Meeting date: Thursday, December 2, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament 02 December 2021
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19: Preparing for Winter and Priorities for Recovery, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- International Day of Persons with Disabilities
- Point of Order
- Portfolio Question Time
- Covid-19: Preparing for Winter and Priorities for Recovery
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
General Question Time
Good morning. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place. Face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.
The first item of business is general questions. I would be grateful for short and succinct questions, with answers to match, in order to get in as many people as possible.
Older People (Financial Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it can provide to older people who may face financial hardship over the winter months due to the rising cost of living. (S6O-00480)
We are taking action to support all people on low incomes. I recently announced our £41 million winter support fund, which will help people in need to heat their homes and to meet rising food costs. We are also investing £114 million to tackle fuel poverty and to improve energy efficiency in people’s homes. Additionally, by the end of October we had delivered a £130 pandemic support payment to around 500,000 low-income households, including those on pension credit. This week, we introduced the Money Support Scotland website and marketing campaign to raise awareness of the services that are available to people with financial worries.
I recently met representatives of the charity Age Scotland, who stressed that the elderly are heading into a crisis, with pensions in the United Kingdom being significantly lower than those of our European neighbours. Our older people are often on fixed incomes, and they cannot afford sky-rocketing food and energy bills. Some are facing the unthinkable choice between either turning on the heating or feeding themselves. Does the cabinet secretary agree that pensioners have been betrayed by the UK Tory Government scrapping the triple lock?
I absolutely agree with Karen Adam. The triple lock is crucial to ensuring that the support that is offered by the basic state pension continues to rise to reflect the increasing cost of living and to support pensioners into their third age. We are disappointed and concerned that the UK Government decided to push ahead with breaking the triple lock before publishing information on how that will affect pensioners, and despite a cost-of-living crisis that is set to hit everyone on low incomes, including pensioners. I therefore call on the UK Government to play its part by sticking to the commitments that it made to pensioners and by actively encouraging older people to take up pension credit.
On Tuesday, the Scottish Government released the outline business case for a publicly owned energy company, two years after it was written. The business case highlights that a publicly owned energy company would produce annual savings for customers. Age Scotland recently revealed that eight in 10 older people were greatly concerned about paying their energy bills. With nearly 30 per cent of pensioner households in Scotland living in fuel poverty, does the cabinet secretary not think that it is time for the Scottish Government to fulfil its promise to deliver a publicly owned energy company?
I am happy to ensure that the minister responsible for taking forward that policy writes to the member on that point.
As I said in my initial answer, the Government is investing £114 million to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency in people’s homes. Is it not a shame that the member does not support our calls to have full control over all those issues here in Scotland? That would allow us to tackle fuel poverty in an even more efficient manner and to support people into their older age and during the winter months more effectively than we can with our fixed budget.
2030 Emissions Target (Update)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress towards cutting emissions by 75 per cent by 2030. (S6O-00481)
Scotland continues to lead the United Kingdom in delivering long-term emissions reductions. The most recently published data, which are for 2019, show that Scotland has reduced our emissions by 51.5 per cent from the 1990 baseline. However, we recognise that much more must be done to achieve our world-leading 75 per cent target for 2030 and to meet our net zero target for 2045.
The Scottish Government’s updated climate change plan, which was finalised in March, includes more than 200 policies and proposals and puts us on a clear and credible pathway to meeting our target up to 2032. Our focus is on delivering those measures.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. The Committee on Climate Change suggests that the 75 per cent target might be “overcooked” and urges
“deep co-operation with the UK”
if the target is ever to be achieved. The chief executive, Chris Stark, noted that he has not seen the types of policies that the nationalist coalition needs in order to turn that target into reality. Will the cabinet secretary reassess his Government’s policies against those criticisms? If so, when will his conclusions be made public?
I suspect that that chief executive was the same chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change when it stated that the Scottish economy is decarbonising quicker
“than the rest of the UK, and faster than any G20 economy since 2008. Emissions have fallen rapidly, while the economy has grown.”
The very same Committee on Climate Change, to which Liam Kerr referred, recognised the significant process that we are making.
Liam Kerr made reference to the need to work closely with the UK Government, so perhaps he will call on his colleagues at Westminster to reverse the ludicrous decision not to support the Scottish Cluster in helping to deliver carbon capture, utilisation and storage, which will have an impact on the north-east of Scotland in particular. The UK Government decided not to go ahead with that project despite the fact that the Committee on Climate Change stated that it was a key project to support Scotland in delivering on its climate change ambitions.
To what extent are Scottish and UK targets dependent on a well-developed carbon capture, utilisation and storage project? Today the UK Climate Change Committee published a report that challenges the UK on its ability to deliver on its targets. Is the Scottish Government continuing to press the UK Government to get on with funding the Acorn project, rather than keeping it on the reserve list?
Fiona Hyslop makes an important point, because the Committee on Climate Change was very clear that carbon capture, utilisation and storage is critical to Scotland and the UK in relation to delivering on our climate change targets. That is why the UK Government’s decision not to support the Scottish Cluster makes no sense and I believe is a very serious mistake, not just in terms of delivering on our climate change targets but for the north-east of Scotland. The UK Government has been happy to lean on that area and the oil and gas sector for many decades when it suited, but when it comes to paying back, through investing in areas such as carbon capture, the Government has let the north-east down.
It is clear that the issue needs to be progressed and I assure Fiona Hyslop that we will continue to do everything that we can to support the Scottish Cluster and to press the UK Government to reverse that ridiculous decision.
Modal Shift (Rail Journeys)
I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests.
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to encourage a modal shift to increase train passenger numbers and journeys. (S6O-00482)
Our national transport strategy is clear about the investment priority that we attach to public transport and modal shift. The substantial financial support that we have provided throughout the pandemic has ensured the availability of rail, along with bus, as a mode of choice.
We remain committed to growing the rail market. Accordingly, we have charged ScotRail Trains Ltd with producing a market growth strategy from April 2022 that develops and implements appropriate products and services to address post-Covid markets, in order to deliver increased revenue and passenger growth against a backdrop of net zero carbon and modal shift.
I thank the minister for that response.
As a low-carbon transport link between Scotland’s two largest cities and London, the Caledonian sleeper route has a central role to play in getting people on to public transport, yet Serco, which is responsible for running the franchise, has managed to cause not one but two disputes with its workers and their union—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—over both pay and, now, clear evidence of bullying and harassment. That is a shocking way to treat key workers.
As the Scottish Government fully funds the franchise, I say to it today, “Bring it back—bring it back into public ownership.” Will the minister commit now to doing that when the emergency measures agreement expires in March 2022?
Presiding Officer, that question was at a bit of a tangent to the original question, but let me deal with it.
We have encouraged both sides to resolve the initial dispute between the Caledonian sleeper operators and the RMT. As I understand it, the trade union concerned approached the operators with a proposal to resolve the dispute. The operators came back matching that proposal, the trade union did not recommend it to its members and it was rejected. I think that that is matter of deep regret.
On the member’s other point, bullying and harassment—alleged or otherwise—is a serious matter. I would encourage Serco to look into that dispute in great detail.
We do not get people back on to trains by cutting services. The consultation on the controversial proposed new timetable closed on 2 October. When will we be told the results?
That is going through a process of review and the results will be conveyed to the public in due course.
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the United Kingdom Government to discuss infrastructure projects of importance to Scotland. (S6O-00483)
Scottish ministers meet with their UK Government counterparts to discuss matters of importance to Scotland, including key infrastructure projects, as required. We have stressed, through engagement with the UK Government, the importance of Scotland’s capital budget being sufficient to deliver our infrastructure investment plan and of any UK Government spending in Scotland supporting its delivery. It was therefore disappointing that the UK Government’s October spending review did not provide significant scope for an infrastructure stimulus and that the levelling-up fund was disbursed directly across the UK, despite previous commitments otherwise, which in turn reduced capital funding for Scotland.
The Scottish Government has repeatedly promised upgrades to the A75 and A77, even before the ferries moved to Cairnryan. The UK Government has committed £40 million to preparatory work being done between our two Governments. Why the Scottish Government is refusing to get involved in the union connectivity review is baffling to my constituents, especially given that 12 Scottish local authorities, the Welsh and the Northern Ireland Governments and, for that matter, the Republic of Ireland Minister for Transport have contributed to the review.
The Scottish Government claims that the A75 will feature in its strategic policy review, but the people of the south of Scotland are growing tired of waiting and of this Government failing to deliver. Will the minister commit today to working with the UK Government to bring much-needed upgrades for the benefit of the people of Scotland and of every nation across the UK?
We are always willing to work with the UK Government in work that respects the devolution settlement, which has not been the case in this and many other instances. The union connectivity review talks of offering funding to support the upgrade of the A75. We are quite prepared to discuss that with the UK Government, with two specific lines of questioning to be explored. The first is on whether the funding would be additional funding and not top-sliced and repackaged existing monies. The second is on how upgrading would fit with the proposals for the route that are being considered as part of the strategic transport review process?
Specifically in relation to the issue that has just been raised, the union connectivity review recommended that the UK Government make funding available for A75 upgrades. The minister is aware that I, too, have lobbied for that since my election in May 2016. Can the minister outline specifically what the UK Government has promised in terms of the amount of money that it proposes to give, and the timescales for the money being delivered?
To date, no dialogue on that has taken place. However, there is an offer of a meeting, which I hope will take place in the not-too-distant future. We will engage in that meeting on the basis that I outlined earlier.
Stillbirth (Support for Parents)
To ask the Scottish Government what support is in place for parents who experience stillbirth. (S6O-00484)
All national health service boards should, within best practice guidance, provide tailored care and support to parents who experience stillbirth. That should, where appropriate, include further investigation and counselling.
We are committed to supporting families who have experienced stillbirth and other types of baby loss. That is why we have invested £578,000 over the past four years in a range of initiatives to improve care for families who experience baby loss. In addition, we have provided approximately £150,000 a year to support improvement activity, research and audit, in order to drive further improvements in clinical care to reduce the incidence of stillbirth.
I have been working with a group in my constituency called Baby Loss Retreat, which supports patients who experience baby loss at all stages. They have told me that aftercare for parents is often inconsistent and, in some cases, is inadvertently retraumatising—for example, when people are treated close to newborn babies, who might be heard crying. Is the Government considering reviewing the protocols that are in place to allow people who experience stillbirth to receive the more tailored and specialist support service that they require?
Absolutely. I am aware of the work of Baby Loss Retreat and of Fulton MacGregor’s efforts to highlight it.
The Scottish Government is committed to supporting families who have experienced baby loss through high-quality and sensitive bereavement care. We have provided £178,000 of funding over four years to the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society—known as Sands—to develop the national bereavement care pathway for pregnancy and baby loss in Scotland. Sands will work with bereaved parents, baby-loss charities and royal colleges to develop the pathway, and it will put the voices of bereaved parents at the heart of the vision. The pathway will allow health professionals to provide evidence-based care and will describe best practice for bereavement care following miscarriage, termination of pregnancy for foetal anomaly, stillbirth, neonatal death or the sudden unexpected death of an infant.
The bereavement care pathway is currently being piloted in four early-adopter health boards in Scotland. Unfortunately, full roll-out had to be paused while health board resources were focused on dealing with the Covid pandemic, but we expect work to recommence early next year.
We would not send someone who has cancer or another illness home without support in the community, but across much of Scotland there is no long-term specialist baby-loss counselling. Will the Government carry out an audit of where the gaps are so that we at least have a picture of where services need to be provided? Will the minister commit to working with the third sector in particular to provide such services where they are not provided at present?
Absolutely. We are committed to improvements. The work with Sands to develop the national bereavement care pathway focuses on that. We have also provided £400,000 to baby-loss charities in Scotland to provide front-line support to parents. Those charities include: the Simpson’s Memory Box Appeal—SiMBA—Sands, Baby Loss Retreat, Bliss Scotland, Held in Our Hearts, Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity, the Miscarriage Association and Scottish Care & Information on Miscarriage.
We are determined to improve that area of care, and we have a lot of work going on. I am more than happy to hear more details from Mr Balfour if there are areas that we can work on together.
Delayed Discharge and Winter Pressures (NHS Fife)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with NHS Fife and Fife Council about delayed discharges and winter pressures. (S6O-00485)
I met NHS Fife, Fife Council and the Fife health and social care partnership on 23 November and again on 1 December to discuss delayed discharge performance. At those meetings, the partnership outlined its plans to reduce delays, with a trajectory to do so by at least 30 per cent by the end of the year. It has already achieved a 15 per cent reduction, which is promising. I expect that improvement to continue well into 2022 and beyond, and we have a follow up meeting scheduled for 15 December.
It is clear to me that front-line health and social care workers in Fife are pulling out all the stops to tackle delayed discharges and to put in place and implement timely social care packages. Will the cabinet secretary provide reassurance to my Cowdenbeath constituents that he is satisfied that the senior management teams at Fife Council and NHS Fife are straining every sinew and using all the resources at their disposal to deal with winter pressures? Will he confirm that additional help will be made available if necessary?
Yes, I give Ms Ewing’s constituents that reassurance. I have already met Fife Council on a number of occasions and will, as I mentioned, meet it again on 15 December.
We are providing £300 million as part of our winter package. I have said to Fife Council, NHS Fife and the health and social care partnership that, if they require further resource, I will consider that with an open mind. I am reassured that they are working collaboratively, but I will continue to push them to go even further, because Ms Ewing is right: we already face significant winter pressures that might become even more significant in the weeks and months ahead.
I will continue to keep Ms Ewing updated on those discussions.
That concludes general questions.