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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 22, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 22 December 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time


General Question Time

Hotel Businesses (Support)

I draw members’ attention to my register of interests, which shows that I own a hospitality business.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support hotel businesses. (S5O-00509)

A range of business support is available directly to hotels and to other tourism businesses throughout Scotland. The business gateway service offers a first point of contact for all public sector business support for pre-start, early stage and established businesses.

In the tourism sector, VisitScotland provides a global marketing platform, together with opportunities for engagement through business development missions and attendance at trade fairs. As well as giving free market intelligence and advice, VisitScotland offers support to individual businesses through its quality assurance schemes and, where appropriate, hotels may be assisted through direct enterprise agency support through one-to-one account management. In addition, skills support is available through the recently launched Scottish tourism skills investment plan.

Draft revaluations released on 6 December by the Scottish Assessors Association indicate that rateable values for hotels will increase by between 10 and 117 per cent, with initial analysis suggesting an average increase of 48 per cent. That will have a devastating effect on hotel businesses across Scotland, which have to pay eye-watering rates. They are labour-intensive businesses with high fixed overheads that operate on low margins and have highly price-sensitive customers. Hotels are already competing with Airbnb on unequal terms and they have seen cost pressure from wage increases and auto-enrolment. Is it the intention of the Scottish Government to make Scottish hotel businesses unsustainable and uncompetitive?

The member will be aware that the rates assessment is conducted through independent assessment, and it is very important that it is independent assessment. The member will also be aware that we announced as part of the budget that the current poundage of 48.4p will be reduced to 46.6p. In those areas where the Scottish Government has control, we are therefore making efforts to ensure that we reduce the poundage burden. Of course, if the Conservative Party and its members vote against the budget, they will be voting against that reduction from 48.4p to 46.6p.

Rachael Hamilton, a hotel owner, has just asked a question about Scottish Government support for the hotel industry. That is the 24th time since May that the Tories have asked explicitly self-serving parliamentary questions to advance their own business interests. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is a completely inappropriate use of parliamentary time and resources?

Members: Hear, hear.

I am sorry, but that is not a question for the cabinet secretary.

Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to argue the case that Scotland’s concerns are taken into account in relation to the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. (S5O-00510)

The Scottish Government has made clear to the United Kingdom Government and the European Commission that trade agreements must not adversely affect the delivery of public services, lower standards or limit the Government’s right to regulate in the public interest. I wrote to the Secretary of State for International Trade last month re-emphasising that our ability to regulate and to determine how the national health service in Scotland should operate should in no way be compromised by trade agreements. I have not yet received a response.

As the member will know, regulation of international trade is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act 1998 and trade negotiations are led by the European Commission on behalf of the European Union’s 28 member states. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament do not therefore have a direct say in, or direct influence on, negotiations or the ratification of any agreement.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that I have asked over 14 questions now on this topic in recent months. Following the statement to members in the chamber on Tuesday, perhaps we can get some clarity about CETA and the implications for Scotland. If Scotland remained a member of both the UK and the European Economic Area, would it be subject to the conditions of CETA in any future trading with Canada?

The proposal that was made by the First Minister on Scotland’s place in Europe includes a number of questions—for which we have to seek answers—that relate to the interests of other parties. Very senior people who are involved with that process have said to me that, if Scotland were to be represented by the UK in international trade agreements—rather than by the EU as at present—the UK would not have the expertise to properly defend and promote its interests. That is compared with a country such as Canada, which has huge experience and huge numbers of people who have been involved in negotiating trade agreements for many years. That possibility represents a clear and present danger to the interests of Scotland, so we will keep our eye on it.

We want to promote the best possible outcome for Scotland. The optimum outcome would be for us to represent our own interests internationally and to ensure that our interests are served in those discussions.

Budget (Edinburgh)

To ask the Scottish Government how its budget will affect the people of Edinburgh. (S5O-00511)

We have invested in the Royal hospital for sick children and in the NHS Lothian partnership centre facilities—estimated to be operational in June 2017—and we have made a huge investment in the Queensferry crossing. The national health service in Lothian will receive funding of £1.34 billion in the next financial year alone and eight new or rebuilt schools in the east of the country will be operational or in construction in 2017-18, benefiting from £97 million of Scottish Government funding. Schools in the area will benefit directly from their share of almost £7.4 million from the attainment Scotland fund and the City of Edinburgh Council will receive more than £0.75 billion through the local government settlement. In addition, more than 12,000 businesses in the east of Scotland will save almost £26 million a year through the small business bonus. Those are just some of the positive policies from the budget.

I strongly welcome the Scottish Government’s strong commitment to invest in our capital city. With population levels rising in Edinburgh, I also welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment in the draft budget to invest £470 million of direct capital investment in affordable housing. How will Edinburgh, specifically, benefit from increased investment in social housing?

All members will welcome our excellent investment in housing. We have a target of 50,000 affordable homes—70 per cent of those homes will be for social rent—that is backed by an investment package of some £3 billion and that will benefit every part of Scotland. Having achieved a target of 30,000 homes in the previous parliamentary session, I look forward to this Government delivering a target of 50,000 homes in this parliamentary session. Our investment will include new innovative financial packages to stimulate growth across the sector and Edinburgh will be a main beneficiary of our excellent housing policies.

I want to give the cabinet secretary the opportunity to apologise to Edinburgh residents for the budget shambles last week. The Government had to contact the City of Edinburgh Council within days of the publication of the cabinet secretary’s budget to tell the council that he had got the numbers wrong. In fact, the allocation to the City of Edinburgh Council was £9 million less than the published figures. Does the cabinet secretary think that that is a competent way of running Government finance?

I know that Miles Briggs is new to the chamber, but local government finance is incredibly complex. Miles Briggs might want to study very closely the evidence that I gave to his colleagues—[Interruption.] Labour Party members are heckling me and trying to divert me from my answer, but I know that Miles Briggs, as a very diligent member of the Parliament, will want to know the answer.

I encourage Miles Briggs to look at the evidence that I gave to the Local Government and Communities Committee on local government finance—I covered every question that was asked. He will be aware that the point of the exercise with the circular is to put out draft figures and to engage with local authorities individually and collectively. We have done that consultation exercise and we have delivered those technical arrangements.

Miles Briggs’s commentary on the City of Edinburgh Council is not quite accurate regarding reductions. I am looking at the figures—[Interruption.] I will come to the figures, Mr Kelly. The figures show that the increase for the City of Edinburgh Council is more than £10 million. The citizens of the capital city will look forward to the increased spending power that the council and that all local government services will have. Looking at the totality of the figure, it is not just an increase of £10 million—in fact, it is an increase of more than £18 million.

The leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, Andrew Burns, describes the settlement for Edinburgh as

“The worst revenue settlement since devolution”.

He goes on to say:

“Rarely in my near 18-years as a Local Councillor have I seen so much spin and manipulation of figures”,

and he points out that Edinburgh will receive £37 million less than it did in last year’s budget. Local government leaders and finance directors across Scotland are warning that we will see deep cuts in public services. Are they all wrong?

If local authorities are not happy with the settlement that I have given them, why has the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities not rejected it? It is still under discussion.

It does not surprise me that Alex Rowley is quoting a Labour council leader to undermine the Scottish Government’s position. I have ensured that the city council will have extra resources, looking at the total package and including the integration authorities, which is the point of integration. The extra resource to the Edinburgh area is more than £18 million, which is a 2.3 per cent increase.

Included in the Main Campaign

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to implement the recommendations of the Enable Scotland report, “#IncludED in the Main?!”. (S5O-00512)

The Scottish Government will consider the recommendations of the Enable Scotland report “#IncludED in the Main?!” in conjunction with the advisory group for additional support for learning and other key stakeholders.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that more than 80 per cent of the education workforce who participated in the Enable Scotland national conversation felt that we are not getting it right for every child with the presumption that all children should be taught in a mainstream setting. Does he agree that, in some cases, mainstreaming can intensify the feelings of isolation and exclusion that are experienced by some children with a learning or physical disability, and that a child’s educational requirement should be based on their individual needs and background? Does he agree that the time has come for the Scottish Government to review the current guidelines, not just looking at what happens in the classroom but taking a holistic approach to the whole school day?

I agree with a lot of Mr Balfour’s analysis. We have to make individual judgments about the educational needs of every child; that approach is at the heart of the getting it right for every child agenda, and it should be applied in all circumstances. I am still a firm believer in the presumption of mainstreaming, but I would not want that to be perceived as ruling out provision in a special educational setting that meets the needs of individual young people. In principle, I pretty much agree with the analysis that Mr Balfour described.

With regard to the wider exercise of our responsibilities in respect of additional support for learning, ministers have reviewed performance in that area on a five-year basis. I intend to continue to look very closely at those issues, recognising the interest that the Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee has taken in the matter and the wider issues that the Enable Scotland report raises, and I will continue that dialogue in the period ahead.

Higher-rate Taxpayers

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to attract more higher-rate taxpayers to Scotland. (S5O-00513)

Our income tax proposals for 2017-18 and beyond will ensure that Scotland continues to be an attractive place in which to live, work and do business. Tax is only one side of the balance sheet. As we are not passing on the Tory tax cut, those on higher incomes will benefit from the social contract, which includes free higher education, free personal care, free prescriptions and other vital public services in Scotland, and which maintains Scotland as an overall attractive place in which to live and invest.

Can the cabinet secretary explain why Scotland has seen a decrease of 10,000 higher-rate taxpayers over the past year?

I do not know why the Conservatives are trying to pretend that our tax position going forward has affected the past. I am happy to look at the issue in further detail and share that information with Alison Harris, who I know is a former chartered accountant—perhaps she is currently practising; I do not know her position—and therefore takes the matter very seriously. I point out that all the predictions that she made in a previous debate on taxation have turned out not to be accurate.

Glasgow City Council (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Glasgow City Council and what issues were discussed. (S5O-00514)

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including Glasgow City Council, to discuss a wide range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland. I most recently met the leader of Glasgow City Council, Frank McAveety, on 1 December, to discuss housing issues.

The minister will be aware that Glasgow City Council plans to contract out its information and communications technology services. He will also be aware of concerns that have been raised by the workforce and by Unison about the process that has led to that decision, including the fact that it appears to have been taken behind closed doors without a detailed options appraisal or business case being published, and the fact that the figures for claimed savings exist in isolation with no reasonable means of comparison, scrutiny or verification. Does he agree that that is a matter that the Accounts Commission could usefully investigate?

I am aware of the concerns that have been expressed about Glasgow City Council’s plan for delivery of information technology services. Councils are under a legal duty to demonstrate that they are delivering best value for their communities and that they are securing a balance between social, economic and environmental wellbeing in the way they operate. The member is right to say that the auditing of all councils’ delivery of best value is the responsibility of the Accounts Commission. However, the commission is independent, so it would be for it to decide whether to look at the particular issue. As Mr McKee will also know, all local authorities are subject to freedom of information legislation and must therefore respond to requests for information about their decisions. They are also legally required to provide public access to their meetings and to their minutes and background papers, unless that would be a breach of confidentiality.

Disability Delivery Plan

To ask the Scottish Government how its disability delivery plan will assist people with learning disabilities and autism into employment. (S5O-00515)

“A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” sets out a range of actions to support disabled people into work. We will also introduce a one-year transitional service through a newly devolved employability programme for disabled people from April 2017, to provide continuity of service for those who need it most. It will be called work first Scotland and will deliver employment support for up to 3,300 disabled people. People with learning disabilities and autism will be eligible for the service. In addition, there is a package of specialist employer support tailored to the needs of individuals, which is being delivered nationally by the open doors consortium, which is a partnership made up of Scotland’s leading special employment providers. Enable Scotland is part of the consortium and we look forward to meeting in the new year.

Is the minister aware of the Furnishing Service, which is based in East Kilbride? It is an accredited living-wage employer that offers work experience schemes with Sanderson high school, which is a special needs senior school. The work experience programmes have turned out to be beneficial and are bringing out the great abilities that many people who attend Sanderson high school have. Would he consider visiting the Furnishing Service and Sanderson high school to see examples of the support that can be given, as a way of encouraging other employers to do likewise in their communities?

We have in place our developing the young workforce strategy, which is designed to encourage far better interaction between the school environment and employers right across the country. We are seeing that happen increasingly and I believe that it is important for all Scotland’s pupils to be able to have better access to the labour market, but particularly for those who are furthest removed from that labour market. In that regard, I congratulate Sanderson high school and the Furnishing Service. As Linda Fabiani has said, they have set a positive example, and I encourage others in East Kilbride and South Lanarkshire and across Scotland to follow that example. I would be very happy to visit Sanderson high school and the Furnishing Service at some point in the new year.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport last met NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and what issues were discussed. (S5O-00516)

Ministers and Scottish Government officials regularly meet representatives of all boards to discuss matters of local importance.

At the start of this year, the First Minister promised the people of Inverclyde that services at Inverclyde royal hospital were safe. This week, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde agreed to hold a formal consultation on the closure of the birthing units at Inverclyde royal hospital and Vale of Leven hospital. If the cabinet secretary will not make good on her Government’s pre-election promise and commit to stopping the closure of the birthing unit today, will she at the very least take the opportunity to tell people in Inverclyde when she will make that very important decision?

As Neil Bibby has just said, the NHS board agreed at its meeting this week that the proposals for Inverclyde royal hospital and Vale of Leven hospital were to be major service changes. Of course, that means that those major service changes will come to me. That is exactly what the member has been arguing for all along, I think. I hope that he will be satisfied that that is the case.

Paul Gray, the director general for health and social care, has written to the chair of Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board today to ensure that the terms of the consultation are consistent with the recommendations of the review of maternity and neonatal services which, as the member knows, will be published in the new year. Mr Gray is reiterating to the board chair that it is important that the recommendations of the review are understood before the consultation issues on Inverclyde royal hospital and Vale of Leven hospital.

As I have said before, I am happy to keep Neil Bibby and other members updated as the proposals proceed, but I am sure he will be satisfied that ultimately the decision will be mine.