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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 16, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 16 June 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Men’s Sheds, Point of Order, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Role of Incineration in Waste Hierarchy, Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill, Point of Order, Decision Time


Contents


Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time

The next item of business is Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body question time. Should any member wish to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question, or enter the letter R in the chat function. Succinct questions and answers would be much appreciated.


Edinburgh Low Emission Zone

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, as an employer located in the zone, how it will help to meet the objectives of the Edinburgh low emission zone. (S6O-01248)

The Edinburgh low emission zone was introduced by the City of Edinburgh Council in May 2022. Those who travel to the Parliament go through the LEZ. The objectives of the LEZ are cleaner air, healthier people and active travel options.

The Scottish Parliament has a sustainable travel plan, which encourages active travel and lower carbon emissions from commuter, business and visitor travel to the Scottish Parliament building. Walking, cycling and public transport are all encouraged, and over 80 per cent of regular building users use one of those as their main mode of transport. We provide secure bike storage and changing facilities, interest-free bike loans, including for electric bikes, and bike maintenance facilities. We have plans in place to encourage more car sharing instead of individual journeys. We are also investing in electric charging points in our car park; we have 16 currently, and have plans to increase that number.

Today is clean air day, and it is really important that the Parliament, as an institution, takes the lead on tackling the huge public health crisis that is killing thousands of people every year. I welcome what Maggie Chapman has said about the work that Parliament is doing as a cycle-friendly employer.

However, will the SPCB also look at the allowances system? Is it right that the Parliament should reimburse mileage claims for journeys that are taken within low emission zones in cars that are actually banned under the regulations that the Parliament has approved?

That is an interesting idea that we should consider—especially given our net zero ambitions. That is something that the corporate body and Parliament as a whole can certainly consider. We currently base reimbursement on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs rates that are set out in legislation, so we would need to see what is possible and what changes, if any, could be made to our scheme.

I undertake, however, to raise the matter at forthcoming corporate body meetings and to consider whether we can incentivise members to shift away from using carbon-emitting vehicles, including those that would be charged under the LEZ scheme.


Members’ Expenses Scheme (Funding for Legal Services)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body when it last reviewed the requirements for members to access legal services funded through the members’ expenses scheme in order to ascertain whether the current criteria are fit for purpose. (S6O-01249)

I begin by acknowledging that I understand the particular circumstance that Brian Whittle has been facing as an MSP, and the discussions that he has had with me and the corporate body, which remain on-going.

In general terms, the corporate body reviews the reimbursement of members’ expenses scheme in each parliamentary session to ensure that it remains fit for purpose. We last reviewed the scheme in 2019 and revisions to it were introduced at the beginning of this session. The corporate body also has a legal advice scheme for members, which is separate from the members’ expenses scheme. It was last reviewed in 2016.

Neither review highlighted any need for a change to the underlying principles or criteria for access to legal services. The operation of both schemes has demonstrated that their scope is sufficient to address the needs of a large majority of members, although we understand and accept that particular circumstances can arise in which the corporate body scheme does not meet needs. There are opportunities for members to consider one-off applications to the corporate body in those circumstances.

As Jackson Carlaw said, he is aware of the situation that I have been facing. It has come to my attention that the current legal services provision for members is available to defend a member only if a legal action is taken against them. It does not support a member taking legal action to recover funds that have been paid to a third party through the scheme, if a dispute occurs. That, in effect, means that in the event of, say, a landlord not returning a deposit or a contractor failing to rectify an issue with a product after it has been paid for, a member cannot, if necessary, pursue a court action to recover public funds. Does the corporate body believe that that is an acceptable situation? If not, will it agree to review the position on future provision of legal services?

I am sympathetic, as is the corporate body, to the particular situation in which the member has found himself. We understand, however, that it is the only time that such an experience has been faced by a member. Therefore, there is not a view in the corporate body at the moment that a much wider review of the scheme is needed as a consequence. However, as I said earlier, there is the opportunity for an exceptional application to be made to the corporate body, where that is felt to be appropriate.


Menus (Scottish Produce)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what steps it is taking to ensure the availability of Scottish produce on the menu in the Scottish Parliament. (S6O-01214)

The catering services at the Scottish Parliament are provided through our contract with Sodexo. We monitor the percentage of fresh Scottish produce that is used in our services, and last year approximately 60 per cent of fresh produce that was used by our services was produced in Scotland.

We invite many of our suppliers in to showcase their produce on site and to speak to members and staff directly. That is perhaps most notable during Scottish food and drink fortnight, which we participate in annually. We regularly support and organise events on site that promote Scottish produce. Last month, we held our Scotland in spring dining evening in the Holyrood room, which showcased seasonal produce such as accredited Scottish lamb and locally grown berries and asparagus.

How is the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body monitoring the carbon footprint, including from food miles, from its sourcing and product supply?

We have carbon auditing and monitoring as part of all our Scottish Parliament operations. I undertake to write to the member with more details about the specific processes for our food and drink.


Occupational Health (Chairs)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether an assessment has been made of the chairs in the MSP block for use by members and staff, in relation to occupational health and the latest standards. (S6O-01251)

Our office furniture contracts require suppliers to ensure that chairs meet all relevant standards in force at the time of purchase. We inspect chairs at regular intervals to ensure that they remain in safe condition and replace them when they reach end of life. If a member or member of staff feels that they require support for a particular health concern, they can contact the people and culture office—formerly human resources—for support. If necessary, a workplace assessment can be arranged with our occupational health provider.

Could we seek a further update as to the date of purchase, as I am sure that Christine Grahame will appreciate that human factors and ergonomics engineering is an ever-changing and evolving discipline?

I do not have the date of purchase to hand and I do not even know whether the chairs were all purchased at the same time, but I will endeavour to find that out and to advise the member in writing. Chairs are replaced if they do not pass an inspection, which is in line with our environmental policy.


Crèche (Reopening)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether it will provide an update on the reopening of the Scottish Parliament crèche. (S6O-01247)

In March of this year, the SPCB agreed to procure a new provider to re-establish and run the on-site crèche facility here at Holyrood. The decision was taken in order to maintain our commitment to accessibility by continuing to provide childcare for visitors and passholders to the building who have young children. Officials have completed all the procurement requirements and they are ready to go out to market later this month. The SPCB expects to award the contract in October 2022. In line with Care Inspectorate guidance, we have allowed for a six-month mobilisation period and intend the new service to open in spring 2023.

As the corporate body is aware, the provision of a high-quality crèche service allows MSPs, parliamentary staff and visitors to have the childcare facilities that they require to perform their duties.

As we return from a long period of hybrid working, we need to ensure that staff and members are supported fully with that transition. I am a new member and a mother to young children, and the crèche has not been in use since I was elected more than 12 months ago. What efforts have been made to prioritise the reimplementation of the service?

The SPCB has had detailed conversations about this issue. One of the challenges that we had was that the crèche service was ceased because of lockdown and the closure of Parliament at the start of the pandemic. Changes to Care Inspectorate guidance mean that we have had to change how the crèche operates, which is why we have needed to retender. I understand and appreciate the difficulties that the situation has caused for the member and perhaps other members in the past year.

We hope to have a contract approved in October this year and the crèche up and running by spring next year.


Parliamentary Functions (Applications)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether it has explored the possibility of creating apps for parliamentary functions. (S6O-01250)

Parliament already provides a few mobile-friendly applications and services to support members in their roles and to support parliamentary business. Examples of those services include the questions and motions mobile application, which allows members to raise questions and to raise and support motions at any time and from any location on any device with a browser and an internet connection.

In addition, the digital voting application was developed and delivered, along with other aspects of the hybrid Parliament, in response to the pandemic to ensure that members could continue to participate in parliamentary business, using mobile devices from wherever they had internet access.

Officials are in the early stages of work to understand how we can improve the digital delivery of information and services to members, and input from members has been, and will continue to be, sought to ensure that that work is a success.

I am talking about actual apps.

According to my staff, I am supposed to put money in a jar whenever I mention Westminster—there is quite a lot of money in that jar, I can tell you. Down south, there are excellent standalone apps—actual apps—which enhance the functions of Parliament. We at the Scottish Parliament should have that too. Business papers, Scottish Parliament information centre briefings, broadcast footage, questions, motions, voting records and even division bell push notifications could be included as features in such a set of apps. Sadly, our current reliance on web apps or email notifications is outdated. They are simply not as effective as standalone apps.

Does the SPCB accept that moves in that direction would make Parliament more accessible for Holyrood staff and, more importantly, the voters who keep us here, and is it open to looking into the proposal further?

We are more than open to input from members and others as we start to consider exactly what information members need to carry out their business and what information should be available, and in what forms, to members of the public.

Traditionally, we have produced apps that can run on any device, rather than specific apps for Apple and Android devices. There are significant cost-saving reasons for that. Being able to run applications off a web-based platform means that we do not need to maintain relationships with individual app providers, and tendering of those individual apps can be expensive—it is much more costly than tendering for a web-based version. However, we will take on board the member’s comments and include them in our conversations about how we further develop the support that we provide.

That concludes Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body questions. There will be a short pause before we move to the next item of business.