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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 19 September 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Social Security, Homelessness, Dignity, Equality and Human Rights, Business Motion, Decision Time, Homophobia in Sport


Topical Question Time

Terrorism (Parsons Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to the terrorist incident at Parsons Green in London. (S5T-00678)

My thoughts are with those who were caught up in Friday’s cowardly terrorist attack in London, particularly those who were injured.

In response to the raised threat level, as a precautionary response Police Scotland increased operations to protect the people of Scotland, businesses and public places. That included increasing the number of armed officers on patrol across the country, who were deployed as part of the measures taken to allow the public to go about their daily lives as normal. Police Scotland reviewed all significant events over the past few days and has reviewed the security footprint as appropriate. Throughout that process, Police Scotland reinforced the key message to our communities that it and its partners have well-rehearsed plans to respond to any major incidents that might have an impact on Scotland. Police Scotland is now gradually scaling back the policing response, in keeping with the threat level.

The First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and I were briefed by officials and Police Scotland throughout to gain assurance that what was being proposed was appropriate and proportionate to the threat that we faced. We must not allow terrorism to triumph. People should not be afraid to go about their daily business as usual. However, I urge the public to remain alert and report any suspicious activity. As a Government, we are committed to ensuring that Scotland’s law enforcement and other bodies have all the tools they need to tackle terrorism, building on the robust measures that are already in place. Indeed, they are well prepared for that, and the focus has been on ensuring that the required operational measures are in place to ensure the continued safety and security of the public and that they are appropriate and proportionate.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his response and associate my party with his remarks. It is right that we praise the reaction of the emergency services, which again responded quickly without fear. It is also right that we thank, and appreciate the reaction of, the staff of London Underground, who in many instances were the first responders for Friday’s attack.

Although I appreciate that a serious investigation is on-going, such attacks raise concerns about risks to community cohesion. What steps can the cabinet secretary take to ensure that the authorities are working with our communities to ensure their safety and that we are all working together to tackle extremism in all its forms?

I welcome the member’s comments, particularly her praise for our emergency services and the way in which they respond when such incidents occur and when there is an increase in the threat level.

The member has made an important point because, although there is an operational response to these matters, what is more important is that we support cohesive and resilient communities to ensure that there is no space for those who wish to peddle the message of extremism or hatred. A range of work is done by a number of agencies, from Police Scotland through to the community-based organisations that we support, to maintain and support community resilience and cohesion. However, particularly during periods of increased threat levels and increasing levels of concern, proactive measures are taken by Police Scotland with organisations at a community level to ensure that any concerns or issues that have been highlighted in the communities are addressed as quickly and effectively as possible. That is a piece of work that is taken forward by the police and other agencies on an on-going basis.

Angela Constance and her colleagues take forward a range of work in support of organisations that tackle extremism and the ways in which the message of hatred can often be peddled. However, key to achieving that is not giving that message any space in our communities in Scotland, which is why the work that we do to create cohesive and resilient communities is key to tackling the type of extremist behaviour that we have seen.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the comment made this week by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that Britain could continue to pay in order to remain a part of Europol, as part of the new security treaty with the European Union. Europol has a vital part to play in our ability to combat terrorism in Scotland and beyond. What discussions have the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government had with the United Kingdom Government about our continued membership of Europol and ensuring that there is continued international co-operation on security matters in the future?

The member has referred to the paper that the UK Government published on security and criminal and other aspects of law. I am disappointed to tell the chamber that, prior to the publication of that report, despite the fact that it refers to a range of devolved responsibilities, there was no consultation with the Scottish Government on the matter. That is simply unacceptable and demonstrates a serious disregard for the responsibilities of this Parliament in those key areas.

I have raised previously in the chamber the importance of and the value that we get from being a member of Europol; the sharing of information with other European countries, which we benefit from here in Scotland; and the benefit that other countries across Europe gain from the information that we submit to Europol. There is no doubt that we in Scotland benefit disproportionately from the measures that Europol provides, largely because we make greater use of the Europol network.

I assure the member that, as a Government, we are determined to do everything that we can to continue to have access to these important security measures in support of our law enforcement agencies here in Scotland. I wish that the UK Government would show more respect for the responsibilities of this Parliament. Before it publishes any paper of this nature that clearly relates to areas of devolved responsibility, there should be a full engagement and consultation process with the Scottish Government to allow the paper to be informed by its views.

The police and emergency services put their own safety and lives on the line daily to keep the people of Scotland safe. In the light of the recent terrible events and in general, what specific steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that officers and staff have maximum protection themselves while they are protecting us?

The member may be aware that I made a statement to Parliament last year setting out the decision to increase the firearms capability that we have in Police Scotland. That was a key part of the action that was taken to increase the protective security measures that are available to Police Scotland in response to any particular increase in the threat level here in Scotland. That work has almost been completed. The level of firearms capability that we now have in Scotland has almost reached the point that Police Scotland set itself this time last year.

We will continue to work with Police Scotland to ensure that it has the necessary preparations in place to deal with any incident that should ever occur in Scotland and, where it can, to assist and support other law enforcement agencies in the rest of the UK. I believe that that is a clear demonstration of this Government’s commitment to ensuring that Police Scotland has the necessary protective measures in place.

Care Sector

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to concerns raised by Age Scotland that the country faces a crisis in the care sector, with some service users being left without food, water and essential medicines. (S5T-00669)

We welcome Age Scotland’s contribution as a strong advocate for older people and their services, and we recognise that Age Scotland and other organisations have highlighted the need to focus on dealing with recruitment and retention issues in some areas.

We have integrated health and social care services, in the most radical reform of the national health service in Scotland since 1948. Integration brings together NHS and social care services so that people can get the right care and support at any point in their care journey. Integration is also about ensuring that staff across health and social care are equipped to work together to make full use of their shared skills and resources. This year, an extra £107 million will transfer from the NHS to health and social care partnerships to ensure that more people are cared for safely in their own homes, to avoid preventable admissions to hospital and to deliver the real living wage to all adult care workers.

Parts 2 and 3 of our health and social care workforce plan, which are to be published later this year, will examine how to improve integrated workforce planning in social care and primary care settings.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, but does she accept that the additional funding that she mentioned is actually ring fenced for specific purposes? For example, the £107 million is for additional burdens that are faced by partnerships in relation to the living wage, support for carers and adjustments to care charges. It is not there for the growing demand.

Will the cabinet secretary also acknowledge that the £1.5 billion-worth of cuts since 2011 to local government, which is one of the two sources of funding for partnerships, has forced many councils to cut their contributions to those partnerships—cuts that were sanctioned this year by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution when he wrote to councils on 15 December stating that he could cut their allocations by £80 million?

How many more older people will have to go without food, water and essential medicines before the Government accepts that the current level of social care funding is just not adequate?

The £107 million funding required partnerships to deliver a number of things, and I hope that Colin Smyth agrees that one of the important things that it was to deliver was the real living wage. We know that pay and conditions are part of the recruitment and retention challenge of the social care workforce, so I hope that Colin Smyth accepts that that money is an important contribution towards helping to tackle recruitment and retention challenges in the social care sector. That money, of course, follows on from the £250 million that was put into social care as part of the investment in health and social care services, and that important resource has helped to address some of the capacity issues that Colin Smyth has cited.

On the wider position on local government finances, the increase in spending power to support council services now amounts to over £400 million, or 3.9 per cent.

The other important issue that relates to social care services is that recent statistics have shown that overall expenditure on adult social care services per head of population has increased by 13 per cent in real terms after taking account of inflation.

There are challenges—I would be the first to admit that—but we all have to accept that it is not just about resources, although resources are important and more resources are going in to support social care; it is also about reform, doing things differently and ensuring that services are integrated across health and social care and that people are supported in their homes by new services and new service developments, which the partnerships are, of course, delivering.

I note that the cabinet secretary did not deny that the £107 million was ring fenced for specific purposes.

As well as facing a funding gap, health and social care partnerships face a recruitment and retention crisis. In the survey in its recent report entitled “Bringing Home Care—A Vision for Reforming Home Care in Scotland”, Scottish Care revealed that more than 90 per cent of survey participant organisations had staff vacancies. On measures such as the living wage, which I have campaigned for all my political life, does the cabinet secretary accept that the Government needs to invest properly in training and other improvements in working conditions to make social care a more positive career choice to tackle the chronic shortages that we face?

On the £107 million, we do not ring fence resources with local government, but we expect that, when resources have gone in, there will be outcomes from that investment. One of the outcomes that we agreed with local government was the delivery of the real living wage. As I said in my previous answer, that is an important aspect of stabilising recruitment and retention in the social care workforce. However, it is not the only aspect; Colin Smyth is right to point to other elements, such as career opportunities and other terms and conditions.

One aspect of the new world of integration is that career opportunities are enhanced and improved. It is important to ensure that there are career pathways into the regulated professions in the NHS, for example. I would like people who go into the social care workforce to have the opportunity, if they so wish, to train to go into one of the regulated professions and for there to be a clear pathway for them to do so.

As I said previously, overall expenditure on adult social care services has increased by 13 per cent in real terms. Therefore, more resources are going in, but we have to ensure that we make social care an attractive career opportunity not just for young people but for people across the workforce. That is partly about pay, but it is also about those other things.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that Edinburgh’s health and social care partnership is struggling with capacity in the care sector in the capital and that the chief officer has stated bluntly that the health and social care system is “underfunded” for the level of need that is currently being expressed? Does the cabinet secretary agree with that assessment? If so, what action will she take to support the care sector in Lothian, where there are more patients waiting to be discharged from hospital than there are in any other part of Scotland?

The issues relating to Edinburgh are long standing, as I am sure that Miles Briggs is aware. There are a number of factors, of which one is the local market conditions. Even with a much-enhanced rate above the real living wage, home care and care home providers still find it difficult to recruit, because there are other opportunities that pay people the same or potentially more. That is a challenge. We have explored with the Edinburgh partnership other things that it can do to enhance its opportunities for recruitment of the social care workforce, such as accommodation and other supports beyond pay. The Aberdeen partnership has also looked at those supports where it faces not dissimilar market conditions.

There is no easy answer, but in the delayed discharge challenge, the partnerships for Edinburgh, the Ayrshires and Lanarkshire account for 40 per cent of all delays. It is important that we support those local partnerships to address their particular challenges. I assure Miles Briggs that my officials spend a lot of time with the Edinburgh partnership. It needs to get in a new leadership team—that is important, as we cannot have a vacuum—and it needs to get on with doing the things that we believe will work. It needs a plan, and it needs the leadership to deliver that plan. We will support it as much as we can to get on with the job.