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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 08 November 2016

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Unconventional Oil and Gas, Health and Social Care (European Union Workforce), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Species Champions Initiative (Relaunch)


Contents


Topical Question Time


Police Scotland (Estate Review)

1. Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the reported Police Scotland estate review and how it will ensure the outcome has no adverse impact on service delivery. (S5T-00181)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson)

The Police Scotland estate strategy, which was approved by the Scottish Police Authority on 24 June 2015, sets out a framework that has providing a service to local communities at its core and seeks to remodel the police estate to make it fit for the policing needs of the future. It includes a strong emphasis on sharing facilities with other public services, where possible.

The review of the police estate presents opportunities to increase collaboration with partners, share premises and join up services to communities. There are already examples of collaboration: in Cupar, the division leases and occupies a facility shared with Fife Council; in Fort William, a new shared police and ambulance station was opened in 2014; and in Aberdeen, a joint police and national health service medical practice was opened two years ago in the Ferryhill area.

The Scottish Police Authority has made it clear that local police commanders will play a leading role in deciding whether changes to the police estate are compatible with maintaining an effective local policing service. Engagement will be undertaken by local policing teams to ensure that future decisions are built on local consultation with communities and partners.

Rona Mackay

What is the timescale for the review? What discussions are taking place between Police Scotland, other agencies and local authorities on the potential for sharing sites?

Michael Matheson

The review of the estate identified a number of police stations that, in the police’s view, do not match the police’s current requirements, which are subject to some form of consultation with communities, partners and staff. Consultation will be carried out by local police teams, to ensure that decisions are based on local needs in communities. The nature of the consultation will be determined at local level and will depend on local circumstances and the change that is being considered. Anyone who has an interest in or view on the management of the police estate should engage fully with Police Scotland. We expect a range of local interests to be taken into account before firm proposals are made on individual stations.

Rona Mackay

I suspect that I am not alone in being concerned about how the news of a review and potential changes to local policing were made public. What lessons will Police Scotland take forward in communicating the review’s process, considerations and outcomes?

Michael Matheson

As the member might be aware, Police Scotland is continuing work on its estate review and the approach has been very much led at local level. Local commanders, through their local policing teams, will be responsible for taking forward engagement, but much of that work is still at an early stage. I encourage all members who have an interest in the matter to engage with local commanders and to express their views.

Of course, Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority reflect on their approach to matters, but I emphasise to members that work is at a very early stage. They will have every opportunity to engage with local commanders when local consultation starts.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I should let members know that there is a lot of interest in this issue.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Does the cabinet secretary appreciate that because of the way in which the proposals were revealed to the public—through a freedom of information request rather than by the police or the Government—communities are concerned that local policing will suffer? When was the Scottish Government informed of the review and potential closure of 58 sites? What discussions, if any, has the Government had with Police Scotland on the matter?

Michael Matheson

As I just said, the process is still at a very early stage. Police Scotland’s review of its estate is on-going and local commanders have identified 58 sites as part of the process. Engagement in the local communities that are affected has still to take place, because the police are considering how to take it forward at local level. The process is not being driven by the Scottish Police Authority at the centre; it is being taken forward by local commanders, through their local teams.

Engagement will start when Police Scotland, at local level, has determined what approach it wants to take. For example, in some of the 58 cases, Police Scotland might be looking at relocating to a shared facility with the local authority, health board or another part of the public sector. Some of that work is still being taken forward at local command level, and once it has been completed, the police will be in a position to engage with local communities on the options. Final sign-off on the matter will be for the Scottish Police Authority.

A full engagement process will be taken forward when the police at local divisional level have arrived at the best approach for their area.

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

I note the minister’s answers. All three police stations in my constituency—in Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Blantyre—are being considered as part of the review. What consultation will take place with the community in Rutherglen to ensure that policing in my constituency is not adversely affected?

Michael Matheson

As I mentioned, the consultation will be determined by local commanders within policing divisions. I would encourage Clare Haughey to engage with her local commander on the matters once the process is being taken forward locally.

The work is being progressed by local commanders to ensure that decisions on the issue are driven by local policing needs and the views of the local community. Where the building in question provides a service to a local community, for example, I would expect local commanders to engage with MSPs and other elected members to offer them the opportunity to engage in the process.

The process will be determined by local commanders when they are at the stage of starting that engagement and once they have developed their proposals for the local community and each individual command area.

Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

As you know, Presiding Officer, I had hoped to have debated today my topical question on the attacks on emergency service personnel, which would have given people in the chamber the opportunity to express our concerns about that reprehensible behaviour and to support the staff. I hope that I have been skilful enough to get the issue added to the Official Report.

The cabinet secretary mentioned a number of stations where organisations are sharing facilities. He did not mention Tomintoul in Moray, where the police and the fire and ambulance services have all been operating from the same facility for some time. What analysis has been done of shared premises and how successful they are? Are the communities still engaged with the respective services? How can that work be taken forward as we look towards 58 potential closures, which the Scottish Conservatives are worried will diminish local accountability?

Michael Matheson

I join the member in condemning those who attacked members of our emergency services at the weekend while they were working to protect and support our communities. I am sure that all members in the chamber would wish to make it very clear that such behaviour is completely unacceptable. We need to ensure that we take all the robust measures necessary against individuals who have been involved in such offences.

The member made reference to the facility in Tomintoul, which was opened in April 2004. I could list a whole number of areas where, over recent years, we have seen an increasing number of joint facilities being developed.

Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have undertaken work to evaluate how they work in partnership. Some of that work demonstrates the greater confidence that communities have in the delivery of joined-up services locally.

The matter is about not just public perception, but the police being much more effective in tackling issues in their area. For example, if the member went to Livingston, he would see the police, the council and a whole range of other public services operating jointly on a single site in a single facility. The exchange of information and joint working among those agencies increase significantly as a result, too.

In my constituency, a station has been earmarked for potential closure, which has resulted in officers starting to work much more closely with the local community hub. One benefit of the housing department antisocial behaviour team working alongside the police, in the same building, is that they are working much more collectively and effectively.

There is clear evidence of the benefits that can come from joint working. As part of its overall estate strategy, Police Scotland is looking at making sure that there is greater collaboration and joint working with other parts of the public sector, where that is the right thing to do.

The Presiding Officer

I let the minister know that there are five more questions on the issue and I am minded to take them all, if possible.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The police service is more than buildings; personal contact is very important, particularly for community relations. Will the cabinet secretary ask Police Scotland to do a full community impact assessment of the changes in personal contact that have taken place in recent years? We have had, for example: a perceived reduction in the level of foot patrols, when there is an obvious opportunity for contact; counter closures, including reduced hours at some counters; and questions about the effectiveness of the 101 telephone system.

Michael Matheson

Police Scotland is undertaking a range of work to get local communities’ views on how the police are responding to matters. The your view counts survey is part of the process that the police are using presently to get feedback from the community on how policing is delivered at a local level. Therefore, the police have in place a process to capture communities’ views.

In recent times, one of the criticisms that members have often made of Police Scotland is about increasing centralisation of the organisation. There is a view that decisions are made at the top and the centre of the organisation rather than within local communities. In the estate review, local commanders on the ground will determine the best approach to deal with these issues in their communities. Those commanders are responsible for engaging with members of the public day in, day out, responding to local needs and concerns. The consultation process will not be predetermined; it will allow local commanders to determine the best approach within their local communities in order to capture the local communities’ views.

I hope that members who, in the past, have called for a much more localised approach to decision making on issues relating to policing will welcome that approach. Local commanders will be central to decisions on these matters and to determining the best approach to the delivery of services in their local divisional areas.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I am not sure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing in this instance. The minister cited a co-location with the council services in Cupar, but he omitted to mention that Cupar sheriff court was closed only a few months later although it was supposed to be being co-located with the police as well. What can the minister say to reassure us that there is genuine consultation and partnership across the public sector to ensure that farces like that do not happen again?

Michael Matheson

Willie Rennie is one of those members who consistently complained about decisions in policing not being made at a local level, yet the very issue in the estates review that I have outlined will be determined at a local level. If he is concerned and has issues, he should engage with his local commander, with whom I presume that he already engages on policing matters. If any police stations in the member’s constituency are being considered for a change of use or for closure, the matter will be determined through engagement with the local commander, who will look at the best way of continuing to deliver policing in that local area.

The review is not about taking police officers out of the local community; it is about ensuring that we have a police estate that reflects the modern demands on the police service. We have a police estate that has largely evolved over the past 100 years. We also need to recognise that the model of policing has changed, that the public’s expectation of the police service has changed and that the way in which the public engage with the police service has changed. It is right that a modern police service reflects on the present state and arrangement of its estate provision. The decision on the approach that will be taken at a local level will be made at a local level, with oversight by the Scottish Police Authority through the process that was agreed by the Parliament.

Given the comments that Willie Rennie has made in the past, I would have hoped that he would welcome the fact that local commanders will be central to determining these matters.

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

It has been reported that three police stations in my constituency are going to close. Is the cabinet secretary aware that Letham police station ceased to be operational seven years ago and that Muirhead police station ceased to be manned 18 months ago? As the local MSP, I have secured agreement from the local commander that, if the closures go ahead, the police service will deliver monthly community policing surgeries in those locations to allow people to raise any non-urgent matters face to face—which will be, in effect, an improved provision. Is the cabinet secretary also aware that, far from ceasing to have a presence in Carnoustie, Police Scotland is planning to move to a town centre facility that it will share with Angus Council in a move that will sit alongside an increase in the number of officers covering the town?

Michael Matheson

The member makes an important point. Some of the police buildings that have been identified at this early stage by Police Scotland are either underoccupied or, in some cases, not occupied and used only on limited occasions. Members will be keen to ensure that the police service continues to provide the best possible service to local communities, but it is important that they understand the changing nature of the way in which the public are engaging with the police service. Their expectations of the police service have changed and we need to make sure that the police estate reflects that.

I would have thought that members would welcome greater collaboration and co-operation across different aspects of our public service. The member referred to one way in which that is happening in his constituency. Benefits can come from such a collaborative approach, through the sharing of information and co-operation that can take place between different aspects of our public service, and it is right that Police Scotland should be given the space and opportunity to consider whether its existing estate is fit for purpose. Where there are better opportunities for collaboration and joint working, Police Scotland should take them, so that it continues to provide the best possible service to local communities throughout the country.

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I am interested to hear what the cabinet secretary says about local engagement. Just two weeks ago at a community council meeting in Dundee, a Police Scotland inspector said that Police Scotland would not be “dictated to” on how to spend its resources. Does the cabinet secretary think that that is an appropriate way for Police Scotland to address the community?

Ryehill police station in the west end of Dundee is scheduled to be the subject of consultation in January and, although the consultation will include the possibility of closure, Ryehill was left off the list that was released this week. Does the cabinet secretary think that that is right? Is it not misleading for the community of the west end?

The cabinet secretary mentioned the possibility of sharing premises with local authorities. Given that it was confirmed to me that sharing is not possible in the Ryehill building, and that closure of Ryehill police station would mean west end police being based in other council wards, will the cabinet secretary please ask Police Scotland to drop the consultation on the station’s closure?

Michael Matheson

The member has raised a number of different concerns regarding the proposal in her region. The appropriate mechanism for those issues to be explored is discussion directly with the local divisional commander. The divisional commander will be responsible for deciding on the best approach. Where there is an option to have shared premises, that will be one of the options; where that is not an option, an explanation will have to be given of the different approach that will be taken in the area.

The key to the process is local area commanders taking a local approach that reflects local needs. Given the member’s keenness and desperation to be involved in the process, I would have thought that she would want to express her views to the local commander, who will have a significant say in what the determination will be. The consultation will allow others to express their views, after which an informed decision will be taken on what the future of the station should be.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

In response to Douglas Ross, the cabinet secretary mentioned the situation in Livingston and the benefit of joint working with other services in community facilities. I am a great champion of that approach, but the police station in the village of Fauldhouse in my region closed in the most recent round of closures and now the police room in the local partnership centre, where all that joint working takes place, is to close, too. Does that not fly in the face of the cabinet secretary’s rhetoric? Should other members not be on alert, because the next round of closures is likely to affect the joint facilities where all the partnership working is supposed to be done, as is happening in Fauldhouse?

Michael Matheson

No, it does not fly in the face of what I have said, because the same process has taken place in my constituency, where the use of stations is changing and where joint working is taking place in a joint facility. It is clear that real benefits can come from that. It is important that such matters are determined at a local level. The local commander can determine what is the best way to deliver policing in his local community and what facilities are necessary to achieve that.

I am sure that Neil Findlay would recognise that the way in which the public engage with the police and the model of policing have changed and evolved over the years, and they will continue to change and evolve in the years to come. I am sure that all members would recognise that it is important that Police Scotland has a modern police estate that is fit for purpose and which reflects the needs of local communities. The estates review is about ensuring that that is the case. The key part of the process is that those matters will be determined at a local level, with national oversight through the Scottish Police Authority.


Justifiable Assault

2. Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact “justifiable assault” has on children. (S5T-00176)

The Minister for Childcare and Early Years (Mark McDonald)

The Scottish Government does not support the physical punishment of children. We recognise that physical punishment can set children the wrong example and is not an effective way to teach children discipline. The Scottish Government does not consider that further legislative change is appropriate, as we do not wish to see parents unnecessarily or unreasonably criminalised. We continue to support positive parenting through, for example, funding for family support services.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Every member shares the Scottish Government’s laudable ambition for Scotland to be the best place in the world for children to grow up in, but does the minister not agree that, considering that we are one of just four remaining states in the Council of Europe not to repeal the outdated defence of justifiable assault and not to extend equal protection to our children, we will be forever out of step with that obligation and with our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child if we do not do that? The Welsh Assembly Government is set to bring about such a change in its current legislative programme. Is it not time for this country to do likewise?

The Presiding Officer

Cabinet secretary.

Mark McDonald

Thank you for the unexpected promotion, Presiding Officer.

I do not agree with Alex Cole-Hamilton on his analysis, but I agree with him on the objective of making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up in and on his desire to move to a situation in which children are not physically punished as a means of discipline. The question is how we give effect to that. We believe that the way to do that is through positive parenting support to enable parents to make positive choices about how they approach discipline with their children. We believe that that is a more effective method of approaching the matter to give effect to the result that both Alex Cole-Hamilton and I want to see.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

The legal defence of justifiable assault used to apply to both servants and women, but that has rightly been struck from our statute books. There is growing consensus across all parties in the chamber that we need to honour our commitments to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to catch up with our European neighbours and to work to extend equal protection to children. Should the Scottish Parliament get the opportunity to do that, either through a member’s bill or through an amendment to primary legislation, will the Scottish Government allow its parliamentary members a free vote on that important issue?

Mark McDonald

We do not have legislation in front of us at present for consideration in that regard. I am aware of Mr Finnie’s intention to bring forward such legislation, but it would not be appropriate for me to comment on it before it has been brought before Parliament. I have laid out the Government’s position on the issue, which is that we do not support the physical punishment of children and do not regard it as an effective means of disciplining children. Crucially, we believe that the way to effect change on the issue is through providing positive support to parents to enable them to make positive choices about how they discipline their children. I believe that that approach will enable us to ensure that children are protected and, what is most crucial, enable parents to exercise positive choices and create the best environment for children to grow up in.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

I very much agree with the minister that smacking is not an effective method of disciplining children. What support does the Scottish Government give to parents and carers to encourage them to use positive methods of managing children’s behaviour and generally to parent positively?

Mark McDonald

I am grateful to Jenny Gilruth for that question because, as I have said, we want to ensure that parents have the opportunity to make positive choices. That is why we have a national parenting strategy that is designed to empower and support parents and why we provide funding through the children, young people and families early intervention fund and the adult learning and empowering communities fund to a range of organisations. One such organisation is Mellow Parenting, which is funded to deliver programmes that are designed to support parents to connect with their children and help them increase their wellbeing, self-esteem and self-confidence.

We recognise that there is always more that we can consider doing to support parents, and we are continuing to look at how we provide support, information and advice to parents. However, we believe firmly that it is by empowering and supporting parents to make positive decisions about how they approach discipline with their children that we will ensure that children are given the best start in life.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Is there any evidence that the current law in this area is not working?

Mark McDonald

I have not seen evidence brought before me in relation to that. I am aware that there are regularly cases relating to issues to do with child cruelty. I have not been able to disaggregate areas in which the defence to which Alex Cole-Hamilton referred has been specifically used. I will look further to see whether there is work that can be done to see what the situation is in that regard. However, in respect of what Murdo Fraser asked about, I am not aware of any evidence to that effect. Crucially, my primary concern is to ensure that parents are given support to make positive choices and thereby negate the requirement for the kind of approach that Murdo Fraser referred to.

The Presiding Officer

I thank members and I apologise to Mr Finnie. I know that he has a member’s bill on this issue, but I am afraid that I do not have time to allow him a question because there was so much interest in the police station issue earlier.

We will take a few moments to change seats before the ministerial statement.