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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament 15 September 2021 (Hybrid)

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Cervical Screening (Update), North Sea Oil and Gas, General Practitioner Services, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Just Transition for Torry


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Justice and Veterans

Good afternoon. I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the campus. I ask members to observe the measures, including when entering and exiting the chamber. Please use the aisles and walkways only to access your seat or when you are moving around the chamber.

The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first set of questions is on justice and veterans. I ask members who wish to ask a supplementary question to indicate that in the chat function if they are joining us remotely, or to press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question.


Commercial Sexual Exploitation (Legislative Review)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to review the legislation on commercial sexual exploitation during the current parliamentary session. (S6O-00133)

Last week, we published in the programme for government the Scottish Government’s commitment to develop a model that effectively tackles men’s demand for prostitution. We will progress that in this parliamentary term. Due to the complexities of the issue, we require to assess not only the legislative needs of our chosen model but the support that is available for those who are involved in prostitution. We will be commissioning a programme of lived experience engagement to further inform the work.

Many countries have adopted a challenging demand model from which we can learn, and we are working on a comprehensive international review to develop our evidence base and understand key challenges and common principles applied across the approaches.

I know that the member shares my resolve to get this right and supports our overarching aspirations to embed equality and human rights in Scotland.

The minister will be aware of the recent work that the cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation carried out on commercial websites that sell people for sex, which causes misery and turbocharges trafficking. In light of the report, will she look to outlaw online pimping to stop commercial websites profiting from exploitation by advertising prostitution?

We are aware of the findings of the cross-party group’s report, which follows its inquiry into websites that host adverts for sexual exploitation. We have previously written to the online platforms, including Vivastreet, to make our concerns clear and help to ensure that people are protected from exploitation. We will continue to develop policy in that area as part of our on-going engagement with the United Kingdom online safety bill, and as part of our work to develop a model for Scotland that challenges men’s demand for prostitution.

The recent equally safe consultation into challenging men’s demand for prostitution highlighted that support for women involved in prostitution should be

“holistic, person-centred, and able to address the multiple, underlying needs of many women.”

Will the minister outline what the Scottish Government is doing to ensure that such support is available to those women?

The consultation highlighted that we need to do more to ensure that women are able to access appropriate support services that can meet their needs. We know that services, including those that help people exit prostitution, are inconsistent across Scotland, and our aim is to address that. As part of that work, I am clear that we need to involve the voices of those involved in prostitution in the design of the services that affect them.


Prisons (Support for Vulnerable People)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports vulnerable people in the prison system. (S6O-00134)

We recognise that increasing numbers of prisoners have a range of multiple and complex needs. The health needs of the prison population, for example, are particularly challenging. We know that people in custody often have higher rates of substance use issues, mental health problems and complications with physical health in comparison to the general population. The support that is required to address the often multiple needs of vulnerable people in custody can be multifaceted and is delivered through effective joint working between the Scottish Prison Service and a range of partners including social care, health, third sector and education authorities.

In recent months, there have been a number of serious incidents at Polmont young offenders institution, including a riot and an inmate being scalded. How is the Scottish Government working with the Scottish Prison Service to ensure the safety and wellbeing of young people in Polmont?

The safe treatment of mental health issues of all those in custody, whether in Polmont or elsewhere, is a key priority for Scotland’s prisons and our Prison Service. We take the mental health of all those in custody very seriously. The SPS is developing a new health and wellbeing strategy for the service that recognises the increasing complexities and the underlying health conditions of the prison population in comparison to the wider population. The strategy will focus on a public health approach through the organised efforts of the SPS in partnership with those who have responsibilities for the delivery of healthcare in prisons.

The new health and wellbeing strategy will provide the overarching framework for all health-related strategies, which includes mental health. We are also undertaking a substantial study in relation to the complexity of needs in the area. We will produce a report on that next year, which will inform the strategy that I have mentioned.

Thanks to ITV News, we know that supposedly tamper-proof mobile phones have been hacked and have been used to deal drugs. Organised criminals are targeting vulnerable inmates for the use of their phones. We also know that many of the drugs that come into prison are impregnated in letters.

Question, please, Mr Findlay.

Two weeks ago, I asked the cabinet secretary to consider photocopying letters rather than giving the originals in order to stem that flow. What has he done about that?

As I think the member knows, that is quite a complex area. The Prison Service was aware of the issue and is looking at it now. Officials who were present at the committee meeting to which the member refers or who listened into it are examining the proposal. It was a constructive proposal, and I took it in that spirit. I ask the member to give us time to look at it seriously and get back to him.

A University of Glasgow study of 200 fatal accident inquiries into deaths in custody found that, in 90 per cent of cases, sheriffs made no recommendation to improve practices, which I found surprising. I think that the cabinet secretary mentioned the issue in the tail end of his answer to Gillian Mackay. In view of that study, I thought—

Question, please, Ms McNeill.

I think that the cabinet secretary referred to the independent review into deaths in custody, which have become a serious issue for Scotland. Will the Government commit to implementing its key findings quickly so that we can learn from past mistakes?

I agree with the thrust of what Pauline McNeill says. I cannot answer that in advance of knowing the recommendations, but it is a serious issue and we will look at it seriously. Of course, Parliament and the member will have the chance to question us on that. We take very seriously anything that might improve the situation for prisoners in that area.


National Community Justice Strategy

To ask the Scottish Government how it will develop the national community justice strategy that was announced in the programme for government. (S6O-00135)

We intend to review and revise the national community justice strategy. To inform the review of the current strategy, which is a statutory requirement under the Community Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, we will consult those who work in the community justice sector or closely with it, gathering views from a front-line perspective on how well the strategy has performed over the past five years and what might need to be taken into account in updating it. We will then engage with the public through a consultation exercise to explore what approach a revised strategy might take.

Our aim will be to consider how a revised strategy can be most effective and how it can build on the progress that has been made in recent years, and to set clear aims for all who are involved in delivering services. The views and evidence that are gathered as part of the consultative and collaborative approach will be used in finalising a new and improved national community justice strategy, which we intend to launch next spring.

The supervision requirement of community payback orders is an important part of rehabilitation efforts and reducing the number of people in our prisons. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the strategy will consider the expansion of supervision requirements? Will increased funding be required for front-line third sector community justice services that are involved in the delivery of those requirements?

As confirmed in the programme for government, the new strategy will include an emphasis on early intervention and encouraging a further shift away from the use of custody, where that is appropriate. Community payback orders, which can include supervision as well as a range of other requirements, are a key part of that. Of course, it is up to the sentencing judge to decide on the most appropriate sentence in each individual case, including which requirements might be necessary if a CPO is imposed.

To answer the member’s question directly, we are committed to investing in a substantive expansion of community justice services, which underpin the delivery of community sentences, as well as to the delivery of a system for diversion from prosecution and alternatives to remand. The funding that is available for community justice services will, as always, be subject to the spending review and parliamentary approval of the draft budget in due course.

The previous national strategy for community justice, which was produced back in 2016, promised that our justice system would turn around the behaviour of criminals. Why, therefore, are one in four offenders reconvicted within a year of their release? Did the previous strategy fail?

The review’s purpose is to consider all factors. That is fairly obvious from the fact that such a review was built into the 2016 act, so that we can look at past successes and areas for improvement. There has been substantial improvement in the levels of recidivism, which was an aim of the previous strategy, so there have been successes. The review should look at the matter in the round. The member will, of course, have the chance to comment as the review progresses.


Bairns’ Hooses

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to introduce “bairns’ hooses”. (S6O-00136)

We believe that every eligible child victim or witness has the right to consistent and holistic support that enables them to have their voice heard, to access specialist services and to recover from their experiences. We have an unashamedly bold aspiration to create our own bairns’ hooses in Scotland. That commitment is obvious in our programme for government, which says that

“all children in Scotland who have been victims or witnesses of abuse or violence, as well as children under the ... age of criminal responsibility whose behaviour has caused ... harm, will have access to a ‘Bairns’ Hoose’ by 2025”.

Yesterday, we published “Bairns’ Hoose—Scottish Barnahaus: vision, values and approach”, which sets out in broad terms our vision of how the barnahus model should be implemented in Scotland, the values that should underpin the model and our approach to its practical implementation.

Our next steps are to establish a national governance group to oversee delivery of the bairns’ hoose model in Scotland, to bring forward standards for the bairns’ hoose and to develop an approach that will build on the momentum of the new Scottish child interview model for joint investigative interviews, which will be introduced nationally over the next three years. Further plans on that will be published at the end of this year.

As the cabinet secretary said, the bairns’ hoose concept has the potential to transform how children in Scotland interact with the criminal justice system. I would be grateful if he could outline how the plans will ensure that there is better access for children in island and more remote areas. I am thinking about my constituency, the southern part of which is separated from the northern part by 130 miles and two bodies of water.

That is a very good question. I have already had discussions with ministers in other portfolios who have responsibility in the area to see how we will address that issue. The idea is that we should not retraumatise victims by asking them to move between locations to have the same interview and give the same evidence. That is an important consideration that comes towards the end of the programme, although early thought is being given to how we can make the system as accessible as possible.

We agree on the overarching principles, and we should give local delivery partners the flexibility to adapt the model to their local contexts. We recognise the challenges of delivery in rural settings such as Alasdair Allan’s constituency; he is quite right to raise that issue.

Our approach will be based on the European “Barnahus Quality Standards” and should be flexible enough to allow local authorities to tailor barnahus to suit local circumstances while also ensuring a degree of national consistency for all children who are eligible for services.

I would appreciate slightly shorter answers so that we can get in as many questions as possible.


Not Proven Verdict (Removal)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its planned consultation on the removal of the not proven verdict. (S6O-00137)

As I made clear in the chamber last week, our programme for government sets out our plans to launch a public consultation on the three-verdict system within this parliamentary year.

The SNP-Green programme for government stops short of committing to abolishing the not proven verdict. In 2019-20, that verdict was used in 25 per cent of rape cases, even though it was used in only 1 per cent of criminal trials that proceeded to court. Victims have said that the verdict gives them no sense of justice and no closure, so why is the Scottish Government making them wait for years to find out whether the unjust verdict will be abolished?

We believe that a very strong argument in favour of that has been presented by the people to whom Oliver Mundell refers, but other people have a different point of view, including many members of the legal profession.

There are two reasons why we are not abolishing the verdict straight away. The first is that there is no point in holding a consultation if we are not going to listen to what people have to say; we want to hear what people have to say on the issue.

The second reason is that the not proven verdict has a relationship with other parts of the justice system, so we should take that into account. There are interdependences in relation to the two-verdict or three-verdict system, the jury system and so on. It is only right that we take a sustainable approach, so that we can get to the right solution.

Can the cabinet secretary assure us that, should we move towards a two-verdict system, we will consider the option of verdicts of proven and not proven, and nothing else?

Again, I point out that there are different views on the issue. People in the legal profession in particular, but not uniquely, favour the solution that John Mason has mentioned. Those verdicts are considered ones that juries would understand, as is the case with guilty and not guilty.

We also recognise that a distinction between proven and not proven might be too lawyerly and not quite as obvious to the general public, and that it could perpetuate the stigma and confusion that some people believe the system currently produces. It is right that we consider that as part of the consultation.


Remand Prisoners

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to reduce the number of prisoners who are on remand. (S6O-00138)

I have said in the chamber previously that I am clear that action is needed on remand. I know that other parties share that view.

The effect of Covid-19 on the courts has impacted hugely on remand numbers. We have invested £50 million to support the operation of the criminal courts to help to increase throughput of cases, thereby—we hope—lessening the need for remand.

However, it is fair to say that concern about remand pre-dates Covid-19, which is why our programme for government included a commitment to consult on reform in that area, with the introduction of legislative change in year 1 of this session of Parliament.

We continue to invest in and support provision of alternatives to remand, including additional investment in bail supervision and implementation of electronically monitored bail.

In April, the Howard League for Penal Reform revealed that more than 40 per cent of young people in prison were on remand and were waiting longer for trials. The Law Society of Scotland has even warned that there is now a perverse incentive to plead guilty, because one might spend less time in jail.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that the shocking numbers of remand prisoners, which add to prison overcrowding, show that there is a real need for urgent action to get more of our courts open and running in order to deal with the huge backlog of cases that has built up during Covid?

My previous answer acknowledged the urgent need with regard to both the situation before Covid-19 and how it has been exacerbated since. It is true that we have to consider matters such as the people who are held on remand because the court is not certain that they will be available or that they will come to a subsequent hearing.

Colin Smyth is right that we have to increase the pace of cases going through the courts. We have done that through remote jury courts and through the substantial expansion of sheriff courts this month. The fact that we are taking legislation through in the first year of the session shows the urgency with which the Government is treating that issue.

One of the 12 new bills that the programme for government announced was the proposed bail and release from custody bill. In what ways is it intended that the bill will address use of remand for prisoners?

Following from my previous response, I say that it would be good to get, if possible, consensus in Parliament on that issue. Decision making on bail and remand is for the court, but Parliament sets the legislative framework. Prior to Covid-19, 20 per cent of the prison population was on remand; the figure is now 27 per cent. Recent increases reflect the unique circumstances of the pandemic, but concerns are long-standing.

I intend to publish in the autumn a consultation on possible changes to bail law that will seek views on emphasising the importance of public safety as an essential requirement for remand. It will also propose legislative changes to ensure an enhanced focus on victim safety, improvement of the information that is available to the court when it makes a bail decision, and expansion of the services that are available to support the process of reintegration into the community of prisoners who leave remand.

One risk when releasing prisoners from remand is that, all too often, victims are the ones who pay the price. I wrote to the cabinet secretary last week about a family who had previously contacted his office. An individual who was repeatedly released from custody devastated the lives of that family through a campaign of harassment and intimidation. The Scottish Government has promised the introduction of a victims commissioner in order to prevent similar situations. Can the cabinet secretary tell us when we can expect to see the commissioner take up post?

I have every sympathy for the case of the member’s constituent, but it is—again—important to say that it is the courts, not the Scottish Government, that make decisions on remand. The Scottish Government is specifically prohibited from involving itself in such decisions.

We can address such situations through the legislative framework, which is why we will introduce legislation on which all members will have the chance to have a say. We previously said what we intend to do with regard to the victims commissioner. It is important, and we want to ensure, that the victims organisations that currently exist—some of which have concerns about the introduction of a victims commissioner—have their say before we proceed.


Covid-19 (Safety of Prison Officers and Prisoners)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures have been put in place to keep prison officers and prisoners safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00139)

To the credit of prison staff, health staff and prisoners, for the vast majority of this pandemic our prisons have seen low infection rates, and the operation of our prisons has remained safe and stable, especially given that early concerns were, rightly, expressed.

Personal protective equipment was provided to all staff and prisoners at the outset of the pandemic, and robust infection-control measures were put in place to limit potential transmission. Recognition of Scottish Prison Service staff as key workers also provided access to symptomatic testing early in the pandemic. The roll-out of asymptomatic testing now offers all SPS staff the opportunity to participate in the weekly testing programme.

Following implementation of the SPS pandemic plan, some prison regime changes were put in place to help to mitigate the risk of infection, including minimising the number of individuals who come into contact with prisoners and maintaining physical distancing between individuals. As of 6 September, SPS establishments are undertaking asymptomatic testing of all individuals who come into custody from court. Covid vaccination also continues to be offered, and establishments are actively encouraging all prisoners to participate.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer, but I am receiving deeply concerning reports that, as a direct consequence of changes to prisoners’ routine during lockdown, consumption of illicit drugs, including the psychoactive substance etizolam, has risen exponentially. That has resulted in an increase in violence and erratic behaviour from prisoners. Just two days ago at HMP Shotts, two prison officers were stabbed.

That is also resulting in an increasing number of prisoners requiring hospital treatment, and they are having to be taken to hospital by prison officers because—I am told—GEOAmey is unable to fulfil its contractual obligations. Will the cabinet secretary tell us what his plans are to tackle the epidemic of drug use that is sweeping through our prisons?

I thank Richard Leonard for his question, which touches on a number of areas. Of course, we are alive to some of the issues that he has brought up, especially use of psychoactive drugs, whose effect on inmates tends to be much more challenging for prison officers than are the effects of other drugs.

We want to eradicate all drugs from the prison system, so new technology is being looked at, on top of the existing measures. However, it is true to say—I do not shrink from the fact—that dealing with the pandemic and the threat of infection in prisons has limited some operations, so we have to balance the risks as best we can. The introduction of new technology that should help with some of the drugs that Richard Leonard talked about will be one stage in doing that, but a more profound change in how the prison system deals with drug abuse among prisoners has to take place, so we are also considering that.

What steps have been taken to ensure that prisoners can still contact friends and family in a Covid-safe manner?

The introduction of technology for virtual visits, prison-issued mobile phones in SPS establishments, and cell phones in HMP Kilmarnock have enabled contact to be maintained between people who are in custody and their friends and families. Since implementation, more than 56,900 virtual visits have taken place in the SPS.

The SPS has put in place precautionary measures, informed by public health guidance, to make in-person visits as safe as possible.

It has emerged that hundreds of seemingly tamper-proof mobile phones that were given to prisoners during the pandemic have been hacked and are being used to facilitate drug deals. What immediate action is being taken to discipline the perpetrators and to prevent such criminal activity on the prison estate?

Tess White should know that prisoners being disciplined is a matter for the Scottish Prison Service. It takes those decisions. If the member wishes, I can ask the interim chief executive of the SPS to respond to her.

The member quite rightly mentioned that the phones are tamper-proof. Their benefits have been huge in relation to managing prison services that cannot operate as they did in the past.

I will say one final thing. Discipline within prisons is much harder to maintain with 68-year-old prison officers. That is the effect of the Government that the member supports pushing the pension age back to 68. We should never have 68-year-old prison officers trying to exercise the kind of discipline that Tess White spoke about.


Shooting Ranges and Firearms (Control, Use and Licensing)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last discussed the control, use and licensing of shooting ranges and firearms with Police Scotland. (S6O-00140)

The Scottish Government is in regular contact with Police Scotland regarding a variety of firearms licensing matters. Officials and police work together to manage complementary licensing systems and to ensure that firearms are possessed and used safely across Scotland.

The Scottish ministers have no role in approving shooting ranges. It is for Police Scotland to be satisfied as to the safety of any land where firearms are used.

Eskdalemuir is home to the Samye Ling Buddhist monastery and many agricultural holdings with livestock. There are concerns in the community about the Clerkhill and Over Cassock ranges, in the vicinity of which high-velocity 50-calibre weapons are used. Given that both ranges are operating sporadically under the 28-day planning rule, could the cabinet secretary undertake to properly look into the situation? In principle, would he consider removing shooting activities from the 28-day planning rule?

Planning legislation is not within my remit. The member has rightly raised the issue with me previously; she might want to talk to the ministers who are responsible for that.

I appreciate that the matter is of significant concern to her and the community. I will ensure that my officials engage closely with Police Scotland regarding shooting ranges in Eskdalemuir valley. I understand that the police have already visited the ranges in question several times in recent months to assess their safety and operation, and that they plan to do so again in the near future.

As I said, planning matters—

That will have to do, cabinet secretary.


Finance and Economy

The next set of questions is on the finance and economy portfolio. If members want to ask a supplementary, I ask them to press their request-to-speak button or put an R in the chat function during the relevant question.


Green Economy (Support for Businesses)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support businesses in relation to developing a sustainable green economy. (S6O-00141)

Businesses are crucial to achieving net zero. Funding and technical support for businesses to develop a sustainable green economy is being provided through our enterprise and skills agencies.

In advance of the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—we have also targeted commitments to drive opportunities for Scottish businesses. For example, we have set out an additional £2 billion of infrastructure investment over the parliamentary session to stimulate demand and create jobs in the net zero transition. That includes our £100 million green jobs fund to offer support to businesses to invest in green products and services, and in research and development.

The minister will be aware of a recent report that said that half of Scottish businesses are yet to develop a net zero policy. Does he agree that the focus on new green jobs in the green economy forgets the importance of helping current industry to become greener, which is just as important in the drive towards a green economy?

Brian Whittle makes a number of valid points. It is important that we all work together across the chamber to raise awareness of net zero among Scotland’s business community, as businesses will be at the heart of this country’s success in creating thousands of new green jobs and achieving our targets.

Of course, there is the race to zero, which is the commitment that we ask Scottish businesses to sign up to to achieve net zero. As this week is climate week, we are using it to promote that message. Members may wish to do so locally in their constituencies.

Can the minister provide an update on the Scottish Government’s work to support workers in carbon-intensive sectors to upskill, reskill and transition to the green jobs of the future?

As Mr Kidd mentioned, ensuring that people have good green jobs is crucial to achieving our net zero targets and delivering a just transition. There are a number of measures in place. We have our climate emergency skills action plan. Flowing from that, we have the national transition training fund, which is funding a lot of programmes across the country to ensure that employees are able to retrain and upskill for greener industries, if that is required. In addition, we recently launched our green jobs skills academy. On top of that, the programme for government included a commitment on a skills guarantee for anyone who is in a carbon-intensive industry who wishes to retrain for a job in a lower-carbon sector.

There are a number of initiatives under way. The issue is absolutely at the heart of a just transition for the people of Scotland.

Sue Webber.

I think that I have a supplementary question after Mr Johnson.

That is fine; we will move to question 2.


Fiscal Framework (Review)

 

2.

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made on agreeing the scope of the fiscal framework review, scheduled for 2022, with the United Kingdom Government. (S6O-00142)

We are actively engaging with the UK Government—and have been since December—on options for the scope of the review as well as the independent report that precedes it. I believe that the review and preceding report should be broad in scope to give full consideration to how the framework has performed and to assess how Brexit and the pandemic have impacted funding arrangements. I have been pushing for a meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to take place as quickly as possible to progress that.

Recent research by the Fraser of Allander Institute and others has noted that the UK Government is, as the cabinet secretary confirmed, seeking a very narrow scope to the review. Does she agree that it needs to be broadened out to consider, for example, the sufficiency of capital borrowing powers and the policy risks that arise when UK Government decisions constrain the Scottish Government?

I strongly agree on the need for a broad scope. I think that that position is also shared by a number of external stakeholders. Obviously, we have had a parliamentary session’s worth of experience. We need to give proper consideration to how the framework is performing. It is critical that the Scottish Parliament and Government have in place appropriate powers and flexibilities in order to manage the risks that we face through the operation of the framework, respond to fast-evolving pressures and challenges, and tackle economic recovery.

What measures will the Scottish Government put in place to assist with improving the transparency in Scottish Government fiscal policy, given the concerns that we heard at the Finance and Public Administration Committee yesterday about the need for much better understanding of the fiscal framework and Audit Scotland’s concerns about enhanced financial transparency?

That is a very important question. The fiscal framework and the devolution of tax powers are still relatively new, and it is important that we are as transparent as possible and help the public and other stakeholders to understand how those things operate. Last year, we took a number of steps to aid that transparency, including an additional budget revision during the year and the publication of the medium-term financial strategy. However, I am open to suggestions, including from the Finance and Public Administration Committee, as to how that can be bolstered.


Ferries

 

3.

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Ferguson Marine regarding the building of vessels for Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. (S6O-00143)

I visited the yard and spoke directly to workers on 25 August. I also regularly meet the chair and turnaround director to monitor progress, most recently on 17 August. I will meet the full board at the yard on 23 September.

As the cabinet secretary will know, I am not just the local MSP; I grew up in the town and my father worked for the yard before he passed away. I am a huge supporter of the workforce and the yard, and its future is bigger than one person. After yesterday’s news about the two Islay vessels, which was uncomfortable but not unexpected, will the cabinet secretary instigate a change of management at the yard to ensure that the men and women of Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) Ltd have a future, and will she agree to meet me to discuss the future of the yard?

I certainly agree to meet Stuart McMillan and I agree with his sentiment about how important it is to ensure a long-term future for the yard. I emphasise that all our actions and decisions must be to ensure that the vessels are completed and that the yard has a long-term future. I weigh up all decisions within my own powers on that basis.

Leadership matters, and I am closely monitoring progress at the yard through the board, which, ultimately, oversees operational matters and holds management accountable for performance. As I said, I will meet the board next week. I have been crystal clear with the board’s management that I expect—no ifs, no buts—the two vessels to be completed and the yard to get into a position to compete successfully for tenders.

When is the turnaround director going to turn anything around at the yard, and when is somebody’s head going to roll over this shambles?

On the basis of recent progress, we need to ensure that the two priorities that I just outlined are met. The first is that the two vessels are completed. We have seen progress at the yard, but we still need to get the two vessels over the line. As I mentioned in my previous answer, having most recently visited the yard at the end of August and spoken directly to workers, I am confident that progress is being made.

The second priority is about future opportunities. The yard has two substantial vessels to complete. The new order is not for the last CMAL vessel; in fact, it is the first procurement of £580 million of investment over the next five years to bring new vessels into service, including up to seven new ships under phase 1 of the small vessel replacement programme. Although, in line with normal procurement rules, we have no role, we want to ensure that the yard is in a position to compete successfully for those tenders on an international basis.

The Government’s announcement yesterday was a hammer blow for Scottish shipbuilding. It is about time that ministers took responsibility for the Scottish National Party’s on-going ferries fiasco. Turning around Ferguson’s means no more delays to current contracts and filling the order book again. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that she will rule out any further delays to MV Glen Sannox and hull 802—yes or no? Were existing delays a factor in Ferguson’s not making the short list? Will she publish the assessment criteria? Given public concern, will she suspend the process and consider again making a direct award to the yard?

There were a lot of questions in there and I might not get through all of them.

On one of the questions, on behalf of island communities, we should recognise that yesterday’s announcement regarding two new vessels for ferry routes was important and welcome. We know—I certainly do, given that I represent island communities that rely on lifeline ferries—just how important it is to ensure that there are new ferries on those lifeline services.

On the other questions, I monitor the process closely through the board, which I meet regularly. I have been crystal clear that we expect the two vessels to be delivered and for the yard to be in a position to compete. The turnaround director will update the committee at the end of September, as previously set out.


ATMs (Use and Accessibility)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with stakeholders regarding continued ATM use and accessibility. (S6O-00144)

The minister, Ivan McKee, is joining us remotely.

Although we are encouraged to use contactless payments due to the pandemic, we recognise that that is not always possible for everyone. Limited ATM accessibility is a matter of great concern affecting many communities across Scotland.

Scottish Government ministers engage regularly with the banking sector through bilateral ministerial meetings and the financial services industry advisory board. The Scottish Government stands ready to work constructively with the United Kingdom Government, banks and other stakeholders to ensure that customers, local communities and businesses have access to the banking facilities that they need.

I have spoken to ATM provider Notemachine, which highlighted that higher rates paid by ATMs in Scotland have not been considered in the setting of interchange fees applied across the United Kingdom. That results in particular pressure on ATMs in Scotland: it means that more money has to be withdrawn per machine to meet costs, which can cause real problems in poorer areas. What interventions are open to the Scottish Government to assist in keeping the cost of those machines affordable, so that they remain equally available to communities across Scotland?

The Scottish Government already delivers a number of reliefs for ATM sites, such as continuing to ensure that sites in rural areas are exempt from rates where the building is used only for the ATM, and, more widely, that there is up to 100 per cent rates relief through the small business bonus scheme. Each local council has wide-ranging powers to create rates reliefs to reflect local needs under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2014. Shops that have an ATM inside them might also be eligible for 100 per cent retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation relief in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

I am meeting the chief executive officer of the Financial Conduct Authority on Thursday 16 September, when I will directly raise the issue of access to cash infrastructure.

An alternative to ATMs for many has been to withdraw cash from their local post office, but we have seen a large number of post office closures. How will the Government ensure that our vulnerable and elderly can access their cash without being short changed by extortionate fees?

The member will be aware that financial services are reserved. We continue to work with the UK Government and others to ensure that services are maintained. As I indicated, I am meeting the FCA shortly, and access to cash infrastructure across Scotland will be a subject for discussion.


National Health Service Funding (Barnett Consequentials)

To ask the Scottish Government how the finance secretary plans to allocate the Barnett consequentials arising from the United Kingdom Government’s recent announcement of additional funding for NHS England. (S6O-00145)

We are committed to passing on all health and care resource consequentials to health and social care. We have sought urgent clarity from the UK Government on the level of net additional consequentials that will arise from the recent announcement. Despite that request, the UK Government has not, as yet, given a firm guarantee on the value of the consequentials and that that will be a net addition to the budget. I am sure that the member will join me in urging the UK Government to provide that clarity and ensure that the funding is additional.

Clarity is important, of course. The need for my question is best set out in the report that Audit Scotland published today, to which Liz Smith referred. Will the cabinet secretary be specific? Will she commit to publishing the schedule of regular budget and spend updates that transparency demands, rather than have the Parliament rely on ad hoc budget revisions?

The member makes a valid point about ensuring that the Parliament is kept updated about progress on spend. That is why, last year, I tried to do additional budget revisions.

One of the challenges that we face, to which the Audit Scotland report alludes, is that when announcements are made south of the border, the figures are often not confirmed until very late in the financial year. That makes it difficult for us, as we must use estimates to make decisions without having the clarity of a fixed figure. Last year, we had the guarantee, which helped, and I call on the UK Government to reinstate the guarantee, to help us to provide transparency to the Parliament.

There is a supplementary question from Sue Webber.

This time, Presiding Officer.

Last week, Scottish National Party members of Parliament in Westminster voted against £1.1 billion of extra national health service funding. Even though our health service is in crisis and the SNP Government has called for more money from the UK Government, SNP MPs refused to back an annual extra £1.1 billion for Scotland’s NHS and social services. Will the cabinet secretary explain why the SNP MPs voted against giving more money to the NHS and social care in Scotland?

The member somewhat mischaracterises what happened last week. If she can confirm that that money is indeed additional to our budget and that every penny will come to the Scottish Government, we will ensure that it goes directly on front-line spend. The issue with a rise in national insurance, which has been well documented, is that it will have a devastating impact on some of our most vulnerable working families. This is the first time that I have heard a Tory call tax rises a union dividend.


Covid 19 (Funding for Ventilation in Schools)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the finance secretary has had with the education secretary regarding the allocation of additional funding to improve ventilation in schools to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. (S6O-00146)

The education secretary and I agree that ventilation is one of the most important ways in which we can reduce the risk of airborne Covid-19 transmission and keep our schools as safe as possible. We are providing local authorities with an additional £10 million, to ensure that schools and childcare settings have access to carbon dioxide monitoring, and a previous allocation of £90 million of Covid-19 logistics funding was provided to local authorities to use for improved ventilation.

I welcome those comments, but CO2 monitoring relates not to ventilation but to the build-up of a gas that might indicate a risk of Covid. How is the Scottish Government measuring the effectiveness of the spend? Will adequate funding be provided to local councils, so that the education estate can be maintained properly?

The member has asked a legitimate and important question. A reporting mechanism has been established to track the progress of each local authority, following agreement with local authorities. It covers four key areas and requests details on the purchase and supply of monitors, additional staff training requirements, building assessments and, most important, impacts and remedial action. Local authorities are keeping us updated on significant developments, particularly in relation to the identification of high-risk poorly ventilated areas and the remedial action that is being taken.

Question 7 is from Alexander Burnett, who joins us remotely.


Scottish Ambulance Service (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the finance secretary has had with the health secretary regarding the allocation of additional funding for the Scottish Ambulance Service to increase staffing and resources, particularly in rural and remote areas. (S6O-00147)

As a member who represents a rural and remote area, I know the importance of the question. Scotland’s Ambulance Service has been under significant pressure due to the pandemic, with ambulance staff at the forefront of our response. The service is currently carrying out a national review of demand and capacity, which will ensure that the right resources are in place across the country, including in rural and remote areas, to help to meet current and—importantly—future demand.

We have made available £10.5 million last year and £20 million this year to support the review. That has already resulted in the north gaining a total of 67 extra front-line staff—a mixture of experienced paramedics, newly qualified paramedics, technicians and patient transport staff.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer; I know that her constituency faces the same problems as mine. In my constituency of Aberdeenshire West, Braemar has had significant issues with ambulance services, which has led to tragic consequences.

I have been in contact with the Scottish Ambulance Service and Braemar community council, but funding is a major issue. The community is looking at the cost of purchasing a 4x4 Caravelle ambulance to replace the existing co-responder there. Has it come to that? Are communities now so abandoned by the Scottish Government that they must fundraise for their own emergency services, or does the cabinet secretary endorse Humza Yousaf’s view that people in rural areas should think twice before calling 999?

I will always represent people in rural areas—as I said, I represent some of the most remote and rural areas in the country.

The points that Alexander Burnett raised will not all be solved through funding. I have already outlined the funding position and, coming up to next year’s budget, I will discuss health spend with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care. The Scottish Ambulance Service’s budget rose in real terms by 17.7 per cent between 2011 and 2021.

However, in the light of the very serious issues that Alexander Burnett raises, I am sure that if he were to raise them with the health secretary, the health secretary would look into the specifics. I would be happy to pass on a note as result of this exchange.

Can the cabinet secretary assure us that the allocation of funds takes into account that the problem of ambulances being unavailable, certainly in my region of South Scotland, has been exacerbated by ambulance crews having to wait at hospitals for record periods of time to hand over patients, and that fixing the problem requires greater staffing and resources at all points of the emergency service chain?

The member raises an important point about the integration of health and social care as a full service and the need to ensure that investment in one part of the health service relieves pressure elsewhere. That is a key theme in our remobilisation plan “Re-mobilise, Recover, Re-design: the framework for NHS Scotland”. I make it clear that, when we come to next year’s budget, we will look carefully across the NHS and health and social care to ensure that we spend money in the right places to relieve pressures elsewhere.


Covid-19 (Funding for Culture, the Arts and Events)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the finance secretary has had with the culture secretary regarding the allocation of funding for the culture, arts and events sectors in light of the impact of Covid-19. (S6O-00148)

We recognise the value of culture and its importance in our recovery, and that is why substantial funding was made available during Covid for businesses that work in the culture, arts and events sector. I have regular dialogue with the culture secretary as part of Cabinet discussions, and those will be on-going as we prepare for next year’s budget.

A recent Skills Development Scotland sectoral skills assessment report on the creative industries forecast an increase in gross value added of 28 per cent in the sector by 2031 from the current level. That will be good news for my constituents in Edinburgh and the Lothians, and for the economy more generally.

Can the cabinet secretary outline how the Scottish Government will open up and increase career paths in the creative industries for those who are currently marginalised and excluded from those opportunities, such as those from working-class backgrounds, black and minority ethnic communities and other underrepresented communities?

I thank the member for that question, which is hugely important. He reflects on the contribution that the culture sector makes to our economic performance—we recognise that contribution, as I hope will be reflected in our 10-year economic strategy, which will be published in autumn.

SDS needs to take career paths in the creative industries seriously, and we need to ensure that there are equal opportunities. As that is not directly within my portfolio, I would be happy to raise it with my colleague to ensure that he is addressing the specific issues that the member raises.