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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 28, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 28 November 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, St Andrew’s Day, Portfolio Question Time, Women in Agriculture Task Force (Final Report), Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill: Stage 1, Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


Contents


General Question Time


Fly-tipping

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle fly-tipping. (S5O-03839)

Fly-tipping is illegal, dangerous and unnecessary. It also creates unnecessary costs for local authorities and landowners, and often involves resources that could be recycled or reused.

To tackle that, the Government has provided the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and local authorities with powers to fine people who are caught fly-tipping, with a minimum fixed penalty of £200 up to a maximum fine of £40,000 for those who are prosecuted. We also support reporting of fly-tipping using FlyMapper software and the dumb dumpers campaign.

However, the key to resolving the issue is education and prevention, and work on that is undertaken by Zero Waste Scotland, SEPA and the Scottish partnership against rural crime.

During a recent meeting with farmers in my region of Mid Scotland and Fife, it became clear that the situation has become even more worrying, with one farmer expressing fury that he had to pay for the removal of asbestos that was fly-tipped on his land. Fly-tipping is clearly not just a scourge on the landscape, but now a danger to public health. What urgent action will the Scottish Government take to address the issue?

I completely understand Mr Stewart’s concern—the problem is something that I also hear about in my own constituency. The Government is looking at measures through the proposed circular economy bill. Those measures are out for consultation at the moment and we hope they will help to prevent fly-tipping. The Government believes that prevention and education are key. I met the Scottish partnership against rural crime earlier this year, and I know that tackling fly-tipping is also one of its priorities. A number of measures are either under way or planned that we hope will have an impact on this blight on our communities.

Will the minister advise on plans for the national litter strategy?

The Scottish Government is committed to delivering the national litter strategy. Last year, we published the updated code of practice on litter and refuse, and we will bring forward legislation for a new penalty regime for littering from vehicles as part of the circular economy bill. The Government made those commitments in the national litter strategy. The strategy also contains a commitment to conduct a review in 2020, and we are considering how best to make progress.


Young Drivers (Safety)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to improve the safety of young drivers. (S5O-03840)

Young drivers are a priority area in the Scottish Government’s road safety framework to 2020. This year, we launched a substantial social marketing campaign to address issues that affect young driver safety, including speeding, the use of mobile phones, distraction, drink and drug driving and vulnerable road users.

The road safety framework fund has also supported a number of projects aimed at that priority group. Those include driVR, which is a classroom-based virtual reality experience, and drivewise, which is a multi-agency approach to improving the skills and behaviour of young drivers. In addition, we continue to press the United Kingdom Government to introduce graduated driver licensing.

A criticism of the current driving test is that it has no rural driving safety aspect. In most cases, young drivers learn only the skills that are required to pass the test in an urban environment. If funding were made available to schools to contract specialist driver education that was tailored to and appropriate for their areas, we might reduce the number of accidents on rural roads, which are more likely to be life threatening.

I know that the cabinet secretary has already contacted the UK Government about graduated driver licensing, but in the meantime is he open to looking at options that do not rely on its involvement, such as a young drivers safety fund to which schools could apply for the costs of delivering specialist training that is appropriate for their areas?

I recognise the concerns that Gillian Martin has raised regarding rural driving. She will appreciate that responsibility for the driver testing programme is reserved to the UK Government. However, the Scottish Government is engaged with the UK Department for Transport through its driver 2020 project, which is managed by the Transport Research Laboratory. The aim is to develop new guidance on future interventions specifically for the age group to which Ms Martin refers, which should help to improve their driving behaviour.

We have funded some interventions through our road safety framework fund, which is similar in nature to the fund to which Gillian Martin referred. Some of the initiatives that I mentioned in my previous answer have been supported through that fund, including the education resource for 16 to 18-year olds, which is about promoting driver safety and demonstrating the consequences of poor driver behaviour. Various initiatives relating to distractions and speeding on rural roads still have access to that fund. If Gillian Martin believes that local initiatives could benefit from accessing the fund, I would be more than happy to hear from her and to ensure that officials look into the matter.


Pupil Support Assistants (Training)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes to support the training of pupil support assistants on working with pupils with additional needs. (S5O-03841)

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 places duties on education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils. It is for individual authorities to determine the training that those staff require in providing support to help pupils to reach their full potential.

In support of that, as part of a package of support for school staff, the Scottish Government has funded and co-produced specific training materials on inclusion, dyslexia and autism.

Over a long time, there has been a worrying trend towards unqualified classroom assistants delivering one-on-one support to pupils with additional support needs. The Scottish Government’s recent announcement of the recruitment of 1,000 pupil support assistants to work specifically with children with additional needs is very welcome. Will those additional staff be required to have qualifications in supporting pupils with additional needs? If not, how can they possibly be described as additional support needs assistants?

The Government is taking forward discussions with our local authority partners about the deployment of the £15 million in resources that we have allocated to recruit 1,000 pupil support assistants, who will support young people with additional support needs. Those discussions are on-going, and I hope that they can conclude shortly.

As I indicated in my first answer, staff who work with pupils with additional support needs should be appropriately and effectively trained for that purpose. Individual local authorities are obliged to ensure that their staff are properly trained and equipped for the tasks for which they are recruited.


M90 Commerce Park (Waste)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of public authorities not taking the necessary action to clear waste from the M90 Commerce Park at Lathalmond near Dunfermline, what action it can take to address local residents’ environmental concerns. (S5O-03842)

Responsibility for the site rests with the landowner, which is Trans-Britannia Properties Ltd. Following further correspondence from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the landowner has now agreed to meet SEPA and Fife Council to discuss site clearance options. That might be considered to be a small step forward, but it is a very important one.

SEPA continues to monitor the site and is content that it is not currently posing a risk to the environment or to human health. Therefore, the focus for the moment remains on working collaboratively with the landowner and other relevant parties, including Fife Council, to secure a positive outcome.

When I met SEPA six to eight months ago, it said then that it was due to have a meeting with representatives of the landowner, so not a lot of progress has been made. More than 7,000 tonnes of carpets and plasterboard, the majority of which came from local authorities and other public authorities across Scotland, were dumped on the site. Surely the Government cannot allow that to continue year after year. It is an environmental disaster for which nobody seems to be willing to take any responsibility. Will the minister agree to meet me on the site to look at what can be done to address the issue?

I completely understand Alex Rowley’s concern and frustration. The issue has been on-going for a long time, which is why the meeting that has been secured will be a positive step forward. I am happy to meet him to discuss the matter, and to discuss how more progress can be made. It is very much the landowner’s responsibility to deal with the issue, which is why we are working with the landowner to ensure that it is dealt with as soon as possible.

It does not seem to be fair that the local community and residents have to put up with such an eyesore. Why has the Scottish Government, or the local authority, not simply cleared the site and sorted out later who is responsible?

Again, I say that I completely understand the concern and frustration, especially because the situation has been going on for so long, and because people who live in the area are having to see and put up with the problem. We believe inherently that it should not be up to the public to pay for something that is the landowner’s responsibility. That is why we are determined to pursue all possible avenues for the landowner to take appropriate action first.


Train Fares (Split Ticketing)

To ask the Scottish Government what it can do to tackle the issue of split ticketing for train fares, whereby it can be cheaper to purchase tickets for component parts of a journey than for one straight-through ticket. (S5O-03843)

The ScotRail franchise prohibits the franchisee from implementing any train fare that creates an anomaly, whereby purchasing separate tickets might be cheaper than purchasing one straight-through ticket. Where anomalies are identified, ScotRail should reduce the affected fare at the next fares-setting round, thereby removing the anomaly.

The current franchise includes a price-promise scheme so that passengers do not have to pay a higher fare than is necessary.

Additionally, the Rail Delivery Group is conducting a review of ticketing systems across the UK, and aims to guarantee that the systems are focused on customer needs.

I appreciate that work is being done. However, in reality, an off-peak day return from Garrowhill—my local station—to Perth, costs £29.90. An off-peak day return from Garrowhill to Glasgow Queen Street costs £3.30, and an off-peak day return from Queen Street to Perth costs £16.60, so the total cost is £19.90. That is a £10, or 50 per cent, difference in the fare. If a constituent buys a ticket at a machine, they cannot know about that, whereas if they buy a ticket at the ticket office, the ticket officer can tell them to split the ticket.

I recognise the concerns that John Mason has raised. Significant work has been undertaken since 2012 to eradicate anomalies. I understand that some of the anomalies date back as far as the 1990s because of various promotions and schemes that have operated over the years, which at times can come out through the existing system. I assure the member that I will ask my officials to raise with ScotRail the anomaly that he has mentioned, to ensure that it is eradicated from the system.


Queensferry Crossing (Traffic Flows)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Fife and Lothian councils since January 2019 regarding traffic flows on the Queensferry crossing. (S5O-03844)

No specific discussions have taken place with Fife or Lothian councils regarding traffic flows on the Queensferry crossing. Transport Scotland will engage with the councils over the coming weeks as part of the stakeholder engagement programme that is supporting the evaluation of the Forth replacement crossing project, in line with the Scottish trunk road infrastructure project evaluation process. The evaluation will consider pre-opening and post-opening traffic data.

I am rather concerned to hear that no such meetings have taken place, because several Fife constituents have been in touch with me in recent months to complain bitterly about the lengthy queues and time delays on the North Queensferry approach to the crossing. They have made the point that the rush-hour traffic congestion is as bad as it was when the Queensferry crossing did not exist. Is not it time to rethink the traffic flows and to engage with the two councils?

I recognise that there have been issues with congestion at the Queensferry crossing, which have arisen as a result of a range of matters. I believe that there will be a meeting between Fife Council and Transport Scotland in January, at which some of those issues will be discussed.

Liz Smith is wrong to suggest that the Queensferry crossing has had no impact in terms of improving resilience and traffic flow across the Forth. Since the bridge was opened, it has maintained traffic crossing the Forth on 30 occasions on which the Forth road bridge would have been closed to traffic. That in itself represents a significant improvement in resilience for traffic across the Forth.

However, there are always areas in which further measures can be taken, which is exactly what the discussions between Transport Scotland and Fife Council that are planned for January are intended to address.


Abellio ScotRail (Revenue Protection)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Abellio ScotRail regarding revenue protection. (S5O-03845)

Transport Scotland officials meet Abellio ScotRail on a four-weekly basis to discuss a range of items, one of which is revenue collection performance. That includes a focus on revenue protection support to on-train and booking office staff, as well as plans for revenue protection during specific events.

Does the cabinet secretary agree with me that Abellio ScotRail should do more to protect its revenue, to stop customers evading ticket inspectors and to listen to the complaints from paying customers about fare evasion, and either have more staff at stations that do not have barriers or simply have more stations with barriers?

Stuart McMillan raises a very important issue. A range of work has been undertaken to help to improve revenue protection across the rail network. That includes ScotRail’s “Buy before you board” approach, which has helped to reduce ticket-evasion levels by a significant amount, and to improve income from the franchise, which has risen by about 38 per cent as a result of the range of measures.

ScotRail’s revenue protection team continues to consider other initiatives that could be undertaken on protecting revenue and on ticketless travel. Those measures will continue to be proactively introduced at appropriate times.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that many passengers board trains without a ticket because there are lengthy queues at machines or the machines are not working, so they have no choice. What conversations has the cabinet secretary had with ScotRail on improving access to machines and people’s ability to purchase tickets?

The number of ticket vending machines has increased by about 60 per cent over the past five years, in order to improve access to ticketing across the network. That roll-out will continue in order to improve opportunities for passengers to purchase tickets timeously.

Jamie Greene will be aware that ScotRail’s approach is, increasingly, to use smart cards and smart ticketing as means for people to purchase tickets prior to arriving at the train station. That helps to reduce the number of individuals who have to purchase tickets when they arrive at the station.

A combination of methods is being used to help to improve levels of purchase of tickets prior to travelling on trains.


Dementia Support

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports people living with dementia. (S5O-03846)

The Scottish Government is implementing the national dementia strategy for 2017 to 2020 and is supporting improvements including post-diagnostic support and integrated home care. Free personal care for people who are assessed as eligible, including those with dementia, has now been extended to under-65s, and we are currently considering Alzheimer Scotland’s “Fair Dementia Care” report as part of our reform of adult social care support.

The programme for government for 2019-20 says that we will

“develop our fourth National Dementia Strategy”

and establish a national brain health centre to promote brain health literacy. Work is under way on both of those.

I ask the Scottish Government for a bit more information on how it supports people who are living with end-stage dementia to access services including palliative care, specialist nurses and geriatrics consultants.

On the cabinet secretary’s initial answer, how will the Government work constructively with Alzheimer Scotland, which has made a powerful and compelling case for ensuring that such support is provided without social care charges being incurred?

There are a number of points to make in answer to that question.

We have two national dementia workforce programmes and we are co-funding, with Alzheimer Scotland and health boards, the dementia nurse consultants programme and our national post-diagnostic service. We are piloting new models of care and support, including in primary care, and in a major new pilot project in Inverclyde on home care for people with dementia who have intensive and palliative care needs. We are also supporting implementation of the independent expert report, which was published last year, on modernising specialist in-patient and community care.

On charges, we are working with Alzheimer Scotland, in relation to its report, as part of our national programme to support local reform. That programme is, at its core, being led by people who use the services. I will be happy to update Bob Doris when the programme comes forward.

I very recently had a productive meeting with Sir Jackie Stewart, Professor Siddharthan Chandran—who is the director of the centre for clinical brain sciences at Edinburgh Neuroscience—and other colleagues, at which we discussed how we can continue to support the important research that is being done on a number of neural conditions, particularly motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis and, through them, dementia.

Before we move on to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming the Rt Hon Roger Torrent, who is President of the Parliament of Catalonia. [Applause.]