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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 23, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 23 February 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Oil and Gas Sector Co-investment, Point of Order, Budget (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Points of Order, Decision Time


General Question Time

Edinburgh Cancer Centre

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with NHS Lothian regarding plans to rebuild the Edinburgh Cancer Centre. (S5O-00689)

The Scottish Government and NHS Lothian have been in regular contact to discuss NHS Lothian’s plans to rebuild the Edinburgh cancer centre. A site visit was arranged for Scottish Government officials in September 2016 and NHS Lothian recently submitted its strategic assessment of the proposed development to the NHS capital investment group.

NHS Lothian is in the process of developing the initial agreement, the main purpose of which is to confirm the need for the investment.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that patients from my region, in particular from Dumfries and Galloway, often have to travel to the Western general hospital in Edinburgh for cancer treatment and that they are provided with out-patient accommodation at Pentland lodge next to the cancer unit. The accommodation is currently under review by the health board, yet it means that patients do not have the gruelling journey back and forth from Dumfries and Galloway. Patients also get invaluable peer support that they would not receive if they stayed in a nearby hotel.

Will the cabinet secretary give assurances that, in any service changes at the hospital, an out-patient residential facility will be retained and that current and past patients, including those from Dumfries and Galloway, will be fully involved in any discussions on service changes?

Given the circumstances of the treatment that patients undergo, I very much appreciate the need for appropriate accommodation. As the member will be aware, the decisions on that level of detail have not been finalised at this point, but I can assure him that the needs of patients travelling from around Scotland, including from Dumfries and Galloway, will be considered as the business case develops. I have asked to be kept informed about Pentland lodge. It is important that appropriate accommodation is provided and I am happy to liaise with the member as the issue is taken forward. We should bear in mind the potential for a fit for purpose oncology assessment unit and a state of the art facility, but it is important that patients who are travelling from outwith the Edinburgh area get the appropriate accommodation. I am happy to keep in contact with the member about that.

I understand that NHS Lothian has submitted an initial agreement proposal that makes the case for interim bridging capital to upgrade the existing accommodation before a new centre is built. Has the cabinet secretary decided to support the appeal for bridging capital? Will she meet me, NHS Lothian and other MSPs whose constituents use the centre to discuss how we take forward the proposals for a new centre?

The member will be aware of the various stages that are involved in decisions on funding. I am happy to meet him and NHS Lothian to talk about the specifics that he raised. The business case that I referred to is at an early stage and it would not be appropriate for me to make any decision before the review of the business case has been completed. Any other investments related to the decision would need to be seen in the context of the bigger project, but I am happy to meet Miles Briggs and NHS Lothian to discuss that further.

Tackling Islamophobia

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle Islamophobia. (S5O-00690)

We invested more than £500,000 in 2016-17 to promote interfaith relations and engagement between civic Scotland and different faith communities. We are developing an ambitious programme of work following the report of the independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion, which includes running a hate crime awareness-raising campaign this year. In January, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs announced an independent review of hate crime legislation.

I am pleased to hear of the progress that is being made, but the fact remains that Islamophobia continues in my Falkirk East constituency and beyond. It has been suggested to me by groups that have been on the receiving end of Islamophobia in the Falkirk district that a relaunch of the one Scotland, many cultures campaign would help to show Scotland as the diverse, multifaith and multicultural society that it is, committed to promoting one Scotland where many cultures can thrive side by side. Will the cabinet secretary give that some consideration?

Yes—absolutely. As I alluded to in my original answer, we are developing an awareness-raising campaign around the impact of hate crime as part of our one Scotland campaign. That campaign continues to have an online presence, but we will look at how we can develop it further. Some of the important recommendations from the independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion were around public education and how we promote a clearer understanding of hate crime and its impact, and how we really get across the strong message that it must not be tolerated and must be reported at every opportunity. I hope that that gives some reassurance to the member and to the Parliament.

Despite the Government’s efforts, Islamophobic hate crime has actually doubled in the past year in Scotland. What specific measures will be taken to support Muslim communities to better report Islamophobic hate crime? How can we set examples through people being convicted for Islamophobic hate crime? Does the Government share any data about Islamophobic hate crime with any organisations that monitor the trends in Islamophobia?

Mr Sarwar is absolutely right to point to an increase in Islamophobia in terms of crimes reported. The most recent hate crime statistics, which were published by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, show an increase in the number of charges where conduct was derogatory to Islam from 71 to 134. We know that that is not attributable to a single event pattern; it is due to a general rise in reporting. Any crime is regrettable, and it is particularly important that such crime is reported so that a firm stance can be taken.

A review has been undertaken of the effectiveness of third-party reporting, which was one of the important recommendations in the independent advisory group report. There were also recommendations on data, which we are currently working through. It is important to have good and robust data that gives more granular detail on the causes and conditions in which such crime flourishes.

It might be of some reassurance to Mr Sarwar that we will produce a plan of action in the very near future. As part of our determination to tackle prejudice in all its forms, we have introduced three-year funding for the equality budget, which will support the important work that is undertaken by diverse groups, including groups that work in our communities to tackle hate crime and prejudice in all its forms.

Whitesands Regeneration

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Dumfries and Galloway Council regarding engagement with local communities on proposed regeneration plans for the Whitesands in Dumfries. (S5O-00691)

We have had no discussion with the council on that issue. Councils are independent organisations that are accountable to their electorate, and it is for them to determine how to conduct appropriate consultation and engagement for particular projects.

With the projected costs for the combined flood defence and regeneration schemes spiralling upwards, local businesses in the town are growing increasingly angry at the arrogance of Dumfries and Galloway Council, which they believe has failed to properly engage with the wider community on the regeneration aspects of the scheme. They believe that the council has ignored legitimate concerns in order to railroad through its deeply unpopular proposals under the guise of flood defences. Given the widespread concern, will the minister commit to meeting with worried businesses in the town? Can he clarify that all Scottish Government funding for the project will go towards flood prevention and not ill-thought-out landscape gardening and streetscaping?

I appreciate that there is opposition to the flood protection scheme that Dumfries and Galloway Council is proposing. Mr Mundell has talked about the matter previously and Joan McAlpine has written to me on the issue.

The key thing is the responsibility of Dumfries and Galloway Council in this regard. A statutory process must be undertaken before a proposed flood protection scheme can be confirmed. The process provides an opportunity for objections to the proposed scheme to be lodged, and the local authority is obliged to seek to address objections. I understand that the council started the statutory process on 1 February and that the consultation period closes on 1 March. I urge folks who are unhappy with the scheme to respond to the consultation.

If objections remain that cannot be resolved, the scheme must be referred to the Scottish ministers, who will decide whether to call in the proposals for their consideration. That is the only stage of the process at which the Scottish Government plays a direct role. I urge Mr Mundell to continue to engage with Dumfries and Galloway Council on the issue.

Scottish Growth Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making with the Scottish growth scheme. (S5O-00692)

The Scottish Government is continuing to progress its work with partners on the development and delivery of the new Scottish growth scheme, which will provide up to £500 million over three years of investment guarantees and some loans. This work is progressing to deliver the most effective scheme possible.

The £500 million Scottish growth scheme is described in the Scottish National Party’s programme for government as a scheme to

“provide up to £500 million ... of investment guarantees, and some loans”,

as the cabinet secretary said. I understand that funding for the scheme will be demand led, but if there is any likelihood of loans being made in the next financial year, funding should be allocated in the budget. Given that, will the cabinet secretary say where in the budget we can find the additional funding for loans to be made under the growth scheme? Is the funding in the enterprise budget, or is no funding available for the scheme?

I am sorry; I was not able to hear everything that the member said, because of the noise in the chamber. I think that he asked whether some of the funding that might be available through the growth scheme should instead be available in the budget. The budget, as my colleague Derek Mackay has set out, has in it—including the allocations to enterprise agencies—the ability to make grants and loans available to businesses if necessary. This is an additional £500 million. As the member said, the scheme is demand led, and we are currently trying to ensure that we have an exact fix on where demand is most likely to come from and how we can meet demand.

The scheme is a response to the situation that we find ourselves in, with Brexit coming through and a United Kingdom Government that is refusing to attach a high priority to some of the most important sectors in Scotland. The scheme is a positive response in that regard, and for that reason I would have thought that there would be some support or welcome from the Conservative benches for an important measure to help businesses in Scotland.

With Scotland lagging behind the rest of the UK on a number of economic indicators, can the cabinet secretary tell the Parliament how many jobs he expects the scheme to create and what level of growth it will add to our currently fragile economy?

That will entirely depend on the nature of the applications that come forward and the loans and investment guarantees that we are able to make.

Jackie Baillie said that we lag behind the UK on some measures. We are also in advance of the UK on many measures, such as female employment and youth employment. She does not mention that at all in the chamber, but it is as well to acknowledge it.

The Scottish growth scheme is designed to ensure that we increase job opportunities and allow companies that are currently struggling for finance to grow, to provide more employment and add growth in the Scottish economy. That is the purpose of the scheme. It would be useful if the Labour Party said that it supported at least the principle of the scheme.

Specialist Care Services (Highlands and Islands)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that there is access to local specialist care services across the Highlands and Islands. (S5O-00693)

National health service boards are responsible for planning and delivering healthcare services to meet the assessed needs of their resident populations, taking into account strategic frameworks and guidance, within the allocations provided.

The cabinet secretary might be aware of the plight of Auchinlee care home in Campbeltown, which is under threat of closure. She might also know that, last week, the local integration joint board and the operator agreed to ensure that Auchinlee stays open for one more year. However, local people remain concerned that their loved ones might have to seek alternative support outwith Argyll and Bute if a long-term solution cannot be identified. What assurances can the cabinet secretary give people in the remoter parts of the Highlands and Islands that such care provision will continue to exist, given that suitable local alternatives are often not available?

I am aware that many people, including members such as Mike Russell, have been involved in trying to ensure that the capacity of local care facilities is maintained, and a lot of work has been done with the local health and care partnership to ensure that that is the case. I am aware of the challenges that are faced in remote and rural Scotland in ensuring that the right care is provided. Some of that care might well be provided in care home establishments—which must obviously be fit for purpose—but some of it will be provided in community-based facilities. In Highland, some highly innovative solutions have been brought in that have involved building capacity in local communities for those who require care support.

I will be happy to keep in contact with Donald Cameron on the issue. We would expect the local health and care partnerships to address such local matters, but my officials have been heavily involved in this particular matter, as I am sure Donald Cameron is aware, and I am very content for them to continue to be involved to make sure that we get the best solution for local people.

Child Sexual Abuse Survivors (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met groups representing survivors of child sexual abuse and what issues were discussed. (S5O-00694)

I met a number of survivors and their representatives on 9 November 2016. Discussions included the remit of the Scottish child abuse inquiry, the membership of the inquiry panel, redress and the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill. Scottish Government officials also attended the quarterly meeting of the interaction plan review group on 19 December 2016. That group reviews progress against the action plan, and the topics included the in-care survivor support fund, the forthcoming consultation and engagement on financial redress, survivor representation on the group and future governance arrangements for the group.

A meeting with me has been requested by Wellbeing Scotland—which was formerly known as Open Secret—and other survivors. Scottish Government officials have been in contact with Wellbeing Scotland with suggested dates, and I hope to meet the organisation at some point next month.

I thank the Deputy First Minister for that answer, and I welcome his commitment to meet Wellbeing Scotland.

The Deputy First Minister will be aware of the continuing concerns of survivors of child sexual abuse about the progress of the inquiry into the abuse of children and young people in care. There are concerns about the fact that none of the members of the original panel remains in position and about the fact that those with proven expertise in and understanding of the experience of survivors are being excluded from the provision of support for survivors in the process. How will the Deputy First Minister address those concerns, sustain confidence in the inquiry and ensure that, although the inquiry is independent of Government, it acts in the context of an approach that is shaped by the survivors, who understand best the impact of abuse and what support they need?

I acknowledge Johann Lamont’s long-standing interest in such issues and the seriousness with which she raises important questions.

I understand that survivors find it unsettling that there has been a further change this week in the membership of the child abuse inquiry panel. I have explained that that has arisen because one of the members of the panel—the last remaining member of the original panel—has had a change of employment circumstances. In discussion with Lady Smith, he has decided that some of the implications of his new employment might give rise to potential conflicts of interest and he has acted to resolve those at this stage.

I assure Johann Lamont, Parliament and survivors that I took the decision to appoint Lady Smith to lead the inquiry after consultation with survivors in an effort to build the confidence that I acknowledge to be so essential for the duration of the inquiry. I assure Parliament that the inquiry is gathering a significant amount of evidence. On 8 February, Lady Smith made it clear that 69 institutions were the subject of her inquiries as a consequence of evidence that had come to her from survivors.

I encourage survivors to come forward with evidence to the inquiry. There are other mechanisms of support for survivors, as I have already announced. I am pursuing discussions with survivors groups to ensure that redress—the other principal issue that is outstanding—is addressed satisfactorily. I assure Johann Lamont and Parliament that the Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that the inquiry has the resources and capacity to address the remit that has been designed for it and to bring justice and accountability in an area where they should be have been delivered a long time ago.