Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 22, 2022


Topical Question Time

Teachers (Industrial Action)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to avoid industrial action by teachers. (S6T-00982)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

I am absolutely committed to supporting a fair pay offer for teachers through the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, and to preventing unnecessary industrial action. Strikes in our schools are in no one’s interests, least of all those of pupils, parents and carers, who have already faced significant disruption over the past three years.

Members will be aware that only the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, as the representative body of the employers, can make a formal pay offer to the teacher unions. I and my officials are in regular dialogue with COSLA to identify options to support an increased pay offer. I have also been in regular contact with the unions to establish whether there is any scope for a shift in their negotiating position. I last spoke with union representatives as recently as Friday 18 November.

We continue to work closely with COSLA to deliver a fair, affordable and sustainable settlement for teachers and one that can avert unnecessary strike action.

Stephen Kerr

I was hoping that we would hear something more positive than the answer that I have just received. I remind the cabinet secretary that she is a party to the negotiations. As much as she might like to try to distance herself from them, she has a seat at the table.

However, let us not forget that it should never have come to this. The negotiations should have concluded weeks and months ago. They should not still be taking place less than 36 hours before a strike is due to take place. Teachers have been let down by an SNP Government that has been too slow to come to the table and take decisive action to resolve the pay disputes. Pupils and parents have been let down by an SNP Government that says that education is its top priority but cannot even keep the schools open.

Even if the strikes are called off, parents have had to scramble around for childcare and pupils have had the additional stress of possible loss of days of learning. If the worst comes to pass and strike action goes ahead on Thursday, what plans are in place? What is the cabinet secretary going to do to help pupils to catch up on lost learning? Will she take the opportunity now to apologise to parents and pupils for this stramash of her making?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I was very clear in my original answer that the Scottish Government has a role in the pay negotiations but the offer must come from COSLA as the employers. Four offers have been made so far.

Of course we want to do all that we can to ensure that there is a fair and affordable resolution to the current pay dispute. However, I have to be frank with Mr Kerr. The United Kingdom Government made clear in the autumn statement that there is no additional support for public sector pay—not one penny—so I am afraid that the 10 per cent pay claim from the teacher unions is unaffordable to the Scottish Government.

Any extra money for pay deals will have to be found elsewhere within an already constrained Scottish Government budget, so the fault for the place that we are in lies absolutely with the UK Government and the mess that it has driven the UK economy and inflation into. [Interruption.]

Thank you, members.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

That is the reality of the situation that we are in.

We will absolutely continue to work with COSLA to deliver a fair and affordable settlement for teachers, but the context that we are working in is exceptionally important and, quite frankly, it does a disservice to everybody who is involved in this for Mr Kerr not to take cognisance of that.

Stephen Kerr

What an embarrassment to Scotland, to have a cabinet secretary in an area such as education, which is fully devolved, blame the UK Government. It is beyond pathetic.

It is no wonder that teachers are leaving the profession. Who can blame them? Teachers are striking over violence in classrooms and the lack of permanent contracts when teachers have finished their probation. Their voices are ignored in SNP education reforms.

By that answer alone, the cabinet secretary is letting down teachers. We can add to that the fact that they have been waiting for seven months for a pay deal. Teachers are already at least £2,000 out of pocket because of that delay. What was stopping the cabinet secretary from negotiating a deal in April? It is absolutely negligent on her part to have allowed things to get to such a sorry pass.

The cabinet secretary has been missing in action for months. Why? Why does the SNP Scottish Government hold teachers in such contempt? The cabinet secretary must do better. Will she now apologise to the teaching profession for letting it down and ignoring it?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As I have already said to Stephen Kerr, four offers have been made to the teaching unions by COSLA, during the current dispute, and it is important to recognise what the Scottish Government has done. For example, we have already committed £50 million towards the offer that is currently on the table for teachers. If the current offer had been accepted by teachers—I accept that it was not—that would have allowed teachers to get a cumulative increase of 21.8 per cent since 2018. It would also have ensured that the starting salary for a newly qualified teacher would have been more than £35,000—which is significantly more than England’s £28,000. We will continue to do our best for teachers, as we have done with our contributions this year and in the past.

Again, however, the context is key. As a Scottish Government, we have already had to make hard choices. The emergency budget review made that very clear. The funding must come from elsewhere within the Scottish Government budget. Stephen Kerr can come to the chamber and bluster all he likes, but in none of his challenge to me did I hear a suggestion of how we could improve the offer, where that money would come from, and what he would want the savings to be made from. Unfortunately, the position that we are in is that those savings would have to be found elsewhere. That is the context and the reality of the situation.

Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

I welcome the update from the Scottish Government on the action that it is taking to avert industrial action—which would be in no one’s best interests. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, if the Scottish Tories are looking to place the blame, they should look more closely at their colleagues down in Westminster, whose policies of austerity have, in effect, tied the Scottish Government’s hands when it comes to public sector pay rises?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I agree that there is a responsibility on the UK Government. It could have acted in the UK autumn settlement to provide additional funding, but it did not do so.

I refer members to a recent letter to the teaching unions in Wales from the Welsh education minister, Jeremy Miles, who said:

“it is simply not possible for the Welsh Government to fund such a rise without a substantial increase in our own budget to pay for it ... It is a disgrace the UK Government has left us in such an impossible position.”

Unfortunately, that is also the reality of the Scottish Government’s position.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

Presiding Officer, I apologise to you and all members that I will have to depart during topical question time, due to a prior appointment.

In her contribution, Jackie Dunbar talked about public sector workers. Why does it seem that public sector workers in Scotland need to get to the stage of being balloted for strike action, and be on the very eve of a strike, before, suddenly—well, only if the correct cabinet secretary turns up—we seem to get settlements?

During time for reflection, we heard that we should avoid discord, look for concord and be in tune with the desires of our people. In the case of the teachers, would it not have been better to carry out the negotiations back in April, in a more honest and open fashion, so that we did not end up, as always, with such a challenge as we approach Christmas?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As I have said on numerous occasions, four offers have been made, including at the start of the process. As the year has gone on, the Scottish Government has attempted to react to the reality of the situation when it comes to the UK economic context, and to try to assist, as far as possible, with public sector pay.

As I have already said, the Scottish Government has already contributed £50 million towards assisting local government with the teachers’ pay dispute. Of course, I would very much like to see the dispute resolved, which is in the best interests of everyone involved, particularly our children and young people. The reflection that we must all make in these difficult times is that, if further pay offers need to be made, money will need to be found within the education budget, and that is exceptionally difficult to do and will not be without its implications. The blame for that lies squarely with the UK Government. We will take responsibility for where we will make decisions.

Dear me—what an embarrassment.

Mr Kerr—speaking from a sedentary position—might not like it, but he needs to take some responsibility for the context that we are in.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The cabinet secretary must accept that there is a lot of anger in the teaching profession. This is the first time in 40 years that teachers have engaged in this kind of action, and 96 per cent voted in favour of industrial action. The cabinet secretary and others have been accused of dither and delay by Andrea Bradley.

The clock is ticking. By 4.30 today, we could end the strike if a new offer was to be made and accepted by the unions. Will the Government make a new offer through the negotiating system so that we can end the strike on Thursday?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As I said in my original answer, it is COSLA that will make a new offer to teachers. We are all cognisant of the timings of the EIS committee meetings that are being held today. However, I repeat the position that I have already set out: we as the Scottish Government are determined to do everything that we can to support teachers for a fair and affordable offer. We have already committed £50 million to the offer that was already on the table. We are, of course, are working with local government to see where further savings could be made and to see how an improved offer can be made. Unfortunately, if such a deal happens, that will have implications for the rest of the education budget.

National Health Service

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

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that a discussion of a “two-tier” health service is recorded in draft minutes of a meeting of national health service board chief executives in September. (S6T-00981)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf)

The meeting that the member references was an informal meeting of a small number of NHS directors, not a meeting of NHS chief executives, and the draft note of the discussion does not represent the view of NHS chief executives.

The founding principles of our national health service as a universal service, free at the point of use, publicly funded and publicly delivered for all, are not up for debate or discussion. From abolishing prescription charges to removing dental charges for young people, the Government has a laudable track record in dismantling any financial barriers that continue to exist in our national health service. Let me repeat: although reform is undoubtedly necessary in the face of a global pandemic, that reform will never ever be in contradiction of the founding principles of our NHS.

Alex Rowley

Back in February, I raised with the Deputy First Minister the concern that we were heading towards a two-tier health service. Since then, I have repeatedly raised the issue, both in and out of Parliament. I heard Humza Yousaf say yesterday—and confirm today—that it will never happen, and Nicola Sturgeon has stated that the Scottish Government will not “rip up” the founding principles of the NHS.

It is happening, however, and it is happening right now. Someone who needs a knee or hip operation and can afford it will get it. If they have savings and can pay for it, they will get an operation. If they are able to borrow the money to pay for it, they will get an operation. Those who can do none of those things suffer in pain on long waiting lists. I reiterate: we are already falling into a two-tier health system.

Does the cabinet secretary understand the enormity of the situation and of the crisis that our NHS is in here in Scotland? We have had the Covid recovery plan, a winter plan, a workforce plan and a delayed discharge plan. Despite all of them, things are getting worse. No wonder NHS chiefs are thinking the way that I have referred to—the plans are not working. What is next? What is the challenge, and what is the answer?

Humza Yousaf

Alex Rowley touches on some important points, but we cannot underestimate the impact not only of the global pandemic and Brexit on our social care workforce—which I know he recognises—but of high inflation and energy costs on our health service. Any one of those factors would be enough to cause significant challenges for our health and social care systems. The fact that we have not just been hit by all three in quick succession but been hit concurrently by some of them is having huge impacts on our health service not just in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom.

The simple answer to Alex Rowley’s question is that we are working on—and investing in—measures, such as reducing the long waits for elective care. In fact, Public Health Scotland’s most recent published data shows that we are making progress for in-patients and out-patients who are waiting the longest—that is, two years or longer. There is still a way to go, however.

We are also making progress in our investment in social care, which is what lies at the heart of the matter. Having capacity is really important if we are to improve accident and emergency performance and waiting times for elective care, so we are investing in improving the flow within our hospitals. That is our focus—indeed, my unrelenting focus.

Our focus will be on investing in social care so that we get people out the back door and prevent them from coming in the front door. Reform is necessary, but I repeat to Alex Rowley that that reform will always take place within the parameters of the founding principles of our national health service.

I must ask members for concise questions and answers. That way, more members will have an opportunity to take part.

Alex Rowley

We are already slipping into a two-tier health service. If someone can afford to pay or can borrow the money, they will get the care that they need, but if they cannot afford to pay, they will suffer in pain for years upon years on a waiting list. I suggest to the cabinet secretary that we need to prioritise getting a fair pay agreement for the workforce, pause the introduction of the ill-considered so-called national care service and focus on tackling the immediate underlying causes of the workforce crisis in social care, which he is failing to do. I also suggest that the Government be more open with the public about the current use of—and the cost of using—the private sector in Scotland’s NHS.

Does the cabinet secretary not see that, in truth, we need a non-partisan approach to reviewing all aspects of the NHS in Scotland—both hospitals and community provision—so that we can build a sustainable NHS that is free at the point of need? Does he agree that, if he fails to do that, he is in danger of running Scotland’s NHS into the ground?

Humza Yousaf

On fair pay, in about 38 minutes’ time, I will be sitting round the table with trade unions to try to hammer out a deal. It is to their credit and, I hope, the credit of all the parties involved that we continue to be prepared to sit down and get a deal to avert strike action. None of us wants to see industrial action at any time, let alone during the winter. I look forward to those discussions. I will not give any details here, because it is important that we do that work in a confidential negotiating space, but if there are any breakthroughs, I will, of course, ensure that members are updated.

I am more than happy to sit down with Alex Rowley or any of his colleagues to discuss the national care service. Nobody is waiting for its establishment to make improvements to social care. Indeed, that is why we have invested in interim care, in step-down care and in increasing the pay of adult social care workers.

As for taking a non-partisan approach, I am happy to have discussions with the Opposition, as I do regularly. Like Alex Rowley, I do not want people to have to think that the only option for them is to go private. However, according to the data that has been published by the Private Healthcare Information Network, our rates in Scotland are lower than those in other parts of the UK. The way in which we tackle the matter is to ensure that we get our social care and healthcare systems working across the piece so that we have capacity within our hospitals to bring down waiting times.

I must ask members again for brief questions and responses.

Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

I commend the BBC for reporting the meeting, despite the online abuse that its reporters have been receiving for daring to be free journalists.

In addition to the proposal for a two-tier health service, the minutes of that meeting of NHS bosses describe concerns about a lack of clinical input into political decision making, a disconnect between the messaging from the Scottish Government and the reality that the boards are facing, and siloed discussions within the Scottish Government itself. Will the cabinet secretary commit to asking Audit Scotland to investigate the controversy and the details surrounding the meeting?

Humza Yousaf

I find it genuinely laughable that Dr Gulhane thinks it a really good use of Audit Scotland’s time to investigate an informal meeting that included one NHS chief executive and in which the view that was expressed does not, as I have said, represent the view of the NHS’s chief executives, its chairs or its chief operating officer—and most important, might I say, anyone in the Government. After all, we are the ones who decide the policy of the national health service. Therefore, I will not ask Audit Scotland to carry out such an investigation. Dr Gulhane can ask Audit Scotland himself whether it thinks that would be a good use of its time.

I say to Dr Gulhane that we in the Scottish Government should be judged on our deeds. We abolished prescription charges, removed dental charges for young people, continue to fund free eye tests and have scrapped charges in our hospital car parks. When the Conservatives at Westminster were presented with a Lords amendment to take the NHS off future trade deals, they were whipped to vote against it. Of course, one of those individuals, who is not present in the chamber today, was one Douglas Ross MP. The threat of privatisation, therefore, comes not from the SNP Government but from the Conservatives refusing to rule the NHS out in any future trade deal.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I thank the cabinet secretary for his unequivocal statement that, under a Scottish National Party Government, the NHS in Scotland will always be a public service that is free at the point of need. Ensuring that the NHS has the right staff is vital. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, as well as investing in training and recruitment, we must seek to attract staff from overseas to make Scotland and the NHS their home? Does he share my disappointment that Sir Keir Starmer seems content to use anti-immigration rhetoric that is on a par with that of Nigel Farage?

I regret that that question is largely not relevant to the substantive question. I call Alex Cole-Hamilton.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I make a commitment to the cabinet secretary that, every time he seeks to deflect his Government’s role in the NHS crisis by referencing the pandemic, I will remind him of the words of the former chief executive of NHS Scotland, Paul Gray, who said that this crisis was always coming because of the SNP’s mismanagement “regardless of Covid”.

Today, a new Public Health Scotland report says that the burden of disease in this country and, by extension, on our NHS is set to rise by 21 per cent over the next 20 years. The pressure on our NHS is nowhere near its peak yet. I suggest to the cabinet secretary that that is a damning verdict on the SNP’s handling of the health service. Indeed, the fact that senior bosses are even discussing such extreme proposals is a reflection of how bad things have got on his watch.

Humza Yousaf

For someone who, in the past couple of weeks, has made a lot of ensuring the accuracy of the parliamentary record, Mr Cole-Hamilton might want to reflect on what he has said about directly quoting Paul Gray. I am sure that people will be poring over that quote to ensure that Mr Gray has not been misquoted.

I say to Mr Cole-Hamilton once again that if he thinks that he can put his head in the sand and deny the impact of Brexit, the global pandemic, the high rate of inflation and the cost crisis inflicted upon us by the Conservative Government, I genuinely do not know what planet he is living on. No one is arguing with him that reform of the NHS is necessary. We have regular discussions about such reform, but always within the parameters of the founding principles of the national health service.

As for where the public are on this issue and who can best judge the performance of the NHS, the public have their say at every election about who they believe should be trusted with the stewardship of the NHS. I ask Mr Cole-Hamilton to reflect on why he is leading a party that has four MSPs in the Parliament while, time and time again, the people of Scotland trust the SNP with that stewardship.


To ask the Scottish Government what its assessment is of the outcome of the 27th United Nations climate change conference of the parties. (S6T-00978)

The Minister for Environment and Land Reform (Màiri McAllan)

COP27 has delivered a very mixed outcome. On the one hand, in a true breakthrough, it finally saw the acknowledgement by developed countries of our responsibility to support those experiencing the impacts of climate change first and worst. In the final throes of COP27, agreement on a loss and damage fund was reached after 30 years of perseverance and campaigning by many dedicated individuals. Scotland was very pleased to play its small part in that, being the first country to make a financial contribution for loss and damage for last year. On the other hand, COP27 was deeply disappointing: we did not make the progress that was needed on actions to limit warming to 1.5°, the transition away from fossil fuels, adaptation and other things. Countries must recommit themselves urgently to progress on those areas.

Mark Ruskell

I thank the minister for attending the COP in Egypt. Although there was one step forwards, to address loss and damage, there were two steps backwards on fossil fuels. There was a clear failure to commit to any phasing out of oil and gas. Arguably, COP27 has left the goal of 1.5° dead.

Right now, fossil fuel companies are using the energy charter treaty to sue Governments for hundreds of millions of pounds if they introduce policies or laws that limit the use of coal, oil and gas. However, at COP27, Germany joined the call for the collective withdrawal of countries from the treaty. Does the minister agree that the energy charter treaty is now beyond reform, and will ministers raise the issue with the United Kingdom secretary of state?

Màiri McAllan

I am aware of criticisms of the energy charter treaty and concerns that it poses a barrier to policies combating climate change. I am also aware of the risks in relation to the topic that were recently set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Scottish Government is already in contact with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the current ECT renegotiations, with a view to identifying and mitigating any impacts on Scotland. We are very clear that no part of a trade or investment agreement should limit the ability of the Scottish Parliament to regulate in devolved areas, or constrain much-needed action to achieve our net zero goal.

Mark Ruskell

I thank the minister for that very clear response. The issuing of more than 100 oil and gas licences by the UK Government is reckless and hampers the just transition at the point when investment urgently needs to switch to renewables. The First Minister has previously said that the Cambo oilfield should not be given the go ahead. Does the minister agree that the Rosebank licence should also not be granted?

Màiri McAllan

The Scottish Government has previously made it very clear that we do not agree with the UK Government issuing new oil and gas licences. That is not a viable answer to either the energy cost crisis or the climate crisis—the answer to both of those is rapid investment in and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

We have also made clear our view that the proposed climate compatibility test from the UK Government is not fit for purpose and that, before any development takes place, a robust, stringent climate compatibility test, including both domestic and international compatibility with the Paris agreement, should be introduced.

On that, I ask members to consider our actions as well as our words. The Scottish Government’s approach is best seen in such a way because while the UK Government looks to license oil and gas, Scotland looks to the expansion of offshore wind, as reflected in the lease options awarded to ScotWind earlier this year.

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

It is undeniable that the leadership role of the Scottish Government at COP26 on pushing the momentum of the loss and damage fund was pivotal. Does the minister agree that the thanks should go to all those countries that have campaigned for it for years? Does she agree that the global north cannot and must not think that 1.5° on life support is some kind of result for COP27, for those countries or for anyone else?

Màiri McAllan

I agree with Fiona Hyslop. I was very pleased to communicate that with global south communities and the media when I attended COP27. As I said, Scotland is very proud of the small part that we played—as a global north country, we stood up to say that we accept that we have been enriched by the processes that are now causing climate change and that we have a responsibility to those who are being impacted. That has come about after 30 years of campaigning by activists, and by those in the global south and low-lying nations, who, in the face of continuing inaction have shown perseverance—the examples of the flooding in Pakistan and the drought across the Horn of Africa remind us all why those groups have remained so committed. However, we need continued action on 1.5°, because loss and damage will only get worse should the world fail to take the action needed to keep global warming below that temperature.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

At COP27, the First Minister announced £5 million to “address loss and damage”, as she put it. Can the minister tell us precisely what the eligibility criteria, application process and defined outcomes for that £5 million are?

Màiri McAllan

We are still designing the criteria for that £5 million, and I will be more than happy to update Liam Kerr in the chamber when we have done that. However, we have already set out that it will address the underfunded areas of non-economic loss and damage, slow onset loss and damage and the extent to which loss and damage disproportionately impact women. As I said, I will be more than happy to set out those details when they have been agreed.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Despite some modest steps on support for climate-vulnerable countries, on the crucial issue of keeping warming to 1.5°C, COP27 has failed, and we are heading for a disastrous 2.8°C. We need to demonstrate to the world that climate leadership at home does not just mean setting targets but meeting them, which we are failing to do. How can cutting the energy efficiency budget by £133 million instead of tackling why it is not being utilised show leadership, given the shameful level of fuel poverty in Scotland and knowing that properly insulating our homes not only cuts fuel bills but cuts fuel use and therefore emissions?

Màiri McAllan

Energy efficiency is absolutely at the core of the Scottish Government’s plan not only to combat climate change but to rise to the challenges of the cost of living crisis. I note that energy efficiency was very absent from the requisite UK Government plans.

Scotland has, and is internationally recognised for having, some of the most stringent climate targets in the world, which are set by the Parliament as a whole. We are making good progress against them—we are already more than halfway to net zero—but we are never complacent, and we will continue to plan stringently right across our economy and society for how we meet our emissions reduction envelopes, not least through Scotland’s enormous renewable energy, but also through nature-based solutions, which I am pleased to have oversight of.

That concludes topical questions.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Further to my exchange with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, I would like to clarify my remarks. I have reviewed the quote from Paul Gray, and I want to make it explicitly clear that, in writing for Reform Scotland on 4 October 2021, he said:

“The current system was going to be overwhelmed regardless of Covid.”

He made no explicit reference to the competence or otherwise of the Government; that was my inference, and I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not putting words into the former chief executive’s mouth. However, it is clear that he believed that this crisis was always coming.

That is not a point of order, Mr Cole-Hamilton, but it is now on the record. Before we move on to the next item of business, I will give members a moment to assume their seats.