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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, April 27, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 27 April 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Edinburgh Airport (Consultation), Social Security Agency, Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


General Question Time

Ayrshire Growth Deal

1. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it will provide to the proposed Ayrshire growth deal. (S5O-00909)

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

As I made clear to the three Ayrshire council leaders when I met them on 8 March, I am fully committed to finding ways to support regional economies to thrive. Together with the Scottish Futures Trust and my officials, those councils are continuing to refine their growth deal proposals. I am impressed by the collaborative approach of the three councils working together and they have been chosen to be a pathfinder for the regional partnerships strand of the enterprise and skills review.

While the work is under way, we have continued to invest in Ayrshire. Just last month, North Ayrshire was selected for one of the two remaining tax increment financing pilots, in a project that will directly benefit the aspirations for the growth deal.

Brian Whittle

Jamie Greene, John Scott and I recently met Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We also arranged a positive meeting between the secretary of state and the Ayrshire growth deal team to establish how the deal fits in with the new industrial strategy framework.

As the cabinet secretary knows, the timeline starts with aligning local government and private enterprise funding, before getting a commitment from the Scottish Government on the projects that it will support and on the level of funding that it is prepared to invest, prior to the United Kingdom Government looking at any shortfall. That will be an on-going process as many projects come on line. With that in mind, will the cabinet secretary tell Parliament whether the Scottish Government has done the assessment and quantified what it means by its commitment to supporting the Ayrshire growth deal?

Keith Brown

The process that we follow is similar to the city deal process. We take the proposals that come in, which in the case of the Ayrshire growth deal are from the councils and their partners. We analyse the proposals to see which are most susceptible to support and will generate economic growth in the area. The councils are well aware of the process and we have made it clear to them that we are going through the process.

In my meeting with Greg Clark, I said that we would like the UK Government—having moved away from the city deal model now that all the cities in Scotland have been through that process—to talk about the industrial strategy, which might be the means of providing additional support. If that is the case, it would be much better if we worked together to maximise the benefit, and I said that to Greg Clark.

We and the three local authorities have asked a number of times for the UK Government to be part of the Ayrshire growth deal, but it has refused. However, it is still possible for us to work together through the industrial strategy and I encourage the UK Government to do that. In the meantime, we will continue to process the proposals that we have received from the growth deal partners.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

On 10 February, I submitted a motion for a members’ business debate on the Ayrshire growth deal. It was non-partisan and said:

“the UK Government has displayed an encouraging attitude and expressed its support for the initiative so far”.

That followed Patricia Gibson MP having led a Commons debate on the deal on 19 January. She then wrote to all Ayrshire Tory MSPs to call on them to lobby the chancellor to back the deal, which all three Ayrshire councils and the Scottish National Party Government support. None of the Tory MSPs gave her the courtesy of a reply.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is at best disappointing that not a single Tory, or other Opposition MSP, supported my motion for a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the Ayrshire growth deal, and that the chancellor did not even mention the deal in his budget speech—despite heavy hints—let alone allocate a single penny to the £359.8 million that is required to generate and stimulate the lasting economic growth that Ayrshire badly needs?

Keith Brown

In writing and face to face with members of the UK Government, I have consistently expressed my desire to have discussions with the UK Government to support the deal. It is unfortunate that we have not had explicit support from the UK Government for the growth deal, along the lines of the city deals on which we have worked together in the past. I still hope that we can have involvement from the UK Government, including possibly financial assistance for some of the growth deal’s ambitions. Derek Mackay wrote to the chancellor ahead of his recent budget to ask him to join us in tripartite discussions, but the UK Government failed to make that commitment.

The Scottish Government will continue to support the progress of the Ayrshire growth deal in determining priorities, timelines and next steps. As I said, I discussed support for the deal with Greg Clark earlier this month, and I will continue to press the UK Government on the matter, as I am sure Kenneth Gibson will.

Welfare Support Advice

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is assisting local authorities to provide welfare support advice. (S5O-00910)

The Minister for Social Security (Jeane Freeman)

Local authorities have statutory duties to fulfil in the provision of advice support in a number of areas. In total, the Scottish Government will spend about £21 million on advice-related projects in 2017-18. Of that, £660,000 will be provided to local authorities through the Scottish Legal Aid Board funding programmes to support advice provision for people who are affected by debt and the United Kingdom Government’s welfare cuts.

Since 2013, the Scottish Government has provided some £6.85 million to Citizens Advice Scotland for the provision of welfare advice across its network of 61 bureaux in 30 local authority areas. Additionally, we estimate that about £5.6 million of funding for local authority financial inclusion-related projects will be provided between April 2015 and June 2019 through the European social fund, to support people who are affected by poverty and social isolation.

In 2017-18, we are providing local government with a total funding package that amounts to more than £10 billion and, in addition to what I have mentioned, many councils are using that to fulfil a range of statutory duties to provide advice and additional welfare support.

Anas Sarwar

Like the minister, I oppose Tory welfare cuts. However, it appears that the Scottish Government is happier to court grievance, foment anger and wave flags than to get on with the job of governing. We know that the Government’s recent benefits uptake campaign lasted just one week and had a budget of just £6,000. Now, the minister has shamefully decided to cut £600,000 of funding for welfare support and advice services in Glasgow alone—a decision that the Tories would be proud of. How can she justify that shameful attack on the most vulnerable in our communities?

Jeane Freeman

Well, Presiding Officer, I think we knew that that one was coming. It is a matter of some regret—[Interruption.] Members should not shout at me, but let me speak. It is a matter of some regret that political point scoring is yet again at the forefront of Labour’s minds, rather than looking at the detail of what the Government is doing to support individuals across Scotland who are facing the damaging austerity cuts imposed by the UK Government.

Misinformation and misrepresentation of the facts serve our constituents and the people of Scotland poorly, and I counsel Labour to think again about that. We have prioritised our use of the available funding to the areas that are most in need, including those that are most affected by the roll-out of universal credit. It is wrong to suggest that the Government is not funding advice and support services in Glasgow, because we are, as we are in constituencies across Scotland.

If the member had done me the courtesy of listening to what I have said previously in the chamber about the benefit take-up campaign, he would understand that, along with citizens advice bureaux, we jointly agreed on the first stage, and more of that work will come forward over the next four years. That is a great deal more than Labour ever did when it formed the Scottish Government.

Glasgow City Deal (Motherwell and Wishaw)

3. Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what benefits the Glasgow city deal will bring to Motherwell and Wishaw. (S5O-00911)

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

The Scottish Government is a full partner in the Glasgow city region deal, which is now in its delivery stage, and the Government is contributing up to £500 million over 20 years into the £1.13 billion Glasgow city region deal infrastructure fund. The deal empowers Glasgow and its city region partners, including North Lanarkshire Council, to identify, manage and deliver a programme of investment in infrastructure.

Three core North Lanarkshire projects have been identified by the Glasgow regional partners for delivery within the first 10 years of the deal, accounting for a total capital investment of around £170 million. Those projects include potential investment in strategic roads infrastructure to improve access between Motherwell and the M74 and to improve road and pedestrian links within Motherwell town centre.

Clare Adamson

The Ravenscraig site in my constituency has been a national priority since 2013. Can I have the assurance of the cabinet secretary that, when capital expenditure is being considered across portfolio areas, the unique opportunities that that brownfield site offers in relation to infrastructure, central belt location and land are considered, to ensure that further regeneration of the site can be achieved?

Keith Brown

I reiterate that, in the Glasgow city region deal, it is up to the partners to prioritise the projects, which are supported by both the Scottish and UK Governments. The Scottish Government remains committed to working with North Lanarkshire Council and other parties on options for the further redevelopment of the Ravenscraig site. To date, more than £45 million has been invested in remediating the site and delivering the first phase of development.

However, as the member knows, market conditions have rendered it impossible to deliver the proposed phase 2 of the Ravenscraig Ltd master plan. In August 2016, Scottish Enterprise approved a contribution of up to £415,000 to part fund the development of a new master plan that will enable Ravenscraig Ltd to identify a realistic, deliverable phase 2. A draft of the new master plan is due in late spring or early summer this year.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

There have been cross-party concerns around some of the projects in the Glasgow city deal. Road schemes in particular have been plucked off dusty shelves—having lain there sometimes for decades—and dusted off and thrown into the mix on the back of business cases that, to be frank, do not stack up.

Holytown link road in North Lanarkshire and Stewartfield Way in East Kilbride are just two of the schemes for which there is little or no justification. Clare Adamson is right to point out that Ravenscraig would be a useful area on which city deal money could be spent, but as far as I can see there is nothing planned. Such are the concerns that the Local Government and Communities Committee is going to undertake an inquiry into city deals.

Does the minister agree that the Glasgow city deal should be refreshed in order to deliver economic growth across the region as it was set up to do?

Keith Brown

I would not want to rule out looking afresh at those matters, but I highlight that the basis of the city deal includes an assurance framework to which both the UK and Scottish Governments have signed up. If there is dissatisfaction with the assurance framework, the member might want to take that up with the UK Government to see if it shares that view. I have not had such feedback from the UK Government as things stand.

The upcoming local authority elections may provide us with the opportunity to look afresh at these matters. As for whether projects have been taken off dusty shelves, projects were put forward by local authorities themselves and we agreed to support them. Local authorities chose the priorities, and we have backed them up in their choices.

Transvaginal Mesh Implants

4. Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how many women in Scotland have been implanted with transvaginal mesh since 2007. (S5O-00912)

The Minister for Mental Health (Maureen Watt)

The number of women in Scotland who have been implanted with transvaginal mesh since 2007 is 13,665.

Neil Findlay

The minister will be aware of the devastation that is felt by Scottish mesh survivors, who feel that the review of the use of mesh was a whitewash. If the Government is confident that it is not a whitewash, when will it bring forward a debate on the issue, which is so important to the women and men of Scotland?

Maureen Watt

As Neil Findlay knows, members had the opportunity to question the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport when she came to Parliament with a statement on 30 March. The cabinet secretary is also due to appear in front of the Public Petitions Committee. Once that process has taken its course, ministers are happy to agree to a debate if it is required.

Green Spaces

5. Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action is being taken to preserve green spaces. (S5O-00913)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Scottish planning policy requires local development plans to identify and protect open spaces that have been identified as valued and functional. The national planning framework aims to enhance green networks significantly, particularly in and around our towns and cities.

Sandra White

In my constituency of Glasgow Kelvin, north Kelvin meadow, which is a green space that is owned by Glasgow City Council, was saved after the local community came together to oppose a planning application from a developer and the application was subsequently called in by the Scottish Government.

What further support can the Scottish Government offer to communities that are campaigning to save green spaces such as north Kelvin meadow, and how is that support communicated to local communities?

Kevin Stewart

I know that Sandra White has been a very keen campaigner on North Kelvin meadow, so I assure her that the Scottish Government has taken action to support green space. I understand that North Kelvin meadow is owned by Glasgow City Council. Thanks to our Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, community bodies have a right to request from local authorities any land that they feel they can make better use of, through the asset transfer process, which may be an option in this case. Asset transfer, of course, will give more communities the opportunity to control land or premises to help them to develop their own economies and environments. Any community body interested in using asset transfer to preserve green space in its area should get in touch with the community ownership support service, which is a programme funded by the Government to help community groups take on land or building assets for their communities.

Attainment Gap (Scottish Borders)

6. John Lamont (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in closing the attainment gap in the Scottish Borders. (S5O-00914)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The Scottish Government, through the Scottish attainment challenge, is providing increased support for local authorities, including Scottish Borders Council, in their work to close the poverty-related attainment gap. The Scottish Borders have received over £315,000 from the attainment Scotland fund over the course of the past two years and will receive £1.8 million of pupil equity funding in 2017-18. Headteachers will have the flexibility to target resources at interventions that they know will help close the attainment gap and they are currently preparing their plans for use of that funding.

John Lamont

I thank the cabinet secretary for that reply, but the attainment gap in the Borders remains one of the worst in Scotland. Indeed, the Scottish National Party’s record on education in the Borders over the past 10 years is not good. Class sizes are at a record high as teacher numbers have dropped by nearly 80; the number of supply teachers has plummeted by 40 per cent; and only one in 10 of primary 1 to P3 pupils are in smaller classes, which is a record low, despite smaller classes being an SNP election pledge. The standard of education across Scotland, which used to be a world leader in education, is now only average.

Teachers work incredibly hard in the Scottish Borders, but they and their pupils are being let down by the SNP Government. Is that a record that the cabinet secretary is proud of?

John Swinney

Well, we know the cheerful, optimistic tone that John Lamont will be taking to the doors of the Borders over the course of the next few weeks. I was going to be generous to Mr Lamont because I know that he will be leaving us tomorrow, but, based on the miserable tone that he has expressed, I will say that he cannot realise the significant investment that has been made in the Borders. I look forward to making sure that the young people and the electors of the Borders understand the strenuous efforts that this Government is going to make to close the attainment gap in the Borders. I look forward to Mr Lamont being a distant observer of that process.

Organ Donation

7. Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Welsh Government regarding organ donation since the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 came into full effect in December 2015. (S5O-00915)

The Minister for Mental Health (Maureen Watt)

Scottish Government officials have been in regular contact with Welsh colleagues since the introduction of the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 and are due to meet soon to discuss the operation of the act. Additionally, the opt-out system in Wales is discussed at regular meetings on organ donation, such as NHS Blood and Transplant Board meetings and taking organ transplantation to 2020 strategy meetings, where all four Governments of the United Kingdom are represented.

Jackson Carlaw

The Scottish Conservatives supported the Scottish Government during the progress of Anne McTaggart’s member’s bill—the Transplantation (Authorisation of Removal of Organs etc) (Scotland) Bill—when the Government took the view that we should wait to see what the experience in Wales was. The Government at that time undertook to ensure that, early in this session of the Parliament, it would introduce fresh proposals in the light of the Welsh experience. We are now almost 18 months on from the introduction of the change in Wales, so when will that introduction of new, fresh Scottish Government proposals come?

Maureen Watt

As Jackson Carlaw will know, the Scottish Government has recently gone out to consultation, with a presumption in favour of moving to an opt-out system, assuming that it can be introduced safely. The consultation responses are being independently analysed and we will learn from that analysis as well as from experiences and evidence from elsewhere in the world, including Wales. We will look at that analysis carefully before reaching a decision on the way forward. We expect to receive the analysis in May and will take steps in the months thereafter.