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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 28 April 2020

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Covid-19 Legislation, Health (Covid-19), Transport (Covid-19), Topical Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Point of Order


Topical Question Time

Ban on Public Gatherings (Impact on Sport)

To ask the Scottish Government what it considers will be the impact on sport of an extended ban on public gatherings. (S5T-02111)

The Scottish Government recognises that the restrictions on gatherings have had an impact on people across Scotland and that sport has been similarly affected. I thank the sporting sector for its understanding and co-operation.

Sportscotland is working with the Scottish sporting governing bodies to understand the impact of social distancing measures and the possible need for an extended ban on public gatherings. It will look at the short, medium and long-term impacts that the restrictions will have and at how it, along with the Scottish Government, can help the sector through this period.

We appreciate the impact on community sport. Sportscotland is undertaking a survey of sports clubs and groups to understand how impacts are being felt across all sports, at all levels.

The measures that are in place are tough but they are absolutely necessary if we are to slow the spread of the virus, protect the national health service and save lives.

Thousands of people work in sport, in places from sportscotland’s national training centres, two of which are in my constituency, to local golf, football and rugby clubs and so on. If the United Kingdom Government ends furlough payments and the ban on large gatherings remains in place, how will people who are employed in sport retain their livelihoods?

We recognise the enormous reach of sport and its impact on communities and individuals. Sport delivers a wide range of social, health and economic benefits, and we want clubs and organisations, across all sports, to survive this terrible pandemic.

The Scottish Government and the UK Government are providing a range of financial and business support. The Scottish Government and sportscotland are working with the sector to understand what support it will need to restart activities as soon as it is safe to do so. It is important that we get the balance correct and that issues such as Mr Gibson raised are part of on-going discussions with the UK Government.

Football alone has 470,000 registered male and female players in Scotland, and hundreds of clubs at every level. In 2019, it directly contributed £215 million to the economy, with social benefits worth £320 million and active participation leading to £690 million in healthcare savings. Does the minister accept that, unless football and other sports are able to restart playing soon after lockdown ends—albeit safely—some clubs could fold, and many of the economic, social and health benefits to individuals and society would be lost?

It is important that we continue to work with all the sporting sectors. Obviously, football, our national game, has a particularly powerful reach across Scotland. It goes much wider than the economic benefits; the social benefits and the impact on people’s mental health as a result of both spectating at and participating in football and other sports, must not be underestimated. However, it is important that, as we take the next steps, we do so carefully in order to protect life. That is why I and my officials are working with sportscotland to understand what we can do to continue to support football and other sports and ensure that as much of our sporting collateral as possible survives the pandemic.

Given the minister’s answer, I think that he agrees with me that sport, leisure and recreation activities will become ever more important as we tackle our physical, mental and emotional health. On the back of that, what considerations has the Scottish Government given to supporting sports governing bodies, arm’s-length external organisations, sports clubs and third sector organisations such as the guides and the scouts to ensure that they are still there to support our communities when the time comes?

I agree with the member’s points. There is a range of support. I mentioned the business support from the Scottish Government and the UK Government. Additionally, we are working with sportscotland, which has communicated to all Scottish sports bodies and local partners that they will be receiving six months’ payment up front for this year—a £16.4 million payment—to help them through the pandemic, and that it will be relaxing the usual targets to help to ensure that organisations survive the pandemic.

Across sport, there are amazing examples of sports clubs and hubs reaching out to their membership and doing fantastic things at all levels, from community sports clubs upwards. A really good example—not the only one in football, because there are many—is the decision of Hibernian FC to put “Thank You NHS” on its strips for next year to raise funds for Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation. The power of that commitment from the team, and the financial commitment that will go along with it, should not be underestimated. We need to support the huge amount of good work that is going on, which is what the Government and sportscotland will continue to do.

I have been approached by a number of constituents who are golfers who have pointed out the benefits to physical and mental wellbeing of being able to play golf. Obviously, they are not able to do that due to the lockdown. What consideration have the minister and his officials given to whether golf can take place once the lockdown is lifted, bearing it in mind that social distancing can take place on a golf course?

Scottish Golf is one of the organisations that I intend to meet in the near future in order to discuss its particular needs. Right now, though, it is important that we get the message out—it is a message not just from the Scottish Government but from Scottish Golf—that golf should not be taking place anywhere in Scotland.

I remind the chamber that I chair the cross-party group on the future of football in Scotland.

Even the most committed football fan would agree that the entertainment side of the sport needs to take a back seat during these times. However, some of our clubs are much more than the football played on a Saturday. They are local businesses, employing many people, and they are centres for community networks and a lifeline for many. My local club, Albion Rovers, has been part of the Coatbridge community for nearly 140 years. It has been in touch to say that its existence is threatened. The club relies on gate receipts, and while plans to play games behind closed doors may be a solution for clubs in higher leagues, they will not be a solution for Albion Rovers. Is there a continued commitment to our clubs, particularly smaller ones such as the Rovers, to support them for as long as necessary, as we have supported other businesses, and to help them through this crisis?

As I said, a range of support is already in place for football teams and other clubs. The member makes an important distinction between football in Scotland and football elsewhere. There have been suggestions of changes and decisions elsewhere in the UK that have been driven largely by media requirements rather than sporting requirements. We have to make sure that any steps that we take in Scotland, while doing our best to support sport, limit the spread of the virus, continue to protect the national health service and save lives.

Fraud (Vulnerable People)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle fraudsters who are targeting vulnerable people during the Covid-19 outbreak. (S5T-02112)

Criminals are seeking to capitalise on the Covid-19 pandemic and vulnerable people are especially at risk at this time. Doorstep crime, and scams and fraud, both online and off, are growing in number and it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that people and communities across Scotland are kept safe and resilient. The Scottish Government is working closely with Police Scotland and other partners to encourage the public to be more vigilant against fraud, and especially about sharing financial data and personal information.

We continue to support our partners to help them reprioritise work quickly and put in place resources that will help to inform and reassure the public. There are a number of national initiatives under way—for example, Crimestoppers has launched its shut out scammers campaign to raise awareness of doorstep crime, scams and frauds, with a focus on providing advice to those who are most vulnerable.

Neighbourhood Watch Scotland plays an important role in offering reassurance to local communities, and it has been sharing messages on potential criminal activities in its areas, offering advice on keeping safe and encouraging communities to look out for one another, especially the elderly and the vulnerable. The national cyber security centre is working with Police Scotland and the Scottish Government to raise awareness of the growing number of internet scams relating to Covid-19. It is important that the public think twice before they click on links.

Many organisations, at local and national levels, are working on protecting the most vulnerable. The Scottish Government recognises more than ever the importance of supporting our community safety partners through stepping up activity to provide advice and information during this time. We encourage anyone who has been the victim of a scam to report it to Police Scotland by calling 101. There is support available to victims of cybercrime via Victim Support Scotland.

Despite some forms of crime being down significantly, there has been a 10 per cent spike in fraud cases across Scotland. That has included doorstep presentations of individuals saying that they work for the national health service and are collecting funds, or offering shopping for money. Clearly, those are callous acts that exploit vulnerable people. What assurances can the Government give to allay people’s fears?

I am grateful to the member for raising the issue. Clearly, we do not want to get in the way of genuine volunteers who are doing amazing work in their communities to support the vulnerable. There are clear strategies that people can employ to make sure that they are not being taken advantage of. For instance, if someone who is not expected comes to the door, the householder needs to check that person’s ID and call the organisation that issued the identity card, because sometimes identity cards can be faked. People should feel free to take some time to say, “Thank you,” or, “No, thank you,” and to shut the door and have a think before they progress. Crimestoppers is reprioritising its work in relation to Covid-19 issues. It has launched a central landing page on its website that directs people to some of the key issues that come up at the moment. There is an on-going campaign to raise awareness of Covid-19 issues such as those that the member has mentioned, including doorstep crime and other scams and fraud; it will also provide people with targeted advice.

Even more worryingly, there has been a reported increase in fraudulent texts, some purporting to be from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs indicating that tax refunds can be found and others saying that the recipient must pay a fine for breaking lockdown, while other people have received phone calls offering a vaccine trial with financial gain. Those are all devious ways of extorting funds from vulnerable people. What further action can the Government take to put a stop to that worrying behaviour?

We have seen a rise in a number of scams such as those that the member mentioned, including websites offering fake treatments, fake testing kits and so on. Scams have also been set up to try to raise money for fake victims of Covid-19.The public need to be aware of the types of scams that are carrying on.

Ensuring that people in communities across Scotland are safe and resilient is vital, and it will play a key role in getting us through these difficult and unprecedented times. We are working closely with our partners during this crucial period to monitor the impact of those types of crimes on our communities’ safety and to prevent and deal swiftly with any emerging issues.

The Government recognises the importance of supporting our national and local community safety partners and of them continuing to function and, where possible, step up their activity in order to provide information, advice and reassurance during the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

Home Care

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that thousands of people in Scotland have lost their home care support during the Covid-19 crisis. (S5T-02122)

It is important to be clear at the outset that the majority of people who receive home care support have not been reported as losing their home care packages. However, a significant number have, and I take that matter seriously. It is a matter of considerable concern, given our commitment to people’s right to live as independently as they wish to, no matter what age they are.

We have taken a number of steps to assist in that regard. In addition to our direct investment of £800 million in social care, we have been clear that we will support additional costs that are incurred as a consequence of additional demand arising from Covid-19. As members know, we have also agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities a number of actions to support social care, including the uplift of 3.3 per cent to all adult social care contracts to enable front-line social care workers to be paid at least a Scottish living wage. Further, in terms of workforce resilience, a significant number of former social care staff, alongside returning national health service employees, are ready to assist.

We have been clear with local authorities that they are still expected to do as much as they can to meet people’s needs, with appropriate safeguarding measures in place. To ensure that we can resolve any issues as quickly as possible, my officials are in daily contact with chief officers of health and social care partnerships to hear directly from them about any concerns that they have about delivering that.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and for the remarks that she made in her earlier statement. The figures that have been published by the BBC reveal considerable regional variation across the country, with Inverclyde health and social care partnership, in my region, reducing its client and home care visits by more than 4,500, while Angus health and social care partnership has increased its by 80. Indeed, Glasgow—one of the worst-affected areas—says that it is running at a reduced capacity of almost 40 per cent in its care staff due to illness and self-isolation. What extra support is the Scottish Government providing to those partnerships that are clearly struggling more than others to meet demand?

I repeat that it is unacceptable to cut the social care packages, in particular because we have made it clear, jointly with COSLA, in a letter that was written by me and Councillor Stuart Currie, that we would meet the additional costs that arise as a result of the demands of Covid-19 on social care packages in order to allow existing social care packages to continue to be provided as well as to meet additional demand. As I have said, we have returners ready to be deployed into the social care workforce precisely to help with the resilience questions that Mr Greer raises.

We are in direct contact with those local authorities that have made cuts to those packages and we are asking them to tell us what they need in terms of either resources or staffing. I regret to say that not all of them have done that, but we will continue to press very hard the point that they should reinstate those social care packages, bearing in mind their statutory obligations in that regard and our offers of significant support and help.

Organisations such as Glasgow Disability Alliance have expressed concerns about the impact of those changes, which include individuals having their support packages dramatically reduced and others losing support entirely; some have been forced to rely on family members for personal care, meals and medication. The potential impact on the mental wellbeing of disabled people, particularly in relation to social isolation, which often disproportionately affects people with disabilities, is worrying. Are additional resources being put in place, particularly online or remotely, to provide specific mental health support to those who are affected?

As Mr Greer knows, from my former responsibilities, the GDA and other disability organisations are well known to me. I take seriously the importance of enabling people to live as independently as they wish. They have the right to do that and those social care packages are critical to allowing them to do so. We will continue to press our local authority colleagues to take up the considerable support that we are offering them and to reinstate those packages as quickly as possible.

I appreciate the impact on individuals’ mental health and wellbeing, whether or not they are disabled. A number of initiatives have been put in place to support the mental health and wellbeing of the population as a whole, some of which might be particularly appropriate to those who are affected in that area. However, if the GDA or others think that we can and should do more, I would be happy to hear from them and to consider what additional action we can take.

The providers of home care support packages, including personal care, currently follow United Kingdom-wide personal protective equipment guidance, which allows them to self-assess risk in relation to whether they wear a mask. However, confusingly, the same guidance says that masks need be worn only if the person who is receiving the care is symptomatic or shielded. Given the criticism of UK PPE guidance on last night’s “Panorama”, the fact that the First Minister has now advised members of the public to wear masks and the vulnerability of those who receive home care, will the Government publish Scottish guidance that instructs carers always to wear masks?

The First Minister’s advice was about face coverings and not masks. I am not being pedantic; it is an important point. If home care providers are following UK-wide PPE guidance, I do not understand, because the royal colleges and the chief medical and nursing officers clearly issued Scottish guidance. As a consequence of the discussion between COSLA, the relevant unions and me, additional clarity was provided. That guidance is clear: unless their professional judgment tells them that it is not necessary, home care providers and home care staff should wear masks. Rightly, we rely on the professional judgment of the home carers to make that decision. We are working with local authorities and others to ensure that the PPE that is supplied meets the right standard and that, where an emergency top-up is needed, we provide that from our national health service stockpile.

On 7 April, I wrote to the cabinet secretary to raise the concerns of housing associations and sheltered housing properties regarding access to PPE; I have not yet received a response. Given the pressures regarding the procurement of PPE across the world and the number of vulnerable people who live in their properties, what help is being given to housing associations?

The guidance to which I have just referred applies to areas, such as sheltered housing, where social care is provided. If those organisations, which will be private providers or local authorities, find it difficult to access the level and kind of PPE that they require, they are welcome to approach us; we will ensure that, where we can and according to the guidance, we will provide them with that top-up supply. There is no reason why we would not do so.

There is global demand for PPE but, as Mr Briggs will recall from the briefing that I held yesterday with the party spokespeople, we are doing everything that we can to ensure not only an adequate supply but, thanks to the good efforts of my colleague, Mr McKee, to begin to increase the supply chain in Scotland for the provision of PPE.

Worryingly, many care packages have been withdrawn, and almost eight in 10 of Scotland’s unpaid carers are providing more care since the Covid-19 outbreak.

Carers Scotland yesterday published a report: “Caring Behind Closed Doors”. Does the Government accept the findings of that report, which surveyed almost 900 carers in Scotland, and does it accept its recommendations, which include a particular request for a carer wellbeing fund to be established that would enable Scotland’s carer centres and young carer services to better support the needs of our unpaid carers?

I am aware of that report and I know that the organisation has welcomed the inclusion of unpaid carers in the supply of personal protective equipment that I have announced. We will consider the recommendations very carefully and, with my colleagues Aileen Campbell and Shirley-Anne Somerville, will look at that specific request and see how best we may respond to it.

That concludes topical questions.