Meeting date: Thursday, May 19, 2022
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 19 May 2022 [Draft]
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Union Canal: 200th Anniversary, Portfolio Question Time, Long Covid, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Union Canal: 200th Anniversary
- Portfolio Question Time
- Long Covid
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
ScotRail (Disruption to Services)
I begin by recognising the incredible achievement of Rangers Football Club in reaching last night’s Europa league final in Seville. It was a significant achievement not only for the club, but for Scottish football. For 120 minutes, the two teams could not be separated. I know that it is difficult for a club to lose any match on penalties, but to lose a major European final on penalties will be particularly hard to take. However, I think that the Parliament can agree that Rangers did Scottish football proud last night in Seville. [Applause.]
When Nicola Sturgeon’s Government took over the running of Scotland’s railways just last month, the First Minister promised that passenger services would be “efficient”, “sustainable” and “fit for the future”, but in the seven weeks since the Scottish National Party took control of ScotRail passengers have faced chaos and disruption. Every day, hundreds of services have been cancelled, often at the very last minute. Will the First Minister apologise to the thousands—[Interruption.]
“Here we go”, SNP members say. Well, yes—here we go. Will the First Minister apologise to the thousands of passengers who have faced disruption since the SNP took control of Scotland’s railways?
I appreciate the opportunity to address the rail issue. I will do so directly, but first I, too, want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to Rangers Football Club. Last night’s result was heartbreaking for the team and for the club’s many, many fans. However, the achievement of getting to the final was considerable. Rangers played extremely well last night—it was a gutsy performance—so, despite the disappointment that I know the team, everybody associated with it, the many fans in Seville and those who watched the match across Scotland will feel today, they should also feel extremely proud of their team. The team did Scottish football and Scotland proud last night, and I congratulate it on that achievement.
I turn to rail services. I appreciate the opportunity to address an important issue that is of significant concern to rail passengers. I say at the outset that I always express apologies to anybody who does not get the standard of service that they deserve, whether from our rail services or any other public services.
ScotRail has taken the decision to put in place a temporary timetable. That has been made necessary by the decision, as part of a pay dispute, of some drivers not to take up the option of overtime Sunday and rest-day working. ScotRail considered that issue and, in consultation with Transport Focus—which is the organisation that represents passengers—decided that a temporary timetable was preferable to unplanned cancellations. However, I stress—I make this point very strongly—that it is vital to get the timetable back to normal as quickly as possible. I expect ScotRail to review the temporary arrangements regularly: indeed, they are due to be formally reviewed on 3 June.
Two points are material in that regard. First, it is important to seek to reach an agreement—a fair agreement—on pay as quickly as possible. Right now, train drivers earn around £50,000 a year, before overtime. Notwithstanding that, this is a tough time for everyone. Everyone wants a fair pay award, but it is required that all pay awards be affordable.
Secondly, ScotRail continues to reduce the need for rest-day working through training new drivers. The training programme was interrupted by Covid, but a significant number of new drivers are currently going through training.
Therefore, I expect ScotRail to make sure that the temporary timetable is just that—temporary—and that the timetable gets back to normal as quickly as possible. I will, of course, ask the Minister for Transport to ensure that MSPs are kept fully up to date.
The First Minister said twice that she appreciates the opportunity to update members on the ScotRail issue, but it seems that she did not appreciate the opportunity to say that she is sorry. Those words did not come from the First Minister’s mouth. She mentioned—[Interruption.] I listened. The First Minister said she will take opportunities to apologise, but did not do so.
Passengers deserve an apology, and not only for the cuts up to now. From next week, there will be even more, with 700 services being lost every day. Almost a third of services will disappear. It will be even worse on some lines—the number of services from Glasgow to Dumfries, for example, is being halved and it is the same on the Edinburgh to Tweedbank line. Dunbar station will go from having 11 ScotRail services every day to zero—none. ScotRail passengers will be left with a reduced timetable or no trains at all.
Yesterday, the Scottish National Party’s transport minister could not give passengers a guarantee on when the cancellations will end. That is no wonder. Kevin Lindsay, of the train drivers union ASLEF—the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen—said on Monday, of the Scottish Government’s role in settling the dispute:
“Quite frankly, it’s the worst negotiations I have been part of in 30 years as a union representative.”
That is a direct quote from the union. With such terrible handling of the negotiations by her Government, will the First Minister tell passengers when they can expect normal service to resume?
Douglas Ross often decides what he does and does not want to hear. The problem for him is that other people are listening to my answers, as well. I started my answer by saying that I always take the opportunity to apologise to any member of the public in Scotland who does not get, from a public service—whether that is the railway or any other public service—the standard of service that they have a right to expect. That includes those who are being disrupted right now because of the temporary timetable that has been put in place by ScotRail.
Secondly, for the services that are affected, this is, as I said, a temporary timetable. I expect the timetable to return to normal as quickly as possible; that expectation is being made very clear to ScotRail. I have set out the requirements for the progress that we need. First, there should be progress towards a fair but affordable pay settlement for rail workers. Secondly, ScotRail must continue to progress the training of additional drivers so that reliance on rest-day working can be reduced and, I hope, eventually eliminated.
It is worth pointing out that, last year, we negotiated with ASLEF and agreed an extension to the rest-day working arrangements. Those are in place until October 2022, so it is disappointing to see them being affected in this way. Notwithstanding that, ScotRail is focusing on the steps that need to be taken.
I want to see services going back to normal as quickly as possible. The Government will do everything that we possibly can to bring about that outcome.
The cuts will affect not only passengers: they are also devastating for businesses in our city centres, which are still reeling from the impact of the Covid pandemic and now face another lost summer.
In many places across Scotland, people will not be able to get a train after a night out. The chief operating officer of ScotRail said yesterday, before the latest cuts were announced, that protecting the first and last services was an “absolute priority”. That is a quotation from the chief operating officer.
That clearly has not happened. Let us take one example. To get the last train from Edinburgh to the Deputy First Minister’s constituency in Perth, people will not have to leave an hour or two hours earlier, but more than three hours earlier. The last train from Edinburgh to Perth is now going to be at 8 o’clock instead of 18 minutes past 11 at night.
That is just one example. On train services right across Scotland, last trains are being brought forward by hours. That will have a profound impact on businesses, restaurants, bars and clubs. I have a quotation from the Night Time Industries Association, which just this morning called the cuts to services “another cruel blow”. The association goes on to say that the cuts
“will be putting at risk both Scotland’s economic recovery and the future of many thousands of small businesses and jobs”.
What compensation will be First Minister’s Government provide for the businesses that will clearly be affected by the cuts?
It is very clear, and I absolutely accept, that the temporary cancellations, which have been made necessary by a pay dispute, are disruptive to individuals and to businesses. That is why it is so important that I stress, and that ScotRail works hard to ensure, that the temporary timetable is just that—temporary—and that normal service is resumed as quickly as possible. That is ScotRail’s focus, and the Government will do everything that we can to support that outcome.
It is also important to note that, although it is regrettable that it is necessary, the temporary timetable is designed to give more certainty to passengers for the short term, rather than there being unplanned cancellations such as we saw at the weekend.
The cancellations are disruptive and the situation is not acceptable and must get back to normal as quickly as possible. That is why all parties must get round the table and negotiate a fair and affordable pay deal, and it is why ScotRail must continue the work that it is undertaking to train more drivers—already, more drivers are working for ScotRail than was the case in many previous years—so that reliance on rest-day working is reduced and, eventually, eliminated. That is the focus of ScotRail and of the Government.
I say to the unions that I understand that their job is to represent their members and get a fair pay deal for them, but both parties should get round the table and negotiate for that in good faith. That is what the travelling public wants.
The First Minister calls it “regrettable”. She should say that to the people in Dunbar, at whose station zero ScotRail trains will stop. She should say it to the business leaders who are telling her, right now, that the cuts are going to put at risk thousands of job and small businesses.
We should remember that Nicola Sturgeon and her Government are in charge of Scotland’s railways. Just last month, at Queen Street station, the First Minister proclaimed that nationalising ScotRail was a
and that it would deliver
“a railway ... for the nation”,
but passengers are now paying more than ever for fares and are getting the worst service in a generation. Seven weeks in, nationalisation is already proving to be a disaster. As happened with the ferries, as soon as the Government steps in to try to sort things out, the problems get even worse.
The SNP took over the running of our rail service on April fool’s day, but nat rail is no joke for Scotland’s passengers. Next week there will be 700 fewer services across the country every day. Was that really the First Minister’s grand vision for the railway in Scotland under SNP control?
Public ownership is the right arrangement to have in place. Over the long term, it will enable us to ensure that there are real improvements in our railway.
However, members should make no bones about it: regardless of whether the railway was in public hands or still in private hands, Douglas Ross, rightly and properly, would be asking me such questions, because such matters are of significance to people across the country. It was to individuals and businesses that I directed the comments in my earlier answer.
One of the benefits that we want to realise is affordable fares. However, we must not forget that fares in Scotland are already, on average, 20 per cent cheaper than they are where Douglas Ross’s party is in government.
On the temporary timetable, I repeat that it is temporary. It has proved to be necessary because of the dispute. I want that dispute to be settled as soon as possible and ScotRail to continue to take action to reduce reliance on rest-day working. It is right that ScotRail focuses on that. It needs the unions to get back around the table to negotiate on pay; I hope that that will be the case.
We will continue to focus on the short-term challenges, which are regrettable for the people who use our railways, but we will also focus on building the longer-term improvements that people across the country want in our railway services.
ScotRail (Disruption to Services)
I start by joining others in recognising the tremendous effort of Rangers Football Club. Although the loss on penalties will hurt, the club, its staff, its players and its management should be incredibly proud of the phenomenal journey that they took the club on. It was a fantastic advert for Glasgow, for Scotland and for Scottish football.
Last month, after years of Labour campaigning, ScotRail was brought into public ownership in what Nicola Sturgeon described as “a historic moment”. I ask the First Minister whether making the biggest cuts to railways in over half a century is what she had in mind.
Anas Sarwar says
“after years of Labour campaigning”,
but, of course, before that, there were years of Labour Governments at Westminster that failed to bring the railways back into public ownership. They also opposed the devolution of Network Rail.
However, to move back to what is, I think, the more serious issue, this is a temporary timetable. I wish that it did not have to be put in place, but it has been put in place in consultation with Transport Focus to give greater certainty, rather than having unplanned cancellations, for the—I hope—short period of time for which the revised services have to be in place.
I have already set out in my answers the work that needs to be done and the developments that we need to see, both on pay and on training more drivers, to ensure that, as quickly as possible, these services get back to normal. That is my focus and it is the focus of the transport minister, the Government and ScotRail.
The First Minister wants to talk about what was happening when I was at school, and not what has happened in the 15 years for which she has been in government in Scotland. The reality is that there is no industrial action, and what she is talking about is relying on the good will of staff to work on their rest days to keep Scotland’s railways going.
Let us look at the facts and the reality that is facing Scotland’s passengers. At the start of 2020, there were 2,400 services a day. In the timetable that was announced in February, which was approved by the Scottish Government, that number had reduced to 2,150, which was a cut of 250. Now, in the new timetable that was announced yesterday by the Scottish Government, which owns ScotRail, that number has reduced to 1,456 services a day. That represents a cut of almost 1,000 services compared with the start of 2020. At the same time, the Scottish Government announced an increase in rail fares in the midst of a cost of living crisis, when fuel prices are spiralling.
In 2018, Nicola Sturgeon described cancellations of up to 144 services a day as “unacceptable” and cancellations of 40 services a day as “not good enough”. She said:
“We expect—indeed, we demand—better from the rail operator”.—[Official Report, 20 December 2018; c 12.]
For once, Nicola Sturgeon has nobody else to blame. Why are 40 cuts a day “not good enough” when somebody else is in charge but cutting 1,000 services a day is, in the words of the rail minister, a “stable and reliable service”?
Of course, Anas Sarwar is, possibly deliberately, mixing up different things. I will come on to that in a second. [Interruption.] It is important.
First, as I believe that the record will show, I have not said that there is industrial action. There have not been ballots for industrial action and I hope that there is not industrial action, but there is a pay dispute. ASLEF has said that it is in dispute with ScotRail, and some drivers are therefore not accepting overtime or Sunday and rest-day working. That is a matter of fact.
Anas Sarwar is right to say—and I have already said this several times today—that we do not want ScotRail to be in a position of having to rely on rest-day working. ScotRail came to an agreement with the rail unions in October last year to extend those arrangements until October this year, but there is a training programme under way to train new drivers in order to reduce the reliance on rest-day working. It was interrupted because of Covid, but it is back under way, and there will be significant numbers of drivers coming through that training programme.
I know that the changes to services in February are controversial and that members in the chamber have spoken out against them, but they were to take account of changes to travel patterns that have come about due to Covid and people’s different ways of working.
The services that we are talking about now are a temporary change. There is a temporary timetable until ScotRail gets over this short-term challenge, and I have set out today the steps that it needs to take around both pay and negotiating a fair pay settlement with the unions, and also continuing the work to train more drivers. What has been announced is a temporary timetable, and I expect it to be temporary so that those services are back to normal as quickly as possible.
Scotland celebrated the railways coming into public ownership, which is something that Labour championed and continues to support. However, already, due to Scottish National Party incompetence—[Interruption.] I remind SNP members that they repeatedly voted against nationalisation of our railways.
Already, due to SNP incompetence, 1,000 services a day are being cut, there are proposals to shut booking offices, rail fares are up, there is a refusal to rule out compulsory redundancies and industrial relations are at an all-time low. Yet again, the SNP chased the headline but will not do the work. Maybe it should employ fewer spin doctors and more train drivers.
On the same weekend that Nicola Sturgeon jetted over to the US to talk about climate change, the SNP-Green Government cut rail services—the greenest form of transport—here at home. While she, rightly, demands action on the cost of living across the UK, she ignores the impact of decisions that she makes right here in Scotland. The cost of commuting is going up. People are struggling to get to work and are unable to get home at night. Whole communities are cut off from our cities. Why do the people of Scotland continually have to pay the price of SNP failure?
Chasing headlines—could that be like, I don’t know, saying before council elections that there will be no coalitions and then doing backroom deals with the Tories after the council elections? Could that be what Anas Sarwar is talking about? [Interruption.]
First Minister, there must be no loud conversations across aisles.
How dare Anas Sarwar come to the chamber and talk about the cost of living crisis when his party is seeking to do backroom deals with the authors of that cost of living crisis? It is one thing for Labour to say that it has championed the renationalisation of ScotRail and supported the renationalisation of ScotRail. Unfortunately, it did not do anything about it when it had the opportunity in government.
This Government has renationalised ScotRail. Yes, there are challenges in that, and we are doing the work to address those challenges, including in the short term, in the way that I have set out. People who use the railway across our country have a right to expect that. We will continue to work with ScotRail to overcome those immediate challenges and build a better railway for the future. That is what being in government is all about; on previous performance, Anas Sarwar is still some considerable way from that.
We will now move to general and constituency supplementary questions.
Northern Ireland Protocol
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom Government announced its intention to make unilateral changes to the Northern Ireland protocol, putting the UK in breach of international treaty obligations and threatening a full-scale trade war with the European Union, while people are suffering a cost of living crisis. Given that many businesses have warned of the damage that that could do to Scottish exporters, does the First Minister agree that it shows that there is no group of people or sector of the economy that the Tory Government is not willing to sacrifice on the altar of Brexit?
Yes, I agree. The announcement this week from the UK Government that it is intending to legislate to enable unilateral action to override parts of the Northern Ireland protocol is deeply concerning. To breach an international treaty that was signed in good faith and hailed by the Prime Minister at the time as a “fantastic” deal is bad enough, but it could trigger a trade war with the European Union, which would have profound implications for Scotland’s economy, as well as the economies of other parts of the UK.
To contemplate that action at any time would be bad, but to do so when people across the UK are facing an acute cost of living crisis is unthinkable and indefensible. I would urge the UK Government to pull back and focus instead on dialogue with EU partners and on finding durable, agreed solutions that will not heap even more misery on to individuals and businesses across the country.
Aberdeenshire Council (WhatsApp Messages)
In yesterday’s Press and Journal, it was reported that teachers at Aberdeenshire Council had sent degrading WhatsApp messages about pupils with additional support needs. The parents of the pupils involved have asked for greater transparency on what was shared, but so far they have had nothing. Will the First Minister join me in condemning that behaviour? Will she do everything that she can to ensure that the parents of the children involved have full access to the messages and that the council does not simply brush the matter under the carpet?
First, let me take the opportunity to say that anyone who sends degrading messages about children with disabilities deserves utter condemnation. That is completely unacceptable and I completely understand the concerns of the parents and young people concerned. Obviously, first and foremost, this is a matter for the council, as the employer, and it is important that I do not say anything that might undermine any process that is under way. However, I understand the desire of parents for full transparency, and I hope that the council will take full note of that.
Given the worry that we will not see even a 90 per cent completion rate for this year’s delayed census, does the First Minister agree that, in addition to encouraging people to fill out the form if they have not already done so, we need an inquiry into what went wrong, given the millions wasted, the issues of the safety of front-line staff and the pressure that was put on them and the importance of the census to the allocation of resources and the tackling of inequalities?
The reasons why there have been challenges in terms of the completion rate are well understood—the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture has set them out to the chamber—but work continues. Angus Robertson and I get daily updates on the numbers of people who are returning their census forms, and those numbers are going up. There will be no let-up in those efforts over the remainder of this month. After that date has passed, we will need to consider a number of things, a couple of which I will mention today.
First, as is the case with all censuses, work will be done to ensure that the exercise has been a credible one and that the information that was gathered is reliable. It will be appropriate to take expert advice on that.
Secondly, as we would with any exercise of this nature, work will be done to ensure that all appropriate lessons are learned, and we will do that in the best possible way.
Big Plastic Count
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is supporting households, communities and businesses to take part in the Big Plastic Count. (S6F-01111)
It is good that people across the country are helping to draw awareness to plastic waste as part of the Big Plastic Count. It is important to lead by example and make our actions count in tackling plastic waste. That is why we have laid before Parliament regulations that ban some of the most problematic single-use plastic products; it is why we are bringing in the deposit scheme from August next year; and it is why we are introducing extended producer responsibility for packaging. Those measures will help transition Scotland to a circular economy and will significantly reduce the impact of single-use plastic on the environment.
The Big Plastic Count is an opportunity to better understand the scale of plastic pollution in Scotland. We know that just 2 per cent of plastic waste that is collected for recycling in Scotland is recycled here. That is why I have long called for a new plastic recycling centre, ideally located in Dundee.
Last November, the First Minister agreed to consider supporting that suggestion. Will she provide an update on what progress has been made on that, and on what locations are being considered?
I will ask the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity to send a detailed update on that specific point, but I agree with the member on the importance of the issue and taking action to reduce plastic waste. For example, with regard to recycling rates, waste and resources sector emissions in 2009 were more than 30 per cent lower than they were in 2011, and 73 per cent lower than they were in 1998. However, there is much more work to do, which is why all the actions that I set out in my original answer are important.
I believe that there is a considerable amount of consensus across the chamber on the need to take action and on the specific measures that we are taking. We will continue to ensure that our efforts are commensurate with the scale of the challenge.
National Health Service Workforce (Health and Wellbeing)
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to support the health and wellbeing of the national health service workforce. (S6F-01100)
Our new national workforce strategy highlights the key priority of the wellbeing of the health and social care workforce, wherever they work. In the previous financial year, we made £12 million available to support the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce. To complement help that is available at local level, we also have a range of resources, including the National Wellbeing Hub, a 24/7 national wellbeing helpline, confidential mental health treatment through the workforce specialist service and funding for additional local psychological support.
I remind the chamber that I am a registered nurse.
Members of our NHS workforce in Scotland have been at the forefront of the response to the pandemic and have shown their personal dedication, resilience and ability to adapt to meet the demands of changing healthcare. The support that the First Minister outlined is welcome, but will she commit the Government to continue to work with our NHS teams to ensure that support is person centred and responds to the needs of the workforce, and that funding will remain in place to promote positive health and wellbeing?
Yes, I will give those commitments. Every person who works in health and social care has been part of an incredible response during the pandemic in helping to protect the country and save lives throughout the most significant challenge that our health and social care services have ever faced. However, that has taken its toll on those who work in health and social care.
We will continue to work with leaders across health and social care and hear directly from staff to understand exactly where the current pressures are and what further actions can be taken to mitigate the impact on staff. We will overcome the challenges ahead only if we look after our most valuable asset: the people who provide care for us. Ultimately, we are seeking to embed wellbeing so that it becomes part of everyone’s working life.
Tragically, two overworked Glasgow medics who worked in our NHS took their own lives last year. This week, the chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish junior doctors committee warned that overstretched medics will be killed due to the extreme pressures and workloads that NHS staff are having to cope with.
I have two questions for the First Minister. First, does she recognise that current ways of working are risking lives? Secondly, when can we expect the Scottish Government to finally implement the safe staffing legislation—the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019—that was passed unanimously by the Parliament three years ago?
I convey my deepest condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Obviously, I will not go into individual circumstances, but my thoughts are with any family in that circumstance.
It is really important that we continue to work to ensure that the mental health toll of the pandemic, and of working in health and social care generally, is properly understood and that services are put in place for those who work in those services, whatever specific job they do. The wellbeing of junior doctors is a key priority. No member of staff should feel obliged to work over their hours, and I expect NHS boards to have systems in place to manage that and ensure that staff do not work excess hours. That includes abolishing junior doctors working for seven night shifts in a row and ensuring that no junior doctor works more than seven consecutive shifts.
On the safe staffing legislation, it is important that we have legislated in that way, and we are now working with NHS boards to ensure that the legislation is fully implemented in a safe and sustainable way.
The last point that I will make, which is not intended to take away from the challenges that healthcare staff face every single day, is that there are record numbers of people working in our NHS, and it is important that we continue to support them in the vital job that they do.
Unison has contacted me to say that the workplace pressures in NHS Borders have led staff to report to their union issues including staffing levels that are dangerous for patients and staff; staff not receiving proper rest breaks; staff not being given opportunities to report serious incidents on Datix, which is the NHS electronic incident reporting system; and serious breaches of health and safety regulations. Those issues undoubtedly impact on the mental health and wellbeing of the NHS workforce. Will the First Minister intervene to support those people? Will that support include the full implementation of the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019 and working closely with trade unions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff?
We work every day with all NHS boards to support staff. That includes NHS Borders, and that work has involved monitoring workforce capacity and providing intervention where appropriate. Unplanned absence has reduced in recent weeks, and we are seeing some improvement in workforce capacity in NHS Borders. Nevertheless, significant demand-led pressure remains across the NHS as services remobilise and recover from the pandemic.
The Government will continue to do everything possible to work with NHS boards to support recovery, staffing capacity and staff wellbeing. The recently published national health and social care workforce strategy sets out exactly how we will support recovery, growth and transformation across the NHS.
People with Advanced Dementia (Residential Social Care Costs)
To ask the First Minister what her response is to recent reports estimating that around 10,000 people with advanced dementia are paying over £50 million a year to cover their residential social care costs. (S6F-01125)
The Scottish Government recognises the important role of residential care in meeting the complex care needs of those at more advanced stages of dementia.
Over the past two years, we have increased the free personal and nursing care weekly payment rates by more than 18 per cent. Free personal and nursing care is available to adults of any age, no matter their condition, capital or income, who are assessed by their local authority as needing it.
For those self-funding in a care home, payments will normally be made directly by the local authority to the care home operator as a contribution towards care home fees.
I thank the First Minister for her response but it does not cover the specific issue that I am raising with her.
The First Minister will be aware of a report three years ago about care for people with advanced dementia from a working group led by former First Minister, Henry McLeish. However, little action has been taken on one of the key recommendations. We know that people with advanced dementia are having their healthcare needs classified as social care and are wrongly being asked to pay more than £50 million. If those needs were designated as healthcare needs, those people would be treated free at the point of need.
Will the First Minister act now to ensure that that unfair and unjustifiable approach is changed, so that people with advanced dementia are treated with equity and fairness, and are classed as having healthcare needs?
I will of course look into those matters and specifically at the suggestion that people’s care needs are being wrongly designated. I recognise that that is an important point.
Henry McLeish was the First Minister who, if memory serves me correctly, introduced free personal care. Back then—Jackie Baillie will remember this—that debate recognised that it was reasonable for people to pay part of their accommodation costs, because not to do so would lead to an inequity between those in care homes and those receiving care at home, who still must pay for their own accommodation. That is what lies behind the development of the free personal and nursing care policy, but it is important that people’s care needs are properly assessed and categorised.
On the suggestion that that is not happening and people are therefore paying money that, under the current policy, they should not be paying, I will ensure that the matter is looked into and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care will respond in more detail once we have had the opportunity to do so.
Oil and Gas Fields
To ask the First Minister what further talks the Scottish Government has had with the United Kingdom Government about future oil and gas fields off the coast of Scotland. (S6F-01115)
The recent scientific reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made it very clear that the global climate emergency has not gone away and that the window to act to limit warming to 1.5°C is rapidly closing.
The Scottish Government has made clear to the UK Government our position that to support our just transition to net zero, new offshore oil and gas licenses should be subject to a stringent climate compatibility checkpoint. That should extend beyond new licensing rounds to cover fields that are already consented to but not yet in production. Indeed, the need for that is supported by the UK Government’s own independent advisers on the UK Climate Change Committee.
We responded formally to the UK Government consultation earlier this year, but we have not yet seen any further detail on the proposed checkpoint. The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport restated our position to UK ministers on publication of the UK Government’s energy security strategy on 18 March.
I thank the First Minister for that crystal-clear response. Six months on from the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—hundreds of new fossil fuel projects have been proposed globally that, if realised, will cause our mutually assured destruction from climate change.
The European Union knows that, which is why it is backing renewables through a new multibillion pound investment. In contrast, the UK Government minister Kwasi Kwarteng is fuelling the rush to climate breakdown by relabelling dirty gas as green, in an attempt to fast track developments such as Jackdaw.
Does the First Minister agree that the best way to slash energy bills is to replace gas with renewables and that the best way to isolate Putin is to insulate homes?
Yes, I agree with both the sentiment and the substance of that question. Notwithstanding the short-term challenges and inevitable volatilities that have been caused by Russia’s despicable invasion of Ukraine, it is important for all our decisions to be consistent with the journey to net zero, which is so necessary to safeguard the future of the planet. We must continue—and not allow to go into reverse—the progress that was made at COP26. I was discussing that very issue with the United States climate envoy, John Kerry, earlier this week, and I think that there is a recognition there, as there is here, that that momentum must continue.
The way to ensure energy security and lower energy prices, as well as safeguard the planet, is to make the shift to renewable and low-carbon sources of energy. We can illustrate that right now in Scotland by the fact that wind power is already the cheapest form of power in our energy mix. We must focus on those investments in renewables, because, for the sake of the future of the planet, the entire world must ensure that the transition happens and that it accelerates, rather than slows down.
Does the First Minister not recognise that domestic oil and gas projects can help to reduce energy prices, secure energy security and secure thousands of jobs through a fair transition, and that they have a lower carbon footprint than imported supplies and thus can help to progress our journey to net zero?
I have spent much of this week making the point that the invasion of Ukraine creates short-term challenges that will lead to short-term decisions, but it must not take away our focus on the long-term imperative. Nobody wants to see the United Kingdom becoming more reliant on imports, which I have said in the chamber as well as other places. However, it remains the case that the way to accelerate the transition to net zero—which, as I say, is important not just for environmental imperatives but to increase energy security and reduce energy costs—is not to simply replace one source of oil and gas with another in the long term. Rather, we need to move away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. The oil and gas companies recognise that too, which is why so many of them are investing in renewable energy.
After COP26, I asked the First Minister in the chamber whether Cambo should go ahead. She rightly said that it should not get the green light. Mark Ruskell is right to say that we need crystal-clear language and provisions. Ahead of tomorrow’s digital day of action, is it the First Minister’s position that Jackdaw should not get the green light?
Mark Ruskell will correct me if I am misquoting him, but he said that my answer was crystal clear. I am very clear, and I have said again today, that any new development—whether that is a new licensing round or a development that has already been consented to and is looking for the go-ahead—has to have a robust climate compatibility checkpoint. In the absence of that, developments should not go ahead. That is very clear.
If Monica Lennon wants me to have greater ability to influence those things, then perhaps she will support those powers being transferred from the United Kingdom Government, where they currently lie, to this Government and this Parliament.
Train Drivers (Industrial Action)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government is doing to prevent future rail service cancellations due to industrial action by drivers. (S6F-01106)
I set out at length earlier that we are supporting ScotRail to negotiate a fair pay settlement with trade unions, and also to train more drivers in order to reduce reliance on rest-day working. The service cancellations that Mr Simpson refers to are temporary and the timetable change is temporary. My focus, the Government’s focus and ScotRail’s focus is on getting the service back to normal as quickly as possible.
When nat rail launched on April fool’s day, I speculated—
I speculated that things might not go perfectly, but—[Interruption.]
Members, members. We will hear Graham Simpson.
They do not want to hear the truth, Presiding Officer.
What I did not realise was that wrecking the country’s train service would become established Government policy.
Nicola Sturgeon said that she wants to get everyone around the table. That should include her own transport minister, Jenny Gilruth, who has been posted missing in all this. That is why the unions are so exasperated—[Interruption.]
The First Minister should speak to the unions, as I have been doing, and she would hear the same thing—[Interruption.]
Members, members. We will hear Mr Simpson.
I know that this is uncomfortable for members, but we are running a railway that is completely reliant on people working on their days off. That is completely crazy.
The First Minister says that she wants the current timetable to be temporary, but I put this to her. It takes 18 months to train a driver, and we have 130 drivers to get through the system. Will she admit that it could take until at least 2024 before ScotRail is off the emergency timetable?
No, I do not accept that. First, however, I welcome the Tory recognition of the importance of trade unions. That is not something that we often hear.
Jenny Gilruth has met, and talks regularly to, trade unions. She will continue to do so, and we will continue to support, in all possible ways, a resolution of the issues to allow the timetable to get back to normal.
On the issue of drivers, ScotRail hopes that an additional 38 drivers will be trained by the end of the summer, with the number rising to 55 by the end of the year and to 100 after that. That work is under way.
Perhaps if Graham Simpson spent less time borrowing slogans that his leader has already used and more time actually engaging with the substance, we might have better exchanges.
I know that the First Minister appreciates the severity of the disruption that is affecting everyone involved, including those in my constituency of Linlithgow, where passengers were just coming back in strength to travel by train.
South of the border, the United Kingdom Government is pursuing a dispute with the rail unions for what can only be described as political and ideological purposes. Does the First Minister share my concern that events elsewhere in the UK are souring industrial relations here in Scotland, and affecting—[Interruption.]
Does the First Minister share my concern that events elsewhere in the UK are souring industrial relations in Scotland and affecting the new beginning of public ownership of Scotland’s railway?
It is not surprising that the Conservatives do not want to hear that, but it is surprising that Labour members do not appear to want to hear it.
The situation in Scotland is the responsibility of ScotRail, which is now a publicly owned company, so it is therefore my responsibility and the responsibility of the Government.
However, the Conservatives should be aware that there is a separate National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—RMT—dispute right now with Network Rail and UK Department for Transport operators. That is a reserved matter, but if it is not resolved, it will have an impact on services in Scotland, so some advice from the Conservatives to their own party as well might not go amiss.
That concludes First Minister’s question time.