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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 25 October 2017

Agenda: Urgent Question, Portfolio Question Time, Common Agricultural Policy Convergence Moneys, Withdrawal from the European Union (Negotiations), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Withdrawal from the European Union (Impact on Musicians and the Music Industries)


Portfolio Question Time

Dumfries and Galloway Council (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Dumfries and Galloway Council and what was discussed. (S5O-01345)

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including Dumfries and Galloway Council, to discuss a range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland. On 13 September, the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work met the South of Scotland alliance, including the leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, to discuss the establishment of the South of Scotland enterprise agency.

It was announced this month that a number of regeneration projects are looking to receive financial support from Dumfries and Galloway Council’s town centre living fund. What support is the Government providing to encourage people to move back into town centres in Dumfries and Galloway in order to reverse decline and boost much-needed economic development?

The Government is very supportive of the town centre first principle, which is a matter for local authorities to bring forward. I expect local authorities to look at their local planning to ensure that the town centre first principle applies.

Mr Carson is probably aware that I was recently in Dumfries to discuss the town centre with citizens and stakeholders. I was pleased to hear of that citizen-led approach, which has led Dumfries and Galloway Council to create that fund and invest in town centres. I encourage the council to continue to do so; the Government will continue to support it through the town centre first principle.

I commend the Dumfries town centre initiative—it is indeed citizen led, as the minister has said—and I thank the minister for the great interest that he has shown in it. Does he agree that a big barrier to developing town centres for housing and other purposes is the VAT that is levied on the restoration of buildings, compared with the zero-VAT status of new out-of-town developments?

I am sure that Ms McAlpine and other members will have heard me in the chamber on a number of occasions calling on the United Kingdom Government to get rid of VAT on repairing houses. That would go a long way towards bringing lots of buildings back into use. It seems a bit of an anomaly that there is no VAT on new build but there is VAT on repairs to existing properties. I hope that at some point the UK Government will listen to what we have said and eradicate that VAT, so that we can bring more properties back into use in Dumfries and other parts of Scotland.

Housing Maintenance (Tenements)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it is giving to how tenement housing can be better maintained. (S5O-01346)

The maintenance of the common parts of tenements is principally the responsibility of the owners and is usually governed by rules and conditions that are set out in the title deeds for the flats within a block.

The Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004 provides a structure, known as the tenement management scheme, for the maintenance and management of tenements. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 gave local authorities discretionary powers to require owners to carry out work on substandard houses and to provide assistance with repairs and improvements to private property. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 amended those powers to make them more effective and introduced new provisions to allow local authorities to pay missing shares for work that is agreed by a majority of owners in a tenement.

In the private rented sector, the new private residential tenancy, which comes into effect in December this year, will significantly improve tenant security and better enable tenants to exercise their right to report a breach of the repairing standard to the housing and property chamber of the first-tier tribunal.

I thank the minister for that very full answer. I take his point about title deeds, but does he agree that some title deeds do not have any provision for a factor, which makes it difficult for owner-occupiers or landlords of private tenants to get together to organise things and carry out repairs? Does he agree that there may be a need to ensure that a factor is in place for every single tenement?

The Scottish Government agrees that owners of tenements should ideally plan ahead for future common repairs and maintenance and that property factors can play an important role in ensuring that repairs are made and that properties are therefore maintained. However, the services of a factor come at a cost and some home owners would not welcome a requirement to hand over sums of money to a sinking fund for repairs that are not required at that point in time. I encourage home owners to work together to share the responsibility of looking after their properties. However, to legislate to require there to be a factor or sinking fund would place an additional financial burden on home owners who currently do not have those in place, and it might be difficult to enforce.

I suggest that all members look at the under one roof website, which can be immensely beneficial for property owners in dealing with some of the issues that Mr Mason has raised.

Next week, I will sponsor an event on this issue. There is cross-party interest in the issue, and I know that Ben Macpherson has lodged a motion on it, which I have signed. Does the minister agree with the call from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that there should be tenement health checks? Does he think that there is a need for further legislation? I recently asked him a written question about whether the powers that he mentioned that councils have are being used. He referred me to councils, so I have made a freedom of information request and I will be revealing the figures at that event next week. The minister is welcome to come along and hear them, to find out just how effective or ineffective that legislation is.

I thank Mr Simpson for his invitation. I cannot say now whether I will be able to attend, but I have taken note of his invitation. I am adamant about the need to ensure that local authorities use the legislation that is currently at their disposal. I do not see the point of coming up with a raft of new legislation when that might not be required and when current legislation is not used. I thank Graham Simpson for his support in trying to ensure that councils use the powers that are at their disposal.

Beyond that, the Government has looked at a number of things. In Glasgow, Perthshire, and Argyll and Bute, we are running a pilot of area loan schemes that assist owners to carry out essential repairs and energy efficiency improvements. I will look at that pilot’s findings to see whether there is sufficient demand to establish support for procurement of a nationwide scheme, as part of Scotland’s energy efficiency programme, to continue to upgrade Scotland’s tenement properties.

I thank John Mason for asking a question about an important but often overlooked issue. I agree with the minister that not all solutions are necessarily legislative, and I agree with him that we must help owners to come together. What activity has the Government undertaken to work with credit unions, which could help owners to come together on collective savings, collective loans and invoiced factoring, which could help with the financing of much-needed repairs to tenement buildings?

Mr Johnson has come up with a particularly good idea. I am more than willing to talk to credit unions about their providing help, if that is at all possible. As I said earlier, beyond that we will look at all possible solutions. That is one of the reasons why we are running the pilot, which is helpful to those who maybe cannot afford repairs at a particular point in time. It allows us to take an equity stake in the property and get the money back in the future. I am more than willing to take on board Mr Johnson’s suggestion about approaching credit unions and I will let him know how I get on in that regard.

I ask the minister, when undertaking any review of tenement law, maintenance or guidance, to bear in mind that tenements are not always very old buildings, such as the red sandstone buildings that we often think about. In new towns such as East Kilbride and some of its peripheral housing estates, we have tenements that are made of a much more modern fabric. That brings its own questions and problems, in particular in the light of right to buy, because tenements can end up with mixed tenure involving local authority owners, private owners and, indeed, private landlords, some of whom are not always willing to play their part. It can lead to severe factoring problems and many owners feeling that they get neither good value for money nor good social value. Could that be looked at as well?

In recent times Ms Fabiani has raised a number of points about property factors and new developments. In the Title Conditions (Scotland) Act 2003, there is provision on manager burdens and title deeds, which are typically used by a developer to appoint a factor in the initial years of a housing development.

I know that Ms Fabiani has an interest in the issue. I would also say to her that, once the manager burden has expired, the owners of flats in a tenement have rights to act together to dismiss a property factor and appoint a new one. I will continue to work with Linda Fabiani and other members to try to improve the situation. Once again, I ask all members to have a look at the under one roof website.

Benefit Cap

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact on people in Scotland of the United Kingdom Government’s extended benefit cap. (S5O-01347)

The latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that in May 2017, around 3,700 households in Scotland, containing more than 11,000 children, were subject to the benefit cap, losing on average £57 per week. Almost two thirds of those households are lone parents, with around three quarters having a child under 5 years old.

The Scottish Government continues to oppose the benefit cap. It is clearly impacting hardest on low-income families with children, which is why we have repeatedly called on the UK Government to reverse the policy.

I certainly echo the call on the UK Government to reverse the benefit cap and a long list of its other vindictive and unnecessary welfare changes.

Although the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government should not be left in the position of merely mitigating the effects of the policies, the Scottish Government has a role in protecting people. It has currently allocated £8 million for mitigation of the lowering of the benefit cap, but we have shown that the resulting gap—the reduction in overall spend through the benefit system—is £11 million. Given that the cap’s impact on households is even more severe than that of the bedroom tax, but the overall budgetary impact of fully mitigating it would be less, is not it clear that the Scottish Government should strain every sinew to fill the gap, which currently stands at just £3 million? Would not that make a massive difference to the people in Scotland who are affected by the policy?

I am grateful to Mr Harvie for that supplementary question. I completely agree with him that it is not the role of the Scottish Government or, indeed, of the Scottish Parliament “merely” to mitigate the worst effects of what the United Kingdom Government’s policies inflict on the people whom we represent, so I gently and respectfully say to him that it is a little ironic that he went on to suggest that we do precisely that.

Future spending is a matter for the budget. As Mr Harvie rightly said, we have allocated £8.1 million to local authorities for discretionary housing payments in order to mitigate, in part, the damaging impact of the lowering of the benefit cap. That is a £6 million increase on last year’s Department for Work and Pensions allocation, and local authorities retain their discretion to top up the discretionary housing payment funds. As I said, future spending is a matter for the budget, so the allocation for DHPs will be discussed by the Scottish Government with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. We are happy to hear suggestions on the DHP allocation and overall spending, but those suggestions should come with suggestions on how additional funding commitments can be met.

If the Scottish Government is so concerned about the effects of the benefit cap, why is there no provision in the minister’s Social Security (Scotland) Bill to deal with it? In particular, why is there no provision in the bill to provide for the creation of new benefits, which was a key part of the Smith commission package on welfare devolution?

Members are certainly upping the irony stakes in today’s portfolio question time. I am almost speechless—but not quite.

As Mr Tomkins well knows, ministers have the powers to create new benefits. That is precisely what we are doing in replacing the sure start grant with our best start grant, which will bring a considerable increase in financial support to mothers for not only their first child, but for all subsequent children. That is unlike the UK Government’s grant, which stops at the first child.

Mr Tomkins is quite wrong to say that there is somehow a failing in our condemnation of what the UK Government is doing around the benefit cap. I concur completely with Mr Harvie that there are many other areas of the UK Government’s welfare approach that require condemnation—if members of that Government would but listen to us. Mr Tomkins is quite wrong to suggest that we are deliberately and wilfully choosing not to act in this regard. We do not require the Social Security (Scotland) Bill to provide us with powers that we already have.

Community Services (Caithness)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent meetings the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities has had with community representatives in Caithness regarding concerns about the removal of services. (S5O-01348)

Scottish Government ministers regularly meet community representatives around Scotland, including in the Highland Council area, to discuss a range of issues, as part of our commitment to working in partnership to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

I am not sure that that answered my question. The answer was just that there are regular meetings, but not with the people in Caithness and not necessarily including the cabinet secretary.

I am sure that the cabinet secretary will agree that we should all embrace the building of communities, because they add strength and cohesion to society. If she really wants to build and support communities, she needs to speak out against the possible closure of local hospitals, the possible downgrading of palliative care, the reduction in the number of residential care beds, the amalgamation of general practitioner services and the reduction in public services. Will she join me in speaking out against such things, which help only to fragment communities such as those in Caithness?

I think that Mr Mountain would have done better to address that substantive question to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.

Nevertheless, from the point of view of my portfolio, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 gave community planning partnerships new statutory duties. We work closely with local government and our partners across the wider public sector to look at how we can improve decision-making arrangements, strengthen local democracy, protect and renew public services, and refresh the relationship between citizens, communities and councils.

Support for Disabled People

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support disabled people, in light of the paper published by the United Nations in October 2017 that set out its concluding observations on its initial report about United Kingdom reforms. (S5O-01349)

The UN’s concluding observations recognise the positive steps that the Scottish Government is taking, including publication of our disability action plan and involving disabled people in building a new social security system. Those observations are, of course, welcome.

The Scottish Government has begun to review our disability action plan against those concluding observations, and we will move on to discuss with disabled people and organisations that represent them what we need to do to align our work to areas that have been highlighted by the UN. In fact, I began that discussion this morning.

In addition, I have written to the UK Government to ask what it will do to address the concerns that have been highlighted by the UN—in particular, those about personal independence payment regulations and employment and support allowance sanctions—and to ask what the UK Government will do to involve disabled people in assessing its policies that will impact on their lives.

The minister will be aware that there is a recommendation to

“Ensure that legislation provides for the right to educated high-quality sign language interpretation and other forms of alternative communication in all spheres of life for deaf persons and hard of hearing persons in line with the Convention”.

How will the Scottish Government seek to ensure that it complies with that recommendation?

As Graeme Dey will know, the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act was passed and received royal assent in 2015. I am sure that members know that, in following that up, we published yesterday our first BSL national plan—the first such plan in the United Kingdom.

We also recognise that delivery of many of the improvements that we want depends on the availability of qualified BSL/English interpreters who have the right skills and experience. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council is, therefore, already supporting an MA in BSL/English interpreting. Over the next two years, we will sponsor two new training programmes—one at Heriot-Watt University and one at Queen Margaret University—that are designed to support interpreters to work in the specialist fields of health, mental health and justice.

We have also introduced and funded the first nationally funded BSL online interpreting video-relay service. Finally, I say that we fund an inclusive communication website that provides tools and guidance on how to make information accessible.

Young People’s Social and Human Rights

To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes to monitor and protect the social and human rights of young people. (S5O-01350)

We remain committed to enhancing children’s rights in all aspects of Scottish life. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 places duties on the Scottish ministers to consider how to give better or further effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and report every three years on what steps they have taken and what they plan to do in the following years. The first report, which will include input from children and young people, is due in 2018.

The Scottish Government also reports progress through the UK state party report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in line with committee cycles. Children’s rights and wellbeing impact assessments ensure that all portfolios consider the interests of children in developing new initiatives.

In addition, the programme for Government made clear our plans for a comprehensive audit of the most effective and practical ways to further embed the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into policy and legislation, including the option of full incorporation into domestic law.

An anti-loitering device known as the mosquito, which emits a high-pitched sound that affects young people, has recently been installed at Hamilton central station in central Scotland region. It is not an isolated case.

The device affects all young people and its use has been roundly condemned, by the Scottish Youth Parliament and the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, as being in breach of their human rights. Does the cabinet secretary agree that such devices have no place in a civilised society and that a ban on the mosquito is the only way forward to protect the social and human rights of our youngest citizens.

I agree with Ms Lennon that such devices have no place in Scotland. She might be aware that Annabelle Ewing, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, wrote to all local authorities and to public bodies on the matter. Crucially—given the member’s constituency interest—she also wrote to ScotRail.

In short, the Scottish Government is opposed to the use of mosquito anti-loitering devices. We do not believe that there is a need for them or that they are effective, and they do not sit well with our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour. I note the concerns of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child about whether measures such as the use of such devices breach the rights of children and young people.

We are looking at the evidence from a survey of young Scots that was carried out by Young Scot, which received nearly 800 replies. The response to Ms Ewing’s correspondence will be very important as we consider what further action we might wish to take.

National care leavers week runs until 28 October. Leaving care is a life-altering and often very difficult time for a young person. What action is the Scottish Government taking to promote young people’s rights to continuing care and aftercare? How are those rights being effectively enforced to protect the welfare of young people who leave care, who are often highly vulnerable?

I thank the member for her question. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was landmark legislation that introduced new responsibilities with regard to the throughcare and aftercare of looked-after children.

The essence of Michelle Ballantyne’s point is that looked-after children are our children—they are Scotland’s bairns. If people like me think that they have only one child, they need to think again, because we have a parental responsibility towards all our looked-after children, who are among some of the most disadvantaged young people in our society.

In addition to the wealth of work that is being done by the education ministers, particularly the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, work is being spearheaded by the First Minister that is about ensuring that we improve the life chances and life opportunities of our looked-after young people and that, like our own children, they feel loved and wanted. It is our responsibility to have the same hopes, dreams and ambitions for those children as we do for our own.

What progress has the Government made towards undertaking a comprehensive audit on further embedding the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in policy and legislation?

Given that next year is the year of young people, it is important that we look again at and refresh how we listen to the voices of young people and embed them in all areas of political and civic rights.

As far as Ms Mackay’s question is concerned, it is important that we adopt a fully participatory process in taking forward our commitment on the audit that she mentioned. She might be interested to know that initial scoping work is under way, which includes discussions with stakeholders on the best way to include children and young people in what is an extremely important process. As was outlined in last month’s programme for government, the audit will start in 2018.

Encouraging Voluntary Work

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to encourage more people to carry out voluntary work in their communities. (S5O-01351)

The programme for government recognises the vital role that volunteers play in shaping Scotland and the positive contribution that they make to our society. We have set out our commitment to reinvigorating volunteering in Scotland and to building on positive trends for youth engagement and continuing to support people in their volunteering.

In June, I announced that £3.8 million would be provided over the next four years for the volunteer support fund to promote community-led volunteering, which will have a particular focus on engaging volunteers from disadvantaged groups. In addition, we continue to provide direct funding to Volunteer Scotland and to the 32 third sector interfaces to encourage, promote and support volunteers and volunteering to communities across Scotland.

Is the cabinet secretary aware of Volunteer Centre Edinburgh’s recent research indicating that the number of adults volunteering in the capital is continuing to rise and that the figure is now, at 35 per cent, one of the highest in Scotland? What specific action can be taken to encourage those who are not volunteering to give their time to charities and other organisations? I am referring in particular to men in Scotland, given the clear lack of male volunteering that has been reported by some charities looking for male befrienders to work with service users.

Mr Briggs has made an important point about male befrienders. However, it is encouraging to hear those statistics showing the higher rate of adult volunteers participating in the city of Edinburgh. Given that the average across Scotland is 27 per cent, he is right to applaud the city’s civic efforts.

Undoubtedly, the biggest gift that we can give anyone is the gift of our time. People volunteer without fuss, fanfare or reward, and we need to be clear that volunteering is very much the golden thread that runs through the fabric of our society. With regard to the question of what more we can do, I think that MSPs of all shades have a responsibility to talk about the value of volunteering and its benefits—indeed, it provides £2 billion to our economy. It also enables the volunteers themselves to upskill, improve their wellbeing and increase their employability.

As for the work that the Government will be taking forward, we will be developing a framework that will very much seek to corral the evidence of the value of volunteering and provide a coherent and compelling narrative that identifies, with key data and evidence, the key outcomes that we all want to achieve and which allows us to have an informed debate about what interventions will be most appropriate and successful.

Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work of the homelessness and rough sleeping action group. (S5O-01352)

The short-life homelessness and rough sleeping action group met for the first time on 5 October and immediately started work on its first objective of finding out what we can all do to minimise rough sleeping this winter. It will report back shortly on that issue, but its other objectives are to provide recommendations on ending rough sleeping in the longer term, transforming temporary accommodation and ending homelessness in Scotland. In November, it will meet as part of a much larger event involving other partners.

I thank the minister for that update and welcome the group’s progress. Can he set out how the Scottish Government is working with the City of Edinburgh Council, in particular, to address the standard of temporary accommodation in the city and the supply of affordable housing for those moving on from such accommodation?

One of the action group’s main objectives is to make recommendations on how to transform temporary accommodation in Scotland. Currently 82 per cent of folk in temporary accommodation are in mainstream social housing, and I would like to see that number rise. Of course, all of this comes against the background of United Kingdom Government welfare cuts, which mean that less funding is available for temporary accommodation. However, we are already committed to ensuring that all of that accommodation is of the same standard as permanent accommodation.

The action group will work with local authorities such as the City of Edinburgh Council to ensure that temporary accommodation plays a positive role in moving people on from homelessness, and we will also continue to work with local authorities on the issue in the longer term, through the group and beyond. We want time in temporary accommodation to be as short as possible, and we are increasing housing supply to help in that respect. Over this parliamentary session, the Scottish Government has allocated affordable housing supply programme funding of nearly £190 million to the city of Edinburgh. We expect that to deliver 4,000 houses with a focus, primarily, on the social rented sector.

Rough sleeping has risen over the past two winters, and I expect the situation this winter to be no different. I know that we are all concerned about that, but can the minister tell us today whether, given we know what we are going to face this winter, there is any immediate action that he can take? Significant resources are used by charities such as the Bethany Christian Trust and the city missions, but can the Scottish Government do anything about this coming winter, given that we know, sadly, that literally hundreds of people will be sleeping and freezing on the streets of Scotland?

As I stated in my earlier answer, one of the action group’s key objectives is to look at what we need to do this winter. We already have the winter shelter open in Edinburgh, and I understand that the winter shelter in Glasgow opened just the other week because of the weather conditions during storm Ophelia.

The action group is looking very carefully at exactly what we need to do over the winter and the Government will, of course, look very carefully at all the recommendations that the group puts forward and will take action accordingly.

I agree completely and utterly with Pauline McNeill that it is unacceptable for folk to have to sleep rough, and I wish that the UK Government would change its policies on social security cuts, which are putting more folk at risk of having to sleep on the streets.

Equality of Support for Rural and Urban Communities

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that rural and urban communities receive equal support. (S5O-01353)

The Scottish Government seeks to support all of Scotland—rural and urban—to create inclusive economic growth and development. We fund local authorities based on an assessment of needs rather than geography, which ensures that they receive their fair share and that the specific needs of urban and rural areas are considered.

We recognise that rural communities have unique challenges that require specific support and interventions. That is why we have Highlands and Islands Enterprise and why we are creating a south of Scotland enterprise agency to respond to the challenges that are faced in those primarily rural areas.

The cabinet secretary mentioned rural and urban support specifically, but she will know that mobility is a lot harder in rural areas than it is in urban areas and that, with cuts to local council budgets, it is even harder for older people to get around rural constituencies such as those in the Scottish Borders. How will the Scottish Government work to ensure that older people can keep their independence without being cut off from society?

Ms Hamilton’s question touches on a good example of where there is cross-portfolio working. She may be aware that the Minister for Social Security, Ms Freeman, is currently working on a social isolation strategy. I should stress that social isolation is not an issue just for older people; there are huge issues for some of our younger people and other groups as well. That strategy will look at how we can ensure that there is good cross-Government endeavour on the issues that Ms Hamilton has raised.

Mobility is an important issue. On transport in the Borders and the areas that Ms Hamilton represents, obviously I am aware that Transport Scotland is looking at a Borders transport corridor project, which is at a pre-application stage. Transport Scotland will have obligations to think about the needs of older people as well as those of people with disabilities. We will keep Ms Hamilton informed of our work on social isolation because it is relevant to her question, as is the work that the Minister for Transport and the Islands leads.

Personal Independent Payments (People with Epilepsy)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that two thirds of people with epilepsy have had their PIP benefits downgraded or denied, with some consequently reporting suicidal feelings. (S5O-01354)

The roll-out of personal independence payments has been beset by delays and has led to many people having to undergo stressful assessments, and the PIP claims of many people have been downgraded or denied, as has been outlined yet again by Epilepsy Action. Our response is to call repeatedly on the United Kingdom Government to halt the roll-out of PIP in Scotland. We are not the only ones who are doing that: many organisations have said that the roll-out should be halted. Most recently, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities specifically called for a review of PIP regulations in the UK programme. However, the UK Government continues to roll out PIP.

The Scottish Government is committed to building a rights-based social security system, and that is precisely what we are currently undertaking.

Does the minister agree that such statistics only highlight the abject failure of the UK Government’s running of the social security system? Will she set out exactly how the Scottish Government plans to do things differently, particularly with regard to the assessment process, under the new Scottish social security system?

I thank the member for that additional question. I agree with her point, which is why I have made a number of commitments with regard to assessments in particular, including a clear commitment that profit-making companies will not be involved in delivering health assessments for disability benefits and that we will end the revolving door of repeat assessments. The expert group chaired by Dr Jim McCormick of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has been specifically tasked by me to work out the detail of our assessment process, drawing on views from our experience panels, so that we gather the information required at the first decision-making point and consequently reduce the need for the number of one-to-one health assessments.