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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 9, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 09 March 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Community Jobs Scotland, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 2017 [Draft], Biodiversity, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time

Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body question time. I will try to get through all the questions, but time is tight, so short questions and answers would be useful.

Food for Life Catering Mark

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether it will work with Sodexo to improve the food for life catering mark in the garden level restaurant from bronze to silver. (S5O-00766)

I share Mr Ruskell’s ambition to gain silver status. The garden level restaurant was awarded the Soil Association’s food for life catering mark in May 2015, achieving the bronze level. As part of our reaccreditation in 2016, we began to investigate further the possibility of obtaining the silver level. The work is on-going and we are working closely with Sodexo.

We hold a number of other important accreditations, including under the healthy living award plus, the Marine Stewardship Council certification for sustainable food, red tractor status, the British Lion quality mark for free-range eggs and the RSPCA freedom food scheme, and coffee is triple certified.

Today is international school meals day. Some 20 million food for life meals are served annually in Scotland, and many of those are served in our schools. One of the challenges in moving up through the food for life programme is the need to allocate enough budget for ingredients. Perhaps the corporate body and Sodexo would like to take some advice from our schools in Scotland, which are doing some excellent work. A number of schools have reached the gold standard and have high levels of ethically sourced ingredients and even organic ingredients in their school meal menus even though they work to tight budgets.

Mr Ruskell makes some excellent points about looking at best practice. I will ask officials to liaise closely with schools to look at the work that they have carried out. As members will be aware, to achieve the silver award, there is a requirement to include more organic produce. We are looking closely at that, but I will welcome any examples of best practice from any member.

Payslip Service

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what plans it has to make the online payslip service more user friendly and easier to access. (S5O-00762)

The eHR online payslip service was introduced in 2010 to ensure that payslips were readily accessible on demand to members, members’ staff and Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body staff. That has provided enhanced security along with environmental benefits, such as saving paper, and significant cost savings.

We welcome user feedback, of course, and supplementary systems are based on previous user feedback. An upgrade was completed in 2015, making it easy for users to reset their password on an automated, self-service basis to avoid delays in access outwith normal business hours.

It used to be that the onus was on the employer, or the Parliament, to get the payslip to the employee or member. Now, the onus has been switched and the staff member has to go and look for it. I have met staff members who have given up because the system is so hard to use and who have not seen their payslip for months. The issue also raises the wider question whether the information technology system is there to serve us or we are there to serve it. Previously we lost the Business Bulletin, we have lost the committee papers, and now we have lost payslips.

It will perhaps be useful if I spell out the current position on hard copies. Hard copy payslips and P60s are issued to the home addresses of those users who do not have online access, such as users who are on a career break, long-term sick leave or maternity leave and MSP pensioners.

We have no plans to change our current system, but I will ask officials to contact Mr Mason directly in order to be as helpful as possible and try to resolve the problem.


To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether it will consider sending hard copies of payslips to members and staff on request. (S5O-00763)

As I identified in my previous answer, we have a system for hard copy payslips and P60s, but they are issued only to users who are on a career break, long-term sick leave or maternity leave and MSP pensioners.

It is not often that I agree with John Mason.

I raise this issue not only on behalf of myself and other MSPs, but, more importantly, on behalf of staff members. As John Mason said when he asked his question, which was on the same issue, some staff members have given up and do not access their payslips any more. I gently remind the corporate body that, as John Mason said, employment law requires employers to provide a payslip to their employees. That is not happening.

I am not asking the corporate body to change the paperless system for everybody. However, could those people who have a problem please be given the option of asking for a hard copy—or even a PDF—to be sent to them?

I am obviously sorry that Mike Rumbles’s staff and other members’ staff appear to be having difficulty with our eHR online payslip service. I will arrange for a senior member of staff to meet Mr Rumbles as soon as possible to resolve the problem. I am advised by officials that we are currently complying with the law on payslips. Perhaps Mr Rumbles could contact me directly if the matter is not concluded as soon as possible.

I think that someone else will now get a shot at answering a question.

Exhibition Space

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, in light of exhibition places being oversubscribed, whether it will consider having a third exhibition space in the garden lobby area. (S5O-00730)

I recognise that the issue has been a concern to Christine Grahame; indeed, it has been the subject of written parliamentary questions. As I said in response to those questions, there are no other suitable spaces in the garden lobby or elsewhere to support an additional member-sponsored exhibition space. In addition, an extra exhibition space would have resource implications.

As she is someone who has made excellent use of member-sponsored exhibitions, Christine Grahame will know how popular they are. She will be equally aware that there are other ways that members can support organisations to share information and network with members, for example by holding a member-sponsored event.

It may be helpful to Christine Grahame and other colleagues if I confirm that bids for member-sponsored exhibitions for the period September to December 2017 will open next month.

I thank Liam McArthur for his reply, but I am not happy. There is already a putative queue for the September to December period.

Which spaces have been dismissed? If Liam McArthur cannot tell me that now, I hope that he will respond at a later date. It seems to me that we could very well have one more in the garden lobby or in the area around the top of the stairs, which would not impede parliamentary business. It would be good to know which spaces have been dismissed, so I would be obliged if he would tell me.

I will certainly ensure that Christine Grahame is provided with the information that she has asked for. As she will appreciate, not least in her role as Deputy Presiding Officer, space in the building can be in considerable demand at key periods. The garden lobby, in particular, is used by a great number of building users. The request that she has made for more detail on the spaces that have been looked at and the reasons why they have been rejected is perfectly reasonable, and I will ensure that she is provided with that information.

In the spirit of supporting international women’s day, will the SPCB give consideration to having a specific exhibition space, perhaps in the front lobby, to celebrate women?

To put that request in context, last night at the women’s dinner I was told that in Edinburgh there are more memorials to animals than to women. I was also made aware of a project about Edinburgh women abolitionists, in particular Eliza Wigham, who in 1840 took self-freed American slave Frederick Douglass up to Arthur’s Seat to carve political messages. Will the corporate body look at the Scottish women’s history group’s suggestion of having an engraved flagstone outside Parliament, with a view up to Arthur’s Seat, as a fitting tribute to Eliza and her sister abolitionists?

Elaine Smith’s request about the main hall in the Parliament is reasonable. It would be an impractical area for member-sponsored exhibitions, as it is a public space rather than a space that is routinely accessed by members. Nevertheless, she makes a reasonable point about international women’s day.

With regard to the engraving, I would not want to give the member a response at this precise moment, because I think that there are rules, procedures and protocols around the issue. As she will know only too well, the Parliament is in receipt of many applications to commemorate a variety of worthy causes. Nevertheless, I will make sure that the proposal that she has put to us this afternoon is considered and a full response provided.

Direct Debit Payments

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what support it provides to allow constituency offices to pay invoices by direct debit in order to take advantage of available discounts. (S5O-00765)

Although we are not currently able to pay individual members’ invoices by direct debit from the corporate body’s central bank account, we provide support to members who have set up direct debits on their personal bank accounts by reimbursing them through scheduled payments. That ensures that they have the moneys in their account in advance of the direct debit being paid by their bank and enables them to take advantage of any available discounts. However—and I do not want this to cause a rush of blood to the member’s head—we are currently evaluating the possibility of implementing a direct debit payment facility from the SPCB’s bank account for members’ local office utility bills, and we aim to pilot that later this year.

I call Alison Harris.

I have no further questions, Presiding Officer. I am pleased to hear what the member has said.

That response is very welcome, Ms Harris. I think that it is probably a first for the Parliament.

Garden Lobby (Floor)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what measures it takes, especially during inclement weather, to ensure that the garden lobby floor is as safe as is possible for staff and visitors. (S5O-00731)

To make the garden lobby as safe as possible, we have barrier mats at all the entrances to the Parliament, and we will increase the number of mats from October through to April when more inclement weather is likely. The mats, which are designed to help prevent dirt and moisture from being walked into the building, are removed every two weeks for laundering and are immediately replaced. In addition, when there is heavy rain, the janitorial team do more regular checks of the garden lobby.

In order to prevent any build-up of grit or dust, the garden lobby floor is cleaned on a nightly basis. That happens between 1 am and 2 am to ensure that the area is completely dry before the building opens. Janitorial staff also respond immediately to any reported spillages anywhere in the building.

The member might be aware that during the day of the Doris—by which I mean the day when we had the bad weather caused by the storm—my secretary found herself a victim when she fell coming through the garden lobby. Could risk assessments be carried out and signage thought about? I am sure that that was not the first time that such an incident has happened, but I want to highlight for the record the support that my secretary received from the janitorial staff and the security staff, who dealt with first aid and took her to accident and emergency. That proves that, when such situations arise, people are able to support the individuals in question.

Obviously I am very sorry to hear that a member of Mr Stewart’s staff had a fall, and I am sure that we all wish her a very quick recovery.

Of course we keep our procedures under review. Mr Stewart has already given us a couple of very good ideas, which I will pass to officials, but we also encourage staff and members to ensure that, if there are any spillages or problems in the garden lobby, the facilities management helpline is used and those staff told immediately so that they can take action. Again, I ask the member to pass on our regards to his staff member.

I thank Alexander Stewart for asking the question, because it is not just a matter of the floor being wet. There are surfaces in the building that are always slippy, particularly for women who wear court shoes, and there have been a few near misses and falls. What assessment has been made of the general floor areas not just when they are wet but with regard to the shoes that people wear?

The member makes a useful point. There are different surfaces in the Parliament, and more slip accidents appear to have been reported in respect of the Kemnay granite surface than other floor surfaces. Obviously, we take slip accidents seriously. I should say that I am not responsible for the member’s footwear, but we are looking very carefully at ensuring that there are no slips, because as employers we have a duty of care to ensure that our environment is safe.