Meeting date: Thursday, December 9, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament 09 December 2021
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Human Rights Day 2021, Portfolio Question Time, Culture, Budget 2022-23, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Human Rights Day 2021
- Portfolio Question Time
- Budget 2022-23
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Oil and Gas Industry
Does the First Minister believe that it is a “hard right” policy to support Scotland’s oil and gas industry?
I believe that supporting a just transition away from fossil fuels to renewable and low-carbon sources of energy is a policy that we should all support. What is essential is that we support the people who currently work in the oil and gas sector and that we do not substitute domestic production with imported production.
For the sake of our planet and that of future generations, we must accelerate the transition, which is what this Government is investing in. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy will, in the budget later this afternoon, set out our next investments in the transition to net zero. That is what I am focused on.
I have just come from witnessing the demolition of the chimney at Longannet this morning. Not very long ago, we would not have been able to contemplate keeping the lights on in Scotland without Longannet, and we certainly would not have been able to contemplate that coal-fired power station closing without that causing significant unemployment. We can do a just transition. We also owe it to the oil and gas sector to support it in the transitional phase.
Last week, when we heard that oil and gas jobs in Scotland could be at risk, the First Minister’s coalition partners celebrated. I repeat: they celebrated. Patrick Harvie—one of our ministers—claimed that supporting Scotland’s oil and gas industry was a policy of the “hard right”. Such statements are an insult to every single worker in the North Sea sector. They should be condemned by the First Minister—but, as we have just heard, they will not be. That is because, as the Greens keep boasting, they have forced the Scottish National Party into
“a massive change in direction”
over oil and gas. Can I ask the First Minister what matters more to her Government—jobs for the Scottish Greens, or jobs for north-east workers?
It is clear that references to being right wing are references that Douglas Ross seems to take very personally. I will leave people to judge why that might be the case. [Laughter.]
Let me also say, as an aside, that what is potentially putting North Sea oil and gas workers’ jobs at risk right now is the United Kingdom Government’s failure to invest, as a priority, in the Acorn carbon capture project in the north-east. Perhaps there should be a bit less political rhetoric from Douglas Ross and a bit more encouragement of his colleagues in the UK Government—if they can find time away from their other pursuits at the moment—to prioritise investments that Scotland badly needs. For my part, I will continue to ensure that the Scottish Government is investing.
We do not do anybody in the oil and gas sector any favours if we pretend that the just transition is not necessary, or if we pretend that it is not necessary for the future of the planet that we accelerate that just transition. We must ensure that no one is left behind in that transition, and we must make sure that our energy needs are met in renewable and low-carbon ways. That is what this Government is focused on, which will be reflected in the budget this afternoon.
I am proud of the progress that Scotland has made so far on the journey to net zero, but we have much still to do. As we mark, today, the definitive end of coal power in Scotland, I think that we should have great confidence in what can be done when we show leadership, plan properly and make investments. That is what this Government is going to do. I will leave the Conservatives to worry about the many other things that they have to worry about right now.
It is disgusting that the First Minister joked and laughed about a comment by one of her ministers that has been so hurtful to people who are employed in the North Sea sector and is so harmful for such an important industry—[Interruption.]
I am sorry, Mr Ross. Could you give me a moment? There is quite a lot of noise in the chamber. I would like to make sure that we can all hear Mr Ross’s question. I will be grateful if you begin again, Mr Ross.
I will begin again, because SNP and Green members do not like to hear this.
I thought that it was very distasteful for the First Minister to laugh and joke about a comment that has been so hurtful to people in the North Sea oil and gas sector. Now, for the first time, we have Scottish Government ministers who want fewer jobs and less investment in Scotland. The Greens are against building any new roads. They want to stop people driving, even though those people cannot get to work without cars. They believe that economic growth is no longer possible and they have also said that Governments cannot run out of money. Now that those extreme economic views are at the heart of her Government, is not it just a matter of time before the First Minister abandons more Scottish workers, as she has abandoned the oil and gas industry?
We have witnessed, and are continuing to witness, many “disgusting” things in politics right now, but none of them is on the part of this Scottish Government. I almost feel a little bit of sympathy for Douglas Ross today, because I know that he must be deeply mortified by the actions and behaviour of his colleagues in the UK Government, but that is no excuse—[Interruption.] That is no excuse for throwing around unfounded accusations and trying to cause concern among oil and gas workers.
As First Minister, I am committed to making sure that we have a just transition away from oil and gas, in the same way as we had the transition away from coal power, because the future of our planet demands it. We will make investments to ensure that that is done justly and fairly. If the UK Government wanted to work with us—around carbon capture, for example—that transition would be easier.
I am committed ensuring that we do not leave people behind and that we do not have fewer jobs, and that, instead, we have clean green jobs for the future. Just last Friday, I visited Nigg to mark a major investment there that will mean towers for offshore wind being manufactured in the Highlands. That is the kind of investment that we are supporting and the kind of work that we will do to secure a just transition in Scotland, for the sake of the future of the planet and of generations to come.
I am sure that the First Minister will welcome the UK Government’s investment in the Nigg development, as well. However, the record is very clear. The video will show the First Minister laughing and joking—[Interruption.]
I am sorry Mr Ross. I am afraid that there is quite a lot of noise in the chamber. We are going to look into having your sound increased. In the meantime, colleagues, I would be very grateful if we could hear Mr Ross speaking. We do not need any other voices while he is speaking.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will repeat my comments.
I hope that the First Minister will also welcome the UK Government’s investment in Nigg, and I hope, too, that she will reflect on her own actions, where the video will show that she laughed and joked about Patrick Harvie’s comments regarding the north-east and the North Sea sector.
This afternoon, the Government will set out next year’s budget. It should be a budget that uses the biggest-ever block grant from the UK Government to invest in public services; that delivers record spending to restore Scotland’s national health service after what will be one of the worst-ever winters; that improves local roads and rebuilds communities by giving local government a fair share; and which supports businesses to create Scottish jobs and provide more opportunities for the next generation. It should be a budget that puts the national interest first—not the narrow interests of the nationalist coalition.
Today, there is a chance to kick-start Scotland’s economic recovery from Covid. Will the First Minister take that opportunity or will she give in to the Greens again?
When I had the privilege of being in Nigg on Friday, I welcomed the investment of the UK Government, alongside considerable investment by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. However, I also lamented—as did many people there, and as do many people whom I speak to across the energy sector—the lack of UK Government investment in, and commitment to, carbon capture in the Acorn project. We cannot simply pretend that that is not a real issue.
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy will set out the budget to Parliament this afternoon, and it will do all the things that Douglas Ross has just talked about. I hope that he will listen carefully to one thing that the budget will do, which I am proud that we are doing in partnership with the Scottish Greens. After seeing the disgusting—I use the word deliberately—move of the UK Government to take £20 a week away from the poorest families across Scotland and the UK, the budget will devote resources to doubling the Scottish child payment, so the Government will give £20 a week to the poorest families across Scotland. That is the difference between the Scottish Government and the UK Government. I am proud of the budget that the finance secretary will present to Parliament later today.
Queen Elizabeth University Hospital
Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board has been in level 4 special measures for more than two years, since November 2019. The Scottish Government set up an oversight board. When did that oversight board last meet?
The assurance group that flowed from the oversight board is due to meet on 17 November. It has been a couple months since it has met, if I am correct. More than 80 per cent of all recommendations of the oversight board have already been implemented, just as the recommendations that came from the independent review have been. That is the action that has been taken to address concerns around the Queen Elizabeth university hospital while we await the work of the independent public inquiry, which Anas Sarwar previously called for.
The answer that the First Minister is looking for is that the oversight board that the Scottish Government set up last met in March—nine months ago. The review group to which she has referred has not met for more than two months, and she says that it is due to meet in November. Despite everything that has happened in the past month, the oversight board has not met for nine months and the review group has not met for two months, but the First Minister wants families and staff to believe that the Government has a grip on the crisis.
Last week, the First Minister told us that there had been two healthcare infection incident assessment tool—HIIAT—red warnings and one amber warning in the past year. I learned from the health board yesterday that none of those warnings was about cases that I have raised in the past month—not Andrew Slorance’s death with Aspergillus, not the case of the child with Stenotrophomonas in the past few months and not the case that I raised last week of a child who died with Serratia. All of those high-risk bacteria are linked to water in the hospital environment, and none of those cases triggered a HIIAT red warning, despite everything that has happened and despite all of those cases meeting the warning criteria. If that is not the definition of cover-up and denial, what is?
I will come to that point directly. People who listened to our—quite constructive, I thought—exchange last week will have heard me set out the exact trigger points for a notification to the Scottish Government.
On the issue of the oversight board, the point is not about meetings but about actions. To be precise, 88 per cent of the oversight board’s recommendations have already been completed and the remaining actions do not relate directly to patient safety. The advice, assurance and review group will meet next week, on Friday 17 December, and the interim chief nursing officer will chair the meeting. It is about ensuring that recommendations are implemented, and that is what has happened.
As the Presiding Officer will recall, I set out at some length last week the fact that notifications to Government under the HIIAT procedure happen when two or more linked cases of infection occur, and I set out the number that had happened in the adult hospital. That point is about triggering a notification to the Scottish Government. However, when those notifications do not happen, it does not mean that no action is taken. Health boards have problem assessment groups or other types of actions that address any issues relating to infections.
It is simply not the case that infections are not taken seriously. As I said last week—a point that Anas Sarwar conceded and agreed with—it will never be possible for any hospital anywhere to eradicate and avoid all cases of infection, despite the best efforts. However, all cases of infection are taken seriously at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital and at every other hospital, which is what I expect.
The First Minister was wrong last week, and she is wrong this week, on the criteria for HIIAT red warnings. I have the HIIAT red criteria right in front of me. I would expect the First Minister, as a former health secretary, to know better. It is clear that, if any one of the major criteria is met, the case is classed as HIIAT red. That is any one of the following: risk of transmission, requiring a major clinical intervention, risk to life, rare infection, associated mortality or public interest. Only one of those criteria needs to be met, but I think that more than one—if not all of them—has been met in each of the three cases, yet there has been no HIIAT red warning for any of them. Perhaps the health secretary and the First Minister will review the HIIAT document and come to understand how the procedure works.
Despite all the revelations of the past three months and everything that has happened over the past two years; despite the demands of families and staff for openness; and despite the calls for the First Minister to get a grip of the crisis, the oversight board has not met for nine months, the review group has not met for more than two months and the health board is still not reporting deadly infections in the hospital.
I met the chair and chief executive of the health board yesterday. How can the First Minister still have confidence in them? Their complacent and belligerent attitude demonstrates everything that is wrong with the culture at the top of the health board. Why, after everything that we have learned, does the First Minister continue to take their word over the word of staff, families and patients, who surely deserve better?
That is an utter mischaracterisation of my position. I know very well how the framework operates, and what I have set out is the case. As I said a moment ago, 88 per cent of the oversight board’s recommendations have already been implemented, and a process of scrutiny in the form of the independent public inquiry is already under way.
We take, and have taken, seriously any and all concerns that are raised about the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. As I said last week, Anas Sarwar wants to suggest to people that the Queen Elizabeth is somehow less safe than other hospitals, but the evidence does not bear that out. I am unable to comment on individual cases because of patient confidentiality, but all concerns that are raised are taken extremely seriously, which I know will have been discussed with Anas Sarwar yesterday.
I have made it very clear that any member of staff who has concerns and feels that those concerns are not being taken seriously or that they are not being allowed to speak out should feel free to come to me or the health secretary with their concerns.
We will continue to ensure that all actions are taken to deliver high-quality patient care in the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, which clinicians already provide. That is important.
It is important that Anas Sarwar and other members come to the chamber to raise concerns. However, let us not undermine confidence in a hospital that is delivering high-quality care for patients every single day.
Covid-19 Measures (Compliance)
What impact on compliance with Covid rules does the First Minister think there might be following the party scandal that is unfolding at Westminster?
I hope that there is no impact on compliance with Covid protections, because it is really important that we all comply with the protections. People can be angry with politicians—at times, with all politicians—but it is important that people comply with the protections for their own safety, the safety of their loved ones and the country as a whole.
In the omicron variant, we face a serious challenge right now. I will further brief party leaders on the nature and scale of the challenge later this afternoon. Omicron is rapidly spreading and it poses a real difficulty for us. One of the ways in which we can help to slow its transmission is by complying with all the protections. I appeal to people across the country to do so.
The upgrade to Aberdeen’s Haudagain roundabout—one of Europe’s worst—has had its completion date postponed on five separate occasions already. In September, the Scottish Government told me that it would be completed by the winter. Now we are there, yet the disruption continues and there is no sign of this vital upgrade being completed. Can the First Minister confirm whether there will be another delay to the completion of the project? Will there be a cost overrun?
We are at the start of winter. I will ask the Minister for Transport to write directly to Liam Kerr with a full update on the timing and costs that are associated with the Haudagain roundabout, which I know is incredibly important to commuters in Aberdeen.
NHS 24 (Advice)
I was contacted this week by Mr Ron Park, whose child was being cared for by his mother when they received advice from NHS 24 to go to Stobhill hospital. Clinicians at NHS 24 thought that Mr Park’s son might have bacterial meningitis—a life-threatening condition. However, Stobhill hospital phoned minutes later, saying that it would not see the family and that, if they wanted medical attention, they should go to the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley, which was 30 minutes away by car. Mr Park’s former partner lives in the north-east of Glasgow and cannot drive.
I was deeply alarmed that the family of a child who possibly had a life-threatening meningitis condition would be treated in that manner. What does the First Minister have to say to them?
I absolutely understand the concern and anxiety that would have been caused. Anybody with a sick child will feel that anxiety and will not want it to be compounded by getting wrong advice or getting advice that they believe to be wrong from the national health service.
I am always reluctant to comment too much on individual cases. I do not question what I am being told in the chamber, but I obviously want to understand the full details. If Paul Sweeney wants to write to me or to the health secretary, I undertake to look into the situation, get back to him so that he can update his constituents, and ensure that patients, particularly those with sick children, are getting the right advice and the advice that they need in what, I know, are very stressful times for them.
Road Equivalent Tariff (Pentland Firth)
Road equivalent tariff was introduced on the west coast ferry routes almost 14 years ago. It was promised on Pentland Firth routes four years ago, but there is still no sign of it. As we approach the end of another year, can the First Minister tell my Orkney constituents when the Government will finally deliver the cheaper ferry fares that have been repeatedly promised, year after year?
As Liam McArthur is aware, we have taken a range of measures to ensure that ferry fares are more affordable and that ferry travel is more accessible, convenient and easier for his constituents.
The road equivalent tariff has been debated, looked at and considered. As the member will be aware, there are complications with some of the unintended consequences of what road equivalent tariff would deliver, but I will ask the transport minister to write to him with an update on the actions that we are taking to address the affordability of ferry travel for his constituents.
Waiver on Covid-19 Vaccine Property Rights
What engagement has the Scottish Government had with the United Kingdom Government on the waiver on Covid-19 vaccine property rights?
I have written to the Prime Minister about the issue. I think that I said in the chamber on Tuesday that I would do so, and I made clear my support for the calls. Right now, the omicron variant is reminding us very starkly of the importance of getting vaccines not just to everybody here, in our own country, but to everybody across the world as quickly as possible. This is a really important call, and I hope that the Prime Minister will treat seriously my letter and the calls that are being made more widely. The Scottish Government stands ready to work with the UK Government and do whatever we can to make sure that vaccines get to people across the world as quickly as possible.
Cervical Screening (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde)
Cervical cancer screening rates in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde are among the lowest in the country. I have been contacted by many women in my region who are concerned because they are not able to get a local general practitioner appointment for this vital checkup for up to six months. Given that it takes just one missed test to miss a diagnosis and the potential to save someone’s life, how can we ensure that, in our earnest efforts to tackle the coronavirus, we are not inadvertently creating a legacy of people dying of undiagnosed cancers, knowing that, for some, it might already be too late?
That is one of the most serious questions that is being posed to us all right now, and the unavoidable and inescapable implications of dealing with Covid—what it might mean for health and, indeed, the much wider impacts across the population—weigh very heavily on me. I assure the member and the chamber that those considerations are always very high up in my mind, as they are in the mind of the Government.
Specifically on cervical screening, cancer screening generally is really important. We had to pause the screening programmes for a period during the early part of the pandemic, but they are now operational again. It is important that people can get appointments for cervical and other cancer screening. It is also important that we encourage uptake of screening programmes, and that is particularly true for cervical and breast screening in women. There is a great deal that we need to do, and I repeat my assurance that it is a high priority for us.
Just Transition (Longannet)
As the Longannet chimney was demolished this morning, I am sure that the First Minister felt that it was an historic moment in our journey towards net zero. It was, however, also a moment to reflect on our gratitude to the workers who kept our lights on for so many decades. Are there lessons for a wider just transition that we can learn from the way in which Longannet was shut back in 2016?
Yes, there are lessons that we can learn. It was very special to be there today as the chimney came down. I spoke to people who had worked in Longannet themselves, but also to people who had worked there whose parents and grandparents had worked there. It generated power in Scotland for most of my lifetime, until a few years ago. It has been there for more than 50 years, so there were mixed emotions. It is clearly a symbolic moment, because it marks the end of coal power, but people are sad to see the chimney go, not least because it has been a feature of our landscape for these 50 years.
There are lessons to learn; I talked about some of them earlier. Not long ago, it would have been unthinkable that we could have kept the lights on or found employment for people who worked at Longannet. That has been done, so it should inspire us to know that a just transition is possible. However, what has happened at Longannet tells us that we need to manage the process, to plan for it and to make the right investments.
Amid the mixed emotions, there are positive lessons that we must now take the opportunity to learn.
David MacBrayne Group (Board Appointments)
The First Minister will be aware of the recent appointments to the board of David MacBrayne group, which include the appointment of a chairman who is famed for presiding over the ferry fiasco at Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, and of three non-executive directors, none of whom has island links. Many islanders have seafaring experience, yet the Scottish Government seemed unable to find one to appoint to the board. Why are islanders being overlooked by her Government?
Although I can understand the concerns that Rhoda Grant has expressed, I do not think that it is the case that islanders are being overlooked. There are rigorous processes that must be gone through before appointments to boards can be made, which we comply with.
I encourage Rhoda Grant—I am sure that she will do this, because I know that she takes her duties extremely seriously—to meet the new chair and the new board members. I hope that they will be able to allay her concerns from the point of view of the attention that they will pay to the needs of island communities as they go about their jobs. I am sure that the Minister for Transport would be willing to have a conversation with her about that, too.
Before we go on to question 3, I let members know that, if we have any time remaining after question 7, I will take more supplementary questions from those members who have already requested to ask a question, so there is no need for them to press their request-to-speak buttons again.
Heart Valve Disease
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to treat people with heart valve disease. (S6F-00551)
Our heart disease action plan sets out the aim that everyone with suspected heart disease, including people with heart valve disease, should have timely and equitable access to diagnosis, treatment and care. An initial investment of £2.2 million has supported progress on the actions in the plan. We are undertaking work to improve access to cardiac diagnostics and are developing nationally agreed pathways of care for all cardiac conditions.
We have committed more than £1.5 million over five years to support a change in access to and use of data to support improvements in diagnosis, treatment and care for people with all heart conditions. In April 2021, we commissioned Public Health Scotland to deliver the Scottish cardiac audit programme. Significant clinical and patient engagement is currently under way to support its development.
Patients in Scotland with serious heart defects have been told that hospital appointments cannot go ahead in 2022. According to an investigation by the charity Heart Valve Voice, people at risk of heart failure face waits of up to seven months. Despite the challenges of the pandemic and staff working flat out, this is a treatable condition, which can be fatal.
We know that, under the Scottish National Party Government, accident and emergency waiting times have reached their worst level since the SNP came into power. Will the First Minister commit to looking further at the accessibility, diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with serious heart defects, before they end up waiting for hours in A and E?
We are doing all of that—I covered some of it in my initial answer.
We know that the number of people who are waiting for more than 12 weeks for cardiology out-patient appointments has increased throughout the pandemic, but there is no current indication that patients with heart valve disease have been told that they cannot have appointments in 2022. Our recovery plan sets out the key actions that we will take to address the backlog in care and meet the on-going healthcare needs of people across Scotland. That is backed by more than £1 billion of targeted investment in total.
I thank Heart Valve Voice for its work and the report that it has produced. We will consider that fully, and I am sure that it will have an important contribution to make to the on-going work that I set out in my initial answer.
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Citizens Advice Scotland poll, which found that one third of respondents could not afford their energy bills. (S6F-00562)
I am deeply concerned by the impact on households of recent energy price rises. Given that powers relating to the energy market are reserved, I am disappointed not to have seen action from the United Kingdom Government to support low-income households in particular.
The Scottish Government has already taken a number of actions to build on the support that we provided last winter. Our £10 million fuel insecurity fund will ensure that direct financial support is available to those who are at risk of self-disconnecting or self-rationing. We have allocated more than £1 billion since 2009 to tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency. We also continue to fund Home Energy Scotland, which can provide advice on how to make homes warmer and cheaper to heat.
The UK Government’s cruel and unnecessary £20 cut to universal credit means that many more families are likely to struggle with rising energy bills. Does the First Minister agree that families in that predicament should not suffer in silence but should seek urgent expert counsel from organisations such as Citizens Advice Scotland and the Wise Group?
I agree. The UK Government’s decision to remove £20 a week from the poorest households, to which I have already referred today, was the biggest overnight cut to welfare in 70 years. It would have been a callous act at any time and was particularly so at a time of rising prices and rising energy bills. It is important that we do not quickly forget that; we should remember that needlessly callous act, which has been carried out on the poorest in our society.
I urge anyone who is concerned about their energy costs to seek support from advice services such as Citizens Advice. We have also launched a campaign to raise awareness of the services that are available to people with financial worries. Home Energy Scotland can refer families for benefit checks and to support from the fuel insecurity fund.
Rising energy costs hit pensioners in particular, many of whom are housebound. Despite that, according to Age Scotland, at least 123,000 pensioners in Scotland have not claimed pension credit. It is reckoned that 40 per cent of eligible pensioners across the UK do not claim that benefit, which is a gateway to additional benefits.
Does the First Minister agree that the UK Government should be ashamed and that, instead of removing the triple lock on pensions, it should fund a decent basic state pension in the first place?
The UK has one of the lowest levels of state pension found anywhere in Europe. It is disgraceful and shameful that the triple lock has been removed.
Christine Grahame makes a good point. Where benefits are available, there are awareness campaigns to encourage people to take them up. We are rightly called on to do that regarding devolved benefits. We have repeatedly called on the UK Government to take a more strategic approach to promoting its benefits. We made that call recently, in partnership with the Northern Irish and Welsh Governments.
Those issues would be less acute if, as Christine Grahame said, the UK had better state pension provision. I do not hold out much hope of a UK Government delivering that in the near future, but perhaps we can do that in a future independent Scotland.
Small Businesses (Support)
To ask the First Minister what plans the Scottish Government has to provide support to small businesses in light of reports that 20,000 small businesses ceased trading during the pandemic. (S6F-00555)
Since the start of the pandemic, businesses have benefited from more than £4.4 billion in Scottish Government support, including an extension of non-domestic rates relief for all retail, leisure, aviation and hospitality premises in 2021-22. The small business bonus scheme is the most generous of its kind in the United Kingdom, offering up to 100 per cent relief to qualifying properties and saving small businesses around £2.5 billion since 2008.
The Scottish Government also provides a range of financial support and advice to small businesses through enterprise agencies and the Business Gateway network. The finance secretary regularly meets business organisations to discuss issues such as economic recovery and will set out what further support will be available in the budget that she will deliver this afternoon.
Many of those small businesses are in Glasgow, which suffered the longest and harshest Covid restrictions in Scotland. A recent report suggests that only one in 12 office workers has returned to Glasgow city centre. We have already lost 3,000 jobs from Glasgow airport, adding to concerns about the city’s long-term recovery. As a city region, Glasgow is a key driver of the Scottish economy and is crucially important to west central Scotland.
Given that, will the First Minister say whether she agrees that Glasgow, as a key driver for the economy, urgently needs to have a fully resourced recovery plan, with something like a specialist team to co-ordinate recovery and investment, in order to ensure that the city’s recovery from the pandemic actually happens?
I absolutely agree with the sentiments behind Pauline McNeill’s question. I know that the leader of the council, and indeed the council administration, are very focused on supporting recovery in general across Glasgow, and economic and business recovery in particular. Obviously, the support that I referred to earlier supports businesses across Glasgow, and the rates relief continuation throughout this financial year for retail and aviation will have been particularly important, given the nature of the Glasgow economy. I hope that there will be much in the budget for businesses to welcome in that regard this afternoon.
The Scottish Government needs to and will work closely with Glasgow City Council, and indeed other local authorities, as we come out of Covid. As I mentioned earlier, we still have a challenging period ahead, which is why we are asking people right now to work from home where possible, but as we come out of the pandemic, the focus on recovery and supporting businesses will be one that continues to have high priority.
When will the next phase of Scottish Government funding for the Scotland Loves Local fund occur?
The Scotland Loves Local campaign is really important in supporting local businesses and encouraging people to shop locally. The finance secretary will set out all aspects of our funding commitments later this afternoon when she sets out the budget, but supporting local businesses and encouraging people to shop locally will continue to be a key part of what we do.
International Anti-corruption Day
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is marking international anti-corruption day. (S6F-00558)
The Scottish Government strongly supports the principles underlying international anti-corruption day, as enshrined in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. It is incumbent on all of us in leadership positions to set high standards, and the Scottish Government will endeavour to operate on the basis of openness, candour and transparency in all that we do.
Throughout the public health crisis, the Prime Minister has repeatedly been mired in sleaze and corruption. Covid contracts were handed to Conservative Party donors; public sector roles and peerages were handed to political cronies; and an ethics adviser was shown the door rather than having his verdict of ministerial bullying accepted.
Even more galling than that has been the behaviour amid revelations that the United Kingdom Government does not respect the rules that it has laid down for others. At a time of national crisis, not only did those—[Interruption.]
Come on. This is nothing to do with—
Sorry, Ms Mackay. I ask you to pause for a moment while colleagues remember that we all want to hear your question. If you could begin again. Thank you.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Even more galling than all of that has been the behaviour amid revelations that the UK Government does not respect the rules that it has laid down for others. At a time of national crisis, not only did those in his inner circle deliberately breach the very rules that they had set down for the public, they have continually tried to cover it up. Now, footage shows them laughing about it while planning their excuses. This is no laughing matter for those of us who have lost a loved one during the pandemic.
Boris Johnson has jeopardised public compliance with Covid measures—[Interruption.]
Ms Mackay, sorry. First of all, I do not want to have to ask again in this question session for quiet so that we can hear members. However, Ms Mackay, will you please ask a question? Thank you.
Boris Johnson has jeopardised public compliance with Covid measures. Does the First Minister agree that it is time for this corrupt Prime Minister to go?
Yes, I do. While Gillian Mackay was asking her question, I had members of the Tory group shouting at me from a sedentary position that these issues have nothing to do with us here in the Scottish Parliament. I beg to differ. I think that the principles and values of openness, integrity and transparency matter to all of us who care about democracy in this country.
Boris Johnson has many questions to answer. There are more questions surfacing today around the whole Downing Street wallpaper issue, but I will leave them to one side. I do not think that it is simply a corrupt incumbent of number 10 that has to go; I think that it is time for Scotland to get rid of the whole broken, corrupt Westminster system that is holding us back, and we can do that only by becoming an independent country.
Health and Wellbeing Census 2021
To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will withdraw the health and wellbeing census 2021, given reported concerns over school pupils being asked questions relating to sex and relationships. (S6F-00556)
First, no we will not. Secondly, I make it clear that the questions that have been the focus of much of the commentary on the survey are being asked of 14, 15 and 16-year-olds. The census is not mandatory for local authorities to use in school or for children, given that parents may or may not consent to their child taking part. Pupils themselves can, if they wish, opt out of the survey.
All Governments have a responsibility—and I think that it is a serious responsibility—to ensure that public service delivery is informed by lived experience. We have two choices: either we can bury our heads in the sand and pretend that young people are not exposed to the issues or pressures that we know that they are exposed to, or we can seek to properly understand the reality that young people face and then provide them with the guidance, advice and services that they need to make safe, healthy and positive decisions. I choose the latter.
The latest information that we have is that 24 local authorities have confirmed that they are taking part in the census, which of course also features extremely important questions about people’s experiences of the pressures of schoolwork, bullying and mental health.
Students have contacted me and my colleagues because they are concerned about the explicit nature of the questions. One of the questions asks:
“People have varying degrees of sexual experience. How much, if any, sexual experience have you had?
Small amount (e.g. kissing, some intimate touching on top of clothes)
Some experiences but no sexual intercourse (e.g. touching intimately underneath clothes or without clothes on)
More experiences, including oral sex
Vaginal or anal sex”
There have been reports that the supposedly anonymous questionnaire can be traced back to individual pupils, as they must twice enter their student candidate number, which is directly linked to their name. Would the First Minister feel comfortable answering those questions? Can she reassure Parliament that, should a young person complete the forms, they will not be able to be identified?
On confidentiality, the questionnaires have been specially designed so that the information that is provided by children and young people is used for statistical and research purposes only. That ensures that any results of the research or resulting statistics will not be made available in a form that identifies individual children and young people.
Let me repeat what I said earlier. The survey is voluntary and is only for secondary year 4 and upwards. Any parent can refuse to give consent and, of course, any young person can opt not to take part in the survey or opt to skip particular questions in it. It is not mandatory.
I come back to the fundamental point. We can choose to pretend that young people of this age group do not have the experiences that the member has narrated or are not exposed to them online, in the digital world in which we live. We can choose to pretend that young people—sometimes girls in particular—are not subjected to harassment and pressure around sexual matters. We can refuse to ask the questions so that we do not know the answers, or we can get the answers that allow us to better support young people and provide them with the advice, information and guidance that will support and enable them to make positive, healthy choices for the future. I choose the latter.
I ask this seriously of the Conservatives and others: yes, engage in any legitimate concerns around these matters, but do not whip up concern on the part of parents for completely unnecessary reasons. Let us all focus on what matters, which is supporting our young people to make healthy choices in their lives.
Does the First Minister think that it is appropriate for the Scottish Government’s active travel minister to turn up to a bikeability event for kids and not join them in wearing a cycle helmet?
I do not know the circumstances of that. There are differences of opinion about the wearing of cycle helmets. I would always expect my ministers to set a good example, but I am happy to look into the particular circumstances and respond in more detail when I have had the opportunity to do so.
That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will move on to members’ business.
I remind members that this meeting of Parliament is not currently suspended. I ask you to behave, at all times, in a manner befitting parliamentarians.