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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 9, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 09 January 2020

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Digital Connectivity, Portfolio Question Time, Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill: Stage 1, Decision Time


General Question Time

National Health Service (Staffing Levels)

To ask the Scottish Government what the impact might be on NHS staffing levels in Scotland from the reported drop in the number of European Union citizens applying to live and work in the UK. (S5O-03975)

Data from the Office for National Statistics reveals that European Union migration has fallen by 85,000 since the 2016 referendum.

With just under 6 per cent of our medical workforce, 5 per cent of nurses and midwives, 10 per cent of dentists and 5.5 per cent of adult social care staff coming from the EU or the European Economic Area, that decline is of significant concern.

Curtailing the free movement of EU nationals in the United Kingdom as a result of Brexit will have potentially serious consequences for the recruitment and retention of health and social care workers in Scotland.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the issue underlines the difficulty that Brexit poses in unduly causing the loss of qualified and skilled individuals from our dedicated public services workforce?

Indeed, I do. As my colleague Michael Russell said yesterday, it is important to emphasise—yet again—that it is in our interest to attract people from across the EU to visit, work, study and live in Scotland. Freedom of movement is not a burden for us but a boon, and we should not celebrate its ending.

In addition, the UK Government’s current approach on immigration will not serve Scotland well. The majority of jobs in the social care sector are likely to fall below the estimated income threshold, with current average salaries indicating that between 30 and 40 per cent of staff in those roles will earn less than that threshold. Along with the ending of EU nationals’ freedom of movement, that will damage our health and social care service at a time of anticipated additional demand. The immigration proposals from the UK Government will not assist us at all; they simply underline not only that we should not be leaving the European Union but that immigration policy should be in the hands of this Parliament.

Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. (S5O-03976)

The Scottish Government shares the frustration of regional partners in having the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal finalised.

On 19 December, following the general election, I wrote to Alister Jack, the returning Secretary of State for Scotland, urging him to agree to sign the deal on 22 January, which is the date that is being held by regional partners for signing the deal. I have yet to receive a response from Mr Jack, although my officials continue to engage in pursuit of that date.

As the cabinet secretary will be aware, as part of the heads of terms, Clackmannanshire was allocated £8 million in capital funds by the UK Government, which it stated had to be fully committed to projects within a year. A year ago, the local decision-making body, the Clackmannanshire commission, submitted its preferred projects to the UK Government and has been waiting for a final decision ever since.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is completely unacceptable, particularly as we head towards the full deal sign-off, that the council and local organisations are still waiting to find out how the funding will be allocated, which leaves them unable to progress with the in-depth business cases that will be required to access those funds?

I fully agree with Keith Brown that that is entirely unacceptable. Regional partners are eager to develop their full business cases in order to make sure that they can deliver inclusive economic growth across Clackmannanshire and Stirling as part of the deal. As has been stated, the UK Government has set aside £8 million for capital investment projects as part of the deal.

Clackmannanshire Council and other regional partners have engaged as fully as one could expect with the UK Government, but even though we are reaching the final days of preparation for the signing of the deal, the UK Government has not yet conveyed any decision on the issue. That is unacceptable. My officials will continue to work with regional partners on the matter, and we will continue to pursue the UK Government on the details of the fund.

Given that only one fifth of the city region deal funding across Scotland is intended to support transport priorities, how will the cabinet secretary ensure that the spending supports both climate emergency measures and inclusive economic growth opportunities? In particular, will he rule out supporting the new Viewforth link road through the deal while ruling in support for reopening the Stirling-Alloa-Dunfermline rail route?

Funding through city deals and growth deals is only one aspect of investment in infrastructure and other projects in local authorities and regions. We have a whole range of funding streams providing different funding activities, including those to help to reduce the use of transport, either through active travel or through alternative means. For example, the Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal includes some £7 million of additional active travel funding to support the greater use of walking and cycling and to encourage the use of low-carbon transport. An additional £17 million is being provided for Scotland’s international environment centre in order to provide a space in which to conduct cutting-edge research into tackling global environmental challenges.

The Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal is a good example of measures that are being taken to tackle climate change. It sits alongside the wider measures that we are taking outwith city and growth deals.

Does the cabinet secretary welcome the plans for a UK Government-funded international tartan innovation centre to be located in the centre of Stirling as part of the city region deal? The centre will showcase the unique history of tartan and will greatly benefit the local economy in Stirling.

I welcome the investment that has been made by the UK Government and the £17 million that has been invested by the Scottish Government in the Scotland’s international environment centre, the digital district and the regional digital hub programme. I also welcome the culture, tourism and heritage investments of some £15 million that have been made by the Scottish Government.

Having said that, I would like the UK Government to get round to signing the deal. Despite repeated attempts to get the UK Government to come to a finalised agreement on the deal, we have not been able to make progress on the matter. I hope that the member will encourage his colleagues at Westminster to get their act together and to get the deal signed so that the partners can get on with delivering it.

Falkirk and Grangemouth Investment Zone (Discussions)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last discussed the Falkirk and Grangemouth investment zone with the United Kingdom Government. (S5O-03977)

I discussed the Falkirk growth deal with the UK Government during a call with the Secretary of State for Scotland on 19 September. I wrote to Mr Jack in October, urging him to provide clarity on the UK Government’s intended investment in the deal. I have yet to receive a response.

Next week, I will participate in a Falkirk and Grangemouth investment zone conference hosted by Falkirk Council. I will take the opportunity to reinforce the Scottish Government’s commitment to a growth deal for Falkirk and will press the UK Government to confirm its intended level of investment in the deal.

It is disappointing to hear that Alister Jack has not responded. The cabinet secretary will be aware of the clear wish of Falkirk Council—which we all share—to see the matter move forward at pace. He will also be aware of Falkirk Council’s climate emergency declaration and its ambition for Grangemouth to be a zero-carbon town by 2030. Given that Grangemouth is home to some of Scotland’s highest CO2 emitting industries, does the cabinet secretary agree that Falkirk Council should be given every assistance to reach that goal and that the Falkirk and Grangemouth investment zone deal must take cognisance of the need to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045?

I have been encouraged by the submission by Falkirk Council and its partners in relation to the proposed deal. Although, at this stage, we are not in a position to commit to individual projects, the deal could be transformational through its impact in reducing emissions. Officials will continue to work with local partners on the development of the proposals.

The Scottish Government is working in partnership with the energy-intensive industries to build on the considerable existing strengths of industry across Scotland and to highlight the fact that the industrial decarbonisation route also presents significant economic investment opportunities. We will continue to co-ordinate activity across partners and will engage with Scottish Enterprise and Falkirk Council in pursuing the skills and expertise that will be required in relation to the important Grangemouth industrial cluster.

I assure the member that we will continue to do all that we can to make progress on the issue. I will continue to engage with Falkirk Council and other partners to make progress on the deal.

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (Independent Review)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the independent review of the issues at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. (S5O-03978)

The independent review of the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, which is co-chaired by Dr Andrew Fraser and Dr Brian Montgomery, remains on track to deliver its report by spring 2020.

The review has heard evidence from whistleblowers and a wide range of staff, and it will now hear evidence from hospital managers and contractors. Although Lord Brodie will determine the proceedings of the public inquiry and how it will gather evidence, I anticipate that the inquiry team will be able to consider the review’s published findings as a key piece of evidence for its work.

During the Christmas recess, it was revealed that the Scottish Government was informed of Milly Main having contracted Stenotrophomonas at the time, in 2017; that the health board failed to report Milly’s death to the procurator fiscal; and that, more recently, the health board has been issued with a notification of contravention letter and an improvement notice by the Health and Safety Executive in relation to the ventilation system and to its failure to protect high-risk patients who were vulnerable to infections. There is a connection to that and the water supply.

Parents, staff and the public do not trust the board, so they are looking to the cabinet secretary. Will she take this opportunity to respond to those revelations and set out what steps are being taken?

As Mr Sarwar knows, one of the principal steps that is being taken is the escalation of the health board to level 4, which involves Scottish Government direct intervention and leadership, under the leadership of Professor Fiona McQueen, our chief nursing officer.

I met the oversight board this morning to get its update on the progress of the work that it is undertaking in three critical areas. It is looking at the immediate issues in relation to infection prevention and control, which involves a detailed, case-by-case review from 2015 to date. Its second workstream involves direct engagement with parents and families, and it is involving those individuals in its work. The third area relates to technical issues.

The oversight board and the work that it is undertaking are specific responses to the escalation to level 4; I informed Parliament of the escalation and the issues that led to it. Running parallel to that is the independent review that Mr Sarwar asked about, and the public inquiry.

As I said in December, I intend to make a statement to Parliament by the end of this month on the progress made by the oversight board and the engagement and involvement of families in all those matters.

As I said, the independent review is on track to report in the spring. In the coming weeks, I intend to come back to the Parliament to advise members of the terms of the remit for the public inquiry and its stand-up date, having first consulted with families and party spokespeople on that remit, as I have already committed to do.

All that work is under way. I completely appreciate the significant level of interest that those families and the wider public—understandably and rightly—have in the matter. I assure everyone in the chamber, and Mr Sarwar in particular, that I continue to be involved daily in understanding and driving the work that we need to drive, in order to receive answers to many of these questions and to ensure that, going forward, all the necessary steps are being taken to ensure that infection prevention and control—across the campus but particularly for the most vulnerable groups—is of the standard that we require.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether all reports have now been shared with the Scottish Government and with all the reviews that are being undertaken?

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has announced that it is taking legal action against the contractor. What advice have Scottish ministers given to the board on that issue? What advice are ministers also giving to NHS Lothian, given the situation at Edinburgh’s sick kids hospital?

I confirm that all the reports that we are aware of have now been shared with the Scottish Government, including the AECOM report. That report has not yet been published, but it is the basis on which NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde received the legal advice that it is now progressing. I have told the board that it needs to get legal advice on how quickly it can publish the AECOM report so that it becomes public, and that, if any parts of it require to remain private because they may impact on the success or otherwise of the board’s court action, it should be clear about what those parts are. I hope to understand the board’s position on that in the coming weeks so that the report can be published. At that point, I believe that all relevant reports and pieces of information will be in the public domain, and known to the Scottish Government and, therefore, to the oversight board.

The legal advice that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde received on whether there are grounds for a potential court action on particular aspects is entirely for the board, as the contract holder, to receive. The Scottish Government has no locus in providing, or intervening in, that legal advice, although of course we require to be made aware of it.

As to how that may impact—or not—on NHS Lothian and its contract, I know that the board of NHS Lothian is aware of the issues in Glasgow. It will take its own view and seek its own legal advice, again as the holder of the contract. At this point, I am not aware from NHS Lothian of any particular decisions that it may have made in that regard. However, I would expect to be made aware, and, again, for that information to be in the public domain.

Question 5 has not been lodged.

Glasgow City Council (Support for Homelessness)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether Glasgow City Council has received appropriate support from the ending homelessness together fund. (S5O-03980)

We have set aside £32.5 million of the Government’s £50 million ending homelessness together fund to support local authorities with the implementation of their rapid rehousing transition plans and housing first.

Glasgow City Council received £301,000 to develop its rapid rehousing transition plan in 2018-19, and £1,332,000 to implement its plan in 2019-20. In 2020-21, we plan to award Glasgow £1,237,000, which will go towards the implementation of its transition plan. Confirmation of that funding is subject to the outcome of the Scottish Government’s spending review and parliamentary approval of the 2020-21 Scottish budget.

That funding is in addition to the budget that is available to local authorities to support homelessness work. We will continue to work with all councils on our shared goal of ending homelessness and supporting people right across Scotland.

That was a long response, but it did not answer my question.

I am sure that the minister will be aware that a report from Glasgow City Council highlighted that, although the council has received funding for its rapid rehousing transition planning, it is

“significantly less than what we”—

that is, the council—

“bid for to enable us to meet all of the targets set out in our plan”.

That report also recommended writing to the Scottish Government in relation to future funding arrangements.

Does the minister recognise that, without sufficient funding, the homelessness crisis in Glasgow cannot be tackled effectively? Will the minister respond to Glasgow’s request? Will he accept that the persistent and disproportionate cuts to Glasgow City Council have had a massive impact on its ability to support vulnerable people? As housing minister, what representations has he made to the finance secretary to ensure that local services are fully funded and that the Scottish Government’s policy on homelessness is more than lip service?

Our policy to tackle homelessness in Scotland is much more than lip service. I point out to Johann Lamont that we put in place the £50 million ending homelessness together fund before we received the homelessness and rough sleeping action group’s recommendations about what was required to tackle homelessness in Scotland. We put the money where it was required, and we will continue to do that.

On the rapid rehousing transition moneys, I took soundings from local authorities across Scotland. That is why the initial £15 million that was put into that work became £24 million. The purpose of that money is to allow local authorities to transform their services. It is additional money, beyond the moneys that they should already be spending on homelessness services. I hope that local authorities, including Glasgow, will take advantage of that additional money, transform services and help end homelessness in Scotland.