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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


Portfolio Question Time

Public Finances (North East Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that its management of the public finances takes account of the needs of the people of the North East Scotland region. (S5O-03068)

The 2019-20 budget maintains our social contract, provides support for the economy and protects public services for the people of the north-east and all of Scotland. The north-east will also benefit from city deal funding for Aberdeen, access to the new £50 million town centre fund and extended transitional business rates relief for offices in Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire.

Although those points are welcome, the minister must be aware that Grampian NHS Board is the worst-funded health board in the country and that Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council are the second and third-worst funded councils. Coupled with that, the Scottish Government has underfunded Grampian NHS Board by £239 million over the past 10 years under its own funding formula. How long does the minister believe that the people of the north-east will put up with underfunding, particularly of the health board, which results in such long waits for treatment?

Of course, Mr Rumbles entirely absented himself from all decisions on public finances during the budget process. For the second year running, NHS Grampian will receive the highest uplift of any territorial board, taking its funding to £958 million in 2019-20. That is an increase of more than 64 per cent under this Government. Over the past five years, NHS Grampian has received more than £56 million for the specific purpose of moving towards NHS Scotland resource allocation committee parity.

I call Bill Bowman. Briefly, please.

The Audit Scotland report, “NHS in Scotland 2018”, states that there was a total maintenance backlog of £899 million in 2017-18 and that

“45% of all backlog maintenance is classed as significant or high risk”.

In NHS Tayside, in the North East Scotland region, 74 per cent of such maintenance is classed as significant or high risk. Will the Scottish Government commit to allocating NHS Tayside funding, so that my constituents’ needs are met? In Angus and Dundee, they do not receive the healthcare—

Thank you; thank you. I did ask you to be brief—there is no point warbling on.

The member will be fully aware that the Scottish Government is committed to increased funding for the NHS and to driving a programme of reform, to ensure that everybody in Scotland gets access to the health services that they need.

I have already outlined to Mike Rumbles the increased finances in this year’s budget, particularly how much additional funding has been made available to NHS Grampian to ensure that there is adequate support for health services in the north-east.

I call Jackie Baillie. Briefly, too.

In the north-east and, indeed, across the country, small businesses account for 98 per cent of our business community, yet a recent Federation of Small Businesses report revealed that only about 20 per cent of Scotland’s £12 billion procurement budget goes directly to small and medium-sized enterprises. What action will the minister take to improve small businesses’ share of our procurement pot?

We are committed to supporting small businesses—we have the most generous rates relief in the entire United Kingdom, which includes taking 100,000 small businesses out of paying rates altogether.

I agree with Jackie Baillie that getting the procurement policy right often allows small businesses to get their foot in the door. We have committed to change and to reconsidering how we do procurement. One of our most exciting initiatives is the CivTech programme, which allows us to totally rethink procurement and give small entrepreneurs, in particular, the opportunity to get public sector contracts and, as I said, get their foot in the door.

Tax Changes (Scottish Government Employees)

To ask the Scottish Government how the tax changes in its budget will impact on its own employees. (S5O-03069)

Under Scottish income tax policy, 55 per cent of taxpayers are better off than they would be if they lived elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Next year, 70 per cent of public sector workers covered by our pay policy will get a 3 per cent pay award. When our progressive pay and income tax policies are combined, our own lowest-paid employees will, after tax, be £628—or 3.3 per cent—better off in 2019-20, ensuring that our public services are well funded and the people who deliver them are fairly paid.

Thousands of employees of the Scottish Government and its agencies with attached workplace parking face being hit by the car park tax, thanks to the Scottish National Party-run councils in Glasgow and Edinburgh talking about introducing the new tax. What assessment has the Scottish Government done of the likely overall costs to its own finances as a result of the introduction of the car park tax, and does it intend to pay the tax itself, or will it pass it on to its employees?

As Murdo Fraser knows, his question is premature, because the legislation has not been taken through Parliament yet.

It’s in your budget!

Murdo Fraser now seems to want to have a debate rather than ask a question. I quite enjoy a debate too, but his question was about the costings. The legislation has not gone through Parliament, and Parliament will naturally engage with that question as it goes through.

Interestingly, I heard Murdo Fraser say, “It’s in your budget”. Actually, in financial year 2019-20, when we will be spending £42.5 billion on Scotland’s public services, no workplace parking levy will be initiated. In that respect and in that regard, then, the answer is no, it is not in the budget.

New National Park (Economic Impact)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment the finance secretary has made of the potential economic impact of a new national park. (S5O-03070)

The Scottish Government has no plans for any new national parks and has therefore not undertaken any economic impact assessment.

As I highlighted earlier this week, the economy of Galloway is struggling, with annual average weekly earnings that are 10 per cent lower than those in the rest of Scotland. In stark contrast, research on the Cairngorms national park has shown that the unemployment rate was just 3.2 per cent, with 9,500 people employed. More important, it showed that more people were coming to the area and fewer youngsters leaving. Will the cabinet secretary recognise the economic opportunities for young people that national park designation would bring and that legislation for the creation of additional national parks would allow for sustainable economic development to be a priority?


No, that is plenty.

I have not asked my question yet.

I got lost in the long preamble to it. Could you perhaps ask your question briefly and not give us another paragraph?

I certainly will. Economic impact can be realised only when this Government commits to plans for a feasibility study for a Galloway national park—

I think that there is a question in there somewhere.

There was more of a question in what Mr Carson was saying before he was cut off than there was in what was supposedly the question.

I want to be supportive here. If the campaign for a national park had the aim of sterilising a whole part of the south of Scotland, I do not think that that would be welcome, because that would not allow economic opportunities to be realised. However, what I heard Finlay Carson talk about was delivering economic opportunities, and I would be interested in exploring further how such a proposal could unlock those opportunities—indeed, in exactly the same fashion as the legislation to establish a south of Scotland enterprise agency is a vehicle for delivering economic growth. I am interested in hearing more about how any campaign for a new national park would add to rather than stymie economic opportunity and sustainable development, but I would also point out that the matter is primarily one for the minister for rural affairs, who I know has met the member and I think will be happy to continue to explore the subject.

Workplace Parking Levy (Impact on Business Rates)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment the finance secretary has made of the impact on business rates of its proposed workplace parking levy. (S5O-03071)

As the workplace parking levy would be a power for local authorities, not the Scottish Government, it would be for those authorities to conduct an impact analysis of any scheme that they might propose, should they wish to use that discretionary power.

Well, there you go—so you are saying, “It’s not our fault.”

Let us go through this. Workplaces that have the levy imposed on them will seek to have their rent and thus their rateable value reviewed. If every local authority introduces the levy, by how much do you suspect the revenue from business rates across Scotland will be reduced? That must have been part of the assessment when you introduced the proposal.

Please do not say “you” when you speak to another member in the chamber. The only person who is “you” is the Presiding Officer.

The most interesting thing in all of this is that, in government in the UK, the member’s party agreed to keep the levy on the statute book in 2017. In other words, his party presides over a workplace parking levy right now.

On non-domestic rates, if rateable values went up or down, the Scottish Fiscal Commission would be expected to forecast the impact as part of its statutory duties. However, as I said, the power is for local authorities and, as the member knows, the workplace parking levy will be subject to both parliamentary scrutiny and the parliamentary process.

Advanced Manufacturing Challenge Fund

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the progress of the advanced manufacturing challenge fund. (S5O-03072)

I am pleased to confirm that strong progress has been made in the development of the advanced manufacturing challenge fund. Approval for our plans has now been received from the managing authority which has overall responsibility for supervision and implementation of the European structural funds in Scotland. We have appointed Scottish Enterprise as the lead partner for programme delivery and an experienced and focused team is now in place to develop the fund’s detailed guidance and structures.

We are preparing to launch the fund in late spring or early summer. The fund will target up to £18 million of European regional development funding to support the provision of services for improving manufacturing productivity and efficiency.

Dounreay is a major employer in my constituency and the minister will be aware that it is in its decommissioning phase. What support from the economic action plan, which seeks to respond to the rapidly changing skills needs of businesses and employees, can be or is being offered to the workers and the supply chain in Caithness and north Sutherland?

The economic action plan sets out our ambition to ensure that Scotland has a skilled and productive workforce in the future and it includes an important focus on the skills needs of the existing workforce. This year, we will publish a future skills action plan to meet the opportunities and challenges presented by changes in the labour market and a new national retraining partnership will establish how best to support the upskilling, reskilling and development needs of the existing workforce.

The Scottish Government is an active member of the Caithness and North Sutherland regeneration partnership, which aims to address the socioeconomic effects of decommissioning at Dounreay. I am aware that Gail Ross is a member of the advisory board. The partnership is developing a local skills investment plan for the area with Skills Development Scotland, the Highland Council and the Caithness Chamber of Commerce. The plan will provide area-based information on appropriate skills and learning pathways to help individuals and employers implement workforce transition and reskilling opportunities.

Under the United Kingdom Government’s industrial strategy challenge fund, £4.7 billion is available for investment in research and development across the UK. What specific steps is the minister taking to ensure that the Scottish manufacturing sector will fully benefit from that unprecedented level of funding?

A range of activity is going on to encourage businesses in Scotland, be they small and medium-sized enterprises or larger businesses, to put forward bids in co-operation with academic institutions for money from the industrial strategy fund. That is happening across a range of sectors that I engage with, be it manufacturing or life sciences—where we have had some significant successes in getting money from that fund—or other sectors across the economy.

I am aware that my colleague the cabinet secretary is meeting Greg Clark next week to discuss this further and explore how Scotland can get at least its fair share of investment from that fund.

Brexit (Impact on Aberdeen and North-east)

To ask the Scottish Government what the impact has been on the economy of Aberdeen and the north-east of business uncertainty resulting from Brexit. (S5O-03073)

Brexit is already impacting the Scottish economy, with the associated uncertainty impacting business and consumer confidence and leading to increased stockpiling and reduced investment intentions.

We recently published a report showing that all areas in Scotland will be affected by Brexit, especially by a no-deal Brexit, with the north-east in particular being hit. The report showed specifically how the north-east and areas within the north-east would be hit.

While there is no broad consensus in the United Kingdom Parliament for the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, the decision should be put back to the people in a second European Union referendum.

Businesses in the north-east continue to live with uncertainty, none more so than the fish-processing sector, which is particularly concerned about licences for the trucks taking their fresh produce to markets on the continent. The sector’s justified concerns were compounded earlier this week when Michael Gove refused to fight for lorries with fresh produce to have preference in the queue. What advice does the cabinet secretary have for my constituents?

The Scottish Government’s resilience committee continues to meet. It is looking at a range of actions, including those on transport. However, our seafood sector will be severely impacted by disruption at ports, so it needs to find alternative transport routes to satisfy customs requirements. That will jeopardise the vital just-in-time nature of the seafood supply chain. Businesses in the seafood sector tell us that the cost of export health certificates and the breakdown of supply chains will lead to lay-offs and business failures. Although the Scottish Government is doing everything that it can to minimise the risk and mitigate the impact of Brexit, the damage to business and the unavoidable consequences of a no-deal Brexit are incredibly concerning, which is why we should avert Brexit at all costs.

When she was asked on “The Andrew Marr Show” how much of the £92 million no-deal Brexit fund was allocated to local authorities, Nicola Sturgeon was unable to answer. I therefore ask the cabinet secretary how much will be made available to cash-strapped councils in Scotland, given that money has been allocated to councils in England.

Local authorities south of the border got reductions in their budgets, whereas there was real-terms growth in local government budgets in Scotland. I did not ring fence or earmark funds to local government for Brexit purposes, and the Parliament and local government tell me not to do that kind of thing. The consequentials from Brexit moneys are part of the budget, as I explained when the budget was produced.

Local government is enjoying a real-terms increase, and the consequentials are part of its allocation, but I did not separate out a ring-fenced pot for Brexit. How local government spends its resources is up to it. The consequentials were part of the budget, and the local government part of the Scottish budget enjoyed a real-terms increase. That is what I did with the Barnett consequentials, and that is how they are helping local government.

Employment Security (Young People)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to monitor the number of young people in precarious, temporary and zero-hours work. (S5O-03074)

We take the challenges that face those who are on exploitative zero-hours contracts seriously and we want to understand better how prevalent the contracts are among young people. We will continue to monitor that through the information that is made available by the Office for National Statistics, and we are in discussions to ensure that the information is as robust as possible for young people in Scotland.

Once the minister has that information, will the Government stop counting zero-hours contracts as a positive destination for young people? They are not a positive destination; they are a form of exploitation.

I am responding seriously to a serious request from the Education and Skills Committee about whether we can understand better the prevalence of zero-hours contracts in Scotland. We should celebrate the fact that record levels of young people are in positive destinations. I would love the Labour Party to welcome that. Once we have the information, we will lay it out.

It is interesting that the Labour Party continues to focus on the counting of the contracts, when what we should do is deal with them head on as a challenge in our economy. Such contracts are governed by employment law but, when Mr Gray was a member of the Smith commission, he opposed the devolution of employment law, which would have allowed us to tackle the challenge adequately. That is Mr Gray’s record, but we will get on with delivering for young people in Scotland.

Court of the Lord Lyon (Budget)

To ask the Scottish Government how much of its budget it allocated to the Court of the Lord Lyon in Scotland, and how the finance secretary reached this decision. (S5O-03075)

I know that the subject is of great interest to the entire chamber—[Interruption]—and particularly the Tories.

The Scottish Government’s judiciary budget provides for the running costs of the Court of the Lord Lyon, which were set at £100,000 in 2019-20 and have remained consistent since 2012-13. The figure does not include salary costs for the Lord Lyon or the Lyon Clerk. The court generates its own income, which is offset against the budget and results in the Scottish Government in effect funding only the difference between expenditure and income. The budget is monitored through monthly income and expenditure returns that are provided to the Scottish Government.

I ask Emma Harper to be brief.

I have been working on a challenging constituency case that involves the Lord Lyon and I have been assisting one of my constituents through the court process because of the Lord Lyon’s inability to adhere to an agreement that his court made with my constituent. The case is costing the Scottish Government and my constituent a great deal of money unnecessarily. How can the Parliament and its committees hold the Court of the Lord Lyon to account?

I ask the cabinet secretary to be brief, too.

The Scottish Government has a sponsorship role for the Court of the Lord Lyon. The Scottish ministers are ultimately accountable to the Scottish Parliament for the activities of the court and the use of its resources. They are not, however, responsible for day-to-day operational matters. Judicial decisions of the Lord Lyon have force of law and may be appealed to the Court of Session.