Meeting date: Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 27 October 2020
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Inward Investment Plan, Covid-19: Scotland’s Strategic Framework, Decision Time, Student Paramedics (Bursary Support)
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- Topical Question Time
- Inward Investment Plan
- Covid-19: Scotland’s Strategic Framework
- Decision Time
- Student Paramedics (Bursary Support)
Topical Question Time
Redmill Care Home
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the reports of at least 14 deaths at Redmill Care Home. Tragically, earlier today I was advised that that number is now 15. (S5T-02459)
My first response is that the thoughts of the Government are with the residents, staff and families who have loved ones at Redmill, and our condolences go to those families who sadly have lost relatives. Dedicated daily support is being provided to the home by NHS Lothian and the health and social care partnership. That includes the provision of support in the form of staffing and infection prevention and control measures.
The Care Inspectorate is closely monitoring the home and has undertaken an unannounced inspection of it to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the residents, with a further return inspection taking place yesterday and today.
The situation at Redmill is heartbreaking. My thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the bereaved, and the care home staff, many of whom have been affected by the virus themselves and who have been going way beyond the call of duty in trying to help residents at this awful time. No one—and I mean no one—has contacted me to complain about their commitment to residents during this period, but many families and staff have raised concerns about confusion and delays over testing. Why did it take six days for whole-home testing at Redmill? Did residents become infected and subsequently die during that delay? What type of support is being provided by the national health service? Is it right that agency staff who potentially work across different homes are working at a home with such a significant outbreak? What action is being taken to keep Covid-positive patients and Covid-negative patients safe during this time? Will the cabinet secretary comment on those important issues?
I am grateful to Mr Findlay for raising those questions. When he previously asked about the issue at topical question time, he raised a series of points, which I replied to on 9 October. I understand that he has also received correspondence from NHS Lothian and HC-One.
That being said, a number of issues need to be addressed. Following its second inspection, which, as I said, has been happening yesterday and today, the Care Inspectorate will provide me with its view on what level of improvement is required and on whether improvements that it highlighted following its unannounced inspection have been followed through, and, if they have not, what it believes should be done about it, including what action it might want to take and what action the Government might take.
My understanding is that, at the moment, the health protection team is in the home twice a week to test residents and staff. It seems to me that, in this, as in other areas, communication with residents and their families—and, indeed, with staff—could be considerably improved. I am very happy to take that on and see whether we can ensure that there is greater transparency in the information and the updates available to those individuals in particular, but also, of course, to the local members—here and elsewhere—who represent people in care homes.
Families have indeed raised the lack of communication with them and the lack of answers to very basic questions such as, “Has my mum or dad been tested? When were they tested? What was the result? Why am I finding out more information from the media than from HC-One? Why has my loved one not been admitted to hospital for treatment when they are seriously ill?”
The Government says that it is being straight and transparent with people, but just because it says that, that does not mean that it is true. Every bit of information that people are getting is having to be dragged out of HC-One, the NHS or, indeed, the Care Inspectorate. The families are asking basic questions, and they and staff deserve so much better.
Will the cabinet secretary ensure that families get straight answers to their straight questions? Can she advise why relatives believe that elderly people are still being denied hospital treatment?
I cannot answer the latter part of Mr Findlay’s question at this point because I have no information about what the specific instances might be or what clinical decisions have been made around any particular individual. Members would not expect me to have that information because I am not a clinician and I do not make those decisions. However, if any family wants to write to me about that, I would, of course, take that seriously and look to see what further information I could provide to them.
On the first part of Mr Findlay’s question, my track record on ensuring that our health boards in particular are clear with families, relatives, patients and residents in care homes is there for members to make a judgment on. I am very keen that everyone gets the information that they need timeously and in language that is easily understood, that their questions are answered, and that, if they have repeat questions, they are answered. That is central to the health and social care system that we should have.
As far as HC-One and what it does as a private sector provider is concerned, I can require and request it to answer those questions, and I can take up that matter with the Care Inspectorate. The bit that I can ensure happens is the bit that happens with NHS Lothian and, through it, the health and social care partnership. I will take that on board, and I hope that, perhaps with Mr Findlay’s assistance and that of any other member with a constituency interest in the area, I can be clear in my mind about exactly what all the questions are that families want to know the answers to right now, as well as putting in place a system that allows them to be regularly and properly updated.
HC-One has provided more information to me than the NHS, the health and social care partnership and the Care Inspectorate combined. The key point is that families should not have to write to the cabinet secretary to get those answers—indeed, they should not even have to write to me to get them. Those answers should be given as of right, and those families deserve transparency.
I agree with that: families should not have to write to me. However, if HC-One is giving Mr Findlay more information than NHS Lothian or the health and social care partnership is, it should be giving that information to families without waiting to be asked and without having to use Mr Findlay as the conduit to do that. HC-One, as the provider, has a clear responsibility to provide that information to the residents of the care home that it receives money to run and to ensure that it is properly provided for, and to their families. I will take up the question with NHS Lothian and, through it, the health and social care partnership, and I am confident that Mr Findlay will join me in pressing HC-One to be as transparent with residents and families as it is with him.
I think that we all understand that regularity in staff testing is vital in preventing the spread of Covid-19 in care homes. The tragic case that the member has mentioned and evidence from the rest of Scotland highlight that the system that is in place is perhaps not working quite as well as it could be. Will the cabinet secretary commit today to publishing the data on how many care home staff are tested and the frequency of those tests?
The data on the number of care home staff who are tested on a weekly basis is published every week. I think that Mr Whittle knows that staff testing in care homes is undertaken using the satellite channel, which is part of the United Kingdom Government’s Lighthouse programme. Despite a number of efforts, the satellite channel has had the least consistent test turnaround times. In order to improve that and to free up capacity in the Lighthouse programme, we are, as Mr Whittle knows, transitioning the testing in care homes to the NHS labs, which will be completed. Our three new regional NHS lab hubs will come on stream from early November, build to full capacity by the middle to the end of December, and provide an additional 22,000 tests per day. That will allow us to have greater control over the speed of the test turnaround times. As Mr Whittle knows, the NHS has an average turnaround time of 27 hours for the tests that it processes.
I, too, express my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones as a result of the outbreak.
After the new outbreaks in care homes, questions will be raised about how exactly the virus was able to enter and spread through the care homes involved. Will the exact reasons for that outbreak be revealed in due course, including what role, if any, the availability of personal protective equipment might have played?
I thank the member for his question. As he knows, we commissioned Public Health Scotland to undertake work on the discharge and admission of patients into care homes, looking at a range of data. That involved the body working with the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow and that report will be published tomorrow. I have offered to write to the Health and Sport Committee with a link to that report and those organisations have offered to give a briefing to the committee on the work that they undertook, the basis on which they gathered the data and the basis on which they reached their conclusions and made their recommendations.
However, in addition, I have commissioned a root cause analysis on the recent occurrences of outbreaks in our care homes, to understand why those outbreaks are happening in a system in which we have confidence in the distribution and supply of PPE when providers are asking us for it—the Care Inspectorate is inspecting on that basis and on the basis of infection prevention and control—and in which we have testing and the primary care wraparound. I, too, need to understand the basis on which, or the route by which, the Covid-19 infection is entering care homes and what more we need to do. I hope to be able to update the member on that root cause analysis and the steps that we are taking in the near future in the chamber when I publish the winter preparedness plan for adult social care.
Covid-19 Restrictions (Impact on Health and Economy)
To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has carried out of the impact of the most recent restrictions on both health and the economy. (S5T-02478)
Decisions on protective measures are taken on the basis of public health advice from the national incident management team that is chaired by Public Health Scotland, and then on the basis of a broader four-harms assessment by senior clinical and policy advisors, looking at the likely impacts of protective measures, not only in reducing transmission of the virus, but on wider health, society and the economy. The impact is closely monitored and is taken into account in considering whether to maintain, ease or strengthen measures that are currently in place.
Will the Deputy First Minister publish that assessment so that we can inform our constituents on the background to the Government’s current work? The strategy is now to move from four phases to five tiers, so what baseline has the Scottish Government adopted that will inform policy decisions on the five categories of measures that were published last week, and which will lead to decisions on local restrictions from next Monday that the First Minister will, I understand, announce on Thursday?
The Government publishes a significant amount of the evidence base that underpins the decisions that we take. An evidence paper was produced as part of the information that was put into the public domain before the October recess. In our dialogue with local authority partners, we have also shared a vast amount of data and information on prevalence of the virus and the circumstances in which it is spreading. That takes into account many of the issues that Sarah Boyack has raised. Of course, if there is other specific information that she believes it would be helpful for the Government to publish, I would be very happy to consider that.
On the baseline for the levels framework that the First Minister set out on Friday, which will be the subject of debate later today, level 0 is, essentially, the position that we reached when we entered phase 3 of the route map out of lockdown. That enabled a significant proportion of our economy and society to reopen; 96 per cent of our businesses reopened, our schools reopened, our colleges and universities returned and many aspects of people’s lives went back to a semblance of normality. That is the baseline for the levels framework. Obviously, the levels indicate the degree of more serious challenge in different localities. As I have said, that issue will be discussed by Parliament this afternoon.
Will the cabinet secretary accept that, even though we got a raft of information this morning to inform the discussions that we MSPs will have this afternoon, we do not have information on the first issue that I asked him about, which is the impact of the two weeks of restrictions that we have just experienced? We need to be able to demonstrate to our constituents what works and what does not work as well as is needed, in order to inform their habits and their compliance with the new restrictions that we will all be issued with, and which will start next week.
The cabinet secretary mentioned the four-harms analysis and the five indicators that inform the levels that he is adopting. Can we have clarity on how those relate to each other and how they will inform the decisions that the Government will take this week that will put us on the new levels? Can he demonstrate what has happened thus far that will inform those decisions? Reading the paperwork does not give the clarity that our constituents are asking for, regardless of the position that they are coming from.
One of the challenges of addressing that question is the fact that the gestation period of the virus requires that sufficient time pass before we can see the effect of the restrictive measures that we have put in place. For example, the two weeks of restrictions that were applied shortly before recess—which we have said we will extend for a further week, until 2 November, when the new levels framework comes into place—is essentially one gestation cycle for the virus. As a consequence, we will see the progress of the measures that have been taken to tackle the virus.
I say to Sarah Boyack that the best means by which we can identify what works is our seeing its impact on the prevalence of the virus. The extensive data that has been published by Public Health Scotland on prevalence of the virus, on a day-by-day and neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis, gives some of the strongest possible fine detail on the effectiveness of measures. For example, the city of Aberdeen has gone from being in a very acute situation of infectiousness some weeks ago to a position in which there is much lower prevalence of the virus, because of the measures that were put in place. Other parts of the country have moved in the opposite direction.
There is data available. That is the material that I am discussing with local authority leaders, as we prepare for application of the levels framework. I have more calls to make on that, to which I have to return very shortly. That data will enable us to have proper and full dialogue with local authority partners about how we make decisions.
There are a number of supplementaries.
Aberdeen and Edinburgh have shown the biggest falls in jobs vacancies anywhere in the United Kingdom during the crisis. How can local economies be expected to recover if the Scottish National Party’s business support measures are failing to such an extent?
I simply do not follow the logic of Mr Golden’s incoherent question. The Government is putting in place support that is commensurate with the resources that are available to it. We are assisting individual local economies and businesses to deal with the current circumstances. The issue that Mr Golden has raised—the performance of the Aberdeen and Edinburgh economies—is a product of a global pandemic that all Governments are trying to tackle by putting in place business supports that are commensurate with what is available to them.
If Mr Golden was to put any muscle that he has into encouraging the United Kingdom Government to deal with Scotland in a level and fair way, compared with how it is dealing with England, and to provide the Cabinet Secretary for Finance with the degree of flexibility that has been given in England, that would certainly help to address the core of Mr Golden’s question.
Given what the cabinet secretary has just been saying, what representations will he make to the UK Government about the financial assistance that is needed now to help Scottish businesses and employees to get through this economic crisis?
The Government is in regular contact with the UK Government on that question. Indeed, the finance secretary was involved in a finance ministers quadrilateral meeting just last week. She continues to make vigorous representations to the UK Government, and did so in a further letter on 20 October.
All this matters, because the support that has been available to businesses in Scotland has been a combination of the financial support that has been offered by the Scottish Government and the coronavirus job retention scheme that the United Kingdom Government made available. Dr Allan will be familiar with the fact that the furlough scheme has been severely curtailed as a consequence of decisions that have been taken by the UK Government. We are urging it to revisit those decisions to enable us to put stronger financial support in place for businesses and to complement the assistance that is available from the Scottish Government.
Yesterday’s reports that North and South Lanarkshire are being considered for tier 4 restrictions have been met with anxiety across the region. A move to tier 4 would undoubtedly result in job losses and businesses closing. What financial support will be put in place to avoid a catastrophic impact on local communities? When will the decision be taken about Lanarkshire? What interaction will there be with local council leaders, business leaders, and parliamentarians?
On the situation in North and South Lanarkshire, Mr Kelly is correct that the correspondence that the Government sent to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities set out the detail that came from the national incident management team, to which I referred in my answer to Sarah Boyack. It suggests, based on current prevalence of the virus, that there are concerns that could see North and South Lanarkshire being allocated to tier 4 within the framework. I stress to Mr Kelly that the Government wishes to avoid that, if it is at all possible, but we have to be cognisant of the evidence and data that are put in front of us by our public health experts.
On the question about our interaction with local authority leaders, just before I came into the chamber I spoke to the leader and the chief executive of North Lanarkshire Council. When I leave the chamber—it might be helpful to say to you, Presiding Officer, that I will leave the chamber when I have answered the question—I will speak to the leader and the chief executive of South Lanarkshire Council to hear their perspectives. The call that I had with the leader and chief executive of North Lanarkshire Council was helpful in that it provided some clarity and specific information about what that authority is doing to tackle the issue.
I appreciate that people in Lanarkshire will be anxious, so I assure Mr Kelly that the Government wants to avoid making that designation if we can, but we must take cognisance of the evidence.
In relation to financial support, the Government has set out the measures that will be available to support business over the period. We will continue to hold dialogue with businesses. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism have been in dialogue with the hospitality sector and the business community over the weekend. I hope that gives some reassurance to Mr Kelly about how the Government is approaching the issue.
Covid data is being published locally, and I note what the Deputy First Minister said about discussions with local authorities. Is the Scottish Government considering applying restrictions by local authority area rather than by health board area? Midlothian, in my constituency, is lumped in with the city of Edinburgh. That will possibly put it in the same tier as Edinburgh, with all the restrictions that might not be suitable for the area, and the consequences for businesses and individuals in my constituency that will flow from that.
The building blocks of the levels framework will all be set by local authority area. That is a move away from where we have been, so far.
I did not answer Mr Kelly’s question about timing and decision making. We expect to come to final decisions on the first allocation of levels on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, with regulations being put before Parliament on Thursday. The regulations will set out what levels local authorities will be going on to. That will be done by local authority area, not by health board area.
I listened to the response to Sarah Boyack’s question on the gestation period. Hospitality has now been closed for more than two weeks, so I presume that it cannot be a source of transmission. To assist understanding of the decisions that are being taken, will the Scottish Government tell us exactly where transmission is taking place?
My point about gestation of the virus is about contacts between individuals. The virus is spread by human transmission and by contamination of surfaces. The gestation period is not related to how long a sector has been closed or operating on a restricted basis. There are elements of hospitality that are still operating and there will be seeds of the virus in the community. We are trying to reduce the prevalence of the virus.
I know that Elaine Smith takes a close interest in the Lanarkshire area. We are seeing a slowing of the rate of increase, which is a cause for optimism. It has not yet gone into decline, but the rate of increase has slowed. That is welcome in the decision-making process in which we are currently involved.
Covid-19 Restrictions (Hospitality Businesses)
To ask the Scottish Government what support is being given to hospitality businesses that cannot operate due to Covid-19 restrictions. (S5T-02463)
On 21 October, the First Minister announced an extension of the restrictions that were imposed on 9 October and further additional financial support for the businesses that are affected by the restrictions. More than £40 million will now be distributed through the Covid-19 restrictions fund, including grant support for hospitality and other businesses that are required by law to close.
My constituent Dave Barclay runs the Airlie Street Bar in Alyth, in Perthshire. Like many traditional pubs, it has no outside space and does not serve food, so the current Covid restrictions mean that it has to close. If Mr Barclay’s pub were in the central belt of Scotland, he would be entitled to a grant of £4,310, but, because he is in Perth and Kinross, he will get precisely half that—just £2,155. Mr Barclay thinks that that is central belt bias. Is he correct?
I do not see it in that light. The grants will be available from 2 November. As is outlined in the strategic framework that was announced on 23 October, grants of £2,000 or £3,000, depending on rateable value, will be available to businesses that are required by law to close. A hardship grant, depending on rateable value, will be available for businesses that remain open but are directly impacted by the restrictions. Those grants will be provided regardless of level to any eligible business and will be paid in fortnightly instalments.
I am acutely aware that the impacts on the hospitality industry across the board have been horrendous and catastrophic. I am happy to look at any individual case about which the member writes to me, and I will do my best to be as sympathetic as possible. We desperately want to provide the financial support to businesses to enable them to make it through to the other side of the crisis, but one of the challenges is that we do not know quite when that will be.
I undertake to look sympathetically at any case for which I have the full details in front of me. I will consider such cases in detail and take the time that each individual person and business deserves.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that response. Mr Barclay is not required in law to close, but the practicality of not having outside space and not serving food means that he has no alternative—he cannot run his business in any other fashion.
As the cabinet secretary accepts, there are huge problems right across the hospitality sector. We learned today that the historic Queens hotel in Perth is facing permanent closure, with the loss of jobs.
We know that the Scottish Government has received an additional £700 million from the UK Government, bringing the total additional funding from the UK Government in the current financial year to £7.2 billion. How much of that money has been allocated to supporting the hospitality sector?
Since the crisis began some considerable time ago, a substantial amount has been provided to support the hospitality sector. I am pleased that local authorities and the enterprise agencies have stepped up to the mark and are working extremely hard to get that money out. We have sought at least to match the funding that has been available down south.
I am acutely aware of the impact on hotels in rural locations such as the area that Mr Fraser mentioned. I know that Highlands and Islands Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise have devoted a lot of time to speaking to individual businesses and helping them where they can.
Along with my colleague Fiona Hyslop and others, I was able to set up the pivotal enterprise fund and the creative, tourism and enterprise hardship funds, which total £121.8 million and £23.5 million respectively. Those funds have gone some way to addressing the problem. I am not sure that there have been any counterpart funds of that type in England, nor that there has been a counterpart to our hotel support programme of £40 million or our newly self-employed hardship fund.
Nonetheless, it is not a competition. Although we have done better than England in some areas—perhaps Mr Fraser would argue that the converse is true; I do not know, but he has not done so yet—my job is not to make such comparisons. My job is to ensure, working with my colleagues—Kate Forbes in finance and Fiona Hyslop in enterprise, in particular—that we reach out to every business and provide them with the hardship financial support that they need to bridge the gap to the other side of the crisis.
It is not an easy task. We have sought to engage the UK Government in that task from the outset, and Nigel Huddleston, the tourism minister, has been very helpful and constructive. However, it is fair to say—as the Deputy First Minister said earlier regarding the most recent announcement of £700 million—that we simply do not have the detail of the support yet. I hope that we will have it soon.
I have been contacted by constituents in Glasgow and people from elsewhere in Scotland who are working in hospitality businesses and who have been told by their employers not to install the Protect Scotland app on their phones or told to keep their phones switched off while they are at work. Some who have been contacts of positive test cases have been told not to self-isolate by their employers or told that, if they do, it will be viewed as unauthorised and unpaid absence.
What action can the Scottish Government take against such employers—some of whom are well-known high-street names in hospitality and retail—who so dangerously put their business interests ahead of the lives of their workforce and their customers? Does the Scottish Government support the Unite hospitality rescue plan, which involves routine regular testing for hospitality workers and bringing sick pay for those in isolation up to full pay?
As a matter of general principle, employers have an absolute duty to cater for the safety of their staff and their customers. Of course they do—no one could conceivably disagree with that, and everybody must recognise that it is a fundamental duty. Mr Harvie has not mentioned any specific examples. If he has any such examples, I will consider them with colleagues—it is correct that I do so—should he wish to write to me.
However—in the interests of brevity, this is the last thing that I will say—I have, as much as any member in the chamber, been in touch with businesses daily over the past 10 months, including this morning, and I have to say that the overwhelming majority of business leaders take their responsibilities extremely seriously. Not only that, but they have invested substantial amounts of money in protecting the health and safety of their staff and customers as well as taking all steps to ensure that appropriate training is provided.
I hope and believe that the types of behaviour to which Mr Harvie referred are the exception—a relatively small exception—and not the rule, and I hope that he will understand that, unless I get specific examples, it is difficult for me to go beyond what I have said today. Nevertheless, I will, of course, look at any specific case that he wishes to refer to me, and I will do so carefully.
Further to Murdo Fraser’s questions, pubs that do not sell food and do not have outside spaces are, to all intents and purposes, forced to close because they cannot make a living out of selling soft drinks on their own. The Scottish Government is therefore shirking its responsibility by saying that they can stay open and sell soft drinks.
I appeal to the cabinet secretary for the same support to be made available to those establishments as is being granted to those that are legally obliged to close. We know that cafes and restaurants are allowed to stay open until 6 o’clock to deal with isolation and loneliness, and the pubs concerned serve that same purpose for men who will not use cafes or restaurants but whose mental health is at stake. We need to preserve those businesses.
I understand the point that Rhoda Grant is making, which was also made by Mr Fraser. She has accepted that the closure is not required by law; it is a de facto matter, rather than an ex lege matter. Nonetheless, Ms Grant makes a not-unreasonable point. The grants system that we have produced has a closure fund and a hardship fund. The funding must be relatively clear, and I believe that we have set it out clearly.
However, this is an on-going debate in which we are considering how to respond most appropriately to the public, accounting for public money while recognising private need. I hear what the member says, and we can obviously give further consideration to these matters. Nevertheless, as things stand, such premises are able to trade lawfully, albeit that, in some cases, as Rhoda Grant says, there may be a very limited market for a pub that is unable to sell alcohol.
I take the cabinet secretary’s point that we do not want to compare things with England all the time, but, although it appears that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given a blank cheque to English businesses, that does not appear to be available to Scottish businesses. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the situation is unfair for Scottish businesses and that either the Scottish Government should have those powers or Westminster should be providing the money?
Without making a political point, I note that the fact that we do not have clarity about the £700 million that was announced two weeks ago simply means that, from a legal point of view and from the point of view of Kate Forbes, who, as the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, is governed by strict rules regarding the disbursement of public money, until such time as there is a proper exchange of information on the matter, the situation is just not acceptable.
As the Deputy First Minister said, the finance secretary wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 20 October, which is now a relatively long time ago, with regard to Covid. I respectfully suggest that the full details be provided as soon and as swiftly as possible. That would allow us better to get on with the job that we all have in trying to serve the people of Scotland.
Personal Protective Equipment (VAT)
To ask the Scottish Government what it considers the impact will be in Scotland of the reintroduction of VAT on personal protective equipment. (S5T-02473)
The Scottish Government firmly disagrees with the United Kingdom Government’s decision to reintroduce VAT on PPE at this time, and we will be pressing for the decision to be reversed. Unfortunately, the decision was taken without consultation with Scottish stakeholders, which has made it extremely difficult for us to analyse the impact that it will have in critical areas.
This UK Government decision is likely to be of significant concern to many stakeholders, including social care providers, which are already working hard to ensure that those who work in social care settings are provided with sufficient PPE over the winter months. They will now be worried about the impact of this VAT cost increase.
When I first heard that VAT was being put back on PPE, I thought that it was surely a joke—it could not be a serious proposition. Does the minister agree with Donald Macaskill, the chief executive officer of Scottish Care, who wrote:
“To put #VAT back on #PPE in the middle of the #SecondWave of #Covid19 is pure madness. You have just made saving lives 20% dearer. Time for a rethink @RishiSunak”?
I agree 100 per cent with Donald Macaskill on this. Has the Scottish Government made representation to the UK Government on the matter?
I, too, agree 100 per cent with Donald Macaskill on the issue. The Scottish Government agrees that it makes no sense to remove that VAT relief at this time. The decision by the UK Government was unexpected and was made without consultation with Scottish Government officials or stakeholders. We believe that it should be reversed and we will press the UK Government on that.
Thank you. Has the Scottish Government made any assessment of the additional costs to the Scottish Government, local authorities and care providers? Does the minister agree that the Treasury’s decision to impose the mask tax must be reversed, because it has the potential to do significant harm and undermine the fight against Covid-19?
Given the lack of notice and the unexpected nature of the decision, as I said in my previous response, we are now in the process of carrying out an urgent assessment of the additional costs of the decision, including the costs for care providers. As Mr Crawford alluded, in these times, if the UK Government is considering anything, it should be extending the relief to things that help to protect against the virus, such as face coverings, rather than putting the tax back on PPE.
Considering the extent of the taxation powers that the UK Government has at its fingertips, I am astonished that, in order to raise revenue, it is choosing to remove VAT relief on PPE rather than introduce something like a windfall tax. We will press the UK Government to reverse its decision, and we will engage as constructively as possible with all Scottish stakeholders and continue to assess the impact of the decision. As I said, we will press for its reversal, because it is the wrong decision.
Test and Protect Data
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will publish details of organisations with whom test and protect data can be shared, and for what purposes. (S5T-02472)
Privacy and data security are very important to the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland.
As test and protect is made up of a number of different strands, such as testing, contact tracing and the Protect Scotland app, a number of data protection impact assessments have been undertaken. They set out what data is collected, how it is shared, with whom and for what purpose. Where appropriate, they are accompanied by relevant privacy notices.
The Scottish Government already publishes details of organisations with which test and protect data is shared—and for what purposes—on the main NHS Scotland information governance website—[Interruption.] Excuse my coughing. Data is shared only when that is needed for public health purposes. Although the information is available in many documents, if the member would find it helpful, I am happy to commit to bringing all of it together in one document.
Thank you. I am grateful to the health secretary for persevering through that response.
Of course, how such data is shared is a matter of public interest. The test and protect system relies on public confidence. If people stop freely sharing information, for whatever reason, the system cannot work.
Professor Stephen Reicher, who is advising the Government, said that sharing contact tracing information with the police is
“the perfect way to stop people getting tested and providing their contacts.”
The fear of reprisals cannot outweigh the public health priority of finding out where people have been and the contacts they have had. If people stretch the rules, is it not better to know that?
I am grateful to the member for his supplementary question. I assure everyone that it is not a persistent cough and that I have not lost my sense of taste or smell.
The member is absolutely right, and I agree with Professor Reicher. We and NHS Scotland do not share personal information from test and protect exercises with the police. In fact, personal information is not shared with the Government; it is shared only with health boards, so that they can follow up index cases, and with local authorities, so that they can follow up in offering inreach support for those who have been asked to self-isolate.
However, as I said, I am very happy to bring together and make available to all members, in one single document to be lodged in the Scottish Parliament information centre, information about all the organisations with which data, including personal data, is shared and for what purpose, so that everyone can be assured—and therefore be able to reassure their constituents—about the seriousness with which we treat privacy and the collection of data, in order to ensure that people have confidence in the test and protect app and process.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport for that reassurance, and I seek further reassurance. Last Thursday, the Scottish Government’s statistics reported a 72 per cent increase in fraud. We know already that test and protect has been mimicked by fraudsters. If the system is to work, people need to know that they can trust test and protect callers. Will the cabinet secretary therefore set out what people should be looking for, so that they can know that the real test and protect is on the line?
I am very happy to do that. I do not have the detail of that with me, and I would not want to get any part of it wrong, because it is really important. Therefore, this afternoon, my office will send that information in a note to Mr McArthur and all members, so that they are clear that there is a very particular process that test and protect contact tracers go through in order to assure the person they are contacting that they are from the NHS test and protect programme and to assist in avoiding anyone attempting to scam that exercise.
Can data that is gathered by the essential test and trace system, such as personal phone numbers, be used to enforce isolation on those who have been contacted after their contact with an infected individual?
We cannot enforce isolation on any individual, just as we cannot make people follow the public health guidance. We have to convince people of the benefits of doing that—including self-isolation, hard though that is—in order to protect themselves, their families and, in that collective exercise, each other.
This virus is different, as is how we must deal with it. It is genuinely a public health response. That means that the decisions that I make—as an individual, not as the cabinet secretary—have an impact on everyone in the chamber. If I choose not to wear a mask when walking around the building, nor to wash my hands or keep to a 2m distance, and so on, that puts at risk everyone with whom I come into contact. I do those things not just to protect myself and those whom I love, but to protect everybody else. That is what we require.
We cannot force people to do those things, and we recognise that self-isolation is quite a big ask of individuals in different circumstances. Fourteen days is a long time, and their personal circumstances may make it difficult. A member talked about the financial difficulties that self-isolation can bring to people. That is why we have—as much as we can—taken steps to offer financial support to some individuals in those circumstances and, through our local authority colleagues, to offer any other support that might be needed—for example, in getting food, walking the dog or whatever it might be—so that people can self-isolate, which is what we really need.
Thank you. That concludes topical question time. We will shortly move on to the next item of business.