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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 24 November 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Transvaginal Mesh Removal (Cost Reimbursement) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Transvaginal Mesh Removal (Cost Reimbursement) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Mouth Cancer Action Month 2021


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Health and Social Care

Good afternoon. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is health and social care. As ever, in order to get in as many members as possible, I would prefer short and succinct questions and answers to match. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or indicate so in the chat function by entering the letter R during the relevant question.


Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the number of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services that are declined. (S6O-00422)

Referrals that are not accepted for treatment are described as “rejected” or “not accepted”, rather than “declined”, as in many cases that involves signposting or redirecting people to a more appropriate service. The most recent published statistics available, which cover the quarter ending 30 June, show that 2,263, or 22.2 per cent of, referrals to child and adolescent mental health services were not accepted. The next published statistics will be available on 7 December.

In 2018, Audit Scotland, in its report on “Children and young people’s mental health”, warned that scrutiny of CAMHS was focused

“on inputs and outputs rather than outcomes”.

Since then, what action has the Scottish Government taken to shift the focus to outcomes, and how will it measure service quality to seek to increase pathways for improving the mental health of our children?

Significant progress has been made to improve CAMHS and implement the recommendations of the children and young people’s mental health task force. Most notably, in February 2020, the Scottish Government published the “Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services: national service specification”, which includes nationally agreed referral criteria; a first engagement appointment for all those who meet the criteria; and “personalised, meaningful signposting” for all those who do not require treatment in CAMHS. There is also a duty on all CAMHS teams to provide a contact for referrers to enable referrals to be discussed with them.

We are continuing to work on data in that regard. We have in place the CAMHS and psychological therapies national data set, which was commissioned to collect data on why people are not accepted. CAPTND was first published as an appendix to the June 2021 publications, and we will continue to work on that and improve it as we move forward.

At the end of June 2021, Public Health Scotland reported that the number of children and young people who had been waiting more than a year for mental health services had doubled since the end of June 2020. Can the minister advise the Parliament what examples of alternative support the Government has in place for those children who are on very long waiting lists or who may have been rejected by the service?

As Ms Mochan knows, we have invested quite heavily in CAMHS from our recovery and renewal fund in order to bring down waiting times, as it is essential that we do so. In addition, we need to invest in other services, in particular community-based services, so that folks do not have to be referred to acute services in the first place. That is an essential part of moving away from acute care towards prevention, and I am sure that Ms Mochan, along with every other member in the chamber, will welcome it. We, along with health boards, are working hard to get those waiting lists and waiting times down.


Edington Cottage Hospital

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of the closure of Edington cottage hospital. (S6O-00423)

East Lothian health and social care partnership has taken the difficult decision to temporarily relocate the bed capacity—that is six beds—and staff from Edington hospital to East Lothian community hospital to maintain safe staffing levels and provide safe and functional care for patients. The health and social care partnership will review that decision on 10 December, as part of an agreed quarterly review of the situation.

I direct my next question to the cabinet secretary, as I see that he is in his place. Will he meet the steering group ahead of the discussions that will lead to the decision on 10 December to help support NHS Lothian in reopening the cottage hospital?

I believe that the minister will respond.

I know for a fact that the cabinet secretary has already met the local constituency member, Paul McLennan. As always, the Government will continue to speak to those who are in the know, including local members, on those matters.

The Edington hospital was closed with no community consultation whatsoever. Even in a pandemic, is that an acceptable way for the national health service to operate?

As Mr Hoy says, we are in a pandemic. There are staff shortages, and the reason why East Lothian health and social care partnership took the decision that it did was to ensure that there were safe levels of staffing for patients. Safety should always come first, and ensuring that that happens is what East Lothian health and social care partnership has done in this case.

What measures are NHS Lothian and East Lothian health and social care partnership undertaking with regard to recruiting additional staff in East Lothian?

Decisions on local staffing requirements and recruitment are the responsibility of individual NHS boards. However, Scottish Government officials are continually engaging with boards to identify particular areas of concern. The cabinet secretary and I, as well as Scottish Government officials, have been regularly discussing those issues with health boards, health and social care partnerships and local authorities.

NHS Lothian advises, through on-going capacity reporting to the Scottish Government, that measures to deploy staff flexibly and recruit additional staff are currently in progress. The member can be assured that we will continue to monitor that progress.


Winter Care Plan (Care Home Visitors)

To ask the Scottish Government how its winter care plan will ensure that adults in care homes will have continued and frequent access indoors to family and friends. (S6O-00424)

The “Adult Social Care Winter Preparedness Plan 2021-22” document sets out the measures to protect the sector ahead of winter and outlines how we will support those who use services, the workforce and unpaid carers. The plan recognises the considerable progress that is being made by care homes in supporting people to see their family and friends through the implementation of the Scottish Government’s care home visiting guidance, which is set out in the “Open with Care” document. The plan outlines agreement to build on that progress, working with partners including the Care Inspectorate and local oversight teams, to ensure that care homes continue to be supported to normalise visiting opportunities.

I remain committed to developing legislation in support of Anne’s law, so that those who live in adult homes have rights that enable them to see and spend time with the people who are important to them. Following the commitment that was made in the programme for government to deliver Anne’s law, we have run a public consultation. We will consider the views carefully and publish the responses as soon as possible.

Anne’s law is named after Anne Duke, who, sadly, died last week. My thoughts and condolences are with Anne’s husband and family, and we will be doing everything possible to honour her legacy by getting Anne’s law right.

During the pandemic there has been a high turnaround of care home staff, and the importance of caring roles has been reinforced by the difficulties of the past year. To what extent has Brexit had an impact on staff vacancies and care, and can the Scottish Government forecast that care homes will have enough staff to meet caring needs over the winter?

Brexit has had a major impact on staffing in social care and in other sectors. An organisation that I spoke to a few weeks back had lost 40 per cent of its staff in one service because folks had returned to their home countries. They had not felt as welcome as they should have felt because of the hostile environment policies. [Interruption.] I hear Conservative members—

Excuse me, minister.

Could we have less commentary from sedentary positions?

Folks are murmuring from a sedentary position, but the reality is that 40 per cent of staff in one service have gone. Such shortages obviously have a profound impact on the delivery of services in many parts of our country.

The Scottish Government has continued to speak to the United Kingdom Government on the issue. Just the other week, colleagues and I spoke with UK ministers about the difficulties that Brexit is causing our social care services, but we were not really listened to. That does not mean that we will not continue to pursue such issues with the UK Government.

Beyond that, recently, we wrote to the Migration Advisory Committee outlining the difficulties that we face. Those difficulties have also been highlighted by Dr Donald Macaskill from Scottish Care.

We will do everything possible to aid the recruitment and retention of staff in social care over the winter. I urge all members who have constituents who are seeking careers in social care to advise them to look on myjobscotland.gov.uk to see the range of posts that are available.

I support Anne’s law, but I am concerned that we will have to wait for that legislation before the rights of families and friends are secured. I am sure that the minister will agree that quality of life is incredibly important, so what can he say to reassure families that we will not end up with a repeat of what happened during the pandemic, when families were excluded from seeing their loved ones for months on end?

I agree with Willie Rennie that folk deserve quality visits with family and friends. That is extremely important. That is why we have put in place the open with care policy. I take a careful view on that policy; we monitor it very carefully. I also monitor all the correspondence that comes to the Government about families that are having difficulty in accessing care homes, but I have to say that there has been no such correspondence in the past two weeks.

I have regular discussions with the Care Inspectorate, which is also monitoring the situation, and I am due to meet with it again this afternoon. It is vital that care homes follow the open with care policy. If any member finds that that is not the case in their constituency or region, I would be happy to hear from them and to deal with that accordingly.

I again make a plea for succinct questions and answers, otherwise not all members will have the opportunity to pose the question that they have been preparing.


Colorectal Cancer Screening

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to tackle the reported backlog of colorectal cancer screening. (S6O-00425)

Since the bowel screening programme resumed in October 2020, invitations to participate in screening have been issued at the same rate as they were being issued before the pandemic. However, invitations to existing participants are being issued seven months later than would have been the case had there not been the pause in March 2020. Anyone who turned 50 after the programme resumed will receive a kit shortly after their birthday, as normal.

Any patient who is referred with an urgent suspicion of cancer after screening, including those from the bowel screening programme, have been and will remain a priority in accessing diagnostic tests to, I hope, rule out cancer. To ensure that that happens and to support scope-based diagnostics, we have invested in four additional mobile units, one of which is stationed at our Golden Jubilee national hospital.

We will also shortly publish the endoscopy and urology recovery and renewal plan, which will embed further improvements and ultimately work towards the reduction of waiting times and the provision of equitable access.

Constituents have reported that Angus residents as far north as Edzell must travel to Dundee and Perth to receive endoscopy and colonoscopy services. After mental health services and stroke care were centralised away from Stracathro, the suggestion is that cancer screening and detection have gone the same way.

Does the minister accept that it is long past time for the national health service winter plan to recognise that the withdrawal of local healthcare, such as in Angus, stores up bigger problems for the future in services such as screening?

Many boards work really hard to take the pressure off their central units by ensuring that they use all the facilities in the community and work closely with primary care. Boards work tirelessly to see patients in as timely a way as possible, based on their clinical need.

Two mobile endoscopy units are in place, one of which operates in NHS Tayside. In the next couple of months, a further two, providing four rooms, are to be brought on-stream. Therefore, by January 2022, six mobile endoscopy rooms in total will be in place across Scotland, which will increase the number of patients who can be seen and, in turn, reduce waiting times for endoscopy.


Air Pollution (Mortality and Morbidity)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact air pollution has on mortality and morbidity. (S6O-00426)

The relationship between air quality and health is extremely complex and it is generally difficult to say with certainty what impact air pollution has on specific individuals. However, we know that the very young, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of poor air quality.

The Scottish Government recognises that the quality of the air that we breathe is fundamental to our health and, compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, Scotland enjoys a high level of air quality. At the same time, evidence continues to grow on the impacts of poor air quality, expanding our understanding of how air pollution is harmful to public health and the environment.

In July this year, we published a new air quality strategy to set out the Scottish Government’s policy framework for the next five years and a series of actions to deliver further air quality improvement.

Research from Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation found that 81 per cent of births in Scotland this past year were in local authorities with unsafe levels of air pollution, exceeding World Health Organization guidelines for fine particulate matter. Meanwhile, six roads—including the A737, which runs through my constituency—still exceed the legal limit for nitrogen oxide.

When will low-emission zones be extended from the four main cities, which will include Edinburgh from next year, to other cities and large towns, and what health benefits will that extension bring?

Beyond the four cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, local authorities with air quality management areas require to undertake a national low-emissions framework assessment to determine the suitability of a LEZ for the air quality issues that they might experience. To date, no other Scottish local authority has determined that an LEZ is appropriate. However, all local authorities with AQMAs must produce an action plan that details how air quality will be improved.

The worst cases of morbidity due to pollution and emissions are in our urban areas. What discussions has the minister had with other portfolios to encourage the use of low-emission vehicles in cities, to the health benefit of those who live there?

The member has asked an excellent question. Human health improvements are not related solely to direct reductions in air pollution. The policies that can improve air quality can potentially have multiple co-benefits for population health, but they can also address inequality and can mitigate, and provide adaptations for, climate change.

A prime example is the policy to promote active travel, about which I know that the member is passionate. Walking, wheeling and cycling can increase physical activity and significantly reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and mortality, and they have been shown to reduce all causes of mortality, even after controlling for other physical activity.

Active travel is a particular priority for the Government, and our work across portfolios to deliver on that particular benefit for the citizens of Scotland is clear.


At-home Vaccination Appointments (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to address the reported backlog in at-home Covid-19 booster and flu vaccine appointments in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. (S6O-00427)

Although the cohort is identified locally, we are working closely with all health boards, including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, to ensure that people are prioritised according to risk. Following Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advice, health boards prioritised administering boosters to the highest priority groups. I make the point that I know that I and other colleagues have made previously: the moment that we received that advice, there was already a backlog and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is working through it.

Like all health boards, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is accelerating its vaccination programme to ensure that as many eligible people as possible are protected ahead of the festive season, when there is likely to be increased social mixing indoors, with a consequential increased risk of infection. Figures from the United Kingdom dashboard show that we have administered boosters or third doses to a greater proportion of the population than any other UK nation.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer, but the reality of the backlog for vulnerable people is quite stark. One of my constituents, who is 83 years of age, waited for more than a month for a home vaccination appointment. When I made representations to the health board on her behalf, I was told that the vaccination team was simply too busy to provide her with an appointment date, which meant that she had to put herself at risk and attend a drop-in clinic to receive her vaccination. Vulnerable people who are not normally well enough to attend vaccination centres are being left behind and stuck at home in the run-up to Christmas.

What assessment is the Government making of the number of people who are either waiting for an at-home appointment or are forced to go to a facility and put themselves at risk? Will the Government commit today to ensuring that every one of them is vaccinated at home in time for Christmas?

Paul Sweeney is right to raise that question. That is an unacceptably long wait for a vulnerable person. I know that he is, however, aware of the obvious point that at-home appointments take longer. Not only do health board staff have to travel to an individual, but there is the 15-minute recovery period thereafter. Nonetheless, housebound people often have vulnerabilities that mean that they cannot travel to a vaccination centre, and I expect them to be prioritised.

I would be happy to give Paul Sweeney a breakdown of the progress that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has made with its vaccination programme. It is good progress, but I have asked the board and all health boards across the country to give me their plans for acceleration in the lead-up to the end of the year.

Can the cabinet secretary tell me on what date the Covid booster will appear on the Scottish Covid app?

We are working on that with digital colleagues, and we hope to be able to achieve it early next month.

In an answer at First Minister’s questions, the First Minister said that elderly constituents should not have to wait outside vaccination centres for hours, and that the cabinet secretary was meeting health boards to discuss the issue. Why are elderly constituents still having to wait outside in winter weather for their vaccine? What action is being taken to increase the availability of waiting facilities at vaccination centres?

I would expect health boards to take care of the welfare of individuals who have to queue outside. I know that some health boards have put up marquees or gazebos, put heating in place and offered water, chairs and so on. I expect people’s welfare to be taken care of.

My preference is that there should be no queuing where possible, but we are accelerating our vaccination programme. Almost 500,000 flu and booster vaccines were administered last week, and that will mean that some people will have to queue. Thankfully, we have made excellent progress through the older age cohort and we are starting to make progress with those who are not so old. Where there are particular concerns about particular health boards and vaccination centres, I am more than happy to hear from members, and I will raise those concerns with the health boards in question.


Women’s Health Plan (Endometriosis)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the measures it has been taking as part of the women’s health plan to improve access for women to appropriate support, speedy diagnosis and best treatment for endometriosis. (S6O-00428)

We have developed a national referral pathway that will improve earlier intervention and support within primary care for women with endometriosis, as well as streamlining referrals to secondary and tertiary care for those who need it.

To raise awareness of menstrual wellbeing, we are developing new information for NHS Inform and we have funded Endometriosis UK to produce information leaflets that healthcare professionals can signpost to if endometriosis is suspected. That will support women to be better informed and empowered to make choices about their treatment. All that will launch in spring 2022.

I thank the minister for that advice. I have recently represented women in my constituency who are suffering from endometriosis, who have had truly harrowing experiences in relation to the length of time that it has taken for them to reach the all-important diagnosis and treatment plan stage. Does the minister agree that any improvements in reducing waiting times for diagnosing endometriosis and in progressing the work that is based on lived experiences to address inequalities in all aspects of women’s health in Scotland are to be welcomed and expedited?

Yes, I do. I, too, have spoken to women with endometriosis and have been moved by the difficulties that many of them face in receiving a diagnosis and, indeed, in being heard.

Our “Women’s Health Plan”, which was published in August, includes a number of actions to improve access to appropriate support, best treatment and speedy diagnosis for endometriosis. Because knowledge is power, the work that we are doing to improve the information on NHS Inform and the patient information leaflet to support the referral pathway—those important parts of the package empower women and help them to understand what is normal, when to ask for help and what options they have—is a really important first step.

As I outlined in my previous answer, we are already taking action to reduce the length of time that women with endometriosis have to wait to receive a diagnosis and access appropriate care. Furthermore, as we implement that action, we will work with people with lived experience, Endometriosis UK and Public Health Scotland to identify realistic targets, to measure improvement of services and to care for women with endometriosis.

If we can have brief questions and brief answers, we will be able to squeeze in question 8.


Covid-19 Booster Vaccinations (NHS Orkney)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with NHS Orkney regarding the Covid-19 booster vaccination programme. (S6O-00429)

I regularly meet all health boards, including NHS Orkney. NHS Orkney was part of a call that I was on on Monday, when we discussed the autumn/winter vaccination programme.

Over recent weeks, Orkney has experienced Scotland’s highest rate of Covid cases. At the same time, the roll-out of booster vaccinations has not kept pace with the roll-out elsewhere in the country, which has led to understandable concern.

Thankfully, Covid numbers are declining and the booster vaccination programme is picking up pace, but what assurance can the cabinet secretary provide that all health boards will get the support that they need to ensure that any future booster programmes are rolled out as quickly as possible?

I thank Liam McArthur for raising an important issue. The two aspects that he mentioned are interlinked. The high case rates meant that there were outbreaks in a number of care homes, which meant that the vaccination teams had to wait before they could go in safely to vaccinate those individuals.

With regard to the assurance that he asked for, NHS Orkney has published a timetable that shows how it intends to get through the priority groups before Christmas. I am sure that Liam McArthur has a copy of that. I hope that that reassures members. However, if NHS Orkney were to require any additional resource in relation to accelerating the vaccination programme, I would look at that extremely sympathetically.

Before we move on to questions on the social justice, housing and local government portfolio, we will have a brief pause to allow front benchers to change positions safely.


Social Justice, Housing and Local Government

I remind members that, if they wish to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or indicate so by entering the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question.


Ageing Properties (Housing Strategy)

To ask the Scottish Government how its housing strategy supports social landlords to ensure ageing properties meet current energy efficient standards. (S6O-00430)

The Scottish Government is committed to a just transition to net zero. Our document “Heat in Buildings Strategy: Achieving Net Zero Emissions in Scotland’s Buildings” sets out how we will accelerate the decarbonisation of heating, together with energy efficiency improvements in Scotland’s homes.

The Scottish Government’s social housing net zero heat fund provides financial assistance to social landlords to retrofit their housing stock to meet the energy efficiency standard for social housing. Over the next five years, the fund will make available £200 million to support social landlords across Scotland in installing zero-emissions heating systems and energy efficiency measures.

Social landlords such as housing associations work hard to provide decent housing. Today’s ageing properties require extensive upgrades, at great cost, to meet modern energy efficiency standards. Given the answer that the minister has provided, will the Scottish Government ensure that there is enough investment to provide for modernisation and to future proof the upgrades, as well as to ensure that areas with high levels of fuel poverty, such as those in the Highlands and Islands, receive higher levels of resource to address the inequality that is caused by fuel poverty?

I am grateful for the level of interest that Beatrice Wishart and other members from a number of political parties have shown in the issue. The Scottish Government has been clear that, although we are committed to investing at least £1.8 billion in the agenda across the built environment more generally, we recognise that much more will be needed. That is why we are establishing a green heat finance task force to consider ways in which the public sector, the third sector and the private sector can invest collectively to help landlords, including social landlords and tenants, to overcome the investment costs and to decarbonise our buildings.

I hope that Beatrice Wishart is also aware that the fuel poverty definition now takes account of the additional costs that are associated with living in remote and rural communities. We are committed to spending more per head on energy efficiency in remote and rural areas, where we know that installation and labour costs are higher.

What response have ministers made to concerns about the installation of unproven heating under the energy efficiency standard for social housing, resulting in reduced thermal comfort for tenants but at significantly increased costs?

We are working actively with the social housing sector not just on the energy efficiency standard for social housing but on its work on the ZEST—zero emissions social housing task force—report. We are committed to continuing to work collaboratively with the sector, and we will listen to any concerns that it has. If Miles Briggs wants to write to me with any specifics, I will certainly take that seriously.

Will the minister elaborate on how Scotland’s ambitious “Housing to 2040” vision is strengthened by complementary strategies such as the heat in buildings strategy and the draft national planning framework 4?

Collette Stevenson is right in saying that a great deal of work is happening. I am really pleased that we have a long-term vision for Scotland’s housing landscape to 2040. That kind of long-term vision is often requested not just by social housing providers but by the private rented sector and by those representing the interests of tenants. We now have that long-term vision. It is associated with the fuel poverty strategy, the heat in building strategy and, as the member mentions, the draft national planning framework 4, which sets out a vision for how our places will change and brings together a wide range of policies, programmes and actions, including on transport, energy, environment and housing. The 18 national developments in the framework will support the delivery of a spatial strategy, which has a crucial role in supporting our transition to net zero.


Affordable Housing (Edinburgh)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to help tackle the reported affordable housing crisis in Edinburgh. (S6O-00431)

The Government has delivered over 103,000 affordable homes since 2007, and we are committed to delivering a further 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, 70 per cent of which will be available for social rent. During the period from 2007, Edinburgh received £558 million in grant support, which contributed to the completion of more than 13,000 affordable homes. In the current session of Parliament, Edinburgh will further benefit from the affordable housing supply programme investment of £233.8 million towards the delivery of even more good-quality affordable homes, which is an increase of £32.4 million, or 16 per cent, on the previous five years.

The cabinet secretary referred to the fact that the Scottish Government is now allocating resource planning assumptions to all local authority areas for the five years from 2021-22 to support the delivery of more social and affordable homes. Each month, more than 4,400 households are living in temporary accommodation in our capital. Given that Edinburgh is home to about 9.7 per cent of the population of Scotland but is being allocated only 7.3 per cent of the total budget, as the cabinet secretary mentioned, does she agree that Edinburgh is not getting its fair share, considering the number of people in temporary accommodation and the scale of our homelessness crisis?

No, I do not agree with that, although I fully understand the challenges in Edinburgh. For that reason, I have had discussions with Councillor Kate Campbell, the convener for housing. We continue to discuss with City of Edinburgh Council how we can help it to overcome the issues, some of which Sue Webber referred to. The issue of temporary accommodation has obviously been exacerbated by Covid, and we need to support councils to work through that.

The £52.4 million investment this year will mean that an estimated 865 affordable homes will start on site, and a further 828 homes are expected to be completed, the majority of which will be for social rent. We are looking at options to accelerate affordable housing expenditure in Edinburgh this year in conjunction with officials at the council, who have, so far, confirmed the capacity for a further £1 million of support. We will continue to support City of Edinburgh Council to make sure that it can deliver on its affordable housing programme.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. The citizens assembly asked for a right to affordable housing for young people. Will the Scottish Government agree to that ask? In Edinburgh, in the past decade, the private rents have rocketed. A 40 per cent increase for one-bedroom properties means that young people cannot afford to live on their own, and they cannot even afford to share a flat, given that four-bed flats in the private sector now cost around £1,900 a month to rent. Will the cabinet secretary talk about the affordable housing access issue and give us a timescale for Scottish Government action on private rents?

We are well aware that many private rented sector tenants have been struggling and that some people—young people, in particular, as Sarah Boyack pointed out—struggle with the rent levels. We have provided £39 million to support people who are struggling in tenancies at the moment, and we are committed to tackling high rents by implementing an effective national system of rent controls by the end of 2025. My colleague Patrick Harvie will be taking that forward. We will publish a draft rented sector strategy for consultation in the next few weeks, which will seek views on changes to tenancy arrangements as well as taking forward a consensus on improving information about rent levels, leading to options for rent controls and better regulation. I encourage Sarah Boyack to contribute to that consultation.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that City of Edinburgh Council’s consultation on a short-term let control area, which closed earlier this month and is currently being reviewed in the city chambers, is proof that local authorities have been empowered by the Scottish Government to find tailored solutions to their housing challenges?

I do agree with David Torrance. We know that, in certain areas, particularly tourist hotspots such as Edinburgh, there are high numbers of short-term lets, which can cause problems for neighbours and make it harder for people to find homes to live in. The powers that have been given to local authorities to designate control areas, combined with those in the licensing scheme, are sufficient to manage high concentrations of short-term lets where that is an issue. The regulation of short-term lets is vital to balancing the needs and concerns that communities have raised with the wider economic and tourism interests. I look forward to hearing about City of Edinburgh Council’s plans following its consideration of the outcome of the recent consultation by its planning committee.


Open Market Shared Equity Scheme (Argyll and Bute)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the impact of the open market shared equity scheme in Argyll and Bute. (S6O-00432)

Over the past five years, 11 properties have been purchased in Argyll and Bute with support from the open market shared equity scheme. In addition, 80 properties were purchased with support from the first home fund in the last financial year. The Scottish Government currently offers a range of schemes to assist first-time buyers and priority groups to access affordable home ownership. The first-time buyer relief for land and buildings transaction tax means that an estimated eight out of 10 first-time buyers continue to pay no tax at all.

Due to the Covid pandemic, the pressure on housing stock in many rural and island areas, such as Argyll and Bute, appears to be increasing property prices. Last week, on Mull, I met the Mull and Iona Community Trust, which expressed concern about the lack of support that is available for local people who want to use the scheme. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on whether the thresholds in the scheme will be reviewed to take account of inflated property prices in communities such as Mull?

The short answer is yes. The annual review of the open market shared equity scheme threshold prices is under way. We expect to publish new threshold prices by the end of the year, which will reflect the most recent house price data that is available to the Scottish Government. Early indications are that a high number of threshold prices will be increased.

We are keen for more people to access support. The open market shared equity scheme is an affordable housing scheme, and the threshold prices reflect that. That is why we ask applicants who are offered a passport letter to be as flexible as possible about the areas that they will consider and the properties that they will consider purchasing.


Low Income Pandemic Payment

To ask the Scottish Government how many people have received the low income pandemic payment. (S6O-00433)

By the end of October 2021, around 500,000 households had received our £130 low income pandemic payment. They are households who receive council tax reduction or who are not liable for council tax, such as households in homeless accommodation. That investment of up to £65 million is part of a range of actions that we have taken to support low-income households during the pandemic and to provide direct financial support during this difficult time. Local authorities have worked hard to deliver that vital payment for us, and we will provide full details of the final number of payments shortly.

I warmly welcome the low income pandemic payment. Many people are struggling as a result of the pandemic and the increase in living costs, so it will make a huge difference.

What more is the Scottish Government doing with the powers that it has to support low-income families over the winter? What more could it do if it had full powers?

We are putting more than £130 million into families’ pockets this year through our Scottish child payment and bridging payments. We continue to provide support through the Scottish welfare fund and discretionary housing payments, which, together, are worth more than £100 million this year. We recently announced a £41 million winter support fund to support people who are struggling financially this winter.

With full powers, we could do more. For example, we could support families by delivering a social security system that provided better support across all benefit areas, and, if we had powers over employment law, we could ensure fair flexible work and mandatory payment of the real living wage.


Building Standards (Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures local authorities are compliant with best practice in building standards. (S6O-00434)

The Scottish Government monitors the performance of all building standards services in local authorities, through quarterly performance returns. Returns adhere to a performance framework, which sets out the importance of sharing best practice. Officials offer, where it is needed, tailored support to local authorities, and they facilitate the sharing of best practice through a national engagement programme.

Since 2017, overall performance levels for local authority building standards services in Scotland have improved and I expect that trend to continue.

The minister might be aware that the Scottish National Party Administration in Dundee City Council is being forced to spend £4 million to replace roof tiles, because those tiles’ installation, under the same Administration, did not meet safety regulations. Of course, that diverts resources from other services, in an already crippling financial environment.

Does the minister agree that the savage cuts that have been made to local government over the lifetime of this Government have made such unexpected spending much harder for councils to absorb?

I am aware that members from Dundee and the wider region, from many political parties, have expressed serious concern about the situation. It arises, as Michael Marra knows, not from building standards but from a change to the British safety standard—a different regulatory regime—and a failure on the part of the local authority to pick up the change, for which the local authority has apologised.

Agreement has been reached, on a cross-party basis, to hold an independent inquiry into the situation. I think that we should all have confidence in the local authority’s ability to conduct that inquiry and, I hope, to take its recommendations extremely seriously—as we would expect all local authorities to do.

On safety concerns, more than four years have passed since the Grenfell tragedy in 2017, but the Government has only just confirmed a consultation on whether it will ban combustible materials on high-rise buildings. When will action be taken on that issue? Will the minister confirm that any future ban on combustible materials will be truly comprehensive?

We have an active consultation on building standards. I encourage Alexander Stewart to contribute to it if he wishes. If he wishes to write to us on the specific issues relating to the Grenfell inquiry, colleagues will reply to the letter.

I understand that a significant number of my constituents are affected by the serious issue that Mr Marra raised. They will be understandably concerned. They will also be hugely disappointed by his politicisation of the issue and will welcome Dundee City Council’s commitment to a full, independent, external review. Will the minister use his position to seek assurances from the council that it will rectify the issues as quickly as possible and with as little disruption as possible to the people affected?

I certainly support that call and I hope that everybody, regardless of party politics, supports the kind of quick resolution with as little disruption as possible for which Joe FitzPatrick calls.

I welcome the fact that Dundee City Council has apologised for the quality of the work and for not picking up on the change to the British safety standard and that it has approved the review that will take place. I appeal to all members across the political spectrum to support any local authority that picks up on such an issue to resolve it, so that the people who are affected get a solution, rather than turn the issue into a political football.


Retrofitting Homes (Housing Strategy)

To ask the Scottish Government how its housing strategy will support the retrofitting of homes to improve energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty. (S6O-00435)

The housing to 2040 strategy, fuel poverty strategy and heat in buildings strategy together set out our approach to decarbonising heat and eradicating fuel poverty. We have run a number of advice and funding schemes. We have increased investment to £268 million this year and have committed to invest at least £1.8 billion during this parliamentary session to kick start market growth and support the people who are least able to pay.

As I mentioned in answer to Beatrice Wishart’s question, we are establishing a green heat finance task force to recommend ways that the public sector, communities and private investors can collaborate to scale up investment and help households to overcome up-front investment costs.

The minister mentioned the heat in buildings strategy, which estimates that it will cost £33 billion to retrofit Scotland’s housing stock. Will he clarify how that will be divided between public sector funding and private sector funding?

There is a lot of confusion over how much funding will be available to help individual households to replace existing fossil-fuel boilers. Will the minister undertake to clarify what financial assistance will be available to individual households to replace their boilers?

On the latter point, I can certainly say that the level of support for individual households in Scotland is higher than that provided by the United Kingdom scheme. The UK Government’s boiler upgrade scheme looks set to offer grants of £5,000 to £6,000 for renewable heat systems but the home energy Scotland scheme that the Scottish Government funds gives home owners interest-free loans with cashback grants of up to £7,500 for zero-emission heating plus up to £6,000 for energy efficiency measures. I hope that the Government has the support of members from all parties in providing that support to householders.

On the first point that Dean Lockhart raises, I am sure that he understands that the answer is no. I cannot pin down right now exactly what the share of costs will be right through to 2045 and no Government would be able to do so. That is why we are looking to create a green heat finance task force to cast the net for a wide range of measures to ensure that the necessary investment is available. The only alternative would be for Mr Lockhart to propose a £33 billion tax rise if he wants the public sector to pay for the lot.


Building Standards (Construction Firms)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am a sitting councillor on South Ayrshire Council.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that construction firms adhere to the highest building standards. (S6O-00436)

The Scottish Government established a ministerial working group to consider building standards compliance and enforcement immediately after the tragic events at Grenfell tower in 2017. The group’s recommendations have been taken forward under the building standards futures board. The compliance plan that the futures board is leading seeks to improve levels of compliance through greater checking and evidence gathering and creating a new compliance plan manager for high-risk buildings. A consultation is currently under way on the compliance plan manager role and strengthening enforcement.

A constituent of mine who bought a new-build flat several years ago has been in touch. The habitation certificate had been granted, but it later transpired that the flat has very little sound or fire proofing, and after a multitude of surveys to the cost of the residents, it was deemed that the health and safety standards of the building are inadequate. The builder went into liquidation shortly after the sale of the flats. What procedures are in place to protect people who buy properties in good faith when the builders go into liquidation and are not accountable for their development?

I suspect that everybody in the chamber would say, along with Siobhian Brown and me, that such a situation is not acceptable. People have a right to security in their home, which is part of the Scottish Government’s approach to a fundamental understanding of adequate housing as a human right. We would all have a great deal of concern for people who have been placed in the kind of situation that the member describes.

In relation to the expected levels of quality of a new-build house, we want the system to be strengthened so that buyers can purchase a new-build home with confidence and have access to efficient and effective remediation if things go wrong. We are consulting on a number of measures to do that. The United Kingdom Government introduced the Building Safety Bill this year, which includes provision for a new homes ombudsman scheme and a requirement that developers of new-build housing belong to that scheme. We are working with the UK Government as the bill moves through the UK Parliament to try and achieve a UK-wide scheme that works for Scotland while respecting the devolution settlement.

In the meantime, a home owner in such a situation should contact the home warranty provider to establish the extent of the warranty and should consider taking independent legal advice from a solicitor or advice agency to establish whether they have options available to them to pursue.

I can squeeze in question 8 if we have succinct questions and answers.


Child Disability Payment

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the roll-out of the new child disability payment. (S6O-00437)

I am delighted and proud to say that on Monday we successfully launched the child disability payment nationally. That is a significant milestone in the development and delivery of social security in Scotland and I thank all the civil servants and others who have been involved in that achievement. Following our successful pilot, families of children and young people with a disability who are not already in receipt of disability living allowance for their child can now apply for the benefit. For the 52,000 people already getting child DLA, we have successfully started the safe and secure transfer of cases from the Department for Work and Pensions, which will be complete by spring 2023. The launch has gone well and there is a lot more that I could say if I had more time, but I will conclude there.

I welcome the new payment. Will the minister expand on how he will make sure that people are aware of the changes and how they can apply for the payment?

Social Security Scotland has in place a multichannel approach to raising awareness, including targeted social media advertising, press releases and a radio campaign. In advance of introduction, officials engaged with more than 2,000 stakeholders via virtual roadshows and provided resources to help them promote the new payment and the case transfer process. In addition, the chief executive of Social Security Scotland and I have written to all MSPs, MPs and local authority leaders to seek their support in raising awareness. We have also ensured that everyone can apply by whatever channel suits them best, whether that is by paper, phone, online or face to face.

A number of weeks ago, we debated in the chamber the issue of promoting benefits in Scotland, and I was also asked about it in committee. I was therefore disappointed and somewhat dispirited that I did not see more uptake from colleagues, particularly on Opposition benches, in the promotion of the launch of CDP on Monday. I ask them, in the interests of their constituents, to please be part of that shared responsibility and endeavour to raise awareness that child disability payment is now available to families across Scotland.

That concludes portfolio question time.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. When I asked question 2, I should have declared an interest as an existing councillor in Edinburgh.

That is now on the record. There will be a very short pause before we move to the next item of business.