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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 26 June 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Citizens Assembly of Scotland, Tackling Child Poverty (Progress Report), Tenement Maintenance, Transvaginal Mesh, Poverty and Inequality Commission, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Report


Portfolio Question Time

Fuel Poverty

To ask the Scottish Government how it is tackling fuel poverty. (S5O-03431)

Our Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill, which passed stage 3 earlier this month with unanimous support from across the chamber, requires us to publish a strategy for tackling fuel poverty that will set out the approach to tackling the four drivers of fuel poverty: use of energy, energy efficiency, income and energy prices.

We are already making progress. The latest figures show that Scotland’s fuel poverty rate was at its lowest since 2005-06, and we are continuing to invest significantly to support households. By the end of 2021, we will have allocated over £1 billion since 2009 to make homes warmer and cheaper to heat. That money has attracted hundreds of millions of pounds more in energy company contributions and funding from local authorities, landlords and individual householders. Through our award-winning home energy Scotland service, we are providing households with advice and support including benefits checks and energy supplier switching, where appropriate.

I thank the minister for that very full answer.

Will the minister join me in congratulating Knowes Housing Association, in Faifley, Clydebank, which received a visit from the board of the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets this week in recognition of its exceptional work in reducing poverty and embracing the use of renewables? It has installed solar roof panels on most of its properties.

I am delighted to join Gil Paterson in congratulating Knowes Housing Association on the great work that it has done in helping its tenants to pay less for their energy and in tackling climate change. It has been ahead of the game in its use of solar energy to decarbonise and reduce bills for its tenants, and I am glad that that is being recognised.

Along with confirmation of our new energy efficiency standard for social housing, details were provided earlier today on the second round of our decarbonisation fund. A further £3.5 million is available to social landlords to invest in projects that will improve energy efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. Those are projects with outcomes just like those that Mr Paterson mentioned in relation to Knowes Housing Association.

The £1 billion of investment that the minister mentioned is not to be scoffed at. However, the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland has stated that the Government’s committed funding

“falls well short of what is required for a National Infrastructure Priority, and to meet climate change and fuel poverty targets.”

I acknowledge the investment that has been made, but does the minister accept that, if we are going to tackle fuel poverty, we need to see much greater investment?

As Mr Rowley says, £1 billion is not to be sniffed at. We need to use all the resources at our disposal to get the biggest bang for our buck in energy efficiency. I am very pleased that, today, we have announced another £3.5 million for decarbonisation, which will be available to social housing landlords.

This is not just about the amount of money that the Government is spending; it is also about using money from other sources to get the best possible outcomes for energy efficiency not just in the domestic sector but in the commercial sector.

As the minister will be aware, I warmly welcome the passing of the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill. Achieving its ambitions will, of course, be driven very much by the fuel poverty strategy. Will the minister update Parliament on the timing of the completion of that strategy? Will he explain how Government resources and resources that are leveraged in will be used to target extreme fuel poverty in remote and rural and island areas?

We will publish the fuel poverty strategy in 2020, and it will set out how we will work towards our target by taking actions across all four drivers of fuel poverty. In the meantime, we will continue to provide significant levels of support through our home energy efficiency programmes. As Mr McArthur is well aware, Orkney and the islands benefit to a greater degree per head of population than anywhere else through those programmes, and rightly so. We do not have to wait until the strategy per se is in place. As we move forward, we need to look at how we target those who are in extreme fuel poverty, as is outlined in the bill as passed, to ensure that folks such as Mr McArthur’s constituents benefit as soon as possible from the resourcing to tackle that.

Empty Homes

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the number of empty homes. (S5O-03432)

Long-term empty homes are a wasted resource at a time when we need more homes across Scotland. We will therefore continue to fund the work of the Scottish empty homes partnership with more than £1.2 million across three years to provide advice and support. Last year, the partnership brought 1,128 homes back into use, which was a rise of more than 300, thanks to the work of dedicated empty homes officers. It is essential that all local authorities see and adopt the benefits of that approach.

More can be done. We are reviewing our empty homes policy to maximise the number of homes that are brought back into use. In that review, I will carefully consider the Local Government and Communities Committee’s inquiry into empty homes.

Since 2010, only 4,340 homes have been brought back into use. At the current rate of progress, we will have to wait 173 years until all the empty homes in Scotland are in use. Local authorities have a role, but surely the minister must recognise that national leadership is key, that legislation might be required and that current funding may be insufficient to address the fact that more than 83,000 homes in Scotland lie empty and unused while we have a homelessness crisis.

As I said in my initial answer, 1,128 homes were brought back into use last year thanks to the successful partnership that the Government has with Shelter Scotland and local authorities. I pay tribute to Shaheena Din, who has been at the forefront in dealing with the issue. My disappointment lies with local authorities that have yet to bring empty homes officers into play. In Ms Johnstone’s region, Lothian, we have seen little progress being made by councils. The councils that have made the investment in empty homes officers, from Dumfries and Galloway to Orkney, are seeing huge benefits from their work. I appeal to all local authorities to put in place empty homes officers.

In terms of national versus local responsibility—

Succinctly, please, minister.

We will look at national versus local responsibility during the review, and I will continue to keep the Parliament updated.

Local Authorities (Engagement with Community Councils)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to encourage local authorities to engage with community councils. (S5O-03433)

Local authorities have statutory oversight of community councils under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and are responsible for engaging with the community councils in their local areas. To support that work, the Scottish Government engages collaboratively with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Improvement Service and community council liaison officers to support community councils and ensure that their voices are heard.

In my constituency, East Dunbartonshire Council rarely engages with community councils, and their membership is declining in several areas due to the perception that community councils are not heard. Does the minister agree that local authorities should make every effort to work with community councils, which are representatives of grass-roots matters in every constituency, and that community councils should be valued much more than they are?

I am aware of some of the local issues in Strathkelvin and Bearsden, but I understand that East Dunbartonshire Council’s community planning team is working with its community councils to resolve some of those issues. I agree that community councils have a really important part to play in local democracy—they bridge the gap between local authorities and communities and help to make sure that public bodies are aware of the opinions and needs of the communities that they represent.

As I said, local authorities have statutory oversight of their community councils and are also required to consult community councils about planning applications and licensing matters, so community councils are absolutely fundamental for local democracy. I hope that the community planning team helps to resolve some of the frustrations that Rona Mackay described. If she requires it, I am happy to engage with her further on the matter and, more generally, on the local governance review to make sure that we hear the voices of community councils through that consultation work.

Fife Council (Town Centre Regeneration)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Fife Council on the action that it is taking to regenerate town centres across Fife. (S5O-03434)

The Scottish Government has regular discussions with Fife Council about what action it is taking to regenerate town centres across Fife. That has included its recent allocation of town centre fund investment of £4.3 million across towns in the authority area.

We want our towns and town centres to be vibrant, creative, enterprising and accessible. It is essential that we support town centres to become more diverse and sustainable, as they face the challenge of changing and evolving retail patterns. We will invest to deliver inclusive growth so that town and neighbourhood centres can be thriving places for communities to live in, work in and enjoy.

Several funds are available to councils and communities to be used for community projects, regeneration and conversion of retail properties to living accommodation. Will the cabinet secretary clarify whether any thought has been given to a multiyear central fund that would encompass all those initiatives, and which would include capital and revenue elements?

I absolutely agree about the importance of multiyear funding in offering security to organisations. That is the approach that we have taken through our new investing in communities fund. I am happy to engage with David Torrance on his ideas for the funding model that he described, and to explore imaginative ways of converting retail properties into living accommodation. We understand that the multiyear funding model for communities is absolutely essential. Although there are no plans for a model such as he described, I am certainly happy to take on board his ideas and to build on the work that we have done through the investing in communities fund.

In its report, “Hollow high streets: empty council owned commercial properties”, the TaxPayers Alliance found that Scotland has 1,146 “vacant council-owned commercial properties” that cost £31.8 million to maintain. What measures will the Scottish Government put in place to encourage councils to bring those properties back into use, so that they can stop haemorrhaging precious funds that they require, because that is the highest number in any region of the United Kingdom?

We continue to work and engage with local authorities in partnership. I have outlined some of the funding that we have given to local authorities through the town centre fund investment.

Ultimately, I think that we agree across all the political parties that we want our town centres to be vibrant. If there are things that we can do to ensure that gap sites in town centres can be filled, we will absolutely continue to have that engagement. We know that everyone, regardless of where they are in the country, wants their high streets to be vibrant, flourishing places for people to enjoy and spend their money in, in order to create the good places in which we want to live.

On top of the town centre fund that I outlined are a huge number of other funding streams that we work with local authorities on delivering. There is the regeneration capital grant fund and a whole host of other means by which we want to ensure that we have good places and spaces to live in.

Business improvement districts are needed to regenerate our town centres, but we see too many BIDs being controlled by big businesses that are making controversial decisions on projects such as the landtrain in Stirling or, in the case of Dunfermline, shutting down the bid completely.

Does the minister share my concern that BIDs do not always act in the wider community interest? What reforms to membership can be put in place to make them more genuinely representative of the communities that they serve?

I am aware of some of the BID issues in the Mid Scotland and Fife region. However, we should not look at BIDs in the negative way in which Mark Ruskell has contextualised them. BIDs continue to be key platforms for promoting local economic development, which is why we continue to support the good work that is moving forward.

Work is also being done on evolving the BID model to ensure a much more community-based focus, so that the views of people and businesses in a district can be fully represented. There are lots of great examples of people, communities and businesses working together to ensure that we create the thriving town centres that we all want across the country.

Mark Ruskell can write to me with ideas that he would like to take forward as we further evolve the BID model. We want to ensure that we receive representative viewpoints through the BID process and support people who continue to champion BIDs in town centres across the country, so that we create flourishing and vibrant town centres.

Population Shift (Housing)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of reports of a shift in the population from the west coast to the east over the next few years to access better housing. (S5O-03435)

The Scottish Government has established a ministerial task group to consider Scotland’s future population challenges, and to develop new solutions to address demographic and population change. The task group will look at a number of factors, including housing.

The cabinet secretary will know about the forecast long-term depopulation trend for Argyll and Bute. Given that the recently announced task group, which the cabinet secretary just mentioned, is made up of only Scottish ministers, will she reassure members that the group will consult widely and seek expert external opinion?

I am glad that Donald Cameron welcomes the fact that we are looking at the issue that he described. He is right to point out population movement from the west to the east.

The task group is chaired by Fiona Hyslop. I am sure that, as it evolves, it will ensure that people and organisations can contribute their thoughts and views. The work that Fiona Hyslop is doing is aligned with the work that I am taking forward on developing a new housing system after 2021.

We will ensure that we are very consultative. We have already engaged with a huge number of expert groups and with the whole housing system, in its fullest sense. If Donald Cameron wants to raise particular issues in relation to the area that he represents that he thinks should be fundamental to the housing review, he should get in touch with me. I am happy to engage with him to ensure that our housing system works for Scotland in its widest sense, and that it addresses population issues such as he has articulated.

Inverclyde Council (Housing)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Inverclyde Council to discuss housing provision. (S5O-03436)

Scottish Government officials’ last meeting with Inverclyde Council to discuss housing provision was on 5 June. Scottish Government officials meet local authorities regularly throughout the year to discuss housing provision.

Does the minister agree that, given that there is already strain on local infrastructure, as well as genuine safety concerns from the public, Inverclyde Council should reconsider its local development plan proposals to grind Kirn Drive, George Road and Larkfield Road to a halt? I would be more than happy to show the minister the proposals, if he wishes to visit Inverclyde in the summer.

Given that Inverclyde Council’s local development plan is before Scottish ministers, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. However, generally speaking, Scottish planning policy states that development should be aligned with transport infrastructure, and plans and decisions should

“take account of the implications of development proposals on traffic, patterns of travel and road safety.”

Third Sector (Public Services Contracts)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the third sector regarding the impact on it of the findings of the report, “Handing Back Contracts: Exploring the rising trend in third sector provider withdrawal from the social care market”, and its ability to contract a range of public services from local authorities. (S5O-03437)

We know that change is needed in social care support. That is why, on 12 June, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport launched a national programme with Councillor Currie, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ spokesperson for health and social care, to support local reform of social care support. The programme is being jointly led with COSLA, whose members are responsible for delivering and procuring those vital public services.

The Scottish Government is in regular dialogue with the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland and Scottish Care on a range of issues, including contracting, and they have had a central role in shaping the work that is required to improve the support and care that people require.

It is good to talk, but perhaps the cabinet secretary will tell us exactly what measures the Government has in mind to address that growing trend, which threatens the sustainability of the social care model around our country.

It is good to talk, but the Government is absolutely not just about talking. We have followed reform of social care with coherent action. Integration authorities manage £9 billion of funding that was previously managed separately by health boards and councils. We have increased our package of investment in social care and integration so that it exceeds £700 million, which underlines our commitment to supporting older people and disabled people, and supports the commitment for the living wage to be paid.

We are committed to attracting and retaining the right people, and to raising the status of social care as a profession. I could go on to list a host of other actions that the Government has taken to support social care and the integration process, which are backed not just by warm words but by significant investment and significant progress.

I will squeeze in question 8.

Council Services (Use of Reserves)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to “Local Government Revenue Provision Outturns and Budget Estimates”, which records councils using reserves to keep services running. (S5O-03438)

The Scottish Government has provided local government with a real-terms funding increase in 2018-19 and 2019-20. We welcome the fact that that is reflected in the provisional outturns and budget estimates, which confirm that net revenue spending by local authorities increased by £292 million—or 2.4 per cent—in 2018-19. Net revenue and capital budget estimates have also increased by £497 million and £730 million respectively in 2019-20. Decisions to use reserves are—rightly—councils’ responsibility to take, when it is prudent and sustainable to do so.

I think that we can all agree that, if councils have to spend from their reserves to provide everyday services, something is wrong. What assistance will the cabinet secretary offer local authorities to ensure that everyday services are funded through sustainable means and not from reserves?

How it manages its day-to-day business and allocate its resources best is up to each local authority. The best advice that I can give to local authorities is that at least it was this Government, and not one that is led by Alison Harris’s party, that took the budget spending decisions. If we had followed the Conservatives’ tax plans, Falkirk Council’s budget, for instance, would be £14.4 million less. The Government’s decisions are going a long way to support the policies and processes of local authorities across the country, which are better off for it.

Devolved Benefits (Face-to-face Assessments)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made in developing new face-to-face assessments for new devolved benefits. (S5O-03439)

The consultation on disability assistance in Scotland, which closed on 28 May, set out the Scottish Government’s proposals on face-to-face assessments. The process of designing Social Security Scotland’s assessment service is under way and will be shaped by consultation analysis, engagement with experience panels and input from stakeholders.

We are committed to providing individuals with person-centred assessments that are delivered by suitably qualified assessors. Individuals will have greater choice and control over their assessment and will be treated with dignity, fairness and respect throughout.

Will the Scottish Government give an assurance that the recruitment of mental health specialists for face-to-face assessments will not adversely impact on recruitment streams for other policy areas that require such specialists? Will every effort be made to avoid any such adverse impacts?

As we move forward with our workforce planning for Social Security Scotland and for the assessments, we are mindful of the need to work not just for social security but across the Government and of the need to discuss such matters with the health directorate and with professional bodies, such as those for medicine. That work continues and I assure John Scott that we will be mindful of such issues as we undertake the final phases of planning for the disability assistance packages.

Many of us are aware of the often cruel and unnecessary assessments that the Department for Work and Pensions carries out. We have a chance to do things differently in Scotland with our new social security powers. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that, when assessments are needed, they will be delivered through Social Security Scotland and never through the private sector? Will assessments be flexible and be offered at a time and in a place that suit claimants?

I am happy to confirm again that the assessments and any case management will be delivered by Social Security Scotland and that there will be no role for the private sector in that. It is very important that, as we develop our system, we listen to the feedback from those who have gone through the United Kingdom system. They describe it as having created stress and trauma sometimes for those who are the most vulnerable in our society. That is exactly why we have to listen to that feedback and ensure that we do not repeat the same problems in our system. We are very clear that we will have a system that will allow people to be seen at a place and time that is convenient for them. That is the very least that they can hope for, but I reiterate that we are determined to reduce significantly the requirement for face-to-face assessments by using our case managers to ensure that we get the right decision with the right information before having to get to a face-to-face assessment at all.

Disability Assistance (Children and Young People)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making with preparing to commence the delivery of disability assistance for children and young people. (S5O-03440)

We have made significant progress with the preparations for commencing the delivery of disability assistance for children and young people and are on track to deliver by the summer of next year, in line with our commitments. The development of the application process is well under way and it is being designed with the people of Scotland who are engaging in testing our designs on a frequent basis to ensure that it is as easy as possible for people to apply for disability assistance in Scotland.

The motability scheme currently provides people who have disabilities with more independence and employability opportunities and it reduces social isolation. If we are creating an equivalent Scottish motability scheme, what plans are in place to ensure that there will be the necessary numbers of cars, scooters or powered wheelchairs in place for those who need them?

Murdo Fraser has raised a very important issue and I am pleased to have the opportunity to provide reassurance on that aspect. We are ensuring that the motability assistance that is known through the United Kingdom system will be available. It is important that we do that, because the system has, as Murdo Fraser detailed, significant positive benefits for the individuals involved. We need to ensure that the same level of service that those people have been used to under the motability system is available to them once we have the devolution of the disability assistance benefit in Scotland. I hope that that provides Murdo Fraser and members in the chamber with some reassurance that we are determined to provide that service as the benefits are devolved.

Universal Credit (Payment of Housing Element)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Social Security Committee’s recommendation that the housing element of universal credit should be paid directly to a landlord by default, with the option for a tenant to opt out. (S5O-03441)

As part of the development of the universal credit Scottish choices in 2017, we worked directly with people in receipt of universal credit. The feedback from that was that people wished to have a choice about whether or not to have the housing costs in their universal credit award paid directly to their landlord. The evidence so far shows that almost 50 per cent of the people who have been offered the choices have taken up one or both. In other words, they have decided for themselves whether it works better for them to have their housing costs paid directly to their landlord.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the Scottish Association of Landlords welcomed the report last week and, in particular, backed the move to pay the housing element directly to landlords as the default. The cabinet secretary knows that that can reduce the risk for landlords and can secure tenancies by preventing arrears, and that it was backed overwhelmingly by those who gave evidence to the Social Security Committee and by the committee itself. Will the cabinet secretary support that recommendation and commit to allowing the money to go straight to landlords to ensure that Scotland’s powers are used to the maximum effect to support and protect tenants?

I appreciate where Jackie Baillie is coming from on the issue. However, as I said in my original answer, when we asked people who are directly in receipt of universal credit what they wanted to happen, they asked to have the choice. It is important that, as we build a system that works for the people who receive a service, their asks and requests are taken on board. I fully appreciate that the Scottish Association of Landlords and others, including the Social Security Committee, have asked us to look at paying the money directly to landlords.

As I said to the committee when the Scottish Government’s response was being produced, it is important that we listen to the requests of individuals—not just those of landlords—and try to balance such judgments. We took that decision to ensure that the choice lies with the individual initially. A review of UC choices is coming up at the end of this year, which it might be useful to look at. However, when we initially developed the project, the direct response was that people wanted to make that choice themselves.

The report also showed that the five-week delay in claimants’ receiving their first payments of universal credit has greatly increased rent arrears. Ineffective communication and poor exchange of information on the part of the Department for Work and Pensions has inevitably had a human cost. Does the cabinet secretary think that that is yet further evidence of the mishandling of universal credit under the Tory United Kingdom Government? Does she agree that it is unsustainable for the Scottish Government to continue to mitigate that Government’s welfare cuts, which will reduce social security spending ability in Scotland by £3.7 billion?

Shona Robison is right to highlight again the impact of the delays—which I may say are of a minimum of five weeks—in UC claimants receiving their first payments. As she also pointed out, that greatly increases rent arrears and has a severe impact on people, in terms of not only the lack of money but the stress that they go through at a very difficult time. Research conducted by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities suggests that, between March 2016 and March 2018, rent arrears increased by an average of 26 per cent across all UC full-service local authority areas, which is highly concerning—not just for the individuals who are involved but for the landlords, too.

The Scottish Government is doing all that we can to mitigate the worst excesses of the UK Government’s policies—for example, in 2019-20 we will spend more than £125 million in doing so. However, as Shona Robison rightly pointed out, the scale of the challenge—some £3.7 billion—is such that it would be simply unsustainable for any Government to be able to mitigate it fully.

Carers Allowance Supplement (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn)

4. Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how many carers are in receipt of the carers allowance supplement in the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency. (S5O-03442)

Figures are not available for individual constituencies, but I can say that 13,475 carers in Glasgow are currently in receipt of the carers allowance supplement. This week, the third payment of the supplement since we introduced it in September 2018 was made to carers in Scotland. As a result of the supplement, carers who are eligible for both payments in 2019-20 will receive an extra £452.40, in recognition of the significant contribution that they make.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government will also be providing extra financial support for young carers in Scotland, which will be the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. How will the cabinet secretary ensure that all those who qualify for the young carers grant will receive it? Does she agree that it is important that they do so, given the huge contribution that young carers make?

I absolutely agree with Bob Doris that young carers make an invaluable contribution to our society, which is why we are determined to do all that we can to maximise the take-up of the young carers grant. As is the case for all payments made by Social Security Scotland, bespoke communications packages will drive the take-up strategy for the grant. Those communications will have to be balanced for the purposes of the grant, to ensure that we target them directly at young carers themselves and their families and friends who support them, and the application form will be available in multiple formats to cater for all disability and accessibility needs.

Carers and their organisations would like to see changes being made to the carers allowance, such as the removal of the restriction on studying, and changes to the earnings threshold and the restrictions on the number of people being cared for. Will the cabinet secretary set out the Government’s ambition for changes to the carers allowance when the agency arrangements with the Department for Work and Pensions come to an end?

We will ensure that we will hold a full public consultation to discuss all the possible changes that could be made and that people want to see to the carers allowance. We are delivering that through an agency agreement with the DWP. Again, the reason for that was to ensure that the first action that the Scottish Government took through the new Social Security Scotland agency—within its first couple of weeks of opening—was to deliver the carers allowance supplement directly to carers, ensuring that we got money into carers’ pockets as quickly as possible.

Wave 2 Benefits (Cost of Delivery)

To ask the Scottish Government what reviews it has carried out of the cost of delivering and implementing wave 2 benefits. (S5O-03443)

The social security programme-level business case is currently being reviewed and will be finalised shortly. We recently completed an internal review of the finance function of the social security programme, the focus of which was on ensuring that our financial arrangements are evolving in line with the complexity of the programme. An update on implementation costs will be provided to Parliament in due course.

Could we have a more precise timetable for when the update will be provided to Parliament?

As I hope that Gordon Lindhurst appreciates, we have only very recently closed the consultation on disability assistance. We need to analyse the responses to that consultation, because the policy decisions that will flow from it might have implications for the reviews that he spoke about. It is important that the analysis work is completed so that it can feed into the review work, which will ensure that the update is as comprehensive as possible.

Older People’s Services (Dumfries and Galloway Council)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that services for older people in Dumfries and Galloway are facing an in-year deficit of £6.85 million. (S5O-03444)

That is a matter for Dumfries and Galloway Council. However, working with Dumfries and Galloway integration joint board and NHS Dumfries and Galloway, the council is committed to developing a recovery plan that systematically reduces the deficit without reducing capacity by redesigning services and delivery and investing in quality, sustainable care.

It is not unusual for integration joint boards to begin the year with a variance against budget and for that to reduce throughout the year as savings plans are developed and expenditure patterns become clearer.

Over the past 20 years, Dumfries and Galloway’s population of people aged 75 and over has risen by 43 per cent. Over the next decade, that population is projected to rise by a further 28 per cent. With demands for services increasing and major problems with the recruitment of the required staff for the region, how will the Scottish Government support Dumfries and Galloway’s health and social care partnership in laying out its plans to continue to provide and protect vital services and to make them on a par with those of the rest of Scotland?

That is a really interesting question, which, as Minister for Older People and Equalities, I take a huge interest in. We have an ageing population that will demand more services as we move through the next few years.

On the specifics of Dumfries and Galloway and the progress that has been made in the integration of its health and social care services, all health and social care partnerships completed a self-assessment on their current position on 15 May 2019, and those assessments will go some way towards helping us understand what the pressures are.

Ensuring that individuals at home and in homely settings get quality, sustainable care requires a whole-systems approach, and we are working really hard to ensure that that happens. The self-assessment approach that is being taken by joint integration boards will provide us with information that we will plug into the work that we are doing on the older people strategy and other strategies that work alongside it so that, in the future, we can ensure that we provide the best care for all our older people and the best support to their representative organisations.

In Finlay Carson’s constituency and around Scotland, tens of thousands of Scots who are over 75 will be left worse off as a result of the United Kingdom Government scrapping the free television licence. Does the minister agree that, after years of Tory austerity, the last thing that our older people need is more money being taken out of their pockets by the Tories?

Annabelle Ewing will not be surprised that I totally and utterly agree with her. When I attended the Scottish Pensioners Forum conference just two weeks ago, that was a hot topic on the agenda.

The UK Government has shirked its responsibility to support older people and pushed it on to the BBC, which is an absolute abdication of its responsibility in regard to a welfare policy. The plan to link the TV licence to pension credit will fail to help many vulnerable people, because many do not claim it. The policy is an attack on our older and most vulnerable people, many of whom are already socially isolated. Perhaps the two prime ministerial candidates should make the commitment to reverse the disgraceful decision that was taken on TV licences for over-75s.

Loneliness Among Older People (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support third sector groups to help address loneliness among older people. (S5O-03445)

I am delighted to tell Miles Briggs—no doubt he will have already realised how delighted I am—that we have launched a connected Scotland, our national strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building social connections. The strategy recognises the vital contribution of the third sector in supporting all vulnerable groups, including older people, in tackling these issues.

There are a number of third sector organisations on the national implementation group, which I am chairing. The group meets this week and we are looking forward to working on the strategy at that meeting. Many of the organisations that deliver those services, including the Scottish Pensioners Forum and Age Scotland, will be part of the implementation group. We are also supporting a number of third sector organisations that do vital work in this area, including through giving funding to Age Scotland for its Silver Line Scotland service and its shed effect scheme.

I welcome the publication of the connected Scotland strategy. Can the minister outline to Parliament how local groups can help to build capacity? Here in my region of Lothian, for example, we have groups such as Vintage Vibes, Health in Mind and Contact the Elderly. How will the strategy work to help them to reach out to more people who are affected by loneliness?

That is a key theme of the work of the implementation group. When we compiled the strategy, many local groups gave us their thoughts on how they can take part in the process. We know absolutely that none of this will work out there in the community unless the community is involved and has been brought into it. We have invited them all to take part. I have been on loads of visits in order to understand what those groups think about this. The member will understand how important that is.

I also chair the older people’s strategic action forum. Alongside the social isolation and loneliness strategy, we have the older people strategy, the key themes of which are about how we ensure that communities can provide and sustain services, and that services are made by communities for those communities. A perfect example is the football memory scheme, which celebrated its 10th anniversary recently and which I visited last week. It has gone into partnership with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to network all the work that it does on football memories, which has a great impact on older people.

If Miles Briggs has organisations in his area that want to talk to me about the issue, I ask him to please let me know, because the more ideas I hear, the more we can reflect them in a policy that meets the demands of the people.

My apologies to Liam Kerr. We do not have time for any more questions on that portfolio.

Glasgow Airport Ltd (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when the finance secretary last met Glasgow Airport Ltd to discuss the economy and fair work. (S5O-03447)

I had a telephone discussion with Glasgow Airport Ltd on 7 May to discuss matters relating to my role as Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work. I also attended a meeting with Glasgow Airport Ltd on 17 June, in relation to constituency business.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the on-going industrial action at Glasgow airport, where hundreds of workers, many of whom are our constituents, are striking for fair pay and to stop the closure of their pension scheme.

Unite the union members are understandably frustrated that an airport that is posting pre-tax profits of over £90 million will not invest a fair share of those profits in its workforce and bring this dispute to an end. They are also concerned about reports in the Sunday Post that the use of strike-breaking labour is putting public safety at risk, with 95 suspicious items slipping through security on each of the first two days of strike action.

What will the Scottish Government do to help to resolve the dispute and to ensure that airport workers and the travelling public are kept safe?

Safety and security in aviation are absolutely paramount; there should be a focus on that and no standards should be lowered.

Mr Bibby is aware, of course, that the Scottish Government does not have a role in the dispute. I understand that there have been talks. I hope that those talks will continue and that a resolution can be found, to the satisfaction of all, not least the workforce, so that operations can return to normal and issues can be addressed. Although the Scottish Government does not have a role in this and is not a party to the dispute, I am happy to engage as cabinet secretary if and when that is appropriate.

If Glasgow airport is to grow at the rate at which it plans to and employ the increased number of people that it wants to, that will put severe strains on infrastructure. Airport connectivity must be improved. The cabinet secretary will be aware of the Glasgow connectivity commission’s recommendations. Will the Scottish Government reply formally to any of those recommendations? How will the cabinet secretary help to support growth and jobs in the Renfrewshire area and beyond?

Of course, that will be done within the bounds of the decent standards of politicians and the ministerial code of conduct. Glasgow airport is in my constituency and resources will be allocated as appropriate rather than the airport being given preferential treatment because the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work represents the area.

I agree with the underlying premise of the comments and questions. Do I agree that we should ensure that the airport has the best possible connectivity and infrastructure? Yes, I agree. The city deal partners are considering the issues in relation to the best form of surface access. The resources from the city deal are still there and there is still a timetable that can be delivered on. The work of the Glasgow connectivity commission is also interesting.

To do all that work would entail rather a substantial price tag. As such, what can be delivered should be considered methodically. Some of the recommendations are different from projects that are under way. Proper analysis is required, but it is more appropriate for transport and infrastructure ministers to respond than the finance secretary. Nonetheless, I of course want to ensure that the infrastructure is there to grow our economy and to ensure that the airport has a dynamic and successful future. I certainly pledge to undertake that role.

Shared Prosperity Fund

To ask the Scottish Government whether the United Kingdom Government has provided it with details about the shared prosperity fund, which it claims will replace European structural funds, post-Brexit. (S5O-03448)

Despite pressing the UK Government on its proposals for the shared prosperity fund, and stressing that any new arrangements must be co-designed with the devolved Administrations, no details have been provided. As such, we continue to develop our own thinking on future funding arrangements, and we will engage with lead partners, delivery bodies, individuals and communities across Scotland to inform our thoughts. To enable that, I confirmed this morning that we will undertake our own consultation—which will be overseen by an external steering group—to develop a coherent and robust position to ensure that the best interests of Scotland are met.

In response to a question from Patricia Gibson MP, the Prime Minister said that European structural funds

“will indeed be replaced by the shared prosperity fund ... The Government will be consulting before the end of the year”.—[Official Report, House of Commons, 5 December 2018; Vol 650, c 890.]

That referred to the end of last year. What are the implications of a delay in taking forward that new fund?

The Scottish Government has not been consulted on the issue. The lack of consultation and subsequent delay have the potential to have significant social and economic impact on local communities and projects, including third sector groups across Scotland that receive support through the current European structural funds programme. The Scottish Government, Wales and Northern Ireland must be equal partners in co-designing any system to replace European funding after Brexit. The UK Government must not impose a system on the nations of the UK.

The Industrial Communities Alliance said that the allocation of the funds within devolved nations should be a matter for devolved Governments. Will the minister share with us what the allocation formula would be were the Scottish Government in charge of that fund?

The Scottish Government’s position is that the amount that comes to Scotland under the new shared prosperity fund should be absolutely no less than what we currently receive under UK programmes. That is our position, and we are pushing the UK Government to confirm that there will be no detriment or loss of funding for Scotland under the shared prosperity fund.


To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made since August 2018 on increasing the number of foundation, modern and graduate apprenticeships that are offered and taken up. (S5O-03449)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests regarding apprenticeships.

Official statistics that were published on 11 June 2019 show that there were 28,191 new apprenticeship starts in 2018-19, including 921 graduate apprenticeships. That was an increase from 2017-18 when there were 27,145 modern apprenticeship starts, which represented an increase from the year before when there were 26,262 such starts and 278 graduate apprenticeship starts.

Work is under way to expand the offer by providing 29,000 new starts in 2019-20, including up to 1,300 graduate apprenticeships. In 2018, 2,600 foundation apprenticeship opportunities were made available across 12 frameworks, and 5,000 opportunities are available for 2019.

I thank the minister for that answer. Last month, the Scottish Conservatives set out our policy to introduce a skills participation age, which would make it law that everyone up to the age of 18 has to go to school, college or university, or, if they want to start work, to do so through a structured apprenticeship or traineeship. The think tank Institute for Public Policy Research Scotland backs that policy to close the massive worker shortage by 2030. Will the minister clarify whether the Scottish National Party Government will support such a policy?

We will do what we are continuing to do in delivering success for young people. In the labour market in Scotland, we now have record levels of employment, a record low in unemployment and better performance in relation to youth unemployment. We have the upward trajectory of modern apprenticeships, to which I have just referred. We have record levels of positive destinations. That suggests to me that the system that we have is working well. Of course, we seek to refine and improve it and we will continue to do that through the developing the young workforce agenda, the Scottish learner journey review, the future skills action plan and the national retraining partnership, which I will be taking forward.

Question 4 was not lodged.

Income Tax (Higher-rate Threshold)

To ask the Scottish Government what implications would arise under the fiscal framework if the United Kingdom Government made a significant rise in the threshold for the higher rate of income tax. (S5O-03451)

The net impact on the Scottish budget will depend on how any tax cut is funded. All else being equal, a reduction in income tax receipts for the rest of the UK would result in a positive adjustment to the Scottish block grant. However, if it was funded through spending cuts, there could be a negative knock-on effect through Barnett. I strongly caution the incoming Chancellor of the Exchequer against using any reserved tax increases in Scotland to fund tax cuts for the rest of ther UK rich.

Its advocates have promoted that policy on the basis of the spurious concept of fiscal drag, which ignores the fact that people will be paying more tax only if they are earning higher incomes. If it is implemented, it will inevitably lead to more pressure from people with a similar mindset calling for reductions in taxation for high earners in Scotland. Does the cabinet secretary agree that we must be resolute in saying that we will not move one inch in that direction? For example, any MP or MSP who advocates that policy could be fairly accused of naked self-interest.

MPs will make the decision on national insurance contributions and the RUK income tax system. Because of the fiscal framework, the UK fiscal and tax policies will impact on ours. However, I agree with Patrick Harvie that, at this or any point in time, it is perverse to focus on tax cuts for the richest in society in order to stimulate the Tory membership rather than to stimulate the economy. We set out four tests on income tax policy, which I would apply to future decisions. They will not listen to us on any matter but I urge any incoming Tory chancellor to resist the urge just to pander to the Tory membership and, instead, make tax decisions that are right for the country. Surely, such decisions would support a more progressive regime with a fairer system of income taxation that could also invest in the public services and in the fairness of our country.

The cabinet secretary talks about the Tory membership, but today, according to the Fraser of Allander institute, the Scottish National Party’s £500 million tax raid on hard-working Scottish families has not raised an extra penny for public services. It has all disappeared into the black hole that has been created by income tax receipts growing more slowly than was expected. What will the cabinet secretary do about that problem? With the powers at his disposal, how will he fill that gap?

I have addressed the issues that we have and the figures that must be reconciled at committee and through the medium-term financial strategy. Whether it is cyclical or structural, deepening inequality across the whole UK is driving faster wage growth for those at the top of the system. Even under that circumstance, it is perverse for a prospective Tory Prime Minister to be looking at how to give further tax cuts to the richest in society.

In relation to the figures that have been outlined, the benefit of having a devolved income tax system is that we can make income tax fairer, as we have in Scotland, where 99 per cent of people are paying less tax in the current financial year than they were in the previous financial year. Fifty-five per cent of taxpayers are paying less in Scotland than they would pay if they lived south of the border. If we had followed the previous tax position of the Tories, it would have cost public services half a billion pounds, whereas our tax policies will raise that extra half a billion pounds.

Half a billion pounds would have been taken from Scotland’s public services to pay for the most recent round of tax cuts that the Tories proposed, never mind the next round of tax cuts for the richest in society. As always, I will balance Scotland’s finances in a competent and prudent way.

Given the shortfall in tax revenue of £1 billion that the Scottish Fiscal Commission has forecast and the potential impact on the Scottish budget, it is disappointing that the cabinet secretary’s medium-term financial strategy has been described as “inadequate”. Does he not think that it is time that he rewrote the financial strategy to take account of the tax forecasts and to outline how the Government will meet the key policy targets of funding public services, tackling poverty and reducing climate change emissions?

The medium-term financial strategy takes account of the SFC’s taxation forecasts, and it will do so again at the next fiscal event—the Scottish budget—at which point we will set out how we will approach the reconciliation issues and some of the other issues that James Kelly referenced. I gave evidence to the Finance and Constitution Committee on the medium-term financial strategy. I think that I was there for about two hours, and I would happily have stayed longer if members such as Mr Kelly and Mr Fraser had had further questions.

What about answers?

I know that Mr Kelly and Mr Fraser liked the answers so much that they will be able to hear them again at some point in the future, but I probably do not have time to do them justice here and now.

I have outlined that the options that we have in relation to income tax reconciliation include looking at the wider financial envelope, which is driven by UK tax and fiscal policy—the Barnett settlement for Scotland still makes up the majority of the funding that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government have—and the borrowing powers for forecast error. Members should bear it in mind that the income tax reconciliation figures are about forecast error. Going forward, we look at how we can grow our economy. The SFC’s report and the Fraser of Allander institute’s commentary say that the greatest challenge and threat to Scotland’s economy at the moment is Brexit. If we are to grow our economy, Brexit needs to be averted. That would lift the overall economic forecast for Scotland.

We will take a range of other spending decisions, not least on inequality and poverty. We are getting on with the day job while others are totally misdirecting their efforts towards the Brexit catastrophe.

Third Sector (Value)

To ask the Scottish Government what the value of the third sector is to the economy. (S5O-03452)

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations estimates that the third sector contributed more than £5.5 billion to the Scottish economy in 2016-17. The sector employs more than 107,000 people. In addition, the value of formal volunteering is estimated to be around £2.2 billion per year.

Given the third sector’s significant value to the Scottish economy, which the minister has just noted, how is investment in the third sector evaluated? Does she agree that further investment in the third sector would be cost effective and would further benefit the Scottish economy?

I agree that we need to support and fund the third sector, and the Scottish Government is already doing that—the budget for the third sector in 2019-20 has been set at £24.9 million. New investment is necessary because of the great work that the third sector does in tackling poverty and mitigating United Kingdom Government welfare changes, which has been particularly important over the past few years.

We will continue to invest in the third sector, we will continue to commit to providing multiyear funding and we will continue to invest in the investing in communities fund. We will do that because of the growing inequality, which, of course, tax cuts at the top do nothing to address.

Publicly Owned Energy Company (Budget Allocation)

To ask the Scottish Government how the finance secretary determined the budget allocation for its proposed publicly owned energy company. (S5O-03453)

The allocation of individual portfolio budgets is a matter for the relevant portfolio ministers, and each of those budgets is subject to consideration by the relevant committee as part of the budget scrutiny process.

The establishment of a publicly owned energy company was first announced by the First Minister almost two years ago. However, according to the most recent update from the Scottish Government, that energy company has not even passed a feasibility assessment. Is this another example of the Scottish National Party overpromising and underdelivering on a flagship policy?

On the contrary, this is an example of the SNP thinking innovatively and trying to tackle some of the deep-seated issues that affect our society. We recognise that a new energy company could do a lot to tackle fuel poverty, promote consumer engagement in energy matters and, over time, contribute to economic development opportunities, which, I think, Dean Lockhart supports.

I hope that a publicly owned energy company will show a commitment to the Scottish supply chain that will support companies such as Burntisland Fabrications. Is the minister seeking a meeting with EDF, and does the Government intend to involve the trade unions in that meeting?

I know that Derek Mackay, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, has met EDF.