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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 24, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Renewable Energy Sector (Economic Impact), Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, National Drugs Mission, Decision Time


General Question Time

The first item of business is general question time. Question 1 has been withdrawn.

Disabled People (Right to Dedicated Accessible Spaces)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the right of disabled people to dedicated accessible spaces. (S6O-01598)

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

Our Strategy “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” sets out a commitment to have places that are accessible to everyone. We are working with disabled people’s organisations to develop our new strategy and are listening to learn what barriers disabled people face and to find solutions. We have made significant progress in advancing disability equality in many areas, including by delivering 1,124 homes for disabled people.

Under the Equality Act 2010, public authorities, businesses and organisations are responsible for making reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of disabled people; we expect all relevant organisations to comply with the requirements of the act.

Jeremy Balfour

Active travel measures and new pedestrianised areas can sometimes make the built environment less accessible for disabled people by leading to the removal of blue badge parking bays, unclear demarcation of cycle lanes and pavements and more clutter and street furniture in pedestrianised areas.

Does the minister agree that any alterations to our urban areas must not come at the expense of the disabled community and that true progress can be made only if we leave no one behind?

Kevin Stewart

I agree with Jeremy Balfour. Our accessible travel framework is there to help ensure that more disabled people make successful door-to-door journeys more often. We want to see disabled people being more involved in the design, development and improvement of transport policies, services and infrastructure. I know that there is good practice in many places and that disabled people are being involved in the design of new places, ensuring, as Mr Balfour highlighted, that we have the right number of disabled parking spaces and that areas are truly accessible.

The Government will continue to listen to the voices of those with lived experience and of disabled people in order to get this right.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

A lot of work remains to be done. I recently joined disability campaigner Robert West for a tour of St Andrews. We went through thoroughfare after thoroughfare and over many crossings without finding dropped kerbs in many locations. Even next to disability parking bays, there were no dropped kerbs.

It is a quarter of a century since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I have heard what the minister has said so far, but what practical steps can be taken so that we can see progress in the next few years?

Kevin Stewart

My plaudits go to Mr Rennie for going out with his constituent to see exactly where the difficulties lie. I have done similar things myself, with a blind constituent in particular, to see the difficulties that disabled people face.

Local authorities should ensure that they are taking due cognisance of the needs of disabled people in their areas. I hope that Fife Council will listen to people such as Mr Rennie’s constituent so that we can get this right.

Mr Rennie makes a good point about poor access to disability parking spaces. It is my expectation that, when those are being designed and planned, local authorities and regional transport partnerships will look at the whole area and not only at the spaces themselves.

NHS Lothian and NHS Borders (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met NHS Lothian and NHS Borders. (S6O-01599)

Ministers and Scottish Government officials regularly meet representatives of all health boards, including NHS Borders and NHS Lothian. Indeed, I met the leadership of NHS Lothian on Monday.

Christine Grahame

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the trial involving NHS Grampian, a local energy charity and an energy innovation hub. The health board has identified at least 300 people who require assistance with their energy bills because of their serious ill health and related requirements.

I have a constituent who is at home on life-support equipment, and their monthly bill will rise from £347 to £624 on 1 December and to over £1,000 next year. Does the cabinet secretary consider that other health boards should follow NHS Grampian and consider such interventions?

Humza Yousaf

I know about the important pilot project at NHS Grampian that Christine Grahame highlights and I will make sure that it has been put on the radar of every single health board chair and chief executive.

Having spoken to our chairs and chief executives about the issue, which has been raised by parliamentarians right across the chamber, we know how important any additional support can be during this very difficult cost crisis.

NHS Lothian and NHS Borders advise me that they have arrangements in place to help with energy cost support for some patients, but I will make sure that the pilot that Christine Grahame referenced is put on their radar.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

I am glad that the cabinet secretary met NHS Lothian on Monday. He will have heard about the staffing challenges that are still keeping the Edington hospital closed. What specific help has the Scottish Government offered NHS Lothian with regard to its challenges with recruitment?

Humza Yousaf

Significant support has been given to all our health boards, including NHS Lothian. With NHS Lothian, a lot of our support has concentrated on the social care space. We know that delayed discharges are far too high, particularly in the city of Edinburgh, so we are working extensively on that. We have asked Elma Murray, who I am sure the member will know, to provide some additional support—which is in addition to national Government support—to the health board, the health and social care partnership and the City of Edinburgh Council.

We are working really intensively. It looks like there has been some initial positive movement in delayed discharges in Edinburgh city. We know that, if we can free up that capacity, it helps to free up some of the workload, and we hope that, in time, it will help to free up staff to be able to go back into other community assets such as the Edington hospital, which the member mentioned.

Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met COSLA and what issues were discussed. (S6O-01600)

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

The Scottish Government engages regularly with COSLA at both official and ministerial levels to discuss a wide range of issues as part of our shared commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people and communities of Scotland.

Other ministers have met COSLA in recent days and weeks. I last met COSLA on 11 October to discuss the child disability and adult disability payments as well as data sharing between Social Security Scotland and local government. I am also scheduled to meet the presidential team in the coming weeks to discuss a wide range of issues, including the new deal for local government.

Neil Bibby

I thank the minister for his answer. The failure to properly resource local councils has created protracted pay disputes all over the country, meaning that refuse is piling up on our streets and, today, schoolchildren are locked out of their classrooms. Our town halls are now facing even more tough decisions against a backdrop of rising costs, which means cuts to public services in our communities.

Does the minister recognise that the Government’s failure to provide any funding for pay settlements in the 2021-22 local government settlement was the principal reason for the disputes this year? Will the Government commit to properly funding councils in West Scotland in 2022-23 so that they can make a fair pay offer to their hard-working employees, who are struggling with the cost of living crisis, and ensure that people have the services that they deserve?

Ben Macpherson

As I mentioned in my first answer, the Scottish Government works in partnership with local government as two spheres of government that are equally committed to collaboration and serving the people of Scotland.

The outcome of the resource spending review earlier this year meant that, despite the very challenging circumstances, we have provided the local government revenue budget with an extra £100 million in cash terms. The £120 million that was added at stage 2 of the 2022-23 Scottish budget bill has also been baselined in the local government settlement for future years.

Within the limited resources of the Scottish Government’s budget and the nature of the powers and flexibilities that it has, the Scottish Government has consistently been committed to providing local government with as fair a settlement as is practical and reasonable, as well as meeting all the other obligations that we have.

I encourage Neil Bibby to engage with finance ministers in a spirit of collaboration, because the issues that are faced across the country require that.

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

Here in the capital, the number of people who have died while homeless has increased by nearly 150 per cent over the past four years. Shelter Scotland has said that the situation points towards “public services failing people”, and a “broken housing system”. The situation is simply not acceptable, and the City of Edinburgh Council does not have the resources to deliver a solution. As a fellow Edinburgh MSP, I ask the minister a very simple question: will he act today to declare a homelessness emergency here in the capital?

Ben Macpherson

I appreciate the wide-ranging nature of this question.

As a Lothian MSP, Miles Briggs is active in this space. As a constituency MSP, I am aware of the pressures on the housing market and on housing capacity here in the capital city, as is my colleague Shona Robison, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government.

Within the Scottish Government, there is a strong commitment to building more affordable housing. More than 112,000 affordable homes have been built across the country since 2007. Action has been taken on short-term lets, to increase the capacity in the city. Of course, the Conservatives did not support that. Recently, we took action on rents. There has been a multitude of actions, including in trying to improve provision for homeless people in Scotland and committing to reducing homelessness. We will continue with that work.

If Miles Briggs has any constructive suggestions, he should send them to the cabinet secretary.

National Health Service Dentistry (Dumfries and Galloway)

To ask the Scottish Government what urgent action it is taking to stabilise NHS dentistry services in Dumfries and Galloway. (S6O-01601)

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

We understand that, in certain remote and rural areas, such as Dumfries and Galloway, access to NHS dentistry remains challenging. The service concerns that are experienced by NHS Dumfries and Galloway are driven by workforce and capacity issues, given enhanced immigration controls on European Union labour following Brexit and the exacerbation of historical difficulties by backlogs from the pandemic.

We have already put in place additional recruitment and retention incentives to maximise the opportunities for newly qualified dentists to work in areas such as Dumfries and Galloway, and we continue to work with all health boards to deliver their responsibility for NHS dental services in their area.

A record number of people—more than 95 per cent of the population—are currently registered with an NHS dentist.

Briefly, minister.

Across key treatments, levels of activity in NHS dental services are comparable to those that were last seen before the pandemic restrictions were introduced.

Oliver Mundell

The minister says access is “challenging”, but access is non-existent: Thornhill has closed, Gretna has closed and Castle Douglas has closed. NHS dentistry in the region is collapsing. The minister was warned that that was the case on 23 February, during a Conservative-led debate in the Parliament. No meaningful additional action has taken place since then.

Does the minister not feel even a tad of shame that, in 2022, in Scottish National Party Scotland, the ability to see a dentist is based on the ability to pay? What will it take for this rotten Government to end the decay?

Maree Todd

I will be absolutely clear. Not one dental practice that was providing NHS dental services prior to the pandemic has closed due to financial failure. That is because of the level of support that was provided throughout the pandemic and during this post-pandemic recovery period, which totals more than £150 million. We put that in in order to maintain the capacity and capability of NHS dentistry.

Officials meet the board regularly, and are in advanced discussions on how to maintain NHS capacity. For example, they are exploring with the board the prospect of a comprehensive suite of Scottish dental access initiative grants across the areas in which NHS dental provision has recently been lost. Those grants offer £100,000 towards establishing a new surgery, with £25,000 per additional surgery.

However, I must say—

Briefly, minister.

Maree Todd

Historically, this is an area that has proven to be challenging for the board in attracting suitably qualified dental professionals. Existential forces, such as the significant loss of EU workers as a consequence of Brexit, are, invariably, having a disproportionate impact in areas such as Dumfries and Galloway.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

Like Oliver Mundell, I have been contacted by many people from across Dumfries and Galloway, and from other parts of South Scotland, so I know that the situation is challenging and that the impact has been exacerbated by Brexit. Can the minister provide an update on the rural visa pilot scheme in relation to dentists, and will she agree to meet me to discuss access to NHS dentistry in Dumfries and Galloway?

Maree Todd

I thank the member for that question and would be happy to meet her to discuss the issue.

We have been particularly successful in growing the dental workforce in Scotland—from 2007 to 2022, it has increased by 32 per cent, despite the challenging pandemic period. However, with disruptions to the education and training of dentists and the challenges of Brexit, we face difficulties.

The situation is accentuated with regulated professions such as dentistry. For example, overseas dentists are required to sit examinations with the General Dental Council before they are able to work as dentist. We are pressing the GDC and the UK Government to expand the capacity for examinations.

National Health Service Recovery Plan (Diagnostics for Thrombosis)

To ask the Scottish Government how measures set out in the NHS recovery plan will support innovation and capacity in diagnostics for thrombosis. (S6O-01602)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf)

Our NHS recovery plan is clear that innovation, the redesign of services and continually identifying new ways to increase our capacity are all integral to the recovery of NHS services. That includes increasing diagnostic capacity, including diagnostics for thrombosis and similar artery and vein clotting conditions.

Our specialist diagnostic services are split between imaging services, such as magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography scans. To support delivery towards increasing capacity by 78,000 this year, we have secured seven mobile MRI scanners and five mobile CT scanners across Scotland, which is helping to reduce waits.

Natalie Don

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include swelling, a throbbing pain—normally in one leg—and red or darkened skin around the painful area. I know from the experience of one of my constituents that it can be extremely debilitating. Will the cabinet secretary join me in emphasising the importance of raising awareness of the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, I would be happy to do that, and I think there may be more that we can do on the communication of the symptoms and what people should be aware of when it comes to DVT and other artery and clotting conditions.

The member will know that a lot of our public health messaging during the pandemic was, understandably, focused on Covid, but that focus has reduced as we have moved to a different phase of the pandemic. It is therefore important that we should look at what more we can do, particularly on DVT.

Housing (Private Sector Rents)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to address high private sector rents. (S6O-01603)

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

The Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022, which came into force on 28 October, included a rent cap to protect tenants from high rent increases.

Alongside that, we are committed to introducing an effective national system of private sector rent controls by the end of 2025, and to doing so in a robust way that provides lasting benefit to tenants. We are also providing up to £86 million-worth of housing support this year, building on the £39 million-worth of additional funding that has already been provided to protect tenants as a result of the pandemic.

Mercedes Villalba

I thank the minister for his support for Labour’s rent-freeze policy. It is vital that that stays in place until we have a national system of rent control to bring rents down, because long-term underinvestment in council housing and the history of poor regulation of the private rental sector has allowed private landlords to cash in on the housing crisis while claiming that they provide a public service. Let us be clear: that is not philanthropy—it is exploitation. Will the minister commit to finally ending the two-tier system of rented housing in Scotland by capping private rents in line with social rent levels?

Patrick Harvie

I am glad that the Labour Party supports the measures that the Scottish Government brought to Parliament, which have not been replicated by any Government in any other part of the UK.

The member is well aware that emergency legislation must, by definition, be temporary and that its on-going necessity must be reviewed to ensure that the provisions remain proportionate to the situation. For that reason, the measures will initially apply for a six-month period. However, the act also includes powers to extend the measures for two further six-month periods, subject to parliamentary approval, if circumstances show that to be necessary. The act also includes provisions to temporarily change the rent adjudication process if that is necessary to support the transition away from the emergency measures.

Those measures, alongside the direct support that I mentioned in my first answer and the Scottish Government’s strong track record on providing social housing, demonstrate that the Scottish Government has the best track record of any Government in any part of the UK in supporting tenants in these difficult times.