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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 17, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Points of Order, Higher Education Workers Dispute, Portfolio Question Time, Brexit (Impact on Devolution), Decision Time


Contents


General Question Time


National Health Service Winter Pressures (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met NHS Fife, Fife health and social care partnership and Fife Council regarding winter pressures. (S6O-01564)

The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (Kevin Stewart)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care met Fife Council, NHS Fife and the Fife health and social care partnership in April and May this year to discuss winter pressures. In October, he convened a meeting on the issue with all local and health authorities and all health and social care partnerships. In addition, Scottish ministers meet directors of health and social care monthly—most recently, on 14 November.

Annabelle Ewing

I take the opportunity to praise our hard-working, front-line social care staff.

The fact of the matter is that, as we approach the key winter months, care packages are simply not being arranged timeously by those in Fife Council who are responsible. That causes consequential longer stays in hospital, extremely lengthy waits for vital adaptations, and much stress and anxiety for vulnerable individuals and their families. Given the very serious situation in Fife, will the minister undertake to raise the matter today with the chief executive of Fife Council and ask him to explain what on earth is going on?

Kevin Stewart

Currently, many areas in the country are experiencing a shortage of care-at-home capacity, due to annual leave, sick absence and long-standing recruitment and retention issues, which we are helping partnerships to work through. Given what Annabelle Ewing has said, I am happy to write to Fife Council and the health and social care partnership, and I will get back to her with their response.

I assure the chamber that the cabinet secretary and I are meeting partnerships, councils and boards regularly to ensure that we do our level best for everyone during this winter. I, too, put on record my thanks to all the health and social care staff across the country who are working so hard at this moment.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

A letter to the council will really not cut it. Social care in Fife is in absolute crisis. I have one constituent who was stuck in hospital and wanted to go home but was being pressured to go and live in a care home that they did not want to move to because no social care package was in place. That case is not isolated—the issue is happening all over Fife. When is the minister going to get a grip?

Kevin Stewart

We are doing all that we can to help with the pressures across the country at the moment. We are still in a pandemic period. There is a huge amount of pressure on our NHS and our social care system. There is greater frailty and acuity among folks, which we all have to recognise.

I say to Mr Rennie and other members that, if folks want to bring cases to my attention, we will follow up and look at those. As I said, we are engaging regularly with local government, health and social care partnerships and health boards. If we know about such scenarios, we will check on them and see what can be done to alleviate some of the difficulties that folks have faced.

I require questions and responses to be more concise.

Roz McCall (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I will try to be concise. The High Valleyfield medical practice in West Fife closed in 2017. NHS Fife took over its running and has tried to fill the general practitioner posts but has, unfortunately, been unable to do so, leaving 4,000 patients in Culross, Newmills and Torryburn without a main GP. Will the minister explain what provision will be put in place, as winter approaches, to cover seasonal need in that already pitiful situation?

Kevin Stewart

I am not aware of the situation in High Valleyfield. As the member will be aware, GPs are the cabinet secretary’s responsibility, not mine. I will take the member’s question to him and will respond her in writing about that situation rather than give a false narrative here today.


Rural Depopulation (Impact of Carbon Offset Schemes)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has made an assessment of the impact of carbon offset schemes on rural depopulation. (S6O-01565)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

The Scottish Government is committed to taking action to ensure that increasing levels of natural capital investment in Scotland deliver benefits for rural communities and the wider society, in line with the just transition principles and our land reform objectives.

That commitment is set out in more detail in our interim principles for responsible investment in natural capital, which were published in March, and sits within the context of our wider population strategy “A Scotland for the Future”, which includes actions such as the establishment of a Scottish rural community immigration pilot.

Emma Roddick

Private investment in natural capital may be helpful in enabling the action required to fulfil our ambition to address climate change, but it must be responsible and must take full cognisance of the needs of surrounding communities. Will the cabinet secretary set out how the Scottish Government will ensure that the voices of local communities are heard as we leverage private investment in addressing the climate crisis, so that that is pursued in accordance with our land reform ambitions?

Michael Matheson

In our national strategy for economic transformation, we set out very clearly that we will develop a high-integrity, values-led market for responsible investment in natural capital. By “values-led”, we mean that the market will support our commitment to community engagement and benefit and to a just transition.

To achieve that, we will work with communities and with market stakeholders to promote and strengthen the interim principles that were published earlier this year. We will do that by developing best practice through projects such as the one by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Argyll and Bute Council on carbon markets, through community wealth building and through making links to our land reform policies and legislation in the coming years.

Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

We will never reverse rural depopulation without tackling the centuries-old inequality of land ownership in Scotland. Instead of promoting carbon offsetting for a wealthy elite, is it not time for the Scottish Government to introduce a land cap so that our natural resources will work for the many, not the few?

Michael Matheson

The member will be aware that we are going to bring forward land reform legislation during this parliamentary session, in order to ensure that we have robust measures in place for the way in which land is managed in Scotland. We will, no doubt, debate such issues as that bill passes through Parliament.


Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (Replacement)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its progress with its plans to replace industrial injuries disablement benefit. (S6O-01566)

The Minister for Social Security and Local Government (Ben Macpherson)

The Scottish Government has continued to successfully deliver new and complex benefits in challenging circumstances, an achievement acknowledged by Audit Scotland in its social security progress report published in May. We intend to update Parliament early next year on the timetable for further benefit delivery, which will include the replacement of the industrial injuries scheme by employment injury assistance.

Marie McNair

Is the minister aware of the decision by the Department for Work and Pensions to close the United Kingdom office that processes industrial injuries disablement benefit? That has caused significant concern, including worries about the loss of expertise, help and support for those making a claim, including many who are terminally ill and those who are making a claim because of mesothelioma.

The benefit is being transferred to Social Security Scotland. Will the minister meet me, the Clydebank Asbestos Group and others to discuss how the new service should be designed to ensure that it meets applicants’ needs and that they get the dignity, fairness and respect that they have been denied by the DWP?

Ben Macpherson

I am concerned by any DWP cutbacks and by the potential impact on people who rely on industrial injuries disablement benefit. Social Security Scotland takes a different approach to the benefits that we currently deliver, for example by investing in a local delivery service that is based in communities across Scotland and offers advice and support to people applying for assistance.

I am aware of the important support that Clydebank Asbestos Group provides to people with asbestos-related diseases and their families. I would be happy to arrange to meet Marie McNair and that group, and I thank her for the suggestion.


Car Clubs

To ask the Scottish Government what role car clubs can play in reducing the number of private cars in Scotland’s cities. (S6O-01567)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

Car clubs are going from strength to strength in Scotland. They have the potential to reduce reliance on private car ownership, reduce inequalities and help to protect our climate. Collaborative Mobility UK’s 2021 report found that the average car club vehicle in Scotland replaces 17 private cars. We have a commitment to reduce the number of kilometres that are travelled by car by 20 per cent by 2030, and car clubs can play a role, in combination with other interventions, in supporting sustainable travel.

John Mason

I thank the minister for that answer. Can she update us on the progress that is being made on the mobility credits scheme? What role can car clubs and daily rental vehicles play in supporting that programme, thereby reducing the number of private vehicles on the road?

Jenny Gilruth

Following the commitment to pilot a mobility and scrappage scheme as part of our work to cut transport emissions, I can advise that work on the design of that scheme and what it might deliver is currently being finalised. The proposed pilot will seek to give direct financial support to lower-income households and empower them to make different choices about how they travel.

I am really keen to give the people who will take part in the pilot as much ownership of the decisions as possible, in order that they feel confident that they have the right options to choose from that will best meet their travel needs and their interests. That may include car club membership or the daily rental of low-carbon vehicles, alongside public and active transport options. I will be happy to update Mr Mason and Parliament once the pilot scheme proposal has been finalised.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I am glad that the Minister for Transport recognises the value of car clubs, but they are a bit patchy across the country. Will she commit to doing an audit of all car clubs to see where they are and what their range is?

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Mr Simpson for his supplementary question. It is worth pointing out that Transport Scotland provides assistance to car clubs across the country. To date, that programme has supported eight community transport vehicles with a value of up to £400,000. There is additional support across the country in relation to how we can better support zero-emissions transport, but I am happy to take the member’s question away and discuss with Transport Scotland officials the valid point that he makes.


National Performance Framework (Proposed Changes)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the reported proposals from the Carnegie Trust to strengthen the national performance framework and make it Scotland’s wellbeing framework. (S6O-01568)

The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (Kevin Stewart)

The national performance framework is Scotland’s wellbeing framework. Increasing wellbeing is central to its purpose, with the 11 national outcomes setting out the type of country that we want to be. I welcome the Carnegie Trust’s latest report on the next steps for the NPF and look forward to its engagement as part of the forthcoming review of the national outcomes.

Michelle Thomson

I thank the minister for his response. I am sure that, like me, he welcomes the open letter to the First Minister from 115 charities, businesses and others, which contains suggestions to further our commitment to creating a wellbeing economy. However, the fact that various powers such as employment law are reserved to Westminster has been described by Patricia Findlay from the Fair Work Convention as “undoubtedly a barrier” to our ambitions.

Will the minister ensure that, in any response to the Carnegie Trust or to the 115 signatories to the open letter—or, indeed, at the forthcoming wealth of nations conference—it is understood how much of a brake on our wellbeing ambitions not being a normal independent country is and that we seek power for a purpose: to make a fundamental shift in people’s lives?

Kevin Stewart

I welcome that recent letter, which calls for a transition to a wellbeing economy. Scotland is leading the way in putting national wellbeing at the heart of our decision making, and I agree with the member that progress is hampered by our not having a full range of powers, including over employment law.

The national performance framework sets out the strategic direction for making progress towards the national outcomes, but that is undermined as the United Kingdom Government increasingly bypasses devolution to take public spending decisions in a wholly devolved policy area. That fundamental change undermines a central plank of devolution. Decisions on public spending in devolved policy areas should be taken by the democratically elected Parliament and Government of Scotland.


Rail Infrastructure in South Scotland (Expansion)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to expand rail infrastructure in the South Scotland region. (S6O-01569)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

Our railways help us to meet our strategic transport objectives, and the decarbonisation of rail passenger and freight transport will help us to cut transport emissions and meet our climate change targets. In addition, they support our economic and social wellbeing. As the member will know, I recently reopened Reston railway station, in Berwickshire, following a £20 million investment, and we are investing £15 million in another new railway station at East Linton, in East Lothian.

Craig Hoy

I thank the minister for that answer and for coming to a recent meeting at which we discussed these issues. Does she agree with me that, to achieve net zero, it is vital to provide transport connectivity for areas such as East Lothian, which is one of the fastest growing in Scotland today? Does she welcome the calls by the Rail Action Group East of Scotland for a train connection for Haddington? Will she agree to meet representatives of RAGES, to get Haddington back on track?

Jenny Gilruth

I very much agree with the sentiment of Mr Hoy’s question. We had a very positive meeting last week, and, as Mr Hoy will know, I met members of the RAGES campaign group when I reopened Reston railway station, earlier this year. I will be more than happy to meet the member and the RAGES group to talk about connectivity in relation to the specific issue at Haddington, which we discussed last week.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

The Auditor General for Scotland said that there has been a 30 per cent increase in capital costs in Scotland directly as a result of Brexit. Can the minister advise us how that will impact on extending the Borders railway line through Hawick and beyond?

Jenny Gilruth

The Scottish Government has already allocated up to £5 million through the Borderlands inclusive growth deal to assess the benefits and challenges of extending the Borders railway. That funding will be released on the achievement of agreed milestones and in line with the processes that apply to all growth deals.

Christine Grahame is right to point to the inflationary pressures that are currently hampering and challenging a number of capital projects, particularly in transport. We know that Brexit has also impacted on the availability of materials and costs, and those inflationary pressures are additional.

The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise and I met representatives of the Borderlands partnership on 6 October to discuss how to advance the proposed work. Following that, we jointly wrote to the United Kingdom Government on 21 October, asking it to give urgent consideration to progressing the deal commitment. We now await a response from the UK Government to that urgent letter, and I will be happy to update the member and Parliament when we hear more from the UK Government on this important matter.


Rural Communities (Access to Dentists)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that people living in rural communities can access a nearby dentist. (S6O-01570)

The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport (Maree Todd)

A record number of people—more than 95 per cent of the population of Scotland—are registered with a national health service dentist. Across key treatments, NHS dental services are at levels of activity that are comparable to levels last seen before pandemic restrictions were introduced.

We understand that, in certain remote and rural areas, NHS dental access is challenging. That is a historical position, which has been exacerbated by Brexit controls, as well as by the unique difficulties following the pandemic. We have therefore put in place additional recruitment and retention incentives to maximise the opportunities for newly qualified and trainee dentists to work in areas such as the Highlands.

We continue to work with health boards to deliver on the responsibility for NHS dental services in their area, and we know that the respective health boards are working hard to ensure that patients continue to have access to NHS dental services.

Donald Cameron

The Dalriada dental practice in Campbeltown is struggling to fill a dentist’s vacancy and, as a result, it has temporarily ceased to provide non-emergency treatment. Its patients now have to make a 2.5-hour round trip to Lochgilphead. Will the minister investigate the matter urgently and consider including Kintyre on the list of geographical areas that are eligible to apply for the recruitment and retention allowance in order to help the practice to attract a new dentist and resume all of its services, thereby allowing people in Campbeltown to access dental treatment in their own community?

Maree Todd

I assure the member that I am more than happy to look at that issue. We are aware that, when dentists leave practices, the posts are difficult to fill. As the member indicates, we have introduced a rural area recruitment and retention allowance, which reflects the particular challenges in attracting dentists to work in more remote areas. I am more than happy to consider that issue for the member.