Meeting date: Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 06 October 2021
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Supreme Court Judgment, Scotland in the World, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Rest and Be Thankful
- Portfolio Question Time
- Supreme Court Judgment
- Scotland in the World
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Rest and Be Thankful
Portfolio Question Time
Justice and Veterans
Good afternoon. I remind members that Covid-related measures are in place. Face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.
The first item of business is portfolio questions, and the first theme is justice and veterans. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter R in the chat function during the relevant question.
Fire Alarm Signals (Unwanted)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service consultation on reducing unwanted fire alarm signals. (S6O-00235)
I welcome the consultation by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Addressing unwanted fire alarm signals is a priority in the fire and rescue framework for Scotland. Unwanted fire alarm signals are an issue for fire services throughout the United Kingdom. They place the public and firefighters at risk by causing unnecessary blue-light journeys and diverting resources away from genuine emergencies. The consultation seeks to understand stakeholders’ views on the options that it puts forward. I would expect there to be further SFRS engagement to explore any significant concerns that are raised, before a final decision is made on the way forward.
One option that is being seriously considered in order to cut call-outs by up to 85 per cent is not mobilising blue-light services in response to an automatic alarm if a follow-up call fails to confirm or verify a fire or signs of a fire. Some organisations have expressed explicit concern about that approach, including Scottish Care, which is concerned about the effect that it might have on care homes, where the approach is simply not possible. I ask that both that sector and the wider public be reassured that, whatever the outcome of the consultation, no one will be put at risk and there will be no increased risk of there being a tragedy anywhere in Scotland as a result of measures that are taken to cut call-outs.
Jamie Greene is right to point that out. There are three options in the consultation; two of them exempt sleeping premises. That covers care homes, which the member rightly mentioned, along with hospitals, prisons and so on.
A reduction in unwanted fire alarm signals could release significant resources that could be deployed to more productive and beneficial tasks, including prevention and fire safety work. Although the SFRS remains committed to driving down the number of unwanted fire alarms, it will always respond to alarm signals immediately, with appropriate resources, if fire is confirmed or if signs of fire are reported.
It is worth noting that, as I said, two of the options that are set out in the consultation exempt premises such as care homes and hospitals from being call challenged, which means that an immediate response will be sent to investigate a call and the cause of the alarm. Any potential change in the response to such premises will be discussed thoroughly before any final decision is made on the way forward.
I thank the minister for outlining the work that is under way to drive down the number of unwanted fire alarms. Will the minister outline what work is under way to modernise the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to allow it to expand its work on fire prevention and fire safety with vulnerable households?
Please be as brief as possible, minister.
We are committed to modernising the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service so that it can do more to keep communities safe and contribute to better outcomes for the people of Scotland. That has been demonstrated though our continued investment in the SFRS, with a further uplift of £8.7 million in resource for 2021-22, which brings the total budget to £343 million. We are consulting on our fire and rescue framework for Scotland. Modernisation is at the heart of our priorities and objectives for the SFRS.
Prison Estate (Modernisation)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its £500 million of funding to modernise the prison estate, including any updates to HMP Dumfries. (S6O-00236)
Our on-going investment in our prison estate will ensure that it is fit for the future. Our current priorities are the new female custodial estate, in which construction is well under way, and the much-needed replacements for HMP Barlinnie and HMP Inverness. The investment also includes on-going maintenance work across the estate, including at HMP Dumfries, which remains an integral part of the prison estate. Current improvement priorities for HMP Dumfries include the upgrading of flat roofing, increasing the number of accessible cells in the prison, the refurbishment of the gym facility and the replacement of cell furniture.
As the cabinet secretary knows, HMP Dumfries is one of the oldest functional prisons in Scotland and has of the smallest prison populations. Does HMP Dumfries have facilities similar to those of other prison campuses in Scotland, and can the cabinet secretary give a commitment that the welcome £500 million of investment in Scotland’s prison estate will not leave out HMP Dumfries’s staff and residents?
All our prison establishments across Scotland have similar facilities. Although HMP Dumfries does not currently feature in the Scottish Government’s infrastructure investment programme, it will continue to benefit from the general investment that is provided by the Scottish Government for the prison estate. Improvements to the capital infrastructure of our prisons will have benefits for prisoners, prison staff and wider communities.
Post-mortem Reports (Delays)
To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports of a backlog in toxicology analyses, how many final post-mortem reports following a sudden or unexplained death were not issued within the 12-week target in 2020 and 2021. (S6O-00237)
Post-mortem reports are issued by pathologists to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service at the conclusion of their investigations. Pathologists do not have a target to provide those reports within 12 weeks. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service aims to conduct its investigation and advise the next of kin of the outcome within 12 weeks of the initial report of the death in at least 80 per cent of those cases.
In 2019-20, 70 per cent of cases were closed within the 12-week period, and in 2020-21 the figure was 59 per cent. Previous delays with toxicology analysis have played a significant part in that 12-week target not being met, but there are other legitimate reasons why it is not possible to conclude an investigation within 12 weeks, such as the need for further investigations with a view to determining whether a fatal accident inquiry should be held.
Significant work has been done by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service toxicologists and pathologists to address the issue. Since the beginning of 2021, there has been no backlog of toxicology reports. All reports have been submitted to pathologists within agreed timescales, and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has established a dedicated team to manage the final post-mortem reports, which have now been received and require to be considered.
I thank the Lord Advocate for the detail in her response and I welcome her to her new role.
I do not have time to respond to all of that answer, but I note that this has been a deeply upsetting period for many families, because before the pandemic bereaved families experienced long and agonising waits for final post-mortem reports. Instead of being told that it could take around 12 weeks to receive a report, many were told that it could take 12 months and some were told that it could take two years.
I am pleased that there have been improvements, but under the new service level agreement between the Scottish Police Authority’s forensic services and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, what robust measures will be put in place, and are families being consulted? Will the Lord Advocate meet me and affected families to make sure that we never get the issue wrong again?
I understand entirely what Ms Lennon has said and the impact that the history of the issue has had on bereaved families. I would be happy to meet and discuss the issue at significant length with Ms Lennon and those who have been profoundly affected, as she rightly described.
The success of the toxicology improvement plan has meant that pathologists have received delayed toxicology reports alongside toxicology reports from more recent cases. A significant number of final post-mortem reports have therefore been received by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service this year. That is set against a background of an increase of 40 per cent on the previous year’s figure for the number of deaths that are being reported to the Crown, with a resultant significant increase in the number of post-mortem examinations requiring to be instructed.
Lord Advocate, I have to cut you short. I know that you have offered to meet Ms Lennon; I am sure that you can pick the issue up then.
The Faculty of Advocates has said that
“delayed instruction of post-mortems is a direct result of a dearth of forensic pathologists”.
Does the Lord Advocate agree with that assessment, and if so, what is being done about it?
The delay in the provision of toxicology services related to the fact that the University of Glasgow toxicology department was no longer capable of producing the necessary toxicology reports. In 2019, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service began experiencing significant delays in production of the reports, and the university indicated that it no longer wished to undertake the contract. Subsequently, there was a reduction in the number of staff available within the university to produce reports, although a toxicology improvement plan was put in place with the university that has directly targeted the backlog of cases.
Since the beginning of 2021, there has been no backlog in toxicology reports being provided to pathologists, who then need to conduct their final pathology analyses and reports. The difficulties arose because of the delay in provision of forensic services in the University of Glasgow, which had a knock-on effect. I do not understand the position to be as it has been described by Mr Greene and as reported by the Faculty of Advocates.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to implement a bairns’ hoose, or Barnahus, model for children and vulnerable witnesses in criminal proceedings. (S6O-00238)
Last week, I announced a £2 million funding initiative to support the roll-out of the new Scottish child interview model, which protects children and reduces the stress associated with recounting their experiences. That is an important step towards creating the foundations of our bairns’ hoose vision in Scotland, which we are committed to delivering by the end of the parliamentary session.
On 14 September, we published “Bairns’ Hoose – Scottish Barnahaus: vision, values and approach”, setting out in broad terms our vision of how the bairns’ hoose should be implemented in Scotland, the values that should underpin the model and the approach to its practical implementation. The vision has been welcomed by Children 1st and others, and our next steps will be to establish a national governance group to oversee the delivery of the bairns’ hoose in Scotland and to bring forward standards for it. Further plans will be published by the end of 2021.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that response and his reference to the governance group. Will the governance group look at ensuring that children and young people who are involved in sexual abuse cases, for instance, will be prioritised through the system? Will there be scope for adult survivors of such crimes to access the facilities when cases of historical abuse are brought forward, even though they are adults and might not be vulnerable other than in terms of the crimes that have been committed against them?
Bairns’ hooses will be available to all children in Scotland who have been victims of, or witnesses to, abuse or violence—including sexual abuse, to which Fulton MacGregor referred.
An interagency referral discussion is the start of the formal process of information sharing, assessment, analysis and decision-making, following reported concern about abuse or neglect of a child or young person up to the age of 18 years. It will be the role of the designated police, social work and health staff who are involved in those discussions to consider what action will be necessary and in the child’s best interests.
A referral to the bairns’ hoose will be one of the options that could be considered at an IRD. The professionals who will be involved in IRD discussions will decide whether that is appropriate and will prioritise the services that are provided by a bairns’ hoose, based on their judgment of the individual needs of the child and the concern that is under investigation.
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to statistics showing that the number of cybercrimes recorded has nearly doubled in the last year. (S6O-00239)
We believe that the figure likely reflects the growing adoption of digital technologies in Scottish society, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. It is not unique to Scotland, and similar trends have emerged in England and Wales, where an increase in fraud has been linked to pandemic-related behavioural changes such as working from home and increased online shopping.
The Scottish Government is responding to the increased cyber threat through “The Strategic Framework for a Cyber Resilient Scotland”. Work is under way to share threat intelligence and mitigation measures, raise cyber-risk awareness and deliver education and training. Earlier this year, the Government founded the CyberScotland Partnership, which includes Police Scotland and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre as founding partners.
It has to be recognised that efforts to raise awareness might in themselves be a factor in the increased reporting of cybercrime, although that is difficult to quantify. Within and outwith the partnership, the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the National Cyber Security Centre will work together to protect people and organisations from cybercriminals.
As the cabinet secretary indicated, the increase in cybercrime is largely driven by a rise in online fraud. Given the impact that online fraud can have on vulnerable people, in particular, we are calling for harsher punishments for those who target the vulnerable. Will the cabinet secretary back those measures to tackle the serious increase in online fraud against vulnerable people?
I have said before to members throughout the chamber that we will listen to any sensible proposals that might help us to deal with—in this case—rising crime. Of all the different areas, cybercrime had the biggest increase over the recorded crime period that we last reported on, so I am happy to listen to any proposals from Dean Lockhart, if he wants to write to me with fuller details.
It is worth saying that the bulk of the responsibility for online activity rests with the UK Government, but we have to do our bit as well, and we are doing that with training, through the cyber-resilience partnerships that we mentioned. Earlier today, we addressed the issue in the serious organised crime task force that has been established. It will be the main focus of that group’s next meeting, so we are taking the matter seriously. I am happy to listen to any suggestions.
I will take a couple of brief supplementary questions.
In the most recent Scottish Government figures—for 2020-21—cybercrime accounted for an estimated one in three sexual crimes. In the past decade, the levels of most types of crime have fallen, but sexual crimes have risen by 78 per cent. Will the cabinet secretary set out the measures that the Scottish Government is planning to protect vulnerable people—especially women and girls—from the increasing risk of cybercrime of a sexual nature?
Pauline McNeill is right to point to the concerns in that area, and I have mentioned some of the things that we are doing. In relation to young people, through our cyber strategy, we have been working with Police Scotland on the keeping people safe in a digital world initiative, which seeks to allocate resources where they can best meet the demands of the public, communities and business, but with a focus on vulnerable people.
We are committed to investing in Police Scotland’s officers and staff to ensure that the right skills are in the right place in the organisation. Pauline McNeill is right to say that we are not at that place yet, so there is more work to be done on that—not just in Police Scotland but in the other agencies throughout the UK. People attack their victims with vigour and ingenuity, and we must use the same level of commitment to defend people’s interests—not least the vulnerable people Pauline McNeill mentioned.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his responses to the questions so far. Will he say a little more about what the Scottish Government is doing to raise awareness among the Scottish public about cybercrime and the damage that it can do, not only to the vulnerable people Pauline McNeill mentioned but more generally across all our communities?
That work is done mainly through a number of partners, especially in relation to public awareness. One of the groups that has been doing that for many years is the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, which was based in my constituency. We use all the agencies in Scotland—and, where appropriate, in the UK—to get that message out. In the past, we have helped to fund courses for people on how to protect their online presence and software from potential fraud—for example, sometimes, people take over terminals and use them for nefarious purposes. Addressing a lot of that is down to awareness raising and—as I just said to Pauline McNeill—making sure that our agencies are fully equipped to deal with the challenge.
Fatal Accident Inquiries
To ask the Scottish Government what role fatal accident inquiries have in the delivery of justice in Scotland. (S6O-00240)
Fatal accident inquiries are inquisitorial judicial proceedings before sheriffs or sheriffs principal that are held in the public interest to investigate the circumstances of a death, to establish the time, place and cause of a death, and to identify reasonable precautions that might be taken to prevent deaths in similar circumstances. It is not the purpose of an FAI to establish blame or guilt in the civil or criminal sense.
Fatal accident inquiries play a significant role in exposing systematic failings and unsafe working practices and in ensuring that there are systems to safeguard and protect those who are held in legal custody. When the sheriff identifies reasonable precautions that might have avoided the accident or death, defects in any system of work that led or contributed to the accident or death, or any other fact that is relevant to the death, they might make recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening in the future.
Over two years ago, I raised in Parliament the death of Allan Marshall—a young man who died in the custody of the state in March 2015. His death was the subject of a fatal accident inquiry and was highlighted once again just yesterday, following the publication of the important new report “Nothing to See Here?”.
The fatal accident inquiry concluded that Allan’s death was “entirely preventable”, and it made 13 recommendations, all to the Scottish Prison Service. However, three of those recommendations have been rejected, including the recommendation to disallow the use of feet as a control and restraint technique—that is, prison officers kicking and stamping on prisoners, which we witnessed in Allan’s case.
I spoke to Allan’s family yesterday, and they do not understand why that recommendation continues to be rejected. Will the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans instruct the Scottish Prison Service today to reconsider its decision to ignore that recommendation? Will he, in due course, come back to Parliament to give a considered response to this week’s University of Glasgow report?
I would point out that the Scottish Government has no role in the outcome of an FAI. However, Richard Leonard rightly raises the situation in which recommendations are made but are not accepted by, for example, a public agency or other organisation. In response to his point, I undertake to look into the case to see what action, if any, has been taken by the Scottish Prison Service and to discuss it with him further. At that point, if he remains unsatisfied, we can consider how to take matters forward.
The research that Richard Leonard referred to reveals severe problems, but at least deaths in custody are automatically subject to an FAI. What does the cabinet secretary say to families who suffer the deaths of relatives in non-custodial settings and have to fight for an FAI? Is he satisfied with that scope?
Yes—I think that the current system of FAIs, whereby the duty to make the decision lies with the Lord Advocate, is the right one. I am not aware of anybody else having made sustained proposals for an alternative system. The matter was discussed at length with the previous Justice Committee. It looked at the issues, including the time that some FAIs take, but it did not come forward with an alternative proposal. The current system has major benefits—although they are not all advertised in the chamber—not least that the Lord Advocate’s role in criminal investigations is joined up with the FAI system.
The current process is the right one, but that is not to say that we are complacent. The Government and, I am sure, the Crown Office will always look to make improvements. Improvements have already been made, further improvements are being made and we will continue to improve the system.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it supports veterans, and what official statistics it records to monitor this. (S6O-00241)
Each year since 2017, the Scottish Government has given Parliament an annual update on our support for veterans and the armed forces community. We will do so again in November this year.
The member will be aware that, as part of our response to the United Kingdom-wide strategy for our veterans, the Scottish Government committed to improving the collection, use and analysis of veterans data. In 2022, Scotland’s census will for the first time include a question on previous service in the UK armed forces. Analysis of that data will support a programme of work to better identify and support the veterans community in Scotland.
The collection of data through the census will be important. As a result of that, the UK Government has recently announced that it will for the first time collect statistics on veteran suicides. That move has been welcomed by the many charities and families who have long campaigned for more transparency on the issue. Will the Scottish Government confirm that it will consider doing likewise? What is the timescale for that?
That is an interesting point. Over many years, I have asked the UK Government to provide more data, including crucial service leaver data. With a week’s notice to the Scottish Government, the UK Government has only just announced that it will do so.
We want to undertake some of the analysis that the UK Government will now undertake, particularly in relation to veterans who have died after leaving the service and the reasons for those deaths. We will work with National Records of Scotland, whose procedures differ from those of the Office for National Statistics, to get the same output of information and analysis of that information. I just wish that it could have happened many years ago.
As the cabinet secretary will appreciate, the few remaining Korean war veterans are very elderly, and they decided to hold their last ever memorial service at the Korean war memorial in Bathgate, in my constituency, last month. Will the cabinet secretary send his best wishes to the remaining Korean war veterans and the newly established trust, which has agreed to take over the distinctive Korean war memorial—it is the only one in the country—and the garden?
A very brief response, cabinet secretary.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to pass on my best wishes to the remaining veterans of the Korean war and to pay tribute to all those who served in the conflict. I would wish to say more, but we do not seem to have the time. The member might not be aware that I intend in the coming weeks to visit the memorial, which she knows so well. I will get in touch with her about that.
Police Estate (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support Police Scotland in its upkeep of the police estate. (S6O-00242)
Although the allocation of resources, including those for the police estate, is for the Scottish Police Authority and the chief constable to determine, we have committed to protecting the police resource budget in real terms in every year of the current parliamentary session, as we did in the previous session. Scottish Government funding for the SPA in 2021-22 increased by £75.5 million, which brings the annual policing budget to more than £1.3 billion. In relation to on-going investment in its estate, Police Scotland will continue to ensure that, in all cases, the primary focus of its approach is on the health and safety of all officers, staff and the public.
In 2019, I raised in the chamber the Scottish Police Federation’s concerns about the poor state of Oban police station, which it described as
“by far and away the worst police station they have ever encountered”.
I understand that, in December 2020, Police Scotland ordered a feasibility study to look into new premises for Oban’s hard-working police. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on that? Will he commit the Government to providing any additional funds that are needed to ensure that our police in Oban and elsewhere in Scotland have safe and modern premises from which to operate, given the dire state of our crumbling police estate?
I am happy to get in touch with those that are responsible—Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority—on the issue that the member has raised. On the general point about funding, I just detailed the increased budgets that we have made available, which—incidentally—provide £15 million more than the Conservatives proposed at budget time.
In case the member had not noticed, it is also true to say that we have just gone through a decade of austerity. Furthermore, it would be easier if Police Scotland was not facing an additional £11 million cost because of the United Kingdom Government’s national insurance increase, as Mr Greene found out when he asked a question at committee this morning. Such things must be paid for, and they squeeze other resources. It would be good if Donald Cameron recognised that.
Finance and the Economy
Again, if members wish to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button, or enter R in the chat function during the relevant question.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle the reported increase in underemployment. (S6O-00243)
Underemployment can affect workers who are unable to secure work that matches their skills and qualifications. The Scottish Government’s future skills action plan sets out our approach to addressing challenges such as skills underutilisation. That includes providing workers with access to upskilling and retraining opportunities to meet their needs and circumstances, while delivering a skills system that understands and reflects the needs of employers.
Workers can also face underemployment due to a lack of working hours to meet their financial needs. Although employment law is, of course, reserved, we have in Scotland, via the fair work agenda, introduced the living hours employer accreditation scheme. The scheme’s implementation began in August.
According to the annual population survey, which was published last week, underemployment has increased in 22 local authority areas, and as many as 219,100 people are underemployed across Scotland. The city of Edinburgh faces one of the largest increases across the year.
Underutilisation in our labour market will stop Scotland’s economic recovery. Underemployment normally rises in recessions, because part-time work is second best for people who want full-time work during such times. How many full-time work opportunities is the Government creating from its national transition training fund?
The Government has in place a number of initiatives at the moment, including the national transition training fund, to support training and employment opportunities. Of course, given the impact of Covid, many different dynamics are at play in the Scottish economy.
Statistics from the annual population survey show that the underemployment rate in Scotland—the proportion of people in employment who would prefer to work more hours—is estimated at 8.5 per cent for the period up to March 2021, so the member is right to highlight that that is one dynamic that is at play in the Scottish economy. That is why the accreditation for living hours is so important and why, in the past few weeks, it has been introduced in Scotland. It will ensure that people get a decent number of hours to earn a decent income.
We also continue to support the roll-out of the real living wage in Scotland, to ensure that people get a decent level of salary and wage for their work. A bigger proportion of people in Scotland receive a real living wage than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, so we are making progress, although there is some way to go. The issues that the member raises are very important and are at the heart of our thinking.
The United Kingdom Government’s decision to end the furlough scheme will have a substantial impact on many low-paid workers, and it is forcing many households into financial insecurity. Does the minister agree with me that that decision should be reversed urgently?
Yes, and that is a point well made. The Scottish Government’s policy continues to be that the UK Government should make appropriate support available and not end supports through the furlough, because it is still a very anxious time for many employers in particular sectors, and they might well require on-going support. At the end of July, 160,500 jobs in Scotland were still supported by the furlough scheme, and many are today as well. That is why the Scottish Government says to the UK Government, “Please make sure that you do not cut off that vital support.”
Glasgow Life (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will respond to the calls being made by trade unions and activist groups and allocate an additional £17 million in funding this year to support the local authority services currently managed by Glasgow Life. (S6O-00244)
The Scottish Government does not underestimate the severe impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the arts and cultural sector in Glasgow, which is hugely important to the wider city economy and Scotland’s cultural life.
Councils are autonomous bodies that are responsible for managing their own day-to-day business. They must deliver services as effectively as possible. It is for locally elected representatives to make decisions on how best to use their resources to deliver services to their local communities. How that is done is a matter for each council.
Glasgow City Council will receive a total funding package from the Scottish Government of almost £1.5 billion in 2021-22 to support the provision of local services, which includes an extra £29.8 million to support vital day-to-day services; that is a 2.2 per cent increase over 2020-21. Glasgow City Council has already been allocated an additional £221.7 million to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown through the local government settlement, over and above its regular grant payments.
Of course, the pandemic has had an impact, but let us look at the preparedness of the situation as the pandemic hit. Over the past decade as a whole, Glasgow Life’s block grant from Glasgow City Council has been cut by 8 per cent, while the Scottish Government has cut Glasgow City Council’s budget by over 10 per cent. Clearly there are interdependencies. For the leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, to continue to claim—
—that the proposed venue closures come as a result of Covid is disingenuous at best. Will the Scottish Government please get a grip on the situation, provide local authorities with the funding that they need and stop taking Glaswegians for fools?
As I made reference to in my original answer, it is for local authorities to decide how they allocate their funding. We have given a fair settlement to local government over the past 10 years—10 years of austerity that was inflicted on us by Westminster.
The point that I would put to the member is very simple. As he is aware, health is becoming an increasing part of the budget, and it has priority. If he wishes to see increased resourcing for local government, it is incumbent on him and his colleagues to identify where that resource should come from.
Bill Kidd has a brief supplementary question.
Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on the funding that has been made available to support the culture sector in Glasgow during the pandemic?
And a brief response, minister.
The Scottish Government has supported organisations and individuals in Glasgow during the pandemic with more than £18 million through Creative Scotland’s culture organisations and venues recovery fund and other Covid-tagged funding programmes. I would be happy to provide more details on that to the member in writing.
Public Procurement (Sustainability)
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to promote sustainable public procurement. (S6O-00245)
The Scottish Government is committed to using public procurement to help achieve wider economic, social and environmental outcomes. It has formed the national climate and procurement forum to ensure that public procurement is contributing to our ambition of becoming a net zero economy.
We have mandated sustainable procurement through policy and legislation. We promote widespread application of it through the sustainable procurement tools platform, which provides a one-stop shop for guidance, e-learning and case studies. This year, we added a revised introduction to sustainable procurement e-learning module and a climate literacy e-learning module, which has been widely used and is mandatory for buyers in several organisations, including the Scottish Government.
Third sector involvement in sustainable procurement is supported through the Scottish Government’s multisupplier framework that is reserved for supported businesses. However, the framework is limited in its scope, with only a handful of suppliers covering a limited number of commodity areas, which means that the vast majority of Scotland’s third sector organisations that are defined as supported businesses under Scotland’s Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 are excluded. Will the minister commit to review the scope of the framework and look at ways in which it could be extended ahead of the next retendering of the framework agreement?
As the member is well aware, supported businesses are hugely important and a great area of focus across all the work in procurement. I undertake to have a look at the issue that the member raises to see what else can be done—on top of all the other work that we have undertaken—specifically on that particular framework to extend the scope for supported businesses to bid for work.
Inverclyde (Development and Inward Investment)
To ask the Scottish Government what work it has undertaken with Inverclyde Council to encourage business development and inward investment into Inverclyde. (S6O-00246)
We are working closely with Inverclyde Council and other local partners to ensure that Inverclyde is rightly seen as an attractive location for businesses to invest and grow. The Scottish Government is providing £500 million through the Glasgow city region deal, which will support a number of projects—at Inchgreen, Ocean Terminal and Inverkip—that will significantly enhance the region’s ability to attract new investment and business.
In addition to a share of the place-based investment programme over the next five years, Inverclyde Council has been awarded a further £2.9 million from the regeneration capital grant fund to support three local projects. Our commitment to the economic wellbeing of Inverclyde is further demonstrated through the significant support that is given to key industrial projects, such as the £13.7 million package of major inward investment support that was provided to Diodes, which was delivered through Scottish Enterprise. The work that is under way at Ferguson Marine will equip the yard to compete for new orders and contracts in future, thereby retaining vital jobs and skills for Inverclyde.
The minister will be aware of the high levels of deprivation in parts of Inverclyde and of the historical and on-going population decline. I am aware that local authorities can submit a specific business case to the Scottish Government for additional funding outwith the local government settlement. Can the minister confirm whether such a proposal has been forthcoming from Inverclyde Council? If not, what resources, in addition to those that the minister has touched on, is the Scottish Government currently allocating to Inverclyde to tackle deprivation and population decline?
As I stated in my previous answer, we are working closely with Inverclyde Council and other local partners on a range of opportunities for additional funding to be made available through city region deals, the place-based investment programme and regeneration capital grant funds, to name but a few. As I mentioned, funding has been allocated and work is already under way in projects across Inverclyde. With the project at Inchgreen, the full business case is due later this year. When ready, that will require approval by the Glasgow city region deal cabinet, in accordance with the existing deal governance arrangements.
Employment Gap (Monitoring)
To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the decision to remove the cohesion target from the national performance framework, how it is monitoring whether the employment gap is narrowing between the best and worst performing areas. (S6O-00247)
The Scottish Government regularly carries out analysis of the labour market for local authorities areas. On 29 September 2021, the annual national statistics publication “Scotland’s Labour Market: People, Places and Regions” was published. It contains up-to-date employment rate estimates for local authorities, among other measures, for April 2020 to March 2021. Between January to December 2017 and January to December 2020, the gap between the combined employment rate for the three best-performing local authorities and the combined employment rate for the three worst-performing local authorities reduced. There was a gap of 11.8 percentage points in 2020, which was down from 16 percentage points in 2019.
Regional policy was a welcome feature of the recovery strategy that was unveiled yesterday, but the reality is that, for years, the Scottish Government has been erasing regional equality from its economic frameworks. People in the west of Scotland are living with historical inequalities. Our region contains areas with the highest unemployment and the greatest levels of deprivation in Scotland. Targets requiring action on regional inequality can drive change, so does the minister agree that there is a case for setting clear, new and ambitious targets to close the employment gap and make the west of Scotland’s economy fairer?
I take a great interest in regional policy. It is difficult for the member to say that we have not been implementing regional policy, given that we have agreed more than £1.9 billion of funding for city region and regional growth deals across Scotland. Regional partners anticipate that that will support more than 80,000 jobs and attract more than £1 billion of additional investment across Scotland’s cities and regions.
Regional policy is very important. The Government is looking at Scotland’s economic transformation over the next 10 years. I am sure that the advisory council is looking at the role of regional policy, and we look forward to its deliberations.
The point that I have raised is important, given Boris Johnson’s reference today to levelling up across the United Kingdom. So far, he has refused to involve the Scottish Government, to any meaningful degree, in decisions on how the funds will be spent and invested in Scotland’s regions in relation to regional policy and levelling up, so I am sure that the member will want to support us in ensuring that we can help to shape how the funding is invested in Scotland.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am still a member of Aberdeen City Council.
Aberdeen City Council’s Conservative-Labour Administration has launched Abz Works, which will help people into much-needed jobs, training and education. Given that the initiative is funded directly by the council, without any Scottish Government support, will the minister confirm that this excellent example of local authority proactivity will be used as an exemplar for Scottish local authorities in the national performance framework?
The member highlights one of many impressive projects that local authorities are implementing to support employment in their local communities. The Scottish Government is supporting the no one left behind policy, which will devolve further funding to local employment partnerships in each local authority area in Scotland. I am keen to learn more about the example that the member highlights, and I will ensure that I do so in the near future.
Question 6 is from Gillian Martin, who joins us remotely.
North-east Economy (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government how it will support the north-east economy, in light of the impact of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00248)
I call Kate Forbes, who also joins us remotely.
The Scottish Government acknowledges that the north-east economy faces multiple challenges. We are actively supporting economic recovery in the north-east by providing close to £100 million to support businesses and additional funding of almost £150 million to councils to help to achieve that. We are also investing £157 million in the Aberdeen city region and Moray growth deals and more than £14 million to develop the skills that are needed to support regional economic recovery. We are actively supporting economic recovery in the north-east.
Infrastructure will play an important part in the north-east’s economic recovery, particularly the provision of better connectivity. What transport and digital infrastructure is being funded or being considered for Aberdeenshire? How are gaps in connectivity being addressed?
I agree that investment in transport and infrastructure is critical, and I know how active the member is in representing her constituency interests in that regard. We are investing £5 million in digital connectivity infrastructure through the Aberdeen city region deal, which will help to deliver digital projects that will connect about 200 public sector and national health service sites across Aberdeen city. The site package commitment includes £10 million for digital projects in addition to the reaching 100 per cent programme.
On transport, we have recently awarded the north-east £12 million from our bus partnership fund to enable work to begin on the development of the Aberdeen rapid transit system. The funding will also deliver significant bus priority in the city centre and on key routes into the city.
I could mention a number of other investments, but I will leave it there. I would be happy to write to the member, detailing all the investments that we are making in digital and other infrastructure.
Digital Economy and Digital Single Market
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with the United Kingdom Government regarding the digital economy and digital single market. (S6O-00249)
On 28 September, I provided the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport with a detailed response to the UK Government’s plans for digital regulation—a key feature of the digital economy—and called for continued alignment with European Union data protection standards and improved co-ordination across the digital regulatory landscape.
In terms of the digital single market, we continue to engage with the UK Government to minimise the risk of losing data adequacy and to maintain the free flow of data between the UK and the EU digital single market for Scottish businesses.
The cabinet secretary is aware that the digital single market is worth €400 billion per year across Europe and that Scotland’s businesses are denied access to that market with no thought or guidance from the UK Government about what it intends to replace it with. Will the cabinet secretary outline how she sees the situation and how Scotland can continue to be part of that crucial market for Scottish business?
The member is right in saying that, as a result of the UK leaving the EU and its digital single market, Scottish businesses have lost substantial membership advantages, which the Scottish Government has to mitigate. We are, for example, reducing the compliance burden for businesses in accessing the digital single market by taking steps to reduce regulatory barriers and local presence or representation requirements. We are also engaging with the UK Government to ensure that the on-going positive data adequacy decisions with the EU remain a priority, with no agreement to provisions and trade agreements with non-EU countries that could put those decisions at risk. In addition, we are building on co-operation with the EU on emerging technologies and ensuring that Scotland retains policy authority for future regulation relating to digital developments.
Areas of Multiple Deprivation (Impact of United Kingdom Government Policy)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of UK Government policies on the local economies of areas of high multiple deprivation. (S6O-00250)
A Scottish Government analysis highlights the harmful impact of UK Government welfare reforms on the most vulnerable people in Scotland. A report from June indicates that key policies of the UK Government, including its callous decision to cut universal credit by £20 per week as of today, will reduce social security expenditure in Scotland by £586 million by 2023-24. The situation is particularly worrying as the cost of food and energy increases, the furlough scheme ends and national insurance contributions are hiked. The UK Government’s senseless and harmful decision to remove that lifeline while the cost of living rises will hinder communities across Scotland and demonstrates why full powers over social security should be held in the Scottish Parliament instead.
Along with colleagues from around the chamber, I attended a demonstration outside the UK Government building in East Market Street this morning, to campaign against the taking away of the £20 weekly universal credit uplift. Does the minister join me in calling on the UK Government to reverse its decision, which damages the living standards of those who are affected, including on the basis that the inevitable lowering of local expenditure will damage small businesses in deprived areas in Scotland?
I whole-heartedly join Bill Kidd in doing so. The Scottish Government’s analysis shows that the cut will result in an extra 60,000 people in Scotland, including 20,000 children, being pushed into poverty and hundreds of thousands of others into hardship. The reality is, as the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland has said, that the cut will
“effectively knock out the benefits that the Scottish child payment brings into families”.
That is why there is, unsurprisingly, such broad political opposition to the cut—except, of course, among the Scottish Conservatives, who were happy to defend that callous cut last week in the chamber.