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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 18, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 18 June 2020

Agenda: Covid-19: Next Steps, Portfolio Question Time, Decision Time


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Constitution, Europe and External Affairs

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

I call members back together for the commencement of business.

The next item of business is portfolio questions, starting with questions on the constitution, Europe and external affairs. I remind members that questions 1 and 5 are grouped together.

If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, I ask them to press their request-to-speak button if they are in the chamber or, if they are participating remotely, to enter the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question.

We have some quite detailed questions, so I ask members to try to be succinct.


Brexit Negotiations

1. Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its analysis of the Brexit negotiations. (S5O-04412)

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs (Michael Russell)

As the member is aware, this morning I appeared before the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, at which she was present. I depressed committee members then and I do not want to depress her yet again with the same answer. However, the fourth round of negotiations has ended with no discernible progress: the same intractable disagreements remain, and there was no political movement on them.

There was a discussion between the Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen on Monday, and although there was an indication that both sides wish to intensify discussion, there was no indication of clarity around how a decision should be reached. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom Government has decided not to seek an extension of the transition period, which will be deeply damaging to Scotland.

Annabelle Ewing

I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer. The news remains as depressing as it was this morning. To Scotland’s extreme misfortune, we are stuck with an extraordinarily reckless UK Tory Prime Minister whom we did not vote for and who is thirled to an ideological political obsession that we do not subscribe to and which will cause untold damage to our economy, jobs and, indeed, our way of life.

My constituents in Cowdenbeath did not vote to become poorer. Surely there must be a better path for Scotland.

Michael Russell

There is, indeed, a better path for Scotland, and that is—as the member is well aware—the path of independence. [Interruption.] Of course, the moment that I mention that, there is baying from those on the Tory and Labour benches. [Interruption.] Sorry—there is only one person on the Labour benches, and I would never accuse Sarah Boyack of baying at anybody; the noise from the Tories must have echoed around the chamber.

I make it absolutely clear that anybody who believes that there is still validity in remaining with the present UK Government has a very considerable job of persuasion to do—indeed, were they able to do that, they would be able to sell London bridge to anybody, anywhere in the world.

The reality of the current situation is this: if a Government refuses to accept, as the UK Government does, the mandate of the Scottish people, and if Scottish politicians—we are talking about MSPs—refuse to accept the mandate of the Scottish people, the only conclusion that we can come to is to ask, “What are those politicians doing here?”


Brexit Negotiations

5. Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on Brexit negotiations. (S5O-04416)

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs (Michael Russell)

I can provide this update: there is only a single Tory left in the chamber—maybe they are creeping away.

Beatrice Wishart was present at the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee this morning and will be aware that my view is that the negotiations are stuck, that there is no political will from the United Kingdom Government to deliver anything but no deal or a low deal, and that, were we to allow that to happen, there would be severe and lasting damage to Scotland.

Beatrice Wishart

When no deal became a possibility last year, businesses were asked to prepare. They were told to do what they could to mitigate the impacts in case it became a reality. Should businesses be making no-deal preparations now and, if so, will they be supported by the Scottish Government to do so?

Michael Russell

Beatrice Wishart raises a very important point. I indicated two weeks ago in a statement in the chamber that the Scottish Government is reluctantly but necessarily having to restart its no-deal preparations. It is doing so at the same time as we are faced with the Covid crisis, which is the worst crisis that any of us has lived through. According to the front page of, I think, the Financial Times, the recession will potentially be the worst since the frost fair of 1709, an event at which neither I nor Beatrice Wishart was present.

In all the circumstances, we are asking people to do something that will be incredibly difficult. Businesspeople who are trying to save their own business and save the economy are being penalised by the addition of a type of Brexit that will be immensely damaging. I can no longer take seriously any Conservative who says that they are interested in business when they could, at the stroke of a pen, take that threat away for the next two years. They could still do that until the end of the month.

We have to prepare, and we will have to talk to businesses about how they prepare. Before the First Minister’s statement today, I was involved in a telephone discussion with people involved in the food industry, and everybody now realises that preparation will have to take place. They are looking at that with dread, because they are also facing the Covid disaster. We need to recognise that and try to help as much as we can within our own resources, which are not infinite.

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

I am pleased to still be here and to be standing up for the 1 million-plus people in Scotland who voted for Brexit.

Will the cabinet secretary admit—honestly, for once—that he has been keen to sabotage Brexit negotiations since the beginning and that, rather than getting behind the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost as both sides ramp up negotiations to deliver a good deal, the truth is that he simply does not want Brexit to happen?

Michael Russell

It is not a blinding revelation that I do not want Brexit to happen; I would have thought that that was immensely obvious. I am talking about the reality, in which the type of discussion that we have had with the UK is about trying to find a way in which the circle can be squared.

I do not believe that many people in Scotland would vote for the type of Brexit that is now emerging, not just as a preference of the UK Government, but as a decision of the UK Government, which is either a no deal or a low deal. Hardly anybody would vote for that. I am sure that the constituents of Mr Mundell who voted for Brexit—and some did, although they were not in the majority, just as an overwhelming majority of 72 per cent of people in Scotland voted against Brexit—[Interruption.] I hear that 17,000 people voted for it—apparently Mr Mundell knows each of them. He should go and ask—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Excuse me, Mr Russell. Mr Mundell, please do not sit there and yell across the chamber at Mr Russell. It is discourteous to me and to those at home who are trying to hear what is going on. If Mr Mundell wants to have that argument, he can have it afterwards. I am sure that Mr Russell would oblige.

Michael Russell

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I shall look forward to you managing me in future bouts.

The reality of the situation, which Mr Mundell needs to recognise, is that not all 17,000 people voted for the same type of Brexit. For example, many of them perhaps voted for the assurances that the current Prime Minister gave, before he was Prime Minister, that we would stay in the single market and the customs union. However, the reality is that Scotland voted against Brexit by a vast majority and it is being dragged out of Europe against its will.

I repeat the line that I used in the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee this morning. It is not good enough for Mr Mundell to behave like Citizen Smith and to say to his constituents: “Good news, comrades—the butter ration has been cut.” However, that is what he is doing.


Covid-19 (Co-operation with Europe)

2. Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on co-operation with Europe in relation to tackling Covid-19. (S5O-04413)

The Minister for Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

The Government believes that working closely with our European partners is key in fighting Covid-19, as the disease knows no borders. Indeed, collaboration with international partners to draw on wider international expertise is a key element that we have sought to include in our “Framework for Decision Making: Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis”.

My colleagues and I have been following the measures that the European Union has adopted in response to the pandemic with great interest in relation to both the immediate emergency response and the longer-term road to recovery. We are actively engaging with the United Kingdom Government in relation to Westminster’s decisions on engagement with the EU to ensure that our voice is heard.

Neil Bibby

As the minister said, no nation will beat coronavirus alone. The pandemic is global and we must confront it in co-operation and solidarity with our neighbours and the international community. To that end, will the minister outline whether the authorities in Scotland are co-operating with the other nations in the UK and with nations in Europe and around the world in a global drive—[Inaudible.] Will she also outline what steps are being taken to ensure that we have stockpiles of medicines and pharmaceuticals, given the concurrent threat of Brexit to the security of our supplies?

Jenny Gilruth

Neil Bibby is absolutely right to say that international co-operation has never been more important. We are liaising with UK Government officials in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department of Health and Social Care on all aspects of vaccine development, including the work of the Covid-19 vaccine task force and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. Given the range of trials that are under way, engagement at the EU and global levels will be key in supporting any Covid-19 vaccination programme in Scotland. We therefore welcomed the launch of the EU strategy for Covid-19 vaccines last Friday and the confirmation that the UK is eligible to participate.

The Scottish Government remains of the view that it is reckless of the UK Government to impose any additional damage on Scotland’s economy at this time through its refusal to seek an extension to the transition period.

We are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and the other devolved Governments to plan for the end of the transition period, which includes doing all that we can to ensure that we still have access to medicines in the event of border disruption. Those plans include contracts with pharmaceutical companies and suppliers and the stockpiling of medicines, which we know will be more challenging given the current circumstances and the impact of Covid-19.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Let me say a wee word. The questions and answers are rather long. We will not get through all the questions if we keep that up.


Slavery (Scotland’s Historical Role)

3. Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the issues raised by the global Black Lives Matter protests, what steps it is taking to acknowledge and counter Scotland’s historical role in slavery and promote the contribution that can be made through its international development work with Commonwealth countries. (S5O-04414)

The Minister for Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

During last week’s Parliamentary debate on anti-racism, the Scottish Government and the entire chamber were united in their solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Although we are rightly and resolutely focused on improving the lives of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in Scotland, it is clear that the roots of the entrenched structural racism in our country can be traced to the abhorrent practice of slavery. As a country, we must acknowledge Scotland’s role in the legacy of slavery, upon which many of our cities are built, and the motion for that debate included a commitment to establish a museum to address Scotland’s historical links to the slave trade.

In terms of international development, we place great importance on Scotland being a good global citizen, which means playing our part in tackling global challenges, including injustice and inequality. We embed human rights and promote a focus on equality across all our development activity.

Sarah Boyack

I welcome those actions. Minister, at last week’s meeting of the cross-party group on international development, a key issue was the negative impact of the pandemic on charities, which do fantastic work in developing countries.

Given our historical role in slavery and the British empire, which saw the large-scale extraction of wealth from across the world, what will the Scottish Government do to promote and support the work of Scottish charities with Commonwealth countries to eradicate the inequalities that still exist, whether it is a lack of clean water or long-term inequalities that need to be addressed?

Jenny Gilruth

Covid-19 has thrown up a number of challenges for all charities, not least in the sector of international development, as the member rightly says. I have proactively met—remotely—some of our key stakeholders in Rwanda and Zambia and I will shortly meet those based in Malawi. Those conversations have been helpful in establishing how Covid-19 is impacting people on the ground. All our projects are also undertaking their own impact assessments in relation to Covid-19.

We fund local charities through our £10 million-a-year international development fund, through the climate justice fund and through the humanitarian emergency fund. We will also provide core funding to networking organisations to support the international development sector. On that point, I was grateful to meet Scotland’s International Development Alliance last week to discuss some of the challenges that the sector faces in light of Covid-19. We will continue to work with those charities in the fight against Covid-19, which is of particular importance in the field of international development.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We have a short supplementary from Stuart McMillan—followed by a short answer, please.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

Scotland’s role in slavery and human rights needs a full debate. This week, I suggested basing a national museum for human rights in Greenock due to our many historical links to slavery. Is that something that the minister and the Scottish Government would consider?

Jenny Gilruth

As he is Greenock’s constituency MSP, I understand Stuart McMillan’s interest in this matter and in his local area’s history in relation to Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade. No decision has yet been taken regarding the location of a national museum for human rights, although he will be aware that that was agreed to in last week’s debate, as I said earlier.

The Scottish Government is engaging with Glasgow university to do work in this area as part of a wider conversation about how we properly acknowledge Scotland’s role in the slave trade. I will ask officials to keep Stuart McMillan apprised of progress in this area, given his constituency interest.


Veterans (Covid-19 Support)

4. Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support vulnerable veterans during the Covid-19 outbreak. (S5O-04415)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all armed forces personnel, veterans and their families living in Scotland are able to access the best possible care and support.

At a time of such uncertainty for so many, we are taking a number of actions; for example, we are disseminating advice to third sector organisations that provide direct support to veterans; we are working closely with Veterans Scotland to ensure that it has up-to-date information on the latest advice and guidance on the Covid-19 outbreak; and we are supporting Veterans First Point, which has been proactively working to support veterans through its services during this unprecedented time.

Jeremy Balfour

I want to focus on young army veterans who will be looking for employment outwith the armed forces. As the minister is aware, many of them struggle the most to get into employment and the employment scheme is there to help them. Can the minister set out how many ex-armed forces personnel have been supported through the community jobs Scotland programme and how the Scottish Government intends to use the programme to get young veterans back into work?

Graeme Dey

Mr Balfour highlights an extremely important issue, namely early service leavers and their routes into employment. Alongside supporting the spouses of serving personnel, this is becoming a particular area of focus for the Scottish Government. There have been a total of 37 declared ex-armed forces young people on the community jobs Scotland programme since phase 5, when they were added to the eligible groups, but more early service leavers will be supported as a result of meeting other eligibility criteria without having declared their service history.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, discussions continue between Scottish Government officials and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations about the best interventions to support individuals on the CJS programme. However, in addition to the support that we offer through that, Skills Development Scotland has undertaken a range of actions to support individuals whose education, job or future choices have been affected.

I would add one small point. An immediate pathway into employment will not best serve all early service leavers. For some, moving into education as a means to enhance future employment prospects might benefit them more. Therefore, the Scottish Government also looks to offer a range of options to early service leavers in that regard.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I want to get through the last three questions, so I ask members please to be concise.


New Trade Agreements

6. Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what engagement and discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government in relation to the forming of new trade agreements. (S5O-04417)

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs (Michael Russell)

My colleague Ivan McKee has had extensive discussions, but, despite his and the Scottish Government’s best efforts, the approach of the UK Government means that the quality and scope of that engagement remains below what is required to ensure that UK trade policy identifies, protects and promotes Scotland’s interests. We continue to try to influence that, but clearly we could not consent to legislation that would put us in a position of disadvantage.

Alex Rowley

Listening to Donald Trump and his continued commitment to a trade deal, many in Scotland are worried that such a deal will result in a reduction in food standards, in workers’ rights, in health and safety and, ultimately, in jobs. Are people right to be concerned about that? Would any NHS services be at risk in a trade deal with the USA?

Michael Russell

The member’s point is an important one. The US trade ambassador made it clear even today that there can be no trade agreement without, for example, access for the US meat industry. That would mean a lowering of standards. If that is the position on the US meat industry, it will equally be the position on other areas. Countries negotiate hard on such matters. Clearly, the level of protection that we had as a member of the EU, which enabled us to resist that, will be considerably lowered in any case, but it will be completely abandoned if the UK Government follows its ideological prejudices and simply tries to have the lowest possible standards.

In any case, the US is also saying that it is highly unlikely that there will be a trade deal this year. The Australian, New Zealand, Japanese and American trade deals are chimeras. They are not going to produce anything of great significance. For example, the Government’s own figures on the New Zealand trade deal show that it will have zero financial impact to our benefit.

These are important issues, and they are being misrepresented by the UK Government. We must tell the truth about them.


Brexit (Financial Services)

7. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to evidence submitted to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee stating that over 320 financial services firms have taken steps to relocate to Europe before the end of the Brexit transition period. (S5O-04418)

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs (Michael Russell)

That is a depressing figure. It indicates the need that those companies to move at least part of their businesses out of where they are presently located in order to continue to operate, and it is yet more damage to Scotland coming from the process of Brexit. In the face of uncertainty, I fully understand what companies are doing, but I regret it.

Joan McAlpine

The evidence on financial services was given to the committee by Professor Sarah Hall. She also warned that other services, including accountancy, architecture, management consultancy and the media industry, require freedom of movement and automatic recognition of their qualifications post-Brexit. What discussions has the cabinet secretary had with representatives of those professions on their concerns about the state of the negotiations?

Michael Russell

I meet people regularly to talk about the negotiations, although that has not taken place nearly as regularly in recent months, because of the lockdown. I am renewing those discussions now in the light of the severe threat of a no-deal or low-deal Brexit.

The two issues that are involved are mutual recognition of qualifications, which is essential and is part the negotiations—although, like the negotiations overall, that part is not going well—and freedom of movement. Freedom of movement has been immensely beneficial for Scotland. How any representative in the chamber could argue for its end completely defeats me. It affects not only extremely important things such as labour in the soft-fruit industry, which my colleague Graeme Dey took me to see some time ago, but a whole range of the professions, as Joan McAlpine indicated. Those professions will suffer. Our academic reputation and universities will also suffer because of the effect on our involvement in research. It is highly to be regretted. Tory support for ending freedom of movement is self-harm for Scotland.


Brexit (European Union Relations)

8. Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the impact of Brexit on European Union-United Kingdom relations, in light of concerns that any breakdown could have a detrimental impact, including in Scotland, on the response to issues such as the Covid-19 crisis. (S5O-04419)

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs (Michael Russell)

My colleague Jenny Gilruth has referred to Covid-19 in response to another question.

Some actions by the UK Government have not been positive or beneficial on Covid-19—for example, the failure to take part in arrangements for buying personal protective equipment. Recently, the UK has failed to take part in a very innocent project that would have given people information about the state of lockdown, and of the openness or otherwise of borders, across Europe. The actions of the UK Government are not helping in that regard, and will not help EU-UK relations.

Just last week, I was talking to somebody in Brussels who said that there was a palpable sense of anger about the way in which the UK has behaved to date. That will not improve, and it is not good for our reputation.

Colin Beattie

What does the cabinet secretary make of the suggestion by Boris Johnson that a deal between the UK and the EU can be agreed by the end of July?

Michael Russell

I am very sceptical about that. Deals can always be done, but what sort of deal can be done by the end of July? The UK could suddenly say that it wants to be in the single market and the customs union. I would agree that a lot of work would have to be done, but what type of deal can be done by the end of July, and how long will it take to implement? If one did a really bad deal and could not implement it in anything like the period that exists, that would be very problematic indeed. No deal would be very bad, too.

The question is whether there could be a good deal for Scotland within that timescale, which could also be implemented by the end of the year. The answer to that is an emphatic and clear no.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes portfolio questions on the constitution, Europe and external affairs. Before we move to the next item of business, I say that we have gone quite a bit over time on that slot; we cannot do that on every occasion, so I ask members and ministers to reflect on the length of questions and answers.


Economy, Fair Work and Culture


Covid-19 (Safe Reopening)

1. Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update of its plans to safely reopen sectors of the economy. (S5O-04420)

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

Our route map sets out points at which different types of work and workplaces are likely to get back up and running. We are working closely with industry, unions and regulators to produce sectoral guidance on how best to do that safely.

Earlier today, the First Minister’s announcement set out how we intend to move to phase 2 of the route map. It included the next steps for businesses in key areas, including manufacturing and retail.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before Mr Cameron asks his supplementary question, Mr Hepburn, you were very difficult to hear. It sounded a bit bubbly. There may be something wrong with your microphone; you may be able to do something that could help.

Donald Cameron

This morning, I was contacted by the owner of a small, independent shop in a town in the Highlands, who is desperate at not being able to open right now. In the wake of the First Minister’s statement, she has, at last, a date of 29 June to work towards. Nonetheless, she spoke earlier of her utter despair at not being able to open right away.

Does the minister understand the frustration of many small businesses, which have acted responsibly throughout this crisis, and yet face being closed for almost two further weeks—or, for those without an outdoor entrance to their premises, for even longer?

Jamie Hepburn

Yes, of course I understand the frustrations.

The point that is inherent in Donald Cameron’s question is about how we go about opening up the economy safely. Everything that we are doing has been geared to that end. I understand the frustrations that businesses feel; however, we are moving forward on the basis that we want to get the economy going in a way that protects lives and reduces transmission of Covid-19. We are doing that in the correct manner. Mr Cameron’s constituent can look forward with greater certainty to reopening in due course.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

May I have short supplementaries please from Rhoda Grant and Kenneth Gibson?

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Many small companies are not part of sector trade bodies and will need advice on how they can reopen safely. Has the minister given any thought to whether a body will be charged with giving that advice to small companies to keep them and their customers safe?

Jamie Hepburn

Yes, we are giving attention to that. One source of advice is Find Business Support, which is a website that the Scottish Government operates; I would prefer all businesses to use that as their first source of information. We work closely with the Federation of Small Businesses and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce to stay informed of practical steps that we can take, and we are cognisant of the issue.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Virtually every sector of the economy, from hospitality to transport and from local government to health, will need additional funds this financial year. Although figures cannot be precise at this stage, is there a minimum figure of additional resource that the Scottish Government will require to deal with the pandemic and the Brexit transition without having to cut services or impose austerity?

Jamie Hepburn

From the outset of responding to the crisis, we have expended significant resource—more than £2 billion—to support businesses. We have looked for gaps in provision and rolled out wider forms of support, and we will keep those matters under review. Mr Gibson can be assured that we are alert to those issues and we continue to consider them.


Oil and Gas (Job Losses)

2. Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to respond to the loss of oil and gas jobs in the north-east. (S5O-04421)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Fiona Hyslop)

Last week, we committed more than £60 million to an energy transition fund, which is north-east focused and will support businesses to diversify and support inclusive growth. The strategic leadership group on oil and gas and energy transition, which is chaired by the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, has been refocused and is now meeting monthly and working with Oil and Gas UK, the Oil and Gas Authority, trade unions and employers to identify practical actions to support the sector, its supply chain and, most crucially, the workforce. The UK Government retains many of the key levers required, including delivery of an oil and gas sector deal. It is critical that both Governments are doing all that we can to protect jobs and retain vital skills.

Gillian Martin

The cabinet secretary will know that I am on record calling for a resumption of the transition training fund. Yesterday, at the COVID-19 Committee, I was joined by Scottish Renewables in that call to reinstitute the fund with a focus on retraining for redeployment to the renewables sector. What is the cabinet secretary’s response to those calls?

Fiona Hyslop

It is very important that our recovery is green; that will require skills and, as part of that just transition, support for those who are reskilling into the area. I reassure the member that only yesterday, along with the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead, and the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn, we met the chairs and chief executives of Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council to discuss the support and training that will be required for what will be a substantial labour market response. Clearly, regional support for regional jobs must be identified as a key priority, and for the north-east that is definitely in the area that Gillian Martin describes.

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary will know that the Curlew floating production and storage vessel is now to be decommissioned in Norway after sitting for several months in Dundee. Given that the work could have been done by a number of Scottish yards had they been given the opportunity to tender, can she tell us what engagement there has been with Shell and Exxon on decommissioning over recent months?

Fiona Hyslop

Paul Wheelhouse, as the energy minister, is actively engaged with all the oil companies and is considering some of those issues—particularly on the work sources. Those are some of the areas that the strategic leadership group on oil and gas and energy transition, which he chairs, has been looking at. Clearly, it is essential that we position ourselves to ensure that we can get the contracts that are available in relation to decommissioning and, as the relatively new economy secretary, I am determined to do that.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

My question follows on from the previous question. Although it is important that the workforce is reskilled and ready for new opportunities, what is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that decommissioning work comes to Scottish ports such as Lerwick?

Fiona Hyslop

Again, I refer the member to the transport and infrastructure portfolio; energy is part of that. Paul Wheelhouse is the lead in that portfolio area, and I will ensure that he can respond in more detail to those questions. However, because of our experience in the oil and gas sector, Scotland can and should be ahead in decommissioning and it is vital that we try and get the opportunities for that work. We need the supply chain companies and people with skills to ensure that the work can be delivered; therefore, a regionally responsive solution to a green recovery will be helpful for those who want to advance the decommissioning sector.

Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

We welcome the £62 million energy transition fund from the Scottish Government; it will position the north-east as a hydrogen model region, which the Scottish Conservatives have been calling for for some time. When can we expect further detail of when that money will be distributed and how the projects will be funded?

Fiona Hyslop

When I announced it just over a week ago, we set out the areas that the fund will support, including the energy transition zone, oil and gas technology, a net zero solution centre, a global underwater hub, and hydrogen and carbon capture utilisation and storage projects. The member will recall that, in 2015, the Conservative Government cancelled the carbon capture utilisation and storage project at Peterhead; had the project gone ahead, we would be far ahead in renewable energy and, most important, in the area of hydrogen. It is important that the Conservatives get behind the fund; let us see proposals coming forward from the United Kingdom Government for an oil and gas deal.


Covid-19 (Shared Premises)

3. Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what the economic impact of Covid-19 has been on businesses occupying shared premises. (S5O-04422)

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

Covid-19 is having an unprecedented economic impact on businesses across all sectors of the economy. We are doing all that we can to provide support for businesses to protect jobs, prevent business closures and promote economic recovery.

As part of that, in response to feedback from business, on 8 June we expanded the coronavirus business support fund. Small businesses that lease or rent space—such as shared office space, business incubators and shared industrial units—from a landlord that is the registered ratepayer for the property, can now apply for a small business grant. Businesses that meet the eligibility criteria can apply to their local authority until 10 July 2020.

Annie Wells

Again, the Scottish Government has moved the goalposts.

“Are they actually trying to help? This is pathetic.”

That is what a small business owner at the Forge Market who wrote to me said about the Scottish National Party’s false promises on grant support. Numerous others have been in touch to ask why they are having to jump through hoops that other businesses did not have to jump through, including providing evidence that they have multiple staff members and use of a business bank account. What does the minister have to say to the businesses at the Forge Market who feel let down?

Jamie Hepburn

I object to the suggestion that we have moved the goalposts. We have engaged with business organisations clearly about the need to fill a gap that existed before that announcement.

In relation to the difference in approach, of course this is about a different cohort of businesses. Previously, the matter was more straightforward, because the process applied to businesses that were registered as eligible for the small business bonus scheme. Now that the fund has been expanded, that is not the case, so it is necessary that people provide evidence in order that we can prevent people from drawing down support to which they are not entitled. I recognise that that creates a step that businesses have to take, but it is the proportionate and sensible thing to do, because we are talking about public funds.


Covid-19 (Support Grant)

4. Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the economic impact on retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, what discussions the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the £51,000 rateable-value ceiling on eligibility for the £25,000 support grant. (S5O-04423)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Fiona Hyslop)

We have always been clear that we are passing on every penny of consequential funding that has come to Scotland. The package of support in Scotland now exceeds £2.3 billion, which is more than the consequentials that we have received from the UK Government.

I raised the issue of the £51,000 rateable-value threshold, which is the same in England, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in an economy meeting several weeks ago. Last week the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism wrote jointly to the chancellor on the issue.

Christine Grahame

I am not doing much better. I have written to the Secretary of State for Scotland—it is Alister Jack, in case people do not know who he is—asking him to lift the £51,000 rates barrier to accessing the grant, and to provide the consequential funding for Scotland. That was in order to protect iconic rural hotels, such as the Peebles Hydro. I am yet to receive even an acknowledgement.

Should I continue to pin my hopes on Alister Jack helping the hospitality sector in Scotland, or should I resign myself to the fact that he is not Scotland’s man in the UK Cabinet but the UK Cabinet’s man in Scotland?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That was a Deputy Presiding Officer showing everyone how to ask a short question. [Laughter.]

Fiona Hyslop

My frustration is shared by people in the hospitality industry. That was a clear route to support businesses that have who had a £51,000 rateable value. In the meantime, we have identified specific funds that are unique to Scotland—the creative hospitality and tourism fund and the pivotal enterprise resilience fund—which have provided funding to many hotels the length and breadth of Scotland, including the Auchrannie resort in Kenneth Gibson’s constituency, and the Selkirk Arms.

However, if we do not we get some additional support from the UK Government, that will become increasingly problematic. An extension of the coronavirus job retention scheme would help the hospitality sector and tourism in general, including hotels such as the one that was mentioned by Christine Grahame.

Christine Grahame’s remarks on the Secretary of State for Scotland focused on whether he is actually standing up for Scotland’s interests. If he were, he would be pressing the interests of tourism and hospitality and getting results. So far, there have been no results.


Green Economic Recovery (Priorities)

5. Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what priorities will guide its plans for a green economic recovery. (S5O-04424)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Fiona Hyslop)

A green recovery is one that is aligned to our ambitious climate change targets and our vision of a just, sustainable and resilient Scotland. It will seek to address the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Our plans for a green economic recovery will be informed by advice from several groups, including the advisory group on economic recovery, the UK Committee on Climate Change, the just transition commission and the sustainable renewal advisory group.

Maurice Golden

A genuinely green recovery must mean that associated manufacturing jobs stop going abroad instead of to Scottish workers. The Scottish National Party has been planning for a deposit return scheme for more than a decade. Can the cabinet secretary say whether the deposit return scheme reverse vending machines will be built in Scotland?

Fiona Hyslop

The deposit return scheme is the responsibility of my colleague Roseanna Cunningham. We know that there are some concerns about roll-out of the scheme in relation to retail and hospitality, so there have been pauses in that. I do not know the details of who will manufacture the machines. I will ask my colleague Roseanna Cunningham to write to Mr Golden on that.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Why is constructing the huge jackets for the Seagreen offshore wind farm cheaper on the other side of the planet than building them here is? What are we not getting right in this country that allows that to happen?

Fiona Hyslop

The contracts for the Seagreen project have yet to be announced. However, we are determined that Scotland should have a supply chain that can compete.

One of the real issues that we have, however, is the current UK Government’s reliance on the contracts for difference scheme, which does not allow us to position Scotland’s manufacturing base as competitively as those in countries that have far more opportunities to subsidise or support their industry to produce jackets cheaply, as Willie Rennie described. He will know that in the Chinese economy, for example, the steel industry is heavily subsidised. Steel is a major component, and contracts that involve steel are cheaper with manufacturing in some countries.


National Collective Bargaining

6. Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes to encourage employers and unions across major economic sectors to engage in national collective bargaining. (S5O-04425)

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

We have been working with the Scottish Trades Union Congress and other stakeholders to promote collective bargaining. We are focusing initially on the social care, early learning and child care, hospitality and construction sectors. A mapping exercise is under way to determine current collective bargaining and national and sectoral agreements across Scotland, which will inform further work to increase Scotland’s collective bargaining coverage. Our commitment to promoting collective bargaining is demonstrated through the inclusion of an employee voice indicator within the national performance framework.

Neil Findlay

Everyone will know that trade unions have played a vital role in maintaining jobs throughout the Covid crisis, in negotiating business and employee support, and in keeping workers and customers safe. It is now time to move proactively to establish frameworks in sectors where the Scottish Government has major spending power and influence.

During discussion of emergency Covid legislation, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs said that it was impossible to set up collective bargaining in the social care sector—which was, of course, rubbish. However, we passed that Covid legislation, so will the minister now commit to moving beyond discussions and papers going back and forward, to hard practical steps to establish a system of national collective bargaining in the social care sector?

Jamie Hepburn

I concur with Neil Findlay’s view of the vital role that the trade unions have played throughout the current period. Along with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, I have been working very closely with the STUC in meetings over the period. Those meetings have been essential.

On Neil Findlay’s question, I have just laid out concrete steps to take the matter forward. We are working closely with trade unions to understand the gaps that exist in terms of collective bargaining, and we will continue that. That is a sincere and genuine commitment.

There are clear limitations, in that we do not have control over employment law, but we are not letting that act as a barrier. We will get on with the work to increase collective bargaining across the country.


Theatres (Covid-19 Support)

7. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is being provided to the theatre sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04426)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Fiona Hyslop)

The Scottish Government has made available a range of funds, including £120 million through the pivotal enterprise resilience fund and £30 million through the creative, tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund. The approach that is taken by those funds is unique to Scotland, and a number of theatres have received support through those routes. I met the Federation of Scottish Theatre on 11 June and pledged to continue to work with it to consider the best way to continue supporting the sector through the crisis.

Claire Baker

The cabinet secretary will have seen the report this week from Oxford Economics on the projected economic impact of Covid-19 on the creative industries, which stated that Scotland will be the hardest hit in relative terms, with Scottish respondents the most pessimistic about the 2020 outlook. The Lyceum Theatre and Pitlochry Theatre are proposing redundancies, and many theatres are cancelling their Christmas programmes, which are often a financial lifeline. I am pleased that the cabinet secretary has met the Federation of Scottish Theatre recently. Will she commit to working with others to deliver a medium and long-term creative arts recovery package for the performing sector, recognising that the challenges that it faces are longer lasting and potentially devastating?

Fiona Hyslop

I thank the member for raising this critical issue. As I have announced, we have provided support in the short term, but what the theatre sector particularly needs is support for the medium to long term, because it has to look far forward in terms of its programming and what it can do. Individual theatres that are independent will have to take their own steps. In fact, the ones that have suffered the most are those that have been the most commercially supported rather than those that are supported by public funds. It is not only about the buildings; it is about how people can come back to them safely, and we are already working on guidance in those areas, for the creative sector in particular.

There are also issues for people who work in the sector. Freelancers are very much attached to the theatre world, and there are ways that we can help them in the longer term until the point at which they can be re-employed. I have already raised with the UK Government thoughts about having some kind of freelance retainer scheme for the theatre sector that would stretch beyond October, because, although some organisations can take advantage of the job retention scheme, we are looking at an autumn re-opening for many sectors. I want to work with everybody and anybody—including Claire Baker—on this issue, because we have a particular interest in it.

The creative industry is a very successful part of Scotland—probably disproportionately so in comparison with the situation in the rest of the UK, with the exception of London—which is why this has hit us even harder. We were very rapid in our response, but I acknowledge that more will have to be done in the medium to long term.

Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

Many artists, performers and venues have been adversely affected as a result of the Edinburgh fringe festival being cancelled this summer due to coronavirus. This is the first time that a cancellation has taken place since the festival began, more than 70 years ago. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the steps that the Scottish Government is taking to mitigate the impact?

Fiona Hyslop

Cancelling this year’s fringe was a great disappointment to many. It was obviously a very difficult decision, and the fringe will be sorely missed.

We have provided a £1 million interest-free loan to the fringe, which has been warmly welcomed. The festival has also received funding from the pivotal enterprise resilience fund and support from the City of Edinburgh Council. It is really important that we provide flexibility in existing funds. For example, the existing expo and platforms for creative excellence funds have been used not only by the fringe but by other festivals to ensure that they can maintain their sustainability.

The rapid decisions that we took have helped to ensure that those festivals will return next year. In the meantime, I thank everybody involved in them for helping to keep Scotland safe by—unfortunately—cancelling this year’s festivals, including the fringe.


Music Festivals (Support)

8. Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is offering to the live music festival sector to support the return of such events in 2021. (S5O-04427)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Fiona Hyslop)

The Government recognises that the restrictions that are required to control the virus have had a devastating impact on live music festivals and, indeed, the entire events sector in Scotland.

Businesses in the music festival sector have been able to apply for support from the resilience and creative hardship funds. However, we recognise that those support packages cannot help everyone, and we are working with the events industry advisory group, which represents the festival sector, to identify what additional support would help with recovery.

The sector provides a major contribution to Scotland’s cultural life and economy, and we are determined that it will rebound strongly from the current crisis.

Iain Gray

I ask the minister, as part of her considerations, to ensure that support is available not only to high-profile national musical festivals but to important local ones such as fringe by the sea in North Berwick, Haddstock in Haddington and the Lammermuir festival, which takes place across East Lothian.

Fiona Hyslop

We cannot underestimate the power of culture to drive us through this very difficult time, and local festivals are particularly important.

Creative Scotland has ensured that regularly funded organisations—many of which are involved in small local festivals—have had their funding extended for 2020 to allow them to return in 2021. It is also encouraging local festivals to honour contracted payments to freelance performers who were booked for 2020. Some are negotiating part payment now and part payment for 2021. However, as Iain Gray pointed out, not all festivals will be funded by Creative Scotland; therefore, we have to look at things in the round.

As I expressed in a similar answer to Claire Baker, the entertainment and culture sector is one of the sectors that will be hit hardest and longest, so it needs more longer-term support. The temporary support that is in place now will help for this summer. However, there is a longer lead-in period for festivals and some do not take place in summer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes portfolio questions on economy, fair work and culture. I allowed it to run on a bit because an awful lot of very important questions have come up. I thank the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills for his forbearance at our lateness.


Education and Skills


Home Education (Covid-19 Support)

1. Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what support it is providing to young people and parents across Dumfries and Galloway to assist with education at home during the Covid-19 lockdown. (S5O-04428)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Responsibility for education rests with local authorities. However, the Scottish Government has published a range of Covid-19 guidance documents to assist local authorities during the current period. We provide practical advice and support through the Parent Club Scotland and Parentzone Scotland websites, through Education Scotland’s new Scotland learns initiative and through Education Scotland’s support for glow, the online learning platform.

Pupil equity funding is available to address the poverty-related attainment gap. Schools in Dumfries and Galloway will receive £137,343 in 2020-21 via the attainment challenge schools programme.

Emma Harper

Some families in Dumfries and Galloway—particularly in lower-income areas—do not have access to the internet at home and are struggling to educate their children at home, which is causing a lot of stress to the young people and to their parents. What options is the Scottish Government able to put in place to allow for internet access? Those might include the British Telecom scheme that allows six months’ free access to the internet in England.

John Swinney

A lot of good work has been undertaken by individual schools to support young people who do not have digital access and to enable them to do so. There have been numerous examples of that around the country.

We understand the challenges that learners may face while they are learning at home, including the challenges with internet access that Emma Harper referred to. The Government has announced that it is investing £9 million to deliver 25,000 laptops, with internet access provided where that is required, for children who experience disadvantage. That will support their learning outside school and is part of our £30 million commitment to support digital inclusion.

The Government guidance about education during term 4 places a heavy emphasis on the importance of directly supporting the core elements of the curriculum to assist young people in sustaining their learning during this period of disruption.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

In Dumfries and Galloway and across Scotland, plans have been put in place for blended learning. That will mean teachers teaching one cohort for part of the week and another cohort for the rest of the week while pupils from the first group study at home. Teachers will not be available to support home learning in the way that they so far have been. Is there not a role here for Education Scotland to become far more engaged in providing and delivering a national curriculum?

John Swinney

I learned earlier today that Mr Gray has announced what I do not think is his retirement but is his decision not to seek re-election to Parliament. I wish him well and acknowledge the formidable contribution that he has made to Parliament. He and I were elected to the first Scottish Parliament on the same day, in 1999, and he has made a distinguished contribution since then. I am sure that he will continue to do so until the election next spring.

I agree with the substance of Mr Gray’s question. Education Scotland is working with e-Sgoil, the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar digital learning platform, which the Government has funded for some time to enable learning to be shared across the challenging geography of the Western Isles. We are now working across Scotland with e-Sgoil to create the availability of learning, particularly for the senior phase, that will enable any young person in Scotland to access digital learning in a number of different areas. That will enhance the in-school learning that we are working to maximise.

Education Scotland is working on that. It is also delivering the Scotland learns provision, which is contained in the Education Scotland website and which provides weekly educational materials to support digital learning at home.


Digital Exclusion (Young People)

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what work is being undertaken to ensure that young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds are not digitally excluded while learning from home. (S5O-04429)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

We recognise that digital technology will play a key role in delivering continuity of education and that that is likely to be a key issue for some of our more disadvantaged families, children and young people.

We do not want children and young people in any part of the country left without access to usable devices or connectivity solutions in these exceptional circumstances. We have committed to investing £30 million in digital devices and connectivity to provide that extra help to young people who do not have access to appropriate technology.

Stewart Stevenson

In yesterday’s COVID-19 Committee meeting, we heard about Highland Council’s provision of Chromebooks for, I think, all its pupils. Given their key part in delivering educational provision, how is the Government working with councils across Scotland to ensure in particular that, when pupils return to school in August, they are ready for the blended learning that will follow?

John Swinney

The Government is working closely with local authorities. They are joint partners with us in the education recovery group and have designed the approach to blended learning that schools around the country are pursuing.

Currently, the plans that have been developed by local authorities are being assessed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education to ensure that all opportunities to maximise face-to-face learning have been taken and that the models in place are appropriate. That dialogue is on-going. Flowing from that work will be the identification of the requirement for resources to ensure that that capacity can be maximised. The Government will engage constructively in that exercise.

On digital learning, which was at the heart of Mr Stevenson’s original question, the Government is engaged with local authorities to identify young people who will benefit from access to digital resources, devices and connectivity. That work will influence how we distribute digital technology.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Digital learning needs more than laptops—it needs lessons. Earlier this week, the cabinet secretary participated in a question and answer session that was held by the National Parent Forum of Scotland. In the NPFS’s poll of parents in that session, only a third said that their children had received live or recorded lessons and 60 per cent had had no virtual contact with teachers during the past three months. How can we have any faith in blended learning if we have not got it right so far?

John Swinney

That was a poll of the particular gathering of people who participated in that Q and A session. Connect, which is a parents organisation, has published other evidence, which indicates that there has been a growing level of satisfaction among parents about the volume and quality of the learning support that schools are delivering to young people during lockdown. Indeed, in its previous survey, only 8 per cent of parents indicated dissatisfaction with the level of support that was available.

That figure is too high for my liking, but it is an indication of the fact that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, schools have worked extremely hard to put in place the learning materials, support and lessons to support young people’s learning when they are at home.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Questions 3 and 4 are grouped.


Racism (Education System)

3. Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how issues relating to racism are addressed within the Scottish education system. (S5O-04430)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Helping children and young people to develop as responsible global citizens is a key feature of the curriculum in schools in Scotland. Learning about current and past attitudes and values and historical events, and their impact on society today, is a key element of the curriculum.

We all need to be vigilant in challenging any racist and abusive behaviour in our schools. Where it occurs, it must be challenged through educating children about all faiths and belief systems, and ensuring that they learn tolerance, respect and equality, and about healthy relationships.

Keith Brown

The cabinet secretary will be aware that there is substantial strength of feeling in Scotland following the Black Lives Matter protests and the highlighting of the need to face up to our colonial past. Many schools are making efforts to introduce anti-racism learning. An example of those is Alva academy, in my constituency, which has been awarded the status of a vision school for Holocaust education.

I understand that dealing with the coronavirus pandemic must be the Scottish Government’s overriding concern at the moment. However, will the cabinet secretary consider how the Government might encourage further diversification in the curriculum, so that Scottish children are fully aware of Scotland’s history, not least its shameful roles in slavery and colonisation?

John Swinney

I congratulate Alva academy on the prestigious award that it has received on achieving the status of a vision school for Holocaust education. On Tuesday I had the pleasure of discussing a range of educational issues with headteachers from the Clackmannanshire local authority area and Scott McEwan, the headteacher of Alva academy, was one of the participants. It is a great credit to the school that it has achieved that status.

While Scotland’s curriculum is not prescriptive, it provides teachers with a flexible framework through the experiences and outcomes contained in the curriculum for excellence. Such a framework allows teachers and schools to teach what is appropriate for the learners in their own classrooms, schools and local authority areas. Education Scotland’s national improvement hub contains materials to support teaching about slavery. The experiences and outcomes in social studies offer opportunities to teach black history. However, I acknowledge the significance of the issues that have been raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, so I intend to look afresh at our materials to ensure that the guidance and the experiences and outcomes adequately address the point that Mr Brown has raised.


Racism and Slavery (School Education)

4. John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the Black Lives Matter campaign, how dealing with racism and Scotland’s links with slavery are taught in schools. (S5O-04431)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Diversity, equality and respect for others are at the heart of policies supporting school education in Scotland. Learning about current and past attitudes, values and historical events and their impact on society today forms part of the curriculum in Scottish schools.

The curriculum for excellence experiences and outcomes provide opportunities to teach black history by exploring a variety of issues, including slavery, human trafficking and exploitation. In addition, the study of slavery can form part of national 5, higher and advanced higher history national qualification courses.

John Mason

At the weekend, I was listening to someone speak about his experience of growing up in Scotland as a mixed race or biracial young person. Some of those folk can face particular challenges in our schools and elsewhere. Does the cabinet secretary think that there is adequate support on such issues for young people in our schools?

John Swinney

The fundamental answer to Mr Mason’s question must lie in the application of the values that are at the heart of our curriculum and which are also engraved on the mace that sits in front of the Presiding Officer: wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity. We look to each individual school to ensure that such values are instilled and reflected in its ethos.

Although I am not doing so just now, for obvious reasons, I usually spend a vast amount of my time in schools around the country. What I see there, at first hand, is the translation of those values from our mace here in the Parliament into the ethos and the values of our schools. Many of the questions that Mr Mason has, fairly, raised with me can be confronted there, to ensure that young people have an experience that educates and equips them to address, handle and respect the diversity that exists in our society. That must be part of the ethos of individual schools, because it must be part of the ethos of our society.

Learning about what leads to and prompts the disgraceful events that we saw in George Square in Glasgow last night is an important part of the current appreciation that young people in our education system must understand.


Young People (Employment after Shielding)

5. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to provide targeted support to 16 to 24-year-olds who have been shielding during the Covid-19 lockdown to help them gain employment. (S5O-04432)

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

I recognise that this is an extremely challenging time for young people—particularly young people who are in the most vulnerable categories, including those who are shielding as a result of Covid-19—who are considering their options, and whether to remain in education or training or to enter the labour market.

We have a strong track record of reducing youth unemployment through our internationally recognised developing the young workforce programme. In the coming weeks, we will outline a series of measures that have been developed in partnership with employers, which will support all young people to make informed decisions regarding their employment options.

Pauline McNeill

A mother in my constituency wrote to me this week about her 17-year-old son, who is shielding. He works in a Glasgow hotel and is likely to be made redundant, but the important point is that he cannot attend a job interview and is unlikely to be able to do so any time soon because he is shielding. Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has highlighted that periods of unemployment for young people can have long-term effects.

I hope the minister does not mind too much if I am direct. Previously, I received answers that said that the budget for Skills Development Scotland will increase by £30 million and so on. That is quite meaningless to a young person who is in the situation that I described. I ask the minister to think seriously about taking a different, more helpful approach, for example, by writing to all young people who are shielding. Right now, they are an extremely vulnerable group. Aileen Campbell said that she would feed back that point when I raised it last week. I wonder whether she has had time to do so, and whether the minister has any comments.

Jamie Hepburn

I am sorry to hear about the young person whose mother has been in touch with Pauline McNeill. I say to Pauline McNeill clearly and directly, as she spoke to me, that I recognise the scale of the challenge that confronts us. In utilising the significant resource that we deploy in our skills and education system, we recognise the need to do things differently to make sure that we have an ever more person-centred, person-focused approach to the provision of skills and training. That has always been my ambition for our system, and the necessity of taking that approach has been exacerbated.

Pauline McNeill makes a very good suggestion, which I will take away and consider. If we are able to act on it, I would be happy to take it forward.


Scottish Qualifications Authority (Grading Process)

6. James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that the SQA grading process is fair and transparent for all pupils. (S5O-04433)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

In the absence of the 2020 exam diet, fairness has to be delivered for all learners, and the chief examiner has set out that fairness is one of the three core principles on which the SQA is basing its approach to the award of qualifications in this extraordinary year.

The SQA has reaffirmed its commitment to transparency and fairness, and has committed to publishing its completed equality impact assessment and the details of its approach to certification this year.

James Kelly

As the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills will appreciate, for many young people throughout Scotland, the process of grading is a stressful and worrying time. It is important that our young pupils are able to achieve the maximum grades possible, consistent with their abilities.

For pupils who stay in areas of social deprivation or attend schools whose performance has previously dipped, will the cabinet secretary give a categoric assurance that the grading process will not have a detrimental effect on the grades that they are awarded?

John Swinney

Mr Kelly raises important points. The examination and certification process in any year is stressful for young people, and I accept that in the current conditions it is even more stressful for them. It is absolutely essential that the issues that Mr Kelly has raised are properly and fully taken into account in the approaches that the Scottish Qualifications Authority is taking to ensure that no young person is disadvantaged because of where they come from and what their circumstances have been. Young people should be judged on their ability and talents, and I am assured by the SQA that that is what the certification system will do this year.

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

What are the cabinet secretary’s expectations on the volume of appeals and the potential for delays that may result? He will be aware that timing will be important for university and college admissions. Is he confident that there will be sufficient capacity to deliver on the appeals on time?

John Swinney

It is difficult for me to predict the volume of appeals, because the certification process has not yet been completed. However, the SQA has developed the appeals process. Obviously, it will rely on the contribution of teachers to that process, which is an essential part of the work that is undertaken. Capacity must be in place to ensure that, as I said in answer to Mr Kelly, no young person suffers any disadvantage as a consequence of the circumstances that we face.


Blended Learning (Families with More than One Child)

7. Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how blended learning will take account of families with more than one child. (S5O-04434)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The Scottish Government maintains a strong focus on excellence and equity for all children within the necessary constraints of the Covid-19 response. Learning will be developed locally by schools, taking account of the local circumstances of children and their families to ensure that the needs of every learner are met in the circumstances that we face.

Mark Griffin

Families want schools to return full time as soon as safely possible, but while blended learning is in place, what guidance will the Scottish Government issue to ensure that families with more than one child have all their children in school on the same days, which would give parents certainty that they will be able to return to work at least part time?

John Swinney

I agree with the first point that Mr Griffin made. The desire to return to full-time formal schooling is at the heart of our plans and expectations, and we will get to that point as early as we can safely do so.

The second part of Mr Griffin’s question is an important point. Local authorities are trying to ensure that siblings who are at the same school can be placed in the same cohorts so that there is certainty and assurance for individual families. That work is being taken forward at a practical level by local authorities to ensure that the points that Mr Griffin has raised are fully and properly addressed.


Blended Learning (Support for Local Authorities)

8. Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what additional guidance and resources it is providing to local authorities to support the implementation of blended schooling. (S5O-04435)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The Scottish Government has set up the Covid-19 education recovery group to bring together partners and stakeholders to ensure that delivery of education, including a model of blended learning, maintains a strong focus on excellence and equity for all, within the necessary constraints of the Covid-19 response. Education Scotland is providing a range of guidance and resources to teachers, schools and local authorities to support the implementation of blended learning.

As I indicated in earlier responses, the Government is discussing issues of financial resources with local authorities as a consequence of the models that are being developed.

Maureen Watt

I have been contacted by parents who are concerned about how the model may affect key workers and their ability to care for their children on the days when they are not at school. Can the Scottish Government give assurances that it is aware of those challenges and that it will continue to work with key organisations such as the National Parent Forum of Scotland as we navigate through the lockdown?

John Swinney

I can give that assurance. The Government appreciates the challenges that parents face. That is why we have put in place the resources that we have and it is why we are trying to ensure that all measures are taken to restore formal schooling as early as we possibly can.

We work actively with the National Parent Forum of Scotland, which has produced a lot of good materials and contributions. It is, of course, a partner in the education recovery group to ensure that parents’ views, concerns and issues can be properly and fully addressed in the model that we take forward

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes portfolio questions on education and skills.