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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 19 December 2018

Agenda: Iolaire Disaster, Portfolio Question Time, Mental Health Services, Early Learning and Childcare Expansion, European Union Citizens (Contribution to Scotland), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Water Charges (Single-person Households)


Portfolio Question Time

Social Security and Older People

The next item of business is portfolio questions. As usual, I ask for nice, short, succinct questions, with answers to match. I live in hope.

Social Security Scotland

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the development of Social Security Scotland. (S5O-02709)

Social Security Scotland’s development has been a series of firsts. Since the agency’s establishment on 1 September, more than 75,000 carers have received their first and second payments of the first devolved Scottish benefit: the carers allowance supplement. As members heard from the First Minister last week, the first applications for the new best start grant were taken on 10 December, and more than 4,000 claims had been made by the end of the first day. The first payments have now been made, giving £600 to families for the birth of their first child.

Will the cabinet secretary update the Parliament on the progress of carers allowance supplement and say how many carers are expected to benefit from it before the festive period?

I confirm that the second payment of the carers allowance supplement has been made. The vast majority of payments were made on 14 December. In complex cases that require special handling, payments will be made by 21 December. In a small number of cases—for example, cases in which the payment was rejected by a bank and we are relying on the client to provide updated bank details—payments might be made after that date. This is the second payment of carers allowance supplement; further payments are scheduled for June and December 2019.

In light of the Scottish Government asking the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver carers allowance for two more years, at a cost of £2.4 million, and delaying the devolution of disability benefits until 2021, will the cabinet secretary confirm that the Scottish Government will not request further delays, past 2021, before it assumes executive competence for those benefits?

I appreciate that there have been recent discussions about the agency agreement for carers allowance. The first statement on that was made by my predecessor, Angela Constance, in April 2017, when we said that there would be an agency agreement with the DWP. The reason for that was made clear: it was to allow the early payment of the carers allowance supplement, which is the quickest way of getting payments to those carers on the lowest incomes, showing our gratitude and respect for the work that they do. The decision was taken in a very transparent way and was talked about in 2017; it is the best and quickest way for us to get money to carers.

Earlier this month, The Times reported that the cabinet secretary and her predecessor had contracted out the Scottish Government’s responsibility for carers allowance for two years, to the end of 2020, at a cost of £10 million. Responses to freedom of information requests show that officials are working to an assumption that disability benefit rules and structures are to remain broadly the same.

Carers and disabled people want change; they do not want to continue to be the victims of Tory-designed social security. Will the cabinet secretary rule out DWP delivery of disability benefits and end the agency agreement contract for carers allowance as soon as possible?

I simply reiterate to Mark Griffin the point that I have just made. The matter was first raised, quite rightly, by Angela Constance, in April 2017, when it was made clear that the agency agreement would be put in place to allow Social Security Scotland to make payments to carers quickly. That is exactly what has been done. Throughout the process, we have made it abundantly clear that the top priority is the safe and secure transition of payments, whether of carers allowance or disability benefits. We will continue to ensure that that is our top priority.

The delivery of Social Security Scotland, the payment of carers allowance supplement—twice—and the successful launch of the best start grant represent remarkable progress in the first year of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. I will update the Parliament on our timetable for the wave 2 benefits in the new year.

Universal Credit (Impact)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the introduction of universal credit has had on people in Scotland. (S5O-02710)

Universal credit has had a devastating impact on people in Scotland, and there is a catalogue of evidence that it is pushing people into poverty, rent arrears and hardship. Trussell Trust analysis shows that food bank use has increased in universal credit areas by an average of 52 per cent, while evidence from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities shows that the average rent arrears are 2.5 times higher for those on universal credit. We have repeatedly called on the United Kingdom Government to fix the fundamental flaws in this catastrophic benefit, and will continue to do so.

Every one of us in this chamber is dealing with heartbreaking cases of constituents who have been sanctioned or moved on to universal credit in the run-up to Christmas, in many cases leaving them with little or no money over the festive period. Will the cabinet secretary outline what representations have been made by the Scottish Government to the UK Government, to request that this despicable system be ended?

The Scottish Government has written to the UK Government a number of times, asking it to fix the fundamental flaws in universal credit. I have written to the different secretaries of state who have presided over the system; I wrote again when the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, was appointed; and I raised our deep concerns with her directly when I had a telephone conversation with her yesterday. Most recently, I wrote to Ms Rudd last week, urging the UK Government to make hardship payments available to people who will be waiting for their first universal credit payment over Christmas, because the current DWP approach of offering advances puts people into debt from the start of their claim.

Benefit Processing (Case Management System)

To ask the Scottish Government whether the case management system that was procured from IBM in 2017 will process post wave 1 benefits. (S5O-02711)

A strategic decision was made in May 2018 to adopt IBM’s social program management software as the core case management and benefit calculation platform for all phases of the programme.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer.

I did not even get a chance to call you, but you have got in again.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Audit Scotland was quite clear that if the case management system cannot process benefits after those in the first wave of devolution, another solution will be needed, and there may be delays. Can the cabinet secretary give Parliament a cast-iron guarantee that there will not be delays?

Yes, I can, because we are ensuring that the platform that is in place for wave 1 can be built upon to deliver wave 2. That is to avoid the landscape that exists for the DWP, with many benefits being managed through different and separate technological solutions that do not speak to one another and do not operate effectively. We are trying to learn from that about simplification, reuse and having a loosely coupled architecture that will allow us to build the different benefits on top of each other. We are trying to gain from the learning in wave 1 to successfully deliver wave 2.

Cold Weather Payments

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to change the system for cold weather payments. (S5O-02712)

In developing the devolved cold weather payments benefit, we are engaging with households who have claimed the existing benefit and a wide range of expert opinion. We will seek the views of households who have applied for and benefited from cold weather payments as part of our research plan for 2019-20. We will continue to listen to views and consider ways to better meet the needs of vulnerable households in Scotland.

It has been two years since the Scottish Government consulted on the future of cold weather payments, yet no firm changes have been announced. Many would like the payments to be paid in advance, by default, wind chill to be factored in, and more local weather stations to be used, so that low-income and older vulnerable people know that they can use the heating when they need it most.

There are reports that the Government wants to abolish the payments altogether. Will the cabinet secretary tell us whether she is considering that?

I am not considering that at all. We have stated the benefits that we will be introducing as part of wave 1 of our timetable for Social Security Scotland. As I said in response to an earlier question from Mark Griffin, we will be discussing the publication of our timetable for wave 2 in the new year, and that will look at the other benefit payments, including cold weather and winter fuel payments.

I am very aware of the different challenges with the current system and the asks on wind chill and localised weather stations. We will be asking for the views of households and individuals who have experience of the current payments in our next research plan, so that we can build on that lived experience and get the policy right.

Social Security and Older People (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what it expects the impact to be on social security and older people in Glasgow of its draft spending and tax plans for 2019-20. (S5O-02713)

The people of Glasgow, along with people across Scotland, will benefit from this year’s budget support for the programme of work to deliver social security powers—we heard about many of those in response to the previous questions.

In 2019-20, our investment in social security will be more than £560 million, with £435 million going directly into the pockets of people living across the country.

Our spending plans are ambitious and clearly set out this Government’s commitment to creating a social security system that is based on dignity and respect, delivering benefits, tackling poverty and mitigating the worst impacts of the UK Government’s welfare cuts. Across Scotland, people will feel the benefit of that.

In relation to older people, can the minister comment on how we can achieve the right balance between preventive spend and more reactive spend—in other words, stopping things going wrong and reacting when things do go wrong?

Yes, I can. Next year, I will publish an older people’s framework. That will pull together a number of programmes in the Scottish budget 2019-20 that benefit older people. The programmes, which are preventive and reactive, will impact positively on the health and wellbeing of older people. They include increasing the investment in the chronic medicine service; a new scheme to improve access to dental care among people living in care homes; and a careers information advice and guidance strategy encompassing the all-age careers sector. There is also a commitment to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the concessionary travel scheme.

Universal Credit (In-work Conditionality)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the in-work conditionality aspect of universal credit. (S5O-02714)

This Government is opposed to conditionality and sanctions as delivered by the Westminster Government’s Department for Work and Pensions. We are delivering a new approach for Scotland, as signalled by our new social security agency and our devolved employment service, fair start Scotland. Our approach has fairness, dignity and respect at the heart of services to help those who are out of work, who are looking for work, who are in work or who are looking to progress into a new job role.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s response. The extension of conditionality to claimants who are already in paid employment is just one of the many controversial elements of the UK Government’s universal credit. Many are concerned about how that will affect UC claimants in rural communities, where additional employment opportunities will be few and far between. What representations can the Scottish Government make to the UK Government about that concern?

Dr Allan—quite rightly—raises that concern about the impacts of such a scheme in rural and remote island communities. We have raised concerns with the UK Government, and I will ensure that we continue to do so with that specific aspect in mind.

It is clear that the current benefit sanctions and the conditionality regime is punitive and causes further hardship. There is no evidence that it helps people into work or ensures that their life chances progress. In the Scottish social security system and our employability services, we will continue to say that there is no role for sanctions. The in-work conditionality aspect of universal credit is extremely concerning for people and puts more stress on an already very difficult situation.

I appreciate that this is a very serious topic, but I remind you all that we should have short answers and questions, please.

On the question of conditionality, Pete Searle, from the DWP, said that there is no

“evidence at the moment about ... the best way of interacting with people in work, who have got jobs to go to and do not need to be popping down to the jobcentre every five minutes.—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 8 November 2018; c 6.]

Does the cabinet secretary agree that that exposes the proposals to transfer people who are in work to conditionality? That undermines the whole concept of universal credit by penalising low-paid workers who are already in work and suggests that the proposals are half baked.

Pauline McNeill is quite right to point out the sheer practical difficulties that the in-work sanction regime will give people. That is why I talked particularly about the stress and anxiety that it will cause people. Nothing in the evidence that has been taken shows that benefit sanctions actually enhance a person’s motivation to work or increase their ability to find better-paid employment; they cause stress and anxiety, and they will have great practical implications for the individuals involved. The committee has been quite right to look at the very important issue of in-work poverty.

Carers Allowance (Recovery of Overpayments)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has asked the Department for Work and Pensions to cease recovery action against recipients of carers allowance who have been overpaid. (S5O-02715)

I wrote to the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 20 September to highlight my concerns and seek reassurance that, in the event of any overpayment recovery action, the DWP treats people fairly, ensuring that individual circumstances are taken into account and people are not placed in undue hardship.

It is vital that people are not prosecuted when they have made a genuine error, and that is the approach that Social Security Scotland will take.

Not only will the Scottish Government send millions to the DWP by the end of 2019-20, but 6,000 who have overpayments will have to face the Tories’ brutal DWP recovery system. Will the cabinet secretary ditch this terrible idea, use our powers to halt the recoveries and deliver dignity and respect to carers in Scotland, who rightly deserve that?

As I said in my original answer, I have raised with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions my concerns about the way that the DWP will deal with overpayments in order to ensure that people who have made genuine errors are not punished.

I refer to previous answers: we made it clear in April 2017 that there would be an agency agreement in place, what the implications of that were and, importantly, why we were taking that decision. I say respectfully to David Stewart that we cannot simply change the agency agreement and expect Social Security Scotland to take on carers allowance in the short term; it takes time for a system to be built. That is why we made the case in April 2017 for why we were putting in place the agency agreement and it is why the timetable has been set out for wave 1 benefits in the way that it has. We made clear years ago that we would use the agency agreement and the reasons for that.

Richard Lyle can ask a brief question.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm how many carers are in receipt of the carers allowance supplement and by how much they are set to benefit ahead of this festive period?

Mr Lyle is quite right to point out the carers who will benefit from the carers allowance supplement. More than 75,000 will receive two payments this financial year and two payments next financial year. They are receiving that payment because we took the decision to ensure that the first action of Social Security Scotland was the quick delivery of the carers allowance supplement, putting money directly into carers’ pockets.

Funeral Costs (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it can take to make funeral costs more affordable for people in Scotland. (S5O-02716)

The question that was lodged says “in Glasgow”, but never mind.

Our “Funeral Costs Plan” sets out 10 actions that the Scottish Government will take to tackle funeral poverty across Scotland, including Glasgow. We are preparing guidance on funeral costs, we have published a leaflet to help people plan their funeral, and we will pilot an incentivised savings product to help people save for a funeral.

We will start the delivery of funeral expense assistance by summer 2019, improving the support available to bereaved families at a very difficult time by widening eligibility and investing £2 million above current Department for Work and Pensions spending to help people who are struggling with funeral costs who would receive nothing at present.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that Glasgow City Council has increased the cost of interment by 12 per cent since 2010-11 from £792 to £890? Does she understand the impact of that increase on families and does she accept that, in order to address that problem, the Scottish Government needs to reconsider its decision to cut disproportionately funding to Glasgow, given the impact of such increases on families who are already suffering loss and grief?

Cabinet secretary—briefly, please.

Decisions about charges for services are taken at local level. I believe that that is the right way to do that, because there is an understanding of the circumstances and needs of the people who are served by local authorities. The Scottish Government is aware that there are variations in burial and cremation charges among local authorities. That is why we have recently consulted on draft guidance on funeral costs, which will include a number of steps that local authorities can take on setting charges.

I apologise to Tom Arthur and Liz Smith for failing to reach their questions. We must move on to the next set of questions.

Social Enterprise Strategy (Public Procurement)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that its social enterprise strategy makes use of public procurement policy to promote social enterprise. (S5O-02719)

Our social enterprise strategy recognises the purchasing power of the public sector, and associated opportunities from our sustainable public procurement policy, to increase the involvement of social enterprises in service delivery.

The strategy specifically commits to increasing access to all our markets, and key actions since its launch include our investing £2 million for technical tendering support via the just enterprise business support programme, more than £400,000 in partnership for procurement to support collaboration between social enterprises bidding for public sector contracts, and £875,000 in strategic public social partnerships.

Figures published recently by the Improvement Service reveal that the number of local suppliers, including social enterprises, that are engaged by local authorities has declined by 42 per cent over the past decade. As a result of changes to European Union procurement laws, we now have the opportunity to change the way in which the public sector engages with local social enterprise organisations. Will the cabinet secretary therefore update the procurement element of the social enterprise strategy to better support local economies and social enterprises?

I remind members that I would like questions to be short. I have been tolerant so far, but that is waning.

I point again to the fact that we have in place a considerable package of measures to support social enterprises in engaging with the procurement processes and to enable procurers to access that spend for the benefit of social enterprises, which, of course, invest their money for social good.

Since 2017, more than half of social enterprises now trade with the public sector. In that year, 15 per cent of all social enterprises won new public sector contracts. Therefore, there have been changes. I also ask Dean Lockhart to reflect that there was an increase in social enterprises trading directly with consumers in the same period—from 68 per cent in 2015 to 79 per cent. That is a positive sign that social enterprise income streams are diversifying and are not over-reliant on public sector contracts. We need to look at the totality of where social enterprises get their resources from and how they are bidding for contracts. Of course, where we can, we will always do more to support social enterprises in public procurement processes, but we need to look at the approach in the round and also engage thoroughly with such enterprises to ensure that we can respond to their needs.

North Ayrshire Council (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met North Ayrshire Council, and what was discussed. (S5O-02720)

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including North Ayrshire Council, to discuss a wide range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

The last time that I spoke to North Ayrshire Council, it said that the most important thing that it is worried about at the moment is its financial settlement. The cabinet secretary will be aware of the comments made in the past week by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, to the effect that the current budget settlement is bad news for communities such as North Ayrshire. It said:

“Without a rethink from Scottish Government ... these budget proposals could put the final nail into many communities and services we deliver.”

Does the cabinet secretary agree or disagree with those comments?

Mr Greene, I am not sure whether you heard me. Your supplementary question was too long—you could have cut it down even more.

I remind Jamie Greene that our block grant for 2019-20 will be almost £2 billion lower in real terms compared with that for 2010-11. In that context, we have treated local government fairly in the budget proposals that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work announced last week, despite the cut that Mr Greene needs to understand is coming from his colleagues down in Westminster.

North Ayrshire Council will receive £301.1 million in funding from the Scottish Government in 2019-20. Taken together with a potential to increase council tax by 3 per cent, that could mean £23.1 million more than in 2018-19 to support services. I again make the point that we are working in a financial context that has been constrained by Jamie Greene’s colleagues in the United Kingdom Government.

The minister will share my astonishment at the Tories moaning about the local government settlement when their own UK Government has cut local authority funding in England by 60 per cent in eight years. [Interruption.] Will the minister confirm that North Ayrshire Council’s funding boost next year of more than £23 million represents an 8.3 per cent increase, which is the biggest in Scotland?

I am getting cross—I could not hear that question. I hope that you heard it, cabinet secretary.

I share Kenneth Gibson’s astonishment that the Conservatives continue to articulate the financial constraints that this Government faces, given that it is their colleagues who are causing it. He is right to point out the situation for local authorities in the rest of the UK.

North Ayrshire Council will receive £301.1 million in funding from the Scottish Government in 2019-20. Taken together with the potential for the council to raise its council tax, that could mean £23.1 million more than in 2018-19 to support services.

Kenneth Gibson is absolutely right to underline the fact that this Government is treating local government fairly. We will do what we can to support North Ayrshire Council.

Social Isolation (Housing Policy)

To ask the Scottish Government what part it believes housing policy should play in tackling social isolation. (S5O-02721)

On Tuesday, we published our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections in Scotland. I am proud that Scotland is leading the way in that area.

Housing has a vital role in our efforts to combat those issues. As part of our strategy, we will work with partners to improve social connectivity, pilot innovative housing options and improve accessibility.

That is all very welcome, particularly the commitment as part of the strategy to pilot innovative housing solutions for older people. The minister will know that, over the years, Aberdeen has produced many innovative solutions to housing for older people and that sheltered and very sheltered housing in Aberdeen have a national reputation. Does the minister agree that Aberdeen would be a good place for such a pilot, and will he undertake to talk to housing providers in the city about taking that forward?

I will not make a commitment to a pilot in a particular place at this time, as we have to make an assessment about what is required in that regard. I certainly agree that, in some regard, Aberdeen has been at the forefront of providing the right services for people in sheltered and very sheltered housing. We also need to look beyond sheltered and very sheltered housing, because we know that many people do not want to live in such complexes, although many do.

The Equal Opportunities Committee report “Age and Social Isolation” recommended that the Government

“promotes innovation in future housing development in ... Planning and location”

Will the minister tell us how he is doing that?

As Mr Simpson is well aware, there was much discussion of that during the course of stage 2 of the Planning (Scotland) Bill. We will continue to look at what is required to ensure that people are not socially isolated, as it is a very important issue.

As Mr Simpson also knows, the Government is carrying out a discussion with all stakeholders about housing beyond 2021. I encourage all members to get as many people as possible involved in that discussion so that we move forward together to get it right for the people of Scotland.

Public Services (Accountability Frameworks)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to remove different accountability frameworks in the delivery of public services, as recommended by the Christie commission, in order to improve local authority integration. (S5O-02722)

The Christie report did not recommend that the Scottish Government remove accountability frameworks. It found fragmentation and complexity in the design of public services, and concluded that that must be tackled by improving coherence, collaboration and integrated service provision between agencies.

In keeping with that conclusion, and as part of our commitment to public service reform, we have led several major reform programmes and taken other action to strengthen the integration of public services to improve outcomes and to ensure that accountability frameworks for public services reflect those ambitions.

Although the Accounts Commission uses Audit Scotland to carry out some of its work, I am sure that the minister agrees that they are different bodies. In areas such as the integration of health and social care, does the minister think that more holistic accountability frameworks would allow for better analysis of integration efforts?

The integration of health and social care is to provide high-quality care and support that is shaped around the needs of individuals, their carers and family members. It is now bound by the national performance framework, as are all public agencies. The integration is designed to have person-centred care to enable that holistic support to be provided. That is the benefit of integration and why we have power to deliver on it.

Dumfries and Galloway Council (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Dumfries and Galloway Council and what was discussed. (S5O-02723)

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including Dumfries and Galloway Council, to discuss a wide range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

In a report to Dumfries and Galloway Council yesterday, councillors—including councillors from the Scottish National Party who form part of the administration—noted that the council will need to find £17 million of savings next year in order to deliver a balanced budget, even with a 3 per cent council tax rise. That will take the amount of savings that have been made in the region since 2010 to almost £100 million. Where does the cabinet secretary think those new cuts should come from? Which services does she think should be axed?

I say—again—that we have treated local government fairly, against the backdrop of our budget having been cut. It will be almost £2 billion lower in real terms for 2019-20, compared with 2010-11, which is the point that I made to Jamie Greene.

Dumfries and Galloway Council will receive £313.6 million of funding from the Scottish Government. With the potential increase in council tax, that will mean an £5.7 million more than it had in 2018-19 to support services.

We understand that there are challenges for local government in ensuring that it can deliver the services that they are required to deliver. However, I point out that Colin Smyth’s question to me is exactly the question that his party continues to ignore in the process of reaching agreement on the budget. His party has asked the Government to make additional funding promises in other areas, but has never pointed to where funding can come from or savings made. As the budget negotiation goes on, Colin Smyth and his colleagues will need to figure out in what areas they will make savings, or what they would cut, in order for another part of the budget to be lifted.

I call Finlay Carson. Be brief, please.

The truth is that because money is already committed and ring fenced, core capital and revenue budgets have been cut in the local government settlement. In the real world, that settlement will mean substantial job losses in constituencies such as Galloway and West Dumfries, where local government is the main employer. When will the SNP Government stop its spin and its smoke and mirrors and admit that the settlement is a real-terms cut in funding?

To get back in the real world, I remind Finlay Carson that his party and his United Kingdom Government—[Interruption.]—has cut our budget by almost £2 billion in real terms. Once Finlay Carson manages to project himself back into the real world of constraints that the SNP Government is having to face, we will start to listen to him, but until then avoid his hypocrisy on the matter.

Question 6 from Adam Tomkins, please. [Interruption.]

I am sorry, Presiding Officer.

See what happens when there is a minor rammie, Mr Tomkins. You could not hear me, could you?

No, I could not.

Blame the rest. Thank you, Mr Tomkins.

Planning (Scotland) Bill and Land Value Capture

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its policy with regard to the Planning (Scotland) Bill and land value capture. (S5O-02724)

The Government remains interested in the concept of land value capture and in maintaining the enabling provisions for an infrastructure levy within the planning bill. We have separately requested that the Scottish Land Commission examine a range of issues, including fiscal and tax matters that relate to land. The Government does not propose to progress further policy change in the area of land value capture until the commission has reported.

Will the minister ensure that the Scottish Land Commission’s work on land value capture is completed and published in full before Parliament considers the Planning (Scotland) Bill at stage 3?

I cannot give that undertaking because it is up the Scottish Land Commission when it will report and produce its recommendations for the Government. We have to wait and allow the Scottish Land Commission to do the work that it needs to do, so that we can move forward on the issue in full knowledge of every aspect of what land value capture will mean for Scotland. The Government is, and remains, very interested in the concept of land value capture.

Local Development Plans

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to enable local authorities to have the power to review local development plans. (S5O-02725)

Local authorities already have the power to review local development plans.

Having spoken to colleagues not only in Glasgow City Council but in other councils, I am aware, as the minister will be, that situations arise in which council administrations inherit the previous administration’s local development plans. I have been informed that it is extremely difficult to change those local development plans midstream. Does the minister have any advice to administrations that find themselves in that position?

Local development plans are not just about changes in political administrations. As I said to Sandra White, local authorities have the power to review local development plans.

The Scottish Government is committed to there being a plan-led system, so the Planning (Scotland) Bill aims to strengthen local development plans. It is important that all authorities have sound plans in place to provide certainty for communities and investors in their area.

The matter of when and how a plan is reviewed is for local authorities to decide.

Affordable Homes

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making towards meeting its target of building 50,000 affordable homes. (S5O-02726)

I am delighted that we are making excellent progress on our affordable homes target for Scotland during the current parliamentary session. The latest quarterly housing statistics show that between April 2016 and the end of September 2018, we delivered 19,400 affordable homes, 11,825 of which are for social rent. That keeps us well on track to deliver our ambitious target of delivering 50,000 affordable homes, with 70 per cent being for social rent.

The Scottish Government can be proud of its record on affordable housing, having now delivered more than 80,000 affordable homes since 2007.

It is great that the Government made housing such a major issue and that it is on track to deliver its commitments for this parliamentary session. What work is being undertaken to assess housing need in the next parliamentary session and beyond?

As we set out in our programme for government, we have begun work on a vision for how our homes and communities should look and feel in 2040, and on the options and choices to get us there. We want to deliver more of the right houses in the right places in order to meet the housing needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. We want that to be a lasting legacy that is not just about new homes, but is about making the best use of our existing buildings.

We have been engaging with a wide range of stakeholders who have an interest in housing, and we are now considering the wealth of material that has been generated, with a view to preparing for further engagement on specific themes and outline options in 2019.

In last week’s budget speech, Derek Mackay claimed that the Scottish Government had built 80,000 affordable homes since 2007. However, this week, the Scottish Parliament information centre has told me that the Government has completed only 58,427 affordable homes. Who is right?

The Government has delivered more than 80,000 affordable homes since 2007.

Vulnerable People (High-quality Services)

To ask the Scottish Government how it assists local authorities in providing quality services for the most vulnerable people in society. (S5O-02727)

The Scottish Government works in partnership with local government on a wide range of issues to ensure that we are delivering quality services for the most vulnerable people in society. We are committed to continuing those efforts. That commitment is shown in the draft Scottish budget that we published on 12 December, which increased the total funding that local authorities can use to provide front-line services to the most vulnerable in our society by £485 million in 2019-20.

Given that the draft budget contains cuts to the local government budget—South Lanarkshire Council is facing cuts of £16 million—can the cabinet secretary and her colleagues on the ministerial team who represent South Lanarkshire take a stand on behalf of communities in the South Lanarkshire Council area and oppose a budget that contains cuts to local services and jobs?

Again, I point out that local authorities have been treated fairly against the backdrop of fiscal constraints that have been imposed on us by the United Kingdom Government. I am looking at figures for South Lanarkshire Council that suggest that there is a 2.83 per cent increase in its budget.

We will continue to work with members who wish to amend the budget. If James Kelly wishes to make a change and comes to us with a worked-up proposition and an idea of where he will take the money from, of course we will listen to him. However, I think that we will wait a long time to see the Labour Party coming up with any plan, any coherence or anything constructive to add to the budget process.

That concludes portfolio questions. I apologise to Willie Coffey for failing to reach his question.