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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 17, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 17 March 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Fair Trade Pledge, Portfolio Question Time, Subsidy Control Bill, Active Travel, Cultural Objects (Protection from Seizure) Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Criminals (Risk Assessments)

Two weeks ago, the SNP Government admitted that hundreds of criminals had received the wrong assessment of the risk that they pose to the public. Assuming that all records have now been fully reviewed, I ask the First Minister, first, how many criminals were given a lower risk assessment than they should have been and, secondly, how many were freed from prison before that was safe?

Of course, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has already given much of that information to Parliament in a statement and then in his appearance before the Criminal Justice Committee, although I am happy to confirm the details, as we understand them at this stage.

Following a review by the Scottish Prison Service, we can confirm that there are no public protection issues as a consequence of the issue in relation to the eight first grant of temporary release cases that have been identified. There were, as I said, eight cases.

Jamie Greene asked just a couple of weeks ago who the eight people were and where they had been released to. I can confirm that, of the eight individuals, seven are actually still in custody as we speak, because, of course, first grant of temporary release is not final release, but is about allowing a prisoner some limited access—often escorted access, perhaps for a few hours—to the community for the first time.

All 285 of the open cases that the risk-scoring issue appeared to have affected have been checked by social work professionals, who have provided assurance, again, that no public protection issues have been identified.

On the specific question about the risk scoring—this is a key and fundamental point that Jamie Greene will, I know, understand—it is important to note that a decision to grant release would never be determined based solely on the displayed score. In such cases, there is a more holistic assessment of wider circumstances. Following the decision, there is a process of on-going and dynamic risk assessment and management.

It was a serious issue that was identified and the steps that I just outlined have been taken. Of course, if there is more information to share with Parliament, we will do that speedily, as we have done to date.

It is all very well to say that there were “no public protection issues”, but the reality is that we still do not know how many people were wrongly released. We also do not know how many of them possibly went on to reoffend in our communities. I am afraid that the blunder is just another sign that the Government has lost its way on justice, because it is not just letting criminals out early by accident. Half of violent criminals avoid jail completely. Even when they do go to jail, the SNP’s latest proposal is to cut automatic early release even further so that they serve even less time in prison, in the first place.

The First Minister will probably say in reply that there is a consultation out on the matter, but I will ask her for her personal view. Does she think that it is morally right that serious criminals are automatically released just a third of the way through their sentences?

Before we move on from the information technology issue, I say that although Jamie Greene says that

“It is all very well to say that ... ‘no public protection issues’”

were identified, that is the fundamentally important matter to address.

Jamie Greene has also asked questions about the eight individuals who were identified as having been given first grant of temporary release. I have confirmed to the Parliament today that, of the eight, seven are still behind bars—in jail, in custody. However, there has been no response at all to that, because it does not fit the narrative that Jamie Greene wants to share with Parliament.

These are important issues. Information was shared appropriately with Parliament, and that will continue to happen as the whole issue is reviewed. Being able to give an assurance to the public that there were no public protection issues is important, regardless of whether it fits the Tory narrative.

On the wider issue, it was this Government that ended the system of automatic early release—which was, I believe, introduced by a previous Tory Government. It does not bear any scrutiny to say that we in Scotland take a light-touch approach to prison. We have one of the proportionally highest prison populations, if not the highest, in western Europe, which is why we are focusing so much on doing more about rehabilitation and preventing reoffending.

Sentences are, of course, a matter for courts and judges. The important thing is that we have the right statutory legal framework in place. We continue to take steps to ensure that that is the case.

I asked the First Minister a simple question. I asked whether she thinks that it is morally right that people are released from prison just a third of the way through their sentences. That is a current SNP Government proposal. I did not hear an answer to that question, so perhaps the First Minister can pick it up in her answer to my next question.

The First Minister said that she does not really have a view. Clearly, however, she used to have a view. In 2015, the First Minister said:

“Our objective remains to end the policy of automatic early release ... as soon as we are able to.”—[Official Report, 2 April 2015; c 10.]

What has changed?

The problem is that the whole system is stacked against victims, right from the very start. They cannot even get their court cases heard in the first place. We now have the worst court backlog on record; it is sitting at more than 43,000 cases. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service tells us that it will be 2026 before the backlog is cleared, which just prolongs the agony for victims. Of course Covid has made the situation worse, but there were tens of thousands of cases in that backlog before the pandemic even started, so it cannot be used as an excuse.

Is justice for the victims of crime even a priority for the Government any more?

We are investing in a recovery fund, and we are investing more than £50 million to tackle the backlog that has been caused by Covid. We will continue to work with the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the whole justice community to do that.

I will go back to the issue of early release. I find the Tory hypocrisy on the matter utterly breathtaking. Let me set out clearly exactly why. Back in 2016, this SNP Government reformed release arrangements for prisoners who were serving long-term sentences. That meant that the most dangerous prisoners no longer received automatic early release. It ended a system that was introduced by a Tory United Kingdom Government in 1993. That is the background.

Why do I think that the Tory position today is hypocritical? It is because, when we did that in 2016, the Tories in this chamber voted against the change that scrapped automatic early release for the most dangerous long-term prisoners. That change will not be affected by the proposals on which we have consulted. We will continue to take appropriate decisions about our justice system, and we will ensure that the most dangerous serious criminals serve sentences in prison, while we also support and promote rehabilitation in order to cut reoffending.

We have one of the lowest crime rates and we still have one of the highest prison populations, so we will continue to take action. Whether the Tories support that or merely indulge in rhetoric, as they are doing today, is a matter for them.

The only hypocrisy in the chamber today is from the First Minister, who said on record that she would end automatic early release but now refuses to rule out letting people out of prison after they have served just a third of their sentence. Our party is clear on that: we believe that automatic early release is not fair—it is not fair for the victims of crime.

Justice is not a priority for the Government. We know that because we have a response to a freedom of information request that we made to the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service. It clearly states—I quote directly from the paper—that

“Justice is no longer a priority”.

It is there is black and white, and we know that the facts back it up, because our courts were short-changed by £12 million in this year’s budget.

Let me tell the First Minister who is impacted by such decisions. We have spoken to a woman who is taking a convicted domestic abuser to court. She has been waiting three years for justice. Her case has been delayed 18 times—18 times it has been postponed. She told us that now

“it feels like court sanctioned abuse”.

That is a shocking case, but she is not the only one, and today we have learned that there is more evidence of that. A BBC investigation has uncovered that victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence are actually asking to have their cases dropped because the court delays are so long.

Is it the case that the Scottish courts were right all along—that justice simply is not a priority for this Government? It should be.

To complete the point on automatic early release, I note—as I set out very clearly in my previous answer—that what we committed to, we delivered and implemented in 2016, so the most dangerous prisoners who are serving long-term sentences no longer have access to automatic early release. I say again that that is not affected by what we have consulted on. I also note that, at that time, the Conservatives in this chamber actually voted against it.

There is a serious backlog in our court service that is caused, and has certainly been exacerbated, by Covid. We are, with the court service and the wider justice community, very focused on addressing that. I know that everybody who works in our court service and everybody who works in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is very seized of the importance of prioritising cases of domestic abuse and violence against women and children. They are very serious cases, as I absolutely acknowledge.

That is why we have invested in the justice recovery fund. It is why, in the budget, we are increasing the resources that are available to the courts service so that it can tackle the backlog for as long as that takes. We hope that there will be ways in which we can accelerate the process, which will be a priority for us.

More generally, and as my final point, I say that I do not think that it is right for anybody to downplay the seriousness of the impact of crime on victims; I never will. Any victim of crime is one victim too many, and the personal impact on them is serious.

However, the fact of the matter is that it is because of the priority that we in this Government have given to justice—not least through increasing, and maintaining the increase, in the number of police officers on the beat, and a range of other initiatives—that we now have one of the lowest rates of crime, including violent crime, for many years.

We will continue to take balanced and sensible decisions to make sure that people who deserve to be in prison are in prison. We will also support and promote wider efforts to reduce reoffending and support rehabilitation, because that is in the long-term interests of potential and actual victims of crime.


Cost of Living Crisis

Across the country, people are worried about the cost of living crisis. Prices are rising every day, and each weekly shop or trip to the petrol station is leading to anxiety and stress for many. We also know that, over the course of this year, things will only get worse. Petrol costs will rise further, food prices are going up and energy bills will rise by at least £700.

Both of Scotland’s Governments need to be doing much more to help. We have published detailed plans for actions for both the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments. Next week, in its spring statement, the Tory Government must cut VAT on fuel bills, scrap the national insurance increase, reverse the cut to universal credit and introduce a windfall tax on oil and gas companies that are making billions, with the money going directly into people’s pockets. Will the First Minister finally instruct her MPs to back Labour’s plan?

My MPs in the House of Commons just yesterday led a debate calling for a windfall tax not just on oil and gas companies but on any company that has made substantially increased profits as a result either of the current global situation or of the effects of the pandemic. They literally led that call in the House of Commons yesterday, and I have made clear my views on that in response to Anas Sarwar previously.

I hope that we can unite, in this Parliament, to call on the chancellor to make substantial and significant interventions next week to help families across Scotland and, indeed, across the UK who are struggling with the rising cost of living.

For our part, although our powers and resources are very limited, we will continue to do everything that we can, including the 6 per cent increase in the benefits that are under the control of Social Security Scotland, which was announced yesterday. We will take the action that we can, but, across Parliament, all of us should be calling on the chancellor to do much, much more when he gets to his feet in the House of Commons next week.

Scottish National Party MPs clearly did not get the memo, because they were asked repeatedly yesterday at Westminster whether they back a windfall tax on oil and gas companies and, repeatedly, they refused to confirm that they do. SNP MPs did not back a costed plan for a windfall tax on multinational oil and gas companies, but they presented one paragraph that would have taxed Irn-Bru and Pets at Home. I have no idea why the SNP backs attacks on ginger but not on gas. Frankly, Scotland deserves better.

The Scottish Government has the power to act, too. Had the SNP followed just one of our proposals. [Interruption.] I say to Mr Swinney that this is serious, so perhaps he should listen. Had the SNP followed just one of our proposals, those who are most in need would have received £400 directly into their bank accounts. Instead, the SNP’s flagship cost of living policy is to copy the Tory policy and provide £150 through a council tax rebate—a policy that the Poverty Alliance has called “misguided”, “a missed opportunity” and “deeply disappointing”.

Now we learn that not a single person in Scotland will receive £150 in April. Instead, almost every council will have to split the money over 10 months. That means that the Scottish Government’s flagship cost of living policy is worth just £15 a month for the next 10 months. At the same time, Which? said this morning that Scottish families will be spending an extra £84 a month on food and fuel.

First Minister, people are struggling right now. How can you possibly believe that that is good enough?

On the £150 payment, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy has set out clearly that, because of our limited powers and control over the data around that payment, we have made it in a way that gets help to people as quickly as possible, instead of it taking months and months.

Where we hold the power, we are doing so much more. We are doubling the Scottish child payment, for example, to help children in families on the lowest incomes. Unlike the Government south of the border, we have protected the council tax reduction scheme so that thousands upon thousands of households across Scotland do not pay any council tax at all. Where we have the power, we use that power, and where the power is limited, unfortunately, we cannot act in the way that we would want to.

That brings me back to the windfall tax. I do not know whether Anas Sarwar read the motion that was tabled in the House of Commons by SNP MPs yesterday. It called for a windfall tax on any and all companies that have made increased profits, which would include oil and gas companies. This is something that Anas Sarwar might want to reflect on. Yes, let us include oil and gas companies, but why would he want to exclude Amazon, for example, from that approach?

My final point is this: instead of Anas Sarwar standing up, week after week, asking for my views on something that I have no control over, would it not be better if he argued for those powers being in the hands of this Government in the first place?

I hate to break it to the First Minister, but the cost of living crisis is happening right now. There is no independence or constitutional answer to that question. People’s bills are going up, whether they voted yes or no. It is simply not good enough for the Scottish Government to point at the Tories and say that they could have acted but not to use its own powers. [Interruption.]

What the First Minister said about the £150 is simply not true. The Government could have used that more progressively, as the Poverty Alliance has said. What the First Minister said about the windfall tax is not true. SNP MPs were asked repeatedly to confirm whether a windfall tax would include oil and gas companies, and they repeatedly refused to do so. Why? Why be on the side of the big oil and gas companies and not on the side of people paying their bills?

People’s energy bills are going up by £700. It is estimated that fuel will go up to more than £2 a litre. Food prices are on the rise, and, at the same time, we have two Governments lacking ambition—failing to back a windfall tax on the big energy companies that would put money in people’s pockets; failing to use the budget to support those who are most in need; making it worse by hiking rail fares and water charges; and failing to back detailed and costed plans just because they come from Labour.

The crisis is only getting worse. Warm words will not keep the bills down. The Government must step up to the challenge that Scots face right now, stop tinkering around the edges and provide the support that the people of Scotland need.

We are using the power. We are doubling the Scottish child payment—a game-changer policy, according to child poverty campaigners. Where we have the powers, we use them.

Anas Sarwar says that the argument about powers does not matter. He has chosen to come to the chamber and major on the issue of a windfall tax. The Scottish Government does not have the power to impose a windfall tax. Let me be clear: the motion tabled in the House of Commons yesterday by SNP MPs would include oil and gas companies. Any reading of it would lead anyone to that conclusion.

The issue is really serious for families across the country. So, in the interest of trying to build consensus, I will prepare and sign this afternoon a joint letter with Anas Sarwar to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asking them not only to impose a windfall tax but, because I suspect that their answer will be no, to give this Parliament the power to do it at our own hand. Then we can join forces and ensure that it is done and that it includes oil and gas companies, Amazon and other companies that have increased their profits. [Interruption.] Rather than just indulge in rhetoric, will Anas Sarwar argue for the means for the Parliament to do it?

I would be grateful if members would remember that we behave in a courteous and respectful manner to one another at all times.


Maternity and Neonatal Services (Adverse Events)

The First Minister will be aware of the serious adverse events review and subsequent NHS Lothian action plan that was published recently following the death of my constituent Amanda Cox on 10 December 2018 shortly after the birth of her son, Murray, when she became disorientated but it took seven hours to find her in a stairwell, dying from a brain haemorrhage.

Does the First Minister agree that, although the recommendations in the action plan for better hospital closed-circuit television, better signage and the observation of headaches in pregnant women—it is disgraceful that such recommendations need to be made—came more than three years too late for my constituents, every national health service board in Scotland should not only be aware of them but act on them so that nothing similar happens again? That would give the family some very slight comfort after that dreadful tragedy.

Yes, I very much agree with all of that, and I thank Christine Grahame for bringing that tragic issue to the chamber today. The death of Amanda Cox was heartbreaking and a tragedy, and I again convey my thoughts and sympathies to her family.

It is absolutely imperative that all health boards take steps to ensure that the situation is never repeated. Last year, we published the “Maternity and neonatal (perinatal) adverse event review process for Scotland”, which will standardise and improve approaches to the review of any adverse events in maternity.

We also continue to prioritise improvements to care through the implementation of the maternity and neonatal best start programme, in partnership with senior leaders and clinicians. That group is currently producing Scotland-wide standards of care for the management of women who present with neurological conditions, including headaches, and care pathways for women who present with acute medical conditions, including those who present to accident and emergency.

None of that will lessen the pain and grief of Amanda’s family, but I hope that it gives them some assurance that lessons are being learned to ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again.


Ferry Services (Cairnryan-Larne)

In the past few hours, worrying events have emerged with regard to P&O ferry services and their staff. Of particular concern to me is the Cairnryan-Larne crossing in my constituency. The Scottish Government needs to take its transport responsibilities seriously with regard to Cairnryan, as it is a lifeline ferry service and a major employer in the south-west.

Is the First Minister aware of the situation? What discussions, if any, has the Scottish Government had with P&O? I ask for assurance that the Scottish Government will work constructively with the United Kingdom Government to ensure that Stena Line and P&O can operate from Cairnryan long into the future.

Obviously, I am aware of what has been reported about an announcement that will come from P&O later today. We sought to engage with the UK Government this morning to seek further details, and we will seek to engage fully with P&O as more detail emerges. The relevant issue for Scotland is the Cairnryan-Larne route, and we will pay particular attention to any implications for that route, which supports a number of sailings every day.

We will keep Parliament updated as we get more detail. Obviously, we have to await that detail, but this will be a seriously worrying time for those who work for P&O. I know that, with the pandemic, this has been a difficult time for ferry operators—I do not underestimate that—but I hope that we are not about to see a mass-scale fire-and-rehire situation.

This will be a worrying time for everybody. We will engage very closely with all those involved and we will, of course, keep Parliament fully updated.


Test and Protect (Redundancies)

I have been contacted by constituents who work in test and protect in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Following the First Minister’s announcements on Tuesday, the management told staff that they would be made redundant and would have only four weeks’ notice of that. That very evening, staff received a—frankly—tone-deaf letter that provided a web link for redundancy Scotland. I understand that that has not been the case in other boards, which have confirmed continuing employment until September and, indeed, redeployment in the national health service.

After almost two years of working to support people and protect all of us, and in the midst of the worst cost of living crisis in memory, surely those key workers deserve better than a web link and a thank you letter. Can the First Minster provide clarity on whether test and protect staff will be redeployed to other roles across the NHS in which they can continue the vital work that they have been doing so far?

I express not for the first time and certainly not for the last time my deep and enduring gratitude to everyone who has worked in test and protect over the past two years. That work is vital. Part of the reason for our longer transition in testing is to ensure that we treat staff fairly.

I will certainly look at the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde material. It is important that all health boards engage properly with those staff, and the Scottish Government will ensure that that is the case.

These services are coming to an end in England at the end of March. We have extended them for public health reasons, but also to ensure that we treat staff as fairly as we possibly can.

We will seek to redeploy as many staff as possible and as many as possible who want to have roles elsewhere. We need people working in our broader health and social care system right now, and there will be opportunities for staff there.

I again express my gratitude to everybody who has worked to help us through the pandemic over the past two years. As we see from the pressure on our NHS right now, it is possible that this week will be the toughest in the pandemic so far in terms of the impact on the service. Everybody who is working to help us through is doing a sterling job, and they have my and the Government’s deep gratitude.


Ukrainian Refugees

As the war on our continent continues, it was a source of at least some comfort yesterday to hear of Scotland’s plans for welcoming Ukrainian refugees. What lessons has the Scottish Government taken in its current approach from the experience of the Syrian resettlement scheme, in which each local authority settled families in its area?

As I said yesterday, we are drawing very heavily on the lessons from the Syrian resettlement scheme. I think that most people agree that, overall, that scheme was a success, but there will be lessons to learn about things that can be improved on.

The reasons why we have put the supersponsor proposal to the United Kingdom Government—we are, of course, still working on agreement on the detail of that—is to expedite the ability of Ukrainian refugees to come here and to ensure that we can operate in a holistic way. We are working very closely with local authorities and other partners to ensure that there is a real local focus, because I know that all parts of Scotland are keen to give a warm welcome to those who are fleeing the horrors in Ukraine. The approach that we are taking enables as many people as possible to do that.


Tackling Racism

Tim Rideout, who is a senior Scottish National Party adviser, made appalling racist comments about the Home Secretary. Such comments have no place in society, let alone in political debate. I welcome the fact that the SNP has taken quick action in suspending Mr Rideout and launching an investigation into his conduct, but racism incidents are never isolated, and all parties must condemn racism. Will the First Minister assure black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in Scotland and the broader public that her party will continue to root out and condemn toxic racist political discourse?

Yes, I will. The individual concerned—as Pam Gosal fairly pointed out—was immediately suspended from the SNP; it would be wrong for me to comment any further.

I represent the most diverse constituency in the whole of Scotland in this Parliament—I represent the biggest BAME communities in the country. I understand these issues, I understand how serious it is that all parties take these issues very seriously, and I am absolutely committed to doing so.

I think that this is an issue for all parties. We all have to be prepared to act when necessary in a way that aligns with what we say around these things. For my part—I am probably speaking more as leader of the SNP than as First Minister here—I am determined that my party does so, and I call on other parties to ensure that they always follow suit. That is something on which we can, I hope, unite.


Care Home Places (Funding)

Can the First Minister confirm what action the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that shortfalls in Government funding for non-self-funded care home places are not being made up for with an unaffordable raise in the cost of care for self-funders?

I am happy to reply to the member in more detail, but we are, of course, continuing to work closely with all those in the social care sector to deal with current pressures. Free personal and nursing care is a key part of how we fund social care in Scotland, and we have increased the rates for that.

From the point of view of self-funders, the thresholds that apply in Scotland are different from, and better than, those in other parts of the United Kingdom. We have a strong foundation in Scotland, but we recognise, as we work towards the national care service, that there is more work to do, and we are very focused on achieving that.


Cabinet (Meetings)

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S6F-00901)

Tuesday.

I am very grateful for that reply.

We learned this week that, when it comes to child and adolescent mental health services across Scotland, almost a third of children are not seen in time. In Glasgow, Forth Valley and Dumfries and Galloway, the figure is more like half. Thousands of young people are waiting for more than a year.

We may be just days away from welcoming hundreds of children from Ukraine. Many will be separated from parents, suffering bereavement and dealing with untold trauma. They may be here with us for years, and they will certainly need access to CAMHS. It is to the Government’s shame that they too will have to join the longest queue in the national health service.

We have been warning about this crisis for years. In that time, the First Minister has failed a generation of Scottish children. It is beginning to look as though the Government just does not care enough about this issue.

Why should we trust that the situation will get any better, either for Scottish kids who are on the list now or for those Ukrainians who will be arriving soon?

These are issues of the utmost seriousness and are treated as such by the Government. Since the Government took office, NHS funding on mental health has increased by 65 per cent and staffing has increased by 83 per cent. We take these issues extremely seriously.

Waiting times, and the proportion of young people who are not yet being seen within 18 weeks, are not good enough. Yes, the pandemic has impacted on that, but we know that we had challenges before the pandemic. However, it is important to note with regard to the statistics that were published this week—I am not trying to take away from what the member has said—that, although the proportion of those who are seen within 18 weeks has fallen, and we need to address that, the number of those who are actually seen was the second highest ever. What we face here is a situation in which we are seeing more young people but the demand for mental health services is also rising. Many countries are facing that situation, and that is what we need to address.

That is why the additional funding and the additional staffing are so important, but so too is the redesign work that we are doing. We are investing more in prevention and early intervention so that all schools now have access to counsellors—that is important. In addition, there is the continued investment that is set out in the recovery and renewal plan to continue to build that capacity.

This is a big challenge for all countries—it was big before the pandemic, and it is now even bigger given the pandemic’s mental health impacts. That is why we will continue to ensure that we have in place the funding, staffing and reform of service delivery in order to meet that challenge, both for children who are here now and for any children who might come to Scotland in the future.


Waste Reduction (Durable Goods)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to reduce the waste of unsold, durable goods in Scotland, in line with the net zero targets. (S6F-00920)

We are progressing a circular economy bill as a priority in this parliamentary session. We will obviously consult on the contents of that bill in May. However, I can confirm that it will include proposals to ban the destruction of unsold durable goods. That aims to prevent needless waste and it will also help to support initiatives such as Fresh Start here in Edinburgh, which provides goods that would otherwise be destroyed, as well as goods donated by the public, to low-income households and people moving out of homelessness.

Reports from ITV last year revealed that Amazon destroys millions of items of unsold stock every year—products that are often new and unused. In the face of a climate emergency, that makes no sense at all, so it is welcome that Scotland is keeping pace with other European countries and showing ambition in tackling the issue. What lessons can be learned from countries such as France, which has recently enacted a ban on such waste?

I think that people were understandably concerned by the reports about Amazon, for example. When those reports surfaced, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency investigated the allegations and, although it did not find breaches of regulation, it made a number of recommendations. SEPA continues to work with Amazon so that it can comply with best practice.

The French legislation has only recently come into force. However, we will look at France’s experience and look to learn where we can, including about which products to target, how to encourage the reuse of products and how to monitor and regulate the proposal. We will also be seeking views and looking to learn from others more widely as part of the forthcoming consultation on the circular economy bill. I would encourage all members across Parliament to engage actively with that.

We all want to see waste tackled. The amount of waste in Scotland is rising and recycling has declined for two years running. The Scottish Government has missed its 2020 household recycling target and even the 2013 target has not been met. Why?

We know that all these things are challenging, but if we look, for example, at the amount of waste that is going to landfill, we see that it is at its lowest since records began. We need to do more to maintain progress. We have also just recently announced the first investments from the recycling improvement fund to improve the quantity and quality of recycling. We continue to press ahead with all that, including, of course, the deposit return scheme, which will have a big impact on waste. We encourage people across the country to work with us as we try to reduce waste and have a more circular economy and to choose to recycle in the way that we all want them to. The Government will back that with the investment that is needed.


National Treatment Centres (Staff)

To ask the First Minister when construction of the national treatment centres, which are due to open this year, is completed, whether they will have sufficient staff to begin tackling the Scotland-wide patient backlog. (S6F-00908)

Yes. Recruitment is already progressing well and I can tell members that a significant number—around 200 of the 1,500 that will be required for the national treatment centres—have been recruited. The full complement will be in place once the network of 10 national treatment centres is fully operational. Of course, over the next 12 months, three of the new centres will open their doors and start treating patients. That will include the Inverness national treatment centre, which will be up and running by the end of the year. Clearly, increasing specialist recruitment on that scale is not without its challenges. That is why we have provided the national health service with targeted additional funding to develop workforce supply and international recruitment.

The First Minister’s comments about Inverness are interesting, because the plan was announced in 2015, giving us ample time for training. So far, NHS Highland has secured about 25 per cent of its team—65 people, 20 of whom come from its own resources—leaving only about 200 to find. Does the First Minister agree that NHS Highland’s staffing problems for its national treatment centres could have been answered by establishing a medical school in the Highlands, for which I have been calling for years?

We have increased recruitment and intake to medical training. We will continue to take the right decisions in terms of the overall NHS workforce. However, I can tell members what else would have helped NHS Highland’s recruitment efforts over recent times: if the Tories had not taken us out of the European Union and stopped freedom of movement, because that is one of the biggest challenges that is being faced right now in recruiting people into our NHS and social care. Perhaps a bit of reflection on that point from the Conservatives would go an awfully long way.

The Royal College of Nursing Scotland says that the workforce strategy provides “scant detail” on how increasing the number of nurses will be achieved, given the record levels of vacancies, or how to retain existing experienced staff. Similarly, the British Medical Association Scotland notes that the workforce strategy:

“says little about retention of staff: just one of the worrying gaps which suggests it certainly won’t provide any relief in the short or medium term.”

Are the RCN and the BMA wrong?

No. Those are big challenges that we are working to address, and we are working very closely with organisations such as the RCN and the BMA. The health board delivery plans for the strategy will set out a lot of the detail of how individual health boards will go about retaining and recruiting staff. Of course, we have already seen a significant increase in the overall NHS workforce under this Government, which includes qualified nurses and midwives. We are in a very difficult recruitment climate right now for a whole host of reasons, not least the reason that I cited in the previous answer. That is why we are investing in wellbeing support for staff, so that we can retain staff who are already in our NHS and why we are funding international and domestic recruitment campaigns. We will work with the RCN, the BMA and other professional organisations and trade unions as we get more and more staff into our NHS in the years ahead.


Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 (Interim Targets)

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government anticipates meeting the interim targets set out in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. (S6F-00918)

We will publish the next tackling child poverty delivery plan for the period 2022 to 2026 a week today, and the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government will make a parliamentary statement to coincide with that.

This is our second delivery plan and it will outline the transformational actions that we, together with partners across the country, will take to deliver on our national mission to tackle child poverty and meet the targets in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. The plan will be underpinned by new economic modelling that sets out the anticipated impact of our actions in relation to both relative and absolute poverty, and projecting poverty levels for those measures in 2023, which is the year that our interim targets are due to be met.

I look forward to the publication of the plan next week.

We did not deliver devolution to leave powers on the shelf or blame others but, unfortunately, that is what is happening. All the work that has been outlined is laudable, but the fact is that it is not enough—and it is not just me saying that. The Fraser of Allander Institute, the Government’s own Poverty and Inequality Commission, swathes of third sector organisations and, most recently, in their report “Tackling Child Poverty and Destitution”, published yesterday, the Trussell Trust, Save the Children and the Institute for Public Policy Research have all said that the Government will miss the targets if it does not change course.

One child in poverty is too many, and one day too long. I urge the First Minister to change course and to use all the powers of the Scottish Parliament to lift children out of poverty; not because they are targets, but because they are children. What different and specific actions will the First Minister’s Government take to lift children out of poverty and meet the targets? Will those actions include an increase to the Scottish child payment to £40 in time to meet the targets, as recommended in the report that was published yesterday?

The social justice secretary will set all that out when she makes a statement to the Parliament next week. The Cabinet discussed it in detail at its meeting this week. We are very focused on all those issues. It is important that we meet the targets and Pam Duncan-Glancy is right: not just because they are targets, but because we want to lift every child that we can out of poverty. However, it is simply not true, and it is not fair by any objective standard, to say that, on this issue, the Scottish Government simply tries to blame other people. We have already doubled the Scottish child payment and that has rightly been described as game changing.

The impact of the various Scottish Government initiatives on the matter was set out in “The Cost of a Child in Scotland” report that the Child Poverty Action Group published last week, which showed that the combined value of Scottish Government policies, including our lower childcare costs, will reduce the net cost of bringing up a child in Scotland by up to 31 per cent—almost £24,000—for lower-income families once the Scottish child payment is doubled and the expansion of free school meals is fully delivered. The author says that the rising

“cost of raising a child and the failure”

in recent years

“to match this with improvements in help from the state has left many families in the UK struggling to make ends meet ... In Scotland, families are significantly better off in this regard, as a result ... of Scottish government policies seeking to address the problem”.

A new report shows that Scottish Government policies and lower childcare costs could reduce the cost of a child for low-income families by almost one third. Does the First Minister agree that the full impact of those policies is being diminished by the damaging impact of Westminster control, toxic cuts and a spiralling Tory cost of living crisis, which the United Kingdom Government is not addressing in any meaningful way?

Siobhian Brown puts her finger on the fundamental issue. An independent report says that the impact of Scottish Government policies—the things that we can do and are doing within the powers that we have—are reducing by one third the cost of raising a child in a low-income family. That is the impact of having powers lying here in this Parliament. However, that impact is being undermined, because too many powers in that regard still lie in the hands of a Conservative Government at Westminster that is taking money away from the lowest-income families.

If we can reduce the cost of raising a child in a low-income family by 31 per cent with limited powers over welfare, just think what we could do if we had all the powers and if this Parliament were independent.

We return briefly to supplementaries.


Survivors Access to Justice

We have already heard about the Scottish Government’s victims task force report, which highlights worrying levels of attrition, with survivors dropping cases because of lengthy delays. I know that both the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans take the issue very seriously. How can we better support survivors to access justice, given that defendants can demand in-person trials, which causes further delays? What can we do now to speed up non-harassment orders and interim interdicts, or other emergency protections, while the backlogs are addressed?

We are seeking to make those improvements with the laws that we have passed and the policies that we have put in place, but there is more to be done. Of course, the ordering of interim interdicts or non-harassment orders are issues for courts. I have already said how seriously we take addressing the backlog, particularly for victims of domestic abuse or violence against women and sexual violence. That is very important. We are also increasing money to front-line organisations so that women in those situations can have access to help and support.

There is a great deal to be done to recover from the pandemic and get back on track with making those changes. The Parliament has made world-leading changes over many years and in many cases, because too many women suffer the impact of domestic abuse and it is incumbent on us all to ensure that the policies and resources and the legislative framework are in place to better tackle that.


NHS Forth Valley General Practices

NHS Forth Valley has admitted that general practices in central Falkirk, Polmont, the Braes, Camelon and Stenhousemuir are full. That admission followed an investigation into GP registration when a constituent, after suffering chest pains, could not access diagnosis and treatment due to the lack of a GP.

Given the very welcome arrival of many thousands of Ukrainian refugees, what steps are the First Minister and her Government taking to ensure that all people in Forth Valley can access a GP?

We are working towards a target of increasing the number of GPs and all health boards have a duty to ensure that patients have access to general practice services. That will continue.

I hope that we get the ability, which is still dependent on the Home Office, to start to welcome significant numbers of Ukrainians to Scotland from as early as this weekend. Part of the work that we are doing is to ensure not only that we provide them with the immediate support that they need, but that we plan for their longer-term support as well.

That concludes First Minister’s question time.