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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 4, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 04 March 2021

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Scottish Parliamentary Standards (Sexual Harassment and Complaints Process) Bill: Stage 3, International Women’s Day 2021, Motion Without Notice, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Budget (NHS Lothian Eye Care Services)

To ask the Scottish Government whether the finance secretary will include funding for a replacement Princess Alexandra eye pavilion in its budget for 2021-22. (S5O-05081)

We have asked NHS Lothian to carry out a review of its eye care services as a whole and to reconsider how those should be delivered. The most recent estimated cost of the project, from 2019, was £83 million, not £45 million. As with all budget considerations, we have set out alongside that the health portfolio’s priorities for the next five years, as part of the capital spending review on 4 February.

Will the cabinet secretary explain why Scottish National Party ministers have had to tell NHS Lothian that the Government is not in a position to fund a new hospital now or in the foreseeable future? What has gone wrong in the finances of the Scottish Government and our national health service that has meant that the project, which had been scoped and agreed to by the NHS and the Scottish Government—a contract had been awarded to Graham Construction to build the new hospital—has now been scrapped? At this very late stage, will the cabinet secretary look into the matter and restore funding for the eye hospital?

I am intrigued by Miles Briggs’s very recent interest in the Scottish Government’s budget, considering that he voted against it at stage 1. At no point in the budget negotiations did the Scottish Conservatives ask me to include funding for the Princess Alexandra eye pavilion.

We recognise that the eye pavilion requires investment. It is important that we make the most of our assets, which is why the Scottish Government is committed to doubling our annual maintenance spend over the next five years. The commitment sits alongside our capital spending review, which will see funding in health assets, including the Baird family hospital and Anchor centre in Aberdeen, the elective centre programme and the construction of a new health and social care centre in Parkhead in Glasgow. We will continue our discussions with NHS Lothian to ensure that healthcare is provided in the right places.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The cabinet secretary will be aware that I wrote to her asking for this matter to be included in the budget, so what she said to the Parliament is not accurate. I would appreciate an apology for that.

That is a point of information, rather than a point of order. If the cabinet secretary wishes to respond to it, she may.

I was quite clear that the Conservative Party spokesperson for negotiations on the budget, Murdo Fraser, has not raised the matter in budget negotiations to date.

Irrespective of whether it has been raised in budget negotiations, the project was well advanced and lots of money had been spent on planning, which is more money poured down the drain. The cabinet secretary knows that the Government is quite adept at pouring money down the drain.

Will the cabinet secretary finally admit to patients in Lothian that the project has been cancelled because of a political decision by the Government?

With regard to the facility, that is the only politics that we have heard in the past five minutes. As I said in my first answer, we have not given final approval for the construction of a new eye hospital in Edinburgh, which is why funding has not been confirmed.

We have asked NHS Lothian to carry out a review of its eye care services as a whole and to reconsider how they should be delivered. That remains our position. We have asked NHS Lothian to carry out the review, which includes redesigning pathways to enable patients to access care closer to home, and we await recommendations and proposals. We will work with the board to explore how it can more efficiently meet the demand for eye care in Lothian.

Local Authorities (Funding Formula)

To ask the Scottish Government how it has been working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to ensure that fast-growing local authorities, such as Midlothian, are effectively funded through COSLA’s funding formula. (S5O-05082)

The distribution formula is kept under constant review and is agreed with COSLA every year. Although the formula takes into account a range of needs-based factors, it is primarily population based. If the population of Midlothian grows faster than that of other local authority areas, Midlothian Council receives an increased share of the available funding, all other factors being equal.

We have convened the ministerial population task force, which is committed to addressing Scotland’s demographic challenges, so that Scotland’s population profile provides a platform for sustainable and inclusive economic growth and wellbeing.

We all know the importance of properly funded local authorities. That will undoubtedly be affected by the fact that the United Kingdom Government has cut Scotland’s capital budget by more than 5 per cent this year. What representations is the cabinet secretary making to the UK Government to ensure that we get a budget that allows us to better fund our local authorities, so that we can prevent potential council cuts in our local areas?

We have repeatedly called on the UK Government to at least maintain Scotland’s capital grant next year, pointing to the importance of public sector capital investment to rebuild economies. The cut was to our financial transactions budget, and we have drawn down £200 million from the Scottish reserve to offset that as far as possible. Working with other devolved Governments, we have secured agreement from the UK Government that any late consequentials can be spent next year to reduce pressure on our budget.

According to COSLA, the increase in the revenue grant for local councils from last year to this year is just 0.9 per cent in terms of their core budgets, yet the Scottish Government’s own budget was up by 11 per cent, even before the additional Barnett consequentials that were announced in the UK budget yesterday were added in. How does the finance secretary think that that represents a fair deal for our councils when they are getting less than one 10th of the uplift that is coming to her budget?

I certainly do not think that that represents fair arithmetic, because the figure that Murdo Fraser has quoted excludes most of the funding that we have given to local authorities, and certainly excludes Covid consequentials, which he has factored into the 11 per cent figure, so it is not comparing like with like. If anything, members will see from the figures that COSLA will have a 3.1 per cent increase in its core settlement over and above the £259 million that we have agreed for next year’s budget, as well as the £275 million of additional funding that I announced just last week to cover lost income.

Budget (Outdoor Education)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it has allocated to support the outdoor education sector in its budget for 2021-22. (S5O-05083)

We will continue to provide funding to help children and young people to experience the benefits associated with outdoor learning. That builds on the £3.235 million that we have provided to support outdoor learning in the current financial year, and £3.178 million of that amount was provided in reaction to challenges emerging from the pandemic. All budget decisions relating to specific education spend next year are yet to be finalised, but we remain committed to supporting outdoor learning experiences right across the curriculum.

The cabinet secretary knows that the very welcome additional £2 million that was provided by the Scottish Government before Christmas to support the outdoor education sector has already run out, such is the crisis still facing the sector as a result of the second and third waves of Covid. The Parliament is absolutely united in its determination to protect the sector, given its significant value to education and wellbeing. What other funds will be available from the Scottish Government in the coming financial year?

Our support for the outdoor centre programme was in recognition of the important role that it plays.

We keep all the funding for lost income and for businesses and enterprises across Scotland under review, and I try to make every penny go as far as I possibly can. There are limited resources, but recognising that there will be an impact on the sector for a lot longer will ensure that we factor that into any new funding that we can provide.

That question is grouped with question 7, from David Torrance.

Outdoor Education Centres (Support in Pandemic)

7. David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how much the finance secretary has allocated to support outdoor education centres during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-05087)

We have provided £2 million specifically to support residential outdoor education centres during the pandemic. That funding was provided through the Covid-19 residential outdoor education centre recovery fund, and it is helping about 33 centres across Scotland to cover their operating costs during pandemic-related disruption.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that outdoor education will play a vital role in supporting families as they recover from the mental health impact of the pandemic by providing opportunities to rebuild children’s and adults’ confidence and to improve their physical wellbeing?

I do agree with that. In light of the impacts of Covid-19 on young people, it is more important than ever that they are able to enjoy the outdoors. Learning outdoors can improve physical and mental wellbeing and can support educational attainment. Those benefits have a wide impact on the families of the young people involved, which is why we have already put in place funding to support those outdoor residential centres—many of which, incidentally, are in my constituency.

Budget (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde)

4. Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the finance secretary had with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde in advance of setting the health expenditure in its 2021-22 budget. (S5O-05084)

The Scottish Government is in regular contact with representatives of all national health service boards, including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, to address pressures from Covid-19 and to support recovery and the remobilisation of services. The budget for next year confirms additional core funding of £35.4 million for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which increases the board’s overall funding to £2.4 billion. The Scottish budget also includes more than £1 billion specifically to support our front-line health and care services to address Covid-19 pressures.

The Scottish Government tells us that it is protecting the NHS budget, yet the repair backlog at the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley now stands at an eye-watering £76 million and has been growing for years. The entire budget for investment in the health board’s existing estate was only £37 million this year, which is less than half of what is needed to clear the repair backlog at the RAH alone. Given that that backlog gets bigger each year after successive Scottish Government budgets, when can people in Paisley expect to see the investment that is needed at the RAH?

Presiding Officer, it is quite hard to hear. I do not know whether there is scope to put the volume up.

I thank the member for the question, which I think was about estate maintenance. We intend to double annual maintenance spend in the NHS over the next five years. That clear ask came from the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland and will result in an investment of £1 billion for enhancing or refurbishing existing facilities and updating and modernising key equipment over that period. We recognise that it is important that we get the most out of our assets and make that funding go as far as possible.

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the health service will receive sufficient funding for both Covid and other purposes?

I confirm that, despite a lack of clarity on funding from the United Kingdom Government, in our budget we announced increased investment of £316 million for our front-line NHS boards and a further £1 billion to respond to Covid-19.

Last week, I wrote to Rishi Sunak, imploring him to provide a comprehensive and flexible support package for health and care. It was striking that, in his statement yesterday, health, mental health and social care got very few mentions.

Budget (Gender Pay Gap)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures in its 2021-22 budget aim to tackle the gender pay gap. (S5O-05085)

There are many drivers of the gender pay gap, so many solutions need to be in place. Our budget supports work across Government to improve women’s position in the labour market and reduce the gender pay gap.

We are investing a further £59 million for the expansion of early learning and childcare, which is vital for many women workers, and we will continue to support fair work, including in relation to workplace equalities, flexible working and women returners. There are also additional investments of £70 million for the young person’s guarantee, £5 million for the parental employability support fund and £27 million for our fair start Scotland employability service, all of which contribute to tackling the gender pay gap.

The fair work convention reported in 2019—pre-pandemic—that 83 per cent of staff employed in social care in Scotland were women. It also reported that the average hourly rate was £9.79. During the pandemic, this notoriously undervalued sector has been more publicly recognised.

As we all know, international women’s day is on Saturday, and the hashtag #ChooseToChallenge highlights gender inequality, which is perpetuated by income insecurity and poverty pay. Scottish Labour has chosen to challenge, with a proposal for an immediate increase in wages to £12 per hour for the care sector and a phased increase to £15 an hour.

The cabinet secretary has highlighted some issues that the Scottish Government is taking forward through the budget. Will the Government support our ask for decent salaries in the care sector and help women even more than she highlighted to tackle this real inequity?

I agree with the premise of Claudia Beamish’s question with regard to the high number of women who work in the care sector as both paid and unpaid carers. She is aware that we supported unpaid carers during the pandemic by providing the coronavirus carers allowance supplement of £230.10, which was paid in June, backed by an investment of £19 million. For the paid carer sector, we have put in place a public sector pay policy that balances the need to recognise the efforts of our front-line workers, who have worked tirelessly over the past year, with affordability challenges due to the freeze south of the border. We will continue to keep that all under review, and I recognise the Labour Party’s position in relation to our budget.

Will the cabinet secretary advise how the 2021-22 public sector pay policy can help to improve conditions and address workplace inequalities, including the gender pay gap?

This year, we have taken a progressive approach, building on our approach in previous years. That includes the application of the real living wage of £9.50 per hour, the £750 cash underpin, and the cash cap for high earners, which help to work towards reducing the gender pay gap in the public sector. The policy provides proportionally higher increases for lower earners, where women are historically overly concentrated. That is further offset by the continued restraint applied to higher earners, where there are still higher proportions of men.

Budget (Housing)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it has allocated to spend on housing in its 2021-22 budget. (S5O-05086)

In the 2021-22 budget, we have allocated just over £1 billion to housing. That includes £163.5 million in resource, £808.3 million in capital and £116.5 million in financial transactions.

We would all agree that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of homes and the spaces around them to support people. Scotland has led the way in the delivery of affordable housing across the United Kingdom, with almost 97,000 affordable homes having been delivered since 2007. We are committed to supporting the delivery of more affordable homes, and £832 million has been allocated for that purpose in 2021.

Although we all welcome that the Scottish National Party Government has apportioned more funds since the publication of the draft budget, it does not change the fact that the housing budget will still be cut by around £120 million this year. Why is putting people in good, affordable homes not a budget priority for the Government this year?

I will respectfully answer that question in the same way that I answered it at the Finance and Constitution Committee. Our financial transactions budget has been cut by 67 per cent and our overall capital budget has been cut by 5 per cent. Despite that and the fact that those cuts were not reversed in the chancellor’s budget statement yesterday, we have chosen to prioritise affordable homes as part of our capital budget, and have set out an ambitious programme to do so.

Before the uplift, I said that if there was more capital, I would prioritise affordable homes. I did that with an uplift of more than £100 million. If there is further funding, I will look at that again. However, because we cannot borrow, that additional funding can only come from the UK Government.

Over this parliamentary session, what has been the per capita spend on affordable housing in Scotland compared with south of the border, where Mr Balfour’s party is in office?

The fact that we are leading the way in the delivery of affordable housing is backed up by evidence and statistics. In the four years to 2020, we delivered more than 75 per cent more affordable homes per head of population than were delivered in England. In that time, we delivered more than nine times more social rented properties per head of population than were delivered in England, and in each of the past two financial years, we have delivered a greater number of social rented properties in Scotland than have been delivered across the whole of England. We want to build on a reputation of being ambitious when it comes to building affordable homes, but we can only do that with the budget that I have, which is set by Westminster.

Local Authorities (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to increase funding to local authorities. (S5O-05088)

The Scottish Government has already announced an additional £335.6 million for local authorities’ vital day-to-day services, and a further £259 million of Covid-19 funding for 2021-22. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance is currently considering the impact of yesterday’s delayed United Kingdom budget. If any changes are needed to the Scottish budget, those will be confirmed to the Scottish Parliament during the final stages of the budget bill process next week.

In light of the additional money provided by the UK Treasury in yesterday’s budget, will the Cabinet Secretary for Finance support our proposals for a new fiscal framework for council funding? In the meantime, will the minister sign my petition to increase funding for Aberdeenshire Council, so that it can cover funding for all bridge infrastructure repairs in Aberdeenshire, or will he step back and let more communities be divided?

First, no new money for local authorities was announced in yesterday’s UK budget. Secondly, Aberdeenshire Council received a total funding package of £503.3 million to support local services. That is equivalent to an increase of 4.1 per cent compared with 2020-21.

On the proposals for the fiscal framework, if the member listened to our debate on the subject, he will be aware that introducing a fixed percentage would have many implications that I am sure that he would not welcome. I do not think that he has thought it through. There would be an implication for health spending, which, as a consequence, would not be increased in the way that we are delivering on and that his party called for in a previous manifesto. There would also be an impact year to year, because there have been years with an increased percentage for local government and if that framework had been in place, we could not have done that.

We are working collaboratively with local authorities on the framework and that is the right way to do it. That will yield the correct result and produce a meaningful framework worked out by Scottish Government and local authorities together.

That concludes questions on the finance portfolio.