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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 30 May 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Social Security Benefits, Higher Education Access, Destitution (Asylum and Immigration), Decision Time, Vale of Leven Hospital (GP Out-of-hours Service)


Contents


Topical Question Time


Scottish Police Authority (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when the Cabinet Secretary for Justice last met the Scottish Police Authority and what issues were discussed. (S5T-00571)

I have regular meetings with the chair of the Scottish Police Authority and meet the board approximately once a year. We discuss a range of key strategic issues in policing.

As the cabinet secretary is aware, last week, the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing published its report on the governance of the SPA. That report says:

“the Sub-Committee does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the Board.”

That follows similar concerns from the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee.

We know that, under the current leadership of Andrew Flanagan, public meetings were held in private and critical letters were hidden from board members, and we have heard about the disgraceful ousting of now former board member, Moi Ali.

Andrew Flanagan was appointed chair of the SPA to improve openness and accountability. He has failed. Does the cabinet secretary agree with me, with the Justice Sub-committee on Policing and with his own back benchers that Mr Flanagan’s position is untenable and that he should go?

I am conscious of the issues that have been raised by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, which provided us with a copy of its report last Thursday. As I am sure that the member will recognise, we will give careful consideration to that report and its findings, along with the issues that have been highlighted by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee and the evidence that that committee and the member’s sub-committee received. Once we have considered all those issues, we will be in a position to state clearly the Government’s response and our decision on the position of the chair of the SPA.

I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that the ministers and Government consider these issues carefully. I can give the member an absolute assurance that we will consider the findings in the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing’s report as we arrive at the Scottish Government’s position on this matter.

Andrew Flanagan has lost the confidence of MSPs from all parties, including back benchers from the governing party. It is clear that his position is untenable. It seems that Mr Flanagan and the justice secretary are the last two people to see that. We need a drastic overhaul of how the SPA is run, and that must start at the very top of the SPA board. We need leadership from the SPA, but we do not have that at the moment.

If Andrew Flanagan is not going to do the right thing and resign, we need leadership from the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government approved Andrew Flanagan’s appointment as chair. If the cabinet secretary will not withdraw that now, I simply ask what it will take for the Government to take action.

I have given the member an assurance that we will consider the findings of her sub-committee’s report. Once we have had the opportunity to consider them in detail, as well as the issues that have been raised by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, we will be able to respond to these matters. I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that ministers give thorough consideration to these issues in coming to a determination.

On the wider issue of the SPA’s structure, and the way in which the SPA operates, the member will be aware that I have asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland to bring forward the governance aspect of its statutory inspection that was due to take place this year. HMICS has agreed to do that and intends to publish a report by 22 June on those issues. In its letter to me, the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee welcomed my decision to ask for that work to be undertaken.

It is important that we consider these issues, and I assure the member that we are considering them carefully, and we want to ensure that they are appropriately addressed.

On the wider issue of the governance and structure of the SPA, there is no doubt that there are aspects of the way in which the SPA has operated over the past few years that have not worked as well as they should have and that there are areas in which I believe further improvements could be made.

I have been clear about the need for the SPA to operate in an open and transparent manner as it undertakes its processes and considers matters, and I have repeatedly made that clear. However, there is no doubt that there have been improvements in the way in which the SPA has been operating. For example, as was set out in evidence that was given to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, there have been improvements in the way in which the SPA has considered issues such as the contact, command and control division; improvements in the relationship between the SPA and the executive team in Police Scotland; and improvements in the way in which it has taken forward work on the development of the 2026 strategy.

Irrespective of that, I recognise the concerns that have been expressed by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing and members of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. I give the member an assurance that they will be considered carefully, and that the Government will come to a decision once it has considered all these matters.

The evidence from the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, MSPs of all parties and, indeed, former board members is clear: Andrew Flanagan’s time as chair of the Scottish Police Authority should be over, and his continuation in that post is untenable. Does the Scottish Government continue to have full faith in Andrew Flanagan as chair of the Scottish Police Authority—yes or no?

As I have just said to Mary Fee, we will consider the findings of both committees’ work in this area and we will then come to a decision on this issue.

I am surprised that a member who is, apparently, his party’s spokesman on justice would not want to ensure that we go through due process in considering these issues. It is important that Government ministers give careful consideration to these issues when coming to a decision, and that is exactly what we will do. Once we have completed that process, we will set out our decision on this matter.

It is my personal view that Mr Flanagan’s position is untenable and that he must go. The cabinet secretary will agree that we must have vibrant and diverse public boards. In his response to both committee reports, will he consider the impact that Mr Flanagan’s conduct has had on the likelihood of our being able to recruit women and ethnic minority people to these boards?

The member raises an important issue. This Government is clear about the need to have greater diversity on our public bodies. I recently made some further appointments to the SPA, and I have written to the chair of the SPA board in recent weeks, highlighting the need to have greater diversity on the board, as that is extremely important. It is also extremely important that, when ministers consider such issues, we follow due process in considering any concerns that are raised with us in order that we do not dissuade people from thinking about applying for appointments to public boards.

I assure the member that it is clear to me that we must do everything possible to increase diversity not just within the membership of the SPA board but on any boards within the justice setting and that the boards should take proactive measures to assist in achieving that. For example, it is not necessary to have direct appointments if there is no space for them, as members can be seconded to support the work of public bodies in order to encourage greater diversity and give those people experience of the work that the board undertakes with a view to their applying for a place on the board at some point in the future.

The Government is clear about the need for greater diversity in the scrutiny of legislation, and I am clear that we need greater diversity on all boards in the justice sector. Our recent track record on appointments to justice boards demonstrates that we are making significant progress by increasing the number of women members, in particular, and I am determined that we will continue to drive that forward.

The cabinet secretary will have heard Andrew Flanagan’s statement at the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing last week. There is no doubting that he was extremely contrite and offered an apology. However, a number of members made the point that the position that he holds has been undermined and that the SPA will be inhibited in moving forward as long as he remains the chair.

Given that, at the most recent SPA board meeting, which was held last week, concerns were again raised by board members about the publication of papers in advance of the meeting, does the cabinet secretary not believe that the culture shift that we all want to see in the SPA will be impossible until there is a change at the top?

The member will be aware that the SPA board decided, at its meeting 25 May, to return to the presumption that its committee meetings would take place in public and that all papers would be published in advance. I have been very clear with the SPA about the need to ensure that it is open and transparent in conducting its business.

The member will recognise that, as has been highlighted, there is a need for private space in some of the SPA board’s work, given the sensitive and confidential nature of some of the information that it is provided with. That is particularly the case when the information relates to operational matters for Police Scotland. A safe space needs to be provided for discussions and for the sharing of that information to take place.

Notwithstanding that, my view is that the presumption that committee and board meetings will take place in public is the right approach. That is why I have asked HMICS to bring forward the early part of its statutory inspection, which was due to take place in the autumn of this year, and to look specifically at the issue of governance within the SPA. That work has already been started and HMICS will report by 22 June. I have no doubt that the report will support us in looking at what further measures the SPA needs to put in place.

I recognise the need for the SPA to operate openly and transparently, and I have been clear with it, over an extended period, that the processes and mechanisms that it has in place must be able to deliver that openness and transparency effectively.

We know that the chair of the Scottish Police Authority did not tell his board about a letter from Derek Penman that advised of the forthcoming inspection. Now, we understand that, on a previous occasion, Mr Flanagan did not share an advice note on forensic services with the board. Does the cabinet secretary believe that that is a further example of a lack of transparency? Does the chair of any public body who behaves in that way meet the Scottish Government’s own guidance for those who serve on public boards?

Jackie Baillie will be aware that Andrew Flanagan has accepted that he should have passed that note on to the other members of his board and that he made an unacceptable error. We need to ensure that chairs of any public bodies pass on relevant information to other members of the board to allow them to come to an informed position on matters when they are being discussed. The chair has also accepted that the advice note should have been passed on to board members. Again, we will consider that in looking at the matter as a whole.

I assure members that the Government will come to a position on the matter, but it is appropriate that we consider all the facts and information that have been provided. In part, that is for the reason that was highlighted by John Finnie, which is that we want to attract individuals to stand for and work on our public bodies. We need to ensure that ministers and the Government go through a due process in considering these matters and coming to a decision. My concern is that a failure to do that would dissuade people from taking up public appointments, and we want to avoid that. That is why we will consider these matters very carefully and in a detailed way, and we will then come to a decision.


M8, M73 and M74 Improvements Projects

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of disruption over the bank holiday weekend arising from the M8, M73 and M74 improvements projects, whether it will confirm the completion date of the work and provide details of how Transport Scotland plans to reduce the level of disruption. (S5T-00569)

Following on from the opening of the new M8 motorway in April and the M74 Raith underpass in February, the final sections of the new and improved M8, M73 and M74 motorways will open fully across the M8, M73 and M74 project over the coming days. More traffic management is being removed across the project each day, with the motorways expected to be fully open by the end of this week.

As is usual for projects of this nature, the contractor will now focus on necessary finishing and snagging works, and local road improvements that have been held back until the new roads are available. Those works will continue until at least September, but they will not affect peak-time traffic flows.

I will be very surprised if, by the end of this week, we can properly describe the road works as having been completed. In the meantime, there are still major problems with the lack of, or inadequate, signage, an issue that I raised with the Minister for Transport and the Islands in February. His response was that he would look into the issue, but since then nothing has been done, particularly to indicate which lane drivers should take for the new East Kilbride underpass layout.

In addition to that, the delays that commuters are experiencing have been exacerbated by new road configurations and totally inadequate signage for diversions. As a result, countless numbers of drivers find themselves completely lost, with all the chaos that ensues. Furthermore, the delays and chaos are being added to by a lack of co-ordination between the works carried out by Transport Scotland and those by the local authority. Will the cabinet secretary categorically commit to looking at those vexing issues with a view to finding an effective solution?

I have responded to every letter that Margaret Mitchell has sent me. If one has been missed out, I am happy to look at that. As she knows, I have had a number of representations from both her and other members. I have sought to respond to them all, and I will look to any that are outstanding to make sure that that happens.

I did not say that the road works would be completed by the end of next week. I said that the major roads will be fully open. I went on to say that the snagging works, necessary finishing and local road improvements will continue until at least September, but that they will not affect peak-time traffic flows.

Let us just remind ourselves that the half a billion pounds’ worth of work on the Raith interchange was promised by the Tories more than 30 years ago, and that for the first time we have a motorway the whole way between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It has taken this Government to do that. Both those improvements opened ahead of schedule, but it is at this stage on such a project that roads have to be tied in. That can cause disruption, for which I apologise—we obviously do not want to see disruption. The contractors have tried very hard to do the work over the quieter period of the bank holiday, and overnight as well.

In relation to the final point, if there are any further issues on signage or other issues on which I have not responded to the member, I am more than happy to look at that.

The impact of the improvement projects does not stop with mere delays and potential chaos. It is also having a seriously worrying adverse effect on businesses in the Lanarkshire area.

For example, a number of businesses in Bothwell and Uddingston have contacted me about a substantial loss of revenue that has resulted in some of them closing or planning to close because of a lack of footfall and cancellations. Some businesses are reporting a staggering 80 per cent drop in turnover. Businesses in the Birkenshaw trading estate in Uddingston report having lost tens of thousands of pounds of turnover over the past few weeks as a result of the M8 no longer offering a turn-off to Uddingston. Similar problems have been reported elsewhere in Motherwell, Hamilton and surrounding districts. In view of that, will the minister undertake to join me in meeting those businesses to hear at first hand their concerns and to find a solution to mitigate the adverse impact that the project is having on their businesses and the local economy?

As I said, I am more than happy to hear representations from the member if a letter has not been answered. She has raised these issues with me previously and I have responded to them. If she has new issues, perhaps she could let me know—I am more than happy to look at them.

I do not deny for a second that there has been disruption. It is simply not possible to have these long-awaited improvements without disruption to traffic, especially in the online sections of the roads. It is remarkable that there is not one word of congratulation from Margaret Mitchell and the Conservatives on a fantastic infrastructure project that will bring major benefits to the central Scotland motorway network. I do not deny that there has been disruption—of course there has, and there always will be in relation to such projects—but it is a tremendous project that should have been done decades ago. Again, it has fallen to this Government to bring forward the improvements that mean that the M8 is now a motorway the whole way between Edinburgh and Glasgow. One would think that main street Scotland would have had a full motorway before now, but it has not. Many people have made representations to me about the Raith interchange dramatically reducing their journey times, but there has been not one word about that from the Conservatives.

Of course, I will look at the issues that Margaret Mitchell has raised, but perhaps, just once, the Tories could commend this Government and the contractors for the work done in bringing forward a fantastic project.

Both the M8 and the M74 are in my constituency. I was on both roads on Friday when I travelled to Glasgow airport. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the £500 million project is coming to an end, with the work that is still to be done being mainly landscape work? Can he personally communicate my thanks to the Scottish roads partnership consortium and to Transport Scotland for dealing with my constituents timeously? Most of the emails that have likely been sent to Margaret Mitchell have also come to me, and I have forwarded them to the cabinet secretary. I thank you for the work that you have done and for the fencing that you are putting up at St John the Baptist primary school, which is long overdue. It was not going to be done, but will now be done because of your work and the transport minister’s work.

I am not sure that there is a question in there, cabinet secretary. [Laughter.] If you wish to, you can briefly reply.

Richard Lyle makes an important point. He has raised with me many of the issues that Margaret Mitchell has raised, and I have sought to respond to them as well. In relation to the M74, what we have talked about does not include the extension to the M74, another long-delayed project that has brought major benefits to the west of Scotland, right the way through to the airport. I am glad that Richard Lyle can acknowledge that, although there have been problems, there is a major benefit from those infrastructure projects.

I associate myself with Dick Lyle’s remarks. As the cabinet secretary knows, I am full of praise for what is a wonderful project that should be praised for all the work that has been done. I know that it is the biggest project in Europe of its kind.

I want to ensure that the cabinet secretary is aware that most people who use the roads concerned believe that the lack of information is the only weakness. Only yesterday, someone wrote to me and said that they had been queued up for hours on the A8, around midnight. I want to ensure that the cabinet secretary is aware of that. I think that the weakness is in the lack of information and the diversions. If it was not for that, I think that people would feel a lot happier. However, I do not want to detract in any way from the project, which I think is to be commended.

I am not sure that there is a question there either, but the cabinet secretary can respond.

I thank Pauline McNeill for her remarks. I point out that the project is not even the largest in Scotland, as the long-awaited Aberdeen western peripheral route project is worth £750 million. I acknowledge Pauline McNeill’s point about the disruption that has been caused. She gave an example of disruption at night, which happens because the contractor seeks to close the roads when there is the least traffic on them. I acknowledge that there have been issues with signage and communication, which I have raised a number of times with the contractor.

We are coming to the final part of the project, which is when a lot of very quick changes have to be made in order to tie in all the roads. I will pass on the remarks of both Margaret Mitchell and Pauline McNeill to the contractor for the final few days of the project.