Meeting date: Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 13 December 2016
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Parliamentary Liaison Officers, Topical Question Time, Education (Improvement Plan), International Migrants to Scotland, Decision Time, Walking
- Time for Reflection
- Parliamentary Liaison Officers
- Topical Question Time
- Education (Improvement Plan)
- International Migrants to Scotland
- Decision Time
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02930, in the name of Fulton MacGregor, entitled “Walk This Way at Dunbeth Park”. I am intrigued. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes the 20th anniversary of Paths for All, which is a charity that is dedicated to encouraging walking in Scotland; values and appreciates the work of Paths for All in supporting communities; congratulates the staff and students at the Coatbridge campus of New College Lanarkshire on the recent unveiling of their Walk This Way walking routes at Dunbeth Park in Coatbridge, which was supported by Paths for All; notes that this project was undertaken to encourage locals to use the park to walk, offering half-mile, three-quarter-mile and one-mile walking routes to cater for everyone regardless of fitness, health or time constraints; welcomes this project and others like it in Scotland, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to consider a Year of Walking to encourage people to do more walking in the interests of fitness and health.17:05
First, I thank colleagues who supported the motion and those who have decided to stay and speak in the debate. For the Scottish National Party, Ruth Maguire will mention initiatives on the topic in her constituency, and for the Tories, Graham Simpson took time out to speak to me about the debate. I am also delighted that, as is fitting, Elaine Smith, who is a fellow Coatbridger, has decided to speak. Dunbeth park is to the east of Coatbridge, towards the area’s border. I grew up in an area that is on one side of the park and Elaine Smith is from an area that is on the other side, so it is fitting that she will speak in the debate. That sums up what such debates should be all about.
I am pleased to bring the subject to the chamber, especially as Paths for All has its 20th anniversary this year. I know that the minister will say more about the charity but, for those who are not familiar with it, I note that it is devoted to encouraging and promoting walking in all communities across Scotland.
I take the opportunity to congratulate the staff and students at the Coatbridge campus of New College Lanarkshire on the recent student association unveiling of their walk this way walking routes at Dunbeth park in my constituency, and I welcome them to the chamber. I hope that the creation of the paths will encourage even more people in Coatbridge and the wider community to enjoy the park. As I said, it was my local park when I was growing up, and I still use it regularly. Normally, the distance round it is just over 1km, but I used the mile routes that the students have put in, and it was more challenging to go that way.
Although the motion mentions Dunbeth park, it would be unfair of me not to mention other great places to walk in my constituency, which is a mainly post-industrial heartland. People from outwith the area are often surprised to learn about the stunning walks at places such as Drumpellier country park, which is known locally as the lochs, and Gartcosh nature reserve. People can also walk along the old Monkland canal through Summerlee heritage park. I encourage anyone who is listening to come and visit the area, and I am sure that Elaine Smith will back me up on that. I am happy to do a wee tourist information advert.
The positive impact that walking can have on health—both physical and mental—is undeniable. It is something that a lot of people—although, it is important to remember, not everyone—can take part in as it is free and accessible for all ages. People can go walking by themselves, with the dog or with the family. Walking has major health benefits. Studies have shown that regular walking alone can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers.
A community group in my constituency that has taken all that on board is Muirhead and district seniors forum. In addition to keeping local residents in the 55-plus age bracket up to date with community, local authority and national information, the forum set up a walking group in July this year. Age Scotland provided financial assistance to allow the group to get started, and it now has an average of 15 people with three trained group leaders heading out twice a month along routes of various levels of difficulty. The group leaders explore the suitability of potential routes, and I am told that a cafe is an essential requirement, as a main purpose of the group is to combat loneliness in the community.
Another local group that is based in my constituency is St Monica’s ramblers. Since the club was formed 25 years ago, it has dedicated itself to organising walks every fortnight. Its members are primarily from Coatbridge, but there are members from across Lanarkshire and of all ages. I had some contact with the ramblers this week and I know that there is truly something for everyone. The fact that they get involved in everything from scaling Munros to undertaking more local walks shows how inclusive the group is. When I spoke to the group, I agreed to go on a walk with it at some point in the next year. However, having looked at its website and seen some of the walks that it undertakes, I think that I had better get into training fast.
There is somebody who, if I do not mention them when I am talking about walking, it will not go down well in the MacGregor family home—I might even get de-invited from Christmas dinner. My dad and mum are avid walkers. My dad is a self-proclaimed Munro bagger and has many under his belt. I do not remember exactly how many he has, but I know that he is down to the more difficult ones. He will be quite pleased that I have mentioned him. He has taken on some quite challenging summits, usually to my mum’s horror. He will say, “Ah, this is an easy one,” before starting off. I might try to follow in his footsteps but, so far, I have managed only a handful of the walks.
There is no doubt that, as a society, we have become much more reliant on cars in recent years, even for short distances such as those for taking our children to primary school or going to the local shops. A well-publicised year of walking would encourage more people to walk short distances as well as raising awareness of how enjoyable walking one of Scotland’s hills, Munros or any of our great walks can be.
I hope that this will be a consensual debate and that we can get behind it. It is clear that organisations and initiatives such as those that I have mentioned will play a vital role in helping us to achieve the goal and get everyone to enjoy walking who can do so.
Thank you. I think that, having mentioned your father, you will be guaranteed trifle.17:11
I welcome the opportunity to acknowledge and pay tribute to Paths for All for the excellent work that it has done over 20 years, which is indeed a real milestone.
I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on lodging his motion and, in doing so, highlighting the work of staff and students at the Coatbridge campus of New College Lanarkshire. The campus successfully merged into New College Lanarkshire in 2014, joining the other main campuses of Cumbernauld, Motherwell and Kirkintilloch. As I learned earlier this year on a visit to the new Coatbridge campus, New College Lanarkshire now provides almost two thirds of the further and higher education provision in Lanarkshire and delivers qualifications to almost 27,000 students.
As the motion states, the Coatbridge campus, working in partnership with Paths for All, has unveiled the new walk this way walking routes in Dunbeth park in Coatbridge. The newly designed walks in the park are graded and colour coded. For example, the blue route is 0.5 miles in length; the yellow route increases to 0.75 miles; and the red route increases to 1 mile. People can start on a shorter walk and gradually increase the distance while enjoying different aspects of the park.
The three walks in Dunbeth park are included in the generic name of the coal route, to reflect Coatbridge’s coal-mining history. In two of NCL’s other campus areas, a steel route will be located in Motherwell and an iron route in Cumbernauld. All three routes have been designed by creative arts students for Paths for All’s walking for fitness programme.
That Paths for All has reached its 20th anniversary is testament to the impact that the charity is having on the everyday lives of people across Scotland, in encouraging them to get out and get walking in the interests of fitness and health. It therefore comes as no surprise to find that Ramblers Scotland was one of the founding partners of the Paths for All partnership and it has maintained a close relationship with the organisation for the past 20 years.
The advantages of walking include physical and mental health benefits; it is also free and accessible. In turn, walking helps to counter loneliness, especially when people undertake it as part of a walking group.
I want to concentrate the remainder of my comments on Dunbeth park itself. As a native of Coatbridge, from the Cliftonville area where the park is located, I fully appreciate the pivotal role that it plays in providing leisure pursuits in the area. The park, which dates back to the Victorian era, was gifted to the local community by the Baird family in 1887. At that time, the park as we know it was surrounded by fields and partial marshland. By 1940, the area—which covers just over 11 hectares—was surrounded by housing on three sides as a result of the industrialisation of Coatbridge.
Dunbeth park has five entrances, one of which provided a shortcut for me as I walked home from Coatbridge high, where I was a pupil—I thought that members would want to know that. Perhaps more important, today the park includes bowling greens, an all-weather football pitch, three rugby pitches and a fenced children’s playground.
There is absolutely no doubt that Dunbeth park is a well-loved and well-utilised green space, which now has the welcome addition of the coal route to encourage people of all ages to engage in a healthier lifestyle without a financial cost.17:15
I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing this debate on the importance of walking for health, which is an issue that I am sure we can all agree on.
Dunbeth park is a place that I am very fond of. As Fulton MacGregor pointed out, I lived nearby as a child. I lived in a tenement with an outside toilet. My husband and I bought our first flat close to the park—happily with an inside toilet, but with no heating. I currently live in the area—happily with an inside toilet and heating.
I appreciate the park, having had a history with it. I am also a member of Dunbeth bowling club, which—as Margaret Mitchell pointed out—is based in the park. Sadly, I do not walk in the park often enough. Having signed the motion, I intend to make a new year resolution to try to walk in the park at least once a week.
It is a great idea to have walking targets in the park and I congratulate the students from New College Lanarkshire who have been working with Paths for All to provide that incentive to aid health, wellbeing and fitness. By making exercise part of our daily routine, we can increase learning capacity, metabolism and overall feelings of wellbeing as well as helping with weight loss.
Recent research has shown that the built environment or the urban landscape around schools and colleges can actively deter younger people from walking anywhere. It is worse in areas that already suffer from deprivation. We also know that those who come from a poorer background are more likely to be in worse health. That makes it vital to tackle the root causes of inequality in our communities. It also means that it is extremely important to properly maintain attractive public areas.
Providing information on the best walking routes can help to change habits for the better and encourage walking as well as other exercise. That is all the more important because a recent report by NHS Scotland said that physical inactivity costs us around £94 million a year.
Obesity has been in the news recently. The Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee has been looking into the issue. At last week’s committee meeting, the Minister for Public Health and Sport noted that it is a “significant problem”. Obviously, walking and other exercise will help people to reduce weight but with regard to fitness and health, an obesity plan for Scotland must also look at how people are exposed to sugar and fatty foods and the cost of healthy, nutritious food.
As this is a debate on wellness and fitness, I want to mention the benefits of increasing breastfeeding. We know that young adults who were exclusively breastfed for three months or more are significantly leaner and have less body fat than those who were not breastfed so increasing breastfeeding, along with other life habit changes such as encouraging walking and things such as free, nutritious school meals, can have a massive effect on the general health of young people and can last throughout their lifetime.
What would not be helpful is a punitive approach, which is the opposite to what is being proposed at the park with the walking routes and so on that we have been talking about. The United Kingdom Government recently dropped controversial proposals to withdraw benefits from people who refuse treatment for obesity, but the fact that that was considered is deeply worrying. We should concentrate on positive ways to help people and to encourage them to improve their fitness and to lose weight.
A year of walking, as suggested in the motion, would be a way of positively encouraging everyone—particularly our children and young people—to concentrate on their health and fitness. That is a really good idea. The approach should include encouraging all our schools to use their own outdoor space as well as local parks such as Dunbeth.
I hope that, in the future, the initiative at Dunbeth park will be extended to parks in Cumbernauld and Motherwell, as mentioned by Margaret Mitchell and as planned by the local college.
Once again, I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing this important debate.17:20
I congratulate my colleague Fulton MacGregor on securing the debate and welcome the highly deserved parliamentary recognition that it accords to Paths for All on its 20th anniversary. As the time for new year’s resolutions approaches, I am sure that many of us will be thinking about how we can be fitter and more healthy in 2017. This debate is implicit recognition of the benefits to us all of good physical and mental health, given the positive impact of physical wellbeing on our mental wellbeing.
It is for that reason that walking groups such as Paths for All are so important. As we have heard in contributions across the chamber this evening, the charity does excellent work in encouraging walking and good health throughout Scotland. My constituency is no exception. The KA walk, which takes place across North Ayrshire, welcomes walkers of all ages and abilities, and provides a supportive and welcoming environment for anyone who is keen to start walking. It allows people to reap the benefits of being physically active, and emphasises the social aspect of group walking. Families and friends are encouraged to attend together and people have the opportunity to meet others from the local community.
The Cunninghame Ramblers is another group that does excellent work in my constituency. As the local branch of the UK-wide Ramblers Association, it organises weekly walks in the Ayrshire area at various levels of difficulty. As with Paths for All groups, the ramblers group is open and welcoming to all, and the focus is, likewise, as much on making new friends as it is on the health benefits of walking.
I could not be more sure of the positive impact that good health and good relationships have on our wellbeing and happiness. A landmark study entitled the “Origins of happiness”, which was published this week by a team of researchers at the London School of Economics, is the latest contribution to decades of research indicating that social and psychological factors are more important than income levels to the wellbeing of individuals. Indeed, as well we know, although average incomes have more than doubled over the last 50 years, we are by no means happier on average. Although issues of income inequality and poverty are of huge importance and must be tackled, it is becoming ever clearer that our happiness is ultimately rooted in our physical and mental wellbeing, and that that in turn relies on regular exercise, healthy eating and positive, respectful and fulfilling relationships.
In this wider picture of working towards wholesome and sustainable wellbeing and happiness, and better physical and mental health, walking groups have a hugely important role to play. I welcome this debate in marking their role, and look forward to supporting their work—locally, to me—in the future, maybe even getting the chance to join them out in the fresh air in the lovely Ayrshire countryside.17:23
I, too, congratulate Fulton MacGregor on bringing this debate to the chamber. It is an important debate because it gives members a chance to highlight local walking routes, as Fulton MacGregor has done, and the importance of walking in general and getting out and about.
I have to confess that I am not familiar with the park that Fulton MacGregor mentioned, but the wealth of countryside that North Lanarkshire offers has been an eye-opener for me, as a new member for Central Scotland. I am more familiar with South Lanarkshire, but North Lanarkshire has a great deal to offer. A couple of times recently, I have visited Baron’s Haugh in Motherwell, which offers people a great chance to walk for miles. There are plenty of other places as well.
Last week I became the vice-convener of the cycling, walking and buses cross-party group. Alison Johnstone, who is sitting just behind Fulton MacGregor, is one of the conveners. We formed that group because it is really important to put the issue on the map. It is not just about walking; it is about getting out and about and becoming fit. Most of us do not get enough exercise. Before coming to the Parliament, I used my bike quite a lot and I walked as much as I could, but I find that I am getting far more exercise since I have been spending more time in Edinburgh. It is a very friendly city for walking and cycling.
I first got into walking at school. I went to school in Carlisle and we had a base in Little Langdale in the Lake District to which we used to have school trips. I met my first form teacher from high school recently, and she recalled how she had an absolute nightmare of a trip to Little Langdale. It was her first outdoor trip and it was horrendous for her but lovely for us pupils, even though it poured down. I have loved walking and the outdoors ever since.
I tried to get my own children into walking, without much success—until they left home and suddenly became fitness freaks, which I am very glad about. Anyone who looks me up on Google will find that I am a keen hillwalker: somebody did that, because the other week they asked me to become the species champion for the bilberry bumblebee, which is found on Scotland’s hills. I am very pleased to accept that accolade and promote the bilberry bumblebee. There—I have mentioned it twice.
People do not need special facilities to walk. We all know that. It is one of the easiest forms of exercise and beats the gym.
I am also keen on cycling. A few weeks ago, I was very pleased to open, with Humza Yousaf, the missing link of national cycle route 74, which runs from Glasgow to Carlisle. We opened the last part together—it was a very proud moment. At some point, I want to cycle that whole route.
I have cycled the route from Glasgow to Edinburgh as part of the annual event, and invite MSPs to join me sometime. If Fulton MacGregor fancies bagging a Munro or two, I will happily join him.
The things that I learn from the chair about inside toilets, bumblebees and hills—my goodness, is there no end to it?17:27
I thank Fulton MacGregor for ensuring that we debate this important issue this evening, and for giving us the opportunity to congratulate Paths for All on a very important anniversary.
The consequences of not moving give us all the proof we need that the human body is designed to move. Our health depends on movement, yet in recent decades physical activity rates have dropped off markedly. In recent evidence to the Health and Sport Committee, Ian Findlay from Paths for All said:
“Over the past 50 to 60 years, we have done extremely well in designing physical activity out of our lifestyles.”
He is quite right. The cost burden and the life-limiting impact of the increasing incidence of non-communicable disease mean that it is essential that we make movement a priority.
I was introduced today to the concept of movement snacks: do not have a biscuit—get up and take a few steps. We only get one body for life. We need to nourish it and not just feed it. We have to move it too. There is a growing body of evidence that physical activity is a key component in a healthy life.
When it comes to physical activity, walking has so much to commend it. It helps our pocket; it helps our paunch, if we have one; it helps our mind; and it helps our heart. We do not need special gear. Walking can actually save us money.
Can members believe that two thirds of all journeys in Scotland under 3 km are taken by car? That is the distance from the Parliament to Edinburgh castle and back. For most people, that is perfectly walkable. We can see how much potential we have to save money, cut pollution, get fit and get happier. A 2-mile walk has the potential to change how we feel about our day. I live in Lothian, which has an excellent bus service, but it is fair to say that on many occasions I beat the number 35 bus up the hill and beyond. That is largely because it is stuck in traffic, which mostly consists of single-occupant cars travelling less than 2 miles, causing gridlock, costing business billions and contributing to air pollution, which is responsible for the deaths of 2,500 Scots each year—the same number as those who die prematurely from a lack of physical activity. Ian Findlay also told the committee that that
“physical inactivity costs the Scottish health service £94 million per annum.”—[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 6 December 2016; c 4.]
We can do better.
I ask the minister to address the issue of funding in her closing speech. Only 1.9 per cent of the large transport budget is spent on active travel.
If we get more people walking those manageable distances, we will cut air pollution and reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, falls, depression, dementia, joint and back pain and much more. Walking is part of the solution. It has the potential to reduce loneliness and isolation.
At a recent meeting of the cross-party group on sport, Dave Caesar, the chief medical officer’s clinical adviser, told us that, on average, adults in Scotland sit for 5.4 hours a day in their leisure time. If we in Parliament add that to the time that we spend sitting in committees and in the chamber, we have quite a statistic. However, if I invited everyone in the chamber to stand up now, we would not be abiding by standing orders, and the Presiding Officer might have something to say about it. That said, we can make walking meetings more routine. A culture change is required, but it will be worth it. As we heard from a learned professor at the Paths for All lecture, walking is good for us, but there is evidence that walking in a green space is even better. The journal Environmental Science & Technology confirms that green spaces have a sustained positive effect on mental wellbeing, and that those accessing those spaces display fewer signs of depression and anxiety.
Scotland’s chief medical officer tells us that doing something is better than doing nothing, that just 10 minutes exercise at a time provides benefit, and that it is never too late. Let us show our appreciation of the excellent work of Paths for All by using those paths, expanding those paths and joining up those paths.
Thank you very much, Ms Johnstone. You have made me feel suitably guilty, and I feel a new year’s resolution coming on.
I call the minister to close for the Government. You have seven minutes, minister. Please do not tell me that you do lots of exercise as well. I am sure that some porkies are being told today.17:32
Okay—I will just start my speech. I thank Fulton MacGregor for lodging the motion and for the outline that he gave of the beautiful walks across his part of Lanarkshire. My part of Lanarkshire has lots of good walks, too.
I am immensely grateful to everyone who has been involved in Paths for All for their dedication, hard work and support for the people of Scotland over the past 20 years. I am delighted that some people from Paths for All are in the public gallery to hear us talk about how the organisation has positively impacted on many of our communities and about the transformative work that it does in relation to the power of walking.
As we know, Paths for All was formed in 1996 as a partnership of organisations including Scottish Enterprise, NHS Health Scotland, VisitScotland and sportscotland, with the late and much-missed broadcaster Magnus Magnusson as its chair. The organisation has grown over the past 20 years and now consists of 28 partnership organisations with interests in our health, environment, infrastructure and economy. It has worked with those partners with one unified purpose: to use Scotland’s countryside, our paths and roads and our people to get everybody, regardless of their age, background or lifestyle, out walking.
The four strands of the Paths for All strategy are walking for health, active environments, active travel and communications and policy. That indicates the scope of its agenda and the impact that it can have on our country. As the many testimonies that we have heard today indicate, it and the local organisations and dedicated volunteers that it works with have had a hugely positive impact on our communities. I have enjoyed hearing about the work at Dunbeth park and the supportive role of Paths for All in that development, about the walks in Ayrshire, which Ruth Maguire mentioned, and about walks in areas that other speakers have mentioned.
Many members have discussed the benefits of walking for our population’s health. Medical evidence shows us that regular involvement in physical activity reduces the risk that someone will develop type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dementia, as well as a host of other conditions.
Walking has a number of other benefits. It gets us away from our TV screens and computers, it gets us out in the open air and it provides us with opportunities to socialise with family and friends. As Ruth Maguire said, it has the potential to increase our happiness. Physical activity is also good for our mental wellbeing. I like to go out and reset my appreciation of the seasons. All too often, when we are cooped up indoors, we miss that.
I take on board Elaine Smith’s point about obesity. We will launch our obesity strategy consultation next year, and I hope that she will take part in that and raise the issue of breastfeeding, which she mentioned today.
The Scottish Government’s active Scotland outcomes framework sets out our ambitions for a country where more people are more active, more often, through a range of opportunities and incentives for involvement in sport and physical activity. We see walking as a key part of that vision. It is free and accessible and everyone can do it, pretty much anywhere—Margaret Mitchell and others made that point. I am pleased that Elaine Smith has resolved to use the outdoor space that is on her doorstep.
Paths for All’s active travel programme provides financial support and training to enable enthusiastic volunteers around the country to set up walking groups. The walks touch on people from all walks of life and I have heard some truly inspiring stories about how transformative they are. That shows what happens when we proactively work with communities, build on their assets and empower people to take control of their lives.
Health walks are just one example of the services that Paths for All helps to deliver to our communities. It is also supporting the development of a nationwide walking football network, which provides an opportunity for people of all ages and fitness levels to be involved in the beautiful game. Among a myriad of other activities, it promotes—through Macmillan Cancer Support—walking for people who are affected by cancer, and it provides strength and balance training to allow staff in care homes to support patients in that area.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the step count challenge, Paths for All’s biannual workplace walking challenge, which is a fantastic means of encouraging Scotland’s workforce to incorporate walking into their day-to-day routines. Alison Johnstone touched on that. In this year’s recently finished autumn challenge, more than 995 million steps were walked by a total of 716 teams. My work to persuade my ministerial colleagues to enter a team for the next challenge is still on-going, but if Fulton MacGregor, Elaine Smith, Ruth Maguire, Margaret Mitchell, Graham Simpson and you, Presiding Officer, would like to set a good example by using the space outside Parliament, perhaps next year we can all sign up and show leadership to our parliamentary colleagues. I see that you are smiling, Presiding Officer. Perhaps there will be a nod of agreement. However, I will continue with my remarks.
Paths for All is also helping the Scottish Government to deliver its active travel vision, which is that, by 2030, walking and cycling will be the most popular choice for short journeys. I understand that there are challenges, which Alison Johnstone legitimately raised, but we have a record of investing heavily in active travel.
Paths for All has brought its dedication, expertise and skill with partnership working to bear with its support for developing and taking forward Scotland’s national walking strategy and our wider ambitions for activating the entire Scottish population. The progress of that strategy is overseen by a national delivery forum, and Paths for All’s leadership has been crucial in driving forward the forum’s work.
The proof has been there for us to see in recent years. The number of people in Scotland who walk for recreation is on the increase. The 2015 Scottish household survey shows that 69 per cent of adults walk for leisure, which is an increase of 5 per cent from the previous year’s survey. To put that another way, in one year we have seen a significant increase of around 250,000 people in Scotland walking for recreation. That did not happen by accident. It is leadership, the role of Paths for All and our focus as a Government on walking that has enabled that progress to be made.
There are challenges ahead. More than a third of adults do not take part in moderate to vigorous physical activity to the recommended level per week.
What about the next 20 years? I think that we would all like Paths for All to continue on the journey that it has taken so far, with its innovative thinking and collaborative work. We would like it to continue to work in partnership with like-minded organisations to seize the opportunity that we have now, which has been created by its enthusiasm and its focus on targeting hard-to-reach areas of the population.
I add my sincere thanks and appreciation to everybody at Paths for All and the many volunteers and partner organisations that are out working locally to make walking and activity possible in communities across our country. Across the chamber, we unite in wishing Paths for All a happy 20th anniversary and raising a toast to the next 20 years, which I know will ensure that Scotland’s population gets more active and will reverse some of the health challenges that we face as a nation.
I thank members for an interesting debate.Meeting closed at 17:40.