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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, April 20, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 20 April 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, International Workers Memorial Day, Defence Basing Reforms, Standing Orders Rule Changes (Supermajorities), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Points of Order, Correction


General Question Time

National Health Service Workforce (Morale)

To ask the Scottish Government what its assessment is of NHS workforce morale. (S5O-00878)

The Scottish Government and NHS Scotland recognise the importance of an engaged, valued and motivated workforce and the fact that better staff experience can lead to better patient care. Following continuous partnership dialogue over the past 18 months, we agreed with the trade unions that, through the iMatter continuous improvement model, our approach to measuring staff experience will be greatly improved. That will allow us to better understand and take action on issues that matter to staff.

Full implementation is due to be completed by the end of the year and we expect the 2017 NHS Scotland national staff experience report to be available in early 2018. Reports of previous NHS Scotland staff surveys are published online.

The Government has overseen a workforce crisis, with 2,500 nursing vacancies in the NHS, which represents a 300 per cent increase in long-term vacancies. Nurses tell us that only one in three of them believe that there are enough of them to enable them to do their jobs properly. Nine out of 10 nurses say that their workload has got worse, and now the cabinet secretary has imposed a 1 per cent pay cap.

The Royal College of Nursing tells us that, after seven years of pay restraint, that cap represents a 14 per cent real-terms pay cut. Why does the cabinet secretary think that it is okay for members of the Scottish Parliament and members of Parliament to get an inflationary pay rise while NHS nurses get a real-terms pay cut?

We have record levels of staff in the NHS in Scotland. Given the number of posts that have been created, there are some challenging vacancy levels. We are working hard with boards to address that and to address issues such as reducing the use of agency nurses in order to fill substantive posts. A lot of work is going on and we have record levels of staff—particularly nursing staff—in our NHS.

We recognise that pay restraint has been difficult. However, it was the unions and the Royal College of Nursing in particular that wanted an independent pay review body to set pay, and that has been in place for a number of years. The independent pay review body recommended 1 per cent, which the Scottish Government accepted.

We have accepted independent pay review body recommendations when other parts of the United Kingdom have not. That has led to the current situation where Scottish nurses who are in band 5, for example, are paid between £227 and £312 per year more than their English counterparts. In Scotland, we have a commitment to no compulsory redundancies, which is not in place in other parts of these islands.

We are determined to engage with the RCN and others on pay. During the budget process, I heard no recommendations or representations about pay from Labour. Labour members come here and say one thing now, but they said nothing about that during the budget process.

How have staff representatives, such as the RCN, been involved in the development of the new iMatter system for addressing staff experience? For the benefit of members, I note that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.

Our new approach to staff experience has been developed over several years and has been formed by staff as well as trade union representatives. The aim is to ensure that the measurement of staff experience is meaningful and that staff have ownership of the actions that stem from that.

An associate director of RCN Scotland, Norman Provan, recently said that our approach has strengthened

“the process by which staff can have their say”.

We take such matters forward in partnership with the unions, which have been fully involved. I am happy to keep Fulton MacGregor informed of the progress of iMatter.

College Lecturers (Strikes)

To ask the Scottish Government what contingencies are in place to mitigate the impact on students, particularly those with upcoming exams, of reported planned strikes by college lecturers. (S5O-00879)

I am pleased to note today’s news that the Colleges Scotland employers association and the Educational Institute of Scotland Further Education Lecturers Association have jointly decided to refer their dispute to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. I hope that that will encourage both sides to work constructively to reach a resolution. Although the union has a mandate for strike action, I hope that it will consider postponing such action while the ACAS process is in train.

The Colleges Scotland employers association has issued comprehensive guidance on the practical steps that colleges should take, in the event of strike action going ahead, to mitigate the risk of disruption to students. It includes guidance on what colleges can do to ensure that no student’s exam diet is disrupted.

I welcome that good news and the good progress that has been made. However, will the minister acknowledge that there are still serious concerns in the sector about college funding and the sustainability of colleges, as well as a genuine concern about the 54 per cent reduction in part-time and flexible courses between 2007 and 2016, and that those concerns need to be addressed properly?

In challenging financial times, the 2017-18 budget for colleges will increase resource and capital funding by £41.4 million—that is a 7.4 per cent increase in cash terms. In addition, we have increased our college capital spending in the budget. I recognise that these are challenging times, as Ross Thomson highlights, and we are delivering for the college sector.

Mr Thomson referred to the types of college places that are available. We fund part-time and full-time college courses; we are focusing on courses for which people receive a recognised qualification that will enhance their prospects of going directly into a job and being successful in the job market.

Education Benefits (Uptake)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to automating some benefits, such as school clothing grants, free school meals and the education maintenance allowance, to increase the uptake by those most in need. (S5O-00880)

The automation of benefits is a matter for local authorities to decide on after taking into account local needs and priorities. The Scottish Government is always keen to see improvements in the delivery and take-up of passported benefits, which local authorities and other public bodies handle.

The poorest in Scotland are missing out on £2 billion of unclaimed benefits each year. Last year, Glasgow City Council ran a scheme to automate the school clothing grant, which meant that it could send £52 per child to each family. The council’s financial inclusion team cites as some of the biggest reasons why people do not claim their benefits the complexity of forms, language difficulties and worries about losing other benefits.

Notwithstanding the cabinet secretary’s comment that the automation of benefits is the responsibility of local authorities, will he commit to talking to authorities such as Glasgow City Council to get a better understanding of how successful such schemes have been? Will he consider that there is quite a compelling case for the Government to place a duty on councils or to look at the matter in the context of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill? If we can get more people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled, and if we look at the reasons why people are not claiming those benefits, we can take more people out of poverty.

I am happy to associate myself and the Government with the substance and purpose of Pauline McNeill’s question. It is important that, in all circumstances, individuals can receive the benefits to which they are properly and fully entitled.

I am aware that, in some circumstances, individuals are not claiming benefits to which they are entitled and which could make a material difference to their lives. I would be happy to talk to Glasgow City Council and other authorities about how we strengthen and improve the take-up of individual benefits.

We are entering a period in which we will exercise more responsibility for a range of integrated benefits within the competence that the Scottish Government has. I am happy to engage with Pauline McNeill and others on the matter because it is clear to me, from exercises that we have looked at—for example, in connection with the cost of the school day—that there are significant financial burdens for families and that the more we can do to support individuals, the better.

Question 4 was not lodged.

Glasgow Kelvin College (Sale of Stow College)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update regarding Glasgow Kelvin College’s request to retain £3 million from the sale of the Stow College building. (S5O-00882)

The board of Glasgow Kelvin College achieved £6 million from the sale of the former Stow College building. There was initial agreement to retain £3 million of those proceeds to support the capital estate requirements in the Glasgow Kelvin board area. Following a consultation between the Scottish Government and the Glasgow Kelvin College board of management, a further £1 million has been retained by the college, bringing the total retained proceeds to £4 million.

I am grateful to the minister for that answer. Glasgow Kelvin College serves some of the most disadvantaged communities in Scotland and 65 per cent of its learners come from the 20 per cent most deprived communities in the Glasgow region. The £3 million could and should have been invested in the college’s own estate and capital equipment to meet the needs of existing learners and, crucially, to increase the levels of participation of those from deprived areas. Instead, the Scottish Government disregarded decision makers on the ground and cross-subsidised another education institution in a different part of Scotland altogether. Will the minister reconsider that decision and can she advise whether that transfer of resources is now set to become common practice in Scotland?

Adam Tomkins might be aware of what is going on in Glasgow Kelvin College, but he is being rather disingenuous with some of the detail. I will quote part of a letter that I received from the chair of the board of management on 24 March 2017, in which he

“welcomes that the Scottish Government has recognised and supported the work of the College by allocating these resources which will enable learners to access industry standard equipment to provide them with the skills needed for sustainable employment in STEM related industries.”

I have visited the college and have seen the fantastic work that it does with the learners to whom Mr Tomkins referred. I will be more than happy to continue dialogue with the college over the years ahead.

Of course, Mr Tomkins’s party is responsible for much of that deprivation and, unlike me, Mr Tomkins has had no discussions with the principal of Glasgow Kelvin College.

I thank the minister for responding positively to my concerns about the issue for Glasgow Kelvin College and working with me and the college to resolve the matter successfully, with an additional £1 million being secured for the college, which has welcomed that outcome. What are the statutory arrangements for the treatment of such capital receipts in the college sector more generally? Has such treatment been applied to other sectors? How much has the Scottish Government invested in recent years in improving the estates within Glasgow colleges?

I recognise the work that Bob Doris has done with me and the college over the issue, and I welcomed the discussions that I had with him. The statutory arrangements for capital disposals in the further education sector are covered in the statutory powers under section 18(5) of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992. Disposal of assets in other sectors would be dealt with in line with the conditions that are set out in the “Scottish Public Finance Manual”.

Bob Doris rightly points to the investment that the Scottish Government has made in the college estate in Glasgow: £272 million in buildings in the college estate, including the Riverside campus, the City campus and Langside College buildings; and, of course, £16 million for capital maintenance. This Government has a proud record of delivering for Glasgow and the college estate in Scotland.

Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Sector)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that homes in the private rented sector are energy efficient. (S5O-00883)

We have designated energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority, recognising its key role in tackling fuel poverty and meeting our ambitious climate change targets. Private renting now makes up 14 per cent of Scotland’s homes and is an increasingly important housing option for many people in Scotland. The sector has the highest proportion of the least energy-efficient stock and it is only fair that tenants who rent privately have access to a good-quality and energy-efficient home.

Our home energy efficiency programmes for Scotland schemes provide support for householders across all tenures, including the private rented sector, and we have just published a consultation on proposals that would mean that all private rented homes in Scotland would be required to meet a minimum standard of energy efficiency. The consultation seeks views on requiring all private rented sector properties to have a minimum energy performance certificate rating of E at a change in tenancy from 2019, rising to EPC level D from 2022.

The British Lung Foundation Scotland has said that cold, damp and mouldy homes can cause or exacerbate illnesses, including lung diseases, which places additional strain on our health and social services. Will the minister take into account the health benefits for private sector tenants of the improved energy efficiency of their homes when he considers the response to the consultation?

The Scottish Government already recognises the importance of energy efficiency measures in helping individuals to feel healthier and to live in warmer homes that are cheaper to heat. I encourage any tenant who has any issue with dampness to report it immediately to their landlord. Both social and private landlords have a responsibility to ensure that the homes that their tenants live in are in a good state of repair and, under the statutory minimum tolerable standard for all housing, homes must be substantially free from rising or penetrating damp.

On our current consultation, we very much welcome views from all stakeholders including landlords, tenants and other interested parties such as the British Lung Foundation Scotland, and we will, of course, consider carefully all views that are expressed in response to the consultation.

We welcome the consultation, although it was a long time coming. Regulations that cover the private rented sector have already been introduced in England and Wales by the United Kingdom Government. The 2015 energy efficiency regulations will make it unlawful for landlords in England and Wales to grant a new lease of a property with an energy performance certificate rating below E from April next year. Will the Scottish Government study best practice from elsewhere in the UK before drawing up its proposals?

As Mr Simpson said, the UK Government has set a minimum energy efficiency standard in England and Wales at EPC band E for the private rented sector from April 2018. Our start date of 1 April 2019 will allow landlords, assessors and installers time to prepare for minimum standards but, at the same time, ensure that tenants’ homes are improved as soon as possible.

Our proposals also set out a trajectory to increase the standard over time, going beyond the current standard in England and Wales.

What will be the Scottish Government’s approach to rural, off-gas-grid rented properties, many of which have missed out on successive home energy efficiency schemes?

We have certainly taken cognisance of some of the findings of the rural fuel poverty task force, and we have said that we will look at those houses that are off grid. As well as information from the task force, I am pleased to have received information from organisations that are doing work on the ground, such as in east Sutherland. We will look closely at what those folks on the ground are finding and act accordingly.

Why is there such a continuing delay in regulating energy efficiency in the owner-occupied sector? Some 59 per cent of those who are in fuel poverty live in that sector. As WWF indicated in its evidence on the draft climate change plan, the powers have been in existence since 2009. The idea was an enabling measure in the first report on proposals and policies, it was a concrete proposal in RPP 2 and it was developed with stakeholders to the detailed, pre-consultation phase in the previous session of Parliament. Under the current proposals, nothing will happen until at least 2019—a decade after the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. Why is the Government so complacent in this regard?

As Mr Wightman is well aware, we have set out a timetable for how we will deal with houses in owner occupation as part of the consultation that we published just the other week. We are adamant about ensuring that we get all the proposals absolutely right. I encourage folk to look at the current consultation on the private housing sector and respond accordingly, and we will then move on to looking at owner-occupied properties.