Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)
Meeting date: Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Agenda: Business Motions, Portfolio Question Time, Deaths in Custody, Retained European Union Law, Cost of Living Support, Social Care Charges, Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Loch Lomond (Proposed Development)
- Business Motions
- Portfolio Question Time
- Deaths in Custody
- Retained European Union Law
- Cost of Living Support
- Social Care Charges
- Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Loch Lomond (Proposed Development)
Portfolio Question Time
Justice and Veterans
The next item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is justice and veterans. I ask members who wish to ask a supplementary question to press their request-to-speak button or enter R in the chat function during the relevant question. I advise members that business is extensive this afternoon, so I add emphasis to the usual plea that questions and answers be as succinct as possible.
Abortion Clinic Protests (Antisocial Behaviour Laws)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions justice ministers have had with ministerial colleagues regarding using antisocial behaviour laws to prevent people from carrying out intimidating protests outside abortion clinics. (S6O-01252)
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans and I are kept up to date on the discussions that are held in the buffer zones working group, which is chaired by the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport. The group is looking at all the legislation that could be used in response to protests at abortion clinics. That includes the antisocial behaviour legislation about which Carol Mochan has asked.
The application of antisocial behaviour legislation in response to protests is an operational matter for Police Scotland, which assesses each incident individually and will take appropriate and proportionate action in response. The Scottish Government fully supports Police Scotland to respond to protests at abortion clinics in such a manner if Police Scotland feels that a response is merited and is required to protect individuals and public safety.
The law states that a person is involved in antisocial behaviour if they act
“in a manner that causes or is likely to cause alarm or distress”
to anyone, or if they behave in a way that is
“likely to cause alarm or distress to at least one person who is not of the same household”.
In what sense is deliberately seeking to scare or intimidate a woman who is simply pursuing the healthcare to which she is entitled not antisocial? Why cannot the antisocial behaviour laws be used? Will the minister ensure that those laws are used now to protect people who are seeking healthcare?
There is no place in our society for harassment, abuse and intimidation of women and girls who access healthcare services. The Scottish Government has been clear about that.
Let me reiterate what the Scottish Government is doing on the matter. The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport has convened a working group, whose members include Police Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and affected health boards. The group is looking at short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions to the issue.
Members will no doubt be aware that the First Minister is committed to finding meaningful solutions to the problem of protests outside abortion clinics. She will chair a summit on the matter on 27 June—just next week. The summit will focus on buffer zones, and it will be attended by members of the Scottish Parliament, COSLA, women’s rights groups and so on.
It is important that any action that is taken is proportionate and balances everyone’s rights under the European convention on human rights. The issues are complex, but I give the assurance that we are considering them all very carefully.
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s recent report on hate crime in Scotland, particularly the findings that in 2021-22 disability aggravated charges increased by 44 per cent and transgender identity aggravated charges by 87 per cent compared with 2020-21. (S6O-01253)
Any form of hate crime or prejudice is completely unacceptable. Although the increase in disability and transgender aggravated hate crime may in part be related to a greater willingness among victims to report incidents, we are not complacent and remain committed to tackling hatred and prejudice wherever it occurs. Later this year or shortly thereafter, we will publish our new hate crime strategy, which will set out our priorities for tackling hate crime. To help to drive that, we have established a strategic partnership group, which is chaired by the Minister for Equalities and Older People and includes representation from the Equality Network and Glasgow Disability Alliance.
I welcome the figures that show that total numbers of hate crimes have decreased across the north and north-east, but it is very concerning that Inverness has seen a rise in hate crimes related to sexual orientation and disability, especially since crimes of that nature are consistently underreported. What is the Scottish Government doing to support LGBTQ+ people and disabled people who have been victims of a hate crime to come forward and report it?
The Scottish Government stands shoulder to shoulder with all victims of hate crime, including LGBTQ+ people and disabled people, and we strongly encourage reporting of incidents directly to the police or by using one of the many third-party reporting centres that exist in every local authority. However, we recognise that for some victims, barriers to reporting hate crime remain. As we work to develop a new hate crime strategy for Scotland, we will consider how to build on the progress that has been made in reducing barriers in order to ensure that victims and witnesses have the confidence to report hate crime, and that they feel supported in doing so.
It is shocking that in Scottish society hate crimes against disabled people and the LGBT community have outnumbered and overtaken religious or sectarian hate crimes for the first time. Intolerance seems to be reducing in one area but increasing worryingly in another. As Ariane Burgess pointed out, such crimes are markedly underreported in those communities. As well as the steps that have been mentioned by the cabinet secretary, what conversations have taken place with Police Scotland and the Crown Office to improve prosecution rates, which would surely act as a true deterrent to those who seek to abuse people from our disabled and LGBT communities?
I agree with Jamie Greene’s point. It is shocking to see the rises in hate crime, particularly crime against people with disabilities. We recognise that not all incidents of hate crime come to the attention of the police. We engage with the police and the Crown Office, not least in relation to “Tackling Prejudice and Building Connected Communities Action Plan: Overview of Implementation”, which showed encouraging progress in raising awareness and encouraging reporting of hate crime, including through execution of the annual public awareness campaigns that we undertake with partners.
As we work to develop a new hate crime strategy with the partners that Jamie Greene mentioned, we will consider how to build on the progress that has been made on tackling barriers to reporting, including third-party reporting, to ensure victim support and further confidence.
Police Scotland (Culture)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the review by the Police Service of Northern Ireland into findings by a tribunal of a “sexist culture” in Police Scotland. (S6O-01254)
To quote the chief constable,
“Misogyny, sexism and discrimination of any kind are deplorable. They should have no place in society and no place in policing.”
I welcome the independent report, which has been commissioned by the chief constable and carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I fully support the review’s findings and recommendations. I expect to see Police Scotland demonstrating progress towards implementation of the recommendations and—to quote the chief constable again—
“to lead a change which improves the experiences of all women … enabling and supporting those who speak up … to be heard without fear of detriment or victimisation.”
I thank the cabinet secretary for that response and I welcome the fact that the report has now been published. However, the facts are these: a promising young female officer was bullied out of the force; damages of more than £1 million were awarded; and an acting inspector is being investigated for perjury. Yet this report merely recommends a review of recruitment into firearms, training on standards and a refresher course on diversity. Is recommending diversity training in response to such serious issues not the very definition of tokenism? I find it incomprehensible that the report fails to offer any insight or recommendation on organisational or procedural reform. Given that officers at the most senior level were aware of it, I find it scandalous that the conduct of no individuals other than those who were directly involved was considered. In line with Dame Elish Angiolini’s recommendations in her report on police complaints, can we put an end to the practice of the police investigating themselves? Will the cabinet secretary write to the Scottish Police Authority chair and the chief constable to ask them to reject the report and undertake a robust and comprehensive examination of the culture—
That is not a brief question, Mr Johnson.
Will he meet me, Rhona Malone and Richard Creanor, who first brought the matter to my attention, so that he can examine the issues directly?
I have already stated that I support the recommendations that were made by the police and I do not see them as being as trivial as Daniel Johnson suggests. The root of the issue is in the training and the culture in Police Scotland, and the recommendation was made—not by Police Scotland but by the Police Service of Northern Ireland—to tackle that through training and a number of other measures. The report has just been published and I appreciate that there is room for further discussion. I will take advice about meeting the other people whom he mentioned, but I am certainly happy to discuss the matter further with Daniel Johnson and see what else is possible. After this question time and the statement that I am about to make, I will meet Police Scotland and the SPA and I am sure that we will discuss the issue at that time as well.
What steps is the Scottish Government taking to drive forward meaningful improvement and strengthen public confidence in the police?
We are committed to supporting the changes that the chief constable has committed to lead, so that Scotland’s citizens and communities have trust and confidence in the policing system and the structures that underpin it. Of course, that has been impacted by the example that has been given already.
Working with partners, following the publication of Dame Elish Angiolini’s review, we have already taken significant steps towards achieving that. On 24 May, a 12-week public consultation was launched to seek views on 34 of her recommendations that would require possible legislative changes. We will continue to engage with partners and interested parties on those important matters, so that we can further improve transparency and strengthen public confidence in the police.
I have spoken with Rhona Malone and other female officers who have suffered from Police Scotland’s sexist culture, such as Karen Harper, a brave whistleblower who was forced from her job due to sexist bullying but who is still fighting for answers after seven damaging years. She says that there is a chasm between Police Scotland’s rhetoric and its actions. As Daniel Johnson has already asked, is the cabinet secretary willing to meet her and any other woman who fears that the PSNI report might not change anything?
I have substantially responded to the points in answer to Daniel Johnson’s question, but I would say the same to Russell Findlay. I am happy to meet him. I do not know the proprieties of meeting someone else who might have a current case against Police Scotland, but I am willing to look into that and come back to the member if it is possible to do so.
I agree with the point about making sure that rhetoric is reflected in reality, but I have faith that the members of Police Scotland’s senior management team are committed to this work, whether that is through the report that was produced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland or through the recommendations of Dame Elish Angiolini’s review. They are committed to driving out those behaviours and I want to support them in doing that. If, after discussions with Daniel Johnson and Russell Findlay, there are further suggestions, I am happy to take those to Police Scotland.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments about creating a culture in Police Scotland in which men and women can speak up and be heard. However, in many instances, the public interest has been affected to the detriment. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in order to deal with all those issues in an appropriate way, the time has come for us to consider the case for an independent office of the whistleblower in Scotland?
We already have before us a substantial body of work that looks at complaints against the police, and that is the way we should address the matter. Other suggestions might be taken into account at the same time, but I am aware of how complex the landscape already looks with the different players who are involved in looking at the police, such as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner. A lot of people are involved in doing that work. We have to ensure that the public understand what that landscape is and what the quickest, easiest and most straightforward way to make a complaint is. Also, police officers themselves have a right to expect that there is a simplified process that they can understand. That is what we are aiming for. Of course, we are willing to listen to any suggestions in addition to that.
War Pensions (Appeals)
To ask the Scottish Government what support and advice is available to veterans in appealing to the Upper Tribunal for Scotland regarding war pensions. (S6O-01255)
Both the war pension scheme and the armed forces compensation scheme are reserved to the United Kingdom Government. The Upper Tribunal administrative appeals chamber is also reserved and is administered by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. However, we understand that Legion Scotland offers advice and support to veterans pursuing such claims. Veterans may also be eligible for financial assistance with their appeals through legal aid. Additionally, the veterans welfare service, which is part of the Ministry of Defence’s Veterans UK, offers support to anyone claiming a war pension.
I am indeed aware of the excellent advice and support that organisations such as Legion Scotland offer military veterans to access their entitlements, including war pensions. However, once any appeals process for war pensions reaches the Upper Tribunal for Scotland, appeals can be made only on points of law. That has left a constituent of mine with a significant advice gap, as support organisations cannot offer such legal advice and my constituent is unable to claim legal aid. Will the cabinet secretary review the advice and support that is available in Scotland—perhaps in partnership with his colleagues in the UK Government, given the reserved aspects of much of this—to see what steps can be taken to plug what is, certainly in my constituency case, an advice gap?
As I have said, war pensions are wholly reserved and the appeals process is independent. Any changes to associated support are a matter for the Secretary of State for Defence but, as Bob Doris is hinting, there are substantial controversies around the administration of these schemes, whether it is in terms of pensions or compensations that are currently at Westminster.
In order to target funding appropriately, legal aid applications are subject to statutory tests, which cover the merits of the case and the means that are available to the applicant. The Scottish ministers are not involved in the decision-making process, but there are resources available that may be able to assist with advice for Bob Doris’s constituent, such as the local citizens advice bureau, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Law Society of Scotland, which are also able to provide assistance in finding advice providers.
To ask the Scottish Government how it will ensure fair access to justice in light of its recent resource spending review reportedly freezing legal aid spending for the next five years. (S6O-01256)
The legal aid fund is not frozen. The legal aid budget in Scotland is demand led and all those who meet the eligibility criteria will have access to legal aid. We will continue to work with justice organisations to develop and co-ordinate their delivery plans in response to the high-level spending review allocations, including public bodies such as the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
In this financial year, we have increased the legal aid budget by £13.9 million, which is an increase of 10 per cent, and we have also made an investment of £1 million over two years in the future of the legal profession. We are working in partnership with the Law Society of Scotland to deliver a new legal aid traineeship scheme, which is the first of its kind in Scotland.
The impact of the announcement of a budget freeze will paralyse the justice system, which is already struggling. The weight of the court backlog from the Covid period is already harming access to justice and this will only threaten any recovery. In recent months, people across the Lothian region have been caught up in a mixture of court backlogs and industrial action from the legal profession in protest at frozen pay. There is delayed justice and strike action, and people across Scotland are stuck without access to legal representation. Is this the reality of the Scottish Government’s new vision for justice?
I do not agree with the member’s assessment. The spending review sets out high-level multiyear spending parameters; it is not a budget. The annual budget will continue to be set through the normal parliamentary budgeting process.
The member mentioned the backlog. The Government has invested substantial amounts of funding into reducing the backlog.
In terms of legal aid practitioners, in addition to the increase in the legal aid budget this year, we have recently also offered a 7.5 per cent uplift in criminal fees and a 5 per cent uplift in civil fees. That has been rejected by the profession. However, we will endeavour to continue those negotiations in order to find an affordable solution.
We can all agree that fair access to justice is vitally important, so I welcome the £13.9 million investment that the minister has outlined. How does the legal aid system in Scotland compare to other jurisdictions in Europe on scope, access and eligibility?
Briefly please, minister.
An independent review of legal aid, which was published in 2018, found that Scotland had a generous legal aid system by international standards, and that it had wide scope and no cash limit. Despite significant financial pressures, Scotland is one of the leading jurisdictions in Europe for its legal aid system in terms of scope, eligibility and costs: 75 per cent of people are financially eligible for some form of civil legal aid assistance, which contrasts with England and Wales, where only 25 per cent of people are eligible for that assistance. In England and Wales, there have been cuts to scope that have left many areas of civil law, such as family, housing and immigration, largely out of scope.
The minister will have seen Lyndsey Barber’s powerful video setting out why she is leaving the criminal defence system. She says that the system is at breaking point. Has the minister done an assessment of the impact on victims if the system breaks?
Since 2019, the Scottish Government has increased legal aid fees by 8 per cent, and another 5 per cent was committed earlier this year. That was not a one-off payment: it is a year-on-year commitment of 13 per cent. Of course, that must be set against the current backdrop of difficult public finances. That demonstrates that the Government values legal aid practitioners, and that we are investing in that system. I will give the chamber my assurance that the cabinet secretary and I will continue to engage with representatives of the profession in order to try to find a sustainable way forward.
Police Pay Negotiations
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on police pay negotiations. (S6O-01257)
The police negotiating board’s process is on-going in relation to police officer pay for 2022-23. In line with police negotiating board protocols, it is not appropriate for me to comment on that. The Scottish Government is, of course, involved in officer pay negotiations, alongside the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland, as part of the PNB’s official side. Police staff pay is negotiated under a separate process to officer pay, and it is a matter for the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland, in consultation with trade unions, at their joint national consultative committee.
The Scottish National Party Government has broken its manifesto promise to protect the police budget in real terms, and hard-working police will pay the price for that. I have an answer to a freedom of information request that shows that last year’s police pay settlement cost Police Scotland £14.5 million, which is less than the £20 million that the SNP Government is proposing to spend on another independence referendum. Would the cabinet secretary rather the SNP Government spends £20 million on police pay or on another referendum that Scotland does not want?
I say to Jeremy Balfour that that is factually incorrect. Unless he has the ability to foresee what the budget is going to be, we have not broken any commitment—but we will not let the facts get in the way of a headline.
The wage increase that police officers in Scotland were awarded last year was an increase of more than 2 per cent. What did police officers in England and Wales get from the Tories? Nothing—an increase of zero. That is the way the Tories treat police officers. It is also true that Jeremy Balfour should realise that the budget that we receive is 5.2 per cent down this year—there has been a 5.2 per cent cut to the budget by the Conservatives. [Interruption.] I know that members do not like to hear that, but the Tories cut the budget in Scotland by 5.2 per cent at the same time as their economic mismanagement of the economy has led to 9.1 per cent inflation. The Tories are the cause of problems for all sorts of public sector workers across the country.
We will continue to do as much as we can for the police, and we have a very good record of doing that. For example, a police officer who is starting in Scotland has a starting salary of more than £26,000, whereas one starting under Tory England and Wales will be paid £21,000. That is the way we are looking after the police.
Water Safety Action Plan
To ask the Scottish Government how it will raise awareness of the water safety action plan ahead of the summer to ensure that people stay safe in and around Scotland’s waters. (S6O-01258)
The member has chosen an apt moment to raise the issue, as this week is the Royal Life Saving Society UK’s drowning prevention week.
On 18 May, I convened a further meeting with our water safety action plan stakeholders, including the Royal Life Saving Society UK, and plans to raise awareness of water safety issues in advance of the summer were discussed at some length. The discussion covered activities on several fronts, including on-going work with Water Safety Scotland to raise awareness about staying safe around the water, identify drowning hotspots and improve water safety signage and messaging.
As the minister said, this is drowning awareness week 2022. It is one of the largest summer water safety campaigns across the United Kingdom, which is a great opportunity for organisations to educate the public to enjoy water safely. What impact has the £60,000 funding grant for Water Safety Scotland in March had on organisations that have an interest in water safety?
The Scottish Government provides annual funding to enable the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents—RoSPA—to deliver an effective programme of home and water safety activity for Scotland. This year’s total of nearly £180,000 includes an additional £60,000, which is purely to better enable RoSPA to expand the support that is provided to Water Safety Scotland, which is the key forum for relevant organisations to come together to share knowledge and learning and to reinforce one another’s efforts. It will enable Water Safety Scotland to develop its pivotal leadership and management role to ensure support for all organisations in its growing membership, and to fully support the diverse workstreams that are associated with the delivery of “Scotland’s Drowning Prevention Strategy 2018-2026” and the water safety action plan. One specific example is enabling—
Minister, I will have to stop you there in order to get in question 8 from Emma Harper, who joins us remotely.
International Transfer of Prisoners
To ask the Scottish Government when it last discussed the international transfer of prisoners to Scotland with the United Kingdom Government. (S6O-01259)
The Ministry of Justice negotiates prisoner transfer agreements on behalf of the United Kingdom, taking into consideration the views of the devolved Administrations. The Ministry of Justice has recently shared proposed amendments to the additional protocol to the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which is intended to improve prisoner transfers between the United Kingdom and Council of Europe member states. I am currently considering those amendments.
My constituent’s son is a UK citizen and he is currently in prison in Boston in the United States. Their son has severe mental health issues and has made four applications to the international prisoner transfer scheme to be brought to Scotland. My office has been liaising with the prison, the UK consul general and the Department of Correction in the US. We have previously been told that it is unlikely that his application will be successful, despite him meeting all the criteria. Therefore, will the cabinet secretary undertake to raise the case with the UK Foreign Office to see whether any further action can be taken to bring him home to Scotland, where he will have access to his family and receive the best possible treatment?
If the member wants to write to me with the detail, it might be something that I could raise with the UK Government.
That concludes portfolio questions on justice and veterans.
Finance and the Economy
The next portfolio is finance and the economy. If members wish to ask a supplementary question, I invite them to press their request-to-speak button or place an R in the chat function during the relevant question.
Brexit (Impact on Economy)
To ask the Scottish Government what its latest assessment is of the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s economy. (S6O-01260)
We know that Brexit is contributing to the 19th consecutive monthly rise in prices that are charged by businesses in Scotland, and it is causing United Kingdom food prices to increase by more than 6 per cent, which hits the poorest families hardest.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, next year the UK will have the lowest growth in the G20, apart from Russia, and the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that, in the long run, Brexit will hurt productivity growth by twice as much as the pandemic.
Since 2019, goods exports have fallen by 20 per cent, largely driven by a decline in oil and gas exports, which amounts to a fall in goods trade with the European Union of 16 per cent, whereas trade with non-EU countries dropped by only 4 per cent. That said, Scotland’s exports are still outperforming the UK’s. Excluding oil and gas, exports to all countries from Scotland last year were down 1 per cent on 2019 levels compared with a fall of 8 per cent for the UK as a whole.
Even as Scotland tries to cope with the fallout of a reckless hard Brexit, the UK Government is risking a trade war with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol.
It is a significant concern that Brexit continues to harm Scotland’s economy and is a persistent reminder of the on-going cost that Scotland is paying for Westminster mismanagement. Last week, the Scottish Government published an analysis paper that showed that the status quo is not allowing Scotland to fulfil our full potential, and that the UK economic model and Westminster decision making are holding us back. Can the minister say any more about how, with full control of economic powers, we would be better placed to realise Scotland’s full economic potential?
The paper that was published by the Scottish Government last week shows that comparable European countries frequently achieve better—often significantly better—outcomes than the UK on a range of measures, including gross domestic product per capita, inequality, poverty, business investment and productivity. Compared with those countries, many of which are smaller than or of a similar size to Scotland, Scotland under Westminster control is being held back. The damage caused by Brexit will result in Scotland finding it ever harder to achieve that potential.
With the full powers of an independent country, we can of course deliver more. Scotland is blessed with an abundance of resources that, in many cases, the comparator countries lack. If all those countries can use the powers of independence to create wealthier and fairer societies, why cannot Scotland, with our vast energy resources; globally recognised record of innovation, invention and learning; exceptional food and drink industry; stunning natural heritage; strength in advantaged engineering and cutting-edge industries of the future; and, above all, the talent and potential of our people?
Independence will put the levers that determine success into our hands. Just like those other countries, we can fulfil the vast potential that we have and build the wealthier, fairer, happier country that we know is possible.
If we are going to get through the questions, the answers are going to have to be significantly shorter.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support the economy in Fife. (S6O-01261)
Our national strategy for economic transformation contains a specific action to realise the potential of the different economic and community assets and strengths of Scotland’s regions. The delivery plans for the strategy’s programmes will take full account of different regional circumstances across the breadth of Scotland, including for Fife.
We also support Fife’s inclusive economic growth through the Tay cities region deal programme and the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal programme. Furthermore, Fife receives funding from the placed based investment programme, the regeneration capital grant fund and the vacant and derelict land fund.
It has been great to see Fife embracing Scottish Government initiatives such as developing the young workforce, which is the national strategy for strengthening links between business and education. Does the minister agree that the link between schools and employers to engage, inform and inspire our young people is proving to be instrumental in helping to support our young people to prepare for the world of work in our developing local economies?
Developing the young workforce has a strong track record of delivering positive outcomes for young people and employers. I agree that our network of employer-led DYW regional groups is pivotal for connecting young people with career inspiration and work experience to prepare for the world of work, including, of course, in Fife, where the regional group is championed by chair Bob Garmory.
We delivered our commitment to implement DYW school co-ordinators in every mainstream secondary school in Scotland. That additional in-school resource helped to create in excess of 195,000 young people and employer engagements in 2021-22. It is our ambition, as set out in “Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation”, to establish Scotland as a world-class entrepreneurial nation. DYW regional groups are working with Young Enterprise Scotland to increase the number of secondary schools and young people, including those with additional support needs, who participate in their school programmes.
Last month’s announcement of the £30 million dry dock maintenance contract awarded by the United Kingdom Government to the Babcock Rosyth facility will sustain 300 jobs and further benefit the wider Fife economy. Does the minister agree that that illustrates the benefits that Fife and the whole of Scotland derive from continued membership of the United Kingdom, and that it would be extremely damaging to undermine that relationship?
As I said in my answer to the previous question, Scotland is held back by being a member of the United Kingdom. The data on comparator countries—[Interruption.] The members on the benches opposite really need to take a hard a look at themselves and ask themselves why those other countries do so much better than Scotland without the natural resources, talent and industries that we have, and why the UK Government and membership of the UK are holding us back from achieving our potential, as demonstrated by those comparator countries. [Interruption.]
We do not need the backing singers from either side to be lobbing in.
The minister will know that only eight of the 54 turbine jackets for the Neart Na Gaoithe wind farm in the Forth are being built in the yard in Methil. That is a pathetically small number. What are the investment plans for the yard, so that it is ready to win future orders for more jackets for the next offshore wind farm?
The member will—or should—be aware that I co-chair the Scottish Offshore Wind Energy Council, which works closely with the sector to understand what needs to be done to put Scotland’s supply chain in a competitive position to win business for the impending ScotWind round. The member will also be aware that developers that are taking part in ScotWind—my colleague Michael Matheson is leading that work—have committed to spend £25 billion in Scottish content as part of that.
A huge amount of work is happening with the sector to ensure that the Scottish supply chain has the capacity and the capability to take advantage of ScotWind and other renewable energy opportunities.
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to improve pay levels in the Scottish economy in light of the reported findings of the Office for National Statistics that United Kingdom annual growth in regular pay, excluding bonuses, fell by 4.5 per cent after adjusting for inflation. (S6O-01262)
Households and businesses across the country are facing a serious cost of living crisis, and where we have responsibility, we are acting. Our fair work policy promotes fairer work practices, including on pay. Scotland has proportionately five times more accredited living wage employers and, on average, public sector wages are 7 per cent higher here than they are in the rest of the United Kingdom. We have continued to provide fair and affordable pay awards, in contrast to a pay freeze in 2021-22 for most public sector workers in England for instance
The 2022-23 public sector pay policy targets the lowest paid, introducing a new Scottish public sector wage floor of £10.50 an hour, representing a 10.5 per cent increase on this year’s national minimum wage.
The latest ONS findings reveal that average wages in the UK are falling at the fastest rate for more than two decades. Last week, the First Minister told Parliament:
“I want all public sector workers to get the fairest possible pay increases, particularly at this time of soaring inflation.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2022; c22.]
However, the Scottish Government’s pay policy is pitting different areas of the public sector against one another. It is clear that the policy is no longer fit for purpose. Will the minister outline what urgent action the Scottish Government is taking to support all public sector workers through the cost of living emergency?
I think that the member heard Keith Brown’s earlier answer explaining how the Scottish budget that the UK Government allocates does not take inflation into account. Understandably, workers across the Scottish economy are looking for inflation to be reflected in their pay negotiations. Those two positions cannot be squared.
The member mentioned UK figures. Ultimately, this issue is the UK Government’s responsibility, but it is more interested in going to war with the trade unions at the moment, to appeal to its base vote, than it is in sorting out the many serious situations that face workers not just in Scotland but across the UK.
I have just outlined that the Scottish Government has adopted a progressive public pay policy compared with other parts of the UK. We will continue to keep the matter under review. However, we need UK Government support and the Scottish budget to reflect the challenges that we are facing from inflation.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how much it is allocating in its budget for infrastructure plans. (S6O-01263)
The Scottish Government’s capital budget for this financial year provides more than £6.4 billion of capital investment. All future final spending commitments will, of course, be outlined during the annual budget process in the usual way.
The Scottish National Party Government has admitted that it will not be able to fulfil all its infrastructure plans, despite the promises to dual roads such as the A9 and A96, which are essential upgrades for local residents and businesses.
The SNP has mismanaged the economy and it has wasted obscene amounts of Scottish taxpayers’ money. We are all familiar with the £250 million spent on ferries that will not sail. In Edinburgh, £12.2 million has been spent so far on the Hardie tram inquiry, with no date yet for its publication. It is a wonder that the Government has any money left for essential infrastructure upgrades. How can the SNP justify cuts to infrastructure projects that are critical to economic recovery when it continues to preside over such waste and overspending that has yet to deliver anything for Scotland?
I wonder whether Sue Webber could answer the question as to who will preside over the slowest economic growth in the G20 bar Russia over the coming years or who is presiding over the highest levels of inflation in the G7 right now. I think that she will find that it is a lot closer to home.
We have received a lower-than-expected capital settlement from the United Kingdom Government’s spending review: £15.8 billion compared with £16.6 billion over the next few years. That clearly reduces the capital funding envelope. Despite that, we have outlined our targeted investments over the next two years, which we are committed to delivering.
There are a number of supplementaries. I will try to get through as many as possible, but they will need to be brief, as indeed will the responses.
Will the cabinet secretary advise members what impact the UK Government’s cut of 9.7 per cent to the Parliament’s capital budget in the coming financial year is having on the Scottish Government’s investment in infrastructure at a time of rocketing inflation?
The member is right to talk about rocketing inflation, which is, again, being presided over by the Conservatives. Within the constrained envelope of capital that we have received, which puts significant pressure on our capital programme, we have continued to invest, knowing that, ultimately, investing in construction and infrastructure is one way to manage the economic outlook at this hugely challenging time.
Last week, Liz Cameron, the chief executive officer of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said that the Scottish Government should honour the commitment that the A96 would be dualled from start to finish. However, the A96 corridor review references only dualling from Inverness to Nairn. The consultation, which closed on 10 June, contained more than 100 questions—not one mentioned dualling between Huntly and Aberdeen. Will the Government honour its promise, which was made more than a decade ago, to dual the A96 from start to finish, or betray the north-east yet again?
As somebody who regularly drives on the A96 and the A9, I state that we are committed to improving the transport infrastructure throughout Scotland. The revised capital spending plan that I mentioned includes £1.9 billion of investment in motorways and trunk roads.
We are absolutely committed to completing the dualling of the A9—I know that that is not the question that the member asked—and to fully dualling the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness. Obviously, we have agreed to conduct a transparent, evidence-based review of that programme. That is under way and will report by the end of 2022.
We could do those things much faster if we had more capital funding and it was not being cut at every budget.
I apologise to members who I was not able to get to for supplementaries.
Resource Spending Review (Children and Young People’s Rights)
To ask the Scottish Government how its resource spending review publication, “Investing in Scotland’s Future”, will ensure that children and young people’s rights to food, education and fun will be met. (S6O-01264)
The resource spending review outlines how we will focus public spending in the coming years, including by delivering our investment in education and skills. That is where the funding comes from for early learning and childcare, play opportunities and education. We will continue to deliver the measures that we have set out, and that will be updated in next year’s budget.
At the weekend, Roz Foyer, the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, said:
“Child hunger is a political choice. We need to see the political will to fix it.”
Will the cabinet secretary give any further indication of the level of investment that is being made available to expand access to universal free school meals for primary 6 and 7 pupils and into secondary schools? Child hunger and child poverty do not stop at the gates of primary schools.
The member is right to quote the STUC and make the point that she has just made. She will be aware that pupils in primary 1 to 5 and in special schools already benefit from the offer of universal free school lunches during term time as well as there being investment in holiday food provision. We have set out our commitment to the expansion of free school meals further, and our commitment for next year will be updated in next year’s budget.
Will the cabinet secretary provide any further information about how measures to reduce the cost of the school day will be supported by investment presented in the resource spending review?
It is right that, alongside providing free school meals, we are investing significantly in reducing the cost of the school day, including by supporting families with children. That includes funding the school clothing grant, removing curriculum charges and providing free music tuition, to name just a few policies, although others have been allocated resources in this year’s budget. That investment will continue next year.
Audit Scotland (Budget)
To ask the Scottish Government how the reported proposed real-terms cuts to the budget of Audit Scotland could impact on its work. (S6O-01265)
As the member should know, although his question suggests that he might not, the Scottish Government has no role in setting the level of Audit Scotland’s funding from the Scottish budget; its funding is agreed directly with the Parliament. Audit Scotland’s funding for next year and for future years will be set in the normal way, through the annual budgeting process.
The Scottish Government’s spending review, which was published just two weeks ago, delivers an indicative £1 million real-terms cut to Audit Scotland’s budget. Perhaps even more concerning are the reported comments in the media from senior Scottish National Party figures about “clipping the wings” of Audit Scotland. One source is quoted as saying:
“Audit Scotland has become too powerful. This has been talked about in government for years now.”
It would be atrocious if the Government tried to emasculate the very body that is doing such an effective job of shining a light on its failures. Does the cabinet secretary agree that we need to strengthen Audit Scotland, not try to cut it back?
What is atrocious is deliberately misleading on the facts. Members do not need to listen to my words on the issue; they can listen to the Audit Scotland spokesperson, who said:
“Our costs are met through a balance of the funding we receive from the Scottish Parliament and ... audit fees”.
The member might think that we should not let facts get in the way of a good headline, but the facts are pretty clear: the Parliament, not the Government, sets the budget.
I call Daniel Johnson, but this question must be shorter than his previous supplementary question.
A further 7 per cent cut would take the total cuts to Audit Scotland’s budget since 2006 to 25 per cent. If Audit Scotland receives that cut, does the cabinet secretary expect the quality of its audits to go up or down?
Here we go, with more misleading on the facts. Audit Scotland is independently funded through the Scottish Parliament and the audit fees that public bodies pay it. Audit Scotland’s budget for next year will be set through the annual budgeting process in exactly the same way as its budgets have been set for years. Audit Scotland indicates to the Parliament the funding that it needs, and the Scottish Government accommodates that in the budget. Those are the facts.
Scottish National Investment Bank
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report published by Reform Scotland describing the Scottish National Investment Bank as “unfocused and ill-conceived”, having a “strategic deficiency” and recommending that the bank be “reset”. (S6O-01266)
I assume that the member is referring to the report that also states that the bank
“is exactly the kind of big, ambitious policy experiment that Holyrood should be embarking on”.
To date, within the first 18 months of its establishment, the bank has delivered investment commitments of more than £200 million to 16 projects across all three of its missions.
There are selective quotes and there are selective quotes, and that is an incredibly selective quote. Reform Scotland says that it is all a bit messy. The bank has had 81 priorities set for it by ministers—how it is possible to have 81 priorities is completely beyond me. Given that the Scottish National Party Government has anything but a stellar record when it comes to industrial strategy—trains, airports, smelters, fabrication yards, green jobs and ferries come to mind—does the cabinet secretary agree that the best thing that the SNP Scottish Government could do is accept that, when it comes to these things, it is out of its depth and should just let the bank get on with setting its own priorities?
In fact, our views are probably not too dissimilar, because the bank is operationally independent. Ironically, every time a member of this Parliament does not like what the bank has done, they ask me what I will do about it. I will allow the bank to continue to make investments according to its three missions—on net zero, on place and on innovation—which were, I think, agreed on a cross-party basis. Despite the bank being, in essence, a start-up, money has gone out the door and there is a pipeline of investable propositions. I think that the bank has done a remarkable job in its first two years.
We have a very brief supplementary question from Evelyn Tweed.
As the cabinet secretary has indicated, Reform Scotland’s report notes that the Scottish National Investment Bank
“is exactly the kind of big, ambitious policy experiment that Holyrood should be embarking on”.
Does she agree that Opposition members could do with sharing in that ambition to realise Scotland’s economic potential and should wake up to the fact that we could do so much more to develop our economy with the powers of a normal, independent country?
As briefly as possible, cabinet secretary.
The regular headlines about Scotland’s economic performance demonstrate that we are attracting investment, making progress and ensuring that there is long-term economic growth. We have already seen how small countries that are very similar in nature to Scotland, such as Sweden, Ireland, Denmark and Finland, use their powers of independence to achieve economic success. We could do the same.
Budget (Courts and Prosecution Service)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that any real-terms cuts in its budget may impact most on the courts and prosecution service. (S6O-01267)
We continue to deliver reform across the justice system, responding to the needs of individuals and making more than £50 million available annually for recovery and reform. In the current financial year, we have increased the resource budget for both the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the Crown Office.
However, as the member will know, we can allocate only the funding that current forecasts determine that we will receive. We are currently contending with a 5.2 per cent real-terms reduction in this year’s budget, and the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s analysis demonstrates that our total funding is expected to be 1 per cent lower again, in real terms, for the next three years.
Reports suggest that the courts and the prosecution service will bear the brunt of public sector job cuts after the announcement of a real-terms budget cut that the cabinet secretary previously mentioned. That is despite the fact that the justice system is already struggling to deal with the effects of the pandemic.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that the backlog involves 40,000-plus cases and that it affects victims, in particular. Allan Simpson, the national officer for the FDA trade union, which represents staff at the Crown Office, has said that
“There is no fat to cut”
“Staff are already working at maximum capacity”.
I believe that the cabinet secretary is on record as saying that we may lose up to 17,000 full-time jobs. How many jobs does she expect to lose in the justice sector with cuts of this level?
As briefly as possible, cabinet secretary.
With the investment of an additional £50 million in 2021-22 to support dealing with the backlog, as well as funding this year of a further £53.2 million, we are doing all that we can, through funding and other means, led by my colleague Keith Brown, to reduce the backlog and get back to where we were. We have also extended funding to remote jury centres for an additional three months to support the transition back to having juries in court.
I think that we all agree that dealing with the Covid backlog is critically important. We will obviously update the budget when we come to next year’s budget, in line with the normal processes.
That concludes portfolio questions.