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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 28 June 2017

Agenda: Phone Boxes, Portfolio Question Time, Education Governance, Code of Conduct for MSPs and Written Statement Revision, Business Motions , Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Charter of Rights for People with Dementia and their Carers


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Communities, Social Security and Equalities


Automatic Fire Suppression Systems

1. David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether the ministerial working group on fire safety will review building standards regulations regarding the provision of automatic fire suppression systems. (S5O-01165)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I understand that the cabinet secretary wishes to update the Parliament following the Grenfell fire disaster.

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

The ministerial working group on building and fire safety was convened to oversee a review of building and fire safety regulatory frameworks and any other relevant matters in order to help to ensure that people are safe in Scotland’s buildings, and to make any recommendations for improvement as required. We met for the first time last week and will meet again this afternoon, immediately following parliamentary questions. The role that automatic fire suppression systems can play in supporting an overall package of fire safety measures for various building types will be discussed at the group. However, David Stewart will understand that our initial priority has been to focus on providing assurance to the public about the safety of our domestic high-rise properties and other public buildings, following the tragedy at Grenfell tower.

Building standards regulations for high-rise domestic properties mean that aluminium composite material—the type of product that was used at Grenfell tower—cannot be used in cladding systems on high-rise domestic properties in Scotland. We wanted to double check that that is the case and have, therefore, sought and received assurances from all 32 of our local authorities, which have reported that ACM has not been used on any housing association or council-owned high-rise domestic properties.

For privately owned high-rise domestic properties, 28 councils have reported that they have no aluminium composite material in the cladding systems. The other four councils are working intensively to complete the picture across Scotland. I extend the Scottish Government’s thanks to the chief executives and staff in all local authorities for their assistance and diligent work in this process.

David Stewart

The cabinet secretary will be well aware from the Scottish Government’s own 2015 report that almost a third of accidental dwelling fires and deaths occur in the 15 per cent most-deprived areas, yet there have been no multiple fire deaths in Scotland where a working sprinkler system has been installed. Will the cabinet secretary agree to meet me after the recess to discuss targeted installation of sprinkler systems, aimed at those who are most at risk—single men living in disadvantaged areas who have alcohol or drug problems?

Angela Constance

I would be delighted to meet Mr Stewart—even during recess, if that suits him. I am aware that Mr Stewart is a member of the cross-party working group on accident prevention, which is chaired by Clare Adamson. I know that he has been a long-term campaigner for and supporter of wider use of sprinklers.

As I said in my original answer, the ministerial working group will review all relevant matters, including the role of automatic fire suppression systems. Although we know that our regulatory standards in Scotland are good, there is no room for complacency, so we are casting a critical eye over all our systems.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary will know that the Local Government and Communities Committee, which I chair, will be taking evidence on building standards and fire regulations following the Grenfell tower tragedy.

Mr Stewart’s question was about sprinkler systems. Might the cabinet secretary consider ensuring that—as Glasgow Housing Association has in all communal areas, including bin shelters—there are sprinkler systems in all escape routes, communal areas and bin shelters in high-rise flats in order to reduce the risk of fire spreading? Might that be a sensible way forward that the ministerial working group would look at?

Angela Constance

The Scottish Government very much welcomes parliamentary scrutiny and further inquiries by the relevant committee. We have an open door to discussions on the issues that are being raised.

It is important to remember that all new high-rise domestic buildings in Scotland are fitted with non-combustible cladding or with cladding systems that meet stringent fire tests, and that they have, since 2005, been fitted with sprinklers. The provision of sprinklers in existing high-rise domestic buildings is not currently compulsory under building regulations, but I know that a number of councils install them when undertaking major refurbishment work. We want to look at a range of fire safety methods, including those that are more automatic in nature, such as sprinklers.

We will also look at some of the issues that Mr Doris and Mr Stewart, in the first question, have raised in respect of how we take an evidence-led approach, and we will also look at categories, areas, building types and individuals who might be at higher risk. We know that the matters that Mr Stewart raised in relation to deprivation are pertinent.

In conclusion, I say that some of the issues will go further afield than building standards. Consideration of groups who are particularly vulnerable to the risk of fire is not necessarily addressed by building standards—although it might be—so we have to remember that when we build homes, we do not always know who will occupy them, therefore some of our consideration has to go further afield than building standards.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for her earlier update. She is entirely right to focus on high-rise properties, but we have had quite an extensive programme of cladding in Scotland that does not include only such properties: for example, terraced properties have also been done. With such properties, there could be a fear that, if there were to be a fire, it could spread outwards and not just upwards. Will the working group look at terraced properties as well as at high-rise properties?

Angela Constance

It is important to stress to Mr Simpson and others that when we talk about ACM, which should not be in cladding systems in high-rise buildings, we should understand that it is a generic material, and not a specific product; ACM is a catch-all phrase for a group of specific products. ACM can be used appropriately in some buildings, if it is installed correctly and with adherence to the correct procedures.

As I have already said to Parliament, after our absolute focus on high-rise domestic buildings, we will widen our inquiries to schools and NHS buildings. I am quite sure that when the ministerial working group meets today to devise our longer-term work programme, which we will share with Parliament, it will give due consideration to which other types of buildings we need to examine. We will keep Graham Simpson and Parliament duly informed.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary said that, at some point, the scope of inquiries will be widened out from health and safety in high-rise properties, so will she also consider the health and safety regulations as they relate to smoke detectors? A recent press report states:

“The regulations say: ‘There is no requirement to determine if existing smoke detectors are in working order (e.g. whether battery-powered detectors contain discharged or no batteries) because the minimum Scottish Housing Quality Standard’s requirement is the presence of a smoke detector(s) not the presence of a working smoke detector.’”

Will the cabinet secretary interrogate the matter a bit further from today, and advise Parliament whether that is something that needs to be looked at in the wider review?

Angela Constance

We will look at some of the specifics around the issue that Ms McNeill raises.

Although minimum standards apply across the board, it is fair to say that there are different standards for different sectors; historically, we have recognised that some of the biggest risk is in the private rented sector. This year, we are due to issue a consultation on developing more uniform and standardised procedures. An issue that we discussed last week at the first meeting of the ministerial working group was how we could expedite that work.


Devolution of Powers to Communities

2. Richard Lochhead (Moray) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made with the devolution of powers to communities, and whether it plans to allow communities to have a greater say regarding the impact of major infrastructure projects. (S5O-01166)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 devolved real power to communities, which is a theme that runs through all our major reforms. Later in this session of Parliament, we will introduce a local democracy bill that will have the potential to be the biggest transformation of democracy since devolution. Our review of the planning system contains proposals that strengthen the role of communities in the planning of their areas.

Richard Lochhead

I welcome the minister’s comments. He will be aware of the growing appetite throughout Scotland for people to have more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

On the impact of major infrastructure projects, last week I dealt with a case about the green light having been given to an overhead line relating to Dorenell wind farm. I am aware that energy issues fall under a different ministerial portfolio, but perhaps part of that line should have been considered for undergrounding, as was requested by my constituents in Dufftown and elsewhere. Will the Minister for Local Government and Housing, who is responsible for planning, through the community empowerment agenda, liaise with the energy minister to ensure that greater weight is given to local views?

Because we have the Blackhillock substation in Moray, there is the potential to build many more pylons in future years, like a web across Moray. People want to have more of a say over the shape of the pylons and the infrastructure projects. I hope that the minister will be willing to liaise with other ministers about how he can give communities a greater say over such projects.

Kevin Stewart

I am always willing to speak to colleagues about matters. I will avoid talking about a particular scheme, because I do not know whether the application that Richard Lochhead cites is live. As the minister with responsibility for planning, I am pursuing measures to strengthen communities’ roles and to increase people’s opportunities to influence the future planning of their areas.

Community consultation on major electricity and wind farm projects is of great importance. When the Scottish Government receives planning applications for such infrastructure, we expect developers to demonstrate active community engagement and to explain what concerns they have addressed. We also require that the applications are advertised and that the public are able to scrutinise and comment on the detail of the proposals.

The views of local communities are important to us and must always be taken into account.


Young Carers (Welfare Support)

3. Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to raise awareness among young carers of welfare support that they may be entitled to. (S5O-01167)

The Minister for Social Security (Jeane Freeman)

An estimated 7,000 carers aged between 16 and 24 provide 35 or more hours of care each week, yet fewer than 4,000 of them receive carers allowance.

Working with Young Scot and carers organisations to advise young carers about their rights and their entitlement to apply for carers allowance, our young carers benefit take-up campaign, which was targeted at 16 to 24-year-olds, ran during carers week from 12 June.

Materials that are promoted on the Young Scot website and via social media continue to encourage young carers to claim the support to which they are entitled. Further focused activity will take place in August alongside the young carers festival.

Jenny Gilruth

We know that the United Kingdom’s benefits system continues to fail in making sure that all those who are entitled to support know what support is available and how to get it. Does the minister agree that the UK Government should simplify the process of applying for benefits? Should it run a benefit take-up campaign to ensure that people get the financial support to which they are entitled?

Jeane Freeman

For the Scottish Government, social security plays a vital role in tackling poverty and improving lives. Making sure that everyone receives the financial support to which they are entitled and can do so easily is one of the first steps towards putting dignity and respect at the heart of that service. Unfortunately, the UK Government has taken no recent action to improve take-up and provide that much-needed support.

The fairer Scotland budget is providing £3.6 million of funding in 2016-17 for projects that are designed to maximise incomes and to help people to access benefits. In addition, over the parliamentary session, we are delivering a programme of activity to increase the uptake of benefits, working in partnership with local organisations including local authorities and national health service and third sector organisations. I am pleased to say that, following Mr Rowley’s raising of the issue in the chamber some time ago and my meeting with him yesterday, we will convene a round-table meeting to work constructively with all those agencies—and, I hope, parties across the Parliament—to progress that work.


Refugees and Asylum Seekers (United Kingdom Government Policy)

4. Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the impact on Scotland of the UK Government’s policy on refugees and asylum seekers. (S5O-01168)

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

I met the then Minister of State for Immigration, Robert Goodwill MP, on 11 October 2016 and discussed a number of issues that affect refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland. Officials also have regular meetings that cover a wide range of issues.

I wrote to the new immigration minister, Brandon Lewis MP, on 16 June 2017 about the same issues. I highlighted the new Scots refugee integration strategy and made clear my view that destitution should never be an outcome of the asylum system.

Fulton MacGregor

Given that vulnerable people—children, in particular—are being badly let down by the UK Government’s broken asylum system and are having their human rights ignored, with local authorities, charities and the third sector being left to pay for the services that they need, how does the Scottish Government’s approach to refugees and asylum seekers, which is evident in the new Scots strategy, contrast with that of the UK Government?

Angela Constance

The Scottish Government takes a very different approach to refugees and asylum seekers. We want to make Scotland a welcoming place for people who seek protection from persecution and human rights abuses. We believe that immigration begins on day 1 of their arrival, not just when refugee status has been granted. The very fact that we have the new Scots refugee integration strategy means that our approach stands in stark contrast to that of the UK Government, which still does not have a strategy. Integration from day 1 is the key principle of our new Scots strategy. We believe that it is vital to build strong communities by enabling people to settle in, make social connections and build new lives.

I am deeply concerned by the UK Government’s attempts to create a two-tier approach to refugees and asylum seekers that distinguishes between those people who have arrived for resettlement and those people who have arrived through the asylum system. As I said, I recently wrote to the new UK immigration minister on a variety of matters in this area. The Scottish Government firmly believes in having one system for all asylum seekers and refugees that treats people fairly, humanely and with respect regardless of how they arrived in Scotland; otherwise, we risk increasing inequalities and creating barriers to the integration that we all seek.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that tackling the root causes of migration is every bit as essential as being a place of sanctuary? Those root causes include, but are not limited to, conflict, disease and instability.

In that context, does the cabinet secretary welcome, as I do, the recent announcement that the UK Government has committed to a new £75 million fund in this area that is targeted at reducing the number of people who risk the perilous central Mediterranean route to Europe?

Angela Constance

It is a pity that the UK Government did not take the opportunity in the Queen’s speech or with the formation of the new central Government to think again about the Dubs amendment. Amber Rudd has deliberately closed down a safe and legal route for some of the most vulnerable children in the world. According to Interpol, 10,000 unaccompanied children have gone missing across Europe in the past two years. Nobody knows where they are.

Aspects of what the UK Government has announced will be about supporting people outwith our shores by tackling inequality and ill health, and any investment in international development or addressing the causes of conflict should, of course, be welcomed. However, there is a long way to go before we can say that the UK Government takes a humane approach to immigration, asylum and migration, and it is very sad that the UK Government is not meeting all its obligations—in particular, its obligations to our most vulnerable global citizens: children.


Women (Promotion to Senior Positions)

5. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to help promote women to more senior positions in the public and private sectors. (S5O-01169)

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

The Scottish Government is committed to improving the representation of women in senior positions in the public and private sectors, and indeed here in the Scottish Parliament. That is the right thing—and actually the smart thing—to do. On 15 June, we introduced the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill, which sets an objective for public boards to have 50 per cent of non-executive members who are women. As for the private sector, we will continue to encourage companies to work towards gender balance through our 50:50 by 2020 campaign and to adopt fair and progressive business practices more broadly through the Scottish business pledge.

Brian Whittle

The Scottish National Party Government has cut 152,000 college places, with Audit Scotland finding that those cuts have disproportionately affected women. Does the cabinet secretary believe that that will help tackle gender inequality in the workplace?

Angela Constance

If Mr Whittle looked at the facts, he would find that the majority of college students are actually women. They are far from underrepresented in colleges. It was not so long ago that youth unemployment stood at 113,000, and at that time it was quite right for our college sector, along with partners, to focus on young people who were leaving school. We have seen demonstrable progress in that area, with youth unemployment now among the lowest in Europe and school leaver destinations at a record high.

Of course, Audit Scotland’s report on colleges will give education ministers much food for thought, particularly given our manifesto commitments and the work that Mr Hepburn has been progressing on returner programmes for women and the work that he has been leading on maternity and pregnancy discrimination. With regard to the actions that we as a Government have taken to promote fair work, whether for women or for young people, we have a record to be proud of.


Social Housing (Rural Communities)

6. Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to increase the availability of social housing in rural communities. (S5O-01170)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

The Scottish Government understands the importance of good-quality housing to the future prosperity of Scotland and to the strength and diversity of our communities. That is why over the lifetime of this session of Parliament we are investing over £3 billion to deliver our bold and ambitious target of at least 50,000 affordable homes in both rural and urban communities across Scotland. Thirty-five thousand of those homes will be for social rent; that represents an increase of 75 per cent on our previous social rented target, which, of course, we exceeded.

Through the affordable housing supply programme, we have various housing initiatives that are designed to increase the number of affordable homes for rent or purchase and which will benefit rural Scotland. For social rented homes in particular, our enhanced grant subsidy benchmarks for rural areas were increased in 2016 by up to £14,000 per unit. In addition, the flexible grant and loan housing infrastructure fund was introduced last year to unblock strategically important housing sites.

We also recently committed to long-term resource planning assumptions amounting to £1.754 billion to March 2021, which will provide councils across Scotland with the certainty needed to ramp up plans to deliver our ambitious 50,000 target. Moreover, the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 ended the right to buy for all social housing tenants in Scotland on 1 August last year, protecting the existing stock of social rented homes and preventing the sale of up to 15,500 houses over the next decade.

Dean Lockhart

Organisations such as the Rural Stirling Housing Association in my region play an important role in ensuring a diverse range of housing for rural communities. The minister mentioned additional investment; although any additional resources for social housing are, of course, welcome, we would go further by building more than 100,000 houses for all sectors over the course of this session of Parliament.

However, additional resources will be only part of the solution; we also need a more efficient planning system in Scotland. Currently, the timescale for planning approvals is longer than it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Does the minister agree that social housing in rural Scotland would benefit from a more efficient planning process?

Kevin Stewart

Last year, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Rural Stirling Housing Association’s development in Strathblane. That was the first new social housing in that village for between 40 and 50 years—the villagers could not quite decide on the period—and it was very welcome. The development also provided a much-needed wheelchair-accessible home in the area. I am determined to ensure that housing associations such as the Rural Stirling Housing Association can continue the job of building in places that have not had social housing for a very long time.

On the planning situation, Mr Lockhart will be well aware of the steps that the Government has taken since the independent planning review crossed my desk at the very beginning of this parliamentary session. We have had huge amounts of stakeholder consultation, which will result in the introduction of a new planning bill into the Parliament by the end of the year. I expect that that planning bill will lead to much easier planning systems for all, and I hope that that will lead to swifter decisions in many places. However, a lot of that is down to elected members in local authorities, and that is why we are providing training to ensure that they get planning absolutely right.

The Presiding Officer

We are not making a lot of progress. There should be shorter questions and shorter answers.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The minister mentioned 35,000 social rented houses. Exactly how much housing will be built in each local authority area, what funding has been allocated per year to each local authority area, and what are the local authorities expected to contribute to make that housing happen? On planning, what land is available, what planning permission has been sought, and what planning permission has been granted? There seems to be a lack of detailed information on where and how the 35,000 houses will be built.

Kevin Stewart

Presiding Officer, you asked for short answers. I am afraid that giving a short answer would be absolutely impossible in this circumstance.

As Mr Rowley is well aware, the local authorities have provided the Government with their strategic housing investment plans, which outline schemes that they are bringing forward. As I said in response to Mr Lockhart’s question, we gave the resource planning assumptions to all local authorities just the other week—I referred to £1.754 billion. Each local authority knows what its resource planning assumption is for each of the next three years—that was asked of the Government—and that gives them certainty in planning.

On land, Mr Rowley will be well aware that I have written to the local authorities to get them to look even more at the use of compulsory purchase orders. In its manifesto, the Government said that we would introduce legislation on compulsory sale orders during this session to try to free up land.

I have probably missed some of Mr Rowley’s questions. As always, I am more than willing to meet him and others to go into more depth on how we will achieve our ambitious target.


Affordable Housing (2021 Target)

7. Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that local authorities and the house-building sector can be confident that the goal of 50,000 new affordable homes by 2021 is reached. (S5O-01171)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

We are taking action to ensure that communities across Scotland have homes that are high quality, efficient and affordable to reach our goal of 50,000 affordable homes by 2021. For the first time, details have been confirmed of each local authority’s full funding allocation for affordable housing over the next three years. As a result, more than £1.754 billion is being allocated to councils. For the Stirling Council area, which is Mr Crawford’s council area, that means an allocation of £26.59 million. That is a major Scottish Government commitment to deliver more affordable housing and an important signal to the house building sector in Scotland. It demonstrates our commitment to the industry and to the estimated 14,000 jobs that our affordable housing supply programme supports each year.

Bruce Crawford

I am delighted that so much money will be delivered for my constituency of Stirling. I know that Dean Lockhart will want to put out a press release very shortly to the Stirling Observer to welcome the news.

What is the Government going to do to ensure that smaller construction companies get their fair share of the market and help to build the affordable homes that we need in Scotland?

Kevin Stewart

I am quite happy for all members in the chamber to put out press releases to welcome the Government’s commitment over the next three years.

Mr Crawford makes a very important point. Local authorities and housing associations tender for individual projects in an open and transparent way that ensures value for money, and which could—and should—enable small and medium-sized enterprises to bid for work. Some local authorities, such as Angus, break down the scale of their procurement in a way that enables SMEs to bid for the work and to build their capacity. I hope that all local authorities give careful consideration and thought to their procurement policies.

We are working with councils and housing associations to encourage the use of lots within larger contracts and to encourage them always to consider the impact on SMEs when developing frameworks. Support for SMEs is available free of charge from the Scottish Government-funded supplier development programme, which offers expert training and information to help SMEs to win work and grow their businesses.

For me, the most important thing has been going around the country and seeing the number of apprentices who are working for SMEs. They are the future of our construction industry, and long may that continue. Any support that local authorities and housing associations can give to SMEs is welcome as far as I am concerned.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

In a Scottish Government press release dated 13 June 2017, the minister announced that the Scottish Government has a

“goal of 50,000 new affordable homes by 2021.”

Can the minister confirm that the 50,000 affordable homes will all be newly built properties—that is to say, additional to the physical stock that existed at the beginning of the current session of Parliament?

Kevin Stewart

As Mr Wightman is well aware, I would allow some flexibility from councils where they want to buy back stock and bring it back into the social housing sector. It is very important that that flexibility is there. Our plan is to deliver 50,000 affordable homes during the current session of Parliament, including 35,000 for social rent.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

There are around 34,000 empty homes across Scotland. Does the Scottish Government share the Scottish Conservatives’ ambition to use new initiatives and stronger regulation to bring such properties back into use and provide more affordable housing?

Kevin Stewart

As Mr Stewart may be aware, the number of empty homes in Scotland is shrinking. We have a number of initiatives, including the Scottish empty homes partnership, which continues in this financial year.

It is important to note the work of the dedicated empty homes officers that some local authorities have put in place, and I encourage other authorities to do likewise. Empty homes officers in some areas are working in partnership with Shelter Scotland, and their help in that regard is welcome.

I am more than willing to meet Alexander Stewart to hear about the Scottish Conservatives’ proposals. I am not known for being unwilling to nick good ideas if they are good, so if Mr Stewart wants to meet me to discuss his proposals further, I am happy to do so.


Social Security System (Payments)

8. Mairi Evans (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)

I remind the chamber that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the cabinet secretary.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure the safe and timely delivery of the first payments to be made under Scotland’s new social security system. (S5O-01172)

The Minister for Social Security (Jeane Freeman)

The safe and secure transfer of the 11 benefits for the 1.4 million people who rely on them is our main priority. Last week, we introduced to Parliament the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, which represents the next significant milestone, putting in place the necessary legislative framework to allow the delivery of payments under the new Scottish social security system.

We have learned lessons from other programmes of change, not least the United Kingdom Government’s flawed and yet to be completed introduction of universal credit, and we know that a phased approach—transferring the benefits incrementally—is the best way to ensure the safe and timely delivery of payments.

We are committed to ensuring that individuals with lived experience of the benefits system help to shape our approach and, on 30 May, the cabinet secretary set out to Parliament our plans for the first wave of benefits: the carers allowance supplement from summer 2018; and the best start grant and funeral expense assistance by summer 2019.

Mairi Evans

Can the minister provide an update on the work currently being undertaken to establish a social security agency for Scotland, and say whether the announcement on its location is still expected in the autumn?

Jeane Freeman

The work is progressing through an agency project board that we have set up with local partners and trade unions not only to identify and begin to specify the agency’s content in terms of jobs, but to identify co-location opportunities and specify working conditions for those who will be employed in the agency.

In the autumn, I will make an announcement on the location of the agency’s centralised function and will provide an update on our progress in delivering a central and, I believe, extremely important feature of our Scottish approach, which is locally based social security agency staff.


Equalities and Social Security (United Kingdom Government Proposals)

9. Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the impact on Scotland of the equalities and social security aspects of proposals in the Queen’s speech. (S5O-01173)

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

The Queen’s speech was yet another wasted opportunity from the United Kingdom Government to make society more equal and fair for millions of people across the UK.

It is deeply disappointing, but in no way surprising, that the Queen’s speech did not signal any reduction in the Tories’ continued austerity plans or any reversal of their deeply damaging social security cuts, such as the £29 cut to employment and support allowance for unemployed disabled people, the cap on child tax credit, the repugnant “rape clause” or, indeed, the benefit cap that, last week, the High Court in England called illegal and discriminatory against single parents and children and which the judge damned as involving

“real misery being caused to no good purpose”.

Colin Beattie

What we learned from last week’s Queen’s speech is that, to quote Theresa May, “nothing has changed”. Does the cabinet secretary think that it is right that the Tories’ obsession with austerity and cuts will continue despite the volume of evidence against that approach and their failed general election gamble?

Angela Constance

No, I do not think that it is right. However, the UK Government is not interested in doing what is right, even if the evidence shows that that is the right course of action, or in helping those who are just about managing.

Disabled people, women and minority ethnic people have been particularly adversely affected by the austerity agenda. In stark contrast, we have just published our Social Security (Scotland) Bill, which is based on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect.

The Presiding Officer

Question 10 has not been lodged.


North Lanarkshire Council (Meetings)

11. Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government when the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities last met North Lanarkshire Council and what was discussed. (S5O-01175)

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

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including North Lanarkshire Council, 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. Kevin Stewart, the Minister for Local Government and Housing, most recently met the chief executive of the council on 13 June.

Richard Lyle

The cabinet secretary might be aware of the recent Holytown link road proposal in my constituency. That work is a result of the city deal. Many residents have raised concerns about the proposed link road. However, despite that, North Lanarkshire Council has announced that the city deal cabinet has approved the project. Does the cabinet secretary believe that, in its efforts to deliver for our communities, the city deal cabinet should listen to the voices of local people and politicians, especially because nobody wants this road?

Angela Constance

I think that the best thing for me to do is to speak to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work and the Minister for Transport and the Islands, who will be more apprised of the details about the road that Mr Lyle refers to. Of course, we always encourage local authorities to listen acutely to their local communities and, as far as possible, to represent the views of the community, but I am conscious that the local authority also has the interests of the wider North Lanarkshire community to represent. However, I will get the cabinet secretary and/or the minister to respond to Mr Lyle.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes portfolio questions. Apologies to the number of members who did not get a chance to ask their questions today.