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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 08 May 2019

Agenda: Deposit Return Scheme, Portfolio Question Time, Air Departure Tax, Support for Midwives, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Nation of Life-savers (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)


Portfolio Question Time

Scottish Welfare Fund

To ask the Scottish Government how it allocates funding from the Scottish welfare fund to local authorities. (S5O-03188)

Scottish welfare fund funding is allocated to local authorities in accordance with a formula that is agreed by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The formula is based on the income domain of the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, so that local authorities with more people on low incomes get higher allocations, ensuring that the Scottish welfare fund is focused on the most deprived areas.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that there are different overspends and underspends of the Scottish welfare fund across local authorities. Does the Scottish Government take that into account—or does it believe that it should take that into account—when distributing the funding?

It is up to each local authority to manage the budget in that year for its local area. It is important that the formula basis—which is based on deprived areas—is held to and stays that way. We therefore encourage local authorities to ensure that they manage their own expenditure and use up their allocation. However, we do not take underspend into account as we move into the next financial year, because it is important that we recognise the deprived communities on which the formula is based.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Scottish Government would not have to provide any welfare support to Scottish local authorities if it was not for the savage cuts to social security that have been imposed by the United Kingdom Tory Government, which is backed by Mr Scott?

I absolutely agree with the premise of Mr Gibson’s question. The fact that we have to provide for the nearly one third of a million households in Scotland that require a Scottish welfare fund is a sad indictment of the UK Government’s record on welfare cuts. We have provided money to ensure that the Scottish welfare fund is there for people who are in crisis. However, it is a sad time when we once again have to mitigate against UK Government welfare reform.

Young Carer Grant

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the reported concerns raised by young carer groups that the current proposals for the young carer grant are unduly restrictive. (S5O-03189)

The Scottish Government is committed to co-designing the young carer grant with young carers and stakeholder organisations to ensure that the grant meets the needs of our young carers.

The draft regulations that have been passed to the Scottish Commission on Social Security for scrutiny have been amended in line with the feedback that was received through the consultation; user research; the young carer grant working group; and the young carer panels.

The Greens particularly welcome the decision to allow young carers to be recognised for caring for more than one person. However, the current proposals still appear to extend to only one young carer, which the Carers Trust Scotland says is unfair; when two young carers provide support, one would appear to miss out. Will the cabinet secretary take action to address the issue?

The Government has moved on a number of issues as we have developed the regulations and as we go through the different processes. As I said in my original answer to Alison Johnstone, the regulations are with the commission. I look forward to the commission’s feedback on the first set of regulations that it will consider in due course.

The cabinet secretary knows that carers want restrictions on studying to be ended, support for caring for multiple people, and changes to the poverty-inducing earnings cliff edge. Will she ensure that, when the carers strategic policy statement is launched next month, the consultation that flows from it will not be about whether the Government should introduce the long-called-for changes but about how carers want those policies to develop, ready for when the carers allowance is fully transferred?

The announcements and the proposals that will come forward, which Mark Griffin mentioned, will not be specifically to do with social security; they will be on wider carers issues, and the development will not be led by me. However, it is important that we consider social security in the wider context of what is happening for carers in Scotland. The Government is determined to ensure that we support carers in social security and other aspects as we move through that process. The developments that Mark Griffin referred to will be an important way to ensure that we receive feedback from carers and stakeholder organisations on what they wish to see in the longer term.

Older People (Assistance to Stay at Home)

To ask the Scottish Government how it assists older people to stay in their homes for as long as possible. (S5O-03190)

We are absolutely committed to supporting older people to live as independently as possible at home or in a homely setting. This year, we are increasing our package of investment in social care and integration to exceed £700 million. That demonstrates the Government’s commitment to support older people and disabled people, and recognises the vital role of unpaid carers.

Last month, the Government published “A Fairer Scotland for Older People: A Framework for Action”, which identifies actions that will be taken to maximise the contribution of older people and remove the barriers that they face, including in the areas of housing and care, while maintaining their personal independence.

I am sure that the minister will take the opportunity to acknowledge the contribution that care and repair services play in helping older people to live independently at home for as long as possible. Does she agree that denying that service to older people, as some councils have chosen to do by withdrawing funding, is unacceptable? Will she give a commitment to review the funding mechanisms that support such services, as Care and Repair Scotland and Age Scotland have called for, so that we can ensure that they are consistent across the country?

I know that Graham Simpson is well aware of some of the innovative work that is being done in those areas, including the work with the University of Stirling and Age Scotland, and he will know that local authorities have responsibility for care and repair services. No direct issues have been raised with me on them. Those issues would be raised with my housing colleagues, and I am happy to ensure that they are aware of the concerns that Graham Simpson has raised.

Gender Recognition (Legislation)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the 2016 Scottish National Party manifesto commitment, whether it will legislate in the current parliamentary session to bring gender recognition law up to international best practice. (S5O-03191)

The Government is strongly committed to maintaining and, indeed, advancing trans rights and equality. Like all the parties in the Parliament, we want to reform the gender recognition law. Our 2018-19 programme for government reaffirmed that commitment to legislation on gender recognition.

The majority of the 15,500 responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation on gender recognition supported the proposals. However, we recognise that some respondents expressed sincerely held concerns about reform. We will take account of those concerns as we reach our decisions on the next steps, and we will announce our response to the consultation in due course.

I am glad that the cabinet secretary reminded members that all five political parties in the Parliament stood on manifesto commitments to continue to advance that legislation. In the Equality Network’s hustings in advance of the 2016 election, every political party leader gave a clear personal commitment to see that legislation introduced. Does the cabinet secretary recognise that a much more coherent campaign against trans rights and equality has developed with the delay since the consultation, which has included those who seek to portray trans people as a threat in a way that is reminiscent of previous campaigns against lesbian, gay and bisexual equality? Does she recognise that there is impatience to see the legislation introduced? Can she give us a timetable?

I appreciate that stakeholder groups and individuals across Scotland are looking to the Parliament to ensure that there is change. There is an imperative on all of us to ensure that the debate is carried out in the right manner and with respect and that different opinions are recognised, and that that is done on the foundation of trans inclusivity and ensuring that trans rights are respected along with other rights in our community.

Trans people are not a threat; they never have been, and they never will be. However, it is important that we listen to people who have concerns, to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to reassure them and work through their concerns. That is why I will ensure that I go through a due diligence process of looking at the consultation responses, to understand the concerns that are out there and work with people to find solutions. That is what I ask of everybody in the chamber and beyond. If we are committed to ensuring that everyone in Scotland is respected and has a place in our society, we all have an obligation to come forward with solutions about how we do that in a respectful manner.

I remind Patrick Harvie that one of the groups that is most concerned about the proposals is lesbians. Nothing in the SNP 2016 manifesto said that males with male bodies, including male genitals, should be able to declare themselves female without any medical or psychological assessment or safeguarding.

Trans people are not a threat; it is men who are a threat because men commit 97 per cent of sexual crimes. What evidence does the Government have that males who self-declare as female no longer offend at male rates?

I welcome Joan McAlpine’s reaffirmation that trans people are not a threat. The important point that is picked up is that there is a perceived threat from men who will use the debate around trans rights. It is very important that we recognise that—I recognised it in a blog that I put out on the subject—and that we tackle that fear that women have of men and ensure that we deal with it. We must also ensure that we develop trans rights in a respectful manner.

The Government is absolutely determined to move forward with gender recognition laws, but it is important that we do so in the right manner. We must ensure that the process that we have at the moment changes and that we listen to people’s concerns around how we are trying to change it. We must also ensure that people recognise that the Government is proposing something that would involve a solemn declaration that would be made in front of a notary public, and that there would be serious consequences if it was ever broken.

It is important that we ensure that self-declaration is made in front of a notary public and that criminal offences will be available for someone to be charged if they abuse the system. If we can work to ensure that the process that we introduce recognises concerns, but also ensure that we are delivering a system of gender recognition that is fit for purpose in view of what is going on in the international community, we can move Scotland a long way forward on an issue that it is difficult for many of us to find a solution to.

I appreciate that that was a lengthier answer on a sensitive matter, but I would like shorter answers, please, so that everybody gets in.

Benefits Claims (Removal of Back-dating)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the Department for Work and Pensions’ removal of the protected date of claim guarantees, which previously allowed councils and Citizens Advice Scotland to back-date benefits claims of their clients to the start of the application process rather than the final submission date. (S5O-03192)

That is yet another area in which there are great concerns over universal credit and its effect on people in Scotland.

There are many reasons why someone might not be able to make a claim from the day that they are entitled to do so—for example, they may not have digital access. Therefore, it is important that the protected dates that were available are recognised by the United Kingdom Government.

The removal of the financial safeguards for some of my most vulnerable constituents is alarming and unacceptable. Glasgow City Council has estimated that each and every month 200 Glaswegians will miss out as a result.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the flaws in the universal credit system require to be fixed, not made worse at the expense of the poorest in society, including many of my constituents? Will she join me in calling for an urgent rethink of the appalling changes and for them to be scrapped altogether?

Once again, Bob Doris raises a very important point. I fully support the reasoning behind his question and his calls for action from the UK Government.

Social Security Scotland (Benefit Payments)

To ask the Scottish Government how much Social Security Scotland has paid out in benefits since the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 was passed. (S5O-03193)

The Social Security (Scotland) Bill received royal assent on 1 June 2018, with Social Security Scotland being established on 1 September 2018. The agency paid out £197 million between 1 September 2018 and 31 March 2019. The breakdown includes £158.5 million for carers allowance and £33.9 million for carers allowance supplement, which makes an investment in carers of more than £192 million. Payments of £4.4 million have been made for the best start grant pregnancy and baby payment.

The cabinet secretary mentioned the best start grant. More has been paid out for that in two months than the DWP paid out for the benefit that it replaced in a whole year. That has put money into the pockets of families with children, many of whom have been hit by the United Kingdom Government cuts. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that shows the positive difference that we are making to families throughout Scotland with our new powers over social security?

This Government wants to ensure that our children get the best start in life, and using our new social security powers to help to make that happen is a very important part of our programme.

In the first three months, more than 9,700 families received the pregnancy and baby payment. The best start grant takes provision for the first child from £500 under the sure start maternity grant up to a total of £1,100 over three payments. Families who have subsequent children, who received nothing from the UK Government, will receive up to a total of £800. That is £1,400 more than under the UK system for a two-child family in Scotland.

I call Michelle Ballantyne. Please be brief.

Last week, we heard that Social Security Scotland has spent £9.1 million on temporary and contract workers. How does the Scottish Government plan to ensure that we will have enough permanent staff to deliver the remaining 98 per cent of devolved benefits?

The use of contract staff within the programme is an important way to ensure that we have the right skills mix at the right time. There are also particular areas where it is better to use contract staff than a permanent member of Scottish Government staff because the types of skills that we require are required only for a short time in a particular part of the programme. That is why we are taking important steps to ensure that we create the right mix of permanent staff, temporary staff and contract staff, with a keen eye on the public purse.

Best Start Grant (Pregnancy and Baby Payments)

To ask the Scottish Government how many families in the Highlands and Islands have been awarded a best start grant pregnancy and baby payment since December 2018, and how many have had their applications rejected. (S5O-03194)

Social Security Scotland had made about 600 best start grant pregnancy and baby payments to families in the Highlands and Islands electoral region by the end of February 2019. In the same period, about 300 applications were denied and a small number were withdrawn.

The cabinet secretary will know that as many as one in five children is in poverty in parts of my region, yet, as she has just told us, more than 300 families had their grant applications rejected. A recent report from Social Security Scotland on the delivery of the grant has shown that staff are unclear about the scheme and are working under intense pressure, that the guidance is long winded and that the systems are not fully tested. Can the cabinet secretary give an assurance that families in my region who are entitled to a payment have got it and that any failures in the system have not led to anyone missing out?

I say to Rhoda Grant that I absolutely do not recognise her assessment of the Social Security Scotland agency or its workings. If she refers to the new insights research that is published by Social Security Scotland, she will see that it shows satisfaction rates of 98 per cent and 100 per cent for online and telephone inquiries. That proves that we have an agency that is based on dignity, fairness and respect.

Applications were denied, particularly around the new benefit, for many reasons. It could be, for example, that people were not on the low-income benefits that they have to be on in order to be eligible. We had a number of people applying for best start pregnancy and baby payments who did not live in Scotland, and we had a number of people applying whose child was not within the age range that the entitlement is actually for.

We will look seriously at why applications have been rejected in different parts of the country but I refute Rhoda Grant’s allegations that there are flaws in the Social Security Scotland system. People who apply for the grants are getting them, and it is a shame that the Scottish Labour Party cannot recognise the success of Social Security Scotland and its staff.

Childcare Expansion (Impact on Benefit Recipients)

To ask the Scottish Government what the impact will be on benefit recipients of the expansion to 1,140 hours of funded childcare. (S5O-03195)

A key driver for the expansion to 1,140 hours is the evidence that all children, especially those experiencing the most disadvantage, benefit from access to high-quality early learning and childcare. The increase in hours, and the new approach to flexibility and choice, could make it easier for families to access work, training or study.

Liz Smith may ask the quickest supplementary question ever.

What contingency measures does the Scottish Government have in place for those who are on benefits if they are going to have to pay up-front childcare fees because neither the publicly funded nurseries nor the private nurseries have spaces available?

It is important that I get the point over to Liz Smith that the Scottish Government, local authorities and private providers are on track to deliver on the commitment to 1,140 hours. I hope that she is therefore assured that that situation will not arise.

Oil and Gas (Jobs)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to protect the jobs of people employed in the North Sea oil and gas sector as the industry changes. (S5O-03196)

As highlighted in our energy strategy, Scotland’s oil and gas sector is a key component of our energy system and our economy. It can also play a positive role in supporting the global low-carbon transition. In taking forward the aims and ambitions of the strategy, Skills Development Scotland and stakeholders have been working across a number of sectoral groups to ensure alignment of skills planning and delivery. That work will enable pathways for future employment, reflecting the potential impact of challenging demographics while addressing demand, especially in areas such as digital technology, automation, and advanced manufacturing.

The minister will be aware that oil and gas support 280,000 United Kingdom jobs and workers in the energy sector, many of whom are based in the north-east and each of whom contributes an average of over £170,000 to the economy. However, Aberdeen City Council’s general revenue grant is being cut by more than £20 million and north-east councils face funding cuts of £100,000 per day. Given that context, when can we expect a fair share for north east councils?

North-east councils, like all councils across Scotland, get their fare share of the Scottish Government’s support to councils, which has increased. Councils in the north-east, as across Scotland, keep all their council tax payments and non-domestic rates receipts.

Immigration (Economic Contribution)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment the finance secretary has made of the contribution that immigration makes to Scotland’s economy. (S5O-03197)

Migration is vital to Scotland’s population growth and makes an essential contribution to future economic prosperity and delivery of public services. We know that people who come to live and work in Scotland and across the United Kingdom typically contribute more through tax revenues than they consume by way of public services. Research from Oxford Economics published last June found that people who arrived in the UK in 2016 are projected to make a total net positive contribution of £26.9 billion to the UK’s public finances over the entirety of their stay.

Last week, the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that one in 10 small businesses in Scotland is led by an immigrant entrepreneur, contributing more than £13 billion to the Scottish economy. During its recent inquiry, the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee heard from Scottish Chambers of Commerce that businesses could find themselves in the position where their route to Government support is somewhat unclear. Given the lack of—

No, I want a question. We are getting a lot of preambles and I do not like preambles.

What consideration has the Government given to whether that lack of transparency could deter immigrant entrepreneurs from starting or upscaling businesses in Scotland?

The Scottish Government has welcomed the FSB report, and Stuart McMillan MSP is hosting an FSB reception here this evening. Jamie Hepburn has engaged with the FSB on the report.

I agree that we should look at further ways of supporting entrepreneurship, business growth, and the scaling up the businesses of those migrant entrepreneurs who are building successful businesses in Scotland’s economy and contributing to our shared prosperity.

I want to push the cabinet secretary further on that, because, despite immigrant-led SMEs generating £13 billion and 107,000 jobs, they struggle—growth is erratic and export activity is poor. Is sufficient support available from Scottish Enterprise and business gateway to help immigrant-led SMEs flourish, and what more can be done?

As a member of the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, Jackie Baillie is well aware that business gateway is led by local government, but, yes, we are proactively looking at that, partly as a consequence of the committee’s inquiry. I believe that there is support from Scottish Enterprise, but I want to do more, and that is why we will engage further with the FSB and other business representative organisations to try to support those groups that, for whatever reason, feel that financial products and support have not been available. We want to address that and celebrate the economic and social contribution that migrants have made to this country.

Living Wage Accreditation

To ask the Scottish Government how it encourages employers to commit to having living wage accreditation. (S5O-03198)

Scotland has more than 1,400 living wage accredited employers which, proportionately, is over five times more than the number in the rest of the United Kingdom.

To support our ambition to be a fair work nation by 2025, we have provided £380,000 to the Poverty Alliance this year to support employers through the accreditation process and to drive the commitment to lift at least 25,000 additional workers to at least the real living wage by 2021, focusing on low-pay sectors such as hospitality, to help those most affected by low income levels.

Will the minister join me in recognising the excellent initiative of Excel Vending in East Kilbride in becoming a living wage employer to mark its 25th anniversary and thus encouraging other employers to consider that way of marking special milestones in their companies’ development?

I certainly join Linda Fabiani in congratulating that company on its 25th anniversary and recognising that it has committed to fair work practices that obviously improve staff retention and productivity. I hope that the success of that business will encourage others to follow suit.

Currency Proposals (Central Bank Reserves)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the amount of reserves required for a new central bank in the event of a separate Scottish currency. (S5O-03199)

First, our proposals are to keep the pound in the immediate term. A Scottish National Party Government will take the steps that are necessary to enable the Scottish Parliament to authorise the preparation of a Scottish currency as soon as is practicable after independence.

The sustainable growth commission, which was established by the First Minister in her capacity as SNP leader, produced a detailed report on the financial, economic and regulatory requirements necessary for the transition to an independent currency. It engaged extensively with businesses in developing its recommendations. It recommended the introduction of six tests to guide that transition, one of which is on the financial requirements of Scottish residents and businesses.

Our position is clear: until a new currency can be safely and securely established in the interests of the economy as a whole, the currency of an independent Scotland should continue to be the pound sterling.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response, but it does not sound as if the Government has done any assessment of what the level of foreign exchange reserves would need to be—so let me help him. Professor MacDonald of the University of Glasgow’s Adam Smith business school has estimated that an independent currency would require £40 billion of foreign exchange reserves in order to run a managed system. Does the finance secretary, who sets the budgets of this Parliament, understand that that means more cuts, higher borrowing and tax rises?

No, I do not accept that at all, but I am delighted that Anas Sarwar is also scenario planning for Scottish independence. That is a very welcome revelation.

The six tests have been outlined in the growth commission’s documentation. I would have thought that Anas Sarwar would welcome the fact that an economic plan on independence would be an alternative to the austerity that we have endured under the Tory Government. We have outlined the tests that we would apply as we transition to an independent country, making the right decisions for Scotland’s economy. As I have said, on independence, Scotland will keep the pound.

Are we any clearer what the transaction costs will be to Scottish businesses if we have a different currency from our largest market in the rest of the United Kingdom? [Interruption.]

I would like to hear the answers, please.

I encourage anybody with a genuine interest in how to grow Scotland’s economy to read the growth commission’s report—and the resolution that was supported at the SNP conference—which sets out how we can grow our economy and deliver a more successful society using the levers and powers of independence. The report goes through all the requirements that would have to be fulfilled to enable us to move to an independent currency if that was in the interests of the economy at the time, which we would be advised about by a Scottish central bank. That is all laid out in the growth commission documentation, which I encourage Opposition members to read.

For the sake of Anas Sarwar and other members in the chamber who have obviously not read the growth commission’s proposals in depth, will the cabinet secretary confirm—[Interruption.]

I cannot hear the question.

It is a very good question, Presiding Officer.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the tests that would guide any move to an independent currency include a sufficiency of foreign exchange and financial reserves to allow for successful currency management in a successful independent Scotland?

In the interest of brevity, because we have covered the six tests previously, I say again that they are fiscal sustainability; central bank credibility and stability of debt issuance; the financial requirements of Scottish residents and businesses; sufficiency of foreign exchange and financial reserves; a fit to trade and investment patterns; and correlation with the economic and trade cycle. Those are the tests that we would apply.

Independence would give us choice, economic powers and levers that are currently denied to us so that we could make the right decisions for Scotland’s economy. Any decision on currency would be taken by an independent Scottish Parliament. That is right—the right to choose is what the SNP seeks for Scotland.

Is it not amusing to hear those who argued vociferously against a currency union a few years ago and still argue against sterlingisation—quite rightly—now say how outrageous it would be to not continue to use the pound? Does the cabinet secretary look forward as I do to seeing those parties finally have to make a decision on which currency option they will support when Scotland votes for independence?

The only currency that Labour and the Conservatives understand is austerity, which is what we have endured as a consequence of their economic policies. I know that the Opposition does not like this, but the United Kingdom Government cannot stop an independent Scotland using the pound. We do not need its permission to do that. The retention of sterling is open to the people of Scotland, as are the choices that come with independence, which is why we want the levers of independence. We looked at the most successful small advanced economies around the globe, and the only thing that they have that we do not is independence.

I let that run because it was an important question—all of them are important, of course—but I want the rest of the questions and answers to be short and snappy.

Large Business Supplement (Central Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it expects to raise from the large business supplement in Central Scotland region in 2019-20. (S5O-03200)

Local authorities administer the non-domestic rates system, and information on revenue that is raised by the large business supplement is not currently available at constituency level. In 2019-20, we forecast that the supplement will raise £8.3 million in Falkirk and North Lanarkshire, and a further £16.5 million in South Lanarkshire, which reflects the role of the council there as the designated authority that is responsible for collecting receipts from electricity generation, transmission and distribution subjects.

In this financial year, businesses in Falkirk will pay £1.75 million more than they would if they were based in England. Does it remain the Scottish Government’s aim to implement the Barclay recommendation to reduce the large business supplement by 2020 or earlier, if that is affordable?

Falkirk will probably reflect the national trend, under which businesses in more than 90 per cent of properties in Scotland will pay a lower poundage in 2019-20 than they would in other parts of the United Kingdom. They will also benefit from the most generous rates relief scheme in the UK, which, through the small business bonus scheme, takes more than 100,000 properties out of rates altogether. It was only a few weeks ago that a Westminster committee recommended that the UK Government should adopt the Scottish Government’s unique business growth accelerator.

We accepted the Barclay review recommendations on the large business supplement. In the meantime, we are ensuring that Scotland is the best place to do business in.

Strengthening the Economy (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to further strengthen the economy of Glasgow. (S5O-03201)

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting and unlocking economic growth across Scotland. In Glasgow, our focus on delivering key infrastructure has helped to establish the city as a home for innovation and to secure new jobs, including jobs through inward investment.

We are also working in partnership with others. Our £500 million commitment to the Glasgow city region deal has empowered local and regional partners to develop a transformational programme of investment, which will help to drive inclusive economic growth for the city and across the region.

Earlier this year, Mark Johnston, who is Glasgow airport’s managing director, forecast that the airport was set to lose 1 million passengers from the levels that it had in 2016. The failure to cut air passenger duty meant that Ryanair cut many of its routes that served Glasgow. Now that the Scottish Government has performed a U-turn on its commitment to cut the duty, will it explain how that decision will do anything to support growth at Glasgow airport?

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting our airports and recognises their importance to our economy. However, Annie Wells will be aware that the air departure tax has not been introduced because of issues with the United Kingdom Government’s running of the scheme over a number of years. She will also be aware of the importance of the climate change emergency that we face and the issues that we need to address as a consequence.

Economic Growth (Update)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the most recent official statistics on Scotland’s economic growth. (S5O-03202)

The Scottish Government published the latest official statistics on Scotland’s economic growth on 1 May in the gross domestic product quarterly national accounts for quarter 4 of 2018. The accounts confirmed that the Scottish economy grew by 0.3 per cent in that quarter, which was higher than the United Kingdom rate of 0.2 per cent.

In 2018, the value of Scotland’s gross domestic product per person, including offshore oil and gas, increased to £32,800, which was higher than the UK average of £31,900. The first estimate of GDP growth for quarter 1 of 2019 will be published on 19 June.

I am delighted to hear of the strength of Scotland’s economy. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the biggest threat to that continued success is a Tory Brexit, particularly in rural areas such as the south of Scotland? The Government’s analysis showed that that area has one of the highest proportions of its workforce in sectors that will be most exposed by a no-deal Brexit.

That assessment is accurate. In particular, a no-deal Brexit threatens to create recession, business contraction, reduced exports and soaring unemployment from the current record-low level of 3.3 per cent. Any form of Brexit will damage Scotland’s economy, and a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic.

Veterans (Skills and Economic Contribution)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to capitalise on the skills of veterans returning to the labour market to benefit the Scottish economy. (S5O-03203)

The Scottish Government aspires for Scotland to be the destination of choice for those who are leaving the armed forces. We recognise the challenges that are faced by those who are undergoing resettlement and taking the next steps in their careers.

We work closely with partners to ensure that armed forces leavers are aware of the training, development and employment opportunities that are available and to improve the support that is available to veterans and their families. Skills Development Scotland is working with the career transition partnership’s RFEA services to ensure that early leavers are referred to SDS for support after discharge if they wish to take up that offer.

Several veterans who have good technical skills are being taken on by companies such as BT Openreach. Does the minister agree that the time is now right for a more concentrated effort to encourage more veterans to take up trades-based apprenticeships?

Yes. The Scottish Government and SDS recognise the challenges for those who are undergoing resettlement, and apprenticeships and skills are a key part of resettlement. It is important that all service leavers who plan to settle in Scotland are informed of apprenticeships and other skills initiatives, to ensure that they can access SDS services. SDS is working with partners, including the Scottish Government’s strategic working group, to raise awareness of what is on offer.

Maurice Corry has a keen interest in such matters. Earlier this week, I visited the Scottish veterans residence that is in my constituency in Glasgow. I am wearing the Scottish veterans tie, and I was delighted to see the huge amount of work that staff there are undertaking to focus on employment opportunities for veterans.