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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, April 25, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 25 April 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, International Workers Memorial Day, Portfolio Question Time, Advance Redress Payments, Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Final Stage, Changing Lives Through Sport and Physical Activity, Decision Time


General Question Time

Ferries Resilience Fund

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how its resilience fund to reduce the risk of ferries breaking down has been spent. (S5O-03144)

Since the announcement of its introduction in August 2018, the resilience fund has been used in 23 individual resilience projects across the fleet of vessels that are deployed to provide the Clyde and Hebrides services. Based on information presented to us, that investment should result in a significant improvement to fleet resilience this year. The projects range from upgrades to the full propulsion and bow thruster controls on four vessels to a replacement water mist firefighting pump on another. Further upgrades are planned to reduce the risk of technical failures impacting on service reliability.

As the minister will be aware, last week, ferry services to the Isle of Barra suffered serious disruption due to technical problems that affected the MV Isle of Lewis, leaving the community there without a link to the mainland for far too long. What lessons can be learned from that incident, particularly with regard to ensuring that communities are less reliant on either replacement parts or engineers having to be flown in so that vessels can be repaired?

I recognise the key role that ferry services play in supporting island and remote mainland communities such as those that Dr Allan represents. I appreciate the disruption that was experienced when the MV Isle of Lewis was recently removed from the Oban to Barra service for a three-day period due to a problem with its bow thruster exhaust system and the connection to the hull.

I am pleased to say that the vessel is now back in service. Caledonian MacBrayne is working with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd—CMAL—to assess the scope of works that could be carried out at a future dry docking of the vessel, to ensure that those can be tackled proactively the next time that it is there. That may widen the scope for more preventative measures to be carried out in the future. We are looking at such measures to ensure that that situation is not repeated elsewhere in the fleet.

However, Dr Allan is absolutely right about looking at initiatives such as the purchase of spare parts, which is being done. Given that some vessels were built many years ago and parts for them are no longer available on the market, the operator has been involved in commissioning production of replacements for what are thought to be obsolete parts, to ensure that they are in place in advance. It is working hard to ensure the availability of parts so that those that are most likely to fail can be replaced—and vessels returned to service—quickly.

I have much sympathy with Dr Allan’s question. Recently, it seems to have been a case of groundhog day, with so many vessels having come offline. I ask the minister whether that has had anything to do with the fact that half of CalMac’s fleet are beyond their 25-year life expectancy. Given that the two newest ferries that are due to enter the fleet are already over a year late, will he agree that the status quo is simply unacceptable and is letting down Scotland’s island communities every day?

First, I accept that the delays to the two new vessels 801 and 802 are greatly disappointing. That is a matter of record; I have said so myself. The Scottish Government is concerned to ensure that those vessels are delivered soon so that we can introduce them to the fleet to provide more capacity. That will help enormously with the need to cascade vessels across the Clyde and Hebrides routes, and is an objective that I am sure we all share.

However, I challenge Mr Greene’s assertion that communities are being let down on what he appears to suggest is a routine basis. I acknowledge that there have been difficulties. [Interruption.] Mr Greene might complain from a sedentary position, but I am trying to respond to his question. Let us not forget that CalMac has a very good record otherwise. It has high levels of customer satisfaction despite the issues that I acknowledge have happened in the past year, which are not satisfactory and must be addressed—I am not running away from those. However, let us not detract from the fact that, generally speaking, CalMac delivers a good service to communities. It is recognised as a lifeline service and its staff work very hard on behalf of the communities that it serves. I ask Mr Greene to reflect on the tone of his question, but I accept that there are issues that must be addressed.

In his reply, the minister mentioned cascading ferries across the different routes. At the moment, the new MV Loch Seaforth can use only three ports. In addition, my understanding is that operating the two new ferries that are on order will require substantial changes to be made to the ports that they will use. Therefore, it will be impossible to cascade ferries across different routes. Surely the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland should be looking at a way to ensure that ferries can fit into any port, so that they can be used in such circumstances.

At the heart of Rhoda Grant’s comment is a genuine point and one that we acknowledge. Historically, vessels have been designed for specific routes and perhaps not enough thought has been given to how they could be interchangeable across the network. There are local conditions that are limiting factors on the use of vessels, including depth of water, harbour approach conditions, orientation of berths and, not least, the fact that larger vessels cannot navigate in tightly confined spaces, as the member would acknowledge.

However, we are making progress on the interchangeability of vessels across the network, and we are looking at the vessel replacement deployment plan and how we can work with CalMac and CMAL to develop greater resilience, which will be designed in from the start. That cannot be done overnight, as I am sure that Rhoda Grant would acknowledge. It is an issue that we recognise and are working to try to address.

The MV Loch Seaforth is one of the most reliable vessels that we have. It is very reliable and has experienced only one incident of note so far. I hope that Rhoda Grant will accept that point.

Falkirk District Growth Deal

To ask the Scottish Government when it last discussed the proposed growth deal for Falkirk district with the Secretary of State for Scotland. (S5O-03145)

I last discussed the Falkirk growth deal with the Secretary of State for Scotland on 8 March, at the signing of the heads of terms for the Ayrshire growth deal, in Ayr. I encouraged the secretary of state to visit the Falkirk area and commit to a deal for Falkirk as soon as possible.

The secretary of state visited Falkirk and met several partners involved in the Falkirk deal proposal on 17 April. Regrettably, however, the United Kingdom Government has yet to formally commit to a deal.

I am aware that the leader of Falkirk Council, along with other members of the local economic partnership, met the secretary of state last week and impressed on him that any growth deal for Falkirk district would be not just a local deal, but a national deal, given the significant contribution that Grangemouth makes to the Scottish economy.

Given that the gross value added in the Falkirk area in 2018 was £3.3 billion, which was 2 per cent of total national output, and that Falkirk’s large manufacturing sector is forecast to be a key contributor to future economic growth, does the cabinet secretary agree that there is no time to waste in setting up a Falkirk growth deal and that it should be done sooner rather than later?

I agree. There is a need for us to press ahead with the Falkirk growth deal, given the significant contribution that the Falkirk area makes to not just the regional economy, but the national economy of Scotland. I will continue to press the UK Government to commit to a Falkirk growth deal and, when I next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland, I will continue to highlight what I believe to be the huge potential benefits of a growth deal to the Falkirk area and beyond.

As the member will be aware, the Scottish Government has a clear commitment to achieving 100 per cent coverage of Scotland with growth deals, which will deliver real benefits to local communities in the form of new jobs and the wider economic opportunities that that will drive. I will continue to press the UK Government to match our commitment to ensure that we have 100 per cent coverage of growth deals, including in the Falkirk area.

Air Traffic Incident (Kirkwall Airport)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd regarding the incident on 5 April 2019 when a plane left Kirkwall airport without air traffic control clearance. (S5O-03146)

Loganair and HIAL advised us that an aircraft left Kirkwall on 5 April without an ATC service being provided, even though the request to start the engines was made before the airport closed. To avoid inconveniencing passengers, a decision was made by Loganair and the captain, in agreement with HIAL management, to depart without ATC provision—but with the airport fire service in attendance—having satisfied themselves that it was safe to do so. The flight operated normally with ATC cover after departing Kirkwall.

Operating at airports without ATC cover is not uncommon for Loganair’s pilots, but it is uncommon at Kirkwall, which is why Loganair notified the Civil Aviation Authority.

It is extremely concerning that the flight left Kirkwall without ATC cover. If the argument is that that posed no danger, it begs the question why the Civil Aviation Authority demands air traffic control presence at all.

Can the cabinet secretary assure me that that will never happen again and that people will not be put at risk in that way?

ATC cover at Kirkwall airport is not part of its licensing provision. Fire cover is part of its licensing provision in order to comply with Civil Aviation Authority regulations. The member will recognise that there is a standard set of regulations for undertaking a flight of this nature, where ATC cover is not required. On this occasion, HIAL and Loganair went through that procedure and applied it to this particular flight. As they are required to, they reported it to the Civil Aviation Authority to consider whether they applied all the appropriate regulations for dealing with such matters.


To ask the Scottish Government how it supports research into and the treatment of endometriosis. (S5O-03147)

The Scottish Government’s chief scientist office is providing £162,000 for a preliminary study on laparoscopic treatment of endometriosis, which will pave the way for a larger study into the safety and effectiveness of the treatment.

The CSO also contributes financially to United Kingdom-wide research programmes that are run by the National Institute for Health Research, which enables researchers in Scotland to apply to those programmes. A £1.7 million NIHR-funded study, which is being led from Scotland, is looking at a hormone treatment to prevent recurrence of endometriosis.

Three specialist endometriosis treatment centres have been established in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow, with the Glasgow treatment centre opening this month.

I am grateful to the minister for that answer. Will she commit to working with endo warriors West Lothian in my constituency, and with others, to develop a Scottish national action plan and a database for endometriosis care? That would provide a platform for improving awareness, understanding and—crucially—treatment of, and research into, endometriosis. That is important, given that one in 10 women suffers from this debilitating condition, including those who have associated chronic pelvic pain.

The introduction of three specialist endometriosis centres across Scotland came about as a result of a review that was set up by the chief medical officer. The three centres will go some way towards raising awareness among the public and, importantly, healthcare professionals. The centres will ensure that woman who are living with endometriosis have access to speedy diagnostics and the best treatment available.

Further, we are already considering the needs of women and girls with pelvic pain as part of the work of the Scottish access collaborative gynaecology specialty group. The group is identifying a number of improvement opportunities, including improved access to information for patients to self-manage, easier access to nationally recommended guidelines and pathways for general practitioners, and support for primary care cluster groups to develop expertise in women’s health.

On working with endo warriors, we have been in dialogue with the group about developing educational resources for schools about menstrual health. Education Scotland has offered to review the resources and consider them for inclusion in the national improvement hub, through which all schools can access and distribute resources to pupils. The founders of endo warriors West Lothian—Candice McKenzie and Claire Beattie—are to be congratulated on the work that they are doing in the area.

Endometriosis can have a detrimental impact on mental health, which the minister touched on. Can she advise what psychological support services are available to women with endometriosis and how much funding is available for that support?

Various toolkits are being developed following the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines that were launched in the UK, as well as other educational resources, including e-learning. I am happy to come back to the member with information on specific psychological support.

Hospital-acquired Infections

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to prevent hospital-acquired infections. (S5O-03148)

Scotland has made significant progress in tackling healthcare-associated infections. Since 2007, Scotland has seen significant reductions in infections such as C difficile, which is partly due to improved use of antibiotics in hospital and community settings.

Not all healthcare-associated infections are preventable, however, and our national infection prevention and control manual makes it easy for our front-line healthcare staff to apply effective infection prevention and control practice. The NIPCM ensures that the assessment and escalation of infection outbreaks and incidents are far more robust.

Our well-established national infection surveillance system provides national health service boards with rich intelligence that can be used to target quality improvement interventions and improve patient safety. The Scottish patient safety programme has truly become a national safety movement that attracts interest from all over the world. Since 2012, there has been a 21 per cent reduction in sepsis mortality rates in Scotland.

The minister will be aware of the tragic deaths that are associated with the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. Will she take this opportunity to express her condolences to all the families who were impacted by those tragic events? Will she update the Parliament on the progress of the independent inquiry into the structural issues at the Queen Elizabeth hospital? The health board is considering legal action against those who designed and built the hospital? What is her view on that? What reassurance can she give to patients and their families that they will be safe going into the Queen Elizabeth hospital?

Our thoughts are of course with the families who were affected; I am sure that that sentiment is echoed around the chamber.

The board is taking all the necessary steps to manage the incident and ensure patient safety. Mr Sarwar will be aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport updated the Parliament on 26 February, when she announced that she had commissioned an independent review. Dr Andrew Fraser, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, and Dr Brian Montgomery, former NHS medical director and interim chief executive of NHS Fife, have agreed to act as co-chairs of the independent review.

In order to ensure appropriate membership of the review committee, the independent chairs—Dr Fraser and Dr Montgomery—have been taking advice from experts on who will be best able to contribute to the review, as well as analysing and reflecting on the work that has been done to date. From that, they will determine the review’s precise remit and the resources and support that they will require. I expect that the independent chairs will shortly be able to consult on a draft remit.

Northern Isles Ferries (Freight Capacity)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that freight capacity on northern isles ferry routes meets future demand. (S5O-03149)

The next northern isles contract will provide flexibility to allow for additional sailings and vessels to be made available to meet demand.

Transport Scotland regularly discusses freight services with the haulage and aquaculture sectors through established forums. That close engagement will continue, and we will review all mitigation options, including flexing timetables as and when appropriate, being mindful of the prevailing resource pressures.

Options for this year are being considered, and we will analyse all evidence and liaise with the operator to ensure that there is sufficient freight capacity to service the northern isles.

Last September, the First Minister assured me that the Government was committed to addressing the growing demand for additional freight capacity on the northern isles ferry routes to meet the needs of key sectors in the Orkney and Shetland economies.

Through freedom of information, we now know that Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd proposed the purchase or long-term charter of the Clipper Ranger to meet that need, with the vessel operating for four to five months on the northern isles routes and two months on the Ullapool to Stornoway route, and providing much-needed dry dock cover and resilience for the northern isles services. Will the minister explain to my constituents why no action appears to have been taken in response to that sensible proposal or to deliver on the assurance that Nicola Sturgeon gave me in the chamber last September?

Mr McArthur should acknowledge that we provided additional freight capacity last autumn to help the agriculture sector—we worked with local stakeholders to do that. It is inaccurate to present the Scottish Government and our agencies as not providing help.

We looked closely at the Clipper Ranger. Mr McArthur might have access to the freedom of information document, but not all the commercially sensitive information is in it, for understandable reasons that I am sure that he will appreciate. We looked closely at the vessel, and it did not represent a proper value-for-money transaction for the Scottish Government. It could only really have operated on the Ullapool to Stornoway route and in the northern isles, so, although I appreciate that that would have helped those communities, it did not represent good value for money.

We are keeping our options open and continue to look for vessels that could supplement the fleet. I am happy to meet Mr McArthur and Tavish Scott, who is also interested in the issue, to discuss what further action we could take.

The Scottish Government’s promise to reduce ferry fares on the northern isles routes is still tied up in legal action, leaving the islands facing yet another summer season without that long-standing issue being resolved. Has the minister spoken—or will he speak—to Government colleagues about whether the funding that was set aside to reduce fares, which cannot be used at the moment, could be deployed elsewhere to promote tourism on the islands, particularly to encourage out-of-season visitors?

I have engaged with Councillor Stockan of Orkney Islands Council on a number of occasions to discuss the issue that Mr Halcro Johnston raises. Although we are sympathetic to the idea that ferries are important to the development of the tourism economy of the Orkney and Shetland islands, and we are looking closely at what we can do to augment services where possible, we have to live carefully within state aid considerations.

Mr Halcro Johnston rightly mentioned that Pentland Ferries’ case against the Scottish ministers is subject to judicial review, so I cannot comment on it, but we have committed to introducing the road equivalent tariff, and we will deliver that, if we are able to do so.