Meeting date: Thursday, May 30, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 30 May 2019
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Edinburgh Festivals (Effect of Immigration Policy), Portfolio Question Time, Medium-term Financial Strategy, A Trading Nation, Point of Order, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Edinburgh Festivals (Effect of Immigration Policy)
- Portfolio Question Time
- Medium-term Financial Strategy
- A Trading Nation
- Point of Order
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
National Health Service (Treatment Time Guarantee)
This week, we learned that in the three months to March, another 23,000 patients in Scotland missed the so-called 12-week treatment time guarantee for national health service treatment. That is an utter disgrace. Indeed, under the current Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, the number of patients who are being seen within that allegedly guaranteed time has fallen from 74 per cent to just 68 per cent.
She should be honest—how does the First Minister rate that performance?
We are all aware of the demographic reasons for the increased pressure on NHS waiting times. That is exactly why this Government and its health secretary are—I think uniquely among the Governments of the United Kingdom—implementing an £850 million waiting times improvement plan. Obviously, it will take time for that plan to work. The health secretary has been clear that one of the priorities in the early stages of the plan is to tackle the longest waits in the health service.
If Ruth Davidson looks a bit more closely at the figures that were published this week, she will see the signs of early progress towards success with the plan. For example, on the treatment time guarantee, over the previous quarter there was an 8.5 per cent reduction in the number of on-going waits of more than 12 weeks. On out-patient waiting time performance, there was an improvement of five percentage points in the previous quarter, and the total number of new out-patients with waits of more than 12 weeks was reduced by almost 16 per cent. On diagnostics performance, there was an increase of just short of six percentage points, with the number of on-going waits of more than six weeks having been reduced by 21.7 per cent.
My direct answer to Ruth Davidson’s question is that there is, therefore, real progress being made by this Government, and we will work hard to continue to make progress in the weeks and months to come.
The trouble with the improvement plan is that it was introduced six months ago but, since then, the headline figures have got worse, not better. In fact, they are the worst that they have ever been.
We have heard it all before: two years ago to the day, the health secretary’s predecessor announced a new £50 million investment plan to reduce waiting times that would
“reduce waiting times—particularly when it comes to the 12 week TTG for inpatient and day cases.”
She was categorically wrong. Given the failure of the previous plan, and given that the current plan is failing, too, why should Scottish patients have any confidence in the Government?
Actually, the plan is not failing. Anybody who understands how the health service operates, and who understands its integrated nature, would understand that from the figures that I read out. When we tackle the longest waits—particularly for out-patient treatment—that means that more people require in-patient treatment, which has the effect on the figures that Ruth Davidson talked about.
Nonetheless, the underlying trend is in the right direction. We are reducing the number of people who are waiting longest. Whether we consider out-patient performance, diagnostic testing performance—which is obviously crucial—or in-patient performance, we see that the number of people with on-going long waits is reducing. Of course, we have also seen an improvement on the headline figures in the last quarter for out-patients and diagnostics.
The improvement plan is, therefore, working, which is why we will stick with it and continue to invest in it. That is in stark contrast to what we are seeing elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I know that the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is visiting Scotland today—the same health secretary who said that the UK Government’s plans to reform social care have had to be put on the back burner because of Brexit. We would not be able to invest £850 million in the waiting times improvement plan if we had followed Scottish Conservative plans to give tax cuts to the very richest people in our country.
It is exactly those decisions of the UK Government that mean that there is an extra £2 billion for Scotland’s NHS. If selective use of statistics by the Scottish Government were a cure, Scotland would be the healthiest country in the world. The First Minister is conveniently forgetting the failure to meet the 18-week referral target; the one in five patients who is waiting too long for psychological therapy; the fewer than half of patients who are getting musculoskeletal services within four weeks; and the almost one fifth of patients with urgent cancer referrals who are waiting more than two months.
I will ask the First Minister a straight question. She says that by October this year—in just four months—the Government will absolutely ensure that treatment of 75 per cent of in-patients who have been guaranteed a wait of less than 12 weeks will fall within that guaranteed timescale. If the Government fails to meet that target, will the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport keep her job?
The health secretary is getting on with the job of delivering for patients. The targets in the waiting times improvement plan, which are backed by the investment that I have spoken about, are targets on which this Government is determined to deliver.
Ruth Davidson mentioned health funding. We have record health funding in Scotland. In fact, health spending in Scotland right now—she might want to listen to this—is £185 per person higher than it is in England. That amounts to more than £1 billion extra being spent in our health service here than would be spent if we were to follow spending levels in England.
We also have record numbers of staff working in our national health service. Ruth Davidson mentioned cancer patients: 95 per cent of cancer patients in Scotland rate their overall experience of cancer care positively.
Scotland’s accident and emergency services, which are crucial to so many people across the country, are the best performing in the UK, and have been for four years running.
It sounds to me as though the health secretary will keep her job regardless of what happens. The interesting thing is that the treatment time guarantee for every patient in Scotland—[Interruption.] Scottish National Party members might want to listen to this.
Order, please. Keep it down.
The treatment time guarantee has been breached 212,867 times since it was introduced by one Nicola Sturgeon. That is 212,000 broken promises to patients from a Government that puts the NHS second, behind its own priorities. If nobody is being held accountable, is it any wonder that those promises keep on being broken?
Since we introduced the treatment time guarantee, 1,767,000 patients have been treated within the time, and got faster treatment than they would otherwise have had.
In the previous quarter, there was an 8.5 per cent reduction in the number of on-going waits over 12 weeks. That is because this Government is investing in the waiting times improvement plan. We will carry on doing that. This Government will dedicate its efforts—those of the health minister or any other minister—to ensuring that we meet the targets. Given the number of ministers who have had to resign from the Conservative UK Government recently, I am not sure that ministers resigning is the strongest ground for Ruth Davidson to be on.
Caledonian Railway Works
I refer members to my entry in the register of interests. In less than 60 minutes, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity will meet the Caledonian railway works stakeholder group. What is the Scottish Government’s plan to save the Caley? (S5F-03366)
As I have said openly and to the trade unions, we will always look for opportunities to save companies and plants that are at risk of closure, but it will not always be possible for us to do so. The transport secretary has been looking at all options on this matter and will, as Richard Leonard said, discuss it shortly. The Government has shown its willingness to intervene where possible in the interests of workers and to take action, while bearing in mind our responsibilities to the taxpayer. We have done that with BiFab, with the Dalzell steelworks and with the aluminium smelter in the north of Scotland. The Government will therefore always be prepared to step in, but we will also always be honest with people where, for whatever reason, that is not possible, and we will continue to work with unions, companies and workers to get the best possible outcomes.
The honest experience of these working people is that, yesterday morning, they turned up to work to see a “For Sale” sign nailed to the perimeter fence. Tomorrow morning, more workers will be issued with compulsory redundancy notices. The unions that will be attending today’s meeting told me:
“We want to know what the Transport Secretary is going to do to save the site.”
Just last month, the current owners offered the depot to the Government at no cost. In fact, they even promised to pay a nominal fee to facilitate that. However, the transport secretary told the workers’ representatives, “We don’t do nationalisation.” Why is the Government ruling out purchasing the site and saving these jobs?
First, it is obviously not true that the Government does not do nationalisation. I seem to remember that, against some criticism in the chamber, we nationalised Prestwick airport to prevent it from being closed, and we have been willing to step in in other instances as well.
My understanding is that some of what Richard Leonard has put to me today about the offers that the company has made is not correct. However, we are of course happy to have discussions with the company, and the transport secretary will continue to discuss the matter with the trade unions.
We will act where we can to save companies from closure. As I demonstrated with the examples that I gave, we have a track record of doing that. However, we also have responsibilities to the taxpayer and responsibilities to operate within the law on these matters, so it will not always be possible for us to do as we have done. Where it is not possible, we will be frank, open and honest with workers. However, the Government is proud of its record in these industrial situations and we will continue to work hard to save jobs and companies wherever we can.
I will recap: a “For Sale” sign yesterday; more workers being served tomorrow with compulsory redundancy notices; and a meeting of the stakeholder group today. Time is running out. The Government has had six months to take decisive action. I raised the matter with the First Minister back in February and I wrote to the transport secretary just yesterday. These works have existed in Springburn for 160 years but, once they go, they go for ever. The site’s turnover is up. The workers’ skills are indispensable. The works are a cornerstone of Scotland’s engineering base and a national asset. Will the First Minister therefore act in the national interest? Will she instruct the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity to purchase the site and save these jobs before it is too late?
I say to Richard Leonard genuinely that, given the Government’s track record in similar situations of stepping in where we can, purchasing sites where we can and coming up with funding arrangements to facilitate the purchase of sites by other companies, and given our proven determination to save jobs and companies where we can, if we are unable to do that in these or other circumstances, perhaps Richard Leonard might conclude that there might be a good reason why that is the case, given the Government’s overall responsibilities to the taxpayer.
We will continue to discuss the matter with the unions—the transport secretary is doing that later—and we are happy to have any and all discussions with the company. We will continue to take whatever action we can in situations like this. However, we will do that while taking into account all our responsibilities, because that is what a responsible Government has to do.
We have three constituency supplementaries.
Airports in the Highlands and Islands (Industrial Action)
The First Minister will be aware of the on-going industrial action that is affecting airports across the Highlands and Islands. She will also recognise the significant disruption that that action has caused and continues to cause on lifeline routes that serve Orkney and other communities across the region. Does she therefore share my disappointment at yesterday’s news that a further strike is due to take place on 12 June? Does she regret that that decision coincided with Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd confirming that it was tabling a revised offer to staff? Will she ensure that Transport Scotland allows that revised offer to be put to staff as soon as possible, so that this long-running and damaging dispute can be brought to an end?
I share Liam McArthur’s disappointment that industrial action has taken place and that there is the prospect of further action. Of course, HIAL is covered by the public sector pay policy, which sets the parameters within which the organisation can negotiate a pay settlement with its recognised unions. I understand that HIAL will meet the unions again next week, and I hope that it will be possible to come to an agreement that averts any possibility of further strike action. I encourage HIAL to continue to talk to the unions to bring the dispute to a resolution as quickly as possible.
Yesterday, I was informed that 48 jobs are to go at Ecolab in Selkirk. That will be a big blow to the town. What support will the Scottish Government give to workers who are facing redundancy and their families at this challenging and worrying time?
I share Rachael Hamilton’s concerns about the news of the redundancies at Ecolab. I will ask the economy minister to make contact with the company to look at whether there is support that the Scottish Government or Scottish Enterprise can offer to avert the redundancies. If that is not possible, our partnership action for continuing employment initiative will offer assistance directly to individual workers, as it always does in such circumstances. I am sure that, once he has had the opportunity to speak to the company, the economy minister will be happy to talk to the member to update her on what action it is possible for the Scottish Government to take.
Craig McClelland Case (Fatal Accident Inquiry)
Earlier this year, the Lord Advocate asked the Scottish fatalities investigation unit to examine the Craig McClelland case to prepare the ground for a possible fatal accident inquiry into his death. As the First Minister is aware, Craig McClelland was killed in an unprovoked knife attack by a man who had broken an electronic tag and been on the run for months. The family were told that the Lord Advocate would make a decision on whether to order a fatal accident inquiry once an appeal by the man who was convicted of Craig’s murder had been dealt with. That appeal was refused last week.
Does the First Minister agree that there is now no good reason to delay a decision on the case any further? For the sake of Craig’s family and the public interest, surely the time has come for an independent fatal accident inquiry into the failures that led to Craig’s tragic murder.
I take the opportunity to convey again my sincere condolences to the family of Craig McClelland. None of us can begin to imagine what they have gone through and continue to go through.
I know that, now that the appeal has concluded, the Lord Advocate will be considering the issue of a fatal accident inquiry. As the member is aware, decisions on fatal accident inquiries are for the law officers to take completely independently of ministers, so it would be wrong for me to express any opinion on that, but I will ensure that the Lord Advocate is made aware of the question that Neil Bibby has asked and will ask the Lord Advocate to correspond directly with him as a result of that.
Across the United Kingdom, parties backing remain outpolled those backing leave. The momentum is with us. Our chances of stopping Brexit are higher than ever, yet the First Minister chose this moment to introduce an independence referendum bill that divides the remain parties in Scotland. Her minister did not even mention a people’s vote in yesterday’s statement. Why cut and run when we are on the edge of victory?
First, I thank Willie Rennie for pointing out the fact that the Scottish National Party won the European Parliament elections in Scotland. It was our best ever result in a European Parliament election—we won 50 per cent of the seats.
Secondly, I think—although I stand to be corrected if I have got this wrong—that it is factually inaccurate of Willie Rennie to say that Mike Russell did not mention a people’s vote in his statement yesterday. I think that he did mention a second European Union referendum.
The SNP supports a second EU referendum, and there is now an opportunity to bring together all those who support that in order to try to secure that outcome. That would be helped enormously, of course, if Labour—not just in Scotland but at a UK level—got off the fence and backed that outcome, too.
Willie Rennie’s position is that he believes that Brexit will be a disaster and that the UK should have a chance to reverse Brexit through a second referendum. I agree. Here is where we differ: he thinks that, if the UK does not take the option of reversing Brexit, Scotland should just have to accept that disaster and become a passive casualty of it. I do not agree. I think that Scotland should have the right to choose a different future—it should have the right to choose an independent future as a European nation.
Nicola Sturgeon’s election letter to me, which was addressed, “Dear Edna,” did not mention independence. That was funny. She is at it again. She is desperate for the UK to fail so that she can push independence once again. She has even named a date, but the momentum is with remain. Speaker John Bercow will block a no-deal Brexit; the chancellor will bring down any no-deal Brexit Prime Minister; Boris Johnson is being taken to court for telling lies; and—for goodness’ sake—even Richard Leonard is backing a people’s vote. What more does she need? Be positive, First Minister. Will she come with me and fight to win a people’s vote, or will she, once again, pursue independence no matter what happens?
Sorry—I will take a moment to stop laughing before I answer Willie Rennie. I am not sure that I want to follow him, given that we got 38 per cent of the vote in the European elections compared to the—I think—12 per cent that the Liberal Democrats scored. I have to say that that was an improvement, so well done to them for that. [Interruption.] Alex Cole-Hamilton is pointing out that they got 14 per cent. I still do not want to end up there, if he does not mind.
Willie Rennie says that he hopes that I will take the opportunity to call him Edna in the chamber. All that I can say is that he should be careful what he wishes for. What is that saying about being always a dame?
Frankly, I think that Willie Rennie is being a bit complacent about the risk of a no-deal Brexit. I hope fervently that there is not a no-deal Brexit; however, given the Conservative Party’s direction, I do not think that we can afford to be complacent about that at all. We will continue to argue for a people’s vote and the revocation of article 50 as an alternative to a no-deal Brexit, and we will work with whomever across the political spectrum to bring that about. If we do not succeed—I hope that we do succeed—I will not be prepared to allow Scotland to sink with the Brexit ship. I want Scotland to have an alternative and better future as an independent European country.
European Union Settlement Scheme
Today’s report from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee says that the United Kingdom’s settlement scheme for EU citizens risks another Windrush scandal. Is that not a salutary warning that we should not be making EU citizens apply to remain in their homes? Have the Tories learned nothing from last week’s election, when their hostility towards immigrants was roundly—and rightly—rejected?
I think that, from most of what the Tories have had to say in the past few days, they—certainly the Scottish Tories—have learned nothing at all from the fact that they have been pushed into fourth place in Scotland in the elections. They should carry on. The longer that they fail to learn those lessons, the better it is for those of us on the Scottish National Party benches.
Jenny Gilruth raises a serious issue. Windrush was a scandal—even the Tories would concede that. What European nationals are being put through—they are having to apply for the right to continue to live here in their own country—is shocking, and it risks repeating that scandal. They should not be being put in that situation. This is their home and they should be able to stay here. We should all continue to argue against those measures and send the clearest possible message that those who choose to make this country their home are welcome here and we want them to stay.
Scottish Ambulance Service (Staff Survey)
A Unison survey of Scottish Ambulance Service staff has found that extra resource for the service is not keeping up with demand. More than seven out of 10 staff feel that their team budget has been cut, and, last year, there was a 30 per cent increase in the number of paramedics who were signed off work with stress and depression. I have been in touch with Unison this week, and it is rightly calling for urgent action. What will the Government do? Will the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport meet Unison as a matter of priority?
The health secretary will always be happy to meet trade unions to discuss those issues. We, of course, value the job that our Ambulance Service staff do in what are exceptionally challenging circumstances. Our service continues to be one of the best-performing ambulance services in the United Kingdom, despite continuous increased demand and the fact that it services some of the most rural and remote parts of the country. We have invested almost £900 million in the service in the past four years, and we are committed to supporting the training of an additional 1,000 paramedics over the course of this session of Parliament. That will build on the almost 18 per cent rise in Ambulance Service staff over the past decade.
The service is currently carrying out a national review of demand and capacity, and staff side partners, including Unison, should be—and, I believe, are—fully involved in that work as part of the demand and capacity implementation group. Those issues will continue to be taken extremely seriously.
Female Genital Mutilation (Proposed Legislation)
How will proposed legislation on female genital mutilation increase protection for women and girls?
I thank Gillian Martin for raising that issue. I am very pleased that we have now introduced the Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill, which will increase the protections for women and girls. The new legislation is an important step in the Government’s efforts to make Scotland equally safe for women and girls. It will create a new protection order to protect women and girls who may be victims of, or at risk of, FGM and will ensure that ministers issue statutory guidance to public bodies to improve the response to FGM. The bill is part of our wider work through the implementation of our national action plan on ending FGM, which focuses on prevention, protection from harm and the provision of services for women and girls. I hope that the bill will attract the support of members right across the chamber.
European Union Elections (Disenfranchisement of EU Nationals)
To ask the First Minister what actions the Scottish Government is taking to investigate the disenfranchisement of EU nationals who were denied their vote at the recent EU elections. (S5F-03383)
The number of EU nationals who appear to have been denied the vote in the European elections last week is nothing short of disgraceful. They are people who live and work here, and this is their home. They had as much right to vote as any of the rest of us had. The issues that arose were clearly a result of insufficient preparation time because of the prevarication over Brexit and a failure to address concerns that were raised by the Electoral Commission following the European elections in 2014. The fact that the United Kingdom Government appears to have taken no action to address the matter is unacceptable.
The Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations wrote to the UK Government in advance of the election warning that this could happen, and he has now written again, calling for a full investigation into the issue to take place.
In yesterday’s statement, the cabinet secretary said that the proposed franchise for any future referendum would rightly include EU citizens and 16 and 17-year-olds. To save confusion or mistakes reoccurring, surely that must be the standard for all elections. Will the First Minister therefore continue to press the UK Government to adopt that system at Westminster or, even better, put full control for holding democratic votes in the hands of this Parliament?
I certainly agree that we should do the latter but, short of that, I think that 16 and 17-year-olds and EU nationals should have the right to vote in all elections in Scotland. As Mike Russell said yesterday, and as will be covered in separate legislation, we want to extend the right to vote to anybody who is legally resident in this country, regardless of which country they come from. I think that that is fair and a sign of the open, inclusive and progressive country that we want to be. We will continue to press the UK Government on those matters.
We should not lose sight of what happened last week. I will not be the only one who spoke to people at polling stations who had been denied their right to vote. I spoke to one constituent who was almost in tears and who felt that this was the final straw with all the stress and anxiety that he has gone through over the past three years. There should be an investigation into the issue, and any necessary steps should be taken to ensure that this disgrace is never allowed to happen again.
I, like many members in the chamber, have constituents who were denied the right to vote, despite having filled in the appropriate UC1 form. I do not have faith in the Westminster investigation. I note what the cabinet secretary has done. Would the Government also consider opening a contact point for EU citizens in Scotland to register with, if they were unable to vote, so that if the UK Government does not find out the numbers, we do?
We will certainly give that consideration. As Christine Grahame will be aware, we have established an advice line for EU nationals seeking to apply for the right to remain here after Brexit. It may be that we can do something similar to allow people who were denied the right to vote to register that fact, which would give us the opportunity to understand the scale of the issue. I see that Mike Russell is noting that down; I will ask him to explore that possibility and report back to Christine Grahame once we have had the opportunity to look into it.
Substantial or Critical Care (Waiting Times)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the report by Age Scotland that four in 10 people requiring substantial or critical care were found to be waiting more than six weeks to receive it. (S5F-03376)
People in Scotland are generally enjoying longer lives; more complex needs often come with that, which means that demand for social care is growing—underlining why we have already legislated for and introduced integration of health and social care.
Age Scotland’s report found that the average waiting time between assessment and receipt of care for those in most need is around three weeks. We want to go further to ensure that care is provided swiftly for all. That is why we are developing a programme of national support for local reform of adult social care and why we will deliver £711 million of additional direct investment in social care and integration this year, which is an increase of 29 per cent on last year’s investment.
The First Minister talks about the average waiting time being three weeks. The last time that Age Scotland monitored it, it was two and a half weeks. The number has gone up so it is an interesting statistic to measure things against.
Many members in the chamber will be dealing with casework involving constituents who are spending weeks or even months in hospital, taking up valuable bed space, because their local authority cannot provide care packages due to either a lack of finance, a lack of care home space or a lack of staff to provide in-home care.
The report by Age Scotland confirms that since 2011, the number of care home places in Scotland has dropped by over 1,000. The independent report is entitled, “Waiting for Care: Is Scotland meeting its commitment to older people?”. Age Scotland clearly does not think so; what does the First Minister think?
More people are now being cared for at home than would have been the case previously but there are many important messages in the Age Scotland report and we will study it carefully. The actions that we have already taken are the right ones; we have integrated health and social care and, as I said in my original answer, we are increasing the direct investment in social care and integration.
The member may have seen the information published by the Health Foundation yesterday. The Health Foundation reported that Scotland spends the most money on social care per head out of any country in the United Kingdom. We are spending 43 per cent more than England and 33 per cent more than Wales. The investment is there and that is important, but we need to make sure that services are working in the correct, joined-up way so that the care is there for older people when they need it. We are determined to continue to make the progress that is required because, as the member rightly points out, that waiting time is one of the factors that has a knock-on effect on our efforts to get acute hospital waiting times down.
The Age Scotland report suggests that there is limited or patchy monitoring across local authorities of how long people are waiting for social care or the reasons for delays. Does the First Minister think that that is acceptable? Will she accept the recommendation from Age Scotland that more regular data collection on social care is required?
We will listen carefully to all the recommendations that Age Scotland makes. We want to make sure that there is good, consistent data. There is already a lot of data—for example, on delayed discharges—but it is important that we have the wealth of data to ensure that we can assess whether the actions that we are taking are succeeding.
We will give due consideration to that recommendation, as we will to all the other recommendations in the report.
The First Minister has already mentioned the analysis produced by the Health Foundation, which highlighted that public spending on care for the elderly and disabled is as much as 43 per cent higher in Scotland than it is south of the border, where the Tories are in control.
Although members can have legitimate concerns, which should be addressed, does the First Minister not see the Conservative Party’s concern as hypocrisy, while the figures reflect where the priorities of the two Governments actually lie?
I am responsible for the actions of this Government, and we are prioritising the actions that are required to make the improvements here that we all want to see. We have already integrated health and social care. The UK Government’s green paper on social care was first promised 812 days ago, and yet there is no sign of it being published. As I mentioned earlier, Matt Hancock told a Westminster committee last month that it was delayed because of Brexit.
We are getting on with the work, and are spending proportionately more money on social care than other countries in the UK. All of that is positive but, as the Age Scotland report points out, there is still work to be done and progress to be made, and we are determined to get on and make it.
Many social care providers are struggling with staff retention and recruitment. Part of the problem may well be Brexit, but a big part of it is that, in some parts of the care sector, workers are paid poor wages and have poor terms and conditions. Should there not be equal pay across the whole of the care sector? Should a carer not be valued, whether they deliver that care through a private company or a public company?
I agree with that. This Government has invested to introduce the living wage for workers in social care, and we are pursuing and will continue to pursue providers—whether private sector or local authority providers—who are not passing that on because we want the social care workforce to be valued for the job that it does, which is vital, tough and challenging.
However, as Alex Rowley rightly says, Brexit is a big issue and, if you talk to any social care provider, they will say that one of their biggest worries is access to the skills and labour that they need to provide their services. That is why it is so important that we try to come together to stop Brexit and the approach that the UK Government is currently taking to immigration, which is damaging not just our economy but the very fabric of our public services.
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Poverty and Inequality Commission’s recent finding that the current level of spending directed at tackling poverty in Scotland is “falling well short of what is needed”. (S5F-03372)
The commission’s report is a timely reminder of the challenge that we face in undoing the damage of UK Government welfare cuts, austerity and the impacts of Brexit—all issues that were highlighted in the United Nations special rapporteur’s report last week. Scotland is facing a reduction of £3.7 billion in annual social security spending by 2021 as a result of UK Government cuts. In this year alone, the Scottish Government is investing over £125 million to mitigate the worst impacts of those cuts. We are also taking forward our own policies to tackle poverty and inequality, which this year includes an extra £385 million to support our expansion of childcare, at least £351 million in our council tax reduction scheme and around £435 million in direct assistance through social security measures, as set out in the budget.
I thank the First Minister for her response. We all know the damage that Tory austerity and cuts are doing, but I want to talk about the First Minister’s policies. There is consensus among numerous anti-poverty organisations, including the Government’s Poverty and Inequality Commission, to call for urgent action on the introduction of the income supplement. As the head of Oxfam Scotland said:
“Warm words will not make a difference to people who cannot put food on the table.”
Can the First Minister offer more than warm words today to those who are in need of the income supplement right now? Will she bring it forward, or tell us what interim measures she will put in place? After all, can I remind the First Minister that in this chamber in March she promised us an update before the end of June.
I point out that it is now the end of May. There will be an update before the end of June, but we are not in June yet. That is the answer that I gave to Richard Leonard. We will bring forward an update on our plans for the income supplement in June, because we are looking at how we would introduce that in a way that would lift the maximum number of children out of poverty, and we have to look at the mechanisms that we need to put in place to practically deliver that. That update will come in June and will be open for discussion across the Parliament.
We will continue to take our responsibilities seriously. Child poverty in Scotland is too high, but it is lower than in any other part of the UK. That is a reflection of the seriousness with which the Government treats it and the policies that we are implementing, such as the best start grant, which is not being implemented in any other part of the UK. We will continue to do that.
We should also all come together. As part of their post-election reflections over the next few weeks, Labour will perhaps consider belatedly joining the Scottish Government in asking for all welfare powers to come to the Scottish Parliament, so that we can tackle those causes at root, rather than continuing to have to apply sticking plasters to the policies of Tory Governments that we do not vote for.
One of the benchmarks of our society in Scotland is that we are open and welcoming, and take our responsibility to refugees extremely seriously. Would the First Minister outline how the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People’s announcement yesterday will benefit asylum seekers in tackling poverty?
I am delighted that we are now able to apply the best start grant to refugees and asylum seekers who have children—and all credit to Shirley-Anne Somerville for that. We had to discuss that with the UK Government, given its policy of not allowing people in those categories to have access to public funds.
We want our policies to benefit anybody in poverty and need in Scotland. We should not judge people on where they come from. We should judge people on the fact that they are citizens of Scotland and all citizens of Scotland deserve the help that the Government is determined to give them to lift children out of poverty.
Does the First Minister agree that her Government would have much greater resources to tackle poverty in Scotland, on top of everything else that it does—which it does, not because it is allowed, but because it is the right thing to do—if it did not have to mitigate the worst effects of Tory austerity to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds?
Obviously, if we did not have Tory austerity, we would not have the levels of poverty that we do and we would not have the cuts to our budget that are making it harder to deal with those issues. We also have a Conservative Party in the Scottish Parliament that is bereft of policies but has managed to propose one policy in recent years: to give tax cuts to the richest. That would take half a billion pounds out of public services and tackling poverty in this country.
The lesson in the short term is not to listen to the advice of the Scottish Tories. The lesson in the medium to longer term is that we should get out of a position in Scotland where Tory politicians think that what we can do is a matter of what they allow us to do. Instead, what we do in Scotland should be a matter of the choice of the people of our country.
That concludes First Minister’s questions.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer.
A point of order, first from Mr Russell and then from Elaine Smith.
Presiding Officer, I know that you are keen to draw the distinction between opinion and fact in the chamber. When something is demonstrably untrue, I am sure that you would guide members on how quickly it should be corrected. I have checked the Official Report. Yesterday in my statement I said:
“The Scottish Government and the SNP at Westminster will continue to do all that we can to stop Brexit for the whole UK. In particular, we will continue to support a second referendum on EU membership”.—[Official Report, 29 May 2019; c 2.]
Given that the leader of the Liberal Democrats made an assertion that I did not say that yesterday, perhaps you would advise him of how quickly he could correct the record.
All members are aware of the various mechanisms that are available if they wish to correct the record. However, Mr Russell himself has alerted everybody in the chamber very accurately to what was said yesterday.
Presiding Officer, under the terms of our standing orders and code of conduct, there are various mechanisms for correcting the record. I want to do that right now. Earlier, I read from the Official Report for 28 March 2019. My excuse is that the type is very small. It says that the First Minister said that
“We will bring forward the update before June”.—[Official Report, 28 March 2019; c 25.]
I read it out wrongly. The update is due not before the end of June, but before June, which gives us one day. [Interruption.]
Thank you. Excuse me. Points of order are for the chair, and not for members, to respond to.
I thank Elaine Smith for correcting the record and for informing the chamber of the correct extract from the Official Report. Members will have noted that point.
We will move to Gordon MacDonald’s members’ business in a moment. Before we do so, there will be a short suspension to allow members, the minister and some people in the gallery to change seats.12:45 Meeting suspended.
12:47 On resuming—