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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 26 February 2020

Agenda: Inshore Fisheries, Portfolio Question Time, Police Scotland (Draft Budget 2020-21), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, National Parent Forum of Scotland


Portfolio Question Time

Live Music (O2 ABC)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will grow the live music industry in Scotland, given the closure of the O2 ABC. (S5O-04155)

Despite the closure of the O2 ABC, Glasgow and Scotland continue to have a strong and diverse live music scene. Live music events in Scotland were attended by 1.1 million tourists in 2018, which was a 38 per cent increase from 2017.

We recognise that there are challenges, but we are committed to working with our partners to grow the sector. Creative Scotland is working with stakeholders to identify skills, audience and talent development projects that will help to increase knowledge and capitalise on resources. Audiences and talent development were particular focuses in its targeted funding of the 2020 independent venue week.

A new report estimates that last year the live music industry generated spending of £431 million throughout Scotland, through tickets, accommodation and the usual merchandising, and that it sustained 4,300 full-time jobs. However, the report also warned that there is an urgent need for more investment in order to keep Scotland’s market growing.

When I checked the Creative Scotland website yesterday, I could not see even a mention of the contemporary music industry or the live music sector. Considering that Creative Scotland has not published a review of the industry since 2013, how can we trust that the agency cares at all about live music? Can the cabinet secretary look into that? What can she do to maintain Scotland’s position as a world leader?

I am more than happy to ensure that Creative Scotland provides the information that Pauline McNeill seeks.

Independent venue week, which I just referred to, is an important part of helping venues to develop. Creative Scotland’s ring-fenced funding for Scottish venues has allowed the expansion of venues in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bathgate in my constituency, Falkirk, Aberdeen, Dundee, Galashiels and Inverness. Creative Scotland has advised me that almost weekly it funds acts in all music genres to record albums and tour them, and that it ensures that live music remains vibrant by funding venues and organisations as geographically diverse as An Lanntair, Aberdeen Performing Arts, Shetland Arts, Platform, the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Horsecross, the Queen’s Hall and others.

I understand that Pauline McNeill wants specific information about contemporary music. I will make sure that, from within what I have just described, information about contemporary music is passed to her.

I am pleased to hear that there has been a 38 per cent increase in tourists attending live music events in Scotland, because Glasgow certainly has a fantastic live music industry.

The 26th conference of the parties, or COP26, is coming to Glasgow in November. What advertising will be produced to encourage its delegates to enjoy the live music events in Glasgow?

I am not familiar with the programming of live music performances immediately around COP26. I know that Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government are keen to ensure that we can showcase Scotland to best effect and, which is important, that we can show how culture can influence behaviour and challenge thinking in relation to some of the big ideas that will be discussed in COP26. We will work co-operatively with the United Kingdom Government on the wider issues and on the hosting aspects. However, the event is an important opportunity to showcase Glasgow, which is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization city of music.

Tourism (Dumfries and Galloway)

As you know, Presiding Officer, I need to leave after my question. Thank you for agreeing to that.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to boost tourist numbers across Dumfries and Galloway, and how south of Scotland enterprise will assist with this. (S5O-04156)

We have provided VisitScotland with £1 million to market the region, and it has created the “See south Scotland” campaign. That is in addition to the £1.5 million that we are investing in forest tourism infrastructure and the £85 million that we have committed to the borderlands growth deal. Through the South of Scotland Economic Partnership, 13 tourism projects have also received funding.

The new body, south of Scotland enterprise, will be operational from 1 April this year and will drive inclusive growth across the region by taking a fresh approach to economic development and boosting growth in key sectors, including tourism.

Last week, I met representatives from Visit South West Scotland who expressed concern about the current approach to accessing funding from the new south of Scotland enterprise agency, because any and all applications must be for things that will benefit the whole of the south of Scotland. Local businesses and constituents in Dumfries and Galloway are concerned that the pan-south-of-Scotland approach might be a barrier to people accessing support. Will the cabinet secretary agree to meet me to discuss the issue in more detail and to examine the current arrangements to see whether a change can be made?

South of Scotland enterprise will work with businesses and communities across the south of Scotland to support activities that drive inclusive economic growth. I understand that the chair designate, Professor Russel Griggs, recently met the chair of Visit South West Scotland to discuss tourism in the south of Scotland. As the funding criteria for south of Scotland enterprise will be an operational matter, I have asked Nick Halfhide, who is its interim chief executive, to meet Emma Harper to discuss the approach that the new agency is taking to future tourism project support.

Will the cabinet secretary ask the new south of Scotland enterprise agency to make urgent contact with Gretna Green Ltd, which is one of the largest tourism businesses in the south of Scotland, but is experiencing an extreme drop-off in tourists from China as a result of coronavirus?

I hear what Oliver Mundell says; he makes a perfectly reasonable point. I will draw the matter to the attention of Professor Griggs and the interim chief executive, Nick Halfhide.

In general terms, we are all extremely concerned about coronavirus. It is a devastating blow and an absolute tragedy for China, but there are now also concerns about its impact on other parts of the world, including our country, to be quite frank. The matter is being dealt with principally by the chief medical officer and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport. We take it very seriously. We will bear the issue in mind, but I will ask the appointed leaders of SOSE to look at Gretna Green Ltd in particular, because Oliver Mundell has raised it with me.

Tourism (Impact on Cities)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of how the increase in the number of tourists is impacting on the country’s cities. (S5O-04157)

The Scottish Government recognises that tourism makes an important contribution to the economy of all our cities. Our cities had the highest levels of tourism employment in 2018, with 36,000 jobs in Edinburgh and 31,000 in Glasgow. We have carried out some assessment in relation to specific issues such as the impact of short-term lets on Edinburgh and Glasgow. At local level, we continue to engage with key organisations and authorities in order to help us to understand the wider context of the impact of tourism, and what the Scottish Government and its agencies can do to support it.

CDP, which is a not-for-profit charity that runs the global disclosure system for environmental impacts, published its global annual ranking of the best-performing cities last week. Not a single Scottish city appears in the global A-list of 105 cities, although five English cities appear. Given that the Scottish Parliament has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2045, how does the cabinet secretary explain the absence of cities including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen from the list? What is being done to address that?

I am happy to look at the specific report that Gordon Lindhurst mentioned: we will do so. Although my tenure as tourism minister this time round has been relatively short so far, I know that tourism leaders and all those who are involved in the industry are as keen as everyone else is, if not more so, to engage in the low-carbon agenda.

That Scotland is a world leader in that regard is beyond question, through the First Minister’s lead and hard work by Roseanna Cunningham. That will become evident in November this year when Glasgow hosts COP26, which will be a tremendous opportunity to showcase not the negatives—about which we hear far too much from the Conservatives—but the positives. One of those positives will be the contribution that many tourism businesses are making.

Support for Heritage Projects (Cochno Stone)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it can offer to projects such as the Cochno stone heritage project in Faifley, Clydebank. (S5O-04158)

Support for community heritage projects is provided through Historic Environment Scotland, our lead public body for the historic environment, to which the Scottish Government provides £14.5 million annually for grants to support communities to understand, celebrate and revitalise our heritage, including £1.4 million that is spent on archaeology projects. Historic Environment Scotland also works in direct partnership with communities through projects such as Scotland’s prehistoric rock art project, which supported members of the community in Faifley to create detailed records and models of rock art sites in Clydebank.

I thank the cabinet secretary for addressing a reception at the Parliament last week to highlight the Cochno stone project. The time that she spent was well appreciated by all the folk who turned out. Would the cabinet secretary like to visit the site at the appropriate time to see at first hand the very good work that has been done there and the opportunities that the site offers to Faifley and the wider community?

I had a very enjoyable evening last week with the community from Faifley. Faifley most certainly rocks, with regard to community-engaged archaeology. It was fantastic to see how the archaeologists from the University of Glasgow had engaged the local community. The community council and primary schools that were represented there have a tremendous sense of place about their community. They are discovering and understanding Scotland’s place historically over many thousands of years of the art.

I would be delighted to visit the site. The Cochno stone is covered up just now, but what is important is the empowerment of local communities that comes from heritage and arts projects that work with communities. When we publish the culture strategy shortly, I hope that members across the chamber will see that it will be an important part of how we take forward Scotland’s relationship with culture and heritage.

I remind members that questions 5, 6 and 8 are grouped together. If members want to come in with a supplementary, they can do so at the end of the supplementaries to question 8. I am being very helpful.

Tourism (Shetland)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to develop the tourism industry in Shetland. (S5O-04159)

The Scottish Government fully recognises the importance of tourism to Shetland’s economy. The numerous attractions of Shetland, from stunning scenery to historical sites such as the Jarlshof, are actively promoted by VisitScotland through its many marketing campaigns. In recognition of the fact that the popularity of sites on the Shetland Islands brings challenges to public infrastructure, £133,000 has been awarded through the rural tourism infrastructure fund for parking facilities in Hoswick to address those issues.

The cabinet secretary may be aware that the Sumburgh hotel and the Shetland tourism industry have been waiting for more than three years for Historic Environment Scotland to sort out badly needed visitor facilities at the historic Jarlshof site in Shetland. In January 2019, the Scottish Government rejected a business case to build toilets and bus parking, leaving a private business to voluntarily provide those basic facilities to growing numbers of cruise ship visitors. Will the cabinet secretary look into the matter with a sense of urgency, to ensure that another tourist season does not pass without any progress?

I am aware of the great contribution that cruise tourism is now making to the islands. Fiona Hyslop and I have been promoting it for many years and it has been developed with great success locally throughout Scotland. On the matter that Beatrice Wishart has raised, I understand that Historic Environment Scotland is actively engaged in looking at the matter and will be happy to consider it further with the member if she so wishes.

Tourism (Highlands)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to support tourism in the Highlands. (S5O-04160)

The Scottish Government, both directly and through its public bodies, provides significant support to the tourism sector in the Highlands.

Through the Inverness and Highland city region deal, we are providing £15 million towards the Highland Council’s redevelopment of Inverness castle into an international visitor attraction that promotes the whole Highlands, which will benefit the wider tourism economy of the area. The Highlands have also benefited from our rural tourism infrastructure fund, with 12 projects receiving funding of nearly £2.7 million out of the total £6 million allocation for the first two rounds.

I welcome the cabinet secretary to his new tourism brief.

Mr Ewing will be well aware of my campaign to find a new home for the iconic Ironworks music venue in Inverness, which is very popular with tourists and locals alike. Will the cabinet secretary support to the hilt the excellent work that is being done by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and will he accompany me on a future visit to the Ironworks?

I thank David Stewart for the good wishes. The offer is somewhat more unexpected, but it will be given due and appropriate consideration.

Mr Stewart has been raising that matter for some time and I know that locally that is much appreciated. I support the campaign’s aims and objectives. I am pleased that HIE has been positive, and I am very happy to work with the member in my new role to see what progress we can make and how quickly we can make it.

Tourism (Orkney)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Destination Orkney and Orkney Islands Council regarding the future needs of the tourism sector. (S5O-04162)

The Scottish Government has had on-going contact with Orkney Islands Council in relation to the support given to it through the rural tourism infrastructure fund. Our support for the sector is delivered through a range of public bodies. All of those are members of the Destination Orkney partnership—along with the council—that is chaired by Destination Orkney, offering strategic direction to tourism development.

I thank the cabinet secretary and, like David Stewart, welcome him to his new role.

He will be aware of the frustration that is felt because of the continued failure to deliver road equivalent tariff and cheaper fares on the Pentland Firth route. The tourism sector is also affected by the relatively high costs of air services to and from Orkney. Will he agree to engage with his colleague the transport secretary and Loganair, which is in the process of introducing larger aircraft on to its routes, to discuss ways in which that opportunity can be used to reduce fares?

I thank Mr McArthur for his kind words. I think he knows that I enjoyed an excellent holiday in Orkney with my family. It was slightly wet, but great fun. We travelled by ferry and had a lovely time. I have also travelled frequently by air. The journey can be somewhat exciting and the landings muscle-clenching.

I know that he asks about a serious issue and I will be happy to raise it with the cabinet secretary for transport. It is a serious issue for all island inhabitants because the costs of air travel are, indeed, pretty high.

Cabinet secretary, your enthusiasm for tourism does you credit. It is critical to the Highlands.

When will the funicular railway be operational? Will it be 2024, 2025, 2026 or later?

I assure the member, and all members across all parties, that Highlands and Islands Enterprise is working extremely hard to develop a master plan and scheme out a sustainable future—economically and environmentally—for the funicular railway in Cairn Gorm. It is doing a power of work and is also consulting with local communities.

I understand that skiing has been taking place in Cairn Gorm in the past few days. That is hugely welcome after a lean season.

Mr Mountain knows that there are complex engineering matters and solutions that must be worked through properly, and that the costings of the remedial work that needs to be done to put matters right have to be carefully assembled. I assure him that that work is under way. I have undertaken previously to report to the Parliament periodically.

I give my absolute commitment that the Scottish Government is determined to find a solution, because we are well aware of the huge importance of the funicular railway for visitors to that part of Scotland all year round. We are working extremely hard across portfolios to deliver a long-term, successful, viable solution, so that once again we see Cairn Gorm providing excellent opportunities, in winter and in summer.

I have bids for supplementary questions from Gail Ross and Richard Lyle. Mr Lyle, I have to caution you: this group of questions is on the Highlands and Islands. [Interruption.] You are on notice. If I do not hear “Highlands and Islands” in your first breath, you are stopping in your tracks.

Will the cabinet secretary say what the Scottish Government’s proposed solutions are to protect our tourism and hospitality industry in the Highlands and Islands from the United Kingdom Government’s attack on immigration?

I have to say that the response in Scotland from representatives of all businesses to the UK’s appalling proposals on immigration and migration has never been clearer and stronger, more united and more compelling. Whether we are talking about the tourism sector, the agriculture and fishing sector or the care sector, all representatives—entirely independent of politics—are saying exactly the same thing: these proposals will not work. Moreover, the proposals put at risk—“at risk” is a phrase that most of the representatives have used—the very future of those sectors.

We are in an extremely serious situation. I am not straying into politics when I say that the current situation will not hold; the UK Government must start listening to the voice of Scotland and its representatives across the whole spectrum of society.

I agree that it is important that we continue to attract people to work in the tourism sector, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. [Laughter.] What impact does the cabinet secretary think the UK Government’s new immigration plan will have on the tourism industry in Scotland—and the Highlands and Islands?

Ah, the work of a pro, Mr Lyle.

As members know, Mr Lyle is a great friend of the Highlands and Islands, and a great friend of mine.

Let me be serious. In addition to the previous answer that I gave, let me say that the working population of the Highlands and Islands is due to shrink massively before 2040. We have an urgent requirement, not to see fewer people but to retain the existing people and bring in more people.

That is one of the greatest challenges that we face, and it will require a whole suite of policies. The very last thing that it needs is the negative, narrow-minded, insular, parochial, arrogant and dismissive approach of the Home Secretary to the matter. That approach cannot hold, and I suspect that we will see change to the absurd proposals, the likes of which I cannot remember having seen in my 20 years in the Parliament.

Question 7 has been withdrawn.

School Leavers (Positive Destinations)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the importance of young people leaving school going on to positive destinations. (S5O-04163)

The Scottish Government places the utmost importance on our young people securing a positive next step in learning, life and work following their school education, which increases their chances of continuing on a positive path. In that regard, I welcome the figures that were published this week, which show the highest-ever rate of positive post-school initial destinations for school leavers, in 2018-19, at 95 per cent.

Does the minister think that, as a society, we sometimes put too much emphasis on inputs, such as the number of subjects that are studied, as opposed to considering outcomes and outputs, such as whether young people are successful in going into training and careers?

I agree that we should take a broader look, although I recognise that the range of subject matters that a young person studies is part of the equation. Yes, we should look at outcomes and attainment. Between 2006-07 and 2018-19, the number of young people who secured one or more qualification at Scottish credit and qualifications framework level 4 or higher went up 2.5 percentage points, the number with one or more qualification at SCQF level 5 or higher went up 14 percentage points and the number with one or more qualification at SCQF level 6 or higher went up 18.9 percentage points.

The latest figures show that the gap between the most and least-deprived communities in achieving a positive destination is less than 6 percentage points for the first time and that, over the decade from 2008-09, the unemployment rate for young people fell from 16.4 to 9.1 per cent, which is the lowest in the United Kingdom. I agree with Mr Mason that we should be looking at the outcomes.

The minister will be aware that not all positive destinations are deemed equal and that virtually anything other than an unknown outcome or claiming unemployment benefit is considered positive under the Scottish Government’s definition. The figures show that attainment across multiple levels of qualification has declined, limiting the opportunities for young people to fulfil their potential. Will he give a commitment to ensuring that future data gives more detail so that we can get a clearer and more accurate picture of the on-going employment outcomes, educational journeys and destinations of our young people?

We will, of course, take away and consider any suggestion that is made in good faith—I trust that Mr Halcro Johnston was making his in good faith. However, the figures that we publish show a direction of travel over a period of time, allowing people to compare one year to the next, and I remind Mr Halcro Johnston of the point that I have just made, which is that record levels of young people—95 per cent—entered positive destinations after school in 2018-19. Everyone should welcome that.

The minister will know that achieving a positive destination is much harder for school leavers who have additional support needs. Only around 16 per cent of autistic adults are in employment. Today, the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition highlighted that the attainment gap for children in our schools with additional support needs is growing. Does he agree that we need to restore the specialist support staff who have been lost from our schools and that much more work needs to be done to help children with additional support needs so that they too can achieve positive destinations?

Yes, of course. We must continue to do all that we can to support young people in schools who have additional support needs. The Government is committed to doing that. We will always look to see what more we can do, and it is not just within the school environment that we are committed to doing that; it is also about post-school destinations, and we are seeking to undertake that type of intervention through a range of measures in the employability and training system, for which I have responsibility, in order to secure better outcomes for young people who need additional support for learning.

Brexit (Impact on Higher Education Institutions)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact Brexit will have on higher education institutions across Scotland that are in receipt of European research funding. (S5O-04164)

Scottish organisations can continue to participate fully in horizon 2020 until the programme closes and projects have been completed. The impact during the transition period is therefore limited regarding the current horizon programme. Scotland’s future participation in the next programme, horizon Europe, would ensure the continuation of significant benefits and opportunities. There is no good alternative to being part of the world’s biggest research and innovation programme. That is why the Scottish Government has been pressing the United Kingdom Government to enable full participation of Scottish organisations in horizon Europe.

I have raised this issue before in the chamber: we need clarity on European funding and the Erasmus programme, not just for the institutions but for students in the future. What safeguards can we put in place apart from speaking to the Westminster Government?

Clearly, if the UK decides to go for a reduced form of participation in horizon Europe or, indeed, if any association with the programme takes place, we would look to ensure that current overall funding levels are at least maintained in Scotland to avoid a shortfall in income for our excellent higher education institutions. We are told that, at the moment, the UK Government is still considering a value-for-money analysis of the horizon programme. As members can imagine, we are inputting that it is very good value for money, given that Scotland has benefited to the tune of €687 million. That is 11 per cent of the UK’s funding pot, which illustrates the strength of science and innovation in our universities and other organisations.

Clearly, the Scottish Government’s response will depend on the extent to which the UK Government has any association with horizon Europe. If the UK Government looks at a domestic alternative, we will have to respond to that as well. We will have to look at how Scotland can maximise its participation in horizon Europe, or find some other means of securing funding from the UK Government.

Students (Financial Support)

To ask the Scottish Government whether its work to improve financial support for students who are estranged from parents or guardians will also cover students who are estranged from one parent, rather than both. (S5O-04165)

The Scottish Government currently defines an “estranged student” as a student who has no contact with their parents. That means that there is a permanent breakdown in the relationship between the student and their parents, with no sign of it being resolved in the future. We are committed to undertaking independent research to understand the numbers of estranged students in Scotland, the issues that they face and the support that they need. Our intention is to ensure that the exercise is as inclusive as possible with regard to the variations of estrangement.

I am glad to hear of the work that is being done in collaboration with Stand Alone to engage with the issues that estranged students face. As I understand it, currently, children who are raised by a single parent will still be means tested on the basis of the income of both parents and are given guidance to that effect by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland. However, in practice, students will often receive no financial support from the non-present parent. Will the Scottish Government research how the requirement affects that category of students, in terms of both finance and stress?

If Bill Kidd has examples of students who have been affected in that way, I would be keen to hear about them. I am also keen to ensure that the research that I spoke about, which I have recently announced, takes into account the circumstances that Bill Kidd outlined.

However, the amounts of bursary and student loans that a student can access from SAAS are based on the household income of their permanent home. Therefore, only the income of the single parent would be taken into account in such circumstances. That information is perhaps not reflected in Bill Kidd’s question, but I assure him that the advice that I have from SAAS is that only the income of the single parent would be taken into account when looking at the overall household income for the student. I will certainly write to Bill Kidd with any further clarity that is required on the issue.

As I said, we are keen to look at the issue. We have commissioned the independent research so that we can be better informed and take the right decisions.

I commend Bill Kidd for raising this important issue, which touches many families in Scotland.

I appreciate that the Government is doing work to analyse the scale of the situation, but how will the minister ensure that any additional funding that is made available will give sufficient support to pupils who have a single parent, given their relative lack of household income compared with that of students who have two parents? What additional support will the Government give to those pupils to ensure that they have the same opportunities and chances as those who are in two-parent families?

Charities such as Stand Alone, which effectively makes the case on behalf of estranged students, have outlined the barriers that estranged students face that are not faced by other students. The issue goes to the heart of this debate. The Scottish Government wants to knock down as many of those barriers as possible.

With regard to the circumstances that have been outlined by Jamie Greene, there are already arrangements in place for different situations at the moment. However, we are talking specifically about estranged students, and I have already outlined the criteria that SAAS looks at when assessing estranged students. At the moment, there are special arrangements in place to support estranged students, for instance, to ensure that they are not subject to the means-testing elements of other support that is available for independent students. Some account is taken of estranged students, but the purpose of the research is to understand all the issues that estranged students face and make sure that future decisions that we take are informed by that research.

Mental Health First Aid Training (School Staff)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that all school staff have access to mental health first aid training. (S5O-04166)

The mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is a priority for the Scottish Government. To ensure that all school staff have access to quality and effective resources and training, we have convened a mental health in schools working group. The group will develop a new mental health and wellbeing professional learning resource for primary, secondary and special school staff, which will provide the essential learning that is required to support children’s and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The training will be made available in addition to the current Scottish mental health first aid training programme.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to providing mental health first aid training is commendable, but the funding for it was first provided six years ago. Some time has passed, and it was targeted at the schools that were most in need, which meant that a huge majority of school staff were not able to access it.

When I requested information from the Government on how many staff had received the training, it stated that it did not hold that information and did not intend to include it in its forthcoming evaluation. Without knowing how many staff have even received mental health first aid training, does the Government really believe that it is going to meet the needs of our young people’s mental health in schools?

A variety of different interventions are being undertaken to support the mental health and wellbeing of young people in schools. Mr Greer will be aware that, with our local authority partners, we are taking forward the commitment to put in place a mental health counsellor in every secondary school in the country.

This morning, I was at Wester Hailes education centre. Before I left, I had the pleasure of meeting representatives of Place2Be, an organisation that is funded to provide mental health support to young people at the centre. It is a well-focused service that meets the needs of young people, and there are a range of interventions of that type in different parts of the country.

There is always a dilemma about how much data we gather and how much information we request of individual schools, which is where the information has to come from. I am mindful of the workload challenges that that puts on individual schools. However, I am confident that we have a range of measures in place that will provide the effective support that individuals are entitled to expect and that will be of advantage and of benefit to young people in Scotland’s schools.

A survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in Scotland found that nearly two thirds of teachers feel that their job has adversely affected their mental health in the past 12 months. Can the cabinet secretary tell the chamber how the Scottish Government expects teachers to go further in supporting the mental health of pupils when they already face increasing pressures and stress on their own mental health?

Local authorities have a duty of care to ensure that all staff, in whatever capacity, are well supported in the work that they undertake, and we expect local authorities to fulfil that obligation.

While committing to increase mental health first aid training in schools, the Government has said that it will increase the number of available counsellors in schools by September 2020. Does the cabinet secretary recognise that there are difficulties in assessing that target because of insufficient information on the number of counselling courses that are currently funded by education authorities? Will the cabinet secretary consider requesting from local authorities a breakdown of pupil equity funding spend to assist with that scrutiny and to ensure that that important expansion is successful?

I return to the question of how much data we collect on these issues. I am conscious that, were I to do exactly what Beatrice Wishart has asked me to do, I would be adding to the workload burden on individual schools. I am constantly pressed in this Parliament to minimise the workload burden that I place on individual schools.

I do not doubt the significance of the issue—I recognise it. We have agreed with local authorities how we will take forward the distribution of resources to support the expansion of the counselling service, and I look forward to that taking place. I am sure that it will be of benefit to young people in Scotland’s schools.

Question 6 has been withdrawn.

Questions 5 and 7 have not been lodged, which is not good practice, because it excludes other members from the ballot. The parties concerned should take heed.

Teacher Numbers

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the number of teachers in post. (S5O-04170)

Statistics that were published on 10 December 2019 show that the number of teachers has increased for the fourth year in a row, rising to 52,247 in 2019. There are now more teachers than at any time since 2009, and the ratio of pupils to teachers is at its lowest since 2013. The number of primary teachers is at its highest since 1980.

Although there has been a small increase in the number of teachers compared to last year, the pupil teacher ratio remains unchanged. What is the cabinet secretary doing to address the fact that the number of probationers who achieve a full-time teaching post has fallen by 7 per cent? That is the first time it has fallen since 2013.

Obviously, that is one of the fraught issues in workforce planning. We have to estimate the number of candidates whom it is responsible to bring into the education profession in order to provide suitable opportunities for individuals to seek employment and so that there is appropriate choice for public authorities in selecting individuals. That will never be an exact science, but we are trying to ensure that we have a flow of sufficient teachers joining the teaching profession.

I am very pleased that the number of teachers is at its highest since 2009. That is a very strong platform on which to deliver education for young people in Scotland. We continue to keep under review the intake into initial teacher education, and we will take decisions according to the presence of teachers in the teaching workforce.

There are two supplementary questions. I ask members to be brief.

The cabinet secretary knows that many—if not most—of the recent new teaching posts are on fixed-term contracts because they are funded by the pupil equity fund. Does he agree that that brings an undesirable uncertainty into the profession? What will he do to address that?

I accept that that brings an undesirable and unnecessary uncertainty. Pupil equity funding has been provided to schools on a sustained basis, Scottish attainment challenge resources have been provided for a longer period and, indeed, the timescale for pupil equity funding and the Scottish attainment challenge has been extended by a further year.

I would have thought it reasonable for local authorities to provide full-time contracts for the individuals affected, because there should be adequate turnover in the natural turnover of teaching staff in our education system to enable us to accommodate any strain that might come from that issue. However, these are matters for local authorities to take forward. The Parliament often advises me to restrain the direction that I issue to local authorities, but I gently encourage local authorities to deliver full-time contracts in those circumstances.

Local authority-level Opposition members often demand autonomy to decide how many teachers to provide. However, if the Scottish Government provides additional funding and Opposition councils cut teacher numbers, Tory MSPs such as Alexander Stewart are among the first to blame that on the Government. Does the cabinet secretary share my view that the Opposition cannot have it both ways?

Mr Gibson makes a very fair point, as he does on many things. It is important that the Government is providing resources to local authorities that have enabled us to get to a point at which we have the highest number of teachers in our schools in a decade. That is a really welcome and strong position. I am glad to have had such enthusiastic support from Mr Gibson in taking forward that policy position, and I look forward to that having a positive effect on education around the country.