Meeting date: Thursday, September 15, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 15 September 2016
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Glow Gold September, Domestic Abuse Law, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Glow Gold September
- Domestic Abuse Law
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-00202)
Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.
Doctors’ leaders have warned this week that the national health service will experience pockets of meltdown this winter. Does the First Minister think that her Government is doing enough to maintain appropriate staffing levels in our hospitals?
Of course, staffing levels in our hospitals have increased dramatically under this Government. There are more than 11,000 additional members of staff working in our NHS now than was the case when this Government took office.
The Government plans intensively for the winter period. We make sure that our health boards are well resourced and supported as they plan to deal with the additional demand that faces the health service during the winter months. As we prepare for those winter months, it is encouraging to know that as of now our accident and emergency units are the best performing ones anywhere in the United Kingdom.
I thank the First Minister for that reply, but she will know that the system is in trouble. If we take the situation with temporary staff, we were told by medics this summer that hospitals were having to turn to locums more and more to cover shifts. We asked every health board in Scotland to say how much that was costing, and the figure is £248 million. That is a quarter of a billion pounds spent last year alone on locum doctors and nurses. That figure is rocketing—it is up by £41 million in just one year. That is all because our hospitals do not have the staff needed to cover the rotas. Does the First Minister think that that is in any way satisfactory?
Health boards will make use of agency staff where that is required to deliver high-quality care for patients. We are very clear with health boards that they should minimise the use of agency staff and we have worked in past years to increase the use of bank NHS staff instead of agency staff. We are focused on making sure that we have record numbers of full-time permanent staff working in our NHS.
I mentioned to Ruth Davidson in my previous answer the increase that we have seen in whole-time equivalent staff since the SNP has been in government—the figure is up by more than 11,000 in that period. That is one of the reasons why, notwithstanding the rise in demand, waiting times are much shorter today than they were when we took office. As I said, our accident and emergency departments have performed much better than those in any other part of the United Kingdom, and that has been the case for a considerable time.
There will always be challenges in our national health service—I would be the first to concede that point—but, because of the resources that we are putting into the national health service, the support that we give to our health boards and the extra staff, patient satisfaction with our health service is at a record level.
The First Minister will not admit it, but the problem is, in part, due to the SNP Government’s failure to manage the NHS properly.
Four years ago, as the health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon cut the number of training places for nurses and midwives. At the time, she called it
“a sensible way forward”.
At the time, the nurses warned that the cut in numbers
“risks there not being enough professionally qualified nurses graduating to meet the demand for health services in the future”
and they believed that
“this cut will be bad for patient care.”
The nurses were right and she was wrong. Will the First Minister accept personal responsibility for the problems that her decisions have created?
The number of qualified nurses and midwives who are working in our NHS today is up by more than 5 per cent since the Government took office. Yes, I am happy to accept personal responsibility for that increase in the number of nurses who are working in our national health service. For completeness, I add that the number of doctors is up by 25 per cent, the number of emergency medicine consultants is up by 184 per cent, the number of geriatric medicine consultants is up by 38 per cent and the number of paediatric consultants is up by 84 per cent. There are more people working in our NHS today.
Ruth Davidson mentioned agency nurses. When we took office, there were 728 whole-time equivalent agency nurses working in the NHS. In 2015-16, the number was down to 276—a reduction of 61.9 per cent.
Yes, there are challenges in our national health service because of the increasing demand coming from an ageing population. That is why we have pledged record funding for our health service. In the recent Scottish election, the SNP pledged the biggest increase in health funding of any party standing. We will increase the health budget by £500 million more than inflation, and we will reform our health service. We are transforming primary care, we are investing more in social care and community care and we are expanding elective treatment capacity. Investment and reform will ensure that we continue to deliver good results in our health service and continue to see good patient satisfaction.
So it is now all the health boards’ fault that they have to spend £0.25 billion on locums because they cannot get regular staff. It is always someone else’s fault with this First Minister.
Here is the charge sheet for this week. This week alone, we have had a rural affairs secretary apologise—again—for the mess that the Government made of farm payments; we have had an education secretary desperate to salvage the named person policy but not willing even to speak to the people who dare to criticise him; and we now see an NHS that has become so stretched that we are shelling out £0.25 billion a year on costly locum cover.
The First Minister is on the slide because, instead of rolling up her sleeves, she is tearing up her promise not to hold a second referendum. Enough of the distractions. When is she finally going to get a grip on this failing Government?
Ruth Davidson wants to talk about independence as a smokescreen for the almighty mess that her party has created over the European Union. Let me go back to the national health service—Ruth Davidson was quite keen to get off the subject of the national health service after my last answer.
I am not sure what it is about a 61.9 per cent reduction in the use of agency nurses under this Government that Ruth Davidson did not quite grasp in my last answer. I am not sure what it is about an increase in all staff in the health service and a 5 per cent increase in the number of qualified nurses and midwives who are working in the health service that she did not grasp either. Such investments are delivering the results that we are seeing for patients in our health service, which is resulting in record patient satisfaction.
I recognise that there is more work for us to do, but I think that patients would probably prefer this Government to continue to build on the success of our health service than have the Tory Government in London, which has managed to force junior doctors out on strike.
Scottish Association for Mental Health (Meetings)
To ask the First Minister when she will next meet the Scottish Association for Mental Health. (S5F-00226)
Yesterday, the Minister for Mental Health met Billy Watson, the chief executive of SAMH, to discuss our plans for a new mental health strategy and to hear about SAMH’s plans and services.
Today is wear it pink day, and the First Minister and I will leave the chamber and together don pink wigs and sunglasses to highlight the toll that cancer continues to take on families across Scotland. However, today’s Daily Record highlights the reality of cancer treatment under this Government.
Anne Maclean-Chang is a mother of two, and a nurse with 20 years’ service. She has secondary breast cancer and is very seriously ill. Anne wrote to the First Minister, pleading for help, because she has had to raise £90,000 from strangers to pay for her cancer treatment. I will say that again: in 2016, a woman with breast cancer has to crowdfund her own cancer care. That cannot be right.
Anne finishes her heartbreaking letter by saying:
“I don’t know where to turn next.”
I am turning to the First Minister now: what specific steps will she take to help Anne get the treatment that she needs?
I thank Kezia Dugdale for raising the issue. My heart goes out to Mrs Maclean-Chang. I have, indeed, received her letter. The drug in question is not generally approved for use on the national health service, and I understand that that is also the case in England. We have asked the company that manufacturers the drug to bring forward a new application at a fair price, so that the drug can, I hope, be generally approved.
In the meantime, patients can seek to access, through the individual patient treatment request system, drugs that are not generally approved. I understand from Mrs Maclean-Chang’s letter that, in this case, such a request was refused. However, I can advise the chamber that, this morning, following further discussions with her clinician, Grampian NHS Board has agreed to fund the drug for Mrs Maclean-Chang, who, I understand has been informed. I hope that now we can all wish her well in the future.
There is no doubt that that is wonderful news; it will come as a great comfort to Ms Anne Maclean-Chang, her family and her wider friendship network. However, it should not have taken a Daily Record front-page story for that to happen.
I refer the First Minister back to Anne Maclean-Chang’s letter to her, in which she says:
“I am not the only patient who has to battle this unfair and illogical system. For me and for them, I would like to meet you to find a way to fix this mess.”
Labour recently set out five clear proposals for reforming the system for access to medicines, which it submitted to the Government’s review. They include a call for greater transparency in decision making; the ability to negotiate on price; an end to the postcode lottery; the introduction of an interim accepted period; and closer working with other parts of the United Kingdom. Will the First Minister today commit to look at Labour’s proposals and to respond to them in detail?
I assume that Kezia Dugdale knows that the review that is being undertaken by Dr Brian Montgomery is under way and has not reported yet. Proposals—whether they come from the Labour Party or any other quarter—will be considered by Dr Montgomery as part of the review.
There is a very serious issue here—and I have to say that I am slightly disappointed that Kezia Dugdale is choosing to politicise what is an extremely difficult issue. We have systems in place to make those very difficult decisions as fairly and as transparently as possible. In the past few years, we have seen significant improvements to those systems. For example, the changes that we have already introduced have seen a tenfold increase in the number of medicines accessed through the individual patient treatment request system. Dr Brian Montgomery’s review will bring forward proposals to improve that system even further.
I would hope that everybody would agree that it is vital that we have such systems in place, because that is how we deliver fairness for patients in an age when new drugs are coming on to the market all the time. That is also how we deliver fairness for taxpayers. If we do not have robust systems in place, we effectively give drug companies a licence to charge whatever they want for the drugs that they bring to market. These are very difficult decisions, but we must have the right systems in place to make those decisions.
I hope that, no matter the sympathy that we all feel for every patient in a situation such as the one that Kezia Dugdale raises, everybody in the chamber agrees that it would be entirely wrong for politicians to start to substitute their judgment for that of the people who, having receipt of all the information, are trusted to make such decisions. We will continue to work to ensure that we have a fair and transparent system in place so that more and more people can get access to the drugs that they need and want.
The only person who politicised the issue was the First Minister right there and then. The truth of the matter is that Anne Maclean-Chang had to find the courage and strength to tell her story on the front page of a national newspaper for the First Minister’s Government to act. I ask the First Minister to think of all the people around the country who are waiting for that help. We know that Anne is not alone. The system must be reformed so that, in future, cancer patients do not have to hold bake sales to find the money for the cancer treatment that they need. I ask the First Minister again: will she assure members that, when the Government’s review is published, cases such as Anne’s will never happen again?
No, I cannot and will not give an assurance that no patient will ever again find that they cannot access a drug that they think, in all sincerity, they should be able to access. That is because, in any system that has to assess drugs, there will inevitably be hard decisions that are difficult for all of us, in which drugs are not accessible for a particular patient.
This is not a case of me and my Government intervening; it is a case of the system operating to get the patient the drug that I agree she should access. I go back to the point that it is about ensuring that we have robust systems in place. It would be entirely wrong for us to have a system that is based on politicians deciding to intervene in individual cases, and I hope that no politician in the chamber is seriously arguing that we should have such a system. We have to put in place a system that is robust and takes such decisions fairly. We have made improvements, we have vastly increased access to medicines because of the improvements that we have already made and we have under way a review that will report. If in that review there are recommendations for further improvements, we will not hesitate to make those improvements.
We have a constituency question from Oliver Mundell.
Does the Scottish Government condone Police Scotland’s decision to push ahead with plans to close eight police stations in Dumfries and Galloway? More important, can the First Minister give any guarantees that she will intervene to protect those stations and to protect rural police stations throughout Scotland?
That consultation will take place and is on-going. I am sure that Police Scotland would be happy to meet the member to discuss his concerns. That is the right and proper way to go about it.
To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S5F-00205)
Matters of importance to the people of Scotland.
When I questioned the First Minister in March last year about problems in Police Scotland control rooms, she said:
“where, for any reason,”
“falls short we will ensure that action is taken to rectify that.”—[Official Report, 26 March 2015; c 17.]
Why has she not done that?
We will take action to rectify any failures that are brought to our attention. Michael Matheson has made statements in Parliament reflecting on the changes that we are making and on the lessons that are being learned from reports by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland. We will continue to take that approach. If Willie Rennie wants to raise any issues in the chamber, directly with me or with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, he is perfectly entitled to do that.
I am surprised that the First Minister does not know about this matter. Today, we have seen figures saying that 78,000 calls to the national 101 police number were dropped. That is an appalling figure. Callum Steele from the Scottish Police Federation knew about it. He said that it is “simply unforgivable” and that
“there are significant challenges in many parts of the service.”
Sickness rates are high and morale is low. The i6 information technology system has been abandoned, and we have just heard about police stations being shut in Dumfries and Galloway. Now, we discover that 78,000 calls to the police were dropped. Will the First Minister not look again at the damage that she is doing to the people and services that we all rely on?
Now that Willie Rennie has told me the particular issue that he wants to raise, I am sure that he will know that Police Scotland has said that it is entirely
“misleading and inaccurate to suggest that in excess of 77,000 non-emergency calls are ‘unanswered’ by Police Scotland.”
He will also be aware that police call handlers respond to more than 2.5 million 101 calls and around half a million emergency calls every year, and that Police Scotland reports that the average waiting time for a non-emergency 101 call is 12 seconds.
We will always work with the police to improve service levels, just as we work with our other public services to make sure that the quality of service to the public is high and improving. I remind Willie Rennie that ours is the Government that has protected 1,000 extra police officers on the street, which is part of the reason—not the whole reason—why crime is at a 41-year low across this country.
Yesterday, the Scottish Government announced that it is not accepting in full the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland’s recommendations for next year’s council elections. We have boundary commissions because they are independent of political parties, so the Government’s rejection of those recommendations in five council areas—whatever people’s views on the boundaries—leaves a nasty stench in the air.
That unprecedented decision was taken by Joe FitzPatrick, whose constituency is in a council area that he has decided not to alter. Will the First Minister explain the decision? What can she say to convince Parliament that Mr FitzPatrick should not earn the nickname “Gerrymandering Joe”? [Interruption.]
I am not sure whether Graham Simpson is aware of what the Tory Government in Westminster is doing on boundaries at the present time. [Laughter.] He should perhaps have checked that out before asking his question.
We listened carefully to the concerns of communities before taking the decisions. The decisions deliver the commitment that we made to protect local communities by implementing changes only where communities have been adequately respected. The decisions not to implement some of the changes have cross-party support, including from every member of Dundee City Council. Opposition spokespeople who are only too quick to attack our decisions seem to be unaware that their own parties lobbied locally for the changes not to go ahead. [Laughter.] Therefore, as well as being unaware of what his Westminster colleagues are doing, Graham Simpson seems to be blissfully unaware of what his colleagues locally are doing and saying.
The First Minister might remember that in February this year I raised with her the impact of the UK Government’s planned reductions in housing benefit on vulnerable people who stay in supported and Women’s Aid refuge accommodation. I highlighted the worry and distress that the plans were causing. Does the First Minister welcome, as I do, this morning’s news that the UK Government is abandoning those proposals?
Yes—I am extremely relieved by the UK Government’s U-turn. It is ridiculous that so much worry and distress have been caused to people while the UK Government has dithered over making its decision. I take the opportunity to commend the work of Scottish Women’s Aid and others who have campaigned on the issue.
Today’s announcement offers welcome assurance that funding for the sector will be maintained at current levels, and that refuges are no longer at risk of closure as a result of the proposal. We should all welcome that, but we should all also regret that the issue was ever raised in the first place.
Last week, I held a general practitioners’ summit for local GPs from Edinburgh Southern and health board officials, which revealed that half of the capital’s surgeries could soon be refusing new patients. That is already true for south Edinburgh.
Will the First Minister or her Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport arrange to meet me, local GPs and NHS Lothian to consider the steps that could be taken to avert this—in their words—“deepening crisis”?
I would be happy to ask the health secretary to meet the member. As he will be aware, we are investing to increase primary-care capacity—we have, for example, increased the numbers GP trainee posts that are being advertised. As I said in the chamber last week, at this stage in the recruitment round we are already ahead of where we were last year at the end of the recruitment round.
A range of investments are also being made to improve recruitment and retention of GPs and, of course, to ensure that we are helping GPs to deal with the workload that they face, including new community link workers, pharmacists in GP practices and new paramedics, for example. A strong programme of work is being taken forward by the health secretary, working with GPs. Of course, we will from next year also have in place a new contract to deal with demands on our GPs, who do a wonderful job for all of us.
I am sure that the health secretary would be delighted to meet Daniel Johnson to discuss the matter in more detail.
What is the First Minister’s reaction to the announcement by the UK Home Office that it plans to close the Dungavel house immigration removal centre next year? Will she, with many other concerned people right across the country, renew calls on the UK Government for more humane treatment of asylum seekers who are based in Scotland?
I welcome the announcement that Dungavel is to close. I and many members from across the chamber have campaigned for its closure for very many years, so that is a positive development.
I have significant concerns about the alternatives to Dungavel that the UK Government announced last week. We will want to engage with it to see whether we can address our concerns. I think that we all want the system that replaces Dungavel to be more humane, not less humane, than it. The UK Government should think less about building walls to keep vulnerable people out and more about how we collectively support the most vulnerable people in our world and give them the support that they badly need.
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government will seek to make land ownership transparent. (S5F-00228)
We are committed to improving the transparency of land ownership. Work by Registers of Scotland to complete the land register is under way, with all public land to be registered by 2019 and all land by 2024. In addition, the consultation on our proposals for a register of controlling interests in those who own land was published on 11 September. It will help to inform the regulations that we will bring forward next year. Those regulations will help communities, landowners, tenants and the wider public to know and understand more about decision making and land in Scotland.
Does the First Minister agree that the area is highly technical and complex, and that improving transparency of ownership is no easy task? There is no doubt that there are powerful individuals who would like to see us fail, despite the clearly stated will of the Parliament. In light of that, does the First Minister welcome, as I do, the fact that the relevant sections of our Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 received cross-party support in the chamber?
I agree that the issue is highly complex. The consultation that I mentioned a moment ago will inform the detailed work that we need to do to develop robust and workable proposals.
Despite Tory opposition to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, our amendments that were lodged at stage 3 of the bill were supported by all parties in the chamber. The area is very much one in which there is considerable consensus across the chamber. I hope that that will continue as we take the next steps in shaping our regulations, which will help to further improve the transparency of land ownership in Scotland.
I refer members to my register of interests, where I have openly and honestly declared my land. I have no fear in doing so.
Will the First Minister accept an invitation to walk with me in the Highlands? We could then look and talk about the real land issues, which revolve around effective and sustainable, as well as productive, management—[Interruption.] Well, listen—rather than worrying excessively about who owns what.
I would also like to refer people to Edward Mountain’s register of interests. [Laughter.] It may explain rather a lot.
While I would normally take up almost anybody’s offer of a walk in the Highlands, if I can use the usual terminology, due to considerable diary pressures I may have to decline for the moment.
Does the First Minister share my view that the holy grail of land reform must be an open and transparent land register? Does she agree with my analysis that that means no front companies, no shoddy shell plcs and no multinational tax havens registered in Panama?
Yes, I agree with the sentiment behind that question, which is why we are putting so much emphasis on transparency. I refer the member to my initial answer, in which I talked about the work to complete the land register and the regulations that will introduce a register of controlling interests.
One of the reasons why we want to do that is to reduce the scope for the kind of revelations that we saw exposed in the Panama papers scandal. We will do as much as we can to make sure that our system of land ownership and the details of land ownership in Scotland are as transparent as possible.
Some of the changes that the member may like to see here are reserved to the Westminster Government. I hope that he will join us in seeking the powers we need to do everything that I think he would like us to do.
Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Resources)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Faculty of Advocates’ reported concerns that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is underresourced. (S5F-00218)
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution will continue to discuss the budget for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service with the Lord Advocate as the spending review process develops. The Scottish Government has provided the service with extra funding of £4.7 million over the last two years to allow it to investigate and prosecute three exceptionally complex cases. In addition, we are providing just under £3 million over three years for the prosecution of domestic abuse cases as part of the extra £20 million across the justice sector to tackle abuse against women and girls.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service continues to meet all its operational targets. The Lord Advocate was previously the dean of the Faculty of Advocates, and I know that he is proud to lead the service and will continue the work to ensure that it delivers for all the people of Scotland in the quality of service that it provides.
Brian McConnachie QC, a former senior prosecutor at the Crown Office, has claimed that the Scottish Government cuts to the justice system have left the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service underresourced. He said:
“If you are going to continually do that, then what you will end up with is a substandard justice system.”
The First Minister rightly mentioned the additional funding for domestic abuse. As members prepare to debate this afternoon the Scottish Government’s proposals to introduce a domestic abuse law, can the First Minister provide assurances that the Crown Office is sufficiently resourced to handle the increasing demands that are placed on it, to ensure that the victims receive the justice that they deserve?
It is important to point out that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service budget has not been cut. The budget has remained static over the past five years, with additional funding provided for the three complex cases that I spoke about and to improve the time taken to prosecute domestic abuse.
We—principally the finance secretary—will continue discussions with the Lord Advocate to make sure that the Crown Office has the resources that it needs to prosecute crime and to meet the targets that, as I said earlier, it continues to meet. It is an extremely high-performing public service, as the public have a right to expect it to be, and we will make sure that it has the resources to continue to provide that high quality of service.
“Reducing emissions in Scotland—2016 progress report”
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee’s “Reducing emissions in Scotland—2016 progress report”. (S5F-00216)
We welcome the progress report from the UK Committee on Climate Change. Roseanna Cunningham and I were delighted to meet Lord Deben, the chair of the committee, shortly after the report’s launch on Tuesday.
In the report, the committee recognises that Scotland continues to lead the UK in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and it highlights the excellent progress we have made to date, including having exceeded the level of our 2020 target six years early.
We are considering the committee’s report and will respond in due course. Our new climate change plan, which will be published in draft this winter, will set out our priorities and commitments for delivering emissions reductions under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 and we will work with the committee to prepare a new climate change bill, with proposals to be outlined in early 2017.
As the First Minister will know, many of the technologies that will be needed as we shift towards a low-carbon future are in their infancy or, indeed, do not yet exist. What assessment has the Scottish Government carried out of the state of research funding and commercialisation of support for new technologies in the heaviest greenhouse gas-emitting sectors—transport, energy, housing and agriculture—and the synergies between them? What reassurance can she give the chamber today that essential research funding will be available from her Government?
The environment cabinet secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, has just met research providers. We undertake assessments across all these areas, but I will ask Roseanna Cunningham to write to the member with more detail about the state of assessment with regard to the new technologies and the research that we require to do.
The member has made two points that I think merit being underlined, the first of which is the importance of new and emerging technologies. On Monday, I was up in Nigg to launch the first phase of the MeyGen tidal stream power project, which, when it is fully installed, will have the capacity to power the equivalent of almost 200,000 homes across Scotland. I mention that project today because, of course, the UK Government has just given the go-ahead to Hinkley Point. I think that that decision is wrong, but my point is that, right now, the United Kingdom Government is continuing to dither on a contract for difference that would allow MeyGen to move into its second phase. I hope that it takes a decision on that very quickly and that the decision is a positive one.
Very briefly, the member’s second point that I think should be underlined is the importance of our now upping our action in areas such as transport, housing and agriculture. Everybody, even our critics, will accept that we have seen considerable success, although there is still work to do on reducing emissions from electricity generation; however, we must now go into much harder areas such as agriculture, transport and the energy sector more generally. If we are serious—as we are—about not just continuing to meet our current targets but meeting the more ambitious targets that we intend to set in the new legislation, that is what we need to do, and I hope that when we put forward our proposals to achieve that, we will have support from right across the chamber.
This week, the UK Committee on Climate Change highlighted once again that emissions from transport are holding us back and that there are zero actions—zero actions—in the Government’s climate action plan to address that issue. Is it not time for some big and bold ideas? Does the First Minister agree that in order to help cut road casualties, protect the vulnerable and make our communities healthier, low-carbon places to live, we should be saying “Twenty’s plenty” on all Scotland’s residential roads?
We would certainly encourage local authorities to consider that, where appropriate.
First, though, I agree with the member. As I think I have just said, we have had considerable success. It has not been easy to achieve, but in the area of climate change and reducing emissions, the further we raise our ambition, the tougher it gets to take action and, indeed, the more controversial some of those actions become. That is where consensus and support in the chamber are going to be so important. There is no doubt that transport falls into that much more controversial area, partly because it impacts directly on the lives of many people, but if we are going to continue to meet our ambitious targets and see them stretched even further, we are going to have to address it.
Finally, I do not argue for a second the fact that the member has real credibility on this issue, but the climate change report that was published this week lauded Scotland as a leader for having met our target ahead of schedule. Yes, it said that we had much more to do, but I think that we should concentrate on the positive as well as pressuring and rightly challenging the Government to go further. I hope that we get some positive endorsement from the Green members of the chamber of the progress that, often with their help, we have managed to make so far.
The report in question makes it clear that emissions from heavy goods vehicles account for 17 per cent of Scotland’s transport emissions and that the Scottish Government achieved no overall change in emissions in that sector between 2009 and 2014. Will the First Minister consider promoting urban consolidation centres—logistical hubs that reduce freight journeys—to reduce emissions in the transport sector and linking that to a transport sector-specific climate change target?
I am happy to ask the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform to meet the member to discuss that suggestion and others, which I am sure that she will be happy to do. To continue to ensure that we have in place the plans to meet the current target and to extend that target, we will have to consider proposals such as that which the member just made, as I have said. The more cross-party consensus we can build across the chamber, the more chance we will have of succeeding. Roseanna Cunningham will be happy to meet Maurice Golden to talk in more depth about his suggestion.
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government will achieve 100 per cent broadband roll-out across Scotland. (S5F-00232)
As I announced in the programme for government, we intend to provide 100 per cent broadband coverage to domestic and commercial premises across Scotland. To do that, we will launch procurement activity in 2017. As a first step, we published a prior information notice on 9 September that launched a formal supplier engagement exercise to help to inform our delivery plan.
That activity builds on the £400 million of investment to deliver broadband coverage to at least 95 per cent of premises by the end of next year. As a result of our investment, approximately 640,000 premises had access to fibre broadband at the end of August this year.
In my rural constituency of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, there are still significant gaps in mobile reception. How does the Scottish Government intend to enhance mobile coverage where the United Kingdom Government has failed to do so?
The question is important for everybody who lives in a rural part of Scotland. Mobile connectivity is largely a reserved matter but, notwithstanding that, we have been determined to take action where we can to improve mobile coverage across the country. Our mobile action plan shows clearly our commitment to working with the industry to improve mobile coverage across Scotland and particularly in rural areas. I hope that the fact that we are the only part of the UK to have such a plan in place demonstrates clearly the approach that we are taking, as does our willingness to work with the industry and providers to address the need to infill mobile coverage in remote areas.
Mobile coverage is a key priority for us as we take forward our work on broadband coverage. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity would be happy to meet Kate Forbes to discuss our progress in more detail.
Does the First Minister accept that broadband access is far from adequate for many across Scotland? Will she heed Audit Scotland’s recommendation that the Scottish Government should publish more information on the programme’s performance and particularly data on speed and coverage?
We have already increased access to next-generation broadband. As I said, we are on track to deliver our commitment to 95 per cent coverage by the end of next year. I do not believe that other Governments across the UK have given the same commitment as our commitment to 100 per cent coverage by the end of the parliamentary session.
We are serious about ensuring that the commitment is for everybody and not just for some. It is true that, as I said last week, broadband coverage and digital connectivity are as fundamental to how people live their lives or run a business these days as electricity and running water are. That is how important connectivity is.
Information about the broadband project’s performance has been published and I am happy to consider whether we can publish more information about progress towards the commitment. The commitment that we have made for the end of next year is being met—we are on track to meet it—and we are determined to meet our commitment to 100 per cent coverage by the end of the session.
Just five months ago, the Scottish National Party’s manifesto made a commitment to 100 per cent broadband coverage by 2020. Why has that date already slipped to 2021?
The commitment is to be met by the end of the session and the commitment is as it has always been. I have reiterated it more than once today, as I did in setting out the programme for government last week. By the end of the session, we intend 100 per cent of commercial and residential premises across the country to have next-generation broadband access. I do not remember whether such a commitment was in the Labour Party’s manifesto, but I know that it was in the SNP’s manifesto and I am determined that we will deliver it.