Website survey

We want your feedback on the Scottish Parliament website. Take our 6 question survey now

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Loading…

Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 12, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 12 January 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Inequities in Palliative Care, Education and Skills Organisations (Performance and Role), Business Motion, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Engagements

I wish everyone in the chamber and across the country a happy new year and offer them my best wishes for 2017.

To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-00712)

I wish you, Presiding Officer, members in the chamber and everybody across Scotland a happy new year.

Later today I will have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

We have heard a lot this week about performance in health systems. We should all agree that nobody should revel in the fact that sick people are struggling to be treated anywhere. Instead, we should all be focused on patients and how to improve care, which is why I welcomed reports this morning that the Scottish Government has brought in a team from the national health service in England to help out the troubled Queen Elizabeth hospital in Glasgow. How many other Scottish hospitals have benefited and continue to benefit from such arrangements?

There is not a team from the NHS in England helping in the Queen Elizabeth hospital; there is a support team, which is provided by the Scottish Government, helping the hospital deal with pressures in accident and emergency. There is input to that from a very small team—two people, I think—from a commissioning provider in the north of England, but it is a Scottish Government support team. It is making sure that the Queen Elizabeth hospital, like hospitals across Scotland, is dealing with the increase in demand for A and E services at this time of year.

It is worth saying that our A and E services face challenges, particularly in the winter months, and those challenges are faced not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom. Our staff are doing a sterling job in dealing with those challenges. The most recently published figures, for the week ending 1 January, show that 92 out of every 100 patients were seen within the four-hour target, which is broadly similar to the figure for the same week last year despite A and E attendances being up by almost 3 per cent since then.

My concern and my responsibility are for Scotland, but it is important to say that, due to the actions that we have taken to support A and E departments across Scotland, our NHS is coping better than the NHS in other parts of the UK. The chamber does not have to take my word for that. Derek Bell of the Royal College of Physicians said:

“Scotland is consistently performing 8 or 10 per cent better than England”.

There is no complacency in the Government when it comes to A and E or any other healthcare service. I have visited three health boards this week alone. We will continue to support our health service and A and E departments to make sure that they continue to deliver the services that patients deserve.

I asked how many hospitals were benefiting from such arrangements as the hit team that has been brought in for the Queen Elizabeth. As the First Minister chose not to answer, I am sure that members look forward to her updating us fully at her convenience on exactly how many have been so served.

We know that there has been a series of problems at the Queen Elizabeth since it opened and we know that the team, which brings in lots of different people, including people from south of the border, has been in place for a number of months. However, we do not know its precise remit, how long it has been asked to stay for and what cost to the Scottish Government has been incurred. What has been the total cost over the past five years of hiring specialist teams from other parts of the UK to help the NHS in Scotland?

We, as the Scottish Government, provide appropriate support to health boards so that they can continue to improve services and deliver better services to patients. Perhaps if the Government in the rest of the UK was doing similarly, there would be better A and E performance in hospitals in England.

As an aside, I say that the latest A and E figures for England have been published this morning. They show a further decline in performance and they now show a gap between performance in Scotland’s A and E and England’s A and E of 10 percentage points.

Let me say very clearly that the NHS in Scotland will continue to use and learn from best practice in the delivery of healthcare, wherever that best practice exists. Let me also say this very clearly: there is no complacency on the part of the Government. We will continue to see demand for A and E services increase during January and the winter, as we always do, and that will undoubtedly be reflected in performance.

However, if there is any best practice with regard to A and E to be learned right now in the NHS anywhere in the United Kingdom, it is best practice in the NHS in Scotland. I quoted Professor Derek Bell earlier; I do not know whether Ruth Davidson has seen what he has written in this morning’s Scotsman. He talks about the “consistently ... better” performance in Scotland compared with other parts of the UK, and says:

“This is in part due to the National Programme, ‘Six Essential Actions to Improving Unscheduled Care’, which shares best practice, and appears to be showing patient benefit.”

He then suggests:

“The NHS in England should consider introducing a similar National”

plan to the one that is already operational in Scotland. We have best practice in A and E services, and it is being delivered in our hospitals here in Scotland.

I simply asked for greater transparency on health spending. I would have thought that, as a former health secretary, the First Minister would have been happy to provide that information to the chamber. It seems not.

Of course, the Queen Elizabeth hospital is not the only new medical facility with teething problems. In 2014, the First Minister announced to much fanfare the opening of new trauma centres across the country. They were supposed to receive their first patients last year, but yesterday the Scottish Government announced that the new centres would be years late. The First Minister admitted that they would be at least three years late, and the only explanation offered was scale and complexity. Communities that have been expecting these centres for two years are now being told to wait at least another three, and I think that they deserve a fuller explanation than the one that has been given, as does the Parliament. Will the First Minister give us that explanation now?

Before we move away from the first part of Ruth Davidson’s question, I note that she talked about transparency on health spending. Let me give her transparency on health spending in Scotland: we have record levels of health spending in Scotland as a result of decisions that have been taken by this Government; those record levels of health spending are delivering record numbers of staff working in our health service; and those record numbers of staff are right now delivering A and E performance that is 10 percentage points better than A and E performance in England and even further than that compared with Wales and Northern Ireland. We will never be complacent about the performance of our health service, particularly during these difficult winter months, and I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of our healthcare teams across Scotland, who are right now doing such a fantastic job on our behalf.

As for the trauma centres, which I was very proud to talk about yesterday—including the £5 million investment in the next financial year to support that commitment—we have rightly taken time to get them right. Ruth Davidson and others will be aware—indeed, they should be aware, given that her own members have been part of it—of the intense debate about the correct number and configuration of major trauma centres across Scotland. Ruth Davidson would have read in our programme for government, which was published in September last year, our commitment to conclude preparatory work by the end of 2016. That is exactly what we have done, and we will now get on with implementation.

However, it is important to be clear what we are talking about. We are not talking about creating from scratch four new facilities that currently do not exist; these four hospitals—in Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh—already provide excellent, first-class trauma care. What we are talking about is continuing to enhance what they do and to join up the services that they provide with services provided by other hospitals and the Scottish Ambulance Service in an integrated trauma network. That work will be done on an on-going basis over the next three years, but many of the improvements that are part of it, including key improvements to the trauma service that is provided by the Scottish Ambulance Service, will be delivered over the course of this year.

This is about on-going improvement to already excellent services that are being delivered by our trauma care staff across the NHS. Yesterday, I was delighted to talk to the staff delivering that service in Ninewells, and I take this opportunity to thank them for the first-class and outstanding job that they are doing.

So not just late but significantly scaled back from the party conference announcements.

There is another point here. Yesterday, once again, we saw the Scottish Government bypass Parliament and go straight to the media about a major change. It has been reported that the health secretary is not due to update Parliament on the delay to the trauma centres until October, meaning that MSPs will not have a proper opportunity to fully question the reasons behind the decision for nine months. That is clearly unacceptable. The Scottish Conservatives have requested that the health secretary come to the chamber to give a full statement on the delay. I ask the First Minister to ensure that that takes place next week.

I point out to Ruth Davidson that I am standing in the chamber right now answering questions from her on major trauma centres. If she cannot get any or all of the information about the announcement that she wants, I suggest that that is about a deficiency in her ability to ask questions, not about any lack of information from the Scottish Government.

I will say two further things to Ruth Davidson about this. I did not go straight to the media yesterday; I went straight to Ninewells hospital to talk to some of the staff who deliver trauma centres across this country. Incidentally, as I did that, the answer to an inspired parliamentary question was published informing Parliament of the Government’s position.

Secondly, Ruth Davidson clearly does not know much about this subject. She talks about “scaling back”. The intense debate that I talked about concerning the number of trauma centres was about the fact that there were people who thought that we should have only two major trauma centres, based in Edinburgh and in Glasgow. We did not think that that was right, so we committed to four major trauma centres as part of an integrated network—further evidence of this Government getting on with the job of delivering first-class healthcare services.

Finally, I must say that it is a bit rich for Ruth Davidson to come to the chamber to talk about the health service in the week in which the Red Cross has accused her party of presiding over a “humanitarian crisis” in the health service in England.

I will get on with the job of supporting our healthcare staff in doing the great job that they are doing in providing health services across our country.

I can see that members are in quite a rowdy mood. Please show some restraint.


Engagements

Happy new year, Presiding Officer. [Laughter.]

To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the week. (S5F-00732)

I have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Last year, I met leading consultants and surgeons at Aberdeen royal infirmary, who told me that a new trauma centre in Aberdeen could mean the difference between life and death for people in the north-east of Scotland. Whether they were talking about people who have been involved in car crashes or accidents on the rigs, they were clear that access to world-class trauma care could be a life saver.

The Scottish National Party promised that the trauma centres would be open in 2016, but yesterday the First Minister announced a three-year delay, and looked as though she was celebrating that delay. Given what the experts tell us, does the First Minister accept that that delay could be a matter of life and death?

Aberdeen and Dundee major trauma centres will be fully operational before the ones in Edinburgh and Glasgow, probably over the next year to 18 months, so Aberdeen is getting that life-saving major trauma centre. Of course, some people thought that it should not get the centre at all, and that there should be only two such centres—in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

I will repeat the important point that I made earlier: the major trauma centres are not brand-new facilities that will be built from scratch; the hospitals are already providing excellent trauma care. The project that we are discussing is first about enhancing what the centres do, and secondly—this is the important part, which is perhaps not fully understood—about joining up what the four centres do with the work that is done by hospitals in other parts of the country and, crucially, by the Scottish Ambulance Service, in an integrated trauma-care network. One of the early parts of the implementation of that work will be the provision of a 24/7 trauma desk in the Scottish Ambulance Service, so that patients can be triaged more quickly and can get to definitive trauma care as quickly as possible. The work is not just about four centres; it is about providing a network of trauma care. It will deliver even better care for trauma patients than is currently being delivered—and let me stress that the hospitals are already delivering first-class care.

The life-saving medics whom I met told me what they are telling the Government: that more delays will cost lives.

I listened carefully to the First Minister’s response to Ruth Davidson. In fact, I wrote it down word for word. Regarding the trauma centres, she said:

“we have rightly taken time to get them right,”

and added that the Scottish Government is ensuring

“the correct number and configuration”.

Why, then, did her Government issue a press release on 2 April 2014 that says that

“The four bases will be operational from 2016”?

If Kezia Dugdale had looked into all the detail of the matter, she would know the answer to her own question. After that press release, another report cast doubt on whether what we planned was the right configuration, so we had to look again in order to take account of all the clinical evidence to ensure that we were getting it right. That is why what I said is absolutely right: that we took time to ensure that we get it right.

The improvements are under way already. Aberdeen royal infirmary already delivers life-saving trauma care, and the improvements that will be made will enhance what it does and what the hospitals in Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh do. It is crucial that we ensure that the hospitals work together in a network with appropriate support from the Scottish Ambulance Service. They are the right changes and they are being made for the right reasons.

The other part of the announcement yesterday—which has not been talked about enough at any point—is the focus on rehabilitation. The measures are not just about saving lives; they are also about ensuring that people who suffer serious trauma get the rehabilitation that they need in order to have good quality of life, too. It is an integrated approach, and it is the right approach. The work is now based on the right evidence—the chief medical officer has taken forward the work to get us to this stage. We will now get on and implement the improvements.

I also listened carefully to the First Minister’s response on the problems that face England’s NHS. It is quite incredible to hear the First Minister say that we should celebrate the fact that the Red Cross has not condemned Scotland’s NHS. What happened to the high ambitions that the First Minister had?

There is an unhealthy theme that follows the Scottish National Party and its NHS election pledges. Patients were promised world-class care at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, but they are just not getting it. People in the north-east were promised a new trauma centre, but it is years behind schedule. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport promised to abolish delayed discharge, but we now know that 700 people have died while they were waiting to leave hospital. Targets are being missed and dedicated health service staff are telling us that they are under pressure like never before. Why is it that the only consistent thing that the SNP delivers is broken promises on the NHS?

Kezia Dugdale’s comment about the Red Cross would be fine if it was actually what I had said.

I said—with no complacency—that we should be celebrating the fact that the performance of our hard-working NHS staff in our accident and emergency departments up and down the country against the four-hour target is 10 percentage points ahead of the performance of hospitals in England, and is even further ahead of the performance of hospitals in Wales and Northern Ireland. I also said that members do not have to take my word for it: that is the view of the experts—I quoted Professor Derek Bell of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. We should be proud of our NHS staff for that work, but of course we should continue to support them, given the challenges that they face, and will continue to face throughout the winter.

Kezia Dugdale also mentioned delayed discharges. This morning we saw evidence of a steep rise in delayed discharges in England. We have much more work to do, but over the past year there has been a 9 per cent reduction in the number of NHS bed days that have been lost to delayed discharge.

I said earlier that I have visited three health boards this week. The people to whom I spoke in each of those three health boards talked about the improvements around the six essential actions in A and E. They also all talked about the benefits that are starting to be felt from integration of healthcare and social care, which means getting people discharged from hospital earlier. We are the only Government in the United Kingdom that stopped merely talking about integration of healthcare and social care. We have actually got on and done it, and the benefits are starting to be seen. Yes—there is much more work to do, but we will continue to support our NHS as it does that work.

Finally, I will say this to Kezia Dugdale. I know that she does not like it and that she is trying to pretend that it is not the case, but this Government was elected on a commitment to increase resource spending in the health service by £500 million more than inflation over this session of Parliament. Kezia Dugdale’s commitment in that election was to increase health spending by the level of inflation. If Kezia Dugdale were standing in my place right now, the health service would have less money than it has, so she has a cheek to come and ask the questions that she has asked.

We have a couple of constituency questions.

Yesterday, the Forth road bridge was closed for most of the day, which caused massive disruption to the lives and businesses of thousands of my constituents in Fife and further afield. I am sure that the First Minister would want to join me in commending all those who worked so hard in very difficult conditions to get the bridge reopened as quickly as possible. However, it will not have escaped my constituents’ notice that if the new Queensferry crossing—with its wind shielding—had been opened last December as the First Minister had promised, they might well have been spared the disruption. Will the First Minister tell my constituents when the new Queensferry crossing will be open?

To get to the facts of the situation, I say that if the driver had not ignored the warning not to take that heavy goods vehicle on to the bridge, the bridge would not have been closed yesterday.

The contractual completion date for the Queensferry crossing is, of course, June this year. We are on track to ensure that it will be open on time. In addition, it is being delivered under budget.

I thank all those who are working hard on the new bridge, just as I thank all those who worked really hard yesterday in the very difficult weather conditions that we see at this time of year to get the bridge repaired. It was a complex repair. They got it done and the bridge was reopened at 9 o’clock last night. All of us should say a heartfelt “Thank you” to them for that. [Applause.]

I put on the record that I am parliamentary liaison officer to the First Minister.

A number of my constituents are outside Parliament today, setting out their opposition to ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Moray Firth, at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth. I share their opposition.

The decision on ship-to-ship oil transfers is for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the United Kingdom Government. Will the First Minister join me in urging the MCA to listen closely to my constituents’ views and to pay close attention to the potential environmental impact of such transfers if they are allowed to go ahead?

Gail Ross rightly points out that the matter is not devolved, despite the Scottish Government’s repeatedly making the case for the powers to be devolved.

On the basis of the current information, the Scottish Government is unconvinced that ship-to-ship oil transfers can, or should, take place at anchor in the Cromarty Firth without unacceptable risk to the marine environment—in particular the European Union designated area for bottlenose dolphins.

We will ensure that local communities’ concerns are heard by the UK authorities while—as I said—we continue to press for the relevant powers to be devolved Scotland. We will also continue to support the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, which is a vital and valued part of the north of Scotland’s economy. The MCA has a duty to listen to concerns and to local people—who are, as Gail Ross said, represented at Parliament today. I warmly welcome the people who are outside—some of them may be inside—Parliament. I assure them that the Scottish Government absolutely hears their concerns and will continue to do everything we can to make sure that they are heard by those who take the decisions. It might be good advice to suggest that once they leave Parliament today they stop off at the Scotland Office to make sure that the UK Government also hears their concerns. I hope that their concerns will be listened to there, too.

The First Minister will be aware of the disappointing news that the Jim Clark rally in the Borders will not take place in 2017. There is a risk that the important event will be permanently lost from the motor-racing calendar, which would be a big blow to the Borders economy. I urge the First Minister and the Scottish Government to do all that they can to provide support to the Jim Clark rally. Will the First Minister clarify that the on-going inquiry does not, in itself, provide any legal obstacle to the holding of the rally? Will she urge the Motor Sports Association to look again at its decision not to grant a permit for the rally?

I am happy to write to John Lamont with a full answer to that question to ensure that he gets all the information that he needs, in particular on the legal position. My understanding is that the governing body took the decision not to hold the rally this year. I appreciate that that will be a great disappointment to the people who enjoy the event, although, given past incidents at it there are legitimate and understandable concerns about safety, which have been the subject of reports, as the member is aware.

We will continue to do all that we reasonably can to support people who want to ensure the safe conduct of the event in the future. Such events are not only sources of enjoyment to followers of the sport but can be beneficial to local economies. Therefore, I will ensure that further information on the detail of the decision is provided to John Lamont. The Government will continue to do what it can to liaise with the organisers of the Jim Clark rally and to ensure that it provides whatever reasonable assistance it can provide.


Cabinet (Meetings)

I add to the general wishes to everybody for a good new year.

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-00736)

The Cabinet will next meet on Tuesday.

Some of the people who might not have a happy new year are the ones who will be affected by the United Kingdom Government’s new benefits cap. Over recent months, we have lodged a number of questions about the households and families in Scotland who will be affected by that savage reduction in welfare, some of whom will lose well over £100 a week.

I know that the Scottish Government opposes that UK policy and shares our concern about it but, from the answers to those questions, it has become clear that the Scottish Government does not have a clear understanding of the number of households that will be affected. Its previous estimates suggested that the figure would be 4,000 households; Department for Work and Pensions figures suggest that it could be 5,000; and external organisations have put it at 6,700 or even up to 11,000, with some 20,000 children affected by the cuts.

Does the First Minister agree that it is vital that we get an accurate assessment of the number of people who will be affected by the cuts and the ways in which they will be affected if we are to have any chance of giving them the support that they need with the new powers that are coming to the Scottish Parliament?

Yes—I agree with that very much. Patrick Harvie is aware—I know that he is because it was part of his question—that the Scottish Government is seeking to do what it can to understand the numbers of people who will be affected by the benefits cap, but we rely to a large extent on information that is provided by the DWP to make accurate assessments of that. We will continue to do what we can and to seek information from the DWP so that we can give an accurate assessment and use it to plan our approach.

There are also other issues—in the interests of time, I will not go into them in detail—that we will have to ensure that we have an understanding of with the DWP and the UK Government. For example, when we have the ability to use the powers formally to abolish the bedroom tax, we will need to understand how that will interact with the benefits cap, because we do not want to give with one hand only for the UK Government to take away with the other on that or any other issue.

The issues are complex, but at the heart of the matter is a simple commitment on the Scottish Government’s part. First, we want to continue to mitigate as far as we can the impact of unfair welfare changes that the UK Government is imposing. Secondly, we want to ensure that, as we take forward plans for the use of our powers, we put in place fair systems that have respect and dignity absolutely at their heart.

I understand the complexity of the challenge, but it seems that the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland and Sheffield Hallam University, which have conducted external assessments, are not limited to DWP figures, because they have shown that the impact will be much greater than the DWP puts it at. The Scottish Government needs to work with those organisations and any other organisations that can produce an accurate assessment.

Will the First Minister give us clarity about when the assessment will be conducted and when we will have an accurate assessment of who will be affected, how many households will be affected and how they will be affected? A child poverty strategy will be close to meaningless if we do not have a clear understanding of the impact of the changes on child poverty in Scotland. Will the Scottish Government reconsider the option of a top-up to child benefit? Research has shown that even a modest top-up of £5 a week to that benefit could lift as many as 30,000 children in Scotland out of poverty.

On the substance of how we will use the new powers, some of our commitments were set out in the manifesto that we were elected on. The Green Party put forward proposals that we will look at with interest, including the one that Patrick Harvie mentioned. We said in our manifesto that we would introduce the new early years grant and we are absolutely committed to doing that. It will provide increased and better support to families in the lowest-income households when they have a child, and we will continue that support for subsequent children. We are determined to use the new powers in a way that helps us to tackle child poverty.

In relation to the more general part of Patrick Harvie’s question, I am happy to ask officials—with Angela Constance, who is the relevant cabinet secretary—to meet Patrick Harvie and his colleagues to give them a fuller understanding of the work that we are doing to get the assessments to which he referred. Experience tells me that Patrick Harvie is right that the DWP estimates for the number of people who will be affected by such changes tend to be at the lower end of the spectrum, and we often find that more people are affected. It is in our interests, as well as the interests of the Parliament and the country as a whole, for us to properly understand the situation. If it was helpful to Patrick Harvie, I would be happy to ask Angela Constance and her officials to meet him and his colleagues so that they can understand fully the work that we are doing to get us into that position.


Cabinet (Meetings)

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S5F-00725)

Matters of importance to the people of Scotland.

The budget is coming up. The Scottish Government has received weekly warnings on the economy and on education. We have the risk of a hard Brexit. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that Scottish education has gone from leading to just average. Just this week, the Institute for Public Policy Research issued a warning about skills. Small business confidence is falling.

We will have to do something about that. The First Minister needs to rise to the challenge by investing in education and skills to get our schools back up to being the best, to train our people for work and to boost the economy. Given that college funding has been cut in real terms by £90 million compared with seven years ago, would it not be right for us, considering all those challenges, to reverse that cut in full?

As Willie Rennie knows, we have put forward a draft budget that prioritises the economy. That is important at all times, and he is right to say that it is particularly important given the challenges that we face from Brexit. The draft budget also prioritises education. I could not have been clearer, and I will continue to be clear, about the importance that we attach to education, to raising standards and to closing the attainment gap. That is why our attainment fund will be £750 million over the parliamentary session.

However, the budget is a draft budget and, as is normally the case when the Parliament considers budgets, we will discuss with others who want to discuss with us ways in which we can listen to the suggestions that are put forward. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution has been holding discussions with other parties, and we will continue to hold such discussions, but members should be in no doubt that continuing to advance the economy, education and our public services to equip Scotland for the challenges that lie ahead will always be at the centre of all our spending plans.

I am afraid that that answer fails to match the scale of the challenge that is before us. That is why the Scottish Government has no majority for its budget. The £90 million cut in colleges’ funding has wiped out a whole sector of part-time courses. Today, the Royal Society of Edinburgh said that there has been a 48 per cent reduction in the number of part-time students in the past eight years. That has primarily affected women and those over the age of 25.

In England, the pupil premium has delivered change that allows everyone, regardless of their background, to participate in the economy. The Scottish Government’s attainment fund plans are years behind and £70 million short of what is required to match that proven investment. Of course other budget changes will be required, but we have seen decline in schools and colleges. Will the First Minister reverse that decline and change her budget for the sake of our economy?

We will continue to discuss with Willie Rennie and others their suggestions for amendments to the draft budget. That is how we always conduct ourselves at this stage in the budget process.

What Willie Rennie asks us to change about the draft budget seems to change week in, week out. Before Christmas, he talked about mental health. I think that we agree that we require to do more in that area. Today, he has raised a range of other things.

We will continue to engage on such matters, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution’s door is open to anybody who wants to have a constructive discussion.

On the pupil equity fund, which was announced in the draft budget, the Scottish attainment challenge will provide £120 million directly to schools in the form of a pupil equity fund to deliver extra support to pupils who come from more deprived backgrounds. That is a signal of our determination to close the attainment gap.

We have put forward a budget that has the right priorities, but of course we remain open to discussing its detail with any party that wishes to engage in a constructive way. I know that Willie Rennie and the Liberal Democrats will want to do that.


Drink Driving

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on reports that there has been a record number of drink drivers stopped over the festive period. (S5F-00740)

It is more than disappointing to see a rise in the number of drivers who flouted the law and put at risk their lives and the lives of others over the festive period. There is only one safe level of alcohol if a person is driving: none at all. Unfortunately, data shows that the vast majority of those who were caught were over not only the new lower alcohol limit but the previous higher limit.

Police Scotland is taking action to catch those who put lives at risk by drink driving and especially the persistent hard core of drink drivers. That is why it increased the number of checks that were carried out over the festive period compared with the number the year before.

Does the First Minister believe, as I do, that the figures highlight the effort and the resources that Police Scotland rightly directs towards road safety over the Christmas and new year period? Does she commend Police Scotland and our emergency services for making our roads and communities safer?

Yes, I commend the police for their work in that area, and I commend all our emergency services for the work that they did over the festive period to keep us all safe. There is no doubt that the results of the festive drink-driving campaign demonstrate that Police Scotland is absolutely right to focus clearly on those who drink and drive by taking the necessary action to catch those who put not just their own lives but the lives of others at risk by getting behind the wheel after drinking.

An average of 610 drivers were tested every day during the four-week enforcement campaign. That is a 15 per cent rise on the number of checks that were carried out the year before. Assistant Chief Constable Bernie Higgins said:

“Drivers need to take far greater personal responsibility, and also be aware that while this campaign is over,”

Police Scotland is still very focused

“on detecting and arresting drunk drivers.”

I absolutely agree with that.

There is no excuse for drunk driving. It puts at risk the lives of those who do it and the lives of others, as I have said. It is absolutely right that, during the festive period and at all periods, we all say how unacceptable drunk driving is and get behind Police Scotland’s efforts to eradicate it.


Performance Athletes (Socioeconomic Background)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the recent BBC report suggesting that 90 per cent of performance athletes supported by sportscotland come from a middle-class background. (S5F-00718)

Sportscotland and its partners in local authorities, the Scottish governing bodies of sport and clubs are committed to building a world-class sporting system for everyone that has inclusivity and equal opportunities at its heart. The Government has made very clear our determination to ensure that children from our poorest communities have the same opportunities as those from our richest communities. That includes in sport at every level. Our investments in facilities and physical education in schools underline that drive and commitment.

Does the First Minister agree that performance athletes who have had the honour of representing their country in competition have done so because of hard work and dedication over a number of years, irrespective of background? Does she also agree that the figures highlight an inequality of opportunity that has yet to be addressed; that the answer is not to penalise those high achievers by withdrawing support, but to ensure that the same opportunities are afforded to all, irrespective of background or personal circumstance; and that that starts with physical literacy opportunities at the earliest possible age as an integral part of an educational framework?

Yes, I agree with that. This is probably a good opportunity to take a moment to congratulate Sir Andy Murray, Dame Katherine Grainger and, of course, Gordon Reid on their recognition in the Queen’s new year honours list and everybody else who was recognised. They are shining examples of the success of Scottish sport.

So, yes, it is right that we continue to invest in elite sports. Just a matter of weeks ago, I had the great honour of officially opening the new elite performance centre at Heriot-Watt University, which is a sign of the investment in performance sport that is taking place in this country. It is also important that we support sport and physical activity at the grass roots. The amount of PE in schools has increased dramatically over the years that this Government has been in office. I am proud that we are supporting the daily mile in schools, which is a potentially transformational initiative for the health and fitness of our young people. It is right that we try to promote greater equality and opportunities for sport.

This might be the only discordant note in an area where I otherwise agree with Brian Whittle but, if we want to encourage more young people from deprived areas to take advantage of the opportunities of sport, perhaps reducing the circumstances in which parents have to use food banks or are subject to benefit caps and welfare cuts would help. Let us all get behind making Scotland an even fitter nation.

I note the First Minister’s answer, but I do not totally agree. I refer to the report by the Health and Sport Committee of 2009 entitled “Pathways into sport and physical activity”. There is much to be learned from that report, but I will quote from paragraph 268, which states:

“The international evidence is that it is notoriously difficult to achieve a lasting legacy from sports events, in particular the transformation of grassroots sport and mass public participation.”

Recent comments have proved that we were right all those years ago. However, I have concerns that there is still too much focus on and therefore funding directed towards elite sport. I recognise the achievements, but it is not all about medal count. We partially justify that focus with the supposed payback of a non-existent legacy. Will the Government and the First Minister therefore look at rebalancing funding more towards the grass roots and not relying too much on that legacy, which has not happened?

I suppose that it is a question of getting the balance right, but we should not reduce the support that we give to elite sports because, in many ways, the performance and success of our elite sportsmen and women will help to inspire young people to take up sport and physical activity. I know that Christine Grahame will agree with me that, in general, just because something is “notoriously difficult”, that does not mean that we should not try to do it in life. I suspect that, over the past couple of years, many young people across Scotland have picked up a tennis racket because of the inspiration of Andy and Jamie Murray and Gordon Reid. Those young people may not become the world-class players that those three are, but, nevertheless, that inspiration will have been important to them. Therefore, it is right that we support our elite sportsmen and women.

However, Christine Grahame and Brian Whittle are right that we also have to support grass-roots facilities and participation. That is why part of the legacy of the Commonwealth games was about increased facilities across the country. The performance centre at Heriot-Watt that I spoke about is just one of many new and enhanced facilities across the country. It is about getting the balance right so that we do not just have the sporting success to celebrate but we support a population that is generally becoming healthier and fitter.

How will cutting the sport budget, as proposed in the draft budget, encourage more people in working class communities to engage in sport?

We support sport in many ways, such as our investment in facilities, through school sport and through major events. The issue is about the different ways in which we support people who take part in activity. One thing that we have to do is to get young people into the habit of activity and sport at a much earlier age. That is why the daily mile, which I mentioned earlier and which is such a simple thing, is potentially transformational. Not that long ago, I was at a school in Edinburgh where it was not the primary school kids but the nursery school kids who were doing the daily mile. All those things taken together are vital and, frankly, whatever our political disagreements, all of us in the chamber should be able to get behind that.


Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Treatment Waiting Times)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that hundreds of children with mental health problems have waited more than a year for treatment. (S5F-00727)

It is unacceptable that any child has to wait a lengthy period for mental health treatment. The Minister for Mental Health has been very clear with health boards that it is not good enough if there are falls in their performance or if children are experiencing long waits.

This is not intended to take away from my previous comments, but progress is being made. According to figures for the latest quarter, the number of patients who waited more than 52 weeks has decreased. I have said much in this chamber before about the importance of mental health care, and no doubt I will say much more in the weeks and months ahead. There is much to be done, but progress is being made.

I thank the First Minister for her answer. I would have liked to have heard more about what is being done by the Minister for Mental Health and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills jointly to address this crisis, which cuts across classrooms and health boards.

I know that the First Minister is aware that many young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in schools are struggling with their mental health as a result of discriminatory bullying. According to research from the time for inclusive education campaign, 95 per cent of LGBTI people who have experienced bullying in schools say that it has a long-lasting impact on their wellbeing. What assurances can the First Minister give that providing resources and education to tackle mental health problems will be central to the forthcoming mental health strategy and that the strategy will include specific actions for named vulnerable groups more at risk of poor mental health, which is something that Barnardo’s Scotland has asked for in its response on mental health? It is quite an important issue.

The First Minister has expressed support for the TIE campaign. Will she now give a commitment to the Parliament that she will introduce legislation in this session of Parliament? This is a serious issue and there is support throughout the chamber, but there is just no action coming forward.

The member raises really important issues and has done so very constructively. It is not fair to say that no action is coming forward. I appreciate that the member thinks that we should do more and do it faster—that is legitimate. There is a great deal of consensus about what we need to do.

The member makes a fair point about ensuring that, although we—rightly—have a dedicated mental health minister, the issue is not solely that minister’s responsibility. She also makes a good point about the linkages between mental health, education and health. Particularly in relation to education, the strategy will look at the level underneath CAMHS, which is as much about preventing mental health issues as it is about treating them.

The member is absolutely right to talk about the issues that LGBTI young people can face because of homophobic bullying. I have said it before and I will say it again: I am a supporter of the TIE campaign, not just because of its objectives but because of the spirited way in which it goes about ensuring that those objectives are taken forward. There is a commitment to take forward the issues that TIE has raised with the Government and we will do that in consultation with TIE.

There is a lot of substance and detail in this issue, across a range of areas of Government responsibility. It is important that we get it right in all those areas. The mental health strategy, which will be published shortly, will provide the direction of travel over the next period. The strategy is, of course, backed by significant additional resources for mental health. Spending on mental health services has increased dramatically over the past few years, but more funding is needed to support more services, not just in treatment but in prevention.

I genuinely hope that, while we will have a spirited debate about the detail of the issue, we can, as a Parliament, get behind the actions that we need to take in this session of Parliament to make really substantial changes that will be to the benefit of young people across our country.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Do you consider it acceptable that inspired questions are used to make major Government announcements, or would you expect the Government to respect Parliament and allow proper scrutiny, including by back benchers, of announcements such as that on trauma centres?

I thank Elaine Smith for the question. I do not think that it is a point of order. However, she may be reassured to know that the Parliamentary Bureau is looking at the use of inspired parliamentary questions and will discuss that at its next meeting.