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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, May 9, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 09 May 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Pension Credit, NHS Highland (Sturrock Review), Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time


General Question Time

South Lanarkshire (Care Homes) (Discussions)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with South Lanarkshire Council and integration joint board regarding residential care homes. (S5O-03212)

The Scottish Government is aware of plans to modernise South Lanarkshire Council residential care facilities, in keeping with the integration joint board’s strategic commissioning plan to deliver a more flexible care model for older people.

We have not had any direct discussions about the configuration of services, as those are matters for local determination. An integration meeting between Scottish Government officials and representatives from the integration authority, the national health service board and the council will take place on 23 May.

South Lanarkshire Council’s care homes have an excellent reputation and are valued by residents and their families.

The cabinet secretary mentioned modernisation, but the council is looking to close care homes, and 100 long-term beds could be lost across South Lanarkshire if the proposals are implemented in full. Does she agree that local communities are right to be concerned, given the projected 25 per cent increase in the over-75 population in our area in the 10 years to 2026?

I appreciate that this is a local decision, but will the cabinet secretary advise what national guidance is available to councils that are looking to close care homes?

My understanding is that the current model of delivery has remained static for more than 20 years. I think that anyone would understand that the current model is no longer fit for purpose, given significant changes not only in demographics and demand, but in where people want to receive care and in the complexity of people’s needs. In addition, four of South Lanarkshire Council’s eight care homes are ageing.

I understand that the council is developing an innovative flexible care model. In 2016, it undertook a pilot test of change with existing care facilities, through the provision of 22 intermediate/transitional beds and an increased focus on enabling people to return home. Of the people who were supported, 56 per cent successfully returned home, which supports the proposition.

I will be interested to see how South Lanarkshire Council wants to remodel and reconfigure the balance of care to respond to what we know are people’s preferences to receive care at home, if that is possible, or in a homely setting, and to use intermediate care beds and enabling services effectively.

That is why the purpose of the meeting with my officials later in May is, first, to consider the shape of the remodelling and the level of consultation, which I understand has been significant to date, and secondly, to understand the phased proposition from the IJB, so that we can be sure that it is addressing what it can evidence by way of local need and demand.

I am encouraged to hear that that meeting will take place.

The move to get people out of care homes and back into the community, or to have them stay in their own homes, started in South Lanarkshire under a Labour council, when Monica Lennon and I were councillors. Does the cabinet secretary therefore agree that this smacks of hypocrisy from the Labour Party?

It is not for me to comment on that. Members will draw their own conclusions.

Mr Simpson is right in that aspects of our developing thinking on integration and people’s need and desire to receive care in their home or a homely setting are founded, in some measure, on innovations that South Lanarkshire Council introduced and their impact. We are, of course, grateful to the council in that regard.

The whole point about health and social care partnerships and integration joint boards is that they can take account of the needs of their local population and plan and commission the redesign of services to meet those needs. Given that, I would not want diktats from central Government to interfere with those important local decisions, albeit that we must ensure that they are properly consulted on, and that the care on offer is safe, effective and person centred.

ScotRail (Performance Improvement Action)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve performance on ScotRail services. (S5O-03213)

The remedial plan that is in place with ScotRail aims to address performance issues. Over the last reporting period, around nine out of 10 trains ran on time, which was the best punctuality on Scotland’s railways since September last year.

In the Glasgow area, the ScotRail Alliance’s implementation of the Donovan recommendations has improved performance across the Strathclyde electric network, with the last period delivering improvement of more than 1 per cent in the public performance measure compared to the previous period. Network Rail’s £5 million of investment has delivered consistently high PPM of more than 94 per cent at Glasgow Central station in the last three periods, with it being as high as 97 per cent in some weeks.

The latest figures for Glasgow Central low-level station, which is widely used by passengers who travel from Rutherglen and Cambuslang, show that 51.9 per cent of trains—more than half—did not arrive on time. The figure are atrocious, and are made worse by the revelation in yesterday’s Which? survey that ScotRail’s compensation scheme is one of the most complicated in the United Kingdom, with some passengers needing to retrieve 24 pieces of information in order to make a claim.

What is the cabinet secretary doing to reverse those drastic performance figures, and will he immediately review the compensation scheme at ScotRail to make it easier for passengers to claim compensation?

On James Kelly’s latter point, we expect ScotRail to consider how it can simplify the existing process to help those who are claiming compensation to do so as reasonably as possible.

On the principal point that he raised, as I pointed out, performance across the Strathclyde electric network—which includes the low-level line on Argyle Street to which he referred—has seen overall improvement. However, there is more to be done, which was a key issue that was set out in the Donovan review to drive up improvement. The £5 million of investment in the Glasgow area is about ensuring that that is done.

James Kelly might also want to consider the report that was issued by the Office of Rail and Road towards the end of last year that reviewed the work that has been undertaken around the Donovan recommendations and highlighted that good progress has been made. However, it also highlighted that there is more to be done, and that both ScotRail and Network Rail must implement those changes to ensure that we sustain the service and make the improvements that we want to see.

The cabinet secretary might be aware that ScotRail is trying to encourage retired drivers out of retirement and into service. Is that a sign that there is a shortage of drivers in ScotRail? Given that it takes 18 months to train a new driver, is he as concerned as I am that there might be shortfalls, which will affect services?

It should come as no surprise to Jamie Greene that ScotRail indicated in the remedial plan that it intends to employ an additional 55 drivers to ensure that it has greater resilience in its overall train crew numbers. We support that intention and encourage it to make good progress on it. However, how it goes about recruiting those drivers is an operational matter for ScotRail.

I am sure that Jamie Greene welcomes the provisions that were set out in the remedial plan to address the issue of crew numbers, which include recruiting an additional 55 drivers.

I will not take the additional two members who wish to ask supplementary questions, because we are not making much progress through the questions.

Question 3 has been withdrawn.

M74 (Noise Surveys)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the noise surveys of the upgraded section of the M74. (S5O-03215)

The ambient noise assessment has commenced and is expected to be completed by the end of May, and the results will be published on the Transport Scotland website as soon as they are available. In addition, a further ambient noise assessment will be carried out within three months of all snagging works being completed. That will establish whether the ambient noise levels exceed the pre-construction ambient noise levels or the levels reported in the environmental statement.

When the work was carried out on the M74, the contractors removed a number of fully grown trees and bushes that had acted as a noise reducer. Through my pressure and discussion with Transport Scotland, the fully grown trees and substantial bushes have now been replaced with what I can only call very-few-twig trees and small bushes along the route. The local primary school and my constituents whose properties back on to the M74 are not happy, as I am not. What more could be done to alleviate the noise on that section of the motorway?

I understand that fast-growing trees and bushes are planted along major trunk routes in order to address the issue that the member has raised and that that is what happened in this instance, although it will take a number of years for the trees and bushes to become fully established. If the ambient noise assessment that is being undertaken highlights on-going noise issues that are outwith what was predicted prior to the construction of the upgraded section of the M74, further measures may have to be taken. Once the study is complete, we will have a better understanding of those noise levels and of whether further measures need to be implemented.

International Museum Day

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to celebrate international museum day on 18 May. (S5O-03216)

International museum day is a great opportunity for museums to engage with the public in creative activities. The popularity of this annual event has grown, and, in 2018, more than 40,000 museums in 158 countries participated. Scotland will be playing its part this year, when the theme is museums as cultural hubs. I look forward to speaking at the garden lobby reception on 14 May to mark international museum day. I encourage colleagues to attend that reception and to celebrate the event by visiting a local museum on 18 May.

The cabinet secretary may be aware of the parliamentary event that I am sponsoring on 14 May in conjunction with Museums Galleries Scotland. Could she outline what support the Scottish Government intends to provide to museums across Scotland this year to ensure that those vital elements of local, national and global history and culture remain embedded in our communities?

The Scottish Government is a strong supporter of the museums sector. The 2019-20 budget allocates a total of over £50 million in funding to support Scotland’s museums and galleries, including grant-in-aid funding for the national museums and national galleries as well as support for Scotland’s three national industrial museums and the V&A in Dundee. We do not provide core funding to local museums, as they are funded by local authorities. However, we do support Museums Galleries Scotland, which is the national development body that provides advice on all matters relating to museums and galleries, and the 2019-20 budget includes £2.5 million for Museums Galleries Scotland to support the sector.

Societal Inequality (Big Data)

To ask the Scottish Government its position on the use of big data to tackle societal inequality. (S5O-03217)

The Scottish Government is committed to using data to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland and to help us in working towards meeting our objectives, which are set out in the national performance framework. We use big data to inform policy and practice, to tackle complex problems such as societal inequality, health, homelessness and unemployment, and to support work in many other portfolio areas.

According to the UN Women report “Gender Equality and Big Data: Making gender data visible”, big data has an essential role to play in achieving sustainable development goals, particularly the empowerment of women. What use can the Scottish Government make of big data analytics to improve the lives of women and girls in Scotland?

As I said in my previous answer, the Scottish Government’s vision is that data is used systematically to improve decision making, outcomes and the lives of our citizens. We recognise the opportunities that it creates to improve the lives of women and girls. For example, since October 2018, the Government has been involved in the administrative data research centre Scotland, which is part of the Scottish administrative data research partnership. The partnership aims to champion the use of data for research in the public interest by bringing together world-leading academic research to address the important social and economic challenges that we face, and it is building on the first phase of that work, which delivered insight into maternal and children’s health outcomes.

We are also providing £1.5 million over three years to support the establishment of a UNICEF data for children hub in Scotland, and we will continue to explore other ways in which we can improve outcomes using big data. I am happy to discuss the matter with Clare Adamson, whom I know has particular expertise and knowledge in the field.

Suicide Prevention (Almond Valley)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting suicide prevention work in the Almond Valley constituency. (S5O-03218)

In August 2018, the Scottish Government published its suicide prevention action plan, “Every Life Matters”, which sets out 10 measures to continue the strong decline in the country’s rate of death by suicide. It has a target to reduce the rate by 20 per cent by 2022 from a 2017 baseline.

The approach to suicide prevention work in West Lothian is currently under review. Once the review is complete, a new strategy and action plan will be developed. Action 1 of the suicide prevention action plan commits the national suicide leadership group to make recommendations on supporting the development and delivery of local prevention action plans and is backed by £3 million of funding over the course of this parliamentary session.

The Neil’s Hugs Foundation is a charity in my constituency that supports families and friends who are affected by suicide. It says that our top priorities must be to ensure that no one who has attempted suicide leaves hospital without immediate follow-up support and to reduce waiting times for child and adolescent mental health services. Given that NHS Lothian is a poorer-performing health board in that regard, how will the minister ensure that we do more earlier to prevent poor mental health and suicide?

I am aware of the charity that Angela Constance spoke about. Donna Paterson-Harvie, who is the chief executive of the Neil’s Hugs Foundation, has been involved in the lived experience events hosted by the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland for the national suicide prevention leadership group. I thank her for her participation in that, and I thank the others with lived experience who participated.

The member will be aware that last year the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities announced a joint task force on children and young people’s mental health. The task force is examining our whole approach to mental health services. Specialist clinical services are not the whole answer and other services in young people’s lives, including education, social work and the third sector, are vital to provide practical and emotional support.

Tattoo Parlours (HIV)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that some tattoo parlours are refusing services to customers who disclose their HIV status. (S5O-03219)

Like the member, I am concerned to hear of the difficulties that some HIV-positive people are experiencing in getting a tattoo. I am clear that there is no place for HIV stigma in today’s Scotland. The standard infection control procedures that all tattoo studios should have in place provide protection against the transmission of blood-borne viruses including HIV.

Will the minister confirm that it is a breach of the Equality Act 2010 to refuse service to somebody because of their HIV status? Will he encourage local authorities where such tattoo parlours exist to revoke the licences of those that are discriminating against HIV-positive people?

The member makes a very important point. I understand that HIV Scotland is working with the British HIV Association to develop a consensus statement on this matter. Once that statement is available, we will ask local authorities to highlight it to all tattoo studios. What Kezia Dugdale described should not be happening in Scotland. We need to raise awareness, as part of tackling stigma, which I think we all want to achieve.

Christian Persecution Overseas

To ask the Scottish Government what action it can take in response to Christian persecution overseas. (S5O-03220)

The Scottish Government condemns all incidents of religious persecution and the targeting of innocent people based on their beliefs. The appalling attacks in Sri Lanka and Christchurch highlight the need for continued international effort to end religious persecution. The First Minister wrote offering condolences and solidarity to the people of Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and the Scottish Government has repeatedly raised concerns over religious persecution overseas with the United Kingdom Government. The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that Scotland is a modern, inclusive nation that protects, respects and realises internationally recognised human rights.

The Scottish Conservatives align ourselves with the cabinet secretary’s comments about the atrocities in Sri Lanka.

Eighty per cent of people who suffer persecution because of their faith are Christians—that is nearly 250 million people around the world. Scotland has a proud Christian heritage. The UK Government recently launched a review of our response to the persecution of Christians abroad, and I hope that the cabinet secretary will join me in welcoming that review. What support can the Scottish Government provide to ensure that Christians are protected in Scotland? What action is it taking to prevent hatred towards religious groups through better education?

I welcome any efforts that are taken to ensure that we continue to provide support to people around the world and that we build on our vision of a modern, inclusive world that respects and realises internationally recognised human rights and which protects people who want to practise their faith.

I am happy to meet Rachael Hamilton to discuss the matter further, given the time constraints. We provide support through Interfaith Scotland, and we promote and support interfaith work through our dialogue, to ensure that we create the tolerant society and the modern, inclusive Scotland that we all support and want to achieve. We continue to try to achieve those aims through our work with Interfaith Scotland and other faith groups.

Following the attacks in Sri Lanka, I wrote to many members of the Christian faith in Scotland to ensure that they were supported and that they understood that we stood in solidarity with Christians in Scotland and around the world.

That concludes general questions. Before we turn to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to the gallery the Hon Sue Hickey, who is the Speaker of the Tasmanian House of Assembly. [Applause.]