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Chamber and committees

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


Contents


Carer Positive Employer Initiative

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09621, in the name of Tom Arthur, on the carer positive employer initiative. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament supports the Carer Positive employer recognition scheme and its aim of making life better for carers; notes the vital job that carers do, which Carers Scotland estimates contributes the equivalent of around £10.8 billion per year to the economy and will likely increase as the population continues to age; welcomes the large number of employers of differing sizes from a wide range of sectors who have signed up to support carers in their workplace through the Carer Positive initiative; understands that Carer Positive is funded by the Scottish Government and was developed in partnership with public, private and voluntary sector organisations in Scotland; further understands that Carer Positive employers can progress through three accreditation levels of engaged, established and exemplary; notes that around 270,000 people in Scotland combine work with care and that, without support and understanding at work, carers can experience high levels of stress and exhaustion; recognises the importance of this scheme in supporting carers and employers; further recognises that this scheme can lead to benefits for employers, such as reduced absences, lower levels of staff turnover and savings on recruitment costs, and notes that employers across the Renfrewshire South constituency and Scotland are being encouraged to take steps to become Carer Positive employers and discover the benefits of supporting their workforce and those who rely on them.

12:50  

Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

As members of the Scottish Parliament, we regularly have the privilege of meeting an extraordinary range of individuals, groups and organisations. For me and, I imagine, for all of us, it is a humbling experience to meet certain groups and individuals among the many who make up the rich fabric of our society: those who serve in our fire, police and other emergency services; our forces and veterans community; those who work in the front line of our health and social care services; and our unpaid carers.

Carers make up 17 per cent of the adult population of Scotland, and it is estimated that 4 per cent of people aged under 16 are unpaid carers. The diversity of Scotland’s population is equally reflected in the diversity of our carers community: the student who balances school with caring for her mum; the elderly husband who meticulously and selflessly organises his wife’s self-directed support; and the single mother raising three children who each have additional support needs.

Those are but a handful of the experiences shared by the 788,000 people in Scotland who are caring for a relative, friend or neighbour. Each one of those carers makes a profound impact upon the lives of those whom they support. In doing so, carers make a massive contribution towards the delivery of care in Scotland. The value of the care provided by unpaid carers equates to £10.3 billion per year. To put that into context, it is equivalent to almost 80 per cent of our national health service budget, and it is being provided by barely 15 per cent of the population. To put it simply, society as we know it can only function because of the selfless dedication of unpaid carers. The care that they provide is irreplaceable.

As well as providing care, many carers make a significant contribution to Scotland’s broader workforce across a range of professions. It is estimated that more than one third of carers combine care with work, with the 270,000 working carers comprising more than 10 per cent of the entire working population of Scotland.

With the total number of carers in Scotland expected to reach 1 million within the next 20 years, it is clear that our working carers are going to become an increasingly important part of Scotland’s overall workforce. That is why it is vital that our workplace environments are supportive and understanding of the needs of carers, not just for the carers of today and tomorrow, but for Scotland’s wider economy.

The carer positive initiative recognises and assists employers who seek to provide a supportive and understanding environment for employees who are carers. Such support can take many forms, such as telephone access, health and wellbeing support, leave arrangements and flexible working. Small differences can have a huge impact.

However, without the right type of support in the workplace, working carers are at risk of stress, burnout and leaving employment altogether. That can have a significant and detrimental impact on the carer and the people for whom they care. It can also have a negative impact on the employer, who loses a skilled member of staff. However, with the right support employers are able to retain carers, which can lead to reduced absence, lower levels of staff turnover and an overall reduction in recruitment costs. The good news is that all organisations, regardless of size or structure, can become carer positive.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

Does Tom Arthur agree that, if employers do not provide flexible and carer-friendly workplaces, they are missing out on a huge pool of talent? It is not just about supporting people; it is about accessing the talent and skills of folk who have caring responsibilities.

Tom Arthur

I agree with my colleague, and I will illustrate some of that later in my remarks.

The question is, how does an employer or an organisation become carer positive? It is very simple. It is about fulfilling five basic criteria. The first is that there is a good understanding of the meaning of the term “carer” and that measures are in place that allow for the identification of carers, including support to self-identify for those who may not be aware that they are carers; the second is that there are recognised carer policies or procedures; the third is that there is workplace support; the fourth is that policies, procedures and support are effectively communicated to all staff; and the fifth is that carers are supported to engage with other carers.

Once an employer achieves carer positive status, they can then progress through three levels, moving from “engaged” to “established” and finally to “exemplary”. The ways in which the criteria are met and progression is achieved will, of course, vary between organisations, reflecting their different sizes and structures. That flexibility allows employers and carers to work together in the design and implementation of workplace policies and procedures that work for them.

The carer positive scheme is designed so that all organisations will be able to meet the criteria, and there are now more than 90 carer positive employers across the length and breadth of Scotland, covering close to 300,000 employees.

Carer positive employers can be found in a range of sectors, including financial services, energy, food and drink, charities and social enterprises, local authorities, health boards, colleges and universities, Scottish and United Kingdom Government agencies, and even MSPs, not to mention the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. This means that there is now a solid evidence base highlighting the advantages of the carer positive scheme and a wide range of examples of best practice and how to achieve accreditation and progress through the different levels.

I place on record my thanks to members of the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats as well as my own Scottish National Party colleagues who have supported the motion. I would also like to express my gratitude to Carers Scotland—in particular, to Simon Hodgson, Sue McLintock and Fiona Collie, who are in the gallery, for their support ahead of the debate. I am pleased to advise members that I will be hosting a drop-in session with Simon, Sue and Fiona between 2 pm and 4 pm this afternoon in committee room 3, and I encourage members to spare five minutes to take the opportunity to drop in and learn how they can promote the carer positive scheme to organisations in their own constituencies and regions—and, importantly, learn how to become carer positive employers themselves.

Three in five of us will become carers at some point in our lives. Carer positive is an initiative that is relevant to all of us. It benefits both working carers and employers, supporting and enabling working carers to gain and retain employment, and contributing towards inclusive growth. It is a scheme that deserves the widest possible uptake and I look forward to seeing more organisations—and MSPs—become carer positive employers.

12:57  

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I congratulate Tom Arthur on bringing this debate to the chamber.

Carer positive is an initiative that I hope members from across the political spectrum will get behind. In recent years, it has been incredibly welcome to see, across all the parties, a greater focus on the needs and challenges that carers face.

The motion before us highlights the economic value of carers and the work that they do. This cannot be stated enough when we consider the provision that is made for carers directly through the state, as well as through initiatives such as this one.

To focus briefly on my region, the last census found that well over 40,000 people there are involved in administering unpaid care, with a significant proportion providing more than 50 hours of care a week. That is likely to be an underestimate of the true facts.

In some ways, our region is typical, but it is not difficult to imagine the extra strain that sometimes distant essential services can cause. It is equally easy to predict that care would be far more difficult for the public sector to deliver to people in community settings in areas such as the Highlands and Islands, so I pay tribute to the great many carers across the Highlands and Islands—and, indeed, across Scotland.

When we present figures, they can often mask the thousands upon thousands of individual situations that they represent—the range and diversity of people who are in employment and yet undertake often extensive caring responsibilities. Each is unique, but many of the stresses and strains are shared and unfortunately commonplace.

When employers support carers within their organisation, it provides a benefit not only to them and the carer, but to the person receiving care and to wider society, too. I echo Ruth Maguire’s point about being able to access the great pool of talent in the caring community. Caring for carers is in all our interests and is rightly a key aspiration for parties across this chamber.

The law mandates a number of employment rights that carers can enjoy, including, significantly, the right to request flexible working, the right to time off in an emergency and the provisions in the Equality Act 2010 to guard against discrimination. However, there remains a range of steps that employers can take voluntarily to make their organisations even more accessible, inclusive and welcoming to people with caring responsibilities. That is where carer positive comes in.

Much of what is needed is about raising awareness. Often caring responsibilities can be hidden, with people’s home and work lives kept separate. However, there always remain circumstances where the two clash. That is why it is positive for businesses to maintain policies and procedures that ensure that where that occurs, support is in place.

I note from some of the published material that most of the organisations awarded under the scheme are public sector or third sector bodies, which, I am pleased to say, include this Parliament, which received its recognised status back in February last year.

I ask the minister to outline today what the Scottish Government can do to encourage the uptake of the initiative among private sector companies with which it has regular dealings. It would also be interesting to know how many businesses are working with carer positive with a view to becoming awarded bodies.

I welcome the initiative and the work undertaken by Carers Scotland. I encourage the Scottish Government to look at where it can build on its connections and at what influence it has to embed carer positive attitudes among employers the length and breadth of Scotland.

13:01  

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

I congratulate Tom Arthur on securing the debate. I consider Tom to be a friend, so I always like to follow his work, but I also participate in the debate as a forthcoming new member of the Economy and Fair Work Committee, given that we are debating the role of carers in the economy and their ability to access fair work.

It is worth repeating some of the economic statistics. We know that carers contribute £10.8 billion to our economy and that one in seven workers in Scotland has some sort of caring responsibilities, but as we heard from Tom Arthur, currently only about 300,000 employees are covered by carer positive employers. There is a tremendous amount more progress to make in that regard.

I confess that I had not heard about the scheme until I noticed the subject of Tom Arthur’s debate today. Everything that I have learned about it, I have learned in the past few days. The similarities with the living wage accreditation scheme are striking, especially when we consider the benefits to the economy. Some of the arguments for the living wage were that it would reduce absenteeism and staff turnover and drive up productivity rates. Those are all arguments for the carer positive scheme.

To pick up the point that was made by Jamie Halcro Johnston, I say that it is worth remembering that one of the best advocates for the living wage was PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was one of the first major private sector employers to adopt the living wage because it believed that doing so made good business sense. There are many ways in which we can progress the case for expanding the carer positive scheme.

In order to become a carer positive organisation, an organisation needs to be able to do five key things. It needs to identify carers within the organisation, make sure that human resources policy reflects and mentions carers, provide various forms of workplace support, increase communication on, awareness of and training on carers, and have peer-support mechanisms in place. As we heard from Tom Arthur, under the carer positive scheme, there are three different scales on which employers can operate, which range from being engaged, through being established, to being exemplary.

I had a look to see which employers are currently carer positive approved in Edinburgh, in the area that I represent, and I was delighted to see that in the “engaged” category are the City of Edinburgh Council, the Parliament and the University of Edinburgh, and in the “established” category are NHS Lothian, Standard Life—which was a great champion of the living wage in the early days—and the Scottish Government. There are not as many organisations in the “exemplary” category as we would like, but they include the big energy company Centrica, which has its headquarters functions in Edinburgh.

Having only just learned about the scheme, I will endeavour, as a Lothian MSP, to do everything that I can to promote it, and I will contact large and small employers across the region to encourage them to participate in it. As an MSP, I am a living wage accredited employer: I will now take up Tom Arthur’s challenge and make sure that my office is also a carer positive organisation. I will start taking those steps this week.

It is worth recognising that, although we know that carers make a tremendous contribution to the economy as employees, many carers who cannot work desperately want to work. I am mindful of a young man who came to my surgery back in October who is desperate to work but just cannot find an employer who is willing to deal with the reality of his living circumstances. We will, through the scheme, get this right when that young man is in the workplace, and I will continue to do my bit to ensure that that happens.

13:05  

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

For two specific reasons, I thank my colleague Tom Arthur for lodging his motion for debate. First, carer positive is a great initiative that we should celebrate and promote; and, secondly, it affords me the chance at the conclusion of the debate to meet Sue McLintock and Simon Hodgson of Carers Scotland and to collect my carer positive certificate, as my office has joined Tom Arthur’s in being accredited as carer positive. I am delighted to be the second MSP to be accredited, but I would have been even more delighted if Tom Arthur had not beaten me to being the first, mind you—not that I am competitive, you understand.

It is only right that Tom Arthur and I are backing words with actions and it is right and proper that the Scottish Parliament is doing that as well. Members might recall that in February last year I hosted an event here at Holyrood to showcase the carer positive initiative, at which the Parliament was presented with its carer positive “engaged” level accreditation. The Parliament has demonstrated that it has in place a number of policies that support staff who have caring responsibilities. In regular development conversations with staff, line managers are encouraged to ask about wellbeing and any support that a staff member needs. Support resources are available to staff, including trained counsellors who can provide expert emotional guidance. The human resources office also liaises with external organisations such as VOCAL—Voice of Carers Across Lothian—which supports carers in Edinburgh and Lothian.

I am pleased to learn that further steps are planned for this year and that a carers staff network that will be open to all building users is in the process of being set up in the Parliament. That will provide a space for carers to share their experiences and it will assist the organisation in developing its understanding of the needs of staff who have caring responsibilities. Once the network is set up, the Parliament will work towards the “exemplary” level of award in 2018. I hope that members will join me in acknowledging the efforts of Aneela McKenna and Phillipa Booth, who are delivering that with other members of staff. More than that, though, I hope that members will commit, as Kezia Dugdale has, to joining the initiative. As MSPs, we ought to be leading by example.

To be honest, although I have always supported the carer positive initiative, I have previously voiced concerns about the challenges that face very small offices and businesses in becoming carer positive environments. Those concerns made me hesitate before taking the step that I took. I thought that there were circumstances in which, in being very much an outward-facing public-serving set-up, an MSP’s office could find itself conflicted in being a carer positive environment. However, it readily became apparent that through common sense, co-operation and dialogue, we can almost always find a way.

Interestingly, of the now 90 carer positive employers in Scotland, 28 are defined as small employers—that is, they have fewer than 50 employees. Admittedly, a large number of the small employers work in the carers or voluntary sector, but the list also includes public sector organisations such as the Office of the Scottish Road Works Commissioner and private companies such as Mohn Aqua (UK) Ltd and Intrelate Ltd. Being a small organisation creates challenges to being carer positive, but Sue McLintock of Carers Scotland has not designed a one-size-fits-all scheme. Being accommodating does not mean that we are unable to provide a proper level of service to our customers or constituents. At the heart of the matter is the point that communication and flexibility cut both ways, and the same can be said of the benefits.

The results of a carer positive employer survey recently found that 92 per cent of participating organisations saw better staff retention, 88 per cent experienced lower absence rates, 61 per cent witnessed improved recruitment and 69 per cent observed higher productivity.

There is also a hard-cash illustration of the benefit to employers, the wider economy and the public purse. Centrica, which is one of the five employers to have received carer positive’s highest accreditation of “exemplary” and one of the founding members of the employers for carers service, estimates that the direct cost to an employer of losing a working carer is between 100 and 150 per cent of the person’s annual salary. Across the UK, that is a cost of about £1.3 billion a year to the economy; and when lost tax revenue and additional benefits payments are taken into account, that cost rises to £5.3 billion annually. In other words, there is a solid financial as well as moral case for pursuing carer positive policies.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The last of the open debate contributions is from Jeremy Balfour.

13:09  

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

I, too, thank Tom Arthur for bringing forward this important debate.

Unpaid carers are unsung heroes. As of June 2017, as we have already heard, there were an estimated 788,000 unpaid carers in Scotland. They make a massive contribution in reducing the burden on the NHS and our social care system by caring for friends, neighbours and relatives. If it was not for a carer, I would not be standing here, because I need help to get dressed every morning. That help is unpaid and done voluntarily.

In our role as members of the Scottish Parliament, we will all have met carers who tell us that knowing that they are helping someone else can be a positive and rewarding experience, but they also tell us that helping a husband, wife, partner or child can often be difficult and upsetting. It can lead to greater stress, worry, isolation, depression, anger, guilt and the blurring of boundaries—people say, “Am I a carer or a father?” or, “Am I a carer or a husband?” Caring can also put a strain and pressure on people’s finances. Often, people have to cut down on work, juggle work and caring and cut out things that they like doing, perhaps sport or other activities.

Supporting carers to manage the sometimes difficult job of balancing work with caring responsibilities can deliver real benefits to employers as well as help individuals and their families. The carer positive employer initiative aims to encourage employers to create a supportive working environment for carers in the workplace. I welcome the fact that a wide range of employers were consulted before the initiative. With the strong partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors, I hope that it will have lasting success across Scotland.

The employers who support the initiative recognise that supporting their employees, in addition to being good employment practice brings them benefits. Losing a carer from the workforce is damaging not only to the individual and their family but to the company or organisation. An example is the Scottish Court Service, which recognises the need to retain skilled and experienced staff by providing help through its carers policy. It acknowledges that it makes sense for everybody for employees to achieve a good work-life balance.

The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which will come into effect on 1 April, will again help people to be supported in what they do.

The carer positive initiative is a win, win, win. I confess that, like Kezia Dugdale, I did not know a lot about it until Tom Arthur lodged his motion. However, I hope to visit the session that he will hold later this afternoon and, as an employer, I will look to bring the initiative to my workforce. I hope that other organisations and MSPs will do the same.

I welcome the award and hope that we will continue to develop similar initiatives that take cognisance of population changes and provide practical solutions that support and, most important, recognise the important contribution that carers make.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We do, in fact, have another contribution in the open debate. I call Fulton MacGregor.

13:13  

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I apologise to you and the Parliament: I did not intend to speak in the debate, but I decided to press my request-to-speak button. Thank you for letting me in.

I declare that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.

I thank Tom Arthur for bringing the debate to the chamber and pay tribute to Fiona Collie and the others in the gallery who, I know, have done fantastic work on the matter.

As I said, I did not intend to speak but, as I heard the debate progress, I was reminded of my own experience and decided that I would chip in. I thought about carers in the context of people not just being a carer once in their lives, but being in and out of that position. I thought of myself as a young 18-year-old and through my early 20s, helping as part of a family unit to care for my gran, who unfortunately passed away in 2000. I pay tribute to my gran, whose anniversary was last Tuesday. As a family unit caring for my gran, we all had our different roles to play. My brother and I, who were teenagers at the time, would go over to make her breakfast or lunch, while my mum and dad had fuller roles.

I have noticed in the case work that we deal with as MSPs—I do not know what other members think—that it is as common for people to come to the surgery or for a meeting in the office with a carer as it is for them to come alone. Inevitably, as you chat to folk, as well as dealing with the specific query, you hear them talk about their situation. I have been struck by the inconsistencies in how people are supported in their work. Some people say that they are very supported by their work and that their employer knows that they are a carer, for their aunt, sister or whoever, while others say that they are not supported at all—it was perhaps a real struggle for them to get to the meeting and they only have 20 minutes. If the initiative can help with some of those inconsistencies it will have been great.

As Tom Arthur pointed out, it is about supporting the individual as well as the organisation. Like Kezia Dugdale, I would like to mention a particular case. Recently, I had a couple at my surgery who work in the same place and who care for their wee boy who has a lifelong condition. I was absolutely shocked to hear that they are struggling to get a shift pattern that works for them both. Not only are they having a lot of difficulties with that, but when they need time off, they are not getting paid leave. I will get the relevant information to the minister in case she can take the matter forward.

Will the minister and the Scottish Government commit to pursuing all sorts of organisations—including the Scottish Prison Service, which I did not see on the official list—to get them to sign up to the carer positive employer initiative? It is also about supporting them in how to treat their employees with significant caring responsibilities. It is a very good initiative.

I will leave it at that. I congratulate Tom Arthur and I thank you, Presiding Officer, again for allowing me to speak.

13:17  

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell)

As other members have said, this is an important debate not only in recognising our unpaid carers, but in helping to raise awareness of the carer positive employer initiative for large and small employers across Scotland. I, too, thank Tom Arthur for securing the debate. I echo the words that he used to describe Scotland’s carers and pay rightful tribute to the irreplaceable and selfless dedication of carers across Scotland. I welcome Carers Scotland to the Parliament and recognise the work that they do to promote carer positive, which is such an important initiative.

Although caring for a loved one can be a positive and fulfilling experience, many carers face stresses and challenges every day. Jeremy Balfour and Fulton MacGregor spoke from real experience about how that can impact on a family’s life. Likewise, in my family, my mum relied heavily on the respite that she got from Crossroads Caring Scotland when she was caring for my granddad, when my sister and I were both very young.

Because of the value that the Scottish Government attaches to the unstinting commitment that carers have to the ones they love, we are absolutely committed to enabling carers to continue to care—that is, if they wish to—in better health and to have a life alongside their caring role.

Between 2007 and 2017, we invested around £136 million in many programmes supporting adult carers and young carers, with our partners in local authorities, health boards, the third sector and the national carer organisations. The views and experiences of carers have also been crucial in helping to inform our programmes and initiatives. Most recently they have helped to shape the new legislation that extends and enhances the rights of carers to support.

I want to take a moment to talk about the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, given that, as members have mentioned, there are important links to the intentions of the carer positive scheme. With the 2016 act, which takes effect in April, we have sought to ensure that all our carers can be better supported and are able to realise their own personal outcomes. The new adult carer support plans and young carer statements will identify each carer’s personal outcomes to ensure that their eligible needs are supported, and that might include, for example, their wish to remain in work or to undertake studies or training. Local authorities must also establish and maintain an information and advice service for carers that must cover a number of areas, including income maximisation for carers and information about carers’ rights. It is therefore clear to me that the outcomes being achieved through carer positive can complement the 2016 act’s provisions, and I encourage integration authorities to consider schemes such as carer positive when undertaking their duties under the new legislation.

There are an estimated 788,000 carers in Scotland, and 56 per cent of carers aged 16 or over are also in employment or self-employment, which, in the authority where my constituency lies, equates to around 18,300 carers being in work. I have heard from some carers who are struggling to look after their own health and wellbeing and, as a consequence, their loved ones’ wellbeing. The financial impact of reducing the hours that they work or of giving work up altogether can be life changing. Nationally, around 35,600 carers have reduced the number of hours that they work and around 22,600 have left work altogether. Their situations, given some of the unfairness of the UK Government’s social security system, can quickly become more challenging. We believe that it is unfair that the support that carers receive through the carers allowance is the lowest of all working-age benefits, and that is why in the summer we will increase carers allowance to the same level as jobseekers allowance.

Of course, supporting carers to balance work and caring responsibilities will help to improve family finances, but the carer positive scheme has other positive impacts. As caring responsibilities increase in intensity, carers are at risk of becoming isolated, and it can be difficult to maintain or foster social networks and pursue hobbies or interests. Being at work and amongst colleagues can be invaluable to a carer’s health and wellbeing, and the carer positive scheme is reducing social isolation and creating carer-friendly communities across the country. It is clear that since its launch in June 2014 the scheme is making organisations think about and reflect more on what can be done to better support employees who are also carers.

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

In my capacity as convener of the cross-party group on armed forces and veterans community, I think that we are debating a very apt subject. Will the minister consider the carer support that armed forces veterans organisations provide to veterans in Scotland? Given that we are talking about 200 cases per month in some of the larger veterans centres in Scotland, it would be good if the minister could consider those organisations, too, under the carer positive initiative.

Aileen Campbell

There will always be ways in which we will want to enhance the offer through the carer positive scheme, and if the member writes to me with some of the details of the issue that he has raised, I will be happy to look at them, share them with Carers Scotland, my officials and others and explore whether there are improvements that we can make.

I am encouraged that, so far, 90 employers covering about 300,000 employees have been recognised as carer positive, but as Tom Arthur and Kezia Dugdale have rightly pointed out, there is much more that we need to do. The list of carer positive employers includes the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government, the third sector and public and private sector organisations. As members might be aware, I recently wrote to all Scottish public bodies to encourage them to participate in the scheme. I think that I also wrote to MSPs in November, so I should apologise to those members who might not have received that letter and for whom this is coming out of left field. I am certainly happy to ensure that we pass on knowledge and information to members who might wish to sign up to the scheme. In response to Jamie Halcro Johnston, I point out that my officials are working across Government to engage and establish better links with chambers of commerce to ensure that we up the number of private companies that embrace carer positive.

I congratulate Tom Arthur as the trendsetter on this issue, alongside Graeme Dey, as well as my ministerial colleagues Jeane Freeman and Maree Todd, who have also been recognised as carer positive employers. I hope that, like me, members across the Parliament visit the carer positive website and apply to participate in this important scheme.

The carer positive initiative benefits not only carers. As Graeme Dey said, the organisations that have taken steps to become carer positive recognise the business case for supporting staff to remain in post and for retaining their skill and experience. That can reduce staff turnover and associated recruitment and training costs.

Inclusive growth is a key element of this Government’s economic strategy, and we will support and encourage employers to maximise the benefits that come with treating workers fairly. As Kezia Dugdale did, it is right to set the carer positive initiative within the context of fair work practices.

We are committed to driving up employment standards. That is why we launched the Scottish business pledge and appointed an independent fair work convention, which published its framework in 2016. Despite employment law being a reserved matter, the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 enabled this Government to publish, in October 2015, statutory guidance on addressing fair work practices through procurement. That makes it clear that a positive approach to fair work practices can help to improve the quality of services, goods and works. Public bodies must now consider, before undertaking a procurement exercise, whether it is relevant and proportionate to include a question on fair work practices, including things such as the living wage, that can be evaluated as part of the competition. The carer positive initiative is contributing to that positive approach.

I will conclude by, like others, thanking Carers Scotland for its hard work in the development of the carer positive initiative. I hope that employers across all sectors in Scotland take steps to become carer positive. We will continue to work closely with Carers Scotland to explore how best to increase take-up of the scheme and how to support existing carer positive employers. I am grateful to all MSPs for their commitment to do what they can to promote this initiative.

Finally, I thank Tom Arthur for lodging the motion for debate and for his clear passion for making a difference on this important issue.

13:26 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—