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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 14, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 14 September 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Borders Talking Newspapers, Community Justice, Food and Drink Strategy, Decision Time


General Question Time

Forensic Medical Examinations (Orkney and Shetland)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made towards the provision of local forensic medical examinations for victims of sexual crimes in Orkney and Shetland. (S5O-01245)

NHS Orkney and NHS Shetland have both publicly committed to developing local services for the care and support of adults who have experienced rape or sexual assault. We are providing financial and practical support to assist with the delivery of those new services, which will ensure that victims of sexual crime receive the best available help and support locally. We have also committed an additional £38,000 to Rape Crisis Shetland and Rape Crisis Orkney to further enhance specialist advocacy support services for victims on the islands.

I met representatives of Rape Crisis Orkney earlier this year, and I know how crucial the service is. I welcome the fact that the funding has helped it to employ two new part-time staff who started work this month. Folk in Orkney and Shetland first highlighted that victims of sexual crimes have to travel to the Scottish mainland—by police escort and without a wash—for examination. Can the minister provide more information about the practical support that is to be made available?

One of the key elements of improving provision in Orkney and Shetland—and, indeed, across Scotland—is making sure that we have sufficient doctors to carry out forensic medical examinations. We are providing an additional £76,000 to NHS Education Scotland to redesign the current training model to make it more accessible to doctors, and we aim for an extra 50 doctors to be trained by March 2018. We are delighted that both Orkney and Shetland health boards will be part of that revised training approach, releasing key staff to pilot the new remote training course. We expect that lessons learned from the pilot will inform the future training model across the whole of Scotland and ensure a greater consistency in the approach to delivering these important services.

I thank the minister for her response and put on record my thanks to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice for the work that he has done with Tavish Scott and me, alongside local stakeholders and the local health boards, to ensure that services better meet the needs of island survivors of rape and sexual assault. What assurance has the Government received that Rape Crisis Orkney and Orkney Women’s Aid will be included in the planning of the forensic service around referral pathways and survivor feedback? What steps are being taken to look at the delivery of services for child victims, whose needs are very specific and who need a tailored response?

Liam McArthur has pursued the first issue long and hard, and with a degree of success thus far; we will continue to make progress. On the issue of involvement, we will be happy to hear views and I am sure that officials will be happy to meet representatives of the organisations to which he referred.

With regard to children and the examinations that may, sadly, be required, it is important to say that they must be carried out with a paediatrician and a forensic examiner present. Although there are different factors across the country, recent managed clinical networks standards of service provision and quality indicators for the paediatric medical component of child protection services in Scotland state that that is the standard to adhere to.

There may be additional factors in a case that involves a child witness, such as requirements to remove the child from immediate danger. Other complementary medical professionals may be needed in such cases. I assure the member that we are currently considering, from a national point of view, how we can improve the experience of children through the justice system—I think the cabinet secretary alluded the other day in the chamber to the fact that we are looking at the Nordic barnahus model. That consideration will inform any national position that we take and how it might be supported, in particular, in remote and island communities. I am sure that the member will wish to have further input, which will be happily and gratefully received.

Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (Lanarkshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what action its partnership action for continuing employment has taken in Lanarkshire in the last year. (S5O-01246)

From September 2016 until August 2017, our partnership action for continuing employment initiative has provided skills development and employability support to 1,080 individuals and 31 employers based in Lanarkshire. Support has included PACE presentations on site; information on benefits; workshops on CV preparation, interview skills and job searching; and one-to-one sessions on career management.

Beyond the work that is carried out by PACE, is it still Government policy to relocate civil service jobs and agencies outside Edinburgh? Has the Government considered doing that with any of the new agencies, such as the social security agency and Revenue Scotland, to compensate for the potential impact of HM Revenue and Customs closures in communities in Lanarkshire?

Mark Griffin raises an interesting point. The Scottish Government has a record of moving jobs out of Edinburgh into locations such as the Borders, where the Scottish Public Pensions Agency is based. My colleagues Jeane Freeman and Angela Constance are looking at the possibility of establishing a new social security workforce in Scotland. I leave it to Mark Griffin to engage with my fellow ministers on that.

On the wider point, the Government is looking at how it can support economic growth and inclusive growth across the country. I am very aware of the significant potential impact that HMRC job losses in Cumbernauld, East Kilbride and Lanarkshire more generally may have on the Lanarkshire economy. I welcome the fact that, after discussion with my colleagues Jamie Hepburn and Stewart McDonald MP, Councillor Jim Logue of North Lanarkshire Council is bringing forward an economic impact study for the area, the results of which we will be very keen to see. [Interruption.] I apologise to the member if he was involved as well. We are very keen to see the results of the study, which the Government will study closely.

Town Centre Status (Underdeveloped Areas)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made in delivering town centre status for underdeveloped areas, including Drumchapel in Glasgow. (S5O-01247)

A local town centre has been designated in Drumchapel in the Glasgow city development plan, which was adopted earlier this year. With regards to other areas, in “Scottish Planning Policy” we have set out that planning authorities should identify in their development plans the status of a particular area. Local authorities are best placed to set the conditions to help an area thrive.

The minister will be aware that Drumchapel formerly had a much-needed and highly successful shopping and entertainment centre, which was devastated by Strathclyde Regional Council’s decision that it would not be a strategic shopping centre. It was subsequently run down to the extent that it is now a shell of its former existence, which fails to serve the needs of my constituents, who need to travel for any significant shopping. I know that such problems exist in other parts of Scotland, but Drumchapel is a prime example.

The Scottish Government is aware that many town centres in Scotland are struggling, and a lot of that is down to decisions that were made in the past, such as the one that Mr Kidd outlined. The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with the retail sector to maximise its potential in relation to the town centre agenda. Scotland’s town centre first principle, which we have agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, together with a range of measures in the “Town Centre Action Plan” set the conditions and underpin activity designed to tackle key issues such as empty shops. They also allow for the diversification of town centres, thereby attracting new businesses and services in them.

We recognise the value of a vibrant retail sector and we will continue to work with others to ensure that we carry on with those partnerships, to improve areas such as Drumchapel.

Benefits (Automation)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to further the automation of benefits to help poorer families. (S5O-01248)

I know that Pauline McNeill has taken a keen interest in the issue, which the Scottish Government is keen to progress. We recognise that, where feasible, the automation of assistance can play an important role in helping people to access their full entitlement to benefits, including passported benefits. That is why the Scottish Government supported Pauline McNeill’s amendment to the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill on the issue and will discuss automation with the local reference group that was established to develop guidance for local authorities and health boards on the duties that the bill will place on them. That discussion will take place at the group’s next meeting, which is scheduled for October.

According to the Daily Record, the poorest in Scotland are missing out on £2 billion-worth of benefits. The automation of certain benefits could make a difference to that.

I thank the minister and the Social Security Committee for supporting my stage 2 amendment to the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill and I thank the minister for the answer that she just gave. Has any assessment been done of what benefits might be suitable for automation? Perhaps that is a subject for the meeting that she mentioned. Should automation be possible, will there be a requirement to allow for any adjustment in future budgets?

I appreciate what the member is asking about. Automation of the scale and extent that she is talking about—beyond one local authority—is what the Scottish Government wishes to pursue if we can; that is more complex because it involves more than one system, as I am sure the member will understand. Such automation would involve local authority systems, the Scottish Government and the Department for Work and Pensions in relation to the benefits for which it continues to be responsible. Realising that will require significant discussion.

We will start with the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, as I just outlined. We are continuing to look at the issue as part of the development of our social security system in discussion with local authorities and others. With the welcome support of the member’s colleague, Mr Rowley, we recently convened a round-table discussion with local authorities to increase benefit uptake across the piece. Mr Rowley and I have agreed to follow that up with another round table, and from there we will continue to discuss with local authorities how, in practical terms, we can pursue significant Scotland-wide automation where that is possible. That all needs to be considered and taken into account before we feed anything into a future budget discussion.

The financial memorandum that accompanies the Social Security (Scotland) Bill mentions a £190 million cost that is associated with information technology for the new social security agency. To what extent did the modelling that led to the figure of £190 million take into account the possibility of the automation of benefits?

The figure that Mr Tomkins mentions refers to the set-up of our social security system in Scotland to take responsibility for the 11 benefits that will be devolved to us. Alongside the work that is going on in that IT build—it is learning from previous programmes the lessons about what works and where there could be improvements—our chief digital officer and other colleagues are working across stakeholders to take into account what I just said to Ms McNeill about automation. However, the primary focus is on building an IT system that can safely and securely make the payments. We want to ensure that, when we take over responsibility for those benefits, the 1.4 million people who are affected receive the money that they are entitled to on the date that they expect to receive it.

Primary and Community Healthcare Services

I declare an interest as a registered nurse.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to assess the models of healthcare that are used in primary and community services. (S5O-01249)

How national health service boards and integration authorities design and deliver their local primary and community services is a matter for them in consultation with all stakeholders, including members of the local communities. To support service redesign, the Scottish Government has made available £43.5 million from 2016 to 2018 to support about 70 tests of change and other activity through the primary care transformation programme.

In the light of local issues that those who live in the west of Dumfries and Galloway have raised, how is the Scottish Government directly supporting NHS Dumfries and Galloway to provide Galloway community hospital and local general practitioner services with the support that they require while GP and other doctor vacancies are being filled?

We are investing to ensure that NHS Dumfries and Galloway has the resource that it needs. Its resource budget increased by 6.8 per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2017-18. The board’s resource is £283.6 million for 2017-18, which includes an uplift of £4.2 million.

We also keep in touch with the health and social care partnership about the important community hospital and other issues. The partnership is committed to maintaining services at the hospital and is considering how services can be improved; a programme of community engagement is under way and a hospital liaison group is being formed.

We expect the health board, as with other health boards, to work with local GP practices to help them to overcome any recruitment or retention challenges. We will invest an additional £250 million per year in direct support of general practice by the end of this parliamentary session, as part of a wider £500 million investment in primary care.

Audit Scotland has repeatedly highlighted the Scottish Government’s lack of progress in shifting the balance of care away from an acute setting. How will the cabinet secretary ensure that current efforts make a real change? Specifically, what assessment has she done of the transitional funding that she just outlined?

I thank Miles Briggs for that question. He will be aware that the programme for government laid out the clear ambition that, by the end of this session, more than half the spend will be in community health services. That is a big transition and a big change, which will have an impact as we move resources from acute services into community health services. We need to do that in a proper, planned and sustainable way. That is why I have asked Professor Derek Bell to work as part of a collaborative approach to look at the transformation of elective capacity in our acute services, so that we can drive the resources into the community to keep people out of hospital.

Across the Lothians, GP practices under the current model are closing their lists to patients and many are a GP resignation away from collapse and are relying on locums to stay open. What practical advice does the cabinet secretary have for GP practices that find themselves in that situation here and now? Will she apologise to patients for the Government’s mishandling and underfunding of general practice?

As I said in my original answer, we will be investing £250 million every year in direct support of general practice by the end of this session, as part of a wider £500 million investment in primary care. That is an unprecedented investment in primary care services. However, I recognise that there are recruitment and retention issues in a number of GP practices in the here and now, which is why health boards have been tasked to work with those practices to help them to overcome some of those difficulties, and they are providing practical support to GP practices.

It is also important that we make general practice a more rewarding career opportunity for young doctors who are choosing their specialty, which is why we are negotiating a completely new GP contract that we are very confident will have that result. We are working with the British Medical Association to deliver that.

Wildlife Crime (Role of Police and Crown Office)

To ask the Scottish Government what role the police and the Crown Office have in dealing with wildlife crime. (S5O-01250)

Wildlife crime is crime. Perpetrators will be investigated and, if there is sufficient evidence, prosecuted, as with any other crime. However, we are aware that there are characteristics of wildlife crime that mean that a specialised approach is required. For example, wildlife crime often takes place in remote areas where there are no witnesses, and of course there are usually no victims able to report what has happened to them. For those reasons, we are working with Police Scotland to expand the resources that are available to the police to tackle wildlife crime, with a pilot project to provide additional special constables in Cairngorms national park. The Crown Office also has a specialist wildlife and environmental crime unit to tackle such crime.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the recent shooting of a hen harrier on the Cabrach estate and the recent disappearance of Calluna, a satellite-tagged hen harrier, near Ballater. In the light of those incidents, what action is the Scottish Government taking to implement the recommendations of the satellite tagging review?

I am aware of those appalling incidents. In the light of the satellite tagging review, which was announced on 31 May, we will bring forward a number of measures, which include setting up an independently led group to look at grouse moor management practices and increasing Police Scotland resources, as I mentioned.

In accordance with that, good progress is being made on those areas; I will announce further details shortly. In the meantime, other work goes on—the police respond to and investigate reports that are received, and there are actions such as the further use of restrictions on general licences by Scottish Natural Heritage when wildlife crime is suspected to have taken place. We are determined to put an end to wildlife crime.