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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, April 28, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 28 April 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: Point of Order, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Global Intergenerational Week 2022, Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Census 2022, Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Motion without Notice, Decision Time


Contents


General Question Time

We now move on to general question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, short and succinct questions and responses would be preferred.


Laptops and Internet Connection for Young People

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the provision of funded laptops, tablets and internet connections for young people across Scotland. (S6O-01014)

We are committed to providing every school-age child with access to a device and connectivity by the end of this parliamentary session. We have already provided £25 million to councils, which has resulted in more than 72,000 pupils receiving a device and 14,000 receiving an internet connection. Councils have also invested in technology and have indicated that, in total, almost 280,000 devices have been, or are in the process of being, distributed to learners.

That is a complex and ambitious commitment, and we are commencing preparatory work now, ahead of deeper investment in technology from 2023-24.

That was jam tomorrow, as usual.

In written question S6W-07296, I asked how many laptops and tablets had been handed out by local authorities, and in question S6W-06243, I asked how much it would cost to replace and upgrade devices. The Scottish Government could not provide answers, because it told me that it held no data.

No records.

No records—indeed.

The truth is that the Scottish National Party has not worked with local authorities to provide free laptops. It has made an election promise, thrown responsibility to the councils, issued a press release and moved on. Does the cabinet secretary have any idea whatsoever how many pupils currently in secondary schools will leave school without ever having had access to the free laptop or tablet and the free internet connection that they were promised by the SNP Scottish Government?

Mr Kerr might wish to rewrite the SNP’s manifesto as he continues to rewrite his own party’s. However, as I have made clear every time that we have discussed the matter in the chamber, and as I said in my first answer, we are committed in our manifesto to providing every school-age child with access to a device and connectivity by the end of this parliamentary session. We are absolutely determined to do that.

We have convened the joint partnership board with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to oversee the work so, once again, Mr Kerr is factually incorrect in saying that we are not working with councils. We are, in fact, working in partnership with them to oversee the project and I would have thought that Mr Kerr would be pleased that the partnership between the Scottish Government and local government has enabled the distribution of devices to the equivalent of 40 per cent of school pupils at this point. We will deliver on our manifesto commitment by the end of the parliamentary session.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that young people should also be provided with tuition on the use of the devices and that the correct and proper way to use them is to use touch typing? After all, one would not give a child a violin or a trombone without also arranging for music lessons. People who possess the skill can type at three times the speed of those who cannot. Written communication is now essential for most jobs. Therefore, touch typing would open up more opportunities for young people. Will the cabinet secretary meet me and experts in the tuition of touch typing to consider how that might be progressed?

I thank Mr Ewing for his question and recognise his commitment to the issue, in that we discussed it at committee when he was a member of the Education, Children and Young People Committee. He will be aware that we know that the capability to make the use of technology is equally important to the provision of devices. Therefore, as always, I would be delighted to meet Mr Ewing to discuss the matter further.

Question 2 has not been lodged and question 3 has been withdrawn.


Multiple Sclerosis (Access to Specialist Nurses)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that anyone living with multiple sclerosis has access to a specialist nurse in their national health service board area. (S6O-01017)

I pay tribute to the Multiple Sclerosis Society and other stakeholders during this MS awareness week for the excellent work that they do.

Decisions on staffing requirements are the responsibility of individual NHS boards. They are based on changing population demographics. The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities co-produced and published the national workforce strategy on 11 March this year. The strategy commits to publishing new workforce projections in the autumn once we have the opportunity to consider the three-year workforce plans from health boards and health and social care partnerships. Staffing needs for services and professional specialties across NHS Scotland will be factored into the development of those projections in partnership with stakeholders.

The “Scottish MS Register 2021 Report” notes that,

“despite the challenges presented by COVID-19”

87 per cent of newly diagnosed people received

“contact with an MS specialist nurse within 10 working days of diagnosis”.

I am told that NHS Western Isles has stated that it will not replace its recently vacated MS nurse post with a like-for-like replacement but, instead, will appoint a more general neurological specialist and ask its Parkinson’s disease nurse to assist. There are around 100 people in the Western Isles living with MS and the need for specialist care is critical, so what action will the Scottish Government take to assist NHS Western Isles and other health boards in Scotland to recruit full-time specialist MS nurses?

I thank Donald Cameron for an important question. I am aware of the situation in the Western Isles. The Scottish Government has been in contact with NHS Western Isles and there are a couple of points that I can advise him of.

Donald Cameron is right that the advanced clinical nurse specialist in neurology, who I understand will be recruited at band 7, will have speciality across neurology services, including MS. I understand that NHS Western Isles will also take the opportunity to increase the hours of the specialist nurse for Parkinson’s. The additional hours for that nurse will also be in general neurology services.

The board of NHS Western Isles has assured me that patients should not experience a negative change in their care as a result of the changes. If Donald Cameron or any member hears about any diminution or reduction in the care or service that those in the Western Isles with MS are receiving, they should bring that to the board’s attention. They can, of course, bring it to my attention, too.


Dog Theft

To ask the Scottish Government how many incidents of dog theft there have been in the last five years. (S6O-01018)

The Scottish Government does not hold statistics on the incidence of crimes of dog theft, as data is held only under the type of theft—for example, theft, robbery, theft by housebreaking or shoplifting—not by what is stolen.

Last year, however, the Scottish Government contacted Police Scotland, which confirmed that its internal records showed that 62 cases were recorded in 2019-20, and 88 cases in 2020-21. Police Scotland noted that around a third of those cases were recorded as domestic or ownership disputes, rather than theft for financial gain.

I thank the minister for that answer, which goes to the heart of the problem that there is a lack of robust and reliable data. That is what we need if we are to understand the true scale of this growing problem. Can the minister shed more light on the matter by providing the number of prosecutions and convictions for dog theft over the past five years?

I do not have that data with me today, but I can certainly follow that up with the member in writing. A specific offence of pet theft would of course aid in the data gathering on offending behaviour. However, careful consideration needs to be given to the creation of a different or specific offence. I know that the member is considering introducing a proposal on the issue. That risks creating a large number of very similar offences, covering different types of theft.

I would certainly agree that one theft of a dog is one too many, but I am heartened by the internal figures that I have just shared with the Parliament, showing that dog theft is not a high-volume crime in Scotland, with 88 cases being reported last year. We suspect that that figure of 88 cases—being a slight increase on the year before—is likely to have been driven by the rise in demand for puppies during the coronavirus lockdown.

I am very sympathetic to the issue that Maurice Golden has raised, and I trail the fact that my proposal for a bill on the welfare of dogs is lodged today, so it is open for signing.

Further to the response from the minister, I believe that there are eight or so microchipping companies, and every puppy in Scotland has been microchipped. Is there a possibility of combining their data into one database for traceability?

I am not sure; I would have to give that some thought. I can come back to the member, or perhaps the member and I could meet to discuss the issue further.


NHS Scotland COVID Status App

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to extend the NHS Scotland COVID Status app to 12 to 15-year-olds in order to support the increasing number of families that are returning to international travel. (S6O-01019)

We are currently exploring an age-appropriate way to provide digital access to Covid status for children under 16. In the meantime, children under 16 in Scotland who have been vaccinated can obtain a paper certificate of their vaccination status via NHS Inform.

More broadly and looking forward, does the Scottish Government see an on-going need to maintain and develop similar applications as part of its preparation for future pandemics?

Yes. I think that that is a wise thing for any Government to consider, given the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. The member will know that we have a standing committee on pandemics, which continues to advise the Government about any future preparations.

The app that we have developed works well for international travel but, as I alluded to in response to Stephanie Callaghan’s first question, there is further development and evolution of the app still to go. We are keen to complete the work for under-16s prior to the summer holidays.


Violence and Antisocial Behaviour (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to address the reported increase in levels of violence and antisocial behaviour in Glasgow city centre. (S6O-01020)

Everyone has the right to be and to feel safe in their community. We are aware of reports that young people have been travelling to Glasgow to enjoy the city and connect with other young people; we also know that it is only a minority of young people who are carrying out acts of antisocial behaviour.

The police response will continue to be measured and intelligence led, but robust where appropriate, in order to protect the public and young people and to ensure that businesses and the wider community feel safe in the city centre. That response includes the deployment of anti-disorder patrols, which ensure that there is enough capability to respond to spontaneous incidents; the mobile police office, which provides a physical policing base; and mobile closed-circuit television vehicles, which capture evidence in real time. Local authority community enforcement officers support the police, and city centre exclusion orders can be used to place restrictions on offenders.

This week, I met Niven Rennie and Will Linden from the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit to discuss the on-going problems in the city centre of Glasgow. They were clear that the situation is complex, as described by the minister, but that the main driver of antisocial behaviour is children from across the central belt who have nothing to do in their local communities due to the closure of vital community centres and youth projects.

What analysis has the Government conducted to establish how many of those vital community assets have been closed due to continued local authority budget cuts? The Government has placed an emphasis on providing local authorities with Covid recovery grants. How much of that money is going to reopening those vital community assets? Finally, what work is the minister undertaking in conjunction with Police Scotland and Glasgow City Council to explore the possibility of establishing an OnSide youth zone in Glasgow? Those youth zones have been incredibly successful at reducing violence and antisocial behaviour in 18 English cities.

The member has asked a number of questions that I do not think I will be able to answer. I would be happy to meet with him if he wants to discuss more of that in detail.

The member correctly identifies that no single approach will solve the issue. He mentioned youth services. The allocation and planning of resources and services for young people is for local authority partners. However, I understand Mr Sweeney’s concerns and those of the residents of Glasgow about the recent antisocial behaviour in the city and behaviour that is harmful or offending. Such behaviour is unacceptable.

It is important to appreciate that young people have certain rights to associate with one another, whether that is in or outside their home communities. I will ask officials to work closely with leads from the national youth justice advisory group to identify whether there are any gaps in youth service provision. In Scotland, we have a strong focus on early and effective intervention and diversion. Glasgow City Council, the children’s reporter and other relevant agencies are already looking in depth at what they can do about the issue and to offer positive alternatives to antisocial behaviour for young people.

Under the Scottish National Party, the streets of Glasgow have become dirty, depressing and dangerous. Will drugs tolerance zones lead to an increase or a decrease in crime on the city’s streets?

Sanitation is not one of the things for which I am personally responsible.

I will address the issues of crime and young people, youth justice and antisocial behaviour. The Scottish Government is increasing funding for the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit. I am sure that the member will be well aware of many of the important and successful initiatives that have been carried out by that body. This year, we have increased funding for the unit by 14 per cent, or over £1 million, to deliver additional violence prevention activity in the area.

The member will also know that the Scottish Government has taken forward the successful whole-system approach to address the needs of young people who are involved in offending. That has contributed to a dramatic change in the way that youth justice is carried out in Scotland, and the number of under-18s who are sentenced has decreased by 93 per cent.


Asylum Seekers (Afghanistan)

To ask the Scottish Government how many refugees and asylum seekers from Afghanistan have arrived in Scotland since the Taliban’s return to power in 2021. (S6O-01021)

Although that is United Kingdom Government reserved policy, Scotland is committed to playing its part in welcoming people who are fleeing Afghanistan. All 32 local authorities have confirmed their participation in relocation and resettlement schemes.

Afghans are being welcomed into Scottish communities. As of 14 April, 119 families, with more than 480 people, have been resettled in 20 local authorities, and there are six Home Office-procured bridging hotels that are accommodating approximately 350 people. We expect more people to arrive in the coming months.

Last week, at the cross-party group on freedom of religion or belief, we heard about the awful situation for minorities in Afghanistan, such as Shia Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. Is the Scottish Government able to put any pressure on or encourage the United Kingdom Government to help minorities in Afghanistan?

The member raises an important point, as the situation in Afghanistan continues to be extremely concerning, especially for minority groups and women. I raised the issue in a letter to the then Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, on 20 August, and the First Minister raised equality issues in Afghanistan in a letter focused on resettlement to the Prime Minister on 24 August. I followed up with a letter to the Home Secretary on 1 September.

I will write again to the UK Government to press it to do all that it can to support minorities in Afghanistan. The Scottish Government stands ready to help in any way that we can.