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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 27 June 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motions, Topical Question Time, European Union Negotiations and Scotland’s Future, NHS Ayrshire and Arran Maternity Services (Review of Management of Adverse Events), Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Information Commissioner, Decision Time, Online Exploitation and Abuse of Children


Topical Question Time

Royal Bank of Scotland Job Losses (Support for Workers)

To ask the Scottish Government what assistance it will provide to workers in Scotland who might lose their jobs as a result of RBS moving hundreds of jobs to India. (S5T-00613)

I start by saying how very concerned I am about the news from RBS and, of course, the impact that it will have on staff. I am also extremely disappointed and perturbed by the total lack of action to stop that by the United Kingdom Government, which is the majority shareholder in RBS.

As soon as I heard the news, I asked my officials to speak to RBS to clarify the position and the likely impact in Scotland. We have been informed that RBS will do everything that it can to support those who are affected, and we will look to see positive action being taken, including redeployment into new roles, where that is possible. It is very unhelpful that the UK Government appears to be allowing the job losses to take place and work to be transferred outwith the UK purely to save costs, without any consideration of the financial impact on employees and their families.

The Scottish Government will do everything that we can to provide support and help to those in Scotland who are affected by job losses, through the finance sector jobs task force and, if required, our initiative for responding to redundancy situations, which is the partnership action for continuing employment, or PACE.

I thank the cabinet secretary—at least, for some of that response.

It is important to note the context of the job losses. Of the total number of jobs that are being relocated to India, 59 will be lost in Scotland. Given that RBS employs more than 10,500 people in Scotland and is a substantial Scottish employer, and given that it is a part publicly owned bank and has a mandate to reduce its operating costs, what contact has the Scottish Government had with RBS concerning its restructuring in order to help the bank to minimise the redundancies that it has had to make, while helping it to meet its streamlining objectives?

We have had very good discussions. We have regular meetings through different forums for the financial sector in Scotland, and we have had specific contact with RBS, which has been very good at advising us in advance of major developments. Of course, there have been some substantial developments in RBS relating to what the bank went through during the recession. However, no contact was made in relation to the current development, which is unfortunate.

The UK Government has majority ownership of the bank. In 2014, we were told that we had to vote no to save such jobs; that was the cry from the Tory party, so I certainly expect Tory members of Parliament to raise the issue with the people in the UK Government who have the big decision to make. However, it may well be that Tory MPs, as well as arguing against Scotland’s interests on Scotland getting its fair share in respect of the deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, and not speaking up at all for Scotland, will now make no representations on the RBS issue to the UK Government, which has the major responsibility on the matter. It is not so much a baker’s dozen of Tory MPs that we have down at Westminster as a balker’s dozen, who do not stand up for Scotland. Perhaps if they did that more than they have a go at the Scottish Government, we could have saved those jobs.

It is rather unfortunate that the cabinet secretary has chosen to politicise this very important question about jobs in Scotland. I asked what the Government is doing to help people who are being made redundant, but there is still no answer to that. What is this Government doing to help people who have been made redundant? Absolutely nothing.

This is not the first time that a large company has offshored back-office functions to India and other such places. We have an ever-growing global workplace, and the virtual services market is becoming increasingly international. What is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that our Scottish workforce is adequately skilled to meet the demands of the changing marketplace?

If Jamie Greene cares to check the Official Report, he will see who was the first to politicise the issue. It was Jamie Greene. He also said that I did not answer his question about what we intend to do. If he checks the Official Report, he will also see that, in my first answer, I said that we will

“provide support ... to those in Scotland who are affected by job losses, through the finance sector jobs task force and, if required ... the partnership action for continuing employment”.

Those responses, in particular PACE, have been extremely effective in ensuring that people who lose their jobs in such circumstances are redeployed or find new continuing employment. That is their purpose.

I have responded twice now to Jamie Greene on what the Scottish Government will do.

It would be good if we had some clarity about what the Tories will do—on whether they will raise the matter in Westminster or sit there meekly and accept what Jamie Greene called the fate of—as he rightly said—59 individual employees and their families? Is not it about time that the Tories started to speak up for such people?

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, after £45 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent on propping up RBS, it is adding insult to injury that the UK Tory-DUP Government is standing idly by while 443 jobs are shipped to India at a time when Brexit was meant to bring jobs and investment to the UK? Is he also shocked that Tory-DUP member of the Scottish Parliament, Jamie Greene, seems not to care that there will be 59 jobs lost from Scotland? Does the cabinet secretary share my view that every single job that is lost is a job that Scotland should not lose?

Be careful about how you refer to other members in the chamber.

I very much agree with the point that Kenny Gibson made: every single job is absolutely critical to the individual who holds it and, usually, to the families that depend on it. Their life chances are being jeopardised by the decision. It is, of course, possible for the majority shareholder—the UK Government—to step in, in the circumstances. If, rather than getting involved in Brexit and deals and bungs and whatever else, the UK Government were to concentrate on the day job of keeping people in work, we would have a better employment situation in Scotland.

Treasury Funding (Devolved Administrations)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Treasury regarding any additional funding for Scotland arising from the agreement between the Conservative and Democratic Unionist parties. (S5T-00626)

I spoke with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 21 June and raised concerns about the potential financial implications for Scotland of the DUP deal that was being negotiated. I was given no detail of the negotiations and no reassurances whatever from the chief secretary about the potential funding impact. I followed up that conversation with a letter in which I repeated my concerns about the potential implications of the deal, but I have not yet received a response.

Following the announcement yesterday, the Deputy First Minster spoke to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has agreed to take Mr Swinney’s concerns to Her Majesty’s Treasury. I have also written today to the chief secretary, seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the situation jointly with the Welsh finance minister. I have highlighted that, if the matter cannot be resolved with HM Treasury, we will invoke formal dispute resolution proceedings to ensure that the matter is resolved.

The United Kingdom Government’s deal prioritises expenditure in Northern Ireland at the cost of all other parts of the UK and leaves Scotland almost £3 billion worse off than it would have been if funding had been allocated using the well-established arrangements that are set out in the statement of funding policy.

The cabinet secretary should, indeed, pursue any reasonable means to improve the position of our public services. It is right to test the basis for that £1 billion bung and its implications for the Scottish budget. It would appear that Theresa May has agreed to bring an end to austerity in Northern Ireland, but only in order to continue imposing it on the rest of the United Kingdom. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the deal demonstrates that austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity? If he does agree, what new policies can we expect from the Scottish Government to end austerity here, too?

I agree with Lewis Macdonald on the position around the alternative to austerity. Over the course of the general election campaign in Scotland, the Scottish National Party put forward an alternative to austerity. The UK Government has overlooked that in its grubby deal with the DUP for Northern Ireland. We do not begrudge Northern Ireland a penny; we just want fairness for every other part of the UK, not least Scotland—[Interruption.]

It is remarkable that the Conservatives find ripping off Scotland to the tune of £2.9 billion to be a laughing matter. That is the rip-off at the hands of the Scottish Conservatives, who seem to have lost their voice in the matter. The spending areas for additional funding for Northern Ireland are devolved areas—infrastructure, health including mental health, education, broadband and deprivation are all within the scope of Barnett. It is a clear breach of the statement of funding policy, undermining devolution and the deal that we had across the devolved Administrations. That is why I have taken the issue up in the way that I have, and I will work with the Welsh Administration to pursue the matter.

I have read the Conservative Party’s excuse that the deal for Northern Ireland is the equivalent of the city deals in Scotland, but we know that the new funding package is in addition to city deals for Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is a rip-off for Scotland. It did not take the Tories at Westminster long to settle down to selling out Scotland.

The Prime Minister has been fond of telling voters in Scotland, England and Wales that there is no magic money tree and that there could be no increase in one budget without a cut in another. That is the sterile politics of austerity. Can the cabinet secretary tell us, from the conversations that he and Mr Swinney have had, whether UK Government ministers have given any indication of which budget will be cut by £1 billion to fund Mrs May’s deal with the DUP?

The UK Government has given no explanation whatever of how the deal will be funded. It has certainly not responded to my letter, and it gave no explanation when I contacted the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I find it somewhat difficult to believe that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was unaware of the details of the negotiation when it was under way. It looks as though the rest of the UK, including Scotland, will pay the price for the UK Government’s grubby deal for Northern Ireland. The UK Government promised transparency, so let us see what figures emerge and what explanation is provided.

We did get one piece of transparency—it feels like daylight robbery by Tory MPs, who have admitted that the deal was simply about staying in government.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the May-DUP deal raises serious questions for the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, who said a day before the deal was announced that he would not support funding that

“deliberately sought to subvert the Barnett rules”?

I do. Mr Mundell went on to say, in a separate interview:

“I’m not going to agree to anything that could be construed as back-door funding to Northern Ireland.”

As the Secretary of State for Scotland, is he irrelevant, irresponsible or ill informed? At the moment, he is incommunicado—he is failing to explain his position on the matter.

It is important to point out the breach of rules that has taken place. Paragraph 2.15 of the statement of funding policy makes it clear that

“Assessment of whether a programme is unique at a UK level”—

and thus outside the Barnett arrangements—

“should be exceptional ... any such assessment should be evidence-based, be undertaken in a timely manner, and be considered by Treasury ministers and their counterparts in the devolved administrations to ensure all viewpoints are understood before final decisions are taken.”

Scotland and Wales have been overlooked in the UK Government’s grubby deal with the DUP.

If the cabinet secretary wants to see a grubby deal, all he has to do is look at the Green Party benches behind him.

Given the Scottish Government’s new-found enthusiasm for the Barnett formula, I ask the cabinet secretary to give me a very simple answer—yes or no will suffice—to this question: is it still the policy of the Scottish Government to pursue full fiscal autonomy for Scotland?

SNP MSPs and SNP MPs will always try to get the best deal for Scotland. I heard Ross Thomson—the new spokesperson for the Conservative Party in the absence of the secretary of state—on “Good Morning Scotland” this morning. He was delighted with the deal that he got, which was a wee nudge in the ribs of the Chancellor of the Exchequer while Scotland was being sold down the river to the tune of £2.9 billion.

I am delighted that Murdo Fraser is still annoyed that we reversed cuts to local government services and cancelled the proposed tax cut for high earners.

The Conservative-DUP deal is clearly a breach of trust and of the principle that resources should be allocated according to need. In this case, the need in question is what the Prime Minister needs to cling on to her job. The deal undermines the UK Government’s ability to be an impartial party in the debate between the different sides in Northern Ireland about its devolution future. It also undermines the UK Government’s ability to treat fairly all the devolved Parliaments, Assemblies and Governments in these islands.

Does the Scottish Government agree that the Conservative-DUP deal must not undermine the trust and solidarity between the people of Scotland and the people of Northern Ireland and that, just as the Scottish Government has agreed that same-sex couples are entitled to come here to convert civil partnerships into marriage, we should ensure that women from Northern Ireland who need to access abortion can access the national health service on the same basis as any other citizen?

Let me be generous to Patrick Harvie. He is clearly a better negotiator than all 13 Tory MPs put together. I agree with his very sensible point. I happen to think that the peace process is also a serious matter, and that is why I said that we do not begrudge Northern Ireland a penny. We just want fairness and financial justice for every part of the UK—and, of course for Scotland. We wish the negotiators well in that process and we hope that interventions can be made in the light of constructive engagement. I say again that it is about achieving fairness in applying the rules that we have established, not trying to disadvantage any part of the UK.

In-patient Paediatric Services (St John’s Hospital, Livingston)

3. Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that in-patient paediatric services are permanently available at St John’s hospital in Livingston. (S5T-00624)

Due to concerns over maintaining a safe and sustainable rota for the paediatric service at St John’s hospital, NHS Lothian has reluctantly taken the decision, based on a risk management assessment, to implement a temporary model of service, which means that, from 7 July, the paediatric in-patient ward will open between 8 am and 8 pm Monday to Friday. The board considers that staffing levels are fragile and remain at risk, as there may be no back-up available should a member of medical staff be absent at short notice—for example, if they fall ill. NHS Lothian has engaged with clinicians to build resilience into the rota, but the board’s position is that there is a risk of unplanned closure of the ward at short notice, causing confusion for parents and staff and possible delays to emergency care. The board and chief executive, supported by the medical director, have reiterated that the decision to implement the temporary model was taken in the best interests of children and their families and for their safety, and NHS Lothian has confirmed that its aim is to return to a full service as soon as possible after the summer.

Although NHS Lothian is committed to reinstating the service as soon as possible over the summer, it is not acceptable for patients and their families to face an indefinite period of closure that results in increased accommodation and travel costs and additional stress. What assessment has been made of the needs of those patients and their families? What assessment has been made of the impact on the Royal hospital for sick children in Edinburgh? Around 1,000 paediatric patients are admitted to St John’s every year, and the closure will put pressure on staff in Edinburgh, too.

Alison Johnstone makes important points. The actions of the board over the coming weeks will include further engagement with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to ensure that we get the service back into a sustainable model. The involvement of staff at both St John’s and the sick kids hospital will be important as that work is taken forward. The medical director has confirmed that St John’s consultants will have a central role in the consideration of possible solutions, and arrangements are in hand to start that dialogue as soon as possible.

The Scottish Government will continue to support NHS Lothian to ensure that the services on offer at the in-patient paediatric ward remain safe and sustainable in the long term, and communication with the public and with parents who are using the service will be a critical part of that work.

I am concerned—as, I am sure, we all are—that we are not seeing increases in the number of whole-time equivalent paediatric consultants. Between March 2016 and March this year, there was a 4.2 per cent decrease in the number of whole-time equivalent paediatric consultants. Can the cabinet secretary tell us when the Scottish Government intends to publish its national health and social care workforce plan? We were promised it and we expected a draft plan by the end of 2016, with subsequent plans published this year. However, so far, all that we have had is a discussion document. The issue is key to progress on the matter.

The workforce plan will be published tomorrow, and I will be happy to engage further with Alison Johnstone and other members on it. The model that was used was based on the model that was agreed with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and a total of six applicants have been accepted to the posts. Five of them are now in post, working between the sick kids hospital and St John’s, because they were joint appointments. Progress has been made in moving forward with those appointments, but that does not take away from the fragility of the rotas over the summer, which means that safety must come first in making any decisions.