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Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, September 21, 2023


General Question Time

Good morning. The first item of business is general question time.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what steps it is taking to support innovation and entrepreneurship. (S6O-02544)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

Our ambition is to establish Scotland as a leading European start-up economy and, with the chief entrepreneur, we have a comprehensive strategy to achieve just that. The £42 million Techscaler network is operational, and we have launched two new funds to support start-up ecosystem builders and female entrepreneurs.

We have recently published “Scotland’s National Innovation Strategy”, which sets out our vision for Scotland to become one of the most innovative small nations in the world over the next decade, and the programme for government announced an additional £15 million enterprise package to help deliver on our ambitions for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Colin Beattie

I very much welcome the announcement in the programme for government of continued reform of the education and skills system to ensure that we have the skilled workforce and talent pool to attract investment and meet Scotland’s economic needs. In my constituency of Midlothian North and Musselburgh, I am working closely with experts in the space sector and the local authority to expand the education provision from the local space sector into the classroom. What steps is the Government taking to work closely with experts from industry to ensure that Scotland’s emerging workforce remains competitive and at the forefront of emerging industries?

Richard Lochhead

The member is quite right to highlight the need to ensure that we have a 21st century—not 20th century—education and skills system for the times ahead. We are working closely with industry and Skills Development Scotland, which has various pipelines of work, to ensure that we have the appropriate skills available for the new and emerging sectors of the 21st century.

It is also the case that many businesses locate themselves in Scotland, while our indigenous businesses benefit from the enormous pipeline of talent from Scotland’s universities. We are working closely with our university sector on that issue.

National Health Service Dentistry (Charges)

To ask the Scottish Government what the increase in patient charges for national health service dental treatment will be. (S6O-02545)

The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health (Jenni Minto)

Our priority in delivering payment reform is to ensure that fee levels are reflective of the increased costs of modern dentistry, providing longer-term sustainability and encouraging the dental sector to increase its existing NHS provision.

Although patients who are required to pay an NHS charge are likely to see an increase in costs, that will be dependent on overall treatment plans. Around 40 per cent of patients will continue to receive free NHS care and treatment, as they did under the previous arrangements, and all patients will continue to receive examination and review appointments that are free at the point of use.

Willie Rennie

The last time that I asked the minister how many dentists would be returning to the NHS as a result of the new fee system, she did not know. This time, I asked a very simple question: how much more will patients have to pay as a result of the retention and increase of the charges? She still does not know. Is it not the truth that the Scottish National Party not only has broken its promise of abolishing NHS dental charges but is presiding over the break-up of NHS dentistry?

Jenni Minto

As I outlined in my previous answer, payments are calculated on the basis of clinical treatment. I emphasise that we have made progress as part of the 100 days commitment, and we have delivered free NHS care for 18 to 25-year-olds. As we made clear in the First Minister’s policy prospectus, the policy must be to sustain and improve patient access to dental services.

Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

The British Dental Association believes that NHS patient charge revenue is not the most appropriate way of funding NHS dentistry. Those on modest incomes who are not exempt from patient charges will have to make the difficult decision whether they can afford to pay for NHS dentistry. Is the minister concerned that the Government’s policy on NHS dental charges will have a significant impact on people with such incomes? What will the minister do to prevent the worsening of oral health inequalities?

Jenni Minto

Our view, as a Government, is that payment reform is important, as is the further work that we will do with the BDA on stabilising dental services and making them sustainable. Parliament needs to recognise that paying more for the NHS is a significantly better outcome than paying for private care, where equivalent treatment can be six to 10 times the cost of NHS care.

I call Paul Sweeney. [Interruption.] We will move on to question 3.

Winter Flu and Covid-19 Vaccination Programme

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the winter flu and Covid-19 vaccination programme. (S6O-02546)

The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health (Jenni Minto)

The winter flu and Covid-19 vaccination programme commenced on 4 September 2023. Public Health Scotland will publish statistics on administered vaccines for winter 2023, starting from 21 September, with weekly updates being released on the Covid-19 and respiratory surveillance in Scotland interactive dashboard. Commentary will also be included in the PHS national respiratory infection and Covid-19 statistics report. A letter to all MSPs on the rephasing of the programme was issued on 15 September.

Rona Mackay

Can the minister provide an update on the strategies that are being introduced to encourage appointment attendance among the people of Scotland upon receiving appointment letters and on how those strategies are expected to ease national health service workloads over the winter period?

Jenni Minto

That is a really important question. Those who are eligible will receive a letter with an appointment, or a digital prompt to book an appointment, if that is their communication preference. We try to offer people vaccination appointments close to home, utilising community-based clinics where available, and, to support attendance, communications encourage people to reschedule appointments if the date, time or location is unsuitable. Our national marketing campaign amplifies our message on the importance of getting vaccinated.

The main aim of the vaccination programme is the prevention of severe illness, hospitalisations and deaths. By getting vaccinated and protecting themselves, people are also alleviating pressure on the NHS during winter.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

The roll-out of vaccinations is still patchy, and how it goes depends on which part of the country you live in. In Argyll and Bute—the minister’s constituency—constituents were waiting for hours on the phone to book an appointment, only to be told that it was not certain whether the Covid vaccination would be available. In neighbouring Greater Glasgow and Clyde, drop-in clinics worked extremely well. What action is the minister taking to ensure speed and consistency in the programme roll-out?

Jenni Minto

I recognise that there have been some issues with the roll-out of vaccinations, and my officials have been working very closely with the health boards to alleviate the situation. I am sure that the member will recognise that one size does not fit all in Scotland, and that we have to get it right for each area.

Flood Prevention Remedial Works (Anniesland)

4. Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether Scottish Water has completed any remedial works to prevent future flooding in the Glasgow Anniesland constituency, following reports of widespread flooding in the area earlier this year. (S6O-02547)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition (Màiri McAllan)

Scottish Water has completed remedial works to prevent future flooding in Mr Kidd’s Glasgow Anniesland constituency.

Over the past 10 years, Scottish Water has delivered nine capital projects to enhance sewer network capacity, reducing the risk of sewer flooding to 47 properties. It has also provided 119 properties with property-level protection to reduce the risk and impact of internal sewer flooding, and investigations are on-going in a further 13 properties.

Scottish Water continues to work with Glasgow City Council on further solutions for its highly challenging and complex system, and it will meet stakeholders again in October.

Bill Kidd

Unfortunately, there are areas in which residents have been forced to mount their own flood defences to ensure that effluent and rainwater do not reach their gardens and homes, some of which have been so badly affected by flooding that Scottish Water has had to purchase and demolish them. Other residents cannot obtain insurance. That has happened in Drumchapel, High Knightswood and Lower Knightswood. Can the minister look to raise this untenable situation with Scottish Water in order to get things moving as quickly as possible?

Màiri McAllan

I completely understand how devastating the situation must be for Mr Kidd’s constituents. I recognise the need to build on some of the work that I narrated in my initial answer to address the particularly concerning issues that he raises, so I will ask my officials to urgently raise the matter with Scottish Water and to keep me and Mr Kidd fully updated on the action that can be taken.

Ardrossan Harbour (Upgrade)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the procurement process for the upgrade of Ardrossan harbour. (S6O-02548)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

The procurement of improvements to Ardrossan harbour, which is owned by Peel Ports, was paused on 15 August to help ensure that the business case is suitable to support decisions by the funding partners. There have been a number of changes since inception, and some works were not previously costed. The decision was not taken lightly, and it will be disappointing for the communities that are affected, but the pause is essential to ensure value for the public purse. I stress that there will be no final decision on investment until the business case review is reported to the task force later this year.

Katy Clark

As the minister will appreciate, there has already been six years of delay while terms were negotiated with Peel Ports. The decision has a massive impact on Ardrossan and on the Arran ferry route. Will the minister ensure that the Parliament is kept closely advised of developments, and will she use her office to ensure that we can have a full debate in the Parliament as soon as possible on the timetable, the costs and the implications for the local economy?

Fiona Hyslop

I am acutely aware of how important this matter is. I have previously met the Arran ferry task force, and the member will know that the work of the task force group is really important. It brings together many partners, from Transport Scotland, Peel Ports and North Ayrshire Council, and the local member, Kenny Gibson, is also a member of the task force.

At the point of the pause, I deliberately ensured that all relevant partners, including the constituency MSP and regional MSPs, were informed of progress, and I will continue to do so.

I am not responsible for the timetabling of debates in the Parliament.

I hear what the minister has said. Is she confident that the work at Ardrossan will go ahead? If so, when does she anticipate that the harbour will be open, whenever the new ferry is ready?

Fiona Hyslop

It is important that the business case is as robust as possible in order for the investment decision to be taken. The work involved is extensive—there is a realignment and different works are now required that were not required previously. That is why making the business case as robust as possible is really important, and we must recognise the pressures on other funding partners, not just the fiscal pressures on us. The timescales for delivery will depend on the works that are being done and the order in which they are done, which comes under the procurement process.

The procurement has not stopped; it has been paused to ensure that there is a very strong business case.

National Health Service Waiting Times

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what steps it is taking to eliminate long waiting times for NHS procedures. (S6O-02549)

The Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care (Michael Matheson)

We are working closely with NHS boards to reduce long waits and to deliver the commitment in our £1 billion NHS recovery plan to increase in-patient, day-case and out-patient activity, which is supported by the implementation of sustainable improvements and new models of care.

This year is a milestone year for the national treatment centre programme. NTCs Fife and Highland opened in the spring, and NTC Forth Valley will open later this year, along with the completed expansion of NHS Golden Jubilee. Those centres will create significant additional and protected capacity for planned treatment and diagnostics, and they are key to supporting us in our aim to address waiting times.

Pam Gosal

My constituent requires a hip replacement and hopes to seek speedier treatment via the S2 scheme. However, the guidance surrounding the scheme is complex, and she has received conflicting advice from stakeholders including Scottish National Party ministers. She has struggled to navigate the application process, and she believes that better signposting and support could reduce waiting times for other patients in her position. Will the cabinet secretary introduce better signposting and ensure that all materials relating to the scheme are clear and accurate?

Michael Matheson

Where there is experience that could help us improve the signposting, I am always more than happy to look at it. If Ms Gosal writes to me on the specific instances that her constituent has experienced, where she feels that the signposting could be improved, I will be more than happy to look at the matter.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

The national treatment centre programme is playing an important part in increasing capacity to support patients to access treatment. Can the cabinet secretary provide any updates as to the latest progress with the roll-out of the programme?

Michael Matheson

The national treatment centre programme is the single biggest increase in planned care capacity ever created in NHS Scotland. The four national treatment centres are opening this year. They will deliver eight orthopaedic theatres and in-patient and day-case wards. They will also provide three endoscope rooms and two general surgery theatres. They are planned to deliver something in the region of 25,000 additional procedures by 2024-25.

Changing Places Toilets

To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to start accepting applications for the £10 million fund for changing places toilets that was announced in the 2021-22 programme for government. (S6O-02550)

The Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport (Maree Todd)

We know that changing places toilets make a real difference to disabled people and their families, and offer everyone in Scotland dignity and freedom. That is why we have committed to investing in changing places toilets during the current parliamentary term. I confirm that we will look to make the £10 million fund available across the financial years 2024-25 and 2025-26. We will undertake the necessary development work, alongside key stakeholders, to open the fund by the beginning of 2025.

Jeremy Balfour

That is the most disappointing answer that I have heard in a long time. Many organisations have been waiting for years for a changing places toilet. One of them, in Dunbar, has made a business plan and identified a site and all it is waiting for is the fund to open. Why is there a delay when the United Kingdom Government has delivered so much money across the whole of England?

Maree Todd

The member will be aware that the First Minister’s policy prospectus, which was published earlier this year, sets out that Scotland is facing the most difficult public spending environment that this devolved Parliament has ever seen. The member will also be aware that the purpose of devolution is to enable us to do things differently in Scotland, and that is what we are doing. [Interruption.]

Members, let us hear the minister.

Maree Todd

Not only are we using a different model of funding provision—unlike Westminster, as I understand it, we are not providing the funding via local authorities but are working with communities to ensure that the facilities go exactly where the communities want them to go—we are also investing a far greater quantum of money when we do it. England is investing £30 million and Scotland is investing £10 million, but England is 10 times bigger than Scotland.

We have made tough decisions to ensure that we target every pound that we spend and invest to get the maximum value from it and to ensure that it reaches those who need it most. I am delighted to confirm that we will make that £10 million investment in changing places toilets, and I commend the previous minister, Kevin Stewart, who pursued the issue and has ensured that, even beyond his tenure as Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care, the money will be delivered to where it will make a real difference to the lives of disabled people.

Largs to Cumbrae Ferry (Monthly Season Ticket)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to any benefits to islanders of restoring the monthly season ticket on the Largs to Cumbrae ferry route. (S6O-02551)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

There has been no specific assessment of the benefit of the reintroduction of the monthly season ticket, but I note the calls for that to be considered. Officials have already had some initial discussions with CalMac on the options. Issues around the practicality and potential costs would need to be considered carefully. The discussions are on-going, and it will be important that Ar Turas is operating properly before any further changes are made. Wider consultation on fares across the network will take place through the development of the fair fares review.

Jamie Greene

I thank the minister for her disappointing answer. The new ticketing system is supposed to make life better for islanders, not worse. I have been lobbying Transport Scotland, CalMac and numerous transport ministers for a year and a half for a decision on this. I do not understand what further consultation could possibly need to take place. All that the islanders want is a reliable ferry service at prices they can afford. It is not beyond the wit of man to design a system that will work for our island communities. When will we get an answer on whether or when these services will resume and the much-needed ticketing system will be available to our island communities?

Fiona Hyslop

Jamie Greene might not be aware, but the decision to withdraw the season ticket was not part of the new ticketing process; it was to do with the introduction of road equivalent tariff, which happened 12 years ago. For several years, there have been no annual adjustments to the monthly ticket in line with inflation, and users of the product have benefited from fares that, previously, were below the road equivalent tariff for the route, with a 17.5 per cent discount.

I have asked officials to work with CalMac to see what is possible. However, as I said in reply to Jamie Greene’s first question, we have to ensure that fares are fair across the network.