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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 20, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 20 June 2019

Agenda: Business Motion, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Glasgow School of Art Fire, Planning (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 (Day 3), Portfolio Question Time, Provisional Outturn 2018-19, Gender Recognition Act 2004 Review, Planning (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Social Security Scotland (Disability Pay Gap)

To ask the Scottish Government for what reason there is a median disability pay gap of 26 per cent in Social Security Scotland. (S5O-03421)

Social Security Scotland was established on 1 September 2018 and the majority of its workforce have been recruited since that date. The data that was used to determine the median disability gap is from December 2018 and is based on voluntary self-declaration. At that time, the disability status of 62.5 per cent of the agency’s rapidly growing workforce was unknown.

The most recent staff survey highlighted that 22 per cent of employees in Social Security Scotland who have completed the survey identify as having a long-standing physical or mental health condition, illness, impairment or disability.

I am proud that we have sought to recruit people to Social Security Scotland who are reflective of the society in which we live.

The cabinet secretary knows that I have taken a keen interest in whether the new agency employs, and is representative of, the disabled people whom it will be supporting with billions of pounds of assistance.

When I previously raised concerns about the agency’s struggle to recruit disabled people, a member of Social Security Scotland’s executive advisory body told me that I had a

“focus almost entirely upon the external attributes”,

which is

“a judgmental approach”,

and they accused me of

“misinformation and casting such deep aspersions publicly”.

I trust that the cabinet secretary will agree that attempts by a member of the executive advisory body to suppress legitimate and substantiated concerns about the recruitment of disabled people and, by extension, about equal pay and promotion are simply unacceptable. Will she today commit to introduce a plan to close the pay gap at the agency and get more disabled people into positions of leadership at all levels in the organisation, so that it represents the disabled people whom it will serve?

I thank Mark Griffin for his question, as I know that it is on an issue that he is particularly interested in. I hope that he listened to my original answer, in which I talked about the fact that the staff survey highlighted that 22 per cent of the employees who completed it have a long-standing physical or mental health condition, which means that they are representative of the communities that we serve.

The agency has already made great efforts in recruitment to ensure that we are employing people who have a disability. For example, in Dundee, we are working with Remploy, and in Glasgow, we have recently had taster sessions with the Glasgow Disability Alliance. All the taster sessions were exceptionally successful. In addition, Inclusion Scotland is offering placements for disabled candidates.

We are working internally to ensure that there is great deal of focus on encouraging people who came into Social Security Scotland on entry-level jobs, which are the vast majority of jobs in the agency, to improve their prospects of internal promotion. I would be more than happy to share with Mark Griffin the information about what is already in place, because I appreciate that he is very interested in the subject.

I am proud of what the agency has delivered and what it will continue to deliver in this area.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm, for the avoidance of doubt, that disabled staff at the agency do not earn less than other people who are doing the same job? Will she also outline how the Scottish Government is working with disabled people’s organisations to ensure that Social Security Scotland is seen as an attractive and inclusive place for disabled people to work and, importantly, that we are not missing out on their talent and skills?

I can confirm that staff working for Social Security Scotland are employed under the Scottish Government’s main terms and conditions, which includes standardised pay scales. Therefore, we are very confident that we provide equal pay for equal work. In my answer to Mark Griffin, I mentioned some of the work that we are doing with disability organisations to attract diverse talent. The agency is also a disability confident employer and we take part in a guaranteed interview scheme for people with disabilities, thereby reducing barriers to employment.

I hope that that gives the member and Parliament some reassurance about the great amount of work that the agency is undertaking in this important area.

Equally Safe

To ask the Scottish Government how it is meeting the objectives of its equally safe strategy. (S5O-03422)

In November 2018, the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities published our first equally safe annual report, which highlighted progress made on implementing the strategy and delivery plan. Work is continuing to take forward important measures, including building understanding of consent and healthy relationships, tackling women’s inequality, ensuring early and effective interventions for victims and survivors, and holding perpetrators to account for their actions. We will continue to report on progress annually for the lifetime of the delivery plan.

One of the objectives of the Scottish National Party Government strategy is that men who carry out violence against women and girls are held to account by the justice system. However, the same SNP Government is letting the vast majority of domestic abusers avoid jail, by favouring soft-touch community sentences, which—[Interruption.] According to Scottish Women’s Aid, such community sentences put women and children in danger. Why is the SNP refusing to exempt domestic abusers from its plan to abolish jail sentences for up to a year, as Scottish Women’s Aid and others have asked?

You want a UK ban on short-term sentences.

Mr Yousaf, Ms McKelvie is answering the question.

Thank you, Presiding Officer—it is all teamwork in our Government.

I emphasise the important relationships that the Government has with Scottish Women’s Aid and other organisations, which it values. Those organisations will continue to hold us to account and encourage us to do more to support victims of domestic abuse and tackle perpetrators. We will continue to work constructively with them, as the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, is currently doing.

I want to make clear our commitment to tackling all forms of violence against women and girls through our equally safe strategy, for which I have responsibility. That includes action to support perpetrators of domestic abuse to change their behaviour. We have committed an additional £2.8 million in the period from 2018 to 2020 to expand the innovative Caledonian system for domestic abuse programme, so that more male perpetrators of domestic violence can receive specific rehabilitation services.

That complements our approach to holding perpetrators to account through the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. I know that our justice system will continue to give such matters serious attention.

I gently remind Annie Wells about the proposal from the UK Government to ban short sentences. I will remind her not so gently that our policy is for a presumption against short sentences, which gives sheriffs the discretion to put away domestic abusers as they see fit.

For a long time, coercive and controlling behaviour has been a hidden aspect of domestic abuse. Does the minister believe that the first conviction under the new Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 sends a clear signal that domestic abuse in any form will not be tolerated? I hope that it will provide assurance for victims and give them greater confidence to report all forms of abusive behaviour.

The commencement of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 was a great event in the Scottish Parliament and marks a new era in Scotland in tackling domestic abuse. Coercive and controlling behaviour, which has long been a hidden aspect of domestic abuse, is increasingly being brought to the fore and highlighted as absolutely unacceptable.

The first conviction under the 2018 act is a positive start and sends a clear and unequivocal message that domestic abuse, in any and all of its forms, will not be tolerated in Scotland. There is only one person responsible for abusive behaviour: the perpetrator. I hope that the first conviction will provide reassurance to survivors that we take such abuse seriously and will hold perpetrators to account for their abusive behaviour.

Earlier this week, I met White Ribbon Scotland, which recently teamed up with bookies across Renfrewshire as part of a campaign that saw scores of men sign the White Ribbon Scotland pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women in any of its forms. Will the minister join me in thanking White Ribbon Scotland and all involved for running that positive campaign? Does she agree that the work of White Ribbon Scotland on changing men’s attitudes makes a vital contribution to our shared goal of ending male violence against women in all its forms?

I whole-heartedly join Tom Arthur in extending my thanks. I am extremely grateful for the work of White Ribbon Scotland in highlighting the important role that men and boys have to play in promoting positive role models, changing men’s attitudes and encouraging men and boys to recognise and call out male violence against women and girls in all its forms.

I have taken a keen interest in the initiative, including taking part in its work in my constituency. I look forward to continued engagement with White Ribbon Scotland, which undoubtedly has a vital role to play in our shared goal of preventing and, ultimately, eradicating, that type of violence.

Domestic Abuse

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce domestic abuse. (S5O-03423)

It is a Scottish Government priority to tackle both the causes and the impacts of domestic abuse. We just heard about the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which came into force in April and which reflects the full spectrum of abuse that victims might suffer. Criminal proceedings using the new legislation are on-going in courts across Scotland. As Shona Robison rightly said, one person has already been convicted and sentenced for the new offence.

We have supported the delivery of training to more than 14,000 officers and front-line staff in Police Scotland to support them to recognise the dynamics of trauma and abuse. We are also investing significant levels of funding in front-line services to support survivors of domestic abuse.

The Caledonian programme already seems to be making a huge difference in the areas in which it has been rolled out, and it is gaining the confidence of sentencers up and down the country. Will the cabinet secretary advise when it is likely to be rolled out across the country, including in North Lanarkshire?

Fulton MacGregor’s question makes an important point. Community disposals are available; however, they are always at a sheriff’s discretion. The community alternatives and disposals that could be available include the likes of the Caledonian project, which works with the perpetrators of domestic abuse on rehabilitation to change their behaviour. That is why we have invested £2.8 million to expand the Caledonian system domestic abuse programme, from which 19 local authorities now benefit. We support local government, including North Lanarkshire Council, with £100 million for criminal justice social work. On the specific question about the Caledonian project, I will write to Fulton MacGregor in more detail about the plans to roll it out to the remaining local authorities.

Question 4 was not lodged.

Marine Mammals (Entanglement)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to protect marine mammals from entanglement. (S5O-03425)

The Scottish Government supports the Scottish marine animal strandings scheme, which investigates the causes of death of marine animals, including entanglements. Through that work, the scheme contributes to the Scottish entanglement alliance project, which aims to monitor and, ultimately, mitigate entanglements.

Mandatory bycatch monitoring is carried out across the United Kingdom under European Union regulations and is delivered under contract through the bycatch monitoring programme of the University of St Andrews. The Scottish Government is leading the development of the UK dolphin and porpoise conservation strategy, which includes actions on bycatch and entanglement. The strategy will be subject to public consultation later in the year.

A European maritime and fisheries fund-funded research project that is looking at cetacean entanglement is under way. Members of the project have called for the piloting of measures to prevent and mitigate entanglement due to fishing gear, but they have been told that they need to establish its extent.

Over the past couple of months, two humpback whales have drowned as a result of entanglement. Last month, another juvenile humpback whale that was entangled in fishing rope and netting was spotted in the Firth of Forth. Does the cabinet secretary support the calls for the pilot? What other measures are in place to prevent whales, dolphins and seals from becoming entangled in our litter?

My first answer outlined a range of on-going work. Obviously, I fully support the work of the Scottish entanglement alliance project to investigate the extent of the problem and to provide an evidence base for proportionate mitigation strategies. However, any pilot fisheries measures should first be discussed with the regional inshore fisheries groups before they come to the Scottish Government.

In 2017, the Scottish Government signed up to the global ghost gear initiative to tackle ghost fishing gear, which is often the reason for the problem. Of course, it is a global problem that needs global action.

Women Prisoners (Support and Services)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken to ensure that the most appropriate support and services are in place for women in the prison system. (S5O-03426)

In 2015, my predecessor announced ambitious new plans for the future of the female custodial estate. The Scottish Prison Service has a dedicated team and programme in place to deliver the Scottish Government’s vision of transforming how Scotland cares for women in custody.

The SPS is working with a range of partners and stakeholders to develop a new model for managing and supporting women in custody, which has included developing new custodial arrangements for women to ensure that both the physical environment and the available services are gender specific and trauma informed. The SPS works with a range of statutory and third sector partners to deliver women’s services that address learning and skills, employability, physical activity and wellbeing, health—including mental health and support for addictions—and support for family engagement. Further needs-based services are available, including behavioural change programmes and bespoke trauma and bereavement services.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his informative answer. However, at the moment, changes to public policy on gender recognition are taking place without there having been a change in the law. Those changes are unregulated and unscrutinised, and they specifically affect women in prison who are especially vulnerable. Is the cabinet secretary aware that the SPS implemented its policy on gender identity with an equality impact assessment that neither considered the effect on women prisoners nor consulted them? Does he agree that that process was deeply flawed? Will he ensure that the current review, which was referenced in the report by Women and Girls Scotland, will carry out proper equality impact and risk assessments on any new policy proposals and involve a wide-ranging consultation that includes female prisoners?

I will ensure that the concerns that Elaine Smith has reflected are part of that review. She is right to say that a review is going on. It should also be said that the SPS gender identity and gender reassignment policy, which was published in 2014, was developed in partnership with a number of organisations including Stonewall and the Transgender Alliance. Five years on, it is right that it is under review, which is happening. The review will include a consultation that will be open to members from across the chamber to feed into. Notwithstanding that, I will ensure that a transcript of what Elaine Smith has said is passed on to the SPS for its comment.

Given the high incidence of women in prison who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, does the cabinet secretary agree that cutting the availability of prison-based specialist services such as those provided by Open Secret, which is now Wellbeing Scotland, is a retrograde step that has resulted in such prisoners’ underlying problems, which have often led to their using alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, not being addressed?

Of course, it would be better if the vast majority of such women were not in custody. Some 90 per cent of women who are in custody are there for 12 months or less, so they would be affected disproportionately—in a good way—by the application of the presumption against short custodial sentences, which Margaret Mitchell does not support. It would be better if Ms Mitchell and the Conservatives supported the presumption, which would mean fewer women being in custody and, instead, being treated in the community for their problems with substance abuse and so on.

On the premise of Ms Mitchell’s question, which was about the services that are available, I advise her that we will always continue to fund the SPS for the important services that it provides. However, it would be much better if the Conservatives supported our presumption so that, instead of sending women to prison, we could treat them in the community, addressing the root causes of their offending instead of merely the symptoms.

Modern Apprentices (Dundee)

To ask the Scottish Government for what reason the number of people starting modern apprenticeships reportedly fell by almost 12 per cent in Dundee between 2017-18 and 2018-19. (S5O-03427)

Modern apprenticeships are demand led. As employers—including those who offer modern apprenticeships—often recruit in cycles, the number of starts in any area can fluctuate from year to year. We have seen growth in the number of apprenticeship starts throughout Scotland, and there has been a record number of starts for the eighth year in a row. In Dundee, Skills Development Scotland is working with employers, partners and individuals to promote work-based learning opportunities, including apprenticeships.

The 12 per cent drop is particularly worrying, given the economic situation in Dundee, where, as the minister knows, there will be even fewer apprenticeship opportunities when Michelin closes, next year—and 70 fewer after the minister’s failure to support the McGill electrical services company. Will the Government now designate Dundee as a priority area for apprenticeships, and will he meet me as soon as possible to discuss taking special measures to get young Dundonians into work?

In respect of McGill’s, which the member has mentioned, of the 72 modern apprentices who were employed there, 70 are no longer seeking alternative employment and the two who are continue to be supported.

In relation to the wider labour market position, and in the context of record high employment in Scotland of 75.9 per cent and record low unemployment of 3.3 per cent, Dundee last year saw the third-highest increase in the employment rate of any local authority area. With the support that we are giving to Michelin and the £150 million that we are putting into the city, and in that labour market context, there are plenty of opportunities for employers to take on apprentices in Dundee.

Rather than get her latest press release lined up, why does Ms Marra not join me in congratulating those employers who provide modern apprenticeship opportunities in Dundee and in encouraging other employers to take on more apprentices in Dundee and across Scotland?