Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Thursday, May 18, 2023
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Fostering Friendly Employers Scheme, Portfolio Question Time, Non-domestic Rates, Sustainable Food Supply, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Fostering Friendly Employers Scheme
- Portfolio Question Time
- Non-domestic Rates
- Sustainable Food Supply
- Decision Time
General Question Time
Good morning. Our first item of business is general question time. As ever, short and succinct questions and responses would be appreciated.
Monklands Hospital (Replacement)
To ask the Scottish Government what the timescale is for the completion of the Monklands replacement project. (S6O-02252)
The outline business case for the Monklands replacement project estimates that construction will complete in 2031.
The site for the replacement Monklands hospital was first identified and approved more than two years ago. In May 2021, the Scottish National Party manifesto said that it would invest the “capital required to build” a new hospital. The outline business case was presented nearly six months ago but, at the same time, a delay of three years was announced for the hospital’s scheduled opening.
Despite the dedication of national health service staff, the current Monklands hospital building is in poor health. People in Lanarkshire are beginning to ask me whether the new hospital will be built at all. Will the cabinet secretary give a commitment today that there will be no reduction in capacity or in the range of services that are provided, that there will be no downgrading in build quality, that he will stick to the plans as outlined in the business case and that there will be no further delays to the hospital’s opening?
Richard Leonard will recognise that we have made a strong commitment to deliver a new Monklands hospital. I know that the issue is also close to the heart of the local constituency member, Neil Gray. As a Government, we are determined to ensure that the hospital is delivered.
The outline business case is being considered through the normal capital projects project review process, which we are going through now. We have had to look at the process as a result of United Kingdom Government cuts to capital expenditure that have a direct impact on capital projects in Scotland. We have to consider the matter in the round, which is why we are going through the process of identifying our key priorities, of which Monklands hospital is one. I assure Richard Leonard that we will look at how we will take that forward to a full business case.
Richard Leonard made specific reference to aspects of the services that will be delivered in the hospital. That is clearly a matter for the health board to take forward, and it will be part of the final business case that will be produced. We will certainly support the health board to take an approach that is consistent with the way in which hospital projects have been delivered in the past.
Will the cabinet secretary answer the original question that was posed to him by Richard Leonard? Will there be any further delays?
It always feels a bit ironic when Conservative members come into the chamber demanding that capital investment projects be taken forward, when the very people who have been cutting capital expenditure to the Scottish Government are the Conservatives at Westminster—Mr Simpson’s colleagues. I am surprised that he does not have coach loads of constituents queuing up at his surgeries to complain about the impact that his party is having on capital investment projects in Scotland, including vital projects such as Monklands hospital, which this Government is determined to deliver.
Volunteering Action Plan
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the implementation of the volunteering action plan. (S6O-02253)
The Scottish Government appreciates the contribution that volunteers make to society. Our 10-year volunteering action plan, which was published in June 2022, was co-produced with partners in the third sector, and its aim is to support people to volunteer throughout their lives.
Volunteer Scotland is raising awareness of volunteering and its benefits for all who are involved. New groups have been established, including a cost of living volunteering task group and a policy champions network, to ensure that the power of volunteering is recognised as policies are developed.
I welcome the plan’s aim of creating an environment in which everyone can volunteer more often and throughout their lives, and the plan’s focus on tackling inequality for people who have traditionally faced barriers to volunteering.
What specific steps is the Scottish Government taking to increase public awareness of volunteering and to tackle the stereotypes that exist around what volunteering is and who the people who volunteer are?
Stephanie Callaghan has raised an important point about the need to encourage diversity in our volunteers. The Scottish Government funds Volunteer Scotland as the national advice centre for volunteering, which helps to increase participation in volunteering as well as widening access to volunteering. For example, Volunteer Scotland has a search facility to ensure visibility of the volunteering options that are available to people.
Stephanie Callaghan is right to point to the need to ensure that volunteers come from diverse backgrounds. We all have an obligation to encourage that. The Government, in conjunction with Volunteer Scotland, is determined to tackle the barriers that might be preventing people from coming forward.
Fife Council Housing Services (Discussions)
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the head of housing services at Fife Council and what was discussed. (S6O-02254)
The head of housing services at Fife Council last met the Scottish Government in September of last year. Matters concerning the supply of affordable housing are high on the Scottish Government’s agenda and on the agendas of our local authority partners, and the discussion in question considered those matters and related issues relevant to Fife Council.
I plan to meet Fife Council in the near future to continue those discussions.
There are some 126 council house properties in my Cowdenbeath constituency that have been recorded on Fife Council’s mould and dampness survey. Although Fife Council initially told me that remedial action would be taken by May of this year, sadly that timetable has slipped, with no date at all having been set for completion of the remedial works. Does the minister consider that to be a satisfactory position for my constituents, who continue to live in unacceptable conditions? What can he do to quicken the necessary action?
I am sorry to hear of the issues that Annabelle Ewing’s constituents face. Damp and mould in housing is a serious issue, so it is vital that landlords be proactive in identifying such issues and in taking action to treat the root causes.
Although it is welcome to hear that Fife Council has committed to taking remedial action, it is of concern that the timeframe for it has slipped. I hope that the council has kept tenants up to date and that it is communicating its plans for resolving the issues effectively and in a timely manner. I will take up the matter with Fife Council and will provide Annabelle Ewing with an update.
The minister knows that I am keen for action to be taken to halt the huge growth in short-term lets in my constituency. Although I did not support the licensing scheme, I think that the control areas could make a significant difference. I think that Fife Council is dragging its feet and that the time that it has set in that regard is far too late. Therefore, when the minister speaks to Fife Council, will he have a discussion about the timescale for implementing the control areas?
I was glad to meet Mr Rennie during the week to discuss housing issues in Fife.
The Scottish Government gave powers to local authorities in relation to short-term let control areas, so it is up to them to discuss any such decisions. I think that the council will get back to Mr Rennie on that.
Vaping Products (Restriction of Marketing and Advertising)
To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to lay regulations to restrict the marketing and advertising of vaping products, following the publication of the responses to its consultation, “Tightening rules on advertising and promoting vaping products”, on 27 September 2022. (S6O-02255)
I thank Emma Harper for raising an important issue. Our 2022 consultation proposed restrictions on vaping products that strike a balance between protecting all non-smokers from the potential harms of vaping and providing existing adult smokers with the information that they need to make an informed choice on cessation.
As part of our active consideration of those restrictions, further evidence has been developed on the harms that are associated with vaping products. It was published on 10 May 2023, and we will publish our refreshed tobacco action plan in the autumn.
I am co-convener of the cross-party group on lung health, which has explored the issue of e-cigarettes and vaping. We were presented with clear evidence that young people are targeted directly through marketing strategies that include the use of attractive bright packaging and attractive flavours, including candyfloss, pink lemonade and bubble gum.
Emerging evidence shows that vaping is a future lung health ticking time bomb. Will the minister commit to bringing forward the regulations as soon as possible, to ensure that we protect young people from the health harms of vaping?
I recognise the concerns that Emma Harper raises. When I visited a school in my constituency a couple of months ago, a teacher showed me vapes that she had taken from her pupils.
As a priority, I am considering a range of steps to deal with vaping, including use of regulation, and those will form part of our refreshed tobacco action plan in the autumn. Any action that we take will build on the regulations that are already in place to restrict the marketing, promotion and sale of vaping products to under-18s.
A 16-year-old constituent recently contacted me because they are struggling to quit vaping. When they asked their general practitioner and pharmacy for support, they were told that nothing is available. What support can the Scottish Government provide to help young people to quit vaping?
I recognise that issue, which the World Health Organization has described as a “major concern”. I have asked Public Health Scotland to look into that and will be working on the issue along with my colleague Elena Whitham.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its commitment to abolish national health service dental charges by the end of the current parliamentary session. (S6O-02256)
The Scottish Government remains committed to the removal of all dental charges during the lifetime of this Parliament. We have made initial progress towards that commitment with the extension of free national health service dental care to young people aged 18 to 25. The new policy prospectus provides a commitment to sustained, improved and equitable national access to NHS dentistry.
My inbox has been flooded with emails from constituents and dental practitioners. One dentist wrote:
“Many dedicated NHS colleagues can no longer see their futures working in a dysfunctional and underfunded system. It is our patients—and your constituents—who will end up paying the price.”
The Scottish Government pledged to make NHS dentistry free at the point of use by 2026, but that will not be the case if the Scottish National Party continues presiding over the collapse of NHS dental surgeries. Last week, the minister was unable to provide assurance that there would be no further delay to the reform process.
We have the opportunity to build a service that is fit for the 21st century, with prevention at its heart. What assurance can the minister give that the reforms will not be delayed and that they will actually be effective?
As I said last week, the single most important reform that we can put in place is payment reform and we are working on that with dentists and their organisations as I speak. We have brought in 10 per cent bridging payments for dentists, which will be in place until 31 October, and we intend to bring in a new payment structure, which we hope will be agreed by dentists, on 1 November this year.
Scottish Social Security Benefits (Uptake Maximisation)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to maximise the uptake of Scottish social security benefits. (S6O-02257)
Our second benefit take-up strategy, published in 2021, sets out our approach to ensuring that people are able and encouraged to access the benefits that they are entitled to. We remain focused on the removal of social barriers to people accessing Scottish benefits; addressing complex or costly access; and improving access to information.
We are delivering a number of take-up initiatives, such as our local delivery service, which takes our services to the locations that are most accessible to people, and we run targeted marketing campaigns.
We will publish our next annual update on benefit take-up rates in autumn 2023.
I welcome the efforts that have been made to maximise the take-up of social security benefits in Scotland, which is vital, given the impact that the Westminster-imposed cost of living crisis is having on many people.
A recent report by Policy in Practice estimated that £7.5 billion-worth of universal credit is not claimed. Universal credit is one of the passport benefits allowing access to the vital Scottish child payment. Is the cabinet secretary concerned that the lack of a benefit take-up strategy by the United Kingdom Government, to encourage the take-up of universal credit, might deny some families access to the Scottish child payment?
The member raises an important point about benefit take-up strategies and I encourage the Department for Work and Pensions to do as the Scottish Government has done.
However, we need more than a benefits strategy; we need an entirely changed approach. For example, when we compare the Scottish Government’s human rights approach to social security, which encourages people to apply for what they are entitled to, with the UK Government’s degrading system, where there is still far too much stigma and there are still far too many barriers in the way, we can see exactly why it takes much more than a benefits strategy to improve the situation.
Second Strategic Transport Projects Review (Delivery Plan)
To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to announce the delivery plan for the second strategic transport projects review. (S6O-02258)
This Government is taking significant action to develop, deliver and invest in Scotland’s strategic transport infrastructure for the long term. Work is already under way to deliver 38 of the 45 recommendations in STPR2, with consideration on-going on how best to mobilise the remaining seven.
I thank the minister for that response, but it is hugely disappointing that, despite the commitment that Michael Matheson made in January this year to release details surrounding the delivery plan for STPR2, those have still not been forthcoming. That shows once again the utter contempt that this Scottish Government displays, particularly towards the people of the south-west of Scotland. Despite the promises that have been made year after year, the spend on infrastructure projects in the south has been less than 0.5 per cent of the national infrastructure spend.
Thanks to the Sir Peter Hendy review, which highlighted the desperate need for serious investment in the A75, including a bypass at Crocketford and Springholm, we can now see that those improvements are vital. I am aware that a business plan for the A75 has now been submitted—
Can I have a question, please, Mr Carson?
—seeking funding from the Government. When will the minister do likewise and do the right thing, fulfilling once and for all his commitment to provide finance towards these projects?
I met Mr Carson and other colleagues from the south of Scotland last week and I outlined some of the work that we are doing. As Mr Carson is well aware, I have met United Kingdom ministers round about the A75 to try to access funding from the union connectivity fund. A draft business case for the A75 has been submitted to the Department for Transport, and it includes a proposal to fund further design and development of options for the realignment of the A75, including around the villages of Springholm and Crocketford, which I know that Mr Carson has an interest in. I hope that the UK Government will respond positively and will hand over the resources that are required in order to get these works going.
Recruitment (Assistance for Businesses)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to assist any businesses that are struggling to recruit skilled workers. (S6O-02259)
The action that we are taking to work with employers includes on-going investment to deliver 25,500 new modern apprenticeship starts in 2023-24, support for developing the young workforce to enable young people to prepare for work, and on-going investment in short courses across tertiary education that are aimed at upskilling and reskilling.
Furthermore, through the establishment of a talent attraction and migration service, our wider programme of work and the work of our enterprise agencies, we will help employers in key sectors to recruit workers from outside Scotland.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that response. Contrary to the claims that are often made in this chamber that Brexit has dried up the supply of migrant workers, the latest figures show that net legal migration to the United Kingdom has doubled since Brexit. It is now at record levels and it is projected to grow still further. The problem is that too few of those legal migrants to the UK come to Scotland. We lag behind every part of England with the exception of the north-east when it comes to attracting—[Interruption.]
Members on the SNP benches do not want to hear the facts on this, Presiding Officer, because it does not suit their narrative, but the fact is that Scotland does very badly compared with other parts of the UK in attracting legal migrants to come here and fill the vacancies that our businesses have. What more is the Scottish Government going to do to try to make Scotland a more attractive place for the migrant workers that we need to come and work here?
I have already spoken about the implementation of the talent attraction and migration service, to mitigate the difficulties that our employers have faced post-Brexit. [Interruption.]
Murdo Fraser must have been living in a cupboard if he has not had the level of representation from employers in his area that I have had in my area and from across Scotland about the impact that Brexit has had through cutting freedom of movement.
We continue to call on the UK Government to ensure that it has an immigration system that is more suitable to the needs of people in Scotland. I progressed that work in my previous role, alongside Mairi Gougeon—for instance, with a rural visa pilot, which many on the Conservative benches would support, despite the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland is currently holding it up.
That concludes general question time.
Before we move to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to the gallery the Rt Hon Catherine Gotani Hara MP, Speaker of the National Assembly of Malawi. [Applause.]
I also invite members to join me in welcoming Dr Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom. [Applause.]