Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)
Meeting date: Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Public Sector Pay and Emergency Budget Review, Programme for Government (Cost of Living), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Point of Order, Decision Time, Institutional Racism in Sport
- Portfolio Question Time
- Public Sector Pay and Emergency Budget Review
- Programme for Government (Cost of Living)
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Point of Order
- Decision Time
- Institutional Racism in Sport
Portfolio Question Time
Health and Social Care
Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is health and social care. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button, or indicate so in the chat function by entering the letter R, during the relevant question.
General Practitioners (Menopause and Perimenopause Training and Development)
To ask the Scottish Government what specific training and CPD GPs undertake to remain updated on developments in helping women through perimenopause and the menopausal stages of their life. (S6O-01316)
Menopause is included in the Royal College of General Practitioners’ curriculum, in which all general practitioner trainees need to demonstrate competency in order to practise independently as a GP in the United Kingdom.
Training materials and aids are widely available to GPs to ensure that they remain updated on the latest developments in helping women through both the menopause and the perimenopause.
The Scottish Government has recently commissioned NHS Education for Scotland—NES—to create a bespoke training package and framework focused on the menopause and menstrual health for GPs and others who work in primary care.
Having spoken to numerous constituents about their concerns and their experience of menopause, I know that their experience has been patchy and inconsistent as regards the information and help that they have been offered. Some have been completely dismissed as being too young to be suffering from perimenopause or have been told that menopause is not a disease and that, therefore, getting through the process until it is unbearable is probably the best course of action.
I could cite numerous examples of very poor outcomes for women who have felt completely dismissed when they have raised the changes that they are experiencing in their lives. Dr Louise Newson, who is a practising GP, had to set up her own menopause clinic because no one seemed to be able to provide the correct treatment for her.
I ask the minister, please, to look at what is being done to advance understanding among GPs in Scotland of what perimenopausal and menopausal women are going through and the care that they need, so that they can get individual person-centred treatment that meets their specific needs.
Women have told us loudly and clearly that they do not always get the support that they need when they seek help for menopause symptoms. In fact, that is one of the reasons for my having specific responsibility for women’s health in my portfolio. It is also why, through implementation of “Women’s Health Plan: A Plan for 2021-2024”, we intend to build a basic understanding of menopause among all healthcare professionals. That will include awareness of the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, and of the intermediate and long-term consequences of menopause, and knowledge of where to signpost women to for consistent advice and support.
In the past year, we have created a menopause specialist network, which meets regularly and supports primary care teams by providing access to a menopause specialist for consistent advice, support, onward referral, leadership and training, so I expect to see improvements.
It is right that we need to consider all ways of helping women through perimenopause and the menopausal stages of their lives. However, to spearhead the policy and advocacy work in that regard, we must appoint a women’s health champion in Scotland. In June, the First Minister told the Parliament that such an appointment would be made in the summer. Charities are now saying that the deadline has been missed. Has the Scottish Government made an appointment? If not, why not?
I assure Carol Mochan that the appointment process is almost complete, and I expect to be able to make an announcement about the appointee very soon. As I have reiterated many times, that was a medium-term commitment in “Women’s Health Plan”. We have met all our short-term commitments in the plan, and we are making progress on many of the medium-term commitments that we made.
I want to ask about the accessibility of hormone replacement therapy supplies. While trying to access my own medication, I have faced barrier after barrier and inconsistency after inconsistency. I have seen the protocol, and it is nothing more than a scrap of paper. What action is the Government taking to stop menopausal and perimenopausal women being bounced around the primary care health service, so that they can access the support and treatment that they need in a timely and straightforward manner?
Before I ask the minister to respond to that, I highlight that the question in the Business Bulletin relates to “specific training and CPD”. If the minister could respond in that light, that would make Ms Webber’s question supplemental to the question that is in the Business Bulletin.
I am happy to do that. Prescribing guidance to assist prescribers is available from multiple sources, including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which revised its menopause prescribing guidance in March. That can be found in the usual places and in the clinical knowledge summary online.
Scottish Government ministers and officials are unable to comment on individual cases of prescribing practice, because national health service boards and healthcare professionals locally have responsibility for service delivery and patient treatment. The decision about which treatment to prescribe is made on the basis of an individual clinical decision by the prescriber, taking into account the patient’s condition and medical history.
I wonder whether my colleague Sue Webber is also referring to shortages in HRT, which is a United Kingdom-wide issue. As, I am sure, she is absolutely aware, supply of medicines and associated shortages is reserved to the UK Government. We will continue to work with it to seek a lasting resolution and will press it to work closely with the affected companies, in order to address that particular problem as quickly as possible.
Before we move on to question 2, I make the plea for more succinct questions and answers.
Covid-19 Recovery (Support for Primary Care Services)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is giving to primary care services as they recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-01317)
We are committed to increasing investment in primary care services as they recover from the pandemic. Priorities include the delivery of extended general practice multidisciplinary teams, to ensure that patients are seen by the right person at the right time. Funding for that has increased from £155 million to £170 million this year, with 3,220 members of multidisciplinary teams already in post.
We are supporting the recovery of national health service dentistry by investing £20 million to allow dentists to see more patients, with a focus on children and on tackling oral health inequalities.
Staff recovery and wellbeing are critical to renewing our NHS, and support includes the national wellbeing hub and a confidential staff helpline.
Kinghorn surgery in my constituency has now been without a full-time GP for several months. What assistance can the Scottish Government give to resolve that issue and provide reassurance for my constituents?
I am obviously happy to reach out to local health boards and health and social care partnerships. As I have already referenced, there has been significant investment in general practice—in particular, in recruitment. We have a target to increase the number of GPs by 800 by 2027, and we are making good progress, with 277 GPs already recruited. Our GP trainee recruitment fill rate this year was 100 per cent, which is another improvement on last year. That has been very successful indeed.
I will reach out to local stakeholders in relation to the issue that David Torrance has referenced, and I will write to him with an update.
The lack of specialist clinics, waiting times for surgery, delayed discharge and stagnation of patient flow through hospitals have led to desperate patients turning to GPs, and we are overwhelmed and patients are angry. Support from pharmacies as independent prescribers is vital in order to reduce GP workload. What data does the Government collect that tells us how many subscriptions are done per pharmacy per day to ensure that Government funding is effective, because the Pharmacists’ Defence Association does not believe that it is effective?
I have received correspondence in relation to some of the concerns that have been raised and I have written back to a number of members of the Scottish Parliament.
Pharmacists play an incredibly important role in alleviating the pressures right across the system, whether they are in acute sites, community pharmacies or general practices. With regard to the money that I have just referenced, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians make up a significant proportion of the additional MDT staff who have been recruited. For example, if we look at the number for whole-time-equivalent pharmacy technicians in our GP practices, we see that the number recruited was 38.3 in 2018, compared with the number that we now have in 2022.
On the question about prescriptions, I will look into the matter and write to the member with more detail.
I record my thanks to our pharmacists up and down the country, whatever setting they are in, for the incredible work that they do to alleviate the pressure on our NHS and social care system.
I am glad that the cabinet secretary recognises the importance of pharmacists. It is worrying to see the growth in pharmacy closures and the impact of those closures on carers and patients.
The Pharmacists’ Defence Association has highlighted how the owners of pharmacies are all able to claim non-activity-based payments after closure, which enables some of them to enhance their profitability at the expense of patient safety.
Will the cabinet secretary set out the range of actions that health boards can take to deal with closures, given that the current arrangements have failed to stop them? Does he intend to provide for additional action to discourage further closures?
If memory serves me correctly—I will correct the record if I am wrong, of course—I have written to Jackie Baillie on that point, because she has written to me about the concerns that she and Dr Sandesh Gulhane have raised today. In my letter, I referenced the fact that closures are very few—although that is not to say that they do not have an impact. Even if they are few, they might well have an impact.
It is for local health boards to look at the contracts that they have for pharmacy provision. If anyone is in breach of those contracts, action can be taken.
In addition, a number of asks have come from members. I think that in my letter of response to Jackie Baillie I said that I would look at those asks and update Parliament in due course.
General Practice (Patient Satisfaction)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the findings of the health and care experience survey 2021-22 in relation to patient satisfaction with GP services. (S6O-01318)
Any reduction in patient experience is regrettable, but I hope that the context of that particular survey is well understood. I am certain that it is understood by Ms Villalba and members throughout the Parliament. That context is, of course, the pandemic. Guidance was issued to GP practices not to treat patients face to face unless that was clinically necessary; social distancing was introduced in practices; and, although there were more remote consultations, electronic booking systems were used less, as existing systems could not screen for Covid-19 symptoms.
We will continue to invest in GP practices. We want people to have access to those services at similar levels to those that existed pre-pandemic. The health and care experience survey is a vital tool for us, in that it gets us direct feedback from patients across the country.
The health and care experience survey results show that patients are dissatisfied with GP services at medical practices that were put out to tender in Aberdeen earlier this year. I have shared with the cabinet secretary the testimonies of patients at Old Aberdeen medical practice. In a letter to me today, the cabinet secretary said that his officials have communicated his
“expectation that GP practice contract monitoring should resume in Aberdeen as soon as is practically possible”.
However, what about the declining standards that have been reported in recent months? Will the cabinet secretary request that NHS Grampian sets out a plan to address the issues that have already been identified by patients such as those at Old Aberdeen?
Ms Villalba raises a fair point. Some of the scores in the health and care experience survey, for example for the Newburn practice, were far from acceptable. Some scores were far below the Scottish average. We have to recognise, too, that some were above the Scottish average. However, scores in relation to accessibility and the ability to get an appointment within three working days were particularly low.
I will ask my officials to reach out to local partners to determine the improvement plan that those practices will put in place, to give reassurance about the actions that will be taken to improve the patient experience.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that much patient frustration lies with the often opaque appointment systems that some GP practices use? I have heard of ill constituents calling 100 to 150 times to get through to some practices, if they got through at all.
What steps can the Scottish Government take to ensure that systems whereby folk know that they are in a telephone queue are implemented as standard?
Kenny Gibson makes a good point. There is no doubt that a lot of the understandable frustration of members of the public comes from when they have to phone up a general practice, because whether they get through is a game of Russian roulette. I hope that that happens only in a minority of cases—I do not doubt that it is the minority—but I take what the member says on board. I had a discussion this morning about the fact that every general practice should have in place pre-bookable appointments. I accept what Kenny Gibson says and am happy to keep him and other members up to date as we progress the matter.
There is a supplementary question from Tess White.
Friockheim health centre in Angus got a 95.46 per cent positive score in the health and care experience survey, which was the highest score across Tayside. However, difficulties in recruiting GPs to the surgery meant that it closed earlier this year, which moved 3,000 patients elsewhere. That was another huge blow for rural patient care.
The Scottish Government committed to a £20,000 golden hello to help to fill rural vacancies. Why is that not working?
There were particular issues with that practice, which were raised with me by the constituency MSP at the time. It is right that such matters are taken forward at local level.
The member is correct that we have a number of incentives in place to make general practices in rural and remote areas more attractive, such as the golden hello scheme, the GP speciality training bursary and the Scottish graduate entry medicine programme, the first cohort of which has just graduated. I hope that all those incentives, taken together with the work that we are doing on the back of Sir Lewis Ritchie’s report, will encourage more and more doctors and GPs to take up roles in remote, rural and island communities.
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the latest alcohol-related deaths statistics. (S6O-01319)
Nobody should die as a result of alcohol consumption, and my thoughts go out to all people who have been affected by alcohol harm. We work with various organisations across Scotland, including alcohol and drug partnerships, to address the issue. That work includes piloting an innovative managed-alcohol programme in partnership with the Simon Community Scotland, commissioning Public Health Scotland to review alcohol brief interventions, consulting on a range of potential alcohol marketing restrictions in Scotland and fully evaluating minimum unit pricing.
We support the principles of the right to recovery, which will be embedded in the national care service to enable everyone to access the treatment that they need.
I echo the minister’s comments: every loss of life is tragic, be it to drugs or alcohol.
Alcohol-related deaths are Scotland’s second national shame, alongside our drugs crisis. Audit Scotland is clear about the scale of the cuts that were made as far back as 2014 to front-line alcohol services. That is why the number of alcohol deaths in my region is up by 10 per cent in the past four years, and it is why someone is 5.6 times more likely to die from alcohol-related disease if they live in a deprived area.
I make a plea to the minister and all Government ministers to listen to people on the front line who are in desperate need of support. They need help but, for far too many, it is simply not there. Will the Scottish Government double down—and I really mean double down—on its efforts to tackle alcohol-related problems in society and to properly fund and resource those efforts, given their notable absence in yesterday’s programme for government?
I absolutely agree that alcohol and drug-related harms are very important public health issues in Scotland. That is why we established the national mission to improve and save lives. At the core of that is ensuring that every individual is able to access the treatment and the recovery that they choose.
Tackling alcohol-related harms is a priority for the Scottish Government. Our alcohol and drugs teams work closely with each other and share knowledge of what works in reducing the impact of addiction, as well as in relation to routes through to treatment. The number of alcohol-related and alcohol-specific deaths, as the member says, are disproportionately higher in deprived communities, which is why we continue to take a whole-population approach when it comes to reducing alcohol consumption and the risk of alcohol-related harms. That, in turn, will drive reductions in alcohol harm in our most deprived communities. We are also taking action to improve the conditions that drive alcohol harms by reducing poverty and inequalities, providing good-quality affordable housing and enabling the best start in life for our children.
However, I have to say that it often feels as though we are working with one hand tied behind our back. We give with one hand and the United Kingdom Government takes with the other.
There is a supplementary question from Monica Lennon.
In the light of this tragic public health emergency, does the Government intend to introduce an alcohol harm prevention levy on alcohol retailers to help to fund alcohol prevention activity and much-needed support services?
As I have said before, I am willing to consider all suggestions on how to tackle alcohol-related harm. The workstreams that we have at the moment are many and extensive, and I expect to deliver results.
I look forward to seeing the evaluation on minimum unit pricing, which, when the Parliament reviews whether the policy should be continued, will be the most extensively studied policy that we have ever passed in this Parliament, I think. At the same time, we will look at whether we have an appropriate minimum unit price. The legislation was introduced more than a decade ago, so it is timely that we review the minimum unit price.
We are considering alcohol brief interventions. Those conversations might help people to open up, consider and understand that they have an alcohol problem. We are considering how they can be used most appropriately and how we can maximise their impact.
As figures show, we still have a profoundly unhealthy relationship with alcohol in Scotland. We need to shift that culture, and tackling alcohol advertising will be part of that.
National Treatment Centres (NHS Tayside and NHS Fife)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the proposed national treatment centres for NHS Tayside and NHS Fife. (S6O-01320)
The NHS Fife national treatment centre is a £33 million project that will see the creation of a state-of-the-art facility hosting three operating theatres, a supporting in-patient ward and associated out-patient facilities. Construction at the site began in March 2021 and it is well under way. Assuming that there are no unavoidable delays, the project is on course to complete construction in October 2022, and the first patients will be treated in January 2023.
The business case for NHS Tayside national treatment centre is under development. Following a project pause in March 2020, during the pandemic, the proposals are being refreshed to meet current and future demand and to ensure that they meet our net zero carbon ambitions. An update on the opening date will be provided in due course.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s response. We are still in a situation in which one in nine Scots waits more than a year to receive essential treatment, and they need hope that things are going to change. Will the cabinet secretary clarify what the focus of the treatment centres in Tayside and Fife will be and will he estimate the impact that the centres will have on tackling the backlog of elective surgeries and procedures? Will he also comment on how staff capacity can effectively support the delivery of the specialist services as the centres become operational?
Those points were well made by Mark Ruskell. I cannot overstate just how important and critical national treatment centres are in helping us with the backlog. The member knows that the NTC programme was announced pre-pandemic, and it was important to get through a challenging position that has been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic. The centres are vital.
The treatment centres will be national so, although those who are local to Fife and Tayside will, of course, benefit, the centres will also be able to help and provide mutual aid to other parts of the country. National treatment centres are important both for the locality that they are in and nationally.
Staffing for the Fife centre, in particular, is well under way. There are no signalled issues or concerns about staffing the NTC, but I am sure that the member will appreciate that it will be phased as the NTC opens and becomes fully operational.
General Practitioner Pensions (British Medical Association Guidance)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the British Medical Association regarding the impact in Scotland of its guidance advising general practitioners to consider reducing their pensionable pay or retiring early due to changes in inflation and the way those are used in calculations around GP pensions that reportedly leaves them liable for significant tax charges. (S6O-01321)
Members will be aware that the majority of the pension issues that have been raised are reserved. I have not had the opportunity to meet my health counterpart in the new United Kingdom Government, but I have raised those issues before and I have seen no flexibility in its position.
The Scottish Government and I have regular engagement with the British Medical Association, and the ways in which pension arrangements affect general practitioners and national health service employees, both directly and via the NHS pension scheme, have been raised with me. I have an introductory meeting with the new chair of the BMA later this month, when I am certain that the issues raised by the member will once again be on the agenda.
Along with other MSPs from across the chamber, I recently met the leadership of the local medical committee who represent GPs and their practices in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. During that meeting, they highlighted the long-standing issues around pensions and how those issues are leading to some GPs considering leaving the profession early or reducing their working hours to avoid what the BMA has claimed amounts to a “pension theft”.
As our NHS continues to contend with the impact of the pandemic, does the cabinet secretary agree with me that it is vital that the UK Government considers changes to the tax-free annual allowance charges so that more GPs are not faced with this dilemma, which will only exacerbate the staffing issues facing general practice?
I agree whole-heartedly and, as I have said before, I have raised this issue with UK counterparts. There has been no flexibility in their position. There are actions that we may well be able to take but, again, that would involve taking money from other areas in the health budget to try to mitigate a problem that the UK Government is showing inflexibility on.
I will call on the UK Government to look at these issues—I look forward to the first meeting with the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, which I am sure will happen in very short order, and I will raise those issues with her again. I am sure that the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, will continue to convey to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury our displeasure at the pension changes, which have caused such difficulty for GPs and doctors right across the country.
The health secretary has the power to sort this. He could use recycling of pension contributions, which the BMA has put to him. That is available in Wales and in many parts of England, and Northern Ireland is looking at it. Why is he refusing to go down that route? It could release doctors back into the NHS to be deployed where they are needed. Why is he not doing that?
I am not refusing to do it. It is actively under consideration. However, it would be preferable to deal with the root cause of the pensions issue as opposed to taking money out of other parts of the Scottish health budget. I am therefore pushing the UK Government to make changes to pensions where it can, which would help to alleviate some of that pressure.
I am very open to looking at a recycling of employer contributions scheme—I know that a REC scheme has been available—and that is why I will be meeting Dr Kennedy, the chair of the BMA, later this month. I will of course provide an update to members in due course.
NHS Orkney (Meetings)
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met NHS Orkney and what issues were discussed. (S6O-01322)
I met the board’s chief executive and other senior staff when I visited NHS Orkney on 16 and 17 August.
I have been contacted this week by a local general practitioner in Orkney confirming that rising heating costs will cause significant implications for the health of his patients. He explains that
“stress caused by financial hardship will adversely affect mental health, and folk turning heating down or off will have negative physical impacts on health. This will create more ill health and further increase NHS workload”.
Although we clearly need urgent action from the new Prime Minister to address the cost of energy crisis, can the health secretary advise what additional support is being made available to NHS Orkney and other health boards to help deal with the increased workload and health impacts referred to by my constituent?
Liam McArthur is of course right—the cost of living crisis is a public health crisis. If people have to choose between heating and eating, either choice that they make will have a detrimental impact on their health. He is also right to make the point that our hospitals, our primary care services and our social care services will feel the pinch because of the rising cost of inflation and, indeed, of energy bills.
As the First Minister outlined yesterday in the programme for government, we are providing support to the public, particularly those who will be hit the hardest—I will not rehearse them due to the need for brevity, but I will say that meaningful action on this remains in the hands of the United Kingdom Government. Therefore, we urge the new Prime Minister and the new Chancellor of the Exchequer to come forward with meaningful measures that will make a significant difference in the face of rising energy prices, because only they have the powers to freeze or to cap those energy price rises. I will continue my engagement with NHS Orkney and other health boards in that regard.
I can squeeze in question 8 if I have succinct questions and answers.
Health Practitioner and General Practitioner Vacancies (Aberdeenshire)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is assisting general practitioner practices in Aberdeenshire to fill vacant GP and health practitioner posts. (S6O-01323)
The Scottish Government offers a wide range of initiatives specifically to attract GPs to rural areas such as Aberdeenshire. That includes golden hellos and bursaries for newly qualified GPs to take up posts in hard-to-fill rural locations. Our new ScotGem—Scottish graduate entry medicine—programme, focusing on general practice and rural working, is proving popular, with the first cohort of 44 students graduating earlier this year from the University of Dundee and the University of St Andrews.
The situation in my constituency is becoming critical, with Fyvie Oldmeldrum medical group down to two part-time GPs. The practice has received no applications for repeated GP post advertisements over the past couple of years. Mintlaw group practice has had to be taken back under the control of NHS Grampian, with Central Buchan medical practice behind it.
The cabinet secretary has already mentioned incentives, but is the Government considering developing any new, inventive schemes that can further incentivise GPs who have left general practice to return to it or incentivise new graduates to base themselves in rural areas such as mine?
I will ask my officials to reach out to colleagues in the health and social care partnership in Aberdeenshire and in NHS Grampian about the specific issues that Ms Martin has raised.
We have a range of initiatives. The ScotGem programme is still in its early days, but I have no doubt that it will make a big, significant difference to the vacancies that exist in GP practices in remote, rural and island communities. I will ask my officials to reach out to local partners on the specifics and to provide an update to Ms Martin in due course.
That concludes portfolio questions on health and social care. We will now move to portfolio questions on social justice, housing and local government. There will be a brief pause to allow members to change their seats before we move on to the next item of business.
Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
We now move to portfolio questions on social justice, housing and local government. If any member wishes to request a supplementary, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question.
Single Building Assessment Programme (Cladding Removal)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will confirm when actions to remove cladding from properties identified as dangerous under the single building assessment programme will be completed. (S6O-01324)
We are taking priority action to address cladding safety issues, having expanded our single building assessment programme, which determines the safety risk from cladding systems on domestic blocks of flats, from 26 to around 100 buildings. We expect the vast majority of buildings that will be assessed to be found to be safe and we will continue to prioritise higher-risk buildings. If cladding is assessed to be high risk, home owners will be invited to discuss the assessment and to agree to actions that will be required to make their building safe. We are working on agreeing the Scottish safer buildings accord, with the expectation that developers will take responsibility for remediating their buildings.
My constituents in Glasgow Kelvin can be reassured that those projects have continued at pace.
When announcing the Scottish safer buildings accord in May, the cabinet secretary underlined that a joint and collaborative approach was key to resolving the issue of unsafe cladding. Could she provide an update on how the accord has been received by partners across the sector?
Yes, I can. We are working closely with our partners as we bring together all the stages of the accord’s design. Our collaborative approach, through engagement and information sharing, will create a unique and complex agreement. Homes for Scotland, our key partner and the representative body of the developer sector, strengthens the approach and is important in bringing sectoral understanding and responsibilities to unlocking and resolving the issue of unsafe cladding for home owners in multiresidential buildings across Scotland.
I will keep the Parliament informed when the accord is finalised.
A series of freedom of information requests has indicated that 88 school buildings in Scotland still have flammable cladding that is the same as or similar to Grenfell Tower’s cladding. Does the cabinet secretary think that it is acceptable to put lives at risk by delaying the removal of that dangerous cladding? When will it be removed from all school buildings in Scotland?
As Jeremy Balfour will understand, it is the statutory responsibility of local authorities to manage and maintain their school estate, and we expect local authorities to deliver a safe environment for all school users.
The responses that were gathered from local authorities post-Grenfell show that there was not a large-scale problem across the school estate in Scotland, and the Deputy First Minister wrote to local authorities to request assurance that the school estate was considered safe in terms of fire safety, and assurances were provided by all 32 local authorities.
Jeremy Balfour will also understand that the focus of the Scottish Government, as is the case in England and Wales, has been on those residential blocks where people are living that have unsafe cladding, because those are the buildings that present the highest risk. That is not just our opinion; that is the expert opinion. That is why we focused our attention on tackling those residential buildings and providing the funding to do so, so that we play our part in resolving those cladding issues as soon as possible.
There are hundreds of buildings in Scotland with highly combustible high-pressure laminate on them—schools, colleges, universities, private schools, hospitals, prisons, hotels and care homes as well as houses. Minutes of the building and safety working group said that, following the pilot of 26 building assessments, a further 100 will be done in the course of the year. However, only one high-rise building in Glasgow is known to have been assessed this year, in May. Given the scale of the problem across Scotland, does the Scottish Government recognise that much more action is urgently required to address it? Can the cabinet secretary advise how many buildings in Glasgow are believed to be affected, particularly given that the Scottish Government office at Atlantic Quay in Glasgow was recently revealed to be one such building?
Like Jeremy Balfour, Pam Duncan-Glancy is conflating two different issues. One is about residential buildings where there are people living. Those are the buildings that represent the highest risk and they have been the focus of our attention, as has been the case on the part of the Welsh Government and the United Kingdom Government. That is what we are all doing and that is the right thing to do. Of course, we have committed £400 million in order to take that forward. The accord will help with that, because it will mean that, in the case of those buildings that can be assigned to a developer, the developer will remediate the building and resource that work. That means that we will be able to focus our resources on those buildings that have no developer associated with them. We are focusing our attention on those 100 buildings.
The other buildings that Pam Duncan-Glancy refers to are public buildings such as hospitals and schools, and we would expect the relevant organisations—health boards and local authorities, in those cases—to take the lead in making sure that their buildings are safe. She will be aware of the issues that are being looked at in relation to the Queen Elizabeth hospital at the moment. That is the right and proper way to go about these things. The issues are complex but the approach that I have laid out is the right one.
Questions 2 and 3 have not been lodged.
Inflation, Energy Prices and Interest Rates (Impact on Household Costs)
To ask the Scottish Government what impact inflation, energy prices and interest rates are having on housing costs in Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale. (S6O-01327)
The impacts of the cost of living crisis are being felt by all households in Scotland, including in Christine Grahame’s constituency, and are disproportionately affecting people on the lowest incomes, including renters and those without fixed-rate mortgages.
The key levers for tackling the crisis remain in the hands of the United Kingdom Government, and, of course, it must act now. However, our programme for government, which was set out yesterday, contains the steps that we are taking within our limited powers. We are investing an additional £5 million in discretionary housing payments and are extending the scope of the tenant grant fund. We are also introducing rent controls to strengthen tenants’ rights, and a temporary moratorium on evictions.
I welcome the announcement in the statement yesterday of emergency legislation to freeze rents across the private and social rented sector.
I have many constituents in Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale who are concerned about mortgage payments as interest rates rise. What interventions—if any, given that a lot of this is reserved—are open to the Scottish Government to assist them?
I welcome Christine Grahame’s identification of the emergency legislation as a significant intervention. She raises an important point about people who have mortgages and are struggling. Although it does not apply to all mortgage holders, a support fund that provides the ability to convert a mortgage to rent or shared equity is available for people who are on low incomes and are struggling. We are reviewing that at the moment to see whether we can make the fund more available to support people. Lenders and advice agencies are aware of that, but I am happy to write to Christine Grahame with that information.
House prices are rising at a faster rate in rural areas. Last year, they increased by 13.5 per cent in the Borders alone, as more people seek a rural lifestyle post-pandemic. South of Scotland Enterprise has identified that lack of affordable housing as the biggest barrier to attracting the workforce that we need in the area. Does the cabinet secretary accept that the Government needs to review the target that equates to just 10 per cent of new affordable homes being built in rural communities? That demand will continue to outstrip supply, which will further drive up housing costs and prices.
We have been focusing very much on the needs of housing in rural and remote Scotland. That is why we are bringing forward a plan that will address the needs in rural and remote Scotland. We are looking at some of the barriers to and timelines involved in getting a housing development off the ground and how we can remove some of those barriers. We are making significant investment in the affordable housing supply programme and, over this parliamentary session, we will invest £3.6 billion in order to deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, many of which will be in Colin Smyth’s area. We will continue to do that, but we are always looking at ways in which we can make that money go further, by working with local partners to make sure that we deliver as many affordable homes as possible across all of Scotland.
Refugee Accommodation (Support for Local Authorities)
To ask the Scottish Government what further support it will provide to local authorities for the provision of accommodation for refugees in Scotland, in light of reports that suitable housing has been significantly reduced as a result of its supersponsor scheme. (S6O-01328)
The immigration and asylum systems are fully reserved to the United Kingdom Government. Although local authorities continue to support resettlement schemes by offering accommodation and support in their areas, the Home Office is responsible for the design and operation of resettlement schemes and the UK asylum system.
Refugees who have been granted status following an asylum application have the same rights to access housing as anyone who is legally resident in Scotland.
Since the Ukraine war, under our supersponsor scheme, to ensure that displaced people can travel here safely and immediately, the Scottish Government has directly provided accommodation and support. We have also made £11.2 million available to local authorities to support that work.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, but it is clear that the houses are not there. Aberdeen City Council’s previous administration launched the city’s largest council house building programme in decades. Last month, with the Scottish National Party leader citing budget pressures, the new SNP-Lib Dem administration froze four big developments that would have delivered more than 500 new council homes in the city. Will the SNP-Green devolved Government get its act together, give Aberdeen a fair share of funding and allow Aberdeen to build the required new council homes that could be used to welcome people to the granite city?
I do not think that the Tories are on strong ground when talking about council houses, given the sell-off of tens of thousands of them on their watch over the past few years.
Let us look at the situation in Aberdeen. I have provided all local authorities with the assurance over five years of the affordable housing supply programme investment. We expect all local authorities to come forward with their local housing plans in order to meet local need.
Douglas Lumsden linked that question with the issue of Ukraine. Aberdeen City Council has been working extremely hard on proposals to help with the settlement of Ukrainian refugees. If he had better communication with his local authority, he would know about some of those very important plans. I suggest that he get in touch with the local authority and bring himself up to speed.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is somewhat ironic that, while the Scottish Government is doing everything that it can to support refugees by taking 18 per cent of the Ukrainian refugees in the UK, the UK Tory Government is hell-bent on flying other asylum seekers out to Rwanda, to deter them from settling here?
The irony never ceases to amaze me, and Stuart McMillan makes a very important point.
With the “New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy”, we are doing what we can to support people to settle and integrate. As the First Minister set out yesterday, and as the Deputy First Minister also said, under the Ukraine programme, almost 16,000 people have arrived with a Scottish sponsor in Scotland, which represents 18 per cent of all UK arrivals and is the most per head of any of the four nations. If only other countries could step up to the mark as well.
Building Standards (Price of New Homes)
To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has done on the potential impact on the sale price of new homes of its proposal to introduce new building standards to prohibit the use of direct emissions heating systems in new builds from 2024. (S6O-01329)
I refer the member to the answer to written parliamentary question S6W-10120, which was provided on 25 August this year. The research cited found that the cost of installing a zero-emissions heating system ranged from £2,000 to £5,000 more than the cost of installing a gas boiler. However, those costs are highly variable—they depend on a range of factors—and they do not represent predictions of the costs after the 2024 change.
The sale price of a new building is determined by individual developers, and it takes account of a wide range of variables related to building construction costs and local housing markets. Typically, heating system installation costs have a smaller impact on prices than other factors do.
I, too, will refer to that parliamentary answer—which did not answer my question, rather like the answer that the minister has just given. In the written answer, the minister admitted to me that, from 2024, installing zero-direct-emissions heating systems will cost up to £5,000 more per home. In 2019-20, the most recent year before the pandemic intervened, the private sector built more than 16,000 new homes. If Mr Harvie’s rule had been in place, up to £82 million would have been added to construction costs. What impact does the minister think that adding £82 million to construction costs will have on families’ and first-time buyers’ ability to afford a new home?
I am sorry that Mr Kerr chose not to listen to the answer that I gave, in which I explicitly said that I was not making a prediction about what the cost of zero-emissions heating systems would be after 2024. He suggested that I made that prediction, but I did not.
Everybody in the industry is clear that we need to scale up not only the production of the kit—many of the valuable jobs involving that work will be located in Scotland—but the capacity of the industry to carry out those installations. We are working with the industry to build that capacity, which is expected to reduce the costs over time.
All political parties have committed very clearly to the legally binding climate targets, which cannot be met without ambitious action on zero-emissions heating. I wish, for goodness’ sake, that the Conservative Party would start to get behind the actions that the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that we not only hit those climate targets but do so in a way that benefits the cost of living and the economy in Scotland.
I hope to be able to call both questions 7 and 8, but I need to have succinct questions and answers.
Housing Waiting Lists
To ask the Scottish Government how many houses it estimates need to be built to tackle the current housing waiting lists in Scotland. (S6O-01330)
We have committed to delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which at least 70 per cent will be available for social rent and 10 per cent will be in remote, rural and island communities. In this parliamentary term, we will invest £3.6 billion towards the delivery of more affordable homes across Scotland, with £30 million of that investment supporting the continuation of the rural and islands housing fund.
The number of children who are trapped in temporary accommodation in Scotland is up 17 per cent in one year and is at the highest level on record. Families in the central belt are being offered housing in the north of England because of the lack of housing in Scotland. According to Shelter Scotland, 130,000 households are on waiting lists for social homes. Shelter has written to the First Minister, calling for an emergency action plan that will buy and build 38,500 social homes by 2026. Will the Government make housing a national priority? Will it bring forward a costed national emergency plan, so that we can address that unacceptable blight on our country? That makes economic sense and it is the right thing to do.
Affordable housing is a national priority with £3.6 billion allocated to it during this session of Parliament. That is a very clear commitment on our part to build more affordable homes.
Alex Rowley, who raises the important issue of temporary accommodation, mentioned Shelter, which has accepted my request to head up an expert group to look at further solutions to tackle temporary accommodation. He is absolutely right in saying that too many families, particularly those with children, are in temporary accommodation. That is one of my key areas to target, and Shelter will help us to do that work.
I should point out that 20 of the 32 local authorities have managed to reduce the number of people in temporary accommodation since last year. However, more work is to be done to reduce that number, and that is exactly what we are determined to do.
We have to move directly to question 8, because we are running out of time. I ask for brief questions and answers.
Children in Temporary Accommodation
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the increase in the number of children in temporary accommodation, as reported in the annual homelessness in Scotland statistics. (S6O-01331)
As I have just said, I am very concerned by that increase. I am aware that the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt by local authorities and that they are also facing challenges in meeting some households’ needs, which is reflected in a backlog of households waiting for settled homes. However, the figures are unacceptable.
I have discussed solutions to temporary accommodation pressures with housing conveners, and I have asked an expert group that is chaired by Shelter Scotland and the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers for an action plan to reduce the number of households in temporary accommodation. I expect the initial recommendations to be delivered by the end of the year.
Empty properties that are left in disrepair are a blight on neighbourhoods and could provide much-needed homes to families and children on waiting lists. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the progress on compulsory sales orders? Will the Scottish Government consider the proposal for compulsory rental orders?
Ruth Maguire makes an important point. We are committed to modernising the compulsory purchase order process, to make it clearer, fairer and faster for all parties and to support the delivery of projects that are in the public interest. Compulsory sales orders are being considered as part of that. Any new powers would, of course, need to be compliant with the European convention on human rights. Compatibility with existing powers also needs to be carefully considered. That includes any proposals for compulsory rental orders. I am happy to keep the member updated on progress.
That concludes portfolio questions. There will be a very short pause before we move on to the next item of business.