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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, May 25, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 25 May 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Celtic’s European Cup Win (50th Anniversary), Contract (Third Party Rights) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


General Question Time

Good Food Nation Bill

To ask the Scottish Government what the timetable is for the good food nation bill, and whether it will include addressing the health implications of multibuys. (S5O-01029)

Work has begun to prepare a consultation that will inform the content of the good food nation bill. Decisions on the bill timetable will be taken in the context of the Government’s overall legislative programme. The content of the bill will be informed by the outcome of the consultation and by any actions required to give effect to a range of Government priorities.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that many organisations, including the Scottish food coalition, and many individuals are keen for the good food nation bill to help to transform our food culture. Despite the fact that we have had the beginnings of a food revolution in this country in recent years, there is still much more to do to tackle food poverty, obesity and other issues. Is the cabinet secretary aware of the Cancer Research UK paper that has been published in the past few days that indicates that 40 per cent of all calories are consumed as a result of price promotions for unhealthy foods in supermarkets? It also points out that seven in 10 Scottish adults support banning promotions of unhealthy foods in our supermarkets. Is that the kind of issue that he believes the bill can address? Is there any short-term action, which would be even better, that the Scottish Government can take to address that important issue?

Richard Lochhead is quite right to mention that report. I have not studied it: it is within the purview of my colleague Aileen Campbell, who has responsibility for public health, and I know that she will take the matter seriously. Just last week, I met representatives of the Scottish food coalition to discuss their ideas for inclusion in the bill. I have invited the Food Commission to provide advice on the bill to ministers, and would welcome contributions from members of all parties across the Parliament, because this is a great opportunity for Scotland to develop measures to improve our nutrition and food health.

In addressing food multibuys, we have to differentiate between the types of food that we do not want people to eat and those that we want them to eat—we should be encouraging multibuys of fruit and vegetables and other healthy foods. Will the good food nation bill address public procurement of food for our schools and hospitals to ensure that local food is procured wherever possible?

Mr Whittle, given his former career as an international athlete, is well placed to be an advocate for good choices in dietary matters. He is absolutely right to raise those issues, which are taken seriously by all members of the Scottish Government.

On Brian Whittle’s second question, I recently convened the first summit on food procurement, which was to ensure that in the public sector—in our hospitals, our schools and in Government and public sector institutions—we procure as much of our food as possible locally. We have made considerable progress over the past 10 years by increasing take-up of local produce from Scottish farmers and other primary producers by a substantial margin. That work is on-going.

Transport (Rural Areas)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve access to transport for people in rural areas. (S5O-01030)

We are committed to improving rural transport. That is reflected in our ambitious plans to dual both the A9 and the A96, in major investments such as the Borders railway, in on-going subsidies of more than £1,000 million per annum for public transport and other sustainable options generally, and in periodic reviews of our legislation, strategies and policies, such as the current review of the national transport strategy.

I asked my initial question because two weeks ago, a local bus service that runs from Brechin—which is my home town, in my constituency—to Montrose was cut. Not only was it a valuable service for people who commute to work, but it ran at key times for people who commute from Montrose railway station, which is on the main east coast rail link between Aberdeen and London.

Rural communities have also been impacted badly by bank closures and by the fact that not all towns have jobcentres and other services, so does the Scottish Government recognise the need to support and preserve rural transport links?

Mairi Evans mentioned a number of things that are absolutely essential to rural life. What she describes causes real problems for her constituents and others, so she is right to do so.

We take the issue extremely seriously. We provide subsidy for bus services through the bus service operators grant, which is paid to operators to help them to keep fares down. For 2017-18, we have increased that budget to £53.5 million. Very substantial funding is given to help local rural transport in particular.

For older people in rural areas, community and charity buses are often the only direct links to healthcare and other vital services. Does the cabinet secretary support calls from the Conservative Party for access to such services to be increased by extending the free bus pass scheme to community transport?

I certainly recognise the substantial contribution that is made by community bus services—none more so than those in the Strathspey area, where the scheme is, I believe, an exemplar. We would all wish such schemes to flourish and continue, because they provide a very useful service to a great many people in rural Scotland. We therefore support the aims and aspirations that lie behind the question, and I will be very happy to consider any specific and coherent policy suggestions that any member might have.

Road Safety (M74 Junction 21)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken to improve safety at the junction 21 slip road on the M74 where it joins the B7076. (S5O-01031)

Of course safety is our top priority, and we take our obligations seriously. Following concerns that were raised by Kirkpatrick Fleming and district community council about the safety of the junction, a comprehensive safety review was carried out. Although the review concluded that the junction layout, road traffic signs and road markings were appropriate and complied with current design standards, refurbishment of the road markings at the junction and the road traffic signs was completed in October 2016, and additional signage enhancements have recently been carried out.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. However, given on-going community concerns and a number of serious near-misses at the junction, will the Scottish Government commit to sending Transport Scotland officials down to look at the site and to meet representatives of the local community councils?

I am informed that in the last three full calendar years there were two slight personal injury accidents on the B7076 at the bottom of the junction 21 northbound off-slip from the M74, both of which took place in 2015. I am, of course, happy for Oliver Mundell to make representations to my colleague Mr Yousaf, who is, primarily, dealing with the matter. Should he wish to make such representations, they will be taken—as they always are—very seriously indeed. However, it is not unreasonable to make the point that it is the responsibility of every driver to observe safe driving practice; the prime responsibility must always rest with every single one of us to ensure that we drive safely on our roads.

Benefit Cap

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the United Kingdom Government’s benefit cap will have on individuals and families in Scotland. (S5O-01032)

The latest Department for Work and Pensions figures for February 2017 show that more than 3,600 households and 11,000 children in Scotland are currently affected by the new cap. Two thirds of those affected are lone parents, and although the average weekly cut is £59, some households are having to cope with losing £200 each week. The fact that that is increasing hardship and difficulty for already vulnerable households and children is unacceptable, and the UK Government should reverse the policy.

I welcome the minister’s comments and am glad that she is joining me in calling on the UK Government to reverse the cuts—especially given the damaging impact that they are having on communities, including in my constituency and particularly in north Edinburgh, where people and families with children are facing increased hardship and, in some cases, homelessness as a result of problems to do with the benefit cap and other UK Government welfare reforms. What can we do together to put pressure on the UK Government to reverse the cuts?

As members know from our statements in Parliament, the benefit cap is an issue that we have directly addressed with the current UK Government and will directly address with the incoming UK Government, with respect to the cap’s effect and impact on individuals, because the UK Government intends to apply it to devolved benefits. That is something that we strongly believe undercuts the agreement in the Smith commission and fiscal framework.

I am happy to advise Ben Macpherson that we consistently press the UK Government to reverse policies that operate by assessing need and then choosing not to meet it—which is ironic, in a social security system.

This morning, I have come from a helpful discussion with East Lothian Council on the impact of full roll-out of universal credit on the authority and its residents. I am pleased that we are looking to work directly with our newly elected local authorities and with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, as it forms under the new administrations, so that collectively we increase pressure from Scotland on the UK Government to reverse all the changes that it has introduced, and which evidence shows have a direct impact on vulnerable families and children in particular and, of course, on women.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (Chief Executive Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the chief executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and what issues were discussed. (S5O-01033)

I recently met the new chief executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Jane Grant—that was on Thursday 18 May. We discussed matters of importance to local people.

Last week, the cabinet secretary held a small, invitation-only meeting in Paisley, where she faced strong opposition from local parents and members of the kids need our ward campaign, who are deeply worried and angry about the proposed closure of the children’s ward at the town’s Royal Alexandra hospital.

In addition, parents and families in Inverclyde are growing increasingly concerned about the downgrading of Inverclyde royal hospital’s midwife-led birthing unit. Local residents vigorously oppose the proposed changes, with a 7,000-signatures-strong petition opposing the downgrading of the birthing unit.

The final decisions about the closure of the children’s ward at the RAH and the downgrading of the birthing unit at Inverclyde royal hospital lie with the Scottish Government. Will the cabinet secretary consider the anxiety and concern that parents and families across the west of Scotland have expressed and take decisive action to reverse the closure of the children’s ward at the RAH in Paisley and the downgrading of the birthing unit at Inverclyde royal hospital?

I had a productive meeting on 19 May with local parents, who were able to express very directly the issues and concerns that they had. As I said to the parents at that meeting, I would be happy to meet any other concerned local parents. Indeed, we made sure that my contact details were given to anyone taking part in the protest outside the meeting who wanted them. We will liaise with those people and set up further meetings, as required, in addition to a visit that I will make to RAH ward 15.

As Mary Fee rightly said, the decision rests with me. It is quite right that I follow due process, and that I hear people’s concerns as part of that. I will take time to do that in coming to a decision about ward 15 at the RAH.

With regard to the Inverclyde birthing unit, Mary Fee should know that Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board has undertaken its own review of maternity and neonatal services in the area and will make a decision on its next steps based on that review. She is being a little pre-emptive in suggesting that those proposals are with me now; they are not—Glasgow has not submitted any formal proposals to me about the birthing unit in Inverclyde. We should allow Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board to undertake its work on maternity and neonatal services and let due process go forward from there.

The Greenock Telegraph recently reported that employees and consultants have been informally told that the intensive treatment unit, which caters for patients at the IRH who need intensive treatment after an operation, will close in January. Can the cabinet secretary inform me whether that issue was raised with the chief executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde? Why has there been no official dialogue between NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and staff and elected representatives over the plans for the ITU?

Stuart McMillan will be aware that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde responded to concerns and confirmed that there are currently no proposals to alter the services delivered by the ITU at Inverclyde royal hospital. I expect all health boards to undertake proper and meaningful engagement with local stakeholders in the shaping and delivery of healthcare services, and local people can be assured that the national health service in Scotland has well-established guidance on service changes. It remains the case that any proposals that are designated as major changes would have to be the subject of formal public consultation and, ultimately, ministerial approval. I reiterate that there are currently no proposals to alter the services at the ITU at Inverclyde royal hospital and that nothing has come to me.

The future of ward 15 at the RAH has been uncertain since 2011. We support calls for the cabinet secretary to step up and take responsibility by making a decision on the proposal. When will staff, patients and families be informed if services are to be moved to the Royal hospital for sick children?

If Maurice Corry had listened to my earlier answer, he would have heard me say that the decision lies with me and that the process that I am undertaking at the moment is to listen to local parents and concerned people in the area. I will be undertaking a series of meetings to make sure that those views are heard. I would have thought that he would have welcomed that, because surely he would not want me to make a decision without having heard local people’s views, as that would not be giving his constituents a very good service.

Film Studio (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government how many meetings it has had with production companies since January 2017 regarding locating a new film studio in the Lothian region. (S5O-01034)

The Scottish Government has had no such meetings. However, Scottish Enterprise has had meetings with developers about opportunities as part of on-going work to ensure that Scotland has an enhanced range of studio facilities.

Does the cabinet secretary believe that we need more than one national film studio in the Lothians? If so, how many does she believe that we need? Will the Scottish Government look at all applications that come forward, giving each equal weight?

We have committed to supporting a range of studio facilities. In my initial answer, I said that we were looking at on-going work

“to ensure that Scotland has an enhanced range of studio facilities.”

We currently have a number of studios; for example, the Pyramids business park in Bathgate was used for “T2 Trainspotting” and facilities in Livingston were used for “Churchill”. It is important that we have permanent facilities, and a number are already in development. We certainly want to encourage any private sector developer with an interest in the area to bring forward proposals, and our authorities and public bodies will engage with them.

Will the cabinet secretary ensure that, in looking at any part of the proposed location of such a site in Midlothian, full account is taken of the traffic pressure on the A701, which is already congested? It is a bottleneck, with housing developments down the spine. That is causing my constituents, particularly those in Penicuik, great difficulties.

As the member might be aware, the planning process is not fully completed, so she will understand that I cannot make any detailed comment. The reasons for Scottish ministers proposing to grant planning permission are set out in the Government’s letter dated 3 April, which is publicly available. I refer the member to that letter.

What is the public sector doing to make Scotland an attractive place in which to film productions?

In addition to enhancing studio facilities, we are also making sure that the production fund is enhanced. On top of the nearly £11 million that Creative Scotland invested in 2015-16, we have produced a production growth fund of £3 million, £1.875 million of which has already been awarded. Productions that have benefited from the production growth fund include “T2 Trainspotting”, “Churchill”, “Hush”, “Etruscan Smile”, “In Plain Sight”, “Loch Ness” and “The Wife”. The Scotland-based thriller “Keepers”, which stars Gerard Butler, will also receive funding. That will ensure that the Scottish film industry can benefit from the opportunities that films provide to improve skills and build capacity for future film opportunities.

Before we turn to First Minister’s question time, members will wish to join me in welcoming to our gallery Mrs Muhterem Aras, President of the Parliament of Baden-Württemburg. [Applause.]