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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 5, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 05 March 2020

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Whitburn Academy Be Herd Group, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Budget (Scotland) (No 4) Bill: Stage 3, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Good morning. Our first item of business is general questions. Question 1 was not lodged.

Fly Tipping

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle fly tipping. (S5O-04221)

Fly tipping is primarily a matter for local authorities, but it is illegal and unnecessary. Valuable resources that could be recycled go to waste, and it creates an expensive problem, often with the costs being met from the public purse. We have provided the revised code of practice on litter and refuse, given local authorities and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency powers to fine people from £200 up to a maximum of £40,000 if they are prosecuted, and consulted on new powers to seize vehicles that are linked to waste crime in our recent consultation on circular economy legislation—new powers that could be used to tackle fly tipping.

The cabinet secretary may recall that I raised the issue with the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment in June last year and pointed out that, in England and Wales, the court can make an order requiring an individual who is convicted of fly tipping to meet the costs of the clear-up.

Given that one of the aims of the rural crime strategy is to stop organised crime benefiting financially from fly tipping, does the cabinet secretary consider that the use of court orders in Scotland to recover the costs of clearing up fly tipping would help to meet the rural crime strategy’s aim and, more important, provide financial assistance to local authorities and private landowners, who currently incur those costs?

We will always look at potential changes—I will not say “solutions”—that might help the situation. I would need to speak to colleagues with other portfolios about the idea, as the member will be aware, given her personal background. Other things are happening, and we need to remember that decisions regarding both the issue that the member raises and others tend to come on the back of successful court actions. The issue is about getting cases of fly tipping into court, which is a matter between the relevant local authorities and the Crown Office. There are real issues, as there often are with such matters, but we are trying to keep across that.

The member may be aware that the Scottish partnership against rural crime published its “Rural Crime Strategy 2019-22” last year, and tackling fly tipping is one of the partnership’s seven priorities. We are trying to get on top of fly tipping, but I appreciate the enormous nuisance and concern that it causes to many communities.

Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on what plans the Scottish Government has to review the national litter strategy?

As the member may realise from what I have said, we are committed to reducing littering and delivering against the national litter strategy, which covers more than just the specific issue of fly tipping. In 2018, we published the updated code of practice on litter and refuse, and we intend to introduce a new penalty regime for littering from vehicles as part of the proposed circular economy bill. That was an ask that came from a number of different places. Those are commitments that we made in the national litter strategy, which also contains the commitment to conduct a review in 2020. We are considering how best we can take that review forward this year.

Vale of Leven Hospital Out-of-hours Unit

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to secure and develop services at the Vale of Leven hospital, in light of the announcement that its out-of-hours unit is to temporarily close at evenings and weekends. (S5O-04222)

As the member will know, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is at level 4 escalation. Part of that involves looking at the sustainability and robustness of the out-of-hours services. That involves the turnaround director, Calum Campbell, and an oversight board that is chaired by NHS Scotland’s chief operating officer.

Given that the nine centres have not been sustainable over the recent period, the intention is to pause, fix four of them and then extend provision out to the nine centres. In the meantime, in West Dunbartonshire, the Vale of Leven’s medical assessment unit remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week; the minor injuries unit is open from 8 am till 9 pm every day, including weekends; an overnight general practitioner out-of-hours service continues to operate seven nights a week from 11 pm until 8 am; and there is GP home visiting cover for the whole region.

Along with the local campaign group, Vale of Leven hospital watch, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is working with the Vale of Leven’s lead clinician for integrated care and local GPs to improve the robustness of the service so that there is full out-of-hours cover in the evenings and at weekends, and I expect to see that in the very near future.

The serious cutbacks to the out-of-hours service at the Vale of Leven hospital presents major challenges for constituents, who will struggle to find public transport to take them to hospital for treatment during antisocial hours, and for already stretched accident and emergency departments, which will now face increasing pressure to meet demand.

For the sake of local community care, will the cabinet secretary commit to preserving the Vale of Leven services and recognise that that vital lifeline cannot afford to be curtailed without consultation?

I want to make a number of points to Mr Corry. First, as I have said, home visiting is available throughout the region. Secondly, as I have made crystal clear on more than one occasion, I am absolutely committed to the Vale of Leven as an important site of healthcare. A number of services are now available there, including renal dialysis, a haematology day ward, dermatology and a birthing unit. I know that Mr Corry knows that and that he is personally committed to increasing those services, as I am.

The measure in question is a temporary step. The Vale of Leven’s position as regards out-of-hours services will be finalised and completed in its entirety very soon. All the necessary steps on advanced nurse practitioners, rotas and engagement with GPs will be taken to make the four out-of-hours services robust. That will be the model for increasing the number of out-of-hours units in a robust way to six or seven units, and then to nine, over a period of 12 to 18 months.

All that work is in hand but, in the meantime, “Vale News”, a joint publication from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the hospital watch campaign, which I have read, sets out what the current services are. Because those services—not least the minor injuries unit—are very effective, they will prevent further pressures being put on A and E.

Two more members wish to ask questions on this subject. I ask for slightly more concise questions and answers.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the health board must fully take on board the concerns of residents who go to the Vale of Leven hospital and Inverclyde royal hospital and ensure that additional services can be introduced at both hospitals?

I agree with the member, and my commitment in both those areas is crystal clear. Level 4 escalation allows us to be much more engaged with the board in directing where its priorities should lie and how it should deliver those. We will continue to do that, and we will update members accordingly.

The cabinet secretary came to visit the Vale of Leven hospital almost a year ago to discuss the out-of-hours service, when she made a welcome commitment to consider a locally organised and delivered service. Can she explain why NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde thought that it could simply ignore that? What steps will she take to restore the service at the vale and sack the chair and chief executive of the health board?

I did indeed make that visit, and I would be happy to visit the hospital again and meet the campaign group again, as I have discussed previously, most recently with Ms Baillie.

It is inexplicable to me why the board did not take up the offer from those GPs, who run many of the services that I have run through. I assure Ms Baillie that that will no longer be ignored and that those services will continue to benefit from the significant commitment of that GP group in the Vale of Leven. We will return to a full out-of-hours service in the vale very swiftly.

Transport Services (Island Communities)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that transport services meet the needs of island communities. (S5O-04223)

We are committed to providing a transport system that works for communities across Scotland, including our island communities. That is why since 2007, despite real-terms reductions by the United Kingdom Government, the Scottish Government has invested over £2 billion in ferry services across the country, including new routes, new vessels, upgraded harbour infrastructure and cheaper fares. Last year, NorthLink Ferries recorded a satisfaction rating of 97 per cent.

Close engagement with communities has been vital to our investment in services, and will continue as we develop the new strategic transport projects review and the successor to the ferries plan.

I have been contacted by several constituents and visitors to Shetland who have complained about the high cost of getting to the isles. I know of someone who was charged almost £500 for return flights from Edinburgh to visit family in Shetland for Christmas. When families have crises and need to travel to or from the mainland, such costs make already stressful situations even worse. The Government has a role in those extortionate costs, as the owner of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited. Does the minister agree that isles passengers are being penalised? Will he set out what the Government will do to make sure that people are not charged over the odds?

The first thing to do is to acknowledge to Beatrice Wishart and other island representatives that we recognise the challenges that island communities face in respect of making journeys to the mainland and the high cost of travel. The Government is doing everything it can to maintain lower costs for people who have to commute to the mainland, or who travel for business or pleasure, and we will continue to do that.

My colleague, Michael Matheson, is working hard to ensure that HIAL takes its responsibilities to island communities seriously, but I would be more than happy to meet Beatrice Wishart to discuss particular issues that she is aware of, and to take them forward with my colleagues.

The 2018-19 budget granted £10.5 million in funding for interisland ferry services in Orkney and Shetland. That came with a promise to find a sustainable solution for interisland ferry services, which are a lifeline for their communities. When can the islands expect to find a sustainable solution for interisland ferry services?

The Government is keen to work with all parties on the budget process. Kate Forbes is hoping to cement the budget in Parliament shortly.

I encourage Rhoda Grant to engage with me. As she knows, we have been working hard with Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council and Argyll and Bute Council to find long-term solutions for their internal ferry services. I am pleased to say that this year we have, in the budget that is due to be approved by Parliament, provided a solution that will resolve issues in Argyll and Bute.

We have continued our discussions with Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council. There are specific issues in relation to both, including differences in relation to how they fit with the routes and services methodology, fare structures, and the funding arrangements as they stand. Those arrangements are complex. I commit to Rhoda Grant that we will continue discussions with colleagues in Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council to try to reach a solution as soon as we can.

In light of the Scottish Government’s decision to extend free bus travel to under-18s, what consideration will it give to allowing young island residents on Cumbrae and Arran, for example, to travel free on ferries?

I acknowledge Kenneth Gibson’s strong commitment to improving services for residents of Cumbrae and Arran, and other parts of his constituency.

We have committed to a national concessionary travel scheme for free bus travel for people aged 18 and under from January 2021, subject to completion of the necessary preparations, including due diligence and research. We will engage with young people across the country to ensure that all areas benefit from the measures.

Support is provided for young people who use ferries through the YoungScot national entitlement card. Young people between the ages of 16 and 18 who live on islands receive four vouchers for single trips or two returns from the islands to the mainland. In addition, under-16s travel for half the adult fare, and under-5s travel completely free.

I would be keen to hear from Mr Gibson, if he has any specific proposals.

This year’s budget shows that, once again, the Scottish Government has no serious ambition to deliver genuinely fair funding for Orkney and Shetland ferries. Will the minister go into next year’s Scottish Parliament elections once again making promises to the islands that he has no intention whatsoever of keeping?

I think that Jamie Halcro Johnston has some brass neck on that issue.

Members: Hear, hear.

Jamie Halcro Johnston’s colleagues in the UK Government have failed to provide a budget in advance of the Scottish Government budget. That creates significant uncertainty for the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and for the Government in pushing forward our budget, because we do not yet know what we will receive from UK ministers.

I am sure that Jamie Halcro Johnston will, if he is serious about commitments to fair funding for services in the Orkney and Shetland islands, have made representations to Kate Forbes during the budget process about including additional funding for ferries for Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council. If he has not done so, he is guilty of gross hypocrisy, on which he should reflect.

There was news this week of agreement between Orkney Islands Council and the Scottish Government on funding a replacement for the MV Golden Mariana. Will the minister confirm that that will pave the way for agreement on replacement of other vessels in a fleet that provides genuine lifeline services to the island communities and constituency of Orkney, which I represent?

I know that Liam McArthur’s question is a genuine one on behalf of his constituents. On the agreement that we are trying to reach with Orkney Islands Council, we are trying to provide additional funding. As Liam McArthur knows, there are on-going discussions with the council about the longer-term position for Orkney Ferries. As I outlined to Rhoda Grant, they are complex discussions that involve differences in fair structures and alignment with the routes and services methodology: we believe that Orkney is below the RSM standard.

Given funding constraints, these are not easy matters, but I assure Liam McArthur and Jamie Halcro Johnston that we continue to have discussions with the council and will look for a long-term solution for the islands.

The minister will be well aware of the news that broke overnight that regional airline Flybe has collapsed, which is putting at risk 2,000 jobs across the United Kingdom. Will the minister urgently raise the issue with the First Minister—who is, I note, in her place in the chamber—to assess job losses in Scotland and to provide specific aviation support in the Highlands and Islands, such as endorsing a public service obligation for the service between Wick and Aberdeen?

Those are important issues. I assure David Stewart that the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, is actively dealing with the matter. The situation is obviously very serious; our thoughts are with the staff of Flybe, who face a horrendous situation, as do the customers who have been affected by what happened overnight.

In relation to the Highlands and Islands region, which David Stewart represents, I put on the record that Flybe does not currently operate in any of the islands, although Flybe’s franchise partner, Eastern Airways, operates the Aberdeen to Wick service and has confirmed that it will continue to do so, which is obviously great news for people who are served by Wick John O’Groats airport.

Curriculum for Excellence Review

To ask the Scottish Government how it will ensure that all information required and requested by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as part of the review of the curriculum for excellence will be made available. (S5O-04224)

The OECD has provided the Scottish Government with guidance on gathering background information and evidence to inform the review. We will be working closely with our national partners to provide a comprehensive evidence base at the outset, and to ensure that the review process captures the views and experiences of a broad range of partners, practitioners and learners.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the Education and Skills Committee has on several occasions found it difficult to access all the necessary data from Scotland’s education agencies. He will also know that several of Scotland’s education experts have been concerned that Scotland is not as data rich as it should be, when it comes to measuring educational attainment. What actions is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that better qualitative evidence that covers a broad range of areas is available ahead of the OECD review?

I am afraid that Jamie Halcro Johnston is having bad day when it comes to the questions. Scotland has never had more information about the performance of individual pupils through our education system at any point in the past 20 or 30 years. That situation has come about through the reforms that this Government has made to ensure that we deliver improvements in performance.

We now know about the performance of young people at curriculum for excellence early level, level 1, level 2 and level 3; such information was never available in the past. Mr Halcro Johnston needs to get up to date with the statistics, and he needs to understand the reforms that the Government has put in place and why young people in our country should be proud of their performance in education.

Young Disabled People (Transition to Adulthood)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to young disabled people in their transition to adulthood. (S5O-04225)

There are already a number of policies and initiatives under way to support the needs of disabled children and young people going through transitions, but we all recognise the need for something more.

A number of important aspects of transitions are already covered by legislation in Scotland. Across Scottish Government directorates, over 30 projects or programmes are already being progressed to effect real change to the transitions experiences of our young people. We will build on that to maximise impact, through greater co-ordination of work across Scottish Government.

We will also ensure that planning for transitions is integrated into good practice through the upcoming refresh of the getting it right for every child policy and practice guidance. We will ensure that the voices and lived experiences of children, young people and families feature strongly in our policy development.

I am sure that the minister is aware of how important a time it is for young disabled people, as they face the transition to adulthood. However, despite what she says, provision is simply not working. Young disabled people face significant barriers because of their disability.

The minister might be aware of my proposed member’s bill, which will seek to address the absence of support for disabled young people as they become adults. Given the powerful testimonies about the lack of serious planning and abandonment of families at that important time that I have received in response to my consultation, will the minister agree to meet me to discuss my bill proposal and to discuss how best to secure the rights of disabled young people and the support that they need to achieve their potential as adults?


Before we turn to First Minister’s question time, members will wish to join me in welcoming to our gallery the Rt Hon Catherine Hara MP, who is Speaker of the Parliament of Malawi. [Applause.]