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
Portfolio Question Time
Health and Social Care
We move directly to the next item of business, which is portfolio questions. The first portfolio is health and social care. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button, or type R in the chat function, during the relevant question.
General Practitioner Services (Online Appointments)
To ask the Scottish Government what impact assessments it has made of any increased use of online appointments on patients’ access to GP services. (S6O-01022)
Near Me is a safe and secure national health service video consulting service that enables people to attend appointments from home or wherever is convenient. During the pandemic, the use of Near Me in Scotland rose from around 1,000 consultations per month to a peak of 90,000 per month. GP consultations are included in those totals. Usage is currently at around 50,000 consultations a month.
The Scottish Government has published its impact assessment of Near Me. If the member has not seen it, I will be happy to send a link.
Ultimately, GP practices are responsible for ensuring that their local appointment arrangements, whether online or otherwise, meet their patients’ needs and provide satisfactory access.
In the face of opposition from patients and staff, Old Aberdeen medical practice was put out to tender, and that has resulted in declining standards of patient care for many of my constituents. One example is the roll-out of an e-consult system to arrange GP appointments online. That should have allowed patients to request an appointment at any time but, in reality, it has left many struggling to access the care that they need, including one constituent who contacted me when she was 30 weeks pregnant and unable to get an appointment through the e-consult system. That is an unacceptable deterioration of what was a highly effective and popular practice.
Could we have a question please, Ms Villalba?
Will the minister commit today to undertaking an impact assessment of the e-consult system and how it has affected the provision and quality of patient care at Old Aberdeen?
I will certainly look at that suggestion with an open mind and in more detail, because I know about the e-consult system and I am disappointed to hear the feedback that Ms Villalba’s constituents are giving her.
As the member knows, NHS Grampian has provided its GP practices with that e-consult system. It is meant to help doctors to prioritise and assess which patients need face-to-face help and which patients can, for example, have help over the telephone or through video consultation. Patients can access e-consult at any time, even outside surgery hours.
Notwithstanding all that, I hear the concerns that have been raised by Mercedes Villalba, and I will give serious consideration to her suggestion. In the meantime I will take the issue up with both the health and social partnership and the health board.
Sandesh Gulhane, who is joining us remotely, has a supplementary question.
GPs are holding more consultations than before the pandemic, but demand is such that patients do not feel that they are being seen in the manner that they would like. What new measures will the Scottish Government put in place to support GP practices, which are under unsustainable pressure, and—possibly via a campaign—to better communicate with patients that GPs are open for business and to explain the different appointment types that are available?
We are doing a lot to support GPs—including increasing funding this financial year. Communication and messaging are also important. We have made sure to say clearly to people that we want to increase the number of face-to-face appointments, and we are working with the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners on that. In addition, the unfair vilification of GPs and GP staff, including receptionists, that is coming from some quarters in the United Kingdom Government and even from some in this Parliament must stop.
We must support patients in order to increase the number of face-to-face appointments, but we must also make sure that access to GPs is part of a hybrid system that includes online access and video and telephone consultation as well as face-to-face consultation.
Health Spending 2022-23
To ask the Scottish Government how much it will spend per head of the population on health in the current financial year. (S6O-01023)
This financial year, 2022-23, £18 billion is provided for health and social care. That takes forward our commitment to increase spending on the national health service by 20 per cent—over £2.5 billion—by the end of the parliamentary session, and builds on our front-line spending, which is £111 per person higher in Scotland than in England; to put that in context, that is, proportionately, over £600 million more.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer and for making that comparison. Will the cabinet secretary also set out the elements of the social contract that residents of Scotland benefit from that are not available elsewhere?
That is an important question. On top of the spend per head being higher than it is in England—it is also £146 per head higher than it is in Wales—people in Scotland get access to free medicine. We have abolished prescription charges, while the fee in England is well above £9 per item. We have abolished national health service hospital car parking charges, which saves users more than £60 million. We also provide free dental care for people who are under 26, and we are the only United Kingdom nation to provide free universal NHS-funded eye examinations.
I am proud of our record on the NHS, not only because of the proportionate spend per head but because of all the additional benefits that are enjoyed in Scotland but not in other parts of the UK.
Spend in our NHS is crucial, but so are actions. The cabinet secretary will be well aware that, in 2018, Moray’s maternity service was temporarily downgraded for up to 12 months. The chief executive of NHS Grampian has now said that it could be a further decade before the service returns. Does the cabinet secretary agree with that timescale, does he agree that it is unacceptable and what is he going to do to speed it up?
As Douglas Ross well knows—because I have met him, as well as local campaigners and clinicians at Dr Gray’s and at Raigmore—I have stated that we see model 6 as the end destination. I have committed to a timetable of this summer for the interim model 4, and to a timetable of later in the year to get towards model 6. I will not pre-empt the on-going discussions, but both health boards—NHS Grampian and NHS Highland—are crucial to model 4 and to model 6. They know that I expect urgency and pace and that we must do this in a way that is safe and sustainable for the women who are involved and their unborn children.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that, from 2007 to 2010, the Scottish National Party Government did not pass on the money that it received from the then UK Labour Government for the NHS. Had it done so, the NHS would have £1 billion more today to spend on helping our hard-working NHS staff to care for patients. Does the cabinet secretary believe that his predecessor was right to divert money away from the NHS, given the challenges that we face today?
Labour has a cheek to talk about health spending given that it was the architect of private finance initiative spend in our hospitals. This SNP Government abolished car parking charges, which is something that I am very proud of. If it were up to Labour—if it were still in power—patients, as well as staff, doctors and nurses going to work, would all have to pay to park. I am very proud of the fact that front-line health spending in Scotland is £146 per head higher than it is in Labour-controlled Wales.
Covid-19 Vaccination (NHS Lanarkshire)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress regarding the spring Covid-19 vaccination programme in the NHS Lanarkshire area. (S6O-01024)
As part of its spring Covid-19 vaccination programme, NHS Lanarkshire has administered a fourth dose to more than three quarters—76 per cent—of all residents aged 75 and over. That includes more than four in five—82 per cent—of people aged 75 and over in the NHS Lanarkshire area who received their third dose more than 24 weeks ago. That demonstrates strong progress and is very much in line with our expected delivery progress at this stage.
Vaccine officials meet all national health service boards individually bi-weekly to cover performance and delivery and to discuss whether any additional national programme support is required. Furthermore, planning discussions for future activity, including preparing for any possible future autumn/winter programme, are very much under way.
I thank the workers from NHS Lanarkshire who have been providing this service in the area.
I was contacted by two of my Motherwell and Wishaw constituents, who suffer from multiple sclerosis and chronic heart failure respectively. Both are housebound, but they have been refused the spring booster dose. Can the cabinet secretary advise on the best course of action for my constituents and others who believe that they might be eligible for the spring booster programme but who have been unable to get the vaccine?
I thank Clare Adamson for raising that issue. She is welcome to give more details to me in writing if she wishes.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advises that, to be eligible for a spring booster, adults must be either
“aged 75 years and over, residents in a care home for older adults”
“individuals aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed”.
The definition of immunosuppression is taken from chapter 14a of the green book, “Immunisation against infectious disease”. I will send that detail across to the member.
If the member’s constituents are not eligible because they do not fit that definition, there is some clinical flexibility. Of course, as the member knows, that would be a clinical decision for clinicians and vaccination leads to make; that is not a decision that I can make as a minister.
We are waiting for interim advice from the JCVI about a future programme. Those who are not eligible currently might well be eligible for a future autumn/winter programme. I think that that interim advice is due imminently.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that, whether rural Scotland is located in North Lanarkshire or, for example, in Nairn, there is a shared desire for vaccination services to be provided locally? Building on the excellent work that he has carried out with me and Dr Baker of the Nairn medical practice, will the cabinet secretary engage with NHS Highland to progress consideration of that issue so that GP practices that wish to continue providing local vaccination services are able to do so?
That goes a wee bit wider than North Lanarkshire, but I am sure that the cabinet secretary will want to take a stab at answering.
My colleague has raised an important issue. I was delighted to meet him and Dr Baker, both of whom are thoughtful and considered individuals, to discuss those points about local vaccination.
There is flexibility in the system. For example, there are parts of Scotland—I am thinking about Argyll and Bute for example—where GP services are administering vaccinations. I will raise the specific issue with NHS Highland.
Question 4 is from Brian Whittle, who joins us remotely.
Long Covid (Poor Mental Health)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support people who are experiencing poor mental health as a result of long Covid. (S6O-01025)
The impact of the pandemic on our population has been far reaching. Those who are suffering from long Covid should have access to the right mental health support at the right time. Our general practitioners and local healthcare teams are best placed to offer advice or treatment for mental health concerns, and they continue to work tirelessly to ensure that help and support is available to anyone who needs it.
In addition, we have worked with NHS inform to develop a dedicated long Covid website, which provides information and support in relation to low mood and depression, and anxiety, with signposting to self-help guides.
Underpinning the range of support that is available across the country is the Scottish Government’s record funding for our national health service, which includes unprecedented investment for mental health services.
Managing the mental health impacts of the pandemic remains an integral part of our plans to refresh our mental health strategy. There will be an opportunity for us to consider how we improve existing support for people with long Covid and ensure that that support is consistently available across Scotland.
Long Covid is a serious issue in the aftermath of the pandemic, with tens of thousands of Scots estimated to be suffering from it. We should have had the opportunity to discuss the issue in a debate that was, unfortunately, postponed by the Scottish Government. When the Government responds on the issue, will the minister ensure that treatment for the potentially debilitating mental health aspect of long Covid is included as part of that?
Of course, the mental health aspect should be included. Subject to the Parliament’s agreement, we intend to bring back to the Parliament a long Covid debate on 19 May. That will allow ministers to provide a fuller update on progress, as we will not be bound by the pre-election period restrictions in which we currently find ourselves. I am quite sure that Mr Whittle will be looking forward to that debate.
Mental health is one of the major public health challenges in Scotland, and I put on record my thanks to NHS staff and the Scottish Government for ensuring that that has remained a priority throughout the response to Covid-19. Will the minister provide an update on the increase in mental health staff since the Scottish National Party came into office? Will he set out the action that the Government is taking to increase the number of mental health staff, to allow our patients to access support in their communities?
There is no doubt that the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of our population will be felt for years to come. We are investing record levels of funding and expect total spend on mental health, including by NHS Scotland, to exceed £1.2 billion in the current financial year. That funding will help services in all areas respond to the needs of the communities that they support, including in the member’s constituency.
In response to Ms Brown’s question about staffing, I should say that, since this Government came to power in 2007, the mental health workforce has increased. There has been a 95.6 per cent rise in the number of psychology staff, a 34.7 per cent rise in mental health nurses, a 21.6 per cent rise in consultant psychiatrists, and an 83.4 per cent rise in staff in children’s and adult mental health services.
Menopause (Specialist Services)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that women who need it have access to specialist services for advice and support on the diagnosis and management of menopause. (S6O-01026)
We are determined to ensure that women are able to access the care and support that they need for menopause, whether through primary or specialist care. There is now a specialist menopause service in every mainland national health service board and support in place for the island health boards. A menopause specialists network meets regularly to provide consistent advice and peer support to health care professionals, including primary care teams.
We know that many women will seek support from their local general practice for their menopause symptoms. To support primary care, NHS Education for Scotland is developing menopause training for healthcare professionals, including practice nurses and GPs. Support for women who are experiencing the menopause will continue to be a priority for the women’s health plan as it is implemented.
I thank the minister for that action.
Hormone replacement therapy is part of the jigsaw of menopause management. For many women, it provides invaluable relief from the quite debilitating symptoms of menopause. Those women will be concerned about reported shortages of HRT supplies. Can I ask the minister what that situation is in Scotland? Further to that, would she consider enabling pharmacists to prescribe HRT, so that, where there are shortages, women can be advised on and provided with an alternative at the time, rather than having to return to their GP?
Community pharmacists in Scotland are able to make appropriate generic or branded substitutions by endorsing for a change of strength or quantity if alternative products are available. Pharmacists who are independent prescribers can prescribe items within their clinical competency. We are committed to expanding the number of community pharmacists who undertake independent prescribing qualifications, and we have invested in a programme to support that.
In addition, serious shortage protocols—SSPs—which apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, are used for serious shortages when medicines are likely to be unavailable for some time. Three SSPs were introduced across the UK on 29 April 2022. In accordance with the SSP, community pharmacists can limit the supply to three months for eligible patients, to help conserve stock and ensure that as many patients as possible are able to have access to their prescribed medicine.
My question is in a similar vein to the previous one.
Across Scotland, many women are struggling to access hormone replacement therapy due to complex issues in the supply chain. Although the shortages are largely the product of increased demand, it is unacceptable that many women are experiencing severe discomfort and anxiety as a result.
It is welcome that the UK Government has established an HRT task force to get to the bottom of these issues, but what work is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that the short-term and long-term supply of HRT can meet the rising demand in the future? Can the minister confirm whether the Scottish Government is working with the Scottish Medicines Consortium, health boards and community pharmacies to improve the flow of medicines between suppliers, wholesalers and pharmacies?
The member is absolutely correct that these problems are affecting the whole of the UK. She will also be aware that the supply of medicines is a reserved matter for the UK Government. However, Scottish Government officials and NHS national procurement colleagues are regularly updated on any supply disruptions that might arise, and they provide advice to NHS Scotland on options for addressing the shortages.
The disruptions in the availability of HRT are concerning to those who prescribe them. Any patient who is affected by them should discuss alternative treatment options with their doctor in the first instance.
Undoubtedly, those disruptions arise because of complex issues. There is a rise in demand, but other factors are also contributing to the shortages of HRT. We welcome the appointment of Madelaine McTernan as the HRT tsar. We will absolutely work with the UK Government to improve the situation on this really important matter. We will make sure that information from Scotland is taken into account. My officials have already been in contact with the Department of Health and Social Care to work alongside Ms McTernan.
Before I call the next question, I make a plea for succinct questions and answers. Otherwise, I will simply not be able to call all the questions.
Home Care Waiting Lists
To ask the Scottish Government what recent assessment it has made of the number of people requiring home care but who remain on waiting lists for such care. (S6O-01027)
The Scottish Government is aware that there are significant pressures facing the social care sector at present, including high levels of unmet need, and the situation is under constant review. The cross-sectoral adult social care gold group meets fortnightly, providing strategic national oversight on system pressures alongside key partners. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care and I also have frequent meetings in local areas that face the most acute social care pressures, with discussion focused on solutions.
Last year, more than 500 people died while waiting for home care. More than 5,000 people are waiting to be assessed, 404 of whom are in South Lanarkshire. Age Scotland has described the figures as an “absolute tragedy”. It is a fact that the longer that people languish on those lists, the quicker they deteriorate. What urgent steps will the minister take now to get on top of this crisis?
The Scottish Government has encouraged and supported partnership working between local resilience groups and health and social care partnerships in order to get this right. Through contact with partnerships, I am aware that there is a range of local initiatives across the country to support recipients of care, using volunteers, redeployed staff and third sector partners. A lot of work is going on in that regard. In our discussions, the cabinet secretary and I are ensuring that best practice is exported across the country.
We have to recognise that, although things are improving, we have had a significant problem with staffing shortages because of folk being off with Covid-19. That situation is improving, and thank goodness for that. Also, we would be doing so much better on the social care workforce if we had retained the staff who have returned to their home countries because of Brexit and the Tory Government’s hostile environment on immigration.
Question 7 is from Natalie Don, who joins us remotely.
Adult Disability Day Centres (Operating Levels)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on whether adult disability day centres are able to operate at pre-pandemic levels. (S6O-01028)
I recognise the importance of day services to those who use them and to their families and carers. Decisions about individual services are made by local authorities, but it is important that such services resume, given the benefits that they bring to people, the current low risk to public health and the mitigations that can be put in place without hampering operations. Last year, I wrote to local authorities to emphasise the importance of day services and to ask authorities to look at reopening services in line with Covid-19 guidance as soon as possible.
Further to a recent meeting with representatives of unpaid carers, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care has undertaken to write to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to ask for an audit of adult day care and respite services in every local authority, with a view to finding out which services have reopened and which have only partially opened or opened with reduced capacity.
In my constituency, it appears that the local health and social care partnership is not certain how the guidance applies to the reopening of its adult day care centres to pre-pandemic levels. While organisations such as Capability Scotland have reopened their centres to pre-pandemic levels, that has not happened in local authority-run adult day care centres. Can the minister clarify the guidance to which day care centre operators must adhere? I would be happy for the minister to respond to that point in writing, if he wishes to do so.
On Natalie Don’s point about Renfrewshire health and social care partnership being uncertain about the guidance, I ask that it engages with my officials, and we will help in that regard. It is vital that services return to a new normal, in recognition that there are improved infection prevention measures across society. Covid-19 still remains a public health concern, so it is recommended that folks follow the current Public Health Scotland guidance.
I reiterate that, if there is any dubiety about the guidance, Renfrewshire health and social care partnership is free to contact my officials or Public Health Scotland to get clarity.
We have now run out of time, so I will have to draw portfolio question time on health and social care to a close.
Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
The next portfolio is social justice, housing and local government.
Free Bus Travel (Asylum Seekers)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what discussions the social justice secretary has had with the transport minister regarding the possibility of extending free bus travel in Scotland to people seeking asylum. (S6O-01030)
Asylum seekers in Scotland are already able to access the national free bus travel schemes for older and disabled people and, of course, for under-22s.
The Minister for Transport and I are keen that we do what we can to support all asylum seekers in Scotland, including by enabling them to access support and services on the same basis as other residents in Scotland. That includes providing free bus travel to other asylum seekers. We are doing that while needing to bear in mind UK Government reserved policy, which, unfortunately, restricts access to support.
It is clear that free bus travel for under-22s has been transformative for hundreds of thousands of young people. However, the cost of living crisis will hit all those seeking asylum, especially given that they are forced to live on just over £40 a week and are banned from working.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that now is the time to take decisive and practical action to counter the hostile environment agenda that is pedalled by the Tories? Will she commit to meeting me and other interested parties to unpick, as she explained, the barriers to expanding free bus travel to all those seeking asylum in Scotland?
I am happy to meet Mark Ruskell to discuss the issue in more depth. He will be aware of the ending destitution together strategy, which sets out a clear approach to improving support for people with no recourse to public funds who are subject to restrictions. That includes people who are seeking asylum.
Scottish Government officials are investigating the case for providing free bus travel for asylum seekers who do not meet the criteria for existing schemes. I am happy to update Mark Ruskell in due course, either at the meeting or in writing.
I thank the cabinet secretary and the Minister for Transport for having met me to discuss the issue. Does she recognise that the policy would cost less than £400,000 a year? In terms of impact versus cost, the initiative would be extremely good. If there is such a hold-up, will the cabinet secretary give an indication of the timescale that we could face before the initiative is introduced? A lot of people in our community face destitution, which is a serious hardship, on a day-to-day basis.
I recognise Paul Sweeney’s interest in the issue. He has asked me a number of questions about it and has campaigned on it hard. When we met, we had a very constructive meeting.
As I said in my answer to Mark Ruskell, we are actively looking at what can be done. Obviously, we need to bear in mind the restrictions regarding no recourse to public funds, but we are keen to do what we can around the issue of transport.
I know that one local authority has already made some progress in that area. Stirling Council has used some of its Home Office funding for supporting resettlement to buy bus passes for Syrian and Afghan families who are covered by the United Kingdom Government resettlement scheme, and I think that it is extending that support to Ukrainian refugees.
Officials are working on the issue, and I want to pick up the conversation more broadly with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities once the new team is in place.
I am happy to keep Paul Sweeney appraised of progress, because I know that he has an active interest in the matter.
The recent crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine have put Scotland’s new Scots refugee integration strategy to the test. Can the cabinet secretary underline the ways in which the new Scots approach offers compassionate support and opportunities to displaced people, despite the scale of those challenges?
The new Scots refugee integration strategy provides a clear framework for all those who work towards refugee integration in Scotland, with the key principle that integration begins from day 1 of arrival. It assists partners to make the best use of resources and expertise by promoting partnership approaches, joined-up working and early intervention.
The strategy provides a strong foundation on which to respond to challenges that refugees, asylum seekers, displaced people and communities across Scotland face, and it aims to support people to use and share their skills, culture and experience as they begin to rebuild their lives.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the delivery of affordable housing. (S6O-01031)
Latest statistics show that since 2007, the Government has delivered 108,106 affordable homes, of which more than 75,000 are for social rent, including 17,681 council homes. That record is something to be very proud of, as is our commitment to deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which 70 per cent will be for social rent and 10 per cent will be in remote, rural and island areas.
We have £3.6 billion of planned investment this parliamentary session to allow the important work of ensuring that everyone in Scotland has a warm, safe and affordable place to live.
I have seen promising signs that affordable house building is getting back into full swing in my area, with more than 1,500 low-cost and social homes now built by the Scottish National Party in East Ayrshire since 2007.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that the house building sector is on track to a full recovery following the pandemic, which puts Scotland in a good position to achieve its ambition of a further 100,000-plus affordable homes across the country by 2032?
The pandemic took its toll and we are aware that global issues around material, skilled labour, supply shortages and associated rising costs have affected the pace of delivery. However, I am pleased to say that the affordable housing sector is showing signs of recovery, with completions having risen by 35 per cent compared to December 2020.
In East Ayrshire, up to £66.5 million will be made available over the next five years—a 25 per cent increase on the previous five years, which I am sure that the member will welcome.
If the cabinet secretary is proud of her record, can she explain to Parliament why, after 15 years of SNP Government, we see a record number of children living in unsuitable temporary accommodation in Scotland? What plan does the Scottish Government have to end that practice?
We are working extremely hard to end the use of temporary accommodation. An estimated 2,100 households with children have been helped into affordable housing in the year to March 2021. We reintroduced the council house building programme, which is the first such central Government support to councils in a generation. That is in marked contrast to the half a million council houses that were sold off under the Tories, which is a lot of homes to have to make up.
It does not stop there. An article in The Telegraph shows that Boris Johnson is leading the charge to sell off housing association homes. Not content to sell off council homes, the Tories now want to sell off housing association homes. Affordable housing is only safe under the SNP Government.
Adult Disability Payment (Indefinite Award)
I remind members that I am in receipt of personal independence payment.
To ask the Scottish Government how many people it estimates will qualify for an indefinite award within the first 12 months of the national launch of adult disability payment. (S6O-01032)
Our policy on indefinite awards will avoid unnecessary reviews for severely disabled people who have needs that are highly unlikely to change. The approach will provide dignity, be proportionate to people’s needs and provide the security of long-term financial support. Our approach is supported by disabled people.
The decision-making process for adult disability payment will be person-centred and compassionate, to meet the needs of individuals. The number of awards will therefore depend on the circumstances of the people who apply. The Scottish Fiscal Commission is responsible for forecasting adult disability payment, and our policy on indefinite awards will be part of its next forecast.
I am slightly surprised by the minister’s answer. I asked only for an estimate, so a rough idea would have been helpful.
If the payment is indefinite, how will an individual who applies and gets a lower rate be able to have it reviewed? Their condition might get worse, although they might not know that. Will the new social security system allow for the department to do reviews so that it can benefit the claimant and not take away from them?
I presume that there is implicit praise for the Scottish Government from Mr Balfour on this issue, as there has been from across the United Kingdom. He makes some important points, and I would be happy to have further discussion with him on them.
We are in the launch period of the adult disability payment; we will then undertake case transfer. People can apply during the first phase of the adult disability payment pilot for indefinite awards; then, as part of the case transfer process, when they are reviewed after they have been transferred, they will be able to apply for an indefinite award. We are making awards only at the higher rate at the point of transfer, but we continue to engage with stakeholders on potential indefinite awards for those on the lower rate in due course. That is a further consideration.
In addition—this is an important point—we are cognisant of Mr Balfour’s point that, if someone feels that their condition has changed, they should be able to provoke a review to seek more support if they think that they are eligible for it. Those issues are all being considered, as they should be, and I would be happy to discuss them further with Mr Balfour.
I register an interest as someone who is in receipt of personal independence payment.
The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Chloe Smith, has confirmed that it will be for the Department for Work and Pensions to determine who is eligible for passported benefits should the Scottish Government wish to implement different eligibility for adult disability payment, and she has asked for notice of intention around that. Will the minister confirm whether it is his intention to change eligibility for adult disability payment, including getting rid of the 20m rule? Has he indicated such to the DWP?
That is not entirely relevant to the question about indefinite awards. Ms Duncan-Glancy is aware of the engagement that we have had with the committee and the UK Government on adult disability payment and the eligibility criteria for it. As she knows, we have committed to starting a review of adult disability payment later this year and into next year, and eligibility criteria will be assessed as part of that. We will consider matters, including passporting, going forward from there.
Child Poverty (Stirling)
To ask the Scottish Government how the actions set out in its tackling child poverty delivery plan will support low-income families in Stirling. (S6O-01033)
Our second tackling child poverty delivery plan, “Best Start, Bright Futures: Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022-2026”, sets out how we will provide immediate financial support to families and break the cycle of child poverty.
We will increase the Scottish child payment to £25 by the end of 2022, having doubled it to £20 per week last month, and we have committed to mitigating the United Kingdom Government’s benefit cap as fully as possible within devolved powers. We will also help parents to work and earn more through increased investment this year of up to £81 million in a new parental employability offer and transition fund.
It is hugely welcome that the Scottish Government is increasing the Scottish child payment and mitigating the UK Government’s cruel benefit cap, but does the cabinet secretary share my frustration that policies such as the Scottish child payment are undermined by the UK Government’s welfare changes, including the cut in universal credit, and agree that we could go so much further in realising our ambitions in tackling child poverty if we did not have to mitigate actions that have been taken by Westminster?
Yes, I totally agree with Evelyn Tweed on that point. The devastating impact of successive UK Government welfare cuts that have been imposed since 2015 is incredibly frustrating. Those measures include, among others, the two-child limit, the removal of the £20 universal credit uplift and the 2015-20 benefit freeze. If those measures were reversed, an additional £780 million would be getting into the pockets of Scottish households. Importantly, that would lift 70,000 people, including 30,000 children, out of poverty in 2023-24.
Despite that, we will continue to provide support that is unparalleled in the UK to low-income families, including by increasing our Scottish child payment and taking further action to mitigate the impact of Westminster policies such as the benefit cap, as we do already for the bedroom tax.
Disabled People (Mobile and Park Homes)
To ask the Scottish Government what duty local authorities have to assist disabled people who reside in mobile or park homes under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Scotland) Act 1972. (S6O-01034)
We want disabled people in Scotland to have choice, dignity and freedom to access suitable homes that have been built or adapted to enable them to participate as full and equal citizens.
Local authorities have powers and duties under a range of legislation, including the 1972 act, to assess an individual’s care needs and to provide support services as required. The support that is offered should be based on an assessment of the person’s particular needs, should take account of their preferences and should not be affected by the type of property that they live in.
The cabinet secretary might be aware that, in many mobile or park homes, disabled residents are denied adaptations by local councils, which cite the temporary nature of the homes. How best can that widely held position be countered, so that disabled residents receive the support to which they should be entitled?
Colin Beattie raises a very important matter. Everyone should have access to the support that they need to be able to live in a home that is suitable for them.
We know that the adaptations system requires improvement, and we are currently undertaking a review that will improve, streamline and accelerate that system. The review will consider issues relating to adaptations to park and mobile homes, to ensure that access to adaptations is fair and equitable, regardless of property type or tenure, and it will remove any inconsistencies.
Cost of Living (Cowdenbeath)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to families in the Cowdenbeath constituency that may be at risk of poverty due to the cost of living crisis. (S6O-01035)
Through our second tackling child poverty delivery plan, we have set out bold action to drive forward progress across the country on our national mission to tackle child poverty.
This year, we are set to invest almost £770 million to tackle the cost of living crisis. By the end of this year, our five family benefits will be worth more than £10,000 by the time an eligible family’s first child turns six, and more than £9,700 for every subsequent child. That is £8,200 more than is available for children in England and Wales.
In addition, our Scottish child payment will lift an estimated 50,000 children out of relative poverty in 2023-24.
I welcome the various measures that the Scottish Government is putting in place to help my Cowdenbeath constituents. However, given that so many people face acute financial hardship, it should surely be all hands on deck. Is it not the case that Scottish Government interventions in this regard are being undermined by the failure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom—who, regrettably, still holds the key economic levers in Scotland—to step up and treat this crisis with the urgency that is required?
Annabelle Ewing is absolutely correct. Would it not be better if we were all facing in the same direction on child poverty? As the First Minister said during First Minister’s question time, the UK Government has failed to act or even to understand the pressures that households are facing. We have repeatedly urged the UK Government to take more action to support hard-pressed households, including by cutting VAT on household energy bills, by taxing companies on excess profits and by matching the 6 per cent uprating that we delivered for eight of our social security benefits, but it has failed to do so. The Scottish Government will continue to do what it can, but would it not be better if the UK Government was to do the same?
Roma and Traveller Communities (Site Provision)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is giving to local authorities for expanding the provision of sites for Roma/Traveller communities and reducing time on waiting lists. (S6O-01036)
The Scottish Government is providing up to £20 million to local authorities between 2021 and 2026 through the Gypsy Traveller accommodation fund for more and better accommodation. The second round of the fund opened on 31 March, and we have asked for proposals for projects to increase accommodation across councils that have identified the need for more pitches or a new site. In addition, we are commissioning research in 2022-23 to make it easier for local authorities to identify and plan for unmet accommodation needs. Those actions will support our work in reducing waiting lists.
The Clinterty Travellers site in Aberdeen is already at capacity. Although there are redevelopment plans, which are much needed and welcomed, the improvements will not increase capacity or tackle waiting lists. Will the Scottish Government consider implementing statutory reporting on delivery plans, site provision and waiting list actions, so that a fuller picture can be provided of the community’s needs? Can the Scottish Government do more to recognise ancestral stopping sites? That might help to address some of the issues that the community faces.
I thank Maggie Chapman for what is an incredibly important question. There are already a range of obligations on local authorities to plan and report on Gypsy Traveller provision, including requirements under the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 as well as through local housing strategies and housing need and demand assessments. There is also annual reporting to the Scottish Housing Regulator. If Maggie Chapman has other ideas on how we could do more of that, I would be very happy to meet her to discuss them.
Our joint action plan with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities includes an action to map traditional stopping places, which is still being progressed as we speak.
Aberdeen City Council anticipates that capacity at the Clinterty site will increase from 21 to 38 caravans, while complying with fire safety regulations. I am happy to discuss those points further and to mark the progress that has been made, should Maggie Chapman wish that.
I thank the minister for her update on the progress on the housing to 2040 strategy and in line with the 2019 action plan that is being made on Gypsy Traveller sites, including new sites.
My committee—the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee—heard evidence from COSLA that Gypsy Traveller sites had been deemed not to be suitable accommodation under the homes for Ukraine scheme. Can the minister give any indication that Gypsy Travellers here, and those coming from Ukraine, will be supported in appropriate accommodation? What can the Scottish Government do to ensure that there is no discrimination in that process?
There were a couple of questions in there. We provided £2 million in 2021 for councils to make immediate improvements on public sites, based on what their residents said that they needed, and all 19 councils with Gypsy Traveller sites received an allocation.
I met representatives of the Gypsy Traveller community a few weeks ago, and I have community conversations with them very regularly. They raised the issue of the homes for Ukraine scheme, and I have raised it directly with the minister responsible. I will write to Clare Adamson with a response on that.
In the first funding round of our accommodation fund, just over £1 million was provided to three local authorities for specific projects. Final allocations to those projects will be agreed for 2022-23, and will be paid. The projects in—Aberdeen City, Clackmannanshire and Fife—will provide accommodation that better meets the needs of residents, including through larger pitches. Design, planning and procurement are well progressed in all those projects and the work will start on the sites this year.
I will come back to Clare Adamson on the point about homes for Ukraine.
East Lothian Council (Service Delivery)
For the final time, I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a serving councillor on East Lothian Council.
To ask the Scottish Government how it works with East Lothian Council in the delivery of local government services across the area. (S6O-01037)
As Mr Hoy will know as an elected councillor—at least for a short while yet—local authorities are independent entities with their own powers and responsibilities. It is for councils to decide how they manage day-to-day service delivery and decision-making processes, albeit within statutory limits and boundaries.
However, maintaining a close and constructive partnership with local government has and always will be a priority for the Scottish Government. That partnership approach is underpinned by regular meetings with councils and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, so that we can understand their needs and respond and support them accordingly. A range of portfolio cabinet secretaries and ministers, and officials, have regular contact on key shared priorities with individual local authorities, including East Lothian Council.
Does the minister accept that cash is key, and that no matter how hard the Government tries to spin it, we need only look at the figures to see what it really thinks of our councils? In East Lothian, the Scottish National Party cut the council’s core funding by £3 million in real terms this year alone. In what way is slashing East Lothian’s budget while saddling the council with spending commitments for SNP policies anything other than a cynical cash grab by centralising SNP ministers?
I will not repeat what the First Minister stated at First Minister’s question time earlier, except to emphasise that the Scottish Government has had a real-terms reduction of 5.2 per cent, whereas there has been a 6.3 per cent real-terms increase in our allocation to local authorities compared with 2021-22. East Lothian Council will receive £213.3 million to fund local services this financial year, which equates to an extra £19.4 million to support vital day-to-day services, and is an additional 10 per cent compared with 2021-22. In addition, all councils will receive their fair share of the currently undistributed sum of £93.9 million.
It is important that we also consider the wider context of Scottish Government initiatives, such as the Scottish child payment, which are all additional supports for communities across the country.
In concluding, on behalf of the Scottish Government, I thank all those who are retiring as councillors for their public service.
That concludes portfolio questions on social justice, housing and local government. There will be a brief pause before we begin questions on the next portfolio.
Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
The next portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture. Any member who wishes to request a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button or enter R in the chat function during the relevant question. Succinct questions and answers would help to allow me to take all the questions in the Business Bulletin.
People with no Recourse to Public Funds (Financial Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the constitution secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding support for people with no recourse to public funds to access financial support. (S6O-01038)
The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities are working to deliver our joint strategy, “Ending Destitution Together: A Strategy to Improve Support for People with No Recourse to Public Funds Living in Scotland 2021-2024”, which was published in March 2021. The strategy aims to improve and strengthen support and provision for people who live in Scotland and have no recourse to public funds.
That pioneering strategy is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom and is being delivered in partnership with third sector public services and local authorities over the next two years. The Scottish Government is providing £250,000 to support a Scottish crisis fund, which is co-ordinated by the British Red Cross, up to June 2022. The fund provides grants to people who are facing destitution and experiencing barriers to accessing support.
Over the past six months, hundreds of people who have no recourse to public funds have been supported with emergency cash through the Scottish crisis fund, which is delivered by the British Red Cross. The cabinet secretary will be aware that the fund is a pilot.
The work of a number of charities that support refugees and asylum seekers who are at risk of destitution is welcome, but getting money to people is one of the most effective ways of providing short-term help. Does the cabinet secretary agree that cash payments must be at the heart of efforts to tackle destitution? Will she commit to expanding the reach of the Scottish crisis fund, to ensure that that lifeline can reach everyone, including Ukrainians who are currently on seasonal work visas and are at risk of being made destitute?
Pam Duncan-Glancy makes important points about the Scottish crisis fund, which was important not just in providing emergency grants but in capturing data to improve our understanding of where and why destitution occurs, to inform our longer-term approach. The Scottish Government will review the data that the British Red Cross provides, to inform the next steps, and I will be happy to write to Pam Duncan-Glancy with a further update.
Will the Scottish Government set out what action it and COSLA are taking via the strategic migration partnership to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of people who have no recourse to public funds?
The ending destitution together strategy includes an action to
“improve access to mental health services for”
people with no recourse to public funds,
“by working to better understand the barriers and to collectively agree the practical actions that can be taken”.
The Scottish Government provided funding of £223,000 to Simon Community Scotland and Safe in Scotland in 2021-22, to boost the direct practical support that those organisations provide in meeting the mental wellbeing needs of people with no recourse to public funds in Glasgow and Edinburgh, many of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder or similar conditions that are related to the reasons that led them to leave their home countries.
French Presidential Election
To ask what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the potential impact on Scotland of the outcome of the French presidential election. (S6O-01039)
I take the opportunity to repeat the congratulations of the Scottish Government—and, no doubt, those of members from all across this Parliament—on the re-election of President Emmanuel Macron for a second term.
The result creates an opportunity for the Scottish Government, particularly through our office in Paris, to continue our collaborative work with the French Government on shared issues such as culture, climate change, biodiversity and human rights. It also presents an opportunity to reaffirm our shared and strongly held European values.
Voters in France recently joined voters in a number of European countries in rejecting the far right, with their dismissal of Marine Le Pen at the ballot box. What assurances can the cabinet secretary give that Scotland’s politics will also remain internationalist and free of hate?
The Scottish Government’s approach to international engagement is built on the same values of fairness and inclusion as guide our policies at home. Our international activities and domestic priorities are mutually reinforcing.
By offering our expertise and making a constructive contribution to addressing global challenges, we can continue to promote Scotland as a good global citizen. At the same time, our international work and engagement inform the achievement of our domestic objectives—for instance, by advancing a just transition to a net zero nature-positive economy.
Energy Efficiency Measures (Cultural and Heritage Buildings)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the culture minister has had with the minister for zero carbon buildings regarding work to install energy efficiency measures in cultural and heritage buildings. (S6O-01040)
The Scottish Government is working with stakeholders, including Historic Environment Scotland, to develop approaches and solutions that will decarbonise Scotland’s historic buildings and places while respecting their special characteristics.
Although I have not met with Mr Harvie in relation to this issue specifically, the Scottish ministers take collective responsibility for all decisions that are reached by the Scottish Government, and will continue to do so. That includes our commitment that all buildings reach a good level of energy efficiency, where it is technically feasible and cost effective, by 2033.
Evidence that has been taken at committee points to the fact that there has been no assessment of the costs of retrofitting buildings. Will the Scottish Government commit to supporting the cultural and heritage sector in making such an assessment?
As I have just outlined, the Scottish Government has a commitment that all buildings reach a good level of energy efficiency, where it is technically feasible and cost effective, by 2033.
I know that Historic Environment Scotland and others are doing a fantastic amount of work. I recently visited the Engine Shed in Stirling, which provides a huge amount of research and training support for people who carry out work on our historic buildings. I also visited Holyrood lodge, which is just around the corner from here, where we can see some such retrofitting work. I encourage Mr Golden to visit both places so that he can see the work that is going on to encourage the work in this space.
In Edinburgh, we have many historic buildings and sites that are faced with the twin impacts of Covid and rocketing energy prices. What additional funding to mitigate the impact of climate change and to install energy efficiency measures will be given by the Scottish Government to ensure that those buildings are kept fit for purpose in the future?
The Scottish Government supports historic buildings and monuments through the work of our lead public body, Historic Environment Scotland. That includes providing £14.5 million annually for grant schemes that enable repair and revitalisation of the historic environment.
We are also currently providing substantial free advice and offering targeted support to our small and medium-sized enterprises to increase uptake of energy efficiency measures and zero emissions heating through the Business Energy Scotland support service, which is managed by the Energy Saving Trust. If Sarah Boyack wishes to raise issues in relation to specific buildings that she is concerned about, I would be happy to see that information in writing and to respond appropriately.
Historic Environment Scotland (Climate Change)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting Historic Environment Scotland to deliver its inspection programme, and related remedial works, on the condition of, and impact of climate change on, heritage sites. (S6O-01041)
In the current financial year, the Scottish Government will provide £70.1 million to support Historic Environment Scotland. We are maintaining our enhanced support, given the impact of the pandemic on its commercial income. Its inspection programme—which is designed to assess the condition of, and the impact of climate change on, some of Scotland’s most significant heritage sites—is already under way. I continue to engage regularly with it to discuss the progress of those inspections and the current and future outlook for our heritage sites.
The minister will know that a number of heritage sites are currently closed across my region, which is Mid Scotland and Fife. Those castles and other sites are vital for attracting visitors and tourists, not least due to our “Outlander” connection. How is the minister supporting Historic Environment Scotland to progress the surveys quickly?
Also, I imagine that there will, at the end of the process, be quite a large price tag on the remedial work. The minister spoke about £14 million a year and about £70 million going to HES. Will that cover the cost of the anticipated remedial work? What discussions is the minister having with HES to prepare for the funding that will be required?
Claire Baker is fortunate in that there are, in the region that she represents, 17 sites of interest. I am sure that she would welcome the opportunity to visit some of those sites with HES to see the work that is being progressed.
The closures and access restrictions are regrettable but necessary. I am sure that members will appreciate that health and safety must remain the top priority. By restricting access, HES is making sure that it does not expose visitors or HES colleagues to possible risks. I continue to discuss the closures and restrictions regularly with HES, and I will continue to impress on it the need for its communications plan to provide clarity and consistency for sector stakeholders and the public, as we approach the summer visiting season.
In relation to finances, the inspection programme is on-going. HES is working hard at all its properties to uncover the extent of the issues that are faced. We will thereafter make a full assessment of costs.
I thank the minister for accompanying me on a recent site visit, hosted by Historic Environment Scotland, to Linlithgow palace in my constituency, to hear about and see the extent of the high-level masonry repairs that are required to ensure safe and, possibly, phased reopening of Linlithgow palace, which was the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Tourism and businesses in the town need the palace to reopen in order to attract trade. Can the minister commit to prioritising the timescales and funding that are needed to ensure that Linlithgow palace opens safely and timeously?
Yes, of course. I thank Fiona Hyslop for her invitation and for allowing me the opportunity to see in March the condition of Linlithgow palace in a close inspection. The risk that falling masonry poses to visitors and staff brought home to both of us the impact of accelerating climate change on our historic environment. I encourage members who have properties in their region or constituency that are in care and are affected by access restrictions, to arrange a site visit with Historic Environment Scotland and to speak to its conservation experts.
Access restrictions remain unfortunate and frustrating for us all, but there are compelling reasons why they are necessary, at this time. I am keen that the inspection surveys be carried out as quickly as possible, in order that we can re-establish visitor access to our precious historic sites.
Cultural and Heritage Institutions (Glasgow City Centre)
To ask the Scottish Government what work it is doing to support the revival of cultural and heritage institutions in Glasgow city centre, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-01042)
Over the course of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has announced £256 million of support to the culture, creative, heritage and events sectors. That includes a £20.8 million fund administered by Creative Scotland to support cultural organisations as a result of the omicron restrictions. Creative Scotland will publish the recipients of that fund shortly. Three Glasgow based culture and heritage organisations received funding under Historic Environment Scotland’s historic environment recovery fund, totalling £88,900. The Scottish Government has contributed more than £7.5 million to the refurbishment of the Burrell Collection. Discussions are going on regarding the Scottish Government’s support towards the refurbishment of the Citizens Theatre.
Cultural and heritage institutions will play a vital part in attracting people back to the Glasgow city centre. However, like many other organisations, they face a business rates cliff edge at the end of June. Will the Scottish Government consider the strategic use of rates relief to support those institutions, as has been called for by a number of leading arts organisations?
I am sure that Annie Wells will be familiar with the fact that the Scottish Government has already funded the most competitive rates regime in the United Kingdom, and that it has gone over and above the UK Government’s scheme in providing support to businesses and ratepayers across Scotland. If she has a particular proposal that she would like to offer, then I and my Government colleagues would be happy to hear it, in order to ensure that we are providing all necessary support to the institutions that she, and I, hope will recover as quickly as possible—not just from an economic perspective, but also a wellbeing perspective.
It is reassuring to hear about the support that is available for cultural institutions, but it is also worth remembering that freelancers remain a vital element of Scotland’s cultural sector. Can the minister provide any update on the hardship fund for creative freelancers?
The supplementary was a wee bit wider than the question, but perhaps the minister could deal briefly with the question that was raised.
Gillian Martin raises an important area. I appreciate that freelancers have been particularly affected by Covid-19 measures. Most recently, the Scottish Government has provided more than £10 million to support freelancers in the form of two funds that are administered by Creative Scotland. The cancellation fund for creative freelancers made awards totalling £2.9 million, and the hardship fund for creative freelancers made awards totalling over £7.5 million. The list of those recipients will be published shortly by Creative Scotland.
To ask the Scottish Government when it last held talks with the United Kingdom Government to discuss devolving immigration powers to Scotland. (S6O-01043)
In our January 2020 white paper, we clearly set out how devolution of migration powers would work. In February, I wrote a joint letter with my Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts to the United Kingdom Minister for Safe and Legal Migration calling for immediate changes to the immigration system and for regular engagement. On 28 April—last week—I met the UK minister to discuss a range of migration issues. Despite that, there has been no positive response from the UK Government. Therefore, it is clear that only through independence and the restoration of freedom of movement can we properly tackle Scotland’s population challenges.
I thank the minister for that answer. My office manager and his husband have been asked by a Ukrainian family friend to sponsor their 16-year-old while his parents are trapped in the Donbas region. It has been 10 days since the application was submitted, and they are still waiting on an update from the Home Office. Does the minister agree with me that powers over immigration must be devolved to Scotland, so that we can waive the requirement for visas and allow refugees to get here as quickly and safely as possible?
I really sympathise with Rona Mackay’s constituents in that case. Sadly, people remain at the mercy of the Home Office visa processing arrangements. Rather than properly funding a humanitarian resettlement scheme, the homes for Ukraine and family schemes are characterised by significant administrative issues, complex application processes and unacceptable delays for individuals who are forced to flee their homeland. The UK is now in the unenviable position of being the only major European country without a legal route in for unaccompanied children who have no family connection. That exposes highly vulnerable children to preventable harm.
I raised those points with the UK Minister for Safe and Legal Migration last Thursday and, although Scotland stands ready to assist within the current system, we remain of the view that the UK must follow the example of the European Union and waive visas for Ukrainian refugees.
Ukraine Family Scheme (Funding)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the discussions that it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the support, including funding for local authorities, for displaced people settling in Scotland under the Ukraine family scheme. (S6O-01044)
We continue to raise the need to provide the same level of critical support to all Ukrainians and their families and, crucially, for parity of funding, no matter what sponsorship scheme that person is under. I have raised that repeatedly with the UK Government. I raised it again in a letter to the UK Government Minister for Refugees on 25 April, and followed that up when I met him last week. The Welsh Government’s position is exactly the same as ours. I also encourage the UK Government to replicate our supersponsor approach, which will provide greater safeguarding protections.
Those who are uniting with their families need to access health, education and support services, too. Our local authorities want to support people, regardless of the scheme through which they have arrived, but the authorities must receive equality of funding in order to do so.
I thank the minister for that answer. Does he agree with me that UK Government’s approach to the crisis in Ukraine has, from the start, been too slow and piecemeal to effectively address the scale of the challenge? Does he also agree that the UK Government must urgently provide the financial aid that Scottish local authorities need to fully implement support programmes for refugees and asylum seekers?
Yes, I agree. The pace of the UK Government’s Ukrainian visa schemes is particularly disappointing and frustrating for hosts and, most importantly, for the displaced people who are desperately seeking somewhere to settle. The bureaucratic administrative system that the UK Government has put in place to respond to a humanitarian crisis is leaving many Ukrainians in perilous situations as they await clearance. Compatible financial support must be made available to local authorities to support people who come through the family scheme. There should be no in-built discrimination with regard to how displaced people arrive here.
In addition, given the fragility of private sponsorship, we must be prepared to rematch people into alternative accommodation if there is a breakdown in host arrangements. That will also incur additional costs, and we must ensure that appropriate funding is in place to support that. Our local authorities want and need to provide the same level of critical support, regardless of the scheme through which Ukrainians arrive. I have repeatedly urged the UK Government to provide that parity of funding across family and support sponsorship schemes, as has the Welsh Government, and I will continue to do so.
One problem that we repeatedly hear that refugees are facing—not just Ukrainian but Afghan and Syrian refugees, too—is a lack of translation and interpretation resources, which can be a huge roadblock to settling into the new country. What more can the Scottish Government do to ensure that those resources are available to the refugees we welcome into Scotland?
I thank Foysol Choudhury for that important question. I am very grateful to the Ukrainian community in Scotland, whose members are stepping up on a voluntary basis to support translation services. I do not have responsibility for the Afghan or Syrian schemes, but I know that the Scottish Government commitment to support people, regardless of where they come from, is clear. If Foysol Choudhury requires further detail on that, I am more than happy to provide it in writing.
Given that the Home Office figures show that only 20 per cent of those who hold visas under the homes for Ukraine scheme have made it to the UK, will the Scottish Government renew its calls to the UK Government to waive visa requirements for all Ukrainian refugees across Scotland and the rest of the UK? Frankly, two out of 10 is just not good enough.
I absolutely agree with Stephanie Callaghan, and she is right to raise the concern, which I share, that the slow pace of visa processing has meant that there are problems with people getting here. The translation of visas into arrivals is a major concern, and I remain very frustrated at the pace of the UK Government’s visa schemes. We now see the consequences of the decision, and reports of hundreds of people abandoning their efforts to come to the UK altogether; however, we know that households across the UK want to welcome displaced Ukrainians to the UK and provide them with a place of safety in our communities. Last Thursday, I raised those points with the UK Minister for Safe and Legal Migration.
Although Scotland stands ready to assist within the current system, we remain of the view that the UK Government must follow the example of the European Union and waive visas for Ukrainian refugees.
Scottish Government International Offices
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work of its international offices. (S6O-01045)
I would be delighted to do so. Scotland’s international network creates domestic opportunities, attracts investment and ultimately benefits the people of Scotland. Our international offices use a range of both qualitative and quantitative indicators across five outcomes. An update on that work was provided to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee as part of its inquiry into the Scottish Government’s international work. I have recently undertaken visits to Ireland, the United States, Canada and Germany, and was supported by our international offices in the respective countries. Those visits have demonstrated all those priorities in action.
Collectively, the Scottish Government’s international offices have a budget of nearly £8 million of taxpayers’ money. However, it was noted in the recent report by the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee that, up until now, reports on their activities have only been available in response to freedom of information requests. Will the cabinet secretary commit to publishing an annual report on the work of those offices, so that future activities undergo the proper scrutiny by the Parliament?
I urge Alexander Stewart and all other colleagues who have an interest in this area to take every opportunity to recognise the excellent work that is being undertaken on behalf of us all by representatives in Scotland’s offices around the world. As I noted during my committee appearance, I was pleased to see the cross-party enthusiasm for and consensus on the excellent job that Scotland’s international offices do day to day.
We will respond to the committee’s report in due course, and I look forward to Alexander Stewart’s possible participation in the debate next week on the matter. On his particular point, we are committed to a continuous process to ensure that the work that is undertaken by our international network is measurable, transparent and available to the public.
Will the cabinet secretary elaborate on the ways in which the new Copenhagen office will assist the Scottish Government’s implementation of the renewed Nordic-Baltic policy statement and promote relationships with the countries in that region?
That is an excellent question. Our new Copenhagen office will seek to increase Scotland’s economic and cultural visibility in the Nordic regions by promoting co-operation around shared challenges and seizing the commercial opportunities that come with it. For instance, the office will build on the extensive partnerships between Scotland and Nordic countries around energy transition, decarbonisation and renewable technologies. It will also expand existing co-operation on digitalisation, the blue economy and the creative industries.
That concludes portfolio question time on constitution, external affairs and culture. I will allow a short pause to allow front bench teams to switch positions if they wish to do so.