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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 22, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 22 November 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Arthritis (Access to Work Scheme Survey), Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Energy Efficient Scotland, Scotland’s Economic Future and Economic Data, Decision Time, Correction


First Minister’s Question Time

Flu vaccination programme

The First Minister made assurances on 27 September in response to questions from Ruth Davidson that everyone in Scotland would get the vaccination that they need, on time, to protect against winter flu. Why are so many people still waiting?

The vaccination programme is well under way and it is going well. There are adequate supplies of vaccine in Scotland overall. I know from my experience as the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport that during the vaccination season we will often see localised supply issues, which are very quickly dealt with because of the arrangements that we have in place to ensure that.

If there are particular cases or issues that Jackson Carlaw wants to draw to my attention, I and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will look into them. However, the programme is going well.

Let me take the opportunity, yet again, to underline how important the flu vaccination programme is. I hope that all of us will take the opportunity to encourage those people in eligible groups who are not yet vaccinated to take the opportunity of vaccination.

I thank the First Minister for that, as it is the underlying thrust of my questions. The First Minister will be aware of the issue, because we are receiving correspondence from people telling us about the problems that they are experiencing. I was contacted by one individual this week, who informed me that their elderly mother, aged 85, still has not had her jab and, indeed, still has no date for it. We are also being informed by general practice clinics that many patients are having to wait, potentially until next month, when the flu season takes hold.

I remind members that in Scotland this winter people have to be over 75 to get the new adjuvanted trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine—aTIV—not over 65, as is the case elsewhere in the United Kingdom. How can it be acceptable that, even under the Scottish Government’s regime of restricted access, vaccination is being delayed for elderly patients who need it now?

Whatever concerns—which I will come on to directly—about localised supply issues Jackson Carlaw may be hearing about in Scotland, they are as nothing compared with the wide-scale concerns that have been communicated by GPs and others in England. There is not restricted access to the flu vaccine in Scotland. We have followed the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which is the expert group. Different forms of the vaccine are available in Scotland and are made available in an appropriate way.

In terms of supply, there are important issues. Let me set out clearly the situation in Scotland. This flu season, we ordered more vaccine than we did last season. However, every year without fail—as I say, I know this from my experience as the health secretary—there will be local mismatches between supply and demand for a variety of different reasons. To address that, Health Protection Scotland co-ordinates a national group. That includes the Scottish Government and national health service procurement and it helps to smooth any local supply issues for GPs within the overall volume of stock that is held in Scotland.

During the season, the group meets daily to support the NHS boards and GP practices. Yes, the group has observed that this year there appears to have been a higher early demand in some GP practices for the vaccine for under 65s, which is a good thing that we should encourage, but demand is managed within the overall national supply. That is one of the real benefits of having a national approach. GP practices in England are pretty much left to their own devices and that is when real problems kick in.

If Jackson Carlaw is getting any communication from any patient who has a local supply issue, if he draws that to the attention of the cabinet secretary, we can ensure that it is resolved very quickly.

But, as we established when Ruth Davidson last raised this, the manufacturers of aTIV made it clear that the parts of the United Kingdom that put in their order early got the full supply; the only reason why we are restricting it to people aged over 75 in Scotland is that NHS Scotland did not do that.

Two months after the First Minister told us that the programme had started, let us see how it is going. The latest figures on vaccine uptake, which were published last week, show that only 39 per cent of people aged over 65 had been vaccinated, compared with 45 per cent at this same point last year. If the First Minister wants to compare with England, I can tell her that the figure for people under the age of 65 who have been vaccinated there is not 39 per cent but 51.7 per cent, so I do not think that drawing such comparisons with the problems that she identifies there helps.

Patients are waiting and want to know when they will be able to get vaccinated. According to the Government’s own advice to registered GPs, aTIV vaccinations should be registered by November.

Can the First Minister confirm at the very least whether all over-75s will get the vaccine before the end of this month?

There are sufficient supplies of the aTIV vaccine, which is for the over-75s and has been procured to vaccinate all over-75s in Scotland. I hope that Jackson Carlaw will accept that assurance.

The issue with extending that vaccine to under-65s was that we could not get a guarantee from the supplier that we would have sufficient stocks delivered on time for the start of the flu season. If we had taken a decision to extend that to the under-65s, we would potentially have been leaving them until very late in the flu season, which would not have delivered the protection that we want people to have.

That is why we have taken responsible and appropriate decisions. Of course, the vaccine that is available for under-65s is an effective vaccine and any suggestions to the contrary are completely and utterly wrong. [The First Minister has corrected this contribution. See end of report.]

On uptake rates, it is the uptake at the end of the flu season that matters, and that is what we should all look at. We all encourage people to go and get vaccinated. It is not the case that there are large numbers of patients waiting for the vaccine. If there are local supply issues, I have set out the arrangements that are in place to resolve them. Any member of the chamber who knows any constituent, or any member of the public who has an issue in their local area, should immediately draw that to the attention of the health secretary, so that it can be resolved.

This is an effective and robust programme and I appeal to every member in the chamber, including Jackson Carlaw, not to inadvertently undermine public confidence in it, because that would be the worst thing that any of us could do.

I want everyone who should be getting vaccinated to go and get vaccinated. What I am concerned about is that, despite the Government having said that only over-75-year-olds could receive aTIV, there are people aged 85 and over who are still waiting to receive it. The Government’s own advice says that they must have it by the end of the month. I want the First Minister to give a categorical assurance that they will get it, rather than say, “I think there are sufficient supplies available for them to do so.”

This is not the first time that we have raised concerns about this winter’s flu vaccination programme. There are already questions about why the Scottish Government’s procurement of the new vaccine did not happen sooner and why people aged over 65 and over 75 in Scotland cannot get it. It was not the advice that they should not, as the First Minister suggests. Now there are fresh questions about whether all age groups will get it in time.

I am raising the matter today because it is now a major concern to constituents of MSPs right across the chamber. We are entering the flu season. I raise the matter to get reassurance from the First Minister that NHS Scotland will ensure that everyone who needs the vaccine receives it without yet further delay. Will the First Minister give that reassurance to everybody who is watching just now?

Yes, I will give that reassurance. For Jackson Carlaw’s information, the final consignment of the aTIV vaccine was delivered to GP practices from the week commencing 12 November. That is to exactly the same delivery schedule as happened for the vaccine elsewhere in the UK. If any individual issues are brought to our attention, we will ensure that the arrangements that are in place are activated in order to resolve them.

I say this to Jackson Carlaw gently and in all sincerity—

There is no need to be gentle.

Actually, there is, because this is a serious issue about public confidence in a public health programme.

The issues raised about the procurement process are quite simply wrong. The issue about supply of aTIV was not to do with the timing of the Scottish Government’s procurement programme; it was to do with the fact that the manufacturers could not guarantee enough supply early enough in the flu season to give us confidence that under-65s could all be covered by it in time.

If we had gone for that vaccine for the under-65s, we would have been taking a gamble on whether we could get it to everybody. Instead of taking a risk, we decided to use a perfectly effective vaccine for the under-65s for this year to ensure that they could all be vaccinated safely within the appropriate timescale. [The First Minister has corrected this contribution. See end of report.]

The programme is robust, effective and appropriate, and it is incumbent on all of us to raise and not undermine public confidence in it.

Local Government (Cuts)

On Monday this week, the vice-president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Graham Houston, warned that some smaller councils are at a “cliff edge”. Just yesterday in the Scottish Parliament, the education convener of Glasgow City Council admitted that local government had been hit with a greater level of budgetary cut than many other areas. Are those senior councillors from the First Minister’s own party wrong?

Like people in the national health service and in the education system, senior councillors are, of course, feeling the constraints of the squeeze in spending that the Government and the Parliament have been subject to because of spending decisions that have been taken at the United Kingdom Government level. Over the past months and years, we have talked many times about the real-terms cuts to the Scottish Government’s budget. Nevertheless, we have taken responsible budgetary decisions to raise income tax in a progressive way, to deliver more revenue for public services and, within that, to give a very fair settlement to local government.

In this financial year, there are real-terms increases in the revenue budgets of local councils. Of course, that does not make it easy for them, but it demonstrates that the Scottish Government is taking the appropriate action to protect local services. That stands in stark contrast to the situation elsewhere in the UK. There have been swingeing cuts to local councils in England and in Wales, where Richard Leonard’s party is in power. He does not like my saying this, but the local government budget there did not increase in real terms this year; there was simply a 0.2 per cent cash increase.

We have taken the right decisions. Yet again from Richard Leonard, it is a case of we should follow what he says, not what his party does in power.

The last time I checked, this was Scottish First Minister’s question time.

The First Minister can talk about responsible budgets and fair settlements all that she wants to, but it is Scottish National Party councillors who are talking about cuts. The fact is that the Government has not only failed to stop Tory austerity; it has added to it and then imposed that on local councils and schools.

Only three years ago, the First Minister claimed that education would be her top priority, but she is now getting letters from teachers such as the one that I have in my hand. That letter, which was sent to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and the First Minister, says that, because of cuts, teachers are forced to buy pens, pencils and books for their pupils. That teacher posed a simple question. They wrote:

“You wouldn’t expect a doctor to supply their patients with prescription medicines out of their own finances, so what makes teaching different?”

What is the answer to that question?

In spite of the £2 billion real-terms cut to the Scottish Government budget, we will continue to take budgetary decisions that give fair settlements to local government. There is a real-terms increase in revenue budgets for local councils this year, and we have also, of course, taken steps to establish the pupil equity fund, which gets £120 million of resources every year directly into the hands of headteachers so that they can take the actions that they think are necessary to raise standards and close the attainment gap.

I know how tough it is for teachers, nurses and police officers—indeed, for everybody across the public sector—but we will continue to take the appropriate budget decisions to protect local public services as far as we possibly can.

The draft budget for next year will be published in the Parliament in just a couple of weeks’ time. If Richard Leonard wants different decisions to be taken, he will have to come forward and say not just where he wants more money to be spent, but where he wants that money to be taken from. If he does that, we can have a constructive discussion.

So, that is another one of Scotland’s teachers whom the SNP Government is not listening to.

The First Minister talks about attainment money, but that money is papering over the cracks in cuts in core budgets. The First Minister wants to be judged on her record in education, so let us examine that record. It is a record of austerity, which even SNP councillors admit is going too far. It is a record of our teachers themselves having to buy pens, pencils and books for pupils because Scotland’s schools are starved of cash.

It is little wonder that this week Scotland’s teachers emphatically rejected the SNP’s pay offer. Teachers, parents and pupils across Scotland are asking how education can be the First Minister’s top priority, with underfunded schools and undervalued teachers.

Teachers are not undervalued: we highly value the work that teachers do. We will continue to negotiate in good faith with teachers for a fair pay increase, just as we did successfully with nurses and other healthcare workers, and with our police officers.

I say to Richard Leonard that, as well as the real-terms increases in local council budgets that were delivered by the finance secretary in the last budget, spending on schools by local authorities has increased in each of the last three years. That is a fact. We have also seen the pupil equity fund, which is delivering increased resources to schools. We will continue to take the appropriate steps and make the appropriate decisions to support our teachers on the front line, just as we support our nurses and other public sector workers.

There is a lot of interest from members in asking supplementary questions today.

Brexit (Fishing)

With the draft political declaration on the future United Kingdom and European Union relationship now public, it has become clear, in constituencies such as mine, that fishing will once more be a bargaining chip in post-Brexit trade negotiations. Does the First Minister agree that, outside the EU, the UK seems determined to turn itself into a minnow negotiating with a shark when it comes to quota and access? How does the First Minister feel the UK Government’s red lines on fishing are working out for it, and does she think that it is time for Mr Mundell to consider his position, again?

This is a serious matter. The political declaration that has been agreed this morning between the UK Government and the European Commission represents another Tory sell-out of Scottish fishermen. The Scottish fishing industry will be used as a bargaining chip in wider trade talks.

I will read from a couple of documents. First, I quote from the letter that Scottish Tory MPs sent to the Prime Minister last week, which said:

“we must be able to negotiate access and quota shares ... on an annual basis, without any pre-existing arrangement being in force. This means that access and quota shares cannot be included in the Future Economic Partnership”.

Paragraph 75 of the agreement that was signed off this morning states:

“Within the context of the overall economic partnership the parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on access to waters and quota shares.”

There is no mention of annual negotiations, which, I happen to know, the UK Government was trying, and has failed, to secure. On David Mundell’s position, I would simply say that his position is a matter for him, but if David Mundell is still in office by the end of today, in the light of the political declaration, he will have forfeited forever any last remaining scrap of principle or credibility that he had.

Education (Access to Subjects)

Three weeks ago, I raised the case of Cameron Barclay, a Renfrewshire pupil who is forced to travel between three different schools in order to study. Due to safety concerns around the 45-minute cycle to Johnstone high school, Cameron has been forced to drop advanced higher chemistry. His application to university, and his future career plans, are now in jeopardy. Does the First Minister believe that the education system has failed Cameron?

When the member last raised the issue, I gave him an undertaking that I would raise the matter with Renfrewshire Council. That happened and I believed that Renfrewshire Council was going to look into it. In the light of the information that has been shared with me today, my officials will speak to Renfrewshire Council again and revert to the member in writing as soon as possible.

Hunterston Power Station

Hunterston nuclear power station in North Ayrshire has been found to have over 350 cracks in its reactor core. This is not the first time that serious safety concerns with the power station have been raised. It is not the first time that the community feels that its safety concerns are being ignored.

Will the Scottish Government support a full environmental impact assessment being conducted, as required in the Espoo convention to which the United Kingdom is a signatory? Will the Scottish Government commit to a full and substantial transition plan for the local community around Hunterston, so that another community is not left behind by the inevitable closure of a power station?

This is an important issue of safety, and it is essential that the strictest environmental safety and security requirements are met at all nuclear installations.

We are, of course, aware of the situation at Hunterston B and are in regular contact with EDF Energy, the Office for Nuclear Regulation and local stakeholders in the neighbouring communities, for whom the situation is a matter of concern. The ONR is not directly accountable to the Scottish Government, but we expect it to ensure that the nuclear industry maintains the highest standards. We understand that reactor 3 will remain offline while EDF Energy works with the regulator to ensure that the longer-term safety case reflects the findings of the recent inspections. The ONR is clear that the reactor must not be restarted until it is satisfied that it is safe to do so.

We have been clear in our opposition as a Government to the building of new nuclear power plants in Scotland under current technologies. Our energy strategy sets out our priorities for the future energy system in Scotland.

On wider economic development, we will continue to discuss future economic development plans with local communities, particularly in the Hunterston area, given the issues that have been raised.

2 Sisters Food Group Ltd (Grant Recovery)

It was revealed earlier this week that Scottish Enterprise paid a grant of £500,000 to the 2 Sisters Group on the basis of the guarantee that the group would keep the plant in Cambuslang open until 2020. The plant closed earlier this year with the loss of 450 jobs and a devastating effect on the Cambuslang community. That is totally unacceptable and a kick in the teeth to the workers in the Cambuslang area.

Will the First Minister set out the steps that the Scottish Government will take to recover that half a million pounds, and will she commit to investing it in the Cambuslang community in order to offset some of the economic vandalism that has been wreaked on the Cambuslang community by the 2 Sisters Group?

I thank James Kelly for raising that issue. As he and other members will be aware, all Scottish Enterprise grants have conditions attached. Those are written into the legally binding contracts that are made with any company that receives a grant. Scottish Enterprise must ensure that it is able to obtain repayment of grant when there has been a fundamental breach of an agreement. It is set out clearly in the offer letter that conditions are attached to the grants. When conditions are breached, the grant is repayable.

I can tell Parliament that Scottish Enterprise is actively in discussion with 2 Sisters for the return of the grant for the Cambuslang site. In due course, we will have discussions with the local community about future investment there.

Sectarian Vandalism

The First Minister will be aware of the attack on the Coatbridge cenotaph at the weekend, which was vandalised with sectarian graffiti. There were also reports of vandalism on the same day at a nearby church and at an Irish heritage centre in the town.

Will the First Minister outline the action that the Government is taking to combat sectarianism, and join me in condemning those incidents? Does she agree that an attack on a war memorial that commemorates people of all faiths and none, who lost their lives for our future, is totally unacceptable?

I agree whole-heartedly with Fulton MacGregor, and I condemn those disgraceful and despicable acts. There is no place in our society for any form of sectarianism, anti-Irish prejudice, racism or religious intolerance in any shape or form.

We recently launched a consultation on our hate crime legislation. I urge everyone to participate in the consultation in order to help us to improve our legislation and ensure that it is fit for purpose.

Legislation alone will not rid society of prejudice, which is why we have since 2012 invested record sums in work to tackle sectarianism, including funding the first national education resource on tackling sectarianism, which is freely available to all teachers.

I am sure that the whole Parliament will unite to condemn the disgraceful acts that Fulton MacGregor has described.

Ferry Services (Accessibility)

In February, the First Minister told me that

“it is deeply regrettable if any person, particularly someone who has a disability, feels that they are not getting the standard of transport system that they have a right to expect.”—[Official Report, 22 February 2018; c 18.]

That followed concerns that were raised by a wheelchair user in my constituency about her inability to access the freight vessel that was used to replace the MV Hamnavoe on the Stromness to Scrabster route during the refit period.

Given that the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands has confirmed to me this week that

“a freight vessel will provide relief cover”—[Written Answers, 21 November 2018; S5W-19840.]

for passenger traffic next January, does the First Minister believe that the Government is fulfilling its responsibilities to my constituencies in the delivery of that lifeline ferry service, or does she still deeply regret the standard of service that is being provided during the refit period?

I stand by the answer that I gave to Liam McArthur previously in the chamber. Accessibility to public transport and to all public services is extremely important. Given that a freight vessel will be used, I will look further into the issue to see what actions are being taken to ensure appropriate accessibility. I will ask the minister to write to Liam McArthur once I have had the opportunity to do that.

Teachers (Pay Award)

We have had a great deal of discussion about the need to avoid a no-deal scenario, but that does not apply only to Brexit. It also applies to the Scottish Government’s responsibility in the face of the legitimate demands from teachers to restore the lost value of their wages, which have been cut by nearly a quarter over the past decade.

Last month, when we might have expected only a few thousand people to march for a fair pay settlement for teachers, we saw 30,000 people take to the streets in Glasgow. This week, the results of the ballot on the pay offer are in: three quarters of those who were eligible to do so took part in the ballot, and the deal was rejected by an astonishing 98 per cent of them. None of us needs a maths teacher to help us to understand those numbers. Can the First Minister recall a more overwhelming democratic mandate from any section of the Scottish workforce?

I recognise the strength of feeling that teachers have expressed through their ballots. I am grateful to Patrick Harvie for giving me the opportunity to address the issue.

First, for the record, let me recap on the offer that was made. Through a combination of a basic pay award and progression, all teachers on the main grade scale were offered at least a 5 per cent increase, with some teachers being offered up to an 11 per cent increase. I acknowledge and respect that that offer has been rejected. As I said, I recognise the strength of feeling. The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities will go back to the table, and we will continue to seek a reasonable agreement in good faith.

Let me make it very clear to teachers, their families and the wider Scottish public that the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and I want teachers to get a good pay rise that recognises the vital and difficult job that they do. It should not only recognise the current cost of living pressures but, as Patrick Harvie said, should start the process of restoration of the lost ground that all public sector workers have suffered because of years of pay restraint.

However—this is a statement of simple fact that I hope all members will recognise—pay awards need to be affordable, because if they are not affordable, they cannot be delivered. I would love to give teachers and all public sector workers a 10 per cent pay rise, but that is simply not affordable in a single year.

We need to go back to the table to agree a fair and affordable agreement—the Scottish Government will play our full part in that—just as the Scottish Government has reached agreement with nurses, other healthcare workers and police officers. The Scottish Government will continue that work in good faith. I hope that we can, before too much longer, reach a fair and reasonable agreement.

We all recognise that the Scottish Government does not act unilaterally on the issue, but it has a central role to play in the process, so it is reasonable to ask what the Government’s position is.

I am glad that the First Minister respects the mandate that has been given by the rejection of the deal by 98 per cent of those who were balloted. The only conclusion to be drawn from that is that that deal need no longer be defended on its own terms. It is gone; it will not happen.

We also know about the hard work and dedication of teachers up and down the country. They often go way above and beyond what is needed in a normal working week. We all want teaching to be an attractive and rewarding profession in which people feel valued for their hard work, but that is not happening. Huge numbers of teachers feel overworked, underresourced and demeaned, as they see the value of their salaries being eroded year after year.

We all want to avoid the prospect of strike action, which would be the last resort for the teaching unions. However, if we accept that the offer that was made is dead and gone, and has been rejected, the choice is now simple. Will the Scottish Government force the teaching profession—who are already angry people—into industrial action that we should all try to avoid, or will it work towards a realistic offer, and give local councils the resources that they need to meet it? The choice is that simple. What is it going to be?

We want to see a realistic offer being made and accepted. As I said in my initial answer, I recognise and respect the fact that the offer that was made has been rejected, and that it was rejected overwhelmingly. I am not standing here trying to say anything else. That is why we will go back to the table and continue good-faith discussions.

The Scottish Government has a big part to play in this: we are part of the tripartite negotiating process that is in place. In fact, the Scottish Government had put additional money on the table to fund the offer that was made previously, had it been accepted.

We go into this in good faith and with the political will to reach agreement. I made the comparison with other groups of public sector workers because all public sector workers have suffered what Patrick Harvie described for teachers: years of pay restraint that have led to erosion of their wages.

We have given a commitment that we want to go on a journey of restoration, but pay awards must be affordable. I want awards to be fair and to take public sector workers—including teachers—on that journey, but I have a responsibility, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work has a responsibility, to make sure that we can fund offers that are made. The 10 per cent that I would love to give to teachers, nurses and everybody in the public sector is not affordable or realistic under the current funding constraints. We need to get back round the table, which is happening, and come up with a fair offer that is also realistic and affordable. I hope that everybody will support us as we try to do that.

Ailsa Hospital (Incident)

The First Minister may be aware of the on-going incident at Ailsa hospital at Ayr, in which I understand that a nurse has been stabbed by a patient and the hospital is in lockdown. That is in Jeane Freeman’s constituency. Will the First Minister make certain that after the event is over, a full review will take place to ensure the safety of staff who work in NHS Ayrshire and Arran and elsewhere across Scotland?

I received reports about the incident just as I came into the chamber, so I do not yet have a full update. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has been able to advise me that our understanding—let me stress that this is our understanding, and the first thing that I will do when I leave the chamber will be to get a full update—is that injuries that were sustained by a nurse are not life threatening, and that the police are fully involved in the incident. Obviously, the safety of staff and patients is of the utmost importance and will be driving everything that is being done. Given his constituency interest, I will make sure that the health secretary updates John Scott as soon as we have the information, which we are keen to get as soon as we get out of the chamber.

Sandwood Inquiry

Given that the four-year-long Sandwood inquiry has just reported on possible police criminality in connection with the Lockerbie atrocity and concluded that there is no evidence of criminality, with the referral to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the likely conclusion that the Crown will not pursue this case, does the First Minister agree that—if that is what happens—it is in the interests not only of the current application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission by the Megrahi family but of transparency that the report should be made public so that, 30 years on from that dreadful event, we may all move closer to a conclusion?

Christine Grahame will understand that yesterday’s announcement by the chief constable, Iain Livingstone, relates to an operational matter for Police Scotland. It would not be appropriate for me or the Scottish Government to comment on the outcome of that investigation or to seek to influence what matters may be published arising from the investigation. However, I am sure that Police Scotland will have noted what Christine Grahame has said in the chamber today.

It is also important to remember that the independent Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has statutory powers to obtain relevant documentation for the purposes of its investigations. Of course, how it seeks to use such powers is entirely a matter for the commission.

Teachers (Pay Award)

The last time that Scotland’s teachers were angry enough to go on strike, Margaret Thatcher was still the Prime Minister, I was still a school teacher, the First Minister was a school pupil and some of the 98 per cent of current teachers who have just rejected the pay offer were not even born. That is how badly this Government has handled teachers’ pay.

The First Minister says that she wants the dispute to be resolved. Will she start by apologising for the misleading letter that was sent out, jointly with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, in an attempt to undermine the negotiating machinery, which infuriated those teachers who rejected the offer that was on the table?

The letter was about providing information to teachers; it was not misleading and it certainly was not an attempt to undermine the negotiating machinery.

I hope that Iain Gray was listening to the answers that I gave to Patrick Harvie. We made an offer to teachers that we thought was fair. It would have delivered a 5 per cent pay increase this year to all teachers who are on the main pay scale, and up to 11 per cent to some teachers. I recognise and respect that that has been rejected, so our responsibility now is to get back around the table, which is what we are doing.

However, even Iain Gray has to accept—Labour is surely not completely detached from reality—that we have to have pay awards that are affordable. We will, in good faith, seek to strike an agreement that is fair to teachers and starts to restore the value of their pay, and which we can fund from the budgets that we have at our disposal.

Why did I say that we will do that in good faith? I said that because we have already come to those agreements. Nurses, other health workers and police officers are all in the same position with the erosion of their pay, and we have come to agreements with each of those groups. I certainly hope that we can do the same with teachers. We will do everything that we can to get to that fair outcome, which is the reasonable way forward from here.

Faslane (Safety)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that there have been more than 500 nuclear safety events at Faslane since 2006. (S5F-02805)

I am very concerned to hear reports of a significant number of nuclear safety events at Faslane, which are a stark reminder of the potentially disastrous consequence of having weapons of mass destruction stationed in Scotland.

Matters regarding the reporting of safety events remain reserved. However, I fully expect the Ministry of Defence to investigate any such incident, no matter how minor, and to take forward any lessons learned following all those incidents. The Scottish Government also expects the Ministry of Defence and the regulators to work together to keep safety standards to the highest level possible.

According to the MOD, more than one of the 500 incidents had

“high potential for radioactive release to the environment”,

and the number of recorded incidents at Faslane has risen in recent years. It would take just one mistake to cause unthinkable harm to Scotland and her people for generations, so, in the short term, will the First Minister impress on United Kingdom ministers the need for urgent action to get Faslane in order and protect public safety? Does she agree that it is high time that Scotland became a nuclear weapon-free zone?

Bill Kidd is right to raise those concerns. Each of those more than 500 safety incidents could have had potentially disastrous consequences for people living in Scotland and further afield. We will continue to impress on the Ministry of Defence and the appropriate regulators the need to do everything that they possibly can to ensure the highest possible safety standards.

Bill Kidd is absolutely right that we also have to get to the root of the issue. There should not be nuclear weapons on the Clyde, and the sooner that Scotland is a nuclear weapon-free country the better. The Scottish National Party and this Government will continue to argue strongly for exactly that.

Depression (Children)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that the number of children being treated for depression in Scotland has doubled in a decade. (S5F-02807)

Everybody is working hard to reduce the stigma that is faced by those with mental health problems, and we welcome the fact that more people, including children and young people, are coming forward for treatment.

Improving mental health services is a priority for the Scottish Government. That is why we have committed £250 million of new funding to those services, which includes £100 million on services for children and young people. We have also established a children and young people mental health task force, which is chaired by Dr Dame Denise Coia. The task force will develop a blueprint for how services and surrounding support can better meet the needs of children and young people.

There will, of course, always be a place for medication in mental health treatment, including for children, but many will be alarmed to see such a sharp rise, particularly given that children as young as 10 are being prescribed antidepressants. Will the First Minister outline the action that the Scottish Government will take to focus on prevention, early intervention and social prescribing as a more sustainable method for treating mental health?

I understand and, indeed, share the concerns about these statistics, but as Annie Wells will appreciate and recognise, prescribing decisions are for clinicians, who must make the decisions that they think are in the best clinical interests of young people.

But—and this is an important “but”—we all want to see fewer young people being referred to specialist mental health services and having to take medication for mental health problems. That means having better preventative services, which is the whole focus of not only the work being undertaken by Denise Coia but my announcements in the programme for government on employing more counsellors in schools and creating the new mental wellbeing service for young people in communities across Scotland. We will now move to implement those important initiatives to make sure that we shift the curve of mental health care and treatment much more towards prevention rather than treatment. I think that that is the direction of travel that everybody wants us to go in.

Rough Sleeping (Funding)

To ask the First Minister whether the same funding that was provided last year to tackle rough sleeping, as part of the recommendations of the homelessness and rough sleeping action group, will be provided this year. (S5F-02819)

It is vital that we provide effective support to help people on the streets keep safe, and I am very grateful to the front-line workers in a number of organisations who provide life-saving services day in, day out to those sleeping rough. To support those organisations, we have made available £600,000 for outreach activities in this financial year, £220,000 of which has provided follow-up support for people over the past six months. The remaining £380,000 will provide further national support for local initiatives over this winter. Many people sleeping rough have, as we know, complex needs, so we will work in partnership with front-line organisations to ensure that the funding is targeted to support people into safe and warm accommodation quickly while also supporting them into longer-term permanent housing solutions.

Rough sleeping in our towns and cities is the hallmark of a failure in housing and social policy. The life expectancy of a rough sleeper is believed to be 43 years of age, which is a shocking statistic. I welcome the funding that the First Minister has mentioned—the organisations involved have used it well, and I think all credit should go to them for treating rough sleepers on the streets—but I hope that she can commit to providing at least that level of funding every year until we eradicate rough sleeping and have a comprehensive strategy in place.

Further to that, will the First Minister look at adopting the no-second-night-out standard, which aims to ensure that there is a rapid response to new rough sleepers and to offer them something that means that they do not have to sleep out for a second night, in the hope that their complex needs can be addressed and they can be prevented from rough sleeping?

Yes, that rapid-response approach is at the heart of everything that we are seeking to do to tackle and eradicate rough sleeping. For someone who is sleeping rough, accommodation is obviously the most important thing but, as Pauline McNeill will know, there are often complex needs to take into account and, therefore, other issues to be addressed.

The 2017-18 winter initiative was backed by £328,000 and, as I said in my initial answer, we have set aside £380,000 for this winter. Of course, it is part of the bigger £50 million tackling homelessness fund, which ensures that we have the resources in place for targeted initiatives over the next few years. Although that is all about short-term actions, it also includes putting in place a longer-term plan, and one of the cornerstones of that plan is the commitment to housing first, which we have also committed additional funding to.

Through the recommendations of our action group, we are taking action in the short, medium and long term that we hope will allow the Government, working with the Parliament, local councils and partners across the country, to eradicate rough sleeping once and for all. I agree with the member that people sleeping rough in the streets is not acceptable and is not something that any civilised society should ever be happy to see.

Newspaper Industry

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is promoting a vibrant newspaper industry. (S5F-02820)

It is hugely important that we have a vibrant newspaper industry in Scotland. That is why I was so very sorry to hear the news at the weekend that Johnston Press, the owner of The Scotsman, the i newspaper and, of course, many local titles across the country, has gone into administration. That news is a reflection of the fact that this is one of the toughest times that newspapers have ever experienced. Every democracy needs a strong free press, and it is important that we all support that. My thoughts are with the Johnston Press employees, national and local, at what has been a worrying time for them.

The First Minister is absolutely right: democracy cannot function without a strong and diverse press, with journalists free to challenge power. In a world of fake news, we must not allow it to collapse.

Current and former employees of Johnston Press are understandably worried that their pensions are in doubt, because a group of owners and executives have moved the business to a new legal entity and left their pension obligations behind. It looks as though the new company is rinsing the pensions that should rightly belong to the people who work for them and leaving the taxpayer to carry the can.

On Monday, the United Kingdom culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, told the House of Commons that any action that he takes will be taken in consultation with the Scottish Government. When that happens, how does the First Minister propose to address the concerns about workers’ pensions and support the continued publication of these much-loved titles?

I support the continued publication of those papers. I hope to see The Scotsman and many of the local titles go from strength to strength in years to come.

I share the concerns about pensions. We have seen examples in the past in other contexts of people losing pension entitlements when company assets have been transferred wholesale to a new legal entity. None of us wants to see that happen in this case.

This is a reserved matter, as pensions are the responsibility of the UK Government. Although it is not in our responsibility, the Scottish Government will be happy to engage with the company to make sure that employees’ interests are paramount. We will also work as closely as we can with the UK Government to encourage it to take steps to prevent this from happening not just in the case of Johnston Press but in any situation of this kind. We would welcome the support of the Liberal Democrats and other parties across the chamber as we do so.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sure that the First Minister would not want to mislead the chamber intentionally. She will be aware that nuclear events are categorised as A to D, with A being the most serious and C and D being the least serious, with no exposure to risk. She will equally be aware that, out of the 500 notifications to which she referred, two were in category A, that those occurred in 2006 and 2007, and that safety has improved substantially since then. I am sure that the First Minister will want to set the record straight and praise the staff and trade unions at Faslane for constantly improving the culture of safety.

Ms Baillie has got her point on the record, which I assume was the point of her making that remark, because it was not a point of order.

That concludes First Minister’s questions. Before we move to members’ business, we will have a short suspension to allow members to leave and the public gallery to clear.

12:48 Meeting suspended.  

12:51 On resuming—