Meeting date: Thursday, March 3, 2022
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 03 March 2022 [Draft]
Agenda: Business Motion, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, International Women’s Day 2022, Portfolio Question Time, Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, Justice (Risk Assessment), Public Service Broadcasting, Decision Time, Correction
- Business Motion
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- International Women’s Day 2022
- Portfolio Question Time
- Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill
- Justice (Risk Assessment)
- Public Service Broadcasting
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Scottish National Investment Bank (Chief Executive)
One week has passed since the unwarranted, unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin and his forces. That has been one week of watching refugees forced to flee their homes, watching cities being bombed and seeing young and old come together to fight on the front line in a war between two sovereign countries. While we debate in the Scottish Parliament, we cannot forget that the people of Ukraine continue to put up the most heroic defence of their country in the face of Russia’s appalling actions. However, they urgently need food, water, shelter and medical care. Today, I will stand with fellow party leaders to show our support for the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine appeal. The people of Ukraine need our help in their time of need. I encourage everyone across Scotland who can donate to do so. Together, we can make a real difference to people whose lives have been devastated by this atrocity. [Applause.]
Can the First Minister tell us why the chief executive of the Scottish National Investment Bank resigned abruptly on Friday?
First, I, too, on behalf of all of us in the chamber and across the country, express my horror at the scenes that we have watched unfold in Ukraine as a result of Putin’s aggression and illegal invasion over the past week. I also express my admiration for and solidarity with the people of Ukraine; led by their President, they are showing incredible bravery as they stand up for the values of democracy, sovereignty and freedom.
I also echo the comments about the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, which will be launched just after First Minister’s question time. All party leaders will stand together to support that. The DEC appeal brings together all the aid agencies that are responding on the ground. Donating to its Ukraine appeal is the fastest and most efficient way to get money to the charities that are helping right now. I can confirm that, of the £4 million announced by the Scottish Government on Monday for humanitarian aid, £2 million will go to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal.
Before I move on to Douglas Ross’s question, I take the opportunity to tell people that they can donate to the appeal at dec.org.uk or by telephoning 0370 6060900, or £10 can be donated by texting DONATE to 70150. Every penny donated from Scotland will help to get much needed aid to the people of Ukraine who are fighting so hard for the values that we all hold dear.
On the question about the Scottish National Investment Bank, I am sure that everyone across the chamber will understand that I am not going to go into the confidential details of anybody’s employment situation in the chamber. That issue is not a matter for Scottish Government ministers; it is a matter for the board of the Scottish National Investment Bank. Ministers had no input into it, although we were told earlier in February that the chief executive would be leaving the bank imminently.
Scottish Government ministers have the responsibility to ensure that the Scottish National Investment Bank is performing well. It is performing exceptionally well, and it is perhaps the most important economic initiative that has been taken over the past few years in Scotland. As of the end of January, the bank had completed 13 investments, totalling just under £200 million, since its launch to support companies across its three key missions of net zero, place-based development and innovation. The bank is doing incredibly well, and the Scottish Government and all of Scotland should continue to support it in those efforts.
The First Minister has used the opportunity to explain how well the bank is doing in the vital work that it is undertaking. It is therefore important that the Parliament and the public in Scotland know why the chief executive resigned so abruptly earlier this week. We have heard from the First Minister that she was given advance warning of that last month, so I have to ask why we are not finding that out in the Parliament. This week, Scottish Conservative MSPs have repeatedly asked why the chief executive, Eilidh Mactaggart, resigned, but not once have we got an answer. The First Minister has refused to give an answer again today.
The Scottish National Investment Bank will eventually be in charge of £2 billion of public money, so we are entitled to know about its leadership. The secrecy and shutting down of scrutiny are completely unacceptable. How can the First Minister and her Government have nothing to say about why the person who was running that organisation has left?
The ministerial code states:
“Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.”
Are there clear legal reasons for hiding that information from the public, or will the First Minister now tell us why the chief executive stood down?
I would have thought that the answer to Douglas Ross’s question about the terms of the ministerial code should have been obvious. The chief executive is an employee of the Scottish National Investment Bank, and the bank has a duty of care to all staff, including the former chief executive. That is why that is a matter for the bank’s board, and it is important for everyone—including the Scottish ministers—to respect that confidentiality and duty of care.
It is important to make the point that, given that the chief executive has resigned, the bank has new interim leadership in place, and it continues to perform extremely well. I have already outlined the scale of the investments that are being made by the bank to support businesses throughout the country to help us to meet the missions of making Scotland a more innovative country, completing our journey to net zero and ensuring place-based development to help some parts of the country to have better and faster economic growth. That is what matters to the Parliament and the Government. At any given time, it is vital to be clear that the bank has the leadership in place to ensure that continued progress.
It is questions about the leadership of the bank that are not being answered by the First Minister. She is telling us a lot about the bank and its importance to Scotland, Scotland’s economy and the Parliament but, like her ministers, she is refusing to give any detail on why the chief executive resigned. That is extremely unfortunate, as we come to the Parliament to get answers from the First Minister and her Government.
The timing of the matter is all very suspicious. The chief executive of the Scottish National Investment Bank resigned just days before the Scottish National Party launched its economic strategy, which is wafer thin, underwhelming and watered down by the Greens. It sums up a Government that is out of ideas and out of any vision for creating Scottish jobs and growing our economy. The plan is more of the same; it even recycles productivity clubs from Derek Mackay’s economic plan.
The strategy has been criticised by business leaders including Sir Tom Hunter, who described it as
“a long wish list with no magic wand to deliver it”.
Is it really a coincidence that the chief executive of the Scottish National Investment Bank has resigned instead of trying to deliver the new economic strategy?
Yes, it is a coincidence, and that is clear. The former chief executive of the Scottish National Investment Bank is a private individual. She has opted to resign her post as chief executive of the bank. She is entitled to the duty of care and confidentiality to which any other individual in her circumstances would be entitled. As I think most reasonable people would accept, it would be completely wrong of me, in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament, to breach that confidentiality.
I have a duty to ensure that the bank has the right leadership in place and can continue to build on the excellent progress that it is making across its three missions. That, I think, is what is important.
Regarding the economic strategy published by Kate Forbes earlier this week, perhaps I need to quote some people on the front line of Scotland’s economy.
Tracy Black from the Confederation of British Industry Scotland said:
“Business will welcome the ambitions set out ... as the right path for Scotland’s future economy.”
Liz Cameron of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said that
“businesses will applaud the scale and ambition set out in the strategy”.
I am sorry, First Minister, but I ask you to pause for a moment. There is conversation going on across the aisles, and I would be grateful if that could cease.
Ewan MacDonald-Russell from the Scottish Retail Consortium said:
“There is much in this strategy the retail industry can support”.
Andrew McRae of the Federation of Small Businesses said that
“the headline measures in this strategy could help Scotland realise its long-term ambitions.”
That is what people working in Scotland’s economy think. We will continue to work with them as we continue to support recovery from Covid, ensuring that the Scottish economy is living up to and fulfilling its enormous potential.
I have to wonder, when the First Minister reads out those quotes, whether there were similar supportive quotes when Derek Mackay issued many of the same points in his economic plan or for previous economic plans. The fact is that the strategy is a retread of many of the issues and ideas that were put forward by the Scottish National Party before.
The first part of the First Minister’s answer was telling. She has confirmed to the Parliament that there was no direct link between the Government’s economic strategy launch and the resignation of the chief executive of the Scottish National Investment Bank. Therefore, she knows why the chief executive did resign—if she knows that the strategy launch is not the reason why she resigned. We are just asking questions because we need answers. [Interruption.] It may be uncomfortable, and the groans from SNP members may be because they do not want these questions to be asked, but it is the job of the Opposition in this country to raise serious concerns when they come in.
The First Minister mentioned the economy. For the 15 years that her Government has been in charge, Scotland’s economy has been stuck. The Scottish Government has created more problems than it has ever created jobs. We have seen one major failure after another, from Prestwick airport to Ferguson’s shipyard to Burntisland Fabrications Ltd. Now, for the new strategy, the SNP is literally diagnosing problems that it either created or made worse.
The First Minister cannot even rely on support from those on the benches behind her. In response to the launch of her Government’s economic strategy, Maggie Chapman said:
“the Scottish Greens believe the focus on growth is outdated.”
The focus on growth is outdated? Those are the same Greens that Nicola Sturgeon personally invited into her Government, a party whose policy is actually to make Scotland poorer. Is it any wonder that the First Minister’s Government’s economic plan is a shambles?
Based on today’s performance by Douglas Ross, I predict that the one thing that we will not be seeing any growth in over the next few months or years is the Scottish Conservatives’ fortunes across the country. Douglas Ross wants to dismiss the views of CBI Scotland, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Federation of Small Businesses. I have set out their views on the economic strategy, and I suspect that they speak for more people on the Scottish economy than Douglas Ross does.
Let us also consider the performance of the Scottish economy. Of course, we have a massive challenge ahead of us, as all countries do, to recover the economy from Covid, but we should look at the record over recent years. The Scottish economy has been outperforming the United Kingdom economy on productivity. There has been growth in the number of employers paying the accredited living wage.
We saw our target to reduce youth unemployment met, although, with the Covid challenge now, we have established the young persons guarantee. We have expanded modern apprenticeships. We have set out an infrastructure investment plan with more than £26 billion of investments to drive a green recovery, create jobs and stimulate supply chains. This Government has delivered support for exporters in the face of Tory Brexit.
Scotland is now the only part of the UK with a positive trade balance in goods. Scotland has been the top UK destination outside London for foreign direct investment for every single one of the past six years. That is this Government’s record on the economy, and we now look forward to building on that, working in partnership with businesses the length and breadth of the country.
National Health Service (Workforce Planning)
First, I join other party leaders in expressing our horror and heartbreak at the continuing devastating scenes that we see in Ukraine. We unequivocally stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine in defence of democracy, human rights and their peace and freedom. We again recognise the unjustifiable and unprovoked attack by Vladimir Putin, and I urge all Governments around the world to do everything that they can to put pressure on him and his regime.
I pay tribute to the countless numbers of individuals and organisations across our country that have been doing collections over the past week. I thank them for everything that they are doing. We all feel frustrated, and we all feel that we want to act. One way that we can act is by supporting the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal on Ukraine. The First Minister set out the details of how people can support that campaign—they can go online to www.dec.org.uk and donate online, or they can text DONATE to 70150. We will never forget the people of Ukraine, and we will continue to support them throughout this tragedy.
Last week, data from Public Health Scotland confirmed that there are now more than 680,000 people on a national health service waiting list—that is one in eight Scots who are waiting for hospital appointments, diagnoses and procedures. This week, new workforce figures revealed that there were more than 6,600 vacant nursing and midwifery posts—the worst level on record.
The Royal College of Nursing reports that staff feel that they are
“asked to do more with less”,
“care is hugely undermined by the”
lack of staff. That is a dangerous mix: growing waiting lists and record staff shortages.
After 15 years, why has the First Minister still failed to deliver a credible workforce plan for our NHS?
First, waiting times have increased over the course of the pandemic because, during Covid, the NHS has been able to see and treat fewer non-Covid patients. However, as we now—hopefully—come out of Covid and focus on the NHS recovery plan, we want to get the NHS back on a normal footing so that it can see patients more quickly and start to reduce those waiting times. The Government is very focused on that.
On staffing, there are serious recruitment challenges for the NHS in Scotland, as there are for health services across the United Kingdom. However, as a result of the actions that this Government has taken since 2007, Scotland has record staffing numbers in place. The numbers that I am about to cite are exclusive of vacancies—these are staff who are in post. NHS staffing is up by 28,700 whole-time equivalents—that is a 22.6 per cent increase since the Government took office, which takes the numbers to a record high. NHS Scotland has higher staffing per head than we see in NHS England, with 28.5 whole-time equivalents per 100,000 people here in comparison with just 21.4 in England. Nursing and midwifery staffing is also at a record high; it is up by 14.5 per cent since the Government took office. That is the action that we have taken.
Of course, the challenges that we face now are even greater, and we are focused on meeting those. We are investing in the wellbeing of our staff, and ensuring that we do not lose staff from our national health service and that they are well supported; ensuring that our agenda for change staff are the best paid anywhere in the UK; and working with NHS boards on recruitment campaigns, because one of the big challenges that we face is a shortage of labour, which is exacerbated by Brexit.
We are focused on all that in the NHS and across social care as well. We will continue to get on with the job of supporting our national health service as we go further into the recovery from Covid.
There were 450,000 people on NHS waiting lists before the pandemic. The question is not whether we should have more staff, it is whether we have enough staff.
Failure to plan has consequences. If the First Minister does not want to listen to me, perhaps she will listen to one of those 680,000 patients, Ricky, who is a former miner. He has chronic spinal pain and needs regular spinal injections, but he has been waiting for nine months. As a result of his condition, he needs neurological treatment. He has been told that he will have to wait at least a year for an appointment with a neurosurgeon and at least eight months to access a magnetic resonance imaging scan. He is in so much pain that he is having to pay £300 per appointment to see a private doctor. Things are now so bad that he is considering remortgaging his house to pay for the surgery that he may need.
Ricky is not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of people waiting for NHS treatment and struggling to cope. That undermines the very founding principles of our NHS. Warm words and quoting statistics will not cut it. When will the First Minister wake up to the reality that is facing too many Scots?
I am setting out the actions that the Government is taking, because I do not believe that Ricky’s experience, or the experience of anyone else who is waiting too long for NHS treatment, is acceptable.
I think that people understand the immense challenges that the NHS has faced in the past two years. Anas Sarwar talks, with some justification, about the wider challenges in the NHS and the pre-pandemic progress. The fact is that we were making progress in reducing waiting times before the pandemic. For example, the number of people waiting more than 12 weeks for out-patient appointments had fallen by 32 per cent before the pandemic and the median wait for in-patient and day case treatment had fallen by 8.3 per cent. That is the progress that was being made before the pandemic and I think that everyone understands the impact that the pandemic has had.
I do not believe that there are sufficient staff in the NHS, which is why the Scottish National Party manifesto for the election last year committed to an additional 1,500 staff being recruited, on top of the record number that we already have in place. We are working hard to meet those recruitment targets.
We are focused on the NHS recovery plan: building capacity in our NHS by 10 per cent to help with the recovery process; ensuring that existing staff are well supported and are as well paid as we can deliver within our resources; and recruiting more NHS staff. That is what we are getting on with. I think that people across the country, those on waiting lists and anyone else, want to hear what the Government is doing. That is what I am setting out today and will continue to set out and, indeed, to be held to account for.
Those actions are not good enough and they do not go far enough. Scottish Labour has modelled the Government’s NHS recovery plan, which the First Minister has just referred to, and has backed up that modelling with independent analysis. Even if all the promised increases to activity are delivered, waiting lists will still continue to grow. In four years’ time, by the end of the Government’s recovery plan, there could be more than 430,000 people waiting for out-patient appointments, which is 11,000 more than are waiting today. The same is true for in-patient procedures. Under the Government’s plan, as many as 153,000 people could be on a waiting list, which is 30,000 more than are waiting today. Surely a catch-up plan should mean fewer, rather than more, people on waiting lists?
After 15 years of neglecting our NHS, is the best that the First Minister can offer a flawed recovery plan that will actually make waiting lists longer?
No. Anas Sarwar’s reference to Labour’s modelling—and I would be very interested in seeing the basis of that—perhaps shows his oversimplification of the plans that are in place.
Building capacity is a key part of the NHS recovery plan, but it is not the only part. The plan also includes redesigning and modernising how people get care, making sure that people are getting care as close to home as possible. Our recent investment in hospital at home is better for patients and better for the NHS. The redesign of the urgent care programme ensures that hospital stays can legitimately and appropriately be made shorter. We are building up social care so that fewer people end up in the NHS because the services that they need are not there in the social care sector.
The 10 per cent increase in capacity is a very important plank of the recovery strategy, but I suggest to Anas Sarwar that it is not the only part. We are focused on finding the solutions. I appreciate that he is in opposition and I am in government, and it is for the Government to find solutions, but what was missing from all three of Anas Sarwar’s questions was a single suggestion beyond what we are already doing. We are taking and will continue to take the proper actions to support our NHS into recovery, so that patients like Ricky—and the many others who are waiting too long for treatment—get quicker treatment, and so that our NHS is on the sustainable basis for the future that we all want to see.
We move to supplementary questions. I would be grateful for short and succinct questions and responses.
Ukrainian People (Resettlement Scheme)
Does the First Minister agree that Scottish communities have demonstrated that they are fully prepared and willing to engage in a resettlement scheme for Ukrainians that matches the scale and severity of the current crisis? Will the Scottish Government continue to push the United Kingdom Government to urgently implement a more ambitious scheme to support those who are fleeing that appalling war on our continent?
Yes, I agree, and I hope that we will have unity across the chamber on this issue. I support the actions that the UK Government has taken in the light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I think that sanctions have been admirably tough and that they can be tougher still, and I think that the Prime Minister and the UK Government agree with that.
I also recognise the movement that has been made on the issue of refugees over the past few days but, on a moral, humanitarian basis, that can and needs to go much further. The estimates are that we are getting rapidly close to 1 million people already having been displaced from Ukraine, as they flee the horror that is unfolding there. In common with countries across the democratic world, we have a moral, humanitarian obligation to play our part in addressing that. Therefore, I appeal again to the UK Government and, directly, to the Prime Minister to follow the example of the Republic of Ireland and the whole European Union, and allow anyone who is fleeing the horror in Ukraine entry to the UK if they wish and to let us deal with the paperwork later. Let us operate now first and foremost on the basis of that humanitarian obligation.
Nuclear Energy Generation
This week, Robert Habeck, the Green Party economy minister in Germany’s ruling coalition, signalled that Germany will drop its opposition to Germany-based nuclear-generated energy. If even the Greens in Germany see the sense in generating nuclear energy domestically, is it not time for the Scottish Government to drop its ideological objection to Scotland-based nuclear generation in favour of a more informed scientific approach?
No, I think that we should build our energy mix on the basis of Scotland’s assets and priorities. Germany does not have anywhere near the renewable energy potential that Scotland has. For example, offshore wind has massive potential for Scotland, so let us continue to build our low-carbon renewable energy mix and do so in a way that is right for Scotland.
Vladimir Lisin is one of the richest men in Russia and he has been on the US Treasury Department’s Putin list of known Kremlin associates since 2018. He is also the owner of the 3,000-acre Aberuchill estate in Scotland which, between 2016 and 2019, received just under £700,000 of agricultural subsidies. Will the Scottish Government urgently review the agricultural payment system and any other relevant payment system to ensure that no member of the Russian elite or Kremlin associate is in receipt of public money in Scotland?
Yes, I will ensure that that review happens. I have sought urgent advice on the maximum possible action that the Scottish Government can take, within our powers, against individuals and entities that are identified as having close links with the Russian regime, whether or not they are currently on the United Kingdom sanctions list. Options that will be examined include, but are not limited to, ending support from the public purse and freezing or seizing assets in Scotland, where that is possible. Of course, I will keep Parliament fully updated.
I also confirm to Parliament that the Scottish Government will today write an open letter to Scottish businesses and business organisations. Of course, it is a matter for businesses but, beyond direct investments, which we hope that businesses will divest themselves of, we will encourage them to review operations for links and connections to Russia—however indirect—and to sever those links. The Scottish Government and our economic agencies will not support trade and investment activity with Russia. Of course, we will support businesses as they adapt to remove any and all links with Russia.
Dawnfresh Seafoods (Administration)
On Tuesday, Dawnfresh Seafoods went into administration. The immediate closure of the Uddingston factory has plunged 200 workers into redundancy. They feel betrayed after years of broken promises, and they fear that they will not get their wages this week, as Alastair Salvesen—one of Scotland’s wealthiest men—claims that there are no funds to pay them.
The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union is working tirelessly to support its members and some, thankfully, have found other work this week. However, with a cost of living crisis biting, no one should be short-changed at this time. One angry worker told me last night that they received no Christmas bonus and no support through Covid—not even a slice of fish. What urgent action is the Government taking to support those workers? The men and women who helped to feed the nation during the pandemic should not be forced to use food banks.
I absolutely agree with the sentiments of that question and, like others, I was very concerned to learn that Dawnfresh Holdings had entered administration. I would absolutely call for the fairest possible treatment of that company’s workers.
Scottish Enterprise spoke with the administrators yesterday to better understand the situation and to offer whatever support it can to help the business and the workers who are affected. We will work with the administrators to understand all potential options for the business and to explore all possibilities for rescuing jobs. The Government’s partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—will offer any necessary support to the members of the workforce who are affected and who might be facing redundancy.
Dawnfresh is in my constituency. As Ms Lennon said, it entered administration this week. That occurred despite concerted efforts by the Scottish Government, my office, South Lanarkshire Council and Scottish Enterprise to support a takeover deal that would have maintained the Uddingston operation and continued to employ every worker there.
What efforts will the Scottish Government take to revitalise those efforts to continue seafood production at Uddingston? What work will be going on to support those local workers who, sadly, are facing redundancy?
I thank Stephanie Callaghan for that question and take this opportunity to acknowledge how active she and her office have been on behalf of her constituents on this issue.
Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government will explore and give support to the exploration of all possible options that might allow the business to continue in some form and that might allow jobs to be saved and protected. As I said in my earlier answer, in parallel to that, we will provide as much support as possible to the workers who are affected and who might be facing redundancy. The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise would be happy to meet Stephanie Callaghan and other MSPs who cover the region to keep them updated on those efforts.
Borders Railway (Overcrowding)
A concerned constituent contacted me following appalling overcrowding on the Borders railway last Saturday. The 10:30 train from Tweedbank was cancelled, and the 11:30 train had just two carriages, with standing-room only from Galashiels. As a result, no fares were collected and passengers were crammed in carriages with no social distancing and very limited mask wearing. The train could not pick up passengers on the route, so it bypassed stations.
That is absolutely unacceptable. Why has the Scottish Government not implemented the changes that were promised to Borders passenger services years ago?
Obviously, the situation that has been raised does seem to be unacceptable. I am not aware of the particular circumstances that led to it at the weekend, but I will ask ScotRail for an explanation and what actions it is taking to avoid a repeat of that. I will ask the Minister for Transport to write to the member once we have that information.
Carers Allowance (Replacement)
To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update on the Scottish Government’s plans to replace carers allowance with a devolved benefit. (S6F-00864)
We published a consultation on Monday that set out proposals for how Scottish carers assistance will improve support for more than 80,000 of Scotland’s unpaid carers. That is in recognition of their vital contribution.
Our proposals have been developed with carers and support organisations, and the consultation is an opportunity to continue to shape this important benefit. It sets out how we will deliver and improve services, providing more stable support and a new payment that is worth £520 a year for those who are caring for more than one person. That will be in addition to the young carer grant and the carers allowance supplement. We are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that we can launch and deliver the new benefit as quickly as possible.
During the pandemic, 1.1 million of our fellow Scots have become unpaid carers and we, as a society, owe them so much. There is support from parties across the Parliament for the extension of support when the caring role ends due to bereavement and when cared-for people are in hospital or residential care. Will the First Minister commit to including those potential reforms in the next programme for government?
Yes. First, we need to secure the safe and effective transition of the benefit, so that people’s payments continue, but we have also set out views on priority changes that we want to make to the benefit when it is possible to do so. There are five of those: removing education restrictions so that full-time students can get the benefit; allowing carers to add together hours spent caring for more than one person; increasing the time for which carers receive payments after the death of a cared-for person; making payments for longer when a cared-for person goes into hospital or care; and increasing the amount that carers can earn and still get support. We are taking views on those options and I hope that members across the chamber, as well as people across the country, will respond, so that we can build a system that is fit for unpaid carers, because the contribution that they make to our society is immense and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
I can take brief supplementaries.
I welcome that the Scottish Government is planning to deliver the new benefit in a caring and compassionate way, in line with our ethos, and that it intends to make further improvements for carers. Will the First Minister confirm how much recipients in Scotland already receive compared with carers south of the border because of the Scottish Government’s carers allowance supplement?
It is important that our social security system is based on dignity, respect and fairness and that we deliver the maximum support to people who most need it. That has been shown with our carers allowance supplement, which was the first benefit that we introduced with new powers in 2018. Since then, around 126,000 carers have received payments.
Last year, through the supplement, carers got just under £700 more than carers in the rest of the United Kingdom. That included the extra payment in December to help with the impact of Covid. People who have been receiving carers allowance continuously since 2018 will have received over £2,270 more than carers in the rest of the UK in the past three years. We have also introduced a young carer grant for younger carers. That is a sign of what we can do when powers lie in this Parliament, which is why I want to see so many more powers come to this Parliament and not lie at Westminster.
Last year, the Government doubled the carers allowance supplement in recognition of the increased support that unpaid carers had to provide during the pandemic. Will the Government double it again this year and until it creates the new carers allowance?
We will consider all those things carefully. Of course, additional consequentials were made available to us because of Covid, which are not being continued, so any moves to do that will mean that we have to take the money from elsewhere in our budget. However, I think that I have made it very clear, and that people across the chamber are of the view that the debt that we owe to unpaid carers is so significant that we have to consider very seriously everything that we can possibly do to help them.
Covid-19 Recovery (Support for Mental Health)
To ask the First Minister, in light of the steps being taken to return to normality after the Covid-19 pandemic, what extra help is being provided to support people’s mental health. (S6F-00860)
Throughout the pandemic, mental health has been at the forefront of our thinking. Our mental health transition and recovery plan, which was published in October 2020 and is backed by our £120 million recovery and renewal fund, will transform services, with a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention. Funding that has already been allocated includes £40 million for child and adolescent mental health services, £21 million for grass-roots community groups via our communities mental health and wellbeing fund for adults, and £5 million to increase capacity in the NHS 24 mental health hub.
We will continue to address the mental health harms that have been caused by Covid. The updated strategic framework commits to ensuring that improving mental health and wellbeing is an underpinning principle as we take strategic decisions. Evidence on the likely effects on mental health will also be specifically assessed as part of our future decision making.
I thank the First Minister for that comprehensive answer. Last month, the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, which I convene, finished taking evidence on the health of our children and young people. Unsurprisingly, the need for early intervention to prevent mental health issues from becoming acute was mentioned frequently. The provision of school counsellors was highlighted as a very positive move in that regard.
What more has been done to improve early intervention opportunities for young people entering adulthood who leave the support of school, or leave care, and are potentially particularly vulnerable to the effects of the psychological stresses as a result of the pandemic that they have faced?
I agree whole-heartedly that early intervention and prevention are central to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. In addition to the provision of school counsellors, to which Gillian Martin referred, we provided £15 million of funding to local authorities to deliver locally based mental health and wellbeing support for five to 24-year-olds in their communities.
We have also funded the aye feel and Mind Yer Time web resources, which provide information to young people on a range of mental health and wellbeing topics. We know that providing young people with good opportunities when they leave education or care has a significant impact on their health and wellbeing. We have built in that provision to the young persons guarantee, and we have provided up to £75 million to local employability partnerships, via local authorities, to provide employability support, which includes mental health support, to young people aged 16 to 24.
A report that the Mental Health Foundation published today highlights that mental ill health costs Scotland about £8.8 billion a year, and we know that referrals to psychological and mental health services have now exceeded pre-pandemic levels. What action is the Scottish Government taking to improve the prevention of mental health issues and reduce the time that people spend on waiting lists?
I have already set out, in response to Gillian Martin, much of the action that we are taking. We are focusing much more now on early intervention and prevention. That is the case particularly for children and adolescent mental health services but for adult services, too. We are investing significantly in mental health services generally.
I believe that Governments have a duty to remove—as far as they can, because this cannot be done absolutely—some of the causes of mental health challenges for people, which are now being exacerbated by poverty and the cost of living crisis. Giving money to people who need it most rather than taking it away from them, as some other Governments are doing, is an important part of supporting people and preventing the mental health difficulties that come from the worry of wondering how they will feed their children or provide for them in other ways. That point is an important part of the bigger picture.
Covid-19 Status App
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Information Commissioner’s Office recently issuing a reprimand to it and NHS National Services Scotland in relation to the Covid-19 status app. (S6F-00849)
Throughout the pandemic, the Government has continually had to make tough decisions that have been aimed at minimising the transmission of the virus and helping to keep people safe and alive. The NHS Scotland Covid status app is an important tool in our response to Covid, and it has played a vital public health role during the latter stages of the pandemic.
We accept the outcome of the ICO’s investigation and that the app’s privacy information notice could have been clearer in telling users how their information would be used. However, I stress that people’s data was held securely at all times and that personal information was not compromised.
Together with NHS NSS, we are working with the ICO to implement the improvements on transparency for which it has asked and to ensure that any necessary lessons are learned for future work.
The First Minister was warned. Some might say that, as usual, she thought that she knew better than everyone else. An apology to the people of Scotland is in order at the very least. People trusted the Scottish Government with their personal data, but the ICO has had to reprimand the Scottish Government for misleading us about how that data would be used. That is a betrayal of trust, so why should people now trust the Scottish Government?
These issues are important, but I do not think that anybody contributes to the matter by grossly overstating or exaggerating them to the point of almost misrepresenting them, in the way that Stephen Kerr has done.
To reassure people who are listening to the debate and are actually interested in its substance, let me repeat that people’s data was held securely at all times and that personal information was not compromised. The ICO’s reprimand was at the lower end in relation to the sanctions that are available to it. The ICO said that the paperwork could have been clearer and that we could have made it clearer to users in the privacy information notice how their information would be used. We accept that point.
At a time when Governments everywhere were taking decisions every day to protect people from a potentially deadly virus, we could have made the paperwork slightly clearer in this case. I accept that. However, do you know what? I think that we took the right decisions to try to keep people in Scotland as safe as possible.
Eating Disorders Awareness Week
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government plans to mark eating disorders awareness week 2022. (S6F-00858)
Earlier this week, the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care visited the helpline service of Beat, the United Kingdom eating disorder charity. He also took part in the members’ business debate on eating disorders awareness week 2022. In the debate, he highlighted our work to implement recommendations that were made in the national review of eating disorders services, including the establishment of an implementation group and investment of £5 million to support the recommendations. We have announced further funding of more than £300,000 in 2022-23 for Beat, which will enable additional services to be rolled out across Scotland.
On Tuesday, I led the members’ business debate on eating disorders awareness week, and I noted that one in 50 people in Scotland live with an eating disorder. Can the First Minister provide any additional information on work that the Scottish Government is doing to improve outcomes for people with an eating disorder? Will she join me in encouraging people who are worried about or who live with an eating disorder to contact Beat for help by calling 0808 801 0432 or visiting Beat’s website?
I congratulate Emma Harper on leading the members’ business debate. I agree with her about access to Beat’s services, for which she has very helpfully given the contact details.
Building on what I said in my initial answer about the action that the Government is taking, the implementation group was established to take forward the recommendations of the review. It met most recently last Friday, to discuss the progress that has been made so far and next steps. The implementation group is taking forward a comprehensive work plan, which is focused on training and skills, quality standards and data improvement. The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care will attend the group’s next meeting to discuss areas in which further improvements need to be made.
I encourage anyone who feels that they need support for disordered eating to seek help from friends and family, a medical professional or support services such as Beat. The extra funding for Beat that I mentioned in my earlier answer will allow it to deliver additional services, including the expansion of helpline support, specific binge-eating disorder support services and training for general practitioners and other healthcare professionals.
To ask the First Minister what urgent steps will be taken to address lung disease in Scotland, in light of the reported comments of Asthma + Lung UK Scotland that “the state of lung health in Scotland is shameful”, with over 7,000 people dying a year. (S6F-00854)
I thank Asthma + Lung UK Scotland for its new “Fighting for Breath” strategy and for the important work that it does to support people with respiratory conditions.
Respiratory disease is a Scottish Government clinical priority. We are committed to ensuring that people who are living with respiratory conditions receive the best possible care and treatment, to enable them to live longer, healthier and independent lives.
The first respiratory care action plan for Scotland was published last year. It sets out our priorities and commitments for driving improvement in the prevention, diagnosis, care, treatment and support of people who are living with respiratory conditions. The plan works alongside existing prevention strategies, including our air quality and tobacco strategies, which help to address the root causes of lung disease.
I note that the First Minister referenced the publication of the respiratory care action plan—indeed, it is now one year since its publication. However, implementation of the plan has progressed slowly with the creation of the Scottish respiratory advisory committee, and no commitments have yet been made on funding the RCAP. Will the First Minister make clear how much funding will be allocated to the implementation of the RCAP in order to improve Scotland’s lung health?
I can confirm that we are working closely with the Scottish respiratory advisory committee, which includes Asthma + Lung UK, to develop an implementation programme. That will help us to understand the funding that is required to deliver on the plans, commitments and priorities. We will make announcements about funding in due course, as we do that work.
The committee has identified three key priorities for year 1, which are child-to-adult transition services, pulmonary rehabilitation and data. We have provided Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland with some funding to support the establishment of a lived experience respiratory network. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care will keep the Parliament updated on further developments.
That concludes First Minister’s question time.