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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, January 19, 2023

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Points of Order, Fire Brigades Union DECON Campaign, Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy, Carbon Neutral Islands Project, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Teaching Post Cuts (Glasgow)

Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

There are reports today from a leaked document that Glasgow City Council is considering cutting 800 teaching posts. The general secretary of the teaching union the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association said:

“This would potentially write off the current generation of young people.”

Was the First Minister aware that a Scottish National Party-run council was considering such a drastic cut in teacher numbers?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

This is, of course, the time of year when we hear lots of reports about the savings options that different councils are considering and when Opposition parties, quite understandably, make hay with that. Very often, those proposals do not proceed. The Parliament’s Official Report will be littered with examples of that.

I have not seen the detail of those particular proposals. Councils are, of course, autonomous in their areas of responsibility, which is something that parties across the chamber often call on the Scottish Government to respect. As my record shows, and as my Government’s funding to councils demonstrates, I am in favour of more teachers, not fewer.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister’s record is of 900 fewer teachers across Scotland, so I am not sure how her rhetoric matches her record. She says that I am standing here making hay. I am not; I am deeply worried that one of the biggest councils in Scotland is considering the loss of 800 teachers. If Glasgow City Council went ahead with that, it would reduce school staff by 15 per cent: one in seven teachers in Glasgow would be lost.

We have heard reports that SNP-run East Ayrshire Council is also considering cutting teachers and that East Renfrewshire Council is contemplating very serious cuts to education.

That is what happens when the SNP does not fund councils properly. It wastes taxpayers’ money on ferries that do not float and on other pet projects, instead of providing Scottish education and Scottish schools with the support that they need.

Will the First Minister tell us—if she is listening to the questions—how many teachers in Scotland are going to lose their jobs as a result of her budget choices and costly mistakes?

I will come to my Government’s budget choices in a moment. [Interruption.] With the greatest of respect to Douglas Ross, I will answer the questions. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister, please.

The First Minister

I will answer the questions fully. First, on the general issue, I know—and we have seen this week—that Douglas Ross favours riding roughshod over the decisions and powers of democratically elected institutions. [Interruption.]

Members!

The First Minister

I, on the other hand, respect the autonomy of democratically elected institutions.

Turning to budget choices, let me set out the Government’s budget choices. In this financial year, 2022-23, the Government provided £145 million of additional funding to local authorities to employ up to 2,400 more teachers and 500 more classroom assistants. That funding is being protected in the budget that we have put forward for the next financial year. Overall, we are increasing the resources that are available to councils by more than £570 million. That is a real-terms increase of £160.6 million.

Those are the budget choices of this Government. Had we followed the advice of the Conservatives, of course, we would not be able to do all that, because we would have cut taxes for the very richest people in the country.

Douglas Ross

First, I asked Nicola Sturgeon about 800 teacher losses potentially happening in Glasgow. She gave no answer. The next question was how many teachers fear losing their jobs across Scotland as a result of her Government’s budget. She gave no answer again. There are 900 fewer teachers in Scotland since Nicola Sturgeon’s Government came to power. That is the reality.

Let us look at quotes about the First Minister’s budget. SNP councillor Shona Morrison, the leader of the council umbrella group the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said:

“The reality of the situation is that yet again, the essential services Councils deliver have not been prioritised by the Scottish Government.”

That is the reality that councils and councillors, including SNP councillors, are facing across Scotland.

Let us remember that, more than six years ago, Nicola Sturgeon made bold promises about education. She said that it would be her number 1 priority. She claimed that her Government would close the attainment gap completely, but yesterday her education secretary rubbished Nicola Sturgeon’s promise. Shirley-Anne Somerville said:

“I think in reality ... that is exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to achieve—to get to the point of zero.”

Is the education secretary right that the First Minister’s key promise is never going to happen?

The First Minister

Our commitment to substantially eliminate the poverty-related attainment gap by 2026 still stands. I have said that in the Parliament before and I say it again today. I stress the phrase “poverty-related attainment gap”. Of course, we are also trying to tackle child poverty through something that I think Douglas Ross might have referred to as a pet project earlier: the Scottish child payment, for example.

That task of tackling child poverty and helping to reduce and substantially eliminate the poverty-related attainment gap would not be as difficult as it is if we did not have a Tory Government pushing more children into poverty every single week. [Interruption.]

Thank you, members.

The First Minister

Let us come back to teachers. The number of primary teachers in our schools is among the highest today that it has been at any time since I was at primary school. The overall teacher pupil ratio is the lowest in the UK. In Scotland right now, there are 7,573 teachers per 100,000 pupils. That compares with just 5,734 where the Conservatives are in government in England. Of course, as I said, we are providing £145 million to councils—

Briefly, First Minister.

—to support additional teachers. Those are our funding choices. That is our record and I am proud to stand on it.

Douglas Ross

Nicola Sturgeon is proud to see SNP councils considering cutting teacher numbers. She is proud of that. She should be embarrassed if not disgraced. Nicola Sturgeon said, “Judge me on education.” Well, the education secretary has done exactly that and found that the First Minister makes promises that her Government will not meet. Her failures have left teachers frustrated, disappointed and angry.

Today, schools in North Lanarkshire and Moray are on strike. Tomorrow, it is Angus and East Dunbartonshire. Next week, schools in another 10 council areas will go on strike including in Edinburgh. The following week, another 10 are striking, from the Scottish Borders to Aberdeenshire.

After years of disrupted education because of the Covid pandemic, when the Scottish Government was too quick to shut down schools and limit teaching time, pupils are once again getting a raw deal. All of this affects young people’s opportunities and causes real problems for parents. Can the First Minister tell young people and Scottish families whether education will ever be her number 1 priority?

The First Minister

I will let the people of Scotland continue to judge the record, actions and decisions of the Government. Let me repeat some of that. At a time when the Tories have been slashing budgets for local councils, this Government, in the budget that we have put forward for next year, is increasing council budgets by more than £570 million. We are providing £145 million to councils to support the employment of additional teachers. [Interruption.]

Members!

The First Minister

Again, I repeat that we would not have been able to do that had we followed Douglas Ross’s advice and cut taxes for the highest paid. Instead, we are asking those at the top of the income spectrum in Scotland to pay a little bit more to protect our public services.

When it comes to pay disputes with teachers, this Government continues to negotiate and to seek settlement. Again, that stands in marked contrast to where the Conservatives are in power. The education secretary in England said this week:

“We didn’t negotiate ... pay”

with teachers, because

“that’s not what we are there to do.”

Briefly, First Minister.

The First Minister

The Tories, of course, are trying to take away the right of public sector workers to strike. We will continue to seek fair pay deals in the national health service, the teaching profession and elsewhere across our public sector. We will continue to take decisions that prioritise education and health, which is in stark contrast to anything and everything that the Scottish Conservatives do.


Social Care

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Last week, we heard directly from front-line national health service staff, who said that many of the problems that they face in acute care are because of the on-going crisis in social care.

Yesterday, I met front-line social care workers and their trade unions to discuss the state of the sector in Scotland. They told me about the burnout that has been experienced by their colleagues, their fears about the levels of care that are being offered and their inability to provide care to those who need it.

The workers and experts were clear that the problem has been more than a decade in the making and is a direct result of decisions by this Government. They told me that many of their colleagues have quit or retired early because of the pressures of the job, and they say that the pay does not reward their hard work or reflect the importance of their role in society.

Does the First Minister agree?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I value those who work in our social care sector, and I agree that the work that they do has traditionally—not just in Scotland but in many places—been undervalued. That is what we seek to change and address.

I also agree that some of the pressures in acute and emergency care, and some of the pressures in our hospitals, could be alleviated by reform and by increasing further the capacity in social care, which is why so much of what we speak about is directed at exactly that. That is why, for example, just last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care announced additional funding to secure additional interim care home beds; £1.7 billion has been provided for social care and integration in the past year; and we are progressing our commitment to increasing spend on social care by 25 per cent by the end of this parliamentary session—which, of course, will be an increase of more than £840 million. We continue to take such actions.

In relation to wages, we are providing £100 million of additional funding to uplift pay from April this year, having already increased it. We will continue to do that so that our social care workers get the value, not just in our rhetoric but in their pay packets, that they so richly deserve.

Anas Sarwar

It is important to note that the proposals that the First Minister has just outlined have been widely criticised by front-line staff as being nowhere near enough to meet the demands of the crisis that we face.

The First Minister should not ignore the facts. Social care staff will be paid £10.90 an hour, which represents a 3.8 per cent pay increase—that is, 40p—at a time when inflation is running at 9 per cent and NHS staff are being offered, on average, an increase of 7.5 per cent. That is in the context of a First Minister who said that she would reward social care staff who put their lives on the line to get us through the pandemic. However, in a cost of living crisis, 40p more does not feel like much of a reward to those workers, and it will not address the on-going workforce crisis.

Why can the First Minister not see that there is no solution to the NHS crisis without a solution to the social care crisis? Seventy-one per cent of care-at-home services are reporting vacancies, as are 75 per cent of care homes. Yesterday, we heard that staff are leaving to work in Sainsbury’s, Costa and Lidl, because they can get better pay and better conditions there. Will the First Minister finally commit to an immediate pay increase to £12 an hour, rising to £15 an hour, for social care workers across Scotland?

The First Minister

Those are serious issues, and we take them seriously. However, it is important that we can fund the decisions that we take. First, on the £10.90 an hour wage that Anas Sarwar derides, it is important to point out, just as an aside, that that is the rate paid by the Labour Government in Wales to the social care workforce.

Over the past two years, there has been a 14.7 per cent increase in pay for social care workers. Pay has increased from £9.50 an hour in April 2021 to £10.90 an hour from April this year. For a full-time adult social care worker, that increase represents an uplift of more than £780 over the course of this financial year.

I want us to go further, and we intend to go further, but we have to be able to fund that. Labour is asking us to increase pay to £15 an hour for all social care workers. I understand why people want that to happen, but it would cost up to an additional £1.75 billion. Labour has not set out how it would fund that or what it proposes to cut as a consequence.

Yes, we want to see pay increase further, but we have to do that in a properly funded way. That is responsible government.

Anas Sarwar

I will tell the First Minister what is derisory. Derisory is giving a 3.8 per cent pay increase to front-line workers when inflation is running at 9 per cent. That is what is derisory and is causing the social care crisis.

The First Minister asks where the money would come from. This Government’s failure to eliminate delayed discharge is costing at least £150 million a year. Its national care service is estimated to cost £1.3 billion—the money that will be spent on set-up and administration should be spent on front-line services to address the current crisis.

Organisations that, like Scottish Labour, support a national care service are calling on the Scottish National Party to pause the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill. Those organisations include the GMB, Unison, Unite the union, Social Work Scotland, Scottish Care, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. The GMB told the Parliament that social care staff are “broken and exhausted”. It said:

“now we are giving them a ... bill that does not give them any job security, any value or any feeling of worth ... We want reform—we want to make social care better—but what they are being offered right now is”

nowhere near

“good enough.”—[Official Report, Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, 15 November 2022; c 38.]

Will the First Minister finally listen to workers on the front line, pause this flawed bill and put the money where it needs to be, so that we can actually confront the NHS and social care crisis?

The First Minister

First, Parliament is scrutinising the bill, and that process of scrutiny is important. However, fair work and sectoral bargaining are at the very heart of those reform proposals.

Calling for a reform that is due to be implemented in future years in order to fund a pay increase in this financial year is an example of the completely irresponsible and incoherent approach that Labour takes to budgeting. That is not how budgeting works. By all means, let us continue to scrutinise the national care service legislation, but do not mislead people into thinking that, if we just stopped the bill, we would suddenly free up money now for pay increases. It simply does not work that way.

Let me repeat the actions that we have taken. There has been a 14.7 per cent pay increase for social care workers in the past two years, and we want to go further. For NHS workers, the offer this year is 7.5 per cent on average, compared with 4.5 per cent where Labour is in government in these islands. Our actions demonstrate the value that we place on those workers. Within our budgets, we will continue to prioritise that, but we will do that in a responsible and deliverable way, in stark contrast with Labour.


Teachers Strike

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government has taken to bring the strike action by teachers to an end. (S6F-01716)

As I think that we have demonstrated, not least in the national health service, we are—[Interruption.]

I suspend business briefly.

12:19 Meeting suspended.  

12:21 On resuming—  

We will go back to question 3. I ask Mr Kerr to repeat his initial question.

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government has taken to bring the strike action by teachers to an end.

The First Minister

As, I think, we have demonstrated, not least in the national health service, this Government values public sector workers and seeks to negotiate fair pay deals. To that end, we continue to work closely with trade unions and local government partners to reach a deal that is fair and affordable.

That dialogue has been constructive. There still remains a gap between the union asks and—to be blunt—what is affordable within our finite resources, and therefore we look for further compromise.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills is in regular dialogue with the unions and with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and has, during the past week, spoken with each of the union general secretaries individually to progress things. There were two meetings of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers negotiators last week, and another one is scheduled for tomorrow. There is a shared commitment—certainly from this Government—to reach an agreement as soon as possible.

Stephen Kerr

Last week, the First Minister, talking about Humza Yousaf, said something about how there had not been any strikes because—she thinks—he is so brilliant. In contrast, in education, we have Shirley-Anne Somerville and the first teachers strike in 40 years. The strike means chaos for hundreds and thousands of parents and carers and pupils, and yet the cabinet secretary shows no energy or urgency to get involved and resolve it. That is not just my view, but the view of the unions. The First Minister used to say that education was her “top priority”. Will she step in and end the strike?

The First Minister

As teachers strikes loom in England, the hypocrisy of the Tories is absolutely staggering. Shirley-Anne Somerville will continue to do everything possible to reach an agreement with COSLA and our teaching unions to deliver a fair pay increase for teachers.

Over the past few years, teachers have already had a 21 per cent pay increase, which demonstrates the value that we attach to what they do. I think that teachers in Scotland are, on average, the highest paid of any of the teaching professions across the United Kingdom, and we will continue to seek a fair settlement.

The hypocrisy really is staggering. Stephen Kerr talks about the efforts that Shirley-Anne Somerville is making, which are strenuous efforts. The Tory education secretary in England, just in the past few days, said:

“we didn’t negotiate pay”

with teaching unions because

“That’s not what we’re there to do.”

In Scotland, there is a demand that the education secretary resolves the issue, while in England, of course, the Tories simply wash their hands and dig in their heels, because they do not value public sector workers. They want to take away the right to strike of public sector workers. This Government values all our public sector workers.


“Closing the Accountability Gap”

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the report “Closing the Accountability Gap”, published by the National Autistic Society Scotland. (S6F-01736)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We welcome the survey by the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism. It adds to the diverse range of views that we have from autistic people, people with a learning disability and other neurodivergent groups on a learning disability, autism and neurodiversity commissioner. The survey highlights areas where autistic people feel that they need better support, including around mental health and education. We have recognised the need for additional work on mental health and have been working closely with autistic adults and adults with a learning disability on this. We are committed to bringing forward a consultation later this year on the learning disability, autism and neurodiversity bill, including on the creation of a commissioner.

Stephanie Callaghan

The National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism surveyed over 1,200 autistic people, their families and professionals. Ninety-six per cent of them supported the creation of a Scottish commissioner for autistic people and learning disabled people, which would be a world first.

Does the First Minister agree that, although we already have sound policies and strategies in place, we need the focus of a commissioner to champion, promote and protect the rights of people in those groups and to ensure that individuals are supported to reach their full potential?

The First Minister

I agree with that. The learning disability, autism and neurodiversity bill will extend further than autism to include people with a learning disability and, potentially, a wider range of neurodivergent conditions. However, from our scoping work with a range of stakeholders, we understand that, even within the autism community, there are a range of views on how that is best taken forward.

That is why we are establishing a lived experience panel to work closely with us to co-design key elements of the bill’s development. That will include delivering a consultation paper later this year to provide an opportunity for people across Scotland to express their views, including on the potential role and duties of a commissioner.


Key Diagnostic Tests (Backlog)

To ask the First Minister what progress the Scottish Government has made in clearing the reported backlog of people waiting for key diagnostic tests. (S6F-01727)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

A range of work is being taken forward by national health service boards to increase capacity, workforce and activity for diagnostics, including the use of seven mobile MRI and five mobile CT scanners to provide additional activity. I am conscious that the Conservatives claimed this weekend that there are five-year waits for diagnostic tests and that they described that as “scarcely believable”. There is, of course, a reason for that, which is that it is simply untrue.

NHS Grampian has pointed out that the Tories have misrepresented data that they received in a freedom of information request response. It is routine for patients who have been treated for forms of cancer or received neurosurgical care to have pre-planned and scheduled scans in future years, to monitor their progress and condition after treatment. Those are not diagnostic tests prior to treatment, as the Conservatives claimed.

Clearly, our NHS is wrestling with a number of very significant pressures right now, but it does no service to anyone when the Conservatives distort figures and mislead the public.

Sue Webber

One health board has taken the decision to reduce its endoscopic capacity by 3,500 procedures over the next 12 months. That means that there are 35 people living with undiagnosed cancer. Because of Scottish Government cuts, rather than being able to increase its diagnostic endoscopic services to meet the demand, that board is being forced to cut the service. How can the backlog be cleared when diagnostic services are being cut?

The First Minister

There are no cuts to national health service budgets. On the contrary, we are proposing a £1 billion increase to the budget of the national health service next year. Again, that is something that would not have been possible had we taken Tory advice to cut taxes for the richest people in our society. Within that, capacity for diagnostic tests is being increased, because everybody recognises that the earliest possible diagnosis, especially for cancer, is vital. We continue to build up capacity and to support the NHS to fully recover from Covid.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

A woman in my constituency has waited a year since her initial smear test, which reported an abnormality, to receive an appointment for a follow-up colposcopy. The appointments that were offered to her in December and then January have both been cancelled. She is not alone, because waiting times for colposcopies are going up, not down, and women’s health is at risk.

Will the First Minister prioritise action on women’s health and ensure that women are not put through the emotional turmoil of having to wait a minute longer than they need for urgent diagnostic tests?

The First Minister

People who need urgent tests are seen quickly. Often, individual cases are, rightly, raised with me in the chamber and, although I am not saying that this is the case with the incident that Jackie Baillie has narrated, and although I obviously cannot go into individual case details in the chamber, sometimes, there is more complexity to these cases than is put before the chamber. That is why I always say that I am happy to look into individual cases.

There is significant investment in capacity for diagnostic tests and for any follow-up that is required as a result of them. That is particularly important around a range of women’s health conditions. We prioritise women’s health and, shortly, we will publish the report on our women’s health plan, and we are making progress with the appointment of a women’s health champion.

These issues are of priority, and will continue to be so.


Foster Caring

6. Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to encourage people to become foster carers, following reports that only 40 of 400 children referred to Barnardo’s fostering service in Glasgow and Edinburgh have been placed with families in the last year. (S6F-01719)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As part of keeping the Promise, we are committed to ensuring that children and young people who are looked after away from their own families and homes are provided with caring and loving foster families.

Although responsibility for recruiting sufficient foster carers lies with local authorities, we are aware that the pandemic and the cost of living crisis have put additional pressure on foster carer capacity. Of course, that is compounded by some of the wider pressures facing the social work sector, and we are determined to address that. That is why we are working with key national and local partners, including the third sector, to identify action that we can take collectively now and in the future to improve the situation.

The Scottish Government also provides £145,000 each year to the fostering network to raise the profile of foster caring and encourage the recruitment of new carers, as well as providing wider advice and support.

Kenneth Gibson

I thank the First Minister for that response and for her continued commitment to the Promise.

Unfortunately, 691 children and young people are waiting for foster care—up from 461 in 12 months. Over the past year, many Scots have welcomed Ukrainian families fleeing war, partly due to Scotland’s call for volunteers campaign.

Will the First Minister consider launching a renewed drive to encourage more potential foster carers to come forward and help to ensure that children and young people who are waiting to be fostered can be placed in safe, stable and loving homes as soon as possible?

The First Minister

We will give consideration to that. I take this opportunity to thank the people who have opened up their homes to Ukrainian families in the past months. That is testimony to the welcoming nature of people who call Scotland home.

There are, of course, important differences between supporting Ukrainian families and fostering children who might have complex needs and who require day-to-day caregiving, including, for example, supporting contact with their birth families. However, I encourage anyone who is thinking about fostering to speak to their local authority or a fostering organisation. Fostering brings great benefits not only to children—that is the most important consideration—but to foster families.

We will certainly consider all options that might have the potential to improve the lives of children with care experience, and I will ask officials to work with stakeholders and caregivers to consider the possibility of having a national communication campaign and its potential to recruit more foster carers.

We move to constituency and general questions.


Cost of Living Crisis

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

A report from Nourish Scotland has uncovered a dignity gap relating to the cost of living crisis for Scotland’s most hard-pressed families. The research explains how many families have been compelled to select the cheapest food and drink that is available, rather than the products that they would prefer to choose but cannot afford. That is described as “a dignity gap”. Does the First Minister share my view that it is disgraceful that families who are living in a country of such abundant wealth are forced to make such sacrifices?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, I share that concern. The cost of living crisis is, of course, affecting everyone, but it is having a disproportionate effect on those who are already living in poverty. That is why the Scottish Government is taking the range of action that it is taking, including the Scottish child payment, for example. I call on the United Kingdom Government to provide more help to those who are most in need, and to do so urgently.


Sexual Assault Cases (National Guidance for Universities)

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

I have been raising the case of Ellie Wilson, who was a victim of rape while she was studying at the University of Glasgow. Ellie survived that ordeal but was shocked to discover that the perpetrator had been allowed to transfer to another university, despite being under investigation for rape at the time. It has since been discovered that there is no national guidance for how universities should deal with sexual assault cases. Will the First Minister agree to sort that out urgently, so that no other victim has to suffer such an ordeal?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Obviously, I am aware of that case and its extremely serious implications. We take that seriously and will consider what further action the Government needs to take to address some of the issues that are raised.

EmilyTest is an important initiative that the Government worked on with universities and which it encourages universities to take very seriously. However, it is clear that serious issues that we need to reflect further on are raised by the case in question, and I give the assurance that the Government will do that.


Health Inequalities

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The Health Foundation’s report that was published this week is grim reading. It lays bare the extent of health inequalities across Scotland, from the growing gap between the richest and the poorest in life expectancy to the widening gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged in infant mortality. There is a similar story across the United Kingdom, but it is amplified in Scotland. Those chasms have widened while we have had 13 years of Tory Government, but it is a reflection of the Scottish National Party Government that Scotland’s inequalities remain greater.

The Health Foundation said:

“Understanding the causes is not enough; a radical shift in approach is needed ... Without action, Scotland’s most deprived communities are likely to continue suffering from poor quality of life and die younger.”

Will the First Minister respond to its comments?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I agree with those comments by the Health Foundation. Those are not new, or even recent, challenges in Scotland, but it is vital that we do more and as much as possible to tackle them. Tackling health inequalities is a major concern for Governments and communities across the world, and Scotland faces the same challenges as many other countries face.

It is important that we act in a preventative way as much as possible. That is why the Government is doing so much to tackle poverty—as much as we can—within our powers and resources. That is, of course, the route to tackling health inequalities and other inequalities. We will continue to take a range of actions, and we call on the UK Government to step up, as well.


Violence in Schools

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Yesterday evening, I watched a social media video of a female pupil attacking another at Waid academy, which is in my constituency. To be frank, I wish that I had not done so. I cannot get it out of my head; it was an ugly scene.

Earlier this year, the then president of the Educational Institute of Scotland, Heather Hughes, warned about increasing violence in our schools. I am supporting staff, the council and the school locally. What action is the Government taking across the country?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank Willie Rennie for raising that issue. I have not seen the video that he mentioned, but I will watch it if it is available, because I think that it is important that we have a full understanding of such issues.

Violence is never acceptable, and the safety of pupils and staff is paramount. Obviously, I cannot comment further today on the specifics of the case at Waid academy, but I am very clear that violence towards anyone is unacceptable.

I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities spokesperson for children and young people to discuss what further support to local authorities is required and what further support we can provide. They met on 2 December, and they discussed a continued commitment to work together in partnership through the Scottish advisory group on relationships and behaviour in schools, and to use the behaviour in Scottish schools research as the national evidence base to inform future policy on relationships and behaviour in schools.

We are also investing an additional £15 million this year to enhance capacity in education authorities and schools to respond effectively to the needs of children and young people.

We will continue to consider fully what additional steps we can take to support councils in making it very clear that violence is unacceptable and in taking action to support children, young people and teachers who face such violence.


Protection of Workers

Natalie Don (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP)

Research from the work foundation at Lancaster University has found that, unless it is delayed or amended, the UK Government’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

“will put the rights and protection of more than 8.6 million UK workers at risk”,

with women accounting for around 6 million of those who will be most affected.

Can the First Minister advise what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the impact that the bill will have on workers in Scotland and, in particular, on women in the Scottish workforce, and can she provide any information about what assessment has been made of the impact that the bill could have on devolved responsibilities?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Natalie Don is right to raise the issue. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill risks damaging a range of sectors, including protections for workers that have been gained over 40 years of European Union membership. Unison describes it as

“an attack on working women”.

The facts that the bill was previously promoted by Jacob Rees-Mogg when he was in the Government and that it is supported by hard Brexiteers is evidence of the “race to the bottom” ideology that lies behind the proposals.

This Parliament has called for the bill to be scrapped, and, if the UK Government had any respect for devolution—it is now obvious that it does not—that is exactly what would happen.

If the bill proceeds—we will continue to argue against it as hard as we can—we will do everything possible to limit the damage that it does to Scotland. However, giving UK ministers the power to legislate on devolved matters without the consent of this chamber is yet another example of the growing—and very real—threat that the UK Government now poses to the Scottish Parliament.


Malicious Prosecution (Compensation)

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

Eighteen months ago, I asked Nicola Sturgeon about the malicious prosecution of innocent men in Scotland, with taxpayers being hit with a £24 million compensation bill. Today, that figure has risen to more than double that amount—£51 million—with every penny being taken from front-line services.

Now a police officer who abused his power has resigned, and a sheriff who abused his power will also resign. The First Minister and her Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans have gone silent on a scandal that contaminates Scottish justice. What does it take for people to be held to account in SNP-run Scotland?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I think that Russell Findlay exposed the motive behind his question in his last few words.

Those are issues that flow from decisions that were taken independently by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service; the Crown Office is independent on all decisions relating to prosecutions. There have been live court proceedings on the cases and ministers cannot comment while court proceedings are live. The Tories would be among the first to criticise us if we did.

There is also a commitment to have a full inquiry into the matter as soon as possible so that there can be full scrutiny and, where appropriate, full accountability.


Partick Thistle Charitable Trust (Programme Funding)

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

Yesterday in Parliament, I met a group of people from Partick Thistle Charitable Trust’s “Accepting activity” programme. Every day, the programme supports homeless people, refugees, asylum seekers and people who are living with mental ill health. The group told me that the project has been a lifeline and, quoting their late friend, they said that it is often the reason why they believe in the goodness of others. They also told me that the trust is facing unprecedented energy costs and they worry that it will no longer be able to provide its current support without more help. Is there anything that the First Minister can do, and will she work with me to help them?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I understand that the issue was raised with the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, Shona Robison, at committee today and that she has undertaken to look into the issue and to write to Pam Duncan-Glancy. I suggest that that is the appropriate way to proceed for now.


Celtic Connections (30th Anniversary)

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Celtic Connections. I ask, as one Glasgow MSP to another, will the First Minister welcome this landmark anniversary of a Scottish cultural gem and great contributor to Glasgow city’s economy, and will she be going along herself to enjoy it, jig time? [Laughter.]

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Will I be going along? If I get the opportunity, I will certainly relish it.

As a citizen of the great city of Glasgow, I am pleased that Celtic Connections is back for its first full live run since 2020, and is showcasing 2,100 musicians from around the world at more than 300 events across multiple genres of music.

I am delighted that the Scottish Government continues to support the festival through our expo fund. I congratulate Celtic Connections on the 30th anniversary of a festival that has grown to become a cornerstone of Scotland’s annual cultural calendar and that continues to raise Glasgow’s profile worldwide as an exciting, cosmopolitan and welcoming city. I hope that I get the opportunity to sample some of the festival’s delights this year. I believe that I was at some of the events in its founding year, 30 years ago—which perhaps says something about my age that I would prefer to have left unsaid.


Road Safety on A90

Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

Around lunchtime last Saturday, a car smashed into a property just off the A90, near Dundee. Just about every driver in Scotland will travel on that road at some point, and that was the 10th crash at the same spot in only six years, according to The Courier.

The owners of the property live in fear that their grandchildren could be seriously injured or even killed when they are playing in the garden. I raised the issue two years ago, but no remedial action has been taken. Will the First Minister treat it as a matter of urgency?

The First Minister

The crash last weekend was extremely serious, and my thoughts are with all who were involved. It is important that appropriate investigations into the incident are allowed to take their course and that we reflect on their findings. I undertake to have the Minister for Transport write to the member directly with any further steps that are required to be taken, once we have had the opportunity to do that.