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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 30 March 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: Covid-19 Update, Portfolio Question Time, Maternity Services (Moray), Keeping the Promise Implementation Plan, Business Motions, Decision Time, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Health and Social Care

The next item of business is portfolio question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, it would be helpful to have succinct questions and answers.

The first portfolio is health and social care. I remind members that questions 1 and 5 are grouped together, so I will take supplementaries on those questions once both have been answered.

If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question, or enter the letter R in the chat function.

Question 1 is from Pam Duncan-Glancy, who is joining us remotely.


National Health Service (Staffing Shortages)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the action it is taking to tackle the reported staffing shortages within the NHS. (S6O-00926)

I am fully aware of the difficult circumstances that boards and front-line staff are working in. That is why we have worked hard to ensure that our NHS has record levels of staffing, with increased numbers of staff for the past 10 consecutive years. Under this Government, we now have 28,700 more whole-time equivalent staff, or a 22.6 per cent increase. In the last year alone—

We are also investing in record levels of domestic training for doctors and nurses. We have committed over £1 billion to our recovery plan, and £300 million, which was announced last winter, to support additional recruitment. That is already paying off. We have successfully recruited 1,000 healthcare support workers.

We recognise the challenges across the United Kingdom and internationally in recruiting enough staff to meet changing service demands. That is why, on 11 March, we published a long-term workforce strategy, setting out our clear ambition. We will work closely with health boards and health and social care partnerships to produce new staffing projections in the autumn, based on their three-year workforce plans.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, but the plans are not working. In NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, nursing and midwifery vacancies have never been higher. The Royal College of Nursing report that came out yesterday found that there are 3,075 vacancies, and that about 11 per cent of posts are unfilled.

A constituent has been in touch with me about the impact that the situation has had on them. They waited 16 months for a potentially life-changing procedure, and when they finally got the appointment, a nurse spoke of lengthy waits and said that, during the pandemic and, crucially, during the period when it was remobilising, the clinic at the New Victoria hospital had to shut down four times to provide staff cover for the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, due to a lack of staff there.

Patients are being let down and staff have excessive workloads. The recovery plan is not working. The Scottish Government must wake up to the crisis. What more will the cabinet secretary do to address workforce shortages, with resources to back up actions, including improvement of pay and conditions, as a matter of urgency?

Before the cabinet secretary responds, I say that that is not an example of a succinct question.

I will try to give a succinct answer if I can, but I recognise that Pam Duncan-Glancy’s question is an important one. I welcome the report “The Nursing Workforce in Scotland”. With health spokespeople from across the chamber, I met the RCN this morning. We heard, from nurses who were there, very powerful contributions on the challenges that they are facing.

I say to Ms Duncan-Glancy that, overall, nursing and midwifery staffing numbers are at a record high and are up 14.5 per cent, under this Government. Of course, creating new posts is an essential part of workforce expansion. We are investing in our health service. I can give the member lots of detail on that, but for the sake of brevity, I will perhaps write to her about the investment that we are making.

My final point is that, if we can control transmission of Covid, that will be the single biggest factor that will help with some of the workload pressures that our nurses are facing at the moment.


Health and Social Care (Workforce Pressures)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what it is doing to address reported workforce pressures in health and social care. (S6O-00930)

I stress again that staffing has increased under this Government over the past 10 years, with 28,700 more whole-time equivalent staff, and that our £1 billion recovery plan and the £300 million to support pressures over the winter are having an effect. Just this week, we saw that the Scottish Ambulance Service had recruited to a record 550 posts in a single year. Also, 1,000 additional healthcare support staff have been recruited because of our investment.

We engage closely with health boards and integration authorities across the country to offer support, and the situation is under constant review.

The RCN report to which the cabinet secretary referred concludes that

“There are simply not enough nursing staff to provide the care our population needs.”

In Fife, nursing and midwifery vacancies, at 575, have never been higher. In Tayside, 452 posts are unfilled, which is up nearly 300 since the pandemic started.

We are living with the consequences of the decision that Nicola Sturgeon took, when she was health minister, to cut the number of training places for nurses and midwives. What will the Scottish Government do to tackle staff retention, given that so many members of the workforce are leaving due to stress?

I reiterate that nursing and midwifery staff numbers are at record high levels across the country and are up by 14.5 per cent—[Interruption.] If the member listens, he will find that I am trying to address the question.

The RCN report is important, and Murdo Fraser is right to say that there are a number of vacancies, but creating new posts is an essential part of workforce expansion. That said, I fully accept that we need to grow the workforce. We have plans to do that through domestic recruitment, through the student pipeline and through international recruitment.

The member’s point about retention is important and fundamental; it is why our staff are the best paid in the United Kingdom. I promised and committed to the RCN today, as I have done previously, that we will look at terms and conditions and consider what more we can do to retain our excellent skilled workforce. I pay tribute to every single member of that workforce.

I can take some but not all supplementaries.

I am pleased that the Scottish National Party Government, despite having described our plan for Covid recovery, “Back to Normality: A Blueprint for Living with Covid” as “reckless”, has accepted, in its updated strategic framework, a large number of our recommendations.

Chief among them is the ending of mass testing in Scotland and its replacement with a programme of representative sampling. Although that is a welcome development while we learn to live with Covid, it means that 7,000 test and protect employees might have their contracts terminated early. Given the acute and unrelenting staff shortages across Scotland’s NHS, what assessment has the cabinet secretary made of the possibility of redeploying those workers to other parts of our health service?

That is a good question. In the interests of brevity, I give Sue Webber an absolute assurance that our health boards and health and social care partnerships are working extremely closely with our test and protect staff—I pay tribute to their incredible efforts over the course of the pandemic—to see where we can redeploy them. That will be possible with some of them, because there will be a skills match and some will want to stay within the NHS and social care, but I cannot promise that that will happen with every member of staff. We are working exceptionally closely on that and will look to redeploy as many of those hard-working staff as we can.

In social care, a major recruitment and retention issue is creating a crisis. We know that major factors in that are poor terms and conditions and pay, and unequal treatment—in particular, for staff who work in the private sector. Why is the Government not tackling the issue? What will it do to tackle it, given that if it does not, the issue will keep getting worse?

First, I note that we are recruiting to the social care workforce. As I said in two previous answers, we have successfully recruited 1,000 healthcare support workers, many of whom will work in social care.

The point about pay is important, which is why we have introduced not one but two pay uplifts during my time as health secretary. We will also ensure that we get rid of the inconsistency across the country—the postcode lottery of terms and conditions to which the member has previously rightly made reference—with the introduction of the national care service. I look forward to having Labour’s support in that endeavour.

I do not think that the cabinet secretary really understands the depth of the problem in social care. I have reports of people being endlessly stuck in hospital because there are no care home packages. There have been missed visits because there are no care-at-home staff. People are not getting the end-of-life care that they desperately need—they are dying before they get that care. Why has the minister allowed the situation to get so bad?

I understand why Willie Rennie, rightly, asks the question, although I find that he asked the question in an extraordinarily patronising manner. There is not a single person on the Government front bench—myself included—who does not understand the depth of this issue. He does not know any of our personal circumstances, but many of us are also dealing with the issues personally.

I do not want Willie Rennie to think that there is no urgency from the Government. There is, which is why we have recruited into social care, and it is why we continue to speak with, meet and offer support to health and social care partnerships up and down the country. We are developing a national care service so that we can have consistency in standards and so that we can have accountability to ministers that does not exist under the current structures.

I know that Willie Rennie’s party has opposed that: even although it did, I would be keen to discuss with him the importance of the national care service. He should be left in no doubt about the seriousness of the issue or about how seriously we take it. We will continue to invest in social care. If he wants to have a detailed discussion about that, my door is open to him.

The cost of living crisis, including the increasing cost of fuel, will be worrying our vital health and social care staff. I was recently contacted by a constituent who highlighted the impact that it could have on NHS community and district nurses. Are there any plans to increase business mileage payments for NHS employees, to ensure that payments reflect the rising cost of fuel?

All I can say at this stage is that the matter is under consideration. The issue was raised by the RCN this morning, with a powerful contribution from NHS Lothian’s hospital at home team. The issue is under consideration.


Community First Responders (Islands)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting the provision of community first responders in island communities. (S6O-00927)

Community first responders are dedicated and valuable assets to the island communities that they serve. I thank them for all that they have done throughout the pandemic and also pre-pandemic. They are highly valued by both the Scottish Ambulance Service and the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Ambulance Service is primarily responsible for supporting the provision of community first responders, and the Scottish Government provides funding to support the British Association for Immediate Care Scotland, which provides high-quality pre-hospital emergency care training to health professionals in Scotland. That training is for rural clinicians, such as general practitioners and advanced nurse practitioners, to support first responders in providing care to patients until the emergency services arrive.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that, and I agree with his comments on the vital role that community responders play, certainly in Orkney. I pay tribute to the work that they do in keeping their communities safe.

At present, some responders are considering leaving the service. They are frustrated at inconsistencies in how responders on different islands are treated and they are concerned about unsustainable burdens being placed upon them. That could have serious consequences for the island communities concerned. Will the cabinet secretary ensure that NHS Orkney and the Scottish Ambulance Service are supported, including financially, to develop models that work in an island context and provide greater consistency of support for community responders?

Liam McArthur raises an exceptionally important issue. I am aware that there are different local arrangements across the islands, which means that some responders are paid for on-call sessions and for call-outs by the Scottish Ambulance Service, while others operate on an entirely voluntary basis. I understand that the member has had discussions with the Scottish Ambulance Service on the issue. The Scottish Ambulance Service has assured me that it is committed to working with NHS Orkney and the local community to find a suitable resolution to the issue, and the service has asked to be kept updated on the progress of that.

We have a supplementary question from Sandesh Gulhane. [Interruption.] We need to unmute Dr Gulhane.

Can you hear me now?

Yes, thank you. Please proceed.

Suffering an out-of-hospital heart attack has a very bad survival rate, but use of a defibrillator can save lives. I am sure that the cabinet secretary joins me in wanting to have defibrillators across our communities. Will he be able to make money available to amateur sports clubs across the country to have defibrillators installed? Will he also make funds available to roll out the registration of current defibrillators in the circuit programme, which is run by the British Heart Foundation?

I know that Dr Gulhane has a real interest in sport. I think that he is the doctor for a football club—I certainly know that he was one in a past life—so I know that the issue is close to his heart. I will absolutely look at what more funding and support we can provide in that respect.


Neurodevelopmental Assessment Waiting Times (Lanarkshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce neurodevelopmental assessment waiting times in Lanarkshire. (S6O-00928)

The Scottish Government is committed to implementing the “National Neurodevelopmental Specification for Children and Young People: Principles and Standards of Care”, which was published in September 2021. It specifies service standards that all children’s services should follow to ensure that access to support is effective and consistent across Scotland.

The Scottish Government has also commissioned directors of e-health, working with others including Public Health Scotland, to improve digital infrastructure, applications and data to report on all standards in the national neurodevelopmental specification.

In addition to those actions, and to support that work, £3.06 million has been allocated to NHS boards in 2021-22 to build professional capacity in boards to support children and young people with neurodevelopmental support needs.

Ahead of receiving a neurodevelopmental assessment, it is common for children under five to be vetted by a community paediatrician. I have a constituent who has been told by NHS Lanarkshire that her son will have to wait 21 months to see a paediatrician, and that does not include the delay on the neurodevelopmental waiting list, which is currently two to three years.

What progress is the Scottish Government making on the target that it set last September, which the minister referenced? It states that children and young people should receive their assessments within four weeks of identification of need. Will he confirm what specific funding has been allocated for catch-up in relation to the assessments?

It is very difficult for me to comment on an individual case, but if Mr Simpson gets in touch with me, we will have a look at that. I know that this will be a worrying time for the family involved. We will see what we can do if Mr Simpson gets in touch.

In general, we are closely monitoring national health service boards with significant performance challenges, including NHS Lanarkshire, and supporting the continuous development of their detailed local improvement plans. The creation of those plans is further supported by enhanced support from subject matter experts and the sharing of best practice.

NHS Lanarkshire has appointed two waiting list co-ordinators and they are taking forward a validation exercise for child and adolescent mental health services and neurodevelopmental work, which should be completed by the end of March. I will also ask the board to look at the specifics of the situation that Mr Simpson has described.

I welcome the work that is being done to tackle waiting times. Is the Scottish Government working with stakeholders such as the NHS, local authorities and the third sector to maximise the support that is available to people who are waiting on a formal diagnosis but still require some input? How can we improve that to ensure that individuals get the support that they need?

The brief answer is yes. Through our children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing joint delivery board, we continue to work with colleagues across the NHS, local authorities and those in the third sector to improve support for children and young people. In particular, we have recently provided five local authority areas with additional funding to take forward tests of change on the implementation of the neurodevelopmental service specification.


Problem Alcohol Use (Investment in Services)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is targeting investment to improve services for people with problem alcohol use. (S6O-00929)

We announced £100 million of additional investment to increase the availability of residential rehabilitation, which will benefit people with alcohol use disorders.

We are exploring the evidence around managed alcohol programmes for people who experience homelessness by contributing to the running and evaluation of the Simon Community Scotland pilot in Glasgow. Last year, we launched our framework towards a whole-family approach. It sets out the principles of how we will improve holistic support for families that are affected by drugs and alcohol by using family-inclusive practice.

As the minister will know, in 2020, the number of people who died directly because of alcohol use increased by 17 per cent to 1,190. Although I appreciate that the long-awaited alcohol treatment guidance is the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government, when it is introduced in Scotland, will the Scottish Government commit to introducing standards that are similar to the medication-assisted treatment standards that have been introduced for problematic drug use, which would look to provide a framework for people with problem alcohol use to ensure that they get the support that they desperately need?

Absolutely. We have been working with the UK Government and the other devolved Administrations in reviewing and updating clinical guidelines for alcohol treatment. The guidance will look to introduce new approaches to treatment and will apply to a broad range of settings, including primary care and hospital and justice settings. That will support the development of a clear consensus on good practice and will help services to implement interventions for alcohol use disorders that are recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Successful implementation of the guidelines for alcohol treatment in Scotland will set a platform for our work around introducing standards and targets. I assure the member that the Scottish Government is working hard to understand any commonality between medication-assisted treatments for drug use and alcohol treatment. Officials from both alcohol and drug policy are working closely to explore the opportunities for alcohol treatment, which will ensure that we are learning from the experience of embedding drug MAT standards.

We know the benefits of keeping families together during treatment, which not only aids a person’s recovery but reduces harms for their children. Will the minister expand on the work of the Aberlour Child Care Trust project and how it will support improved outcomes for women and children?

The member is absolutely correct: a key recommendation from both the Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce and the residential rehabilitation working group was the improvement of residential services for women and children. There has been a disproportionate increase in the number of drug-related deaths among women, and the need to act on the recommendation has never been greater.

On 23 March, it was announced that funding would be given to the Aberlour charity to establish two new recovery units that are specifically aimed at helping women and their children through treatment. The project will provide Scotland’s first dedicated mother and child residential care units, and will allow women to receive recovery support while living with their children.

The new units will provide eight new residential rehabilitation placements for women in Scotland. The houses will be designed to enable the children of women with problem substance use to stay with their mothers during their recovery. The service will integrate addiction services with mental health and homelessness services, and it will take a person-centred approach to recovery.

The project has the support of The Promise Scotland, which aims to give families the support that they need to stay together, and it will help to ensure that many women can access residential treatment without fear of their children being removed from their care.

Question 6 has been withdrawn.


People with Suicidal Intentions (Accident and Emergency Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what assurances it can provide regarding the support that is given to people who attend accident and emergency between 5.30 pm and 9.00 am with suicidal intentions. (S6O-00932)

Everyone who is in need of emergency mental healthcare must receive that support quickly and, wherever possible, close to home. NHS 24’s mental health hub provides 24/7 support for anyone who is seeking mental health support, and health boards have made considerable progress in improving care for those seeking out-of-hours support through a roll-out of mental health assessment services. If there is a real threat to life, people can be directed to, and receive prompt care in, A and E departments.

Each health board has arrangements in place to ensure that patients who present at A and E in mental health crisis are properly assessed and cared for, at any time of the day. In practice, that involves specialist mental health clinical staff working alongside A and E teams to ensure that people who have suicidal intentions are assessed and that tailored care plans are put in place. Those care plans may include accessing support from crisis support organisations or local mental health services or, where necessary, admission to hospital.

The distress brief intervention programme provides personalised, compassionate support to people who present to front-line services—including A and E departments—in emotional distress but who do not need emergency clinical services. DBI is available nationally via NHS 24 and provides practical support to help people understand and manage their distress.

There are between 15 and 20 people in the Falkirk area who repeatedly present at A and E accompanied by police officers due to suicide attempts. The police pass them into the care of the national health service and then, too often, the NHS discharges them at times when support services are closed—sometimes even in the middle of the night. Will the minister or perhaps even the cabinet secretary agree to meet me and concerned constituents to discuss these matters in detail, with a view to stopping A and E discharging vulnerable people at times when they cannot access the support that they need?

We know that some people experiencing mental ill health and distress present at A and E and a minority of people do so repeatedly, as Mr Kerr has described. Through the redesign of urgent care programme, the Government is working with partners to ensure that people do not have to attend A and E to receive the care that they need. However, when they do, improvements to our urgent care response will ensure that appointments can be scheduled so that clinicians are ready to receive people, providing care quickly and reducing waiting times for patients.

I am keen to get the redesign of urgent care programme absolutely right and I am happy to meet Mr Kerr.

I can squeeze in question 8 if there are succinct questions and answers.


Covid-19 (Ending of Free Testing)

To ask the Scottish Government whether the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 recently reaching the highest level since the pandemic began has impacted on its modelling and risk assessment regarding the ending of free testing for the general population from 30 April. (S6O-00933)

Although case rates are currently high in Scotland, we recognise that we are in a different phase of the pandemic. Testing will still be required for other purposes; it will play a role in supporting patient treatment and care and protecting those in the highest-risk settings, and it will be a key part of surveillance. Our modelling is continually updated based on a range of data, including hospital occupancy and infection levels.

I am also interested in any comments that the cabinet secretary may have in response to third sector organisations and professional bodies that have recently raised further concerns for those they represent who are in a high-risk health group or working environment about the impact that the end to asymptomatic testing will have on their health and wellbeing, as well as on their confidence and their ability to carry out their professional duties.

We have set out in our transition plan that there will be continued testing for those in high-risk settings.

I met a group of carers this morning, who were speaking on their behalf and on behalf of those that they care for, and I recognise that there is still some anxiety for those who were on the highest-risk list. That list is currently being reviewed by clinicians, as indicated by the chief medical officer in his latest letter to that group. The review is anticipated to conclude shortly and I will make sure that Stephanie Callaghan is kept updated.

We will now move to the next portfolio. I will allow a short pause to enable front-bench teams to move seats if they wish.


Social Justice, Housing and Local Government

The next portfolio is social justice, housing and local government. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter an R in the chat function during the relevant question.


Social Housing (Shortage)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the reported on-going shortage of social housing since 2007. (S6O-00934)

I am very proud of our record of delivering more than 108,000 affordable homes since 2007, with more than 75,000 of those for social rent. We are committed to delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, at least 70 per cent of which will be available for social rent. Ten per cent will be in our remote, rural and island communities. To support that aim, our total planned investment of £3.6 billion in this parliamentary session means that we can continue the important work that was started in 2007 of ensuring that everyone in Scotland has a warm, safe and affordable place to live in.

The trouble is that Scottish National Party housing ministers have been saying exactly the same thing for the past 15 years. There are 16,000 people on the Fife housing register waiting list. The minister wrote to me recently and claimed that, under the affordable housing supply programme, 370 new houses were built in Fife last year. At the current rate of progress, it will take another 43 and a half years to clear the waiting list. Should not the housing strategy be changed from housing 2040 to housing 2065?

SNP housing ministers have been delivering affordable homes. They have delivered 108,000 since 2007, and another 110,000 will be delivered by 2032.

Since 2007, a total of 6,011 affordable homes have been delivered in the Fife Council area, 4,485 of which have been homes for social rent. Investment in Fife will be at a record level in this parliamentary session, at £179.3 million. That will deliver a range of housing and a mix of affordable tenures. Investment of £40.2 million in this year alone will mean that an estimated 400 affordable homes will start on-site, and it is expected that a further 378 homes will be completed, the vast majority of which will be for social rent. We will continue to get on with delivering affordable homes.

Willie Rennie comes to the chamber and says that we need a housing strategy with a longer timeframe. How about Willie Rennie coming to the chamber with some positive suggestions and proposals for once? We are delivering affordable housing in Scotland at a level that well exceeds that of anywhere else on these islands, and I am proud of that.

As well as the on-going shortage of social housing, there is a lack of democracy in respect of rent increases in the social rented sector. Most social landlords conduct limited consultation of tenants and present them with no choice other than to accept a rent increase. The tenants union Living Rent is calling for statutory and binding rent consultations that present a real choice to tenants and empower them to reject rent increases if they wish to do so. Will the Scottish Government stand up for tenants by making that change?

The affordability of rents is a huge priority for the Government. That is why my colleague Patrick Harvie is taking forward the rental housing strategy, which is out for consultation. The affordability of rents and rent controls are, of course, an important part of that.

On the social rented sector, Mercedes Villalba should be aware that the Scottish Housing Regulator has a role in ensuring that rent levels are not increasing at an unacceptable rate. Of course we want to keep rents at an affordable level for tenants.

It is important that Mercedes Villalba recognises that the rental income from social housing for councils and housing associations is reinvested in further affordable housing stock. I hope that she welcomes that.

How will the measured lifting of Covid restrictions support the construction sector to get back to a normal level of delivery and, by extension, support the delivery of affordable housing plans?

I am sure that the member is aware, as others will be, that delivery continues to be challenging, due to the on-going impact of the current tendering climate, which is affected by global shortages in the supply of materials and skilled labour, and the associated rising costs, as well as the continuing impact of the pandemic. We are working closely with our social and affordable housing delivery partners to ensure the delivery of warm, affordable homes. Recent completion figures show positive progress, with a welcome 35 per cent increase in completed homes compared with the previous year. However, it is a concern and we are working with local partners to make sure that the affordable housing supply programme keeps up the necessary momentum.


Adapted Housing (Support for Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to support local authorities in providing adapted housing. (S6O-00935)

Local authorities are responsible for determining local housing needs and priorities, including for people who need adapted housing. However, we know that there are issues with how adaptations are accessed and delivered locally and we are taking forward a programme of work to streamline and make the process easier for people. We are working to increase the supply of accessible and adapted homes. Wherever possible, all new affordable homes are designed to be flexible in order to meet people’s needs as they change over time. We are also delivering a programme to retrofit homes in the social rented sector to make them more accessible.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response and I recognise what she says about aids and adaptations. In a previous answer from Kevin Stewart, I noted the commitment of £20 million of extra funding for housing, in order to bring people home from long-stay hospitals. Although funding has been committed, it seems that no real targets are attached to a lot of that money. Given that organisations such as Enable Scotland, the MS Society and MND Scotland have highlighted and campaigned on the need for speed in relation to adapted housing, will the cabinet secretary commit to a target of at least 10 per cent of new social housing properties to be fully accessible internally and externally?

I certainly want to look at how we can make improvements in delivering more accessible homes. The member will be aware of “Housing for Varying Needs: a design guide”. Although the guide is a good standard, we are commencing work on a review of it. In relation to targets, we expect local partners to map out the needs in their area. Rather than setting up a national arbitrary target, it is more important that local authorities identify needs in their area. Of course, there are now requirements for local authorities to report back on the number of wheelchair-accessible housing properties. However, if there is more that we can do, I am happy to continue to talk to the member about that.


Unsafe Cladding

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will introduce the same proposals as the United Kingdom Government that will remove unsafe cladding from all medium or high-rise buildings. (S6O-00936)

By adopting critical new British Standards Institution publicly available specification guidance, which is called the PAS 9980, the UK Government has adopted the Scottish Government’s approach, which combines building integrity and fire safety. That move is welcomed. Our single building assessment is the right solution for Scotland’s unique tenure system and need for a bespoke solution. We await news of the UK Government’s proposed developer fund and how that will support the devolved Administrations. I will update members in due course on our further plans to help more home owners with assessment and to mitigate and remediate their properties against unsafe cladding.

The minutes of the building standards (fire safety) review panel meeting in January, which were published this week, revealed that the panel has recommended that the BS 8414 tests should be retained. That recommendation contrasts with England and Wales, which have had a regulatory ban on the use of that test for high-rise domestic and institutional buildings for several years. Support for a regulatory ban on BS 8414 was the most popular choice in the Scottish Government’s recent consultation, and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the Scottish Tenants Organisation and many local councils were among those in favour of a ban. Will the cabinet secretary join England and Wales in properly banning combustible cladding and insulation from high-rise buildings?

We are taking forward the requirements. Of course, we already had a different set of building standards in place, and we are taking forward the necessary changes that will ensure that we have the building standards that are required. I am happy to write to the member with the detail of that.

However, that is just one element of addressing the issue. Building standards are critical and, as I said, Scotland has some of the most rigorous building standards in the UK, as I hope the member appreciates. We need to ensure that the issues that are being addressed are about not just building standards but insurance and mortgage availability, which are of course reserved matters that sit with the UK Government.

I would like more partnership working on all those issues, but that is incredibly difficult when the UK Government seems to fail to understand the issues of property law and property rights in Scotland. That is getting in the way of resolution here in Scotland, and there is a similar situation in Wales. It is very difficult to get the UK Government to listen on that. If the member can assist with that, that would be very welcome.

We have a supplementary from Willie Coffey, who joins us remotely.

Will the cabinet secretary detail what fire safety actions the Scottish Government has taken to enhance the safety of buildings, based on the work of the ministerial working group on building and fire safety?

In October 2019, we took strong steps to ensure building safety by strengthening guidance relating to the use of combustible cladding and means of escape, and measures to assist the fire service. From February, under legislation that was introduced after the Grenfell tower tragedy in 2017, all home owners and social housing tenants have been required to have interlinked alarms. Of course, private rented and new-build homes already had to meet those standards but, from February, they apply to every home in Scotland, regardless of age or tenure.

We will continue our work focusing on building safety by bringing forward further legislation and updated guidance related to cladding shortly. I offered to write to Meghan Gallacher with further details of that, and I am happy to write to Willie Coffey with the same.

Following the news this week of allegations of lobbying of the Scottish Government, will the Government take this opportunity to confirm that it will not be swayed by vested interests and will indeed follow the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service advice and ban combustible cladding on high-rise buildings?

As I have just said, we will continue our work focusing on building safety by bringing forward further legislation and updated guidance related to cladding shortly. I am happy to include Martin Whitfield in the correspondence that I mentioned to provide more detail on that.

At the end of the day, it is important that the action that the Government takes is based on the expert advice that we receive, not least when we are dealing with technical issues such as building standards, and that is the process that I will continue to follow. As I have said, I am happy to write to the three members who have asked about the issue with information on the further legislation and updated guidance, if that would be helpful.


Homelessness

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what plans it has to tackle homelessness. (S6O-00937)

We are working tirelessly with our local government and third sector partners to end homelessness and rough sleeping and ensure that everyone has a safe, warm and affordable place to call home. Our ending homelessness together action plan, which is backed by funding of £100 million between 2018 and 2026, outlines our objectives, and we publish an annual report to show the progress that has been made. To end homelessness, we must prevent it from happening in the first place, which is why we are consulting on plans for new legal duties on public bodies and landlords to prevent homelessness and to ask about and act on somebody’s housing situation.

Homelessness in Scotland has long been a national scandal but, shamefully, 245 veterans were sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation last year alone. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their experiences in the line of duty, which makes adjusting to civilian life all the more challenging. Those people have risked their lives in the service of this country and now, when they need our support, they are quite literally being left out in the cold.

The Government’s ending homelessness annual report from last year made no mention of homeless veterans. What is being done to offer mental health, housing and employment support to our veterans so that this terrible pattern is ended once and for all?

I absolutely recognise that veterans might have particular needs. For some time, the Government has had a strategy for veterans that looks at all the particular needs, including housing needs, that veterans might have. Our housing first model recognises that people have multiple and complex needs and that it is not just about giving people a front-door key; it is about providing the wraparound services that they require. In many cases, the housing first model can be a good solution for veterans.

The rapid rehousing plans that local authorities have been developing very much recognise that people, including veterans, have complex needs. I am happy to speak to my officials to ensure that we do everything that we can to ensure that the housing first model accommodates the needs of veterans in the fullest sense.

The cabinet secretary said that she is working tirelessly, but the number of people who are homeless in the capital is increasing, and Scottish ministers are holding back £9.3 million of emergency homelessness support because of a bureaucratic anomaly. How does the cabinet secretary expect the City of Edinburgh Council to end homelessness by the end of this parliamentary session when it is being chronically underfunded by the Scottish Government?

The technicality, which Miles Briggs has raised previously, relates to the City of Edinburgh Council choosing not to delegate its homelessness services to Edinburgh city integration authority, so any funding that is provided to the integration authority cannot be used to tackle homelessness. When it suits them, Miles Briggs and other colleagues come to the chamber to complain about the Government interfering in local matters, but then they tell us that we have to intervene. [Interruption.] It is for the City of Edinburgh Council to decide how it organises its homelessness services. Let me say—

Cabinet secretary, please resume your seat. There is far too much sedentary cat calling. Please continue, cabinet secretary.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Tackling homelessness in the city of Edinburgh is a priority, so we are funding the City of Edinburgh Council and other local authorities to take forward work to reduce the use of temporary accommodation and to build and acquire new homes through the affordable housing programme.

We will continue that work. The majority of the funding that local authorities receive for tackling homelessness is provided through the annual local government finance settlement.

There needs to be a bit of consistency from Miles Briggs. Edinburgh is taking forward its plan for tackling short-term lets and holiday lets.

That is irrelevant.

It is relevant, because the City of Edinburgh Council—

Excuse me. Cabinet secretary, please resume your seat. Again, conversations are not taking place through the chair. We are in a Parliament, so I ask members to please speak through the chair.

The City of Edinburgh Council has been consulting on making the whole of Edinburgh a short-term let control area in order to restrict the loss of properties to the short-term let market. What did the Tories, including Miles Briggs, do? They voted against those measures. When the Government introduces measures to address homelessness issues in the city of Edinburgh, Miles Briggs votes against them. He cannot come here to complain about something when he votes against actions that will help to address the situation. That is hypocrisy.

As a former front-line homelessness worker, I welcome the cabinet secretary outlining how the Scottish Government is working to tackle homelessness. However, does she share my frustration that actions that the United Kingdom Government has taken—particularly the deeply damaging £20 per week cut to universal credit—risk undermining our efforts?

Yes—I do. It is another example of the Tories doing something that undermines those who are on the lowest incomes. The removal of the £20 universal credit uplift has had many impacts that directly relate to homelessness and to making the lives of those who are struggling even more difficult. Tory MSPs are complaining about something that their own Government is making 10 times worse, so they should perhaps have a word with their Tory colleagues down south.


Audit Procedures (Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to improve audit procedures for local authorities. (S6O-00938)

The audit of local authorities is delivered by Audit Scotland, on behalf of the Accounts Commission, operating independently of the Scottish Government. Improvements to audit procedures for local authorities are a matter for Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission to consider.

The minister might be aware of not one or two but three major building and maintenance failures at Dundee City Council, which have resulted in local taxpayers footing a minimum bill of £11 million—and rising. For years, the Scottish National Party administration ignored repeated warnings that the Olympia leisure centre required urgent maintenance. That eight-year-old building now looks set to close for more than 18 months. Audit procedures have clearly failed. Will the minister back an urgent public inquiry into how the SNP council administration so badly failed the people of Dundee?

As Mr Marra will be aware, councils are independent corporate bodies that are separate from the Scottish Government. Councils conduct internal scrutiny of their own activities through an audit or scrutiny committee, which examines performance and the management of risk in a council. The matters that the member raised are therefore for Dundee City Council to review and address.

I understand that the scrutiny committee that has been looking at the matters that the member raised has met in recent weeks. Councillors from Opposition parties chair and co-chair that committee. The Olympia building, which Mr Marra referred to, is operated by an arm’s-length external organisation that has councillors on its board to give oversight from a cross-section of political parties.

I understand that the scrutiny board has the ability to investigate broadly, with broad power. As I said, the matters that were raised are for Dundee City Council to review and address, but if Mr Marra wants to engage in written correspondence, I will be happy to receive it. We could also consider the council getting in touch with the Scottish Government to seek support and assistance, if it wanted to do so.

A chief education officer in Aberdeenshire Council recently broke freedom of information and data protection laws by sending a threatening email to someone who had asked FOI questions about education. It appears that the officer—as a chief education officer—has also breached the council’s statutory responsibility. Should Audit Scotland investigate such breaches? If not, who should investigate local authorities when those rules are broken? Is the Government aware of the questions that led to that serious breach?

I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to comment on the individual case that the member raised. However, I am sure that he is aware of the relevant bodies to take the matter up with.


Ukrainian Refugees (Access to Resources)

 

6.

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with the United Kingdom Government to ensure that refugees arriving in Scotland from Ukraine have access to the resources that they need. (S6O-00939)

We have been working closely with the UK Government on the operation of its homes for Ukraine scheme, and Scotland’s supersponsor offer to provide a safe place of refuge and sanctuary to displaced Ukrainians as part of that scheme is now open.

The people who come here from Ukraine have a right to work and have access to social security and public funds, so we will ensure that people are aware of, and get access to, the wide range of services and support that they need. The complex needs and human rights of those who are fleeing the atrocities in Ukraine are our number 1 priority. Welcome packs in Ukrainian will provide information on accessing a range of support, translators will be on hand to help and trauma experts will be on call.

This morning at the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee in the House of Commons, Lord Harrington, the Minister of State for Refugees, said that he had previously inadvertently given the wrong information on the £10,500 per person tariff that local authorities would receive to support refugees from Ukraine who are settling in our communities. He clarified that the funding would now only be available based on the number of people coming through the homes for Ukraine scheme and not anyone settling through the Ukraine family scheme. Does the minister agree that such a lack of parity for people who are fleeing the same war is unacceptable?

Yes, I do, and I thank Gillian Mackay for raising that important and concerning development. I said in my previous answer that we have been working closely and well at the official and ministerial level, so it is all the more disappointing that the first that we heard of the development was when Lord Harrington articulated it to the Commons committee this morning. That is clearly unacceptable in itself.

The £10,500 per person tariff is for local authorities

“to provide support to families to rebuild their lives and fully integrate into communities.”

It is there to meet costs incurred by councils that will come up regardless of how the people arrive. The Scottish Government is, of course, providing local authorities with funding of £13 million over and above the UK Government tariff.

The UK Government decision will clearly leave some local authorities disadvantaged because displaced people will arrive via the family route rather than the homes for Ukraine or supersponsor route. Any areas that have a significant Ukrainian settled population will obviously see more people arriving by the family route and they will therefore be disadvantaged.

I totally agree that such a potential lack of parity is unacceptable. I assure Gillian Mackay that we will pursue the matter vigorously with the UK Government, and I expect other areas across the UK to do likewise. The UK Government must reconsider.

The welcome hubs for Ukrainian refugees will be vital in getting the right information to people arriving in Scotland. What can wider civic Scotland and the media do to ensure that dignity, respect, and privacy are given to Ukrainian refugees to allow them the time to settle in Scotland?

I thank Clare Adamson for raising such an important issue. It should go without saying that people arriving here who are escaping the trauma of war should be afforded dignity and privacy so that they can rebuild their lives here in Scotland. I hope that that will be respected by everyone across Scotland, the media and others included.

We will do all that we can with our local authority and third sector partners to ensure that we give the people who arrive from Ukraine the protection and safeguarding that they need. There is genuine goodwill among the people of Scotland towards the people who are arriving here, and it has been heartening to see that, but Claire Adamson is right that we need to continue to reflect on what is happening and ensure that they are given a warm Scottish welcome when they arrive.

I can squeeze in questions 7 and 8 if I have succinct questions and answers.


Tackling the Gap between the Most and Least Deprived Communities (Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to engage local authorities in programmes to tackle the gap between Scotland’s most affluent and most deprived communities. (S6O-00940)

The tackling child poverty delivery plan that was published last week sets out a range of bold and ambitious actions, many of which will be taken forward with our partners in local government, including taking immediate steps to mitigate the UK Government benefit cap which is a harmful policy that disproportionately impacts on our poorest. We will also work with councils to deliver a new employment support offer for parents, backed by initial investment of up to £81 million in the next financial year, and a transition fund to support parents into employment.

Local government is a key partner and we will continue to engage with it as part of our national mission to tackle child poverty.

I thank the minister for her answer, and I draw my colleagues’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests as I am an East Lothian councillor.

As we seek to close the gap between Scotland’s richest and poorest communities following 15 years of SNP inaction, will the minister now welcome the next wave of levelling-up funding, which will deliver millions of pounds to local authorities and communities across Scotland? Does she agree that it will create new jobs, boost training, grow productivity, and deliver tremendous economic benefit to Scotland’s local authorities? Following the announcement that eight projects in Scotland have already received a share of—

I said succinct, Mr Hoy.

—£170 million, will she set aside her petty constitutional arguments—

Cabinet secretary.

—and support—

Thank you, Mr Hoy. Cabinet secretary.

We welcome any money, if it is actual real new money, wherever it comes from. However, would it not have been better if, when he stood up to give his spring statement, the member’s chancellor had given some real support to some of our deprived communities by supporting people who are on benefits and those in low income households? What a contrast between what he announced and what we were able to announce last week in the child poverty delivery plan. There could not be a greater contrast.


Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Generation (New Housing Developments)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that building standards on construction of new housing developments maximise energy efficiency and opportunities for renewable energy generation. (S6O-00941)

Our most recent review of the building regulations concludes next month, with the new regulations being implemented this October.

The new regulations will include a significant uplift in fabric standards, will seek to reduce heating demand and will support the effective use of renewable technologies, and they will also future proof heating in new homes against the proposed 2024 new-build heat standard.

We are already working with industry to support delivery of those changes and to investigate further improvement.

Brian Whittle: The minister will be aware that the construction of energy-efficient and energy-generating homes has significant cost implications. As the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee heard yesterday, there is already a shortage of tradesmen and women to deal with the current demand on housing.

How does the Government propose to fund the new energy-efficient and energy-generating housing? Where will the funding that is needed for the training and upskilling of the construction workforce that is required come from?

Patrick Harvie: Part of the answer lies in the public investment of at least £1.8 billion over the course of the current parliamentary session to support accelerated deployment of heat and energy efficiency measures. That is on top of the support that is provided for the Scottish Government’s affordable housing supply programme, which involves working with the social housing sector.

We recognise that the challenge will go beyond what the public sector can provide. The green heat finance task force is already meeting to explore the widest possible range of solutions to provide the considerable investment that will be needed over the coming decades to meet the urgent and necessary challenge that we face.