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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, October 27, 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Mortuary Facilities (Standards), Environment and Climate Change (European Union Referendum), Decision Time


General Question Time

Trade Representation (Berlin)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it plans to establish a permanent trade representation in Berlin. (S5O-00261)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Keith Brown)

As the First Minister announced on 15 October, the Scottish Government will create a permanent presence in Germany by setting up an innovation and investment hub in Berlin. Staff numbers and precise resource requirements, including the hub’s specific location, will be determined as soon as possible. Germany has been selected because it is at the heart of the European Union and offers significant opportunities for enhanced collaborative working with Scotland in areas such as manufacturing.

Can the cabinet secretary explain further the ways in which that initiative will build on Scotland’s current positive relationship with Germany and other European nations?

Keith Brown

As I highlighted in my first response, Germany is consistently one of our top five export destinations and a critical market for our tourism industry, and it is our third largest inward investor after the US and France. It is at the political heart of Europe, and the Berlin hub will allow Scotland to build on our existing relationships with European partners and—vitally—to increase trade and investment.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

The First Minister’s announcement on increasing trade representation in Berlin is welcome. However, can the cabinet secretary tell members whether additional staff will be recruited for that purpose or whether staff will simply be transferred from other responsibilities in Scottish Development International? Is additional money available? If so, how much?

Keith Brown

The First Minister said, in her statement to which Jackie Baillie referred, that there would be a doubling of SDI staff across the board. The hub in Germany will bring together staff from the Scottish Government, VisitScotland and SDI on the basis that the number of SDI staff will double, which should increase our presence.

We would be happy to do much of that work in any event, but it is increasingly important and urgent because of the forthcoming consequences of the Brexit vote.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

One of Berlin’s successes has been the huge level of investment in the reintegration of the eastern half of the city, including the refurbishment of older housing stock. Will any new trade mission have a remit to consider how such construction activity could benefit Scotland?

Keith Brown

As I mentioned, Berlin is at the heart of the EU and presents significant opportunities for enhanced collaborative working with Scotland in areas such as manufacturing. We will explore potential in the priority areas that are outlined in our trade and investment strategy, including digital technology, which was raised with the First Minister at the national economic forum earlier this week; high-value manufacturing; healthcare; and the low-carbon sector. We are being proactive to ensure that we increase our trade not only to try to make up for what we foresee as the consequences of Brexit but to increase inclusive economic prosperity in Scotland.

“Chronic Pain Services in Scotland: Where are we now?”

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making on implementing the recommendations of the report “Chronic Pain Services in Scotland: Where are we now?”. (S5O-00262)

The Minister for Mental Health (Maureen Watt)

The report, which Healthcare Improvement Scotland published in April 2014, made a number of recommendations to national health service boards and the Scottish Government in order to help to plan and drive improvement in pain services throughout Scotland.

In response to the suggested actions for the Scottish Government, we provided support to the national chronic pain improvement group—formerly the national chronic pain steering group—which was tasked with overseeing work to take forward the relevant recommendations. Having addressed all the recommendations, the group came to its natural end in March 2016.

Additionally, to enable each board to establish the service improvement groups to which the report referred, the Scottish Government made available £1.3 million of pump-prime funding from 2012 for a two-year period. The groups considered the recommendations in the report that were directed towards NHS boards.

Joan McAlpine

I welcome the fact that the new residential centre for chronic pain is up and running at Allander house on the Gartnavel campus, but it could perhaps be more widely publicised.

I note that the centre does not cater for children, and that the Royal hospital for children in Glasgow does not offer a residential integrated service on a par with that offered at the Bath centre for pain services. I have a 12-year-old constituent suffering from complex regional pain syndrome who, in the view of her doctors, requires a residential course of integrated treatment, which can be provided only in Bath. Can the minister give me reassurances that, where the clinical need is proven, we will continue to send a small number of cases to Bath for treatment?

Maureen Watt

I thank the member for her additional questions. Regarding the publicity of the national chronic pain management programme, it has been up and running at Gartnavel campus since November 2015. Since then, 121 patients have been referred from across Scotland. The chronic pain community knows about it, and patient satisfaction with the programme has been very high.

As regards the individual constituent who unfortunately suffers from severe chronic pain, I obviously cannot get into patient details but, because a very small cohort of children fall into that category, services will still be available at Bath if necessary.

Station Reopenings (Reston and East Linton)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on plans to reopen rail stations at Reston and East Linton. (S5O-00263)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

If the local authorities decide to proceed with the stations, the Scottish Government will fund 50 per cent of the construction cost for each station, as I have already advised, subject, of course, to a suitable business case being provided. The offer of a 50 per cent contribution is significant and is consistent with the percentage of funding contribution offered for all other bids to the Scottish stations fund for new stations. I have informed the councils that I am considering their latest funding offer, but I remind the member and others that the Scottish stations fund is finite and is very competitive, with a number of applications needing to be considered.

John Lamont

There are sources within Transport Scotland that suggest that Transport Scotland does not want the stations to be reopened. Can the minister reassure me that that is not the case and that, if it is, the political will of the Government and the desirability of reopening the stations will ensure that those views are overridden?

Humza Yousaf

I do not know what sources the member is referring to. I can give it to him directly from the Scottish Government that, of course, if the business case is there and if the councils are committed to it, which I am sure they are, there is no lack or hesitancy from the Scottish Government whatever on the opening of the stations. That is demonstrated by our putting forward a suggested contribution of 50 per cent, which is in line with other station fund bids that have come in.

I am considering the latest offer from the council, and I will give a response in the next few weeks, but the commitment from the Government is absolutely there. When I first convened a meeting on the matter in my new role, I was heartened by the cross-party support for the stations. With a good campaign by local campaigners, cross-party support, commitment from the Government and commitment from the councils, this can happen, but there is still a gap in funding that needs bridged, which I will consider.

Future Trade with the European Union

To ask the Scottish Government what the outcome was of the recent ministerial visit to Munich to discuss future trade with the EU. (S5O-00264)

The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy (Paul Wheelhouse)

The Government is clear in its intention to stay at the very heart of Europe, not on its fringes. The First Minister’s recent announcement of a four-point plan to boost trade, including a permanent trade representation in Berlin, is testament to that.

Two weeks ago, supported by Scottish Development International and David Scrimgeour of the British-German Business Network, I led a tech mission to Munich involving four Scottish companies: Epipole, MadeBrave, Machines with Vision and Sunamp. The mission was aimed at promoting stronger economic ties between Scotland and Bavaria by exploring areas of shared interest. Under the banner of “Scotland CAN DO”, I was accompanied by key partner organisations driving our innovation ecosystem, such as Women’s Enterprise Scotland, the Scottish EDGE fund, WeAreTheFuture, MBM Commercial and Freer Consultancy.

My agenda included a very positive meeting with the Deputy Minister-President of Bavaria, Ilse Aigner, who expressed interest in leading a return mission to Scotland next year, and discussions with the economic ministry and the Munich municipal authority. It also included a visit to the hugely impressive new IBM Watson facility in Munich, a meeting with a board member of BMW, meetings with the Munich Technology Centre and with the Fraunhofer institute to discuss their project on photonics in Glasgow, and with BayWa r.e. renewable energy—the last two being leading German companies, rooted in Bavaria, that have invested in Scotland. Follow-up actions from those meetings are being pursued, including capitalising on the 17 twinning arrangements between towns and cities in Scotland and Bavaria.

Does the minister agree that establishing the trade hub in Berlin underscores the Scottish Government’s clear commitment to Europe?

Paul Wheelhouse

I certainly do. The mission demonstrates that there remains a lot of goodwill towards Scotland in the EU, specifically in Bavaria, where we have 17 twinning relationships. The establishment of the innovation and investment hub in Berlin shows, as the cabinet secretary outlined in answer to Mr Macpherson, a strong commitment to building on the links between Germany and Scotland and to exploiting the very strong interest in Germany in investing in Scotland and, indeed, our existing economic links. More broadly, the hub will provide a base from which to develop further the German tourism market and to help raise Scotland’s profile in Germany.

“Scotland’s Digital Future: A Strategy for Scotland”

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to review the report, “Scotland’s Digital Future: A Strategy for Scotland”. (S5O-00265)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution (Derek Mackay)

The Scottish Government’s commitment to refresh its existing digital strategy was detailed in the programme for government announcement. The refreshed strategy will set out how we will take forward our digital ambitions under the vision of realising

“Scotland’s full potential in a digital world”,

and will demonstrate the role that digital can play in delivering this Government’s priorities and ambitions for Scotland.

Adam Tomkins

Information technology employs around 70,000 people in Scotland and contributes about £3 billion to our economy. The Scottish Government’s skills investment plan for the sector has identified that there could be up to 11,000 IT job opportunities every year until 2020. However, in recent conversations with business organisations in Glasgow, I have listened to numerous concerns that business is finding it difficult to fill software jobs. Is the Scottish Government confident that our schools, colleges and universities are producing people with the right skills to fit the needs of business?

Derek Mackay

Mr Tomkins has raised a very fair point. We will cover skills and education, as well as the approach to science, technology, engineering and maths—STEM—subjects, in ensuring that we calibrate all our systems to support both the public and private sectors, and in improving our capability as it relates to digital so that we can release the potential in our country. Of course, we have to make progress on connectivity, but having the right people with the right skills is absolutely critical. We will focus our attention on that when we refresh and publish our forthcoming strategy.

How will digital technologies be used to improve the way in which public services are delivered? How could that help to tackle digital exclusion?

Derek Mackay

There is a fantastic opportunity to redesign some of our public services, to focus on the digital-first approach, and to be more effective and efficient. Revenue Scotland is an example of an organisation that has been very efficient in how it has adapted and created systems around a digital-first approach. We want real customer focus, a “once for Scotland” approach and a calibration of our systems to make them effective and efficient in serving the needs of our citizens through taking advantage of the digital opportunities that are before us.

European Union University Research Programmes (Edinburgh)

To ask the Scottish Government what the annual value is of European Union research programmes undertaken at universities in the Edinburgh area. (S5O-00266)

The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

Our higher education institutions are active partners in a large number of EU research collaborations and have secured significant funding from EU research programmes, as a result. The Scottish Government does not hold information on the financial value of EU research programmes for specific institutions. However, we understand that universities in the Edinburgh area secured over £36 million in 2014-15 from various EU sources, including EU Government, charities, business and other sources.

Gordon MacDonald

The Royal Society’s report on the role of the EU in funding United Kingdom research identified that the UK was a net beneficiary from EU research and development funding to the tune of €3.4 billion in the period to 2013. Under current EU R and D funding, total spending is expected to be €120 billion in the period up to 2020 and it is anticipated that Scotland will win around €120 million a year in grants under the EU’s horizon 2020 research programme. However, that might now be under threat following the Brexit vote. What assurances have been given by the UK Government that our universities will be compensated for any loss of research revenue?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, provided a guarantee on 13 August that horizon 2020 research funding that is granted before we leave the EU will be guaranteed by the Treasury after we leave. I welcome the UK Government guarantee on European funding, including horizon 2020 funding, as far as it goes. I say that because it does not take into account the anecdotal feedback that we are already receiving from higher education institutions about collaborations and the Scottish research impact, with people being told to take a step back from research projects. It also does not take into account any of the future framework programmes that will happen in the EU, which we would have continued to receive benefit from, were we to stay in the European Union.

Tackling Cybercrime

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle cybercrime in light of the challenges faced by Police Scotland. (S5O-00267)

The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs (Annabelle Ewing)

The Scottish Government is committed to working with Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority to ensure that the police have more specialists including experts in cybercrime and counter-fraud, and that the service has the right mix and numbers of staff for the future. Police Scotland is also developing its cybercrime infrastructure through the creation of a network of state-of-the-art hubs to ensure that knowledge and skills are maintained to a high level.

Alexander Stewart

I thank the minister for her response. Does she agree with the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents that criminals have evolved faster than Police Scotland and are exploiting advances in digital technology so that the internet is arguably the largest enabler of crime in Scotland? What is the Scottish Government doing to tackle that impact?

Annabelle Ewing

We are working together with Police Scotland to ensure that it has the capacity to deal with the ever-increasing challenges that cybercrime presents, and we are committed to ensuring that it has the necessary resources to do that.

I will make two points on resources. First, Police Scotland is losing about £25 million per annum through VAT clawback by the UK Government. If Alexander Stewart cares about resources for Police Scotland, he might want to get on the phone to his Westminster colleagues to get that money back to Police Scotland, where it belongs.

Secondly, Europol is a key player in tackling cybercrime, and Police Scotland works closely with it on that and other important initiatives, including on child trafficking. I therefore call on the member to get on the phone to his Westminster colleagues also to ensure that the UK Government opts in to the new Europol regulation so that Police Scotland continues to have access to that key resource in tackling cybercrime.

Veterans (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports veterans. (S5O-00268)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Keith Brown)

The Scottish Government places great importance on veterans and their families. We have established a state-of-the-art national prosthetics service, committed over £5 million from 2015 for world-class specialist mental health services, and provided almost £4 million for housing for veterans. We have appointed a Scottish Veterans Commissioner—the first such position in the United Kingdom.

I have also published a fresh strategy, “Renewing Our Commitments”, setting out priorities on healthcare, housing and jobs, and earlier this month I announced a partnership with Standard Life, bringing our Scottish veterans fund to a total of £600,000 over three years. We want the private sector to treat veterans as an asset in bridging skills gaps, and this week I held a summit with Prince Charles to launch a new employers network.

Linda Fabiani

I am sure that the cabinet secretary, as I do, welcomes the one-stop shop for veterans that has recently been established in Lanarkshire. However, I have had correspondence with veterans who are concerned about established and on-going medical and respite services. Does the cabinet secretary agree that it would be useful for a representative of his Government to meet me and those concerned veterans to discuss their experiences?

Keith Brown

I welcome the new veterans first point Lanarkshire service, which is one of seven new services to be established across the country. It is based on the award-winning veterans first point Lothian model. Veterans first point Lanarkshire is building an infrastructure of support for veterans within the local community by working in partnership with national and local agencies.

Our commitment to veterans is absolute, as we set out most recently in the document “Renewing Our Commitments”, which was published earlier this year. Veterans should not be disadvantaged as a result of their service, so it is vital that they receive timely access to the services and support that they need wherever and whenever they need them.

Last night, I attended, with the convener of the cross-party group on armed forces and veterans community, the launch by the Forces in Mind Trust of its report, which says:

“Arguably, Scotland has one of the most robust mental health and related health provision for veterans in the UK”.

However, it also points out, as Linda Fabiani has done, that we have to improve services. In that respect, I am more than happy to arrange a meeting with officials from the Scottish Government and the veterans whom she mentioned.