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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 18 December 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, European Union Exit Preparations, Conduct of Reviews and Inquiries, Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Repayments) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Decision Time, Fife Alcohol Support Service


Fife Alcohol Support Service

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14126, in the name of David Torrance, on Fife Alcohol Support Service: supporting Fifers for 40 years. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends Fife Alcohol Support Service (FASS) on its 40th year of helping people overcome issues with alcohol; understands, that since it was founded, 200 counsellors have supported over 23,000 Fifers and their families to help them deal with addiction; notes that this counselling is provided in health centres, surgeries and community venues across the Kingdom; acknowledges the merger of the Fife Community Drug Service with FASS in 2015 to help provide outreach support and help for vulnerable people affected by both alcohol and substance misuse problems, including specialist help for recreational drug users and people who misuse prescribed medication; praises FASS’s Curnie Clubs, which tackle isolation and loneliness through work with dedicated project workers who identify need and barriers to change and help people engage in community-based social activities that help them to find their way back into community life; recognises what it sees as the relationship between isolation and loneliness and their association with physical and mental health issues and drug and alcohol problems; commends FASS on its invaluable work with some of the most vulnerable in Fife, and wishes it all the best.


David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I thank members who supported the motion and enabled the invaluable work of Fife Alcohol Support Service over the past 40 years to be debated today. I congratulate FASS on reaching this significant milestone and I welcome the board members, staff and volunteers who have travelled to the Parliament to join us in the public gallery.

Alcohol and drug issues are ingrained in our lifestyles and are partly the result of social changes and modern pressures. Addiction and abuse are not the same things. An addiction to alcohol is a psychological dependence on alcohol that is manifested in continued compulsive drinking, which leads to individuals becoming physically dependent. Alcohol abusers are typically heavy drinkers, who might not drink consistently but whose high level of consumption can have serious consequences for their personal safety and their relationships with loved ones and families. Alcohol abuse can lead to dependency.

According to the 2017 edition of “The Scottish Health Survey”, one in four people drinks at a hazardous or harmful level—that is, they consume more than 14 units, or roughly seven pints, per week. It was reported that in more than two fifths—42 per cent—of violent crimes in Scotland, the victim said that the offender was under the influence of alcohol. There were 36,235 alcohol-related hospital stays in 2016-17, and 24,060 people in Scotland had at least one admission to hospital due to an alcohol-related condition. In 2017, alcohol caused 1,235 deaths. Although that represented a reduction of 2 per cent from 2016, 2017 saw the third-highest annual total since 2010.

The facts and figures on the economic and human cost of alcohol misuse in Fife are startling. There were 2,344 hospital stays last year, and the rate of stay was six times greater among people who live in the most deprived areas. There is an average of 62 alcohol-related deaths a year, and that death rate is three times greater among people who live in deprived areas. In total, alcohol-related harm is estimated to cost Fife £130 million per year. As the figures show, there is an ever-increasing need for alcohol and drug support in Fife, as the role of alcohol in our society and our relationship with alcohol continue to change.

Fife Alcohol Support Service, which is based in Kirkcaldy, was established in 1977 to provide a community-based alcohol counselling service for individuals who are affected by alcohol problems, and their families and friends. Back then, FASS was a council on alcohol—one of 30 or so similar organisations that spanned Scotland, each of which had the mission to address the health and social consequences of excessive alcohol use. The original councils on alcohol were founded during the 1960s in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.

Recognition must be given to the late John Balfour, who was instrumental in the creation of FASS. In 1973, he joined the newly formed Scottish Council on Alcohol—it is better known today as Alcohol Focus Scotland—for which he served as an office-bearer for many years. The charity that was known in 1977 as the Local Council on Alcohol for Fife broke new ground by setting up counselling and support for people with alcohol problems, and for many years it was the only service available outside Alcoholics Anonymous that provided for the needs of vulnerable adults who suffered from the effects of alcohol misuse and addiction.

John Balfour’s involvement with FASS continued until his passing in May 2009. He served as chairman for 25 years until he retired in 2002; he then became honorary president of the charity. Staff and volunteers remember him fondly and attest to his great dignity and humanity and his strong belief in always doing the right thing, especially when times are difficult.

Since FASS’s inception in 1977, its amazing staff and volunteers have observed John Balfour’s principles and continued to progress the charity by responding to the changing role and influence of alcohol in our society. In 1995, FASS, with the support of NHS Fife, introduced its alcohol counselling service into primary care. The charity was one of the very first services to do that. The event marked the beginning of considerable growth for the counselling service as it responded to awareness of the extent and damage of alcohol-related problems and the community’s need for a reliable source of help.

Over the years, working in partnership with other organisations—including many third sector organisations, Police Scotland Fife division, national health service services and Fife community drug service, with which FASS merged in 2015—FASS has delivered a number of key initiatives, projects and treatment programmes that have been hugely influential and extremely effective in helping to tackle the ever-increasing problems that are faced as a result of alcohol and drug-related problems. That merger of partners between FASS and FCDS created an organisation with the scope to serve the needs relating to an ever-increasing range of issues with even greater organisational efficiency and increased capacity for responsive improvements and changes.

These days, FASS has a multifaceted and comprehensive approach to addressing and tackling alcohol and drug harm through four main services: the alcohol support service, the community drug service, the alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment—ADAPT—substance recovery project and the curnie clubs network. Each of those high-quality and professional services provides a vital and unique approach that serves to complement and enhance.

The alcohol support service provides specialist alcohol counselling. That work is facilitated by counsellors who are predominantly volunteers. During 2017-2018, six staff and 15 volunteers dealt with 616 referrals.

The community drug service provides specialist help for individuals and families who are concerned about the use of substances, ranging from cocaine and ecstasy to the new psychoactive substances—NPSs—or legal highs. Outreach support is provided through crisis counselling, advocacy and mentoring.

The ADAPT substance recovery project is the main drug and alcohol triage service in Fife. It provides assessment of need and referral to specialist drug and alcohol services. The most significant number of referrals to the service are self-referrals by clients and family members.

The newest addition to the network is the curnie clubs. Introduced in 2016 and funded by the national lottery through the Big Lottery Fund, those groups provide support to people who have become socially isolated as a result of living with a range of challenging issues. The clubs run throughout Fife, offer a supportive environment for people who are isolated or lonely, and act as partner organisations to front-line services such as mental health and drugs and alcohol services.

Loneliness and social isolation have been emerging social issues over recent years. Although loneliness and social isolation are related, they are very different issues, and it is important that the differences between them are recognised and understood to ensure that the appropriate support is given, as both can have a hugely detrimental effect on an individual’s physical health and mental wellbeing. It was fantastic to learn that, only last month, the project secured funding of £350,000 from the Big Lottery Fund’s improving lives programme. That funding will allow the group to further develop its work and expand into other areas of Fife.

The importance of FASS and the work that it does day in, day out cannot be overstated. On behalf of the 23,000 Fifers and their families whose lives have been greatly impacted by the wonderful work of FASS staff and volunteers both past and present, I offer my heartfelt thanks for its 40-year-long life-changing contribution to the local community. I look forward to continuing to work with FASS and wish it a happy birthday and every success in continuing to create positive pathways for many more Fifers in the future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate. Speeches should be about four minutes, please. I call Claire Baker.


Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Thank you for calling me now, Presiding Officer. It is a pleasure to recognise Fife Alcohol Support Service’s 40 years of work this evening, and I thank David Torrance for securing the debate. I apologise, as I have to leave the chamber early because of a family commitment, but I will look with interest at the Official Report tomorrow, particularly the minister’s response.

For many years, FASS has been a leading provider of counselling and psychotherapy for people in Fife with alcohol-related problems. Following a merger with Fife community drug service in 2015, it also provides a community drug service that offers outreach support in the community for people with drug-related problems.

As well as providing support for people who are struggling with addiction and working with them to address the underlying causes and consequences, FASS supports families and friends who are trying to cope. Too often, people who are struggling with alcohol and substance abuse do not receive much public sympathy. They can be isolated as family networks are damaged by their addiction and it can often take a while before they acknowledge that they have a problem. Organisations such as FASS provide a valuable service to people who are often very vulnerable.

FASS’s ADAPT project is a triage service, which supports those who are struggling with alcohol or substance issues into the best help and treatment that is available in Fife and to change their lives. It also focuses on encouraging rehabilitation, and the expanding curnie clubs, which David Torrance mentioned, help people who are suffering social isolation to find their way back into community life. It is good to hear that the project recently received a big award from the Big Lottery Fund.

Recently I attended FASS’s annual general meeting at the Town House in Kirkcaldy, which was an opportunity to reflect on the past 40 years. Jim Bett, the service manager at FASS, highlighted the importance of the charity’s volunteer counsellors who have been serving the people of Fife for 40 years. During that time, the service has trained 200 volunteer counsellors.

Jim Bett highlighted that more than 23,000 Fifers have approached FASS’s counselling services for help since it began operating. The AGM concluded with a very moving personal experience from a former client who recounted his harrowing journey of drug addiction that had almost resulted in his death and his journey to recovery with the help of the charity’s community drug service. His story highlighted the devastating impact that drug and alcohol abuse has had on so many families, which often results in lifelong issues.

I return to the number of users who have accessed the service. As I said, 23,000 people in Fife have needed help from the service. Those people often identified as vulnerable, with a high percentage of them suffering with poor mental health, which often comes from underlying traumas. I will highlight the pressures that wider mental health services in Fife face in that regard.

Fife health and social care partnership, which works extremely hard, is developing programmes that focus on early intervention, group therapy programmes and additional clinical time. However, the services are stretched, and people have to wait too long for the help that they need. Too often, the voluntary sector is left to pick up the pieces of the NHS’s strained services.

It is clear that a centralised, joined-up approach is needed urgently. A solution might be the addition of a mental health centre in Fife, where those who are suffering with mental health issues could be properly assessed and referred to the appropriate services. Voluntary sector provision is often the correct response but, like the NHS, the sector needs to be provided with funding that reflects its crucial role and makes sure that it can deliver the service to everyone who needs it.

This week, FASS’s focus is promoting safe drinking through the festive season. The service has issued guidelines, with advice on practical steps, to ensure that those who are drinking throughout the party season take the necessary steps to stay safe; that demonstrates its commitment to promoting prevention and awareness.

FASS provides people in Fife with a valuable service, which treats everyone as a valued human being and supports people through difficult times in their lives. I thank FASS for all its work, and I am pleased to see it being recognised in the Parliament.


Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

I congratulate my colleague David Torrance on securing this important debate, which gives us the opportunity in our Parliament to shine a light on the important work that Fife Alcohol Support Service carries out in areas across Fife, including my constituency—Cowdenbeath.

As we have heard, FASS’s work has a number of important strands. FASS has its roots as a provider of volunteer alcohol counselling services. Since 1978, FASS has seen some 200 volunteer alcohol counsellors, some of whom have gone on to become leading figures in alcohol and drug service delivery in Fife and beyond.

To this day, FASS maintains a team of 15 volunteers, who all receive extensive training and support, which can take up to three years to complete. Those skilled volunteers deliver effective interventions for vulnerable people who are suffering from a range of alcohol-related problems.

As we have heard, since 1995, FASS has provided alcohol counselling services in primary care across Fife. It started its important involvement in primary care with participation in just six practices, but it now provides alcohol and substance misuse counselling in 30 surgeries, health centres and hospitals throughout Fife.

FASS added substance misuse services to its core activities further to partnering with Fife community drug service in 2011 for the ADAPT project to provide a range of supportive help for people in need, including access to services through recovery clinics and structured alcohol or drug counselling. A diversion from prosecution scheme also ran until 2017 and involved more than 6,500 referrals from Police Scotland; I will seek to find out why that scheme is no longer running, because it sounds as though it was doing a very good job.

As we have heard, FASS and Fife community drug service merged in 2015, and the ADAPT service continues as the primary alcohol and drug triage service in Fife for people with opiate, recreational drug and alcohol problems. The service helps some 850 vulnerable people each year, and its success lies in the fact that FASS recognises the complex needs of individuals who perhaps live chaotic lifestyles with no family or professional support.

As David Torrance said, a recent development has been FASS’s introduction of curnie clubs, which are designed to help people who are suffering from isolation and loneliness, perhaps because of health issues including alcohol and drug problems, because of bereavement or unemployment or because of all three issues. Curnie club support workers help people to build social skills and confidence and, so far, more than 240 people have been helped. I am pleased to note that there is a curnie club in Cowdenbeath and that FASS has supported an excellent new initiative in Kelty called oor wee cafe, which I had the pleasure of visiting some weeks ago.

It is worth noting that curnie clubs were recognised by Fife Voluntary Action this year with a super start-up award and, as we have heard, in November, a further three years of funding was—happily—received from the Big Lottery Fund. I say very well done to all who were involved in securing that funding, which is not an easy task. That is a credit to all who were involved.

It is clear that Fife Alcohol Support Service plays a pivotal role in tackling alcohol and drug problems in Fife and has done so for many years. It is a great credit to the charity’s founders and to the current board, staff and volunteers that their interventions have made such a difference to many people who needed a bit of help. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to every one of those who have been involved in FASS and to thank them for all that they have done. I wish FASS continuing success and stand ready, as the MSP for Cowdenbeath, to help in any way that I can to ensure that its important work continues to make a difference to many individuals and families across Fife.


Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am delighted to take part in the debate and I pay tribute to David Torrance for bringing it to the chamber.

As we have heard, Fife Alcohol Support Service provides a Fife-wide, community-based, confidential one-to-one alcohol counselling service for individuals who are affected by alcohol problems and their families. For 40 years, FASS has delivered counselling and psychotherapy services for individuals. I welcome the members who have turned out to take part in and support the debate and those who are in the public gallery.

The charity provides specialist help for people who have a drink problem, whether a regular or a binge-drinking issue, which may relate to underlying issues. We have already heard some of the facts and figures about what happens in Fife, the difficulties that some of these individuals are encountering, and the trauma that can lead to such drink problems. The charity is there to extend a helping hand on a personal level, on a family level, on a social level, on an employment level, and on a lifestyle issues level. Those are all vitally important in order to identify individuals and try to ensure that they are given the support that they require.

The counselling and the information provided is there to maintain effective relationships with relevant organisations and ensure that people get the support that they require across the piece. FASS also provides community-based counselling services, which are designed to meet the special needs of those affected by alcohol-related problems. Moreover, as members have already heard, a large number of volunteers have given of their time and their talent to ensure that counselling is taking place. FASS provides the information, the education, the training and research on prevention and early diagnosis to give individuals the opportunity to have interventions for alcohol-related problems.

We have heard that 23,000 Fifers have had support from FASS. That is an enormous number of individuals and each case is quite tragic in some ways. The individuals found themselves in a situation of needing support, and they were given that support by FASS, which helped them to get back on the right path. In itself, that is a huge contribution to the community.

In addition, three years ago the drug service embraced FASS and became part of that process. FASS joined forces with the drug service to tackle both alcohol and substance misuse problems.

We have already heard about the curnie clubs. FASS has employed dedicated project workers to identify loneliness and isolation. Both those conditions can sometimes make individuals turn to drink or find themselves at a low ebb and the clubs seem to be a release for them.

It is worth mentioning that the exceptional work of FASS has been rewarded by money from the National Lottery. In 2016, FASS received £149,750 from the Big Lottery Fund—a massive amount of money—to help it to set up a network for adults to help them to connect with their local communities through their curnie clubs. That was followed by FASS receiving over £350,000 in October this year. Such amounts of money, as has already been mentioned, are hard to obtain. For FASS to obtain such large sums proves that it is hitting the mark and the funding ensures that it can give something back to the communities that it represents by setting out action plans for people and by making sure that they are realistic and achievable, along with the regular monitoring that goes on. FASS has done a huge amount of work and it has punched above its weight.

Fife Alcohol Support Service has been an invaluable resource in Fife as well as a great help to many individuals. I commend and congratulate all who are making such an effort and who are making such a difference in supporting individuals who are at risk. This organisation goes the extra mile; it has gone the extra mile; and it deserves the accolades and the recognition of a debate in the chamber this afternoon.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

First, I add my thanks to David Torrance for bringing this debate to the chamber and allowing us to once again shine a light on a very important subject—especially at this time of year.

As I have mentioned before, early on in my time in this place, I spent some time at Addaction, looking to see whether I could speak to some of its service users as part of the Health and Sport Committee’s inquiry into early intervention and the preventative agenda. I wanted to get down to the brass tacks of what may have sent service users along that path and what other choices had been available to them at that time. Let me tell you, Presiding Officer, that was a real eye-opener.

People in recovery suggested that I was under the misapprehension that they had had a really terrible time. On the contrary, some said that to start with, they were having a great time. They were down the pub with their mates; “merry” was maybe not the exact word they used, but I am sure that people get the gist. That could go on for as long as a few years before their life really started to unravel, as they lost their job, their family, their house and, finally, their so-called friends down the pub. Where they got their next drink became the real driving force in their lives, to the exclusion of everything else.

That is a very isolated and lonely place to be, and once a person is in that cycle, it is extremely difficult to break. With addiction comes the associated mental health issues. More often than not, there is an underlying mental health issue that has taken a person down that path in the first place.

An issue that consistently arose was that some mental health services would not engage with people who were still in the grip of their addiction. Those people were sent instead to third-sector agencies that are tasked with tackling such addiction, but the problem with that is that addiction agencies are generally not equipped to deal with complex mental health problems. Although the agencies would never turn those cases away, without mental health intervention alongside the addiction services, the chances of a successful outcome are much reduced. Many of those cases are people who are struggling because of trauma and poor mental health and, without multi-agency support for the individual plan, conversion rates can be poor. In rural areas, such as the constituencies that I represent, that trauma can go unseen until it becomes a major issue.

Recent reports have shown that the lowering of the alcohol limit for driving has, at least initially, not had the results that we had all hoped. I do not think that that will necessarily come as a surprise. The people who would be most affected by the policy of reducing the alcohol limit are likely to be those who would consider popping into the pub for a swift pint or a glass of wine after work with colleagues. They would recognise that the new laws would possibly put them close to or beyond the legal limit and they would most likely forgo that after-work drink or, at least, replace it with a soft drink. The people who would get behind the wheel of a car after a few drinks are highly unlikely to pay attention to any change to the legal limit. Therefore, people who would have been caught by the police for drink driving prior to the tightening up of the laws would still be prepared to take that risk.

The reduction of the legal drink-driving limit is not enough in itself. In order to be effective, a long-term public campaign needs to accompany the change in legislation. An on-going education programme, with policies to tackle the underlying drivers of alcohol and substance abuse, needs to be in evidence. We recently had a debate in Parliament on the alcohol and drugs strategy, which involved very good input from across the chamber. That conversation needs to continue and evolve into positive action.

I have long been an advocate of the need to support the third sector with a more collaborative approach involving the NHS and council-led services. David Torrance quite rightly highlighted the great work that is going on in his constituency. I would like to thank the many third-sector agencies and our NHS for the fantastic work that they are doing in East Ayrshire, against a backdrop of limited resource.

Addiction is a health issue and I know that it will continue to get support from across the chamber.


The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing (Joe FitzPatrick)

I add my congratulations to David Torrance for securing the debate and I take the opportunity to place on record my thanks to FASS and all its staff who, as we have heard, have been providing treatment and support services to people across Fife for more than 40 years. I add my welcome to those people from FASS who are in the gallery tonight.

The motion specifically focuses on FASS, but it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to the many other organisations that undertake similar work. Excellent work is taking place in communities across Scotland to support people who are among the most vulnerable in our society. I have not yet had the chance to visit FASS, but I am sure that one of the Fife members might put an invite in the post soon, and I would be keen to take up such an invite. I have had the opportunity and been fortunate enough to meet—

David Torrance

Will the member take an intervention?

Joe FitzPatrick

Of course.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I thought you were going to refuse, minister. I do not think you should try that, what with all the Fifers in the gallery.

David Torrance

I believe that FASS’s annual general meeting is on 29 August next year and it would like the minister to be a guest speaker.

Joe FitzPatrick

I am sure that the member will send an invite in the usual way. If an invitation is made and I am able to take it up, depending on other diary commitments, I would be keen to attend. I would be keen to visit FASS, whether at the AGM or another opportunity, to see first hand the work that it is doing.

I have had the opportunity to visit a number of other organisations across Scotland and to speak to the staff and to people who are benefiting from treatment and support services. There are a couple that I particularly want to talk about today. I recently visited the Cairn centre in Dundee, which is where we launched the alcohol and drugs strategy. It was refreshing to speak to individuals who had benefited from that service directly. I was also able to speak to some parents and partners of people who had benefited from the service, to see just how important the support had been for them.

I have met several groups, and one with which I was particularly impressed was the Family Addiction Support Service in Glasgow. It was powerful to hear directly from parents and partners who, in the main, had lost family members or who had family members who were still receiving treatment for various addictions, whether to alcohol or drugs. It is powerful for me, as a minister, to get those first-hand experiences. As MSPs, we can all make sure that our policies are fit for purpose. One message that I have taken back from visiting those organisations is that they are important services and their importance cannot be overestimated. The they play a crucial role in providing vital support for people in our communities who need it most.

As I mentioned, when I visited the Cairn centre just over two weeks ago, it was to launch the Scottish Government’s new alcohol and drugs strategy. A key aspect of the strategy recognises that, in general, services need to do more to better meet the needs of those most at risk. That will, in part, involve taking a person-centred approach so that treatment and support address people’s wider needs. Claire Baker and Brian Whittle talked about how addiction is often not an isolated issue that people have to deal with. Poor mental health, isolation, employability and homelessness can all be involved. I was particularly interested to hear from Alexander Stewart that the service in Fife had extended to start looking at isolation and loneliness, helping people to reconnect with their communities. That is really important.

I recently took part in the sleep in the park event at Slessor Gardens in Dundee and was able to spend some time speaking to people from Addaction, which Brian Whittle mentioned, from whom I heard about the complexities of addictions. It is clear that homelessness is often something that goes hand in hand with addiction. It can be difficult for people to start to challenge addictions if they do not have a regular place to lay their head at night.

It is refreshing that we have this opportunity to reflect on the positive work that is going on in Fife Alcohol Support Service and elsewhere, as services work to support vulnerable individuals struggling with drug and alcohol use—particularly the aspects of that work that focus on addressing the loneliness and social isolation that we know often go hand in hand with harmful drug and alcohol use.

Through the debate, it has been interesting that a number of people, starting with David Torrance, mentioned the 23,000 people who have been supported by, as he put it, the “life-changing” contribution of the service at FASS.

Claire Baker mentioned that FASS had extended its services to include drug services. That is important, because the challenges of drug and alcohol addiction are similar. Importantly, Claire Baker also mentioned that for many people who suffer from addiction, there is a lack of sympathy from the public. When I have spoken with people who are going through or have gone through addiction, they have said that the stigma that is attached is such a barrier to being able to seek help and support. That means that organisations such as FASS have to go that step further to try to find those people and to provide support.

As we move into the festive season, my message today is for people to try to be a little more human. If someone has an addiction, we should try to see them as a human being. A little bit of love and compassion can go an awful long way, as we have seen with the 200 volunteer counsellors whom Annabelle Ewing spoke about. They work out of more than 30 locations across Fife and give of their time in order to help others—that is really important. I was interested to hear from Annabelle Ewing that the number of people who are helped each year has gone up to around 850 people. That is a lot of people every year, and I am sure that it is making a real difference.

I am sure that we will come back to this topic on many occasions. Today’s debate has recognised the work in Fife over the past 40 years and members across the chamber have highlighted examples of good practice. As I said two weeks ago when we talked about the alcohol and drugs strategy, we should work on this issue together. I am very pleased to work with members across the chamber on it, so if any MSPs would like to meet me to discuss how we can work together, I ask them to please make contact. I am really keen to do that and take us forward so that we can make a difference for so many vulnerable people across Scotland.

I again congratulate David Torrance on securing the debate and FASS on providing more than 40 years of vital treatment and support services. I wish FASS a very happy birthday.

Meeting closed at 17:36.