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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 29, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 29 September 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Mental Health Education, Early Learning and Childcare Provision, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

2016 Olympics and Paralympics (Legacy)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to ensure that there will be a legacy arising from the success of the Scottish competitors at the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. (S5O-00201)

I am sure that the whole chamber will agree that Scottish Olympians and Paralympians have had great success at the games in Rio, bringing back a total of 30 medals.

To build on that, sportscotland will continue to use its investment from the Scottish Government and the national lottery to develop its world-class sporting system, including investment in sports facilities for use by communities and performance athletes alike. Those facilities are being further enhanced with the addition of our new national sports performance centre—Oriam—and the purpose-built, fully inclusive national centre Inverclyde, which is opening in spring 2017.

I am delighted that sportscotland has exceeded its aim of creating 150 community sport hubs across Scotland. To date, 155 hubs have been created, with a further £6 million investment creating a total of 200 hubs by 2020.

I thank the minister for that reply and I share her sentiments about the performance of our athletes in Brazil. Does she agree that the important legacy is about our future athletes, particularly our young future athletes?

Is the minister aware that this weekend in Glasgow, district hockey players from across Scotland will be competing and training for the future? Does she recognise that for island competitors that means an additional two nights away and the flight costs of getting to Glasgow for the weekend—which, of course, will be a wonderful weekend? Does she recognise that the need for an islands travel fund, which I have been asking sportscotland to push and to introduce, is paramount and will she agree to take that forward?

I thank Tavish Scott for raising the issue, which I know that he has pursued. Of course, I know through my family connections the challenges and barriers that island life can bring for young competitors. I hope that whoever is going from Shetland to the district hockey event in Glasgow does well.

There have been on-going discussions between sportscotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government on the issue of funding for travel. I give a commitment to Tavish Scott to update him on the progress of those discussions and I will make sure that we meet to work out what further action can be taken to help island competitors.

I thank Tavish Scott for lodging the question on legacy. Last night, I attended the team Scotland sports awards and those of us who were lucky enough to be there could not fail to be inspired by the incredible achievements of Scotland’s sportsmen and women in 2016.

On the back of the huge success of the Scottish contingent in team GB and Paralympic team GB, our children have been eager to find ways to get involved, only to find clubs with ever-growing waiting lists. When discussing legacy, we often talk of increased participation without recognising that that requires increased capacity. In short, we need more coaches and destinations to participate. Investment in our army of volunteers and physical education teachers would be a fantastic legacy from the recent games. Will the Scottish Government undertake to remove barriers to obtaining coaching qualifications and look at opening up schools after hours to enable easy access to facilities?

I am well aware of the barriers that many coaches might experience when they are trying to create opportunities for young people. We have worked on that for some time. That is why, as I stated in my original answer to Tavish Scott, we have invested heavily to meet and exceed our target of community sport hubs across the country, with a further £6 million investment creating 200 hubs by 2020. We are working with the governing bodies and others with an interest in providing sporting opportunities for young people.

We have a great commitment to making sure that young people have an opportunity to participate in sport and we will do what we can to ensure that that happens. However, I think that our record to date is an impressive one and our further investment in facilities across the country shows the direction that this Government wants to take, which is to increase participation activity for all across the country.

Equal Pay (Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how many local authorities have outstanding equal pay claims. (S5O-00202)

The Scottish Government believes that it is completely unacceptable for any equal pay claims against local authorities to remain outstanding. Local authorities are responsible for the employment of their staff, and the Scottish Government is therefore unable to provide details of outstanding claims.

However, the Accounts Commission has indicated that councils estimate that approximately 30,000 equal pay cases remain outstanding. Audit Scotland plans to look at equal pay issues across local government in more detail during 2016-17.

Can the cabinet secretary give an update on what action the Government is taking to ensure equality for women in the workplace?

Over and above our work to support and promote equal pay, the Scottish Government is involved in a wide range of actions to tackle inequality for women in the workplace. Those actions include promoting family-friendly flexible working and high-quality and flexible childcare. We also fund organisations such as Equate Scotland and its careerwise programme, and the close the gap project.

In addition to the commitments on women returners in our programme for government, we have set up a new advisory council on women and girls, and a working group on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, which will be chaired by Jamie Hepburn. That work will help us to ensure that we remove the barriers that women face in the workplace, on top of the work that we will do to tackle the underrepresentation of women on public boards.

The issue of equal pay has been raised in the chamber on numerous occasions, including in November 2015 and February this year. The First Minister has encouraged local authorities that have not yet dealt with outstanding claims to do so quickly.

Will the cabinet secretary consider writing once again to local authorities—I know that the Scottish Government has done that before—including Inverclyde Council that have not yet dealt with outstanding equal pay claims?

Mr McMillan raises a valid point. The issue of equal pay and outstanding claims has been raised in the chamber many times. Earlier this morning, I met my constituent Rose Jackson, who is with the Scottish Pensioners Forum, which is outside Parliament today. She told me that she was fortunate that her own equal pay claim was settled prior to her retirement, but we know that that is not the case for tens of thousands of women the length and breadth of Scotland.

I and the Scottish Government will consider what more can be done, including on our manifesto commitment, which mentions a system of penalties for local authorities that have not settled by April 2017. We can of course write again to our colleagues in local government to follow up those matters. However, the Scottish Government has already taken other action, such as allowing local government the flexibility to use capital receipts to settle claims, and we will abolish fees for employment tribunals when that power comes our way.

High Street Banks (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of high street banks that have retail operations in Scotland and what was discussed. (S5O-00203)

Details of all ministerial engagements are published in arrears on the Scottish Government website. The database includes references to ministerial engagements with representatives of retail and high street banks from September 2015 to April 2016. Details of subsequent engagements will be published in due course.

At those meetings we discussed our mutual interests in supporting Scotland’s economic growth. I will next meet representatives from across the financial services sector, including the high street banks, at the Financial Services Advisory Board meeting on 4 October.

The minister may be aware of research that shows that Scotland has been losing more than 140 bank branches over an 18-month period beginning in July 2015. More than 20 of those branches are in Edinburgh, including a Currie branch that is one of those branches that are commonly referred to as the last branch in town.

Although I appreciate that retail operations may be the prerogative of the bank in question, to be considered in the context of its overall operations, branches play a wider role in society, particularly for the elderly, those who are less able and people in remote areas who are often unable to bank in other ways. Has the minister relayed any concerns to banks operating in Scotland about the ever-increasing number of branch closures and the effect that they can have on communities?

The member raises a very important point, particularly in relation to those who are elderly and who may be less able to use digital services or less equipped with the skills and confidence to do that. I recognise the concerns of his constituents, and members across the chamber will have similar concerns in their constituencies.

These are also worrying times for any branch staff who are directly affected by branch closures. I appreciate that banks, as Gordon Lindhurst indicated, must make commercial decisions and that the way in which people carry out their day-to-day banking is changing, as they move increasingly to digital services. However, I share the member’s concern that banking services must consider the needs of all in our society.

There is a continuing need for face-to-face provision of banking. I made that point very clearly in the members’ debate led by Iain Gray in respect of a closure in East Lothian. We certainly welcome points such as those made by Mr Lindhurst being borne in mind whenever high street banks consider closures, especially where a branch is the last one in the community and especially where elderly customers may be affected.

Housing Developments (Impact on Villages)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes to ensure that housing developments do not have a negative impact on the character and infrastructure of villages. (S5O-00204)

It is for local authorities, through their development plans, to direct the right development to the right place. Scottish planning policy provides a framework of guidance to support authorities in promoting both high-quality development and a sustainable pattern of development.

I welcome that approach. However, many of my constituents in Brookfield, Howwood and Kilbarchan have raised concerns with me over the scale of housing developments in their communities. What further action could possibly be taken to preserve the individual character of villages while, of course, ensuring that there is a sufficient supply of new homes?

Planning authorities have responsibility for the development plan and decisions on planning applications in their area. Renfrewshire Council has published “Renfrewshire’s Places: Residential Design Guide”, which sets out the objectives for sustainable place-making within the area. Throughout the planning system, opportunities are available for everyone to engage in the development decisions that affect them. All those involved in the planning system have a responsibility to engage and to work together with communities and all stakeholders to achieve quality places.

There are huge concerns in parts of East Lothian that housing developments will have a negative impact on health services, schools, public transport and so forth. Can the Scottish Government commit to improvements in infrastructure before housing developments commence?

The Scottish Government recognises that there is a need to improve the alignment of housing and infrastructure delivery and for that to be addressed in development plans. That significant issue is being considered in the on-going work to review the planning system. We are working with a wide range of stakeholders to consider the options for implementing the recommendations of the independent panel that reported in May. The output from that will inform a planning white paper that will be published around the end of this year.

While local authorities have responsibility for drawing up and bringing forward local development plans, it is for the Scottish Government to sign those plans off. Is the minister aware that in many areas there are major delays in getting those plans signed off? In Fife’s case, that is costing the council £400 per day—it is now running into thousands of pounds. Will the minister agree to look at that?

I am aware of the Fife situation. The deputy leader of Fife Council has written to me about it and I will respond. There are some issues with the Fife plan. Scottish Government officials have written to the council to say that about 200 questions need to be answered. I can assure Mr Rowley that I will respond to the deputy leader of Fife Council and will let Mr Rowley know how the matter progresses.

Hate Crime

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Police Scotland regarding tackling hate crime. (S5O-00205)

Scottish Government officials and Police Scotland are in regular touch to discuss tackling hate crime. Police Scotland takes all forms of hate crime extremely seriously and it monitors the level and type of incidents that are reported on a daily basis in order to provide the most effective and robust response to safeguard victims and community groups. It has not seen a significant increase in the level of reports being received since the European Union referendum in June. We encourage anyone who believes that they may have been a victim of hate crime to report it to the police, either directly or through their network of third-party reporting centres.

The minister might be aware of the recent incident outside the St Enoch centre in Glasgow, where a far-right group calling itself national action organised a food bank collection for whites only. What steps can and will Police Scotland take to ensure that such discriminatory and racist action is stamped out?

The behaviour that Sandra White mentioned is, of course, completely unacceptable, and we as a Government are committed to doing all that we can to stamp it out. Police Scotland is closely monitoring the situation and will not hesitate to take action against hate crime.

Air Quality (Aberdeen)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it has taken since January 2016 to improve air quality in Aberdeen. (S5O-00206)

The Scottish Government continues to provide practical and financial assistance to Aberdeen City Council in implementing its air quality action plan, which has been in place since 2006 and was updated in 2011.

In January, Market Street, Union Street and Wellington Road in Aberdeen all failed to comply with the Scottish standards for air quality. In that month, the Scottish Government said that there was still much to be done to deliver benefits for human and environmental health where areas of poor quality remain, but to date there have been no Scottish Government-led initiatives in Aberdeen this year that focus on improving air quality. When will the Scottish Government stop taking Aberdeen and its citizens for granted and deal with the air pollution that seriously affects its citizens’ quality of life?

I do think that the member might have taken the small hint from my initial answer that it is the council that has drawn up an air quality action plan and is taking the actions in connection with that. That is the appropriate way in which to do it, and the member will discover that Aberdeen City Council is not the only council that is doing the job that is required of it.

We believe that Aberdeen City Council has a good plan. It has been revised and the council is taking the appropriate action, where necessary, to declare management areas. We will continue to support it both practically and financially to do the work that it has set out to do.

Scottish Ambulance Service (Road Traffic Accidents)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken to ensure that the Scottish Ambulance Service supports co-responding of emergency services to road traffic accidents. (S5O-00207)

The Scottish Government and the Scottish Ambulance Service understand the importance of a combined response from the emergency services to road traffic accidents. The Scottish Ambulance Service, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service continue to work collaboratively to deliver a joint response to emergencies, and public safety remains a key priority for all our emergency services.

My constituents Mr and Mrs McKandie, who tragically lost their son Keiran in a road traffic accident in March while he was cycling, have highlighted the fact that ambulance control rooms do not routinely alert the fire service to such incidents even though their appliances can get to incidents more quickly with their life-saving equipment. That is despite the emergency services in Grampian signing a memorandum of understanding on such issues in 2010.

Will the cabinet secretary take action to support my constituents’ campaign, which they see as a legacy for their late son Keiran, to ensure that all emergency services are properly co-ordinating their responses?

I met Mr and Mrs McKandie in the summer. I was very moved indeed by their desire to create a legacy in Keiran’s name by improving the response to out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, and I said that I would do what I could to support their campaign.

It is important that all our emergency services take a joint approach in responding to emergencies. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will always attend a road traffic accident where there are additional risks such as entrapment of a patient, fire or spillage. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service are already conducting trials of a joint response in several parts of Scotland as part of the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest strategy, and I have asked them to consider how the evaluation and roll-out of those trials can be accelerated. However, if there is more that we can do, I would want to do that. I am happy to keep Richard Lochhead and the McKandies informed of the progress being made.

Before we move to the next item of business, members may wish to join me in welcoming to the gallery a number of visitors, including His Excellency Lubomír Rehák, ambassador of the Slovak Republic. [Applause.]