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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 02 April 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Point of Order, Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament (Revisions), Decision Time, Stalking Awareness Week 2019


Topical Question Time

Scottish Police Authority Budget

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the approval of the Scottish Police Authority budget, in light of reports that capital funding shortfalls have left Police Scotland using patrol cars that are more than a decade old. (S5T-01591)

The Scottish Police Authority considered and approved its budget for 2019-20 at its meeting on 28 March 2019. The total Scottish Government funding for the Scottish Police Authority in 2019-20 is increasing by £42.3 million, which means that the annual policing budget is now more than £1.2 billion. Significantly, that includes a 52 per cent increase to the capital budget.

Police Scotland will continue to ensure that it invests in providing a fleet that is fit for purpose, safe, reliable and sufficiently flexible to be responsive to the dynamic nature of policing, as is outlined in its fleet strategy. Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has said:

“Our maintenance team do an excellent job and we have over 96% of the fleet on the road ... Across a multitude of demands, we are prioritising the capital budget we have been allocated and are investing in the right areas to achieve as much as we can, as quickly as we can.”

This week, it was revealed that more than 250 of Police Scotland’s patrol cars are more than 10 years old and that some have up to 200,000 miles on the clock. Last week, the chair of the Scottish Police Federation told her conference that the fleet was a “disgrace”. I have a straight question for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice: does he think it acceptable that officers are having to apprehend criminals in vehicles that are “held together with duct tape”?

For a Tory member of the Scottish Parliament to say that is completely and utterly to cry crocodile tears. When the Scottish Government proposed a capital budget increase of 52 per cent, Liam Kerr and his colleagues voted against it. There was a proposal for £100 million resource protection until 2021, but he and his party voted against it. Police Scotland also had to pay £125 million in VAT that no force in England Wales had to pay, but the Tories have done hee-haw about that.

If Mr Kerr will spare me the crocodile tears, I will tell him a little bit more about the figures that he quoted. On his point about vehicles being more than 10 years old, of 268 such vehicles only five are on the front line: the vast majority are non-front-line response vehicles. He talked about vehicles that have more than 200,000 miles on the clock: there is one such vehicle, which is a non-operational vehicle that is used as a training tool for armed police. It would have been much better had Mr Kerr seen a bit of the context—perhaps without the crocodile tears—and had supported the Scottish Government, whose budget is increasing capital for the police, as opposed to the Tory Government, which is taking away through VAT that no other force, in England and Wales, has to pay.

I hear the cabinet secretary’s response, but he knows full well that the Scottish Conservatives cleaned up the Scottish Government’s mess on VAT for police and fire services and put £25 million back into the front line each year.

Last week, the Scottish Police Authority approved its annual budget. Thanks to the Scottish National Party’s cuts to its capital budget, it says:

“Repairs and maintenance of buildings will be reduced. Worn-out, inefficient cars will not be replaced and the force will continue to rely on several outdated and disconnected IT systems.”

The cabinet secretary frequently hides behind the “operational matter” defence, but he cannot do so this time. The SNP has been in charge of the police service for nearly 12 years. Again, I ask the cabinet secretary a straight question—he seemed to struggle with my previous one: does he agree that our police officers deserve better than that?

Better than a Tory Government that pinches £125 million from them but does not do so from police forces in England and Wales? Mr Kerr points at me, but he should be pointing at his colleagues south of the border, who have stolen that money from Police Scotland.

Let us look at the Tories’ budget plan, which would have taken £575 million out of the Scottish budget. Frankly, if Mr Kerr and his party were in charge, our police officers would be riding around not in police cars but in rickshaws. There is the issue of the VAT, and there is also the Tories’ budget plan, which would have taken £575 million out of Scottish policing and out of budgets in general.

Let me also correct Mr Kerr by giving him a little bit of context about the figures that he mentioned. The average age of fleet vehicles is five years and the average unmarked police car mileage is 57,000 miles, not 200,000 miles. Overall vehicle availability is 96.4 per cent, against a benchmark of 95 per cent in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Of course, budgets will be constrained, no doubt—in significant part—due to the decade of austerity that the Conservative Party has imposed on us. Instead of carping from the sidelines and crying crocodile tears, perhaps Mr Kerr should support the Scottish Government’s budget proposal of a 52 per cent capital uplift.

We will continue to invest in the police service, while his party continues to decimate it.

As the Liberal Democrats’ freedom of information request uncovered, a quarter of the police force’s fleet has clocked up between 100,000 and 200,000 miles. Front-line officers say that the fleet is not just a disgrace but also inadequate. Recently, in Fife, only two of nine police vehicles were roadworthy. The lack of resources was a consistent theme in the 2015 police staff survey, which was supposed to be repeated in 2017. Will the cabinet secretary ask the national force to bring forward the long-overdue survey in order to find out what staff now think about the tools that they are given?

Again, I am not here to interfere in operational matters for Police Scotland, but the same context that I described applies in relation to the question that Liam McArthur asks. I remind him that, although I had a go at the Conservatives for withholding the VAT, it was Sir Danny Alexander, who was at the Treasury at the time, who made the decision to withhold it. It would be helpful to have Liam McArthur’s support to get that VAT back from the UK Government.

As I said, we will continue to invest in the police. There is a £100 million revenue protection for the police and a 52 per cent uplift in capital.

Where Police Scotland can get feedback—be it from the trade unions, such as the Scottish Police Federation, or, indeed, directly from its members—the member is, of course, welcome to encourage Police Scotland to do so, because feedback from police officers is important. I note that when we gave them an historic 6.5 per cent pay rise, the feedback was that that was welcome. I always listen to police officers. I will continue to listen to them and to have engagement with the Scottish Police Federation.

I understand why Liam Kerr will not do it, but it would be helpful if other political parties, such as the Liberal Democrats, got on board and demanded the £125 million of VAT back from the UK Government.

For the avoidance of doubt, will the cabinet secretary reiterate what percentage capital uplift there is for the police in the Scottish budget this year? Will he also remind the Parliament which parties voted against that increase?

All the other political parties, with the honourable exception of the Scottish Green Party, voted against a budget that has seen a 52 per cent uplift in capital, revenue protection for Police Scotland and an historic pay rise for police officers, which the Scottish Police Federation has described as the best uplift to police officer pay in 20 years. Those political parties will have to answer for that.

There is a genuine question in and around the capital allocation, and I am happy to explore that. I have said publicly, on the record, at the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing that I am happy to look at the question of the capital allocation. However, let us not talk down the good work that the maintenance and fleet repair team at Police Scotland are doing. They are not just keeping our vehicles on the road, but ensuring that 96 per cent of our vehicles are on the road responding to emergency incidents. It should be congratulated as opposed to belittled by the other parties in this Parliament.

The papers that were submitted to the SPA board last week expose issues with the capital budget that go far beyond simply the fleet. They show a £43.1 million capital allocation against a request for £99 million and a capital budget that is the fifth worst in the UK despite the fact that we have the second largest police force; indeed, in comparison, the Metropolitan Police’s capital budget per officer is almost five times higher than that of Police Scotland. Has the cabinet secretary had discussions with the senior officers who submitted those papers about their concerns about the capital expenditure shortfall in the budget?

Again, I make the point that I have made to other political parties: the member voted against a budget that gave a 52 per cent uplift; and, not only that, but his colleague sitting next to him, Alex Rowley, is the only one who came with any budget proposals—it is honourable that he came, but he was the only one who engaged. In fact, if we had listened to Labour’s plans, there would have been a 3 per cent cut, never mind a 52 per cent uplift in Police Scotland’s budget. Really, the member must reflect on his position before he comes here and demands more money.

On the capital question, I have engaged with Police Scotland, which tells me that the majority of its capital ask—a significant part of it—is for the digital, data and information and communications technology project, which is, of course, very important. We will look at the position and explore it, as the member would expect me to interrogate any ICT project. Part of the capital is for fleet, part of it is for estate and a significant part of it is for ICT. I have great sympathy for that but, rightly, we will make sure that we evaluate it, and we will come forward with future spending reviews.

Integration Joint Boards (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to support integration joint boards with funding shortfalls. (S5T-01593)

Our budget this year provides investment of £711 million in social care and integration, which represents a 29 per cent increase on last year. Additionally, the “Review of Progress with Integration of Health and Social Care”, which was published on 4 February this year, identifies a range of actions, including on integrated finances and financial planning, all of which are to be delivered by March 2020.

The leaders of the Edinburgh board have refused to accept its funding deal, which was due to start yesterday. It has made £11.6 million worth of cuts already, but it still faces a further funding black hole of £12.6 million. Board member Mike Ash said:

“We can’t go on pretending we can deliver the services people expect with the money we have.”

If he is being so honest, why can the cabinet secretary not be? Edinburgh does not have enough money to care for its vulnerable, does it, cabinet secretary?

I will repeat the answer that I gave to the previous question. I am being completely honest—there has been a 29 per cent increase in the budget this year. I remind Ms Dugdale that that increase is against a 6.8 per cent cut in real terms to this Government’s budget from the United Kingdom Government between 2010-11 and 2019-20. I do not accept that this Government has done anything other than absolutely prioritise the health budget, including for health and social care. However, I require integration authorities to look at how they can reform the delivery of their services to get the best value and deliver what patient care needs, and that applies to both the health board and the local authority.

As I am sure Ms Dugdale is well aware, the point of integration is to devolve such decisions to integration joint boards, which should be best placed to determine what their local populations need, with significant additional funding from the Government. I do not accept the premise of Ms Dugdale’s question. The Government, along with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, will continue to engage with the integration joint boards to help them to do the work that we need them to do in the areas in which they face difficulties.

The cabinet secretary needs to lift her head from a spreadsheet and look at exactly what is happening in the real world. In order to balance its books, the Edinburgh board is considering cutting mental health services and slashing its drug and alcohol partnership funding. On top of that, a freedom of information request from my office shows that 160 people in the city are getting incomplete care packages, more than 600 people are waiting for a package to start and a whopping 1,200 people are waiting to be assessed. If Edinburgh cannot afford to stand still, how on earth will 2,000 of my constituents get the help that they desperately and urgently need?

It is a bit ironic to have someone from the Labour Party suggest that I should live in the real world. Trust me, I live in the real world. It would be helpful to move away from the rhetoric and focus on the plan that was jointly agreed between COSLA, including all the Labour-led and other authorities, and the Government to increase the pace and delivery of integrated health and social care, which has seen significant success in many parts of our country.

Every single one of our IJBs needs to improve what it is doing, but COSLA and I have committed to direct action to intervene and support where necessary. However, once again, I remind members in the chamber that, if we want to devolve decision making to local bodies such as IJBs, we have to allow them to make decisions and not constantly ask the Government to jump in and fix things when we do not like those local decisions. We have to allow local flexibility but, where it does not meet the overarching priorities of the Government, we will of course act to assist the boards to do so.

It is not about fixing things; it is about stopping them from being smashed in the first place. Across Scotland, there are proposals to close care homes for alcohol and drug partnerships, and primary care transformation funds, which the cabinet secretary says she is passionate about as a way of driving forward general practitioner reforms, are being raided. The integration of health and social care is something that we all agree on across the chamber, but it is being put at risk—this is not how it was meant to be.

How will Scottish National Party ministers deal with what is a growing financial crisis across our IJBs? The cabinet secretary wrote off £150 million of debt for health boards, and it is clear that our IJBs are going to be in a similar position. What is she doing to monitor that and to work with IJBs to help them to address the record debt?

I redirect Mr Briggs to two things, the first of which is the 26 per cent increase in the funding for health and social care integration. If you want more money for that, you will have to say where it will come from. I do not want to repeat what Mr Yousaf just said, but it takes brass neck to ask for money and resources for an area when you and your colleagues did not support the overall budget. I also redirect you to the joint review of integration and the actions that were taken as a consequence of that; the evidence that Councillor Currie and I gave to the committee on which you sit; the work that is going on with the IJB finance officers and the finance director in the Scottish Government; and the joint work that we are doing with COSLA to assist the IJBs with their financial planning so that they can work their way through any financial difficulties.

I do not accept that there is a financial crisis—I never accept, Mr Briggs, the hyperbole that you choose to use to get tomorrow’s newspaper headline. It is not true, and you need to deal with this matter seriously.

I encourage all members—not just the cabinet secretary—not to use the term “you”. Do not address each other; instead, refer all your remarks through the chair and talk about each other in the third person. Do not say “you”; otherwise the debate becomes very personal.

I am aware that Dumfries and Galloway NHS Board manages its health budget without using a set-aside model. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the implementation of a set-aside budget has aided integration and say whether health boards and IJBs have discretion over its use?

Ms Harper has pointed to an important part of the overall financial package for health and social care integration. It includes not only what is called set-aside funding but the significant reserves that some of our IJBs have and which have not been allocated for any specific purpose. Part of the overall work that we have agreed with COSLA is to put all of that into the mix not only to ensure parity of funding across all our IJBs but to get the best out of those funds.

What is referred to as set-aside funding is actually an allocation of money, the best use of which is determined by the IJB, given its responsibility for the planning and commissioning of local services. Some of that money might, with the IJB’s agreement, be used by a health board to deliver certain services, particularly around the unscheduled care that the set-aside money is targeted at covering. Of course, it does not have to cover only that, but the point is that the IJB is the decision maker in this area, and we have issued clear additional guidance to our health boards and IJBs to ensure that they understand that. Indeed, that will be part of the discussions that we will continue to have with IJB finance officers and our health boards.

Last month, the cabinet secretary wrote to the Health and Sport Committee to say that her expectation was that budgets for all integration joint boards would be in place in advance of the start of the new financial year. Will she confirm that budgets for Scotland’s other IJBs for 2019-20 have now been agreed? When does she expect them to be made public?

I think that there were two budgets outstanding, but I understand that one of them has now been confirmed and agreed. My understanding, therefore, is that the majority of budgets for IJBs have now been agreed.

There are one or two areas where we do not believe that the local authority has passed on the full amount from the additional £160 million that went from the health portfolio to local authorities for additional provision for integrated health and social care. I am meeting Councillor Currie this afternoon to go through a number of areas, including the overall budget and individual IJB situations.

As for publication, the budgets should be published in the coming weeks, but I will endeavour to get a final cut-off time and ensure that Mr Macdonald is made aware of it.

I worry that the cabinet secretary’s discussions with COSLA are failing to focus on the key issues. A former health secretary argued in Parliament a month or so ago that there needs to be bridge funding to allow the transfer from acute to primary care to take place. That is clearly not happening today. Bedblocking is increasing further. Does the cabinet secretary agree with that? The former health secretary also talked about the Alaskan model. There is a crisis—it is not about who blames who. The people trying to access community care in Scotland are feeling that crisis when they do so.

The set-aside money was designed largely to act as a bridging fund. For example, the IJB in Dundee used the set-aside money and some of its reserves to engage in a service redesign and transformation to ensure that the services that it was planning and commissioning could be delivered sustainably in the long term. Some IJBs have sought to use their reserves and, in part, the set-aside money to do precisely that. I have made that point before when we have discussed the integration of health and social care. Across the 31 partnership areas, some are doing well in some aspects of their work, others doing less well and so on. It is a mixed picture, which is why the work with COSLA is targeted to look at those IJBs where improvement is required, either in financial planning or in the work on delayed discharge. The statistics that were published today show a reduction in the number of delayed discharges over the previous month—it is not good enough yet, but it is going in the right direction.

That is the kind of focus that we have between the Government and COSLA, in addition to the regular work that my officials engage in directly with the chief officers and finance officers as well as with the health boards. We are aware of the challenge and are trying in the integration review and the actions from it to take specific targeted action. In addition, as Mr Rowley knows, work continues to try to resolve the specific issue in Fife of the legacy deficit that the IJB started with. We are moving in the right direction and are focused. That is not to say that there is not more that we can do, and we are open to any additional measures that members think we should take.