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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 8, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 08 November 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Motion of Remembrance, Care Homes (South Lanarkshire), Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Inclusive Education, Business Motion, Prescription (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Prescription (Scotland) Bill, Code of Conduct (Breach), Decision Time, Point of Order


General Question Time

ScotRail (Fife Circle)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with ScotRail regarding operations on the Fife circle. (S5O-02529)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity met Dominic Booth of Abellio UK last week. Only this week, he met Alex Hynes, the managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, and his team to discuss the recent rail performance issues across the country. At those meetings, the cabinet secretary stressed that performance must improve immediately to the standards expected by customers and the Scottish Government.

Our officials at Transport Scotland meet ScotRail regularly to monitor and challenge the performance issues and the delivery of the many initiatives that will support performance improvement.

I stress, for the avoidance of doubt, that my constituents are absolutely fed up with ScotRail. Those in Aberdour and Dalgety Bay face constant delays, cancellations and overcrowding, as do those in Inverkeithing and North Queensferry. Those in Cardenden have to put up with the total farce of not knowing whether their train will stop in Cardenden or at some random station that they have not chosen to go to. That is unacceptable.

I ask the minister to ensure that the cabinet secretary arranges to meet ScotRail again as a matter of urgency to make certain that, as far as the Fife circle is concerned, ScotRail gets the situation back on track.

The cabinet secretary and I appreciate how frustrating disruption is for passengers. The problems that Annabelle Ewing has highlighted in number of localities in her constituency are of great concern—I can understand how concerned her constituents are.

As I mentioned, the cabinet secretary met Alex Hynes earlier this week. He also met the chief executive of Network Rail, Andrew Haines, several weeks ago and reiterated the need for a robust and resilient plan to deliver improvements across the network and provide customers with a reliable railway. I am happy to confirm that the cabinet secretary will meet Annabelle Ewing to discuss the matter, and he will also arrange a meeting with the ScotRail managing director.

Many constituents in the Fife circle have to endure the crush hour, as it is known—overcrowding and a lack of crews and stock, together with cancellations, as has been indicated. Promises have been broken time and again. What reassurances can the minister give to constituents that that intolerable situation will be addressed as a matter of urgency?

We take these matters very seriously, and Alexander Stewart is right to raise them on behalf of constituents. Significant investment is now being made by the ScotRail Alliance to further improve the resilience of the rail network, including the Fife circle, through the recommendations from the Donovan independent performance review that was commissioned earlier this year. The recommendations will help to deal with infrastructure, fleet and operational reliability issues across the country.

Additionally, the industry is delivering performance interventions outwith the Donovan recommendations. Those are more immediate interventions. Some examples across Fife include Inverkeithing to Thornton, where five sets of clamp lock points have been renewed, and Inverkeithing to Ladybank, where remote condition monitoring has been installed on clamp lock points at 10 locations. Class 158 trains and engine radiator failures are being addressed, and the clutches on the trains are also being looked at. Those are all matters that have contributed to the poor performance in that area.

As I said to Annabelle Ewing, we take those matters very seriously and continue to engage with the operators.

There are four stations on the Fife circle that are not fully accessible to all users. Fife Council local communities are hoping to apply for the access for all fund, but in recent years that has funded the refurbishment of only one or two stations a year. At this rate, it will be a generation before we have a fully accessible rail network in Scotland.

Will the minister inform me of any other sources of funding available for that work? Will the Scottish Government consider an accelerated programme to make the Fife circle and the rest of the rail network in Scotland accessible for all users?

I recognise the importance of those issues. We all want to see proper access for all users of our rail network and ensure that any barriers to use of our trains are addressed.

I make a commitment that, once I have had a discussion with the cabinet secretary, we will write to Mr Ruskell with the details of potential funding options that he has asked for, to make sure that we are identifying all the potential funding opportunities that could address local difficulties. I hope that that will be helpful.

National Health Service (Integration Joint Board Structure)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to review the NHS integration joint board structure. (S5O-02530)

The integration joint board structure is a partnership between NHS Scotland and local authorities. The review of progress that began in May 2018 is led jointly by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and is expected to conclude in January 2019, when its findings will be presented to the ministerial strategic group for health and community care.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that helpful answer. Does she accept that the significant challenges that are faced by the administration of integrated health and social care demand very clear lines of responsibility and accountability, and that the current structures are not sufficiently robust in that respect?

I am grateful to Ms Smith for raising the issue. We see a mixed picture across the country in our integration joint boards. Although I do not completely agree with Ms Smith on the matter, I am aware that what she describes is the case in some areas. The remit of the review includes looking at finance, governance and commissioning arrangements, delivery and improving outcomes. It is my intention that part of the review’s focus will be on precisely the matters that she has outlined—lines of responsibility and accountability. I expect to see the review’s assessment of that across all the integration joint boards, and any recommendations that it might have for us and COSLA on how we can improve and provide greater clarity on those matters.

Domestic Violence (Maryhill and Springburn) (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports victims of domestic violence in the Maryhill and Springburn constituency. (S5O-02531)

We are introducing new legislation and investing record levels of funding for front-line services to help to support victims and survivors of domestic abuse. We fund a range of services in Glasgow, including Glasgow East Women’s Aid, which supports women and children, and the ASSIST—advocacy, support, safety, information services together—service.

We are also working to improve the response of justice services and have provided funding to reduce court waiting times for domestic abuse cases and expand the innovative Caledonian programme, which is a domestic abuse perpetrator programme in Glasgow. Finally, in 2019 we will commence the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which creates a specific offence of domestic abuse. That will cover not just physical abuse, but other forms of psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.

The Scottish Women’s Aid report “Change, Justice, Fairness: Why should we have to move everywhere and everything because of him?” draws on the experience of women subjected to domestic and sexual abuse. It recommends making it easier for women to stay in their own home when practical and moving the perpetrator instead, as well as other related recommendations for when women are forced to flee domestic abuse. How is the Scottish Government giving serious and significant consideration to those very important matters? In this context, I note the positive engagement of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations on the issue when I met it and Scottish Women’s Aid.

I agree with Bob Doris that housing and domestic abuse is a very serious issue, and I am well aware of the publication that he mentioned, which is based on research that was carried out in Fife. The programme for government committed us to consulting on further protections for people at risk of domestic abuse, through new protective orders that could be used to keep victims of domestic abuse safe by banning perpetrators from their homes. The consultation on that is currently being prepared and will include looking at whether changes are needed to the current system of exclusion orders. I urge colleagues across the chamber, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and others to take part in that consultation and raise these issues as part of that process.

Borderlands Growth Deal

To ask the Scottish Government when it will respond to the proposals from the five cross-border local authorities regarding a borderlands growth deal. (S5O-02532)

The cabinet secretary met the leaders of the borderlands authorities on 30 October to discuss their ambitions for a growth deal. He reiterated our strong support for a borderlands deal and his desire to see it taken forward. They agreed to meet again to discuss the next steps when the cabinet secretary has had a chance to consider the detail of the proposal.

The five local authorities that are involved in the borderlands deal deserve great credit for developing their growth deal proposals. They were given a deadline of September to submit those proposals, with the promise that they would be considered as part of the United Kingdom budget, but, sadly, the budget did not propose any funding.

I urge the Scottish Government not to make the same mistake. I ask it to consider those plans and set out a clear funding commitment in the budget when it is published in December.

The member will appreciate that the budget is a matter for the finance secretary, who is sitting in front of me. In order to avoid any death stares from Mr Mackay, I will not give any figures today. [Laughter.] I got one anyway—it was a nice smile.

We understand the need for local partners to have as much certainty as early as possible. We continue to push the UK Government not only to deal with the Borderlands but to cover 100 per cent of Scotland with growth deals. I assure the member that the cabinet secretary will push hard, as he has done with the Tay cities deal, to get a decision from the UK ministers.

David Mundell has been talking up a borderlands growth deal for years but the UK budget failed to deliver any money at all. Does the minister agree that that reflects very badly on Mr Mundell’s influence within the UK cabinet? Can he assure us that he will demand that any money that is allocated by the Scottish Government is matched in full by the UK Government?

Please limit your comments to the latter part of the question, minister.

I declare an interest as a representative of South Scotland.

We have made clear our commitment to securing a deal for the borderlands. We are working hard to deliver that deal as quickly as possible and recognise the need to invest in the right things that support inclusive growth. Colin Smyth and Joan McAlpine are right to be keen to see this progress, but it is incumbent on the UK Government to demonstrate that it is able to match our commitment to move forward at pace.

There have been encouraging signals from individual UK ministers about delivering 100 per cent coverage of Scotland with growth deals, but, as yet, a formal UK Government commitment to that goal has not been forthcoming. As I said, the Scottish Government wants to achieve 100 per cent coverage, and we stand ready to make that happen along with UK Government colleagues.

I was pleased that the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned the borderlands growth deal in his autumn statement. This week I met borderlands champion John Stevenson MP to discuss the deal. Many people in my constituency believe that there should be more cross-border co-operation, especially concerning infrastructure projects such as the extension of the Borders railway. Does the minister agree that this growth deal provides a perfect opportunity to develop cross-border connectivity, and will he ensure that the Scottish Government works with the UK Government to deliver for the people of the borderlands?

I certainly welcome the latter-day conversion of the Conservatives to supporting the extension of the Borders railway. [Interruption.] Members across this chamber will remember opposition from those on the Conservative benches in past times.

On the point that Rachael Hamilton makes about cross-border collaboration, of course we recognise that there are opportunities to collaborate on developing a growth deal for the borderlands and we want to see a successful outcome for local authorities on both sides of the border. It takes commitment from both sides to achieve that. The Scottish Government has made clear its commitment to all previous growth deals and has committed to match UK Government funding, so it would be good if Rachael Hamilton and her colleagues could press UK ministers to come forward with commitments on funding as soon as possible.

South-west Transport Study

To ask the Scottish Government when the findings of the south-west transport study will be published. (S5O-02533)

The study is well under way. Over 100 representatives from a wide range of stakeholder groups were invited to workshops held in Stranraer, Dumfries and Maybole in October and early November. The workshops were well attended and positive feedback was received from participants. Furthermore, a public online survey has also been highly successful and received over 2,500 responses to date.

Analytical work is on-going and it is anticipated that the findings will be published in early 2019, with the emerging outcomes forming part of the evidence base for the second strategic transport projects review.

My understanding is that that will feed into the national transport study, so it will be three years before people in the south-west find out whether they are getting the investment in the infrastructure that they deserve.

There is a welcome £3 billion investment in dualling the A9, but that is as against a projected £30 million investment in the Maybole bypass. Given that the A75 and the A77 link the busiest port in Scotland at Cairnryan with the rest of Scotland and south of the border, is it not about time that the south-west’s infrastructure needs were met after years of neglect?

I was fortunate the other night to watch on television a members’ business debate, led by Emma Harper, on upgrades to road infrastructure in the south-west, in which Michael Matheson made the point that we are dealing with a legacy of decades of underinvestment in south-west Scotland. This Government has made significant investment, and I hope that Mr Whittle will be open enough to admit that the progress on the Dunragit bypass has helped constituents in the south-west of Scotland. [Interruption.] I would appreciate it if I could answer, rather than listen to Mr Whittle wittering away on the Conservative benches. The cabinet secretary and I are trying to address the strategic transport needs of the south-west of Scotland. In this week’s debate, the cabinet secretary made very clear the Government’s commitment to continuing to invest in the south-west, including the A77 and A75, and I hope that he will continue to engage with Mr Whittle on that.

Universal Credit (Roll-out)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on next month’s completion of the roll-out of the universal credit full service. (S5O-02534)

We have consistently called for a halt to the roll-out of universal credit and will continue to do so. Universal credit is pushing people into poverty, rent arrears and hardship. It is simply not fit for purpose, yet the United Kingdom Government has refused to listen to the overwhelming evidence that it must be stopped until its fundamental flaws are fixed. It is unacceptable that the UK Government should carry on with universal credit, regardless of the clear evidence of the damage that it is causing to people and communities across the country.

The new roll-out is due to start in Drumchapel in my Glasgow Anniesland constituency, on 5 December. As families will be caught up in this debacle just three weeks before Christmas, at one of the coldest times of the year, knowing that they will have to deal with a minimum of five weeks’ delay in receiving their first payment, does the minister agree that that imposition beggars the Prime Minister’s statement at her party conference that “austerity is over”?

Mr Kidd will not be surprised that I agree with him. Austerity is clearly not over for most of the people who are affected by universal credit. The UK Government has missed an opportunity to use its budget to address the numerous fundamental flaws with universal credit, including the minimum five week delay in receiving a first payment. The budget has also missed an opportunity to lift the benefit freeze with immediate effect and uprate benefits in line with inflation. The benefit freeze has led to a reduction in spending of around £190 million this year, which will increase to around £370 million in 2020-21. For all the people who will be impacted by those cuts, austerity is still in their homes. This opportunity to make a much-needed change to universal credit—it was so desperately needed—has been so desperately wasted by the UK Government.

Homelessness (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to alleviate homelessness in Glasgow. (S5O-02535)

Ending homelessness and rough sleeping is a priority for this Government. We have allocated £23.5 million for rapid rehousing and housing first, to support people who are sleeping rough or living in temporary accommodation into settled accommodation first, then to tailor any support that they need. Up to £6.5 million of that supports our partnership with Social Bite, which is working with the Corra Foundation, Glasgow Homelessness Network and partners to deliver housing first pathfinders in five cities, including Glasgow. The homelessness prevention and strategy group is leading work to publish an ending homelessness together action plan by the end of this year.

The cabinet secretary must be all too aware that the Scottish Government has cut the level of funding to groups that tackle homelessness in Glasgow by more than £100,000 since 2007. She must also be aware that Glasgow’s overall budget has been cut massively in real terms since 2007, and I know that she knows that rough sleeping—the most visible evidence of homelessness—has increased significantly in Glasgow. What representation has she made to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy, and Fair Work to ensure that he will provide fair funding for Glasgow to allow it to tackle the causes and consequences of homelessness and all that that means for far too many people in communities across Glasgow.

The £50 million that we have allocated to end homelessness shows our complete and utter commitment to end homelessness together, as does our work with partners across the third sector and local authorities to make sure that we transform housing policy and eradicate homelessness and prevent the unnecessary consequences that arise as a result of it.

I have regular dialogue and communications with the finance secretary about that, but the member should recognise that £50 million is a significant amount of investment in tackling the issue. We will continue to work hard and deliver on the impacts and the recommendations of the homeless and rough sleeping action group—HARSAG—to make a transformative difference to the people of Glasgow and the people of Scotland.

That concludes general questions. Before we turn to First Minister’s questions, members may wish to join me in welcoming to the gallery the Ambassador of the Republic of Austria to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Michael Zimmerman.