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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, January 12, 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Inequities in Palliative Care, Education and Skills Organisations (Performance and Role), Business Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Sanitary Products

To ask the Scottish Government what further consideration it has given to how it will address the affordability and accessibility of sanitary products. (S5O-00539)

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell)

Following a meeting on 22 November 2016, the Trussell Trust has agreed to gather data on people who access its network of food banks in Scotland requiring items such as sanitary products, soap, toothpaste and razors. I am happy to hear from other organisations that have evidence or experience to share.

We continue to take action to support people in acute income crisis and to address poverty in all its forms. Since April 2013, our Scottish welfare fund has provided nearly 217,000 low-income households with community care grants and crisis grants, and our fairer Scotland action plan sets out 50 actions that we will take over the course of this parliamentary session to tackle the underlying causes.

Monica Lennon

I welcome that update. The Trussell Trust has been a convincing advocate on this subject.

Yesterday, in the region that I represent, I had the privilege of visiting South Lanarkshire College in East Kilbride for the launch of their initiative to provide free access to sanitary products for all students and staff on their campus. I hope that the minister will agree about the importance of that initiative and will join me in congratulating South Lanarkshire College on showing leadership and on delivering a lesson on how to end inequality, as reported in today’s Daily Record.

Will the Government consider looking further at the importance to health of providing sanitary products, including in education settings, for children and young people who do not have access to their own incomes?

Aileen Campbell

I thank Monica Lennon for her tenacity in raising the issue and I thank other members across the chamber who have a commitment to making a difference in this regard. We welcome the important work that South Lanarkshire College is doing—it sends a positive message.

In relation to the subsequent part of Monica Lennon’s question, there will be a great deal of learning from the college’s findings from its work, which will inform any future work that we do to ensure that period poverty is not as prevalent as it is now around our country. My officials continue to work with the Trussell Trust and, along with it agreeing to capture data from its food banks, they are working with the trust to help it to understand that information.

A number of workstreams are in place and we will continue to work with members across the chamber to make a positive difference for women in Scotland.

Superfast Broadband (Rural Areas)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it encourages the enterprise agencies to consider alternative routes to superfast broadband in rural areas. (S5O-00540)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

The Scottish Government has set out a clear commitment to extend superfast broadband access to 100 per cent of premises across Scotland by 2021, building on the success of our current fibre broadband investment programme.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise has played a significant role in supporting the achievement of our commitment to provide broadband to 95 per cent of premises by the end of 2017 through community broadband Scotland. HIE will continue to play a similar role in supporting delivery of the 2021 commitment.

Gail Ross

In light of an article in the media yesterday that stated that

“some rural communities have already been told that they will not be included in the national roll-out”,

will the cabinet secretary reconfirm the Scottish Government’s commitment to all premises in Scotland, including in rural areas?

Fergus Ewing

It is useful to clarify that it is not the case, as asserted by a Conservative MSP in a press release yesterday, that any community has been told that it will not be included in the commitment to universal access to broadband by 2021.

I will not start the year by making a party-political point, but it is important to distinguish between delivery of the current contracts, which will reach 95 per cent of premises—and which are worth £400 million of investment—and the second phase, in which we seek to roll out broadband access to all other businesses and people throughout the country. I hope that that clarifies what is perhaps an understandable misappreciation of the facts.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for his update on broadband. However, can he confirm whether a real-terms cut of 11 per cent in funding to Highlands and Islands Enterprise in this year’s draft budget will have an effect on the inclusion of that area in the roll-out of broadband for the final 5 per cent?

In the draft budget, there appears to be no line for community broadband Scotland. Can the cabinet secretary clarify the future of that enterprise?

Fergus Ewing

I will resist the temptation—strong though it is—to respond in a political fashion, and I will stick to the facts. The HIE budget is entirely separate from the broadband budget; it is totally different and unconnected. Equally, it is wrong to assert that community broadband Scotland does not have a budget when it has had an increase in its budget. I am happy to inform Jamie Greene, who sits on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee—at which, I recall, I had a prolonged evidence session—that this year alone an additional £51 million will be devoted to our commitment to roll out universal access to broadband by 2021. Those are the facts.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

In addition to current projects to roll out broadband to rural areas, there have in the past been projects such as pathfinder that have been publicly funded. What is the Scottish Government doing to look at the publicly funded fibre that is in place already and to ensure that people have the use of that as quickly as possible?

Fergus Ewing

We are working hard to ensure that as many people as possible in rural and island communities get access to broadband. There have been many successful schemes already. To go back to the question from Gail Ross, 25,600 premises in her constituency have been connected to the fibre network, and at least 20,000 of those are able to achieve superfast speeds. Most of her constituents will live in rural or extremely remote locations, and we are working closely with private contractors—British Telecom in the case of the Highlands and Islands contract—on the roll-out.

I am very pleased that Ofcom has recognised that the pace at which we are connecting people to access to digital broadband has been twice as fast as has been achieved in the rest of Scotland. We are not complacent, as those who are listening to these questions and who do not have access will understandably want to have it as quickly as possible. I assure members that we are giving the matter the utmost priority for action, as well as devoting an additional £51 million this year.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

There are community initiatives in rural areas, such as North Skye Broadband, which aims to develop ultrafast gigabit services to end the digital divide and future-proof digital infrastructure. Is the Scottish Government committed to supporting community broadband initiatives that seek to deliver such high-performance ultrafast solutions?

Fergus Ewing

Kate Forbes has made me aware of community initiatives in her constituency such as North Skye Broadband, which is aiming to provide gigabit services for residents on the island. Funding for community broadband Scotland is being provided to enable it to work with communities who are developing their own broadband solutions.

This is not a case of one size—or one technology—fits all. It is an extremely complex and challenging task, but we are entirely determined to achieve the roll-out within the deadline of 2021. As the breadth of questions from members across the chamber illustrates, broadband is really important to rural Scotland and to our island communities; I think that every single member is aware of that. I want us to start the new year by undertaking to do our level best, working with members of all parties, to achieve the targets as quickly as we possibly can.

Review of Access to New Medicines

3. Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I remind members that I am a pharmacist and registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council

To ask the Scottish Government how it will take forward the recommendations of the review of access to new medicines. (S5O-00541)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

Dr Brian Montgomery’s independent review of medicines recognises that the Scottish Government has dramatically increased access to new medicines due to reforms and investment in recent years. The review makes a number of recommendations to build on that progress, which we are taking forward in collaboration with our stakeholders.

In addition to responding to the recommendations in the review, we will be making improvements to individual patient treatment requests to improve consistency further and ensure that patients in Scotland get access to the right treatment at the right time.

Maree Todd

I fear that, although the review represents welcome progress for patients in terms of access to new medicines, the impact of our departure from the European Union might result in a very large step backwards. Looking at the situation in Australia, it has a relatively small market and its own regulatory authority, but there is usually a time lag for access to new medicines compared with the situation in the US and the EU. During that time lag, individual patients in Australia are left to import and pay for their medicines from abroad.

Can the minister give any assurances that our place in the European Medicines Agency—and, thus, our access to new medicines—is secure?

Shona Robison

Maree Todd is right to raise that issue, which is another issue of concern that arises from the prospect of Brexit. Regulation for the licensing, safety and efficacy of medicines is currently reserved to the United Kingdom Government and is the responsibility of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which operates on a UK-wide basis. The MHRA has assured us that the UK Government is aware of the need to ensure that medicines licensed through the European Medicines Agency remain approved for use across the UK after exit from the European Union. The MHRA has said that that is not an issue that has to be part of any Brexit negotiations and that it will be within the UK’s own competence. However, it is an issue of concern, as Maree Todd has highlighted, so I am happy to keep her informed as the issue is taken forward.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

I welcome Dr Montgomery’s review, which recognises that there is a lot more work to do. Can the cabinet secretary give a guarantee that the arrangements around new medicines will guarantee that there will be no postcode lottery for patients in Scotland?

Shona Robison

As Anas Sarwar will be aware, major improvements have already been made to accessing new medicines. The approval rates via the IPTR have improved from 69 per cent in 2012-13 to 87 per cent last year for all medicines; and from 45 to 85 per cent for end-of-life orphan and ultra-orphan medicines. However, as I said in my original answer, there is more to do, which is why the replacement of the IPTR with tier 2 of the peer-approved clinical system introduces a national appeals panel that will bring consistency to access across Scotland. A principle of access to medicines available elsewhere in the UK will be a material part of consideration through PACS.

A lot of progress has therefore been made, but the review recommendations will ensure that there is further equity and fairness across the system. I am sure that that is something that everyone will welcome.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

What progress has been made on the sharing of information and moving to electronic patient health records, which has been called for by health professionals in their response to the new digital strategy proposals and which the Montgomery review recommends is prioritised?

Shona Robison

A new digital health and care strategy from 2017 to 2022 is being developed and the views of a wide range of stakeholders are currently being sought. We already have significant electronic patient records for the emergency care summary, which has details of patients’ medicines and any allergies and is shared regularly between clinicians in hospitals and general practitioners. In addition, the hospital electronic prescribing and medicines administration is being rolled out across Scotland. I announced on 14 December that we will be taking forward the recommendations of the Montgomery review in collaboration with our stakeholders, so we will work to implement the recommendations as quickly as possible.

“Equally Safe” Strategy

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the implementation of its “Equally Safe” strategy. (S5O-00542)

Yes. An update on implementation will be provided alongside the draft delivery plan for “Equally Safe”, which will be published for consultation in the coming weeks.

Ruth Maguire

The 2014 “Equally Safe” strategy designates commercial sexual exploitation such as prostitution as a form of violence against women. Different forms of violence against women will demand different and specific interventions. I understand from the strategy that joint working is required to reduce the demand for commercial sexual exploitation. Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on how that joint working to reduce demand has progressed?

Angela Constance

Ms Maguire’s analysis of the situation very much conforms with the Government’s view. “Equally Safe” makes it clear that our definition of violence against women and girls includes

“Behaviour that stems from systemic, deep-rooted women’s inequality”

such as commercial sexual exploitation. We also believe that policy decisions on the issue of prostitution should be evidence based. That is why we commissioned research to consider the reliability of the evidence base internationally so that we can understand its relevance to Scotland. That research will be published shortly and there will be an opportunity for stakeholders to comment on the findings of the research and to have a meaningful dialogue with the Government about it.

In the meantime, the Government will continue to support measures that can help to reduce the harm that is caused by prostitution and we will, of course, encourage the enforcement of existing laws against those who exploit others through prostitution. There are various initiatives to tackle commercial sexual exploitation, and two examples of joint working are the support that we give to the Women’s Support Project to challenge demand for commercial sex and the funding that we give to Sacro for its another way service, which offers non-judgmental one-to-one support for women who are at risk of or involved in prostitution or other forms of commercial sexual exploitation.

Fife Council (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will next meet Fife Council. (S5O-00543)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities including Fife Council to discuss a wide range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland. The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills met representatives of Fife Council on 20 December to discuss a number of issues relating to education.

Jenny Gilruth

Levenmouth is the largest urban area in Scotland that is not currently served by rail. Can the minister assure my constituents today that Transport Scotland will work with Fife Council to provide the much-needed clarity and guidance that are required in order to re-establish this vital rail link?

Kevin Stewart

I understand that Transport Scotland has now received from Fife Council a revised version of the Levenmouth sustainable transport study. Transport Scotland officials will provide further comments once they have had the opportunity to consider it in more detail.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I support Jenny Gilruth asking the question today. Not only is Levenmouth not served by rail, but it is the part of Fife with the highest deprivation. Will the minister ensure that we have joined-up government and that different parts of the Scottish Government will push for the rail link and make it happen? It would be a great advantage in tackling the inequality and poverty in that part of Fife.

Kevin Stewart

Of course the Government works in a joined-up manner. I am sure that the Minister for Transport and the Islands heard what Mr Rowley has said. As I said to Ms Gilruth, the Levenmouth sustainable transport study is now with Transport Scotland. It will comment, and I am sure that the transport minister will take great interest in what it says.

Local Government (Capital Budget)

To ask the Scottish Government what allocation of its budget has been given to local government for capital spending. (S5O-00544)

I can confirm that the total local government capital funding allocation for 2017-18 will amount to £756.5 million. That represents an increase of almost £150 million or nearly 25 per cent compared with 2016-17.

Gil Paterson

Recent reports have said that schools down south that were built using the private finance initiative and public-private partnerships are being ripped off through the costs of teaching supplies as those supplies form part of the PFI/PPP agreement. Are any schools in Scotland that were built using PFI/PPP in a similar position? If so, what is the cost?

I can confirm that none of the standard contracts that were previously used for schools PFI/PPP deals included the cost of school teaching supplies.