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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 04 May 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, National Walking Month, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, International Day of the Midwife


General Question Time

The first item of business is general question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, I would be grateful for short and succinct questions, and responses to match.

School Breakfast Provision

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent report by the charity, Magic Breakfast, showing that four in 10 Scottish schools have no breakfast provision at all and that breakfast provision in Scotland reaches the fewest disadvantaged pupils per school of any United Kingdom nation. (S6O-01046)

We are committed to the expansion of free school meals for all pupils in primary and special schools, as well as the introduction of free year-round breakfast and lunch provision to support eligible children and young people outside the school term.

Currently, breakfast club provision in Scotland is delivered through a mixed model of local authority, private and voluntary services, which might be delivered in schools or other community facilities. Services often combine food provision with early morning childcare.

We want to improve the picture and ensure that all children in primary and special education schools in Scotland have equal access to breakfast, if they need it. Preparatory work will begin this year to map the current extent of breakfast provision in Scotland. From that, we will plan our future breakfast offer, ensuring that that is informed by what parents, carers, children and young people need and is aligned with a future system of funded school-age childcare, where that is appropriate.

Last week, we had a debate in this chamber about the cost of the school day, and yet again the Government pledged its support for free breakfasts. In its manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections last year, the Scottish National Party pledged to provide free breakfasts all year round, for all children in state-funded schools. That has been reiterated in the SNP’s local government manifesto in the past few weeks.

There have been lots of promises, but the Government has rolled back on its pledge to extend free school meals to all primary pupils in time for the start of the 2022-23 school year and is yet to set a new delivery date. There is no clarity on free breakfasts, which are vital. Indeed, they are even more vital during the cost of living crisis—

Mr O’Kane, may we please have a question?

Magic Breakfast estimates that the cost of providing free breakfasts would be £20 million and points to underspends in pupil equity funding as a way to achieve that. When will the Government keep its promise and deliver free breakfasts in Scotland? Free breakfasts have been provided in Wales for years.

I am not sure whether Mr O’Kane is suggesting that we take away from Scotland’s headteachers money that is given to them through pupil equity funding. It is for headteachers to decide how to use PEF and we believe in empowering schools.

There have been major improvements, such as the introduction of universal free school meals for children in primary 4 and 5. We are considering the practical issues and the capital expenditure that will be required for the delivery of free school meals in primary 6 and 7, with our local authority partners.

As I said in my original answer, on free school meals, where we have taken action in primary 4 and 5, and on our determination to move ahead with wraparound childcare and breakfast clubs, we will fulfil our manifesto obligations in this parliamentary session.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that Glasgow City Council’s big breakfast service, which delivers 6,000 breakfasts daily across all Glasgow primary schools, forms a crucial part of the SNP’s strategy, at all levels of government, to tackle child poverty and reduce the attainment gap?

I very much commend the work of Glasgow City Council, which supports so many primary school children across the city to access breakfast daily.

There is evidence that free breakfast provision, as is being delivered in Glasgow and many other local authority areas, increases children’s health and wellbeing by reducing hunger and improving equality of access to nutritious food. That is why the Scottish Government is determined to ensure that we deliver in a like manner across Scotland.

“A Just Transition? The Voices of Oil and Gas Workers”

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report, “A Just Transition? The Voices of Oil and Gas Workers”. (S6O-01047)

The Scottish Government welcomes the report, which will help to inform the actions that are needed to support our transition to a net zero, climate resilient and fairer Scotland. I congratulate Gillian Martin on the report, which highlights a number of important issues.

We are committed to supporting a just transition for the oil and gas sector. Over the coming months, we will engage widely in the development of our refreshed energy strategy and first just transition plan.

Over 560 oil and gas workers responded to the survey and one thing that stood out was that many were not even getting interviews when applying for jobs in the renewables sector. Many of them felt that that was because they were from an oil and gas background. Many had also invested their own money in retraining and certification and still were not getting into an interview chair.

How can the Scottish Government work with stakeholders in renewables and with recruitment agencies to ensure that they are seizing the opportunity to recruit highly skilled workers from oil and gas and that transferable skills mapping across the sectors is assisting individuals to make successful applications?

I assure the member that a lot of good work is taking place. For instance, we are working closely with the industry skills and training body, OPITO, which has its own integrated people and skills strategy, with three action plans sitting below it. One of those plans is focused on aligning offshore energy standards. The delivery dates for key milestones have been mapped out and a skills passport is due to be delivered in the third quarter of 2023. The member raises many important issues, which I will discuss with OPITO and other stakeholders.

Yesterday, BP revealed that it will invest up to £18 billion in the United Kingdom’s energy system to turbo boost our energy security and our net zero ambitions and to ensure a just transition for oil and gas workers.

Does the minister agree that anything that could discourage and reduce the funds available for that and similar investments and hinder the just transition that Gillian Martin rightly raises—such as the ill-conceived windfall tax—should be avoided?

I think that the member should put a lot more of his effort into trying to persuade his Government in Westminster to help ordinary people cope with the cost of living crisis. In the meantime, this Government will continue to reflect the country’s priorities and the priorities for a just transition for North East Scotland, which the member represents.

This latest report reveals that just one in 10 oil and gas workers feel that they have enough opportunities to switch to work in renewables.

After decades of inaction from industry, what we need is ministers who will champion the interests of workers over market forces; we need them to hold industry to account for the promises that it makes. Will the minister demonstrate his commitment to oil and gas workers by providing regular updates to the Parliament on the progress of skills transferability?

I gently point out that Greenpeace used the Scottish Government’s transition fund as a successful transition case study. I am sure that Greenpeace, like the member, believes that a lot more can be done to address the issue, and we will do that. In the meantime, I am happy to consider how we can keep the Parliament updated. A whole lot of work is under way to ensure that we can support oil and gas workers to attain the appropriate skills and training that they require to work in other energy sectors.

Additional Support Needs Pupils (Flexi-schooling and Secondary School Transition)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the transition to secondary school and flexi-schooling models for pupils with additional support needs. (S6O-01048)

We are committed to supporting children and young people at key transition points in their learning.

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2009 places duties on education authorities to plan for the transition of children and young people with additional support needs, including from primary to secondary school.

Education authorities are also responsible for identifying and meeting pupils’ learning needs and have flexibility in the delivery of support and the curriculum to meet their individual needs. Further guidance on supporting transition and the provision of flexible learning opportunities is within the statutory code of practice on additional support for learning.

I have been contacted by a parent council in the central region regarding the statutory six-month transition period for ASN pupils, as this appears to differ between local authority areas. In addition, another parent from outwith my area contacted me about the flexi-schooling model for ASN pupils, as the local authority rejected her child’s application without a valid reason. When I submitted questions to the minister regarding ASN provision, I was given a short answer saying that the Scottish Government does not record certain data on ASN provision, despite the Government setting the guidance for councils.

Why does the Scottish Government not properly record that vital information? Is it time to review ASN provision across Scotland to ensure that our young people and families are supported?

Data is held in many areas; it can be held by national Government but much of the responsibility in this area is, quite rightly, with local government. There will be differences between local authorities on those policies and it is quite right that that is the case.

Of course, I am happy to hear from Megan Gallacher in writing if she wishes to provide me with further details of the individual case and if the constituent would wish me to have a look at it and investigate whether there is more that could be done at a national level. I highlight that the progress report on the “Additional Support for Learning Action Plan” was published in November 2021. A further update will be provided in autumn 2022. If Ms Gallacher has any further suggestions about what more we should be doing in the area, I would be happy to receive those in correspondence.

Energy Efficiency

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to accelerate energy efficiency and other measures in the coming months ahead of a further potential increase in the price cap in October. (S6O-01049)

In March, in response to the cost of living crisis, we announced further help on energy efficiency through our existing programmes. We are including more people in our flagship warmer homes Scotland programme, increasing grant levels in local authority area-based schemes and expanding the capacity of the Home Energy Scotland advice service to support an extra 12,000 households this year. We continue to explore further ways that more people can be supported, building on our substantial programmes, which have benefited more than 150,000 fuel-poor households in the past decade.

Will the minister to commit to doing everything that he can to take action before the next anticipated price cap change in October, and to using his powers, however limited, to support people who are despairing of the astronomical energy bill increases, which are causing anxiety and worry? Does he agree that the United Kingdom Government must recognise that there is a cost of living and energy price crisis now, and that the chancellor saying that it is “silly” to give more support to people for energy bills now is complacent and completely out of touch with the reality that our constituents are facing?

I do. I suspect that most of the chamber agrees that the UK Government has failed to respond to both the scale and the urgency of the cost of living crisis. The Scottish Government has written repeatedly to UK ministers setting out detailed proposals on acting now to support households that are struggling today, although, as Fiona Hyslop rightly indicates, further cost increases are looming in the autumn. Those actions include the UK Government cutting VAT on fuel bills; increasing benefits; reinstating the £20 cut to universal credit; and implementing a broad-ranging windfall tax on superprofits.

In the meantime, as well as increasing help through the major investment programmes that I have just mentioned, the Scottish Government will continue to do everything that it can to make homes warmer and cheaper to heat. To address the wider cost of living crisis, we have increased the groundbreaking Scottish child payment and will do so again before the end of the year. We have committed to doing what we can to mitigate the benefit cap and have implemented our pioneering policy of free bus travel for young people. The chancellor may think that such measures are “silly”, but I think that most people in Scotland will think that they give help to those who desperately need it.

Hospitality Sector (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives from the hospitality sector. (S6O-01050)

The Scottish Government works closely with sectoral organisations such as the Scottish Tourism Alliance, UKHospitality, the Night Time Industries Association, the Scottish Beer and Pub Association and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association. We engaged extensively with sector representatives over the course of the pandemic to respond to the challenges that the industry faced and are fully appreciative of their input.

The most recent meeting with key representatives took place on 13 April 2022. Attendees discussed post Covid-19 measures, impact, support for the sector and planning guidance regarding outdoor spaces. We will continue to engage on support and recovery.

There are many different parts of the hospitality sector, but all are linked. The pandemic brought similar challenges to the whole sector. Hospitality is not seen as safe by customers, even when businesses implemented expensive protective and social distancing measures. Will the Scottish Government endorse and support the sector? Will it emphasise the safety of hospitality, and will it commit to spending money on messaging and advertising to encourage people to attend hospitality events and venues, and to remove their fear but not drop their guard?

Martin Whitfield raises a series of very important points. I whole-heartedly recommend that we all take full advantage of our outstanding hospitality sector across Scotland.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have provided more than £4.6 billion of support to business. That includes £1.6 billion of rates relief, £802 million of which has been provided in the current financial year. Recently, in the wake of the omicron variant, we also provided £375 million of business support, of which £113 million was for eligible hospitality and leisure businesses. In addition, we have provided £80 million to local authorities through the Covid economic recovery fund.

That demonstrates clearly the support that this Government has provided to businesses across Scotland, including those in the hospitality sector. I fully encourage people across Scotland to use the services of our fantastic hospitality sector.

Roads (A96)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the A96 dualling project. (S6O-01051)

The Scottish Government remains committed to improving the A96 corridor and will take forward an enhancements programme that improves connectivity between surrounding towns, tackles congestion and addresses safety and environmental issues.

The current plan is to fully dual the A96 route between Inverness and Aberdeen, but we have agreed to conduct a transparent, evidence-based review of the programme, which is already under way and will report by the end of 2022.

I thank the minister for that answer. The dualling of the A86 was first promised to the north-east in 2011. According to a freedom of information request, so far, £78 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on the project. Green campaigners have said that the latest move—we have just heard about it—by the Scottish National Party-Green coalition, which delays the scheme, “demonstrably represents the end” of dualling the A96. Will the minister confirm that the A96 dualling will go ahead, or has the Government scandalously wasted £78 million of taxpayers’ money on something that a party with six MSPs has now blocked?

That is not an accurate representation of the situation as it stands. We are not delaying the scheme. As Mr Kerr knows, the Bute house agreement sets out that we will take forward a transport enhancements programme on the A96 corridor. We have already undertaken substantial development work on the programme, which tells us that dualling the entire A96 will involve substantial offline construction of new road. Essentially, that means changing the route of that part of the current road.

All roads projects in Scotland, including the A96 programme, are subject to a detailed review and assessment work, to ensure that we deliver the right schemes and keep impacts on the environment to the absolute minimum. I am sure that Mr Kerr will agree that the climate emergency necessitates that all Governments, irrespective of their politics, ensure that future road building is not detrimental to our environment.

For the information of all members and their families, and of Parliament staff and visitors to the public gallery, the beautiful coastal town of Nairn in my constituency is a splendid holiday destination, which one may well choose for a staycation this year. Does the minister agree that its attractiveness will be further enhanced once we have the promised bypass and the dualled connection with Inverness, and that the Scottish Government’s unwavering commitment is to make that happen?

I listened to Mr Ewing extol the virtues of his constituency and I agree with him in that regard. He will know that the A96 from Inverness to Nairn, including the Nairn bypass scheme, which runs from Inverness to Hardmuir, is separate from the wider A96 review process that is currently being undertaken. Indeed, we met recently to discuss the process.

We continue to progress the preparation stages of the scheme to enable completion of the statutory processes and, subject to no legal challenge being received, ministers will then have the relevant powers to acquire the land that is necessary to construct—[Interruption.]

Minister, I ask for your forbearance for a moment while we tackle the source of the noise in the chamber.

Minister, if you would like to complete your response, I would be grateful. [Interruption.]

There will be a brief suspension while we investigate further.

14:20 Meeting suspended.  

14:36 On resuming—  

Colleagues, my apologies for the delay, which was due to the technical issues that we have experienced.

I resume by asking the minister, Jenny Gilruth, whether she is content and has concluded her response, or whether she would like to add anything.

I am content.

Thank you. That being the case, we will conclude general questions and move on to the next item of business.