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
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Portfolio Question Time
- National Walking Month
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- International Day of the Midwife
First Minister’s Question Time
Question 1 is from Douglas Ross.
Ferries (Construction Contract)
Thank you, Presiding Officer—I wanted to hear about the Nairn bypass, but maybe we will come back to that another day.
A quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent and not a single ferry has been built, and the crucial document detailing why this awful decision was made has disappeared. However, all we hear from Nicola Sturgeon is that the situation is “regrettable”. When the First Minister suggested chopping off the bottom of classroom doors, that was regrettable; wasting a quarter of a billion pounds is much, much worse.
Does the First Minister understand how angry it makes the public to hear her use weasel words such as “regrettable” rather than giving them the apology that they deserve?
I know that there is a lot of anger right across Scotland right now, although I am not sure that it is for the reason that Douglas Ross has raised today, and I suspect that he is going to feel the full force of it tomorrow.
On the issue of ferries, I have made it very clear that the delays and cost overruns are deeply regrettable. I believe that, when things do not go right in Government, it is important that leaders say so. If only other Governments followed the same principle, perhaps things might be a bit different. However, I will not—I am afraid that I am not going to be moved from this—apologise for decisions that allowed the last commercial shipbuilder on the Clyde to continue in business and that have allowed 400 workers to be employed there today, earning a wage and supporting their families.
I also will not apologise for investment in new ferries. The yard and the Government are focused on ensuring that the ferries are completed as part of our overall investment in Scotland’s ferry network. I will always take responsibility when things do not go right, and I will continue to act in a way that is in the interests of the country overall. Of course, tomorrow, people have the opportunity to cast their verdict on all of that.
Nicola Sturgeon says that she is taking responsibility. Those are weasel words to the island communities that are still without these vital ferries.
Although Nicola Sturgeon will not tell it straight, Jim McColl did not mince his words on the radio yesterday. He called the First Minister out for lying. He said that
“there was no danger of the yard going under at that time.”
The man who the Scottish National Party Government trusted to save the yard and who Nicola Sturgeon stood next to and said, “This is the man to turn it round”, says that the jobs at Ferguson Marine were safe no matter what because the yard had other strong contracts.
The First Minister’s only justification for charging ahead against expert advice has been grandstanding in saying that she saved the jobs. Now it has emerged that she did not—the jobs were never at risk. Has the First Minister’s main excuse not just been shredded, perhaps like that vital missing document?
Let me say categorically that I stand by what I said on the radio the other morning 100 per cent. Jim McColl is many things, but he is not a disinterested and objective observer on these matters. Perhaps that is something that we should bear in mind.
Let us look at the two key points that Jim McColl was taking issue with. First, he seemed to claim that I said that there were 400 people employed in the yard back in 2015. I did not say that, as the transcript will show. I said that 400 people are currently employed there, earning a wage and supporting their families, who would not be in employment today had the contract not been awarded. That is just a matter of fact.
Secondly, Jim McColl said that the yard would not have been in jeopardy and would not have potentially closed had the contract not been awarded. That was not tested, of course, so that can only be a matter of opinion. However, I tell members this: if Jim McColl is seriously arguing that he would have continued to invest his money in a yard that had no major contracts, all I can say is that that is not the Jim McColl I know.
People can make up their own minds, but what I know is that the decisions that the Government took have ensured that the shipyard is still open and operating today, focusing on delivering the ferries, and that, today, there are 400 people working in the yard, earning a wage and supporting their families, as I said. For all that the delays and overruns with the ferries are deeply regrettable, I do not regret the fact that there are 400 people employed in the shipyard today.
Of course, the ferries scandal is just one example of the secrecy and incompetence that the Government is famous for. Just look at Nicola Sturgeon’s rap sheet of damning failures: £250 million lost on ferries; £50 million lost on Burntisland Fabrications; £40 million lost on the Rangers scandal; the worst ever accident and emergency waiting times on record; violent crime at record highs since she came to power; the widest ever attainment gap in our schools, with the lowest results in international school rankings; and the highest number of drug deaths in Europe. Surely that is a record that the First Minister is ashamed of.
Of course, BiFab is also still open and employing people.
There are challenges with A and E services across the whole of the United Kingdom, Europe and the rest of the world, but A and E services in Scotland have been the best performing of all four nations in the UK for six years.
Recorded crime is at one of the lowest levels since 1974 and is down 41 per cent since the Government took office. Over the long term, we have seen a 36 per cent reduction in police-recorded non-sexual violent crime since the Government took office. Homicide cases are at their lowest level since comparable records began back in 1976. The numbers of those who experience crime are down and are lower than the numbers in other parts of the UK.
On education, 1,000 school building projects have been completed since the Government took office. When we took office, only 61 per cent of schools were in a good or satisfactory condition, but that figure is over 90 per cent today.
Council tax is lower for people in Scotland than it is for people in other parts of the UK, and we have lower income tax for the majority.
We have free prescriptions. Free personal and nursing care has been extended. We have the Scottish child payment and other new benefits including the carers allowance supplement and the young carer grant. We have the baby box. The amount of early years education and childcare has trebled since the Government took office and has doubled in my time as First Minister. More staff are working in our national health service than in any other part of the UK, and we have more general practitioners per head of population.
I can go on, if Douglas Ross wants me to. One hundred thousand affordable homes have been built, and yes, crime rates are down. What have we had in 12 years of Tory Government at Westminster? We have had Brexit and austerity, and poverty has increased; we have seen pension cuts, tax increases and—worst of all—we have had Boris Johnson.
That is shameful, First Minister. It is shameful that the 1,319 individuals who died as a result of drugs in the past year did not even merit a mention in the First Minister’s response. That is 1,319 lives lost and families destroyed, and Nicola Sturgeon—yet again—ignored them to get cheap applause from her SNP back benchers. We know that when Nicola Sturgeon takes her eye off the ball, Scotland suffers.
At a local level, the SNP’s record is just as bad. It has cut hundreds of millions from council budgets, overturned hundreds of local planning decisions, brought in controversial sex surveys in schools, hit drivers with new taxes and let Scotland’s biggest city be overrun by rubbish and rats. The SNP has let people down, and Labour has helped it—they share power in councils across Scotland.
Tomorrow’s election is a chance to get the focus back on things that really matter to people: improving local services, rebuilding roads, investing in schools and cleaning up our streets. Scottish Conservative councillors will focus on local priorities and stand up to this SNP Government when it wastes a fortune on ferries, slashes council budgets and cuts vital services.
First Minister, why should SNP candidates be rewarded for your failure?
Tory and Labour were propping each other up in Aberdeen the last time I looked, and in North Lanarkshire, but let us get back to the issue: £259 million pounds of investment was pledged and secured by this Government to turn drug deaths around.
The other issue that Douglas Ross mentioned was council budgets. In this financial year, the Scottish Government budget—this comes from the Scottish Fiscal Commission—was cut by Westminster by 5 per cent in real terms, but due to the decisions taken by this Government the total funding package for local councils is up by 6 per cent in real terms. That is the difference between the SNP and the Tories.
We know that Douglas Ross is desperate and scraping the bottom of the barrel when he starts talking about sex surveys in schools. The fact is—and I suspect that this has been well noticed across Scotland during this election—that Douglas Ross has spent far more time standing up for Boris Johnson than he has standing up for the interests of people in Scotland. When it looked as if the Tories were actually going to get rid of Boris Johnson, Douglas Ross bravely called for his resignation, but when that changed Douglas Ross allowed himself to be hauled into line, and he has just become the cheerleader in chief for Boris Johnson. No consistency, no principle, no resolve and no backbone—that is Douglas Ross. He is not a leader; he is just a follower.
Across Scotland, local authority budgets have been slashed since the Scottish National Party came to power. Can the First Minister tell us what the total cut in council core budgets has been since 2013?
I have just said to Douglas Ross that this year the Scottish Government’s budget was cut by more than 5 per cent and that the council total funding package is up by 6 per cent. Those figures are in real terms.
During the period since 2013-14, the local authority revenue fund has gone up to £2.2 billion. That means it is 22.9 per cent higher, in cash terms, this year than it was in 2013-14. That compares well with Wales, where Labour is in Government and where the equivalent increase is 7.3 per cent. Councils are doing rather better under the SNP in Scotland than they are doing under Labour in Wales.
We always know when the First Minister is desperate, because that is when she starts talking about Wales. I remind her that she is the First Minister of Scotland and leads the Scottish National Party.
The answer that she was looking for was £6 billion. That is what has been cut from core council budgets. That is what this Scottish Government’s own figures tell us. There has been a £6 billion cut in local budgets since 2013. In Glasgow alone, that cut has been more than £1 billion.
What does that mean in practice? It means a First Minister who tweets about reading books when, across Scotland, one in eight libraries have shut since 2010 after a £210 million cut to library budgets. It means a £320 million cut to street cleaning, meaning fewer staff, more charges and less frequent collection. It also means a £1.7 billion backlog in much-needed pothole repairs, leaving motorists to foot the bill for damage.
The First Minister has taken a Tory cut, multiplied it, and handed it down to local government. Even when her budget goes up, she still cuts local government budgets. Nicola Sturgeon can spin all she likes, she can read out the stats in her little book all she likes, but the reality is that she is failing communities across the country.
I am prepared to bet that the facts that are in my little book will not suit Anas Sarwar. I am pretty confident about that. He does not like me talking about Wales, but he stands up here and tries to say that, if Labour was in Government here, things would be much better. I think, therefore, that it is perfectly reasonable to look at where Labour is in government in the UK and put that under some scrutiny.
A moment ago, I gave Anas Sarwar the cash figures showing the comparison between Scotland and Wales for the period of time that he picked. Let me give him the local authority real-terms revenue figures. Since that period, local government revenue funding is 2.3 per cent higher in real terms in Scotland and, in Wales, it is 10.7 per cent lower. Where Labour is in government, local authorities do much worse.
His figure of £6 billion is also selective and highly misleading because it completely ignores £3.6 billion of cumulative revenue funding since 2013. Let me show what Anas Sarwar is deliberately ignoring to get to his figure: £2 billion of additional funding for expanding early learning and childcare; and £720 million that goes directly to head teachers to support the most vulnerable children in Scotland. That is why Labour does not like the facts.
Finally, we will take no lectures from Labour when it comes to funding in Glasgow. The SNP administration has had to pick up the pieces of the equal pay scandal that Labour presided over. Labour robbed women from across Glasgow of money that was rightfully theirs. I am proud of the fact that an SNP administration paid that money back.
That answer might have sounded good when the First Minister was practising it on the gravy bus on the way in, but communities across the country can see how she has decimated local communities. While SNP councils nod through SNP cuts and fail to put up a fight, Labour councillors here in Scotland are doing everything that they can to stand up for their communities and protect them from the cost of living crisis.
In Inverclyde, a £350 payment was delivered by a Labour council to 8,000 low-income households. In Glasgow, in contrast, the SNP council cut the £100 to help pensioners with the winter fuel payment. In West Lothian, discounted rail travel for the over-60s was delivered by Labour but, across Scotland, the SNP hiked rail fares and hit hard-pressed families. In North Lanarkshire, Labour has topped up the welfare fund, supporting hundreds of families. The SNP Government has refused to back Labour’s plans to do the same across the country.
While Labour leads the way on tackling the cost of living crisis, the SNP prefers to make it a constitutional debate. After 15 years in government, maybe Nicola Sturgeon should stop pretending that she is in opposition and act to stand up for the people of Scotland.
In relation to what Anas Sarwar said about my having been in government for 15 years, let us look at benefits. It is this Government that supports the welfare fund; it is this Government that has established the Scottish child payment and increased it; it is this Government that has created new benefits—the carers allowance supplement and the young carers grant do not exist anywhere else in the United Kingdom, including where Labour is in government; it is this Government that has increased welfare payments by 6 per cent, not 3 per cent, as the UK Government has done; and it is this Government that has introduced the baby box and trebled early years education and childcare. All of that has been delivered by this Government.
People will have the opportunity to cast their verdict on all that tomorrow, but it speaks volumes that Labour, after working hand in glove with the Conservatives in council administrations for five years in parts of the country, is in a scrap for second place with the Conservatives. That is the summit of Labour’s ambition.
My ambition is to win the election, so that the SNP can go on delivering real improvements for people right across Scotland, and I am happy to let the people of Scotland be the judge of that.
We move to supplementaries. I call Jim Fairlie.
Cost of Living (Brexit)
A recent report by the London School of Economics and Political Science Centre for Economic Performance has indicated that Brexit-related trade barriers have driven a 6 per cent increase in United Kingdom food prices, adding to the squeeze on consumer spending power. Despite Scotland not voting for Brexit, it is clear that that damaging Tory policy is continuing to exacerbate the cost of living crisis for people right across Scotland and the UK.
Does the First Minister agree that the UK Government has shown itself to be totally incapable of providing adequate support to the people who face the brunt of the cost of living crisis, and that it is only by having the full powers of independence that we can protect Scotland’s incomes, tackle poverty and build a fairer society for Scotland?
Jim Fairlie is absolutely right. In so many ways, the cost of living crisis has been created by the Conservatives. Brexit has exacerbated that crisis, and it is exacerbating it each and every day. The Scottish Government, alongside many others, repeatedly warned that Brexit would be damaging to businesses and to trade, and that it would put food prices up, and we are seeing all of that right now.
Of course, had Scotland been independent, we could not have been dragged out of the European Union against our will. When Scotland is independent, we can again become part of the European family of nations, and I think that more and more people across Scotland want that to happen.
Nearly 1 million hours of unpaid community sentences have been written off completely or not served at all. To put that into context, that is 100 years of sentences.
On the back of that statistic, does the First Minister still have full confidence in her policy on community sentencing? I assure her that the victims of crime to whom I speak do not.
Yes, I do. I think that it is misleading to cite hours in that way, because there will always be hours of unpaid work in the system that have not been done, but they will be done. Obviously, Covid has had an impact on that.
Ultimately, sentencing is a matter for courts, but community payback orders are a credible community sentence that make individuals pay back to the community while being punished for the crime that they have committed. Therefore, I have confidence in my policy on community sentencing, and we continue to work with the justice sector to ensure recovery from the Covid impacts.
I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
The First Minister may be aware of the story of Edinburgh resident Calum Grevers, who has muscular dystrophy and needs a suitable home, on the ground floor with two bedrooms, that is close to his family and care team. After being told that he might have to wait three years to access social housing, he crowdsourced £32,000 for a deposit to buy his own home, with the help of the Government’s low-cost initiative for first-time buyers—LIFT—scheme.
With average prices in Edinburgh being double that of the scheme’s limit, what does the First Minister say to Calum, who now feels left at the mercy of an out-of-control property market? Will she and the Scottish Government now take urgent action on the housing crisis that our capital city faces?
I thank Sarah Boyack for raising this case. I do not know all of the details of Calum’s case, although I am certainly happy to look into it. Shona Robison is indicating to me that she is aware of the case and is already looking into it. She will write to Sarah Boyack with further details when she has the opportunity to do so. I am upset to hear about Calum’s situation, and I want us to do anything that we can to help.
More generally, we are working with councils to ensure a continued supply of affordable housing. We have a very good record on that, and we want to build on it. We look forward to renewing that constructive partnership once the councils are elected tomorrow.
Poland (National Constitution Day)
Will the First Minister join me and, I hope, the Parliament, in celebrating Poland’s national constitution day, which was yesterday—3 May—and which celebrates and commemorates the declaration and adoption of Poland’s first constitution on 3 May 1791? Will she do so in particular as Poland is doing so much these days to support its troubled neighbour, Ukraine?
Yes, I am very happy to take this opportunity to congratulate Poland and the Polish people on their national constitution day. I recently had the opportunity to meet the Polish ambassador in London, and I expressed directly to him the gratitude that many people feel to Poland for the help that it is giving to Ukraine, particularly the help that Poland is giving to people from Ukraine who have been displaced. We wish Poland and the Polish people well.
“This makes a total mockery of the six-year campaign battle for Frank’s Law. The buck stops with the Scottish Government, no matter what excuse it comes up with. Ministers need to explain why I was misled in this way, or dare I say it even lied to.”
That was Amanda Kopel’s reaction when she heard that the SNP had broken its promise to double the ring fence around funding for Frank’s law. Amanda is in the public gallery today, so can the First Minister answer Amanda’s question: why was she misled in that way?
First, I take the opportunity to thank Amanda for her campaigning, as I have thanked her personally previously; as she is in the chamber today, I do so again.
I do not consider that Amanda was misled in any way, and I would be happy to speak directly to her about it. Frank’s law is being—will be—implemented in full. The funding has been made available; more important than that, there is a statutory entitlement to it. It is the law that Frank’s law—that is why it is called that—has to be met by councils.
I consider the matter to be really important, as I know Amanda does, for obvious reasons, and I reiterate the commitment to her today that Frank’s law will be implemented, and implemented in full.
Social Care Staff (Fuel Allowance)
National health service staff have received a temporary increase in their mileage rate, in recognition of the substantial increase in the cost of fuel, and that is welcome. However, there was no similar increase for social care workers, of whom many in the private sector are being paid only 25p per mile. They are effectively subsidising their employers, and they are leaving the sector because they cannot afford to do that.
In response to my parliamentary question on the matter, the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care said that the Scottish Government was in discussion with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities about it. I have correspondence with me, however, that directly contradicts that claim. There has been no engagement with COSLA about it.
I am sure that the First Minister will agree with me that being disingenuous with the Parliament is unacceptable. Will she insist on urgent discussions now to ensure that care workers get the increase in their fuel allowance that they absolutely deserve?
We will do everything possible to ensure that social care workers are treated fairly. There is, of course, a difference, as Jackie Baillie is well aware—and I think that she referenced it. Government is not the direct employer of many social care workers, as they are employed either by local councils or by private operators, so the situation is not as straightforward as it is with the NHS.
However, after councils are re-elected tomorrow, I will ensure that there is engagement with councils and with COSLA to see whether we can take forward an agreement that ensures that social care workers are treated fairly in what are really difficult times for everyone.
Cost of Living (Support)
To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update on what the Scottish Government is doing to support households through the cost of living crisis. (S6F-01051)
We are doing, and will continue to do, everything that we can within our powers and resources to help people who are facing the impacts of higher energy bills, increased food costs, the United Kingdom Government’s national insurance hike and interest rate rises. However, it is a fact that most of the resources and levers to tackle the crisis lie with the UK Government, and it needs to do much more.
Through our own cost of living support and our spend on Scottish social security payments, many of which are not available elsewhere in the UK, we are set to invest almost £770 million to tackle the cost of living crisis this year. Of course, we will also lift an estimated 50,000 children out of relative poverty through the Scottish child payment.
A Tory hard Brexit has hit food supplies, Tory social security cuts have hit household budgets and the Tory obsession with fossil fuels means soaring energy bills. People are struggling with a cost of living crisis that is entirely of the UK Government’s making, but we are doing what we can in Scotland to mitigate it.
I am proud that constructive and collaborative work by the Scottish Greens has led to free bus travel for young people, a more than doubling of the Scottish child payment, the biggest investment in energy efficiency in the UK and mitigation of the cruel benefit cap. Does the First Minister agree that constructive politics should be practised at all levels of Government, and that tomorrow voters should think globally and act locally by electing councillors who will work together to deliver more of that progressive agenda?
Yes; I agree with that, and Gillian Mackay is absolutely right to point out that in many ways the cost of living crisis is a Tory-created crisis. The actions that have been highlighted are very good examples of constructive partnership working in the Parliament between the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens to tackle inequality and poverty. We have worked together to ensure that we support households through the Scottish child payment, mitigating the UK Government benefit cap, which disproportionately impacts on families, and introducing free bus travel for under-22s.
All those actions support households, and we are doing them all within our fixed budget. That is in stark contrast to the UK Government’s failure to act, which is exacerbating the crisis. Removing the £20 universal credit top-up, failing to match our action on uprating benefits and the hike to national insurance are all placing much more pressure on households. The time is now to provide immediate financial help to tackle the cost of living crisis, and people across Scotland will tomorrow have the opportunity to say that very loudly and clearly.
Last week, the chancellor said that it was “silly” for the Tory Government to help households who are struggling with their bills. Yesterday, Boris Johnson admitted that he has not done enough to alleviate the pain of the cost of living crisis, and today, the Secretary for State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that to cope with the cost of living, people should choose value brands, and that the Government intervening would be throwing money at a crisis. Does the First Minister think that the Tories do not understand or simply do not care about the pressure that people face?
Is it that they do not understand or that they do not care? To be honest, it is probably both those things. I do not think that they understand at all—I think that they are deeply out of touch—but we know from callous Tory policies down the years that they do not care that much about people who are struggling. Their actions and words in recent weeks show that they do not understand, and their failure to act shows that they do not care nearly enough. We have heard various UK Government ministers admit that, and I am shocked, as many people are, that they think that it is okay to describe supporting families who face hardship as throwing money at people or, even worse, as “silly”.
There is a desperate and pressing need to act now to support households who are acutely feeling cost of living pressures every single day. The UK Government could act: it could cut VAT on fuel bills; it could tax all companies—not only energy companies—on excess profits; it could increase benefits, as we have done where we have been able to; and it could reinstate the £20 that was cut from universal credit. It could and should do all those things, but what is not and should not be an option is for the UK Government to sit with its head in the sand and take no action to support households who are in so much need at this time.
Deaf Awareness Week 2022
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government plans to mark deaf awareness week 2022. (S6F-01057)
Deaf awareness week 2022 is an important time to reflect on the barriers that deaf people face every day, and it is an opportunity to highlight the very valuable work that many people across Scotland do to raise awareness of the experiences of deaf people.
We want to make Scotland a really good place for British Sign Language users. I was proud that this Parliament was the first to legislate specifically for BSL, back in 2015; since then, we have published the BSL national plan, which is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.
In addition, we have provided funding of more than £1 million from the equality and human rights fund to the British Deaf Association Scotland, Deafblind Scotland and the Scottish Ethnic Minority Deaf Club, and a further £5 million to organisations that work to promote disability equality.
It is estimated that one in five people in Scotland is living with some form of hearing loss. Deafness does not discriminate and can impact on anyone at any time in their life. Does the First Minister agree that the key aims of deaf awareness week will help to increase visibility and promote inclusion for all in the deaf community?
I agree very much. The key aims of deaf awareness week are to recognise and highlight the barriers that deaf people face in their daily lives and to promote discussion about how we improve the lives of deaf people. I agree whole-heartedly that deaf awareness week will increase visibility and promote inclusion for everyone in the deaf community.
The British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 is in place and we continue to take forward a range of actions to promote equality and inclusion for deaf and hearing-impaired people and BSL signers, including investing in support services, hearing dog projects and the Scottish sensory hub.
We will continue to do everything that we can to provide support. I take the opportunity to congratulate everyone who is involved in deaf awareness week, which I am sure will do a lot of good.
The percentage of school leavers with additional special needs, which includes some deaf pupils, who achieve a positive destination has always been below the average.
An increasing number of pupils have additional support needs, and the number of special needs teachers in publicly funded schools is decreasing. Does the First Minister agree that her Government should do more to resolve the issues and help pupils with ASN to succeed?
Yes, I think that all Governments, including my Government, should do as much as we can—and indeed should do more, all the time—to help ASN pupils.
That is partly about ASN teachers; it is also about ensuring that all teachers and people who work in schools are able to support young people who have additional needs. We will continue to take a range of actions to do that, so that we have a situation in Scotland—and I hope that we can all agree that we want this—in which everyone has the chance to succeed and to fulfil their potential in life, regardless of their circumstances.
Does the First Minister agree with a number of my constituents that waiting lists for national health service audiology appointments remain unacceptably long and that one thing that the Scottish Government could do in the spirit of deaf awareness week would be to commit to addressing those waiting lists?
A review of audiology is under way, which is really important. I concede that, as is the case in many countries, waiting times for access to NHS services in all areas are too long right now, partly down to the Covid impact. It is important that we work not just to invest in services but to redesign them, where that is appropriate. That is as important for audiology as it is for a range of conditions.
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to support the return of disability sport in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6F-01063)
Through sportscotland, we are providing almost £600,000 this year to help to deliver the new plan of Scottish Disability Sport, which is the sports body for people of all ages and abilities who have a physical, sensory or learning disability. The plan launched in April 2021 and sets a clear vision that sport and physical activity in Scotland are welcoming and inclusive for participants with disabilities.
That comes in addition to last year’s get into summer programme, which included targeted sessions at the grass-roots level for children and young people with disabilities.
Sport in general has taken a significant hit during Covid, with many people unable to participate, and we are beginning to see the impact of that on the nation’s physical and mental health.
Disability sport has been disproportionately affected. Sports such as powerchair football, which is a fantastic sport that enables the inclusion of some of our most disabled athletes, are struggling to regain and recruit players.
Such crucial outlets for inclusion will not recover and thrive without direct intervention from the Scottish Government, at the national level, and local government. What consideration has the Scottish Government given to actively encouraging and enabling the recovery of disability sport after the pandemic?
I very much agree with the sentiments of the question and I agree with the member on the importance of sport generally, and the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities are able to fully participate in sport, if that is their wish, and physical activity.
In my original answer, I spoke about the funding that we have made available, and I am very happy, in the light of this question, to look at what further action we can take to try to support the recovery of sport in general, and disability sport in particular, from the impact of Covid. I will ask the minister to write to the member in due course with further details of that consideration.
Medication Assisted Treatment Standards
To ask the First Minister whether the medication assisted treatment standards have been fully embedded across Scotland. (S6F-01059)
Work to embed the MAT standards by local services and alcohol and drug partnerships is on-going. It is a crucial and significant undertaking. The Minister for Drugs Policy committed to providing updates to Parliament on the progress of the MAT standards every six months and will provide a full update and report to Parliament next month. That will follow the evaluation of local progress from each health and social care partnership area.
Later on, in the summer, a subsequent report will provide further detail of the work that is being undertaken in each area. That work is being supported with annual funding of £10 million over the next four years.
In March 2021, the drugs minister pledged that the MAT standards would be fully embedded across the country by April 2022. In reality, it is increasingly clear that the target is not going to be met, given the wholly inadequate funding of drug treatment services, health and social care services and the workforce over the past 15 years. That failure is leading to lives continuing to be needlessly lost.
This is supposed to be a national mission, but instead of delivering the standards that were promised, more families are going to have to suffer while they continue to wait for action. What does the First Minister have to say to those families?
I recognise the importance of the MAT standards and the Government is doing what it committed to do. It is important that the standards are embedded in every local area and that they are then properly implemented. That is the work that is under way and the minister has committed to report to Parliament regularly on that.
The standards apply to all services and organisations that are responsible for the delivery of care. Access to treatment is a key part of supporting those who use drugs and, of course, it is a key part of our overall strategy to reduce deaths from drugs. The minister will report next month, but this work continues to be of the highest priority for the Government as a whole.
We turn to general and constituency supplementary questions.
Northern Ireland Protocol
To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update on any discussions that the Scottish Government has had with the United Kingdom Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency in light of the potential impact on Scotland of his reported comments regarding the Northern Ireland protocol.
We remain deeply concerned about the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol. The protocol is part of the European Union-United Kingdom withdrawal agreement. When Boris Johnson signed it, he described it as a “fantastic moment”. The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine, Neil Gray, has written to the UK Government making it clear that invoking article 16 of the protocol or, indeed, unilaterally introducing legislation to breach international law would be deeply irresponsible and would probably trigger severe trade and economic impacts for the whole UK, including Scotland.
In light of the serious implications of such action, we would certainly expect the Scottish Government to be involved in discussions in advance. However, despite our repeated requests, the UK Government has, to date, shown no willingness to engage on the issues.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (Cairngorm Funicular Railway Repairs)
We now know that the Scottish Government has decided to make HIE fund the additional repairs to the Cairngorm funicular railway. That money will have to come from HIE’s annual budget. We know that the repair bill will be well in excess of £20 million. When the Scottish Government made that decision, it knew that some Highland businesses would, as a consequence, lose the financial support that they get from HIE. Will the Government review the decision, which I believe will cripple HIE and Highland businesses?
We want to support Highland businesses and we will continue to work with HIE to make sure that we can deliver on its priorities. In light of the question’s having been asked, I will look at the particular issue in more detail and am happy to get back to the member in due course.
Police Scotland Training (Colombia)
Police Scotland’s international development and innovation unit continues to provide training to some of the world’s most serious human rights abusers. In Colombia, where there is evidence of human rights abuses being committed by the national police, including the killing of protesters, Police Scotland officers continue to provide training. Given the evidence of human rights abuses being committed by the national Colombian police, can the First Minister explain why the Scottish Government approved the deployment of Police Scotland officers to Colombia?
Operational matters are for the chief constable, and I am sure that he will pay attention to this exchange. I recognise that these issues can be sensitive and controversial. However, it is important to note that where Police Scotland provides support and training to police forces in other parts of the world, it is about enhancing human rights and ensuring that, in parts of the world where such an approach has not always been taken, police forces are trained in taking a human rights approach to policing. I recognise the concerns that can be addressed. The chief constable is independent of the Government, but I will ask him to write to the member in more detail about the particular issues.
Breast Cancer Screening
Scotland has been trailing behind other parts of the United Kingdom for some time on the resumption of breast cancer screening for those who are aged over 71. That is having a real impact on women who are aged over 70. Just last week, I was contacted by a woman from Edinburgh whose request for a mammogram was twice refused by NHS Lothian. However, Margaret was able to get an appointment in Newcastle, where screening revealed an invasive lobular breast cancer, which needed to be removed by surgery and follow-up radiation.
I will ask the First Minister three simple questions. If other UK nations can continue to screen, why cannot Scotland do it? In the meantime, does the First Minister think that it is acceptable for Scots to have to travel to England for screening? Does the First Minister agree with my constituent, Margaret, that her cancer might have been detected much earlier and with a much more favourable outcome if her request for screening had not been refused in Scotland?
Those are important issues and it is important for me to be clear about aspects of them. In doing so, I will try to address all three of the questions. In respect of the individual case, I understand the concern and anxiety of the individual concerned.
Breast screening is recommended for patients who are between 50 and 70. The clinical recommendation is that routine breast screening should be done every three years. As we have sought to recover those services from the impact of the pandemic, and after the brief cessation of all screening services at an earlier stage of the pandemic, our advice has been that we focus first on those for whom breast screening is specifically recommended, in order that we can ensure that we can catch up on appointments that have been missed for that group.
To address the first question, I say that other UK Governments will take their own decisions. I have heard a concern that reintroducing optional screening for women who are over 70 has, in other parts of the UK, had an impact on ensuring that services can be caught up for women for whom screening is recommended. I do not know whether that is the case, but I have heard that concern being communicated.
We have sought to prioritise women for whom breast screening is recommended. However, we are currently working towards reintroduction of self-referrals for women who are over the age of 71 later this year. We intend that that service will be resumed in the autumn. We consider that we will be able to allow that to happen, while ensuring that any impact on the eligible screening population is minimised, which is really important.
That concludes First Minister’s question time. There will be a brief pause before we move to portfolio questions.