Meeting date: Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 04 November 2020
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Care Homes, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Scottish Guardianship Service (10th Anniversary)
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints
- Care Homes
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Scottish Guardianship Service (10th Anniversary)
Portfolio Question Time
Health and Sport
Good afternoon, everyone. Before we begin, I remind members of the social distancing measures in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus. Please take care to observe them over the course of the afternoon’s business, including when entering and exiting the chamber.
The first item of business is portfolio question time. I inform members that we have no spare time and loads of requests for supplementary questions, so it would be good if members could be succinct with questions and answers. The first portfolio is health and sport.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to address suicide. (S5O-04705)
Suicide prevention continues to be a priority for the Scottish Government. In our recently published “Mental Health—Scotland’s Transition and Recovery” plan, we set out an evidence-based suicide prevention response to the pandemic. In partnership with our national suicide prevention leadership group, we recently launched the evidence-based united to prevent suicide campaign. We continue to work with the NSPLG and stakeholders on suicide prevention. The work is focused on examining differing models of suicidal crisis support, sharing best practice and restricting access to the most common means of suicide. The work also includes taking forward the four priority actions for a pandemic-specific suicide prevention response, as recommended by the group in its Covid-19 statement, which includes work to improve real-time suicide and self-harm data in partnership with Public Health Scotland.
The minister will be aware that I have three universities and a number of further education colleges in my constituency that have thousands of students. What increased mental health support is being offered to students in Glasgow Kelvin? In light of indications of worsening mental health in that age group, will people in my constituency and across Scotland continue to be able to access applied suicide intervention skills training to help prevent suicides?
Now, more than ever, it is of the utmost importance that our students are able to receive the mental health and wellbeing support that they need. We are actively considering what additional targeted support is needed for students, to support their mental health and wellbeing. On 22 September, the Scottish Funding Council announced a further £3.6 million in support of our commitment to provide more than 80 additional counsellors in colleges and universities in Scotland over the next four years. That builds on last year’s investment and good progress has been made by institutions in putting those counsellors in place. We have also funded NUS Scotland to host think positive, Scotland’s student mental health project, which supports students experiencing mental ill-health, tackles stigma and discrimination, and promotes wellbeing in colleges and universities across Scotland.
The applied suicide intervention skills training—ASIST—is currently not being delivered, because it cannot be carried out face to face due to Covid-19 restrictions. To support the needs of the health and social care workforce during this period, pandemic-specific learning resources were developed by NHS Education for Scotland that give support on responding to people in distress and crisis and on mental health and suicide prevention.
If members and ministers take so long on one question, we will not have time for supplementaries. Can I have a quick supplementary, please, from Maurice Corry?
What discussions has the minister had with veterans’ organisations about suicide prevention among our veterans in Scotland?
The Scottish Government has on-going discussions with all our key stakeholders on a regular basis.
Thank you. That was good, but I suspect that Mr Corry might drop you a line.
Covid-19 (Professional Football Clubs)
To ask the Scottish Government what advice, guidance and financial assistance is being provided to professional football clubs during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04706)
We have been working closely with the football authorities from the outset of the pandemic to ensure that all clubs at all levels have access to the support and advice that they need at this difficult time.
A range of general financial assistance has already been made available by the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments, and many football clubs have accessed that funding.
We are aware that this is an extremely challenging time for football clubs in Scotland, particularly given their relative reliance on gate receipts compared with clubs elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Recognising that, today I wrote again to the UK Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, seeking urgent clarity from the UK Government on the financial package that is being developed to support sporting organisations that are most affected by a delay of the return of spectators to stadia and the Barnett consequential funding for Scotland as a result.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
Our professional football clubs are facing a perfect storm: the loss of fans, the loss of match-day revenue and the rising compliance costs of Covid-19. Will the minister look at setting up a football support fund as a matter of urgency? Clubs are not just businesses; they are the beating heart of their local communities. My plea to the minister is to support our local clubs or face a new year with the demise of much-loved community champions across Scotland.
I recognise the member’s particular interest in football in his region. As I said, we are working with the UK Government to develop support. I had what I consider to be a positive meeting with the UK minister for sport on the issue, particularly in relation to sport that relies largely on spectators. However, thus far, we have not received the hoped-for clarity to be able to develop support for teams in Scotland.
We absolutely want to get supporters back as soon as possible, and the member will be aware that, last week, the First Minister announced that limited numbers of supporters would be allowed in areas with level 0 or level 1 restrictions. Obviously, that is an important point in relation to the member’s interests in his region. Officials are working with the football authorities on the detailed arrangements for that, with a view to supporters being back at some fixtures very soon.
We will have some quick supplementaries.
What advice, guidance and financial support are being provided to amateur football clubs?
Officials are working with the football authorities. We are of the view that all levels of football must be supported by any scheme that is developed, once we have clarity on funding.
As I said, I have written again today to the UK Government, stressing that it is particularly important to Scottish football that we develop a scheme. I am acutely aware of the importance of the amateur game as part of Scotland’s football offer.
The minister will be aware from cross-party representations that the Highland league had hoped to start with spectators at the end of November. That has been thrown into doubt, because 11 of the teams are in a level 1 area while the six teams in Aberdeenshire are in level 2. Given the health and wellbeing benefits and the important role that the teams play in their communities, what consideration is the Government giving to allow the league to resume as planned at the end of the month?
Were you able to hear all that okay, minister?
I think that the member was asking about the Highland league.
Obviously, the Highland league took a decision to postpone the start of its season, and that was a decision for it. I hope that, as the majority of the Highland league teams are in level 0 or level 1, they will be able to move forward. I am keen that my officials engage directly with the Highland league. It is important that, when we are talking about football, we talk about not only the premier league teams, but teams at all levels and about the importance of football to communities across Scotland.
I have another two supplementaries. Please make them quick.
Given that so many sports have innovated and adapted to create Covid-safe environments, does the minister agree that the response to Covid and the ability to play sport, especially outdoors, must be evidence led? Will he work with me and others to make sure that that happens?
I have been hugely impressed by the efforts of a range of our sports governing bodies, not just those of the football bodies, in continuing to provide support to their players and sportspeople throughout the pandemic.
Clearly, we must be led by clinical advice as to what is or is not safe. In the context of professional sports we have taken some decisions to allow greater exceptions to the current restrictions. However, particularly in areas in levels 3 and 4, in which the prevalence of the virus is relatively high, we must ensure that we are not inadvertently doing things that could lead to it being spread further.
That is particularly important in relation to contact sports. By that I mean not only those sports, such as judo, in which there is direct physical contact, but also those in which, in the normal course of a game or a match, people are regularly within the 2-metre range, which would certainly include football.
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP and I recently met representatives of Clydebank Football Club, when we discussed the plight of the West of Scotland league clubs, which are facing ruin because of the coronavirus restrictions. Will the minister comment on my written request to set up a hardship fund for such clubs, which do not qualify for any other financial support? Will he also comment on my separate request to set up a pilot scheme to explore allowing a limited number of spectators to attend matches under Covid-19 guidelines, which would allow them to do so safely? If such an approach were to be successful, perhaps it could be rolled out across that league.
Please answer quickly, minister.
I apologise to Gil Paterson. As members will be aware, we are currently receiving a huge volume of correspondence. I have not yet seen his letter, so I am unable to respond directly to the points that he raised in it. However, I am hugely sympathetic to clubs such as Clydebank Football Club that are currently unable to welcome supporters back.
I hope that supporters across Scotland saw some light at the end of the tunnel from the First Minister’s announcement that some supporters will be allowed back, in areas covered by levels 0 and 1. That will offer additional impetus for supporters, and I encourage them to follow the FACTS advice, which will help us all to drive down the level of the virus. Although that is one reason for me to say that, the main reason for us to drive down the virus has to be to save lives.
As I mentioned earlier, I continue to ask the UK Government to clarify for us what the Barnett consequentials for Scotland would be, so that we can consider developing a hardship fund to support not only football, but all sports across Scotland.
Covid-19 (Physical Activity)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is encouraging physical activity within the necessary measures to suppress Covid-19. (S5O-04707)
We recognise the benefits that all sport and physical activity bring to physical and mental health, as well as the key role that sports clubs play in local communities. That is why we are protecting the ability to undertake essential outdoor exercise in every tier of the strategic framework.
Through the Clear Your Head campaign, and working with sportscotland and other partners, we continue to encourage the public to remain physically active for the health and wellbeing benefits that that brings. We also provide advice and guidance to ensure that such activity is undertaken safely and in accordance with all national and sector guidance.
I thank the minister for his answers both to my question and to the previous questions on football.
We know that organised sports provide a great deal of physical and mental health benefits for participants. However, a number of amateur football clubs in my constituency have raised concerns about the restrictions on their operations. A particular grievance is that the restrictions on grass-roots football are not the same as those on junior football. Will the minister outline the rationale behind that distinction?
In any contact sport—at any level—there is an increased risk of transmission of the virus. Like players of other professional sports, professional football players have been granted an exception, around which they are being asked to follow pretty strict guidelines. Although we absolutely recognise the importance of organised sports, the increased risk of spreading the virus through contact activity means that we need to be as careful as we can be.
As the First Minister made clear in Parliament last week, we continue to look at whether there can be further relaxations. I was pleased that we were able to make clear over the weekend that the travel restriction around sport did not apply to those aged 17 and under. That is a really positive development. On all these things, we are guided by the clinical advice, and the clinical advice for that particular group was particularly strong. I was therefore pleased that we were able to win that argument, as I know that that will make a difference to many young people across Scotland.
Flu Vaccines (Availability)
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that flu vaccines are available for those who need them. (S5O-04708)
We have taken a number of steps, including the procurement of sufficient vaccine to cover all who are eligible in the enhanced programme, which covers 2 million people. We are working directly with all health boards to improve delivery and to deal with demand, including work on how vaccine supply can be best utilised and ensuring that all board delivery plans reflect how the boards will respond to the high volume of calls, so that those who are eligible receive their vaccine as soon as possible.
By the end of last week, just over 1 million people who are eligible for the vaccine had been vaccinated, or 44 per cent of the total number we aim to cover.
In my constituency, in communities such as Kilbirnie and West Kilbride, vaccination has proceeded smoothly, with constituents contacting me to praise the staff delivering the programme. However, in Arran and Largs, concerns have been raised about availability. Unfortunately, NHS Ayrshire and Arran has been slow to respond to those concerns. Can the cabinet secretary again chivvy the health board—I know that she has done so already—to be more proactive and responsive?
I am happy to commit to doing that. As members would expect, I wrote earlier this week to the chairs of all our national health service boards, asking them to provide me with details on how they brief our MSPs to ensure that that is happening regularly and properly, not just on the vaccination programme but on Covid generally and on other issues, with full disclosure of information.
I will pick up with the boards how they all respond to individual MSP queries, as they are not all as consistently good as I would wish. In particular, I will take up the issue with Ayrshire and Arran. I assure the member that I receive a daily issue log on the performance of the vaccine programme across all our boards and I follow up where I think that we are not moving fast enough.
Covid-19 (Discharge of Hospital Patients to Care Homes)
To ask the Scottish Government when the First Minister first became aware of hospital patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 being discharged to care homes. (S5O-04709)
As the First Minister said in her written reply to Donald Cameron on 14 October:
“I would confirm that prior to the Sunday Post publishing their FOI, neither Scottish Ministers nor Government officials had information on the results of Covid-19 tests prior to discharge, or where these patients were discharged. The Cabinet Secretary commissioned Public Health Scotland to enable us to more fully and consistently understand how many people were assessed as being discharged with a recent positive test result, and the rationales that were in place for such a discharge.”
As the member will know, guidance has been in place since 13 March. The 13 March guidance specifically refers to the need for clinical screening and risk assessment of patients who are being discharged from hospital. That guidance, of course, has evolved and has been updated as our knowledge and understanding of the virus have developed.
I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer. However, I think that there is still confusion over the timings. The First Minister was asked about the subject at her daily briefing on 22 April by Chris Mason of The Scottish Sun. Will the cabinet secretary correct the record and tell us whether ministers and their officials ignored the information that was provided back in April; if they did not, will she outline what action was taken at that time?
I do not believe that I have a record to correct; I have read out what the First Minister said in her letter to Mr Balfour’s colleague. Mr Balfour will also know that I introduced guidance—on 21 April, I think—requiring that all those who were discharged to a care home were tested prior to that discharge. That supplemented the 13 March guidance that I referred to and the subsequent guidance that, from memory, was issued on 26 March. If I have got any of those dates wrong, I will of course correct them, but I do not believe that there is any record to correct, as Mr Balfour asked me to do.
Did the cabinet secretary read the article in the Sunday Mail on 19 April about Newcarron Court care home in Falkirk, in which the care home said that it was having to accept Covid patients? I accept that the guidance changed on 21 April, but did that article or information have any bearing on that? I seek clarity on what the current testing policy is for people being admitted to care homes from other settings and not just hospitals.
Ministers, including me, read the media coverage on Covid in the widest possible sense as best we can every day, although it is not possible to read everything. We are questioned on that in the chamber and elsewhere. It is fair to say that there was growing concern about whether clinical risk assessment, which was in the guidance from 13 March, was sufficient to ensure that we were taking all the steps necessary to protect patients as well as the places where they were going. We should remember that the majority of elderly patients who were discharged from hospital were discharged to home. Along with the developing clinical understanding, that all led to the initial testing guidance or requirement on 21 April, to which Ms Lennon refers.
As Ms Lennon knows, the current position on discharge from hospital to a care home is that, where the patient has been in hospital for Covid-19 and where the patient has not been in hospital for Covid-19, there requires to be a negative test—from memory, that has to be seven days before discharge. On community admission to care homes, the requirement is for a negative test where at all possible seven days before admission. If that is not possible and the individual has to be admitted to the care home within those seven days, on admission, they certainly should be in isolation in their room until the proper incubation period has passed and the test results are available.
I will not ask about individual results or when guidance changed; I will ask the cabinet secretary a very straight question: on which date did she know that Covid patients were being discharged to care homes untested? All that I want in answer is a date.
I believe that I have already answered that question, and the First Minister has answered it. [Interruption.]
Mr Findlay, please stop shouting from the back row. [Interruption.] Mr Findlay, please stop shouting.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
If Mr Findlay wishes me to go and look at when the Sunday Post published its FOI, I am happy to do that, although I am sure that he could do it himself. If he is looking for a specific date, that would be the date. As I said, the First Minister said:
“I would confirm that prior to the Sunday Post publishing their FOI, neither Scottish Ministers nor Government officials had information on the results of Covid-19 tests prior to discharge, or where these patients were discharged.”
That cannot be any clearer. [Interruption.] That is clearly not the answer that Mr Findlay wants. I do not know for what purposes he continues to pursue the issue, but that is the answer and it is accurate, and that is what I am going to say on the matter.
Mr Findlay, please refrain from shouting from a seated position in the back row.
Covid-19 (Suspension of Outdoor Amateur Sports)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will revisit its decision to suspend outdoor amateur sports such as football across the central belt, in light of the benefits that sport offers for participants’ physical and mental wellbeing. (S5O-04710)
We recognise the benefits that all sport and physical activity bring to physical and mental health as well as the key role that sports clubs play in local communities. From 2 November 2020, a revised approach to outbreak management based on five levels of protection was introduced, as set out in the strategic framework document, with local authority areas in the central belt being placed into level 3, along with Dundee. The “Coronavirus (COVID-19): local protection levels” document provides the Covid protection level for each local area and information on what people can and cannot do at each level.
In level 3 areas, organised contact sport can still take place for those aged 17 and under, and organised non-contact sport outdoors and organised exercise indoors and outdoors can be undertaken by those aged 18 and over. We recognise that that will be disappointing for many adults who will not be able to play contact sport in level 3 areas. However, as the First Minister noted in the Scottish Parliament on 29 October 2020, we will continue to review the situation with the sports restrictions and give updates as and when we can do so, based on clinical advice.
The minister will be aware of the extent of the stress and mental health problems that have been caused by the pandemic. When amateur football returned early in the summer, it was demonstrated that it was of great benefit to those who participated in relieving stress and mental health problems. I have received a number of representations from well-run amateur football clubs, such as Rutherglen Glencairn under-21s, in which they make a strong case for the Scottish Government’s decision to be reversed.
Could you move along a little, Mr Kelly?
Does the minister agree that stress levels are helped by participation in sport? On what basis will a review of the decision be set out?
I agree with the bulk of what Mr Kelly said. Football and, indeed, all sports are extremely important not just for our physical health but for our mental health and our wider wellbeing. Therefore, the Scottish Government did not take the decision not to allow contact sports in level 3 and level 4 areas lightly, which is why the First Minister confirmed that we would continue to look at the evidence. The challenge with contact sport is that, regardless of how well organised the club is, the playing of the sport presents a huge risk of spreading the virus.
I have been contacted by a local adult football team that questions why it cannot use a large indoor training facility, given the low number of Covid cases that have been reported in the isles and the difficulties of outdoor training in a Shetland winter on pitches that are often waterlogged. Will the Government look again at the level 1 guidance on indoor contact sports?
I will be very brief—yes, we will.
I thank Joe FitzPatrick for that, as it allows Jackie Baillie to ask question 7.
Covid-19 (Treatment of Long-term Effects)
To ask the Scottish Government when national health service boards will be in a position to provide clinics that will specifically treat the long-term effects of Covid-19. (S5O-04711)
We are actively supporting the Scottish intercollegiate guidelines network, which is working with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the Royal College of General Practitioners to develop a rapid clinical guideline on the persistent effects of Covid-19—long Covid. That guideline, which will be critical to the development of services, is expected to be published before the end of the year. It will provide a formal definition of the disease, address how on-going symptoms can be identified and look at a definition of best-practice investigation and treatment options to support the management of the condition.
In addition, we have launched a call for applied research proposals that are designed to improve understanding of the longer-term effects of Covid-19 on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of people in Scotland, and which have the aim of developing effective clinical interventions.
In summary, at the moment our NHS is working to treat individuals with particular symptoms through, for example, the respiratory and heart work that is being undertaken, but the work to establish a clinical definition of long Covid is critical. As a result of that work, we will be able to cohort the right kind of clinical services to address the needs of people who are experiencing long Covid symptoms.
My constituent contracted Covid-19 in March. Since then, she has had to live with debilitating symptoms, including fatigue, breathlessness, headaches, sore eyes, blood pooling in lower extremities, tachycardia and much more besides. She is a nurse; she has tried to go back to work three times.
People need one-stop clinics to deal with long Covid. I understand that such clinics have already been set up in England. When will that happen in Scotland?
I do not disagree at all with Ms Baillie, and I have huge sympathy for her constituent and for the many others who are suffering in that way.
The range of symptoms that Ms Baillie has read out could be added to with the additional symptoms that other people are experiencing. That demonstrates the need for a clinical definition that guides clinicians on the various symptoms that an individual might present with—not so that they can dismiss those as being about something else but so that they can investigate properly whether the condition is long Covid and work out a treatment plan that can best treat the most critical symptoms first and then work through the other ones. It is a long exercise. I appreciate that that is no great comfort to Jackie Baillie’s constituent, but it is the right way to ensure that there is a holistic treatment approach.
As soon as we have the long Covid guideline, we will be ready to cohort the necessary clinical input—it is not dissimilar to the situation with other conditions—so that individuals can get a holistic diagnosis and treatment plan that will start to help them.
I, too, have read that NHS England has set up such clinics, but my understanding is that what we have read is a news release about NHS England being about to set up the clinics. We could have issued a similar news release, but I would rather do that once we have set up clinics than anticipate it in advance.
Covid-19 (Antibody Testing)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on antibody testing for Covid-19. (S5O-04712)
In Scotland, we are using antibody tests to improve our understanding of Covid-19 and in the clinical management of patients. Public Health Scotland, in partnership with national health service boards, is leading national surveillance and research studies that utilise antibody testing. The Public Health Scotland serology surveillance programme collected more than 19,000 blood samples between 9 March and 3 August, with reported estimates of antibody prevalence from that sample being in the region of 3 to 4 per cent.
Antibody testing is under way as part of our enhanced surveillance in schools, with more than 13,000 antibody tests already delivered. The SIREN—SARS-CoV-2 immunity and reinfection evaluation—study of Covid-19 immunity in healthcare workers has now started recruiting, and 20 per cent of participants of the Office for National Statistics Covid-19 infection survey are being invited to provide samples for antibody testing.
The cabinet secretary’s answer has anticipated much of my supplementary question, so I will ask something simple: will people who suspect that they have had Covid but did not get tested be able to get an antibody test in the future?
That is entirely possible. As I am sure that Gillian Martin understands, all the work that I mentioned is under way—including research on a four-nation basis, as well as research by the individual nations of the United Kingdom—because it is still not clear how long antibodies provide someone with protection against the virus, or what level of antibody presence is needed to give someone any level of protection.
I know that there are a number of individuals who believe that they have had—and may well have had—Covid-19 without having been tested. As we understand the veracity and validity of such tests for individuals, as opposed to their use in our research work to increase our understanding, we will make them available to as wide a number of people as we have the capacity for.
That concludes questions on the health and sport portfolio. I made a judgment, which I hope was not too awry, to let it run on a bit, because of the number of supplementary questions. However, I ask for a bit more discipline in questions and answers for the next section.
Communities and Local Government
Questions 1, 7 and 8 are grouped together.
Affordable Houses (Target)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made on its target to build 50,000 affordable houses during the current parliamentary session. (S5O-04713)
The latest Scottish Government quarterly affordable housing supply statistics show that, since the beginning of this parliamentary session, we have delivered 34,988 affordable homes, more than 23,000 of which are for social rent. Those are part of the 95,692 affordable homes that have been delivered since 2007, more than 66,196 of which are for social rent, including 14,393 council homes.
As I stated in April, the impact of the lockdown means that we will not meet our 50,000 affordable homes commitment by the end of March 2021. However, we remain committed to our target and continue to work closely with partners across the housing sector to deliver the remaining homes as quickly as it is safe to do so.
Given that my Glasgow Anniesland constituency has such a large number of people in the over-60 age demographic, can the minister look a little into the figures and tell me what the impacts have been on the variety of housing options that are currently available for that age group, including open market, shared equity and help-to-buy shared equity options, not forgetting direct rental from local housing associations?
The Government offers people aged 60 and over the opportunity to apply for our shared equity scheme as a priority access group, with no requirement to take out a mortgage when purchasing a property. The affordable housing supply programme supports the delivery of flexible housing that is capable of being adapted to suit people’s changing requirements. Wherever possible, all new-build units are built to “Housing for Varying Needs” standards. In the four years from April 2016, more than 2,200 affordable homes were purpose built for older people in Scotland, including more than 450 in Glasgow.
We recognise the value of people being able to adapt their existing home to suit changing needs and support independent living. In the four years from April 2016, more than 4,500 adaptations were completed for housing association tenants in Glasgow.
Covid-19 (Sustainable Development)
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on ensuring that planning authorities do not reduce efforts to deliver new homes and other sustainable development during the on-going Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04719)
The Scottish Government has worked with planning authorities and stakeholders to ensure that the planning system remains open for business throughout the on-going pandemic.
Measures suggested in the Scottish Government’s consultation on Scottish planning policy and housing would delete the presumption in favour of sustainable development and weaken policy on planning for housing delivery, and there is a lot of concern about that. Can the minister give assurances that Scottish planning policy on housing and wider sustainable development will not be changed if there is any risk of a reduction in the number of new homes receiving planning permission and being delivered in areas that have a housing shortfall?
As Mr Simpson is well aware, I want to see more homes across Scotland, but they have to be the right homes in the right places. That is key to delivering for our people.
In our consultation, we have proposed removing wording that specifically states that there is
“a presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development.”
It is clear that, in practice, that statement means very different things to different people and is causing quite a bit of confusion, including in the courts. As matters stand, it is not necessary for a development to be considered to be sustainable before the presumption can apply.
We have consulted on that, and we have received 344 responses to the consultation from a wide range of interests. We are currently considering them in order to inform our next steps.
Planning Policy (Housing Developments)
To ask the Scottish Government how its planning policy supports the delivery of new housing developments. (S5O-04720)
Our policies are clear that planning should have a sharp focus on the delivery of housing. Planning should maintain a generous supply of land for housing and support the delivery of homes through joint working. We are currently reviewing our planning policies and will publish an update on national planning framework 4 later this month.
Like Mr Simpson, I have received representations from house builders in my region that are concerned about the proposed changes to planning policy and any impact that they might have on the supply of available land to develop. Specifically, they have raised with me the watering down of the requirement on local authorities to maintain proper supplies of deliverable housing land. Can I have an assurance from the minister that those concerns will be taken seriously in the planning policy review?
As I said to Mr Simpson, I want to see the right houses in the right places. Our proposals do not aim to reduce our support for the delivery of quality homes; they aim to clarify our existing policy ahead of the fourth national planning framework, which will be laid in draft in the Parliament for scrutiny and consultation in September 2021.
Over this parliamentary session, I have received communications from members across the chamber—including, if I remember rightly, from Mr Fraser—about getting housing right and in the right places, and about ensuring that our planning is absolutely spot on and that local planning policies are followed. As I have said, our proposals will not reduce our support for the delivery of homes across the country, but we must clarify exactly what the situation is.
If supplementaries are very quick, I will get all of them in.
Numerous planning permissions for new housing developments in west Fife are being granted outwith the local development plan by the reporter on the basis of a perceived housing shortfall, and the new spatial strategy for south-east Scotland contains a housing land requirement for Fife that is a third lower than the previous figures. Has the minister considered those revised figures? Can he confirm whether the Government’s reporter will now commit to upholding the democratically decided local development plan for Fife?
One of the reasons why we are carrying out the current consultation is that there is often an argument about numbers and about that presumption. As Mr Ruskell has pointed out, some communities feel that there is overdevelopment. I am keen to ensure that, in the light of the new planning act, local development plans have the right housing numbers in them. I am keen to get that right as we move forward, and I want to see robust local development plans and robust regional spatial strategies. National planning framework 4 also has to be absolutely right. If all of that is done, we will iron out some of the difficulties that some communities feel they are in.
I am sorry, but I cannot take any more supplementaries on that issue, as time does not allow that.
Covid-19 (Food Poverty)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to tackle food poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04714)
The Scottish Government has invested more than £130 million to tackle the food insecurity that has been caused by the pandemic. That includes free school meal provision over the summer.
We have also recently announced that we will continue to support free school meal provision in holiday periods up to and including Easter 2021, which will benefit more than 150,000 families. That is in addition to significantly increased investment in the Scottish welfare fund. That investment has enabled the public, private and third sectors to work in partnership to ensure that everyone has access to food and other essentials.
Our cash-first approach, which is founded on the principles of dignity and human rights, is putting money in the pockets of those who need it, and we are committed to tackling the root causes of poverty.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the great work of many voluntary organisations in my constituency that have delivered food to our most vulnerable over the past eight months. They include Coatbridge food bank, the stay connected project, Glenboig Development Trust, Kirkshaws Neighbourhood Centre and Lanarkshire Community Food, to name only a few. As we move into the winter, with the second spike in Covid cases and subsequent further restrictions, those organisations are working round the clock, and I have noticed that they are encountering a level of demand that is similar to that which they experienced at the start of lockdown. What further support will be made available to allow that crucial work to continue to deliver over the coming winter months?
I pay tribute to the groups that Fulton MacGregor mentioned and all the community groups that are doing phenomenal work across the country.
Fulton MacGregor is correct to point out that this is a particularly challenging time as we come into the colder, darker and more expensive months. We have committed over £15 million out of the £350 million community package fund to support critical third sector and local community food responses through the wellbeing and supporting communities fund. We also have a £25 million community and third sector recovery programme, which is supporting our third sector to continue to support people and communities in responding to local on-going outbreaks in the pandemic.
We will continue to work with groups and local authorities because the issue will not go away, and we need to ensure that we do all that we can to support that vital response.
Questions are not the time for speeches on either side. Members should cut down on their questions and answers, please.
Community Shopping (Scotland Loves Local)
To ask the Scottish Government how the Scotland loves local campaign will support and encourage community shopping. (S5O-04715)
The Scotland loves local campaign is encouraging people through a range of media to safely support their local businesses by shopping locally and accessing local online offerings. The campaign builds on the community spirit and local support that were experienced at the height of the pandemic, with more people becoming aware of the community benefits of shopping locally. I welcome the support that many members across the chamber have given to the campaign.
The campaign is an exciting opportunity for local projects and businesses, such as Upper Senwick farm in Dumfries and Galloway and the businesses that support Dumfries farmers, the farmers market and the town centre market. Can the cabinet secretary outline how those and other organisations in my South Scotland region can apply for the fund?
The Scotland loves local fund will provide grants of between £500 and £5,000 to develop projects that improve and promote local places and communities. Application forms and guidance notes are on the Scotland’s Towns Partnership website. I hope that if Emma Harper’s constituents go to that website, they will be directed to the right way to apply for that funding.
We come to question 4 from Alex Cole-Hamilton.
I have done it again. Presiding Officer, I am afraid that I am adrift of my question. If someone could hand me the—
Okay. We will move to question 5.
I have it here now, Presiding Officer. I apologise.
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions—
Excuse me, Mr Cole-Hamilton. We are now on question 5.
Okay. I apologise.
Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 (Community Assets)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made in enabling the transfer of community assets under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. (S5O-04717)
Great progress has been made since part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015—asset transfer requests—came into force in 2017. To date, 127 successful asset transfer requests have been made by communities. Community assets transferred include parks, woodlands, community growing spaces, sports and recreational facilities and community hubs.
I thank the minister for her answer. Although she cut out a bit towards the end, I got the gist.
I have been made aware that arm’s-length external organisations are exempt from the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which makes it harder for community organisations to finalise asset transfers in a timely manner, if at all. Can the minister look into that anomaly, as at least two organisations in my Glasgow Cathcart constituency are waiting for a decision on an asset transfer involving an ALEO?
I thank James Dornan for raising that important issue. We are aware that local authorities use arm’s-length external organisations and that that can sometimes create confusion as to who owns or is in control of assets. That is why we have pulled together a national asset transfer action group consisting of senior representatives from the authorities that are listed in the act and partners and stakeholders in the sector. The group will consider issues such as those raised by James Dornan and provide direction on that.
We will go to question 6. If Mr Cole-Hamilton is quick, we can go back to him.
Fire and Smoke Alarm Standards (Public Awareness)
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it will take to raise public awareness of its plans to introduce new fire and smoke alarm standards. (S5O-04718)
The Scottish Government, in recognition of the challenges that are posed by Covid-19, will seek parliamentary approval to delay the implementation of the new standards for fire and carbon monoxide detectors from February 2021 until February 2022.
People need to know what the changes are, why they are important to ensure that homes are safe and what action they need to take. We will continue to work with partners to spread awareness of the changes before the new deadline, if it is agreed by the Parliament, and ensure that there is timely, effective publicity in order to ensure high levels of awareness and understanding. Our focus will be on supporting householders to ensure that satisfactory fire and carbon monoxide alarms are installed so that we can improve safety in all homes.
As well as making sure that people are aware of the new deadline, will the minister ensure that householders are clear about precisely what actions the legislation will require them to take?
Absolutely. The legislation was highlighted in the media at the beginning. Our intention had been to ramp up publicity as we came closer to the date of it coming into force. We have had help from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in all of this, which has also been giving advice about the required equipment. I am more than happy to send further communication to all members about the equipment that is required, so that they can pass it on to their constituents.
I will go back to question 4. Please be quick, Mr Cole-Hamilton.
Covid-19 (Reopening of Local Services)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it is having with local authorities regarding the safe reopening of local services, including libraries. (S5O-04716)
The Scottish Government is working closely with local government, predominantly through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers to understand how best we can support them and to identify priority areas that might require support during this challenging period.
We produced safer workplaces guidance for public libraries to help local authorities reopen public libraries safely. We worked with a range of partners in producing that guidance, including organisations that represent the sector and local authorities. First published on 14 July, the guidance is updated regularly in response to feedback from partners. The decision when to reopen libraries is for individual local authorities.
Everybody in the chamber will recognise the importance of community libraries to community cohesion and wellbeing. Although some libraries in my constituency, such as Kirkliston library, have safely reopened, Drumbrae and Blackhall libraries remain shut because of the insufficient capacity of cleaning services to meet Covid-19 restrictions. What additional support can the Scottish Government offer local authorities to bolster cleaning capacity in the pandemic?
What I outlined goes beyond the reopening of libraries. We engage with local authorities on a range of issues, and we have provided them with support, both in kind and financial, to respond to the pandemic. As I said, we also continue to update the guidance that is there to enable the safe reopening of libraries.
I absolutely understand the point that Alex Cole-Hamilton is making. These are critical services for people. They provide a place to go and a space to be, and often they provide access to computers as well. It is incredibly important, given all the restrictions that are placed on people’s lives at the moment, that we have those spaces. If Alex Cole-Hamilton would like to raise with me more things that I can pursue, I am happy to hear about them. I do not think that there is any disagreement between us in recognising how important those facilities are.
That concludes questions on communities and local government.