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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 20, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 20 June 2019

Agenda: Business Motion, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Glasgow School of Art Fire, Planning (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 (Day 3), Portfolio Question Time, Provisional Outturn 2018-19, Gender Recognition Act 2004 Review, Planning (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


St Ambrose and Buchanan High Schools

1. Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

I am sure that I am not alone in having received correspondence in recent days from parents of pupils of St Ambrose and Buchanan high schools in Coatbridge who are concerned about the environmental safety of the site. Teachers are out on strike, and further reports in today’s press detail concerns that were raised a decade ago, before the schools were built.

I would like to examine some practical issues with the First Minister. Will the Scottish Government confirm that its review will be wide enough in scope to examine all the evidence that is coming to light, from the time when the school building was planned right through to the present day? (S5F-03441)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank Ruth Davidson for raising the issue. If I may Presiding Officer, I will take a bit of time to address some of the serious concerns that have been expressed.

I fully understand the concerns of parents, staff and pupils at the schools, and the Government and I are determined to do everything that is necessary to allay those concerns, to address issues and to re-establish confidence. That is why we have established the expert review team to carry out a thorough independent investigation. The answer to Ruth Davidson’s question is yes—the review team will be able to look into any relevant matters.

The review team visited the schools yesterday and will conclude its work before the end of the summer holidays. It will be for the review team to consider what further tests of pupils, staff and, indeed, the site itself are required.

We are liaising closely with North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire, and will continue to do so. The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and I will meet officials later today to get an early update on the work that is being done, and the Deputy First Minister will meet parents next week.

Ruth Davidson

I thank the First Minister for her response. It is important that we put on the record that the council and the national health service board are insisting that the site is safe.

The First Minister will know, however, that confidence among parents is low, and that many feel that their concerns are not being taken seriously. As Professor Andrew Watterson of the University of Stirling has said:

“Trust, transparency and good communication should be the key to dealing with these issues. The Buchanan High School case almost looks like a case study in how not to deal with the public.”

The teaching unions at the school have asked for updated testing to be carried out in order to give people further assurances, but they say that that request is being denied. It is a sensible idea; is it something that the First Minister might be able to address?

The First Minister

Yes—I am more than happy to address that point specifically. I say directly to the parents of children at the schools that the Government and I are taking their concerns extremely seriously. We will not rest until we have ensured that all the issues have been properly investigated, that any issues that are identified are addressed, and that every single parent of a child who is at St Ambrose high school and Buchanan high school has confidence in sending their children to school.

On testing, it will, as I said in my initial response, be for the review team to decide what further tests of pupils, staff and the site itself are required. Anything that the review team considers to be necessary should happen—the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and I have been clear about that.

Apart from that, any parent who has concerns should discuss them with their general practitioner. The Government is already liaising with NHS Lanarkshire to ensure that resources are in place to deal with any consequent increase in demand for NHS services. As I said a moment ago, the Deputy First Minister and I will meet officials to get an early update on the work, and to look at whether it is required that further actions be taken, at this stage. The intention is to get to a point at which we can assure parents about the safety of the school that their children go to.

Finally, I want to reiterate the point that Ruth Davidson rightly made. It is the view of the NHS board and the local authority that the schools are safe for pupils to attend, but it is not enough for us to say that. We have a duty to convince and to assure parents of that, and that is what we are determined to do.

Ruth Davidson

I thank the First Minister for addressing the issue of the review team looking again at environmental tests.

Another way to restore trust is to give parents clear assurances that their children have not been affected in any way, but parents tell us that they are finding it difficult to get medical tests carried out. Some are, in order to put their minds at rest, paying to have tests done privately. Can the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport look into the matter to see whether parents are able to access tests that might reassure them that their children are well and that the school is safe?

The First Minister

As I indicated in my previous answer, we are already taking steps to do that. Scottish Government officials are liaising with NHS Lanarkshire to make sure that the increased demand from requests that are being made is understood, that it is able to respond to demand, and that we put in place the resources that are required to deal with the situation.

The view of the local health board is that there is no need for population testing, but we want the review team to consider that. If it comes to a different conclusion, its recommendation will be implemented. However, in the meantime, concerned parents should be able to discuss the matter with their GPs and take informed decisions. We are working to make sure that the local health service is able to deal with and respond to requests for testing.

Ruth Davidson

I was asked to raise the matter today because trust is breaking down between parents and staff at the school and local government and health authorities. I hope that the assurances that the First Minister has given today will help to restore that trust.

It is worrying that concerns were raised in 2009, when the plans for the schools were first proposed.

I hope that the on-going review, to which the First Minister referred, and which is due to be published over the summer, will give the local community the assurances that it needs. If it does not, does the First Minister agree with me, and with the local community, that a full independent inquiry might be required, in order to help those excellent schools to come back together?

The First Minister

I will take those points in turn.

First, I am aware that there is, rightly or wrongly, an issue of trust on the part of parents in respect of what they are being told. That is why we took the decision last week to establish the independent review to address directly such issues. I hope that, through the process of the review, we can do exactly that.

What happened and the information that was available in 2010 were part of the planning process, which was the responsibility of the local authority. Reports were issued and considered then. My understanding is that the local authority took full account of the information. Of course, if it is required that those issues be looked at by the independent review team, that is exactly what should happen.

On the last part of the question, I want to ensure that the independent review process, which we set up last week, does what we want it to do, which is to get to the heart of the issues and to reassure parents. I will not, however, rule out anything beyond that. I said at the outset that we will not rest until we have got to the heart of the issues, addressed and allayed the concerns of parents and re-established confidence. We will do whatever it takes to do that. I hope that it can be done through the independent review, and I hope that all members will support it in the weeks ahead, as it gets on with its work.


Scottish Welfare Fund

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

In 2013, the First Minister said:

“We set up the Scottish welfare fund ... to ensure that we are doing everything we can for the most vulnerable across Scotland.”—[Official Report, 23 April 2013; c 18827.]

I repeat: “everything we can”. Can the First Minister tell us how much is in the Scottish welfare fund this year, in comparison with 2013, when it was first launched?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

If memory serves me correctly, we fund the Scottish welfare fund to the tune of around £38 million a year, I think. Since 2013, through the welfare fund, more than 600,000 crisis grants have been awarded. From 2013 to December 2018, almost 240,000 community care grants have been awarded. We will continue to do what we can to provide support for individuals and families in need through the welfare fund and through the money that we are spending to mitigate the impact of Conservative Government welfare cuts.

As Richard Leonard and I have spoken about previously, much of the driver of increased poverty in our country comes from those welfare cuts. With every day that passes, it becomes more urgent that we join together to get those powers out of the hands of the Tories and into the hands of this Parliament.

Richard Leonard

The answer to the question that I asked is, “Not a penny more.” It was £33 million in 2013, and it is £33 million today.

Members should not just take my word for it. A new report out today—“The Scottish Welfare Fund: Strengthening the Safety Net” by the menu for change campaign—concludes that:

“The overall SWF budget ... including both the administration budget ... and programme budget ... has remained unchanged since 2013/14 when it was first introduced. This represents a real-terms cut”.

In fact, the Scottish welfare fund has suffered a real-terms cut of £3.5 million since it was introduced. Just last month, the Scottish Fiscal Commission revealed that the Scottish Government has no plans to change the level of funding over the next six years. At that rate, by 2025, that would mean a real-terms cut in the Scottish welfare fund of more than £7 million. Remember: this is a fund that helps some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland.

At a time of rising poverty, what is the First Minister’s justification for year-on-year cuts to the Scottish welfare fund?

The First Minister

For the period in advance of us and the budget for the year that we are now in, Richard Leonard and the Scottish Labour Party did not raise the issue of the Scottish welfare fund with the finance secretary on even one single occasion. In fact, the only submission that was made to the finance secretary was from Alex Rowley. To his credit, Mr Rowley made a submission. In it, he suggested that there should be an across-the-board cut in budgets of 3 per cent in order to protect local government services.

We have protected the welfare fund in the face of cuts to our budget from the United Kingdom Government. In addition to the welfare fund, we are investing £125 million this year to mitigate welfare cuts from the Tories. We are investing £350 million in our council tax reduction scheme, £64 million in discretionary housing payments to mitigate the bedroom tax that was imposed on us by the Tories, an additional £2 million in our fair food fund and £1.5 million in our financial health check service, and we are investing in a range of other initiatives, including the best start grant, to help families in poverty. We will continue to do that, because that is our obligation.

However, the sooner this Parliament is able to attack poverty at source and to take into its hands and out of the hands of Westminster the ability to tackle the causes of the increase in poverty, the better. The sooner Richard Leonard supports that, the better it will be for families all over this country.

Richard Leonard

The First Minister is defending her Government’s decision to freeze the Scottish welfare fund, for which it has responsibility. Members should not just listen to me; today, Oxfam, the Poverty Alliance and the Child Poverty Action Group all recommend that the fund should be increased. Although the Government has reformed the formula, it does not address what today’s report calls “fundamental under-resourcing”. In fact, the fund is so fundamentally underresourced that local authorities do not even advertise it, for fear of being unable to cope with demand. We are talking about the fund that hands out crisis grants to families in emergency situations.

Will the First Minister do everything she can? Will she listen to today’s report? Will she provide additional lifeline support? Will she, at the very least, finally increase in real terms the Scottish welfare fund provision?

The First Minister

We have protected the Scottish welfare fund in the face of cuts to our budget from the Conservatives. I stand to be corrected if I have got this wrong, but I am not sure that Labour in Wales has a national welfare fund. Perhaps Labour should look to its own record where it is in government.

I again make a genuine offer to Richard Leonard. Every penny of this year’s Scottish budget is accounted for. Richard Leonard wants us to give more money to the Scottish welfare fund this year. If, later today, tomorrow or even next week, he wants to bring me proposals on where we should take that money from within the already allocated Scottish budget, I will listen to what he has to say. I am prepared to have that discussion. However, the problem is that we never hear that from Richard Leonard.

We will continue to protect the poorest in our society. I look forward to making a statement to Parliament next week setting out our plans on the income supplement.

However, I say again that Richard Leonard will have little or zero credibility on these issues for as long as he is prepared to defend the powers that determine all these things lying not with this Parliament but in the hands of a Conservative Government at Westminster.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

We have a number of constituency questions.


Liberty Steel (Redundancies)

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

The First Minister will be aware of the redundancies that have been announced at Liberty Steel Dalzell works, in my Motherwell and Wishaw constituency. Our thoughts are with the 18 workers who have been affected and their families.

Can the First Minister outline what support can be given to those facing redundancy? Does she share my disappointment in the United Kingdom Government, which has failed to listen and failed to act to support the steel industry in the United Kingdom?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank Clare Adamson for raising this issue, which is of huge importance in her constituency. It is of course concerning that Liberty Steel has announced redundancies at the Dalzell plate mill as Brexit uncertainty impacts on its orders. This will be an anxious time for employees, and the Scottish Government has offered support to those who are facing redundancy through our partnership action for continuing employment initiative.

As our actions show—and Clare Adamson is right that they stand in stark contrast to the inaction of the Tory Government when it comes to the steel industry—this Government is committed to a sustainable future for the steel sector and to helping the industry compete in the global market.

The firm has said that it has confidence in the underlying health of the plant and hopes to begin recruitment again when the market improves. The Government will do everything that it can to support it in that endeavour.


NHS Highland (Data Breach)

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The First Minister will be well aware of an alleged data breach by NHS Highland, which exposed the confidential names and email addresses of 37 people living with HIV. Although I welcome the apology by the board of NHS Highland, does the First Minister share my view that confidentiality is a core principle of the national health service and that the decision to disclose HIV status is a matter for the individuals themselves and is theirs alone?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I strongly agree with that view and with the sentiments behind Dave Stewart’s question. The safety of patient data is of the utmost importance and, as required, the incident has been reported to the Scottish Information Commissioner—that happened within 24 hours.

NHS Highland has rightly taken steps to apologise to patients and to respond directly and speedily to any concerns raised. A formal, internal review of the incident is being conducted to understand any failings—and clearly there have been failings—and to consider what steps to take to ensure that such a breach does not happen in the future.


North Lanarkshire Council (Redundancy Payment)

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

It has recently been reported that an official has received a substantial redundancy payment of between £400,000 and £800,000 to leave North Lanarkshire Council. What is the First Minister’s view on the matter, given that that Labour authority suggests that it does not receive enough funding from her Government? What, if anything, can be done to stop such excessive payments to local authority officials to leave their posts early?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I understand that Audit Scotland is aware of the payment and that it will be looking at it as part of its annual audit work. That is only proper, given the apparent scale of the settlement. It is understandable that questions are being raised by Richard Lyle and by others.

Although the Scottish Government has no direct role in the matter, I am clear that there is a duty on all bodies to ensure that public money is spent appropriately and to be able to justify the decisions that they take. As well as Audit Scotland looking into the matter, I am sure that the Accounts Commission will also give it consideration.


Don & Low Ltd (Job Losses)

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

On Monday, employees at textiles company Don & Low in Forfar discovered that 55 jobs are to go. The employer says that other countries are much more competitive to do business in. That has been a real shock to the community. What is the Scottish Government’s response to it and what will it do to support those affected?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank the member for raising this issue. Any job losses are deeply regrettable, including in the case of this company in Forfar. As we do in all such situations, the Scottish Government will, first and foremost, liaise with the company to see whether there is any action that we can take to avert the need for redundancies. If that does not prove possible, our partnership action for continuing employment initiative will work with affected employees to help them into alternative employment. I am happy to ask the employment secretary to write to the member updating him on the actions that we are taking in this particular case.


Glasgow Life (Golf Course Closures)

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

I draw the First Minister’s attention to the consultation being run by Glasgow Life, proposing the closure of six public golf courses in Glasgow, including the popular courses at Linn Park and Littlehill. Given the success of the Commonwealth games and the European championships, and the legacy of increased sporting participation, it is astonishing that the Scottish National Party Glasgow City Council is proposing the closure of those popular sporting facilities. Does the First Minister agree that the proposals should be ditched and replaced with a strategy to increase participation at golf courses and get more young and older people out on to the courses and enjoying that popular sport?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Before I come on to the specific issue, as a general aside I say that the current administration of Glasgow City Council is right now, rightly, having to raise the revenue to pay the equal pay claims for female employees that the previous Labour administration shamefully failed to do over so many years. Therefore, sometimes, a little bit of self-reflection and humility on the part of Labour members, before they raise issues such as this, would be appropriate.

On the issue, it is vital that we have a range of sports facilities available in the city of Glasgow and across the country. It is for Glasgow Life to carry out a proper consultation, listen genuinely to the views of local people and then make those decisions. I trust this administration of the city council to take a range of decisions much better than its predecessors in the Labour Party did.


Space Industry

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

The First Minister will be aware of the importance of Scotland’s space industry, its potential for growth and our expertise in satellite technology. Does she, therefore, share my disappointment with the decision by the Natural Environment Research Council, overseen by the United Kingdom Government, to withdraw funding for Scotland’s only satellite receiving centre at the University of Dundee, which has been praised for the work that it has done by NASA—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—and others, bringing the future of the centre into question? Is the First Minister aware that discussions between the university, Clyde Space and others with a commercial interest in maintaining the station appear to have reached an impasse and will she, therefore, ask her minister to work with parties involved in the hope of finding a way ahead that could safeguard the future of the centre, which has faithfully served the space community for more than 50 years?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank Shona Robison for raising the issue and agree whole-heartedly with her about the huge potential of the space and satellite industry in Scotland. We already have a very visible presence in the space sector globally, more small satellites are manufactured in Glasgow than in any other place in Europe and almost one fifth of the UK’s space-sector jobs rest here in Scotland.

I share the member’s concerns about the implications of the Natural Environment Research Council decision to cut funding to the station. I am also aware of the apparent impasse in discussions with commercial parties. Scottish Enterprise is engaged to find a way forward that preserves the assets of the satellite receiving centre and retains the related expertise in Scotland. I am somewhat constrained in what I can say, and what we can disclose, in terms of the content of on-going commercial discussions, but I will ask the relevant minister to look into the matter further and write to the member with an update as soon as possible.


Paddle Steamer Waverley

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

Since its restoration 45 years ago, the historic paddle steamer Waverley, a symbol of Scotland, has sailed every summer on the Clyde coast and beyond, until now. Expensive boiler repairs likened to open-heart surgery have put the Waverley’s future in doubt. That is why I, Jackie Baillie and many others are supporting a £2.3 million boiler refit appeal. Given the need to preserve the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world, the tourism that the Waverley brings to towns and villages across the west coast and the fact that next year is the Scottish Government’s year of coasts and waters, will the First Minister assure us that Government support is available to help with those repairs and save the Waverley?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank Neil Bibby for raising the issue. The Waverley is, of course, a tremendous asset and a great national treasure; we should all want to see it preserved and continue for many years to come. I know that there is a fundraising campaign under way and I undertake that the Scottish Government will be happy to speak to the people involved in that and in efforts to fix the Waverley, to make sure that the Government is doing everything that we can to support their efforts. The relevant minister will be happy to write to the member to update him on progress in due course.


NHS Borders

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

Even with a £10.1 million bailout from the Scottish Government and another bailout expected, NHS Borders is making cuts. The gynaecology ward at Borders general hospital has closed, and the switchboard, which covers 20 wards, the pharmacy and other services, is on a so-called hit list. If calls are to be instead processed in Edinburgh, I foresee the possibility of serious healthcare concerns at the hospital, given the lack of local knowledge and so on. The health secretary is well aware of the issues that arise from the board failures that led to the bailouts, but can more be done?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The health secretary will continue to work with NHS Borders to ensure that the issues are addressed. This year, the Government is investing more than £207 million in the board. The medium-term financial framework for health and social care sets out the approach that we are taking to increase investment further and deliver sustainable services across the country.

As I said, the health secretary will engage with NHS Borders to reiterate our expectation that, within the three-year flexibility that is open to it, it will work towards a sustainable financial position and ensure that there is no detrimental impact on the quality and safety of patient care. The health secretary would be happy to discuss the matter further with Christine Grahame.


Nursery Education (Provision for Two-year-olds)

3. Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

In 2014, after months of refusal, Alex Salmond eventually agreed to introduce free nursery education for two-year-olds who are in poverty. Five years later, only one third of those children are getting that foundation. Why is the current First Minister failing those children?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I do not accept that. Childcare is available across Scotland for vulnerable two-year-olds, in addition to the provision for three and four-year-olds. We continue to encourage parents who want to use that provision to do so. Our job is to ensure that the provision is there. As well as doing that, we are working with local authorities and investing significant sums of money in them to transform childcare and double the provision that is available by the end of this parliamentary session. That is a big success story of the Parliament that we should be proud of and continue to work to build on, as the Government is determined to do.

Willie Rennie

That is simply not good enough when this is supposed to be the Government’s most transformative infrastructure project. A new report was published this morning by the charity Save the Children, which is not impressed. In page after page of evidence, it says that two-year-olds who are in poverty are missing out, which could jeopardise the closure of the poverty-related attainment gap.

In England, 70 per cent of two-year-olds who are in poverty are receiving free nursery education, which is double the rate in Scotland. It is unbelievable that the Conservative Government is reaching more children in poverty than the Scottish National Party is.

It has been five years. Does the First Minister think that she should have made more progress by now?

The First Minister

It is good to see Willie Rennie back to his usual role of defending a Conservative Government.

The Scottish Government is doing significantly more to expand early years education and childcare than the Government south of the border is, and that will continue to be the case. We will look carefully at Save the Children’s report and we will continue to work with it and other organisations to ensure that the roll-out of the expanded hours is effective.

As part of the expansion, the target for two-year-olds is higher, but we will continue to work with local authorities to ensure that for two, three and four-year-olds, Scotland is the part of the United Kingdom that leads the way on giving our children the best start in life.


Workplace Parking Levy

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Yesterday, the Scottish National Party voted against exempting police officers, care assistants, volunteers, firefighters, shift workers and those on low incomes from having to pay a workplace parking levy. Given that, does the First Minister still agree with her party colleagues who called the levy a progressive “tax on the elite”?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We are giving councils a discretionary power. That is the empowerment of local councils that the Tories used to demand of us. No council has to use that power. Councils that decide to use it will be required to do a full consultation, part of which will be to look at the exemptions that they apply in their local areas.

I am interested in the position of Jamie Greene, who has stood up today to oppose a workplace parking levy, as he has done many times in recent weeks. The reason why I am interested in that is that, earlier in this session of Parliament, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, which is chaired by the Conservative Edward Mountain, said in what was, as far as I am aware, a unanimous report:

“The Committee is of the view that demand management measures such as ... workplace parking levies have potential to make a significant emissions reduction contribution. It therefore calls on the Scottish Government to consider whether these measures should”

have greater prominence in the final climate change plan. I mention that because one Jamie Greene is a member of that committee.


Care System (Outcomes for Young People)

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

Despite the limited progress that has been made, in this country we still have a care system in which more than 60 per cent of children do not attain even one national 5 qualification, care-experienced young people are around 10 times less likely to go on to higher education and, in every age group and at every level, young people are behind their peers in literacy and numeracy. Those statistics embarrass me, and they should embarrass Scotland. If they embarrass the First Minister, what is she going to do about it?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am grateful to Kezia Dugdale for raising that issue, which is very close to my heart. I have made it clear that I consider that I have made not just a political commitment but a personal commitment to improve the outcomes of young people who grow up in care. On Friday last week, I attended a Who Cares? Scotland event to talk about the actions that that organisation thinks we should take now while the independent care review is under way, and I gave a commitment that we would do exactly that. We have already taken action—for example, by introducing the bursary for care-experienced students—and we will continue to do so.

The outcomes are not good enough, not just on school qualifications but on university access and a range of other indicators. There is work to do, and the Government and I take the issue incredibly seriously. I know that Kezia Dugdale will recognise that although there is a gap, as she has described, the recent statistics show that the gap is closing. Our responsibility is to continue to work to close that gap even further and, ultimately, as soon as we can, completely eradicate it. That is what we are focused on achieving.


Scotland Women’s Football Team

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The First Minister will share the heartbreak of many in the chamber who watched last night’s Scotland match but, my goodness, our women’s team has done us proud at our first world cup in 21 years. Will the First Minister join me in congratulating the team on that fantastic achievement and will she set out how we can build on that success, raise the profile of the women’s game in Scotland and get more girls into sport?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Everyone who watched the match last night will have experienced the rollercoaster emotions and the heartbreak of the final result. In recent weeks, we have also watched a young talented national team take us to our first world cup in 21 years, entertain us with some brilliant football, score five great goals and, most important of all, inspire the country and the next generation of wee girls and boys who dream of pulling on the Scotland shirt. We will do everything that we can to support the development of the women’s game. I spoke to Shelley Kerr just a wee while ago and said to her what I will say publicly and directly to the team now and which I am sure I say on behalf of all of us. They are feeling very sore this morning, but I say to all of them: you should be very proud of your achievements—you have done Scotland proud and you will be back stronger than ever in future.


CYBG (Clydesdale Bank Brand)

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Yesterday, the banking group CYBG announced that it would be dropping the Clydesdale Bank brand after 175 years. Does the First Minister share my concern about the loss of that historic and iconic Scottish brand? Although CYBG says that it intends to continue issuing Clydesdale Bank notes despite the rebrand, is she as worried as I am that that important part of Scottish banking heritage could be under threat in the longer term?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The decision is for CYBG, not the Scottish Government, but all of us want important Scottish brands to be preserved. I hope that CYBG will think about that as it makes the changes that it has announced, so that the brand of Clydesdale Bank notes can continue. As we do with all banks and companies, we will continue to discuss such issues, to raise any concerns that we have and to support them as much as we can as they take decisions that they consider to be right for their own business interests.


Refugee Week

4. Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is marking refugee week. (S5F-03455)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Scottish Government is delighted to support refugee festival Scotland, which begins today, on world refugee day. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government will be visiting an exhibition in Glasgow that has been designed and produced by refugees, and she will be hearing from those who are involved in the festival. The festival is co-ordinated by the Scottish Refugee Council, and it provides an opportunity for refugees to tell their stories and for us to recognise their courage, strength and resilience. It also gives us the opportunity to recognise the contribution that refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world make to life here in Scotland.

We must remember that refugees have sought sanctuary from war, terrorism and torture, and I am proud that they are welcomed here and can begin to rebuild their lives. I thank all those who are involved in supporting refugees across our country.

Ruth Maguire

People in Scotland should feel proud that we have lived up to our global responsibility to find homes for thousands of refugees. However, because of the callous Tory Government, we still have lock-change evictions by Serco, children and pregnant women behind barbed wire at Dungavel and a hostile environment that persecutes rather than protects vulnerable people. In a few weeks, we will have a new Prime Minister. What should their priority be when it comes to fixing that broken system?

The First Minister

The implications of the policies that Ruth Maguire has just narrated to the chamber should shame the Conservative Government at Westminster, and I hope that the new Prime Minister will think again, fundamentally and very quickly. I call on the incoming Prime Minister to immediately overhaul the current failed asylum system. We urgently need a new process that is based on some important and basic principles: fairness, dignity and respect for human rights. We need a system that does not leave people at risk of destitution and homelessness, with other public services having to pick up the pieces. There should be a 28-day time limit on detention at immigration centres and a ban on the detention of children and pregnant women.

Today, the current Prime Minister and Home Secretary could take action to ensure that local authorities that voluntarily participate in asylum dispersal are provided with adequate funding to allow them to support people, from the very first day of their arrival, to rebuild their lives in communities.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

The First Minister is right to say that the policy levers are at Westminster, but the responsibility to support people who are being failed in our communities lies with us, too. While we celebrate the refugee festival, hundreds of asylum seekers in Glasgow will face the threat of mass evictions and destitution. Does the First Minister agree that what they need in the coming weeks is not just a restatement of the existing Government commitment to provide, with Glasgow City Council, emergency accommodation but for that emergency accommodation to be available now? When will such accommodation be available? What can the First Minister tell us about the work that is on-going?

The First Minister

The Scottish Government will continue to work with Glasgow City Council and with any council that is in a similar situation to ensure that the support that asylum seekers need is available. That is an on-going obligation and responsibility, which includes the need to provide asylum seekers with access to accommodation.

It is essential that the point that I made a moment ago—I know that Patrick Harvie agrees with this—is understood by the United Kingdom Government. Local authorities that voluntarily participate in asylum dispersal, which we encourage local authorities to do, must get adequate funding from the UK Government to support those people. Let us absolutely live up to our responsibilities, but let us continue to press the UK Government to live up to its responsibilities, too.


Lyme Disease

5. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed and treated as early as possible. (S5F-03459)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We are committed to raising awareness of Lyme disease and to supporting those who are affected by what is a complex infection. We have a multidisciplinary expert group dedicated to Lyme disease that is part of the Scottish health protection network.

Last week, the chief medical officer wrote to all NHS Scotland health boards and general practitioner practices to highlight the important role that they play, not only in the early diagnosis and management of Lyme disease cases, but in promoting awareness among their patients of ticks and tick-borne infections.

Brian Whittle

The Public Petitions Committee has heard evidence from those with lived experience of the chronic debilitating effects of the disease, who said that their illnesses are not even being acknowledged. What can the Scottish Government do for those patients who are bitten by a tick, are infected with Lyme disease and multiple unidentified co-infections and who miss their early treatment window because of lack of recognition and then develop the chronic disease?

The First Minister

My initial answer set out what the Scottish Government is doing. Awareness in order to aid prevention is vital, which is why that will be a focus of the multidisciplinary group. We are making sure that front-line clinicians have the information that they need to diagnose, detect and therefore treat the illness. The letter that the chief medical officer wrote last week was designed to raise that awareness and to ensure that those working across our health service—particularly GPs—have the information and awareness that they need to ensure firstly prevention, but also early diagnosis and access to treatment for those affected.


Prestwick Airport

6. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update on the Scottish Government’s plans to sell Prestwick airport. (S5F-03444)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Since the Scottish Government purchased Prestwick airport, we have been clear that our intention is to return the business to the private sector when the time is right. The team at Prestwick has continued to engage with potential buyers and investors to discuss proposals for developing the business under new ownership. The airport is making good progress to increase revenue, deliver operating efficiencies and pursue opportunities for the future.

In the light of that progress, the airport has now placed an advert in the Official Journal of the European Union, inviting expressions of interest. Any proposals that are submitted would be considered carefully before a decision was taken to divest our shareholding or any part of it. In the weeks ahead, it is important that we protect the integrity of that process.

Colin Smyth

Given that there are over 300 direct jobs and thousands more indirect jobs at Prestwick airport, all of which are crucial to the Ayrshire economy, can the First Minister assure those workers that there will be no sale to a company that does not guarantee to secure and grow those jobs? Will she ensure that there will be full consultation with the trade unions before any sale goes ahead? Will she also give an assurance to the taxpayer that any sale will be subject to agreement that the £40 million-plus that was loaned to Prestwick airport will be paid back in full by any new owner, should one be found?

The First Minister

I hope that the member will appreciate that I will not go into too much speculative detail about any bids that might come in and the consideration that would be given to them. It is important that we protect the integrity of the process, and any decisions that are taken will have to be in the overall interest of Prestwick airport and those who work in it. I fully expect engagement with trade unions, and given that the Scottish Government’s purpose in bringing the airport into public ownership was to protect jobs, clearly that will be a key consideration for the Prestwick team in the future.

The eligibility questionnaire, which was published in the official journal, sets out some prime objectives for bidders, one of which is maintaining Prestwick as an operational airport. The interests of the local economy, the workers at the airport and the taxpayer are all factors that will have to be take into account before future decisions are taken.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes First Minister’s question time. After a short suspension, we will move to members’ business

12:44 Meeting suspended.  12:46 On resuming—