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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 18, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 18 January 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Centenary of Women in the British Armed Forces, Social Isolation and Loneliness, Decision Time


General Question Time

South of Scotland Enterprise Agency (Interim Board)

To ask the Scottish Government when the full membership of the interim board for the south of Scotland enterprise agency will be announced. (S5O-01664)

Membership of the south of Scotland economic partnership was announced on 17 January.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. Although he promised that the new board would be up and running by the end of last year, I very much welcome that he has—at last—announced its membership. I am sure that that had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that my question was being asked today.

Does the cabinet secretary share the concerns of stakeholders, particularly those in the business community and the third sector locally, that they were not consulted on who the members of the interim board should be? Will he give an assurance that, when it comes to appointing the members of the full agency, that process will be led by stakeholders in the south of Scotland and not imposed from Edinburgh? Does he also accept the concerns of a number of local stakeholders that the £10 million budget that he has announced, which is about 15 per cent of the budget of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, will not deliver the transformational economic change that we need in the south of Scotland?

I think that we should be willing to let Colin Smyth go along in his own little bubble, in which he is convinced that the announcement was due to a question that he was due to ask.

Colin Smyth referred to the £10 million for the agency. What did Labour do? Did Labour ever establish such an agency?

Members: No.

Did Labour ever put £10 million into the south of Scotland?

Members: No.

Colin Smyth’s comments are absolute nonsense.

In a tweet, Mr Smyth attacked the board’s membership, and there is an allegation that the members are Scottish National Party appointees. How biased are we if we have appointed people such as Lord Thurso, Wendy Alexander and Susan Deacon? Again, his comments are absolute nonsense. I wonder how Colin Smyth, as a local MSP, expects to have any productive relationship with that vitally important board if he attacks its members on the day of their appointment.

The interim board will make a big difference. It will lead to the establishment of the substantive body, for which we will bring forward legislation this year. The partnership has been established and will have £10 million to spend. That is far more than the Labour Party ever did in Dumfries and Galloway or in the rest of the Scottish Borders.

I am pleased to see so many women on the interim board. The cabinet secretary will be aware that an economic challenge for the south of Scotland is that of encouraging young people to stay in or move to the area and to live and work there. How will the board seek to address that issue?

I agree that securing diversity on the partnership was important. We are ambitious for the partnership. It has an opportunity to bring a fresh approach to tackling the challenges and opportunities in the south of Scotland. The partnership will deliver a prioritised work plan that is tailored to the needs of the area and informed by the views of people across the area. As I said, we have announced £10 million in additional resources to support it in its activities.

As part of its engagement, the partnership will want to seek the views of young people to shape its work. We want the south of Scotland to have a thriving economy in which young people have opportunities to develop skills, take up apprenticeships and have good-quality jobs, and we want it to be seen as an attractive place in which to live and work.

I know that Professor Griggs, the chair of the partnership, would be happy to meet the member to discuss the partnership’s work.

I am encouraged by the wide breadth of knowledge and expertise of those appointed to the south of Scotland economic partnership. However, there seems to be lack of tech focus. Will the cabinet secretary outline whether the board will feed into and help to improve connectivity in the south of Scotland, and, if so, how it will do that? What role will the agency have in that regard?

There is substantial technical expertise in the body. Perhaps Rachael Hamilton has just seen an announcement of the names of the board members. It may be worth while for her to investigate further and to find out the technical expertise of the members.

I am grateful for Rachael Hamilton’s statement about the quality of the people on the board—that is the right approach to take. There are exceptional people on the board. As I said, we will bring forward proposals for the substantive body this year. That will, of course, allow us to have a chance to see the work of the current members and to think about the board’s future composition.

We have acted on the matter quite quickly, as other parties in the chamber have asked us to do. I can give Rachael Hamilton an assurance on the engagement that she seeks to see happening, not least in relation to connectivity. For that reason, I am very pleased that hauliers, for example, are represented on the board. The board will take that work forward as part of its priorities and work plan.

I am happy to discuss the matter further with Rachael Hamilton if she feels that things are not progressing in the way that she would like.

R100 Superfast Broadband Programme

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the R100 superfast broadband programme will have on rural areas. (S5O-01665)

The R100 superfast broadband programme will make rural Scotland one of the most digitally connected places anywhere in Europe and will underpin and enable future economic growth. It is the only universal superfast broadband programme in the United Kingdom, and it demonstrates the Scottish Government’s ambition to make Scotland a world-class digital nation.

I very much welcome what the cabinet secretary has just said. Given that the Scottish Government seeks to make universally available broadband speed that is three times as fast as that which the UK Government plans to deliver, can the cabinet secretary identify any particular benefits that that higher speed in Scotland will have in rural areas?

Mr Stevenson is correct. The UK Government might consider that 10 megabits per second is adequate for homes and businesses, but I certainly do not. That is why we have stipulated in our programme that we will seek to deliver 30 Mbps for every home and business in the country by the end of 2021.

The digital sector is now worth more than £4 billion to the Scottish economy, and research shows that every £1 of public investment in broadband returns around £20 in net economic impact. I believe that, through our investment of £600 million to deliver universal, 100 per cent access to superfast broadband, we will see created in Scotland a digital infrastructure that will allow businesses across the country—particularly in rural and remote areas—to modernise, digitalise, innovate and grow.

I welcome the £600 million that has been promised for the R100 programme, which will be spent in 2019 to 2021, but I find it exceptionally disappointing that the budget for digital connectivity this year has been slashed from £136 million to £58.5 million. Obviously, that will impact on rural premises in north-east Scotland, where people desperately need a decent broadband speed now. How can the cabinet secretary justify slashing this year’s budget when so much remains to be done?

The £600 million is the largest investment in any single broadband project ever in the UK. The money will be used when it is required, and not before it is required. That is how government is done.

Incidentally, if Mr Chapman and the Tories want to have any vestige of the ability to claim that they are standing up for Scotland, they should apply their attention to the fact that the UK’s contribution to the £600 million for broadband provision, which is a reserved function, is a measly 3 per cent. Do the Tories support that? I think that we will have a prolonged period of radio, broadband and mobile silence from the Scottish Tories on that issue. Not one of them has the backbone to stand up for Scotland.

When will residents in rural Aberdeenshire, for instance, who regularly receive speeds of around 7 or 8 Mbps, find out when they will reach the promised 30 Mbps?

I thank Mr Rumbles for a perfectly reasonable question, to which there are two answers.

First, during 2018, new broadband access will continue to be provided under our two highly successful digital superfast broadband contracts, at an investment of £400 million. There will also be further commercial investment during the year.

Secondly, the details of the contracts that we will award under R100 in respect of three segments in Scotland—north, central and south—will become available as soon as possible after the contracts have been awarded.

Plainly, we have to deal with the tendering process and go through it in accordance with the competitive dialogue process to get best value for money for the taxpayer and to keep Mr Mackay as happy as he can be. We also have to take care to get it right, and that is what we will do, in one of the most complex tender exercises that has taken place in Scotland. Once we complete that exercise, we will provide information as soon as we can to communities throughout Scotland, which understandably wish to know when each person and business will have access. We will provide that access by the end of 2021, which is a pledge that only this Government is making.

NHS Grampian Waiting Times

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress towards meeting waiting times targets in NHS Grampian. (S5O-01666)

The Scottish Government continues to work closely with colleagues in NHS Grampian every day to monitor the extent of winter pressures and to ensure that capacity is managed so that the board continues to deliver safe and effective care to support improvements on all key performance targets.

NHS Grampian has received more than £8 million this year to improve all parts of the patient pathway, including out-patient consultation, diagnostic tests, and in-patient and day-case treatment. A number of initiatives are already under way to support sustainable improvements, including additional theatre sessions being delivered for a range of specialties. We have allocated more than £1.3 million to NHS Grampian to support resilience across unscheduled care pathways over winter.

Last year, I raised the case of a Moray constituent who had been waiting for heart surgery in the NHS Grampian region. Thankfully, my constituent’s surgery was scheduled for this week, which is 16 months after the original general practitioner referral. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will join me in wishing him well.

Figures show that more than 2,000 people per month are still waiting too long for treatment in NHS Grampian, which has a knock-on effect on island health boards that send patients to NHS Grampian for treatment. Will the cabinet secretary assure members that she will continue to assist NHS Grampian to improve waiting times and to ensure that no one else has to wait that long for treatment?

I wish Jamie Halcro Johnston’s constituent a speedy recovery from his procedure.

We are working closely with NHS Grampian and all boards to make the improvements that need to be made, which is against the backdrop of increasing demand for services. However, we are putting in record levels of resources and the forthcoming budget has a further big increase in funding for the national health service, all of which will help to make improvements to the treatment and care of patients.

In addition, the member will be aware that we launched a new elective access collaborative programme that is being taken forward by Professor Derek Bell. The programme will make similar improvements to those that have been made in unscheduled care, leading to Scotland’s accident and emergency departments being the best performing in the United Kingdom for two and a half years. That was through a collaborative programme, which is now being replicated for elective care. It will make a big difference.

We are making investments and also reforms so that we can ensure that patients get timely access to treatment.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the failure of NHS Grampian to meet treatment standards is not because of the efforts of NHS staff, who continue to go above and beyond, but is the responsibility of the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government, which has failed to adequately staff our wards and to give the resources and support that our NHS staff need?

Like other boards, NHS Grampian has been trying to recruit staff. The funding is there, but the board has had difficulties in recruiting staff such as, for example, theatre nurses. I do not know what Anas Sarwar thinks can be done if the money is there for the post but, when the board goes out and tries to recruit, it has difficulty recruiting. The shortage in some specialties is not just a Scottish or UK issue but an international one. However, NHS Grampian is working hard to ensure that it continues to deliver safe patient care and make the improvements that it is trying to provide.

I will end on this note, though: it is a bit rich for Anas Sarwar to come here demanding additional resources for the NHS when his party is not proposing additional resources for the NHS in the budget. That is not his party’s priority for the budget, as was laid out very clearly yesterday. It does seem a bit rich to come here demanding more money when his party’s budget proposals, such as they are, do not prioritise the NHS at all. Does not Mr Sarwar think that that is a bit rich?

Scottish Ambulance Service (Moray)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress towards the expansion of Scottish Ambulance Service provision in Moray. (S5O-01667)

The Scottish Ambulance Service has been working in partnership with NHS Grampian to put additional ambulance resources in place in Moray. Discussions are on-going to look at what ambulance resources are required in Moray in the medium to long term and a business case is anticipated to be ready by the end of this month, which will be jointly reviewed by both organisations.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer and I am sure that she will want to join me in paying tribute to the Scottish Ambulance Service for the role that it has played in dealing with the winter pressures on the national health service over the past few weeks.

As the cabinet secretary will know from her recent meeting with ambulance workers in Elgin, for which they were very grateful, the service has had to cope with its own pressures in Moray over the past few years. As the cabinet secretary said, there has been some recognition of that with additional resources. However, outstanding issues remain in terms of having an additional, new emergency ambulance based in Elgin and with the on-call situation in Dufftown to be addressed as well. I would be grateful if the cabinet secretary could keep a close eye on that and put pressure on the Scottish Ambulance Service to expedite those long-standing decisions.

First, along with Richard Lochhead, I pay tribute to the Scottish Ambulance Service. The service has done an amazing job over the past few weeks in particular in dealing with winter pressures. I had a very productive meeting with many of the front-line staff in Elgin and I pay tribute to Richard Lochhead for raising the issues concerned on a consistent basis. As he will be aware, a number of initiatives are under way to help to address those issues. I will be keeping a very close eye on them and would be very happy to keep Richard Lochhead informed of those developments as they go forward.

Pharmacies (Community Health)

To ask the Scottish Government what role it considers pharmacies should play in supporting the health of the communities that they serve. (S5O-01668)

Community pharmacy plays an important role in the provision of national health service pharmaceutical care, providing highly accessible services for people both in hours and out of hours. We want more people to use their community pharmacy as a first port of call for the treatment of self-limiting illnesses and medicine-related matters, and for on-going self-management support for people with long-term conditions.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that folk can both receive help for themselves quicker and relieve pressures on hospital staff during the busy winter period by making use of the excellent advice and treatment available from community pharmacists?

Yes, absolutely. Part of the communication strategy this winter has been very much to highlight the role of community pharmacy. The member might be aware that our strategy for pharmaceutical care, “Achieving Excellence in Pharmaceutical Care: A Strategy for Scotland”, published in August 2017, emphasises that the pharmacy team in NHS Scotland is an important part of the workforce, with specialist skills and much-needed expertise in medicines. It will also form part of the multidisciplinary team on the back of the new general practitioner contract once it is agreed. We are very keen indeed to promote the role of community pharmacy.

Glenrothes 70th Anniversary

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to support the 70th anniversary of Glenrothes. (S5O-01669)

The Scottish Government welcomes the planned programme of events due to take place in Glenrothes over 2018 that is being organised by local groups and Fife Council to celebrate that important date. Although no specific Scottish Government activity is planned in favour of locally developed and owned celebrations, those local events will link to wider Scottish Government initiatives such as the year of young people.

This week, Glenrothes lost a true community champion in David Nelson. I hope that the cabinet secretary will join me in sending condolences to Davy’s wife, Maureen, and to their family.

Can the cabinet secretary assure me that she will discuss with Fife Council the ways in which the 70th anniversary can be celebrated properly? Is she aware of any funding that community groups might be able to access?

Anniversaries of towns should not just be about the physical place, as it is the people who make the place—people such as David Nelson, the Glenrothes community champion. I extend my condolences to Mr Nelson’s family.

I would be happy to discuss with Ms Gilruth and Fife Council how any national activity on funding can align with the Glenrothes 70th anniversary this year. I understand that the Edinburgh International Book Festival is already planning to do so.