Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]
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
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Renewable Energy Sector (Economic Impact)
- Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time
- Portfolio Question Time
- National Drugs Mission
- Decision Time
Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time
Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body question time. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question or indicate so in the chat function by entering the letters RTS. As ever, I make a plea for succinct questions, and answers to match.
Staff Cost Provision 2023-24
To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether it will reject the annual survey of hours and earnings and average weekly earnings average of 4.2 per cent for uprating the staff cost provision in financial year 2023-24. (S6O-01610)
The SPCB is responsible for funding the members’ expenses scheme and for determining which indices are used to uprate the overall provisions, including staff cost provision. Individual MSPs, as employers, determine any salary increase for their staff within the overall staff cost provision.
As part of the annual budget cycle, the SPCB considers the indexation for uprating of all provisions, including staff cost provision. Although the basket of ASHE and AWE indices has been adopted in recent years as a steadier basis for any increase, that is a matter for SPCB judgment rather than automatic application, as we thoroughly consider all factors for financial year 2023-24.
The SPCB will submit its 2023-24 budget for consideration at the Finance and Public Administration Committee on 10 January. A bit like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I might know but I am not able to say what the conclusion of our deliberations might be, but we will be determining the indices for all provisions in the coming weeks.
I thank Mr Carlaw for his response. I am sure that the bond markets will be listening to whatever decisions are eventually arrived at.
We can all agree that MSPs’ offices make a tangible difference to constituents and provide a vital public service. I have found that all members strive to provide a decent pay settlement for staff, but the fact is that that frontier needs to increase in line with the cost of living. Given the unprecedented cost of living crisis that we face, will the SPCB meet the GMB’s Scottish Parliament staff branch as a matter of urgency to discuss its pay proposal in good faith and to agree an appropriate award for members’ staff?
I think that this touches on the subject matter of Pam Duncan-Glancy’s question, too, but I have to tell the member that the answer is no. The SPCB will not meet the trade unions, because it is not competent for us to do so. We are not the employer of MSP staff; MSPs themselves are the employers. Our responsibility is to set the framework within which salary increases can be agreed, but it is for individual members, either on their own or in concert with colleagues, to agree the level of increase.
Cross-party Groups (Access to Broadcasting Services)
To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what discussions have taken place to consider providing cross-party groups with access to broadcasting services in committee rooms. (S6O-01605)
Our discussion of this matter is somewhat limited by the fact that the code of conduct for members specifies that broadcasting facilities cannot be used for CPGs. However, the SPCB recognises some of the benefits that have come from CPGs meeting virtually. Updated hybrid equipment is now available for meetings. Up to 20 rooms in the Parliament can facilitate meetings in that way, and the equipment can be operated without the broadcasting team. However, they would be happy to demonstrate the self-operated facilities, with drop-in sessions planned for next month.
I declare an interest as co-convener of the cancer and chronic pain CPGs. A high number of incredibly ill or disabled people would like to attend meetings of both groups, but as we have moved back to holding in-person meetings, the numbers have reduced. Could we look into having a pilot project in which CPGs could, in future, use the broadcasting facilities in committee rooms to broadcast on the Parliament channel?
The member will be disappointed to hear this, but it is not possible to facilitate the type of meeting that he has suggested. The members’ code of conduct limits the use of facilities, and there are practical issues to take into account such as limited resources and staff time.
However, the Teams technology that is being used can bring in thousands of participants, and it is possible to record meetings for upload at a future point. I appreciate that the member will be disappointed by that response, but he might be persuaded that the alternative that I am proposing will result in the same outcome. I am happy to discuss the matter with the member.
Party-political Activity on the Parliamentary Estate (Guidance)
To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what guidance is available to MSPs regarding undertaking party-political activity on the parliamentary estate. (S6O-01608)
As the member will be aware, the code of conduct for members requires all members to abide by the SPCB’s policies. All policies direct that parliamentary resources are provided by the SPCB to support members to carry out their parliamentary duties and must not be used to any significant extent for any other purpose, including party-political purposes.
Parliamentary resources include office equipment and furniture; information technology and mail systems; meeting rooms; and expenses paid to support members in carrying out their parliamentary duties, whether they are met under the members’ expenses scheme, through financial assistance to non-Executive parties or directly by the SPCB.
The SPCB has various policies and guidance in place to advise members about appropriate activity on the parliamentary estate or when making use of parliamentary resources. That includes, for example, specific policies and guidance on the use of meeting rooms and photography on the Parliament estate. The SPCB appreciates that there can sometimes be a fine line between something that is parliamentary and something that is party political, and members must use their judgment accordingly.
When there is any doubt, members are encouraged to seek advice from the contact points provided in the appropriate policies before undertaking any such activity.
I reiterate what I said. We have eight questions on the Business Bulletin and, if we have answers as long as that to each question, there is no way that we will get to number 8.
A Scottish Conservatives event for Conservative councillors and Conservative group leaders was held in the members’ room on 8 November. Can the SPCB clarify whether political meetings and events are allowed to be held on the parliamentary estate?
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on any specific use of the parliamentary estate or resources at this point. If the member has any concerns about any such use of the parliamentary estate, he should follow due process and raise a complaint through the appropriate channels in order that that may be looked into and addressed.
Staff Cost Provision 2023-24 (Consultation with Trade Unions)
To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether it will consult MSP staff trade unions before deciding on uprating the staff cost provision in the 2023-24 financial year. (S6O-01609)
In the interests of time, I refer Ms Duncan-Glancy to the answer that I gave in response to Mr Sweeney’s supplementary question.
I thank the member for that referral back to a previous answer.
I am sure that I speak for all of us in the chamber when I say that our staff do an outstanding job, and I thank all of them—particularly my team—on the record. They all, too, face a cost of living crisis. The GMB branch and I recognise what the member said earlier about there being no formal relationship between the SPCB and MSP staff, but it is a fact that the staff cost provision allows for annual cost of living increases, and it is a basic principle of fair work that trade unions are involved in negotiations. Therefore, could the SPCB, as it plays a key role in this, find some way to engage in good faith with the unions, so that they can answer some of the questions that the SPCB might have?
The SPCB has had detailed and robust discussions on all the issues affecting the indices that will be applied when we uprate salaries in the next annual budget. However, it is the case that we are not an employer, and the scheme—which was agreed by Parliament—is quite clear that it places a responsibility on us to uprate the scheme annually, using a relevant index, as part of the budget setting. I repeat that individual MSP employers can, of course, consult trade unions and agree any cost of living award that they wish, as long as it is affordable within the overall capped provision. In fact, the SPCB is aware that many members made awards that exceeded the inflationary uplift in the scheme itself.
I might anticipate a question that is coming later, as it is relevant to Ms Duncan-Glancy’s question, by saying that the SPCB is currently considering what financial assistance can be provided to members’ staff. That includes the sort of one-off non-consolidated payments that other employers, including His Majesty the King, have made recently. We have had a constructive discussion about that today, and we will communicate our intended course of action as soon as possible after our discussions conclude.
Room for Contemplation (Access during Recess)
To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether provision can be made for access to the room for contemplation for evening events held during recess. (S6O-01572)
The room for contemplation is accessible to building passholders at all times of the day, including during recess. Visitors who wish to use the room must be accompanied by a passholder.
The corporate body policy is that, should an attendee at an evening member-sponsored event request to use the room for contemplation, an event assistant will support that request and escort the person to and from the room. During recess, member-sponsored events are paused.
When I hosted an event for faith groups during the October recess, attendees were forced to pray in the reception, as they were not able to access the room for contemplation. I understand that parliamentary opening hours are curtailed during recess but, as long as members are able to host events that extend outside those hours, surely it makes sense to allow members and their guests to have access to the room for the duration of such an event.
For meetings that members have arranged to be held in the Holyrood campus—it sounds as though the meeting that Foysol Choudhury mentioned was one such meeting—the member or their representative passholder will be responsible for supporting the meeting attendees with access to the room for contemplation. There should be access to the room for contemplation as long as people are accompanied by a passholder.
To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether MSPs and their staff are putting their rubbish in the correct bins for recycling or otherwise. (S6O-01607)
I thank John Mason for his rubbish question. [Laughter.] Apologies—I thank him for his question on rubbish. I also thank my colleagues for their efforts in segregating materials for recycling. We achieved a recycling rate of 81 per cent in 2021-22, which is a significantly higher rate than most public sector bodies achieved.
I think that many of us want to recycle, but there is some confusion. For example, where does paper stop and cardboard begin? Can plastic bags be recycled with plastic bottles? I am holding in my hand a Tetra Pak product that was bought in the canteen. It says that it should be recycled, but I do not know where to put it.
I remind members that props of any kind are not welcome in the chamber.
I am trying to find out where the answer to that question is. Members could just fill in time a little bit.
All recycling bins are colour coded, and they include the text and symbols recommended by Zero Waste Scotland, which is the not-for-profit environmental organisation funded by the Scottish Government and the European regional development fund. John Mason can therefore check on its website. Those standard colours, symbols and texts should be consistent across Scotland, and they help individuals, including Mr Mason, to recognise the same bin and waste streams at home, work, and out and about. There is also a guide to our recycling bin system on our intranet site, and there are regular communications about waste and recycling.
I am sure that Mr Mason will improve.
Home Working Allowance (Withdrawal)
To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body how it will support any members’ staff who are dealing with added financial challenges and pressures after the home working allowance payment was discontinued in October. (S6O-01611)
At the risk of recycling an answer, the corporate body is committed to supporting members’ staff with the cost of living and is actively considering a suite of measures to support staff. The corporate body believes that that is the right thing to do at this very difficult time, and it recognises that that is an urgent priority for staff.
I remind members that, should they require their staff to work from home, they may qualify for tax relief and that, in such circumstances, members should advise their staff to contact HM Revenue and Customs directly.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am a member of GMB Scotland.
GMB Scotland has highlighted that all members of staff, particularly those who work from home, face significant additional pressures this winter, with increasing energy bills. Staff members have received a blog with advice on saving money, such as changing to LED light bulbs, but they need direct financial help during the cost of living crisis.
I welcome that that is being considered by the SPCB. The home working allowance was welcome, but we need to go further. Can I ask that any cost of living support payment goes above and beyond the previous home working allowance so that it can meet the scale of the challenge that people are facing with the cost of living crisis?
As I said in response to an earlier question, we are considering that very issue at the moment. We have had constructive discussions over a number of meetings of the corporate body and I hope that we will soon be able to communicate the outcome of those discussions to members. In addition to those arrangements, the corporate body is considering other measures, which include independent financial advice, financial wellbeing workshops, and providing links to organisations that can provide further advice and support. However, the particular item to which Mr Bibby refers should be communicated to members in early course.
To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what steps it is taking to improve safety for MSPs both within the Parliament and outwith the parliamentary estate. (S6O-01606)
We take members’ personal safety very seriously and, with the advice of our specialist security partners, the corporate body has introduced a range of measures to support members both when working at Parliament and when away from the main estate. We keep safety measures under review to ensure that they remain proportionate to the risks that members face.
Recently, security people undertook research, or outreach, with MSPs. Is the SPCB satisfied with the response and uptake following that?
The numbers have been quite positive—100 members have taken the opportunity to have a survey of their constituency or regional offices and, so far, 38 members have had home security surveys.
I assure members that sufficient funding is available for each member should they wish to pursue a security survey and I would encourage members to apply to the corporate body. I am grateful to the member for helping us to promote the scheme and to make sure that members know that it is available and it is fully funded.
Today was a good example of such security issues. I sat barely a few feet away from today’s protest during First Minister’s question time. I am acutely aware that we need to be an open Parliament and allow public access as much as possible and although I appreciate that physical security checks are in place for visitors, what more can be done by the Parliament to ensure the physical protection of members, especially those who are sitting at the back of the chamber near the public gallery, who are particularly vulnerable to protests? Thankfully, in this case, it was just a verbal protest, not a physical one.
As the member recognises, the corporate body is keen for the Parliament to remain open and accessible. It is always about achieving the appropriate balance. We obviously had an incident in Parliament today that we will reflect on, and I thank the member for raising the issue.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer—I forgot to mention earlier that, as listed in the register of members’ interests, I am a member of GMB Scotland.
Thank you, Ms Duncan-Glancy.
That concludes SPCB question time and there will be a brief pause before we move on to the next item of business to allow front-bench teams to change position.