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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 19 September 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Primary 1 Tests, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, BBC Alba


Portfolio Question Time

Levenmouth Rail Link

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Transport Scotland regarding the Levenmouth rail project. (S5O-02359)

Transport Scotland officials have met Fife Council officers and the appointed consultants, Peter Brett Associates LLP, regularly during the Levenmouth sustainable transport study. The Levenmouth rail link is one of the options that are being considered as part of that study. The most recent meeting took place on 12 September.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response and I welcome him to his new role. He will, I hope, be aware of the very active Levenmouth rail campaign. Levenmouth is the largest conurbation in Scotland that does not have a rail line, and is an area with below-average car ownership. The reintroduction of a rail service would offer passenger and freight opportunities, and would bring huge economic, educational, social and cultural opportunities to the area, which is in need of investment.

The campaign for the rail link’s reintroduction has the support of Fife Council, as the cabinet secretary recognises, and of politicians from across all parties, who are convinced that it should be a priority investment for the Government. Will the—

I hope that this is the question.

This is the question, Presiding Officer.

Will the cabinet secretary agree to meet me and other interested members of the Scottish Parliament at the earliest opportunity to discuss the future of the project, and to understand the cross-party consensus that exists behind the plans?

I call Claire Baker. [Interruption.] I am so sorry. I call the cabinet secretary.

Presiding Officer, I will be more than happy if Claire Baker wants to answer the questions this afternoon. [Interruption.] Was that a yes? [Laughter.]

I am aware of the very active campaign by the Levenmouth group, which is keen to see the line being reopened. Claire Baker will be aware of the considerable amount of work that Transport Scotland and Fife Council have already done, working with the campaign group, in looking at the issue. I recognise its importance to communities in Levenmouth and the benefits that can, potentially, come from reopening the line.

I say to Claire Baker that it is important that we make sure that all the stakeholders who have a part to play in looking at the issue are working collectively together—that is, Transport Scotland, Fife Council and the other parties that have an interest. I have been encouraged by the way in which that has been taken forward to date. I am also conscious from the work that Fife Council is doing with Transport Scotland that those bodies are keen to see how further progress can be made on the matter.

On the question about whether I would be willing to meet her and other MSPs, I am, of course, more than happy to look at doing that at some point. It is important that the existing work that is being carried out is concluded so that we can look at it on the basis of where we go next and what the next steps would be. However, I have been encouraged by the way in which the work has been taken forward to date, and I am more than happy to discuss that further with colleagues in Parliament, and to discuss how we can make further progress in the matter.

I have another invitation for the cabinet secretary. I invite him to meet me in Leven so that he can see for himself the benefits of reinstating the rail link to the town.

It has been a while since I have been in Leven, so I will have to take up that offer from Jenny Gilruth. I recognise the interest that she, too, has in the matter. I encourage all MSPs who have a collective interest in it to work in a co-operative fashion. I will certainly do what I can to make sure that we continue to make progress with the proposal.

Of course, it is important that the proposal goes through the proper due process for making decisions on such matters. Any decision on investment in reopening a line or on investment in a new line has to be based on evidence that justifies that as the most appropriate way in which to help to improve transport connectivity in the area. That is the case for railways, roads and other transport investment.

I am more than happy to meet Jenny Gilruth in her constituency and to discuss the matter in more detail with other MSPs at a later date.

Broadband Connectivity (Stirling)

To ask the Scottish Government what percentage of households in the Stirling constituency have faster broadband connectivity. (S5O-02360)

Based on figures that have been provided by the independent broadband analysts, thinkbroadband, 95.1 per cent of all premises in the Stirling constituency are now able to access fibre broadband, and 89.1 per cent can access superfast speeds of 30 megabits per second and above.

When deployment through the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme began in January 2014, just 59.8 per cent of premises were able to access fibre, and only 57.7 per cent at speeds of 30Mbps and above. The latest assured figures show that more than 16,200 premises in the Stirling constituency now have access to fibre broadband as a direct result of the programme, with over 14,000 of those at speeds of 24Mbps and above.

Is the minister aware that a significant number of my constituents in the Stirling constituency still do not have access to fast broadband? Although I am delighted that the Scottish Government will soon be letting the contract for the R100 programme to ensure reaching 100 per cent coverage of faster broadband by the end of 2012, I ask the minister whether he is aware that the communities of Crianlarich and Tyndrum were potentially within the scope of the current contract, for which BT is responsible, and whether he can update me on the prospects for those communities to be connected to faster broadband in the near future.

As Bruce Crawford is aware, the Scottish Government has responded to the failure of the “United Kingdom market” approach that has been taken by UK ministers, and it has stepped in with the intervention that he mentioned—the R100 programme—and the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme.

We intervened because of concern about the impact on economic development in communities such as Crianlarich, which Mr Crawford mentioned. I understand that officials in the DSSB team recently provided an update to Strathfillan community council on broadband in Crianlarich, which stated that planners continue to work on finding a solution that will allow Strathfillan to be covered under the DSSB programme. I am, of course, happy to correspond with Mr Crawford with further detail on that.

I remind members to ask crisp supplementaries and the front bench to provide crisp answers in reply.

South Scotland Trunk Road Network

To ask the Scottish Government what action it plans to improve the trunk road network in the South Scotland region. (S5O-02361)

The contract for construction of the £30 million Maybole bypass is expected to be awarded by the end of this year. When it is complete, that project will improve road safety and journey-time reliability along the A77, including to the port at Cairnryan.

Looking to the future, Transport Scotland recently published the draft Borders transport corridors study report, which contains a number of recommendations for improvements to the trunk road network in the region.

In the west, Transport Scotland is progressing the south-west Scotland transport study, with the stakeholder engagement phase having been launched earlier today. The emerging outcomes from both studies will provide important inputs to the forthcoming strategic transport projects review.

I welcome that news. Can the Scottish Government say how much those contracts are worth, and how many jobs it expects to support through such contracts? Can the cabinet secretary confirm what benefits will be reaped by local firms?

Construction of the 5km Maybole bypass is estimated to be worth in the region of £30 million. That will benefit the local community by providing opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises to bid for subcontractor roles. There are provisions for at least four vocational and seven professional site-based training opportunities, and it is estimated that the project will at its peak employ up to 165 people. That will no doubt bring benefits to the local economy. I have no doubt that there will be local contractors who will be keen to take up some of the subcontractor roles that come about through the contract.

I am pleased that the Maybole project is finally moving forward. On two other long-delayed projects that have seen slow progress, can the cabinet secretary tell me when the A76 will be fully reopened and when the Scottish Government will finally get around to investing in the A75?

It is wrong to suggest that the Scottish Government has not invested in the A75. There has been extensive funding over a considerable period to deal with pinch points and other safety issues, along with maintenance. We will continue to make the necessary investments.

As I said, we are undertaking the south-west Scotland transport study, which will look at the wider issues that need to be addressed. That will include the A75, the A77 and other roads in the area, as well as the transport network as a whole, and it will feed into the strategic approach that we take to transport investment. Unlike what happened during the many years of Conservative rule in this country, we are making real investment in Scottish roads, including the A75.

Given the economic challenges facing the south of Scotland, the national strategic importance of the ferry terminal at Cairnryan and the chronic lack of investment in the A75, A76 and A77, surely the cabinet secretary accepts that the south of Scotland needs a far bigger share of trunk road investment than it has had in the past few years.

As Colin Smyth will be aware, a significant amount of investment goes into the A75 and A77 as part of the maintenance contract and, where appropriate, for upgrades to be carried out. Actually, work has been taking place over recent times, with restrictions in place as carriageway replacement work is carried out.

The member will also be aware that we have commissioned the south-west Scotland transport study, the public consultation element of which started today. That is the first phase of public engagement. There will be further phases in which working groups will be established to engage with local stakeholders on the most effective way to improve connectivity and transport links for the south-west of Scotland. The study will allow us to make decisions on the most appropriate actions to meet the connectivity issues in the south-west of Scotland, and on where investment will be required. That will then sit within the strategic transport projects review.

As Colin Smyth will recognise, it is important that we take the approach of having a wider look to ensure that the investments that we make in areas such as the south-west address the issues and are actually adding value and improving connectivity in those areas, alongside our other proposals for transport and connectivity improvements right across the country.

Transport (Scotland) Bill (Socially Desirable Bus Routes)

4. Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how proposals in the Transport (Scotland) Bill aim to support the improved planning and delivery of socially desirable bus routes. (S5O-02362)

The Transport (Scotland) Bill provides local authorities with a range of tools to influence and improve bus services in their area, ensuring that there are sustainable bus networks across Scotland. That includes options to pursue partnership working, local franchising or running their own buses in certain circumstances.

Some students in my constituency have no easy way of commuting to Cleveden secondary school in Kelvindale, an area that is poorly served by bus. Although I hope to secure a solution to that, under the current system, when Strathclyde partnership for transport tenders a socially desirable bus route, the process is costly, of limited value and often restrictive. Does the cabinet secretary agree that a co-production model for such bus routes, subsidised or otherwise, between communities, the council and bus companies, through which a strategic approach can be taken to socially desirable bus routes, would be far preferable? What can the bill do to address that key issue?

Partnership is at the centre of what we want to achieve with our proposals to improve bus services in Scotland. Part of the work that we are taking forward is around a new model for local transport authorities to work with bus operators to help to revitalise services. We are also committed to promoting positive changes and partnership working to improve bus services, and the best way for that to happen is by getting the right partners together. Bob Doris’s suggestion about taking forward those matters in a way that is based more on co-production, engagement and partnership is essential to ensuring that bus passengers are at the centre of the way in which we design and deliver bus services and that those services reflect the needs of local communities, including communities in his constituency.

I raised with the cabinet secretary’s predecessor concerns about cuts to bus services from Gills Bay and Wick to Inverness. Will the Transport (Scotland) Bill recognise that some of those socially desirable and important bus routes serve communities beyond the places that they are in and that it is absolutely crucial that, in that instance, Orkney is fully involved in any discussions about how that vital bus connection to the ferry services is taken forward?

As the member will be aware, the Government invests £250 million a year in bus services in Scotland through a variety of channels. Part of that support is to provide local authorities with subsidies for particular routes when necessary in certain circumstances. That will continue to be the case into the future. It is, of course, for local authorities to decide on where they wish to take such action.

The additional benefits that will be provided under the Transport (Scotland) Bill will include additional methods by which local authorities and other partners can consider taking action when they believe it to be socially desirable and necessary for a bus service to be made available when no commercial operator is in place.

Along with the investment that we are making, the provisions in the bill for additional options for local communities and local authorities will provide more opportunities for actions to be taken at the local level as and when they are necessary.

East Kilbride to Glasgow Rail Line

5. Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Transport Scotland, Network Rail and ScotRail regarding the East Kilbride to Glasgow rail line. (S5O-02363)

The Scottish Government has prioritised the East Kilbride and Barrhead routes for enhancement as part of the control period 6 project funding. The first part of the improvement is to run longer trains with more seats for passengers along both routes. The work necessary to deliver that is being pursued urgently, and we expect to make a positive announcement soon.

Transport Scotland, Network Rail and ScotRail are working together closely to develop plans that will deliver better resilience, more capacity, reduced emissions and major passenger benefits during the coming years. Detailed work has already commenced to assess the most economic means of delivering those outcomes.

In his meetings with the ScotRail Alliance and Transport Scotland, will the cabinet secretary stress the inadequacy of the single-track line and the importance of upgrading this commuter line to help the Government with its aspirations regarding low emissions and carbon reduction? As a commuter corridor for Glasgow, the East Kilbride line is crucial.

I recognise the concerns that the member has raised and note that she has raised them recently on behalf of her constituents.

Part of the purpose for which we are carrying out the work that is being done at the moment is to look at how we can improve resilience and capacity on the existing network, particularly on the East Kilbride and Barrhead lines, with the objective of providing more seats and greater reliability. As part of CP6, we are looking at the infrastructure arrangements that are in place and where strategic investments can be made to support greater use of our railways and greater resilience and reliability within them, and, alongside that, to provide people with a positive alternative to driving into town centres in places such as East Kilbride and Glasgow.

The points that the member has raised are not lost on me and they are being considered as part of the work that is being done at the moment.

Long-term Infrastructure Spend

6. Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its programme for government means for the long-term level of infrastructure spend in Edinburgh and across Scotland. (S5O-02364)

Our programme for government committed to increasing infrastructure spend by around 1 per cent of gross domestic product. That will mean that annual investment in our hospitals, schools, houses, transport, low-carbon technology and digital connections will be approximately £1.5 billion higher by 2025-26 than it will be in 2019-20.

That national mission will bring a level of investment in our vital economic and social infrastructure that will protect and create jobs in the short term, and support growth and productivity in the long term.

The city of Edinburgh will continue to benefit from investment across a range of its infrastructure, including key projects such as the St James quarter and the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal.

You must be brief, Mr MacDonald.

The commitment to infrastructure spend is to be £1.5 billion a year higher by 2025-26, which means support for schools, faster broadband and improved transport in my constituency, which represents practical benefits for my constituents. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in such times of Tory-induced uncertainty, such ambitious plans help to ensure investments that will benefit future generations?

Briefly, please, cabinet secretary. We have to move on.

I agree with the member’s sentiments. The ambitions that we have set out as part of our national infrastructure mission involve ensuring that we continue to deliver the major infrastructure investment that Scotland needs for the future. Increasing our investment in that area puts Scotland much more in line with other developed countries with regard to the level of investment that is necessary to ensure that we have a modern, fit-for-purpose infrastructure, and the programme that we have set out demonstrates the ambition that this Scottish National Party Government has for Scotland in the years ahead.

I apologise to the four members whom I did not manage to reach. That was notwithstanding my mantra that, if we have shorter supplementary questions and shorter answers, everyone will get in. Perhaps, as they say, that can be taken on board.

Prison Disorder

1. Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to recent figures from the Scottish Prison Service showing record levels of disorder, drug taking and fire raising in prisons. (S5O-02369)

Like all of us, prison officers have the right to work in a workplace that is free from assault. We recognise the importance of providing a safe and secure environment for those in custody and for the men and women who work in our prisons.

Our prisons deal with increasingly complex populations, including an increase in members of serious and organised crime groups and those under the influence of unknown substances, who all present an increased risk of disorder.

A national strategic risk and threat group has been established by the Scottish Prison Service in response to increasing levels of violence against those in its care or prison staff.

I will add some context. Compared with England and Wales, Scotland’s response to disorder in our prisons performs favourably. The latest figures from England and Wales show that the rate of assaults on staff is 223 per cent higher than the rate in Scotland, at 84 per 1,000 prisoners compared with 26 per 1,000 in Scotland. Of course, I suspect that I speak for everyone in the chamber when I say that that is 26 per 1,000 too many.

Official figures show that 37,518 punishments were given to inmates in 2017-18, which represents a rise of more than 9,000 since the Scottish National Party came to power. What measures is the cabinet secretary putting in place to combat the growing disorder in our prisons?

As I said in my previous answer, the SPS has taken immediate action by establishing a national strategic risk and threat group. When I talked to Colin McConnell from the SPS and Phil Fairlie from the Prison Officers Association, both of them spoke about the complex issues that are involved. Of the 448 separate incidents involving violence against staff over the past two years, 40 per cent were perpetrated by individuals who had identified mental health issues. The situation is much more complex than I have time to deal with in this answer.

Alexander Stewart’s question gives me the opportunity to mention the report published today by HM chief inspector of prisons, David Strang. It raises some challenges for our present estate but, in general, it spoke in positive terms. Mr Strang said:

“We should never take for granted the good order that is maintained in Scotland’s prisons and that they are in general stable and secure environments.”

That is in stark contrast to what Peter Clarke, HM chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales, said in relation to his annual report, which was issued in July. He talked about having seen some of

“the most disturbing prison conditions ever seen”,

which have

“no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century”.

He also said:

“In this, my third annual report as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, violence, drugs, suicide and self-harm, squalor and poor access to education are again prominent themes.”

That contrast is there, but we must never be complacent, and we will not be.

I associate myself with the remarks about prison officers, who do fantastic work.

New psychoactive substances are a real and growing problem in our prisons. Given that they are hard to detect, what support is the Scottish Government giving the SPS to help it develop new techniques and technologies to detect psychoactive substances coming into our prisons?

I will ask the SPS to give a detailed written answer with regard to the work that it is doing to combat that issue, which is exactly the type of issue that the newly established national strategic risk and threat group will consider.

As I said, the issue of unknown substances was raised in my discussions with the SPS and the POA as one of the factors that were giving them cause for alarm.

Reconviction Rates

To ask the Scottish Government how current reconviction rates compare with 2006-07. (S5O-02370)

Reconviction rates in Scotland are now at a 19-year low and they have reduced to 27 per cent, compared with 32 per cent in 2006-07. That means that over the past 10 years there has been a shift from around one in three offenders being reconvicted to around one in four. The average number of reconvictions per offender is also at its lowest level for 19 years, and it is 22 per cent lower than it was in 2006-07. The figures that were published earlier this month show that individuals who are released from a custodial sentence of 12 months or less are reconvicted nearly twice as often as those who receive a community payback order.

We continue to work to create a just, safe and resilient Scotland, and those figures reinforce the value of taking an evidence-led, collaborative approach in order to reduce the use of short-term imprisonment, prevent reoffending and promote rehabilitation.

Can the cabinet secretary outline the measures that have been employed that have caused that dramatic and welcome outcome?

There are many. The Government’s focus on rehabilitation and its understanding of community payback orders and community justice have paid dividends. We will continue to invest heavily in community justice. For example, we have allocated around £100 million per annum to local authorities to help them deliver community sentences and reduce reoffending.

I say to parties across the chamber that we should never look at victims’ rights, which we will continue to strengthen at the heart of our justice system, and the rehabilitation of offenders as two conflicting narratives or measures. They are not; they are very much two sides of the same coin.

I hope that everyone will look at the data to see where we have had success in reducing the rates of reconviction and reoffending. I hope that we can find a parliamentary consensus on a way forward that includes, for example, a presumption against short-term sentences of 12 months or less.

Given that the reconviction rate has fallen by less than 5 per cent over 18 years and that it is still a third higher than the rate in Northern Ireland, does the cabinet secretary agree that there is simply no room for complacency?

I agree that there is no room for complacency, and I hope that I am not demonstrating any complacency. I am suggesting that we look at the justice analytics and the empirical evidence that is in front of us. Having spoken to Liam Kerr on a number of occasions about this agenda, I say to him that, whatever we do—whether it is a Government or an Opposition measure—it is very important that we look at the data to see what works. I hope that we can build a parliamentary consensus, because undeniable and irrefutable evidence exists that community payback orders and community sentences help to tackle reoffending much better than short-term prison sentences do. Therefore, I hope that Conservative members will support a presumption against short-term sentences of 12 months or less.

Rape Victims (Support)

3. Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that rape victims are given support throughout the investigation process and after the sentencing of their attacker. (S5O-02371)

Rape and sexual assault are serious crimes and anyone who has been affected should feel able to report such crimes to the police and know that they will be supported through the justice process.

From 2015 to 2018, the Scottish Government provided an additional £1.85 million to support the project, and in 2018 we agreed an additional £1.7 million for the next two years to ensure that local rape crisis centres can continue to provide direct support to women who are engaged with the criminal justice system. In the recent programme for government, we confirmed the award of a further £1.5 million over three years to Rape Crisis Scotland through the equalities budget to speed up access to other support, such as counselling. That funding begins in October, so I hope that it will start to make a difference in the not-too-distant future.

In addition, £1.1 million of additional funding has been provided, in the current year, to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to improve the handling of sexual offences cases and communication with victims.

Through the work of the chief medical officer’s task force, we are improving care pathways for people who require a forensic medical examination. In December 2017, we published national standards, which are underpinned by £2.25 million of Scottish Government funding.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that continuity of police personnel is vital in such cases, and that all victims, particularly women who might be over 16 but who are still in school and very young, should be given the option of being accompanied by another adult throughout police interviews? In some cases in my constituency, that has not always been the case.

I would like to talk to Gillian Martin afterwards about the specific details of that individual case. I have spoken to many partners involved in the criminal justice system and have identified where there are potential gaps in the process, from the moment that such a terrible crime happens right through the investigation, trial and sentencing to post trial and the release of the perpetrator.

For the most vulnerable witnesses and victims, we have made significant progress, but where there are gaps, I am keen that we work collaboratively with all the justice partners involved to ensure that we plug those gaps as much as possible. I would be happy to speak to Gillian Martin about the individual case that she raised to get a bit more information to inform my thinking.

Football Policing (Independent Review)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will commit to an independent review of football policing. (S5O-02372)

There are around 5 million supporters at football matches every year in Scotland. The vast majority of football fans in Scotland are a credit to their teams, with only a tiny number of incidents compared with the total number of supporters attending games.

Operational policing is entirely a matter for Police Scotland. Police Scotland keeps the policing of football matches under constant review, and the tactics and deployments that are used will vary depending on the circumstances and the risks that are associated with each match. Public safety is paramount and the Scottish Government supports Police Scotland in taking appropriate and proportionate action in response to any situation where it is considered that any criminality may arise.

There is a general framework for Police Scotland’s approach to football policing and Police Scotland works closely with clubs to develop policing plans. Those arrangements are working well and therefore, in my view, there is no need for an independent review.

As a football supporter, the cabinet secretary will be aware that, so far this season, we have had police filming fans at a low-level friendly, serious questions being asked about crowd management at a Celtic v Rangers game, and reports in the Sunday Herald of police officers approaching fans asking them to act as paid informants. There is widespread concern among football fans about those incidents. Does the cabinet secretary accept that football supporters have the right to be respected and the right to support their team and that an independent review of football policing would progress that respect among both parties?

I will take each of the points in turn but, before I do that, I will say that I absolutely agree that football fans—any sports fans—going about their business should be allowed to do so and to enjoy that leisure activity. It is my belief that they very much are able to do so without police involvement. The vast majority of football fans who attend a football match on a Saturday or Sunday or indeed a European game through the week will never have an interaction with the police or, if they do, it will be minimal. The vast majority of football fans get to watch their team play without an interaction with the police.

I disagree with James Kelly’s premise that there is widespread concern. I do not know the last time that James Kelly went to a football match but, when I last went, nobody approached me to say that they had major concerns relating to football, so I do not think that concern is widespread at all.

James Kelly described the filming of fans at “a low-level friendly”. Is it his suggestion that there will not be sectarian chanting just because a game happens to be a low-level friendly? Police Scotland gave evidence to the Justice Committee to say that filming of football fans helped to gather evidence when there was sectarian singing; that is the reason for doing that. Again, that is an operational matter for Police Scotland.

On the issues that arose at the Celtic v Rangers match, I believe that Celtic is planning an independent review and has a consultant on board for that review. Police Scotland has also said that it will review its measures in relation to the incident that took place. I also have concerns about that incident.

On James Kelly’s last point about informants and the Sunday Herald article that he mentioned, I will just quote one of the fans, who was not going by his own name. The article states that one of the fans said that the police came to his door—

I am sorry, cabinet secretary; I know how important this is, but I have let you have a long go at it. Forgive me—you can sit down for a minute—I appreciate that many on the front bench are new to their positions, but they are giving very long answers and I am not getting through many questions and supplementaries. Could you be very brief now, please?

I will. That was the third point that was raised—I was asked, in effect, three or four questions, and I am going through each of them.

The quote from the football fan was that the police

“were there wanting to know if there was going to be any organised fights, or if there was going to be groups of people travelling to certain places ... If I knew that information, could I share it?”

That is hardly heavy-handed policing tactics. Using human informants is regulated by the independent Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office. If James Kelly has any concerns, he can, of course, raise them directly with IPCO.

Antisocial Behaviour

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to the reported increase in incidents of antisocial behaviour. (S5O-02373)

The evidence points towards a long-term and sustained reduction in antisocial behaviour. The Scottish crime and justice survey showed that, in 2008-09, 46 per cent of adults felt that people behaved in an antisocial manner in their area, but by 2016-17, that percentage had fallen to 29 per cent. More adults than ever before feel safe to walk alone after dark in their local area, which I am sure Jamie Halcro Johnston will welcome. It is very important that people feel safe in their communities and, for that reason, we are taking a number of actions that have contributed to the downward trend and which will continue it. Those include refreshing our guidance to police and local authorities; supporting the extension of our whole-systems approach to tackling youth offending; and ensuring that initiatives such as cashback are focused on the communities that are hit by crime and antisocial behaviour.

I welcome it where antisocial behaviour has reduced but, according to Police Scotland management information figures, antisocial behaviour has increased significantly in parts of my region—in Moray, by 25 per cent in a single year. With pressure on local authority budgets across Scotland, we have seen the number of community wardens cut in many council areas. Will the minister confirm whether she monitors centrally the deployment of community wardens and whether the police are actively responding to the changes in areas where warden numbers have fallen?

I will ask my officials to look into the issue of community wardens. The 2017-18 report suggests a slight increase overall in antisocial behaviour. However, the report for the first quarter of 2018-19, which was published in August, suggests that reports fell from 95,052 in April to June 2017 to 90,986 in April to June 2018. If we look at the figures overall, they indicate a long-term and sustained reduction in reports.

Women Remand Prisoners

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the number of women who are being placed on remand. (S5O-02374)

First, I thank Rona Mackay and all those who contributed to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the use of remand in Scotland; its report was published shortly before summer recess and I responded to it on 23 August. As the committee report acknowledged, issues impacting on the remand population go beyond justice and can result in disruption to individuals and families that is comparable to a short custodial sentence. Decisions in each case are, rightly, a matter for the court to make within the overall legal framework that is provided by the Parliament, and remand is necessary in some cases.

We work very closely with partners and across portfolios to help ensure that the needs of the remand population are recognised and that remand is used only where necessary and appropriate. That includes action that is specific to women on remand, such as providing additional funding of £1.5 million per annum for bail support services specifically for women and support for the shine mentoring service for women on remand. As confirmed in the programme for government, we will issue revised guidance and provide additional funding for supervised and supported bail. The forthcoming debate on the Justice Committee’s report will provide an opportunity to debate the issues in more detail.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that alternative methods to custody, such as holistic support and community sentences, should be offered to women, given that 75 per cent of women who are remanded do not go on to be sentenced?

Knowing your wish for brevity, Presiding Officer, I say that, yes, I agree with Rona Mackay. The Government has recognised that point for many years. We are taking forward a number of measures as per Elish Angiolini’s commission on women offenders. I will give Rona Mackay a fuller response in writing on the measures that we are taking forward in that regard. I absolutely agree with the premise of her question.


If everyone is going to be brief, I will call Margaret Mitchell to ask question 7.

Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. (S5O-02375)

I met Jim Martin, the chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, on 21 August, as part of a series of introductory meetings with a range of stakeholders. Scottish Government officials have regular engagement with the SLCC to discuss legal services policy.

Will the minister confirm who scrutinises the work of the SLCC and holds it to account for its performance?

The SLCC is an independent commission. We are undertaking a review of the regulation of legal services, during which the work of the commission, and complaints handling in particular, will be looked at. We are considering the regulatory framework across the piece. We would like to see how all that will work in respect of promoting competition, innovation and the public consumer interest. We are looking at all that and we expect the chair of the independent review to produce a report in the autumn.

Thank you. That concludes portfolio questions. I apologise to the three members I was unable to call, for reasons that I know they understand.