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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 24 October 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Motion Without Notice, British Sign Language (National Plan), Unconventional Oil and Gas, Business Motion, Decision Time, Helicopter Safety (North Sea)


Topical Question Time

Institutional Racism (Police Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports of institutional racism in Police Scotland. (S5T-00720)

Police Scotland’s evidence to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing highlights the positive action that it is taking to support our “Race Equality Framework for Scotland 2016-2030”. For example, the introduction of a new training and mentoring programme for ethnic minority candidates is already helping to ensure that Police Scotland’s workforce better reflects the diversity of Scotland’s communities: more than 10 per cent of the police recruits who joined Police Scotland in September 2017 came from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Through an internal review of hate crime policy and procedures, Police Scotland is also seeking to improve the recognition, recording and reporting of hate crime and incidents across the country. An extensive and detailed programme of training is in place to support an understanding of and effective response to equality and diversity issues.

As Police Scotland itself acknowledges, there are areas for improvement in how it serves and represents minority ethnic communities, but I do not doubt its determination to do so. I will continue to receive updates on the progress that is being made.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the Macpherson report was seen as a pivotal, watershed moment and that it has always been the holy grail for many to have the police admit to institutional racism. What has given rise to my question today is the report from the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights giving the stark facts that only 1 per cent of officers and police staff come from a BME background, which is relatively unchanged since 2013, that the proportion of BME police officers has never risen above 1 per cent and that BME officers and staff continue to leave in high numbers. Those facts could certainly be construed as being institutional failings. Setting aside the issue of recruitment, can the cabinet secretary advise what he is doing to establish why BME staff leave in higher numbers and what he is doing to ensure that BME staff are retained?

The member raises an important issue. As I outlined in my initial response, Police Scotland has already taken forward work to recruit more individuals from BME communities. Progress has been made on that and the recent intake into Police Scotland demonstrates the significant progress that it has achieved over the course of the work that it has taken forward. Part of the work that we are doing as a Government is through the race equality framework, which sets out key priorities and themed areas with set goals that the police must take forward to address issues of racial equality. That framework will be taken forward over the next 15 years.

Within that, a number of specific goals have been set for Police Scotland, which include that it be more reflective of the communities that it serves. In its response to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing’s call for evidence, Police Scotland set out the actions that it is taking. For example, the positive action team has been established to support greater recruitment of individuals from BME communities into the police service, which has helped to improve uptake, as I mentioned in my earlier remarks. Alongside that, Police Scotland has a mentoring programme in place so that individuals from BME communities who join the police service have someone in the service who can support them.

It is important to recognise—I am sure that the member will acknowledge this—that Police Scotland is putting in place a number of different programmes and initiatives to improve the representation and the retention of individuals from BME communities in the service. That is being driven by the race equality framework, which was published in March last year and which sets out key objectives for Police Scotland to take forward, which it is committed to doing in the work that it has already started.

Of course I applaud the work that is being done with recruitment and positive action. Indeed, the CRER was involved in the race equality framework, which will continue to 2030. Of course, we have had laudable statements from senior police officers and, indeed, the staff associations. I note that part of the training that is taking place is about organisational culture, but it is evident that that is not always resulting in positive action on the front line. Again, that has to be seen as an institutional failure. As I am sure the cabinet secretary is aware, the CRER asks for four key improvements in the police service, which are that it be more representative, more responsive, more collaborative and more accessible, particularly with regard to issues of transparency. Those seem entirely reasonable to me. What will the cabinet secretary do to ensure that those improvements are made?

The four key areas that have been outlined by the CRER are all valid and I know that Police Scotland will give active consideration to them. I am updated on a regular basis on the progress that Police Scotland is making against the objectives that have been set out in the race equality framework and I will continue to engage with it on that initiative. I will also be interested in the outcome of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing’s investigation into the issue and in its report on that.

We have been working with Police Scotland to support work that it can take forward within the organisation. For example, we have provided funding to support ethnic minority police employees in the organisation through the Scottish Police Muslim Association. However, Police Scotland is also conducting an internal review of its procedures and the way in which it takes forward matters relating to hate crime. That sits very closely beside the work that we are doing in the review of hate crime legislation in Scotland to ensure that we have the right legislation in place and that Police Scotland has the right type of response in its organisation. Alongside that, Police Scotland is providing training on diversity and equality, which again feeds out of the race equality framework. There are regular updates on the progress that is being made through the race equality framework.

I can assure the member that actions are being taken and that we have a process in place that allows us to measure the progress that Police Scotland is making on those matters. I am regularly updated on the actions that it is taking. I am determined to ensure that Police Scotland is doing everything that it can in this area and I am confident that the executive team in Police Scotland is determined to do that as well.

I will allow three more brief questions on the subject.

The cabinet secretary talks of recruitment into the force, but none of the current executive team that he mentioned is from a BME background, and the number of BME officers in senior roles is lower than in the force in general. Does he believe that that is acceptable? Can he outline any steps that he has taken in his time in office to encourage the promotion of BME officers to senior level in Police Scotland and ensure representation at the top level?

The short answer is no—it is not acceptable. Part of the challenge has been that, historically, there has been a poor approach to succession planning in the organisation to make sure that individuals who could progress to senior ranks are encouraged and supported to do so. However, the Scottish Police Authority is now taking proactive action to support that.

I am sure that the member will recognise that, in order to get to the senior ranks in the police service and, in particular, the executive team, officers need to have a considerable level of experience, and it will take time to recruit more individuals into those posts from BME backgrounds—and from the other gender, because at present it is largely dominated by male officers, with the exception of Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick.

The service recognises that it needs to take more action on that, and I have been working with it to encourage it to do so. A key part of that is effective succession planning and making sure that those within the organisation who have the skills and talents to progress are being encouraged to do so. The Scottish Police Authority is working with officers to ensure that that type of succession planning is now being taken forward on an on-going basis.

The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights raises many important concerns. Will the cabinet secretary commit to reviewing the way in which we record police incidents and to regularly publishing data concerning the engagement of the BME community with Police Scotland, to ensure that there is transparency and greater accountability?

The four key areas that the CRER has highlighted are all valid areas on which Police Scotland can take further action, and it has already committed to engaging on the four points that have been highlighted. However, I also refer the member to the submission that Police Scotland has made to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, which highlights the extensive range of work that it is already undertaking in this field. That also has to be recognised.

As I mentioned, there is already an internal review within Police Scotland of both its policy and its procedures around recording and dealing with hate crimes, and that sits very closely with our review of the hate crime legislation in Scotland.

However, where there are areas in which we can strengthen transparency and accountability in this area, I am always prepared to make sure that that action is taken. Of course, we will welcome the final report from the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing and consider what further measures it believes are necessary to support further progress in the area.

Can the cabinet secretary provide any detail on how much confidence the Scottish public—across all sections—have in their local police force?

Confidence in policing in Scotland in general is high. The most recent data that we have is from the Scottish crime and justice survey, which found that the majority of adults had confidence in the police force in Scotland. Additional developmental analysis, which was based on the combination of data from three large household surveys, found that people from ethnic minorities reported a higher level of confidence in policing in their local area.

Overall, confidence in the police service in Scotland remains high, but Police Scotland has also recognised that we need to take further action to make sure that it is engaging effectively with minority communities, and that is a key part of the developmental and improvement work that it has already started to take forward.

Suicidal Thoughts (Young People)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to reports that Childline has recorded a record number of young people expressing suicidal thoughts in the last year. (S5T-00711)

We welcome an increase in the number of young people who are seeking help with suicidal thoughts. It illustrates that the stigma and discrimination that have long been associated with mental health problems are decreasing, and it provides more opportunities to deliver the support that is required.

We take our young people’s mental health very seriously and we want every child and young person to have appropriate access to emotional and mental wellbeing support. All public services that come into contact with children and young people have a role to play in supporting their mental health and wellbeing.

We have commenced a national review of personal and social education in schools, which includes consideration of the role of guidance and counselling in local authority schools. We have in recent years invested additional funds in child and adolescent mental health services, and we are putting an additional £150 million into mental health over five years, some of which will be used to improve prevention of mental ill health and to improve treatment in CAMHS.

I commend all those who volunteer as Childline counsellors, who are making a real difference to children’s and young people’s lives.

In September, ISD Scotland published a report about how long children and young people wait for mental health services that are provided by the national health service in Scotland. It found that in the quarter that ended in June this year, one in five children did not begin his or her treatment in CAMHS within the 18-week target. What action is the Scottish Government taking to improve that figure and to ensure that no child is allowed to slip through the net or miss out on treatment that might save his or her life?

As Michelle Ballantyne might know, we were the first Administration to introduce targets for waiting times for CAMHS: we introduced a 90 per cent target for 18 weeks referral to treatment. Although some health boards are making real progress on reducing their waiting times, we are not yet seeing the consistency that I would like in movement towards meeting the targets and sustaining that. However, Michelle Ballantyne might want to know that in the second quarter of 2017, 29 people waited more than 53 weeks to start treatment, which was an improvement on the figure of 74 for the previous quarter, and on the figure for the equivalent quarter in 2016, when 151 young people were waiting. Therefore, we are making progress, but there is still work to do.

It is good to hear that some progress is being made.

In the minister’s first response, she mentioned teachers taking on some of the workload in helping young people with mental health issues. Will she tell us a little bit about how teachers will be trained to deal with that very important issue? Given that it is often very difficult to get teachers out of the classroom and out of school to receive training, how will that training be scheduled?

As I said in my first answer, we have already commenced a review of personal and social education in schools. It is not just teachers who are involved in that; everyone who is involved in schools is involved. For example, Education Scotland is rolling out to all local authorities Scottish mental health first aid—SMHFA—training for children and young people, and some of the extra money is being used to train staff in the secondary school community to increase their confidence in approaching pupils who they think may be struggling with mental health problems.

North Ayrshire Council provides a good example. It is using the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills’s attainment fund to fund Place2Be, which is participating in a research project to deliver targeted counselling services in a limited number of schools to see what the impact is and whether we should roll out the services. There is on-going work.

Like other members around the chamber, I welcome the news from the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland that the number of young people who are being treated in non-specialised wards has fallen dramatically. I congratulate the minister on that decrease. What investment is the Scottish Government making to increase the mental health workforce?

As Maree Todd has pointed out, mental health is a priority for the Scottish Government, as we have shown by our increased investment of £150 million. That investment includes £54 million to support the reduction in waiting times, £4.6 million to Healthcare Improvement Scotland to work with health boards to improve service capacity and increase the supply and training of the workforce, £10 million to support new ways of improving mental health in primary care, and £15 million to support better access to CAMHS and innovation. A great deal of work is being done to help to improve the waiting time targets and to ensure that our young people get help as quickly as possible.