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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 22 November 2016

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Adoption and Permanence, Business Motion, Decision Time, Erskine Hospital 100th Anniversary


Topical Question Time

North Sea Decommissioning Costs

1. Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the findings of the GMB union on North Sea decommissioning costs. (S5T-00214)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Keith Brown)

As we made clear in our programme for government, the Scottish Government recognises the opportunities that are presented by decommissioning and we are committed to ensuring that Scotland is best placed to take advantage of those and build on the considerable offshore decommissioning work that has already been won by firms based in Scotland. Yesterday, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy and I hosted a round table with industry representatives to focus on the challenges and opportunities that are presented by decommissioning; further engagement is on-going.

Scottish Enterprise is developing a decommissioning action plan, which is due to be published by the end of the year, and we are working closely with Scottish ports and harbours to understand their capabilities and identify how we can help them to take advantage of the opportunities arising from the energy sector.

A priority of the Scottish Government is to encourage the industry to maintain the existing infrastructure in the North Sea so that the value of oil and gas reserves can be maximised. The GMB report notes that the current structure of decommissioning tax relief is, in its words,

“severely restricting the potential for new entrants with more agility and a lower cost base to extend the life of many UKCS fields.”

The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn statement presents an ideal opportunity to offer the industry the support and clarity that it deserves. The United Kingdom Government must provide support in widening access to decommissioning tax relief to ensure that the full potential of late-life assets can be realised, as called for by both the Scottish Government and industry.

Gillian Martin

As the cabinet secretary mentioned, when the chancellor gives his autumn statement tomorrow, he will have an opportunity to outline vital support for the North Sea oil and gas industry. What representations have been made to the UK Government on decommissioning tax relief?

Keith Brown

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 13 November calling for the autumn statement to improve the access to decommissioning tax relief. The letter also highlighted that addressing the fiscal barriers to asset transfers could extend the field life of assets and reduce decommissioning costs. In addition, I have made representations to the previous Chief Secretary to the Treasury about loan guarantees for infrastructure in the North Sea.

Gillian Martin

Yesterday, the Scottish Government signed the Aberdeen city region deal, which includes investment in the expansion of Aberdeen harbour. Will the cabinet secretary update Parliament on how the plans are progressing and how increased harbour capacity will help the north-east of Scotland to capitalise on the opportunities of decommissioning in the North Sea?

Keith Brown

As the member says, we signed the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire city deal yesterday, which comprises about £250 million of support that is equally split between the UK Government and the Scottish Government, and the Scottish Government committed an additional £254 million for capital activities.

The Aberdeen harbour expansion, which has both regional and national significance, will strengthen the harbour’s key role in supporting the economy of the north-east, and particularly the oil and gas sector. Aberdeen Harbour Board has progressed discussions with the preferred bidder for the implementation of the works. Scottish Enterprise is engaging with Scottish ports regarding their interest in providing facilities for decommissioning activity, and it is also investigating what can be done to make Scottish locations more competitive for such projects.

A decommissioning action plan is scheduled for publication in December 2016.

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary will have seen this week’s report from the GMB, which makes it clear that the Scottish and UK Governments must take action to ensure that Scottish workers get the jobs and that all the work does not go to other countries. The report clearly calls for an urgent investment fund between the UK and Scottish Governments. Can the cabinet secretary tell me what plans he has for such an investment fund separate from any city deal arrangements?

Keith Brown

We are concentrating first on trying to identify, as the GMB report seeks to do, the size of the opportunity. It is clear that, by a factor of about 46:1, the massive amount of expenditure on decommissioning will be concentrated on plugging and abandoning wells. That is where the high-value jobs and work will come. There is also a possibility of taking top sides and deconstructing them in harbours and ports. We want to understand the level of the opportunity and the investment that will be required to ensure that we can tap into that opportunity.

Although it is urgent that we do that, it is also true to say that, as the industry tells us, the cost reduction activities that the industry has been involved in have in many cases pushed out quite substantially its decommissioning plans. In those cases, it is now concentrating on maximising the economic recovery from those facilities.

We will keep close to the industry, but we will also talk further with both the trade unions and the ports and harbours that are interested in taking on the work—Paul Wheelhouse and I discussed that yesterday—to ensure that it is appropriate at the time when the opportunities become available.

Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

Does the cabinet secretary support the decommissioning programme that Shell UK has put forward for the Brent field? Does he recognise that the real growth to be captured in the north-east will be through learning and innovation that is supported by the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, which will be funded by the city deal that was signed yesterday and which I visited yesterday, and the exporting of those skills globally?

Keith Brown

That is a very good point.

On Alexander Burnett’s point about the Brent field, to go back to the point that I made in response to Jenny Marra’s question, more than 100 companies, many of which are Scottish, are active and involved in the process in the Brent field. A huge amount of economic activity is going on in relation to decommissioning right now.

The member is also right to say that, if we can produce the innovation that is required through the Oil & Gas Technology Centre and provide collaboration between the different actors that are interested in the work, we can develop expertise that can be sold around the world to the benefit of companies in the north-east of Scotland.

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

It is clear that technologies in the Oil & Gas Technology Centre and elsewhere can play a key role in taking forward decommissioning, but does the cabinet secretary acknowledge that the time for action is now and that the urgency of the matter means that Scotland has to act quickly if it is to gain opportunities at this stage while companies make their decommissioning plans?

Keith Brown

I agree with the member that we have to act now, but I again make the point that I made to Jenny Marra. The industry says that its plans have changed substantially. Because of the lower price of oil, it has had to get very substantially involved in cost reduction. That has also led to the lengths of time for which some more marginal fields will be exploited being pushed further out.

We will respond to what the industry is doing—that is the way to do it—to try to identify opportunities. Opportunities exist, of course, but it is important to recognise that a lot is going on right now and many high-value jobs in Scottish and UK companies are being sustained by the decommissioning activity that Scotland and the UK have done extremely well in. However, we should, of course, also be aware of future opportunities.

Deaths in Childbirth (NHS Ayrshire and Arran)

2. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will consider holding a public inquiry into deaths in childbirth in NHS Ayrshire and Arran. (S5T-00215)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

The death of any mother or baby in childbirth is a tragedy for all involved. Following concerns that were raised by local parents, I have asked Healthcare Improvement Scotland to undertake a rapid review of the processes that NHS Ayrshire and Arran has in place to review and capture learning from significant adverse events and to look at the internal investigations that the board has undertaken. I have offered to meet the parents concerned on conclusion of that process.

We have the lowest-ever recorded maternal mortality rate and stillbirth rate in Scotland. Last year, 88 more babies were born alive as a result of the processes that we have in place to drive down the stillbirth rate, compared with the 2011 figures. However, we are certainly not complacent, and a programme of work is under way that is led by the Scottish Government stillbirth group, which I established, and through our Scottish patient safety programme to better understand the incidence and causes of stillbirth to continue to drive down the rate of stillbirths further.

Jamie Greene

We welcome yesterday’s announcement on an HIS review. Naturally, our condolences go to all the families that are involved in those cases.

In the tragic case of the Morton family, that family wrote to the minister in January this year and again in May. My colleague Brian Whittle followed that up with a letter in June. Finally, a cursory, one-page response was received from the minister in July. In her response, the only reference to a review was to a pre-existing Government review into maternity services that was announced a year before.

Why has it taken freedom of information requests, whistleblowers, a BBC investigation, negative press headlines and, indeed, the lodging of this topical question in Parliament before the cabinet secretary has finally accepted that the problem is serious and announced a formal review?

Shona Robison

At least three of the six cases that have been mentioned so far predate the HIS review that was carried out in 2012. Let me go back to that review.

There was a detailed review of adverse event management in the spring of 2012 at the request of the then cabinet secretary. Some improvements have been made. It is important to say that, in Ayrshire and Arran as well as in the rest of Scotland, the deaths of neonatal babies, the rates of stillbirths and maternal deaths have reduced. We should acknowledge that. However, I want Healthcare Improvement Scotland to look at some of the concerns that the families have raised about the processes and procedures that NHS Ayrshire and Arran has followed or not followed.

I want to assure myself that what was supposed to happen in each of those cases did happen and, if it did not happen, I want to know why that was the case and reinforce to NHS Ayrshire and Arran—and, indeed, any other health board—that HIS has established very clear processes that should be followed when there is a significant adverse event. If it comes to a case being referred to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, there are clear guidelines in that regard, too.

I want to assure myself that the processes were followed in all the cases. If they were not followed, action will be taken to make sure that the lessons from the cases are learned.

Jamie Greene

I—again—reiterate that we welcome the review, but we also want to make the point that all potential options for audit and scrutiny should be on the table, including the option of a third-party inquiry. Will the cabinet secretary agree to that suggestion?

The issue that a lot of people have is that, four years ago, a similar HIS review into NHS Ayrshire and Arran made specific recommendations on what could be done to improve the reporting of significant adverse events. Previous reports also flagged up problems with fetal heart monitoring, for example. However, staff shortages are preventing midwives from being able to attend mandatory training sessions and the health board is still failing to carry out serious adverse event reviews.

In addition to the HIS inquiry that was announced yesterday, what further measures is the Government taking to ensure that any recommendations coming out of an inquiry or a review are not just acknowledged but acted on? Will the cabinet secretary take personal responsibility for overseeing the process?

Shona Robison

Let me remind the member that when the first review in spring 2012 was carried out, Healthcare Improvement Scotland developed a framework and a programme of reviews. That was to try and ensure a consistency in approach to managing adverse events. The national framework was published in September 2013 and refreshed in April 2015. In 2015, Healthcare Improvement Scotland also held a series of progress meetings with boards to understand how they were continuing to implement the national framework.

Action came out of the 2012 review, new procedures were established and HIS went back to make sure that those processes were being carried out. I need to understand whether NHS Ayrshire and Arran, in those cases where families have raised concerns, followed the procedures and the processes, bearing in mind that half of the cases predated the 2012 review.

On the action to be taken after HIS reports to me, we need to wait to see what it says before we judge whether further action is required. I have asked my officials to make sure that all boards are reminded of the processes that are required to be carried out when there is a significant adverse event, as well as of the guidelines for referrals of any cases to the Crown Office.

The member mentioned staffing. Between September 2007 and June 2016, the number of midwifery staff in the national health service increased by 4.1 per cent. Overall, NHS Scotland meets the Royal College of Midwives’ recommended midwife to birth ratio. We are also aware that sometimes there are challenges in particular areas. NHS Ayrshire and Arran has recently recruited six additional midwives to the team and it plans further recruitment later in the year.

The national review, which is coming to me in the next few weeks, is working with the Royal College of Midwives to make sure that the models of care that are being delivered in our maternity and neonatal units are the best that they can be. The review is also looking at what the workforce tools should be in taking that forward. I am very happy to make the review available to Parliament.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I call Kenneth Gibson.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I thank the Presiding Officer for his indulgence. I urge the cabinet secretary to make the inquiry wider and deeper. On her due date in 2009, my wife Patricia, having being sent home but being physically sick, was finally admitted to the Southern general maternity unit, despite its protests.

A consultant, a junior doctor and two midwives examined Patricia that day. Despite Patricia being 41, a first-time mother and in extreme pain from head to toe, no one picked up pre-eclampsia. She was given morphine and put to bed. Overnight, our baby died and had to be delivered by caesarean. Patricia’s liver ruptured and she spent 19 days in intensive care and high dependency.

For 20 months, we asked NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to explain how it would prevent such a failure of care from reoccurring and impacting other lives. The board blanked us, and when, because of that, we were forced to take legal action, it hired a queen’s counsel, wasting thousands in taxpayers’ money, to defend the indefensible. It took five years before—this year—the board eventually conceded.

What will the cabinet secretary do to ensure that other people in Ayrshire and Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland are not treated as badly when they experience such a tragedy? [Applause.]

Shona Robison

The experience of Patricia Gibson and indeed the whole family, and the way in which the case was handled, was absolutely appalling. We expect all health professionals to treat anyone who has suffered a bereavement with care, dignity and respect; that clearly did not happen in that case.

We should learn the lessons from the case. If Kenny Gibson wants to follow up with me some of the issues that arise from the case, I will be happy to do that and to ensure that, through the national review and the work that Healthcare Improvement Scotland is undertaking, such cases are avoided where they possibly can be avoided. I will be happy to have a further discussion with Kenny Gibson about that.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Our thoughts and condolences go to all the families who have been affected and to Kenneth and Patricia Gibson. Mr Gibson made a powerful and emotive case, which will have touched everyone who is in the chamber.

I welcome the announcement of a review in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, but I think that the cabinet secretary should go further. The BBC investigation found that there have been more than 25,000 adverse incidents since 2011, including the deaths of 26 newborns, 79 stillbirths and the deaths of three mothers. The figures are heartbreaking. Our thoughts are with every family who has been affected by the death of a child.

The investigation also revealed that 500 incidents were related to staff shortages and more than 100 were due to delays in treatment. It is increasingly clear that more and more pressure is being put on our front-line NHS staff, who do an amazing job, and that thousands of posts in our health service are unfilled. I have raised workforce planning with the health secretary, and she was right in what she said about the numbers in the NHS workforce. However, the reality is that vacancies in nursing and midwifery posts are increasing in Scotland. In light of the investigation, will the cabinet secretary extend the review so that it considers staffing more widely, across all maternity units in Scotland?

Shona Robison

On adverse events, the 25,000 events that the BBC cited range from minor adverse events, such as slips, trips and bumps and administrative errors, right through to very significant adverse events. It is important to ensure that people who are listening to this exchange understand that we are not talking about 25,000 significant adverse events.

Every adverse event should be investigated and lessons should be learned from all 25,000. However, let me focus on the significant adverse events. We absolutely want to ensure that, through the patient safety programme, we continue to reduce significant adverse events and avoidable deaths. I reiterate what I said. As a result of the patient safety programme, which has been operating for a number of years, we have the lowest levels of stillbirth and neonatal death on record and maternal deaths have decreased.

When it comes to the really significant adverse events—the worst kind—huge progress has been made through the patient safety programme. It is fair to say that our maternity and neonatal units are safer now than they were four or five years ago, due to that programme of patient safety work.

We should thank our front-line staff for the work that they have done in achieving that. However, we must not be complacent, and that work will continue. It is overseen by external scrutiny from a group called MBRRACE-UK—mothers and babies: reducing risk through audits and confidential enquiries across the UK—which looks at maternity units across the whole United Kingdom. MBRRACE-UK does a report every year in which it highlights any unit that is above the average for deaths, and that information is in the public domain. Those units highlighted would be expected to address why they have a higher than average level of avoidable deaths. That is very important external scrutiny, and the duty of candour will add another layer of external scrutiny to that.

As I said in response to the previous question about the workforce, NHS Scotland meets overall the Royal College of Midwives’ recommended midwife to birth ratio. It is important that we make sure through the national review and the work that we are doing with the Royal College of Midwives that those workforce tools, which are very important in making sure that we have the right staffing level in the right units, are applied. Vacancies are clearly a challenge, but we are working with boards to overcome that. There are more midwives out there; we have had four years of increases in student midwife numbers and now have new midwives coming out into training and into posts. That is something that we will continue to support.

The Presiding Officer

There is a huge amount of interest from members on this subject, but I can take only one more question, as there is no more time.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I have been working with my constituents Mr Morton and Miss Logan on investigating the tragic death of their son, Lucas. In scrutinising action plans produced from a previous root cause analysis review, we were shocked to discover that areas that it recommended for improvement in 2010 were the same areas that failed Mr Morton, Ms Logan and their son five years later. How can Mr Morton, Miss Logan and the public have any faith in any new Government review when, unlike what Mr Morton is looking for, lessons have not been learned, nor recommendations implemented, from past system failings?

Shona Robison

That is precisely why it is very important that I understand whether the processes and procedures that NHS Ayrshire and Arran were supposed to have followed were followed, whether that is in the Morton family’s case or any of the others that have been raised. I need assurance in that regard. If the processes and procedures have not been followed, we will take action to ensure that they are followed in future.

The previous review was in 2012. It established some very important changes to ensure consistency in applying the significant adverse events processes and, indeed, in making sure that lessons were learned and that there are standardised criteria for the referral of appropriate cases to the Crown. If there are cases where those processes have not been applied properly, I will take action to ensure that that is addressed. In addition, I have offered to meet the families, once I have the HIS report, to discuss the findings with them. I extend that invitation to the Morton family, too.

The Presiding Officer

I apologise to the members who could not get in.

SinoFortone Investment (Transparency)

3. Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports that the Chinese company, SinoFortone, is willing to reopen investment discussions, what steps it will take to ensure that any investment is transparent. (S5T-00217)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Keith Brown)

The Scottish Government is committed to attracting investment and jobs to Scotland from China and elsewhere, but there are currently no talks scheduled with SinoFortone.

We have been clear throughout that the memorandum of understanding with SinoFortone and China Railway Number 3 Engineering was about exploring possible investment and involved no legal, contractual or financial commitments on behalf of the Scottish Government. If projects involving the Scottish Government do arise, full due diligence will be taken forward in the normal way. The Scottish Parliament would scrutinise such projects and, if there were any concerns, projects would not happen.

The Scottish Government condemns human rights abuses wherever they take place. We are committed to engaging with the Chinese Government on human rights, an issue critical to China’s long-term prosperity and social stability, as part of our overall engagement. Respect for human rights and the rule of law is one of the four guiding principles that we set out up front in the Scottish Government’s China strategy and which underpin all of Scotland’s dealings with China.

Liam McArthur

I thank the cabinet secretary for his response—although it was difficult to ascertain from it what he plans to do differently: indeed, he referred to the fact that any future processes would carry on “in the normal way”. Has he looked again at the protocols that he uses to reassure himself on human rights and other issues before getting the First Minister to put pen to paper? The First Minister said that she would learn lessons. What lessons have been learned, and is anything different?

Keith Brown

We would seek to be as transparent as possible. The memorandum of understanding that was talked about before was not published at the time of signing, because it related only to exploring investment opportunities, and not to specific investments or projects. We have since released more than 70 pages of material relating to the signing of the MOU, and we have responded in detail to all 37 written parliamentary questions and nine freedom of information requests on it.

I repeat that no deal was being done: there was a memorandum of understanding and discussions took place. We will seek to approach the matter in the future by ensuring that we are as transparent as possible, and that any projects that are agreed through the Scottish Government are made available for parliamentary scrutiny as they progress.

Liam McArthur

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for his response, but there was nothing in it that suggested that the approach will be any different next time round. The First Minister assured Parliament that she accepted that there are lessons for the Government to learn, which it will reflect on and learn. Will the cabinet secretary set out for Parliament what those lessons are for future deals?

Keith Brown

I made clear in my previous response exactly what our approach will be. We will seek to be as transparent as possible at all times.

It is important to realise that, as I have said, no deal was being done—they were preliminary discussions, as with those under previous Administrations, with which Liam McArthur was involved. There is a point at which the discussions are confidential and a point at which they become public; if discussions lead to projects, Parliament has a legitimate right to ensure that it is able to scrutinise those projects.

We will ensure that all the actions that we take are consistent with our being as transparent as possible and that we make public as much information as possible during the process. It is important that we have a Government that is willing to go out and look for investment from around the world, including from China. That is exactly what the First Minister and I have done before.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Emails that have been released following FOI requests indicate that in the previous talks between SinoFortone and the Scottish Government, the company was interested in energy projects and large-scale affordable housing projects to build 3,000 to 5,000 homes, which would be manufactured in a purpose-built facility. At that time, the company indicated an interest in Falkirk and Central Scotland. Can the cabinet secretary confirm whether he supports that approach to delivering affordable homes, and can he advise Parliament what role—if any—Chinese steel would play in those projects? Is he willing to rule out any such role at an early stage?

Keith Brown

I apologise to Monica Lennon: I am not sure what I am being asked to rule out.

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Chinese steel.

Keith Brown

On affordable housing, the Scottish Government was not proposing to build those houses, nor had a project been designed to build the houses; simply, a discussion was being had. As Monica Lennon mentioned, a local authority area was also involved in the process. We do not control the affordable housing that other parties want to build; we have our own programme for affordable housing and the ambition to create 50,000 new homes over the course of this parliamentary session, and that is what we are concentrating on. If somebody else wants to come in and invest in housing, we will see how we can support that. Of course, we would be concerned about the nature of the housing, but that would be a matter for the parties that were contracting.

I repeat that such a project was not agreed between the parties involved in the discussions—in fact, no projects were being agreed at that point. All that was taking place were discussions. As Monica Lennon said, some mention was made in the emails that have been released about possible areas of interest, but no projects were proposed. It would be at the point of projects being proposed that we would, of course, want due diligence to be undertaken and scrutiny by others to ensure that we would satisfy Parliament’s need to look at projects as they develop.