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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 28, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 28 March 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Misogyny, Racism, Harassment and Sexism Against Women, Portfolio Question Time, Disabled People, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Children with Complex Needs and Medical Conditions

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that children with complex needs and medical conditions are appropriately supported in their education. (S5O-03076)

We want all children and young people to be able to make the most of their educational opportunities. Education authorities have duties under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of all their pupils, which includes ensuring that appropriate resources are in place to support pupils in their learning. The 2004 act is supplemented by specific guidance on meeting the healthcare needs of pupils while they are attending school and supporting children who are unable to attend school due to ill health.

The prevalence of children with life-limiting conditions in Scotland is increasing, and such children are surviving longer, meaning that many schools are now encountering complex medical conditions, which was not previously the case. Although the new guidance to which the cabinet secretary alluded addresses the issue of the liability that falls on individual staff members who support pupils’ healthcare needs, there is a question as to whether it addresses the specific needs of children who require enteral feeding or medication.

Given that the prevalence of children who require tube feeding or medication may increase in the future, is the cabinet secretary willing to explore whether more specific guidance might be required, and would he be willing to meet me to discuss the issue further?

I am happy to explore the issue further. It concerns a very specialist set of circumstances. Having visited a number of educational facilities that provide support to young people who require tube feeding, I understand the complexities and challenges that it presents. Obviously, it could present a particularly acute challenge in a mainstream school environment. I am happy to meet Mr McDonald to hear his views on how more focused guidance might help educational practitioners in that respect.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of press reports with regard to inappropriate restraint at Clydeview school, which is in my constituency. Can I have an assurance from the cabinet secretary that concerns about restraint—such as are highlighted by the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, Bruce Adamson, in the report “No Safe Place: Restraint and Seclusion in Scotland's Schools”—are being addressed?

I am aware of the report to which Clare Adamson refers. Those issues have been drawn to the attention of North Lanarkshire Council, which has been very open in supplying information to the Government. North Lanarkshire Council is investigating the incident, which is also the subject of a Police Scotland investigation. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment further on the circumstances of the Clydeview case.

In general, the Government’s guidance on the use of restraint is crystal clear that it should only ever be used as a last resort after all other interventions have been exhausted and only in circumstances in which the safety of members of staff or of the child concerned would be supported as a consequence of restraint. However, I stress that it should be used only in the most limited set of circumstances, when all other avenues of positive intervention have been exhausted.

Hunterston Nuclear Power Station

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of further delays in reopening Hunterston nuclear power station, what discussions it has had with the Office for Nuclear Regulation to ensure that it will not be allowed to reopen unless safety standards are met. (S5O-03077)

I met senior representatives from the Office for Nuclear Regulation on 21 February 2019. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the current situation at Hunterston B and the processes that the ONR will use to make a decision on a possible restart of the reactors.

Although the ONR is not directly accountable to Scottish Government ministers, its representatives provided assurance that it will allow the reactors to restart only if it is satisfied that it is safe to do so, and that the ONR is functioning in an independent and transparent manner.

As the minister will be aware, there are 370 cracks in the reactor core at Hunterston B, which is a significant safety concern for the community and workers. It is a nuclear power plant that has been repeatedly closed due to safety concerns, and its reopening has been repeatedly delayed. Regardless of that, its lifespan will not go beyond 2023, which is a huge concern for the workers and the community. Will the minister and the Scottish Government commit to ensuring that there is a just transition for every worker who is currently employed by or connected to the nuclear power industry at Hunterston?

I can clarify that the checks have found 100 cracks, although it is estimated that there are 370. We do not know precisely how many cracks there are in the reactor, which is a point of fact to put across.

As I said in my original answer, the future of the reactors is a matter on which the ONR must engage with the operator, EDF Energy, and it is not directly accountable to the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government on that. We have an interest in the wellbeing of the community in North Ayrshire, as the plant employs many of its people, and we will do everything that we can to support them.

I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the exercise. We have to let the ONR do its work. I trust its judgment on the matter, and it has given us every assurance that health and safety is its primary concern. We will help if there are any implications for the plant itself.

Does the minister agree that Hunterston B operates within stringent safety limits and that EDF is regularly in contact with the Office for Nuclear Regulation regarding graphite cracks and other safety-related matters?

I visited Hunterston B last week and spoke to EDF, and it is clear that safety is the overriding concern of all who work there. Their own lives and those of their families living in nearby communities depend on it.

I agree with Kenneth Gibson about the workforce. Public safety is obviously the Scottish Government’s absolute priority. It is well known that our position on the future of nuclear energy is that we do not support it.

From the interactions that I and my officials have had with the Office for Nuclear Regulation and EDF staff at Hunterston B, it is clear that health and safety is the priority. The ONR was keen to stress that, in terms of the quality of its work, the workforce at Hunterston is one of the best that it has ever come across, and it has absolutely no concerns about the skill or ability of the workforce. If there are problems at Hunterston B, they are about the technology and not the workforce.

Violent Behaviour in Schools

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether schools should have a zero tolerance policy toward violent behaviour. (S5O-03078)

Violence towards anyone is unacceptable, and the safety of our children, young people and staff at school is paramount. We, and our partners in the education sector, advocate an approach whereby schools and local authorities work with pupils on the underlying reasons behind inappropriate behaviour, which will enable them to re-engage with learning and personal development. We have published guidance for schools and local authorities that has a renewed focus on prevention, early intervention and response to individual need, which is in line with the principles of getting it right for every child.

I was recently contacted by a teacher with 30 years’ experience, who is currently working as a supply teacher. She was hospitalised after a metal implement was thrown and damaged her eye. Violence in schools is causing teachers to think twice about their careers. We know that we are struggling, because we learned at Christmas that more than £60 million has been spent to recruit supply teachers. Does the cabinet secretary recognise that violence in schools is deterring some teachers from pursuing their chosen profession?

I assure Michelle Ballantyne that I take the issue of violence in schools extremely seriously. However, we have to look at the evidence. There are unacceptable incidents, but the overwhelming evidence, as demonstrated in the report “Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research 2016”, which was published in December 2017, indicates that teachers generally find pupils to be well behaved and that violence towards teachers is very rare.

We have to be careful about the narrative on Scottish education. If there are unacceptable incidents of violence, they will be dealt with, but, overwhelmingly, the behaviour of our young people in our schools is good. They are a credit to our country, and we should celebrate that while tackling unacceptable behaviour when it arises.

That is undoubtedly the case, and it was certainly my experience when I worked in schools. However, I have been approached by constituents who work in our schools and who are assaulted by pupils on a daily basis—I do not exaggerate that point. Will the cabinet secretary give us some advice on how people who are in that situation should deal with that violence?

I reiterate what I said to Michelle Ballantyne a moment ago. There are unacceptable instances of violence in our schools that must be tackled immediately by school leadership. However, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that teachers generally find pupils to be well behaved and that violence towards teachers is rare. When there is unacceptable behaviour, we should tackle the underlying reasons for that behaviour as part of a programme of early intervention to address the behaviour of young people, so that staff can undertake their work safely and securely, and to ensure that other pupils are safe into the bargain. That approach should be being taken in all schools, and I am confident that it is.

Helicopter Safety (North Sea)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it considers that enough has been done to address workforce concerns regarding helicopter safety in the North Sea since the disaster 10 years ago this week. (S5O-03079)

The first of April will mark 10 years since the loss of 16 lives in the Super Puma accident off the Peterhead coast. Our thoughts and, I am sure, those of colleagues in the chamber are with all those who lost a loved one in that tragic event.

Since the tragedy, a range of work has been undertaken by the Civil Aviation Authority, the trade unions and the industry to develop and implement a range of safety measures, including a workforce engagement review that has been led by Oil & Gas UK and has involved the unions and the industry. The CAA will also carry out a post-implementation review of its CAP1145 safety review of offshore helicopter operations, which will be undertaken by an independent CAA team with engagement with key stakeholders including trade unions.

The minister will know that, since the disaster 10 years ago, another four offshore workers lost their lives off Shetland in 2013 and another 13 lives were lost in the Norwegian sector in 2016.

The fatal accident inquiry on the Peterhead crash found that it was preventable and, at much the same time, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee acknowledged the case for an inquiry that would look at the commercial pressures that affect helicopter operations. Given that the view of the offshore workforce, the trade unions and many families is very clear, will the Scottish Government now get behind the calls for a full public inquiry before any more lives are lost offshore?

I certainly recognise the sincere concerns that Mr Macdonald has expressed. I know that he has a strong and long-standing interest in safety in the oil and gas industry, so I very much respect his view on the matter and I continue to engage with him on it.

On the commercial pressures that the member mentioned, I note that aviation safety is reserved to the United Kingdom Government and Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998, but we continue to engage strongly with the regulators, particularly the Oil and Gas Authority, and with Oil & Gas UK and the operators that are present in the oil and gas industry leadership group, which I co-chair with Melfort Campbell. We will continue to raise and prioritise the issue of health and safety in the industry.

It is not the case that we are ignoring the issue—far from it. We are taking it very seriously. The FAI that Mr Macdonald mentioned has come forward with conclusions, but I point out that measures such as prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions are already being implemented, and I can write to the member about other steps that are being taken subsequent to the inquiry.

I associate myself with Lewis Macdonald’s sensible question. I ask the minister to reflect on the fact that the Sumburgh crash, which Lewis Macdonald mentioned, is now six years past and there has still not been a fatal accident inquiry. Will the minister at least undertake to speak to the Crown Office to press the case for that fatal accident inquiry to begin, given that the families of those who lost loved ones still have no answers on what happened?

I very much recognise the strong interest of Mr Scott and Alistair Carmichael, the local MP, in the role of an FAI. Investigations of deaths and decisions on fatal accident inquiries are, as I am sure the member is aware, matters for the Lord Advocate acting independently. The Scottish Government is providing an additional £5 million in the Crown Office budget for 2019-20 to allow it to continue to increase staffing in response to its increasingly complex case load. I cannot intervene in the direct decision making of the Lord Advocate, but we are making resources available to hold more fatal accident inquiries.

Tavish Scott makes a good point. What angers the colleagues and families of victims is that fatal accident inquiries can take years; I believe that one third of inquiries take more than three years. In 2016, the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland made 12 recommendations to speed up and streamline fatal accident inquiries. Of those recommendations, how many have been implemented?

I appreciate that the member was not here at the time but, as he may know, we passed legislation on fatal accident inquiries in the previous session of Parliament. I was the minister responsible for taking the Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc (Scotland) Bill through Parliament. The act that that bill became includes a number of measures to improve the performance and delivery of inquiries, improve engagement with the families involved—which we recognise was a failing under the previous regime—and ensure that there is a charter in place to try to improve performance. I will happily reflect on the member’s points, with justice colleagues, and come back to him with any answers about steps that have been implemented since the act was passed.

Rail Services (Milngavie)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent meetings it has had with ScotRail and Network Rail regarding the efficiency of services using Milngavie station. (S5O-03080)

I last met the managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, Alex Hynes, in January and expect to meet him again on 24 April 2019. We will discuss a range of issues, including ScotRail’s performance across the network. My officials at Transport Scotland meet monthly with Network Rail and ScotRail to discuss performance issues and improvement initiatives.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the extremely poor performance record of services to Milngavie, which were the worst rated in Scotland. Have the works that were progressed to make improvements to those services been completed? What is the outcome?

I can confirm that the ScotRail Alliance implemented the recommendations of the Donovan report for Milngavie services, which has resulted in a significant improvement—17.5 per cent—in right-time departures at Milngavie. Recommendations included timetable changes, platform extension work, and additional train and crew to allow services from Milngavie to depart on time. Those recommendations were delivered, along with similar ones in the Strathclyde area, which has led to performance improvement in the wider Strathclyde network. I can confirm to the member that more work is under way to implement further timetable changes to sustain that improvement.

The cabinet secretary might be aware of the suggestion that dualling the track between Milngavie station and Hyndland might improve some of the blockages on that line. Has the Government given any consideration to that as a viable or worthwhile concept and, if so, can the cabinet secretary outline the next steps and a timescale for doing so?

Network Rail is presently assessing what further actions it can take on the line to improve performance. That includes looking at how it can enhance existing infrastructure arrangements on the line. Network Rail will report in due course on that issue.

Care Funding (South Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with NHS Ayrshire and Arran and South Ayrshire Council regarding the reported shortage of funded packages of care in South Ayrshire. (S5O-03081)

Officials are engaging with senior officers in South Ayrshire regarding local plans to address current difficulties in the provision of appropriate care. That includes the partnership’s longer-term plans for service redesign. It is part of our wider work with all three integration joint boards, in partnership with NHS Ayrshire and Arran, on making the best use of the totality of their budgets to shift the balance of care into community settings.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that NHS Ayrshire and Arran is expected to have a deficit of £20 million or thereby this year, while South Ayrshire Council has already overspent its social care budget for this year. What advice and help can the Scottish Government give to those two organisations, which, between them, are sustaining around 60 people in a hospital environment when those people are ready and waiting to be discharged into the community?

I am sure that Mr Scott knows and appreciates that there are many reasons for delayed discharge, some of which may be what are called code 9 reasons, which are to do with powers of attorney and guardianship and can take quite a long time to resolve. Some of the reasons are to do with a patient’s own requirements. Even so, I take very seriously delayed discharge, which occurs because care in the community is not available, or is not appropriate to an individual’s needs.

Mr Scott will also be aware of the significant increase in the health boards’ baseline budgets thanks to the budget that we passed not that long ago; of the brokerage arrangements that I have made as part of our medium-term financial planning framework, which also allows our NHS boards the flexibility of a three-year planning framework; and of the additional £160 million that, through local authorities, has gone from the health budget to health and social care partnerships in order to provide additional care.

Nonetheless, we are actively engaging with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which is an important partner in this and with individual health and social care partnerships, to help them to understand the situation with the funding arrangements. The point of integration is not to worry about whose budget something comes from, but to make sure that the care that people need is provided. We are working individually with areas that have particular difficulties, including South Ayrshire, where there is a requirement for significant redesign and improvement of care at home and social care packages to bring them to a comparable footing with their colleagues elsewhere in Ayrshire and Scotland.