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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 6, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 06 December 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World AIDS Day, Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Business Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Illegal Scallop Dredging

To ask the Scottish Government what further action it will take to stop illegal scallop dredging. (S5O-02659)

I assure all members that the Scottish Government takes the enforcement of fisheries management and protection of the marine environment seriously. Marine Scotland deploys a wide range of assets to achieve that, including ships, aircraft and officers around the coast to ensure high levels of compliance with fisheries and environmental regulations.

Looking ahead, I am clear that new and innovative technologies being employed on vessels will improve fisheries management and, importantly, protect the marine environment. That is why, at the inshore fisheries conference in Inverness on 5 October, I announced a £1.5 million investment in fishing vessel tracking and monitoring technology.

I hope that the cabinet secretary agrees that incidents in Lochcarron last year and in Gairloch, and another alleged incident in the Firth of Lorn special area of conservation, as reported by the BBC today, are a serious cause for concern. I welcome what the cabinet secretary says about monitoring, but does he agree that we need robust monitoring of the entire scallop dredging fleet, not just the smaller vessels?

I agree that we need to be vigilant and to take seriously—as, indeed, we do—the obligations to manage and protect the marine environment. I understand that vessels over 12m long already have tracking and monitoring technology. The £1.5 million investment is for work to be done in partnership with the fishing industry so that all vessels can be covered by tracking to show where they are and, by monitoring, to show what is taking place on the vessels. That is in everybody’s interests, including those of the vessels’ owners. Scallop dredgers support 400 jobs at sea and a further 300 full-time-equivalent jobs, which are vital to many rural communities, so it is important that fishing for scallops is sustainable and legal.

I am afraid that I cannot comment on matters that are subject to an investigation, as Claudia Beamish well understands.

New-build Social Housing (Sprinkler Systems)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its position on legislating to ensure that all new-build social housing has working sprinkler systems installed. (S5O-02660)

The Scottish Government confirmed on 20 June that, during the current parliamentary session, it will take forward David Stewart’s proposal for a member’s bill requiring new-build social housing to be fitted with automatic fire-suppression systems. Consideration is on-going to scope a legislative timeline for how best to take the bill forward. I have met Mr Stewart to discuss the issue, and I would be happy to meet him again in the coming weeks to update him personally.

The minister will be well aware that, in Scotland, there has never been a case of multiple fire deaths where a working sprinkler has been in place. As the Parliament will know, my member’s bill proposal received support from five political parties and nearly 60 members. I also acknowledge the support of the minister in the process. Will legislation be in place so that new social housing will have that crucial safety technology installed by 2021?

I am grateful to David Stewart for his co-operation throughout our discussions. The commitment that I gave him at that time was to ensure that we would have legislation in place so that new-build properties in the social sector beyond 2021 will be fitted with automatic fire-suppression systems. As I said, I am more than happy to meet David Stewart to update him on where we are and how we will deal with that timeline.

As the minister will know, sprinkler systems can save lives, and so can defibrillators. Does the minister agree that consideration should be given to having defibrillators in new housing developments at appropriate locations, notwithstanding some of the challenges that will need to be overcome?

Briefly, minister, as the question is on a slightly unrelated topic.

It is, slightly.

The Scottish Government supports all efforts to make defibrillators more accessible. The Scottish Ambulance Service is developing a register of defibrillators and we encourage people to ensure that defibs are on that register. If Mr McMillan wants to write to me or colleagues about his proposal, I will be happy to look at it.

NHS Borders (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met NHS Borders. (S5O-02661)

Ministers and Scottish Government officials regularly meet the leadership of all national health service boards, including NHS Borders. The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing chaired NHS Borders’s annual review on Friday 16 November.

As the cabinet secretary will know, NHS Borders was escalated to stage 4 last week. It cannot make enough savings to balance the books, and there is a significant risk to delivery, quality, financial performance and safety as a result. For several years, I have been urging the Scottish National Party to take action to address staff recruitment issues, the cancellation of operations and the failure to meet key targets. Will the cabinet secretary listen to those concerns, and is she confident that NHS Borders will see an improvement?

The board was moved further on the escalation ladder to assist it with its financial planning. When boards are asked to make efficiency savings, they keep that money to contribute to redesign and improvement of services. We need NHS Borders, like other health boards, to look at how it can make best use of the increase in resources that it has received to redesign and improve its services. I am confident that, with that escalation and increased support from the Scottish Government, NHS Borders will produce a workable financial plan, which is what we need it to do, that it will make best use of the increased resources that we have given it—which we give to other boards—and that it will successfully make further use of the waiting times improvement plan, which has already begun to see action being taken across our health service.

Illegal Puppy Trade

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its work to tackle the illegal puppy trade. (S5O-02662)

Under a commitment in our programme for government, we are currently investing £300,000 to work with charities and enforcement agencies on a communications campaign on the risks of buying puppies that are advertised online and on rehoming dogs that have been supplied from abroad. I reinforce that message, which is pretty much, “If there is no mum and no paperwork, walk away.” Cinema and media advertisements will run until 8 December 2018, and the effectiveness of the campaign in reducing public demand for illegally traded puppies will then be evaluated. I thank Emma Harper for all the work that she has done on the issue, which she has continued to raise, highlight and campaign on.

I am pleased to hear the minister acknowledge my work on tackling the illegal puppy trade over the past two years. Has the Scottish Government carried out any assessment of the impact of Brexit on the illegal puppy trade, particularly through the port of Cairnryan in my South Scotland region?

As all members across the chamber will be acutely aware, Brexit is potentially only a few months away and there is still much uncertainty as to what that is going to mean right across our society and in different businesses and organisations including our ports. However, I can say that the Scottish Government will continue to be vigilant when it comes to any illegal activity, including the illegal puppy trade, and we will continue in all our work and efforts to tackle that trade.

There is an ever-increasing awareness of the link between puppy farming and organised crime. Instead of having £20,000-worth of drugs in their van, a criminal today may have £20,000-worth of puppies. A drug seizure of that kind could result in a lengthy jail sentence, but a puppy seizure would not. Will the minister advise whether the Government plans to increase the length of jail sentences and/or expedite court hearings in cases of animal welfare, particularly in instances of puppy breeding and smuggling?

A number of measures were announced as part of the programme for government this year, and I confirm that such measures will be actively considered.

The minister will be aware that my consultation on responsible dog ownership for the proposed responsible breeding and ownership of dogs (Scotland) bill has concluded. Will the minister meet me to discuss how the proposed bill may curtail the cruel activities of puppy factory farms?

Absolutely, and I am more than happy to meet the member to discuss the proposed bill.

General Practitioner Practices (Occupational Therapists)

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the pilots at Burnbank and Newarthill GP practices, whether it plans to promote greater use of occupational therapists within other GP practices to improve earlier intervention and preventative care. (S5O-02663)

A critical element of the new GP contract is the requirement for a shift in the way that primary care services are delivered through enhanced and expanded multidisciplinary care teams, which are made up of a variety of professionals who each contribute their unique skills to the delivery of person-centred care and improving outcomes for individuals and local communities. There is no defined structure for a multidisciplinary team, but a significant degree of flexibility is encouraged to ensure that the services that are provided meet local needs. That is central to the work of health and social care partnerships.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that the Lanarkshire GPs’ pilot deployment of occupational therapists in primary care has reduced GP visits by up to 72 per cent and has resulted in patients who have mental health issues being seen by the occupational therapist immediately, with more severe cases being referred to the appropriate service? In view of that result, does the Scottish Government have plans to promote the recruitment of more occupational therapists?

I am aware of the success of the initiative in Lanarkshire. The idea of cluster-based GP practices working together to encourage the spread of good practice across the work that they undertake forms part of the GP contracts. The work will be tailored to identify the measures that are best suited to meeting the needs of the local population. In some instances, that will involve increasing physiotherapy. In all GP practices, it will involve pharmacology, and we have already recruited to ensure that 50 per cent of our GP practices have access to that service. The work that is carried out will inform what we need to do for the purpose of workforce planning. We have taken steps in relation to physiotherapy training, pharmacist training and occupational therapists. We will continue to review what emerges from the identification of local need and demand, in order to ensure that our workforce planning can match that as well as possible.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd and what was discussed. (S5O-02664)

The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands met the interim chair and managing director of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd on 27 November 2018. They discussed a number of issues, including HIAL’s “Air Traffic Management 2030 Strategy” and HIAL’s wider strategy work.

Inverness airport has received a very poor environmental compliance rating from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for four years in a row. Air traffic controllers may be about to strike over pay and plans to centralise air traffic control operations. HIAL has repeatedly failed to consult remote, rural and island communities, which it is supposed to serve on ministers’ behalf, on important issues, including the introduction of parking charges. What action is the cabinet secretary taking to ensure that HIAL lives up to its obligations, and does he have full confidence in the ability of HIAL’s management team?

The member has raised a number of different issues. I am aware that HIAL is trying to take action in relation to the environmental impact issues at Inverness airport. One of those issues is the need for better rail links to the airport, which we are looking to make progress on in control period 6 of the rail investment programme.

On potential industrial action by staff, the member will be aware that HIAL is taking forward a programme of work to modernise the air traffic control system to reflect the increasingly complex regulatory structure in which HIAL operates. HIAL will continue to engage with the trade unions and staff in the service in order to take those plans forward constructively to ensure that the air traffic control system that it operates across all its airports is fit for purpose in the new regulatory regime.

There are three supplementary questions.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd introduced car-parking charges at Sumburgh airport on Saturday without any consultation, impact assessment or, indeed, reference to the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018. Can he explain what public transport links exist between Sumburgh and Lerwick, which is 25 miles away, and what links will be introduced following that car-parking measure?

HIAL has a responsibility to ensure that it can balance its budget and it must look at opportunities to do that, which is part of the reason why the car-parking charges were introduced. We have encouraged, and will continue to encourage, HIAL to engage with the local authority to look at how it can improve public transport links to the airport.

Centralising air traffic control is damaging to both the workers and the local economy. Surely the technology could be used to provide resilience in HIAL’s airports, rather than centralising the jobs in Inverness. If the service can be provided in Inverness for islands such as Benbecula, surely it can be provided in Benbecula for Inverness. Has the policy of centralising air traffic control been island proofed? Has an economic impact assessment been done? Will the cabinet secretary reverse that damaging decision?

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd has to meet the increasingly regulatory nature of air traffic control, and it must look at the challenges that that creates to ensure that it can meet the necessary safety standards at all its airports on our islands and the mainland. That is why it needs to invest in the right technology to deliver the service within the new regulatory regime that it will face. The plan is at an early stage and HIAL will continue to engage with all parties with an interest in the matter. However, as I am sure that the member will recognise, it is important that HIAL’s air traffic control system is safe and fit for purpose and that it meets the needs of the new regulatory regime that is being applied to air traffic control.

The cabinet secretary will perhaps be aware that, due to the range of discounts and differential charges that exist, airport charges are occasionally higher for flights to the islands. Indeed, at airports such as Inverness airport, it can be the case that the island flights are the only ones that pay the full charge. Does the cabinet secretary believe that that is fair? What assessment has his Government made of the impact of those higher charges on fares to our islands?

We provide a range of discount provisions in the domestic flight network in Scotland because we recognise the lifeline nature of some airport links. We are reviewing some aspects of that, but we intend to continue to prioritise those areas where there is a need for discounts to be provided for lifeline services.

Litter (West Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will fund local authorities in the West Scotland region to help ensure that communities are kept clean and tidy. (S5O-02665)

Under section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, local authorities have a duty to keep roads clean and land within their authority clear of litter. That is funded as part of the 2018-19 local government finance settlement of £10.7 billion. It is then for local authorities to decide their own spending priorities, taking account of their statutory obligations.

Between 2007 and 2011, when the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work was leader of Renfrewshire Council, he cut more than 300 staff in environmental services. From 2011 until March this year, an additional 80 members of staff who cleaned the communities of Renfrewshire were axed. Does the minister agree that if those cuts of around one in six staff had not been made, it would not be down to volunteers, who selflessly give up their time, to clean up after Scottish National Party cuts?

This year, the Scottish Government has protected local government budgets by reversing the real-terms reductions to Scotland’s resource budget and by providing a real-terms increase in both capital and revenue funding for local government. I imagine that the leader of Renfrewshire Council had a long and difficult job in cleaning up the previous administration’s mess.

The Scottish Government does not just leave it up to local government to tackle littering. We have published our litter-free Scotland strategy, which is a five-year plan for how to reduce litter. We have other policies, such as the introduction of charging for single-use carrier bags—plastic bags are a highly visible form of litter—to support local authorities to deal with the blight of littering.