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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, April 19, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 19 April 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Royal Air Force (Centenary), Safe Injection Facilities, Decision Time


General Question Time

Paternity Leave

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on increasing the legal entitlement to paternity leave, and what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding this. (S5O-01967)

Although employment law remains reserved to the UK Parliament and is the responsibility of the UK Government, we are funding the family friendly working Scotland partnership to promote family-friendly and inclusive workplaces to employers and employees in Scotland.

The Scottish Government, including its agencies and non-ministerial departments, provides eligible employees with up to four weeks of consecutive paternity leave at full pay. We would encourage other Scottish employers to work in partnership with their workforces to consider voluntarily offering a similar enhanced paternity leave.

Additional devolved powers in relation to employment would provide the Scottish Parliament with the ability to strengthen employment rights that work for Scotland. With the impact of Brexit still to come, the Scottish Government will publish a discussion paper on that in the next few months.

A number of studies have linked longer paternity leave with a wide range of positive outcomes, including greater maternal wellbeing, reduced incidence of postnatal depression and fewer behavioural problems in children. Does the minister agree that employers can benefit from offering enhanced rights in the workplace and would he join me in encouraging employers in Scotland to offer enhanced paternity leave of four weeks?

Let me reiterate that I would absolutely encourage employers to do so and not just for the reasons that Mr MacGregor has set out in terms of child wellbeing and parental wellbeing. We know that flexible working has a clear benefit not only for employees but for employers, because when an employer operates on a flexible basis in relation to their workforce, they can end up with a more motivated workforce, reducing absenteeism, achieving better retention rates and increasing productivity.

That type of approach is important not only for families but for the Scottish economy. That is why we are, as I mentioned, funding the family friendly working Scotland partnership. It is a partnership that we participate in; we have provided £857,000 since 2014-15 for that programme. We are also promoting our fair work agenda on a wider basis.

Has the Government done any assessment of the impact of increased parental leave on small to medium-sized enterprises? Those are obviously the areas of business that are most likely to suffer from employees being absent for a period.

I have just made the point that a flexible approach, irrespective of the size of employer, can in fact lead to reduced absenteeism, better retention rates and increased productivity. That is what the evidence demonstrates—not just in relation to enhanced paternity leave, but across the board in terms of the flexible work agenda. SMEs and other businesses and employers across Scotland could stand to benefit by adopting that flexible approach.

Planning (Scotland) Bill (Stakeholder Involvement)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is involving stakeholders with the development and implementation of its Planning (Scotland) Bill. (S5O-01968)

The planning bill has been developed through a highly inclusive approach, involving extensive engagement and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. That has included two formal consultation exercises, a series of stakeholder working groups and full publication of regularly updated information on the Scottish Government website.

We have sought out opportunities to engage our stakeholders throughout the development of the bill, and we will continue that very inclusive approach as the review of planning progresses.

Ardeer peninsula in my constituency is subject to a 1953 order, which allows almost any development to be carried out without planning permission. I understand that that could cause an issue in relation to potential sustainable development of the site. Will the minister look into that matter and help to find a solution that best meets the needs of our community, promotes inclusive growth as per the aims of the Ayrshire growth deal and respects wildlife and the environment?

I am aware of the very unusual circumstances surrounding the special development order for Ardeer. My officials have been in discussion with North Ayrshire Council officials about the complex planning position there, the possible options and how this might best be taken forward to a satisfactory conclusion.

I would be happy to meet Ms Maguire and stakeholders to discuss the issues and an appropriate way forward for that area.

Question 3 has been withdrawn.

Sport (Young People)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support and encourage young people to engage in sport. (S5O-01970)

The Scottish Government strongly encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to try to participate in sport. To aid with that, we have protected sportscotland’s budget for next year, committed to help mitigate the impact of continued reductions in its income from the national lottery, invested up to £50 million for our active schools programme between 2015 and 2019 and committed to increase the number of community sport hubs.

I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the achievements of team Scotland during the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth games. I am sure that everyone will agree. Following the success of team Scotland, I am confident that the performances by all our athletes will inspire young people to take up sport, allowing them to set and achieve their goals.

I particularly welcome the fact that a member of team Scotland was older than me. That is pretty unusual.

More seriously, I recently visited Cullen bowling and tennis club, where the members have taken on offering coaching sessions to young people to encourage a new generation of club members. Does the minister agree that that is an excellent example of a community-based approach to encouraging our youngsters to try new sports?

I would also like to pay tribute to the athleticism of Stewart Stevenson.

That is a great example of encouraging young people to join a club. I wish Cullen bowling and tennis club every success. Our commitment to the active schools programme will not only allow children to try new sports but will provide them with a pathway to local sports clubs. I actively encourage that partnership.

I commend the club in Cullen, particularly during this year of young people, for its endeavours to get our young people and children active.

Help-to-buy Scheme (Stirling)

To ask the Scottish Government how many people in the Stirling constituency have received support from the help-to-buy scheme. (S5O-01971)

Help-to-buy data for Scotland is published at local authority level and is not readily available by parliamentary constituency. From October 2013 to March 2017, there were 190 sales in the Stirling local authority area that received support from the help-to-buy scheme.

I now know that I will have to ask the council in future. However, I am grateful that 190 people in my constituency have benefited. The scheme is a much-needed way of supporting people, particularly those who are buying their first home, into a new home.

What is the age range for the scheme, and what is the percentage of first-time home owners?

We estimate that 76 per cent of buyers who purchase a property with assistance through the scheme are aged 35 and under, and 66 per cent have been first-time buyers. That is based on analysis of the first three years of the scheme from September 2013 to March 2016.

Will the minister look at my concerns about the open market shared equity scheme, in which a valuation price is set at a threshold? In very desirable areas such as East Kilbride, that means that it can be difficult for people to find suitable accommodation to purchase and still get assistance. That is disadvantaging people. I understand that the scheme has not been looked at for many years. Can consideration be given to that?

I thank Ms Fabiani for her question and I well understand the desire to live in East Kilbride.

The price ceiling has gradually reduced from the original figure of £400,000 to the current £200,000 to ensure that more people can benefit from the available funding and to help target funding at lower-income families and first-time buyers. We accept that, in certain geographical areas, not as many homes will be purchased with assistance from the scheme.

I can assure Ms Fabiani that I will continue to look at all those points as we progress.

Major Trauma Centres (Aberdeen and Dundee)

To ask the Scottish Government whether plans for major trauma centres in Aberdeen and Dundee to commence in October 2018 have been affected by recent events at NHS Tayside. (S5O-01972)

Progress on implementing the Scottish trauma network, including the opening of the major trauma centres in Aberdeen and Dundee in autumn this year, is continuing as planned. Implementation will not be affected by the recent events at NHS Tayside.

I am pleased to hear that clear assurance from the cabinet secretary. Will she also address the appointment of Malcolm Wright, the chief executive of NHS Grampian, to head up the team rescuing NHS Tayside from its current crisis? I think that when Shona Robison announced that appointment, it was as an interim appointment. However, in her statement the other day, Malcolm Wright was referred to as the new chief executive. Can the cabinet secretary clarify the future arrangements for the leadership of both NHS Tayside and NHS Grampian?

Yes, I can. Malcolm Wright will remain as the chief executive of, and accountable officer for, NHS Grampian, so there is no change to that. I have not described Malcolm Wright as the interim chief executive of NHS Tayside, because I think that he should have the full title of chief executive of NHS Tayside. However, work will of course be under way very quickly to find a permanent chief executive for NHS Tayside. I have agreed with Professor Stephen Logan, the chair of NHS Grampian, that Amanda Croft, of whom the member will be well aware, will oversee the day-to-day operations of NHS Grampian in her role as deputy chief executive officer. I think that Amanda Croft is very capable of doing that. I hope that that will give the member the assurance that he seeks.

In relation to the situation in NHS Tayside, will the support team led by Professor Sir Lewis Ritchie continue to provide an assurance role on the board’s future plans for services?

Yes. Sir Lewis Ritchie’s involvement with the assurance group will continue. He has a very important role and it is important that that remains the case. I can certainly ensure that Graeme Dey is kept informed about that continuing role.

Integration Joint Boards (Performance)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the performance of integration joint boards since their creation. (S5O-01973)

Integration authorities went fully live in April 2016 and are already delivering achievements. Individual integration authorities publish annual reports on how the new arrangements are delivering real change and improvements. The latest annual performance reports are due to be published in July this year.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm to Parliament that she is aware of some of the very strong criticism, including from some within her own party, that is being levelled at integration joint boards because the current structures are not at all clear in terms of the lines of accountability for decision making and the accompanying accountability? Will she, with some degree of urgency, review whether the current IJB structure should be completely overhauled?

The structures are fairly new and should be allowed to bed in. However, as with everything, we will always keep matters under review if there are particular concerns that need to be taken forward.

In relation to local matters, we would expect local partnerships to take forward any changes to services in a way that involves full consultation with the local public. We would expect that to be done in an open and transparent way. If Liz Smith has any particular concerns in relation to that, I suggest that she writes to me with the details.

National Health Service Boards (Use of Funds)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator regarding the use of public funds by national health service boards. (S5O-01974)

At my request, the chief executive of NHS Scotland has written to all NHS board chairs seeking assurance that NHS Scotland endowment funds are being used appropriately. Responses are required by the end of April. That approach has been agreed with OSCR and responses will be shared with it. OSCR has agreed to review the evidence provided and, once it has considered all the relevant evidence and completed its risk assessment, it will come to a decision on whether to undertake inquiries into other NHS endowment fund charities. OSCR has indicated to my officials that it plans to be able to give a response on that by the end of May.

This morning, the Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee heard from the Auditor General for Scotland, Caroline Gardner, and her evidence on the issue raised a number of quite serious issues that require to be addressed, including the conflict of interests that might arise for NHS board members who are being asked to deal with public funds as well as funds from charitable endowments. Given that, will the Scottish Government consider creating a structure whereby board members are no longer required to make decisions on both endowment funding and general funding for NHS boards?

Murdo Fraser may be aware that the guidance on that was reviewed back in 2013. OSCR has already signalled, and we have agreed, that that guidance should now be reviewed again, for the very reason that he has pointed out—that there is a potential conflict of interests if board members are the trustees of an endowment fund. OSCR will come forward with sensible recommendations about what structural changes should be made to strengthen governance, which may include having external people sit on the endowment fund board as trustees. The member should be assured that OSCR has already indicated its desire to do that, and we have agreed that that needs to be done. I would be happy to keep Murdo Fraser, and indeed the chamber, updated as that work progresses.

Respite Services (Short Breaks for Carers)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will protect respite services to allow carers to access a short break, as set out by the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016. (S5O-01975)

Under the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, local authorities now have a duty to provide support to meet carers’ identified needs that meet local eligibility criteria, and to decide whether that support should include a break from caring. The 2018-19 budget includes an additional £66 million to support additional expenditure by local government on social care, including for implementation of the act. In addition, the Scottish Government is providing £3 million in 2018-19 for the voluntary sector short breaks fund, which is administered by Shared Care Scotland and the Family Fund.

I am pleased that short break support is given prominence in the carers legislation that came into effect on 1 April. However, Lanarkshire Carers Centre has raised concerns that respite services are facing an uncertain future, with many short break providers believing that they are at moderate or high risk of local authority funding cuts. At a time when local authorities have seen a real-terms budget cut of nearly 10 per cent over the past eight years, can the minister reassure carers and short break providers that sufficient funding will be available for those much-needed respites?

I have already outlined the additional money that we put in to support the additional expenditure by local government on social care, which includes the implementation of the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016. I would also point to the fact that, at a service planning level, local authorities now have a duty to publish a short breaks service statement, providing information about short breaks services in Scotland so that people can understand what options are available. In addition, we provide money to the voluntary sector short breaks fund, which, as I mentioned, is administered by Shared Care Scotland and the Family Fund.

We know how important those short breaks are, and how important it is to enable carers to have a life alongside their caring role and ensure that their wellbeing is maintained. I am happy to engage with Monica Lennon on the particular issues that she has raised about Lanarkshire Carers Centre, but from our perspective we have put additional resources in to protect and support that important part of the act.

Gender Pay Gap (Companies)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent publication of large companies’ gender pay gaps, which show that there remains a large pay gap among many companies across the United Kingdom, including in Edinburgh. (S5O-01976)

Although the full-time median gender pay gap in Scotland is lower than the United Kingdom figure—6.6 per cent, compared to 9.1 per cent—some of the figures that employers have reported highlight the very real challenge that remains to further reduce the gender pay gap. We need employers to take actions that improve the position of women in the workplace and in wider society. The Government has taken action by establishing a gender pay gap working group, funding returners programmes to support women following a career break, establishing working groups to challenge pregnancy and maternity discrimination and support the delivery of the women in enterprise action plan and framework, promoting payment of the living wage, and tackling occupational segregation and gender stereotyping through the modern apprenticeship equalities action plan and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council’s gender action plan.

I thank the minister for that answer, but it is particularly disappointing that the pay gap in Edinburgh, at 12.9 per cent, is marginally higher than the national average, which is 12 per cent. Are there currently any talks between the UK and Scottish Governments regarding further improving the gender pay legislation?

I have mentioned the working group on the gender pay gap. One of its early areas of work will be to work with Close the Gap, Engender, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and other relevant bodies to develop a coherent action plan to reduce gender pay gaps across Scotland. If that requires us to make recommendations about legislative change, we will, of course, seek to engage, as we recognise that we are all required to make a significant effort. We will engage with the UK Government to explore options for legislative change and joint working on the issue.