Meeting date: Thursday, October 28, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 28 October 2021
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Offshore Training Passport, Portfolio Question Time, National Health Service Endowment Funds, Covid Recovery Strategy, Points of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Point of Order
- Offshore Training Passport
- Portfolio Question Time
- National Health Service Endowment Funds
- Covid Recovery Strategy
- Points of Order
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
General Question Time
Good morning. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place, and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and the Holyrood campus.
The first item of business is general questions.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to promote manufacturing in Scotland. (S6O-00293)
The Scottish Government appreciates the vital importance of the manufacturing sector, which accounts for almost 170,000 jobs—6.5 per cent of all jobs in Scotland—and £12.5 billion in gross value added, and it contributes over half of our international exports. It is therefore key to successful implementation of our vision for trade, our export growth plans and the success of Scotland’s economy.
The sector’s importance is why we are investing significantly in support measures through our integrated programme “Making Scotland’s future: A Recovery Plan For Manufacturing”. Central to that programme is our £75 million investment in the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland. The advancing manufacturing challenge fund utilised European funding to draw in £15.8 million of public funding for 12 projects across Scotland, and our £26 million low-carbon manufacturing challenge fund will invite bids that encourage innovative development of low-carbon technologies or processes.
I thank the minister for that detailed answer. Last week, I visited Alpha Solway in Dumfries, which has, supported by the Scottish Government, diversified its business model to production of personal protective equipment, including medical face masks for our national health service, during the pandemic. Can the minister outline further how the Scottish Government can promote its support for manufacturing in Scotland—including through Skills Development Scotland—as a positive career destination, and what action the Government is taking to ensure resilience in the Scottish supply chain?
I am very aware of the fantastic work that has been done by Alpha Solway and have spoken to it several times over the course of the pandemic to commend it for that. Of course, other Scottish companies have responded to the demand for PPE. Our determination to build on that collective response informs planning for a range of measures that have already been outlined.
We have initiated a supply-chain development programme, which spans key sectors of the Scottish economy in which we see sustainable economic potential for resilience for future pandemic waves. It also aims to improve the capacity, capability and development of supply chains.
We work very closely with Skills Development Scotland on delivery of our manufacturing recovery plan, including work to support manufacturing as a positive career destination by targeting apprentices and graduates.
I am pleased that we were able to jointly award the NMIS and SDS £1.98 million of funding from the national transition training fund to increase opportunities in the manufacturing sector—
Thank you, minister.
—for underrepresented groups and to upskill the manufacturing workforce.
In 2016, the Scottish Government highlighted the capacity for the manufacturing sector to grow through development of innovative products and services. The Government has published a manufacturing recovery plan, but Scottish Enterprise is currently not accepting applications for research and development grants. When can companies expect to be able to apply for the funding that they need?
Tess White will be aware that we have invested significant amounts to support the manufacturing sector. I have highlighted the £75 million that we put into the NMIS—whose site I visited just two weeks ago—and other funds that we are putting in place.
Of course, Scottish Enterprise supports businesses with its resources and will continue to do so. Over the past three years, we have put in an additional £45 million to support the R and D grants that Tess White asked about. Going forward, Scottish Enterprise will be awarding grants to businesses that will benefit from them.
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports of people being “spiked by injection” or having their drinks spiked in nightclubs across Scotland. (S6O-00294)
As Pauline McNeill will know from an answer that I gave earlier this week, I believe that the act of spiking is absolutely despicable and that such harmful behaviours cannot be tolerated in our society. Anyone who is found to have spiked a person can be arrested, under a range of existing criminal laws, and can be prosecuted.
Such decisions in individual cases are made independent of the Scottish Government by Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Police Scotland is pursuing every single report of spiking. A gold command on the issue, led by an assistant chief constable, has been established and is reaching out to universities, licensed premises, Public Health Scotland and victim support organisations. Police Scotland has also established connections with the Scottish Ambulance Service to ensure that spiking cases are brought to the police’s attention.
I will chair an urgent round table next week with partners and representatives from across the sector to discuss how we can achieve the right balance of targeted and universal intervention.
I sincerely thank the cabinet secretary for that response. Drink spiking puts victims in a situation in which they are vulnerable to being sexually assaulted, raped, robbed or accidentally injuring themselves. A spokesperson for the girls night in campaign has said that
“spiking has become an epidemic.”
They went on to say:
“Never before have we heard of so many students waking up with no memory of what had happened the night before”.
I have written to Police Scotland to get some detail on the numbers.
As the cabinet secretary said, it is important to work in collaboration with the Night Time Industries Association to find a way forward, including use of testing strips and anything else that will give women confidence and keep them safe.
Finally, does the cabinet secretary agree that the phenomenon is, unfortunately, part of a broader picture of increasing prevalence of violence against women, which we as a society need to tackle with some urgency?
I agree very much with the sentiments that have been expressed by Pauline McNeill and I commend her for contacting Police Scotland. I agree that spiking is part of a wider problem in society, which is one reason why we are considering the potential for a stand-alone offence of misogyny to be considered by Baroness Kennedy in the working group that was established earlier this year. We are taking a number of other measures, but the working group will seek to get to the root of the problem. We are trying to deal with the issue partly through education—for example, by teaching pupils about consent and healthy relationships.
It is a societal problem and one that is, by and large, perpetrated by men on women, so men have to address the issue. I very much agree with Pauline McNeill’s points.
I appreciate the cabinet secretary’s recognition that, in tackling the issue, the focus needs to be on the still-existing attitudes and behaviours of some men. As recently as last week, an Evening Express columnist called Frank Gilfeather wrote a column blaming young women for not looking after their own safety. I thank the Evening Express for dealing swiftly with that, after the outcry.
I have also been disappointed to see misinformation around the law in relation to spiking, particularly from Conservative members and the media. Can the cabinet secretary clarify that spiking, or intending to do so, will be prosecuted under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which can result in a prison sentence, and that the Lord Advocate’s guidance that police officers may choose to issue a warning for simple possession of drugs has no bearing on spiking or so-called date rape?
Gillian Martin has made some excellent points. We should be absolutely clear that women are not to blame, and that they should not have to change their behaviours to account for the wrongful attitudes and behaviour of men. I think that four fifths, or 80 per cent, of such cases involve action by men against women. One fifth are against men, although the perpetrator is usually a man. Any suggestion that women are in the wrong place at the wrong time is utterly wrongheaded. The onus and responsibility should be put squarely at the feet of men, who must take responsibility for their behaviour.
The whole-schools approach and the prevention interventions that I have mentioned are intended to challenge and change the attitudes that permit sexual violence, and to equip and empower young people, particularly young men, with the knowledge that they need in order to navigate consent and healthy relationships.
Gillian Martin is right to talk about the red herring—the recent announcement by the Lord Advocate—that has been brought up in relation to spiking. As I said, the police will take such cases seriously and will prosecute where they are able to do so. That commitment stands outwith comments that were made by the Lord Advocate about people being found in possession of drugs.
Social Housing Providers (Support for Retrofitting)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it is considering a scheme to support and incentivise social housing providers and homeowners to retrofit and refurbish long-term empty homes and bring them back into use as zero emissions housing. (S6O-00295)
Yes. We are making £200 million available over the next five years to support social landlords across Scotland to increase the energy efficiency of their existing stock.
In addition, the affordable housing supply programme is already funding buy-back of empty homes by local authorities and registered social landlords. Social landlords can then access further funding from the social housing net zero heat fund to install zero-emissions heating systems and energy efficiency measures in those homes.
Our “Housing to 2040” strategy includes a range of actions to support and encourage home owners to bring long-term empty homes back into use.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that information. It is clear that local authorities need more powers to bring empty homes back into use, particularly as the need for housing becomes more urgent as we head into winter. That is recognised in the Government’s shared policy programme with the Scottish Greens. The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership is calling for local authorities to be granted compulsory sale and rental order powers in order to bring long-term empty homes back into use as social housing. Can the cabinet secretary confirm whether the Scottish Government is considering that measure?
I thank Ariane Burgess for her question. We are developing proposals for compulsory purchase and sale orders in the context of the policies and actions that are set out in “Housing to 2040”, and in the route map that it includes, to tackle empty homes and vacant and derelict land. There will be more information about the timescale for that in due course.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that it makes sense to restore and refurbish empty homes in rural and island communities rather than to build new ones? Although costs can vary significantly from property to property, has any assessment been undertaken to look at the comparable costs and community impacts in relation to new build?
We need to do both things. Tackling empty homes remains a key priority. Much of our existing housing stock will still be in use by 2050, which is why it is essential that tackling empty properties is part of the solution to meeting housing demand. We want all homes to be occupied, with none being left empty without good reason. The actions in “Housing to 2040” will help to ensure that empty homes are put to the best possible use. The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership estimates that the average cost of returning an empty home to a habitable state is between £6,000 and £12,000.
Social Housing Providers (Highlands and Islands)
To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to support social housing providers in the Highlands and Islands. (S6O-00296)
We are committed to expanding social and affordable housing across Scotland. The programme for government makes clear our commitment to delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which at least 70 per cent will be for social rent and 10 per cent will be in our remote, rural and island communities.
We have made over £327 million available to Highland Council and the three island local authority areas over the current session of Parliament through our affordable housing supply programme. That follows the £266 million that was made available over the previous session of Parliament, which delivered nearly 3,000 affordable homes.
I thank the cabinet secretary for her response. Will the Scottish Government make extra funding available to social housing providers in the islands to help them to comply with the new building regulations, which require sprinkler systems? The regulations require water pressure above that which is available in the islands, meaning that a water tank has to be installed with each new development.
The member raises a good point. Yes—the Scottish Government will make the necessary funding available to social housing providers in the islands and elsewhere, if necessary, to help to cover the costs that are associated with meeting building regulation standards in relation to sprinkler systems.
Although grant providers and recipients will wish to maximise the value that is obtained through the affordable housing supply programme, that does not prevent higher-cost priority projects from proceeding. Flexibility to award grant subsidies above the benchmark is available where social housing providers can demonstrate why additional grant funding is required and the nature of the higher cost.
Stirling Council (Meetings)
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of Stirling Council, and what was discussed. (S6O-00297)
Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including, of course, Stirling Council. That engagement enables discussion on a wide range of issues as part of our shared commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland. The cabinet secretary, finance ministers and I recently invited all council leaders to meet us as part of our commitment to strengthening the relationship between both spheres of government. Those meetings commenced in September and we hope to meet Stirling Council soon, as part of that engagement plan.
High streets across the Stirling Council area, especially those in rural areas, have been badly impacted by the pandemic. Will the minister therefore join me in welcoming yesterday’s announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Callander visitor information centre will receive more than £100,000 from the United Kingdom Government’s community ownership fund? That funding will reopen the visitor centre, help to attract more tourists and revitalise Callander’s high street.
I note the points that Mr Lockhart makes and the impact that that funding will have on the area that he represents. I also hope that he would, as a member of the Scottish Parliament, be concerned about any encroachment on the devolution settlement.
Prescribing (Medication Assisted Treatment Standards)
To ask the Scottish Government what plans have been made for the delivery of same-day prescribing under national medication assisted treatment standards in Brechin, Angus. (S6O-00298)
Earlier this year, I announced a £4 million investment for implementation of the medication assisted treatment standards. That investment comes with an implementation resource in the form of the MAT implementation support team—MIST—to help local areas to focus on and embed the standards.
With regard to Brechin, I understand that MIST will meet the Angus alcohol and drugs partnership next week to discuss and agree the support that will be required for implementation of the standards, with a focus on assisting Angus to provide same-day treatment for those who ask for it.
People access same-day prescription services because, at that point, they are ready to change their lives. Access to those services is therefore, as the minister said, set out in the national standards.
What consideration has the minister given to large sections of the country where the centralisation of services and a lack of resources have meant that dedicated volunteers such as the Brechin Healthcare Group are left to fill gaps? What immediate action will she take to ensure provision for my constituents?
As I intimated in my initial response to Mr Marra, MIST will meet the ADP in question on 4 November. That follows an intensive assessment process, with a view to providing assistance on the shortening of assessment processes, funding models of change and issues in and around long-acting buprenorphine.
I resist Mr Marra’s characterisation of the current position as “centralisation”. It is imperative that we have national leadership, because I am clear that the standards—particularly standard 1, on same-day prescribing—must be implemented. There is a commitment that they will be implemented across Scotland, including in the member’s constituency, by April next year.
Medical Centre (Lochgelly)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the new medical centre for Lochgelly. (S6O-00299)
In January 2020, the Scottish Government approved NHS Fife’s revised initial agreement and invited it to progress to the outline business case stage. However, further development of NHS Fife’s plans was delayed by the need to respond to the global pandemic. I am pleased to confirm that the project is now moving forward and that NHS Fife plans to submit an outline business case for review early next year.
The Scottish Government has committed to investing £10 billion in health infrastructure over the next decade, and that will include funding for a replacement health centre in Lochgelly.
Although I am well aware that Covid has impacted on the timetable, time is moving on. I want to double-check, therefore, given what the cabinet secretary has said, that, when the outline business case is finally received from NHS Fife, full funding will be made available for the new medical centre in Lochgelly and that some urgency will now be injected into that long-standing project.
The member is right to express the frustration of her constituents. I know that the process has been longer than anybody would have liked. However, she will understand that it is necessary with any capital project, let alone a health infrastructure project, that we ensure that the business case stacks up.
I am sure that she also appreciates the fact that the pandemic has meant that other considerations have had to be paused. Nevertheless, I can confirm—I give her the absolute assurance that she asks for—not only that the project is moving forward but that we expect to have the outline business case soon. It may well need refinement, and we will keep going back to NHS Fife on that if necessary. However, I give the member an absolute confirmation that, when we have that outline business case, the funding will be found. It is part of our £10 billion capital infrastructure project moving forward.
Before we move on to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to the gallery Dr Gabriele Andretta, President of the State Parliament of Lower Saxony. [Applause.]