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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 11, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 11 November 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Glasgow Climate Dialogues Communiqué, Portfolio Question Time, Veterans and Armed Forces Community (Remembrance and Support), Motion without Notice, Decision Time


Contents


General Question Time

Good morning. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is general questions. In order to get in as many people as possible, I would be grateful for short, succinct questions and answers to match.


Local Government Reform (Highland Council Boundaries)

I declare that I am a sitting councillor.

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will consider local government reform in relation to the redrawing of local authority areas, in light of the reported issues associated with new boundaries for the Highland Council area. (S6O-00361)

Boundaries Scotland recently conducted a review of the ward boundaries for Highland Council. As required under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, all the local authority areas with inhabited islands were reviewed. The proposal for Highland Council was not approved by the Scottish Parliament. There are currently no plans to review boundaries for local authority areas.

Does the minister believe that, given its size, the Highland Council area can be described as “local” government? Would he see benefits in having an Inverness city council, both for our fastest-growing city and for the rest of the Highlands area, which has very different interests?

We currently have no plans to change the council’s area. I understand that the geographic challenges for Highland Council were recognised when it was first created. Unfortunately, those challenges, which have not changed, did not allow for a practical solution that would have enabled the area to be split up.

Question 2 was not lodged.


Colposcopy Appointment Waiting Times

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce waiting times for colposcopy appointments. (S6O-00363)

When the cervical screening programme restarted last year, we invested around £1 million to increase capacity in both sample-taking and colposcopy services. More recently, and to coincide with the Scottish Government’s national cervical screening awareness campaign, we have provided £660,000 to health boards that are experiencing longer waiting times for colposcopy, which includes NHS Highland, to help to reduce those waits.

The national health service recovery plan, which is backed by more than £1 billion of additional investment, sets out how the Scottish Government will increase NHS capacity by 10 per cent as quickly as possible. We have already invested more than £80 million to support health boards in achieving that.

A constituent from Argyll and Bute recently contacted me, describing her experience in seeking such an appointment. Following the detection of abnormal cells during cervical screening, she received a letter from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde notifying her that not only would she be unable to get a colposcopy appointment within the eight-week limit, but would have to wait for up to 30 weeks. That was, clearly, highly distressing. Will the cabinet secretary explain what action can be taken to reduce waiting times, and will he look into that specific case if I provide further details privately?

On Donald Cameron’s latter point, I will be happy to look at the individual case if he passes on the details.

I note that, during the summer, it was claimed that some patients were waiting up to 30 weeks for a colposcopy appointment. That is why we decided to invest additional money in some of the health boards where the waiting times were far longer than we would like them to be. The health boards including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Ayrshire and Arran, NHS Highland, NHS Lothian and NHS Tayside.

I have looked at the most recent figures on waiting times for colposcopy. If an appointment is routine, in terms of the suspicion of cancer, the waits have gone down to 10 weeks nationally, which is still above our eight-week target. However, there is incredible variation across health boards. The waiting times are still far too high in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, so I would be happy to look at the individual case that Mr Cameron raises.


Locally-sourced Food

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to encourage the consumption of locally sourced food. (S6O-00364)

On 20 August, we published a draft local food strategy, which sets out the wealth of actions that we are taking to encourage local food consumption. They include launching the Scotland brings so much to the table campaign to drive increased sales and awareness of Scottish produce; raising the profile of producer and farmer markets around Scotland and promoting access to local produce from butchers, fishmongers, bakers and farm shops through the food and drink recovery plan; and the food for life programme, which supports the provision of more locally sourced, healthier food in schools. In 2021-22, we will target all 32 local authorities with £400,000 of funding.

We are currently consulting on the draft strategy to ensure that the public and relevant organisations have the chance to shape further Government action to encourage the consumption of local food.

Could the cabinet secretary outline how lowland deer managers can get a voice in the on-going discussions? How can we ensure that more local produce is available in public sector catering, such as school and hospital canteens?

I encourage lowland deer managers and anyone who has an interest in the strategy, which will be wide ranging, to make sure that they share their views through the local food consultation. The consultation is open for responses until 26 November, giving people the chance to shape further Government action to encourage local food consumption.

We are absolutely committed to increasing the local sourcing of food and drink in the public sector. Glasgow City Council recently became the 17th local authority to achieve food for life status in its primary schools. Our support for that programme continues and we are in discussion with the Soil Association about options for expanding it into other settings in the public sector.

I recently met representatives of Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, who emphasised the health benefits and sustainability of the locally sourced, high-quality meat and dairy products that its members produce. What is the Scottish Government doing to support a culture change when it comes to information about locally sourced food, including the health and environmental benefits?

The Scottish Government agrees that locally sourced food has many benefits. That is why, in addition to the actions that we set out in the local food strategy, we recently introduced the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill, which will place duties on Scottish ministers and other public authorities to produce plans for their food policies and to set out what they will do to ensure that those plans are made real.

We are also undertaking scoping work on a single marketing brand—sustainably Scottish—for all Scottish food and drink produce. The brand will be available to all Scotland-based producers, manufacturers and suppliers who can satisfy stringent criteria around provenance and low-carbon operations. That will allow many Scottish businesses that have a strong story to tell about sustainability to capitalise on demand.

Public procurement is one of the Government’s main levers to ensure that we support our farmers and local food producers. However, they continue to tell us that red tape is preventing them from accessing the central Excel contract. That has been the case for years, and I have spoken about it in the chamber many times. What is the Government doing to ensure that farmers have access to the Excel contract?

The member is absolutely right, and I know that he has raised the issue in the chamber a number of times. That is why the food strategy and the consultation on it are so important. There are three overarching pillars in the strategy: how we can better connect people with food; how local producers can connect with buyers; and how we can better harness the public sector’s buying power through procurement. I encourage Mr Whittle and other members to respond to the consultation and to encourage others to do so, because we really want to tackle and get to grips with the issue.


Infrastructure Investment (Coatbridge and Chryston)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has for infrastructure investment in the Coatbridge and Chryston constituency. (S6O-00365)

The Coatbridge and Chryston constituency will benefit from Scottish Government-supported national infrastructure programmes such as the investment of £3.4 billion in affordable housing, £600 million in superfast broadband and more than £550 million in active travel. In addition, with NHS Lanarkshire, we have plans to build a new hospital that will replace the existing University hospital Monklands, as well as a new national treatment centre project, which is in the early stage of planning. We are also investing more than £500 million in the Glasgow city region deal, in which North Lanarkshire Council is a partner.

The minister will be aware of the Gartcosh business interchange in my constituency, which has been developed by Scottish Enterprise and already includes the very impressive Scottish crime campus. He might also be aware that the site was shortlisted as one of the proposed sites for the new Monklands hospital, to which he referred. The consultation on the hospital was lengthy and thorough, and, ultimately, an alternative site in Airdrie was chosen. I very much welcome the new hospital, as it will greatly benefit my constituency.

However, inevitably, that process has stalled further investment in the Gartcosh site, which is strategically well placed and crying out for future infrastructure development. I have had some helpful discussions with Scottish Enterprise, and I know that it is commissioning work around the said site. Would the minister be open to having a meeting with Scottish Enterprise and me to consider what more can be done to bring about development at the site that will benefit Coatbridge and Chryston and, indeed, the wider area?

Yes. I know the site, and I would be happy to meet Fulton MacGregor and Scottish Enterprise.

As Mr MacGregor will be aware, through our investment in the Glasgow city region deal, we have unlocked the development potential at Gartcosh business park. In addition, through our vacant and derelict land fund awards to North Lanarkshire Council, we have supported its local property development and regeneration company, Fusion Assets Ltd, to undertake site preparation works for new business and industrial use on more than 9 acres, and the first 18,000 square foot unit has now been completed. That investment will address market failure on the site, attract new businesses to the area and create associated local employment opportunities.


Fly-tipping

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle fly-tipping, in light of reports of there being just three prosecutions from 32 reported cases of fly-tipping in the 2019-20 financial year. (S6O-00366)

I thank the member for his question, because it gives me the opportunity to restate that fly-tipping is a criminal offence and an activity that has no place in Scotland.

We take the matter very seriously and are developing a new litter and fly-tipping strategy, which will be ready for consultation by the end of this year and will be published in early 2022. The issue of enforcement, which the member raised, is one of the key themes of the strategy. We will review current processes and legislation, including where they may need to be strengthened or where new legislation may be required. I absolutely welcome views and encourage participation in the upcoming consultation.

I thank the minister for her positive response. I think that she will appreciate the frustration that is felt in local government about the fact that a huge amount of time and effort goes into preparing cases against people who are caught fly-tipping, but when those cases are sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, only a tiny percentage of them are taken forward for action. As the minister might know, I am currently working on a member’s bill consultation on how we might strengthen the law in this area. Will the minister agree to meet me to discuss how we might work together to resolve the problem?

Yes, I understand the frustrations of local authorities, the police, the Procurator Fiscal Service and, of course, those people who are unfortunate enough to have to deal with fly-tipping on their land. I live in a rural area and I have had personal experience of the issue, so I know how frustrating it is.

I am aware of the bill that the member is developing. I have not seen the content of it yet, but I would be glad to meet him to discuss it.

Of course, fly-tipping goes way beyond the ubiquitous street mattress. I understand that serious organised crime is involved in commercial fly-tipping. Will that be factored into the Government’s consultation?

I thank the member for raising that important point. Organised crime and criminal activity is a key part of one of the many challenges that we face as regards litter and fly-tipping. In my answer to the previous question, I mentioned that we are engaging with Police Scotland and the Procurator Fiscal Service—crucially, we are also engaging with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—to look at those very issues.


CalMac Summer Timetable

To ask the Scottish Government what consultation is being undertaken with communities regarding next year’s summer timetable for ferry routes within the CalMac network. (S6O-00367)

CalMac Ferries is currently consulting local stakeholders on summer 2022 timetables. The results of the consultation will be considered before any decisions are taken. Community views are crucial to the process, so I encourage stakeholders to engage constructively with CalMac, and I encourage CalMac to reflect carefully on any implementable asks that come out of the process.

I thank the minister for his very helpful reply. He will be aware of concern in my constituency over proposed changes that would result in an overall reduction in the number of sailings from Lochmaddy and Tarbert. Will he comment on that and on why the consultation period for the issue was, apparently, so short?

Increasing demand on the route has led to CalMac deploying the mezzanine deck more frequently, which has led to challenges in the current timetable with loading and offloading. Any delays to sailings have knock-on effects, often requiring later sailings to be cancelled to ensure that crews get the required number of hours of rest. An option is therefore being developed to allow the mezzanine deck to be fully deployed with some amendments to timetables, resulting in the removal of the shoulder off-peak season and having a consistent timetable for the whole summer period. However, if the community does not want that, the summer 2021 timetable will remain in place, although the mezz deck will not be in operation in order to avoid delays and cancellations.

CalMac continues to engage on the proposals with the council, which is the agreed consultation group for Western Isles services, and Transport Scotland officials are liaising closely with CalMac on the matter. I hope that that offers Alasdair Allan some reassurance.

Graeme Dey will be aware that one of the services that are being cut runs on Saturdays, which is traditionally a changeover day for tourism businesses, meaning that changeovers will not take place. If the issue is crewing, will he allow CalMac to employ more crews so that the ferry can run more often, allowing changeovers to happen?

As I said, these are options that are being considered. We are aware that CalMac continues to engage, along with the local council, on these matters. I encourage the council to involve the local transport forum in discussions to see whether we can arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.


Net Zero (Argyll and Bute)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will support Argyll and Bute to benefit from the transition to net zero. (S6O-00368)

The climate crisis is, quite simply, the greatest long-term challenge that we face. The risks of inaction are huge, but there are also opportunities. The Scottish Government provides a range of support to ensure that communities and businesses in Argyll and Bute and across Scotland benefit from a just transition to net zero.

To give just two examples of our work, the Argyll and the Isles Coast and Countryside Trust has received £52,000 through the climate challenge fund, and we have committed up to £25 million to drive sustainable and inclusive economic growth through the Argyll and Bute rural growth deal over 10 years. Combined with investment from partners, the deal will be worth at least £70 million.

Argyll and Bute is central to Scotland’s journey to net zero; it has onshore and offshore wind and renewable supply chain businesses and marine research at the Scottish Association for Marine Science, and it is home to Scotland’s Celtic rainforests. How will the Scottish Government listen to communities and balance their needs with those of the wider country?

Jenni Minto touches on an important point about balance. A just transition is at the heart of our climate action. The transition must deliver on our economic and social as well as our climate goals, and it will work only if it is shaped by communities, businesses and workers alike.

We have committed to producing regional just transition plans, and we are identifying where regions will be best placed to act as facilitators for planning processes, bringing parties together and ensuring that voices are heard.

Our draft fourth national planning framework was laid before the Parliament yesterday. We will be carrying out extensive consultation and engagement on it.

At the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—just last week, on a visit to the RSPB Scotland exhibition at Glasgow botanic gardens, as countries around the world committed to ending deforestation, I was pleased to make clear our commitment to continue creating up to 80 per cent of the United Kingdom’s woodlands and, crucially, to support and expand our precious rainforest in the west of the Scotland.