Meeting date: Thursday, January 11, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 11 January 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Carer Positive Employer Initiative, Developing the Young Workforce, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Carer Positive Employer Initiative
- Developing the Young Workforce
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
General Question Time
To ask the Scottish Government what consultation it undertook with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs regarding any potential negative impact of diverging tax bands and rates from the rest of the United Kingdom. (S5O-01634)
The Scottish Government and HMRC have worked closely—and continue to do so—to implement the income tax powers that were devolved in the Scotland Acts of 2012 and 2016. The Scottish income tax implementation projects will ensure that HMRC’s systems will be adapted to accommodate income tax policy as agreed by the Scottish Parliament. HMRC has been clear that it will be able to implement the Scottish Government’s proposed income tax policy proposals for 2018-19.
As the Scottish National Party’s deputy House of Commons leader, Kirsty Blackman, pointed out, Scots do not give two hoots about independence. However, they do care about the SNP’s new tax bands, which could see Scottish pensioners paying hundreds of pounds extra just to access their pension savings. Is the cabinet secretary happy that his budget will reduce the quality of their hard-earned retirement?
I want to talk briefly about the constitution. First, the Tories were against devolution, then they were for devolution. They were against tax-raising powers, and now they are for tax-raising powers—as long as we do not use those them. That is the current position of the Conservative Party.
The budget that I have proposed will ensure that Scotland will become the lowest-taxed part of the UK for the majority of taxpayers. It will result in a tax reduction for the majority of taxpayers, while raising resources for our valued public services and giving the best deal anywhere in the UK.
On the specifics, it is the case that, in setting out the use of our tax powers, the budget will deliver a fairer country. However, there are some areas, including pension arrangements, that we do not have control over. Reliefs and interpretation remain at Westminster. In designing a system that is based on a progressive approach, even people who take a lump sum from their pension will be treated in a fair and progressive fashion. Pensioners with a lower amount will also enjoy the benefits of a progressive taxation system.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that being able to set our own tax bands and rates allows the SNP Government the flexibility to help to protect Scottish public services from damaging Tory cuts to Scotland’s budget, and that the point of devolution—which Bill Bowman has clearly missed—is that we do what best suits Scotland’s needs rather than sticking with a one-size-fits-all solution, which some Tories would dearly love to impose at the behest of their bosses in London, regardless of the adverse impact on Scotland?
Kenny Gibson is exactly right. [Interruption.] The Scottish Government is able, because of the powers that we have under devolution, to take a £211 million real-terms cut to our resource budget for 2018-19 and invest in our public services by delivering on the key tests that I set out for income tax and policy. Those include using the system to deliver a more progressive taxation system, to protect lower-income earners, to protect and invest in the economy, and to invest in our public services, thereby turning a real-terms reduction at the hands of a right-wing Brexit-mad UK Government into real-terms growth for Scottish public services.
Scottish Fiscal Commission Forecasts
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the latest Scottish Fiscal Commission forecasts for economic growth. (S5O-01635)
The Scottish Fiscal Commission forecasts for economic growth underline the fundamental strengths in our economy. Economic growth is forecast to continue and employment will rise further, with earnings growth forecast to match that in the United Kingdom. However, the forecasts also highlight the negative impact that Brexit will have and the challenges that Scotland faces from a declining working-age population.
The draft budget sets out a package of measures to support the economy, unlock innovation and drive productivity.
I remind the cabinet secretary that the Scottish Fiscal Commission is forecasting that the economy will grow by less than 1 per cent for each of the next four years, which is a fraction of the growth that is expected for the rest of the UK. The Fraser of Allander institute has said that such low trends in economic growth for Scotland
“have not been witnessed in 60 years.”
Predictably, the cabinet secretary blames Brexit, but he knows that under the Scottish National Party the economy has underperformed for the past decade—since well before Brexit. Given the SNP’s abysmal track record and the dire economic outlook, does the cabinet secretary agree with leading organisations across Scotland that it is now time for a change in economic policy, that the SNP’s four I—investing, innovation, inclusive growth and international—economic policy is not working and that Scotland needs a new direction in economic policy?
I think that the enthusiasm from the Tories is about to dissipate.
Dean Lockhart went straight from the SFC forecast to the FAI forecast. The Fraser of Allander institute’s forecast for economic growth is far higher than the SFC forecasts. So, for that matter, is the EY forecast for Scotland’s economy. Both are higher than the SFC’s forecasts, which have been seen as being arguably quite conservative and cautious.
I gently point out that the Scottish Government’s interventions on the economy and business are strong. However, surely the UK Government has to take some responsibility for the economy—indeed, it argues that it has overall responsibility for it. I argue that it is the UK economic model that is failing the people of Scotland.
I will cite just a few interventions that I propose to make in the budget. There is extra support for business rates, in the most generous package of business rates relief ever. There are more interventions around innovation, and in skills and manufacturing. There is resourcing of the building Scotland fund, capitalising of the Scottish national investment bank and doubling of support for city deals. All that is great for Scottish investment, Scottish productivity and Scottish innovation, but it is all put under threat by the reckless approach of the UK Government when it comes to Brexit and the impact that it will have on Scotland’s economy, according to the Scottish Fiscal Commission.
I remind members of my role as parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that a key reason that the Scottish Fiscal Commission gives for Scotland’s low economic-growth forecast is our projected population profile as a consequence of the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s economy. Its view is that Scotland’s economy is already growing at capacity and needs more working-age people in order to expand. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the views of the Scottish Fiscal Commission are further evidence of the damage that the Tory hard Brexit will do to Scotland’s economy?
I agree—[Interruption.] I hear the Conservatives chortle that no one else agrees, but wiser Tory ministers, even, are coming to the conclusion that a hard Brexit and a no-deal Brexit might well be profoundly damaging to the UK economy and would, in turn, be damaging to Scotland’s economy. It is right to say that the more powers we have, the more we can engage and make the right decisions for Scotland. It is true to say that the Scottish Fiscal Commission identified the working-age population as a major challenge. We can tackle that properly only if we have the powers to do so and the flexibility to rise to that challenge.
I point out gently that many people have reported on the economic impact of Brexit on Scotland, and have identified a negative impact of up to £11 billion a year from 2030, with at least 80,000 fewer jobs over the next decade. New analysis from the Financial Times also shows that the vote to leave the European Union is already having an impact on the UK economy of about—surprisingly—£350 million a week. Was not that the figure that the Tories were going to invest in the national health service if Brexit occurred? It is the cost, right now, of its mishandling of Brexit. We could do so much more if we were not wedded to the UK mismanagement of our economy and the Brexit negotiations.
As the cabinet secretary has just articulated, one of the biggest economic issues facing the country is the impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, which my party still passionately opposes. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, as the Scottish Government’s existing economic strategy from 2015 is developed and updated, it will be essential that it takes account of and, where possible, addresses the new and emerging challenges that arise from Brexit, and that it is a living document that we must keep revisiting?
Of course our economic strategy should develop and evolve in the light of events, which is why we have so many positive economic interventions in our budget. That will ensure that, no matter the challenges that are thrown at us, we can invest in the people of Scotland and their skills to grow our economy, tackle productivity and, crucially, have the right tools to ensure that we also have the working-age population to support our economy. Of course that strategy will have to adapt in the light of circumstances.
Draft Budget 2018-19 (Equalities Spending)
To ask the Scottish Government for what reason in its draft budget spending on equalities is being increased by 12 per cent. (S5O-01636)
The increase in the equalities budget for 2018-19 demonstrates the value that ministers place on creating a fairer Scotland by tackling prejudice and discrimination and supporting a more equal and inclusive society where human rights are central.
The Scottish Government is firmly committed to progressing equality, as demonstrated through our funding for over 220 separate projects, and supporting the ambitions, aims and actions in our race equality action plan, the fairer Scotland for disabled people delivery plan and the equally safe strategy.
Increased resource for 2018-19 will also support programme for government commitments, legislation and other strategic work, including on British Sign Language, social isolation and loneliness and human rights.
At the same time as the equalities budget is going up—the cabinet secretary alluded to this in an answer a few minutes ago—the fairer Scotland budget is being increased fourfold: from £7 million to just shy of £28 million. What steps is the cabinet secretary taking to ensure that taxpayers will get value for money and, in particular, that that spending will be effective?
I would have thought that, given that we are at the start of a new year, Mr Tomkins and the Tories would perhaps have had cause for reflection. Given continuing Westminster austerity and the threats posed by Brexit, I would have thought that they would welcome the Scottish Government’s increased commitment to advancing equality and tackling inequality in all its forms. I would have hoped that Mr Tomkins would welcome the increase in the equalities budget and the substantial increase in the fairer Scotland budget. I can assure him that we will indeed ensure that maximum value for money is obtained from our full range of commitments around, for example, the implementation of British Sign Language and the family reunion crisis grant funding that will help to mitigate some of the disastrous decisions in the United Kingdom Government’s immigration and asylum process. We also want to support civic society and to produce a bill of rights on human rights. In addition, we will launch in the near future a draft consultation on our social isolation and loneliness strategy and will want to fund actions that will flow from that, as well as fund the implementation of the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill and our on-going commitment to our equally safe delivery plan.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that, to address the gender gap for women and girls in minority ethnic communities, it would be helpful to disaggregate the information so that the data is a bit clearer as to what the priorities should be to tackle gender inequality in areas such as prejudice-based bullying or underemployment gaps?
Yes, I agree that it is important to have good, accurate and full information. Last year, the Government published our equality evidence strategy, which is about looking in particular at our priorities around race equality and the issues of intersectionality and understanding the issues in greater depth, particularly those around women and girls. The advisory group on women and girls will be particularly interested in that area. If there are specific gaps in information on which Ms McNeill wishes to correspond or meet with me, I would be happy to do that. We have a good record in gathering evidence and pursuing the links between evidence, policy and budgetary spend, but of course we want to continue to evolve our process so that it has maximum impact.
Probationer Teacher Numbers 2018-19
To ask the Scottish Government how many probationer teachers there will be in the academic year 2018-19. (S5O-01637)
The application process for probationer teachers for the academic year 2018-19 is on-going. The total number of applications will be known in March.
Teacher recruitment poses a challenge to many remote and rural areas, including my constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross. Can the cabinet secretary tell me what the Scottish Government is doing to ensure that trainee teachers are allocated to those areas during their probation period and what guidance and training are given to the schools to ensure that they are equipped to train them?
The Government continues to provide £37 million to support the teacher induction scheme, which includes funding for mentoring and support for all probationer teachers on the scheme. That includes funding for preference waiver payments. Students who take up that option are prioritised for allocation to remote and rural authorities, such as those in Ms Ross’s constituency, during their probationary year and benefit from an additional payment of up to £8,000.
Through our education reforms, we will take steps to ensure that initial teacher education prepares students to enter the profession with consistently well-developed skills to teach key areas such as literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing, and to provide the support to schools to ensure that the training and induction experience is of value to individual candidates.
In the data that was published just before Christmas, the number of post-probationer teachers in employment reached 88 per cent, which is the highest level on record, as a consequence of the Government’s actions.
The cabinet secretary mentioned at the Education and Skills Committee meeting on 20 December 2017 that, although there was an improvement in probationary applications, there was a lower than expected retention rate of qualified teachers. Official statistics show that around 4,000 teachers who had been registered at the beginning of 2017 were not registered at the end of the year. Can the cabinet secretary tell us what percentage of those were teachers leaving the profession and what percentage were retirements?
I cannot give Mr Mundell that figure just now, but I am happy to confirm it to him in writing. It is welcome that we have seen an increase of 543 in teacher numbers in our classrooms in this academic year. That is a tremendous boost to the delivery of education in our classrooms, and the Government is committed to working with our initial teacher education providers to make sure that we continue that good progress in the years to come.
National Trauma Network
To ask the Scottish Government by what date the national trauma network will be fully operational. (S5O-01638)
The Scottish Government is working with NHS Scotland to deliver a major trauma network in Scotland. That work remains on schedule, with the national implementation plan being agreed by the Scottish trauma network steering group last month. It sets out plans for the phased delivery of the Scottish trauma network over five years to 2022.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. She will recall that, a year ago, Dr Catherine Calderwood, the chief medical officer, concluded that new trauma services in Aberdeen and Dundee would be operational in 2017
“Subject to funding and workforce and in line with nationally agreed priorities”.
Given the timescale that the cabinet secretary has indicated today, can she tell us whether the new target timescale in place of that 2017 target is a result of issues with funding, with workforce or with nationally agreed priorities?
The implementation plan remains the same. Lewis Macdonald will be aware that an extra £5 million was given in 2017-18 to enable improvements to accelerate. Funding was provided to deliver a 24/7 trauma desk and life-saving equipment in all Scottish Ambulance Service vehicles, and work was undertaken in Tayside and Fife to pilot the trauma triage tool, which will ensure that severely injured patients get to the right hospital as quickly as possible.
Funding of £10.2 million of revenue in 2018-19 will allow the implementation of major trauma centres in Dundee and Aberdeen that meet the agreed minimum requirements, which will be operational during 2018. I am sure that Lewis Macdonald will be pleased that the Dundee and Aberdeen centres are proceeding as was outlined previously.