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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 6, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 06 September 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Michelle’s Law Campaign, Programme for Government 2018-19, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


General Question Time

Endometriosis (West of Scotland Specialist Centre)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made in the last year in establishing a west of Scotland specialist unit for the treatment of endometriosis. (S5O-02319)

We are working closely with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to help to establish the west of Scotland specialist centre, which is expected to open in April 2019. Once open, the Glasgow centre will be the third in Scotland, with two other specialist centres in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. As I am sure Mr Gibson knows, the specialist centres provide multidisciplinary, state-of-the-art, high-quality and person-centred treatment for the management of all grades of endometriosis. They also have an important role in raising awareness.

I am pleased by the progress that has been made since I raised this issue in my members’ business debate last year. As the cabinet secretary knows, one in 10 Scottish women of childbearing age—some 150,000 women—live with endometriosis, which is the biggest cause of female infertility in Scotland. Given these numbers, what steps are being taken to provide information about endometriosis, targeted particularly at young women, and to develop more specialist centres? When can we expect to see a centre in Ayrshire?

I thank Mr Gibson for his significant efforts to raise the profile of endometriosis, including his motion in February last year.

I have asked officials to work with our clinicians in this area to provide information. Mr Gibson is absolutely right about the need to provide additional information and increase awareness among young women and girls in particular in order to increase the opportunities to provide the kind of care and treatment that is necessary. As he knows, this can be a condition that emerges only later on in life and, as a consequence, it can be much more difficult to treat.

The clinical advice is that in a population of Scotland’s size, with the level of prevalence that Mr Gibson has quoted, having three specialist centres is recommended as the optimal approach for effective treatment of women in Scotland. However, that is where we are treating severe endometriosis; work is going on to look at what else can be done to support the pathway into those centres so that we can deal with women and girls with the condition much earlier.

Short-term Letting (Licensing Powers)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to a recent report by the City of Edinburgh Council that requested licensing powers under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 to allow local authorities to license the use of domestic property for short-term letting. (S5O-02320)

I understand the pressure in some parts of the country for new controls over short-term letting of residential properties and we want to address that. That is why, in our programme for government, we have committed to working with local government, communities and business interests to ensure that local authorities have appropriate regulatory powers. That will ensure that local authorities can take decisions that balance the needs and concerns of their communities with wider economic and tourism interests. The powers will allow local authorities to protect the interests of local communities while providing a safe, high-quality experience for visitors.

Licensing may or may not be part of the solution. The solution must be based on the best possible evidence. We have already established a short-term lets delivery group of officials from across Government to examine the issues around short-term letting. That group will consider the existing powers of local authorities and gather evidence about whether further measures are required.

The Government is concerned about the potential negative impact of short-term lets on communities, which is why we are prepared to legislate if that is what is needed.

I thank the minister for his answer and welcome the programme for government announcement—I am glad that we have gone beyond sandboxes and data observatories.

The specific request from the City of Edinburgh Council was for powers under section 44 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. Will the minister introduce a statutory instrument to provide those powers and, if so, when? Can he confirm that such powers will be available to all local authorities? Can he confirm that such powers will be framed in broad terms to allow each local authority to develop its own licensing scheme or no licensing scheme at all, as each authority sees fit in relation to local needs?

We acknowledged the concerns that have been expressed by the City of Edinburgh Council and we welcome its contribution in its paper published on 1 August to the thinking on how best to manage short-term lets. Government officials meet the council regularly and we will be considering its proposals carefully. We will work with the council and other councils, which may have different views, and with stakeholders to ensure that the right balance is struck between having adequate accommodation for visitors and ensuring permanent housing stock.

I urge the minister to act as quickly as possible. I have been inundated with complaints from people living in the city following the Edinburgh festival detailing the problems that they have had with Airbnb accommodation. If he is not prepared to act promptly, will he at least work with the sector to introduce a voluntary code to limit the number of days that properties can be rented out for short-term lets over the next 12 months, if legislation is going to take longer than that?

I understand that Ms Dugdale and many other folk want us to act quickly. However, we must act appropriately and get it absolutely right. That is why we have set up the group to examine all that is going on in respect of short-term lets. We will take the views of communities, local authorities and stakeholders very seriously. I know that everyone in Parliament wants to get the right solution. We have to find the right balance and we will do so. I will not talk about speed because I do not think that that is necessarily the way forward. The important thing is to get it absolutely right for all local authorities, communities and stakeholders.

Overcrowding on Trains (Edinburgh to Dunblane)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle overcrowding on rail services between Edinburgh and Dunblane. (S5O-02321)

The member will be pleased to note that the final phase of the electrification of the full route between Edinburgh and Glasgow and Dunblane is due to be completed later this year. To support that major infrastructure investment, around £370 million of Scottish Government funding is being provided to deliver a fleet of 70 new Hitachi class 385 trains, which Abellio ScotRail will lease during this franchise term.

The plan is for ScotRail to introduce greater capacity on services from Dunblane to Edinburgh and Glasgow from December 2018, with further increases in May 2019. However, that timeframe is very dependent on the completion of Network Rail’s electrification works and how ScotRail and Hitachi’s introduction of the new C385 train fleet proceeds. My officials at Transport Scotland are working closely with those organisations to maximise the success of those transformational investments.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that detailed response and welcome him to his new role. I am sure that, in discussions with people in his constituency, he will recognise that capacity is a big issue and that these services are effectively standing room only at peak times—they are dangerously overcrowded. Can he assure me that, as the 385 trains are rolled out, the Edinburgh to Dunblane service will not be stuck with short, four-carriage 365 trains? An overcrowded train is still an overcrowded train, regardless of whether it is electrified.

I recognise the member’s concerns and, as I said, ScotRail intends to have greater carriage numbers available on the Edinburgh to Dunblane service from December 2018. That will increase capacity, but it is dependent on electrification works being completed on time. I know that Network Rail and ScotRail are working very closely together to ensure that that work is completed on time. Overall, once the new Hitachi trains are rolled out, they will provide further capacity in services right across Scotland, including on the Edinburgh to Dunblane line.

Users of this service talk about crush hour, not rush hour. There is a shortage of carriages, and a practice of skip-stopping and early termination of services. The previous transport minister said that ScotRail would get a grip of that but, given that ScotRail’s public performance measure is at a three-year low, what assurances can the current transport secretary give to users of the Dunblane service about when they will see tangible results in improvements on the line?

I outlined in my earlier answers the improvements that are taking place now, including the significant capital investment into the electrification of the line, along with the rest of the electrification that is taking place in the central belt. As I said, additional capacity will be provided on the line in December this year, once the electrification work has been completed. That will continue to be rolled out as the new Hitachi trains come on stream.

NHS Grampian (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of information provided by the Scottish Parliament information centre that NHS Grampian has received the lowest share of public funding of any national health service board for each of the last nine years, how the new health secretary plans to reimburse NHS Grampian for a funding shortfall totalling £165.6 million over that period. (S5O-02322)

In 2018-19, NHS Grampian has received a resource uplift of 2.1 per cent—the highest percentage uplift of any territorial board—which takes the board’s annual resource budget to £921 million.

The NHS resource allocation formula—NRAC—sets out target shares for the distribution of funding to the 14 territorial boards. The formula was introduced in 2009-10 to provide improvements in predicting relative needs across board areas. The approach taken by the Scottish Government has been to move boards towards parity gradually over a number of years. In 2018-19, all boards have been brought within 0.8 per cent of parity.

It is very welcome that boards are moving towards parity, but NHS Grampian still has consistently the worst waiting times, and is the worst for chronic pain, the worst for cancer and the third worst for child and adolescent mental health. Staff numbers are dropping in almost every field and there has been a tripling of vacant hospital positions. That is due to the funding formula. Will the health secretary make the case with her cabinet colleagues to find at least some of the £165 million of underfunding from her own funding formula to address the crisis?

Let me make a number of points. First, as I am sure Mr Rumbles knows, because he has been round this particular course many a time before, the funding formula is not my funding formula; it is set by an independent group of experts, including board representatives and health academics. Secondly, it is not possible, as Mr Rumbles seeks to do, to make a causal connection between challenges that boards may have in recruiting staff or in meeting the targets for patient care that we have set for them, and the funding formula.

The way to move towards parity is to do precisely what we as a Government have done, which is to take it step by step. The consequence of what Mr Rumbles is suggesting is that boards in other parts of the country—equally challenged, equally trying to provide high-quality healthcare, and equally expected by me to meet those targets—would be stripped of funds. That strikes me as a deeply unfair, irresponsible and disproportionate way to proceed.

As Ms Robison said before me, we will proceed to deliver in that stepped way towards parity. That is what we have done, and I am very pleased that we are now 0.8 per cent closer to parity across all our boards. That is the approach that we will continue to take.

William McIlvanney Campus

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the completion status and final outturn costs of the William McIlvanney school campus in Kilmarnock. (S5O-02323)

In October last year, I laid the foundation stone for the £45.3 million William McIlvanney campus. I look forward to visiting the campus, which opened in April, later this month, to see the modern state-of-the-art educational facilities that are available to the children and young people of Kilmarnock.

As we formally open that magnificent new campus next week and welcome all the staff and pupils, and even those who voted against the budget that built the school, will the cabinet secretary confirm that there will be no 30-year legacy of public debt with the campus, as there is under previous school building schemes brought in by Labour?

The William McIllvanney campus represents a significant investment in the educational facilities for children and young people in Kilmarnock. It is the product of good joint working between East Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Government. It is part of an ambitious school building programme, which has seen the number of children and young people being educated in good or satisfactory buildings across Scotland increase from 61 per cent in 2007, when this Government came into office, to 86 per cent. That represents a transformation of the educational estate for young people in Scotland and a significant element of co-operation between the Government and local authorities.

MV Loch Seaforth (Financing)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to investigate the financing of the CalMac vessel, MV Loch Seaforth, which is now owned by Lloyds Banking Group, after a lease deal was agreed at a reported cost to the public purse of £53 million. (S5O-02324)

A full tender process for a lease arrangement was undertaken by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd in line with European Union procurement rules. That resulted in the award of the contract to Lloyds Banking Group as its tender was assessed as the most economically advantageous.

Audit Scotland published its report to Parliament, “Transport Scotland’s ferry services”, in October 2017. It included comment on the MV Loch Seaforth procurement, but having concluded its analysis of this and other procurement decisions, Audit Scotland did not raise anything of concern regarding the procurement of the MV Loch Seaforth. The Scottish Government therefore has no plans to investigate the financing of the MV Loch Seaforth.

That is truly disappointing. It is shocking that the boat will require to be handed back as new in 2022 or have a new lease negotiated. It is also not clear when the two ferries that have been further delayed will come into service, if ever.

These revelations follow a summer of chaos in the Western Isles and Argyll that is on-going because of inadequate ferries and no capacity in the fleet to deal with breakdowns. That is costing the islands’ economies dear and the Government has simply turned a blind eye. Instead of taking money from CalMac, will the minister now invest in a new ferry?

It is disappointing to hear Rhoda Grant’s lack of recognition of the £1 billion that the Government has invested in the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services since 2007.

I acknowledge that there is great concern in the islands around assuring the resilience of the ferry services and I am happy to engage on that issue with members across the chamber. However, I would have hoped that Rhoda Grant, in framing her question, might have recognised that we are commissioning new ferries from Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd. A revised delivery programme has been discussed by Ferguson Marine and CMAL and Parliament was informed of the dates on 16 August 2018.

In recognition of the importance of the issue, the Government has invested in ferries, as I have said, and in harbour facilities across routes in the area. We continue to invest in ferry services. I hope that Rhoda Grant will acknowledge that.

The minister will be aware that the need for additional capacity is the most pressing ferry-related issue. Will he commit to visiting my constituency to meet me and other stakeholders at a summit to discuss that important issue?

I was pleased to visit Dr Allan’s constituency last month and to meet the comhairle and local stakeholders to discuss issues, including ferry services. I would be pleased to visit Dr Allan’s beautiful constituency once again to meet stakeholders and discuss ferry services and other connectivity issues that are important to the islands.

I agree that capacity during peak periods is one of the greatest challenges that our ferry services face, particularly given the welcome increase in the number of the visitors to the Western Isles. I recognise that service reliability and fleet resilience are issues of great importance to the island communities. In recognising that, we have added sailings to Lochboisdale, and the Tarbert and Lochmaddy service. There is a new route between Mallaig and Lochboisdale and a significantly larger vessel on the service to Barra. The Government is investing in services to the Western Isles, but I would be more than happy to meet Dr Allan and his constituents.

In relation to the cost of the two new CalMac ferries that the minister mentioned and which are now delayed, will he confirm whether there will be additional costs as a result of the delay and, if so, how much?

I recently heard Jim McColl of Ferguson Marine discussing the difficulties with getting regulatory approval. That is one of the causes of delay in the vessels being delivered. I hope that members will be behind the procurement of these innovative new ferries from a Scottish engineering company and I am happy to engage with Mr Cameron and get him the further details of the procurement process that he requires.