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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 17, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 17 January 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Hospital Television Charges, Credit Unions, Poverty and Inequality Commission (Chair), Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Alex Salmond Investigation

With hindsight, does the First Minister now accept that holding private meetings with her predecessor to discuss the allegations that he faced was a mistake? If so, when did she reach that conclusion—after the first, second, third, fourth or fifth time that they met to discuss the allegations?

Questions have legitimately been raised about those matters and I have set out an account of the decisions that I took. Beyond that, I now intend—fully, as the First Minister—to respect the work of the various investigations that have been established. Last week, at First Minister’s question time, Jackson Carlaw asked me to support a parliamentary inquiry into those matters. I have done so, and the Parliamentary Bureau discussed that issue earlier this week. Last week, Richard Leonard asked me to make a referral of my own conduct to the panel of independent advisers on the ministerial code, and I have done that.

In addition, the Scottish Government will establish a review. I can tell the chamber today that that review will be externally led—I will have no role in it. I have asked the Deputy First Minister to perform instead any role that I would have performed in the establishment of that review. There is also an on-going police inquiry.

To Jackson Carlaw and the chamber I say that I will answer any question to the fullest extent possible and that my Government will co-operate fully with all and any inquiries. Other members in the chamber now need to recognise that, having asked for these investigations, they are obliged to respect them.

The First Minister cannot hide behind an inquiry and a likely forthcoming police inquiry without answering the obvious questions:

“who knew what, when and how.”

Those are not my words; they are the words of Nicola Sturgeon in 2007, when, as the Deputy First Minister, she was demanding answers of Wendy Alexander over donations to the Labour Party. By Nicola Sturgeon’s own definition then we have both the right and the responsibility to ask questions now. We also have the right to get answers from the First Minister.

Since we last discussed the matter at First Minister’s question time, we have learned that there were other contacts beyond those that the First Minister revealed to Parliament last week. We have learned that her chief of staff met a former aide of Mr Salmond’s not once but twice prior to the first meeting on 2 April. It has been reported that, at one of those meetings, the First Minister’s chief of staff—to quote Mr Salmond’s team—“tipped them off”. She said that she suspected that an investigation was under way.

Two inquiries will get to the bottom of all of this but, surely, the First Minister does not need an inquiry to realise that, if that is indeed what happened, it was just plain wrong.

If Jackson Carlaw now takes the view that respecting inquiries that have been established constitutes hiding behind them, that begs the question: why did Jackson Carlaw ask for such an inquiry to be set up last week? His challenge to me last week was to support a parliamentary inquiry, and I have done that. The challenge from the other side of the chamber was to refer myself to the panel of independent advisers on the ministerial code, and I have done that as well. There will be a Government review of the process and, of course, there is an on-going police inquiry.

I have set out an account of the decisions that I took. I have also corrected inaccurate claims that have appeared in the media. Beyond that, it is time to respect the inquiries that Opposition members have called for and that I and my Government have supported. That is the right thing to do.

On the inquiries that I have spoken about and the work of the information commissioner, which the Scottish Government is co-operating fully with, it is fair to say that the decision-making processes involved in this matter may turn out to be the most scrutinised of any decision-making processes in the lifetime of this Parliament. That is right and proper. However, it strikes me that people cannot call for inquiries and then refuse to respect the work of those inquiries. I will respect the work of those inquiries; the question is, will others across the chamber?

As I pointed out, that is precisely what the First Minister did. She seems quite happy for her advisers to brief the media on these questions as they arise but is reluctant to answer them here, in Parliament. The problem is that we have two completely contradictory versions of events. In Mr Salmond’s version, the First Minister’s team knew about the complaint before 2 April. In the First Minister’s version, she and her team were completely in the dark until they all met at her house on that date. Both versions simply cannot be right. Will the First Minister put on record today—it is something that needs to be clarified now—that, contrary to what is being alleged, neither her chief of staff nor, indeed, any other Government special adviser had any knowledge of a complaint before 2 April?

I have already set out the account of when I first became aware of the complaint, and we have corrected inaccurate claims in the media this week relating to my chief of staff. Jackson Carlaw has said—perhaps this is a point on which I can go some way to agreeing with him—that there are differing accounts of the matter. That is why it is important to allow the scrutiny of the inquiries that have been established.

Now that those inquiries have been called for—and now that I, my Government and my party have agreed to support the establishment of those inquiries and co-operate fully with them—it is incumbent on all of us to respect those processes. That is what I will do. The question for Jackson Carlaw is this: is he really interested in getting to the heart of these matters or does he simply want to continue to make party political points about them?

I am interested in asking questions about the matters that have arisen since I questioned the First Minister last week. I am concerned that, although her advisers are briefing the media in response to inquiries of this nature, she seems reluctant to respond to such inquiries here, in the chamber. If nothing else, that has shown why the parliamentary inquiry, which we requested, is necessary. We must all hope that it can begin as soon as possible, because numerous questions beyond those that I have asked today are outstanding. What did the First Minister and Mr Salmond discuss? Why did the First Minister continue to meet the former First Minister as late as July last year, despite subsequently telling us that she could not get involved? Did the permanent secretary approve that final meeting in advance or was she informed of it only afterwards? All of us are asking, “What on earth did you think you were doing?”

The First Minister will have to answer those questions sooner or later. So, for the avoidance of doubt, will the First Minister confirm today that she will make herself available personally to appear before the parliamentary inquiry? In her answer to me last week, she said that she would be prepared to supply information to the inquiry, but will she be prepared to appear personally before the inquiry? Does she accept that this tawdry business and her handling of it in the past seven days have fundamentally undermined trust in her Government?

If I heard Jackson Carlaw correctly, he asked whether I am prepared to appear personally before an inquiry. Yes, I am. As the First Minister, I do not consider appearing before committees of the Parliament optional—that is a part of my job and a part of my responsibility. I cannot believe that Jackson Carlaw would have doubted that for a single second.

I understand why Jackson Carlaw has posed those questions today, but those are exactly the questions that the various inquiries will look at. I say to Mr Carlaw again that it is incumbent on all of us to respect those inquiries. Perhaps more than anything right now, given that at the heart of this issue are the women who brought forward complaints, it is incumbent on all of us to respect the on-going police inquiry, and I call on everyone to do that.

Jackson Carlaw asks me what on earth I thought I was doing. I think that I know what Jackson Carlaw is doing today in raising the matter, notwithstanding the fact that I have opened myself to complete scrutiny on all of these issues. I think that Jackson Carlaw is trying to avoid talking about the mess that his party is making of the Brexit negotiations. He talked about a “tawdry business”. The tawdry thing that is happening in Scotland right now is that we are being taken out of the European Union against our will by the Tory Government. Our country faces untold damage because of the chaos and mess that his party is presiding over. What on earth do the Tories think they are doing? That is the “tawdry business”, and that is what the people of Scotland want to hear answers about.

Alex Salmond Investigation

The establishment this week of a special committee of inquiry into the Government’s handling of the serious allegations that have been made against Alex Salmond is an unprecedented step, but a necessary one. It is the right thing to do in order to rebuild trust and confidence in a system that has been badly dented.

However, what also counts is how we—MSPs, Parliament and the Government—conduct ourselves. Therefore, is the First Minister willing to accept that her Government has not conducted itself in a fit and proper way this week by using vocabulary such as “vendetta” and “smear” in connection with the case?

I have corrected inaccurate claims that were made, which I think is important. As I said last week, I believe that I and my Government have acted appropriately in the matter. However, as I said at the weekend, when I took the decision to refer myself to the independent advisers, I also believe that it is important to convince Parliament and the wider public of that. Therefore, I agree with Richard Leonard about the importance of the parliamentary inquiry and of the decision that I took. Those are processes that I think are necessary. I hope that Richard Leonard will agree with the point I made to Jackson Carlaw, which is that it is important for all of us now to respect the work of the inquiries and the decisions that they take.

We all understand that the situation is very difficult for the First Minister’s party, but that cannot be allowed to overshadow the serious question of how the First Minister’s Government has handled the grave allegations.

Last week, the First Minister told me:

“If there is a parliamentary inquiry, we will, of course, make all appropriate information available.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2019; c 14.]

Can she confirm today that “all appropriate information” includes not only all internal Government correspondence, but all internal SNP correspondence?

The inquiries will be able to request whatever material they want, and I undertake today that we will provide whatever material they request. That is the definition of full, thorough and open inquiries. It will not be for me to decide what material the parliamentary inquiry, when it gets under way, wants to request. My commitment is that the Government and I will co-operate fully with it, which is, I think, appropriate.

Richard Leonard talked about difficulties. None of what is happening has got in the way of me, the Government and my party doing the right thing this week in agreeing to and supporting the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry, and it has not got in the way of me doing what I consider to be the right thing with regard to the referral to the advisers and to the ministerial code.

A point that Richard Leonard has made, and which I agree with, is that, at the heart of the matter—the part that is most important and which leads me most to regret the error that was made in the Government process—are the women who brought forward complaints. It is important that we respect the processes in investigation of those complaints. That means all of us respecting the fact that, as well as the inquiries that we are talking about today, there is an on-going police inquiry. I hope that we all respect that in how we conduct ourselves over the time to come.

The First Minister is right—we should not forget that two women have been badly failed by the system and are entitled to answers, which is why the parliamentary inquiry must be as thorough as possible. That means that it must apply and follow the seven Nolan principles of public life, which are: openness, honesty, leadership, selflessness, accountability, integrity and objectivity. Therefore, the committee must meet in public, and there should be no limit on how long it sits for and how many meetings it has. I hope that the First Minister agrees with that in her reply.

There is a further issue, Presiding Officer. According to parliamentary precedent, the position of committee chair is due to be offered to the SNP, but this is an unprecedented situation. The inquiry is about restoring trust and confidence, so will the First Minister’s party do the right thing? Will it step aside and ensure that an MSP from another party chairs the inquiry?

I say with respect that I think that Richard Leonard misunderstands my role in the establishment of the inquiry. It is not me who is establishing the inquiry and it is not me who will decide who will conduct the inquiry, when the committee will sit, how long it will sit for, what its remit will be, who will chair it and who will be on it. Those are decisions for the Parliamentary Bureau, and I am making it clear that I will respect whatever decisions the Parliamentary Bureau makes on the inquiry.

There would be something deeply wrong if, having supported an inquiry into the matter, I then started to try to dictate—even if I did so in response to questions from Richard Leonard—the terms on which the inquiry was to be conducted. Those matters are for Parliament. The commitment that I give to Parliament is that my Government and I will co-operate fully, whatever terms Parliament decides.

We have a number of constituency supplementary questions, the first of which is from Mark McDonald.

Arjo Wiggins Fine Papers Ltd (Stoneywood Mill Closure)

Stoneywood mill in my constituency has been producing paper for 250 years and employs nearly 500 people. This week the business was placed in administration after a takeover deal collapsed. It is clearly a worrying time for the workforce and their families. I have spoken with the company and with union representatives and will continue that dialogue this week. The resolve to secure the future of the business is strong and is shared by all.

The Scottish Government has indicated that it and its agencies stand ready to support the business. Will a task force be established, as has happened in other areas, that brings together agencies and stakeholders to look at how best to support the business and help to generate investment, find a new buyer, safeguard highly skilled jobs and secure a positive future for that vital employer in Aberdeen?

I thank Mark McDonald for raising this important issue. I was also very concerned to learn of the situation with Arjo Wiggins, which is based in Aberdeen. I can tell Parliament that the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills has already spoken directly with the managing director of the company and the general manager of Stoneywood mill, and has communicated our full support. He also spoke to the union Unite this morning.

At this stage, our focus is on supporting the business to find a new buyer, and on doing all that we can to try to minimise the impact on the workforce. Scottish Enterprise has been in contact with the management to support the company in its plans to try to secure a new buyer.

In response to the specific question about a task force, we consider whether that approach is appropriate in all such circumstances. I will ask the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills to consider that specifically, and to correspond or discuss directly with Mark McDonald how best to bring all the key individuals and organisations together to ensure that we make the best possible response.

Gender-based Prejudice

The BBC’s “The Social” highlighted the practice of gaming by a so-called male pick-up artist in Glasgow, which included footage from Maryhill Road. I will make no further comment on the specific matter, given that it is now the subject of a police investigation. Does the First Minister agree that it presents a timely opportunity to encourage the public to participate in the Scottish Government’s hate crime consultation, which is currently seeking the public’s view on, among other things, recommendations around potential changes to the law on “gender hostility” and

“the stirring up of hatred”.

I thank Bob Doris for raising the issue. I am sure that everybody in the chamber would, as I was, have been shocked and appalled by the BBC’s investigation into so-called gaming. I watched the BBC’s “The Social” film and was utterly sickened by what I saw. As Bob Doris said, it highlights why there is a clear need for action to be taken to tackle gender-based prejudice and gender-based violence.

Lord Bracadale’s view in his report on hate crime was that there are patterns of offending that relate particularly to hatred that is based on prejudice towards the victim’s gender, and which should be addressed through reformed hate crime legislation.

The current consultation seeks views on how best to tackle misogyny and gender-based prejudice in Scotland. I certainly encourage everyone who has an interest in the matter—that should be all of us—to make their views known through the consultation process, which runs until 24 February.

New School Butterstone (Closure)

The First Minister will be aware of the plight of young people who attended New School Butterstone, who were forced out of their specialist boarding school two months ago and have been completely out of the education system in the eight weeks since. What message can she give to the families who are now faced with alternatives that fall far short of what New School Butterstone was providing, and how can councils be better resourced to ensure that there is enough specialist and mainstream provision for pupils with extreme special needs?

I thank Mark Ruskell for raising the issue. As he and others are aware, the decision to close the school was taken by the board of the school. It is a sad event, and I have no doubt about the impact that it will have on the whole community, and especially on the young people who attended the school.

Since the board made its decision, all seven local authorities that are affected have been working closely with the families to identify the appropriate care and support for the young people who attended the school. Every family has been offered support in education by the local authorities and, for most of the young people, alternative places or interim provision have now been agreed.

Of course, the local authorities recognise that the challenging individual circumstances of each child or young person have to be taken into account, which is why the local authorities are working closely with the families. The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills met parents and staff in November last year and listened to their concerns. He will continue to receive regular updates on progress. I am sure that he will be happy to liaise and discuss the situation again with parents and staff, if that would be considered helpful.

Free Personal Care

I have been contacted by the concerned family of a 90-year-old lady who lives alone on the Isle of Arran. They have asked that I do not name her publicly in the chamber, but I am happy to provide details in private. She suffers from macular degeneration, memory loss and mobility issues. Her family requested social care at home, but they were told that that was not possible because of staff shortages on the island, despite the fact that she had been assessed as requiring it “several times a day”.

Is the First Minister confident that that is an example of the Government delivering its flagship policy of free personal care to people in Scotland? Whatever happened to the commitment to island proof access to public services?

As I hope Jamie Greene will appreciate, I do not know the details of the individual case. It certainly raises concerns in my mind and in the mind of the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport. I completely understand why Jamie Greene has not named the individual, but if he wants to pass on the details—as he indicated he would—to me and Jeane Freeman, I undertake that we will look into the case as quickly as possible and reply to him.

I do not want to assume that wider issues are at play, but if there are, which this case suggests, the health secretary will discuss that with the local health board and the local authority. We are happy to look into the case and to take whatever action is considered necessary.

Class Sizes (Renfrewshire)

At a time when council budgets are under pressure and teachers are raising concerns about workload, the SNP-led Renfrewshire Council will this afternoon consider increasing primary 2 class sizes from 25 pupils to 30 pupils. Is that not another example of the impact that Scottish Government cuts are having on communities, including in the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work’s own back yard? What does it say about the First Minister’s statements that local councils are getting a fair funding deal and that education is her number 1 priority?

In the draft budget, we offer a real-terms increase in the funding that local government has for day-to-day services, including education. In the past couple of years, we have also seen a rise in the number of teachers in our schools.

We will have discussions and votes in Parliament on the budget over the next few weeks. I repeat to Neil Bibby the offer that I have made previously to Richard Leonard. If Neil Bibby’s view is that the Government should be making additional resources available to local government, we are happy to listen to suggestions from Labour about where those resources should come from. There are no unallocated resources in the draft budget, but we remain happy to discuss options with other parties. If Labour ever gets round to making any constructive suggestions, we will be happy to engage with those suggestions.

Scottish Independence

Listening to the opening questions from Labour and the Conservatives, we could be forgiven for thinking that the country was not facing the biggest political crisis for generations. Perhaps that tells us something about why a Parliament that is dominated by those two parties has brought us to a situation in which the word omnishambles sounds like timid understatement. I recognise the First Minister’s position that extending or revoking article 50 is necessary and that a people’s vote is necessary. Those options must be taken. Both May’s deal and no deal have clearly been rejected. The United Kingdom Government must be under pressure to accept that.

However, the First Minister has also said for a long time that the case for Scottish independence depends on a material change of circumstances. Given the level of chaos, there is no single aspect of the circumstances that has not changed beyond recognition since 2016. The First Minister has spoken to the Prime Minister this week. Can she confirm whether she explicitly raised independence and made the case for Scotland’s right to decide about our own future during that conversation with the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister is well aware of my views on independence. I support independence and think that the sooner Scotland is independent, the better for all of us.

On Brexit, Patrick Harvie is absolutely right that the Prime Minister is in the process of driving the whole of the UK off a cliff edge, but right now Jeremy Corbyn is sitting in the passenger seat of the car that is taking the UK off that cliff edge. The way in which both the Government at Westminster and the official Opposition have failed to stop this catastrophe from developing is disgraceful.

There is obviously some water to go under the Brexit bridge over the next few weeks, but let me be very clear: as Patrick Harvie said, the case and support for independence grow with every day that passes. Given the catastrophe that Scotland faces in our economy, our society, our living standards, the prospects for the next generation and our reputation in the world, it is essential that the option of independence is open to people in Scotland. When people in Scotland have the ability to choose independence, I believe that the country will opt to be an independent one.

It is, indeed, extraordinary that, two and a half years since the European Union referendum, there is no more clarity in the mind of the UK Government about the future than there was at the start of the process. With just 10 weeks to go until the UK Government’s self-imposed Brexit deadline, for which it is completely unprepared, surely nobody except the disaster capitalists who are the Brexit extremists can think that time can simply be allowed to tick away. At the very least, extension of the process is surely inevitable now.

Yesterday, the First Minister said that she will have more to say about the timing of an independence vote in the coming weeks. In the face of incompetent misrule from Westminster, that clarity is needed. Can the First Minister confirm that timing—that she will provide information in the next few weeks—even if article 50 is extended?

Yes. I will expand on that, because I enjoy talking about these things. Patrick Harvie is absolutely right when he says that extension of article 50 is now essential. Theresa May has wasted time. It seems to me that her tactic has been to run down the clock and hope that she can panic people into backing her deal—the one that was rejected in a historic defeat in the House of Commons this week—and that Jeremy Corbyn is happy almost to collude with her in doing that. That cannot be allowed to happen. Article 50 should be extended and I think that, across the UK, the issue of EU membership should go back to the electorate.

Of course, it could be that the extension of article 50 is simply a reprieve from Brexit, not a solution to it. There is water to go under the bridge in the next number of weeks. When it has done so, I will make my views on the timing of a choice on independence clear. It is then, of course, for all of us who support independence—which certainly includes me and Patrick Harvie—to get out there and make the case. I believe that that case has been strengthened by what has happened in the past two and a half years, and that, if we get out and make that case, people in Scotland will choose to be an independent country and we can get on with building a better future than the one offered to us by the chaos and incompetence of Westminster.

Second European Union Referendum

We know that Theresa May’s proposed deal is finished, that the confidence vote to force a general election has failed and that a no-deal Brexit is unthinkable. For any progress to be made to end the Brexit stalemate, does the First Minister agree that we need a second European Union referendum, and will she call on Labour to join us in that demand?

It is time for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour to get off the fence that they have been sitting on for so long. Labour wanted to force a general election first. The debate on and vote of no confidence in the United Kingdom Government took place yesterday, and SNP MPs voted that they have no confidence in the Government. We backed Labour in that attempt, but it did not pass. There is not going to be a general election right now, so the time is right, and it is urgent and pressing, for Jeremy Corbyn to say whether he backs a second EU referendum. I call on him to do so without further delay. The longer that he prevaricates, the more that he becomes just as responsible as the Tories for the disaster that the United Kingdom is now facing.

Cancer Strategy (Cross-party Group on Cancer Report)

Cancer touches us all. As the co-convener of the cross-party group on cancer, I am pleased today to publish the report on the implementation of the Scottish Government’s cancer strategy. The review was led by experts, professionals, charities and campaigners, and the report supports the ambition of the Government’s strategy; recognises where progress has been made; and highlights areas of concern that mean that the strategy will not be implemented in full by the end of the parliamentary session, as promised.

Does the First Minister recognise the impact of workforce planning issues and high vacancy rates in undermining the ability to diagnose early, to treat quickly, and therefore to improve survival rates?

I welcome the implementation report that has been published by the cross-party group on cancer, which says that real progress has been made.

As Anas Sarwar said, the report marks the halfway point in the strategy’s five-year lifetime, and it finds that 47 out of 54 of the strategy’s actions and investments have been completed or are on track. It also raises concerns about staffing, and we recognise that there are challenges in recruiting the right specialist staff for some services. That is why the Scottish cancer task force is already feeding into the development of our integrated workforce plan, which aims to address workforce needs right across Scotland. I say in passing that the staffing challenges will be exacerbated by Brexit; that is something that we should all keep in mind.

The health secretary met representatives from the Scottish cancer coalition earlier today to discuss how we continue to drive the strategy forward. The implementation report that has been published by the cross-party group will be a helpful contribution to making sure that we do exactly that.

Universal Credit (Pensioners)

This week the United Kingdom Government used Brexit as a smokescreen to announce that pensioners who have a younger partner will be forced to move to universal credit rather than pension credit, which will cost couples up to £7,000 a year. Does the First Minister agree that that shameful approach to our pensioners should be ditched immediately? Will she join me in, once again, demanding a halt to universal credit?

Whenever universal credit is raised, it is interesting to look across the chamber and see how many Conservative members are studiously looking at their phones rather than engaging with the discussion.

The decision is absolutely shameful. It says to pensioners that, in future, if a pensioner’s partner is under pensionable age, they will require to apply for universal credit. That might not sound like a particularly big thing, until we consider that it will cost some of the poorest pensioners in the country up to £7,000 a year. It is absolutely disgraceful and yet another reason why universal credit should be halted in its tracks. I repeat again today the call that I have made many times for the United Kingdom Government to do just that. I also repeat the call that I have made many times for responsibility for these matters to come to the Scottish Parliament so that we can make our own decisions and not be at the mercy of decisions taken by an uncaring, unfeeling Conservative Government.

Teachers’ Pay

To ask the First Minister what progress has been made in reaching a deal over teachers’ pay. (S5F-02982)

Negotiations are on-going and progress is being made. The Scottish Government has made an enhanced proposal to the Educational Institute of Scotland and has asked the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to also agree it. The proposal would mean that all teachers would receive a minimum 9 per cent increase between January 2018 and April 2019, with a further 3 per cent in April 2020. That is a clear indication of our commitment to recruit and retain teachers, and it is the best offer in the public sector anywhere in the United Kingdom. I urge COSLA to adopt the proposal as a formal offer, which is a necessary step to resolving the dispute, and, if it does so, I urge the teaching unions to consider the offer favourably so that we can bring discussions to a positive conclusion.

Can the First Minister confirm that the funding for the pay increase will come from Government and will be in addition to the enhanced local government settlement for the coming year? What are the timescales for finding agreement with all parties involved in the process?

Yes, I can confirm that any additional budget allocation to fund a negotiated agreement will be met by the Scottish Government and that it will be in addition to the enhanced local government settlement for the coming year—it will not come from the education budget. On timing, teachers’ pay negotiations are of course a matter for the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers. However, the next SNCT pay meeting is scheduled for 28 January, when we hope that all parties can reach agreement on an offer that can be put to the teacher unions’ membership, hopefully for ratification.

Why does the First Minister believe that teachers are contemplating strike action?

Teachers want a good pay rise, and I believe that they are being offered a good pay rise. I believe that they were being offered a good pay rise, but the enhanced offer underlines that fact. I again stress that, if the enhanced offer that the Scottish Government is making is agreed to by COSLA and then by teachers, in April this year, teachers’ salaries will increase by 9 per cent compared to what a teacher will get in their pay packet this month. That will be the best pay rise for any public sector worker anywhere in the UK. It is a good offer, and I really hope that, over the next few weeks, we can get to a point where it is accepted. The offer is fair to teachers; it is affordable, which is a key consideration for the Government; and it means that we will resolve a dispute over pay, which is absolutely in the interests of young people across the country.

Thrombectomy Service

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to a letter reportedly signed by all stroke clinicians in Scotland calling for the urgent introduction of a thrombectomy service. (S5F-02970)

Thrombectomy for stroke is a relatively new clinical intervention. We recognise that it can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life for people who have suffered an ischaemic stroke. That is why the directors of planning thrombectomy advisory group has produced a national planning framework for the provision of this intervention for Scotland. The framework will be presented to the national planning board at its January meeting and will then provide the basis for the implementation and spread of thrombectomy provision in Scotland.

I raised the issue with the First Minister in September, and I know that she is aware that the national health service in England’s long-term plan makes a commitment to invest further in thrombectomy services in England, which is expected to not only improve care but deliver long-term reductions in the cost of care. As it stands, Scotland has no thrombectomy service whatever, and NHS Lothian withdrew the service last year. Therefore, will the First Minister guarantee today that stroke patients in Scotland will be able to receive a thrombectomy this year?

We are working towards the provision of a service and, as I understand it, similar work is under way in England. This is a relatively new clinical intervention, so it is important that proper work and planning are undertaken to ensure that services are safe and that they deliver high quality to patients. As I said in my initial answer, the advisory group has produced a national planning framework, which will provide the basis for developing a service in Scotland, and that framework will be presented to the national planning board this month. At that point, we will be able to take decisions about how we will roll it out. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will keep the Parliament fully updated on that.

Can the First Minister confirm whether the commitment to thrombectomy in NHS England’s long-term plan comes with equivalent Barnett consequentials and, if so, how much are they? Will she guarantee that any such consequentials will be invested in supporting the further development of thrombectomy to make sure that we do not fall behind the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe?

I will get back to Monica Lennon on whether a specific consequential flows from the decision in England, although I suspect that it does not, as I think that the decision was made after the budget decisions were made. Such consequentials are also often rolled up, so the lines that they flow from are not specified.

That aside, as I set out, we are determined to have a service rolled out in Scotland, but it is vital to do that on the basis of proper clinical planning. That is why the process that I outlined in response to the previous question is important. As I said, decisions will be able to be taken after the national planning board’s meeting this month. Jeane Freeman will keep interested members fully updated.

Local Government Budget (National Performance Framework)

To ask the First Minister what impact reductions to local government budgets could have on the national performance framework. (S5F-02984)

Despite a reduction to the Scottish Government’s budget as a result of United Kingdom Government austerity, we have maintained overall funding for local government as a share of overall spending at about 27 per cent. Our most recent budget also provides a real-terms increase in the revenue and capital support that we provide to local government.

The national performance framework sets out the clear purpose of creating a more successful country with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish. Providing local government with a real-terms funding increase reaffirms our commitment to a strong partnership with local government and will allow us to meet our shared ambitions for the people and communities that we serve.

That is well and good, but the reality for the majority of people is cuts to services in communities up and down Scotland. In Fife, millions of pounds are being cut from front-line school budgets. In Clackmannanshire, the council is on the brink of collapse. In Edinburgh, bins lie uncollected because of cuts. In the Highlands and the Borders, public toilets and leisure facilities are being closed.

Across Scotland, in libraries, music lessons, swimming pools, education and social care, there are cuts, cuts, cuts. When will the First Minister wake up to the reality of not only failed Tory austerity but her Government’s failure to protect vital public services? Will she agree to personally meet council leaders and hear at first hand about the desperate situation that councils are in as a direct result of successive Scottish National Party budgets?

As I am sure Alex Rowley recognises, the Scottish Government’s budget is being cut in real terms over this decade. That creates a significant problem for the Scottish Government. Notwithstanding that, the draft budget that Derek Mackay presented before the end of last year offers local government a real-terms increase, although we do not suggest that that makes life easy.

I come back to a point that I have made several times in the chamber. We have allocated every penny that is available to us in the budget. We have given health services more than £700 million extra and we have given local government a real-terms increase.

If Labour wants to propose budget alterations, it is not enough for it to say where it wants more money to be spent; it must also set out its suggestions for where the money would come from. Unless the finance secretary tells me that he has had something recently, I think that Labour has not yet made any budget proposals to the Scottish Government.

Alex Rowley asked me about personally meeting people. If Labour wants to suggest where we can take money from in the budget to give local government more money, I will personally meet Richard Leonard and anybody else. However, I am still waiting on those proposals. Maybe they will come this afternoon or maybe they will come next week—let us wait and see.

The First Minister will be aware of the £17.1 million budget shortfall in South Ayrshire Council. On social care performance indicators, she should also be aware that about 60 hospital patients cannot be discharged because the council has no funding to provide packages of care for them. Will the Scottish Government consider further support to the council to deal with that problem?

These are really important issues that John Scott raises, but the lack of self-awareness of Tory members is quite staggering. He talks about a shortage of resources. I remind him that the Scottish Government’s budget is being reduced in real terms by decisions taken by his party at Westminster over this period.

I also gently remind the member that if we were to follow the budget proposals that have been put forward by his party in this Parliament, to give tax cuts to the highest earners in Scotland, we would be faced with taking an additional £550 million out of budgets for schools, hospitals and other public services.

The Tories really have no shame at all. They are cutting our budget and calling for tax cuts that would cut our budget even further, and yet they call for more money. Maybe when the Tories get their own sums to add up they will be taken seriously when they ask questions such as that one in this chamber.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. Before we move on to members’ business, there will be a short suspension, to allow time for the public gallery to clear and for ministers and members to move seats.

12:45 Meeting suspended.  

12:47 On resuming—