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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 22, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 22 June 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Island Games (Support for Athletes), Provisional Outturn 2016-17, Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time, Point of Order


Contents


Island Games (Support for Athletes)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-06006, in the name of Tavish Scott, on island games—support Scotland’s athletes. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the NatWest Island Games taking place in Gotland, Sweden; recognises the contributions and efforts of athletes from the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland to the Island Games; notes that, in addition to Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles, 21 further island groups are participating, featuring more than 4,000 athletes across 14 different sports; further notes that athletes from Shetland will be participating in each of the 14 sports; is concerned that the cost of travel for training and competing is often disproportionately higher for Shetland athletes than those from other parts of Scotland, and often prohibitively so; recalls the assurances given by the Scottish Government in September 2016 that it would give consideration to the creation of an islands transport fund for athletes; notes the view that such a fund would further the careers of individuals and teams that are successful in being chosen for Scottish representative sport; believes that this biannual event brings together athletes, families and supporters from across the globe and is a wonderful meeting of friends, bringing out all that is good in sport, and wishes all competitors the best of luck in their pursuit of medals in Gotland.

12:46  

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

There is nothing quite like a relay race. The 4 x 100m women’s final at the NatWest games in Jersey was breathtaking. As the baton reached Shetland’s Sophie Moar, the team was fighting for a medal. Sophie turned on the afterburners, screamed down the home straight and brought the gold home for team Shetland. The convener of Shetland Islands Council and I lost our voices during the last 11 seconds of that race. Shetland went home from the Jersey games, which were two years ago, with 23 medals, which was our second-best haul at an island games.

The games are an athletic and sporting occasion that brings together 4,000 athletes from 24 islands that are as far apart as the Falklands and the Faroes. This Saturday, the next biannual games will begin in the beautiful surroundings of Gotland. It will be my honour to support Shetland there, just as Liam McArthur will support Orkney. A bit like with Liverpool v Everton or Caley v Ross County, as long as we beat Orkney—to say nothing of the Western Isles—everything else is a bonus.

The sporting rivalry is in the best traditions of personal and team commitment, dedication and belief—that is the island games. There is camaraderie among the athletes from around the globe who are brought together for a week.

Shetland is sending to Gotland 130 ambassadors who will cover 11 sports. Thirty-seven of them are in full-time education and 23 are under 18. They are sportsmen and sportswomen, but they are so much more than that—they are representing their islands.

The island games have become about much more than just sport since the first gathering in the Isle of Man in 1985. Two years ago in Jersey, I met political colleagues from islands around the world, including those from self-governing legislatures, Crown dependencies and sub-states of national states. At a meeting with the Jersey First Minister, he described to me his relationship with Whitehall. At the same meeting, the convener of Shetland Islands Council noted the similarities and differences between that relationship and Lerwick’s relationship to St Andrew’s house. To make one minor political observation, there are no responsibilities that places such as the Isle of Man exercise that we in Shetland could not undertake. Taking our own decisions is not just about doing so in Edinburgh.

Shetland hosted the games in 2005 and, as with Glasgow in 2014, the home team excelled. We got 46 medals and we won the football. Half the population of the islands were at Gilbertson park that day and the other half claim that they were. The video of the full match is in every Shetland home and the winning players are recognised in local supermarkets as much as Scotland’s 1967 Wembley team is. Shetland 2005 brought £7 million into the islands’ economy and created a sense of belonging, community spirit, identity and pride for local people. Seven hundred islanders volunteered and the media coverage was positive. To put it mildly, there was a vast social programme. Money was also spent on sporting infrastructure.

Hosting such games grows sport. That is a real legacy. Competing at successive island games leads to greater numbers of young people at local club training sessions. Success means greater participation not just in top-level sport but in recreational sport and healthier active lifestyles. In Shetland, we built a sports development programme that is based on coaching, technical officials and training for volunteers. Is that not what a legacy should be all about?

Emma Leask was 12 in 2005. She was inspired by the athletics at the Clickimin track and she told her mum, Janice, that she would run for Shetland. Emma has now done so and is a multiple gold medal winner at successive games.

We now have ladies football, and gymnastics has grown enormously—there is a 200-member club, which is growing. Lynda Flaws was part of team Scotland in Glasgow 2014 for table tennis. Her success grew out of the hosting of the island games. Volleyball—it is a great sport for Shetland, given our weather—is a massive success story. Local leagues mean that a Shetland team now competes in the Scottish national leagues.

There are more examples. Shetland should and, I am sure, will host the games again.

I have one request for ministers. I thank the Minister for Public Health and Sport for what she has done—and I thank the chief executive of sportscotland, Stewart Harris, for what he has done—to try to make an island athletes travel fund happen. We need to turn the supportive words into a practical scheme that will allow the best island athletes to be part of Scotland-wide development squads across many sporting disciplines. That scheme is long overdue.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I am grateful to my fellow Liverpool-supporting colleague Tavish Scott for giving way. I echo his points about the travel fund.

As Tavish Scott will be aware, Orkney has intimated its determination to bid for the games in 2023—I declare an interest in helping with those efforts. I put on record the bid committee’s gratitude to EventScotland and sportscotland for their engagement to date. From Shetland’s experience in 2005, will Tavish Scott comment on the importance of direct Scottish Government engagement and support in that process?

Tavish Scott

That is a fair point for any of our islands that embark on hosting the games. The support that we got in 2005 from sportscotland, Government agencies and central Government was important; indeed, the then First Minister, Jack McConnell, came and opened the games on a brisk, wet day in July. Central Government support is essential, and I am sure that the Minister for Transport and the Islands takes the point about the role that the Government can play in Orkney in the future.

The Gotland games are costing every local athlete from Shetland £1,200 each. Sponsorship from Malakoff Ltd and others helps with 10 per cent of the overall transport and accommodation burden but, as with travelling to the Scottish mainland from Shetland, the financial and time commitments are huge—hence the need for a travel scheme, which I ask the Government to look at.

I will finish with two sporting moments. Andrea Strachan swam for Scotland in the 100m breaststroke at the Commonwealth games. A year later, she won four golds in Jersey. I saw her swim in the 100m final in Glasgow as I supported team Scotland and in Jersey, where she won medal after medal. Nothing makes me prouder than to see Shetlanders compete and win—that includes my daughter playing intercounty hockey against Orkney and my son scoring the crucial goal when we beat Orkney 4-1 on the football park. I apologise to Liam McArthur for those slight observations.

This weekend, I will do my bit not just in supporting team Shetland and meeting political friends from across the islands and around the world but in carrying Grant Wiseman’s golf bag as he competes for our golf team in this year’s NatWest island games. They are truly the mini Olympics, and I cannot wait.

12:53  

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I congratulate Tavish Scott on securing this members’ business debate. I was going to highlight the fact that, with the election of Jamie Halcro Johnston, there are now two Orcadians in the Parliament, so Tavish Scott is outnumbered, but I will put that to one side.

As Tavish Scott said, the biennial NatWest island games are an important event in the international sporting calendar, and they have gone from strength to strength since they began in the 1980s. I am delighted that many athletes from Shetland and other island communities in Scotland will join others from 21 further island groups in the games, which will begin on 24 June. I join MSPs across the chamber in wishing those teams and every competitor every success in the games. I also commend the event’s sponsors, including NatWest, for their generous financial support, which allows the games to take place.

Tavish Scott is entirely right to raise the specific challenges that island-based athletes face because of their additional travel costs for training and competition. Those costs are significant and are potential barriers to competing, and it is right that the Scottish Government agencies should look at what more can be done to support those athletes and allow them to compete on a level playing field without being disadvantaged because of where they and their families live.

Over the past year, the Health and Sport Committee has heard directly from a number of people who live in the Highlands and Islands, including some members in the chamber, about the travel challenges that are faced in taking children and budding athletes around Scotland for training and competitions and to access sports therapists and career development opportunities.

I hope that, when the minister closes the debate, he will outline the work that the Scottish Government is undertaking to examine whether it can develop an island transport fund for athletes. Tavish Scott has for some years been pursuing such a fund, which could make a difference to many athletes across Scotland.

Most people are aware of the huge physical health benefits that athletics and sport bring, but it is also important to highlight the improvement in mental health that can be achieved through participation in sport. It is clear that participation in team sports and activities can play a big part in maintaining good mental health. In addition, encouraging our young people to take part in team sports can help them to develop the skills to build resilience in later life, when life circumstances might put them at risk of mental ill health.

Given that social isolation, which is a strong driver of mental health problems, is a particular concern in many rural and island communities, supporting athletes from those areas and allowing them to meet other athletes at competitions and excel at what they do is especially important. Events such as the island games play an important role in bringing athletes together, developing friendships and connections, and giving athletes tangible goals to aim towards.

I again welcome the debate and wish all those who will take part in the games an enjoyable—and, I hope, successful—time. I hope that, by the time of the next games in Gibraltar in the summer of 2019, we will have made progress on how we support island-based athletes and ensured that they are just as able to take part in international competitions as are athletes who are based in our cities or on the mainland.

12:56  

Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Every two years, athletes from across the globe come together to compete in the NatWest island games. This year, starting this weekend, the island games are taking place in Gotland in Sweden. As the motion mentions, there will be 21 island groups competing, including athletes from the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland in my region. I wish them all the very best of luck.

The exceptional standard of competition in the island games is a testament to the fact that small communities can achieve great things. From friends in the Western Isles who have participated for many years, I have some idea of the level of training and the logistical effort that are required to compete. I agree that our island communities face distinct challenges, but they consistently rise above those challenges in order to punch above their weight.

Arguably—I do not want to enter the competition that is going on—the most successful island in the games is the tiny Sark, which is clearly not in my region. It has a population of just 600. Up until now, it has won 20 medals: one medal for every 30 people on the island. Every remote and rural community can admire that.

Thanks to the island games, island athletes no longer have to head to the mainland to compete at international level. Instead, they have the chance to represent their own community and to raise the profile of their island. One of my staff members who is from Orkney competed in the games in Guernsey in 1987. He told me that the games are great social and cultural events as well as sporting competitions. Loads of friendships are made as islanders from different countries meet up. Many of the sportsmen and women from other islands are of Commonwealth or even Olympic standard, so the games are highly competitive.

The International Island Games Association has always encouraged its member islands not only to take part in the games, but to consider becoming a host island. I am delighted that Orkney is bidding to host the games in 2023. The legacy of such a decision is often the creation of a stronger local sporting society than ever before. Shetland, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are good examples of how hosting the games developed sport within the islands and beyond.

I want to address the issue of the cost of travel for our athletes, which is mentioned in the motion. NorthLink Ferries gives good sponsorship deals to many sporting groups in Orkney and Shetland, which help them to reduce the cost of travel to the Scottish mainland. As well as Shetland, I represent Orkney and the Western Isles. Constituents from the Western Isles and Orkney are at pains to point out that the cost of travel is expensive for them, too.

The Western Isles have already benefited from the road equivalent tariff, and the Scottish National Party made a clear commitment in its 2016 manifesto to take action to reduce fares on ferry services to Orkney and Shetland as well. I know that work on that is well under way.

I am delighted, of course, to see ferry fares to the Northern Isles frozen for the second year, but we need to ensure that we deliver on that manifesto promise. I can assure my constituents that I am first in line to hold the Government to account on that. The fare reduction will benefit everyone, not just the athletes travelling from the islands, and will make it easier for specialist coaches and physios to reach the islands for training purposes.

I finish by highlighting that the islands have had fantastic sporting successes and are home to great and dedicated staff. The island games showcase the very best of our islanders’ will and determination to train hard, defy the odds, and reach for gold.

13:00  

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank Tavish Scott for securing the debate and bringing attention to the issue of the financial difficulties faced by athletes when attempting to compete in their chosen fields.

I also join Tavish Scott in recognising the efforts of all the athletes from Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles who are going to the island games in Gotland and I wish them the best of success.

It is an appropriate week to be discussing sport in Scotland after the past week’s sporting successes. Scotland’s senior men’s rugby team beat Australia down under, the under 20s’ side followed suit a few days later and Scotland’s men’s cricket team beat Zimbabwe in a one-day international—the first time a team from Scotland has beaten a full-test nation in an official ODI.

The island games have existed since 1985; the Isle of Man hosted the first games and they have subsequently taken place every two years in different locations throughout Europe. Shetland hosted the games in 2005 and has regularly been in the medal tables along with Orkney and the Western Isles.

However, as Tavish Scott has rightly noted in his motion, athletes from Shetland and the other islands regularly face higher costs. To preserve the sporting success that Scotland has enjoyed over the years, action is urgently required to combat that issue and prevent the possibility of athletes being unable to compete and even events being cancelled due to cost. The Shetland Times estimated that the total cost for athletes from Shetland to participate in the 2017 island games is more than £1,000 per person—well beyond what athletes can afford. We have already seen numerous athletes from Shetland withdraw from the games due to that exorbitant cost, with the men’s half marathon team pulling out entirely.

However, those are not isolated incidents. Expenses for athletes in all rural and remote areas are higher and act as a barrier to participation. That consequently limits opportunities to benefit from the significant health and social advantages that taking part in sport can provide.

Those financial issues are, however, not just confined to Scotland’s islands. In the West Scotland region, which I represent, there is great financial hardship for those attempting to host the traditional Highland games. Indeed, there are examples of organisers being forced to put their money into the games to allow them to go ahead. For example, the chairman of the Rosneath peninsula highland games, Robert McIntyre, put in £3,000 to allow the 2016 games to take place. Such a scenario has been repeated across Scotland many times and is destined to continue until funding by the Scottish Government is put in place to ensure the survival of Highland games and the continued participation of Scottish teams in competitions across the globe.

I again thank Tavish Scott for securing the debate and for the opportunity to shine a light on the financial difficulties of athletes attempting to compete. I wish all the athletes competing in the island games the best of luck and look forward to hearing about their inevitable successes.

13:03  

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

I congratulate Tavish Scott on bringing the debate to the Parliament. Excellent contributions have been made from across the chamber. I thought that I knew my sporting rivalries well—in Celtic v Rangers I am a Celtic man, while last week, of course, I was cheering on Pakistan in the cricket against India. However, nothing compares with the sporting rivalry between Orkney and Shetland—so disparaging was Tavish Scott to his colleague that he seems to have left the chamber in disgust.

I am very happy to support the motion’s positive comments about the many benefits of the island games, and I extend my very best wishes, as other have done, to all the Scottish athletes who will be participating in Gotland between 24 and 30 June.

On support from sportscotland, the national agency for sport, I understand that there may be as many as six current, or previously supported, sportscotland institute athletes competing at the games and up to 25 current or previously supported performance development programme athletes.

The motion refers to the important issue of travel costs and I will spend some time focusing on that. Each speaker has made the point about the expenses that are incurred by island athletes that athletes from the mainland who compete in international competitions do not have to face to the same degree. The Government recognises that.

There have been discussions between sportscotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government on the issue of support for the athletes’ travel costs. I know that Tavish Scott has shown keen interest in the issue for many years and in 2015 he met Jamie Hepburn, who was the Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health. A survey undertaken by sportscotland prior to that meeting indicated that, encouragingly, 28 out of the 32 local authorities provided some level of assistance to athletes in their areas. I believe that it is very important that councils, including Shetland Islands Council, continue to do what they can to support their clubs and athletes. Notwithstanding that, I understand why Tavish Scott, Maurice Corry, Maree Todd and Miles Briggs have all called on the Government to bring in a travel scheme.

I will give some detail on the discussions that have taken place over the last two years. Sportscotland has been having conversations with COSLA and the three island authorities, including Shetland. Those discussions resulted in agreement at the Highlands and Islands regional sporting partnership meeting in August 2016 of a programme that builds on sportscotland’s current provision to the islands through its local performance development programme and the sportscotland institute of sport network.

In particular, I can confirm that sportscotland has been discussing with the relevant local authorities the development of a programme targeted at supporting travel costs for identified performance or performance development athletes from the Highlands and Islands to assist with travel costs for an agreed training and competition schedule. Finance from sportscotland has been identified for the scheme. Once the scheme is finalised, it will contribute to performance targets as identified by the local authorities within their respective sport strategies. I am sure that that will be welcomed.

I am sorry that I do not have the full detail on that. Once that is available, the Minister for Public Health and Sport, Aileen Campbell, will be able to furnish the members who are interested with those details. We will keep members updated. The money is being discussed and negotiated and once the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, we will ensure that members are fully informed.

There are various schemes in place that support travel for island communities. Maree Todd mentioned the road equivalent tariff on the west coast and the Government’s manifesto commitment to reduce ferry fares on services to the northern isles. As she said, work on that is well under way. If any member would like a briefing on that and the likely steps to be taken, I would be happy to provide that after the debate.

It is worth highlighting what Maree Todd said about Serco NorthLink and its sponsorship scheme, which is not just for sports groups, but for many good charitable organisations. I think that Tavish Scott would recognise that. I know that he has a good relationship with Stuart Garrett and the team at NorthLink ferries. When we total the sum of NorthLink’s sponsorship, we see that it provides hundreds of thousands of pounds. I encourage the company to continue to provide that sponsorship.

As Tavish Scott will recall, I wrote to him setting out how the northern isles teams for the island games could benefit from the air discount scheme if they arranged their travel differently. For example, the Western Isles team contacted Transport Scotland and we gave them advice on how they could avoid air departure tax and how they could benefit from the air discount scheme. As far as I am aware, the Shetland Islands team did not make an approach to Transport Scotland, but if it does so in the future, we will be more than happy to work with and assist athletes, to see whether they can arrange their travel differently and make savings.

I extend my very best wishes to athletes in the Highlands and Islands and throughout Scotland, including those who are about to compete in the games. I hope that Tavish Scott and others are encouraged by the initiatives that I mentioned, but I realise that they need firmer details. Once those details are available, I will ensure that either I or the Minister for Public Health and Sport furnishes members with them.

We all look forward to celebrating—we hope—the success of our island athletes, who will be representing not just their island communities but, in the wider context, this country, in Gotland. I wish them all the success in the world.

13:10 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—