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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, February 29, 2024


General Question Time

Prescription Wig Provision

To ask the Scottish Government what work has been done to improve accessibility to prescription wig provision for those affected by hair loss. (S6O-03142)

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

The Scottish Government knows that the provision of wigs is important to many people who have been diagnosed with various forms of hair loss. The prescription of wig provision is dependent on clinical assessment and individual need, with decisions made by clinicians in consultation with patients. The Scottish Government issued advisory national guidance on wig prescriptions to all national health service health boards in 2011 and again in 2014 to allow them to deliver services that meet the needs of their local population.

Marie McNair

A constituent of mine currently receives real-hair wigs but, given the advancements in acrylic wigs, she would like to try one of those instead. She has advised me that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has said that, if she makes that decision, she would not be able to move back to a real-hair wig prescription should she wish to do so. That seems a bit harsh. Can the minister confirm whether there are any plans to review that approach to allow more flexibility in moving between the two wig prescriptions?

Jenni Minto

I thank Marie McNair for raising this important issue in the chamber. I have had friends who have chosen to wear a wig and I have another who volunteers at the Beatson, and I have heard directly from them about the benefit of being able to access wigs on prescription, if wished. The current approach, which allows the change of wigs from natural to synthetic, is flexible. It is for NHS boards to implement the guidelines, and I hope that they take a person-centred approach to that.

National Health Service Capital Projects

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact that any mass delay of NHS capital projects would have on patient and staff safety. (S6O-03143)

The Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care (Neil Gray)

Patient safety is a key strategic objective for the Scottish Government, and we are committed to ensuring that all health and care is safe, effective and person centred. We will continue to support national health service staff and their wellbeing to ensure that they can continue to deliver the best possible care. Despite the real-terms cut to the Scottish Government’s capital budget, health boards have had their capital maintenance budget protected at 2023-24 levels, which will allow them to continue to invest £150 million in maintaining the existing estate and to work on reducing backlog maintenance.

Carol Mochan

The safety of our staff is of paramount importance. Without staff safety, we cannot deliver patient safety—they go hand in hand. What discussions has the cabinet secretary had with the trade unions about the impacts on the workforce of the delay to capital projects? Has the Government assessed the impacts of the up-and-coming implementation of safe staffing on service provision?

Neil Gray

On the latter point, I discussed that with staff-side trade unions last week in our regular Scottish Terms and Conditions Committee discussions. I have not yet had the time to be able to have direct discussions on the former part of Carol Mochan’s question, but I expect to have those discussions in my on-going engagements with trade union representatives across the NHS and social care.

We do not want to be in this position, of course. We want to invest in NHS capital projects. They are a necessity if the NHS and social care services are to continue to make progress. Unfortunately, the position is the result of the financial reality that we face. We have had £1.6 billion removed from our capital budget by decisions from the United Kingdom Government and an increase in costs due to spiralling UK inflation.

Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary has correctly highlighted the cut to capital expenditure by the UK Government. There is a sense now that people are understanding the real impact of that cut on people’s lives. Can the cabinet secretary give any further insight into the discussions with the UK Government on emphasising the critical impact of the cut in the Scottish Government’s capital expenditure budget?

Neil Gray

I can. Michelle Thomson is absolutely right. The years of austerity, alongside the particular decisions that have come through, whereby we have seen £1.6 billion come out of our capital budget, are having a real-time impact on people and our services.

The Deputy First Minister wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, on 23 February to outline the Scottish Government’s priority ahead of the UK Government’s spring budget. In that letter, the Deputy First Minister highlighted that, in addition to the block grant having fallen by 1.2 per cent in real terms since 2022-23, UK capital funding is set to fall by almost 10 per cent, or £1.6 billion, between 2023-24 and 2027-28. The Deputy First Minister has communicated a very strong message to the chancellor that there is a clear need for increased investment by the UK Government in public services and, by extension, the economy ahead of the next fiscal event.

Non-domestic Rates Public Health Supplement

3. Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has conducted of the potential impact of the proposed non-domestic rates public health supplement on large retailers, as set out in its 2024-25 Scottish budget. (S6O-03144)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

The announcement in the Scottish budget for 2024-25 signalled the Scottish Government’s intent to explore the reintroduction of a public health supplement for large retailers in advance of the next budget. In line with the new deal for business, we are committed to engaging early with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that any impact of any proposals on business is fully understood. Exploratory discussions have already started with business and other relevant stakeholders such as public health organisations, and those will continue to ensure that considered and informed decisions can be made in advance of the 2025-26 budget.

Liz Smith

I know that the cabinet secretary is aware of the very strong concerns that have been expressed by the Scottish Retail Consortium. At stage 2, she promised that she would examine the likely impacts of any such move. However, I ask her to recognise that those who are already liable for the higher property rate are paying a much higher rate on comparable premises than those elsewhere in the UK and that the imposition of a surtax would just widen that differential and undermine the ability of large Scottish retailers to remain competitive.

Shona Robison

As Liz Smith recognised, we have been engaging directly with a number of business organisations including the Scottish Retail Consortium, and we will continue to do that. We have asked for some information and evidence from the sector on what it regards the impact to be, and we will continue to work with it through those discussions in line with the new deal for business. The discussions so far have been very constructive.

Critical Transport Infrastructure (Resilience)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that critical transport infrastructure is resilient against extreme weather events. (S6O-03145)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

“Transport Scotland’s Approach to Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience”, or ACCAR, which was published in August 2023, sets out a strategic framework to secure a well-adapted future for Scotland’s transport system. ACCAR provides our current approach to adaptation and strategic outcomes for road, rail, aviation and maritime transport networks to address the key climate risks affecting Scotland’s transport system. We continue to address known hotspots and look for opportunities to future proof our transport networks so that they can meet the future challenges of climate change.

Sarah Boyack

It is clear that the effects of the climate emergency are now having a real impact on our roads and railways. The storms and increased rainfall in October last year saw pre-emptive rail line closures for the first time. Those closures led the editor of Rail Engineer magazine, David Shirres, to comment:

“infrastructure that had shown itself to be resilient to the UK’s past weather may now no longer be so.”

Will the cabinet secretary outline what discussions she has had with Network Rail on ensuring that rail infrastructure is resilient to climate change across Scotland?

Fiona Hyslop

The Scottish Government has committed to invest £4.2 billion in Scottish rail infrastructure over the next five-year investment period, in line with our high-level output specification. The specification focuses on climate change adaptation and resilience as one of the strategic priorities and it makes provision for enhancing the weather resilience and climate change adaptation strategy. I discussed that with Network Rail earlier this year in London, and this afternoon I will discuss control period 7, which focuses on climate change, with Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Failure by the Scottish Government to provide any cover for the MV Hamnavoe during its refit in January led to there being no service on Pentland Firth routes at various points over the two-week period during poor weather. Will the Cabinet Secretary for Transport commit to ensuring that a replacement vessel is available on the Stromness to Scrabster route in future, in order to provide much-needed resilience on that lifeline service?

Fiona Hyslop

The constituency MSP clearly communicated his concerns about risk during that period. I was reassured that the capacity issues were met during that period but, as the member knows, we are always looking at increasing the freight opportunities for the northern isles and we will continue to do so.

PFI and PPP (Local Authority Finances)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of the repayment of private finance initiative and public-private partnership debts on local authority finances. (S6O-03146)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

PFI and PPP unitary payments are a significant pressure on local authority budgets. There are 38 on-going local authority PFI and PPP contracts. Up to £8.15 billion has been paid on those contracts up to this year, with a further £7.25 billion of payments to be made over the coming years, which equates to £15.4 billion in payments for local authority projects with a capital value of £3.27 billion.

Clare Haughey

South Lanarkshire Council, which is the local authority for my constituency of Rutherglen, will be paying about £40 million this year in disastrous PFI repayments. That yearly figure will only rise over the coming decade. When the council entered into those contracts, Labour was in power at council level, in Holyrood and at Westminster. The £40 million is being removed from the council’s spending power this year at a time when the council proposes to close local facilities and cut free school bus provision. Will the Deputy First Minister assure me that, although it is contending with Labour’s toxic PFI legacy, which has failed to deliver the best value for the taxpayer, the Scottish Government will never return to the disastrous PFI model?

Shona Robison

I absolutely give Clare Haughey that assurance, because PFI was an expensive mistake. Even if the PFI and PPP models of the Tories and Labour were an option, we would totally reject them, as they are extremely poor value for money. PFI simply did not deliver the best value for the people of Scotland, and we are still paying for the legacy of what were, in the main, Labour’s mistakes.

Public Finances (Impact of Recession)

6. Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, in the light of recent Office for National Statistics data, what assessment it has made of the impact on Scotland’s public finances of the United Kingdom entering a recession in 2023. (S6O-03147)

The Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance (Tom Arthur)

The news that the UK has entered a recession represents the latest failure of the UK Government. That will compound the economic challenges that households, businesses and we in the Scottish Government are facing.

Last week, I wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and copied in the chancellor, to urge her to provide additional investment in public infrastructure and services in the forthcoming budget. However, at the moment, the reality is that our UK Government capital funding is set to fall by almost 10 per cent in real terms between 2023-24 and 2027-28, which will make it impossible to provide the investment that is needed to underpin future sustainable economic growth.

Jackie Dunbar

It is clear that economically illiterate Westminster policies, including Brexit, austerity cuts and cutting labour force migration in key industries, have set the UK on the path to long-term decline. It is vital that future action is taken to support families who are facing financial pressures at this difficult time. We know that most of the powers to tackle poverty and the cost of living remain reserved. Will the minister update me on the Scottish Government’s engagement with the UK Government on the steps that the UK Government should take in the upcoming UK budget to support families who are facing pressures?

Tom Arthur

Last week, the Deputy First Minister wrote to urge the chancellor to provide further targeted support for people who are struggling. That must include an essentials guarantee, which would provide the most basic of necessities and benefit 8.8 million families. We have again called for the abolition of the two-child limit, the benefit cap, the young parent penalty in universal credit and the bedroom tax. We are doing what we can to mitigate the effect of those damaging policies, but we cannot mitigate everything. The chancellor needs to take action to support vulnerable families in his budget next week.

Ardrossan to Brodick Ferry

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will make a long-term commitment to retain the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry service. (S6O-03148)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

The Scottish Government maintains its commitment to ensuring that services to Arran are fit for the future. The business case, including cost estimates, for Ardrossan harbour redevelopment that is being prepared must be as robust as possible to secure the required funding from all the funding partners, which are North Ayrshire Council, Peel Ports and Transport Scotland.

I take the opportunity to acknowledge and understand the significant difficulties that the Arran community has faced on the operation of ferry services, which has been extremely challenging, given the severe weather disruptions and vessel outages. The MV Isle of Arran is currently operating a single-vessel service between Ardrossan and Brodick, and there are no capacity issues.

Katy Clark

The cabinet secretary knows that, on Arran and in Ardrossan, there is a great deal of concern about whether Ardrossan to Brodick will be the long-term route. Will she reassure people there that it will be, given that it is the quickest and most convenient route, and given the ferry port’s socioeconomic importance to Ardrossan?

Fiona Hyslop

The member’s point about the socioeconomic case is important, which is why Transport Scotland officials will next week meet North Ayrshire Council again to ensure that the business case is as robust as possible. Last week, under the auspices of Kenny Gibson, who is the constituency MSP, I met a number of Arran ferry stakeholders to discuss the issues.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

What I did not hear in either of the cabinet secretary’s two responses was a firm commitment that Brodick to Ardrossan will be retained as the primary route. The Scottish Government did not build a ferry that was fit for purpose on that route, and neither has the Scottish Government invested properly in Ardrossan harbour since the 2017 campaign to save it as part of the primary route. Will the Government give a firm commitment that it is committed to the Brodick to Ardrossan ferry route remaining for the future?

Fiona Hyslop

We are committed to that service. I remind Jamie Greene that the Scottish Government is not the harbour authority for Ardrossan; it is Peel Ports. The United Kingdom Government’s subsidy control measures will have an impact on what can or cannot be done to allow the Scottish Government to invest in a harbour that is not our own but which is owned by a private entity.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I thank the cabinet secretary for meeting me and North Ayrshire representatives to discuss this important issue at such short notice. When are the final report on Ardrossan harbour from the consultants Turner & Townsend and the structural report from Peel Ports expected?

Fiona Hyslop

The cost exercise report from Turner & Townsend is expected by the end of this week. It will then be shared with project partners to assist with confirmation of financial packages for the project and to feed into work on the business case. We await the structural report from Peel Ports, which will also be essential to informing the business case work. Transport Scotland officials continue to engage with Peel Ports and other partners on this important matter and they note the urgency in developing the business case towards finalisation.

EE Greenock Call Centre

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with BT Group/EE regarding the proposed closure of its Greenock call centre. (S6O-03149)

The Minister for Energy, Just Transition and Fair Work (Gillian Martin)

I have written to BT Group to express my concern about its decision, and I have urged it to engage with stakeholders to consider all options to retain the jobs in Greenock. The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade, Richard Lochhead, has spoken to representatives of EE and BT and urged them to keep all options on the table, including maintaining a presence in Greenock. The minister also attended a meeting of the Inverclyde task force on 20 February and has discussed the proposed closure of the site with representatives of Inverclyde Council. The Scottish Government will continue to engage closely with all partners in Inverclyde as the situation develops. Earlier this week, I followed up on the meeting of the task force by sending it an invitation to meet me, given my new portfolio responsibilities.

Neil Bibby

About 450 people are employed at EE’s call centre in Greenock, whose work is set to be moved to Glasgow. In the past year alone, 1,000 jobs have been lost from the Inverclyde area because of site closures—most notably that of Amazon in Gourock.

Despite repeated calls having been made to it, the Scottish Government has so far provided not a penny of financial support in response to job losses over the past year. It has not responded to the calls of Inverclyde’s socioeconomic task force for more investment, which it made more than six months ago. If the Government will not provide that needed additional support now—in the face of this jobs crisis—when will it do so?

Gillian Martin

Neil Bibby was absolutely right to outline successive closures and job losses in Greenock. I will engage with the Inverclyde task force on all the issues that he mentioned, to see whether the Government can do anything more to assist. The task force is dealing with the situation on the ground and is best placed to get into the weeds of what is going on there and liaise with the companies involved to try to retain some of the jobs in Greenock that are in jeopardy as a result of decisions that private companies have made.