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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 20 March 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Student Support, Free Bus Travel (Under-25s), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Inflammatory Bowel Disease


Portfolio Question Time

Culture, Tourism and External Affairs

The first item of business is portfolio question time. I ask that questions and answers are as succinct as possible.

Tourist Numbers

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the culture secretary has had with local authorities regarding their capacity to deal with tourist numbers over the summer. (S5O-03010)

I have had a number of discussions with local authorities regarding tourism, which have included issues around tourist numbers. The Scottish Government recognises the need to encourage sustainable tourism and we have taken proactive measures to address the impact of increased visitors, such as through the successful development of our £6 million rural tourism development fund.

The increase in tourism is very welcome for island communities, but it creates additional pressures, including on islanders’ ability to access the islands, due to the pressure on ferries from passengers and vehicles.

What is the cabinet secretary doing to promote off-season tourism, to perhaps help to relieve or flatten some of the peaks and spikes in summer tourism?

A very important part of growing tourism is making sure that we help to support tourism throughout the year. Recent experience has been that the season is growing. With regard to providing different experiences, having winter activities, as well as indoor facilities, is very important. The growth of distilleries and visitor attractions in distilleries, providing indoor experiences to tourists during the winter period, has also been very attractive. A vital part of spreading tourism is making sure that we have provision through the year and, most importantly for island economies, that we have a sustainable source of people who are willing to work in the tourism industry, because they have families and need to have an income throughout the year.

I took part in a tourism summit on Islay, at the invitation of Brendan O’Hara and Michael Russell, who are the local MP and MSP. One of the issues that they have is how to extend the season. For example, Islay is having a food festival in the September to October period, which is part of trying to do that.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the road equivalent tariff has reduced car ferry fares by 57 per cent, leading to record numbers of visitors to Arran and Cumbrae and boosting island economies. An additional ferry now sails the Ardrossan to Brodick route for seven months, which has greatly increased capacity relative to when the Government came into office. However, reliability is a key issue. Will the cabinet secretary comment on how resilience funds will be used to minimise ferry disruptions, which are happening now, and which islanders fear may happen throughout the summer season?

On Kenneth Gibson’s last point, I understand that £4 million of funding was provided for a resilience fund in 2018 to invest in services to ensure the future reliability and availability of vessels. I am not the transport minister—I am not responsible for ferries—but I absolutely understand the importance of ferries to island economies and to tourism. People probably forget what a difference the road equivalent tariff made when it was introduced in 2014—across the piece, we saw an increase of 60 per cent in the number of cars and vehicles and a 40 per cent increase in passenger numbers. That is great for creating demand, but it also causes pressures.

As the tourism secretary, I take a keen interest in what is happening with the operation of the ferries, and I hope that the resilience fund and the additional investment in our vessels to improve reliability will prove helpful, particularly for the season ahead.

While some local authorities may be facing capacity pressures, other areas of Scotland would welcome more tourists and the income that comes from that. Will the cabinet secretary outline any work that is planned to better understand the pattern of tourism in Scotland and consider how we can promote other areas and activities, which would help to support sustainable tourism and spread the opportunities that exist across the whole of Scotland?

That is a hugely important point. Claire Baker will be aware of our campaign for the south of Scotland in particular, which has seen VisitScotland invest in a new promotional film and has also helped with infrastructure. For example, I recently announced £200,000 for Glentress, for improvements to that mountain biking attraction in the Borders, and only this morning I was in Aberdeen to speak at the VisitAberdeenshire conference, which is important in promoting Aberdeenshire and ensuring that it is accessible to people. I was delighted to hear that the New York Times has said that north-east Scotland is one of the top 25 places to visit this year.

Through VisitScotland, we are ensuring that wider areas are being promoted. Another good example is the work with Wild about Argyll, through which Argyll has twinned with Glasgow to ensure that visitors to Glasgow can visit rural areas on the west coast of Scotland.

Such initiatives encourage people to go out from the central belt and visit more geographically remote but fascinating places across Scotland.

I know that there are a lot of answers to some of these questions, but I must ask that you try to shorten your answers, cabinet secretary. [Interruption.] Sorry?

I did not say anything. [Laughter.]

Just as well.

Scottish Jewish Heritage Centre

To ask the Scottish Government what support it can give toward the annual running costs of the Scottish Jewish heritage centre in Glasgow. (S5O-03011)

We value our relationships with our Jewish communities, and the significant and important contributions that those communities make to Scottish society.

The Scottish Jewish heritage centre shares in our ambition to promote interfaith dialogue, to strengthen and enhance connections across communities and to lower barriers, eliminate fear and increase understanding. I recognise the importance of learning about the Holocaust as well as taking action to tackle religious prejudice, including antisemitism.

I urge the centre to explore with Museums Galleries Scotland museum accreditation and related support. In addition, the next wave of the Scottish Government’s promoting equality and cohesion fund will be open for application in 2020, and I suggest that the centre considers developing an application, in the coming year, for relevant projects.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her encouraging reply. Does she agree with me and, I think, the Jewish community, that there is ignorance not just about the Holocaust but about Jews, Judaism, Jewish history, the Jewish way of life and the considerable Jewish community in Scotland, and that such ignorance can lead to antisemitism, when people do not understand properly?

I absolutely agree. The more understanding there is, the greater the tolerance, appreciation—and indeed celebration—of the variety of religions and cultures that we have in Scotland. That is an important part of promoting the positives and explaining the experiences that other people perhaps do not understand. John Mason made the point well.

Tourist Tax

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact of a tourist tax on the tourism sector in Edinburgh and Lothian. (S5O-03012)

We held a national discussion on tourist taxes, which involved the industry and local authorities, to develop a shared understanding of the evidence, challenges and potential impacts of tourist taxes. We held round tables across Scotland, including in Edinburgh. Stakeholders, including UK Hospitality and the City of Edinburgh Council, provided written evidence, which we published on 7 March.

As part of the budget deal with the only party that engaged, we will formally consult on the principles of a locally determined tourist tax in 2019 and then introduce legislation. It will be for individual councils to assess local circumstances before they decide whether to use the power.

Leaders of hotel, hospitality and tourism groups in Edinburgh have voiced their opposition to and concerns about the plans for a tourist tax in the capital. It is fair to say that the cabinet secretary’s support for the proposal has been somewhat lukewarm to date. Given people’s concerns, does she think that a tourist tax is a good idea for Edinburgh and Scotland’s tourism sector?

That is a matter for the City of Edinburgh Council, working with the Edinburgh community and businesses, to determine.

I stand by what we agreed as part of our budget negotiations. Had the Conservatives come to the table in any meaningful shape or form, the budget discussions might have been different. We have honoured and will honour our commitment. There will be a consultation, followed by legislation.

Our national discussion showed us that the issue is complex and that there is no single perspective. Today, when I was in Aberdeen, I heard that although some local authorities might want to introduce a tourist tax—some might not want to do so—the read-across between what local authorities do will be important; we heard about a level playing field in Scotland.

All that will be part of the discussions that local authorities have, and if people want to present arguments, I encourage them to take part in the consultation on legislation that will follow our budget negotiations.

Despite what Miles Briggs said, there is widespread support for a tourist tax across Edinburgh, not least from the Scottish National Party and Labour council administration.

Last week, the cabinet secretary was reported as saying that the tax would not be in place until 2021. Is she aware that the council has budgeted for it to be in place next year? In light of the delay that she announced last week, the council will now have to make a further £10 million-worth of cuts to its budget. Where does the cabinet secretary think that those cuts should come from?

The member has been a member of this Parliament for some time, so she will know the process that takes place when new legislation is introduced. Decisions that the City of Edinburgh Council makes are a decision for the City of Edinburgh Council. However, as agreed, we will consult in 2019, and there will be legislation in 2020. The Parliament will consult and take forward the legislation as it normally does. There is no delay. This is the normal process for a normal piece of legislation. I would have thought that the member would understand the processes that she takes part in for any piece of legislation in this Parliament.

Screen Scotland

To ask the Scottish Government when it will next meet Screen Scotland. (S5O-03013)

I am meeting Isabel Davis, the executive director of Screen Scotland, on 21 March. I meet regularly with the chair of Creative Scotland, and Scottish Government officials attend the meetings of Creative Scotland’s screen committee.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that, apart from the Scottish Film Talent Network, which is mainly funded through lottery funding, there is little support to help talented young Scottish short-film makers enter the industry? With the annual closure date for the applications for the very few Scottish Film Talent Network grants that are available coming up in just 11 days’ time, what financial assistance can the Scottish Government give to aspiring and talented Scottish short-film makers after that date?

The member makes an important point about the opportunities for young film makers, particularly in the early parts of their careers, and the importance of their being able to make short films, which are a good way of getting recognition.

I am not sure what I can do in the next 11 days, but the issue of how Screen Scotland will be developing and supporting young talent is something that I will raise when I meet the executive director on 21 March.

We know that the work of the United Kingdom Government to promote the screen sector in this country has seen it thrive. The industry has been granted £632 million in tax relief, which has generated a further £3 billion investment in the production of television programmes and films across the UK. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the large amount of tax relief from the UK Government has been instrumental to the growth of the screen sector in Scotland? Is she confident that the screen sector in Scotland is on track to meet its projected growth targets?

On the latter point, yes, we have seen strong production growth figures, and that is before we see the results of the doubling of film investment from the Scottish Government. I completely agree that the tax measures that the UK Government has introduced have been game changing in many regards. We were supportive of them and campaigned for tax relief in this area and in other aspects of the creative industries. Funnily enough, I used that argument when I was speaking to people from the tourism industry this morning, when I suggested that, if we could reduce VAT, which is currently at 20 per cent, we could make a big difference in terms of helping that industry in particular.

What the member says about the trajectory of the film industry is absolutely right. I am confident not only that it will meet its targets but that the screen sector leadership group’s recommendations are being delivered well. There are ambitious targets within that, and the sector is on track to meet them.

2021 Census

5. Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is accommodating ethnic groups that have applied to be included in the census for the first time in 2021. (S5O-03014)

National Records of Scotland set out proposed questions for inclusion in the 2021 census. All requests for changes to questions were considered according to user need, data quality, existing data sources and operational considerations. Requests were made for census data on Roma and showpeople, and on Sikh and Jewish populations.

Testing of the changes that are being considered for the ethnic group question was completed in February. NRS is holding events on 27 and 28 March to share the findings with stakeholders. The results of the testing will be published on the NRS website prior to those events.

The questions for the 2021 census will be considered by Parliament as part of the subordinate legislation process. Engagement on that will begin shortly and will continue through to next year.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am the convener of the cross-party group on the Scottish Showmen’s Guild. Over the past few years, I have been working with the Showmen’s Guild to ensure that the next census includes a section for showpeople. Showpeople are not Travellers or Gypsies; they are a distinct ethnic group. Census officials have been supportive of the proposal, but I seek the cabinet secretary’s assurance that she will help me to ensure that showpeople are added to the census.

I understand that the findings from the testing of an alternative ethnic group question showed that the inclusion of a tick box for showpeople was acceptable, and that that may well be recommended for inclusion. I am supportive of that, but I refer the member to my answer to his first question, in which I said that it is actually the Parliament that will finally determine, through subordinate legislation, what questions are asked in the census.

External Affairs Budget (Priorities)

To ask the Scottish Government what the priorities are for its external affairs budget spend in 2019-20. (S5O-03015)

Scotland’s international framework sets out how our international work supports the Scottish Government’s central purpose of creating a more successful country with opportunities for all to flourish through increasing sustainable economic growth. The external affairs budget supports our commitment to strengthening our European and international relationships, funding our commitment as a good global citizen, facilitating trade and investment actions and, ultimately, achieving our overarching objective. In 2019-20, the majority of the budget will be focused on delivering our international development programme and deepening and strengthening our network of external offices.

I understand the importance of having a presence internationally and of the Scottish Government having offices in other countries. However, in the budget for next year, the spend will increase from £17.2 million to nearly £24 million, which is an increase of nearly 40 per cent in cash terms. Contrasted with—

Could you get on with the question, please, Mr Kelly?

Sure. Why are council budgets being reduced by £230 million and why is the issue of protecting communities and saving jobs and services being given a lower priority—

Mr Kelly, this is not a debate; it is a question.

Why has that been given a lower priority than the external affairs budget?

I believe that James Kelly is the finance spokesperson for the Labour Party, although I may be wrong about that and I am happy to be corrected. He will understand that local government has not seen the reductions that he mentions and that our support for local government has been positive. I am not sure whether Mr Kelly has served on the Finance and Constitution Committee, but if he has, he should know that the increase in the external affairs budget of £6.7 million in the 2019-20 budget is due entirely to a change in the way that running costs—for example, for staffing—are presented across the Scottish Government. They were previously presented separately, but they are now included in the budgets for ministerial portfolios, at the request of the Parliament and its Finance and Constitution Committee. I think that Mr Kelly should do his homework.

Yemen (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what support it is providing in response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. (S5O-03016)

The Scottish Government donated £250,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Yemen crisis appeal when it was launched in December 2016. In July 2018, the Scottish Government provided a further £100,000 from the humanitarian emergency fund to support Mercy Corps to provide 6,000 Yemeni households—some 42,000 people—with safe drinking water. We have also provided 25 Yemeni women with training and capacity building in the areas of mediation, conflict resolution, reconciliation and constitution building through the Scottish Government-funded women in conflict 1325 fellowship programme, with Beyond Borders Scotland.

Well done on those commitments.

Since 2015, 85,000 children under five in Yemen have starved to death, and one child dies there every 10 minutes from a preventable cause. Oxfam has stated that the majority of the civilian casualties have resulted from air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. Has the Scottish Government made representations to the United Kingdom Government with regard to the violation of international law that is taking place, the hunger crisis that exists as a result and the arms sales from the UK to Saudi Arabia?

Yes. The Scottish Government and I have made representations to the UK Government on its role in relation to Saudi Arabia and its ability and capability to end the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. It must do so now. As Alex Rowley will be aware, export licences are a reserved matter, but there is clear evidence that munitions that the United Kingdom has supplied have been used in Yemen in breach of international law.

I commend Alex Rowley for continuing to raise the issue of Yemen. Devastation has been caused to many people, particularly children—Alex Rowley referred to that—and the UK Government can take a clear responsibility. If it wants to be a global citizen, it needs to behave as a global citizen. Alex Rowley is absolutely right to raise the issue in the Parliament.

I apologise to Mr Beattie for not reaching his question.

Education and Skills

I remind all members that this is question time and not speech-making time. If that reminder is adhered to in questions and answers, we will certainly get through all the questions and have more supplementaries.

Primary Schools (Deferred Entry)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent survey by give them time, which found that only 19 per cent of parents knew of the right to defer entry into primary school for children born between September and December. (S5O-03018)

I am grateful to Fulton McGregor and the give them time campaign for raising awareness of the issue.

I reassure parents that implementation of the curriculum for excellence early level and good transition arrangements should make the journey from early learning and childcare into primary education seamless and minimise the need for school deferral. However, it is important that parents are able to make informed choices for their child.

The Minister for Children and Young People met representatives of the give them time campaign in December. The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities are now working together to improve the clarity of information that is available to parents nationally and locally. I expect all local authorities to provide clear and consistent information on school deferral arrangements.

The cabinet secretary may be aware that the approval rates for discretionary funding for nursery provision for children whose parents choose to defer are inconsistent across councils—the rates are between 13 and 100 per cent. Moreover, at least 13 local authorities do not even permit parents to retain their child’s place in a council setting and self-finance it. What more can councils do to support parents who choose to defer school entry for their four-year-old children and access an additional year at nursery?

Whether children with a birthday between August and 31 December are entitled to additional early learning and childcare funding remains at the local authority’s discretion. I expect local authorities to make the decision based on an assessment of wellbeing, as set out in the early learning and childcare statutory guidance that accompanied the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. When deferral is being considered, parents should be provided with accurate information and be fully involved in the decision-making process.

Does the cabinet secretary think that there is simply an anomaly, in that parents quite correctly have the right to defer entry to school, but many of them then find that they lose their child’s right to a funded place at nursery? Would the simplest thing not be to change the law? Why cannot that be done?

The answer to Mr Gray’s question is in my answer to Mr MacGregor’s first question. The contents of the early level of the curriculum for excellence, which takes, as Mr Gray will know, a play-based approach to learning, supported by good transition arrangements, should make the journey from early learning and childcare into primary education straightforward. There is flexibility to accommodate the particular issues that have been raised.

Equally, the arrangements under the early level curriculum for excellence approach address many of those issues to ensure that we make judgments about the interests, needs and perspectives of individual children.

Part-time Timetables (Pupil Support)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to support school pupils on part-time timetables. (S5O-03019)

Support for pupils on part-time timetables is provided through “Included, Engaged and Involved” parts 1 and 2, which provide guidance on the promotion of attendance and the management of exclusion. Both parts recognise the importance of continued engagement to pupils fulfilling their learning potential. Part 2 makes clear that flexible or part-time arrangements

“should be for a short, agreed period with the aims and conditions around this recorded in any support plan.”

It is for education authorities to ensure that pupils receive the support that they need to benefit from educational opportunities, in line with the authorities’ responsibilities for the provision of education.

The Scottish Government is starting to collect information on the number of children who are on part-time timetables, and it needs to make clear the level of use of such timetables and the reasons for such action by schools. Does the cabinet secretary agree that pupils who are on part-time timetables should be on them for their own benefit, and that such timetables should be meaningful to their education?

I agree with that perspective. As I said in my first answer, the guidance clearly states that part-time timetables should be used for a “short, agreed period” and have a clearly defined purpose. I very much endorse the points that Mary Fee has raised.

Does the cabinet secretary share my concern that some young people are being excluded from the classroom for large parts of the day without receiving meaningful educational input? In some rural areas, children are being supervised by parents and volunteers. What will the Scottish Government do to address that problem?

Fundamentally, the responsibility for tackling such issues lies with individual local authorities, which carry the statutory responsibility for the delivery of education at local level. A local authority needs to be satisfied that, in all circumstances, a child’s education is being fulfilled. That is what the law says.

As I said to Mary Fee in relation to part-time timetables, the guidance in “Included, Engaged and Involved” says that any action should be taken as part of an agreed process to improve the interests of individual young people. The guidance is emphatic about the importance of ensuring inclusion in all aspects of young people’s learning, and about the need to minimise exclusion from learning.

Teachers and Classroom Assistants (Prevention of Assaults)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to prevent assaults on teachers and classroom assistants. (S5O-03020)

It is not acceptable for anyone who works in our schools to be assaulted verbally or physically. We continually work with local authorities to support schools in developing positive and inclusive learning environments. We have produced guidance on approaches to including and engaging pupils in their education. We are funding various violence reduction and preventative approaches, such as the mentors in violence prevention programme and the no knives, better lives initiative. Our aim is to foster positive relationships and behaviour within schools, which will have a longer-term impact on the wider community.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that, in the past three years, teachers have been attacked more than 16,000 times, and that the number of attacks has increased in the past year? According to responses to freedom of information requests, weapons used have included knives, a BB gun, a chemical cleaner and a woodwork chisel, and the resulting injuries include torn ligaments, dislocated joints and one case of whiplash. I appreciate the quite detailed action that cabinet secretary has outlined, but in view of what I have described, does he believe that that action is sufficient to ensure that teachers and school staff feel safe in the classroom?

No instance of violence is acceptable or excusable in any way or in any situation, but particularly not in a school. Whatever else I say, I want to make that point absolutely crystal clear.

The context is important. For example, between 2006-07 and 2017-18, there has been a 65 per cent fall in the number of crimes recorded by the police that have involved the handling of an offensive weapon. Since 2006-07, there has been a huge decline in the number of exclusions from our schools. There have been significant reductions in the level of violence in our society and in our schools, but I accept that there are still examples of such violence.

Margaret Mitchell generously said that I set out a number of initiatives and approaches. I think that they are effective. The mentors in violence prevention programme has been very successful, and the no knives, better lives campaign, too, has been very successful in changing the culture around knife carrying. Much of the learning from what has been achieved is being looked at by other jurisdictions, particularly London.

Having said all that, I am absolutely committed to working with the teaching profession and local authorities to ensure that we make violence in our schools a thing of the past and that teachers, classroom assistants, other members of staff and, indeed, pupils are not subjected to it.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Subjects (Promotion)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects to pupils across Scotland during 2019, which marks the bicentenary of the death of James Watt. (S5O-03021)

James Watt’s achievements are a significant contribution to Scotland’s long and proud history of science, engineering and invention. We are committed to promoting STEM to everyone in Scotland. Indeed, on 13 March, we announced funding worth over £2.6 million in 2019-20 for the four Scottish science centres, and that funding will support events and activities that will be seen by around 700,000 people next year, making science accessible to all ages, I hope, and helping to inspire our future scientists. In addition, we are establishing a new young STEM leaders programme and have introduced maths week Scotland as part of further measures to promote STEM to young people.

As the minister knows, STEM subjects are vital to our economy. I therefore welcome the range of measures that the Scottish Government has introduced.

With the Brexit chaos of the UK Government already leading to challenges to academic funding and job security, what can the Scottish Government do to ensure that our school pupils are taught about Scottish inventors and inventions so that they realise that Scotland has always been a contributor to global progress?

Stuart McMillan has highlighted a very topical and important issue. If we are taken out of Europe against our will, we will lose many people with the vital skills that are required for the future of the Scottish economy. It will therefore be even more important to encourage people to adopt and learn those skills in their own country, which will mean inspiring our young people to take part in STEM activities and, I hope, to consider STEM careers in the future. It is important that we continue to support the many initiatives across Scotland that are working with school pupils, in particular. Just last week, I visited a company where the apprentices are effectively STEM ambassadors who go out to speak to local schools about their own careers. We have to reinforce and support those activities in any way that we can, but let us focus on preventing Scotland from being taken out of Europe in the first place.

Before I call question 5, I draw members’ attention to the headphones on their desks. They can be used for the simultaneous interpretation of Gaelic, if so required.

Gaelic Speakers (Numbers)

A dh’fhaighneachd de Riaghaltas na h-Alba na tha e a’ dèanamh gus cruth-atharrachadh a thoirt air a’ chrìonadh a chaidh aithris anns a’ chuid den òigridh aig a bheil a’ Ghàidhlig anns na h-Eileanan an Iar. (S5O-03022)

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to address the reported decline in the population of young people in the Western Isles who speak Gaelic.

The Scottish Government is working with partners to put in place a range of actions to strengthen the Gaelic language in the Western Isles, with the aim of increasing the proportion of young people who speak Gaelic. That includes close collaboration with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and other bodies that can make a contribution to promoting the use, the learning and the speaking of Gaelic.

Am beachdaich an Riaghaltas air measadh buaidh chànanach a chur air dòigh airson nam poileasaidhean aige anns na h-eileanan gus am bi brosnachadh na Gàidhlig agus nan coimhearsnachdan Gàidhlig air àbhaisteachadh ann am poileasaidh eaconamach is sòisealta san fharsaingeachd?

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

Will the Government consider carrying out a Gaelic language impact assessment of its policies in the islands so that the promotion of Gaelic in Gaelic-speaking communities is mainstreamed into wider social and economic policy in general?

The Gaelic language is a very precious part of Scotland’s culture, identity and future so, for that reason, the Government is making a number of policy interventions to support the nurturing and development of the Gaelic language.

We have no immediate plans to undertake the type of Gaelic language impact assessment that Dr Allan has highlighted in his question, but I assure him that we are having very specific discussions with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar—indeed, Dr Allan and I took part in those discussions when I was in the Western Isles during the February recess—on how we integrate the experience and nurturing of the Gaelic language with wider public service provision in the Western Isles and how we ensure that some of that activity is taken forward through the comhairle’s proposals for a community charter or community offer. The Government is actively considering those issues, and I will have further discussions with the comhairle and Bòrd na Gàidhlig on how we can take forward some of these ideas.

City of Glasgow College (Dispute)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the on-going dispute between lecturers and management at the City of Glasgow College. (S5O-03023)

Local industrial relations are a matter for the City of Glasgow College and the trade unions to resolve voluntarily. Therefore, the member may wish to speak to those organisations for an update.

I reassure the minister that I have spoken directly to both the Educational Institute of Scotland and the college, and I hope that the minister, too, is taking an active interest in the on-going dispute. Although it is separate from the wider dispute with Colleges Scotland on pay, it feeds into the breakdown of the relationship between the workforce and management.

Last week, during First Minister’s question time, the First Minister said—

Could you please get on with the question, Mr Sarwar?

The First Minister said last week that a 2 per cent increase for police officers in England was a punch in the face—

Get on with the question, please, Mr Sarwar.

This is the question: why does the cabinet secretary believe that 2 per cent is an acceptable pay increase for our college lecturers?

The question of what is or is not an acceptable pay increase for college lecturers is a matter for negotiations between the employers, the colleges and the representatives of the staff, which are the unions. I was disappointed that talks on Monday on the wider dispute did not reach a successful conclusion despite signs of movement in recent months, meaning that—as Mr Sarwar is aware—more industrial action will take place tomorrow. That is highly regrettable, given that it is in nobody’s interests—least of all those of the students, who are directly affected—that such strike action should take place.

I will take an interest in those discussions, but the Scottish Government is not party to the negotiations, which involve voluntary arrangements that are agreed by both the employers and the unions through national bargaining. Any intervention from us would just undermine that process. The matter should be resolved between the two parties, and we hope that it will be. We will continue to speak to both the unions and the employers, and I am of a mind to invite them to meet me separately on Tuesday of next week, prior to the next round of formal talks on 29 March.

I remind members that, although a degree of context is often necessary when asking questions, a small degree is preferable.

School Subjects (Career Prospects)

To ask the Scottish Government how relevant it considers the number of subjects a pupil can study in school is to their future career prospects. (S5O-03024)

Offering Scotland’s young people the right choices is very relevant to supporting them in meeting their career prospects. Young people should be able to access the range of pathways that meet their needs, abilities and aspirations, and they should be supported in making the right choices. That is central to the aims of our youth employment strategy.

Committee evidence and newspaper reports have highlighted that the narrowing of subject choices caused by the Scottish National Party Government’s flawed reforms is hurting pupils’ career prospects. It is hampering Scottish children’s ability to achieve the best grades possible and is limiting their opportunities. What does the cabinet secretary say to those children, who, through no fault of their own, will not receive the same opportunities as their parents?

I respectfully say to Tom Mason that the evidence does not support his question. Two weeks ago, the Government published information on the positive destinations of young people leaving education. A record 94.4 per cent of young people are leaving school to enter work, training or further or higher education. That is an all-time record, so the premise of Mr Mason’s question is completely flawed.

In addition, attainment is rising in our schools, young people are securing a broad range of qualifications and every young person is experiencing and benefiting from the broad general education that is at the heart of the reform of curriculum for excellence.

I say to Mr Mason that, last week, I attended the international summit on the teaching profession in Helsinki. Only the world’s high-perfoming education systems are invited to take part in that summit, and we should be very proud that Scotland’s education system was invited to be part of those discussions.

Education (Scotland) Bill

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the education secretary’s previous comments that the Education (Scotland) Bill could still be introduced if “sufficient progress” is not made, whether it has ruled out doing so in 2019. (S5O-03025)

Local government has entered into a joint agreement with us on reform, which has led to the publication of the headteachers charter and wider guidance on empowering schools. We have also reached an agreement with the Educational Institute of Scotland, subject to the definitive formal offer being made and a ballot of members, which will see Scotland’s largest teaching professional association agree to collaborate with us on the empowerment agenda. I am encouraged about the progress that has been made in implementing our landmark education reforms.

The Education (Scotland) Bill was dropped by the SNP last year, despite being called its flagship legislation. Dropping the bill was supposed to speed up the process of reform, but we are now nine months on and there are very few signs of progress. Will the cabinet secretary tell parents and teachers how much longer they will have to wait to see all the promised reforms fully realised?

It would have helped if John Scott had listened to my original answer before he asked me his pre-scripted follow-up question. I announced to him that the headteachers charter is already in place; that would not have been the case if we were waiting for a bill—it would not have happened. The empowering schools guidance is in place, working and operating. The agreement with the professional association on its support and participation in the empowerment agenda is in place and is happening more quickly than could have been the case with a bill.

The approach that I have taken has delivered an intensification of the pace of reform, the education system is benefiting from that and we are seeing real empowerment in our classrooms around the country. I am encouraged by the direction of travel that has been undertaken in that respect.