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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Portfolio Question Time

Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio questions, and the first portfolio is rural affairs, land reform and islands. As ever, I make a plea for succinct questions and answers, in order to get in as many members as possible.

Food and Drink Businesses (Ownership and Control)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of any impact on the food and drink sector of reports that many food and drink businesses are owned and controlled from outwith Scotland. (S6O-03484)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands (Mairi Gougeon)

The food and drink industry is a major contributor to Scotland, generating £15 billion of turnover from more than 17,000 businesses and employing around 129,000 people.

Our approach to growing Scotland’s economy is focused on strengthening Scotland’s domestic industries and ensuring that our economy is open, outward looking and internationally focused. It really is important that we secure investment from global companies to enable that growth.

Although we know that some larger food and drink businesses are owned outwith Scotland, statistics show that 98.8 per cent of enterprises in the sector remain United Kingdom-owned, with their registered office address in Scotland.

John Mason

I note the cabinet secretary’s points about the turnover and the jobs being in Scotland, but profits are clearly going overseas. The majority of the top five whisky and salmon business owners are from outside of Scotland. Surely, the Government should be concerned that the profits are leaving Scotland.

Mairi Gougeon

I appreciate the point that the member raises, and we want to ensure that we maximise the benefits for Scotland wherever we can.

As part of our overall approach to increasing economic growth in Scotland, we have the national strategy for economic transformation and Scotland’s inward investment plan, which aim to support and create a positive business environment that contributes to improvements in commercial confidence and investment, as well as to Scotland’s overall attractiveness as a location for inward investment.

The benefits of carefully targeted inward investment can be seen across Scotland’s economy. There are supply chain opportunities, and we also see productivity improvements through innovation. Those additional spillover benefits act to create opportunities for existing Scottish-owned businesses by providing them with access to markets and technologies that they might not otherwise have benefited from.

Through Scotland’s inward investment plan, we seek to attract the knowledge, know-how, products and technologies that do not readily exist in Scotland, to enhance and complement our clusters, supply chains and communities.

Can the cabinet secretary comment on the need to support the rural economy, support local suppliers and ensure that public food procurement is as strong as it possibly can be?

Cabinet secretary, you may answer that question to the extent that it relates to the primary question.

Mairi Gougeon

I absolutely agree with the points that Brian Whittle has made. He has repeatedly raised in the chamber the importance of public procurement and how we can strengthen that as much as possible to benefit our local producers and our local suppliers. I am happy to continue to discuss that with Mr Whittle.

In order to address some of the issues around that complex landscape, the key vehicle that we can look at is the good food nation plan; we have recently consulted on the plan and are considering the responses. I am more than happy to continue to engage with the member.

Land Reform (Scotland) Bill (Community Engagement Provisions)

To ask the Scottish Government what forms of community engagement the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill mandates in relation to the creation of a land management plan for large land holdings. (S6O-03485)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands (Mairi Gougeon)

The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill seeks to empower communities and ensure that the benefits of land ownership, and decisions about how land is owned, managed and used, are more widely shared. The bill sets out that owners of very large landholdings will be required to engage with local communities on the development—and significant changes to—a land management plan. The detail of what is required to meet the engagement requirements will be set out in regulations, following further consultation, to ensure that there is meaningful collaboration and community engagement in decisions about land.

Foysol Choudhury

Landowners, farmers and crofters also struggle with fly-tipping and its negative effect on their time and money. Constituents report that the problem is getting worse, with some councils instituting a booking system for tips. What is the Scottish Government doing to tackle fly-tipping?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I have to repeat that the supplementary question should relate to the question in the Business Bulletin, which in this case is from Mr Choudhury himself. Perhaps the cabinet secretary could respond to the extent that the creation of a land management plan in the context of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill might mandate attention to the issue that Mr Choudhury has raised.

Mairi Gougeon

The member raises a hugely important point, because fly-tipping is a blight on our countryside. Fly-tipping, our overall litter strategy and how we tackle those issues sit within another portfolio, but I would be more than happy to follow up with the member to give a more detailed and specific response on the issues that he has raised.

I have two supplementary questions, which I hope are supplementary to the principal question.

Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Although there are some good examples of landowners utilising the potential of a holding’s natural capital, does the cabinet secretary share my view that, if someone can afford to buy an estate that costs millions of pounds, they can also afford to ensure that the natural capital potential of the piece of Scotland that they have the privilege of owning is fully utilised for the community as a whole?

Mairi Gougeon

I thank the member for her really important question. Ultimately, we want Scotland to be a country where rights and responsibilities in relation to land and our natural capital are fully recognised and fulfilled. Investment in restoring and protecting Scotland’s natural environment is essential if we are to have any hope of addressing the nature and climate emergencies that we face, especially at the pace and scale required.

It is a public responsibility, but it is also a private responsibility, so we will ultimately need both sources of finance to work well together if we are to achieve our very ambitious climate and biodiversity goals.

It is important to point out that our forthcoming natural capital markets framework will set out the requirements for all market participants to contribute to our vision for a values-led, high-integrity, responsible investment in natural capital.

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill policy memorandum states:

“The Bill makes no provision in respect of public funding, but measures are being brought forward in the Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill that will enable the Scottish Ministers to attach certain conditions when providing financial assistance.”

Will the minister confirm what those conditions are and what landowners will be subjected to?

Mairi Gougeon

As the member will no doubt be aware, and as I have talked about a number of times in the relevant committee when I have attended it, it is fundamental to our approach and how we develop our policy that we work with our farmers, crofters and land managers to ensure that we have a policy that is deliverable, works and does everything that we want it to do for food production and tackling the climate and nature crises.

I will continue to keep the member and the Parliament updated as that work progresses, but we have set out the staging of that work in our agricultural reform route map.

Flood Damage (Compensation for Farmers)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how much money it has distributed to farmers to address any damage caused by recent flooding. (S6O-03486)

The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

More than £306,000 of agricultural flood bank repair grant scheme payments have been processed, and because many farmers have been unable to carry out repairs due to the exceptionally wet spring, with areas of flooding only now drying and river levels dropping to normal levels, making it finally possible to get on to the land to do repairs, the Scottish Government has extended the deadline for repairs to be carried out and claimed for from 31 May to 31 July.

Liam Kerr

I am grateful for the update. Recently, the Prime Minister announced a £75 million flood-fighting fund and an index for United Kingdom-wide food security issues. The UK Government’s pledge last week of a further £50 million of support south of the border to help farmers hit by flooding and exceptional wet weather as part of its farming recovery fund was widely welcomed. What precisely will the Scottish Government do to support farmers in Scotland, such as looking to replicate those huge UK Government sums?

Jim Fairlie

I take the member’s point, but we have had no notification of any of that funding coming here to Scotland. The Scottish Government has put a capital grants fund of £1.8 million into play to help farmers in the current crisis. Given the wet weather that we have had, we are still waiting for applications to come in, to allow farmers to complete the work that the funding is there for.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The minister knows that I am frustrated that there is no river catchment management plan, no clear advice for farmers about how they should manage water on their land and in the rivers, and no grants available for natural water management. Will the new flood resilience strategy include plans, advice and grants?

Jim Fairlie

I absolutely take on board Willie Rennie’s points. I recently hosted a round-table meeting on river flood management. The conversation was about catchment areas and how we are going to mitigate flooding. We accept that we are dealing with issues that are to do with a changing climate, and we need to put in place resilience to allow us to deal with flooding.

Scallop Dredging (Licensing)

4. Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the issuing of licences for scallop dredging activities that may cause harm to priority marine habitats, in light of reports of harm being caused to such habitats, including the herring spawning grounds off North Erradale and Gairloch. (S6O-03487)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands (Mairi Gougeon)

Protecting our marine environment is vital for the viability of our marine industries and to halt the loss of biodiversity. The area near Gairloch where herring spawning recently occurred is mostly within the proposed Port Erradale priority marine features management area, where bottom-contacting mobile fishing gear would be prohibited. In line with advice from NatureScot, we are prioritising protection for those priority marine features, as part of a wider package of fisheries management measures for inshore marine protected areas.

In Scotland, fishing activity is regulated in line with Government obligations, including the national marine plan.

Ariane Burgess

Prominent conservation charities such as the National Trust and the Marine Conservation Society have recently accused the Scottish Government of repeatedly missing deadlines to address the impacts of overfishing and climate breakdown on our seas. In the light of the judicial review, which found that the Scottish Government must take decisions in line with its national marine plan, will the Government recommit to the management of fisheries on an ecosystems basis and prioritise achieving that through a just and swift transition?

Mairi Gougeon

I will make a couple of points. The Scottish Government accepts the court’s ruling on the judicial review and we are working to put in place a practical and proportionate process to ensure that we can continue to licence in line with that judgment. As we have also set out, there has been a long-term and on-going piece of work on our priority marine features, marine protected areas and the fisheries management measures in relation to that.

Putting in place the remaining measures that are required to protect those features and our marine protected areas remains a high priority for the Scottish Government. We want to achieve that as soon as possible. Developing the evidence base and effective fisheries management measures for more than 160 sites in the inshore area is a complex and challenging process, but it is a high-priority piece of work.

Jamie Halcro Johnston has a supplementary.

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Apologies for being a little late into the chamber, Presiding Officer.

The cabinet secretary wrote to me about the squid derogation and said that there was neither evidence to support it nor evidence to oppose it, and that, consequently, a pilot would be undertaken. Will the pilot be undertaken and concluded in time for next year, so that the squid derogation, if feasible, will be allowed?

Mairi Gougeon

I know that officials have been meeting the fisheries interests in Orkney in relation to the derogation, and we are keen that any proposals should progress as quickly as possible. I cannot set out a definitive timescale or what that will look like at the moment, but I am more than happy to follow up with the member on that.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

With reference to herring spawning areas such as those off Gairloch, is there not an opportunity to work with the fishing community to put in place practical measures that would enable the quick closure of fish spawning areas for the duration of the event, so that no damage is done to juvenile stocks?

Mairi Gougeon

Rhoda Grant makes a really important point about other measures that we can undertake. We get advice from NatureScot on that work. As I have already outlined in response to the question from Ariane Burgess, we have an on-going complex and challenging piece of work on priority marine features, marine protected areas and the fisheries management measures, which is looking at that. Taking that strategic approach to herring spawning and spawning grounds is helpful in relation to the evidence gathering and the subsequent decisions about protection. That work is continuing alongside, and helping to inform, the wider work that is going on in that area.

I am more than happy to consider or discuss further any proposals with the member, while recognising that priority marine features and marine protected areas are the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy—although there is a strong read-across to my portfolio, too.

Human Ecology (Rural Affairs Policy Development)

5. Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what place human ecology, specifically a focus on the relationship between the natural environment and the social environment, has in its rural affairs policy development. (S6O-03488)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands (Mairi Gougeon)

The Scottish Government recognises that the health of our economy and society are closely linked to the quality of our natural environment. We are integrating a natural capital approach to ensure that our decisions take that into account. Our national strategy for economic transformation embodies those principles through its ambition to rebuild Scotland’s natural capital as part of our vision for a wellbeing economy. That is a public and a private responsibility, and we are taking action to ensure that investment in natural capital is of high integrity.

Michelle Thomson

Since 1990, the Scottish National Party has supported the Brundtland commission principles with regard to the environment, the economy and quality of life for our rural communities. Does the cabinet secretary accept that care is needed to ensure that organisations—and, specifically, hedge funds—do not access Government funds merely to use them to increase resource value and trade in carbon credits, rather than to serve the environmental and economic needs of our local communities?

Mairi Gougeon

Michelle Thomson raises a hugely important point. Investment in restoring and protecting Scotland’s natural environment will be essential if we are to address the nature and climate emergencies at the pace and scale that are required.

However, that is both a public and a private responsibility. We are committed to ensuring that all investment in natural capital is done in a responsible way, and that it contributes to community benefits and the robust environmental outcomes that we need to see from that investment.

Building on the interim principles for responsible investment in natural capital that we published in 2022, our forthcoming natural capital market framework will set out the requirements for all market participants to contribute to our vision for the values-led, high-integrity, responsible investment in natural capital that we all want to see.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

With regard to rural affairs policy development, will the cabinet secretary provide an update on how the proposals to create a new national park are progressing? Will she provide commitments that, should any new national park be created, including in Galloway, its focus will be on food security, food production and agricultural activity; that she will include the communities that will be most impacted by the proposals for the park; and that national parks will not be a barrier to rural communities?

I ask that the cabinet secretary focuses on the human ecology impacts in that area.

Mairi Gougeon

I will try to, Presiding Officer.

A number of key points were raised in that question. First, I reiterate that the Government takes food security and our food production seriously. That is why we set out in our vision for agriculture the importance of food production, as well as of tackling the climate and nature emergencies. Food security is critically important, which is why we established a food security unit in the Scottish Government.

Emma Harper mentioned national parks, and I fully appreciate the concerns that she has raised on that issue. It is important to set out a few points about the process for parks. The deadline for nominations from communities and organisations for their areas to be considered was 29 February. The applications that we received are being appraised against the criteria that were published in the appraisal framework.

That includes the local support criterion. Nominations were required to set out who had been involved with the development of the nomination and to demonstrate the level of support for the proposal. Applicants were also asked to set out how they had engaged with local communities in the process, and to highlight details of any opposition or concerns that they had encountered.

Following the completion of that process, we will decide which of the nominations should be taken forward to the next stage. There is then quite a detailed process—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, cabinet secretary. I will have to ask you to perhaps write to Emma Harper on the question, which was slightly off the main question in any event.

Question 6 is from James Dornan, who joins us online.

Brexit (Impact on Agriculture)

To ask the Scottish Government what analysis has been undertaken of the impact of Brexit on agriculture, in light of the National Audit Office’s report on developing post-Brexit border arrangements. (S6O-03489)

The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

Brexit has had an extremely damaging impact on agriculture. It means that we no longer have multiyear certainty over funding, so farmers and crofters are facing difficult long-term planning. It has resulted in trade deals, such as those with Australia and New Zealand, that have disadvantaged our industry. It has disrupted supply chains, created new trade barriers and driven up food prices, exacerbating the cost of living crisis, particularly for rural communities. It has meant that we have had to expend resource on new biosecurity protections for Scotland via the border target operating model. No wonder Scotland voted to remain in the European Union.

James Dornan

It is clear from that response that Scotland’s communities and businesses are being asked to pay a heavy price for being a part of broken Brexit Britain. Brexit is an ideologically driven disaster that we did not vote for but had forced on us anyway. Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is clear that only the Scottish National Party can be trusted to steer Scotland through this nightmare, which the Tories forced on us and which Labour is content with?

Minister, please answer in the context of the original question.

Jim Fairlie

Yes, I agree. Those decisions have pushed up household costs, hit the economy hard and cut the money that is available to spend on public services, not least the national health service, and on support for businesses. I will go further and say that the simple truth is that the only way to protect Scotland from such Westminster folly is for decisions about Scotland to be made in Scotland, and the only way to deliver that is with the SNP and independence.

Tim Eagle (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Vets play a vital role in relation to border controls, which is important on the back of Brexit. Will the minister update the Parliament on the plans to introduce a Scottish veterinary service? I have heard a rumour that that vital policy announcement from the SNP is about to be scrapped.

I would have to come back to Tim Eagle on that. I do not know the answer to that question. [Interruption.]

Wildlife Crime

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to tackle wildlife crime. (S6O-03490)

I am sorry, but I did not hear the question.

Ms Chapman, would you please repeat the question?

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to tackle wildlife crime.

Jim Fairlie

Tackling wildlife crime remains a priority for the Scottish Government. The Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Act 2024 builds on other legislation that we have introduced in recent years and contains a number of key changes to help to tackle wildlife crime. The investigative powers of the Scottish SPCA will act as a strong and robust deterrent to wildlife crime. I am also pleased to note that the annual wildlife crime report that was published in April has shown a 7 per cent decrease in the number of recorded offences from the previous reporting year.

Maggie Chapman

A few weeks ago, a young satellite-tagged hen harrier disappeared in suspicious circumstances in the Angus glens. Indeed, the north-east had the highest number of wildlife offences in 2020-21 and the second highest in 2021-22, which is the last year for which data is available. Many organisations, including internationally respected ones such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, are concerned that wildlife crime is not being taken seriously enough. Does the minister believe that investigatory and enforcement bodies have what they need, both in terms of resources and policy direction, to address wildlife crimes, including poisoning, shooting and illegal trapping of birds of prey?

Clearly, the Scottish Government takes wildlife crime very seriously. That is why we increased the powers of the SSPCA. We will always do everything that we can to protect against wildlife crime.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

During the autumn, a golden eagle mysteriously vanished in the Borders and is now believed to have been shot. Named Merrick, she was part of the prestigious south of Scotland golden eagle project. I have visited the project and know about the time and dedication that are required to bring chicks to maturity and gradually introduce them to the wild. A satellite tag, blood and feathers were found where Merrick was last tracked—near Heriot, in my constituency—indicating that she was shot, bled badly and was killed, with her body and her tag removed. Police Scotland has worked with land managers, raptor workers and the public as part of the investigation, but can the minister advise whether any progress has been made in identifying the culprits?

I add that most gamekeepers and land managers are good folk and that it is the bad guys and women whom we want to get. If no progress has been made, what other steps can be taken, for example, through whistleblowing?

Jim Fairlie

At the moment, I cannot give any further information about whether somebody has been identified as doing that. However, Christine Grahame’s comment about the gamekeeping community being part of the solution is vital, and I said that during the passage of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill. Gamekeepers have the most to lose through being discredited because of such crimes, but they are also the people who are best placed to help the Scottish Government, the Scottish police service and everyone else to cut out such crimes. That will actually turn around the narrative to the benefit of those in that community, and I encourage them to be part of it.

I can squeeze in question 8 if I get succinct questions and answers.

Bute House Agreement (Impact of Ending)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the ending of the Bute house agreement will have on its rural policy. (S6O-03491)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands (Mairi Gougeon)

The ending of the Bute house agreement will have no impact on our determination to continue to deliver for rural Scotland. The Government is committed to building a vibrant, sustainable and inclusive rural economy, and we will set out practical steps to deliver on the First Minister’s priorities in the forthcoming programme for government.

We have already taken forward a range of action to support rural Scotland, where we have the powers to do so, such as through the rural and islands housing action plan, the addressing depopulation action plan and the agricultural reform programme.

Annie Wells

Under the Bute house agreement, the Scottish Government committed to introducing highly protected marine areas, which would have, in effect, instituted a fishing ban on waters around Scotland. Although those plans were scrapped due to widespread opposition, in January, the Scottish Government’s climate change national adaptation plan proposed introducing

“fisheries closures ... in offshore waters between 400-800m depth by 2027”.

Now that the Bute house agreement has ended, will the cabinet secretary abandon those plans to close offshore fisheries?

Mairi Gougeon

On the point that Annie Wells raised on HPMAs, I hope that she welcomes the fact that, after listening to the results of our consultation, we decided that we would no longer take forward that policy. We heard the message loud and clear about the engagement that our coastal and island communities want on these important issues. We will continue to take that approach. We have a number of forums, including our fisheries management and conservation group and our regional inshore fisheries groups, through which we will continue to engage as we develop policy.

That concludes portfolio questions on rural affairs, land reform and islands. I apologise to the few members whom I was unable to call in the light of time constraints.

NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care

Minor Injuries Units

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the health secretary has had with local health and social care partnerships regarding minor injuries units. (S6O-03492)

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

My officials and I regularly meet national health service boards to discuss the performance and resilience of urgent and unscheduled care services. As Mr Burnett will know, decisions on how to deliver healthcare services are, ultimately, for local health boards and integration authorities to make.

Alexander Burnett

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the three minor injuries units in Huntly, Fraserburgh and Peterhead are closing overnight to save money. There are now concerns that the Grampian medical emergency department service will be reduced or cut from Huntly completely. All of that would be contrary to what the community was told at the start of the closures.

NHS Grampian is underfunded by more than £77 million, and constituents are extremely worried that this is a sign of more cuts to come. Will the cabinet secretary at least pause the closures to allow there to be meaningful consultation? Will he commit to providing the funding that is needed to keep those services open?

Neil Gray

Obviously, I expect local decisions to be based on patient need, demand and the sustainability of safe services. The MIUs at Jubilee hospital in Huntly, Peterhead community hospital and Fraserburgh community hospital are remaining open from 7 am to 7 pm, seven days a week.

If Mr Burnett wishes there to be further investment in the health service, he could talk to his colleagues in the United Kingdom Government, who passed on a cut to health services in NHS England and a cut to our block grant. In spite of that, we have decided to invest in our health boards through a 3 per cent real-terms increase in funding. However, pressures remain, which is why difficult decisions are having to be made across the board. We will look at what we can do to continue to support the provision of sustainable, safe and good services to communities across Scotland.

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

Waiting times in accident and emergency departments in Glasgow have been the worst on record this year. Twenty-nine A and E consultants at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital have written to the watchdog to raise serious patient safety concerns, and the Glasgow integration joint board is already proposing cuts, which would create backing up in A and E departments. Given all those pressures, will the cabinet secretary consider the option of extending the opening hours of the minor injuries units at Stobhill hospital and the New Victoria hospital in Glasgow to relieve the pressure on national health service A and E departments?

Neil Gray

As I said, such decisions are for local boards and integration authorities, but Mr Sweeney’s suggestion is one that can be considered.

We are seeing stabilisation in relation to the four-hour accident and emergency waiting time. I want to see continued improvement on that, which is why we are supporting interventions across the board to divert people from accident and emergency departments—if they do not need to be there—through the flow navigation centres that we are supporting and the additional capacity that we are providing, which I saw at Edinburgh royal infirmary yesterday, with regard to the more minor support that is required to come through our accident and emergency departments. We are also trying to provide the support that we wish to see at the back end of hospitals to address delayed discharges, so that the flow of patients through hospitals is better in order to support a faster process at the front door—our accident and emergency departments.

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I thank the cabinet secretary for his update on discussions with local health and social care partnerships. Will he provide an update on the impact of the Scottish Government’s national urgent and unscheduled care collaborative in supporting the treatment of minor injuries?

Neil Gray

Through our collaborative programme, we are supporting boards to implement changes that will target the key challenges in their systems, recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, which is why local decision making is so important. That includes ensuring that patients receive the right care at the right time in the right place, by improving access to flow navigation centres, which have been established in every mainland health board area to provide expert clinical advice, referrals to alternative services and, when necessary, scheduled appointments at accident and emergency for care that is not deemed to be an emergency, such as minor injuries.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met with NHS Ayrshire and Arran. (S6O-03493)

Ministers and Scottish Government officials regularly meet representatives of all health boards, including NHS Ayrshire and Arran.

Ruth Maguire

No one who is medically fit to leave should be in hospital, for both their own health and wellbeing and the efficient and effective running of the system. Recent discussions that I have had with my health board covered the issue that the fairly high number of delayed discharges is due to legal reasons, and that point was echoed on a Health, Social Care and Sport Committee visit to Skye. Will the Scottish Government take forward any work to raise awareness of power of attorney requirements or to simplify that process, to ensure that no one is in hospital for longer than they need to be?

Neil Gray

I thank Ruth Maguire for drawing attention to a really important area, which we touched on in the committee last week. Ruth Maguire is right that, consistently, about 20 per cent of delayed discharges relate to adults with incapacity. In our response to the Scottish Mental Health Law Review report, which was published in June last year, we committed to establishing a mental health and capacity law reform programme. We are due to publish the first delivery plan under that programme shortly.

Our main priority for early law reform centres on updating the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, and work has already begun to consider options for addressing long-standing gaps in law that relates to adults with incapacity to ensure stronger rights, protections and safeguards. That will include work on promoting and simplifying powers of attorney. However, we all have agency in that regard, so the work that Ruth Maguire is doing to raise awareness could be echoed by members across the chamber.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

In my recent discussions with NHS Ayrshire and Arran, which is obviously under extreme pressure, it said that there is now a critical need for an information technology system that communicates across primary and secondary care and pharmacy, as well as across NHS boards. Does the cabinet secretary recognise the urgency of that problem and that addressing it is a crucial first step in tackling the crisis in the NHS? If so, what is the Scottish Government doing to deliver an IT system that is fit for purpose?

Neil Gray

Having greater access to information across health and other statutory services and having the ability to share data are incredibly important to ensuring that we can respond most effectively across all statutory services and have the collaboration that we wish to see with community and voluntary services that support our work across health and social care. We will therefore continue to support work on updating our IT systems. Of course, that work would be much easier if we had the capital to make it happen. That has been hindered by a projected cut in capital from the UK Government of £1.3 billion over the next three years.

General Practitioner Sustainability Loan Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to restart the GP sustainability loan scheme, including by what date it expects to restart the scheme. (S6O-03494)

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

We greatly value the contribution that general practice makes to the nation’s health and want to ensure that general practitioner practices have the support that they need. That is why we intend to resume tranche 1 of the sustainability loan scheme in 2024-25, once we have completed the disbursement of funds for loans that are already completed and have confirmed the budget. That will likely not be until midway through the financial year.

Our preference remains to continue the loan scheme into tranche 2 and beyond. However, that will depend on whether the United Kingdom Government resumes the allocation of financial transactions capital—under the loans scheme that comes from the UK Government—for Scottish Government disbursement.

Jeremy Balfour

I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer, but Scotland’s GP services are in an alarming state. People are finding it harder and harder to get appointments, and the Scottish Government is failing to deliver on its commitments to deliver more GPs.

We have lost almost 100 practices in less than a decade. Now, with the indefinite pause on the loan scheme, a further 30 GP practices describe the situation as “precarious”. Can the cabinet secretary give those practices and their patients any assurance that those crucial services will not be closed?

The facts are that we in Scotland have more GPs per head of population than anywhere else in the UK and a record level—1,200—of GP doctors in training. [Interruption.]


Neil Gray

The fact that 90 per cent of all health interactions happen in primary care is why I said that we greatly value the contribution that general practice makes across all elements of primary care to support the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland. We know that the complexity with which people are arriving at our GP surgeries is putting great pressure on them. That is why we support the sustainability loan scheme and want to see the redisbursement of funds later this year, and it is why we wish to go beyond tranche 2. A lot of that will depend on decisions that are made elsewhere, but we will keep investing in training and support for our primary care services, because we need them more than ever. I want their services to expand, not retract.

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

I welcome the update on the GP sustainability loan scheme. Will the cabinet secretary outline any correspondence with the UK Government regarding reinstating funding for the scheme, following significant reductions, particularly prior to the dissolution of their Parliament?

Neil Gray

Since 2022-23, the Scottish Government has seen a 62 per cent reduction in what is described as the financial transactions allocation, which relates to loans that allow us to invest in particular areas of provision. Ahead of the autumn statement in November and the spring statement in March, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government called for the UK Government to provide clarity about the future of our financial transactions allocation and to increase investment in capital projects. However, the UK Government has provided no clarity and no additional capital for FT funding for Scotland. Coupled with our real-terms reduction in capital funding, we will have to continue making tough decisions to reprioritise our infrastructure pipeline to ensure that we spend within the limited funding that we have available.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Lothian local medical committee said in a statement that half of GP practices in Lothian have received bills for their facilities totalling £1.6 million per year, which is likely to lead to reduced staffing. While GPs are being excessively charged, a practice in East Calder has staff wearing wellies because of a leaky roof. Repair is nowhere in sight. Will the cabinet secretary outline how the Scottish Government is working to restore GPs’ confidence and give them facilities that are worthy of their important work?

Neil Gray

I thank Foysol Choudhury for highlighting the issue at East Calder, which I visited with local representatives Hannah Bardell MP and Angela Constance MSP earlier this month. I saw the very situation that he outlined. I would be more than happy to share with him the work that I have asked my officials and Lothian NHS Board to embark on. I recognise the challenges that are there, as there are in other medical centres across Scotland, for which we wish to see further capital investment.

NHS Waiting Times

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to reduce NHS waiting times. (S6O-03495)

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

As Jackie Baillie knows, an initial investment of £30 million has been targeted at a series of national and local plans to reduce pandemic backlogs by maximising the use of local and national resources across Scotland.

We have committed the majority of that first £30 million of the £300 million over three years to support the reduction of long waits for appointments—by 100,000—diagnostics and treatment in specialties including cancer, dermatology, ENT—ear, nose and throat—general surgery, gynaecology, ophthalmology, orthopaedics and urology.

The majority of the additional activity will take place between now and autumn this year. We will continue to work with the national centre for sustainable delivery—CFSD—and local health boards to build on national and regional working, embed good practice and reduce variation to ensure equity of access to care across Scotland.

Jackie Baillie

Yesterday’s figures show that the Scottish National Party’s plan is simply not working, as more than 840,000 people are now on waiting lists. That is almost one in six Scots. More shocking still is the fact that more than 87,000 people have been waiting more than a year, which is 15,000 more than there were at this time a year ago.

In July 2022, Humza Yousaf announced a series of new targets to eradicate the longest waits. Not a single one of them has been met. Indeed, NHS England has only 232 cases waiting more than two years whereas, by contrast, the equivalent figure in Scotland is 7,140.

That situation simply cannot continue. Will the cabinet secretary come clean with the people of Scotland and concede that his Government’s NHS recovery plan is not working and that it urgently needs to go back to the drawing board?

Neil Gray

No, I will not, because the figures that Jackie Baillie quoted are not directly comparable. She needs to be careful in how she uses the figures so that she does not fall foul of the Office for National Statistics.

I set out the investments that we are making to bring down waits. On the longest waits, we have seen significant progress, which will be enhanced by the investments that we are making in national treatment centres, by the first £30 million that I spoke of and by the new theatre scheduling technology that I announced yesterday.

However, waiting lists are not unique to Scotland, as much as Jackie Baillie would like to pretend that they are. The extension of her logic would be to say that the record waiting lists in Wales are purely the fault of the Welsh Government. [Interruption.]


Neil Gray

I am much more generous to my Welsh Government colleagues in respect of the reasons why we see record waiting lists in Wales.

I prefer the logic of Jackie Baillie’s colleague Wes Streeting on the reason for the health service pressures across the United Kingdom. He said last week, and repeated in the media round this morning, that

“all roads ... lead ... to Westminster”,

and that the decisions that are being taken in the UK have a detrimental impact on the health services in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. That is why we need a UK Government that will not just follow Tory spending austerity but will invest in the health service, as the Scottish Government is doing with record levels of investment and a rise in investment.

I call James Dornan, who joins us remotely.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

Cabinet secretary, given your comments, you clearly share Mr Streeting’s concerns regarding the sustainability of funding. Will you give us an update on the latest engagement with the UK Government in that regard?

First, members are required to speak through the chair. Secondly, we should have had Mr Dornan on camera but we did not.

Neil Gray

I am sorry that we did not see Mr Dornan’s sonsie face.

In 2024-25, our additional health investment—[Interruption.] There is Mr Dornan. In 2024-25, our additional health investment exceeds the consequentials that have been received. However, the nature of current funding arrangements means that UK Government decisions on additional investment in health are critical to our ability to support growth in NHS funding.

My predecessor wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in December, urging him to provide investment to support reform and financial sustainability. The chancellor’s spring statement provided health consequentials of just £237 million—less than the £470 million in-year health funding that we received for 2023-24 and less than is needed, given the challenges that we face. Therefore, I wrote to the Prime Minister last week, highlighting again the importance of investment in health and certainty about that investment to support NHS services and staff, which continue to be under extreme pressure across the whole UK.

Tess White (North East Scotland) (Con)

This cannot be deflected: people who have been referred to NHS Tayside’s neurology service face waits of up to 98 weeks on treatment for nerve damage, multiple sclerosis and a host of other serious conditions. The situation pre-dates the pandemic, when the board paid private clinics in order that it could just tread water. Now, NHS Tayside is being asked to shave an extra £16.5 million from its budget. Will the cabinet secretary outline how those unacceptable waiting times in NHS Tayside will improve?

Neil Gray

It is unacceptable that anyone is having to wait too long for services, so I apologise to them for that.

We are making investments in our health service, with a 3 per cent real-terms increase to our health boards, which was not passed on to the NHS in England. Lack of budget hampers our ability to make the further investments that we need to make beyond those that we have made. We recognise that, even with a real-terms increase to our health boards, they are still under substantial pressure because of the complexity of the conditions with which patients are arriving.

We will continue to make investments and we will continue to support NHS Tayside and others in the work that needs to be done to reduce those waits, but it would be much easier and would be help a lot more if we had a supportive UK Government that was willing to invest in the health service and allowed us to do the same in Scotland.

Cervical Cancer Screening

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to reduce any health inequalities, specifically in relation to the uptake of cervical cancer screening appointments. (S6O-03496)

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

The Scottish Government remains committed to improving the uptake of cervical screening and to tackling inequalities within the national screening programmes.

As Carol Mochan might be aware, we funded Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to carry out a two-year programme to understand the barriers that are preventing cervical screening uptake. We will embed that learning across the programme. We are deeply saddened by the news of the closure of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and we acknowledge the incredible work that it has carried out over the past 25 years to improve access to and uptake of cervical screening, as well as its visibility. We continue to work with colleagues across the screening programme to understand the impact that the trust’s closure will have and what steps, if any, will be needed to address them.

We also commit £1 million annually to tackling inequalities within the cancer screening programmes, and in July last year we published the “Scottish Equity in Screening Strategy 2023-2026” with National Screening Oversight Scotland, thereby providing direction and focus on tackling screening inequalities.

Carol Mochan

As we know from the most recent annual statistics, there was inequality of more than 10 percentage points difference between uptake in the most deprived and least deprived areas. That stark and divisive inequality serves as a reminder that under this Government, sadly, our postcode can still determine our health outcomes. Can the minister update the Parliament on when we might expect wider roll-out of self-sampling—in particular, in communities where uptake of existing screening services is lower?

Jenni Minto

I agree that that is an important area to look at. We have been working with the United Kingdom National Screening Committee, which is an independent expert advisory group that advises all four United Kingdom nations on screening. We recognise the potential of that. In the meantime, we have had a study in Dumfries and Galloway, and we are in the process of reviewing it alongside the YouScreen study that was done in England. The results of that review are expected later this year.

Community Pharmacies (Dispensing Errors)

To ask the Scottish Government what role national health service boards have in the monitoring and minimising of dispensing errors by community pharmacies. (S6O-03497)

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

Health boards have local systems in place to encourage the immediate reporting of dispensing errors or incidents. Those reports enable health boards to understand the causes of incidents, share learning to improve patient safety and minimise the risk of recurrence. In addition, NHS Education for Scotland provides guidance on how to develop and undertake a significant event analysis process and embed it as an improvement tool, with the aim of improving care and learning from patient safety incidents and near misses, such as dispensing errors.

Bob Doris

A constituent of mine was subject to four dispensing errors, including being wrongly supplied antipsychotic drugs, and important heart medication being missing. Although we ultimately got reassurances from the pharmacy in question, it was worrying to discover that the errors were not reported to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and that reporting is wholly voluntary. The system is reliant on inspections from the General Pharmaceutical Council. Will the minister review the concerns that I have raised and consider a more robust and mandatory system for the reporting of dispensing errors in community pharmacies to NHS boards in Scotland?

Jenni Minto

I thank Mr Doris for raising an important issue that really should not have arisen. All health boards should ensure that robust systems are in place for reporting dispensing errors. I am aware that the chief executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde investigated the instances of dispensing errors as highlighted by Mr Doris and is taking steps to ensure that they are not repeated. As Mr Doris pointed out, the General Pharmaceutical Council is a regulatory body and has powers to conduct inspections of pharmacies to assess whether they are meeting the required standards.

The chief pharmaceutical officer’s strategy, “Achieving Excellence in Pharmaceutical Care: A Strategy for Scotland”, committed to providing resources to support the safer use of medicines. We are working to ensure that quality improvement is integral to the community pharmacy contractual arrangements. I regularly meet Community Pharmacy Scotland, and I will put the issue on the agenda for our next meeting.

Question 7 comes from Collette Stevenson, who joins us remotely.

NHS Lanarkshire (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met with NHS Lanarkshire, and what was discussed. (S6O-03498)

Ministers and Scottish Government officials regularly meet representatives of all health boards, including NHS Lanarkshire, to discuss matters of importance to local people, including my constituents.

Collette Stevenson

I have been contacted by a constituent who is struggling to get access to an insulin pump. Will the cabinet secretary set out the actions that the Government has taken in recent years to advance diabetes care? Will he outline what recent discussions the Government and health boards have engaged in to ensure that diabetic technology is as accessible as possible, particularly in the current challenging financial circumstances?

Neil Gray

I thank Collette Stevenson for raising an important area of preventative work in healthcare.

The Scottish Government is aware that diabetes technologies can significantly improve the lives of people with type 1 diabetes. Between 2016 and 2022, we invested £29.6 million of additional funding to support the increased provision of diabetes technologies, and we commissioned the accelerated national innovation adoption pathway to establish a national team, with the aim of rolling out technology faster and more efficiently across Scotland.

I am also delighted to confirm that, yesterday, we announced £8.8 million of funding for 2024-25 to expand access to diabetes technologies to all children and young people with type 1 diabetes and to increase the provision for adults, which I hope will be helpful to Collette Stevenson’s constituents. That investment will allow us to continue developing innovative and preventative care models for diabetes in Scotland that have a focus on digital pathways and peer support.

We can squeeze in question 8, provided that we have succinct questions and answers.

Alcohol Harm (Cost)

8. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what estimate it has made of the total annual cost of alcohol harm in Scotland, including to the national health service and healthcare, in light of the Institute of Alcohol Studies reporting that the annual cost of alcohol harm in England is £27.4 billion, which includes a £4.9 billion cost to the NHS in England. (S6O-03499)

The Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy (Christina McKelvie)

The Scottish Government is determined to reduce alcohol-related harm, including by increasing the minimum unit price and through the record investment in treatment services that it provided in 2023-24. In 2023, the Social Market Foundation, based on research that was carried out by the York Health Economics Consortium in 2010 and the University of Aberdeen in 2012, estimated that the alcohol-related societal and economic costs in Scotland in 2021-22 could have amounted to between approximately £5 billion to £10 billion annually. That research also estimates that the health and social care-related societal costs arising from alcohol use in Scotland could be between £500 million and £700 million annually.

Monica Lennon

Experts and campaigners rightly want more preventative action, including minimum unit pricing uprating annually, restrictions on harmful alcohol marketing, and more and faster treatment and support for people living with alcohol use problems. Will the Government bring forward a debate or a statement to Parliament to address those points, to reduce the ever-increasing cost of alcohol harm on our public finances and the people of Scotland?

Christina McKelvie

We are working with a number of organisations across the board to look at how we tackle alcohol harm in Scotland. I am happy to share that information with Monica Lennon. We are also considering stakeholders’ calls for minimum unit pricing to be uprated on a yearly basis. I will come back to Parliament at a later date with an update on that work, which is currently under way.

That concludes portfolio question time. There will be a brief pause to allow members to change positions, should they so wish.