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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 29 May 2019

Agenda: Next Steps in Scotland’s Future, Portfolio Question Time, Wind Turbine Construction (Fife), Business Motion, Decision Time, Expanding Scotland’s Railways


Contents


Portfolio Question Time

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is portfolio question time. Again, I want to allow as many people as possible to participate, so I would like short questions and answers.


Health and Sport


Passive Smoking

1. Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to prevent passive smoking. (S5O-03290)

The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing (Joe FitzPatrick)

In June 2018 we published “Raising Scotland’s Tobacco-free Generation: our tobacco control action plan 2018”, which sets out 50 measures intended to prevent take-up of smoking, to protect people from second-hand smoke and to support people to quit. The measures will help to deliver our ambition to have a tobacco-free generation by 2034, and all of them will reduce passive smoking.

As for second-hand smoke, the action plan also contains measures to ban smoking around hospital buildings, and to remove smoking from areas where children learn and play, as well as communal stairwells.

Rachael Hamilton

Although the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 makes it an offence to smoke in enclosed public places, it does not specifically cover children’s play parks, schools’ outdoor facilities and other playgrounds. As we know, the effects of passive smoking are exacerbated in children because their lungs are not fully developed. Does the Scottish Government have any plans to follow the Welsh Government, which is enacting the changes that are set out in the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 to ban smoking in outdoor facilities and play parks?

Joe FitzPatrick

That is an important question. The action plan includes a commitment to monitor the developments in Wales and to monitor implementation of the guidelines that we issued to local authorities in 2017. We will do that before we consider whether legislation is required, which is the correct approach. As I said, the guidance was published in 2017, and we plan to engage with local authorities on implementation later this year.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Does the minister agree that the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 has been a resounding success with, in the year following its introduction alone, an 86 per cent reduction in passive smoking in bars, a 17 per cent fall in heart attacks and an 18 per cent decline in child asthma hospital admissions? Does he therefore agree that it is time for the Tories finally to apologise for opposing the bill tooth and nail at stages 1 and 3, given the thousands of lives that it has saved since its enactment?

Joe FitzPatrick

There is no question but that the ban had a very quick impact. The assessment in 2008 found an immediate impact, and I think that further assessment will show a wider range of benefits from the ban. It is important to acknowledge Mr Gibson’s commitment on the issue, which goes right back to the first session of Parliament.

However, on Kenneth Gibson’s final question, I think that we have moved on some distance from then. From the Conservatives who are in the chamber now, I hear support for that public health measure. Therefore, I am minded to try to work with them on the issue, and on other public health measures relating to obesity and to alcohol and drugs, because on those issues we need to rise above politics and to work together to do what is best for the people of Scotland.


Health Services (Impact of Brexit)

2. Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the reported concerns of national health service boards regarding the possible impact of Brexit on their services. (S5O-03291)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Jeane Freeman)

The Scottish Government shares NHS boards’ concerns, including on supply continuity, research and workforce. We continue to plan and prepare so that we can minimise the impacts, but I need to be clear that we cannot remove or mitigate all the risks that are involved with Brexit.

Alongside activation of our Scottish Government resilience room, we have established a health response hub, to assist boards. We have written to staff from other European Union countries and are supporting people who are applying for settled status. Many medicine supply issues are outside our control, but we have established a medicines shortage response group and we are working with NHS National Services Scotland on medical devices stockpiling.

Gil Paterson

In the light of the EU election result, which demonstrated that Scotland overwhelmingly rejects Brexit, and against the backdrop of a new Tory Prime Minister potentially crashing us out of the EU without a deal, what preparations is the Scottish Government making to protect our NHS in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

Jeane Freeman

As Gil Paterson knows, I have just outlined those preparations. I repeat: we cannot mitigate all the impacts of a no-deal Brexit, which would result in a significant shock to our economic system and would, in due course, produce additional demands on our health services.

The end of freedom of movement presents severe workforce challenges in healthcare and, in particular, in social care. It is astonishing that, in this century in this country, we are busy working out how to feed and look after our citizens because we are being taken out of the European Union against our will.


General Practitioner Recruitment (Rural Communities)

3. Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to encourage the recruitment of GPs in rural communities. (S5O-03292)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Jeane Freeman)

The new GP contract, which was developed in partnership with the British Medical Association, is helping to cut doctors’ workloads and to make general practice a more attractive career in rural and urban practices, and it enhances GPs’ role as expert medical generalists.

In addition, we have a package of measures to support rural general practices. We have significantly enhanced recruitment incentives and recruitment and relocation support, we support the Scottish rural medical collaborative, and we are investing in support for information technology improvements in rural health boards and in support for rural dispensing practices. Even so, there are issues around the flexibility of the contracts, which I take very seriously, so we will continue to consider how we can address those concerns.

Michelle Ballantyne

It is clear that the measures are not working quickly enough. This week, Tranent medical practice in East Lothian took the decision to stop taking advance bookings for GP appointments. The practice is quite clear about what has prompted that decision: it is the on-going shortage of GPs in the practice, which has come about as a result of recruitment issues. The decision to halt advance bookings has clear implications for the accessibility of GP services for local residents, particularly for those who work during the week.

What assurances can the cabinet secretary offer me and residents of East Lothian that other medical practices across South Scotland will not have to take similar measures in order to make up for the Scottish Government’s failure to recruit and retain GPs?

Jeane Freeman

I do not accept the premise with which Michelle Ballantyne ended her question. In addition to Brexit, among the greatest challenges in respect of retaining our workforce are decisions that the United Kingdom Government has made on pension contribution increases, which are proving to be exceptionally challenging across our health and care workforce. If the member does not believe me, she should ask the royal colleges, the British Medical Association—representatives of which I am meeting later—and the many others who have raised the matter with me. Of course, if we had had the powers, we would not have made such a foolish decision in the first place and, if we had, we would reverse it now.

The GP contract is relatively new, and we need to recruit into the multidisciplinary teams in order to provide the right care for patients at the right point, but we are seeing challenges in some—not all—areas. NHS 24 is involved in order to improve matters significantly, in particular in Dumfries and Galloway. When a GP practice is especially challenged, it is, of course, our responsibility to act immediately, along with our healthcare and social care partners, to intervene and support patients.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Unusually, I have a question. What part of “short and succinct” do members in the chamber not understand? Could members please have some regard for their fellow members and take on board my request to be short and succinct?


Long-term Conditions (Art Therapy)

4. Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will ensure that more young people and their families managing long-term health conditions can access art therapy. (S5O-03293)

The Minister for Mental Health (Clare Haughey)

Art therapists are a small professional group, but they have a huge contribution to make in helping people of all ages to improve their general development and social interaction and communication skills and in supporting mental and physical rehabilitation. As is the case with other allied health professions, access to art therapy is based on clinical need.

Iain Gray

The Teapot Trust, which was founded by my constituent Dr Young, has gone from strength to strength and now provides art therapy in all Scotland’s children’s hospitals, as well as in Great Ormond Street hospital and Alder Hey children’s hospital. It is also working with some child and adolescent mental health services and would like to expand that provision. I wrote to the Minister for Mental Health recently to ask whether she would meet Dr Young and me, but she replied that she was too busy. Today, the trust announced its new chief executive, Sarah Randell. Can the minister be prevailed upon to find half an hour in her diary to meet me and Ms Randell?

Clare Haughey

I am aware of the work that the Teapot Trust does and I congratulate Laura Young on the work that she has done. From my clinical practice, I am well aware of the value that art therapists bring to both children and young people’s services and adult services. If Mr Gray writes to me again, I will certainly reconsider his request. He has been a minister, so he will be aware that sometimes diary constraints mean that I cannot meet everyone whom I would like to meet.

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

Will the minister provide an update on the number of art therapists working in CAMHS and confirm what is the wider vision around access to therapy not only in the NHS but in social care services?

Clare Haughey

As I said in my previous answer, it is up to NHS boards to determine the staffing that is required in their areas, based on local need, but I recognise that art therapists are a valuable addition. I do not have the numbers that Mr Briggs has asked for, but I will write to him with the figures.


NHS Grampian (Referral to Treatment Target)

5. Tom Mason (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve NHS Grampian’s performance in meeting the 18 weeks referral to treatment target of at least 90 per cent. (S5O-03294)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Jeane Freeman)

As part of the waiting times improvement plan, additional funding to NHS Grampian has so far supported a new cataract procedure room, which has provided additional patient treatment areas, and additional endoscopies. In addition, NHS Grampian is working with neighbouring health boards to maximise the use of capacity, with a focus on general surgery and urology, to reduce the number of patients waiting the longest.

Tom Mason

Figures published yesterday show that, rather than meeting the 90 per cent target, Grampian’s performance for patient journeys within 18 weeks has declined again to 61.7 per cent. That is the single worst monthly performance of any health board in any month since at least January 2011. Does the cabinet secretary not agree that that is shocking and will she take the opportunity to apologise to the patients in Grampian? Will she admit that whatever grand plans and strategies she has are simply not working?

Jeane Freeman

On the contrary, I absolutely apologise to patients who are waiting too long for the treatment that they deserve—this is not the first time that I have done that in the chamber—but I do not accept that our plan and strategy are not working.

What we need to understand is what I said in the waiting times improvement plan—it is there in black and white: we will focus on those who are waiting the longest. In consequence of doing that, as of the end of March this year, the number of on-going waits—those waiting the longest for in-patient and day case treatment—has been reduced by 8.5 per cent. That is the first quarter in nearly three and a half years where there has been such a reduction. A consequence of focusing on those waiting the longest is that those who are introduced into the waiting times will wait a bit longer. The plan makes clear in a graph that, inevitably, the trend goes in that direction before it starts to improve. That is where we are. Nonetheless, that is not acceptable for any of our patients who have to wait longer, and that is absolutely the focus of the waiting times plan. We will continue to see improvement. Right now, we are on track to be exactly where we said we would be in October this year.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Allegations of fraudulent use of previous Government waiting time improvement funds are under investigation in NHS Lanarkshire. Is the cabinet secretary aware of any such issue in NHS Grampian or any other health board, and can she provide an update on the Lanarkshire situation?

Jeane Freeman

No other board has raised these matters with us. Of course, all boards are very aware and are looking to ensure that, whatever has happened in NHS Lanarkshire, they have the right mitigation procedures to ensure that they are not vulnerable in that way. Nonetheless, the Lanarkshire situation is the subject of on-going investigation and, until it is concluded, I cannot comment further on it.


Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (Staff Car Parking)

6. Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with NHS Lothian regarding staff car parking at the Royal infirmary of Edinburgh. (S5O-03295)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Jeane Freeman)

Our discussions continue with NHS Lothian on this matter, which both the board and we take seriously. The board has taken steps to increase and manage availability of spaces, creating an additional 334 car parking spaces, which will be available from 9 July this year; introducing controls to limit car park use to those accessing health services and staff with permits; undertaking discussions with travel providers on service provision to try to make sure that public transport is more appropriate for that site; and promoting a pan-Lothian lift-share programme. The board will continue to engage with patients and staff and we will continue to be in touch with them to see what more in the way of constructive ideas for initiatives might be taken forward.

Jeremy Balfour

I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are employed at the hospital. Many are shift workers who are concerned about the cost of parking at work and about their safety travelling to and from work since the parking permits were revoked. Will the cabinet secretary therefore agree to refund the cost of parking?

Jeane Freeman

This matter has been raised with me previously by another member, Ms Grahame. We continue to discuss with the board the allocation of staff permits and the difficulties that might have arisen over changes in those. I am happy to update Mr Balfour as those discussions are concluded.


Out-of-hours Urgent Care (Fife)

7. Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on out-of-hours urgent care in Fife. (S5O-03296)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Jeane Freeman)

I can advise Annabelle Ewing that Fife health and social care partnership is still in the process of engaging with the community and hopes to take proposals to the next integrated joint board meeting at the end of June.

Annabelle Ewing

Although I appreciate that it is important that all representations be duly taken into account, I am nonetheless concerned that matters are dragging on. Assuming that the Queen Margaret hospital in Dunfermline will be one of the sites that are selected, when will the new out-of-hours urgent care regime come into effect?

Jeane Freeman

I understand the member’s frustration, and I also understand that there are still a number of processes to go through before this matter reaches a satisfactory conclusion. However, I have received assurances from the health and social care partnership that, assuming that there are no further unplanned delays, the new out-of-hours regime should be in place before the winter this year.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We will have a very short supplementary from Willie Rennie.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

An innovative solution has been developed for north-east Fife in St Andrews, which means that people will not have to travel to Kirkcaldy unless there are exceptional circumstances. However, there has been no provision overnight in St Andrews for a year now. The decision has been delayed twice. Can the minister give us a guarantee that there will be no further delays?

Jeane Freeman

No, I cannot give that guarantee. I am of course aware of the innovative solution there, given that the Scottish Government played a major role in brokering it. I am grateful to Mr Rennie for recognising that—I think. The board, the local authority and, importantly, the IJB need to be given the time to go through the proper processes in order to get it right. I cannot guarantee that there will be no further delays, but both the IJB and the relevant partners are very aware of people’s anxiety about this issue and their desire to see the conclusions. The IJB and partners are equally aware of my desire to know that they are moving in the right direction. I hope that, when they meet in June, they will be able to conclude on those proposals.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We will have a quick supplementary from Claire Baker.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary will know that part of the delay was caused by the participation request that was granted by NHS Fife. It was the first time that the legislation that provides for such requests has been used by an NHS board. Will she commit to reflecting on the experience of individuals who went through that process? As it was the first time that it has been used, NHS Fife had to seek legal advice about whether it was appropriate.

Jeane Freeman

I will be very happy to have further discussions with NHS Fife about the experience and to hear from those who went through the process and consider what more we might do.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We will see whether Ms Gilruth knows what “quick supplementary” means.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is vital that the IJB continues to engage with communities and residents in Glenrothes to develop their plans further?

Jeane Freeman

Ms Gilruth has raised an important point. I agree that, although an IJB may not be able to meet every request of a local community, I expect it to clearly demonstrate how any plans that it brings forward have been shaped by engagement with that community. If nothing else, that is a matter of simple respect towards the communities that any IJB serves.


Hospital Meals (Nitrites)

8. Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it has taken to reduce the amount of meat containing nitrites that is being served in hospitals. (S5O-03297)

The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing (Joe FitzPatrick)

All hospital food must meet national food, fluid and nutrition standards. Under the NHS Scotland procurement framework, all suppliers must adhere to all relevant requirements, including those under the Food Safety Act 1990, as amended, and Scottish, United Kingdom and European Union food safety regulations.

Liam Kerr

The fact remains that it has been four years since the publication of a report that linked processed meat nitrites and bowel cancer. Does the minister agree that that type of food should be nowhere near hospital menus? Instead, high-quality food that is produced here in Scotland should make its way into Scottish hospitals.

Joe FitzPatrick

Liam Kerr might want to speak to some of the high-quality food producers in Scotland that use nitrites, which are in line with food safety rules and guidelines. On this issue, Scotland has led the UK by setting a minimum standard for our hospital food, which all has to meet the food, fluid and nutrition standards, as I have said. They take account of the latest scientific advice on the amount of red and processed meat that can be consumed for a healthy balanced diet, which is already no more than 70g of red and processed meat in a day.

 

 


Communities and Local Government


Child Poverty

1. Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to tackle rising levels of child poverty. (S5O-03298)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)

Scotland is the only United Kingdom country to have set statutory targets for reducing child poverty. Our tackling child poverty delivery plan outlines the concrete actions that we will take to deliver progress on those targets, and our first report, which is due next month, will set out in more detail the progress that we have made.

We are taking that bold action in the face of the UK Government’s cuts and austerity, which have seen the Scottish budget reduce by £2 billion in real terms since 2010-11 and will see £3.7 billion cut from social security spending by 2020-21—risking the progress that we have made.

Alex Rowley

All the evidence and projections suggest that child poverty in Scotland will continue to increase. Although I accept the point that Aileen Campbell made about the actions of the Tory Government, which is supported by the Tory members here, the level of poverty is rising and the Scottish Government has tools available to address that. For example, Oxfam Scotland argues that it is time to fast-track Scotland’s income supplement. Will the Government look to use its powers and bring a statement to this Parliament, setting out what it intends to do in the short term to stop the unacceptable increase in child poverty in Scotland?

Aileen Campbell

As I said in my initial response, I will update Parliament next month with a progress report on the tackling child poverty delivery plan. In that plan, we committed to the introduction of the income supplement. Again, I will update the Parliament on the progress that we have made on that. Alex Rowley should also recognise what Professor Philip Alston said:

“Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity ... But mitigation comes at a price and is not sustainable.”

With the powers that we have and by investing the resources that we have, we are doing what we can to soften the blows of Tory austerity, but it is not always sustainable to do so. We must raise the debate and make sure that we are in a position to pursue our own policies to tackle the social problems that exist in Scotland.

We will continue what we are doing to mitigate and soften the blows of what the UK Government is doing at Westminster. We will continue to use our powers to help children to have the best chance and the opportunity to flourish. We can do that in partnership, but austerity comes fairly and squarely from Westminster, as it recognises.


New-build Social Housing (Dumfries and Galloway)

2. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the level of new social housing building in Dumfries and Galloway. (S5O-03299)

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

Local authorities have the statutory responsibility to assess housing need and demand in their areas and to set out how requirements for housing will be met in their local housing strategies. Dumfries and Galloway Council produced its LHS in 2018, supported by a housing need and demand assessment that the Scottish Government agreed was robust and credible in 2016. In this parliamentary session, the Scottish Government will provide over £91 million for affordable housing in Dumfries and Galloway, and around 800 homes for social rent are expected to be delivered.

Colin Smyth

One of the challenges that the region faces in developing new housing is infrastructure restrictions. Developments in areas such as Gretna, Gretna Green and Springfield have been limited and challenging because of issues with access to the water supply. Likewise, in the Lockerbie area, there have been challenges over access to waste water treatment works. Will the minister will look into those issues to see what can be done across the Government to ensure that Scottish Water invests in the infrastructure that is needed to continue housing growth in those communities?

Kevin Stewart

I do not have to look into those matters, because I know exactly what is going on. There has been a huge amount of co-operation between Scottish Water, Dumfries and Galloway Council and some of the housing associations—particularly Cunninghame Housing Association—to resolve the problems that exist in Gretna. I hope that a solution can be found to all of those problems through that continued partnership working.

My expectation is that, in other areas around Dumfries and Galloway and around the country, Scottish Water, which has moved a large number of staff to look at front-line services and deliver homes and businesses across our country, will make sure that any barriers are taken down. That works particularly well when there is co-operation, and I thank Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

Given that the previous Labour Government in Scotland managed to build only six houses in four years, will the minister join me in congratulating Dumfries and Galloway Council and local housing associations including Loreburn Housing Association on the high level of accessible housing that they are providing to people across Dumfries and Galloway?

Kevin Stewart

Since 2007, this Government has delivered 1,782 social houses in the Dumfries and Galloway area, with many more to come during this parliamentary term. I am very pleased that we currently have folk on site in Kirkconnel, Dumfries and Annan. In Dumfries, there are numerous sites. I would like to see the delivery of many more specialist houses.

I have told local authorities that they should use the affordable housing supply moneys to meet the needs of the people in their area, and long may that continue. I understand, from recent visits to Dumfries and Galloway, that 15 per cent of housing on the site in Annan—which, if I remember rightly, is the former Carrs Billington site—is wheelchair accessible.


Scottish Land Commission (Land Development)

3. Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish Land Commission’s recent call for a “fundamental rethink” on the approach to land development. (S5O-03300)

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

We welcome the Scottish Land Commission’s report and will carefully consider its recommendations. Our reforms could fundamentally reposition planning as an enabler of high-quality development, particularly if Ms Beamish and others continue to work with me to get the Planning (Scotland) Bill back on track at stage 3.

Claudia Beamish

I note the minister’s remark about the Planning (Scotland) Bill. The report calls for a collaborative approach and for the Government to accept the need for more public sector-led developments, so that the risks and rewards of development can be shared between the public and private sectors. Does the minister agree that that need is very important? What action is he able to take to facilitate more public sector-led development including ensuring that the right skills and resources are available to local authorities

“to administer and drive the right outcomes”?

Kevin Stewart

I have been told to be succinct, so I will not touch on everything that Ms Beamish said. We accept in principle all the recommendations in the report, and, as Ms Beamish knows, we are already committed to a significant programme of work, through the Planning (Scotland) Bill, to get that absolutely right. Ms Beamish can be assured that we will work with planning authorities, the development industry, the Scottish Land Commission, the Scottish Futures Trust and others to draw up proposals to address the recommendations in the report. As Ms Beamish well knows, I am all in favour of co-operation.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

On that note, will the minister agree to cross-party talks as we take forward that important work?

Kevin Stewart

As Mr Simpson well knows, because I am meeting him in about 20 minutes, I am happy to talk with members from all parties.


Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Meetings)

4. Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met COSLA and what was discussed. (S5O-03301)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)

Ministers and officials meet COSLA representatives regularly to discuss a wide range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland. As part of that on-going engagement, I have regular meetings with the president of COSLA to discuss issues of common interest. Our last such meeting was on 13 March, when we discussed a number of issues including Brexit preparations, and we will meet again on Monday of next week.

Jackie Baillie

On Monday of next week, will the cabinet secretary discuss the recent increase in local authority charges for social care, which has been breathtaking? In Scottish National Party-controlled West Dunbartonshire Council’s area, the cost of community alarms has increased by 100 per cent. Vulnerable older people are cancelling the service because it is simply unaffordable—more than 200 of them have done so in the last month alone. Will the cabinet secretary work with COSLA to initiate a Scotland-wide review of social care charges to ensure that they are affordable, and invite West Dunbartonshire Council to think again?

Aileen Campbell

I invite Ms Baillie to write to my office with the details and I will ensure that they are passed on to the relevant cabinet secretary so that we can engage in the round. I know that local authorities have been treated fairly in the budget process and that they will be given an increase in their resource budget when Parliament passes the budget. Perhaps the discussion that Ms Baillie needs to have is with her local authority.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Question 5 has been withdrawn.


United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (Visit to the United Kingdom)

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

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report on the fact-finding visit to the United Kingdom by the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. (S5O-03303)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)

We welcome Professor Alston’s report, which is a devastating analysis of the UK Government’s austerity measures, describing the policies pursued since 2010 as retrogressive and in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations. The special rapporteur described the UK Government as being “determinedly in ... denial” with regard to poverty in the UK.

The role of national Governments should be to tackle poverty and inequalities, and not to cause the deep damage that is outlined in the report. The Scottish Government agrees with the special rapporteur’s assessment that the UK Government must reverse the many policies that it has pursued that are increasing poverty and inequality and imposing regressive measures.

Colin Beattie

I note that the special rapporteur pointed out that Scotland is mitigating the worst impacts of UK Government austerity, but that

“mitigation comes at a price and is not sustainable.”

Does the cabinet secretary agree that if the UK Government does not reverse its harmful policies, it is time that Scotland had the powers to do so itself?

Aileen Campbell

Yes, I do. As I said to Alex Rowley, we have invested £125 million to soften the blows of Tory cuts and austerity. Mr Beattie is also right to mention that Professor Alston said that

“mitigation comes at a price and is not sustainable.”

However, we cannot mitigate the £3.7 billion gap in welfare spending that has been caused by the UK Government’s cuts. I would far rather that we pursued an approach to welfare and social security that was based on dignity and respect. The building of a new social security system gives just a glimpse of what we can do with the powers that we currently have. Just imagine what we could do in the future that we could create if we had the normal powers of an independent country to help us to care for those who need it most.


Glasgow City Council (Meetings)

7. Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Glasgow City Council and what was discussed. (S5O-03304)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including Glasgow City 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.

In relation to Glasgow City Council, I was delighted to see that equal pay settlement offers started going out to claimants last week. The unfair treatment of many female employees at the council was allowed to go on for far too long, and I welcome the action that the council has taken to resolve it.

Johann Lamont

Is the cabinet secretary aware that Glasgow City Council’s education committee passed a motion calling for primary 1 tests to be scrapped and that, this month, the full council agreed that teachers should be able to make their own decisions regarding testing and, indeed, passed a vote of no confidence in its education convener? What advice would the cabinet secretary give to Glasgow City Council on implementing that democratic decision? When will her Government start listening and respect the decision of the Parliament that primary 1 testing should be scrapped?

Aileen Campbell

I will ensure that the points that Ms Lamont has made are passed on to the relevant department that deals with education matters. However, I point out that Glasgow City Council endeavours to improve outcomes for the children who are in its care, and to ensure that they have good, high-quality education—I know that my colleagues in Glasgow City Council take that commitment very seriously indeed.


Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Local Government Finances)

8. Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss local government finances. (S5O-03305)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)

The Scottish Government regularly meets COSLA to discuss a number of issues, including local government finance.

Neil Bibby

The SNP and the Greens in this Parliament are proposing that local government be given the power to raise revenue through the workplace parking levy. Earlier this year, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work admitted that no economic analysis had been done on that policy. Has such analysis now been done?

Aileen Campbell

We are supporting an agreed Green Party amendment to the Transport (Scotland) Bill that would introduce a power to enable local authorities to introduce a workplace parking levy, but it is important to recognise that that would be a valuable additional tool for local authorities that chose to use it. It would not be mandatory. Also, it is in response to the on-going climate emergency, which has been talked about and discussed for some time and which now requires action to follow it. [Interruption.]

I am sure that there will be much more engagement on the issue as the Transport (Scotland) Bill passes through the Parliament, but if Mr Smyth wants to tackle climate change, he should look to see what he is actually going to do, as opposed to carping from the sidelines.