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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 10, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 10 October 2019

Agenda: Business Motion, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 (Day 2), Point of Order, Transport (Scotland) Bill, Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Business Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Miscarriage (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is available for women who have been affected by miscarriage. (S5O-03659)

All health boards provide treatment and support to women following a miscarriage. Health boards will provide information and will often signpost women to third-sector partners for further support. I thank James Dornan for raising this question during baby loss awareness week, which we are supporting in a number of ways, including by lighting up Scottish Government buildings in pink and blue to show our support.

Yesterday, I visited the offices of SANDS Lothians to hear more about this important subject, and to talk to members of the charity and bereaved parents. I was very impressed with the commitment and level of support that Nicola Welsh and her team provide to parents who have sadly experienced the loss of a pregnancy or a baby.

Many of those who have contacted me on this matter are concerned about having to walk through existing maternity departments where new mothers are either going through successful pregnancies or have just given birth. That can often cause great upset for parents who are still in mourning for their lost child.

Can the minister therefore provide an update on the progress of the national bereavement care pathway? Can he tell us whether there is a provision in it to ensure that those who are suffering such a loss do not have to walk through maternity wards, with all the reminders of what they have just lost, when they are going for support?

I understand the stress that that can cause. We would of course expect that, wherever possible, hospitals treat women with compassion and understanding and continue to look at and improve their services to meet the needs of all maternity service users.

The development of the five different bereavement pathways that James Dornan mentioned is progressing well. SANDS UK is leading that work, in collaboration with other baby loss charities and health professionals, to ensure that the pathways are suitable for Scotland. I expect the pathways to launch in the five early adopter sites in the first quarter of 2020.

Black History Month

To ask the Scottish Government how it is marking black history month. (S5O-03660)

The First Minister and I both attended the launch of black history month in Parliament on 24 September, hosted by the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights. Tomorrow, I will be participating in a black history month tour of Glasgow, exploring the city’s historical ties with slavery.

Scottish Government race equality officials will also be attending black history month events during October. The Scottish Government race equality staff network also has a series of internal events planned to mark the month. Just last week, I met with the African Council in Aberdeen to discuss many issues facing our citizens, and how it uses black history month to tackle racism.

There is a rich and long black history in Scotland, with some sources stating that the first man who was arrested for wearing a kilt after Culloden was a black man. Does the minister agree that black history is Scottish history, and that we should not only celebrate it for one month a year, but do all that we can to integrate it and learn about it all year round?

Yes—I am delighted to agree absolutely with my colleague Ruth Maguire on that point. We are a culturally enriched nation; some of the colours of our tartans express the fact that we have a very rich and colourful cultural background.

I will give Ruth Maguire a wee bit of an update. Race equality officials and I have on-going meetings with many organisations. In 2019-20, we have allocated more than £2.3 million to fund those organisations to advance race equality all year round, not in black history month alone. In February 2019, the Respect Me anti-bullying service published an anti-racist bullying resource that addresses inclusion and how to challenge racism in schools effectively. We continue to support and fund Respect Me to do that work.

In “A fairer Scotland for all: race equality action plan and highlight report 2017-2021”, the Scottish Government committed to increase the number of teachers from underrepresented groups at all levels of Scottish schools. I hope that that will encourage and reassure Ruth Maguire that we take our cultural enrichment from black history month and promote it all year round, in every single month of the year.

National Thrombectomy Service (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde)

To ask the Scottish Government what contribution NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde will make to the proposed new national thrombectomy service. (S5O-03661)

Before the introduction of the thrombectomy service, it is imperative that proper clinical planning for such a highly specialised intervention is undertaken. The programme for government commits to ensuring that a national planning framework is in place in order to provide a high-quality and clinically safe thrombectomy service.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde sits on the directors of planning thrombectomy advisory group. The group is currently developing a national framework for the introduction of the service. Once the framework is finalised, appropriate thrombectomy service sites will be approved. It is currently anticipated that the service may be available in at least one board area by 2020.

I recently met a constituent of mine whose husband is making a strong recovery from a stroke thanks to a thrombectomy procedure that is not, as we know, available in Scotland as yet. He underwent that procedure while on holiday in Majorca. I understand that the national planning board may sign off a national service imminently, but I seek reassurance that the Scottish Government will ensure that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde will offer that service as soon as possible, as concerns have been raised with me that it could be another year before it is implemented.

The Glasgow and Clyde area, which is covered by that health board, is certainly a significant area in respect of the incidence of strokes. The west of Scotland is one of the areas in which there are the highest incidences of strokes. Our intention is to provide a thrombectomy service that covers the whole of Scotland, including the north in particular, and we will work to ensure that when the service is introduced, it will be on a phased basis, as it is being introduced in England. At this point, it is not possible to say which part of the country will be in the initial phase but, once we have clearer information on that, we will certainly ensure that Mr Doris is advised.

Can the cabinet secretary give a commitment on when thrombectomy will be available to patients in every health board area, including Lanarkshire, and say whether funding for each health board has been identified yet?

The national planning framework is, of course, part of the overall stroke pathway and the additional work that has been committed to in the programme for government, which includes the appointment of a clinical medical specialist on stroke to look at the whole pathway across Scotland. Until the planning framework is finalised, it will not be possible to give a commitment on the final date when it will cover the whole of Scotland or to know what the additional resource will be. However, we have made the commitment to deliver that service, so the resource will be made available to deliver it once the planning framework is in place. At that point, we will know the timescale for the phasing in of thrombectomy across Scotland. I will ensure that, like my colleague Mr Doris, Ms Lennon is aware of how that will be phased in across Scotland.

Tobacco (Joined-up Approach)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the call by ASH Scotland for a joined-up approach to services relating to tobacco and other health-harming substances. (S5O-03662)

We welcome the fact that ASH Scotland continues to raise awareness of the fact that smoking remains the single biggest avoidable cause of death in Scotland, killing more than 9,000 people each year. Through the partnership approach that we take to tackling the use of and harm from tobacco in Scotland, that figure continues to decline each year.

In June 2018, we published our public health priorities. They include a joined-up priority of reducing the use of and harm from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. It is the responsibility of health boards and integration authorities to decide how best to join up their services to deliver on that priority. The Scottish Government continues to encourage boards and authorities to take a joined-up approach to services that are aimed at tackling the effects of health-harming substances.

I note my interest in the subject as a British Lung Foundation smoking cessation champion.

According to data in the 2018 Scottish health survey, smoking prevalence rates across Scotland have flatlined, and there has been a concerning increase in the number of smokers in Scotland’s most deprived communities. What new steps are in the respiratory care action plan to increase the number of people quitting smoking?

Obviously, Alexander Stewart is aware that the action plan will be published in due course and that it continues to be worked on. However, I will talk about some of the actions that we are taking.

This week, we launched a consultation that paves the way for removing smoking outside hospital buildings. Later this year, we will consult on restricting the advertising and promotion of electronic cigarettes. Those are the kinds of actions that we will take.

We are keen that overall smoking trends continue to decline. I am aware of the statistics that Alexander Stewart mentioned, which we need to be mindful of. However, the trend continues to be down, and it is particularly good to see the level of smoking among the youngest remaining at a historic low. We need to see about the slight blips, but it looks like there has been an increase in adult smoking from 18 to 19 per cent. I think that rounding largely accounts for that—18.4 was rounded down and 18.7 was rounded up. We need to keep looking at that, particularly in deprived communities, where there has been an increase in uptake of services for cessation. That is a good thing and we need to keep working on it. I appreciate Alexander Stewart’s continued support on that matter.

Does the minister share ASH Scotland’s assessment of the link between smoking and health inequality? Does he agree that we need a national strategy that tackles smoking cessation and poverty alleviation?

David Stewart makes an important point, which he has made many times before. The Government will not argue against the link between health inequality and poverty and deprivation. We need to continue to work on that. The member will continue to get my support for his interventions in the matter.

Gourock to Dunoon Ferry Service

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on any planned upgrades to the Gourock to Dunoon passenger ferry service. (S5O-03663)

We have started a project that will consider the long-term requirements of the Gourock to Dunoon passenger ferry service, including vessel and infrastructure upgrades. We will also consider opportunities for shorter-term improvements in passenger facilities.

The recent linkspan issues at Gourock and the inconvenience that has been caused to passengers are regrettable. However, that challenging situation has been managed effectively by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd and CalMac Ferries, with minimal disruption to passengers using the Gourock to Dunoon service.

The minister might be aware that recent media reports revealed that, since they came into service, the two vessels that currently operate the route have racked up over 2,000 cancellations. Given the unreliability of those ferries, does he agree that the people of Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula deserve an urgent and effective solution to a situation that has gone on for too long, rather than to see it kicked into the long grass yet again?

Donald Cameron will accept that, in the engagements that I have had with him, I have recognised that there have been challenges in the Gourock to Dunoon service. As he knows, we are trying to move to a position where we have longer-term stability and reliability for the service.

I have frequent discussions with Mr Cameron and others who have an interest in the route, such as Mike Russell, who is one of the constituency members affected. I hope that Mr Cameron welcomes the fact that there has been an increase in passenger traffic on the service, notwithstanding the disruption. We recognise that the vessels are not ideal for the route. Through the project that I outlined in my first answer, we are working with CalMac, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and Clyde Marine Services to make sure that the necessary arrangements are put in place to support the revised service timetables that have been used recently. We will also make sure that the project takes on board the views of passengers who use the Gourock to Dunoon service, the trade unions and the local authorities in relation to the harbour facilities. As we take the work forward, I am happy to engage with Donald Cameron and other members who have an interest in that issue. We recognise the challenges, but we are working on providing a long-term solution for the service.

Housing (Kirkcaldy)

To ask the Scottish Government how many local authority and affordable houses have been delivered in the Kirkcaldy constituency since 2012. (S5O-03664)

Since 2012, through our affordable housing supply programme and open-market shared equity programme, the Scottish Government has delivered 893 local authority and affordable houses in the Kirkcaldy constituency. Our support aims to deliver a range of housing in a mix of affordable tenures, primarily focusing on social rented housing. That is a key Government priority. As part of our 50,000 affordable homes programme, which is backed by record investment of £3.3 billion, we aim to deliver 35,000 social rent homes in Scotland.

Does the minister agree that Brexit will have a devastating impact on the availability of skilled workers in the construction industry and could damage the good results that the Scottish Government has achieved in delivering new housing programmes?

I agree with David Torrance. I am concerned that a no-deal Brexit could undermine all our good work on increasing Scotland’s housing supply. In 2017, 7,000 European Union nationals were employed in the Scottish construction sector. A no-deal Brexit would pose a significant risk to the Scottish construction workforce and to builders’ supply chains.

The United Kingdom Government’s immigration plans will be disastrous for keeping and attracting people with the necessary skills and will have a huge impact on the availability of the EU-national workforce in the construction and house building industry. Private house builders are particularly vulnerable to the implications of Brexit, because, in 2018, 60 per cent of construction materials were imports from the EU. Members should be in no doubt that a Tory no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for many areas of life in Scotland; that is just one of them.

Reaching 100 Per Cent Programme

To ask the Scottish Government when it expects to set out a clear timetable for the delivery of the R100 programme. (S5O-03665)

Our £600 million R100 programme is a vital investment in our digital infrastructure. It will help to deliver a future-proof network, making Scotland one of the best-connected places anywhere in Europe.

Procurement for R100 has been split into three lots, covering north, central and south areas. Final tenders were submitted on 23 August, and detailed evaluation is currently in progress. I can confirm that BT was the only bidder for the central and south lots and that, subject to due diligence and governance, we intend to proceed to contract with BT as soon as possible. More than one bid was received for the north lot, and we will announce a preferred bidder for the north lot in due course.

In September 2018, Audit Scotland told the Scottish Government that it needed to publish clear timetables by summer 2019. A year on, in the programme for government statement, the First Minister conspicuously dropped the earlier 2021 deadline for delivery of R100. When can my constituents in Orkney, which still has the lowest coverage rates in Scotland, expect to get access to long-awaited and much-needed high-speed broadband?

Just before the recess, we set out a timetable, which we are trying to stick to, to achieve the securing of contracts to be signed by the end of this calendar year, and we are still on course to achieve that. That will provide certainty for all areas that are affected by R100 as to the degree of coverage to be provided under the programme and as to those properties that may need to be picked up through aligned interventions.

I would stress this to Mr McArthur. I appreciate that there are still customers in Orkney waiting to have a service. As Mr McArthur knows from correspondence, this is a reserved matter, but we are making great progress in delivering for Orkney. For example, in January 2014, only 12 per cent of premises in Orkney had access to fibre broadband; by February this year, that figure was up to 81.9 per cent. That is an increase of 69.9 percentage points, and there has been an increase of 54 percentage points in superfast access over the same period.

I hope that Mr McArthur will welcome the progress that has been made. We need to work together to deliver for those remaining properties—I recognise that. I hope that he will soon see progress from R100 that will benefit his constituents.