphone, please?

I want to see the issue progressed, but the developer needs to move on this, too. My officials will continue to work constructively with them to see that that happens.

That concludes general questions.