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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 20, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 20 December 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, Lockerbie Bombing (30th Anniversary), First Minister’s Question Time


General Question Time

Scotland’s Reputation

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to promote Scotland’s reputation overseas as that of a welcoming and tolerant society. (S5O-02699)

The Scottish Government is committed to fostering Scotland’s reputation for being a warm and open country. Our international framework is underpinned by a commitment to good global citizenship and we continue to promote our core values, including respect for international human rights standards, in all our international engagement.

Scotland is now is the new, collective approach for the Scottish Government and partner agencies to market Scotland to the world as a progressive and welcoming nation. Scotland is now reaches out internationally to encourage people to be part of Scotland’s future—to live, work, study, visit and do business here.

I cannot be alone in having conversations with constituents who are concerned at the images of the far-right factions that have been appearing at European Union exit demonstrations in London. Those factions seem to be emboldened by political events and led by characters who are taking advantage of the situation to spread messages that one can only hope never become associated with the vast majority of us, in the eyes of those watching from overseas.

Can the cabinet secretary give an idea of what steps the Scottish Government has taken to engage with EU nationals and new Scots who are living in Scotland to reassure them that they are valued and respected, and that racism and xenophobia have no place in our society? What engagement has the Scottish Government had with the United Kingdom Government Home Office in putting forward the view that Scotland should continue to be a destination of choice for those who want to contribute to our society?

The member raises hugely important issues of our time. The only way to tackle racism and xenophobia is head on. That requires political leadership and everyone to step up to the mark, which has sadly been lacking in certain parts of the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Government has been engaging with EU citizens to give reassurance for some time. This week, we announced our service to support them in relation to settled status. Yesterday, the Parliament agreed that the settled status fees should be abolished, because a price should not be put on the cultural and economic value of our EU citizens.

I cannot have been the only person to have looked at the white paper that was produced by the UK Home Office. I also spoke to Caroline Nokes, Minister of State for Immigration, only yesterday. To have a future governed by a Government that produces such a white paper is no way for Scotland to be. The white paper’s proposal for a potential 85 per cent reduction in the number of European Economic Area citizens who are living in Scotland would be absolutely catastrophic for our economy, diversity and the distribution of communities across our remote and rural areas, let alone for our tourism, hospitality and other sectors.

However, even worse than the economic effect is the question of what this says about the country that the UK has become. Scotland cannot be part of a system that perpetuates that kind of attitude towards those who want to come here. Scotland wants to welcome people, because we value them. That is the message that this Government will continue to put out.

Equally Safe

To ask the Scottish Government how it has evaluated the pilot in schools of its equally safe programme. (S5O-02700)

We are pleased to be working with Rape Crisis Scotland and Zero Tolerance to take forward the equally safe at school programme, which aims to promote a whole-school approach to tackling gender-based violence. Last year, it was delivered in two secondary schools, including St John Ogilvie and Calderglen, which is in the member’s constituency. It has been delivered in a further two schools this year. The project is in the second year of a three-year pilot, and the University of Glasgow is currently undertaking a formative evaluation of it. Further work is on-going, with a view to a full-scale evaluation that will commence next year.

The cabinet secretary is aware of the work that has been carried out by various young women’s organisations, including young women lead, about sexual harassment in schools.

I am concerned that we do not have what is called intersectionality among public agencies when dealing with such things. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that discussion is taking place between agencies, schools, local Government, the Government, the police and the health service to ensure that we really can be equally safe in schools?

I want to give Linda Fabiani that reassurance. It is important that, in all areas of Government, we take seriously the issues raised by the young women lead committee’s report—and all other reports on the question of sexual harassment in schools. I had the opportunity to provide evidence to the Parliament’s Equality and Human Rights Committee last week, in relation to the young women lead committee’s report, following evidence from representatives of that committee. Those young women produced a powerful and deeply uncomfortable testimony in the report and in their evidence to Parliament.

I am committed to ensuring that the message is being taken seriously in all aspects of the Government’s work, whether that is in my core policy responsibilities in relation to education, where we have seen significant progress in the gender-based violence work being rolled out by the Emily Drouet campaign that is led by Fiona Drouet—that campaign has been embraced by our universities and colleges and the work is to ensure that it is replicated in schools, particularly in the work that we do on relationships, sexual health and parenthood education—or more widely in Government.

Quad Bikes

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to the antisocial or illegal use of quad bikes or similar vehicles. (S5O-02701)

I am well aware of the risk to public safety caused by careless, inconsiderate and antisocial driving. That is why I fully support Police Scotland and its partners in dealing with the misuse of vehicles in an appropriate and proportionate way. Local policing teams are ideally placed to engage with members of the local community to identify where the misuse of vehicles is causing distress to the public. That ensures that those areas can be prioritised for proactive action to prevent future instances and identify and deal with those engaged in the misuse of vehicles.

The minister may be aware that Fife, and the Levenmouth area in particular, continues to experience antisocial behaviour, despite the best efforts of local police, which presents the risk of there being a serious, or even fatal, accident. The local police inspector has called for more powers to tackle that menace and I back that call. Will the minister agree to meet me in the new year to discuss how we can support our local police and ensure that they have the appropriate powers to take the necessary action?

I am aware of the issue and I would be happy to meet with the member to discuss it. The Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 provides a wide range of measures for dealing with all forms of antisocial behaviour. Our national strategy is based on prevention, early intervention and diversionary activities. The Scottish Government is working with a group of local authorities to use their expertise and knowledge to reform, refresh and update all our guidance documents on tackling antisocial behaviour.

Youth Unemployment (North Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in reducing youth unemployment in North Ayrshire. (S5O-02702)

Youth unemployment for 16 to 24-year-olds in North Ayrshire in the October 2016 to September 2017 period was down 13.8 per cent from its peak in the post-economic downturn in the October 2011 to September 2012 period.

Scottish Enterprise has recently announced funding of £10 million to invest in infrastructure at Hunterston in my constituency. Can the minister advise Parliament how many jobs that will help to create and how many apprenticeships it will secure for young people in North Ayrshire?

I am aware of the investment that has been provided to support the transformation of Scotland’s energy sector as well as to provide significant opportunities for the North Ayrshire economy. Skills Development Scotland has been working closely with Scottish Enterprise and Peel Ports. They will be undertaking work to explore the potential job opportunities and skills demands that will be required. I understand that there will be about 40 apprenticeship opportunities and we will be delighted to support those opportunities for North Ayrshire’s young people through Skills Development Scotland.

A report published earlier this month by the Health Foundation examined some of the challenges facing young people across the United Kingdom. North Ayrshire was one of the locations that it chose to consider. I looked through the feedback from some of the young people who responded and some of them commented that their perception was that opportunities in North Ayrshire were scarce and that they may have to move elsewhere.

Notwithstanding the good work that is going on, what does the minister think that we can do to help promote some of those excellent opportunities?

When I go round the country—North Ayrshire will be no different—one of the big challenges that we have is that although a range of opportunities are available on young people’s doorsteps, they are not always aware of those opportunities. A critical element of our developing the young workforce strategy is to make young people aware of those opportunities. I urge every member, including Mr Greene, to make sure that young people are aware of the developing the young workforce initiative.

With hundreds of jobs and £350 million-worth of investment at stake, does the minister agree that it is time for the United Kingdom Government to stop dragging its heels on the Ayrshire growth deal and join the Scottish Government and local authorities in signing a heads of terms agreement on 25 January, to bring those much-needed jobs and investment to Ayrshire?

We are committed to supporting the Ayrshire economy through a growth deal. The Ayrshire local authorities have indicated that they want to sign a heads of terms agreement on a deal on 25 January. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity has said that he is willing to do so, and he has written to the Secretary of State for Scotland to urge the UK Government to agree to the proposed timescale. Thus far, we await a reply.

Lipoedema Support

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve support for women who have lipoedema. (S5O-02703)

The Scottish Government recognises that lipoedema can be a distressing and painful condition. As with all long-term conditions, we want people who are living with lipoedema to be able to access the best possible care and support.

Lipoedema services are mainly provided by therapists, including the nurses and allied health professionals who are based within the lymphoedema services that are available in every health board in Scotland. Over the past three years, we have worked to improve lymphoedema services via the national lymphoedema care in Scotland working group.

Anne Henry, with whom I have been working for more than a year, went public about how difficult it is to get a diagnosis for lipoedema on the national health service. Following a private diagnosis, Anne has faced a battle to get NHS treatment. There is only one surgeon in the NHS in Scotland who can perform the surgery that she needs. Anne was due to have surgery in Ninewells hospital next month, but she has been told to expect a delay because of staff capacity issues.

The minister might recall that, last month, he told me:

“there is no demand for a second surgeon”.—[Written Answers, 21 November 2018; S5W-19857.]

However, the Scottish Parliament information centre advises that more than a quarter of a million women in Scotland have lipoedema. Can the minister explain why one surgeon is sufficient? Will he look at the capacity issues again? Will he meet me in the new year to discuss ways to improve lipoedema healthcare?

I am pleased to hear that the member’s constituent has an appointment, and I hope that that takes place in a timeous manner.

Liposuction is not necessarily the best and most appropriate treatment for everyone with lipoedema. Although, as the member suggested, a significant number of women have lipoedema, liposuction will not necessarily be the best treatment for all those people. Clearly, what the best treatment would be is a matter for discussion between the clinician and the patient.

Dr Alex Munnoch is the leading surgeon who provides that specialist treatment in Dundee. If we had more surgeons performing that form of surgery, there is a real danger that they would not be able to maintain their skills set, given the level of demand for the service. It would set alarm bells ringing for me if we had a number of surgeons who were not managing to keep their skills sets up to date. However, I would be happy to meet Monica Lennon to discuss those matters in the new year.

Rail Freight

To ask the Scottish Government what proportion of freight is conveyed by rail. (S5O-02704)

Network Rail advises that there are currently around 45 freight trains a day in Scotland. The latest available figures showing the proportion of freight conveyed by rail relate to 2012-13, when the figure was 4.3 per cent. We do not have a more up-to-date figure because, although Transport Scotland continues to request the information, one large freight operator will not release its volume data for commercial reasons. We are seeking to have that matter resolved.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the frustrations that exist in connection with any attempted improvements in the conveyance of freight by rail, including those that relate to Highland Spring, and he will be aware that we support the devolution of Network Rail. The reopening of the Levenmouth link and the dualling of the Highland main line would dramatically increase the potential for freight to be moved from road to rail. Will the cabinet secretary progress those projects in the 2019 to 2024 control period?

The member referred to a number of projects, in particular the one at Highland Spring Ltd. He will be aware that work has started on providing a link at Highland Spring, to allow it to move from road to rail, which will support his party’s ambitions for freight investment. The member will also be interested in the work that has been undertaken on the far north line, which is about helping to provide greater access for freight, along with greater resilience for passenger services. In the next control period, we will be giving greater focus to further enhancements to the infrastructure of Scotland’s rail network, including greater provision to enable a high level of freight on Scotland’s rails.

Integration Joint Boards (Spending)

To ask the Scottish Government how many integration joint boards have projected an overspend for 2018-19. (S5O-02705)

Before taking into account mitigating actions by the partnerships, the latest position indicates that 22 integration authorities are projecting an overspend. Management of that includes planned additional funding from partners, delivery of financial recovery plans and appropriate use of reserves. Taking those mitigating actions into account, I expect integration authorities to deliver a balanced financial outturn; in part, because—as a key comparison—last year at the end of December, integration authorities were forecasting a combined £71 million overspend, although by the end of the financial year, they reported a £39 million underspend in their combined final accounts.

If the cabinet secretary looks at the detail of that, she will see that many of the IJBs that projected overspends did overspend and the local authorities used balances to bail them out. The fact is that IJBs across Scotland are in crisis. Two weeks ago, the Accounts Commission, in “Local government in Scotland: Financial overview 2017/18”, stated:

“The majority of IJBs have underlying financial sustainability issues”.

In Fife, I believe that the IJB was set up to fail, because it started its working life with a deficit. Will the cabinet secretary agree to start discussions with NHS Fife and Fife Council, and will she look into giving the health and social care partnership proper financial stability?

At the end of March, our combined integration joint boards were sitting with £124.25 million of reserves, which are part of the mitigating actions that I am discussing. These are, of course, joint ventures between local authorities and health boards and, while Mr Rowley might be correct about the past financial year, local authorities have provided additional funds—as did health boards—much of which came from our overall health budget and the transfer to local government that is in both the settlement and the health settlement. That is the case in this year’s draft budget.

We must be clear and careful in talking about the funding of our integration joint boards and how the money is managed. I am having a helpful discussion with Councillor Stuart Currie—my counterpart at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—and in January we will look at a number of matters around the funding and resourcing of the integration joint boards, not least of which is those reserves, which are not new and have increased on the year before.

Mr Rowley and I have already discussed the Fife IJB. The deficit that it started with came from both the local authority and the health board, and we do need to assist in that instance. That IJB started off on a poor footing and needs joint assistance from us in order to help it to move forward. Again, Councillor Currie and I have already had an initial discussion on that and we will continue that in the early part of next year.

Edinburgh’s integration joint board is said to be £10.3 million over budget and is looking to use £1.3 million of its reserve to reduce that deficit. It is clear that the integration joint boards need to have more financial accountability to this Parliament, so, in the new year, what will the cabinet secretary bring forward to ensure that we can achieve that accountability, just as we have in relation to health boards?

If Miles Briggs is referring to the three-year funding plan that I announced for health boards, he will be aware that the IJBs have the capacity to hold reserves; indeed, I have just been talking about the amount of money that they have. The Edinburgh board is sitting with just over £8 million.

Miles Briggs will also know that I have replied in detail to the Health and Sport Committee’s detailed pre-budget scrutiny—I hope that he is now in receipt of my response, much of which talks about the financing and governance of IJBs. In January, I will have the pleasure of giving evidence to the committee to discuss the matters further, and I look forward to doing so.