Meeting date: Thursday, November 24, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 24 November 2016
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Edinburgh Waverley Station (Access Arrangements), Island Communities (Support), Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Edinburgh Waverley Station (Access Arrangements)
- Island Communities (Support)
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-00514)
I have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.
In yesterday’s statement, the Minister for Transport and the Islands said that ScotRail had “learned lessons” from the chaos that passengers have endured, but he left a series of questions unanswered. He said that ScotRail is well under way to implementing 250 action points for improvement, but he will not tell anyone what they are. That is not for the first time. A month ago, he told MSPs on a parliamentary committee that he would come back to them with an answer. Yesterday, when asked again, he had nothing more to say.
Can the First Minister give a commitment today? Will her Government publish those 250 action points?
Yes. ScotRail will publish them within the next few days.
I appreciate the clarity. Of course, it would have been better if the transport minister had been able to give the same clarity yesterday.
As we are making progress, let us keep this going, First Minister. We are told that there are 250 action points but we are not going to be told—well, we want to be told—when they are coming.
Let us look at another point on timing. We are told that work is well under way to deliver the actions. How can we judge that when, yesterday, the transport secretary ducked the question on the timescale? The public want to know when things will get better. We asked yesterday, but we got no answer from the minister.
The First Minister has given me one answer today that the transport minister could not give yesterday. Let us go for two out of two. What is the deadline for the improvements? Will the First Minister give us the answer today that the minister could not give yesterday?
The improvements cover a period of time. A summary of all the action points is already on ScotRail’s website, which any member of the Parliament and any member of the public can read. The full detail of each of the—to be precise—246 action points will be published over the next few days. They cover improvements to infrastructure, improvements to the ScotRail fleet and improvements to operations. All that is backed by an investment of £5 billion over the remainder of the decade in improving our rail services.
On the timescale, Humza Yousaf made it clear yesterday that we are pressing ScotRail to deliver on-going improvements to its performance. The contract that is in place sets a target for ScotRail of making sure that 91 out of every 100 trains run within the recognised industry standard for punctuality. At the moment, ScotRail’s performance is 89 out of 100, which is not good enough. The various action points that are covered in the plan are about improving the service and beginning to have improvements in that service immediately. We should all get behind the transport minister as he seeks to achieve that.
We were doing so well. We have a Government that is only now, a month on, starting to reveal the improvement plan that a month ago it said that it would get on with.
This week, the Government floated an alternative plan—it raised the question of a public sector operator running the rail system. We need to ensure that any such options are realistic. What is the earliest date that such an operator could take over our rail system? If, as the transport minister says, the rail network does not give a poor service, why does she think that such an operator is necessary?
We had a commitment in our manifesto to make sure that there was such an option. We have not had the powers to do that previously, but we now have the powers. We said that we would make sure that there was an option for a public service bid to be able to compete for the franchise when it is next up for renewal.
I know that the Tories are no friends of the public sector. Privatisation is and always has been the Tories’ watchword, but we want to ensure that a public service bid is able to compete the next time that the franchise comes up for renewal. As Ruth Davidson is aware, the earliest that that could be is 2022.
We will start making plans now to ensure that such a bid is possible, which is why Humza Yousaf has, as he said in the chamber yesterday, invited the transport spokespeople from all the parties to a meeting to start talking about how that can be delivered. I hope that all members welcome that. It is yet more evidence of the action that the Government is taking to improve our railways.
Even the First Minister would admit that this week the rail network has been in a shambles. Commuters standing on platforms have watched as the Scottish Government has blamed the train operator for the mess, and the train operator has said that the Scottish Government is responsible for how many seats are available and therefore for how much overcrowding exists.
The contract has at least six more years to run. The question that passengers want an answer to is pretty simple. After they have seen the events of the past week, how can they have any confidence at all over the next six years that the deal will work?
First, on capacity in our railways, we are working towards plans that will deliver 200 new services, 20,000 more seats per day and better journey times. That is what we are purchasing with the £5 billion of investment that we are putting into our railways. I should say that about 60 per cent of the costs of running our railways in Scotland are met from Government funding, compared with about 20 per cent south of the border.
Although performance on our railways, as I and the transport minister have said, is not as good as we want it to be—we are determined to see it improve—the performance of trains in Scotland is slightly better than the Great Britain average. We take our responsibilities seriously, and it would be better for all members to back the transport minister as he works to ensure that ScotRail is delivering the standard of service that the travelling public have a right to expect.
To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the week. (S5F-00554)
Among other things, I will be in Cardiff tomorrow for a meeting of the British-Irish Council.
Today there was more delay and disruption on Scotland’s rail network. At one stage this morning, one third of trains were running late. Yet again, thousands of people were delayed in getting to work. Earlier this week, the transport minister, Humza Yousaf, said that it was not a poor service, and in her answer to Ruth Davidson, the First Minister did what her Government always does: she blamed Labour and then talked about England. Does she really think that the thousands of people who were delayed at Glasgow Central today care about what happened in 2002 or what is going on in Cornwall this morning?
I am not particularly interested in what is going on in Cornwall this morning, but I am very interested in what is going on in Scotland. As members are aware, this morning there was a points failure that affected services to and from Glasgow, which has now been rectified.
I regret any delay and disruption and we apologise—as I did last week—to anybody whose train was delayed because of that points failure. Unfortunately, such things happen on our railways. What is important is that ScotRail communicates properly with the travelling public and that we make sure that we invest in our infrastructure to reduce the chances of such things happening in the future. That is why the investment plans for operations, infrastructure and the fleet are so important. We will continue to take our responsibilities seriously.
When I talk about performance under Labour, I am not suggesting in any way that that should excuse poorer performance now. I do that simply to put today’s performance into context. For the most recent period, ScotRail’s performance was 89.8 per cent. It should be higher than that, but it is higher than it was in any year under the previous Labour Administration. I say that simply to put the figure in context.
We will continue to make the investment and do the work that is necessary to improve our rail services. That is what the travelling public have a right to expect from us.
I am sure that that will be of great comfort to the people who were stranded on platforms this morning. However, I am glad that the First Minister agrees with me that the service that Scotland’s commuters are receiving just is not good enough, and that she thinks that passengers deserve better.
In January, the price of regulated rail fares is due to rise. A passenger using an annual season ticket to travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow will have to pay £71 more next year. That makes people even angrier. I think that passengers deserve a break, which is why today Labour is publishing a plan to freeze all regulated rail fares next year. Surely the First Minister agrees with us that people deserve a break. She has the power to give them one, so will she back Labour’s call for a 2017 rail fare freeze?
Of course we will consider any proposal that is put forward. We will particularly look to see how that proposal would be paid for, because it is important that we can implement and deliver the investment package that I have spoken about. Of course we do not want rail fares to increase any more than is absolutely necessary. That is why, at the moment, increases in rail fares are at their lowest level since powers over the railways were devolved to the Parliament in 2005. Peak-time rail fare increases are limited to inflation and off-peak rail fare increases are actually limited to inflation minus 1 per cent. That is the discipline that we exert on rail fares. We will consider any proposals but, above all else, we will ensure that we have fairness around the funding of our railways so that we can carry out the investments that are required to make sure that standards improve.
Our proposal is a serious one, with the means to pay for it contained in it. We asked the Scottish Parliament’s independent experts to cost it for us, and they have estimated that it would cost as little as £2 million, which is the equivalent of two months’ profit for Abellio. People are fed up with expensive, overcrowded and unreliable trains. The Scottish National Party is desperate to talk tough about what action it might take in 2022, but passengers who have been left stranded on freezing platforms this morning need a break now. Does the First Minister not agree with me that, after weeks of misery, passengers in Scotland deserve to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel with a fare freeze in 2017?
I have said that we will look at any proposal that is put forward, and I will stick to that commitment. However, we have already been bearing down on rail fare increases. As I said to Ruth Davidson, a much bigger proportion of the funding of our railways in Scotland comes from Government funding, rather than rail fares, than is the case south of the border, and I think that that is right and proper. We will also make sure that we plan the investment that is required to improve the infrastructure, the trains and the operation of our trains so that the kind of delays that we are talking about are not seen in the future. That is the responsible action that we will continue to take, and it is the action that the travelling public have a right to expect. We will look at the option of a public service bid in future, but right now we will continue to focus on making the improvements that people want to see.
We have a number of constituency supplementaries today.
What is the Scottish Government’s response to the news of the proposed closure of the Kwik-Fit Insurance Services contact centre in my constituency?
I am of course aware of the proposed closure of the Kwik-Fit Insurance site in Uddingston, with the possible loss of more than 500 jobs, and my thoughts are with all the workers who are affected at this time. The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse, has already spoken with senior management and is looking at options. He has underlined our full support for the Uddingston site and its workforce and has said that we are committed to working with North Lanarkshire Council and others to do all that we can to retain jobs. Scottish Enterprise is working closely with the company to consider all possible avenues for support, and we will continue to engage throughout the consultation process. It is important that we give the site and its workforce the full support that they need and deserve at this difficult time, and we are absolutely committed to doing that.
As a result of some very unsatisfactory clinical outcomes at the maternity unit at Caithness general hospital—indeed, one mum, Eilidh McIntosh, had to endure her labour in an ambulance on the road between Wick and Raigmore—it appears that NHS Highland is proposing, without public consultation, next week to downgrade the Caithness general maternity unit to a midwife-led unit, with Raigmore becoming the hub.
Knowing that childbirth can quickly become life-threatening, not only to the mother but to the child, is the Government happy that Caithness and Sutherland mums with difficult deliveries might have to face a two-and-a-half hour blue-light drive to Inverness, which could be considerably longer in winter? Will the Government—and, I hope, the First Minister—join me, Caithness residents and local councillors in asking for a full public consultation before those changes are automatically imposed?
This is very important issue. Edward Mountain raised the case of an unsatisfactory ambulance journey, and I make it clear that the standard of care received in that case fell way below what we rightly expect for women in Scotland. I also make it clear that I expect both NHS Highland and the Scottish Ambulance Service to act on the findings of the investigation and to make improvements to local services to ensure that mothers and babies can be transferred safely and comfortably whenever they need to be.
On the more general issue, as Edward Mountain is aware, NHS Highland published a report into the safety of maternity and neonatal services at Caithness hospital, and it will further consider that report, which was triggered by the death of a baby in Caithness maternity unit in September 2015, later this month. The medical director will recommend that, on the basis of the report’s findings, Caithness maternity services should be reconfigured and that the facility should operate as a midwife-led community maternity unit. The recommendation is being made on the ground of safety, and is supported by external review. That is the reason why NHS Highland is not proposing to consult on the decision, which will not come to ministers. However, NHS Highland is also proposing to consult widely on proposals to strengthen services at Raigmore and to provide facilities for parents to ensure that local concerns are addressed.
I hope that all members will recognise that, where a report makes a recommendation based on patient safety—and the report in question is clearly based on patient safety—it is incumbent on the local NHS board to act accordingly.
The First Minister will be aware of this week’s announcement that a buyer has been found for the Fort William smelter and hydroelectric plant, and the surrounding land, which are currently owned by Rio Tinto. Can she provide an update?
Rio Tinto informed its workforce and the stock exchange yesterday morning that it had reached an agreement to sell its shareholding in Alcan Aluminium UK to the GFG Alliance in a deal that is being supported by the Scottish Government. The sale is great news for the local community and especially for the more than 150 people who work at the Fort William aluminium smelter. The uncertainty hanging over the workforce since the strategic review was announced in January has been lifted, ending an anxious wait for the workforce and all those whose livelihoods depend on the business. The deal not only safeguards the existing jobs in Lochaber, but has the potential to create hundreds more through planned investment in new facilities, and I hope that everybody across the chamber will warmly welcome it.
Is the First Minister aware that cuts are being made to mental health services by West Dunbartonshire health and social care partnership as a result of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s budget cuts for next year? Is she further aware that the SNP group leader voted with the unelected health board appointees in favour of those cuts, while Labour councillors voted against, and does she agree with the Scottish National Party group leader’s actions in voting for cuts to mental health services in my area?
Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s budget is not being cut next year. It is increasing in line with the budgets of other territorial health boards. The reason for that, of course, is that the Government is committed to continuing to increase the NHS budget overall over this session of Parliament by £500 million more than inflation, which is a bigger commitment than Labour made in its manifesto. That is the reality of the situation.
I am not aware of the particular local issue that Jackie Baillie raises. If she wants to write to me about it, I will make sure that it is looked into. As I have said before, the health service faces real pressures because of rising demand, but we are determined to work with the health service to give it extra resources so that it can meet those pressures. Within the overall NHS budget, we have made clear our commitment to increase funding for mental health services.
At this very moment, the City of Edinburgh Council is meeting to approve its local development plan—a document that will see thousands upon thousands of new homes built in my constituency, putting intolerable pressure on health services in Kirkliston, South Queensferry and Corstorphine. The plan will also lead to further choking of arterial routes that are already ranked as the most polluted and congested in Scotland, and the tearing up of much-loved green belt and natural heritage in areas such as the Cammo estate.
I accept that there is a housing crisis in this country, but there is a housing crisis of a different kind in my constituency. The citizens of west Edinburgh are on their knees, groaning under the weight of new houses that we are forced to endure. Will the Scottish Government introduce a new planning bill that seeks to rule out development in areas in which it is not sustainable and which compels developers, through section 75 orders, to build things such as new health centres and roads infrastructure in the first phase of development? Will the First Minister define once and for all what is meant by “green belt” and protect areas such as the Cammo estate for ever more?
I am more than happy to look into the detail of the issue that Alex Cole-Hamilton raises but, as I listened to the question, I was struck by two things. First, he appeared to be criticising the Scottish Government for a council’s desire to build more houses. Given that many Opposition members frequently criticise us for—according to them—not building enough houses, that seems to be a rather contradictory attack on the Government. Secondly, it seems to be entirely on its head for a member of a party that usually accuses the Scottish Government of centralising decision making to ask us to pass legislation to restrict a council’s local decision making.
We will continue to make sure not only that the planning system operates effectively and that local communities’ concerns are taken into account, but that we can see an expansion in house building, which is much needed across the country.
To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-00531)
The Cabinet has not left itself much time between yesterday’s Westminster budget statement and the introduction of a draft budget for Scotland for next year.
Yesterday’s statement at Westminster was accompanied by a great deal of rhetoric about protecting people who are just about managing, but it contained a great deal more good news for the wealthiest. Some 85 per cent of the income tax cuts over the course of the rest of the Parliament will go to the richest households. Although people have been given some light relief through the changes to universal credit, only a tiny fraction of what has already been taken away from them will be restored. The uprating of the so-called national living wage—the upper band of the minimum wage—will not get anywhere close to the real living wage, nor will it protect younger workers, who at the moment are the most exploited in our economy.
The Scottish Government can take action on all those fronts. Does the First Minister agree that the Scottish budget must not only avoid reproducing the same unjust policies that are being pursued south of the border, but result in a cumulative benefit to Scotland that closes the inequality gap and leaves far fewer people in Scotland genuinely struggling?
Yes, I agree with that. Our budget will, of course, be published on 15 December.
It is important to talk about the context for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced yesterday. It does not surprise me that Ruth Davidson did not want to mention the autumn budget statement earlier because, even after the additional capital funding that was announced yesterday, from which we will benefit through consequentials, by the end of this decade our budget will be 9.2 per cent lower, in real terms, than it was when the Tories took office. The £800 million that was announced yesterday will mean that, instead of our budget being £3.3 billion lower by the end of the decade than it was when the Tories took office, it will be £2.9 billion lower. The Tories want us to be thankful for that.
In addition, the fact that the universal credit situation will remain largely unchanged means that yesterday’s autumn budget statement was a case of taking money away from the poorest to give it to the richest in our society. We saw the Tories showing their true colours.
We will set out our budget plans in full on 15 December, but we have already said that we will not pass on a massive tax cut to the 10 per cent top income earners in the country. Given that our budget is being hammered by the Tories, public services are being hammered and the UK Government is borrowing an additional £100 billion because of its Brexit recklessness, this is a time to protect our public services and to protect the vulnerable, and that is what this Government will do.
I share that goal, but I hope that we can move away from the language of “passing on” tax cuts from south of the border. The chancellor down south does not set tax rates and bands for Scotland; it is the Scottish Government that will set those. There is therefore no question of passing on. It is about deciding what is right for Scotland from first principles.
It seems pretty clear that specific actions must be taken if we want the Scottish budget to have the effect that the First Minister says that she wants to achieve. For example, we should be saying that all workers, and not just workers over 25, will get the genuine living wage—and there should be the kind of conditionality for Government support on that that the Scottish Government has shied away from. We should be using capital spending to cut people’s living costs, through areas such as energy efficiency. We should be using devolved powers to top up benefits. A top-up of child benefit could lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty in Scotland.
We absolutely must avoid protecting wealthy people such as ourselves and have progressive tax policies that save money for people on lower incomes and raise money from people who can afford to pay more.
Does the First Minister agree that it is dispiriting to hear the Labour Party, for example, say that it is middle earners who will benefit if we raise the higher rate? Higher-rate taxpayers are on high incomes. Should we not expect people on high incomes to pay a bit more?
I agree with that last point. Higher-rate earners earn more than £43,000 a year. My judgment is that it is not right to give a large tax cut to the top 10 per cent of income earners at a time when people at the bottom end are suffering so much and there is so much pressure on our public services. That is the judgment that we make. It is dispiriting, especially after some of the rhetoric that we have heard from the Labour Party in this Parliament, that John McDonnell said that Labour agreed with the tax cut for top earners.
Patrick Harvie will appreciate that I will not go into all the detail today on other points that he raised, because the finance secretary will set out the budget in due course. However, on energy efficiency, this Government has invested heavily and will continue to do so. We will continue to do everything that we can to mitigate the effect of welfare cuts. I hope that everyone in this Parliament—perhaps with the exception of the Tories—will welcome the fact that we have managed to confirm that our work programme will not have sanctions attached to it, which I think will be warmly welcomed.
On the minimum wage and living wage, although we do not have the power to set the minimum wage we have made it very clear that we want the extension of the real living wage—I have already extended it to 40,000 social care workers.
Those are the kinds of action that we will continue to take, to help the people who are most in need and to protect our public services. When we publish the budget, I hope that all members will back it.
The First Minister is aware that NHS Ayrshire and Arran has—going back many years—a less-than-good track record of disseminating information and acting on information gained and lessons learned from critical incidents and significant adverse events. A pattern of failure for too many bereaved families is well established.
I welcome the review into baby deaths at University hospital Crosshouse, but we have been here before and the questions remain. Given that lessons have not been learned and acted on in the past, does the First Minister really believe—and can she guarantee—that the outcome of the inquiry into baby deaths at Crosshouse will deliver improvements for the people of Ayrshire and my constituents?
I think that it is fair to say that changes have been made. The earlier review to which John Scott referred is the review of NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s adverse event management, which I instigated in 2012 when I was health secretary.
Some of what we heard this week is deeply concerning. That is why the health secretary has asked Healthcare Improvement Scotland to review the cases that have been highlighted in Ayrshire and Arran—and, indeed, other cases that HIS thinks it necessary to review—and to report on whether the correct processes and procedures were properly followed. Healthcare Improvement Scotland will report back at the earliest possible opportunity, after which the health secretary has offered to discuss the findings directly with the families concerned.
I give the member and the Parliament an absolute assurance that if there are lessons to be learned or improvements to be made we will not hesitate to act.
The justice minister has instructed Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland to review undercover policing in Scotland. This week, it emerged that one of the key officers who is working on the review is Stephen Whitelock, who was previously deputy director of the specialist force that was responsible for carrying out the undercover policing activity that he is now reviewing. Will the First Minister step in and remove Mr Whitelock from the inquiry? If not, the inquiry’s credibility will be in tatters when its work has barely begun.
I will fully consider the issue that Neil Findlay raises. More generally, as he said, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has directed Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake a review of undercover policing in Scotland. It is important that we allow that review to proceed and then act on any of its findings. We all want to ensure that people can have confidence in that review, so, of course, we will consider any issues that are raised that might damage that confidence. Therefore, without saying any more about it today, I will consider the issue that has been raised and get back to the member in due course.
With the Brexiteer chimera of £350 million a week for the national health service being replaced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday with £225 million a week of new borrowing, is it not now much more difficult for Governments north and south of the border to deliver social justice, given that our economy is being burdened by debt of that magnitude due to the incompetence of the Tories?
Yes, I think that that is absolutely correct. Yesterday, perhaps for the first time, we started to see laid bare the true cost of Brexit. Rather than there being the promise of £350 million extra a week for the national health service, we saw that the additional borrowing alone that has been caused by Brexit will amount to £225 million a week. That is the Brexit con that so many people in the Conservative Party have presided over. That is why I am determined that we will continue to explore every option to protect Scotland’s interests and, in particular, to protect our place in the single market, because that is how we will minimise the costs of Brexit that are being imposed on us by the Conservative Party.
Last month, the First Minister voted for a Green amendment in this chamber that set out clear red lines in relation to the protection of Scotland’s public services and environment from the comprehensive economic and trade agreement and the transatlantic trade and investment partnership trade deal. Yesterday’s vote in the European Parliament confirmed that there will be no scrutiny of those deals by the European Court of Justice, even though the Scottish Government’s written answers confirm that CETA poses a potential threat to our NHS and our protected foods.
Will the First Minister release legal advice that points to the damaging impact of the trade deals? What action will she take to ensure that Scotland’s voice and values are heard in Europe at this critical time?
The member is aware of the position that is laid out in the ministerial code around legal advice.
Secondly—this is a matter of regret to me—we do not have direct power over trade agreements such as CETA and TTIP. However, I absolutely agree with the member that it is incumbent on the Government and the whole Parliament to ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard. As I have said previously, we have concerns around some of the contents of those trade deals, particularly with regard to the threat to public services, including the NHS. We have argued that there should be an explicit exclusion for the NHS and public services in such agreements. We also have concerns about the investor-state dispute settlement process.
We will continue to argue the case that Scotland’s concerns should be taken into account, and we will absolutely ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard on these matters.
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the autumn statement. (S5F-00552)
The autumn statement starkly set out the cost of Brexit to the United Kingdom’s economy and public finances, with economic growth and tax revenue revised downwards and borrowing and inflation up. In responding, the United Kingdom Government had the opportunity to end its failed austerity policy. Instead, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has continued with the cuts that are reducing budgets for public services and cutting the income of families across Scotland. Although the small increase in capital investment that was announced yesterday is welcome, it simply reduces the cuts that were put in place by the chancellor’s predecessor. By the end of the decade, our capital budget alone will still be around 8 per cent lower in real terms than it was when the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
We will publish the Scottish draft budget next month, and it will set out the measures that we are taking to support our economy, tackle inequality and invest in public services, underlining the very different approaches that our two Governments take.
Does the First Minister agree that the full extent of the Tories’ reckless gamble with the nation’s future is now laid bare for all to see in the autumn statement, with, as she says, slower growth, higher inflation and lower tax revenues? Does she also agree that the bombshell projection that the UK debt will increase by a staggering £220 billion by 2020 if there is a hard Brexit makes it an absolute imperative that Scotland is able to remain in the single market by whatever means?
The Tories do not like hearing that, because what we are hearing now is the reality of their recklessness on Brexit. One hundred billion pounds of additional borrowing, debt increasing by around £200 billion, the debt to gross domestic product ratio hitting 90 per cent, lower growth, lower wages and a squeeze on living standards—that is the price of the Tory Brexit that Ruth Davidson and her colleagues seem to be so enthusiastic about now.
The Tories in Scotland might be the born-again Brexiteers, but this Government will continue to stand up for Scotland’s interests, we will continue to seek to protect our place in Europe and we will continue to find ways to protect our place in the single market. That is what we need to do to protect jobs, to protect public finances and to protect the living standards of people around this country, because none of those things is safe in the hands of the Tories.
If the First Minister wants to find Brexiteers, all she has to do is look at the Scottish National Party benches behind her.
For Scotland, the chancellor’s autumn statement delivers £800 million in extra capital spending, £74 million in extra resource spending, an extra £3.3 million for Scottish charities, a freeze in fuel duty, an increase in the personal allowance to help the lowest earners, an increase in research and development spending, and a city deal for Stirling and Clackmannanshire. However, Bruce Crawford seems to have forgotten about that in his question. All that is part of the fastest-growing economy in the G7, so why cannot the First Minister for once stop being so miserable and just welcome the good news?
I think that most of the misery yesterday came from the chancellor, not from anybody on the Scottish National Party side. I remember the days when Murdo Fraser used to aspire to be a serious politician; now he is simply delusional.
The facts speak for themselves. Let us take account of the £800 million extra in capital and the £74 million extra in revenue; let us factor all that in and see where we end up. We end up in a position in which, by the end of the decade, our budget will not be £3.3 billion lower than it was when the Tories took office, as we were expecting. It will just be £2.9 billion lower than it was when the Tories took office, yet the Tories expect us to thank them for that. That is the price of allowing the Tories to run our economy. The difference between Murdo Fraser and the Conservatives, and those of us on this side of the chamber, is that we think that we would do a better job of running our economy ourselves. That is the choice that we face.
Children (Activity Levels)
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking in light of recent reports that Scotland’s children are some of the least active in the world. (S5F-00513)
Some of the findings of the active healthy kids Scotland report card 2016 are disappointing and we want to do much more to challenge sedentary behaviour and to increase the physical activity levels of children. However, as the report recognises, we have a strong legislative framework and infrastructure in place that underpin our plans. Through the active Scotland outcomes framework, we are committed to providing even more opportunities for children to be active, building on our massive investment in school sport and in sports facilities since 2007.
I am sure that the member shares my disappointment that the United Kingdom Government watered down its recent childhood obesity strategy and I hope that he will lend his party’s support to our call for further restrictions on junk food advertising before 9 pm to significantly reduce children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthy food.
I welcome the Government’s efforts to encourage physical activity. However, according to the Scottish health survey, since the Scottish National Party came to power it has managed to increase the number of children meeting physical activity guidelines by only a few per cent. Does the First Minister admit that not enough progress has been made on that?
I readily acknowledge that we have to do much more. However, let us look at, for example, the percentage of children who are doing two hours or two periods of physical education. In 2005, that was less than 10 per cent of our children; this year, that figure has gone up to 98 per cent. That is just one example of the progress that is being made. We are also investing heavily in local sports facilities.
The report that the members’ question refers to—the active healthy kids Scotland report card—found that we score very well in policies and facilities but we need to do much more with regard to children’s actual physical activity. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why we are supporting the daily mile in our schools, which is a fantastic initiative. We will continue to ensure that those facilities and our investment translate into actual improvements, and I hope that, on what is an issue of importance not just now but for the future, people across the chamber will get behind us.
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to tackle the problem of nuisance calls. (S5F-00534)
I know the significant harm that nuisance calls can do, particularly to the most vulnerable people in our society. Much of the power to tackle the issue lies with Westminster; indeed, we saw some positive action last weekend.
Nevertheless, I believe that more can be done to tackle the issue. In June, the Scottish Government held a summit with representatives of United Kingdom regulators, telecommunications companies and consumer groups on the practical steps that can be taken and, on the back of the ideas that were generated at that summit, we outlined in the programme for government plans for a nuisance calls commission, which will meet for the first time next week. Of course, there are no easy solutions, but the response from the members of our commission—which, I say again, is made up of regulators, business, consumer groups and the UK Government—shows that there is a willingness to make a difference in order to protect consumers and tackle unscrupulous business practice.
I am sure that the First Minister will agree that nuisance calls are unacceptable, particularly as they are often used to target old and vulnerable people. The scale of the problem in Scotland is highlighted by UK statistics that were published earlier this week by Which? magazine, showing that Scottish cities occupy three of the top four places in terms of the proportion of nuisance calls that people receive. In Glasgow alone, more than half of all incoming calls to trueCall customers were regarded as nuisance calls. Will the Scottish Government make use of its new consumer powers and publish a bold action plan that will, by supporting the provision of call-blocking technology, put pressure on businesses to protect consumers and help vulnerable people?
I broadly agree with everything that James Kelly has said. I absolutely agree that nuisance calls are unacceptable, especially when—as they tend to do—they target older and more vulnerable people. Obviously, much of the action that can be taken on the matter is reserved to Westminster, but that does not mean that we will not explore what action we are able to take.
James Kelly is right to point to evidence that nuisance calls are higher in number and more of a problem in Scotland than they are in other parts of the UK—although I should say that there is no clear explanation for why that is the case. He is also right to point out that we will be getting more powers over consumer policies. We are actively looking at how we can use those policies in a way that contributes to tackling the problem. Obviously, call-blocking technology is one of the areas that not just the Scottish Government but other Governments are looking at. I am very happy to continue a dialogue on the subject with any member who has an interest in the issue, as we seek to work out how best we can tackle what is an unacceptable and—I think most people agree—growing problem, in particular for older people in our communities.
Nurseries (Speech and Language Development)
To ask the First Minister, following the recent call by Save the Children, what action the Scottish Government will take to increase the number of teachers and other staff working in nurseries with specialist training in speech and language development. (S5F-00517)
Our national practice guidance, which was published in 2014, focuses on the communication needs of babies, toddlers and young children in a variety of settings, and makes recommendations for best practice. Of course, we are already committed to expanding free early learning and childcare, including to the most vulnerable two-year-olds, and to providing by 2018 nurseries in the most deprived areas of Scotland with an additional graduate or teacher with early learning expertise.
In addition, the investment for delivering early learning and childcare entitlement will support delivery of different models of provision, including holistic delivery models. For example, the Woodburn family learning centre in Midlothian has co-located early learning and childcare with other services for children and families, including speech and language therapists.
The First Minister has restated her commitment to expanding childcare. The Labour Party shares that aim. Is it not the case, however, that over the past five years Scotland’s nurseries have lost more than 900 teachers under her Government? How does she square that fact with the promises that she has just made?
We are not committed just to expanding early learning and childcare in the future; we have expanded them. Not too long ago, of course, we published the financial review of the expansion of that policy to date, which showed that, if anything, the Scottish Government has overfunded that commitment for local councils. We are, of course, working with local councils now to plan further expansion.
The commitment on extra teachers or graduates in nurseries in deprived areas is important, as is the flexibility that will be encompassed in the expanded provision, because it gives us the opportunity to look at different models of provision, such as the one that I cited in my earlier answer.
There is no doubt at all that the key to solving the problem is early education. That is why it is important that we look at expanding not just its quantity, but its quality. The Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, is absolutely focused on doing both.
That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will move on to a members’ business debate on a motion that was lodged by Miles Briggs, on disability access to Waverley station. We are trying to get new members of the public into the gallery, so I ask those who are leaving to do so as quickly and quietly as possible. There will be a short delay while we wait for the gallery to be cleared.