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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 22, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 22 September 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Standing Safe Campaign, Business Motion, Local Taxation, Events, General Question Time, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Engagements

1. Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-00242)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Ruth Davidson

I agree with the Scottish Government that, in many cases, a community sentence may be the best option in sentencing, but does the First Minister agree that the crime of rape should not be among them?

The First Minister

I absolutely agree that the crime of rape should be treated with the utmost seriousness and severity. Indeed, statistics show that in the overwhelming majority of rape cases—93 per cent of them—a custodial sentence is incurred. Average custodial sentences for rape and attempted rape are now 17 per cent longer than they were back in 2006-07. I think that all that is right and proper.

Sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the courts and it would be wrong for me, as First Minister, to comment on any individual case. Community payback orders are, of course, a sentencing option that is available to courts, but courts will make their judgments based on recommendations that take into account risk assessments, public protection and the background of the individual. When a non-custodial sentence is given, the court will have considered all relevant matters in the case. Individuals on community payback orders are also subject to robust and on-going risk assessment and, where appropriate, that will include multi-agency public protection arrangements.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that the offence of rape, and indeed that of attempted rape, should be treated with the utmost severity.

Ruth Davidson

I thank the First Minister for that response but, although she recognises that 93 per cent of sentences in rape cases are custodial, that leaves 7 per cent that are not. This morning, we read once again of more evidence where that is the case and where these types of crimes are receiving community payback orders, which is one of this Government’s key justice policies. Such crimes include sexual assaults against children, rape and child rape.

This morning, Rape Crisis Scotland said:

“It is difficult to see in what circumstances a CPO could ever be an appropriate sentence for rape, or rape of a young child.”

Surely everyone here can agree that Rape Crisis Scotland is right.

The First Minister

I have the utmost respect for the work that Rape Crisis does, and I absolutely agree that its views on all matters of rape and sexual offences should be listened to very seriously.

As I have made clear, I agree that rape is one of the most heinous offences that can be committed in our society, and I believe that it is incumbent on all of us and everybody with any influence in the criminal justice system to ensure that the offence of rape is treated seriously. The simple point that I will make—and which I genuinely hope that Ruth Davidson will accept—is that, as First Minister, I do not decide the individual sentences that courts pass down. That is rightly and properly a matter for courts, and before a court makes a decision on the appropriate sentence in any case, it will take account of a range of information and circumstances, the risk to the public and of course the circumstances of the offender, including, in many cases, their age.

It is right that, in our society, it is the courts—the independent judiciary—that decide on sentences. However, in setting policy, it is very clear to me that we need to treat rape and, indeed, other sexual offences with the seriousness that they merit. That is why I have pointed to the statistics for rape cases. The percentage of cases in which a custodial sentence is passed down is higher for rape than for almost all other offences, and the average length of custodial sentence is now longer. According to criminal proceedings statistics, the Crown Office is bringing more successful prosecutions for rape and attempted rape, with 125 convictions in 2014-15, up from 89 the year before. Police Scotland has also improved the investigation of rape and other sexual crimes with the setting up of the new national rape task force.

I therefore hope that nobody across the chamber doubts in any sense the seriousness with which we all take these issues, but equally I hope that members across the chamber accept that fundamental point of principle with regard to criminal justice in our society—that it is not politicians who decide sentences in individual cases. It is the courts, and rightly so.

Ruth Davidson

I thank the First Minister for her response and the manner in which we have been able to discuss what are sensitive issues. I know that everyone in the chamber will be united in our disgust at such crimes.

However, I am raising the matter today because concerns about CPOs have been well documented for some time now. The Scottish Government says that there are sanctions open to the courts when CPOs are breached but, as we have discovered, nearly a third of orders are broken every year with scant evidence that people are being punished.

We also know that one in five CPOs are being handed out without any work requirement being placed on criminals who receive them. I repeat that we on this side of the chamber absolutely accept the need for community sentencing, but what is the First Minister doing to address those issues with regard to CPOs?

The First Minister

I think that Ruth Davidson is right to raise this issue generally and right to raise particular issues around non-custodial sentences. Of course we have to monitor on an on-going basis the effectiveness of non-custodial sentences such as community payback orders. As I think that I said in an earlier answer, individuals on community payback orders are subject to robust and on-going risk assessment. Where such an order is breached, it is open to the court to introduce different sanctions, including imprisonment.

It is also the case—this is, I think, very pertinent to the issue of the effectiveness of these disposals, which is one of the issues that Ruth Davidson is raising—that individuals who are released from a custodial sentence of six months or less are reconvicted more than twice as often as those who are given a community payback order instead. That tells us that when non-custodial sentences are handed down in appropriate circumstances they are more effective than short-term prison sentences in reducing reoffending.

I absolutely accept that these are issues of the utmost seriousness and that we have to look at all the evidence, but I hope that all of us will agree that where it is appropriate—I absolutely stress that phrase “where it is appropriate” and that I am talking in general terms, not about particular offences—keeping people out of prison and helping to rehabilitate them in the community to ensure that they are less likely to reoffend is in general terms a good thing. Absolutely none of that takes away from the seriousness of certain types of offences, which should always be treated with the utmost seriousness by our courts.

Ruth Davidson

We can all agree that reducing reoffending is important, but people and the public must have confidence that the sentence is appropriate for the crime, and that includes punishment. The trouble is, I am afraid, that too often the response from ministers is simply to declare that the system is working fine and that everyone should just accept it.

However, I say to the First Minister that CPOs are not working fine. They were a Scottish National Party creation and they are this Government’s policy, but we have learned again today that they are being applied to serious crimes such as rape when they should not be, that up to a third of them are breached and that up to a fifth of them do not contain any punishment element at all.

I believe that we now need a calm, considered, fresh review by the Scottish Government of the way that CPOs are being handed out. Will the First Minister take that action, which is so obviously needed?

The First Minister

I say again that, on the issue in this morning’s media that has given rise to Ruth Davidson’s questions, I of course share the concern that many people will experience, but I would make a number of points to Ruth Davidson. First, she may or may not be aware—that is not meant as any criticism—that an independent evaluation of CPOs was published in 2015, and it showed that they are viewed with a degree of confidence by most sheriffs and are seen as an improvement on previous community sentences. It is also the case that, as I said, those who are given a CPO are less likely to reoffend and be reconvicted. Again, we have statistics that bear that out.

It is also important to say that CPOs can include electronic monitoring sanctions if there is non-compliance with them, and that anyone who breaches a CPO and fails to take up the opportunity that such a non-custodial sentence presents for them will find themselves facing sanctions, which include imprisonment. The most recent figures that we have, which are for 2014-15, show that 17 per cent of CPOs were revoked due to them being breached.

Again trying to find a note of consensus here, I agree that, when somebody commits a crime, as well as our thinking about how we rehabilitate them and reduce the risk of reoffending, there has to be a punishment element to the sentence that is passed down. We have to get that balance right in our policy framework, and then we have to entrust the decisions in individual cases to the independent judges and sheriffs who make those decisions.

My responsibility as First Minister—it is one that I take very seriously—is to make sure that we get the policy framework right. In seeking to do that, we will always listen to views, and we certainly always look at the evidence that tells us whether non-custodial sentences are being effective. I would hope that all members across the chamber would feed into that, but we must also accept that, having set the policy framework and the policy objectives, we must trust the independent judiciary to make the decisions that they deem appropriate in individual cases. It would be absolutely wrong—in fairness, I suspect that Ruth Davidson would be one of the first to say that it was wrong—if I as First Minister started to pass comment on the individual sentences that are passed down by judges.

I think that we have the right framework in place, but that is not to say that it is perfect or that it cannot be improved. I say in all sincerity to members across the chamber that we will continue to consider, to evaluate and, where necessary, to make changes in the interests of keeping the public safe and making sure that we are doing what we need to do to reduce reoffending.


Alzheimer Scotland (Meetings)

2. Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister when she will next meet Alzheimer Scotland. (S5F-00275)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yesterday was world Alzheimer’s day and I pay tribute to the invaluable work that Alzheimer Scotland and, indeed, other third sector organisations do to support people with dementia and their carers in our local communities. The Minister for Mental Health will speak this afternoon at the annual national dementia awards. In addition, Alzheimer Scotland’s national dementia carers action network and the Scottish dementia working group meet the Minister for Mental Health at least twice a year.

Kezia Dugdale

I thank the First Minister for that answer.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Tories cut Scotland’s block grant by 5 per cent. That is an economic policy that damages our public services and increases the inequality in our country, and it is an economic policy that we should reject. Does the First Minister agree with me that this Parliament should act as a block to Tory cuts?

The First Minister

Kezia Dugdale knows that I agree with that, but she also knows—because we have discussed it many times in the past—that before we have a debate in this chamber about who in Scotland bears the burden of Tory austerity we should first unite to try to stop Tory austerity happening in the first place.

Kezia Dugdale is right to point out that, according to the Fraser of Allander report, the Tories have cut Scotland’s budget in the years since 2010 by 5 per cent in real terms, but she will also know that that report looks to the future and says that there is a likelihood of further Tory cuts to Scotland’s budget of up to £1.6 billion by the end of this session of Parliament.

We have a new Chancellor of the Exchequer who has said—and I am prepared at this stage to take him at his word—that he is going to reset economic policy, so I hope that Kezia Dugdale will join with those of us on the Scottish National Party benches to say to the Tories, “Put an end to austerity. Put an end to austerity at source, and do it now.”

Kezia Dugdale

I am glad that the First Minister can agree with me that Tory cuts of 5 per cent are unacceptable, so how can it be that today’s Accounts Commission report shows that the SNP has cut local council funding by not 5 per cent but 11 per cent? The SNP has not just passed on Tory cuts, it has doubled those Tory cuts, and the report tells us who is paying the price. Older people who need help to get washed are not getting it. Elderly folk who five years ago would have had help with their meals are not getting it. The number of elderly Scots getting any care at all has fallen by 12 per cent. What is worse is that we know that the SNP is planning more cuts to councils and that cuts to councils are cuts to care. The First Minister has the power to stop those cuts. Why will she not use it?

The First Minister

The most recent outturn figures that we have show that social work spending has increased by 6 per cent in real terms since this Government took office and that social care spending has increased by 5 per cent in real terms since 2008-09. Both those figures are from 2008-09 until the most recent figures that are available.

The report published by the Accounts Commission today is an important report with lots of important messages for all of us. It says that, if we keep doing things the same way as we are doing now, there will be an additional financial burden on social care services by the end of this session, but that is why we have integrated health and social care. It is the biggest reform of health and social care services since the establishment of the national health service, ensuring that we can find better ways of delivering services, with more prevention and more community-based services to reduce admissions to hospitals and care homes.

It was in my party’s manifesto, although I do not think that it was in Kezia Dugdale’s manifesto, that we would invest an additional £1.3 billion over this session of Parliament in health and social care partnerships. The first instalment of that has been the £250 million transferred into health and social care partnerships in this financial year. We know that we face the challenge of an ageing population and we on this side of the chamber are determined to face up to that challenge and to work with local councils to address it.

Kezia Dugdale concedes that the biggest pressure on the Scottish Government budget is cuts being imposed by a Tory Government, but even though she accepts that the Tories—if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected on Saturday—will be in power for many, many, many years, she expects us simply to shrug our shoulders and accept that. I do not think that that is good enough.

Kezia Dugdale

The First Minister tells the chamber that she has put £250 million extra into health and social care. What she forgot to tell the chamber is that she took £500 million out last year, and that is why we had to vote against her budget. The Accounts Commission report tells us that overall spending is falling. In fact, it says that the cuts are unsustainable, and the truth is that they do not have to happen. I am asking Nicola Sturgeon to do only what she has wanted to do her entire political life: make different choices from the Tories. When she writes her budget in the coming weeks, the First Minister will make a choice. She can double down with even more cuts to care, or she can back Labour’s plans to use the powers of this Parliament. What is it to be?

The First Minister

Kezia Dugdale does not oppose Tory austerity. She wants to shift the burden of Tory austerity on to working people the length and breadth of this country. She put that proposition to the people of Scotland just four months ago and she is sitting on that side of the chamber because her party came third in the Scottish Parliament elections.

We will continue to face up to the challenges in our social care services. That is why we have integrated health and social care, which is something that, in all the years that Labour was in power, it shied away from doing. That is why we are taking the difficult step of transferring resources from acute health services to health and social care partnerships to build up the capacity of our social care services and help to develop more community services to keep our older people, where appropriate, out of hospitals and care homes and enable them to stay in their own homes. That is why we are taking all those actions and why we will reflect carefully on the Accounts Commission report to inform the serious decisions that the Government will continue to take.

I ask Kezia Dugdale to reflect on the position that she and her party are in. She regularly stands up and says that the future looks to be a Tory Government at Westminster and she has the nerve to come here and lecture me on the implications of Tory cuts that her party is powerless to do anything about. The Labour Party is a complete and utter shambles. Perhaps it should be taking more responsibility for the Tories’ ability to continue to impose cuts on Scotland.


Cabinet (Meetings)

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-00247)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Tuesday.

Patrick Harvie

Last week, a newspaper levelled a serious allegation against the Scottish Government. It said: “SNP pledge to ‘sabotage’ bid to cut benefits”. For once in my life, I hope that the Scottish Daily Mail has it right.

The Scottish Greens have published detailed proposals that show how about 13,000 people a year could be protected from the benefit sanctions regime if devolved employment programmes refused to co-operate with it, so I welcome the words that we have heard from Angela Constance. Although we cannot stop the United Kingdom Government putting conditions on work-related benefits, we are not going to give it any information or respond to inquiries if we think that that might lead to a sanction. I welcome that, but I would like to understand its scope.

Will the First Minister confirm that that commitment goes beyond the already announced voluntary schemes for disabled people and those who have long-term health conditions, or will it be a universal approach for all people who participate in devolved work programmes under the Scottish Government?

The First Minister

I thank Patrick Harvie for raising an important issue. The tenor of his question suggests that he knows how serious the Scottish Government is about using the limited social security powers that we are getting to introduce a social security system that has dignity and humanity at its heart.

In its current form, the sanctions regime that the Tories have imposed breaches those principles. I know that from the many people I see in my surgeries; we all see people who have had sanctions imposed on them for reasons that should never mean that they have to face those circumstances. As we develop the detail of the system that we are putting in place, we want to ensure that we mitigate the effects of the sanctions regime as far as we possibly can and that we do not co-operate with a scheme that piles human misery on human misery.

As Patrick Harvie knows, we have embarked on consultations that will lead to a social security bill in Parliament during the next year. The fine detail of that will flow from the consultation work that we are doing. The principles that Angela Constance has articulated are very clear and I look forward to having the assistance and co-operation of Patrick Harvie and his colleagues, and indeed members from across the chamber—at least, from most parts of the chamber—in putting in place a system that, in its detail, lives up to the principles that we have articulated.

Patrick Harvie

I am grateful for that answer. It sounds as though the First Minister has gone further than in the past and that we will see employment programmes that are all voluntary and which do not impose socially harmful and counterproductive sanctions on people in Scotland.

Another aspect of the consultation that the First Minister referred to involves the need to have an additional allowance that respects and reflects young carers’ position in life and the work that they do. Does she acknowledge that a great deal of the impact on them will be alleviated if we address the financial aspects and ensure that a young carers allowance is seen in financial terms and not only in terms of benefits in kind?

The First Minister

Again, I agree with the thrust of Patrick Harvie’s question. The point of employment programmes should be to genuinely help people into work and not to put in place a system that is full of tripwires that mean that people fall over and end up being sanctioned. To help people into work will be the ethos that is behind the devolved employment programmes that we put in place.

Patrick Harvie will know that a young carers allowance is one of the things from the Green Party manifesto that we have agreed to consider. We are considering how that could best work to give effective help to young carers. Just in the past couple of days, I have read an update on the early discussions that we have had on developing that policy.

We have not concluded yet what the best scheme would be, but we will do so shortly. I look forward to another Government policy that is about recognising the work that is done by carers and in particular young carers, the impact that caring responsibilities have on their lives and the responsibility that is on all of us to help them to live a full life, notwithstanding those responsibilities. Again, I look forward to the co-operation of Patrick Harvie and his colleagues as we develop that policy.


Cabinet (Meetings)

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

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S5F-00243)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Matters of importance to the people of Scotland.

Willie Rennie

New figures show that children in Scotland can wait two years for mental health treatment. The Scottish Government promised that they would receive treatment within 18 weeks, but that promise has not been kept this year or last year. Why is the First Minister letting those children down?

The First Minister

I say to Willie Rennie that the issue is really important and I disagree with his characterisation. I think that Scotland was the first country in the world to introduce a target for access to mental health treatment for children and adolescents.

We recognise that we have more work to do to make sure that all children and young people get the access to mental health services that they deserve. We have been increasing investment in those services and increasing the number of clinicians who work in them. We have substantially increased the number of psychologists who work with young people with mental health issues.

Of course, as we covered in First Minister’s question time two weeks ago, we are seeing a significant rise in demand for those services. Although that puts pressure on services that we have a responsibility to meet, we should welcome that increase in demand to the extent that it shows that young people are more able to come forward because the stigma around mental health issues is decreasing.

Our mental health strategy, which we will publish shortly and which is backed by £150 million of new resources, shows the seriousness with which we take the issue. We will continue to take steps to improve services so that all young people get the access that they need and deserve.

Willie Rennie

The First Minister says that the problem is that more young people are asking for help. It is not their problem; it is the Government’s problem for not being ready. We saw this coming and we gave warnings about it. We have a plan to invest in primary care, emergency services and services for young people. What was the response from the Scottish National Party Government? It was to delay spending the £70 million that was available for mental health support because it could not get the strategy agreed on time. Will the First Minister commit to spending that £70 million on services for young people today?

The First Minister

Willie Rennie is raising an important issue but he should try to engage with it in a way that helps all of us to face up to and address it. The first thing to make clear is that it is not fair of Willie Rennie—I think that anyone who has been watching the exchange will know that it is not fair of him—to say that I described more young people coming forward for help as a problem. I did not do that; I said that it was a good thing, which we should welcome, and I went on to say that it was my responsibility and the Government’s responsibility to make sure that services can meet that increased demand. To be fair, that is what I said.

I also set out some of the actions that we are taking. Willie Rennie talks about spending. We have set out plans to invest an additional £150 million in mental health services; there is £54 million to reduce waiting times. We will spend £10 million to support new ways of improving mental health services in primary care settings, which, to be fair to Willie Rennie, he has repeatedly raised, and we will spend £15 million specifically to support better access to child and adolescent mental health services and a range of other initiatives that are all about positively recognising the increase in demand and taking steps to meet it.

I absolutely accept that it is for the Opposition parties to put pressure on the Government, to scrutinise the Government and to hold it to account. I hope that, on this vital issue, we can find a degree of consensus. This is one of the most serious issues that we face as a society; it is about not just treating young people with mental health problems but preventing mental health problems. We could have a much bigger discussion about that. The Government is absolutely committed to the actions that we have set out and I genuinely hope that we will have Willie Rennie’s support as we implement those actions.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

Does the First Minister agree that depicting women who serve in public life as sexual predators or—I quote—as a “poor excuse for women”, or referring to them with homophobic slurs, can never be excused as amusing satire and is in fact crass and deeply offensive?

The First Minister

I agree. I do not know specifically what comments Annie Wells is referring to. If it is the incident at the weekend—[Interruption.] This is serious. As I hope everybody knows, even my sternest critics would accept that I would never, ever condone homophobia. I genuinely hope that there is nobody across the chamber who would argue with that.

Some of the terminology that we have heard used in satire over recent days is terminology that I would never use. I do not condone it and I can well understand that people would be offended by it. However, it is not appropriate or reasonable to describe, for example, a lesbian woman who has been out as a lesbian for 30 years as homophobic because she personally is not offended by some of that terminology.

Let us all unite in condemning homophobia. We were just talking about mental health, and some of the reasons for mental health problems among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people relate to homophobia and homophobic bullying.

Let us bring a bit of seriousness to the issue. I take responsibility; such comments are targeted at me and my party as much as at anybody else. However, let us not use such things, as often happens, as things to throw at one another as politicians. Let us instead unite as a Parliament to say that homophobia has no place in our society. We should all challenge it on all occasions.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

The First Minister will be aware of the significant support for the community maternity unit at the Vale of Leven hospital, which I was pleased to visit with her in the past. Will she ensure that the health board’s proposal to close the unit is designated as a major service change and, therefore, one that must be subject to sign off by Scottish ministers?

The First Minister

As Jackie Baillie knows, the decision about whether a particular service change is deemed a major service change is one that is taken in consultation with the Scottish health council. Those discussions on the changes that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has put forward are on-going, and the health secretary will ultimately make that determination once that recommendation has come to her. The proposal that Jackie Baillie talks about, as well as some of the other service change proposals that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has made, are proposals. They must be consulted on and they must be properly considered with the interests of patients absolutely at their heart. Where there are major service changes, the ultimate decision will lie with the health secretary.

Jackie Baillie talked about our visit some years ago to the community maternity unit at the Vale of Leven hospital. That was when, as health secretary, I was working hard to secure and safeguard the Vale of Leven which, at the time when this Government and I took office, was under serious threat from the Labour Administration that preceded us. The Vale of Leven hospital got a future because of the decisions that this Government has taken and we will always act in the interests of local health services.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister for her reaction to the death of a young boy outside his school in my constituency last week, and whether she thinks that traffic exclusion zones around schools should be more widely considered.

The First Minister

Any loss of life on Scotland’s roads is a terrible tragedy, and the death of a young child is especially poignant. Our thoughts are with the young boy’s family and friends at this unimaginably awful time for them. It is, of course, for local authorities to decide on road safety measures around schools; they do so in consultation with parents and local residents, and according to the specific circumstances in which schools are situated. Innovative measures, such as the traffic exclusion zone that I understand was recently trialled in Haddington, could certainly be part of those considerations. I encourage local authorities to consider such proposals, where it is appropriate to do so, because one thing on which I think we all agree is that the safety of children must be paramount.


Paralympians

5. Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what plans the Scottish Government has to honour Scotland’s Paralympians. (S5F-00248)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am sure that everyone in the chamber and across Scotland is proud of the achievements of the 33 Scottish para athletes who were part of team GB and the 17 medals that they brought home to Scotland. I am certainly looking forward to welcoming our Paralympians and Olympians home at a reception next week at Oriam, our new national sports performance centre at Heriot-Watt University. The event will be followed by a public event at Festival Square, here in Edinburgh. We are all proud of all our Paralympic athletes, but if I may, I will make special mention of Libby Clegg and Jo Butterfield because, as well as winning gold medals, they both set new world records—something to be doubly proud of. [Applause.]

Kenneth Gibson

I am sure that the First Minister concurs with me that the success of team GB shows just how much hard work has been put in by coaches and athletes, supported by their families. For Scotland to increase its medal tally from 11 in 2012 to 17 this year is truly heartening.

As a strong supporter of the this Ayrshire girl can campaign, does the First Minister agree that the silver medal that was won by swimmer Abby Kane, of Largs, in the 100m backstroke, is particularly inspirational? To what extent will the new £12 million para-sports facility that is being built in Largs aid Scotland’s future Paralympians?

The First Minister

I agree entirely with Kenny Gibson’s comments about Abby Kane. Abby Kane made team GB at the age of 13, which is an inspiration in itself. She went on to win a silver medal in Rio, which is fantastic. She has single-handedly demonstrated to a generation of young people, and young girls in particular, what they can achieve by hard work and dedication. I absolutely salute her prowess and her bravery—and the sheer delight that she has given us all during the competition over the past couple of weeks.

We made a direct investment of £6 million into the overall investment in sportscotland’s national centre at Inverclyde, which will open in spring 2017. That fully inclusive facility has been designed to enable athletes to train and stay, specifically to aid preparations for future games. I am sure that Kenny Gibson welcomes that. The centre will also be available to members of the local community, which is important. Therefore, it will provide a valuable asset in the area for people who might never be Olympic or Paralympic athletes but who nevertheless enjoy and should be encouraged to enjoy sport.


Mental Health Services (Young People)

6. Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to reduce waiting times for young people referred to mental health services in Forth Valley and across Scotland. (S5F-00266)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The continued increase in demand for mental health services for young people shows, as I have just been saying, that in the past there were far too many children who were unseen and whose needs were unmet. To respond to that, we have doubled the number of psychologists who are working in child and adolescent mental health services. We are also investing an additional £150 million over this parliamentary session, and we will publish our new mental health strategy at the end of this year.

The Minister for Mental Health has made clear to all national health service boards that any fall in performance towards our target of 90 per cent of young people being seen within 18 weeks is not good enough and that we need to improve performance. Our £150 million investment includes almost £5 million for a mental health access improvement team, which has already started work with NHS Forth Valley.

Dean Lockhart

Any additional support to address urgently what is a concerning situation is to be welcomed. However, as has been mentioned, since the 18-week referral-to-treatment target was introduced in December 2014, the proportion of young people in NHS Forth Valley who have started treatment within that timeframe has fallen from 56 per cent to only 28 per cent, making the region one of the worst performing in Scotland.

My concern is that that figure of 28 per cent is not just a number—it highlights the fact that many young people are in desperate need of support, and that is the case not just in Forth Valley but across many areas of Scotland. The evidence shows that over half of all diagnosable mental health problems start before the age of 14, so it is vital that young people in my region and in other areas get the help that they so urgently need when they need it.

Will the First Minister therefore listen to the calls from the Scottish children’s services coalition to develop an urgent action plan for boards that need that urgent support, such as NHS Forth Valley? It is not just a question of more money; it is a question of more expertise being available. Will the First Minister encourage the Minister for Mental Health to join me in meeting representatives of the health board to see how we can best address that urgent and concerning situation?

The First Minister

The Minister for Mental Health would of course be happy to meet the member and will discuss those issues with health boards on an on-going basis.

Dean Lockhart is right about statistics. We all regularly quote statistics in the chamber, but all of us have to constantly remind ourselves that behind every one of those is a human being. That is a timely reminder for all of us. That is why it is important, first, to see the increase in demand not as a problem but as a sign that more young people are coming forward for help that they previously did not get, and then to recognise our responsibility to meet that demand.

The performance of NHS Forth Valley is unacceptable, and that has been made clear to it. However, Dean Lockhart is also right that it is not just about extra investment—although the health board is receiving help through extra investment—but that it is also about expertise. That is why I draw his attention to the last part of my first answer to him, in which I said that we have established a mental health access improvement team, which has already started working with NHS Forth Valley, so that that expertise, as well as the additional investment, can be brought to bear in bringing down the waiting times in the way that we expect.

Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

Does the First Minister agree that it is probably high time that some members recognised that a huge effort is being put in on the ground to improve mental health services, particularly in NHS Forth Valley? For instance, there has been a complete redesign of service in NHS Forth Valley, with significant additional investment in CAMHS, which has led to a big increase in activity over the past year. Can the First Minister confirm what extra investment and support have been made available to help our dedicated professionals, who deserve our praise, to improve their service?

The First Minister

Bruce Crawford is right that we have to remember the dedication of the people working on the front line. They face increased demand, but the fact that waiting times in some areas are not as good as we want them to be is not down to any lack of dedication or hard work on their part. That is why I come back to the point that our responsibility is to increase capacity to meet that extra demand.

As I said, NHS Forth Valley is receiving support from our new team and from Healthcare Improvement Scotland to help it to deliver on its redesign, which Bruce Crawford was right to mention. We are also investing an additional £1.3 million in NHS Forth Valley over the next four years to support reductions in waiting times specifically and a further £725,000 over three years to support innovation in the delivery of CAMHS. That is in addition to the £0.5 million that was provided to the board this year to support further development in specialist CAMHS workforce and delivery. Intensive efforts are being made to support those at the front line to deliver those services, and that will be replicated across Scotland in different ways so that we have services that are capable of meeting the increased demand that young people are creating by coming forward because, thankfully, the stigma around mental health issues is beginning to reduce.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I agree with the First Minister that progress has been made to reduce the stigma around mental health issues, but there is no escaping the increasing waiting times that we have heard about. This week, the Scottish health survey revealed a postcode lottery, with children and young people in the most deprived communities more likely to have lower levels of good mental health. Last week, 10,000 members of the 38 Degrees campaign group took the time to reply to the Government’s consultation, which closed on Friday, to say that more investment is required. Although additional funding is to be welcomed, does the First Minister share my concern that £150 million over five years might not be enough? What steps will the Minister for Mental Health take to keep that under review?

The First Minister

Monica Lennon is right to make many of those points and particularly to draw attention to the link between deprivation and mental health issues, which is very much in our minds as we develop the mental health strategy. She also referred to the fact that a number of people have submitted views to the strategy consultation, and those will be taken into account.

The £150 million investment is for a range of targeted improvements to increase capacity and improve waiting times. We are not just throwing a particular sum of money at the problem; it is dedicated, targeted money to deliver specific improvements. Of course, we will keep that under review as we implement the new mental health strategy. There is an absolute determination on the part of the Minister for Mental Health and the Government as a whole to ensure that we have services in Scotland that can meet the increased demand for mental health services.

I return to something that I said earlier, which Monica Lennon was right to hint at. The issue is as much about prevention as it is about treatment. We as a society—we are not alone in this—must have a bigger debate about how we improve young people’s mental wellbeing and not just treat their mental health problems.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Does the First Minister agree that the biggest thing that she could do to deal with the issue is to have a specialist in every surgery in Scotland? That is the biggest spend-to-save initiative that she could ever make.

The First Minister

We agree that there need to be more services in primary care—I indicated that in a previous answer. We are committed to having more link workers working in primary care settings, to improve the patient experience. In principle, I agree with the sentiment of the question. However, with an issue as complex as this one, I caution against anybody suggesting that there is one magic-bullet solution. We need to do a range of things to improve not only prevention but treatment and access to services, which is why the comprehensive holistic strategy that we will produce by the end of this year is so important. The point that Mike Rumbles raised will certainly have a part to play in that, but there is a range of other things that we must do as well.