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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 26 October 2016

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, European Union Referendum (Update), Enterprise and Skills Support, “Report on the Memorandum of Understanding of Ofcom” , Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Campbeltown Airport (Spaceport Bid)


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Communities, Social Security and Equalities


Local Authorities (Equalities in Employment)

1. Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with local authorities regarding equalities in their employment practices. (S5O-00241)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

Ministers and officials regularly meet the leaders and chief executives of all Scottish local authorities to discuss a variety of issues. At official level, we have also had discussions with local authorities with a view to reaching consensus on equality issues.

We share the vision of the fair work convention that by 2025 people in Scotland will have a world-leading working life where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and society. That vision not only challenges businesses, employers, unions and the third sector, but has clear actions for national and local government. We fully endorse the convention’s framework and will work with others to embed its principles in workplaces across Scotland.

Liz Smith

The cabinet secretary was quite clear yesterday afternoon that the Government’s “Fairer Scotland Action Plan” features 50 different concrete actions from the Government with regard to what will happen to tackle poverty and inequality. What analysis has the Scottish Government undertaken to advise on what costs will be incurred by local authorities when it comes to implementing the action plan?

Angela Constance

I appreciate Ms Smith’s interest in the “Fairer Scotland Action Plan”, which was launched nearly a month ago. The 50 concrete actions are ambitious but we are confident that they are all affordable. Of course, the 50 actions are not all actions for local government; the purpose of the action plan is to demonstrate actions that are required by the Scottish Government, local government and other aspects of the public sector—and, of course, an equality impact assessment was done.

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

Can the cabinet secretary give her views on those councils that, in their equalities and employment practices, have not yet settled their equal pay claims?

Angela Constance

Clearly, councils are independent and have their own responsibilities towards their employees, but the Scottish Government’s position is that any on-going delays in settling equal pay claims are totally unacceptable. We have made that point repeatedly and, indeed, I reiterated it in answers to questions in the chamber prior to recent research.

When Marco Biagi was Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment, he wrote to our colleagues in local government on the issue and I recently wrote to local authorities on it, too. It is completely unacceptable that there are still outstanding equal pay claims, which go back to 2006 or, indeed, even further. There can be no justification for taking so long to resolve the claims. The Equal Pay Act 1970 is a piece of legislation that is as old as I am, but we know that the pay gap remains stubborn. However, that is all the more reason for local authorities to get on and settle outstanding equal pay claims.

As I said, the pay gap has proven to be stubborn but, given that we debated the issue at length yesterday, it should be noted that new figures released by the Office for National Statistics on the annual survey of hours and earnings show that the gender pay gap in Scotland has again decreased, going from 7.7 per cent in 2015 to 6.2 per cent in 2016, which is lower than the 9.4 per cent United Kingdom figure. Nonetheless, any gap remains unacceptable.


Funeral Poverty and Funeral Payment Reference Group

2. Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work of the funeral poverty and funeral payment reference group. (S5O-00242)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

The funeral poverty and funeral payment reference group has met three times in recent months. The group has helped to organise and plan three round-table events, which I attended with reference group members, local authorities and funeral industry representatives. It is also supporting us to organise a national conference on funeral poverty in November.

Through its work, the group is helping to shape our approach to funeral poverty and the new Scottish benefit that will replace the funeral payment.

Miles Briggs

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the specific concerns of my constituents in Edinburgh city, who face the highest costs in the whole of Scotland, with the cost of a basic burial standing at £2,253 while the Scottish average is £1,373. What assessment will the reference group make of the variation in basic burial costs across Scotland and of the pressures that families are facing in areas such as Edinburgh?

Angela Constance

I am grateful to Mr Briggs for lodging the question because, as well as answering his legitimate concerns, it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor Alex Neil, who commissioned the working group on funeral poverty, which reported in February this year. The group made a number of recommendations and we are working through them with the assistance of the reference group. Establishing the reference group was one of the recommendations made in the report.

Mr Briggs makes the valid point that the variation in burial and cremation costs is quite stark. Although we know that funeral costs rose by 92 per cent during the past decade, during the past year the overall cost saw a small decline. However, underneath that, we are still seeing rapidly rising cremation and burial costs. That is why one of the important round-tables is doing work with local authorities. Local authorities are indeed independent but, through the work of the round-tables and the national conference, it is imperative that local and national Government, along with funeral directors and the industry, work together to resolve the very real issue of funeral poverty, which is increasing. The issue will certainly not be going away, given the fact that funeral costs continue to rise and the number of deaths is predicted to rise by 15 per cent during the next decade.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the United Kingdom Government’s failure to do enough to simplify and promote the funeral payment has resulted in uptake rates remaining shockingly low?

Angela Constance

I agree with the member, and that is not just my opinion. The issues and problems with the funeral payment as it currently stands have been well rehearsed. Those issues were raised in work done by the Department for Work and Pensions and acknowledged in the recent Work and Pensions Committee report on bereavement benefits. There was also a Westminster debate on the social fund and funeral payments.

One of the main issues that we are determined to tackle in Scotland is the low uptake of the DWP funeral payment, particularly when it is devolved to Scotland. When the funding is transferred to Scotland, it will be based on the spend in Scotland during the year before transfer, so we know that the resources transferred will not meet current need or our desire to increase the reach of the benefit. We know that approximately 4,000 people receive a funeral payment in Scotland but we estimate that up to 16,000 people are in need and could apply for that benefit if we were reaching people who are entitled to make the claims.


Town Centre Regeneration (South Scotland)

3. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting town centre regeneration in South Scotland. (S5O-00243)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Scotland’s town centre first principle, which was agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, together with the measures set out in the town centre action plan, set the conditions and underpin the activity that is designed to tackle the key issues in town centres across Scotland. The Scottish Government is providing £1.8 million in funding from our regeneration capital fund to support the Stranraer town centre regeneration initiative. Local authorities remain responsible for local regeneration and local economic development. They are best placed to respond to local circumstances, working with their communities to develop the right vision for their town centres.

Colin Smyth

Does the minister agree that internet shopping, improved transport links to our cities, the rise of supermarkets and out-of-town developments have left many of the market towns across South Scotland plagued by empty shops and that there is a real need to find alternative ways of bringing people into our town centres? One important way to achieve that would be to invest in more town centre housing, which would, for example, provide alternative uses for former retail properties.

Given the extra cost of developing housing in what are often old buildings in town centres, as opposed to the cost of developing housing in greenfield sites, will the minister make a commitment that increasing investment in town centre housing will be a priority in the Government’s forthcoming budget, so that we really can regenerate our town centres?

Kevin Stewart

The Government recognises the importance of town centres and we have delivered initiatives such as the small business bonus, which has benefited nearly 100,000 businesses, many of which are based in town centres.

On the issue of delivering affordable housing in our town centres, we have already committed £6.75 million to that. That money will benefit town centres across Scotland. We are building on the learning from the test approach to enable more housing to be delivered in town centres across the country.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

On Friday, I am holding a meeting with Stena Line, Dumfries and Galloway Council, VisitScotland and Stranraer business leaders. What reassurances can I give the stakeholders that the Scottish Government will do all that it can to assist the Stranraer community with the east pier regeneration project?

Kevin Stewart

As I have stated previously, the Government has already provided £1.8 million-worth of funding from the regeneration capital grant fund to support the Stranraer town centre regeneration initiative. Local authorities are also able to support a number of other initiatives by submitting bids to the annual £25 million regeneration capital grant fund, which is open to all local authorities in the country.


Housing (Energy Efficiency)

4. Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve the energy efficiency of Scotland’s housing stock. (S5O-00244)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Since 2009, we have allocated more than £650 million to a raft of energy efficiency and fuel poverty programmes and, in the programme for government, we announced that we will make available a further £0.5 billion over the next four years.

Our investment is helping to improve the energy performance of Scotland’s homes. The share of homes with the top three energy efficiency ratings has increased by 71 per cent since 2010.

Donald Cameron

One of the key issues is the warmth of homes. Can the cabinet secretary make any comments about the oncoming winter and the warmth of homes in the future?

Kevin Stewart

I have already outlined the investment that the Government is making and will make in future years. We have carried out more than 1 million different actions in 1 million different homes in recent years.

I would be interested to hear from Mr Cameron and those on the Tory benches what they think about the United Kingdom Government’s decision to end its support for the green deal finance initiative, in relation to which we received £15 million-worth of consequentials in 2015-16. That is money that is no longer available to us because of that UK Government cut.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

What plans does the minister have to respond to the recommendations that were made by the Scottish fuel poverty strategic working group and the Scottish rural fuel poverty task force in the reports that were published earlier this week?

Kevin Stewart

Obviously, the Government will closely consider the recommendations that were made by those groups—I thank them both for the efforts that they have made.

I have already said that we will look closely at the definition of fuel poverty. That is not in order to define fuel poverty away; it is to ensure that the Government targets its resources at the folks who are most in need.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I listened with interest to what the minister said about the Scottish rural fuel poverty task force report. He will be aware that my Orkney constituency has the highest proportion of households living in fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty. The task force has talked about rural proofing the approach to tackling the issue. What reassurance can the minister give my constituents that the Government’s approach in deploying that investment will prioritise the areas that have the highest levels of fuel poverty and need?

Kevin Stewart

As I said in my previous answer, the Government wants to ensure that resources are targeted at those who are most in need. I will soon see at first hand the situation in Orkney, as I intend to visit Orkney in the near future, and a discussion about fuel poverty there is on the itinerary.


Council Tax Reduction Scheme

5. Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what additional support from the council tax reduction scheme it will provide from April 2017 for families in the Musselburgh Jobcentre area who have migrated to universal credit. (S5O-00245)

The Minister for Social Security (Jeane Freeman)

Anyone who currently receives council tax reduction support will continue to be eligible if they are in receipt of universal credit. In addition, our proposed reforms to council tax will make local taxation fairer and will continue to protect households on low incomes, including those in receipt of universal credit.

Iain Gray

I welcome the minister’s answer, but the Scottish Parliament information centre’s information is rather different. It is that the council tax reduction scheme increases that are due in April will not apply to those families who have migrated to universal credit. I would be grateful if the minister would investigate and perhaps tell us how that can be corrected.

Jeane Freeman

I am grateful to the member for drawing that to my attention. It is certainly not my understanding. Indeed, my understanding is that the council tax reduction scheme will benefit up to 77,000 households by an average of £173 a year by increasing child allowance within that scheme by 25 per cent. I will most definitely take Mr Gray’s point on board, investigate the apparent disparity in figures and report back to him.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

Does the minister agree that universal credit is not yet fit for purpose and that it should be halted until it is in a state where it can support people and not cause further financial hardship?

Jeane Freeman

Yes, I do. It is extremely disappointing that a scheme that was announced in 2010 has not yet been rolled out. Indeed, the latest completion date is 2022. I can only imagine the criticisms that we might hear from some of my Conservative colleagues on my left—geographically, at least—if the Scottish Government ever took so long to do something.

We have expressed our concerns about the roll-out of universal credit for a considerable time. We have called on the Department for Work and Pensions to halt the roll-out in Scotland until it is in a position to bring in the Scottish flexibilities around universal credit that are part of the benefits that will be devolved to us, but unfortunately we have not been successful in that. However, we believe that the opportunity that we will have—when it comes around—to give people a choice about how their universal credit is paid will be a considerable help to people.

Rachael Hamilton (South Scotland) (Con)

Will there be an appropriate level of staff to help people who are involved in the migration?

Jeane Freeman

It seems to me that that question would best be directed by one of the member’s Westminster colleagues to the DWP, because it is responsible for the roll-out of universal credit—it concocted the scheme, the proposition and the benefit itself. As we do not get information on the matter from the DWP, I can only imagine what is holding it up, but there are clearly issues around staffing and information technology. I look forward to hearing the response that her Westminster colleagues get from the DWP when they raise that point.


Local Government in Central Scotland (Meetings)

6. Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met local government representatives from the Central Scotland parliamentary region. (S5O-00246)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Ministers regularly meet the leaders and chief executives of all Scottish local authorities, including those in Central Scotland, to discuss a wide range of issues, as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

As the member will know, Councillor Harry McGuigan of North Lanarkshire Council is a Convention of Scottish Local Authorities spokesperson and I have met him on a number of occasions recently in that capacity.

Margaret Mitchell

I thank the minister for that very comprehensive answer. He will be aware that councils such as North Lanarkshire operate a community alarm system that enables elderly people to remain independent within their homes. However, as of August 2016, budgetary constraints have been cited as the reason for the decision by North Lanarkshire Council to set a £5 a week—£20 a month—charge. As a result, hundreds of the alarms have been returned.

Does the minister agree not only that that is deeply worrying but that it puts vulnerable people at risk? It is a very short-sighted decision, which fails to recognise the preventative spend advantage of providing those alarms free of charge.

Kevin Stewart

Obviously, budgetary decisions are a matter for North Lanarkshire Council. However, I agree with the member that, in taking decisions, councils should look at prevention, and I feel that such a system is an example of preventative spend. I would urge North Lanarkshire Council to perhaps take cognisance of what the Government has said previously about preventative spending. However, ultimately the budgetary decision is up to North Lanarkshire Council.

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I would agree that such alarm systems are a good idea as a preventative measure. Given that he is the minister for local government across the whole of Scotland, can the minister tell us how many other councils operate such alarm systems and how much they charge?

Kevin Stewart

I do not have that information to hand but I am willing to write to Ms Smith to let her know.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The minister makes a point about difficult decisions. What discussions is he having with local authorities about the type of difficult decisions that they face? I know that, in Fife, a payment for the community alarm system was introduced some time ago, when his own party was in power there, which was a budget decision. Councils are facing massive cuts and we are seeing that in services. What discussions is the minister having about the impact of the cuts?

Kevin Stewart

I know that colleagues speak to local government regularly. The finance secretary, Derek Mackay, is having regular meetings with COSLA at the moment about the forthcoming budget. Of course, we are still not completely sure of what will happen in that regard because we are still waiting on the chancellor’s autumn statement, which is now more likely to be a winter statement than an autumn one.


National Planning Framework (Biodiversity)

7. Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that the implementation of the national planning framework protects biodiversity as well as green spaces. (S5O-00247)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

National planning framework 3 is clear that biodiversity is a nationally important asset. Planning authorities are legally obliged to take the national planning framework into account when preparing development plans for their areas.

Maurice Golden

Is the minister aware that a Scottish National Party Government-appointed reporter has recommended building on more than a dozen green-belt sites across East Dunbartonshire? Residents are—rightly—concerned about the impact that such developments will have on the character of their communities, on biodiversity and on the local landscape. Will the minister agree to work with the local community to look at those proposals again and ensure that any development plans properly reflect the views of residents and allow East Dunbartonshire to continue to support a wide range of green spaces?

Kevin Stewart

There are extensive opportunities for communities to get involved in the preparation of development plans. I am keen to ensure that the review of planning and the forthcoming white paper add to that list of opportunities.

The independent examination of the plan in East Dunbartonshire has made recommendations to East Dunbartonshire Council that suggest the release of additional sites. It is now up to the council to consider those recommendations and to submit its plan to Scottish ministers. As the plan will come to ministers in due course, I cannot comment on any individual area.


Welfare (Claimant Abuse)

8. Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to tackle claimants’ abuse of the welfare powers that are being devolved. (S5O-00248)

The Minister for Social Security (Jeane Freeman)

The Scottish Government intends our Scottish social security system to operate on the basis that people have a right to support and care where and when that is needed without being stigmatised or treated as potential abusers of the system. Nonetheless, the Scottish Government has a zero-tolerance attitude to intentional fraud and, as part of our consultation on social security, we are seeking views on how we can best protect against fraud.

Jeremy Balfour

Labour market statistics that the Office for National Statistics released last week showed that the claimant count over the past year was down by more than 8,000 in England, by 2,000 in Wales and by almost 6,000 in Northern Ireland, yet it was up by 2,000 in Scotland. Can the minister explain why Scotland is the only United Kingdom nation to experience a rise in the claimant count?

Jeane Freeman

The rise in the claimant count is at least partly a result of the work that we are doing to encourage individuals to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. As for the idea that those who seek help and support from our social security system or from the UK Government’s welfare system are abusers of the system, I place on record the most recent statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions, for 2014-15, which show that the level of fraud in the benefit system is 0.8 per cent, which equates to 80p in every £100 that is spent and totals approximately £1.3 billion. I would like members to pause and compare that with the £16 billion that tax fraud costs the country.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

The minister may have seen the heartbreaking appeal at the weekend from a mother in my constituency who has been sanctioned and will not receive benefits for four months, which has left her unable to buy food, clothes or nappies for her child. While the actions of the Lanarkshire baby bank and Coatbridge citizens advice bureau in supporting the family should be applauded, does the minister agree that no family should be put in such a situation?

Jeane Freeman

I have seen the article in the Evening Times and I agree that while it is heartening to see the generosity with which the people of North Lanarkshire and Coatbridge have responded—more than 200 of them came forward within an hour of the video appearing online to offer help and support to the mother and her two-year-old—the individual was forced into a dire predicament by the DWP. Unfortunately, the tragedy is that such a situation is by no means an isolated incident.

The Scottish Government has made its position on sanctions abundantly clear. We are told, and the UK Government justifies its position by saying, that sanctions incentivise work but, on the contrary, there is no evidence of that at all. The evidence that exists suggests that sanctions actively increase poverty and the anguish that people suffer.

That is why we supported the call from the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee last year for a full and independent review of the system and it is why we continue to believe that the current sanctions regime should be suspended. It is a discredited system.

Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Does the minister agree that, rather than treating with suspicion people who desperately need support from the state, we should be working to boost the claimant count by including the 100,000 people who qualify for tax credits but have not applied? That represents a loss of more than £400 million to families who desperately need that money and it is a loss to the Scottish economy.

Jeane Freeman

I absolutely agree with Mark Griffin. Part of our work on social security and in our consultation involves looking at what we need to do across Scotland to increase the availability of information for individuals on the benefits to which they are entitled and to encourage and support them to take up those benefits, whether they are delivered and administered by the UK Government or—as they shortly will be—by the Scottish Government. I know that I will have Mark Griffin’s support in working out exactly how we do that and in ensuring that people throughout Scotland receive the entitlements that they are due.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Question 9 has been withdrawn.


Local Housing Allowance (Funding for Supported Accommodation)

10. Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will ring fence funding for supported accommodation in local housing allowance when this is devolved. (S5O-00250)

The Minister for Social Security (Jeane Freeman)

After much uncertainty, the United Kingdom Government announced on 15 September that it will ensure that the supported accommodation sector continues to be funded at current levels. A new funding model will be developed in England and funding will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament to allow us to make our own provision for supported accommodation from 2019. We are still waiting for further information and details from the UK Government. We will make our plans known when we have had the opportunity to consider the full information and consulted the relevant stakeholders.

Elaine Smith

I hope that the minister appreciates that there is concern that money could be reduced further or allocated elsewhere. I trust that, in taking the matter forward, she will keep stakeholders, including individuals and the industry, informed.

Jeane Freeman

Indeed I will. As I said, once we have received the details from the UK Government, we will consider our plans and consult relevant stakeholders before we bring plans forward.


Town Centre Action Plan (Progress)

11. Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making towards the full implementation of the town centre action plan. (S5O-00251)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

The town centre action plan has been implemented in full and a number of actions have been taken that set the right conditions to enable town centre regeneration across Scotland. The most significant action has been the introduction of the town-centre-first principle, which was agreed by the Scottish Cabinet and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities leaders in July 2014. Since the inception of the action plan, we have published two reports showing the wide range of activity against the themes in it.

Neil Bibby

The face of our town centres is changing and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent town centres as mixed, connected and socially inclusive places of living. The decisive shift that we need, from development that is led by developers to sustainable development in and for our towns, will be achieved not by pilots and demonstration projects but by making town centre living main stream. In response to Colin Smyth, the minister mentioned the small amounts that are being invested by the Scottish Government. Like Colin Smyth, I ask what resources the Scottish Government is willing to put behind town centre living. What kind of investment in town centre living can we expect in next year’s budget?

Kevin Stewart

I am heartened by the number of questions that we have had today about town centres. That might be partly due to the fact that, in recent weeks, Scotland’s Towns Partnership held an event in the Parliament, hosted by John Scott. We are investing in our town centres. As I said, £6.75 million has already been put into housing delivery. As I have said previously, local authorities have the ability to bid into the regeneration capital grant fund and, beyond that, we have the £1.7 million town centre communities capital fund. As I have said, the regeneration and economic development of town centres are primarily matters for local authorities. They need to adapt policies, particularly their planning guidance, to ensure that there are opportunities to build housing and other things in our town centres.


Public Service Decision Making (Role of Local Authorities and Communities)

12. John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to increase the role of local authorities and communities directly in public service decision making. (S5O-00252)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

We are continuing to implement the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which will strengthen the voices of communities in the decisions that matter to them. The act will make it easier for communities to take on public sector land and buildings. It will provide a mechanism for community bodies to seek dialogue with public service providers on their terms when they feel that they can help to improve outcomes and it gives them a right to be heard. The act will also place new duties on councils and other local public services to work together and with their communities through community planning to improve outcomes on issues that matter locally.

John Scott

The minister will be aware of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities report of two years ago that stated that Scotland has the most centralised government in Europe. Since that report was published, health and social care have been integrated, and there is less input from and control exercised by local authorities than ever before. Police and fire services are already centralised, and now funding for the attainment Scotland fund is to be taken from local authority budgets. Will there be a future or even a need for local authorities and local decision making in five years’ time? If so, what will it be?

Kevin Stewart

This Government is committed to giving communities across Scotland a louder voice and stronger powers. Our commitment goes beyond the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and it lies at the heart of our approach to public sector service reform.

As John Scott is well aware, during the course of this parliamentary session we will introduce a bill to decentralise local authority functions, budgets and democratic oversight to local communities. We will consult on and introduce an islands bill to reflect the unique needs of island communities, and we will enable community councils to demonstrate a strong democratic mandate to deliver some services.

Working with local government, we have set a target of having at least 1 per cent of local government budgets subject to community choices budgeting. That will be more than £100 million, and people will have a direct say in how it is spent.

It is incumbent on us all to ensure that communities have their say in their public services. In John Scott’s community of South Ayrshire, we have recently granted £191,000 from the communities fund to support programmes for young people who are living in some of the most deprived areas. John Scott will be aware that the Carrick Centre in Maybole has benefited from more than £53,000 in grant funding from the strengthening communities programme. That is decentralisation.


Social Security Bill

13. Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how proposals in its new social security bill could benefit carers. (S5O-00253)

The Minister for Social Security (Jeane Freeman)

Unpaid carers play a vital role in caring for their family, friends and neighbours. We have already committed to increasing carers allowance so that it is paid at the same level as jobseekers allowance. That is almost an 18 per cent increase and eligible carers will each get around £600 more a year.

We are undertaking a wide-ranging consultation on social security that finishes this weekend. I am pleased to say that I was at an event with carers this morning, and I am listening to them and others who are in receipt of benefits for which we will be responsible, to take their views on how we can best create a social security system that is fit for Scotland.

Graeme Dey

I thank the minister for her answer and her attendance at the recent meeting of the cross-party group on carers, which covered this subject. That discussion raised a number of important issues in relation to the bill from a carer’s perspective. As we move forward, will the minister ensure that carers are involved as far as they can be in shaping the social security system, so that we emerge from the process with something that supports them and those for whom they care better than the present United Kingdom arrangements?

Jeane Freeman

I thank Graeme Dey for that additional question, as it allows me to put on record that our approach to the consultation—it is one of listening and talking to those who have direct experience of the benefits for which we will take responsibility, as well as those who advise and support them, the many organisations involved and, indeed, those who deliver payments across Scotland—is an approach that we will continue when the consultation ends this weekend.

We are absolutely committed to designing with those individuals the future system for social security in Scotland, working through the interrelationships between the 15 per cent for which we will be responsible and the remaining 85 per cent that will stay with the UK Government and the Department for Work and Pensions, and to looking at advice, support and advocacy services that will enable individuals to take up the benefits to which they are entitled and experience a system that is genuinely living the values of dignity, fairness and respect.


Community Empowerment

14. Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how it empowers communities to have more of a say in matters that affect them. (S5O-00254)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

The Scottish Government has taken a number of actions to empower communities. With this Parliament, we developed the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, to give communities new rights. We established the £20 million empowering communities fund, which gives local groups the money and support that they need to make change happen on their own terms. As part of the fund, we launched the community choices programme in June this year, which will support thousands of people to have a real say in budget decisions in their areas.

Finlay Carson

Does the cabinet secretary agree that communities that are situated on Scotland’s trunk roads, such as the communities of Cairnryan and Springholm, should play a pivotal role in decision making on the planning and implementation of traffic calming schemes?

Angela Constance

Aspects of the member’s question would perhaps have been better directed at the transport minister. On the planning aspect of his question, in the context of the wide-ranging recommendations that came from the independent planning review, we said that we needed to identify ways to improve and strengthen community engagement in planning and decision making. The planning minister will consult on options for change over the winter.