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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 7, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 07 February 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Kilmarnock Football Club 150th Anniversary, Glasgow Airport Access Project, Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Workplace Parking Levy

1. Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

Many of us have been hearing from ordinary Scots this week who are deeply alarmed about the Scottish National Party plans to charge them for taking their own car to work. Here is what one young man had to say in an email:

“I am a young apprentice from ... South Lanarkshire ... I know £2 a day doesn’t seem like much, but this off an apprenticeship wage is a lot, while many in a similar age group are paying rent, council tax, road tax and other utility bills, and some also trying to save for their futures, this is a tax that will hit the lowest and least represented of employment groups in the country.”

Let me make this promise to him and thousands of others like him across Scotland: Scottish Conservatives—all of us here—will oppose a workplace parking levy.

Will the Deputy First Minister make him the same pledge?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

It will not come as a surprise to anybody that in a Parliament where the Government does not command an overall majority we have to talk to and reach agreement with other parties about specific issues.

Of course, what we found in this budget process was that the Conservative Party was spectacularly absent from those discussions, so they have no right to come here today and complain about the agreements that we have to arrive at.

It is important that Parliament is clear about what is proposed. There is an agreement to bring forward an amendment to the Transport (Scotland) Bill that will enable local authorities to exercise a judgment as to whether they wish to apply a workplace parking levy. It will be up to local authorities to take that decision. It is an example of localism in practice, and I would have thought that the Conservatives would have welcomed that.

Jackson Carlaw

So, almost unbelievably, the short answer is no: Mr Swinney will not be backing these people or thousands of other workers like them. What an absolute disgrace.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Finance and Constitution Committee, Derek Mackay even admitted that he had not done any economic analysis of the cost of a workplace parking levy—but we have. A £400 annual charge would be equivalent to increasing the basic rate of tax paid by a worker on the real living wage from 20p in the pound to 30p in the pound.

When the Deputy First Minister promised not to increase the basic rate of income tax before the previous election, did he imagine that he would be voting to thump those same workers with a new levy that is equivalent to a tax hike of 10p in the pound?

John Swinney

It is very important that we remain focused on what is actually proposed. What is actually proposed is the awarding to local authorities of a power to apply a workplace parking levy if they judge that to be the appropriate thing to do, once they have made the appropriate assessments of such a commitment.

I cited this as an example of localism quite deliberately, because in 2017, Ruth Davidson said:

“our manifesto for the council elections was published a couple of weeks back ... it does spell out a thorough and clear vision ... At its heart is a case for localism.”

The Conservatives have been four-square behind empowering local authorities.

If that is not enough, Graham Simpson, the Tories’ local government spokesman, said:

“We believe that decisions should be taken as locally as possible and that powers should lie with politicians elected as locally as possible.”

He also said:

“We need to empower councils and give them a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.”

If that is not enough for Jackson Carlaw, in 2016, the First Minister received a letter from four Conservatives, urging her to re-empower councils to take decisions that they could think about themselves. The first author of the letter was Murdo Fraser, the second was Liz Smith and the third was Maurice Golden. Parliament will not be surprised to learn that the final one of the quartet was Jackson Carlaw. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Order, please.

Jackson Carlaw

This isn’t “Blue Peter”, and one pathetic excuse that Mr Swinney made up earlier ain’t gonna wash.

For the past 12 years, I have marvelled at Mr Swinney and the full theatrical performance that we get from him when the Scottish National Party is in real trouble—out he comes, swinging—but the fact of the matter is that, this morning, the SNP leader of the City of Edinburgh Council said that it would be a missed opportunity if employees did not have to pay the levy.

Mr Swinney may support charging low-paid workers. Happily, some of his colleagues are made of sterner stuff. Just three months ago, speaking in Parliament, his colleague Richard Lyle made his opposition to the proposal plain. He said:

“I am not for your parking charge levy, and I speak on behalf of thousands of motorists who have been taxed enough.”—[Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, 13 November 2018; c 59.]

Well said, Mr Lyle. He is prepared to stand up for hard-pressed Scottish workers. Why isn’t John Swinney?

John Swinney

As Jackson Carlaw goes purple faced, it is a bit rich for him to accuse me of theatrical performances.

The Conservatives fought the 2016 and 2017 elections on a commitment to empower local authorities. Given that they played absolutely no part in the process of setting a budget for this Parliament, they cannot come along and complain about the fact that the Scottish Government, in agreement with the Green Party, has been prepared to re-empower local authorities. That is rank hypocrisy, even from Mr Carlaw.

The Conservatives need to be reminded that, if we had listened to them on the budget and had not reached an agreement with the Greens, we would have had to contemplate taking £500 million out of the Scottish Parliament’s budget, which would have punished families and public services and reduced staff numbers. The Scottish Government would not countenance that, but that is what the Tories wanted to inflict on Scotland.

Jackson Carlaw

Mr Swinney says that we have no credibility demanding tax cuts and higher spending. He says that the Tories have no credibility on the economy, but it was a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, who wrote the cheques that he is spending—the additional £148 million that Derek Mackay concealed from Parliament the week before he announced his budget. When Mr Swinney has spent it to settle the mess that he is making of teachers’ pay, I hope that he will send Philip Hammond a thank-you note for bailing him out of his own problem.

It is sad to see Mr Swinney defend things in which he clearly does not believe. It is sad to see him defend a rise in the basic rate of income tax when he once said that a

“tax rise would be a punishment”

for low-income workers. It is sad to see him defend an inflation-busting rise in the council tax when, in 2016, he and the First Minister stood on a manifesto promise not to do so. It is sad, too, to see him now demand that ordinary people be charged for driving to work when once, as the champion of middle Scotland—the nat you could trust—he claimed to be the voice of enterprise. Is it not time that he admitted that he got this wrong?

Come on, man, simply drop this unwanted and workable plan. If you will not, will it not be clear to everyone—despite the fact that you have tried to spin it otherwise today—that tens of thousands of Scottish workers are to be fleeced for hundreds of pounds a year, just because Derek Mackay, John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon cannae say no to six dismal Green MSPs?

John Swinney

Well, if that was not an audition for the next pantomime in Glasgow, I have no idea what it was. After all these weeks of rehearsing while his boss is away, I would have thought that Jackson Carlaw could have come up with something slightly more considered than that.

I take it from that rant that Jackson Carlaw is not in any way supportive of resolving the teachers’ pay claim that I am trying very hard to resolve. I take it from that that, through the tax cuts that he wants to apply in the budget, Jackson Carlaw wants to continue to inflict on the people of this country a cut in public spending of £500 million, which would reduce the number of nurses in our hospitals by nearly 20,000. Is that seriously what Jackson Carlaw is arguing for?

Jackson Carlaw has been found out today. He goes around the country arguing for more powers for local government. However, when we deliver them, he comes here in an act of rank hypocrisy and criticises us. The people of Scotland can see through the hypocrisy of the Tories. They can see what the Tories are about: their spots have never changed. They want to cut public spending and they would do it in a hypocritical way.


Accident and Emergency Waiting Times

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Can the Deputy First Minister tell the chamber when the Scottish Government last met its A and E waiting times target?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

As Richard Leonard knows, performance on A and E waiting times has been a significant challenge in the health service. However, A and E units’ waiting times performance in Scotland has been at the leading edge of performance in the United Kingdom for four years. There are challenges to be wrestled with and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport is focused on ensuring that that is done. However, for four years, A and E units in Scotland have delivered the best performance in the United Kingdom.

Richard Leonard

That was a response, but not an answer, to the question that I asked. In fact, the Scottish Government’s waiting time target of 95 per cent has not been met since last August. A principal reason for that lamentable record is its failure to tackle delayed discharge of patients. Members should not take just my word for it. Tim Davison, who is the chief executive of NHS Lothian, wrote just last week that

“for a hospital the size of the RIE, the number of patients remaining in hospital when they do not need to be there, is equivalent to three whole wards and is significantly impacting on our ability to manage the flow of patients through the hospital. It can impact on our ability to see and assess patients promptly; it delays access to a bed quickly within the agreed 4 hour target; it is contributing to short-notice cancellation of planned elective surgery.”

The previous Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport promised to eradicate delayed discharge within a year. That was back in February 2015. Four years on, can the Deputy First Minister tell us when he believes his Government will keep that promise and finally ensure that nobody is left stuck in our hospitals when they do not need to be there?

John Swinney

I agree with Richard Leonard’s last point that it is important that people are in hospital only for the length of time for which they should properly be in hospital. The Government is focused on ensuring that individuals are able to make the journey through hospital and out into the community as efficiently and as smoothly as possible. That is our objective. In the process, we are reducing the extent of delayed discharge in Scottish hospitals.

One of the things that is helping is the increased investment that Derek Mackay has made available in the budget for health and social care integration at community level. Following the draft budget for 2019-20, we are increasing our package of direct investment in health and social care integration to more than £700 million. That was central in the announcements that were made by Derek Mackay in the stage 1 debate last Thursday.

In the Government and in the health service, there is an intense focus on ensuring that we build up health and social care capacity in our communities. That is exactly what the budget is designed to do. That will assist us in reducing delayed discharges and in ensuring that individuals are able to make the smoothest possible journey through our health service by getting acute care when they require it and community care when that is appropriate and necessary.

Richard Leonard

John Swinney talked about health and social care integration. We have also learned this week that Edinburgh health and social care partnership is facing more than £19 million of cost pressures. How does that help?

The scale of the problem is such that, last year, the number of people who were stuck in hospital who did not need to be there would have filled every bed in Scotland’s biggest hospital—the Queen Elizabeth university hospital—every day for 326 days. It is no wonder that delayed discharge is having a significant impact on A and E waiting times and cancelled operations right across the country.

There is also a human cost. Tim Davison went on to say that delayed discharge means

“disruption and distress to patients and families ... a burden on patients and their carers/families and reduces the quality of their experience.”

Those are the words of the chief executive of Scotland’s second-largest health board.

When will the Government start to listen? When will the Deputy First Minister take his responsibilities seriously? When will he snap out of complacency and start to address the continuing problem of delayed discharge in Scotland?

John Swinney

My response to Mr Leonard’s question demonstrates that the Government takes the issue deadly seriously. What are we doing to tackle delayed discharge? We are increasing the resources that are available to social care integration in the community. In Edinburgh, in the health board to which Richard Leonard referred, we are seeing delayed discharges falling. We have put £160 million more into health and social care integration.

The Government is making those judgments in a very challenging financial environment. Why did we decide to do that? It is because we recognise that it is better for people to be supported in their home or in a community setting than it is for them to be in hospital when they do not need to be there. On that point, I completely accept the premise of Richard Leonard’s question and the points that have been made by Tim Davison. It is entirely appropriate for individuals to be in hospital at particular stages, but we must support individuals throughout their journey.

That is why Derek Mackay’s budget, which is currently going through Parliament, will increase the resources that are available for health and social care integration to more than £700 million. That is why we continue to support the increase in resources and why we are confident that the effect of that investment and the joint working that is being provided by health and social care integration will deliver the reduction in delayed discharges that we all want.

The Presiding Officer

There are several constituency supplementaries.


O2 ABC (Demolition)

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

The Deputy First Minister will be aware of the application to Glasgow City Council by the owners of the O2 ABC building in my constituency for complete demolition of that iconic building. I emphasise that the application is for the building’s complete demolition. I have many concerns about that. First, I am concerned about the closeness of the building to Glasgow School of Art and about the effect that demolition might have on the investigation into the fire there. I have written to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service on that point.

Secondly, I am concerned that, although the iconic O2 ABC building was built in 1875 and so is older than the Mackintosh Glasgow School of Art building, it has not received the same publicity or been given the same importance. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that if the entire O2 ABC building cannot be saved, we must do all that we can to save the historic building’s façade?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

I realise the significance of the point that Sandra White raises about the O2 ABC venue, which is in her constituency. A building warrant application to demolish the venue was lodged with Glasgow City Council on 31 January. Each council must exercise its responsibilities individually and must, in so doing, comply with any legal requirements.

I am not familiar with the listing arrangements for the venue’s façade, which Sandra White referred to, but it is clear that Historic Environment Scotland’s perspective will need to be applied. I will ensure that Historic Environment Scotland is actively and appropriately engaged with the council in consideration of the matter.


Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

How will the Scottish Government hold Aberdeen Roads Ltd accountable for the delays that have been incurred in opening the final section of the Aberdeen western peripheral route? The Scottish Government has given contractors every opportunity to get a grip on that £750 million project and to open the route fully to traffic.

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Aberdeen Roads Ltd is paid only when sections of the road are opened to traffic. In that way, it is incentivised to open the road at the earliest opportunity on which it is safe to do so.

Aberdeen Roads still has work to do to provide fundamental assurances about future maintenance of the River Don crossing that will sufficiently protect the public purse. Once that commitment has been received, there will be no further barrier to opening the remainder of the road without delay.

In recent months, Transport Scotland and the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity have worked tirelessly with Aberdeen Roads. I am pleased to say not only that more than 85 per cent of the road is open, but that the feedback from the public in north-east Scotland about that long-overdue enhancement of the roads infrastructure there has been overwhelmingly positive.


Texas Instruments

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

The Deputy First Minister will be delighted by the outstanding news that the Texas Instruments plant in Greenock has been purchased by Diodes Inc in a deal that is worth a reported £65 million, which will save 300 high-value, high-skill jobs. Does he agree that that investment has been hard won? Does he congratulate everyone who has been involved in making the deal happen and commend all the staff at the plant, who have continued to deliver, despite the threat of redundancy that has hung over their heads since 2016? Does he agree that this proves again that Inverclyde is open for business?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

I welcome the good news that the former Texas Instruments plant has been acquired by Diodes, which is an important investment that will safeguard 300 jobs at the plant. That is the accumulation of tremendous joint working by our enterprise agencies, the Government, Inverclyde Council and the workforce, which has given extraordinary commitment to ensure continuity. We look forward to working with Diodes in taking forward the commitments that have been made to the workforce.


ScotRail

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

It has been another bad day on Scotland’s railway, with power and signal failures causing disruption in Glasgow. Sadly, that is a typical experience. Over the weekend, passengers took to social media to share their experience of delays, cancellations and overcrowding. They posted pictures of people with disabilities going without a seat and of children sitting on the floor outside a train toilet. A passenger was also reported to have had a panic attack.

That is not acceptable or safe and is not what people in Scotland deserve from their railway. What action did the Government take following last weekend’s appalling performance by ScotRail? How long will it be before we have a rail service that is run in the public interest and meets the public’s needs?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

First, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity has made it clear to Parliament that the Government considers ScotRail’s current performance to be unacceptable. For that reason, Transport Scotland issued a formal notification to ScotRail on 24 December to require it to submit a remedial plan by 18 February. The Government will hold ScotRail to that.

We expect ScotRail to set out in that plan how it will address the performance issues to ensure that we realise the benefits of the formidable investment that has been made in recent periods in new rolling stock and new infrastructure.

Parliament is familiar with some of the operational challenges around the delay in new rolling stock, which has affected the ability of the service to operate as we would have expected. Because of that delay, there have been implications for the training of staff to operate the railway safely.

Mr Harvie raises specific examples from the past weekend. ScotRail took a number of decisions to expand capacity on a number of routes because of the expectations of higher traveller numbers, particularly because of the rugby international match in Edinburgh. However, other issues were of concern in the performance of ScotRail at the weekend. Those are the issues that the Government expects ScotRail to address. The transport secretary is, at all times, in active dialogue with ScotRail, in order to improve that performance and to require ScotRail to comply with the remedial order that the Government has applied.

Patrick Harvie

When the plan for remediation of those persistent failures is presented to us, I am sure that the Parliament will hold both ScotRail and the Government to account.

There is a need for wider structural change. For example, many of us agree that Network Rail needs to be in Scotland’s control, so that we can have a truly joined-up approach to the issues. However, we cannot wait for that; it is no excuse for not taking action now.

Three months ago, when many of the failures were already being regularly reported, the Government voted against using the break point in the ScotRail franchise next year. If the Government was not convinced then, it should be convinced now that that option must remain on the table. Surely the Deputy First Minister will not rule out that option, given that doing so would give Abellio a free pass to continue failing. The Government must work on the assumption that, from next year, a public sector bidder may be needed.

What progress is being made on the urgently needed preparation for a public rail operator that will operate the railways in the public interest?

John Swinney

Some elements of Patrick Harvie’s question are more straightforward than others. On his point about devolution of responsibilities around Network Rail, I agree with him. It makes eminent common sense for that to be the case, because it would allow us to take forward the co-operation that exists within the ScotRail Alliance to a much deeper level of integration. Politics aside, there is a commonsense approach in taking that forward.

On the application of a break clause, if an operator of last resort was to replace ScotRail in 2020, that could be only a temporary measure. Under the current United Kingdom legislation, the requirement to tender the franchise would remain. That would then open up the possibility, which we have now secured as a Government, to bring forward a competitive public sector bid in that context.

Development work is under way about how to advance the concept of a competitive public sector bid. That work is being taken forward by the transport secretary, in dialogue with David MacBrayne Ltd, which we have invited to take forward some of that work. If the transport secretary has not already answered questions on that subject, I am sure that he will update Parliament on all those questions in due course.

Fundamentally, the Government believes that we must have an efficient rail network that meets the needs of individuals in Scotland, that acts in the public interest and that delivers services that members of the public are looking for. Our immediate, short-term action is focused on achieving that; we are open to developing a competitive public sector bid within the context of the existing UK legislation, within which we must operate.


Workplace Parking Levy

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Will the Scottish Government civil servants give badly needed assistance to John Finnie in drafting his workplace parking levy amendment to the Transport (Scotland) Bill? From the member’s public comments earlier this week, it is obvious that he does not have a clue how he wants it to operate.

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

I understand that Mr Finnie has asked—and the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has agreed—to take further evidence on that issue. The Government will contribute to that process. Of course, the Government will be actively engaged in the process of drafting amendments, because we agreed to that with the Green Party.

However, I am a little bit surprised—or am I?—at Mr Rumbles’s line of argument. When the provisions for a workplace parking levy were introduced by the Labour Party in the United Kingdom Transport Act 2000, which gave enabling powers to English councils to introduce workplace parking levies, those measures were supported—surprise, surprise—by Liberal Democrat members of the UK Parliament. It is just another example of saying one thing in one place and another thing in another place.


Cannabis-based Treatment Delay

Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP)

I wish to raise the case of the young son of a constituent. This wee lad’s medical condition has been deemed appropriate for cannabis-based treatment and he has been offered Epidiolex by his medical team. That was some four weeks ago but no treatment has yet commenced and no prospect of a start date has been given to the family. Meanwhile, the child’s condition continues to deteriorate.

Can the Deputy First Minister advise us on the clinical procedure once it is agreed that Epidiolex is appropriate and can he investigate that delay?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

I will ask the health secretary this afternoon to contact NHS Lanarkshire and establish the details of the case. If there is a way in which we can address immediately the very real and legitimate issues that Linda Fabiani has raised in Parliament today, we will do so. I will ask the health secretary to update Linda Fabiani by the close of business this afternoon.


Ramsar Sites (Protection)

Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

Fifty-one of Scotland’s most precious places for wildlife are protected as Ramsar sites. Recent guidance from the Scottish Government appears to downgrade the protection that is given to many of those sites, including Coul Links in the Highlands and Loch Lomond in my region. That contradicts the welcome commitment that the environment secretary made to Parliament last year.

Can the Deputy First Minister confirm that that recent guidance will be withdrawn and corrected, and that all Ramsar sites in Scotland will continue to be given the same level of protection as designated Natura sites, as is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Ramsar sites are protected in Scotland by either the Natura regulations or their designation as sites of special scientific interest. I think that it is clear that that affords to those sites the highest level of environmental protection.

However, if Mr Greer has specific concerns, I will ask the environment secretary to correspond with him to address any particular issues in relation to the approach to designation, which is important. The Government is absolutely committed to fulfilling the commitments and obligations that are incumbent on us in relation to Ramsar sites and to ensure that those are fulfilled in all the actions that we take.


Musical Instrument Tuition

4. Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

To ask the Deputy First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on whether learning to play a musical instrument should be a core subject in schools. (S5F-03043)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Music, as one of the expressive arts, is an essential part of the broad general education under curriculum for excellence. That includes class music lessons, including when an instrument is taught on a whole-class basis. An education authority may charge fees for the provision of instrumental tuition that is discretionary over and above that.

It is for local authorities to decide how to provide instrumental music tuition depending on local circumstances, priorities and traditions. In taking those decisions, local authorities should consider the undoubted benefits that learning a musical instrument can have on wellbeing and on attainment.

Christine Grahame

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his answer. That said, does he share my concern that Labour-led Midlothian Council is the only council in Scotland that proposes to axe all music tuition for pupils below secondary 4 while, at the same time, paying out £10 million a year in interest payments from the education budget because of Labour’s punitive private finance initiative projects, with the result that, if pupils want to play, they will have to pay privately? That is music for the few, not the many.

Does the Deputy First Minister agree with me that it is no wonder that my constituents and I will be demonstrating against those cuts outside Midlothian Council’s headquarters next Tuesday, when we will certainly not be singing, “Keep the red flag flying here”?

John Swinney

In my earlier answer, I stressed the importance that is attached to music, as one of the expressive arts, in the broad general education. Young people’s participation in appropriate music tuition is an important part of their educational experience.

The Government has taken a number of budgetary decisions in that respect. Under the direction of my colleague Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, we have reinforced funding for a number of key elements of the financial support that we make available for music tuition and appreciation in Scotland. There is support for the music budgets that relate to the youth music initiative, the national orchestras, expo and Creative Scotland. Fiona Hyslop has maintained those budget commitments because of the importance that we attach to music tuition.

Some local authorities do not charge for music tuition. I am absolutely certain that, after the budget process is completed in local authorities, many of them will still not charge for music tuition. I encourage Midlothian Council to reflect on that.

In its report on the subject, the Education and Skills Committee concluded:

“The Committee respects the democratic right of local authorities to take decisions about local expenditure and acknowledge the financial choices they face. However, the Committee believes in principle that music tuition should be provided free of charge in every local authority.”

I encourage Midlothian Council to reflect on that conclusion, which met with agreement across the political spectrum in Parliament.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Another of the Education and Skills Committee’s findings was that

“there is a lack of clarity regarding whether instrumental music tuition necessary to provide adequate preparation for SQA examinations ... can legitimately be subject to charging.”

Does the Deputy First Minister agree with that? What will the Scottish Government do about the situation?

John Swinney

I do not think that there is any dubiety in the guidance that is available. However, the Education and Skills Committee has expressed concern that there might be dubiety, in which circumstance I will look very carefully at the situation.

One scheme—also in Midlothian—troubles me greatly. The local authority exercises, in essence, an administrative charge on schools, but for a school to be able to exercise free choice it must have sufficient budgetary control. That stretches the spirit of the guidance, which I think is crystal clear on the issue.

The committee has raised that issue and I will explore it. However, as I stand here today, I think that there is no dubiety about that point.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

In the current financial year, 17 Fife secondary schools are having to cut £2 million from their budgets. Parent councils have written to me and the Deputy First Minister about the matter.

The reality is that Fife Council and many other local authorities will have to cut their education budgets further next year. Is it not time that we had a degree of honesty about the cuts to local councils? Instead of blaming councils when we vote through cuts, is it not time that we discussed how we will solve the issue of the cuts?

John Swinney

Alex Rowley is in quite a difficult position on that, because his party did not exactly engage with any aspect of the budget process—least of all with any ideas that Alex Rowley himself put forward.

In the current budget settlement, Fife Council’s spending power has increased by more than 5.8 per cent, so Fife Council has to take certain decisions.

I return to one of my answers to Christine Grahame’s questions. A number of local authorities in Scotland do not apply any charge for music tuition. Choices are made at a local level by individual local authorities. Fife Council’s spending power is increasing by 5.8 per cent. In that enhanced resource environment, it is up to Fife Council to look at how it deploys the resources that are available to it.


Workplace Parking Levy (Public Sector)

5. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what categories of public sector workers will be exempt from the proposed workplace parking levy. (S5F-03042)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The Government has expressed a willingness to develop with the Green Party an agreed amendment to the Transport (Scotland) Bill to create a discretionary power for local authorities to introduce such a levy, but it is contingent on the exclusion of hospitals and national health service properties. Further discussion on the content of the amendment is under way at the moment and, of course, there will be further dialogue with the committee involved and with individual local authorities, should they choose to take such an approach.

Murdo Fraser

In earlier exchanges, the Deputy First Minister claimed that the policy is about localism, but the Scottish Government has already decreed from the centre that NHS workers will be exempt from the levy—quite rightly, in my view—but that does not apply to teachers, police officers, local government workers or other public or even private sector workers who might be lower paid. How can teachers who are currently considering the Scottish Government’s pay offer take a proper view on it and what it means for their take-home pay when they do not presently know whether they might be facing an additional tax charge of £400 a year for parking at their places of work?

John Swinney

I find it a bit rich for Murdo Fraser, who voted against the budget and the provision of any public funding to local authorities whatever, to come here and make a claim about teachers’ pay. If he had had his way, no money would be available on 1 April for our public services. That is a dereliction of duty by the Conservative Party in this Parliament.

We will take forward the agreements that we have reached with the Green Party, and they will be subject to dialogue and consultation in the Parliament. If the proposal is accepted, it will be up to individual councils to determine whether they wish to take forward such a provision. The fact that Murdo Fraser has come here with crocodile tears about teachers’ pay when he is an advocate of localism demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Conservative Party.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

The Deputy First Minister will know that the powers to enable workplace parking levies exist in England; they were introduced by a Labour Government, and the Nottingham scheme was implemented by a Labour council. Moreover, the Liberal Democrats supported such powers during the passage of the Transport (Scotland) Bill in 2000. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that both parties appear to be more interested in partisan political point scoring than in working together to tackle pollution, reduce congestion and empower local government?

John Swinney

Members of the public could rightly be horrified by the way in which the Conservative, Liberal and Labour parties have abdicated their public responsibility to engage constructively on a budget process upon which public services depend. Mr Wightman and I disagree on quite a number of issues, but I respect him, because he understands that, on 1 April, public services need to be funded, taxes need to be collected and revenues must be available to support our nurses, hospitals, schools, public transport networks and police services—the whole lot. Those in the Green Party were the only people prepared to engage constructively in that process.

My message is this: Mr Wightman is right. The Labour Party, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats should be thoroughly ashamed of their appalling abdication of responsibility.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

If the workplace parking levy is about encouraging people to use public transport, will the Deputy First Minister confirm why the budget from the Scottish National Party and the Greens will cut support for bus services from £64.2 million to £57.2 million in the coming year, which is a cut of 10.9 per cent or £7 million?

John Swinney

The particular change that Mr Bibby has referred to relates to a loan scheme in the bus service operators grant that was not used. The grant remains an essential part of the support for local bus services and, of course, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity is taking through Parliament a bill that aims to strengthen local bus services. That is exactly what the Government is committed to doing.


Children’s Mental Health Week

6. Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Deputy First Minister, in light of it being children’s mental health week, what action the Scottish Government is taking to increase the provision of mental health support for young people. (S5F-03056)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The programme for government set out a package of measures to support positive mental health and prevent ill health, backed by £0.25 billion of additional investment. That includes

“more than £60 million in additional school counselling services”,

which will support 350 counsellors; around £20 million for 250 additional school nurses; and

“80 additional counsellors in Further and Higher Education”.

As part of children’s mental health week, we have announced today that we will produce new guidance on the healthy use of social media and screen time. The guidance, which will be designed in collaboration with young people, will seek to address some of the issues that they face around social media and mental wellbeing.

Mary Fee

In its report in December, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland raised concerns about the lack of intensive psychiatric provision for young people, noting that

“work to explore the issues”

had “stalled”. Last year, the number of young people who were admitted to non-specialist wards rose to 90, and 14 young people were admitted to adult psychiatric care units. Does the Deputy First Minister think that that is acceptable? What plans does the Government have to increase the nationwide provision of specialist mental health beds for young people, including adolescent intensive psychiatric care units?

John Swinney

Mary Fee raises an intensely serious issue. We have to ensure that young people who have mental health and wellbeing challenges receive support at the earliest possible opportunity in the manifestation of those conditions. For that reason, we have to use the investment that the Government is currently making to strengthen what we might all agree are preventative interventions. If we do so, we will minimise the need for acute psychiatric interventions, which is the specific issue that Mary Fee raised. The earlier we can support young people, the greater our chance of reducing the need to admit young people to in-patient psychiatric units.

We cannot see those issues in different compartments; we have to see them as part of the whole strategy, which is exactly what the Minister for Mental Health is focused on delivering. We will take into account the issues that are raised about acute psychiatric demand, but I stress to Parliament the importance that we attach to handling and resolving such issues as part of an overall preventative approach, which will be in the best interests of young people in Scotland.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes First Minister’s question time. Before we move on to members’ business, we will have a short suspension to allow members to change seats and people in the public gallery to move.

12:47 Meeting suspended.  12:50 On resuming—