Website survey

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

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 16 June 2021

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) Scotland Act 2021, Brexit (Skills Impact), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Historical Forced Adoption


Portfolio Question Time

Social Justice, Housing and Local Government

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

The first item of business is portfolio question time. In order to allow as many members as possible to ask their questions, I request that questions and answers be succinct. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question.

The first question is from Patrick Harvie, who joins us remotely.

Rented Sector Strategy (Tenants Unions)

To ask the Scottish Government when ministers last met with tenants unions to discuss the development of the rented sector strategy. (S6O-00025)

Tenant participation must be at the heart of developing the new rented sector strategy. Our regional network of tenant organisations already helps us to involve tenants who live in the social rented sector, and we have committed in “Housing to 2040” to establishing a tenant participation panel for private tenants. The forums will help us to ensure that tenants’ voices are heard in the development and delivery of the strategy and future policy making.

I am keen to meet tenant representatives and organisations that support tenants. Invitations for meetings with shortly be issued to representatives of both those groups as we begin work on the rented sector strategy.

I am grateful for that answer, although I am still not clear when ministers last met any tenants unions. Nationally and locally, tenants unions such as Living Rent have been playing a critical role in protecting tenants from abuse of power by irresponsible landlords. That has been especially important during the pandemic, yet there is no tenant organisation on the private rented sector resilience group. Perhaps that is why, at its last meeting, the group was looking forward to the end of the eviction ban when it should have been discussing how to extend the protection for tenants. Will the cabinet secretary give an assurance that the voices of Living Rent and other tenants unions will be central to the development of the new strategy, instead of once again allowing the interests of landlords to be dominant?

Patrick Harvie will be aware that I have been in the job for a matter of weeks. I am, of course, keen to meet tenant representatives and organisations that support tenants. As I said, invitations to meetings will shortly be issued to representatives of both those groups. I want to look at how we engage with tenant groups more widely.

The resilience group provides a forum for open discussion of issues in the private rented sector. Citizens Advice Scotland and Shelter Scotland, which provide crucial advice and support directly to tenants across Scotland daily, are members of the group and are well placed to raise the issues and challenges that renters face. We always keep such issues under review, and I am keen to meet as many tenant organisations as I can.

I call Pam Duncan-Glancy to ask a supplementary question.

Thank you, Presiding Officer, but I think that I should have waited to press my button during one of the other questions. I am sorry.

Okay. That is not a problem.

I thank Patrick Harvie for raising the issue, and I welcome the cabinet secretary to her role. She has already touched on the question that—[Inaudible.] Are there plans to continue with the cross-sector housing resilience groups that were established at the height of the pandemic?

I think that I caught the gist of that question. I am keen for the PRS resilience group to continue. It provides a useful forum for open discussion of the issues and challenges that face everyone, including tenants in the private rented sector, so it is wise for the forum to continue for the foreseeable future.

Green Spaces (Residential Housing)

To ask the Scottish Government what provision it plans to make for the inclusion of greenspaces within new residential housing developments. (S6O-00026)

Our national planning framework 4 position statement indicates our policy aim of facilitating significant expansion of green infrastructure, which includes that within housing developments. That is further supported by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, whereby local authorities will have a duty to prepare open space strategies, helping to ensure that places are greener and healthier.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and welcome her to her new role. She will know that most housing developments share green space and that those areas are commonly factored. Despite the Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011 and subsequent moves to toughen the code of conduct, too many residents still complain about rogue factors who down tools while jacking up fees. Residents across the south of Scotland have raised concerns about the current framework, which gives too much power to factors and allows them to increase bills while determining how, and in some cases if, they manage green spaces on behalf of residents. Will the cabinet secretary look again at the regulation of factors to toughen the rules, making it easier for communities to remove rip-off operators who overcharge and under deliver?

The member raises important questions about rogue factors and the impact that they can have on shared green spaces. The best that I can do is to write to the member, setting out some of the detail of how we might take those issues forward. I will ensure that officials do that in the next few days.

Covid-19 (Local Government Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is putting in place to assist local authorities with recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00027)

Scotland’s councils have been allocated an additional £1.5 billion over this year and last in direct support through the local government finance settlement. Councils have also been granted additional financial flexibilities to address the financial pressures caused by Covid-19. Furthermore, the 2021-22 local government settlement of almost £11.7 billion provides a cash increase in local government day-to-day spending for local revenue services of £375.6 million, which is an increase of 3.5 per cent. The Scottish Government will continue working in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and local authorities.

The minister has largely answered my supplementary question, but I will ask it anyway, in case he can add any information. Local authorities have continued delivering front-line services through pandemic, while also assisting with the vaccine roll-out and planning for recovery. What financial support has been considered to ensure that local authorities have the capacity to continue doing that? We are not out of the pandemic yet.

Local authorities will receive an additional £259 million this year to support Covid pressures. They will be able to spend that money as they see fit to provide the maximum benefit to their communities. To date, the Scottish Government has also provided local authorities with more than £5 million of direct support for contact tracing and vaccinations. Ministers across the Scottish Government are in regular dialogue with COSLA and we will continue to ensure that local authorities have the capacity to provide the help and support that are required at this crucial time.

The minister will be acutely aware of concerns regarding fair funding for local government. I have consistently highlighted the underfunding of City of Edinburgh Council and the previous attempts to cut the council’s central grant, most recently in relation to the proposed £3 million cut to the 2019 budget. As an Edinburgh MSP, the minister will be aware of that.

With that in mind, do Scottish National Party ministers plan to deliver a new financial framework after the pandemic that will ensure that councils will receive a set percentage of the Scottish Government budget, so that we finally see fair funding for local government?

I refer Miles Briggs to my previous answers about the significant support that is being provided to local authorities. I also draw his attention to the important fact that financial settlements are negotiated between COSLA as a whole, acting on behalf of all 32 local authorities, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy.

Due to the pandemic, work was delayed on the collective Scottish Government commitment to undertake joint working with COSLA to develop a rules-based fiscal framework to support future funding settlements for local government. The Scottish Government and COSLA officials have recommenced those discussions, to determine the scope of the work that is required. It is important to keep in mind that, for any changes to be made to how local government is funded, there would have to be agreement with COSLA to ensure that there is consensus, and such changes would have to be considered in the context of the wider budget process and financial pressures.

Island Tourism (Short-term Lets)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with island tourism representatives regarding proposed legislation to regulate short-term lets. (S6O-00028)

We engaged with residents, local authorities and tourism representatives from across Scotland, including island communities, as part of our 2019 and 2020 public consultations. In 2019, we also commissioned independent research on the impact on communities of short-term lets. Five case-study areas were selected, which covered a mixture of rural, urban and island areas; Skye was the island case-study area. An island communities impact assessment was carried out in 2020 and published in December 2020, as part of our consultation report.

I welcome my former Justice Committee colleague to her new role.

In the previous session of the Parliament, the Government’s licensing order was widely criticised as unfit for purpose and withdrawn at the eleventh hour, with the Government committing to respond to stakeholder concerns. Given the wide range of business and tourism bodies with members in island communities who support the proposal that the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers has made for a mandatory registration scheme for short-term lets, will the cabinet secretary say what consideration she has given to the proposal? Will she also advise us of the timeframe for making revised regulations?

It is worth saying, first, that at the heart of the licensing scheme is a set of mandatory standards for all short-term lets in Scotland, which are geared towards protecting the safety of guests and neighbours. The approach was brought in because of the concerns that were being raised. Many hosts and operators are already meeting the standards, as a matter of compliance with existing law and best practice, and we do not consider the standards to be onerous.

We considered registration as part of our 2019 consultation. Having considered the findings of the research and consultation, in January 2020 we announced that we would proceed with a licensing scheme, using powers under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. Registration would not offer the same protection as licensing offers to guests, neighbours and local communities.

On the timescale for legislation, I expect to be able to provide an update on progress shortly, when the relevant committee has been established and its convener appointed.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that the previous proposals for regulation caused widespread concern about extra burdens being placed on bed and breakfast businesses and rural providers of self-catering accommodation to tackle a problem that is, ultimately, about antisocial behaviour and the lack of housing in cities? Will she consider the more flexible approach of allowing local authorities to determine whether they need a licensing system to tackle local problems in their areas?

A number of concerns about short-term lets were raised, including the impact on local housing supply, noise and antisocial behaviour, and the issues were not confined to our cities.

The important point is to ensure basic safety, which is an important factor in every let in Scotland. I hope that the member agrees that there should be basic safety standards for all lets, of whatever type, including B and Bs.

Local authorities have been involved in the discussions and will set the fees to cover their costs in establishing and administering the scheme. I reassure the member that we do not expect the fees to be onerous. The business and regulatory impact assessment contains an estimated range of between £223 and £377 to cover a three-year licence, which I do not regard as overly onerous.

Community Services (Local Government Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to support local government in the delivery of community services. (S6O-00029)

The 2021-22 local government finance settlement of almost £11.7 billion includes an additional £375.6 million—or 3.5 per cent—for day-to-day revenue spending. In addition, the value of the overall Covid-19 support package for councils now totals more than £1.5 billion over this year and last year. Ultimately, it is for locally elected representatives to make local decisions on how best to deploy the resources at their disposal to deliver services to their communities on the basis of their local needs and priorities.

The minister will be aware that concern has been raised by the Scottish Information and Library Council that many libraries that have been closed during the pandemic will not reopen. In my Central Scotland region, 13 libraries are closed at the moment and there are concerns for their future. Councils have a statutory duty to provide such services, so what is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that all libraries that have been closed by the pandemic will reopen?

As I emphasised in my first answer, the fact that we have different spheres of governance here in Scotland means that local councillors have to make decisions affecting local communities. However, I appreciate the significance of the point and the tone in which Mr Simpson raised it. As citizens and representatives, we know the value of libraries in communities. If Mr Simpson would like to write to me with more details of the circumstances in his region, I would be very glad to receive that correspondence.

Local Authorities (Permanent Financial Settlement)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the local government minister has had with the finance secretary regarding creating a permanent financial settlement for local authorities. (S6O-00030)

The Scottish ministers remain committed to undertaking joint work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to develop a rules-based fiscal framework to support future funding settlements for local government. Due to the pandemic, work has been delayed, but the Scottish Government and COSLA officials have now recommenced discussions to determine the scope of work required, and we understand that COSLA has convened a cross-party working group to consider its position. Any changes to the way in which local government is funded would need the agreement of COSLA.

As the cabinet secretary will know, the Scottish Conservatives have called for a fair share of funding for our local authorities, so that local taxes raised are used to pay for local services. For too long, the north-east of Scotland has been underfunded; Aberdeenshire Council recorded a shortfall of £43.3 million this financial year, which has led to a situation in which more than 60 bridges will become unusable in the next 10 years and there is a serious issue with severe potholes across the region. Will the cabinet secretary accept that that is unfair to our north-east communities and pledge to consider giving local authorities a fair share?

Collectively, local authorities in the north-east of Scotland will have £51.4 million more to spend on vital day-to-day services in 2021-22 compared with the previous year and have been allocated more than £218 million to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic through the local government finance settlement, over and above their regular grant payments. Aberdeenshire Council will receive its fair share of a further £137 million, which is currently undistributed. The council will also receive its fair share of the 2021-22 funding that has been discussed and agreed with COSLA since the announcement of the settlement.

Alexander Burnett may wish to have a look at the United Kingdom Parliament Public Accounts Committee’s report on local government finance, which has just been published. The report states:

“Typical council tax bills will rise by an average of 4.3% across England in 2021–22, meaning that local people could be paying more for less.”

Perhaps the member should reflect on the fact that the Tories do one thing in government but complain here about local government funding in another place.

Two-child Cap (Discussions)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland regarding the joint letter signed by the devolved children’s commissioners, which described the two-child cap as a

“clear breach of children’s human rights”. (S6O-00031)

I have not spoken to the Children and Young People’s Commissioner about this issue, but the Scottish Government agrees that the United Kingdom Government’s two-child limit and its associated rape clause are abhorrent policies that push families into poverty.

Scottish Government analysis indicates that the two-child limit takes at least £120 million from low-income families in Scotland, and we will continue to call on the UK Government to do the right thing and reverse that harmful policy. For the sake of clarity, Scotland’s social security system does not—and, under this Administration, never will—have a cap on the number of eligible children.

I thank the minister not only for that answer but for calling out the UK Government on the two-child limit. Is he able to give further information on what steps are being taken specifically in Scotland to give our Scottish children the best quality start in life?

Absolutely. First of all, the Scottish Government has continually and consistently called on the UK Government to scrap the two-child limit, which, like its abhorrent rape clause, is unnecessary and wrong-headed, and we have also urged it to stop its plans to cut universal credit by £20 a week at the end of September and instead to maintain that extra money.

The Scottish Government is doing what it can with the powers and resources that we have to increase incomes, reduce household costs and mitigate the impacts of poverty on children. That includes delivering new support to families with children under the age of six through the Scottish child payment, which is worth £40 per child every four weeks, and delivering bridging payments for older children and young people worth the equivalent of the Scottish child payment until that is fully rolled out. We have also committed to doubling the payment to £80 per child every four weeks at the earliest possible opportunity.

Scottish Child Payment (Renfrewshire North and West)

To ask the Scottish Government how many families in the Renfrewshire North and West constituency it estimates will receive support from the roll-out of the Scottish child payment. (S6O-00032)

Using the latest available forecasts based on take-up assumptions for the payment that were published by the Scottish Fiscal Commission in January 2021, Scottish Government analysis estimates that the number of families receiving the under-sixes payment in Renfrewshire North and West could be around 1,200 this financial year 2021-22.

The Scottish Government is committed to rolling out the payment to under-16s by the end of 2022, subject to the Department for Work and Pensions providing us with the data that we need to do so. In 2023-24, the first full financial year of the payment for under-16s, the number of families receiving the under-16s payment in Renfrewshire North and West could be around 2,100.

The Scottish child payment will make a massive difference and help lift many children in my constituency out of poverty. However, the United Kingdom Government’s welfare policies are having the opposite effect. The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland has said that, if the UK Government scraps the £20 universal credit uplift in September,

“effectively it will knock out the benefits that the Scottish Child Payment brings into families.”

Does the cabinet secretary think that the UK Government should start matching our ambitions and introduce anti-poverty measures instead of cuts?

I thank Natalie Don for her very important question, and I absolutely agree with her and the children’s commissioner.

While this Government is focused on tackling poverty through significant investment, including the introduction of the Scottish child payment, the UK Government’s planned £20 cut to universal credit will push 60,000 families, including 20,000 children, into poverty across Scotland. That is not the only policy that penalises families; there is also, among other issues, the benefit cap, the two-child limit and the five-week wait for universal credit.

We have written to the UK Government on numerous occasions, asking for the uplift to be made permanent and extended to legacy benefits. The sheer scale of its cuts makes mitigation by the Scottish Government unsustainable. Because these policies hold back families in need, they must be scrapped, which is why we in Scotland need full powers to tackle child poverty.

International Aid (United Kingdom Commitments)

To ask the Scottish Government what representations it has made to the UK Government regarding the UK’s commitments to international aid. (S6O-00033)

The Scottish Government has made clear its position, first through the First Minister writing in November 2020, and subsequently directly to the UK Government. Both his predecessor and—only yesterday—the new Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture have written to the Foreign Secretary to outline our opposition to the cuts to overseas aid. In addition, I wrote to the Parliament’s cross-party group on international development regarding that matter in January of this year.

We believe the UK Government’s decision to cut official development assistance spending from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income to be a deplorable one. At a time when we are still responding to a global pandemic, we should not be turning our back on the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities.

Perhaps the key issue that international efforts face at the moment is that of vaccination roll-outs. Scotland’s partner nations, which include countries such as Malawi, currently have 0.1 per cent of their population vaccinated. It is clear that none of us is safe until all of us are safe.

What support with public health infrastructure is the Scottish Government offering partner nations so that vaccines can reach people’s arms?

Michael Marra is absolutely correct to say that none of us is safe until all of us are safe.

The UK Government is a member of the Covid-19 vaccines global access—COVAX—scheme but, as a Government, we are not. However, we have responded to the pandemic in two different ways. First, last year, I undertook a review of our international development policy to ensure that it was fit for purpose. Secondly, in the previous session of Parliament, we committed £2 million in funding for UNICEF to use in the fight against Covid in our partner countries, including Malawi.

Michael Marra will also be aware of the additional £5 million that we committed to provide in our manifesto, the purpose of which is to help our partner countries in the fight against Covid. Support for the public sector in our partner countries, which Michael Marra touched on, and building up resilience will be a huge part of that effort.

I remind members that, if they wish to ask a supplementary to a particular question, they should request to do so by pressing their request-to-speak button or entering R in the chat function while the relevant question is being addressed.

Scots Makar (Appointment)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the appointment of the new makar. (S6O-00034)

I welcome you to your place, Presiding Officer, and I congratulate Sharon Dowey on her election to the Scottish Parliament.

Jackie Kay’s tenure as the national poet for Scotland, or makar, ended in March 2021, and I would like to thank her for all her inspirational work over the past five years. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all members in all parties across the chamber in wishing her well. The process to appoint the next makar is under way and an announcement will be made once that process has reached its conclusion.

I, too, want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the former makar Jackie Kay. Her poetry brought joy to many and she will be sorely missed.

Scotland’s makar is responsible not only for celebrating our nation’s poetry and language, but for conserving and cultivating it for future generations. However, that tradition is under threat. A recent study by language learning app Busuu named Scots as one of 12 European languages that are now vulnerable to extinction. Quite correctly, the Scottish Government has moved to encourage Gaelic speaking, but I represent Alloway, the birthplace of Burns and the cradle of the modern Scots tongue. Is the Scottish Government confident that it can halt the decline of Scots? What action is being taken to increase the number of Scots speakers? By when will that be achieved?

I thank the member for her question. It is great to hear that there is support for the Scots language—and also, I imagine, for Gaelic, as one of our indigenous languages—among Conservative members.

The Scottish Government is determined to keep working with the Scots-speaking community and the Gaelic-speaking community to do all that we can to ensure that the languages flourish and remain a vital part of Scotland’s cultural identity. As part of the process to appoint a new makar, a panel of poetry experts with a range of experience, including of Scots and Gaelic poetry, has developed a shortlist, and the final decision will be made in due course.

Covid-19 (Cultural Sector)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the cultural sector. (S6O-00035)

I acknowledge the member’s interest in the subject. I know that he was a member of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee in the previous parliamentary session.

The Scottish Government recognises that the culture sector has been among the sectors that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and that it will continue to face challenges even as restrictions ease. Since the pandemic started, we have worked closely with all parts of the sector to understand its impact, including what support is needed. We have provided more than £149 million to the culture and heritage sectors, most recently through an additional £25 million for cultural organisations and venues that remain affected by restrictions. The member will wish to know that we remain committed to working with the sector to support its recovery and that we will continue to engage with it to understand and assess the impact of the pandemic and help to plot a way out of the crisis.

This week, we have seen thousands of football supporters descend on Hampden park and the fan zone in Glasgow. However, many other outdoor events, such as arts performances, festivals and local agricultural shows, remain under strict limitations, with many people unable to take place because of restrictions or the uncertainty about the levels system. Those events are often significant drivers of our tourism sector and local economies across Scotland, particularly in my Highlands and Islands region.

What is being done to gather key information from this week’s events in Glasgow? When will that information be made publicly available, and how can it be used to support other event organisers to plan ahead for their events with more confidence?

One of the first things that I did after my appointment as cabinet secretary with responsibility for culture was call a meeting of stakeholders, principally across the events sector, at which I heard at first hand the challenges that they are facing. We are acutely aware of the challenges that the sector is facing, and for many stakeholders they are existential challenges. We are doing as much as we can, given the Covid circumstances that we find ourselves in.

I am not certain whether the member was in the chamber yesterday when the First Minister updated us on the situation that we face in Scotland, but she made specific reference to the importance of the arts and culture sector. He—and we all—should expect to hear more on that next week. I assure him that we are absolutely seized of the importance of trying to open up Scotland’s civic, artistic and cultural life as quickly, but as safely, as possible.

Brexit (Impacts)

To ask the Scottish Government what its latest engagement has been with the United Kingdom Government regarding the impacts of Brexit. (S6O-00036)

I reiterate a pretty important point that needs to be stressed: Scotland voted against Brexit. We should never lose sight of that. Nevertheless, the Scottish Government continues to engage constructively on readiness issues, as we have done up to now, and we will continue to press the UK Government to ensure that the Scottish Government has the information that we need to respond to the impacts of Brexit.

Several structures are in place for engagement between the Scottish and UK Governments, involving both the Cabinet Office and UK Government departments—at official and ministerial levels—for the purposes of sharing information and considering mitigations for the impacts of Brexit.

Since 1 January 2021, the Scottish Government has attended 26 meetings of the EU Exit Operations Committee. The meetings are chaired by Lord Frost and were previously chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. That committee continues as the main UK ministerial meeting on broader transition impacts. Invitations to attend XO meetings are issued by the UK Government when it considers that devolved issues are impacted, and the Scottish Government has accepted all invitations as routes to engage on our interests.

It is important that the UK Government meaningfully involves the Scottish Government in on-going EU and UK discussions such as those at the EU-UK Partnership Council and the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, because those talks will directly impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people of Scotland.

Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the extent to which the Scottish Government has been involved in such talks? Does he believe that it is sufficient to ensure that the Scottish Government’s views are taken into account?

I commend the member for asking that question. The Scottish Government should be involved in the full range of trade and co-operation agreement governance structures, including the Partnership Council and its advisory bodies, the specialised committees and the trade specialised committees. Our involvement should also extend across the joint committee and its associated specialised committees under the withdrawal agreement. Those are the two international treaties that oversee EU and UK relations, and both have significant implications for Scotland.

However, the scope of our role goes beyond the responsibilities for devolved areas of policy, and we have written to Lord Frost to set out that our interests also encompass all implementation responsibilities for reserved issues and a legitimate wider interest in reserved issues that have implications for Scotland.

My colleague Ms Gilruth attended the EU-UK Partnership Council meeting on 9 June on my behalf, although formal speaking roles were limited to the UK Government and the EU. The Scottish Government also requested of the UK Government that it be allowed to attend and speak at the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee meeting, which was held on the same day, but that request was declined. Those arrangements are far from satisfactory and we are pressing for significant improvements.

Does the cabinet secretary have concerns about the shortages of seasonal agricultural workers during the picking season due to the ending of free movement? Can he provide an update on the Scottish Government’s latest engagement with the UK Government about steps that can be taken to address potential shortages of workers in key sectors, including hospitality and construction?

I commend Jim Fairlie. More than anybody else in the chamber, he understands the pressures that have been felt—

Cabinet secretary, please be mindful of the microphone, so that we can all hear you.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. It is my first outing, so I appeal for your forgiveness.

With his background, Jim Fairlie knows more than most in this chamber about the subject that we are discussing. The UK Government’s new immigration policies fail to address Scotland’s distinct demographic and economic needs, and they completely disregard key sectors, including those that were mentioned in the supplementary question. Scottish Government ministers have written to the UK Government multiple times to request engagement, but we have still not been offered a meeting to discuss the impact of the points-based immigration system. A one-size-fits-all approach to immigration is no longer appropriate—Scotland needs to explore a distinctive approach.

Travelling Artistes (Practical Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what practical support it has offered for travelling artistes, in light of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. (S6O-00037)

The Scottish Government recognises the barriers that touring artistes are likely to face as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. We acted quickly to provide funding for Arts Infopoint UK, which will provide advice and support on obtaining visas. Beatrice Wishart will also be aware of the manifesto commitment to develop a Scotland touring fund for theatre and music within the first 100 days of this Government, details of which will be shared very soon.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly called on the UK Government to negotiate visa and work permit-free arrangements for artistes who work in the EU on a short-term basis, and I continue to make the case for such arrangements in engagements with my UK counterparts.

I thank the minister for that answer. I am pleased to hear that progress has been made. As we know, artistes cannot tour at the moment, but time is needed if they are to plan ahead and make their way through new, complicated arrangements. Therefore, can the Scottish Government ensure that there is practical Covid travel advice alongside other guidance, such as guidance on regional restrictions in different countries?

Beatrice Wishart raises a really important point on the issue of practical travel advice, and I will certainly take that away. The reality that she sets out is that the work of many people in the field of international touring, exhibiting and production has been curtailed because of the ending of freedom of movement, but there are also increased costs relating to the potential requirement for visas and work permits, customs requirements and limits on road haulage. The last point is important for touring when performers carry a significant amount of equipment with them.

As I mentioned in my initial response, we have made our feelings on the matter very clear to the UK Government, particularly with regard to our supporting a four-nations approach to devolved competencies in the area. On that final point, I am due to meet the UK Minister of State for Digital and Culture tomorrow to discuss the issues in more detail.

Does the minister agree that the red tape that travelling artistes face as a result of Brexit is unacceptable and that the best way to support them would be through the restoration of the freedom of movement?

Natalie Don is absolutely correct. It is also important to remember that all the uncertainty and additional bureaucracy that Brexit has caused were entirely preventable. The UK Government could have extended the transition period but chose not to do so. Within the transition period, up until the end of December last year, freedom of movement was still possible. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement has a review clause in it that allows both parties to revisit the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors, so the UK Government needs to reopen discussions with the EU in order to develop a new model that looks at the needs of touring artistes. However, even that will not be a comparable substitute for freedom of movement.

National Towns of Culture

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans for national towns of culture. (S6O-00038)

Our manifesto commitment contains a pledge to extend the reach of the arts by launching an open competition for further national towns of culture, using the successful example of Scotland’s national book town, Wigtown, as a model. That could involve different art forms for which Scotland has a track record of excellence, including live music and visual art. The Scottish Government will consider how best to realise that commitment during the course of the parliamentary session, and we will communicate our plans in due course.

Paisley holds the distinction of being the first town to be shortlisted for the United Kingdom city of culture, having put forward a bid that linked cultural participation to social and economic renewal. Does the minister agree that a celebration of culture in a community can be a catalyst for action on economic and social need? Will she consider how the national towns of culture programme will focus on, and can help us to address, the stark economic and regional inequalities that are still faced by too many communities, particularly in the west of Scotland?

I am aware of the good work that went into the Paisley bid to be the UK city of culture. Neil Bibby will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that Paisley was the only place in Scotland that was shortlisted for the 2021 title. The bid campaign was, of course, a really great celebration of Paisley’s rich history and culture, and a catalyst for economic change, as Neil Bibby mentioned.

Neil Bibby has made an important point about the national towns of culture programme and the economic and social needs of towns. Right now, culture is more important than ever to Scotland’s collective wellbeing and prosperity, and the past year has shown us how integral communities are to a sense of identity and purpose. I know from my own experience of celebrating and promoting the 70th birthday of Glenrothes how important it is to make culture relevant to people’s lives and to instil a sense of pride in folk about the place that they come from.

I hope that Neil Bibby is assured that the Government will consider what he has set out with regard to social and economic needs in respect of our national towns of culture programme. I would be more than happy to sit down with him and discuss any ideas that he might have about how we can develop the programme.

Edinburgh Festivals (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support and assistance it is offering to the organisers of this summer’s Edinburgh festivals. (S6O-00039)

I acknowledge the interests of the member for Edinburgh Southern. As fellow members of the Scottish Parliament representing the capital, we both understand how important Edinburgh’s festivals are.

The Scottish Government is working closely with EventScotland, the City of Edinburgh Council and clinicians to deliver plans to allow certain exemptions to the existing guidance for a small number of outdoor cultural events at the Edinburgh international festival and the Edinburgh fringe. We are looking closely at Covid-19 mitigations at those events and the status of the pandemic. That is being managed through the flagship events process, which aims to support a small number of internationally significant events to take place this year.

In partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council, we have jointly made available £1.3 million to cover costs that will allow those festival events to happen safely. EventScotland is now preparing for contracting discussions with the relevant producers.

I hope that I do not need to declare an interest when it comes to talking about Edinburgh.

Following the First Minister’s announcement yesterday, the chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, Shona McCarthy, said that it is “hugely disappointing” that there is still no clear guidance on how the event can go ahead this year, in particular with regard to 1m social distancing. We can all understand the difficulties in stating when changes will occur, but the Government must be clear about what the restrictions will be when they come into effect. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that there will be no further delays to the social distancing guidance and that he will engage with the fringe festival on how it can implement the guidance once it is released?

I can give Daniel Johnson an absolute assurance. I am not sure whether he was in the chamber when the First Minister made her statement yesterday. If he was, he would have heard her make that commitment, which is very welcome.

I hope that we all agree that we want restrictions to be lifted as quickly but as safely as possible. I totally understand and acknowledge that, in the cultural community, people want maximum transparency and advance warning of when changes are possible. We have listened very closely to representatives of the sector in the broadest sense across Scotland and particularly in Edinburgh, given that the Edinburgh festivals are approaching in the next months.

In the meantime, I urge everybody and anybody to support the Edinburgh festivals. They are operating under different circumstances, but tickets are for sale. I encourage as many people as possible to support them.

Annie Wells is joining us remotely for question 8.

Covid-19 (Support for Arts and Culture in Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support the arts and cultural sector in Glasgow, in light of the continued impact of Covid-19 restrictions. (S6O-00040)

The arts and cultural sector in Glasgow is hugely important to the wider city economy, and I very much recognise some of the frustration that has been felt by the sector with regard to the Covid-19 restrictions. Glasgow has a rich and diverse cultural sector, and it is imperative that Government works to protect that.

Yesterday, I met members of the events industry advisory group, which includes representatives from Glasgow. Last month, too, the cabinet secretary and I met representatives of the culture sector, including people who are based in Glasgow. On Monday, I attended the Scotland-Czech Republic match at Hampden—we will not talk about the score—which was one of our flagship gateway events; the direct lessons that are learned from the event will inform our thinking as we devise, in partnership with the sector, a route map out of the pandemic.

Painful Covid restrictions on Scotland’s culture scene, from concert halls to cinemas, have had a brutal effect on people’s livelihoods. Given that the First Minister acknowledged yesterday that there are perceived anomalies in the rules, what action is the minister taking to reassure people who work in the culture sector—including in Glasgow, which remains in level 2—that their voices will not be ignored?

Annie Wells makes a salient point about the effects on people’s livelihoods, and I want to convey to her that the cabinet secretary and I are very much in listening mode with the sector. Obviously, my ministerial responsibilities in relation to culture are new and the cabinet secretary is new, too, but we have had a lot of engagement thus far and have been listening to people in the sector.

The Scottish Government has supported organisations and individuals in Glasgow with more than £18 million through Creative Scotland’s Covid-19 relief fund. For example, Glasgow Life received significant funding to help performing arts venues that were closed, including more than £500,000 for the Tramway and £250,000 for the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Old Fruitmarket and City Halls, and the Kelvingrove bandstand.

Last week, further rounds of the performing arts venues relief fund and the cultural organisations and venues recovery fund were launched, in direct recognition of the on-going challenges that many businesses in the culture sector face, which Annie Wells set out.

That concludes portfolio questions. We will have a short pause while the other Deputy Presiding Officer makes his way here.