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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, May 24, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 24 May 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scotland’s Gypsy Traveller Community, Ferry Services (Northern Isles), Draft Revised National Outcomes, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


General Question Time

Good morning. Before we turn to the first item of business, which is general question time, I point out, for information, that we are zeroing the clock on my left before questions—I think that there were some inquiries about this yesterday. The clock used to time the whole of question time, but it will now be zeroed at the beginning of every question. That is to encourage members to keep their questions succinct and to encourage ministers to keep their answers equally succinct.

Education Governance Review (Responses to Consultations)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I take the hint.

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the responses to the three consultations informing its education governance review. (S5O-02137)

Presiding Officer, I fear that your warnings about the clock were ill timed, given who is answering the first question.

The responses to the consultations show broad support for the principles of local empowerment and improved collaboration in education. Those principles are at the heart of our reforms, which are based on strong, international evidence of how a high-performing education system works.

Despite the Deputy First Minister’s answer, the consultation responses show overwhelming opposition from parents, teachers, councils, expert bodies and young people. Is the Scottish Government seriously considering introducing a bill based on its proposals, or will it go back to the drawing board and give schools the resources and staffing that they need?

The Government is providing schools with resources—and they are very welcome resources indeed. Just this morning I was in Bo’ness academy, where I heard more about how pupil equity funding is being used to strengthen educational opportunities for young people and to close the poverty-related attainment gap.

The Government is looking carefully at the consultation responses. There is clear support for the principles in the education reform agenda about local empowerment and improved collaboration. The Government has to assess and consider the many detailed points that have been made in respect of the agenda, and that is exactly the work that I am undertaking at present.

Question 2 was not lodged.

A90 (Average Speed Cameras)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the introduction of average speed cameras on the A90 has had on road safety between Dundee and Aberdeen. (S5O-02139)

There has been a significant improvement in driver behaviour and speed limit compliance since the average speed camera system became operational on the A90, in October 2017. Speed surveys that have been carried out between Dundee and Stonehaven have shown that 99 out of 100 vehicles are now complying with the speed limit. That is a significant improvement when we consider that three out of five vehicles were speeding prior to the installation of the technology. The improved levels of speed limit compliance are leading to fewer camera detections, fewer fines for drivers and, most important, safer roads for communities and all users of the A90.

That is, indeed, very welcome.

The minister will be aware that BEAR Scotland has been conducting a road safety study into the stretch of the route that runs through my constituency, around Inveraldie, Tealing and Petterden. It has been looking specifically at the interaction between the A90 and the series of junctions at which my constituents need to cross that busy route to access public transport. Can the minister advise me when we expect to see the final report and its recommendations?

Graeme Dey has made a good point. Average speed cameras are not a magic bullet and must be used in conjunction with a number of other road safety improvement measures. The member is aware of the study that has been undertaken. Discussions on the topic were held between Transport Scotland, BEAR Scotland and the local communities in April 2018, and the final report is expected in summer 2018.

The reduction in driver speed is welcome, but the more important point is about reducing the number of accidents on the A90 between Aberdeen and Dundee. When will we know how effective the speed cameras have been in reducing the number of accidents?

I am hopeful and confident in that regard, I suppose, because of experience with other average speed cameras on our trunk road network. On the A77 Symington to Girvan stretch, for example, there has been a 68 per cent reduction in the number of fatalities and serious casualties, and on the A9 between Dunblane and Inverness there has been a 31 per cent reduction in the number of fatal and serious accidents.

We must allow time for the A90 average speed cameras to embed. We will gather the data and I will ensure that members are kept up to date on important casualty and fatality reduction numbers.

Livestock Worrying

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on concerns of people in the agricultural community regarding livestock worrying. (S5O-02140)

I recently attended a meeting of the Scottish partnership against rural crime. Livestock worrying is a serious matter that causes serious injury and deaths to livestock as well as financial loss and emotional distress to many farmers. I therefore welcome the concerted efforts by Police Scotland and other partners to tackle the issue.

It is a criminal offence for a dog owner to allow their animal to worry livestock, and local authorities have the power to issue dog control notices. We have written to all 32 local authorities, seeking further information about how they use their powers. Working with partners, we will consider all practical measures that can effectively tackle livestock worrying by out-of-control dogs.

The cabinet secretary might be aware that, last week, I announced my intention to bring out a consultation on a member’s bill to tackle livestock worrying. I would be grateful to know whether the cabinet secretary agrees that more work is required to tackle the problem and provide clarity about the responsibility of dog owners when they access the countryside.

I welcome Emma Harper’s proposed consultation. She has taken an enormous interest in the issue and has gone out of her way to involve farmers and stakeholders and to discuss this very serious concern with them. I welcome the consultation and look forward to seeing how it develops and what action the Parliament can consider taking to tackle a very serious problem for the Scottish farming community.

Given how serious the issue is, will the cabinet secretary explain why a change in the legislation requires a member’s bill and the lengthy process that it entails? Can the Scottish Government not change the legislation as a matter of urgency to alleviate the concerns in rural areas?

I would have thought that Finlay Carson would have welcomed Emma Harper raising the issue. Any member is entitled to pursue a member’s bill. It would be quite wrong to ask the Government to criticise members of Parliament for seeking to exercise their powers, as Finlay Carson has. In 18 years as a member of this place, I have never heard the sentiment uttered that members of this Parliament should not be able to do their job in that way. I, for one, think that Emma Harper is doing an excellent job.

I welcome Emma Harper’s consultation and the cabinet secretary’s comments about dog control notices. Many in the farming community were unaware of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, and I welcome the cabinet secretary’s continuing efforts to publicise that.

I follow with close interest the actions that are taken by my colleague, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs. I was pleased that, following a debate on 8 May, Annabelle Ewing wrote to all local authorities in Scotland, seeking further information about how they use their powers under the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. It is, however, fair to point out that some local authorities have been active on the issue, as is illustrated by the fact that the number of dog control notices has risen from 92 in 2011 to 290. It is therefore plain that local authorities around the country are looking at the issue more seriously. As I said, there is much more to do and I welcome Emma Harper taking the lead on these matters.

Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre (Out-of-hours Treatment)

To ask the Scottish Government what arrangements are in place for patients at the Beatson west of Scotland cancer centre who require treatment at weekends or after 6 pm on weekdays. (S5O-02141)

There are structured pathways in place for every west of Scotland national health service board to enable patients to be seen locally in-hours and out of hours. Those pathways have been developed by the Beatson west of Scotland cancer centre in partnership with the local boards.

The support is available 24 hours a day via the Beatson cancer treatment helpline, between 8.00 am and 8.00 pm, and via the national cancer treatment helpline, between 8.00 pm and 8.00 am. The Beatson helpline is staffed by cancer-trained nurses who carry out a structured telephone assessment for each call. The telephone assessment is supported by a validated process to identify the frequency and severity of symptoms.

I will share with the cabinet secretary the experience of my constituent Alison Gardner after her sixth course of chemo at the Beatson. Feeling horribly unwell, she phoned the Beatson helpline, as instructed, to find that it was closed to patients on Fridays and at weekends. She was directed to the accident and emergency department at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, where, on arrival, she was told that, as a Beatson patient, she should not have been there.

After four and a half hours, she was given antibiotics in an open area, subject to the risk of infection from other patients. Meanwhile, staff at the Beatson told her husband to complain and to get her out of there, as it was dangerous to her health. She was told that it did not matter what the Beatson said, because no bed would be made available, especially as the doctor said that the Beatson was empty. The following day, a doctor was derogatory with regard to the advice from the Beatson and spoke negatively about the oncologist, saying, “She would be in her bed last night, as they don’t have to do night shifts like accident and emergency doctors.” He then discharged her, saying that that is what he would do with “a normal patient”.

Whatever the pressures, is that any way for my constituent to be treated? More important to her, is that a satisfactory way for any cancer sufferer who experiences complications while undergoing chemotherapy to be treated, now or in the future?

I would very much like to look into the details of Alison Gardner’s case, if Jackson Carlaw will furnish me with them.

On a general point, all patients who are on or within six weeks of treatment at the Beatson receive an alert card prior to their first treatment, with information about who to call with concerns about treatment side effects or symptoms 24 hours a day. The card has two numbers, which can be used before or after 8 pm, and my initial answer described which services are provided for patients and at what times of day.

If something went wrong with that system in Alison Gardner’s case, I want to explore that. If Jackson Carlaw will furnish me with the information, I will certainly look into the matter.

Accessible Properties

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve the accessibility and increase the availability of properties of all tenure types that are suitable for disabled people. (S5O-02142)

I believe that everyone should have the right to live independently. Local authorities are responsible for assessing housing requirements within their local communities. We are currently refreshing the local housing strategy guidance to make sure that realistic targets are set out at local level for the supply of wheelchair-accessible housing and we will ask local authorities to report annually on progress.

We are investing more than £3 billion in affordable housing to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes over this parliamentary session, which is a 76 per cent increase on our previous five-year investment. Ninety-one per cent of homes that were built by housing associations and councils in 2016-17 met the housing for varying needs standards.

A recent report that was published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlighted the need for urgent action to address the lack of suitable housing for disabled people. Will the minister inform Parliament how many new-build homes he will require all local authorities to build to wheelchair-accessible standards? If he will not, why not?

I will meet EHRC Scotland on 30 May to discuss the report that it published on 11 May. I have made it clear to local authorities that I expect them to ensure that their local housing strategies and their strategic housing investment plans take account of what is required for wheelchair-accessible housing. I have gone further and asked them to interrogate their housing lists to see exactly what wheelchair-accessible housing is required for people in their areas. I reiterated that point this morning. I have also said to local authorities that we will look at increasing subsidy when they build wheelchair-accessible housing, and they can talk to my officials on the ground about that. I am determined to increase the amount of wheelchair-accessible housing in Scotland.

On Mr Balfour’s question about all tenures, and with regard to getting folk into owner occupation, it would be very helpful if, for example, the Tories did not keep cutting the incomes of disabled people here in Scotland and across the UK.

Primary Education (Spending per Pupil)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the trend in spending per primary school pupil since 2010. (S5O-02143)

The latest local government finance statistics show that expenditure on primary education increased by 3.3 per cent between 2014-15 and 2016-17 in real terms, or 6.3 per cent in cash terms. That is despite continued United Kingdom Government real-terms cuts to Scotland’s resource budget, and it shows clear evidence that the Scottish Government has treated local government very fairly, providing a real-terms increase in funding this year compared with 2017-18.

Unfortunately, one swallow does not a summer make. In fact, the real-terms expenditure per primary pupil is now £513 less than it was in 2010. The figure for secondary school pupils is £205 less. If education really is a priority for this Government, why will it not give our schools the resources that they need?

That is precisely why there has been an increase in the resources allocated to primary education over the period that I set out. It is precisely why there has been an increase in funding to local government in 2017-18. It is why local government is spending more on education in the past two years. It is also why we are putting in place the Scottish attainment challenge and pupil equity funding. It is high time the Labour party got behind the measures to strengthen Scottish education by investing in education, which is what this Government is doing.

Apprenticeships and Work Placements (Mental Health Support)

8. David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what mental health support it has in place for apprenticeships and work placements. (S5O-02144)

Our 10-year mental health strategy aims to improve uptake of and access to a range of services that are aimed at improving mental health in the workplace. Employers have a duty of care towards their employees, apprentices and people on work placements, and they should take appropriate steps to ensure that mental health and wellbeing is protected and promoted.

We have funded the healthy working lives programme in NHS Health Scotland with £1.6 million in 2017-18 to provide advice and support to employers on the measures that they can take. That support includes a free and confidential advice line and free training courses to help to equip employers with the skills and knowledge that they require. We provide £1 million per year to the “See me” programme to deliver Scotland’s national programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination in the workplace.

Under fair start Scotland, what support is expected to be offered to work placement employers to ensure that mental health service users are integral to the programme and that employers sustain their commitment to mental health to ensure that there are positive outcomes for individuals in the long term?

Fair start Scotland will provide tailored, flexible and person-centred support for people at risk of long-term unemployment and people with a disability, including individuals with mental health problems, to support them towards employment. Participants will work with an adviser who will support the individual to develop a programme of personalised support. Fair start Scotland provides 12 to 18 months of pre-work support with a further period of in-work support that is tailored to suit individual needs. Individual placement and support will be available for those with severe and enduring mental health problems.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran (Financial Position)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the long-term financial position of NHS Ayrshire and Arran. (S5O-02145)

For 2017-18, brokerage of £23 million has been approved. Provision of brokerage is always predicated on a realistic plan to return to financial stability, and NHS Ayrshire and Arran is developing a three-year plan to return to financial balance. In 2018-19, the board is being supported with additional investment of £11.6 million and a share of £175 million to support investment in reform.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer and note her response. However, although I understand that efficiencies are necessary as well, I am concerned that the efficiency measures appear to mean that 90 beds will go at Crosshouse, with more beds rumoured to be lost at Ayr, at a time when 33,699 bed days were lost to NHS Ayrshire and Arran last year due to delayed discharges, at a cost of £7.9 million. I say to the cabinet secretary that we need more beds in NHS Ayrshire and Arran. Closing hospital wards is not what patients or staff want and it will only further reduce the functionality of the Ayrshire hospitals. Can efficiencies be found elsewhere?

First, it is important to say that we would expect NHS Ayrshire and Arran to deliver the improvement plan and bring the board back into financial balance. An improvement director has been appointed for a period of six months to help it do that.

On the issue of beds, John Scott will be aware that the beds were always additional beds; they were never core beds. However, we have made it very clear that there can be a reduction in bed numbers only if there is also the appropriate diversion of people and, therefore, less of a requirement for those beds.

The board has work to do to make sure that the programme is putting patient safety at its heart. We will be working with it closely to make sure that that happens. I am happy to write to John Scott with further information about that.