Meeting date: Thursday, September 8, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 08 September 2016
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Living Wage in Scottish Football, Named Person Policy, Refugees, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Living Wage in Scottish Football
- Named Person Policy
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
General Question Time
Council Tax Changes (European Charter of Local Self-Government Obligations)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it considers that its proposals on changes to council tax comply with its treaty obligations under the European Charter of Local Self-Government. (S5O-00111)
Our reforms to council tax will protect household incomes, enable more support for those on low incomes and provide additional investment in our schools. We have every right to legislate on council tax matters, and it remains the case that local authorities will keep every penny of council tax raised. We consider that the reforms will have no impact on our continuing compliance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
I thank the cabinet secretary for the answer, but it seems to be a little confusing. I draw members’ attention to article 9 of the charter, which states:
“Local authorities shall be entitled, within national economic policy, to adequate financial resources of their own, of which they may dispose freely within the framework of their powers.”
It goes on:
“Part at least of the financial resources of local authorities shall derive from local taxes and charges of which ... they have the power to determine the rate.”
Overall, the Scottish Government’s proposals to reintroduce rate capping and to determine centrally how councils will spend any extra revenue that is gained from the changes to the multiplier seem clearly to conflict with those objectives. That is at a time when the Government has arbitrarily dismissed the report of the commission on local tax reform without even a debate in the chamber. Are we really to take seriously the claim that the Scottish Government’s proposals comply with the spirit as well as the letter of the charter?
Mr Harvie asked whether our proposals are legally compliant and I answered yes—they are in keeping with the spirit of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, in that local authorities will, as I said, keep every penny of council tax that they raise. I look forward to on-going engagement with local government through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the other authorities on the way forward in our budget approach. I also offer to have further discussions with Mr Harvie on options for the budget ahead. However, the Parliament and the Government have every right to legislate on council tax. If we did not, why would we be laying regulations to legislate? We will take forward the manifesto on which we were elected.
Trussell Trust (50th Food Bank in Scotland)
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the Trussell Trust opening its 50th food bank in Scotland. (S5O-00112)
It is unacceptable that in 21st century Scotland there are people who cannot afford to feed themselves and their families. According to emergency food providers, the main drivers of food-bank use are benefit delays and sanctions that are imposed on people by the United Kingdom Government, as well as unemployment and low income.
We are committed to doing all that we can with the powers that we have to lessen the effects of those UK policies, and to ensure that everyone in Scotland can access affordable nutritious food. We want to eradicate the need for food banks from Scotland. Our £1 million per annum fair food fund supports community-based responses that help to reduce reliance on emergency food provision.
Universal credit is being rolled out in Inverclyde in the next couple of months. Does the cabinet secretary have any advice for volunteers at my local food bank as they brace themselves for increased requests for assistance due to the UK Government’s continued attack on the most vulnerable people in our society?
The Scottish Government has long made clear its concerns about the implementation of universal credit. In practical terms, we already know that the built-in delays to the universal credit system can cause long waits for the first payment, which then increases pressure on volunteers at food banks and other community food providers. Claimants can be advised to apply to the Department for Work and Pensions for a short-term benefit advance to help to tide them over, and they can also apply for a crisis grant from the Scottish welfare fund. However, there is no doubt that the basic problem is the design of universal credit, in the first place. The Scottish Government continues to call on the UK Government to address those issues before full roll-out of universal credit goes ahead.
International Development (Scottish Government Contribution)
To ask the Scottish Government how it contributes to international development. (S5O-00113)
As a good global citizen, Scotland works to help to tackle global poverty and inequality. The Scottish Government has contributed to international development through its international development fund, which has supported a range of projects in our priority countries for the past 11 years. This Government has committed to increasing our support for international development from £9 million per annum to £10 million from next year, as well as to establishing a new £1 million per annum humanitarian emergencies fund. That will enable us to do even more to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and to continue to respond to the increasing number of international humanitarian crises.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. I was also interested to note that, through its climate justice fund, the Scottish Government is contributing to the United Kingdom Government’s targets.
The Independent newspaper reported a few days ago that official UK figures show that Britain is now the second-biggest arms dealer in the world, with most of the weapons fuelling deadly conflicts in the middle east. Does the cabinet secretary agree with me that it is ironic on the one hand to fund international development and on the other to profit from the immorality of the arms trade, the results of which we see every day on our television screens and in our news bulletins? Will she, on behalf of Scotland, raise that matter with the UK Government?
On international development, we can agree that some of the real causes of poverty are conflicts across the world and therefore that early resolution of conflicts is an important part of what we can try to achieve. Clearly, many of the issues—as Linda Fabiani pointed out—are reserved to the UK Government. However, peace-process support, including our programme to support women in resolving conflict situations—Syrian women in particular—is something that we, as a Government, can do.
However, Linda Fabiani is right to identify issues around the conflict between arms trade relations on the one hand and official development assistance and the commitment to international development on the other.
One of the key tenets and principles of our policy, as set out in our manifesto, is a “Do no harm” approach. We will certainly make sure that in our meetings with Priti Patel and the UK Government we make it clear that we expect them, too, to adhere to that principle.
I thank the cabinet secretary for indicating that there has been an increase in Scotland’s international development fund. It is something that the Conservatives pledged to do and I am glad to see that it has happened. Are any further developments being proposed for the fund?
I am glad to have support from the Conservatives for international development. At the start of this parliamentary term, I will say that one of the hallmarks of this Parliament has been the cross-party support for all our work on international development and, in particular, our relationship with Malawi. I hope that that will continue.
We are committed to peace and justice at home and abroad, and we are committed to tackling inequalities. We can showcase that by what we do in our policies at home and internationally. Our climate justice fund is world leading and adding it to our contribution has, as Linda Fabiani pointed out, meant that from January to December last year, we contributed £11 million. That will be counted as part of the UK Government’s ODA target of 0.7 per cent.
New National Park (Galloway)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made on the creation of new national parks and what consideration it has given to creating one in Galloway. (S5O-00114)
There are no current plans to designate new national parks in Scotland. The creation of new national parks requires considerable planning and the support of all local authorities in the area, and it carries cost implications. For those reasons, we believe that it is essential to focus support on our two existing national parks to ensure that they continue their valuable contribution to tourism and sustainable rural economic development.
I thank the cabinet secretary for her response. Is she aware of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks report, “Unfinished Business”, which was produced in conjunction with the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland? The report has identified seven potential areas for consideration as future national parks and flags up the very considerable economic benefit of national parks to rural areas.
If the Scottish Government is serious about rural regeneration, how can it rule out the possibility of further national parks, which do not need to be the same size or scale or to have the same regulations as the two current parks?
I do not think that I said anything to indicate that we are ruling out national parks in the future. I said
“There are no current plans to designate new national parks”,
and there are very good reasons for that.
First, I am not aware that there are before us any specific proposals from local communities in respect of the creation of national parks. Of course, I am aware of the broader studies that are being done. However, the member should be aware that when Parliament—through the Public Petitions Committee—looked closely at the matter in 2015, it ultimately concluded that there was insufficient support and a lack of consensus among stakeholders. Such consensus is absolutely essential for national parks to work.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that there is a need for us to look again at how we can promote south-west Scotland as a visitor destination—in particular for wildlife and green tourism—including options for future landscape designations? Does she agree that an assessment of the potential costs and benefits of any proposal would need to be undertaken?
I do, and I endorse the latter part of Emma Harper’s question. The south-west already hosts a number of designated areas. There is the Galloway forest park, which is a long-standing park, and there is the Galloway biosphere, to which—interestingly enough—I gave the go-ahead when I was Minister for the Environment. There are also national scenic areas in the south-west.
There are other options. People have pursued options for regional parks, and a geopark is being considered for the south-west. There are a number of options for designation, each of which require would different things to bring them into being. I encourage all communities to consider the variety of options to look for which one might be most appropriate for their area.
Monklands Hospital (Trauma and In-patient Orthopaedic Services)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will take action to prevent NHS Lanarkshire from closing trauma and in-patient orthopaedic services at Monklands hospital. (S5O-00115)
NHS Lanarkshire, supported by the Academy of Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland, has been clear that the interim changes are necessary in order to ensure the safety, quality and resilience of local services.
I have been assured that the interim plans will not impact materially on the provision of accident and emergency services at any of the three main hospitals in Lanarkshire. The A and E department at Monklands sees around 66,000 patients per year, and the board estimates that 98 per cent of patients will be unaffected by the interim changes. That means that the number of individuals who will be treated at either Hairmyres or Wishaw general as a result of the interim changes should amount to only three or four patient referrals each day. I expect the health board to keep the actual activity information under close review.
The health board has given assurances that it is committed to retaining three district general hospitals with A and E departments as part of its longer-term plans, which are now subject to public consultation. I encourage all stakeholders, including Richard Leonard, to play a full part in that consultation.
It is customary for members to thank the cabinet secretary for their answer, but I sit in this Parliament in a representative capacity, and the people of Lanarkshire will not thank the cabinet secretary for her answer.
People rightly expect genuine consultation before decisions that affect them are taken. The one section of the document “Achieving Excellence”—which I am holding up now, and to which the cabinet secretary referred—on which there is no public consultation is the withdrawal of trauma and in-patient orthopaedic services from Monklands next month. That goes to the very heart of how our democracy works. Will the cabinet secretary call the decision in—yes or no?
As I said, NHS Lanarkshire’s interim plans are about ensuring clinical safety and the quality of care, as supported by clinical experts at the Academy of Royal Colleges and Faculties. They will help to address the issues—of which I am sure the local member is aware—around recruitment, retention and the training of key clinical staff. In addition, as I said in my initial answer, the longer-term service plans are currently the subject of a formal public consultation, which will run until 1 November.
I point out to Richard Leonard that it was this Government that saved the A and E department at Monklands from closure in 2007. Since then, we have seen more than half a million attendances at that department: half a million people who would not have been able to attend that hospital if Mr Leonard’s party had had its way back in 2007. I am sure that local people will remember the reality of that.
Will the minister confirm, for the avoidance of doubt, that the guarantee that the Scottish National Party gave 10 years ago, when the Labour Party voted to close down the Monklands A and E department, still stands and that, as long as there is an SNP Government, there will be A and E services at Monklands?
Absolutely—I can guarantee that there will be A and E departments at all three hospitals in Lanarkshire.
I can also give the member the reassurance that there has been significant investment in Monklands hospital over recent years, including in the provision of a new theatre, a critical care unit upgrade, a new pathology laboratory and, of course, the £22 million Lanarkshire Beatson radiotherapy centre. Further investment is planned, including in improved facilities for day surgery and an immediate assessment unit adjacent to the A and E department, as well as in a single centre of excellence for cancer services in Lanarkshire, which will be consolidated at the hospital.
In addition, I am sure that the member will be aware that we have welcomed NHS Lanarkshire’s preparation of a business case for the redevelopment of the hospital or for a new-build replacement. I think that that shows that this Government is absolutely committed to the future of Monklands hospital.
The cabinet secretary may not be aware that, this week in his local paper, her party colleague Alex Neil promised the people of Lanarkshire that the trauma and in-patient orthopaedic services at Monklands would not be closed under the SNP. Has she given him that assurance?
I am happy to meet Alex Neil or any other local members to discuss any of their issues around this development.
NHS Lanarkshire has been very clear about the reasons for the interim plans: they are about clinical safety and the quality of care. We cannot ignore the expertise of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland or the concerns that it has raised.
What is clear, as I have said in all my answers today, is that NHS Lanarkshire and this Government remain absolutely committed to having three A and E departments in Lanarkshire. The configuration of those departments and the way in which they work together towards the final aim of having a single trauma site and a single elective site is extremely important. This is about the provision of sustainable, safe services, and I am sure that all local members will want to support that aim.
First, just for the record, I point out that the Labour leader of North Lanarkshire Council, Jim Logue, has given unqualified support to NHS Lanarkshire’s proposal to transfer trauma and orthopaedic services to the other two hospitals. Not for the first time, the Labour Party speaks with more than one voice when it suits it.
Secondly, as Mr Simpson is a former Sun reporter, let me be accurate about what I said.
I hope that there will not be a “Thirdly”, Mr Neil.
I put it to the cabinet secretary that my point is that, when it comes to the designation of a permanent site, the new Monklands hospital that is planned by the Scottish Government for 2023 would be a logical place to put the single elective centre for orthopaedics.
I thank Alex Neil for his question—[Laughter]—and for putting on record the very interesting views of Jim Logue.
I think that there would be a very strong case for the single elective site for orthopaedics to be at the new or refurbished Monklands hospital. There is obviously a lot of work to be done in the lead-up to that decision, which is why the issue is open to consultation at the moment. I am sure that Alex Neil and all the other local members will want to input into that consultation and make known very strongly to the board their views about where that site should be.
Highland Games (Support)
At this time, I would like to inform the chamber that I have been appointed as parliamentary liaison officer to the First Minister.
To ask the Scottish Government what support it gives to Highland games. (S5O-00116)
The Scottish Government is committed to protecting the Highland games as a tradition that is enjoyed by many communities across Scotland. Our national agency for sport, sportscotland, also shares that commitment and recognises the Scottish Highland Games Association as the governing body of traditional Highland games in Scotland.
During the recess, I attended a number of games and gatherings in my constituency. There are concerns from some that it is difficult to put on games, especially smaller ones that rely on volunteers, given the amount of bureaucracy that is associated with that. Is there any way that the Scottish Government can help to lessen the amount of bureaucracy that is associated with Highland games or any support that it can offer organisers to make the process easier?
I am happy to meet Gail Ross to discuss the issue and look at the specifics and details of what she describes. I know that she has been working hard on the issue along with local games in her constituency.
Games rely heavily on pools of dedicated volunteers, and we are all appreciative of that commitment and their work to keep this proud tradition alive. In addition to meeting the member, I will task my officials with discussing the issues that she has raised with the Scottish Highland Games Association.