Meeting date: Thursday, January 18, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 18 January 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Centenary of Women in the British Armed Forces, Social Isolation and Loneliness, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Centenary of Women in the British Armed Forces
- Social Isolation and Loneliness
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Last week, the justice secretary tried to close down questions over his role regarding Police Scotland and the position of the chief constable, and he failed. Since then, we have had lawyers and senior police officers exchanging further blows, we have had more evidence of details being kept from this Parliament and, most worryingly, we have had an admission that no record exists of the meeting at which Michael Matheson intervened over the chief constable’s return to work. Does the First Minister really believe that this fiasco has shown a functioning system that is either transparent or accountable?
First, I say to Ruth Davidson that the justice secretary did not try to “close down” the issue. What the justice secretary did was come to the chamber, make a statement and answer questions in a robust and comprehensive way. That is the accountability that the Parliament and, indeed, the wider country should expect from the Government and from individual ministers.
What Michael Matheson set out, which I will set out again today, is this: there is a role for the Scottish Government—indeed, a role for the justice secretary—in ensuring that the Scottish Police Authority carries out its functions properly. Of course, the decisions about the employment of the chief constable are for the Scottish Police Authority. That division of responsibility is very clear and well understood.
Michael Matheson was right, when faced with the news that the Scottish Police Authority was inviting the chief constable back to work the very next day after that meeting, to ask questions such as whether the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner had been consulted, given the on-going investigation into allegations about the chief constable, whether the senior command in Police Scotland had been consulted and whether steps had been taken to ensure the welfare of any police officer who had raised concerns. He was not able to be satisfied on those matters, which is why the then chair of the Scottish Police Authority looked at the matter again.
I am not sure what Ruth Davidson would have said if, on the day following that meeting, the chief constable had turned up at work again. No doubt, that would have created a great deal of controversy. If, when MSPs had rightly started asking questions—as they undoubtedly would have done—it had transpired that the justice secretary had asked none of those questions, we would have had Opposition leaders justifiably coming to the chamber asking why he had not.
The justice secretary has acted entirely appropriately. I would have thought that all members across the chamber would have welcomed that fact.
The First Minister repeats the justice secretary’s comments from last week, but the matter goes a lot further. It is about whether the justice secretary acted unlawfully in directing the Scottish Police Authority to prevent the chief constable from coming back to work against its own recommendations. The truth is that we do not know. In fact, we cannot know because, last Thursday, Michael Matheson said that he would be “happy” for minutes of his meeting with the SPA to be released only for the SNP Government to then claim that—incredibly—no minutes had been taken.
The justice secretary took a massive decision to intervene to prevent the head of Scotland’s police force from returning to work and there is no written record of that. I think that that is shocking—why does the First Minister not think so?
There are a number of relevant points to be made. The first point—which I made last week in response to a Tory back bencher—is that, week after week, in the chamber and in the media, we hear Opposition MSPs, in effect, accusing the Scottish Government of not intervening enough in the operation of Police Scotland. Now, we have Opposition leaders coming here to complain that the justice secretary asks legitimate questions.
The justice secretary did not instruct the chair of the Scottish Police Authority. What the justice secretary did was ask questions. I say again that, had the justice secretary not asked those questions and had the chief constable returned to work, I am absolutely sure that Ruth Davidson would have been among the first to get to her feet and demand to know why the justice secretary had not asked those questions.
We know what the justice secretary asked, because he came to Parliament last week and answered questions on that very matter.
We have got to a point at which the cabinet secretary intervened to prevent the chief constable from coming back to work, there is no official record of the meeting and the Parliament was not informed about it until six weeks later, yet the First Minister stands there and says that it is fine by her. To cap it all, the former justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, has said that it was just a chat, that there was no need to take minutes, that the public do not need to know about anything and that we should just trust the Scottish National Party. Well, we cannot.
Last year, three other senior police officers were suspended and, in those cases, the justice secretary could not have been clearer. He insisted, repeatedly, that he could not intervene and that
“we must respect the process.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2017; c 19.]
The problem is that he said that after he had already secretly intervened in the case of the chief constable.
Can the First Minister explain why the justice secretary told Parliament that the law prevented his intervening in disciplinary matters when, just weeks before, he had privately done just that?
The justice secretary did not intervene in a disciplinary matter; he asked legitimate questions of the SPA to determine whether it had carried out its functions appropriately. Let me be clear not just that it is fine by me that my justice secretary asks legitimate questions but that I expect that of my justice secretary. I expect my justice secretary to do the job that he was appointed to do.
I have no doubt that, if, on the day after that meeting, the chief constable had turned up at work and it had turned out that the PIRC and the senior command had not been consulted and that no steps had been taken to protect the welfare of police officers, the first questions that Ruth Davidson and other Opposition MSPs would have asked are: “What did the justice secretary do? What questions did the justice secretary ask?” Had it turned out that the justice secretary had simply folded his arms and not bothered to ask any questions about whether the SPA had carried out its functions appropriately, Ruth Davidson would probably now be asking me whether I still had confidence in my justice secretary.
The hypocrisy of the Tories on the matter is breathtaking. The justice secretary did his job properly on behalf of the people of Scotland.
The public has a right to see the decisions that the Government takes—they must not be taken behind closed doors and in secret. It seems that the rules governing our police service are whatever the SNP decides it wants them to be. We have ministers intervening in private while telling Parliament that they cannot, and we have promises to be transparent while meetings are taking place without any record being made of what is going on. It is the SNP’s secret Scotland and it stinks.
We have to act. It is clear that the legal framework does not ensure proper accountability. We say that it is time to amend the law so that this Parliament, not the Government, has more power over our national police force. The First Minister knows that she will find support for such changes from across the chamber. It is her chance to show that she is listening for once. Is she listening?
The public know what happened, because the justice secretary came to Parliament last week and answered questions. There is a distinction between the operational independence of the police and disciplinary and other matters of the Scottish Police Authority. The justice secretary did not intervene in matters in which he should not have intervened. It is the justice secretary’s job to ensure that the Scottish Police Authority, as a public body, is carrying out its duties appropriately, and that is exactly what the justice secretary did.
I am not sure what Ruth Davidson is arguing for. I am not sure whether she is arguing that the chief constable should have been allowed to come back to work without any of the appropriate questions having been asked. The justice secretary is accountable to Parliament and has made a statement in Parliament. The relevant committee is also looking into the matter and will, no doubt, ask further questions. The justice secretary acted appropriately and will continue to do so.
I cannot help but think that what we are getting here from Ruth Davidson—this week of all weeks—is a deflection. This is the week in which we have seen her party fail abysmally to stand up for Scotland on important matters related to Brexit and in which we have found out that the Scottish Tories do not have a backbone between them—they are nothing more than lobby fodder.
One of the foremost reasons for growing pressure on the national health service is a growing crisis in care provision. The sector is on the brink of collapse. Demand for high-quality care homes for our elderly is rising and Scotland needs at least 1,200 more care home places a year to meet it. Can the First Minister tell us how she plans to do that?
First, although I recognise the challenges in social care, I do not agree with Richard Leonard that the sector is on the verge of collapse. I think that that does a disservice to those who work in it.
In the current financial year, almost half a billion pounds of front-line NHS spending will have been invested in social care services and the integration of health and social care. That will continue to support the delivery of, amongst other things, the living wage for adult care workers and increase payments for free personal and nursing care. In the next financial year, we will give an additional £66 million to local government to bring into force the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and maintain payment of the living wage. Over the past three years, funding through the national care home contract has increased by more than 13 per cent, which helps independent care providers to invest in their staff and the quality of their service and to make a return on their business.
There are some care homes—those run by Bield Housing & Care, for example—that are in difficulty right now, and our priority is to ensure continuity of care for those residents with no compromise whatever in the quality of their care. In fact, Scottish Government officials will be meeting Bield today, I think, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will meet the company later this month. We will do everything we can to protect the interests of residents in such very regrettable situations.
I am glad that the First Minister has mentioned Bield care homes. Last Saturday, Labour MSPs attended a save our Bield campaign group meeting in Glasgow and heard first hand from families, telling of the stress that their frail, elderly relatives are under, because they are about to be evicted from their specialist care homes. These are people in their 70s and 80s who are being evicted—some are even in their 90s. One woman, Nancy Sutherland, is 94; she has been a Bield tenant for 23 years and, along with 166 other elderly people, she is about to lose her home. Mrs Sutherland has dementia, so every day she relives the trauma; every day, she asks her daughter where she will be moving to; and every day, her anxiety levels rise. They rise, because her daughter has no answer. Does the First Minister?
I appreciate that Richard Leonard has raised this issue; it is important in general, but it is particularly important for the residents of Bield care homes. It is exactly because we recognise how unsettling—indeed, how traumatic—this decision has been and will be for residents, families and employees that the Scottish Government will continue to work to do everything we can to guarantee continuity of care for Bield residents and ensure that there is no compromise whatever in the quality of their care. Since being alerted to Bield’s decision, we have engaged with the company, the Care Inspectorate and the chief officers of integration authorities to ensure that plans are being put in place for residents. As I said in my previous answer, officials are meeting Bield today and the cabinet secretary will personally meet the company later this month to discuss the progress of that work.
The national contingency planning group, which includes the Government, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Care Inspectorate, integration authorities, trade unions and providers, is also engaged on this issue. In particular, the group considers how national and local partners are managing the impact of such decisions in respect of residents, their families and, of course, the workforce. This is a vital issue, which is why the Scottish Government has been and will continue to be engaged in making sure that the interests of residents are protected.
I thank the First Minister for the tone of that answer. I remind her that she told the chamber last March that she was
“absolutely committed ... to protect the most vulnerable people and ensure that supported accommodation is put on a sustainable and secure financial footing.”—[Official Report, 2 March 2017; c 24.]
I am bound to ask the First Minister where that protection and commitment to those most vulnerable people are now. Scottish Care’s chief executive, Dr Donald Macaskill, has warned her Government that the care home sector is in a fragile position. He has said that the Bield situation should
“act as a wake-up call”
to properly fund care in Scotland, yet we know that, instead, it faces cuts. Week after week, my party makes the case against those cuts—the First Minister’s cuts—which affect people such as Mrs Sutherland and too many others like her. The First Minister’s care policies are failing. Surely she must see that the time has come for her Government to stop the cuts to lifeline services, or will she continue to fail people like Mrs Sutherland?
I am not sure whether Richard Leonard listened to the first answer that I gave him, in which I pointed out that, over the past three years, funding for the national care home contract has actually increased by more than 13 per cent. That is a recognition that the Government understands the challenges that the care home sector faces. We are working with care organisations, including with Scottish Care, to address those challenges, and we will continue to do so. I have already addressed the issue around Bield care homes, but as well as the care home sector we are seeing an extension of care delivered at home. The hours of home care delivered in Scotland have increased in the past year by 11 per cent, so across all those different aspects of care we are taking action to ensure that the interests of our older people are protected, and that will become increasingly important because of the ageing nature of our population.
I am not particularly keen to get into a political to and fro over an issue that is important to the interests of so many older people, but Richard Leonard has mentioned the budget. We are putting forward a budget that is about protecting public services, investing an additional £400 million in our national health service, and giving a fair deal to local authorities. Yesterday, we agreed with the Green amendment to the motion that said that we are open to amendments from other parties ahead of the next stage of the budget. It was regrettable that, on a motion that talked about protecting public services and giving a fair wage increase to public sector workers, instead of voting with the SNP and the Greens, Labour actually voted with the Tories against those things. It is utterly inexplicable.
If Richard Leonard wants to engage properly in the remainder of the budget process—assuming that he can get a tax policy together before then—I will welcome that, and we can have constructive discussions about how to ensure that we continue to deliver on the very important issues that he has raised today.
There are some constituency questions, the first of which is from Kenneth Gibson.
Food Train (North Ayrshire)
The First Minister will be aware that North Ayrshire health and social care partnership has decided to cease its £75,000 a year grant to the Food Train from 31 March, and that 172 vulnerable, elderly people, 43 per cent of whom are 85 or older, will be denied a vital service that allows them to stay in their own homes rather than, in some instances, being taken into care at a cost of £26,869 per person per year. Housebound constituents have told me that the volunteer who delivers their food is often the only person they speak to each week. Does the First Minister agree that the decision to cease funding the Food Train in North Ayrshire is a penny-wise-pound-foolish decision that should be urgently reconsidered and reversed?
The Food Train does a lot of good work. The Scottish Government has provided funding in previous years to pilot the Food Train, which has been expanded to a number of local authority areas. Responsibility for the commissioning and delivery of services lies with the North Ayrshire health and social care partnership, but I will ask the Minister for Public Health and Sport to examine the situation further. I am sure that we all want to recognise the important contribution made by the volunteers who have been delivering the Food Train service so successfully in North Ayrshire.
Policing and Mental Health Demands
Last week, Chief Superintendent Paul Anderson said that mental health demands are the greatest challenge facing his officers in the city of Dundee. Does the First Minister agree with me that the time has now come for a mental health accident and emergency facility, open seven days a week—including over the weekend—with access to specialist nurses, doctors and counsellors, to open in Dundee and in other places across Scotland that desperately need such facilities?
Broadly speaking, yes, I do agree. Indeed, one of the factors behind the future strategy for policing in Scotland is about the changing nature of demand. Certainly, when I speak to senior police officers, they often talk about the mental health issue and the additional demands that it is putting on the police. It is also why, last year, I announced, through our mental health strategy, additional funding to have mental health workers in places such as police stations and prisons, as I recognise that there is often a need for mental health support across a range of different settings.
These are issues that are being looked at through our mental health strategy and they are issues that I hope will attract cross-party support from right across the chamber.
This week, the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser brought to my attention the heartbreaking case of 17-year-old Kyle Laird from Coatbridge, whose mother unexpectedly passed away over the festive season. Kyle’s mother was a lone parent and he is now financially responsible for himself and his family home. Kyle is actively seeking work but is struggling to make ends meet due to gaps in the benefits system. What support can the Scottish Government give to Kyle and to other young people who have no parental support—and qualify for only limited support through the benefits system—to remain in their own homes?
First, I am sure that we all want to convey our condolences to Kyle on the passing of his mother and the dreadful, heartbreaking situation that he now finds himself in.
I do not know all the details of Kyle’s circumstances; I would be happy to ask the social security minister and indeed the economy minister to speak to the member to see whether there is any support that the Scottish Government could provide or point Kyle to.
Everybody knows my concerns about the operation of the benefits system; I visited Start Up Stirling yesterday, which is a fantastic organisation that is doing a great amount of work, principally around food support for people who have fallen victim of the benefits system. I spoke to two individuals in particular who told me about the problems that universal credit, in their case, had created for them.
The benefits system—the welfare system—in any country should be a safety net. It should be there to support people and help people in times of need, not push them further into poverty. Unfortunately, all too often, it is doing the latter rather than the former. Perhaps the case that has just been raised is an example of that. I would be very happy to have ministers look into Kyle’s particular situation and I am sure that we all wish him the very best.
Save Our Bield Campaign
On Saturday, I had the privilege of taking up the invitation—which I think was extended to all members of the Scottish Parliament—to attend a save our Bield campaign meeting, to hear directly the consequences of the decision by Bield to revise its business model. It is a revision which, in effect, has led to the planned eviction of elderly residents from their homes and the potential loss of 300 jobs from a workforce that does its best for these residents. If those 300 jobs were all located in one place, perhaps there would have been more effective action already.
I hear what the First Minister said about all the meetings that have taken place, but will she direct her cabinet secretary for health to meet the save our Bield campaign and union representatives as a matter of urgency, to identify how the Scottish Government will protect the rights of older people to be treated with proper respect and ensure that the staff, who face huge uncertainty in relation to their jobs, can be told what the Scottish Government will do to support them at this very difficult time?
The health secretary will be happy to meet any interested parties, given the seriousness of the situation. I will not repeat everything that I said in response to Richard Leonard. However, when I was health secretary, I dealt with a similar situation—the collapse of a care home company—and I know how difficult that was for the residents involved and how difficult it was for all the partners to come together to find solutions.
The Scottish Government will continue to work with anybody and everybody to find the solutions that are in the interests of residents and we will be happy to meet others who want to achieve the same outcome.
Impact of Short-term Letting
I am sure that the First Minister is aware of some of the work that my colleague Andy Wightman has done with his homes first campaign, drawing awareness to the impact of the incredible rise in short-term letting. It is an impact that is being felt in Edinburgh as well as around the country. It is damaging to communities. It raises the cost of properties that are let as permanent homes for people to live in. There are examples close to the Parliament of entire stairwells that have been turned over to short-term lets, save for a single lone resident, which has a terribly damaging impact on people’s mental health.
The changes announced today by one major platform, Airbnb, will not undermine the business model of those who want to convert entire properties to short-term lets. Does the First Minister accept that there is a huge difference between what is generally called the collaborative economy, whereby people put a spare room in their home up for short-term let, and the conversion of entire properties to what are effectively mini-hotels, which operate without paying any business taxes and distort the housing market in the way that I described?
There are a range of important issues to consider, which Patrick Harvie is right to raise. I certainly understand the pressure in some parts of the country, although not all parts, for new controls over short-term letting of residential properties. We will certainly consider any appropriate changes in the period ahead.
Patrick Harvie mentioned the collaborative economy. I know that he will be aware that there is currently an expert advisory panel on the collaborative economy, which has been gathering a wide evidence base on a range of topics, including short-term lets. The chair of the panel, Helen Goulden of the Young Foundation, met the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work earlier this week. We understand that the panel’s full report is due to be published shortly and we will certainly consider its recommendations and then make a decision on what action it is appropriate to take.
I am certainly aware that the report on the collaborative economy is due soon and we will all take an interest in it because there are many opportunities in that economy. However, I repeat that there is a huge difference between the collaborative economy and the exploitative housing economy that we are beginning to see. Airbnb itself is a member of the Government’s expert group on the collaborative economy, so we should not look to it for solutions to that particular problem.
The impact on the housing market is our responsibility as a Parliament and the First Minister’s responsibility on behalf of the Government. We can resolve those issues only by giving councils the power to regulate. That could be done relatively simply. The Government can allow councils to use planning use class orders to make it clear that there is a distinction between a home being a home and a home being converted into a mini-hotel using continual short-term lets.
Does the First Minister agree that there is an important distinction between the collaborative economy and the exploitative economy? Does she agree that councils should have the option—which no council would have to use if it did not think that there was a problem—to use the mechanism that I described to control the growth of short-term lets and ensure that the housing market operates for homes first?
I make a point of clarification. Patrick Harvie said that Airbnb is on the expert panel. I understand that that is true, but it is important to point out for balance that so is the Scottish Trades Union Congress. We should be interested in the recommendations that the panel brings forward.
I recognise the distinction that Patrick Harvie makes—indeed, I think that I did so in my earlier comments. I think that everybody would recognise that distinction. It is important to point out that it is for the planning authority, which in Edinburgh would be the City of Edinburgh Council, to consider the evidence on a case-by-case basis on whether the principal use of a property had changed from residential to business. I know that some argue that new powers are required. I am not ruling that out.
The expert panel is meeting right now. I readily acknowledge that it is taking evidence on a range of issues, but it is looking at the issue of short-term lets. Given that its report is due to be published shortly, it makes sense to wait for that, consider the evidence and recommendations that it brings forward and then decide what changes might be appropriate and bring them forward at that time. We will continue to look carefully at this matter and we will continue to listen to ideas from across the chamber and from a wider perspective.
We have some additional supplementaries. The first is from Ivan McKee.
Scottish Conservatives (Devolved Powers)
After last year’s general election, we heard great boasts from Ruth Davidson that her troop of Scottish Tory MPs would fight for Scotland’s interests and more powers for Holyrood. Does the First Minister think that we have seen much evidence of that this week?
No. As I said earlier, we are still trying to locate a backbone among the group of Scottish Tory MPs.
Presiding Officer, this is a very serious issue. We know, from the report that the Finance and Constitution Committee published that, across this chamber, members of the Scottish Parliament of all parties think that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, in its current form, represents a power grab on this Parliament. Yet, when the Labour Party lodged an amendment in the House of Commons this week to help to rectify that, instead of supporting it, the Scottish Tory group voted with the Government and against the interests of Scotland. In fact—perhaps with the exception of one measly abstention somewhere along the line—there has not been a single occasion on which any of the Scottish Tory MPs has voted in the interests of Scotland and against the Westminster Government.
On what is perhaps a more consensual note, I congratulate Sorcha Cantwell, who is in the public gallery today, who has been recognised by Keep Scotland Beautiful as a clean up Scotland hero for the time that she has dedicated to cleaning up plastic pollution on our beaches. Will the First Minister explain how the Scottish Government can best encourage and support such individual, community and sectoral initiatives—for example, by supplying equipment—to help us all to tackle this global problem?
I thank Claudia Beamish for raising that. I, too, take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Sorcha Cantwell, which serves as a reminder that we all have a responsibility to do more to tackle the throwaway culture and the issue of plastics, particularly in our seas. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform has just met Ms Cantwell to discuss the work that she has been doing.
As I said last week, the Scottish Government has been leading the way in taking action for some time now. We have already introduced a more comprehensive carrier bag charge and we will develop a deposit return scheme for Scotland. Last week, Roseanna Cunningham announced plans to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic cotton buds, and we will become the first country in the United Kingdom to do so. We are also currently considering how to tackle the issues of plastic straws and disposable coffee cups.
I know that there is a need to go even further. On Tuesday, the Cabinet discussed how we can continue to make sure that Scotland is a leader in tackling the issue, which is such a blight on our environment.
Scotch Whisky (Post-Brexit Customs Arrangements)
To ask the First Minister what discussions the Scottish Government has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding concerns expressed by the Scotch whisky industry regarding the possible consequences of Brexit for customs arrangements. (S5F-01929)
The Scottish Government is in regular dialogue with the Scotch whisky industry. We are aware of its concerns regarding the introduction of a new computer system by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for collecting duties and taxes for goods entering and leaving the UK. The industry believes that leaving the European Union will increase transactions fivefold. That is an extra burden on industry that is completely unnecessary. It is also one of the many reasons for our arguing that leaving the EU will significantly weaken our economy when compared with continued membership of the EU, and that the least damaging option is to remain in the single market. I hope that members from right across the chamber support that.
I am sure that the First Minister will be aware that 90 per cent of Scotch whisky is exported and that a third of such exports go to the EU, representing 10 per cent of all Scottish exports. Is the First Minister aware that, with the UK Government rushing headlong into a hard Brexit, the Scotch whisky industry is expressing increasing concern about the potential for confusion and chaos at customs posts, given that the industry needs plenty of notice of new arrangements, a smooth process and to avoid congestion and delay in getting its goods to market?
With the clock now ticking, will the First Minister continue to apply maximum pressure on the UK Government to recognise the importance of the Scotch whisky industry and Scottish food and drink generally? Similar concerns about the impact of Brexit have been expressed by Rotterdam port. Does she agree that that is a perfect example of why the Conservative Party’s political dogma and determination to leave the single market and customs union—[Interruption.]
Okay, Mr Lochhead. We get the point.
—are detrimental to Scotland’s national interests?
I cannot believe that the Tories were groaning and moaning through a question about one of our most important industries. That speaks volumes.
As Richard Lochhead said, the whisky industry contributes hugely to Scottish exports. Its concerns provide a case study in the self-destructive futility of leaving the single market. It is not just the whisky industry that has such concerns; the food sector resilience group, which is chaired by the Scottish Government and brings together associations across the food and drink supply chain, as well as other public sector bodies, is meeting as we speak. It will discuss the impact of customs issues and the possible disruption at ports in England, which could have a really damaging effect on all of Scotland’s exporters. Those are the kind of concerns that drive our analysis that Brexit could hit our gross domestic product to the tune of up to £2,300 for every person in Scotland.
I do not want us to leave the EU at all, but if the UK Government is intent on that, we must stay within the single market. I remember when, not long after the EU referendum, Ruth Davidson challenged me in this chamber to make sure that we protected our place in the single market. Now she just meekly does as she is told. We will continue to stand up for Scotland’s interests.
Inshore Fishing Industry (Support)
To ask the First Minister what support the Scottish Government is providing to the inshore fishing industry. (S5F-01941)
The Scottish Government recognises the importance of fishing to many of our coastal communities. Through our inshore fisheries strategy, we are working with fishing businesses and organisations around Scotland to deliver a more sustainable, profitable and well-managed inshore sector. Our work includes conservation measures for important inshore species, the provision of support for inshore fisheries groups and a £1.5 million programme of investment to improve data collection from our inshore fishing fleet.
The First Minister is aware of the great importance of the role that the scallop fishing industry plays in the economy of the south-west of Scotland. I believe that she was scheduled to discuss issues regarding the 2012 fisheries management agreement with the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man this morning, and I sincerely hope that those discussions were successful.
I raised concerns about the potential introduction by the Isle of Man of conservation measures that were more about protectionism than conservation back in August 2017 in a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing. Why did it take until late December for the cabinet secretary to take any meaningful action on the concerns of the scallop fleet? Why has it taken the intervention of the First Minister to sort out the mess, which is partly due to the late intervention of Fergus Ewing? Will she apologise on behalf of her cabinet secretary for the unnecessary inconvenience and deep concern that have been caused to the Scottish scallop fleet and associated businesses?
I will deal with Finlay Carson’s comments about the Scottish Government by putting on record some of the comments of those who work in the sector. The chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association has talked about the
“Great support for our Scallop fishermen from the Scottish Government”;
and West Coast Sea Products, which is a Kirkcudbright-based processor and owner of vessels, has said that it welcomes the action that is being taken by the Scottish Government to invoke the dispute resolution process. The Scottish Government has been acting on behalf of our scallop fishermen.
As Finlay Carson said, I spoke to the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man this morning. I made very clear our opposition to the restrictions that the Isle of Man has put in place and our strong view—which I accept that the Isle of Man disagrees with—that those restrictions breach the fisheries management agreement that is in place. I also said that we would use the dispute resolution mechanism in the event that a resolution is not found.
I am glad to say that this morning’s discussion with the Chief Minister was very constructive and positive. The Isle of Man will review its position, and I am very hopeful that we will reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the issue within the next week. Hopefully, we will reach a position that is in the interests of our scallop fishermen. If we do, that will be partly because of the action that Fergus Ewing has been taking.
Get It Minuted Campaign
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland’s campaign, get it minuted. (S5F-01925)
The Scottish Government is fully committed to openness and transparency. I agree with the campaign’s view on the importance of ensuring that appropriate records of business are taken. When meetings involving ministers meet the criteria that are set out in the civil service guidance, appropriate records are routinely taken.
In my hand, I have a list compiled by STV journalist Aidan Kerr of 40 unminuted ministerial meetings and counting. The widespread practice of failure to record must end, so I commend the get it minuted campaign, which is simply asking that agendas, notes and minutes of Scottish Government meetings are held.
When asked earlier about the unminuted meeting with the former chair of the Scottish Police Authority, the First Minister told Parliament that she is fine with the way in which the justice secretary is conducting Government business.
Sticking with justice, the First Minister’s official Paul Johnston met the chief constable on 30 November. Was that meeting also unminuted? If so, does the First Minister accept that such practice is not only a bad look but simply wrong? Will she make a commitment today that from now on all important Government meetings will be minuted?
I will make a commitment that we will continue to ensure that the guidance for civil servants about keeping minutes is complied with. I believe that that guidance is publicly available for any member to look at.
This Government has done more to put more information into the public domain than any previous Administration. For example, under previous Administrations, it was not the practice to proactively publish details of meetings and travel. We now do that. We will continue to ensure that the guidance is complied with and of course that ministers are properly accountable to this Parliament.
It was suggested earlier that no minutes were taken when the justice secretary met the SPA to discuss the chief constable because it was just a mere “chat”. However, we checked meeting room bookings, which show that to have that “chat”, the justice secretary went to the trouble of booking an eight-person meeting room for two hours.
Will the First Minister tell us—[Interruption.]
Let us hear the question, please.
Is it general Government policy not—[Interruption.]
Let us hear the question, please.
Is it general Government policy not to minute eight-person two-hour meetings on the fate of senior public servants, or would a minister have to specifically request that no minutes are taken?
I was not at the meeting, but I am hearing from the justice secretary that the meeting that we are talking about took place in his office, so I am not entirely sure what on earth Liam Kerr is talking about. If Liam Kerr wants to come back to the chamber at some point and ask a coherent question that I can understand, I will do my best to answer it.
Early Learning and Childcare Workforce
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government will take to increase, and improve diversity in, the early learning and childcare workforce. (S5F-01939)
Ensuring that we have a high-quality workforce is key to our plans to almost double funded nursery education, and that of course includes improving diversity. Phase 1 of our recruitment campaign was launched in October last year. The campaign encourages people from all backgrounds, abilities, age ranges and genders to consider a career in early learning and childcare. We are also increasing the number of early years modern apprenticeships by 10 per cent year on year, and we are raising the amount paid to employers and businesses to support apprentices aged over 25 to help to widen the age profile of the workforce.
This week, the First Minister’s own skills agency said that the work that is going on in recruitment is not enough and that a more diverse workforce is needed. Does she therefore accept that nursery and childcare take-up by two-year-olds is way below expectations and that many organisations doubt that the Scottish Government can meet its recruitment target? Is recruitment of the 11,000 new staff that is needed to deliver the expansion of childcare on track?
The policy is on track. I am not sure whether Tavish Scott is perhaps mixing up two equally important issues. The issue of take-up by two-year-olds is important. We see very high take-up by three and four-year-olds and we want take-up by two-year-olds to increase. That is important, and is slightly separate from the broader issue of recruitment of additional workers into the workforce to support the expansion of provision that I have spoken about. I have set out the Government’s ambition to attract 11,000 new workers into the workforce to support that.
Tavish Scott is absolutely right to say that, in addition to that overall number, we want greater diversity. One of the things that I talk about often is the need to get more women into careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is equally important to encourage more men into childcare professions. Those are really important matters, and as part of our overall ambitions to grow the workforce, that need for greater diversity is central to all that we do.
That leads nicely on to my question. Childcare and early years education have traditionally been seen as a female industry, with women accounting for 97 per cent of the workforce. That suggests that we could do more to encourage men to see a career in the area as the important and rewarding career that it is. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to change perceptions of careers in childcare and early years?
That is a responsibility for the Government and for all of us. We made those points when I launched the Scottish Government’s drive to recruit thousands more people to support our expansion. The recruitment campaign focuses on the need for greater diversity as well as the need to grow the numbers. The underrepresentation of men in such careers is a long-standing and intergenerational issue. It is important that we take the time to explain why the career is a worthwhile one for men to pursue and why it is important to the development of our children that men as well as women provide that care. That is all part of tackling the occupational segregation that, in most professions, affects women but that in this one is a particular issue for men. I hope that we all do as much as we can to encourage young men to see a career in childcare and early years education as a very worthy and worthwhile option.