Meeting date: Thursday, March 30, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 30 March 2017
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Elmwood Campus, Mental Health Strategy, Transvaginal Mesh Implants, Unconventional Oil and Gas, Enterprise and Skills Review, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Elmwood Campus
- Mental Health Strategy
- Transvaginal Mesh Implants
- Unconventional Oil and Gas
- Enterprise and Skills Review
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-01106)
I have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.
Does the First Minister believe that Scotland’s schools are staffed with enough teachers?
The education secretary and I have been very open about the recruitment challenges that exist in parts of our education system. That is why we have focused on making sure that we attract the best and brightest people into the teaching profession and, in partnership with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, making it easier to get teachers into the classroom. We will continue to take that action. Over the past number of years, as part of our overall programme of reform in education, we have funded local authorities to maintain the numbers of teachers in our schools, which is the right thing to do to ensure that we drive up standards and close the gap in attainment.
The simple and correct answer would have been, “No, they are not.” Here are the figures: since the Scottish National Party came to power, the number of teachers has fallen by more than 4,000 from 55,000 to just under 51,000. When schools need supply teachers to fill in, they struggle more and more.
This week, we contacted councils right around Scotland to find out by how much the stock of supply teachers has fallen in recent years. Here are the facts: in the Scottish Borders, there has been a drop in the number of supply teachers of more than a third since 2011; in Edinburgh, it is even worse, as the number has halved; and in Glasgow alone we have lost 1,000 supply teachers over the same timeframe.
There are fewer teachers, more vacancies and fewer supply teachers to fill in when needed. How can the First Minister defend that?
As we have debated in this chamber many times in the past, the number of teachers fluctuates over a period of years in line with fluctuations in the number of pupils in our schools. In recent years—this is a statement of fact—we funded local authorities to maintain teacher numbers as pupil numbers started to rise, so that we could broadly maintain the teacher to pupil ratio, as well.
In terms of teacher recruitment challenges, in recent times—in partnership with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, as I said earlier—we have opened up 11 new routes to get teachers into classrooms and to make it easier to get the best and brightest in our teaching profession into classrooms to do what they do best. We have also increased the future intake for teaching training to just short of 400—about 370—for this year. We have asked the General Teaching Council to look at what more can be done to motivate supply teachers.
We are taking a range of actions to make sure that we have the right number of teachers in our schools teaching our young people, which is part of the wider programme that I spoke about. As part of our budget this year, we have taken the decision to get £120 million directly into the hands of headteachers so that they can invest those resources in the things that they believe will have the biggest impact on raising attainment. Whether that is more teaching staff or specialist staff in particular areas is at the discretion of headteachers to decide.
We continue to take the action that is required to get standards up in our schools generally and to close the attainment gap. We will continue to focus on exactly that.
The First Minister is standing there and asking for applause for cleaning up her own mess. It is not a fluctuation; we are down more than 4,000 teachers. This week, we have learned the cost of teacher shortages. It got rather drowned out by the First Minister’s referendum plans, but Education Scotland made it clear that the recruitment crisis that we face is damaging the quality of education in Scotland not just in primary schools, but in secondary schools, too. According to the head of School Leaders Scotland, the shortage is such that headteachers are having to take on staff not because they are right for the job, but because they are the only ones available. Does the First Minister think that that is a decent return for 10 years of SNP Government?
We have plenty of evidence of improving standards in our schools. I can point to the record exam passes that young people are achieving in our schools. I can point to the record positive destinations of young people leaving our schools and going into employment, further education or training. I can point to the beginning of the closing of the attainment gap, although I readily recognise that there is much more work to do.
Yes, we have a challenge when it comes to the recruitment of teachers in particular areas, and that is not unique to Scotland. As I set out in my previous answer, we are taking a range of actions to ensure that we meet that challenge.
We will continue to focus on exactly that: the programme of reform in education. I have already mentioned the additional funding that is going direct to headteachers; the attainment challenge that is focusing on literacy and numeracy; and the introduction—I know that not everybody in the chamber agrees with it—of national assessment so that we can publish robust information about the performance in our schools and measure the improvements that we are making. That is a comprehensive programme of reform and the Deputy First Minister and I will continue to be absolutely focused on delivering it.
The First Minister is going through actions that are being taken that are necessary only because her Government has been asleep at the wheel for the last decade.
The real question here is about this Government’s priorities. This week, Sir Tom Hunter wrote in a national newspaper, setting out some of the positive steps that are finally being taken, such as leadership development for headteachers to ensure that we get better leaders in our schools. He also talks of the work that is being done by Skills Development Scotland to help link up young people with employers.
However, Sir Tom finished his piece with this. Let me read it to you:
“Scotland faces challenges so I ask, ‘Is independence our biggest priority?’”--[Interruption.]
Members can groan if they like, but Sir Tom is only asking the question that a lot of people want answered. Separation or education—which is it?
First, on education, I know that there are many things that Ruth Davidson does not like to acknowledge. For example, there is the increase of around 30 per cent in Higher passes since 2007, the 90 per cent of young people going into positive destinations, the improvement that we are seeing in closing the attainment gap, the increase in provision for early years and childcare, which is crucial to closing that attainment gap in schools, the additional resources going into the hands of headteachers and, as Ruth Davidson has just spoken about, the extra support to headteachers, which John Swinney talked about this week, making sure that we have the best leadership in our schools.
Let us come back to the point about who is concentrating on those matters and who, at every opportunity, tries to shoehorn in the reference to the constitution.
I do not know how Ruth Davidson spends her week when she is not appearing in comedy shows or talking about independence. Here are some of the things that I do in an average week: committing £10 million to support our food and drink sector; signing an economic partnership agreement with Bavaria—this is just in the last few days; chairing a cabinet meeting that decides the content of our social security bill, continues work on our 2018 budget plans, and talks about what we are doing to reduce cancer waiting times; finalising the mental health strategy, which will be published today; convening a meeting with the Minister for Social Security to talk about our new social security agency; announcing 300 new jobs in the city of Glasgow; talking to manufacturing companies about how we boost that sector of our economy; reviewing with the Deputy First Minister our education reform programme; and talking to Transport Scotland and the Minister for Transport and the Islands about the Queensferry crossing. I could go on, but I know that I am running out of time.
Let me focus on some of the things that other ministers have been doing while the Opposition has talked about its priorities. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has provided funding to widen access to medical schools and funding to increase cervical cancer screening, and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has provided funding for support for headteachers. The Minister for Public Health and Sport is extending family nurse partnerships, and the Minister for Childcare and Early Years has been setting out plans to double childcare. Last but not least, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities is providing support for young homeless people who are having their housing benefit removed by the Conservative Government at Westminster.
I will take no lectures about the day job. It is just a pity that so much of our day job is spent cleaning up the mess that has been made by a Tory Government.
The First Minister talks about priorities. I know that she has had a tough week and that it is getting worse, but is she going to stand there after forcing a two-day debate on independence, forcing through a referendum against the wishes of the people of Scotland, and forcing through a vote on that and still say that education is her priority? Her Government has not debated education in Government time in the chamber since October. How does she answer that? There has been no education debate since October, but there has been independence every single day.
The difference between the Government and the Tories is that they debate and we deliver. Let me tell Ruth Davidson what we have delivered in Government time and with Government money: £120 million for headteachers to improve standards in our schools. I will continue to allow Ruth Davidson and the Tories to debate with each other, but I will get on with delivering for the people of Scotland.
To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the week. (S5F-01108)
More engagements to deliver for the people of Scotland.
One thing that the First Minister has not done is deliver justice for the Scottish mesh survivors. I met that group of women just a few days ago. Their lives have been destroyed by a medical procedure that was supposed to help them to get better. I spoke to one woman who cannot sit down without being in excruciating pain. Others have been paralysed. Those women feared that the review of the use of mesh products would be a whitewash, and that is exactly what it is. In their own words, they have been left “dismayed, disgusted and betrayed”. Will the First Minister apologise to the women who have been so badly let down?
I am, of course, deeply sorry for the suffering of the women who Kezia Dugdale mentioned and many others who have suffered complications because of treatment with mesh. As Kezia Dugdale knows, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will make a statement on the issue in the chamber this afternoon.
The independent review that the Government instructed to look into those very issues was published on Monday this week, and it contains eight important conclusions that health boards across the country will now be expected to take forward. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport recently met two of the women who have, understandably, been quoted in the media—Olive McIlroy and Elaine Holmes—to hear their views directly in person. She met them to make clear that the Scottish mesh survivors group’s views have been heard and that, more than that, we want to ensure that their views remain at the centre of the work as we take it forward.
The chair of the review ensured that all the evidence that informed the review was made publicly available alongside the report when it was published. I am very grateful to all the members of the review group for the considerable time and effort that they have dedicated to that really important piece of work over the past number of years.
The health secretary will set out in further detail this afternoon the actions that will now be taken to ensure that the recommendations are implemented in full. I hope that members will welcome the health secretary’s statement when she makes it later.
That is a welcome apology but, make no mistake, there has been a cover-up and this is a national scandal. Whatever the cabinet secretary says this afternoon, the report has been compromised. We know that the original draft report was supported by all members of the review group, but the final report has lost the faith of those involved, and that is why the chair, the clinical expert and the patients’ representatives have all resigned. Even the First Minister’s successor as health secretary, Alex Neil, said that it was “totally unacceptable”. Most important of all, countless women whose lives have been destroyed by the procedure think that the report is a whitewash. If those women do not have any faith in the report, how possibly can the First Minister?
There are extremely important issues involved here. I say as a matter of fact and not to underplay any of the issues involved that, as far as I am aware, the chair resigned for personal reasons and not for any reasons associated with concern about the report.
As we move forward from the statement that Shona Robison will give this afternoon to implement the recommendations, I take very seriously—and I know that the health secretary does, too—the responsibility to work really hard to ensure that we build the faith of those who have been affected. That is one of our most important responsibilities. As I said earlier, all the evidence that informed the review has been made publicly available alongside the report—it is available for anybody to read. The health secretary was clear in establishing with the chair of the review that that should be the case. The recommendations in the report must now be taken forward in a way that has the confidence of the women who have been affected.
It does not have their confidence.
I ask members to wait to hear the statement that Shona Robison will make this afternoon. They will have the opportunity, rightly and properly, to ask questions about that statement. Shona Robison will set out clearly the steps that will be taken to ensure that all the right action is taken in a way that restores the confidence and faith of the women who have been affected. That is a responsibility that the health secretary and I take seriously. I hope that, when the statement is made to Parliament this afternoon, although members will ask searching questions, as they are right to do, there will be support for the actions that the health secretary will set out.
The women want to have faith in the process, but they also want action. I have an email from Sophie, who is 18 and a mesh survivor’s daughter. Sophie emailed Shona Robison at half past 2 this morning, as she cared for her mother. Her email said:
“I’m struggling to remember my mum before mesh took her from me.
No, she’s not dead, but she is a shell of the woman I’d previously loved, adored and been inspired by.
You should live a day in our life. On the days when the pain is so bad my fiercely independent mum can’t even brush her own teeth.”
Given what the First Minister knows about the issue, if a doctor told her or someone she loves that they should have the procedure, would she go ahead with it? If her answer is no, or even that she is not sure, surely she must ban this devastating and dangerous practice once and for all.
My heart goes out to the woman who Kezia Dugdale has just referred to in reading that email from her daughter. Kezia Dugdale rightly calls for action, and that is exactly what the independent review was set up to recommend. The health secretary will set out to Parliament this afternoon exactly that—the action that is now being taken.
One of the issues is that of genuinely informed consent.
There has been a suspension of routine procedures of this nature, although if women have the information, are in pain and choose to go ahead, they have the ability to do so.
The issues of safety, informed consent and ensuring that absolutely the right guidance is in place are all at the heart of the recommendations that the health secretary will talk about this afternoon.
One thing to say is that, with some exceptions—even in the history of this Parliament—health secretaries are rarely clinicians; we have to rely on expert clinical advice, as I know from the years that I spent as health secretary. Sometimes that advice can be contradictory, and sometimes it can be difficult to find the right way forward on the basis of that advice. We use our best endeavours to do so.
That is why the independent review was set up and it is why all the evidence that has informed the outcome of the review has been published. I and the health secretary recognise that some of the women who were involved in the review have lost faith with it. Therefore, it is a crucial part of our responsibility to restore that faith. The statement that the health secretary will make this afternoon, in which she will outline the action that we will take, is a key part of that.
I do not expect members of this Parliament to stop asking searching, important questions on behalf of their constituents. I absolutely accept the importance of that. I hope that we can also build some consensus around the actions that will be outlined in the chamber later this afternoon.
There are two supplementary questions.
This week, the Marchmont & Sciennes Development Trust made a formal submission for a community interest bid for the Royal hospital for sick children site, in my constituency. The sick kids is not just a hospital but a beloved institution for many people who live in Edinburgh and beyond. It has touched the lives of thousands of patients and parents, including my family.
Will the First Minister give me and my whole community the assurance that the submission, which must be approved by ministers in the coming weeks, will be treated carefully and seriously by the Government? It is clear that there are competing interests in the process, given that the Government has an interest in the sale of the site and must approve the bid as a valid community interest bid. Will the First Minister spell out the criteria and approach that her Government will use to assess the submission?
I know how important the issues are when a much-loved hospital is no longer to be used as a hospital. In this case, of course, that is because a new sick kids hospital is being built in Edinburgh. The use of the site and what happens to it is important to the community.
The member asked whether ministers will make sure that careful and thorough consideration is given to the application to which he referred. We absolutely will. Obviously, I cannot pre-empt that consideration or the decision.
Not just in cases such as this one but in general, as we see from legislation such as the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, part of what we want to do is ensure that communities are at the heart of plans for the regeneration and redevelopment of their own areas. Those principles and criteria will very much be used to judge the application to which the member referred.
This week, the transport minister confirmed that there have been more than 700 separate deployments of temporary traffic lights on the A76 trunk road over the past 1,000 days. Does the First Minister agree that that is unacceptable? Can she tell my constituents what action the Scottish Government will take to bring that strategically important route back up to standard?
We do not want the use of temporary traffic lights where that can be avoided, but I am sure that all members and everyone who is listening will know that in instances where there are road works or when there have been landslips or problems caused by weather, the use of temporary traffic lights is often unavoidable as roads are repaired.
I will be happy to come back to the member on the detail, particularly on the number of times when temporary traffic lights have been used on the A76. I absolutely agree with him that we want to keep such instances to a minimum. However, sometimes repair work on our road system is unavoidable and necessary to ensure that we have an efficient and effective road system across our country.
To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-01113)
On Tuesday 18 April.
Just a day after the United Kingdom Government signalled its formal intention for the UK to withdraw not only from the European Union but from the single market, which even leave campaigners promised would not happen and which will rip away our freedom of movement and undermine recruitment in education, health, social care and throughout our economy, I found it astonishing to hear the Conservatives raise the issue of recruitment in public services.
Today, the UK Government is publishing its absurd repeal bill, which will cover huge areas of power that UK ministers should have no place in exercising. What is the First Minister’s view on the scope of that bill? Does she agree that it must not be allowed to change legislation in areas that are not specifically reserved under the Scotland Act 1998?
Patrick Harvie raises a number of important points. First, he is right to point out that the biggest risk to recruitment in our public services right now is the one posed by the Conservatives in the form of Brexit. It is quite breathtaking hypocrisy for any Conservative to stand up and talk about those issues without recognising the responsibility that they bear.
Secondly, the great repeal bill is hugely important for the Government and for Parliament. One of the things that should concern everybody is the way in which Conservative ministers at Westminster, echoed by Conservative Party members in this chamber, choose their words so carefully. They talk about not taking away any decisions that we already make here as if we are somehow supposed to be grateful for that.
The issue with the great repeal bill is that, if powers that are currently with the European Union in areas that are wholly devolved—agriculture and fishing, for example—are to be repatriated, where should they go? Under the Scotland Act 1998, those powers should automatically come to the Scottish Parliament. Nobody in the UK Government—I discussed this with the Prime Minister on Monday—and nobody in the Conservative Party will give that guarantee.
That leads me to suspect that the Tories are planning a power grab on Parliament. That will be absolutely unacceptable. When that happens, I do not expect the Tories to back us up, but I will be looking carefully at the Labour members. Surely, in those circumstances, not even Labour members could stay subservient to the Tories. Surely even they would have to stand up for Scotland’s interests.
It is not only the Scottish Government that should recognise the contempt that is being shown by the UK; all in this Parliament should recognise it. The UK Government has not only refused to discuss with ministers the timing of the triggering of article 50 and any other details of its plans but refused to come and answer questions from our parliamentary committees, which would give us all, whatever our view of the issues, the ability to ask it serious questions.
In the face of the contempt that the UK Government has shown Scotland, we want to put the power over Scotland’s future back into the hands of the voters who live here. UK ministers want that power for themselves. They want the ability to rewrite laws by fiat without the normal checks and balances. We should remember that this is the same UK Government that promised to write into law the permanence of the Scottish Parliament, which 74 per cent of the people in Scotland voted to create, and it abandoned that promise.
While UK ministers wish to seek for themselves the power to rewrite laws by abusing antique powers to bypass Parliament, will the First Minister commit to ensuring that there will be full parliamentary scrutiny? That is not only about one Parliament; all Parliaments need the ability to hold all ministers to account.
I absolutely agree with Patrick Harvie. Before we get the usual arrogant sniggering from Tory members, everybody in this chamber who wants Parliament to be respected should agree with him. All the devolved Administrations—not just that in Scotland—have been treated with contempt by the UK Government so far during the process.
Patrick Harvie rightly said that we did not see the article 50 letter before it was published, and we did not know when it would be published until we read about it on the BBC. We did not know what it was going to say but, to be fair, the Prime Minister did give me an insight into its contents on Monday this week. This is a direct quote. She told me that the article 50 letter would be, “Not detailed. Not short, but not lengthy either.” I am grateful to her for that insight into the UK Government’s thinking.
In case anybody thinks that this is just me as a Scottish National Party First Minister complaining about the UK Government, people should also listen to Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, who said yesterday that, in his view, the devolved Administrations had been treated with contempt and that the behaviour of the UK Government was doing more than anything else to undermine the United Kingdom. It is therefore really important for everybody across the chamber to stand up for the rights of this Parliament before we go any further in the process.
I am sure that the Conservatives in particular will be interested in my final point. This morning, Ruth Davidson, Adam Tomkins and Murdo Fraser were tweeting furiously about research that John Curtice has published. I will point to a finding in that research. When respondents were asked what they thought of the statement,
“Scotland is a nation and so should not have to leave the EU when a majority of Scots voted to stay”,
a majority of people agreed with it. The fact of the matter is that people do not want Tory Brexit. The question is: what will we do to protect people from the impact of Tory Brexit?
We will now have supplementary questions.
This morning, a damning report on the forensic medical services that are provided to victims of sexual crime was published. It described the service that some receive as “unacceptable”. There are significant gaps in provision around the country, and we have fallen behind best practice and services elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
The report confirmed that victims who are in the islands have to make what are often traumatic trips to the mainland for examination. I know that the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice feel that that compounds the trauma that they have suffered.
Will the First Minister give a commitment to update the Parliament as soon as we return from recess on the actions that her Government plans to take on the back of this morning’s report?
Yes—I am happy to ensure that a full ministerial statement is made on the issue. I think that all of us agree that the consequences and the impact of rape and sexual assault are devastating and that we must do all that we can to support victims when they suffer those heinous crimes.
In response to the report, the Government has today announced that the chief medical officer for Scotland will chair a group of experts from health and justice services to ensure that health boards improve the provision of appropriate healthcare facilities for any victim who requires a forensic examination. That will complement work that Healthcare Improvement Scotland is already doing to develop new national standards for use by health boards. There will be a consultation on those standards, which will be published by the end of this year.
Many people talk about the importance of the sexual assault referral centre model, which is certainly one way of delivering such care. We do not think that it will necessarily work for all parts of Scotland, but it is vital that in all parts of Scotland victims of sexual offences get the support that they require.
Liam McArthur rightly raises the particular issues that island communities face. Although he is the MSP for Orkney Islands, I know that he will be interested to learn—as will Tavish Scott—that NHS Shetland has made a public commitment to providing a holistic approach for victims of rape and sexual assault and that it is working to put in place the necessary equipment, accommodation and appropriately trained staff to deliver on that. We will work with other health boards—and other island health boards, in particular—to make sure that the same approach is taken.
I have a final, important point to make. When victims of such crimes have to undergo a forensic examination, many of them want that to be done by a female doctor, for reasons that all of us can absolutely understand. One issue that we have been trying to understand better is why more female doctors do not come forward to work in this area. We have been working with NHS Education for Scotland to understand that. It carried out a survey that closed at the end of February, and we are working to analyse the responses.
I recognise that the situation that today’s report identifies is not good enough, and I have no hesitation in saying that. Work is under way to address the challenges, and the group that has been announced today, which the chief medical officer will chair, will make sure that we take whatever further action is required.
The First Minister will be aware of the excellent investigative reporting by Richard Smith, David Leask, Ian Fraser and others in The Herald on the havoc that is caused by criminal enterprises that are conducted around the world by Scottish limited partnerships. Following a report on Monday that SLPs were involved in the £16 billion Laundromat money-laundering scheme, is the Scottish Government considering any reforms to the criminal law of Scotland that could be deployed to crack down on the litany of crime that is being perpetrated under the cover of these secretive and unaccountable legal vehicles?
In particular, does the First Minister agree that a new offence of vicarious liability could be one way of holding to account the individuals and firms that incorporate SLPs that are involved in criminal activity in cases in which they take no steps to undertake due diligence on the identity, motives or purposes of the partnerships that they are responsible for creating?
I thank Andy Wightman for raising the issue and I pay tribute to David Leask and his colleagues at The Herald for the excellent work that they have done to shine a light on such practices. We will continue to look at whether we can take action within our devolved powers to better tackle those issues.
Andy Wightman raised the issue of a particular offence of vicarious liability. For reasons that he will understand, I will not give him an answer on that today, but I will ask the justice secretary to consider that option as part of an overall look at the matter.
As Andy Wightman and other members know, we are talking about the conduct of limited partnerships, and many of the solutions to the problems that have been identified lie in the hands of the Westminster Government. We have been pressing it to act—SNP members of Parliament have been particularly vociferous in the Commons in doing so and we will continue to press for action there. We will not shy away from taking action using our own powers if we have the ability to do that.
I will ask the justice secretary to respond to Andy Wightman in detail in due course.
Scotland has a great record in attracting investment—second only to London in recent years. Can the First Minister provide an update on inward investment and plans to reach out beyond our borders to attract jobs and growth to Scotland?
It is really important, particularly now, that we give a message that Scotland is open for business. We continue to be considered as a prime business location for global companies looking for a foothold in and access to Europe. Just yesterday I was able to visit Genpact in Glasgow to announce its growth and expansion plans, which involve more than 300 new jobs for the city of Glasgow. I hope that everyone across the chamber will welcome that.
The Ernst & Young attractiveness survey is published regularly and in the most recent one it highlighted the fact that we have a record level of investment projects in Scotland. For some years now we have seen that Scotland is the most successful part of the UK for inward investment outside of London and the south east. We have to work ever harder to continue that success, given the implications of Brexit. That is why we have been taking action, for example, by establishing investment hubs in Dublin, London and Berlin.
Next week I will undertake a series of engagements in the United States, focused on creating jobs, opportunities and economic links for Scotland. Notwithstanding all the challenges that we face that are not of our making, we will continue to focus on doing everything that we can to bring jobs and investment to Scotland.
To ask the First Minister what further initiatives the Scottish Government will take to boost tourism, in light of a 15.6 per cent increase in attendance at Scotland’s visitor attractions in 2016. (S5F-01131)
As those figures illustrate, it has been a record year for Scotland’s leading visitor attractions, as they once again outperform the rest of the UK in terms of the growth in visitor numbers. The success of our leading visitor attractions will continue to play a vital role in making Scotland a destination of first choice for visitors from the UK and across the world.
We will continue to work with VisitScotland and other stakeholders to explore how we can achieve the aims of our tourism Scotland 2020 strategy, delivering a greater degree of connectivity than ever before through new direct air routes and maximising the economic impact of that key growth sector of our economy.
Last year was indeed a bumper year for Scottish tourism, with visitor numbers growing more than twice as fast as those in the rest of the UK. Leading attractions are vital in attracting to Scotland visitors whose expenditure will serve to grow employment in our thriving tourism and hospitality sectors. However, the 10 most popular UK attractions were all in London, with the National Museum of Scotland the most visited attraction in Scotland with 1.8 million visitors. In Ayrshire, our top attraction, Culzean castle and country park, was only 133rd on the list.
Although a wide range of attractions and excellent heritage and museum collections continue to provide high quality and exciting experiences, what more can be done to encourage people, not just to make Scotland a destination of first choice, but to visit areas such as Ayrshire when they are in Scotland?
I absolutely share Kenny Gibson’s focus on the importance of getting the benefits of tourism to all parts of our country and not just our cities or our most famous attractions. As somebody who was born and brought up in Ayrshire, I know that there are many excellent visitor attractions in Ayrshire, including, of course, the fantastic Culzean castle.
Scotland has got so much to offer tourists. Not only are we steeped in history and heritage, but we have the best landscapes in the world and a huge opportunity to capture interest in marine tourism. We will continue to work with partners, including in Ayrshire, to implement, for example, our marine and coastal strategy—the first of its kind in the United Kingdom—which will have particular relevance to Kenny Gibson’s constituency.
We will work with everybody across Scotland to ensure that we attract more people to come to Scotland, to spend money here and enjoy everything that our country has to offer. Tourism is one of our most important and successful economic sectors and we have to do everything possible to ensure that it continues to be so.
Police Scotland (Armed Officers)
To ask the First Minister whether Police Scotland plans to increase the number of armed officers. (S5F-01107)
The number of armed police officers is principally an operational decision for the chief constable, who takes account of a range of factors, including intelligence reports and threat and risk assessments. As I said in the chamber at last week’s First Minister’s question time, I spoke to the chief constable after the tragic events at Westminster and he assured me that he had the resources that he required to respond appropriately to that incident. That included the uplift in armed officers that was announced last year.
Following the incident in London last week, we saw a substantial increase in the number of armed officers on duty here in Scotland, and a configuration of resources to ensure that there was a high-profile, non-armed police presence across the country, too.
This is indeed an operational matter for the police, but we had very mixed messages yesterday. Police chiefs have said that they are already match fit and do not see the need for more firearms officers, but the Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank and file, has said that it does not have the capability right now to use armed police if required. Who does the First Minister think is right?
We will always work to ensure that the police have the resources that they need. That is why, in June last year, we agreed with the police—although this was driven by the judgment of the chief constable—that there should be an increase of 124 in the number of armed officers in Scotland, taking the total to 479 officers.
In the wake of last week’s incident, it was possible immediately for the chief constable to substantially increase—in fact almost double, I think—the number of armed officers who were on duty. The justice secretary and I regularly have discussions with the chief constable and his colleagues, not just about policing in general but, given the threats that we face right now, about the capacity and capability of the police to deal with the increased risk from terrorist attacks. We will continue to do so and, as part of those discussions, we will continue to listen carefully to what rank-and-file officers, through the Scottish Police Federation, tell us.
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that only one in 18 schools were inspected last year. (S5F-01132)
Education Scotland is committed to increasing the number and frequency of inspections in future years. That is one of the reasons why it has been undertaking a review of inspection approaches, in consultation with schools and key stakeholders. Those new approaches will help to support the achievement of the twin aims of closing the attainment gap and raising the bar for all in Scottish education.
It is important to add that, in addition to inspections, Education Scotland provides support to schools. In 2015-16, it carried out a review of every local authority and a specific inspection of Argyll and Bute’s education functions.
The fact is that Education Scotland has been reducing, not increasing, the number of inspections. In fact, the rate is less than half the rate of inspections in 2007, when the Scottish National Party came to power. Does the First Minister not see that the problem here is that Education Scotland is inspecting its own delivery of educational policy and has clearly decided to do less of it? Will she accept that the merging of the inspectorate into Education Scotland was a mistake that should be reversed?
On the last point, those are matters that we are considering in the context of the education and governance review, on which we will report to Parliament in due course.
On the trend in inspections in the past couple of years, in 2014-15 there were 138; in 2015-16 there were 143 and I think that in 2016-17 there were the same number. As I said, Education Scotland is reviewing its approach to inspection with a view to increasing the number of inspections.
I am quite perplexed by Iain Gray’s question. He seems to be saying, fairly legitimately in some respects, that there are not enough inspections in our schools. The reason why I am perplexed is that I remember very well the speech that his party leader made in this chamber in September 2015, in response to my speech outlining the programme for Government. Kezia Dugdale said:
“the First Minister should immediately suspend all school inspections for one year”.—[Official Report, 1 September 2015; c 26.]
Had Labour been in power, there would not have been 143 inspections in our schools; there would have been zero inspections in our schools. That is why I am slightly perplexed by Iain Gray’s question.
Junior Doctors (Working Hours)
To ask the First Minister what progress the Scottish Government has made on its commitment to reduce the number of working hours for junior doctors. (S5F-01126)
The passionate campaigning of Brian Connelly following the tragic death of his daughter Lauren has already led to real improvements in the hours that junior doctors work. Working with the British Medical Association and the national health service, we have already ended the practice of junior doctors being rostered to work for seven nights in a row. That is a major advance and is a tribute to Mr Connelly’s campaign.
As a result of that and other steps, the number of hours worked by junior doctors has fallen from an average of 58 hours a week in 2004 to an average of 48 hours a week now. However, we are determined—as the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has said previously—to go further. Right now, we are working with the BMA Scottish junior doctors committee to ensure minimum rest periods following night shifts and improvements to rest facilities, while we work towards what remains our goal of a 48-hour maximum week for junior doctors.
I am pleased that the First Minister raises the heroic efforts of Brian Connelly, who lost his daughter Lauren just before she turned 24 years old, as she was driving home after working as a junior doctor.
I want to read directly from Mr Connelly’s letter to the health secretary this week. He stated:
“You have broken your commitment to implement an actual working week of 48 hours with no averaging as you promised to me in writing. Doctors are still being scheduled to work 12 days in a row, with some working over 117 hours between days off. Your quote to The Times in response is yet further evidence of your failure to treat this issue with the seriousness and urgency it deserves.”
Mr Connelly goes on:
“You blithely confirm that ‘all junior doctor rotas in Scotland fully comply with the Working Time Directive’ knowing full well that any compliance with the letter of the Directive is only being achieved by a combination of averaging and the continuing failure to record actual working hours.”
“Sound bites for the press are no substitute for action and are a poor camouflage for the leadership which is required to tackle this national scandal. Their excessive working hours cannot be justified, they are inherently dangerous and they must change and change soon before there are even more deaths. The responsibility for effecting the necessary change rests firmly upon your Government’s shoulders”.
I ask the First Minister directly—will she instruct the health secretary to apologise to Mr Connelly and to get to grips with this scandal?
Nothing that I can say in the chamber will ever satisfy Anas Sarwar, but I hope that I can reassure Mr Connelly—
Not me—Mr Connelly.
I hope that I can reassure Mr Connelly, because he has campaigned on this issue and I think can take great credit for some of the improvements that we have already made.
When the health secretary wrote to Mr Connelly in 2015 after she met him, she said:
“I believe that we can commit to”
the 48-hour maximum working week
“as the longer-term aim, but as I said, I wish to be in a position to be able to make this commitment with a firm and achievable timescale.”
That remains our position. The later letter simply recognised that, in order to deliver that, we have to work with the BMA and the junior doctors committee.
Anas Sarwar mentioned The Times. It would be worth Anas Sarwar reading a letter that appeared in The Times two days ago from the junior doctors committee, which said:
“It is vital for patient safety that rotas are well-designed and adequately staffed.”
“However, rather than just focusing on the number of working hours in one week, a more effective way of doing this is to address specific risk areas as a priority.”
All we are saying is that we are working with the junior doctors committee to work out how best to deliver the commitment that we have made. That commitment—to put it beyond any doubt—is to work towards a maximum 48-hour week. That is what Mr Connelly, rightly, wants us to do.
I will say again that along the way, thanks in great part to Mr Connelly, we have already made a number of improvements—the end of junior doctors being rostered to work for seven nights in a row, which was one of the early demands that was made; and we have been reducing the average number of hours from 58 to 48. Therefore, progress has been made—thanks in large part, as I said, to Mr Connelly. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will be very happy to meet him again, and I assure him that we remain committed, working with doctors, to delivering a maximum 48-hour week for junior doctors.
That concludes First Minister’s questions.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The First Minister just said that the practice of working seven days in a row has ended in the national health service. Freedom of information requests have confirmed that that is not the case, as Mr Connelly confirms in his letter to the health secretary, which says that people are still working for 12 days in a row without a day off. I ask the First Minister to withdraw that false statement, please, as it is incorrect and disrespectful to doctors the length and breadth of Scotland.
Thank you, Mr Sarwar—that is not a point of order. You may pursue the issue in questions or in the chamber, or through any means possible.