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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 27, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 27 September 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Paternity Leave and Tackling Inequality, St John’s Hospital (Paediatric Services), Veterans and the Armed Forces Community (Support), Business Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

River Clyde and Adjacent Communities (Industrial Strategy)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to develop an industrial strategy for the River Clyde and its adjacent communities. (S5O-02409)

We will work with the many public and private partners to help to realise and connect key opportunities along the River Clyde.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that fairly brief answer. Does he agree that Hunterston in my constituency must play a key role in any River Clyde industrial strategy, given its unique assets and geographical location? Can he advise Parliament what support the Scottish Government and its agencies will provide to stimulate investment and job creation at Hunterston?

The Presiding Officer has given us a clear instruction to get to the point, which is what I was trying to do.

There are so many opportunities right along the River Clyde that it would take too long to list them all. The point is that we want to create the right economic environment in which all those economic opportunities along the Clyde can flourish.

With specific reference to Mr Gibson’s constituency interest in Hunterston, of course it has strategic importance because of its location and the opportunity that it provides. The Government’s economic agencies are considering work there to stimulate investment in job creation. There are immense opportunities there.

What support will the Government provide? Through our economic agencies, we will look seriously at the requests that come forward. We will also be very proactive in infrastructure spend and the work that we do on innovation and the energy policy.

There are further opportunities to work in partnership with local authorities, including on the Glasgow city region deal, to see what further resources can go to Ayrshire. There are many ways in which we can help to stimulate investment opportunities and support job creation. Of course, we must be mindful of environmental concerns, but fundamentally we need to support the opportunities in that area and right along the River Clyde. The many strategies that we have, including the industrial strategy and our strategy on tourism, seek to maximise the opportunities that exist. I will certainly ensure that Mr Gibson is informed of the work that we are undertaking, in that regard.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the Hunterston nuclear power station site in North Ayrshire is one of the largest employers in the area. Will the Scottish Government’s current moratorium on new nuclear development in Scotland help or hinder the economy of North Ayrshire?

That question is only slightly adjacent to the topic at hand, but I will allow the minister to make a brief comment.

I am happy to refer the matter to the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, who can get back to Mr Greene on the specifics of the energy policy as it relates to Hunterston. The point is that there are other economic opportunities that the Government is aware of, and we are looking at that case at the moment.

I add my support to the call for an industrial strategy for the River Clyde. In particular, I want to raise the opportunity to service the Scottish Government’s ferry fleet on the Clyde. The ferries used to be serviced at Greenock, but I understand that they are now serviced in Liverpool. Will the cabinet secretary return that work to Scotland as part of a River Clyde strategy?

I have a great deal of sympathy with the aspiration to be able simply to select where work is carried out, but when it comes to procurement, we must operate within the law. I am very attracted to ensuring that as much work as possible comes to the Clyde.

With regard to the idea of keeping as much of the industrial supply chain and as many maintenance and servicing opportunities as possible in Scotland without encroaching unfairly into the procurement processes of other organisations, I will look closely at the opportunities to see what else we can do to achieve the outcome that Jackie Baillie seeks.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the petition by the campaign to save Inchgreen dry dock. What discussions have he and the Scottish Government had with Inverclyde Council about the Glasgow city region deal project at Inchgreen in Greenock?

We are trying to ensure that the city region deal process and the benefits of the deals cover every part of Scotland, which includes opportunities in Inverclyde. Again, I am happy to refer the matter to the lead on city region deals, Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, who can get back to Mr McMillan with a more detailed answer. The point of the city region deals is to maximise economic opportunities in partnership with key local stakeholders, including the private sector, which is important.

I am well aware of the coverage of the dry dock and the cross-party approach to the matter. I am interested in ensuring that industrial opportunities are delivered right along the Clyde, so we will do everything that we can do to support that.

Question number 2 has not been lodged.

National Missing Persons Framework (Implementation Plan)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the implementation plan in the national missing persons framework for Scotland. (S5O-02411)

The national missing persons framework, which is the first of its kind in Scotland, was launched in May 2017, and we reported on progress earlier this year. The framework has been backed by investment of £60,000 to develop and deliver return-discussion training, which is central to ensuring that people do not fall into the pattern of repeatedly going missing. Additionally, we have committed £142,000 to the Missing People charity to enhance awareness and use of its 24-hour helpline and TextSafe facilities in Scotland. I have also recently written to all local authority chief executives asking them to continue to support actively implementation of the framework.

Allan Bryant was last seen outside Styx nightclub on Caskieberran Road in Glenrothes just after 2 am on 3 November 2013. Five years on, his family are no closer to finding out what happened to their son. Although I welcome the minister’s missing persons framework in principle, will she outline what support is available for families of long-term missing people, and will she commit to looking again at how the strategy is implemented in practice to assist family members like the Bryants who live with the daily torture of a loved one being missing?

I thank Jenny Gilruth for raising that point, and I join her in extending my thoughts to Allan Bryant’s family and to all families who are missing loved ones. I reassure her that Police Scotland does not close missing persons cases and that Mr Bryant’s case remains open; Police Scotland will continue to investigate any new information that it receives.

The national missing persons framework recognises the need to support the families of missing people. I believe that we are moving in the right direction, but there is more work to do. I am happy to meet Jenny Gilruth to discuss this important issue further, if she would like that.

Victims Commissioner

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will consider establishing a victims commissioner, and, if not, how it plans to learn from the experiences of victims and witnesses in the shaping of public policy. (S5O-02412)

The issue was considered during the passage of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014. We remain of the view that funding for victim support organisations is a more effective use of resources, and are providing £17.9 million in 2018-19. Those organisations represent the interests of victims and provide robust input to Government consultation and the development of policy.

For example, the development of the new homicide service, which will be operational by spring next year, will be directly informed by the views of victims organisations and the experiences of victims’ families. In addition, we are funding research to understand better the experiences of rape and sexual assault victim-survivors, which will help to ensure that the interests of victims are at the heart of our criminal justice system.

In my new role, I have met a number of families of victims of homicide and other crimes. They have directly influenced my thinking and, certainly, the programme for government commitments in relation to the victims package. We are learning from their experiences in order better to inform and design support services, and to ensure that their voices will be heard.

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland describes his job this way:

“We help you know your rights ... we help protect your rights”


“we help influence change”.

My constituent Kevin Woodburn lost his son in a violent attack on new year’s day 2017. He did not know his rights. No one gave him a copy of the victims code and he feels let down at every turn by a justice system that he believes is stacked in favour of the accused. Will the cabinet secretary agree to meet Kevin and me to hear first hand why we believe that a victims commissioner is long overdue?

I recognise the work that Kezia Dugdale has done on the matter, and I record the Scottish Government’s condolences for the loss of Shaun Woodburn. I know that the First Minister has met his family.

Of course I would be willing to meet Kezia Dugdale and the Woodburn family. I have corresponded with Shaun’s grandfather Oliver Woodburn. Kezia Dugdale will be aware of the variety of measures in the programme for government.

Having met a number of families of victims of homicide, I think that it is fair to say that we recognise that throughout the family’s journey—from the time that the terrible tragedy happens, right the way through the process—there are gaps that we are keen to ensure that we fill, through the victims package that we announced. I would certainly welcome a meeting with the family to help to inform the development of the policy better, as we move forward.

I know that the cabinet secretary is aware of the case of my constituent Kirsty Maxwell, who died 17 months ago in Benidorm in circumstances that remain unclear, and of the plight of her family. Will the commitment in the programme for government to improve services for victims specifically include better support for families who have lost loved ones abroad, given that there is a role for Police Scotland and victim support services as well as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

I thank Angela Constance for raising that issue and, once again, express my sympathies to the Maxwell family. I acknowledge how much Angela Constance has been advocating on their behalf.

Angela Constance is right that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes the lead in the process, but that support services could also be put in place for families here in Scotland. We are still thinking about how to develop further some of the commitments in the programme for government through the victims package, which I am happy to discuss with Angela Constance. I will reflect on what support we can put in place for families in Scotland through the measures that were announced in the programme for government.

In England and Wales, certain prisoners contribute a portion of any salary that they earn from paid work outwith the prison gates to a fund for victims of crime, which is a good way to compensate the people who suffer most, and can help to deliver meaningful rehabilitation. Will the cabinet secretary consider introducing such a scheme in Scotland?

We are currently waiting for conversations with Westminster to progress in relation to our victims surcharge, which we are keen to take forward. I will keep Liam Kerr updated on that conversation. Where we can learn from best practice in the United Kingdom, Europe or anywhere else, I am open-minded about doing that. Liam Kerr will know about our plans for a victims surcharge.

Colleges and Industry Partnership Working

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports partnership working between colleges and industry. (S5O-02413)

Partnership working with industry must, of course, be at the heart of what our colleges do. Our colleges play a key role in delivering educational opportunities that support individuals into the workplace and on to higher learning. We continue to ensure that every college in Scotland is in a strong position to meet the needs of both learners and employers.

I thank Richard Lochhead for that answer and welcome him to his new position.

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining my colleagues Derek Mackay and Stuart McMillan at the launch of the A C Whyte skills academy at West College Scotland in Greenock, which is a partnership between West College Scotland and Barrhead-based A C Whyte and Co Ltd, a business that is one of the main contractors for the refurbishment of homes across the United Kingdom and which specialises in external wall insulation. Having identified a skills shortage in the sector, its managing director, Jennifer Phin, and her team worked collaboratively with West College Scotland to develop a course that offers a guaranteed job at the end of it. Does the minister agree that that is a fantastic example of partnership working and that West College Scotland and A C Whyte should be commended for their endeavours? Will he join me in wishing all the students on the course the very best for the coming year?

I thank the member for his question and his kind words. He is quite right that the skills academy partnership between West College Scotland and A C Whyte is a perfect example of colleges and employers working together and sets a fine example for the rest of the country to follow. I certainly intend to take the issue seriously and to seek to ensure that we foster such relationships between our colleges and employers in order to address skills gaps. I join Tom Arthur in wishing all the students, and indeed the employer, A C Whyte, all the best.

I, too, welcome the minister to his new position.

It is important that courses are linked to the needs of industry and the wider labour market. Is any assessment made of whether college leavers enter employment that is relevant to their qualifications and for how long do such assessments continue after leavers have entered the workplace?

That is another issue that I am keen to pursue. Many tracking assessments are made of the destinations of students from colleges and universities. I am more than happy to look into that specific issue for the member and to drop him a note on that. It is important that we track the final workplace destinations of our students.

Aberfoyle Medical Centre (General Practitioner Services)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with NHS Forth Valley regarding funding for general practitioner services at the Aberfoyle medical centre. (S5O-02414)

The Scottish Government is engaging with NHS Forth Valley and its constituent integration joint boards on their primary care improvement plans. I understand that NHS Forth Valley provided discretionary funding to Aberfoyle and Buchlyvie medical practice under the historical associate GP scheme. That funding was tied to a particular postholder, who has since retired. The health board is committed to retaining the funding to support all practices in the west Stirlingshire area, including the Aberfoyle and Buchlyvie practice.

The Aberfoyle and Buchlyvie medical practice, which is in my region, is faced with diminished GP capacity, due to the decision to withdraw funding for a GP. That has resulted in GP availability falling below the level needed to maintain an acceptable service to the local community and is putting the GP service at risk. Does the cabinet secretary agree that a higher level of GP availability is essential in rural locations? Will she commit to reviewing the national guidance on GP provision to reflect the particular needs of individual rural GP practices?

I disagree with the premise of Mr Lockhart’s supplementary question: funding was not withdrawn; as the practice was informed in 2004, it was no longer appropriate, given the new—at that time—GP contract. Although the funding was continued by NHS Forth Valley, it made it clear to the practice—and the practice knew—that the funding was linked to a particular individual and so would end when that individual retired, as has now happened.

Nonetheless, NHS Forth Valley has committed to retaining the funding as a whole and to ensuring that it is more equitably distributed across all the medical practices in the area. That new investment will be made in wider multidisciplinary teams to support the new GP contract, which, as members know, we negotiated with the full support of the British Medical Association, which secured the support of the majority of its members.

The Scottish Government has announced an increase in respect of the GP contract, as well as a 3 per cent increase for independent contractor GPs this year, along with an additional increase in their expenses. As I am sure Dean Lockhart knows, the rural short life working group, chaired by Sir Lewis Ritchie, is considering particular issues that might apply to rural practices and I look forward to receiving his recommendations.

Finally, no GP practice in Scotland will lose funding as a consequence of the new, well-supported and much-welcomed GP contract.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the most appropriate way to represent the good folk of the wider Aberfoyle and Buchlyvie area is to engage in serious discussion with local people, local GPs and the local health board and for members to attend public meetings in their constituency areas?

I agree with Mr Crawford. Local engagement is fundamental to how we reform and improve our primary healthcare services. Elected members of the Scottish Parliament have an important role to play as well as a responsibility to ensure that engagement is genuine and reaches all parts of the communities that they represent and that they participate in that engagement. In that way, members can bring to Parliament and to the attention of the Government issues that have genuinely been raised locally.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Apprentices (North and South Lanarkshire)

To ask the Scottish Government how many science, technology, engineering and maths apprentices there are, and how many of these are in North and South Lanarkshire. (S5O-02415)

Currently, there are 21,050 STEM apprentices in Scotland—that figure is based on the published modern apprenticeship data for quarter 1 of 2018-19. Of those apprentices, 1,725 are in North Lanarkshire and 1,395 are in South Lanarkshire.

According to Equate Scotland, only 16 per cent of higher education students in engineering and technology are women, and only 27 per cent of women with a science, technology, engineering and maths university qualification remain in the sector. What is the Scottish Government doing to encourage women to go on STEM courses and into STEM careers?

I recognise the issues that Graham Simpson lays out. They are why, through Skills Development Scotland’s equality action plan, we are ensuring that much more is done to ensure that more women take part in the various STEM frameworks in modern apprenticeships and why we laid out a STEM strategy to encourage more young women to study STEM subjects at school. That activity is under way and will continue.