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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 06 February 2019

Agenda: Brexit (Preparations), Portfolio Question Time, Salmon Farming, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Scottish Powerchair Football Association


Portfolio Question Time

Trauma-informed School Staff

To ask the Scottish Government how it can support schools to ensure that their staff and teachers are trauma informed. (S5O-02849)

Relationship-based approaches in schools are essential to preventing and mitigating the impact of childhood adversity. Education Scotland has developed guidance for schools on nurturing approaches and their links with adverse childhood experiences and trauma-informed practice. Education Scotland is also developing additional career-long professional learning resources on trauma-informed practices, in collaboration with stakeholders. That is in addition to the development of curricular resource to develop children and young people’s resilience and their knowledge and understanding of attachment and trauma-informed supports.

The University of Edinburgh recently published research that shows that two thirds of children in Scotland have suffered some sort of trauma. Does the cabinet secretary agree that schools play a pivotal role in addressing that? Will he reiterate his commitment to cross-portfolio working to address that public health emergency?

I agree with Gail Ross’s point and I reiterate the importance across different aspects of Government that we work together to address the issues. As the member will know from my attendance at the cross-party group, I convened a cross-portfolio discussion at Bellahouston academy last spring that drew together public servants and ministers from a variety of disciplines to focus on the very important question of cross-portfolio working. We are progressing with the recommendations from that discussion and I will of course keep Parliament informed on the important work that has come from it, such as the Education Scotland guidance on “Nurture, Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma informed practice”, which is available for schools.

College Students (Numbers)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the trend in the number of college students since 2007. (S5O-02850)

We have exceeded our target of 116,269 full-time equivalent college places and have exceeded the target every year since 2011. As recent Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council statistics show, in 2017-18, an estimated 95.5 per cent of learning hours were delivered on courses that led to a recognised qualification, which is a 6.8 percentage point increase since 2006-07.

Is the minister aware that Scotland’s colleges have more than 120,000 fewer students since 2007, including many fewer disabled students, and that the sector has faced underinvestment to the tune of £1 billion over that period? Yesterday, college lecturers went on strike to protest about the fact that pay has failed to keep pace with the cost of living. With the lack of investment, a loss of student places and demotivated lecturers all impacting on student education and experience, will the minister admit that colleges have suffered under the Scottish National Party Government? Will he urge the employers to offer a fair settlement when they meet with the Educational Institute of Scotland?

Before the minister rises, I ask members for short supplementary questions, please. I know that this is an important topic, but I ask for shorter supplementaries.

The current disputes between lecturers and their employers are, of course, a matter for those two parties to resolve. I will continue to urge them to do that, because it is in the interests of students. The strike this week was regrettable, given that I understand that the most recent talks, a few days ago, were quite positive. I hope that they continue in that spirit.

On how our colleges are faring under the SNP Government, as I have just explained, they are exceeding their targets, which is good news for learners and the Scottish economy. That is why there is an increased focus on full-time courses that deliver a positive destination and recognised qualifications for those who undertake them. That is the best solution for the future of our economy, and colleges are quite right to focus on it, because it is in the interests of the country. Under the SNP, the colleges are delivering for Scotland.

What steps are being taken to increase the number of women who are studying college courses related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, in the light of recent trends that were identified in the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s “Tapping all our Talents” report?

The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s report “Tapping all our Talents” is excellent; we spoke about that subject in a members’ business debate a few days ago. The Scottish Government is looking very closely at a number of recommendations in the report, and our first annual report on the Scottish Government’s strategy for STEM, which includes a number of measures to address gender-related issues, will be published this week—it will be publicised in the next 48 hours or so.

The Scottish Government is taking a number of steps; as Oliver Mundell knows, there are positive indicators, such as good news about the increase in the number of women and girls who are participating in STEM, but there are challenges in other areas as well.

Colleges (Capital Spending Plans)

To ask the Scottish Government what the impact will be of the college capital spending plans in the draft budget. (S5O-02851)

The 2019-20 draft budget for college capital will continue to provide funding for the maintenance of the college sector estate and the completion of the new Forth Valley College campus in Falkirk.

The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council will allocate this year’s funding for college maintenance with a view to meeting priority needs, and will publish indicative allocations for institutions by the end of February.

The minister will know that the Scottish funding council has estimated that up to £360 million of investment is required over the next five years to make college campuses wind and watertight. Does the minister not accept that the draft budget delivers nowhere near the investment that the Government’s own report says is needed?

The Scottish Government, through the Scottish funding council, is working closely with our colleges and universities with regard to capital expenditure.

The member is quite right—of course there is huge pressure on our capital budget. That pressure is across the Scottish Government; it is not just an issue for further and higher education. We would like more United Kingdom funding to come to Scotland, to allow us to allocate higher levels of the necessary investment in our infrastructure for our colleges.

More than £47.6 million of the draft budget will be used for the sector’s priority needs. We have been negotiating with the sector on that basis. We would all love to have more money in the budget. Of course, the Labour Party had the opportunity to negotiate with the Scottish Government on the budget, but it did not take up that opportunity.

Pupil Equity Fund (Impact on Attainment in North Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the pupil equity fund has had on attainment in North Ayrshire. (S5O-02852)

Since 2015-16, North Ayrshire Council has been allocated almost £25.5 million of funding from the attainment Scotland fund. That includes more than £16 million through the challenge authority programme and approximately £4.4 million pupil equity funding in each of the past two years.

In an inspection report published last year, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education reported that North Ayrshire is making very good progress with improving learning, raising attainment and narrowing the poverty-related attainment gap. It identified that strong leadership, effective partnership working and strong approaches to staff development are helping to drive improved outcomes for children and young people.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that headteachers are best placed to know the strengths and weaknesses of education provision in their schools? If so, what additional measures will be introduced to strengthen their autonomy further?

I hold that view, and that view lies at the heart of the empowerment agenda that the Government and local authorities are jointly progressing. Good progress is being made on establishing the approach to delivering the headteachers charter and to empowering individual professionals.

One key feature of the North Ayrshire inspection is the importance that the local authority attaches to professional learning. I welcome the fact that the professional learning academy in North Ayrshire contributes significantly to enhancing the education and learning opportunities for staff. That, of course, is the best means by which we can enhance learning and teaching for young people in our education system.

Pupils with Mental Health Issues (Support Training)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken in the last year regarding the provision of training for teachers and staff to support pupils with mental health issues. (S5O-02853)

We have made clear this Government’s commitment to promote and support children’s mental health and wellbeing through wide-ranging commitments in our programme for government.

We are continuing to support local authorities to access mental health first aid training for key staff, which will complement the spectrum of mental health strategies that are in place in schools.

Mental health is covered in the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s document, “The Standards for Full Registration”, and coverage will be further enhanced in a new version of the standards, which is due to be published next year.

I welcome the positive steps that the Scottish Government is taking to deliver mental health first aid training to teachers. However, the programme for government is unclear as to whether training will be provided to all school staff, including teaching assistants and additional support needs staff. Will the cabinet secretary clarify the position?

We have set out in the programme for government a range of measures to ensure that we strengthen capacity in schools to meet the mental health and wellbeing needs of young people. One key element is the training of individual staff members; another part is the commitment to invest in school counselling services across Scotland, which is a very important element of the package of support. That will put in place in individual schools the necessary measures to ensure that practitioners in the school system are able to support young people in a preventative way and on the basis of early intervention.

There has been extensive roll-out of training for staff in secondary school communities, to increase their confidence in approaching pupils who they think are struggling with mental health issues. Eighteen local authorities have now received such training, and we will continue to work with others to roll out the remaining steps in due course.

I appreciate that the cabinet secretary has touched on this point in his previous answer, but will he outline how the increased investment in recruitment of school counsellors will assist teachers in managing mental health issues?

The investment that we are making in mental health counselling will increase schools’ capacity to support young people proactively. Analysis lies at the heart of the mental health strategy that ministers have introduced, and all the analysis that has been undertaken points to the importance of intervention to support young people at the earliest possible moment at which they might be wrestling with mental health and wellbeing challenges. Such investment in capacity in schools is a key intervention to ensure that they are able to deal with circumstances that they may ordinarily or at the time find that they do not feel confident to handle. We hope that, as a consequence of the investment, such capacity will be increased so as to ensure that that happens.

“Towards a Cooperative University”

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the document “Towards a Cooperative University” by Queen Margaret University members of the University and College Union Scotland. (S5O-02854)

The Scottish Government welcomes all contributions on the future of the higher education sector in Scotland, and we have noted the content and views expressed in that particular document, which I thank Patrick Harvie for bringing to my attention.

The institution and the union are currently in dispute; the institution does not agree with all the contents of the document, although it says that it agrees with many of the values expressed in it. Does the Government see merit in the general argument that is being advanced about a co-operative model for our educational institutions? Will the minister commit to ensuring that the Scottish Government takes a constructive approach to identifying any barriers that might exist to the pursuit of the model? What might the Government be able to do to remove such barriers?

I read “Towards a Cooperative University” in preparation for answering Patrick Harvie’s question, and I am thankful to him for lodging it. Like the principal of QMU, I agree with many of the sentiments in the document. The Scottish Government will always be constructive and look for new ideas in relation to the culture of our universities. However, they are, of course, autonomous institutions and therefore the matter is one that is primarily for the staff, students and management at QMU.

On the dispute that has been taking place in response to the handling of the deficit at QMU, I know that Patrick Harvie will welcome the fact that the university has made an announcement to staff that no compulsory redundancies will be required as a result of the transformation project. Such redundancies were one of the biggest fears but do not now appear to be happening, which is good news.

Haulage Industry (Skills Shortage)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress the transition training fund has made in addressing the reported skills shortage in the heavy goods vehicle industry and increasing the number of drivers. (S5O-02855)

The latest figures show that more than 4,000 people have had applications approved through the transition training fund, surpassing the initial aim of supporting 1,000 participants each year over its three-year period of operation. The fund has supported more than 500 individuals in undertaking training in the road haulage sector.

I welcome the progress that the transition training fund has helped to bring to the haulage industry. However, the minister will be aware that there is still an estimated shortage of 11,000 HGV drivers in Scotland, which must be addressed. An added problem is that because approximately 15 per cent of truck drivers come from other European Union countries there will be added pressure post-Brexit. Will the minister undertake to encourage Skills Development Scotland to look at other incentives to attract young people into the logistics industry and, just as important, ways to ensure that they are retained for the longer term?

I agree with the point that the fund cannot be the entirety of our efforts. Skills Development Scotland is already active in ensuring that there is wider activity. To that end, it is working with industry, through the development of a road haulage skills group, to focus on the skills that are needed in the transport network. On bringing others into the industry through the modern apprenticeship programme, as of quarter 2 this year, 1,243 modern apprentices were in training through freight logistics-related frameworks.

On a wider point, Skills Development Scotland supports bespoke large goods vehicles driver training requests that have been made by individuals with up to £4,000 to cover the costs of training.

I recognise that the issue is important for Mr MacDonald in particular, as Grangemouth is in his constituency. If he wants to speak to me further about it, I would be very happy to speak to him.

Employment Support

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding partnership working to help communities access employment support. (S5O-02856)

The Scottish Government has on-going discussions with the UK Government on employment support in Scotland. That includes regular ministerial discussions in the joint ministerial working group on welfare and involves a joint operating framework for employability at the official level to ensure smooth interaction and referral between reserved and devolved services and responsibilities in employability support.

Today, the Parliament’s Social Security Committee, which I convene, called for a review of local access to jobcentres. We believe that jobcentre closures have had a detrimental impact on employment support, and we have significant concerns about staff workload levels, which make staff particularly ill prepared for the migration of tax credits to universal credit systems. Does the minister agree that any review should consider working with the Scottish Government and others to develop a new community-based, well-resourced and person-centred employment support service that does not operate under the threat of sanctions, but on the basis of support, dignity and respect?

Mr Doris will know that I share his and the committee’s concerns about the Jobcentre Plus closures process that we have seen in the past few years. Indeed, the Parliament shared those concerns. With the exception of the Conservative Party, we voted across the Parliament to express our concern about those closures.

Our devolved employability programme, fair start Scotland, is already leading the way in offering people the opportunity of support to find work free from the threat of sanctions, and I will continue to urge the United Kingdom Government to follow that lead. We will, of course, continue to explore those matters through the framework that I have laid out. I assure Mr Doris and other members that we will continue to do that.

Early Learning and Childcare Provision (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact its commitment to invest £500 million to expand early learning and childcare provision will have on demand for skilled staff and infrastructure investment opportunities in the Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley constituency. (S5O-02857)

The Scottish Government and local authorities have committed to an unprecedented level of investment in early learning and childcare through the near doubling of the funded entitlement to 1,140 hours per year from August 2020. The multiyear funding package will mean that East Ayrshire will receive capital funding of £21.6 million from 2017-18 to 2020-21, with revenue funding to support the expansion increasing to £13.6 million by 2021-22. That will support investment in 15 sites in the Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley area, and 1,140 hours are currently being delivered in six settings in the area as part of phasing. More settings will offer the expanded hours later this year. It is estimated that 162 full-time equivalent posts will be created in Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley through the expansion.

I welcome the minister’s answer. Does she intend to expand the number of modern apprenticeships in early learning and childcare and in foundation apprenticeships, to encourage new recruits to the sector and perhaps to offer young people work experience while they are still at school?

Modern apprenticeships are popular and very fruitful in training, recruitment and retention in the sector. That is why Skills Development Scotland has committed, through its skills investment plan for the early learning and childcare expansion, to increasing ELC modern apprenticeships by 10 per cent each year to 2020. Figures that relate to the 2017-18 academic year indicated that that target was exceeded, with an increase of 21 per cent in uptake in those modern apprenticeships compared with the figure for 2016-17. We fully expect that growth to continue as we move towards 2020.

For the foundation apprenticeships, the framework on social services, children and young people saw an increase in the number of starts from 57 in cohort 1, in 2016-18, to 466 in cohort 2, in 2017-19. The information for cohort 3, which is due early this year, is expected to show a further increase.

This morning, I had the pleasure of visiting Kidstore Childcare, which is a partner provider in North Lanarkshire that benefits from over half of its staff having joined as apprentices and from five foundation apprentices attending from school. They were absolutely full of the benefits of that way of entering the profession.

Thousands of qualified and highly trained staff are required in order to meet the ambition of the Government’s childcare expansion. Can the minister tell me what progress has been made to recruit the required staff and how many people are currently working in the sector?

Absolutely. At the moment, we have about 35,000 people working in the sector and just over 25,000 people delivering the funded entitlement. This morning, we had a meeting of the joint delivery board, which is where Government and local authority representatives monitor progress. The data and the intelligence both show that we are broadly on target to meet the forecasts.

In recent months, another comforting fact has been that the Scottish Social Services Council’s report, which was published just before Christmas, showed that day care children’s services—a category that includes the ELC provision—reported a level of vacancies that was significantly below the national average. The proportion of services that reported vacancies that were hard to fill was also significantly below the national average, which is very comforting at this stage of the expansion.

University Students from Deprived Areas

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Higher Education Statistics Agency recording a record number of students from deprived areas enrolling at university in Scotland. (S5O-02858)

I welcome the latest statistics, which show a record increase in the number of entrants from our most deprived areas. That demonstrates significant progress on access and the continued strength of our university sector. The figures provide the first official update on progress against the Government’s widening access targets since the publication of the commission on widening access’s final report, in 2016.

I am particularly interested in the issue because one of the top 10 areas of multiple deprivation in Scotland is in my constituency. I therefore welcome the 8 per cent rise in the number of students from the most deprived 20 per cent of communities. What more can we expect to see, in the years to come, that will build on those early and encouraging numbers?

As Stewart Stevenson says, the progress has been excellent. Indeed, in 2017-18, 15.6 per cent of Scottish domiciled full-time first degree entrants to Scottish universities were from the most deprived 20 per cent of areas. That represents an increase of 1.8 percentage points compared to the figure for the previous year, and it is only 0.4 percentage points short of the Government’s interim target of 16 per cent by 2021. I pay tribute to all the institutions that have delivered that progress.

We clearly still have to achieve our interim target, and we have a long-term target of 20 per cent of students coming from the most deprived 20 per cent of wards by 2030. Only this morning, I convened the latest meeting of the widening access delivery group. The commissioner for fair access, Sir Peter Scott, was there as well, and he said that he very much welcomed the progress shown by the latest statistics, which vindicated the fact that we have free higher education in Scotland.

We are making good progress, but there is much more to be done and we must keep our foot on the pedal.

Pupils with Additional Support Needs (Almond Valley)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will ensure that pupils with additional support needs in the Almond Valley constituency have their needs and right to an education met. (S5O-02859)

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 requires education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils. West Lothian Council has the responsibility for ensuring that the additional support needs of pupils in the Almond Valley constituency are met. The Scottish Government supports education authorities in fulfilling those duties through the provision of statutory guidance to inform local policy and practice.

On behalf of the parents and children whom I represent whose additional support needs are not being met or not being met in full, will the cabinet secretary give an update on his consideration of the report “Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved”, particularly on issues of resources and practice, and say how we will ensure that our laws are put into practice in our classrooms?

I welcome the report “Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved”, which was produced by Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society and Scottish Autism. I have met all the organisations involved and I have responded in writing to each of the calls for action that they put to me in that report.

I have committed to hosting a round-table discussion with the authors of the report and other key stakeholders, which will take place later this month. In the light of that conversation, I will identify what further steps are required to improve the consistency of support across Scotland, perhaps through improved guidance, through building capacity to assist in the delivery of effective additional support and through improving the career pathways that are in place, to ensure that we have the right skills to support young people so that they can be included in education in Scotland.

I welcome Parliament’s unanimous backing of last week’s Scottish Conservative motion in favour of the review of a presumption to mainstream. When does the cabinet secretary think that the review will be complete, and when will it be published?

We have to be really clear in our language on this issue. What Parliament approved last week was a commitment to review the implementation of the principle of the presumption of mainstreaming. By supporting the amendment that I lodged, the Parliament reaffirmed its support for the principle and the presumption of mainstreaming. It is important that we are clear in what we say about the issue.

I will engage in dialogue with local authorities about how we will look at that implementation, which lies very much at the heart of the question that was put to me by Angela Constance. I will do that in the light of the discussion that I will have with the stakeholders later this month, and I will be happy to update the Parliament. I also gave a commitment to the Parliament and to Johann Lamont that I would look at the possibility of holding further debates on the issue in Government time, and I will consider that in the light of the round table that I will host.

Disclosure Scotland (Information Technology System)

To ask the Scottish Government whether the processing of applications to the protecting vulnerable groups scheme for people working in schools will change as a result of Disclosure Scotland’s new IT system, and what progress has been made on this. (S5O-02860)

Disclosure Scotland’s new IT system is being designed based on extensive research with users. Applying for a disclosure certificate using the new service will be simpler and faster. The system is being developed on the basis of the existing law, the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 and the Police Act 1997. The new IT system is being delivered iteratively in incremental improvements. It will handle all types of disclosure applications under both the 1997 and 2007 acts, and it is currently handling basic and standard disclosures under the 1997 act.

Responses to freedom of information requests show that the new disclosure IT system was delayed at the last minute in August last year. As a result, Disclosure Scotland had to pay a higher price to return to the old BT system, which was called “ageing” and “obsolete” by Disclosure Scotland’s chief executive. Has there been any disruption to the PVG scheme as a result of that, and can the minister confirm that Disclosure Scotland will definitely exit the BT contract at the next available opportunity?

The programme has proven to be more complex than was originally understood, both technically and functionally. However, over the past 18 months Disclosure Scotland has overcome many hurdles, such as the core cloud platform, with security accreditation and completion of the basic build. Safeguarding has not been compromised at all during the transition and the investment in the new system is a spend to save. We expect to regain the investment within a short pay-back period of less than three years.

College to University Articulation

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the rate of articulation from college to university. (S5O-02861)

The Scottish funding council is working on developing the national articulation database in order to provide a more comprehensive resource that will allow the identification of students articulating from college to university. That work is nearing completion, and the SFC is actively engaging with colleges and universities in order to quality assure the data. It is anticipated that statistics from the database will be available in the spring.

The articulation route from higher national diplomas to the second and third years at university has long been a key component in the Government’s widening access ambitions. It is my experience as a former further education lecturer that many of my HND graduates went on to achieve very good degree results. Will the minister indicate how the success of articulation is being measured in terms of degree results and whether an analysis has been made of how articulation is widening access for people from families that have not previously gained access to university?

I am confident that Ms Martin’s students did so well because they had such an outstanding lecturer, but of course there are other issues that are relevant to the question as well. The latest release of articulation data, which covers 2014-15, shows that 8,402 higher national certificate and higher national diploma students progressed to university.

On the widening access debate, the report “A Blueprint for Fairness: Final Report of the Commission on Widening Access”, which was published in March 2016, says:

“it is important that all institutions engage strongly with articulation. Most standard routes into university depend upon achieving good results at Higher.”

It says that there is therefore

“a significant cohort of disadvantaged learners who leave school with few, if any, formal qualifications”,

and it adds:

“For these learners, articulation is a crucial alternative route into university.”

It is a very important issue for widening access, as Gillian Martin highlights. We are doing a lot of work on it through the forum that exists to promote the issue, and we will keep Parliament updated.

Primary School Teachers (Supply Staff)

14. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what percentage of primary school teachers are supply staff. (S5O-02862)

The information requested is not held centrally. The recruitment of supply teachers is a matter for local authorities and it is for them to determine what best suits their local needs. Primary teacher numbers are at their highest since 1980.

I take it from that that the cabinet secretary does not know the answer to my original question. It is a fact, however, that in the past year Scottish schools have spent over £60 million on supply teachers. In North Ayrshire alone, the amount spent has increased by 60 per cent year on year. Does the cabinet secretary recognise and accept that workforce planning has to improve if the bill is to reduce?

The first words in my answer were, “The information requested is not held centrally.” That is what I meant. We do not hold that information in the Government—I do not possess it in order to answer Mr Greene’s question. If I had the answer, I would have given him it, but we do not have that information. That explains it clearly to him—if he has managed to understand the answer that I have now given him.

In relation to workforce planning, primary teacher numbers are at their highest since 1980. The latest statistics that we published showed an increase in teacher numbers of 447 in 2018. I hope that that reassures Mr Greene that the Government is taking every step, including by having new routes into teaching, to ensure that we can boost recruitment to the teaching profession. Of course, we have to use supply teachers, because supply teachers have to fill vacancies of a short-term nature that crop up from time to time at local authority level, but that is a matter for local authorities to handle and report upon.

Question 15 has not been lodged and question 16 has been withdrawn.

Suicide (School Pupils)

To ask the Scottish Government how many school pupils have died by suicide in the last five years and what action it has taken in response to this. (S5O-02865)

Information is collected from death registration records on the number of children and young people who have committed suicide, and that is published as part of national statistics. It is not, however, possible to accurately confirm from that information the number of school pupils who have committed suicide. Our programme for government and our suicide prevention action plan set out the actions that we will take with our partners to deliver improved services for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. That includes the provision of counselling support for pupils and mental health first aid training for school staff.

In my region, there have sadly been recent instances of school pupils who have died by suicide. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on what cross-portfolio work is on-going with schools to ensure that they are fully aware of and engaged in the Government’s suicide prevention strategy?

As I said in my earlier answer, the programme for government and the suicide prevention action plan set out the actions that we are taking. They involve a lot of work across the education service and the health service and the work on counselling that is undertaken, and that work is co-ordinated by ministers on a collaborative basis.

Key workstreams support us, including the workstreams of the children and young people’s mental health task force, which is chaired by Dr Dame Denise Coia. A significant amount of work is emerging from that, on which ministers will reflect as we take forward our priorities.

I assure Monica Lennon and parents and families around the country that the issue is taken very seriously in Government. We understand—we try to understand—the enormity of the trauma of such terrible instances for families and we try to provide as much support as we can in all circumstances. I am sure that out of the work that is being undertaken will come recommendations on how we can strengthen practice; the Government will embark on that seriously.

Childcare Providers (Inverclyde)

18. Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what assistance it gives to childcare providers in Inverclyde. (S5O-02866)

The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have committed to an unprecedented level of investment in early learning and childcare. Inverclyde will receive nearly £6 million of capital funding over the period from 2017-18 to 2020-21, with revenue expenditure to support the expansion of early learning and childcare increasing to £9 million by 2021-22.

Providers from all parts of the sector are vital to the expansion. In December, we published a delivery support plan to build on the support that is already available to providers, including 100 per cent rates relief for day nurseries and more ELC modern apprenticeships. Our delivery support plan will support the financial sustainability of providers, strengthen partnership working, support workforce recruitment and training and improve communications with parents and carers.

Will the minister guarantee that social enterprise childcare providers working with children aged nought to three will still be able to deliver services on at least a cost-neutral basis?

The Scottish Government’s approach to delivering the funded early learning and childcare entitlement to all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds is provider neutral.

Much of the provision for nought to three-year-olds falls into the proportion of funded providers’ business that is outwith the funded entitlement. The funding agreement between the Scottish Government and COSLA provides the funding to allow local authorities to set sustainable rates for funded places, which will reflect the cost of delivery for all providers that deliver the funded entitlement, including social enterprises, which will be an important part of the success of the venture.

That concludes portfolio questions. I apologise to Clare Adamson and Alexander Stewart for failing to get to their questions on this occasion.