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Meeting date: Thursday, May 12, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 12 May 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Striking University Staff, Portfolio Question Time, Cladding Remediation, Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Appointments to Scottish Fiscal Commission, Business Motion, Decision Time, International Nurses Day


General Question Time

Good morning. The first item of business is general question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, I would appreciate short and succinct questions, and answers to match.

Ferries (Procurement)

To ask the Scottish Government what lessons have been learned regarding the procurement of new ferries. (S6O-01078)

Transport Scotland works closely with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd in relation to the procurement of new ferries and on lessons learned from previous processes. The recent report by Audit Scotland noted that, since the 801 and 802 project, a number of improvements have already been made, including CMAL undertaking additional risk assessments, enhanced financial diligence on preferred bidders and the employment of additional independent technical and commercial support.

The problem with the email that was published yesterday is that the Scottish ministers are asking us to accept that a one-line email that simply alludes to a conversation with the Deputy First Minister is sufficient for the Government to undertake a contract that is worth the best part of £100 million, with, as it turns out, hundreds of millions of pounds of liabilities further to that. Yesterday, Audit Scotland’s statement made it clear that that is not sufficient documentary evidence for the decision and, last week, in relation to the decision making on the contract, the permanent secretary accepted that there was a question whether the law had been complied with.

To learn lessons, one must accept the mistakes that have been made. Will the minister accept Audit Scotland’s position of last night that the email is “insufficient documentary evidence” of the decision? Does she accept the permanent secretary’s position that there is a question whether there has been a breach of the law? If there is a question about a possible breach of the law, will ministers now refer themselves to the relevant authorities so that that can be investigated?

In Daniel Johnson’s question, he speaks of one email signing off the procurement of ferries. That is how Government works; it is how decisions are signed off by ministers on a daily basis. That is the job and how it is processed.

On the lessons that have been learned—

Outrageous! That is not how Government works.

Ms Gilruth, will you just give me a moment? Members, we will hear the minister’s response.

First, CMAL conducted the procurement process in its capacity as the procuring authority. It then awarded the contract to Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd and signed it off, following ministerial approval, as was outlined to the Parliament yesterday. It was signed off by the then Minister for Transport and Islands.

On Daniel Johnson’s substantive question, we have already confirmed to members that we will look at a formal lessons-learned exercise on the completion of hulls 801 and 802. The Scottish Government, Transport Scotland and CMAL have already accepted all the recommendations of the Audit Scotland report. CMAL and Transport Scotland have already confirmed that, in future, all major vessel procurements will require a full refund guarantee to be in place. As Audit Scotland has reported, CMAL has redesigned its tender process so that it will carry out additional risk assessments on all bidders, to undertake enhanced financial diligence, as I have previously stated. That will include financial monitoring by an independent accountancy firm before and after the contract award.

It sounds as though there have been no lessons learned. I have been nagging the minister for weeks to publish the project Neptune report. If she published it, we could start to have a conversation about how we procure ferries. When will she publish it? There is no barrier to that now, so she could do it next week.

Mr Simpson knows that I have already given an assurance to the Parliament, and directly to him, that I will publish the project Neptune report. He will understand that some of the content of the project Neptune report was impacted by the purdah restrictions for the local government elections, but I recognise the need for transparency on this and I am liaising with officials about publishing the report as quickly as possible. Indeed, I believe that, only last night, Mr Simpson made direct representations on the matter to the director of ferries at Transport Scotland.

For the bodies themselves, I will not set out the detail of that today—not in an answer during general question time—but it is essential that we have transparency on that. I recognise the need for that and I have already given Mr Simpson an undertaking on the publication of the project Neptune report.

It is clear that the yard won contracts to build three other vessels as well as the 801 and 802. Does the minister agree that the recent reports on the owner of the floating barge indicates that there were issues at the yard that affected public contracts, and put the yard into liquidation, so the nationalisation of the yard was the only way to create a business that was fit to win future public and private contracts?

Yes, I agree with Mr McMillan’s observations. We have set out two very clear priorities for the yard’s management. Those are to finish building the two ferries that are under construction, and to get the yard into shape so that it can compete for new work. That is absolutely vital. Although any decisions about pursuing future vessel contracts, whether they be in the public or private sector, are for the yard itself, I know that Ferguson Marine is actively pursuing a range of different opportunities and ministers will support the yard in any way that we can to help to secure those opportunities.

I think that the minister does not realise that she has made the situation a whole lot worse. She might be satisfied with one-line emails signing off on hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, but Audit Scotland is not, and it said so last night. We need a proper public inquiry into what has happened. We need the Government to refer itself to the authorities, because there is now a question about state aid, as the permanent secretary made clear last week. When is the minister going to wake up and realise the mess that she is in?

I am not sure that there was necessarily a question in what Mr Rennie said. As I have already explained, the Auditor General welcomed the evidence that was given to the Parliament previously. He said:

“We are pleased that CMAL has acknowledged some of our recommendations on the adequacy of the contract and the need for milestone payments to be reviewed to ensure that they are more closely aligned with quality and progress”.—[Official Report, Public Audit Committee, 21 April 2022; c 39.]

CMAL and Transport Scotland have already agreed that all major future vessel procurements will require a full builder’s refund guarantee to be in place.

Community Hospitals

To ask the Scottish Government what role it considers community hospitals will have in the delivery of national health service services in the future. (S6O-01079)

Community hospitals form an integral part of local healthcare delivery systems. I was delighted to visit Falkirk community hospital this morning. Community hospitals help to provide personalised, holistic and patient-centred care closer to people’s homes. They can provide a wide range of services, including non-acute in-patient services, particularly post-acute geriatric care, rehabilitation services and palliative care. They have a potential part to play in facilitating service integration locally, and they often act as a locale for the development of a single point of access to integrated services.

In Perthshire, there are community hospitals in Blairgowrie, Crieff and Pitlochry. They have all seen a reduction in services in the past number of years, and the process was accelerated during the Covid pandemic. There are now indications that some of the services that were removed during the Covid pandemic, such as minor injuries units with open access, will not be reinstated. That process is being gone through without any consultation with the local communities. Can we have an assurance from the cabinet secretary that local communities will be fully engaged and consulted before decisions are taken about the future of those services?

Murdo Fraser raises an important point and I agree with him that, when decisions are made, whether it be by the local health board or the local health and social care partnership, they should be made in conjunction with members of the public.

Mr Fraser has raised a number of issues to do with Pitlochry community hospital, Blairgowrie and some of the minor injuries units. I have detailed information on each of those issues. If there are particular concerns or specific issues about the region that he represents, I would be more than happy to raise them with the local health board and health and social care partnership.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the Edington cottage hospital in East Lothian within South Scotland, and the outstanding invitation from the broad community group to discuss the current situation with him. Last night, we heard that it will be more than two months before NHS Lothian is in a position to make a decision about staffing for the reopening of the hospital. What does the cabinet secretary say about that on-going delay until after the NHS is removed from the crisis that was occasioned by Covid?

I take issue with some of the premises of the member’s question. First, he knows that I have met the community group as he was on that call. I have also met MSPs and we have had a debate in the Parliament about the Edington cottage hospital, so I am well versed in the issues.

The second point that I take issue with is his suggestion that the national health service is suddenly no longer under significant pressure. That is not the case. I visit hospitals and community services on a very regular basis—indeed, I have just come back from Falkirk community hospital—and I know that our NHS still faces extremely significant challenges.

My understanding is that the decision on the Edington hospital continues to be reviewed and monitored regularly by NHS Lothian’s gold command. I would expect it to continue its engagement with MSPs and local community groups. I am sure that Mr Whitfield will be fully aware of the fact, and will agree, that the NHS is still under extreme pressure. Therefore, it is only right that such decisions are kept under review.

Infrastructure Investment (South of Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on infrastructure investment in the south of Scotland. (S6O-01080)

The second strategic transport projects review includes plans for future transport investment. For the south-west specifically, it recommends improvements to the A75 and A77, including bypassing the villages of Crocketford and Springholm and upgrading or relocating Stranraer rail station.

Recent investment includes investment in the Maybole bypass and investment in two new rail stations, at Reston and East Linton. Other regional investment in infrastructure extends to investment in affordable housing, superfast broadband, active travel and new schools, as well as investment through growth and city region deals.

Exactly six months ago, in this chamber, the First Minister and the then Minister for Transport, Graeme Dey, promised to engage with the United Kingdom Government on an upgrade to the A75, which is often referred to as “the goat track”, after it was singled out in the union connectivity review as the trunk road that was in most need of upgrade in the whole of the UK.

Freight companies are now threatening to move their businesses away from Cairnryan, which would be a devastating blow to the economy of the south of Scotland. Stena Line, which operates a ferry service from Cairnryan, has also appealed to the First Minister to act immediately and make the A75 and A77 a priority.

However, I am told that, to date, no meeting has been held—indeed, a date for such a meeting has not even been organised—despite requests being made by the UK Government.

Given the broken promises—

Can we have a question, please, Mr Carson?

—can the Scottish National Party stop dragging its heels and engage with the UK Government to act much faster?

For the benefit of Mr Carson’s awareness, I can inform him that I met representatives of Stena Line on 29 April. That was a really positive meeting; it was also an opportunity to hear directly from them about their views on the need for improvements on both routes. That was the latest in a series of meetings that have taken place between ministers and ferry operators over a number of years.

In response to Mr Carson’s substantive question about engagement with the UK Government on the issue, as he will be aware, the union connectivity review claims to offer a level of funding support for the A75. We await the UK Government’s response to that. Despite being frozen out of that process, and despite the fact that transport is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, I am quite prepared to discuss the matter with the UK Government. However, I will need to receive an assurance that any such funding would be additional and would not be top sliced by the UK Government, and I am sure that Mr Carson, as a proud member of this Parliament, would agree.

Ukrainian Refugees (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government how many Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Glasgow. (S6O-01081)

The most recent data on visas and arrivals, which is published by the United Kingdom Government, shows that, as of 10 May, a total of 7,684 visas had been issued to people from Ukraine naming a Scottish sponsor, including 4,982 naming the Scottish Government as the sponsor under the Ukraine sponsorship scheme.

As of 10 May, 180 of those visas had been issued to postcodes within the Glasgow City Council authority, with 88 arrivals in the Glasgow city area having been reported. The total number of arrivals under the Ukraine sponsorship scheme for Scotland was reported at 2,126, 855 of whom had named the Scottish Government as their sponsor, with 1,271 naming a private sponsor.

Can the minister give us an update on the welcome hub at Glasgow airport, the council’s resettlement team and the provision of the £200 resettlement grant? Some people have had difficulty in getting that £200.

I thank John Mason for giving me the opportunity to set out the position in detail. Nationally, more than 600 people have been triaged at Scotland’s welcome hubs. Glasgow airport’s hub has triaged more than 120 people.

Welcome hubs and the support that they offer have been designed at pace in a constantly evolving environment, and the signage at Glasgow airport has been improved to ensure that arrivals can locate the welcome desk, where they will be directed to the welcome hub or given advice. I am grateful to our local authorities and third sector partners for making that possible.

The UK Government is responsible for funding the Ukraine sponsor schemes. We continue to seek clarity from the UK Government on funding mechanisms and reporting arrangements. In the meantime, local authorities are making up-front emergency payments and, where needed, we have worked with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to reassure councils that funding for the scheme will be provided by the UK Government.

Ukrainian Refugees (Community Integration)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans are in place to support community integration for Ukrainian refugees resettling in Scotland. (S6O-01082)

We are working alongside local authorities and other partners to help displaced people from Ukraine integrate into communities, supporting them to settle here. Local authority caseworkers are in place to enable access to services, including healthcare, education, and employment and social security advice.

Our new Scots strategy provides a clear framework for integration and assists partners to make the best use of resources and expertise by promoting partnership approaches, joined-up working and early intervention. We have also provided £1.4 million to the Scottish Refugee Council for the expansion of its refugee integration service, as well as funding JustRight Scotland to provide free and confidential legal advice to Ukrainians seeking safety in Scotland.

Government guidance states that children who are unaccompanied, or who are accompanied by adults who are not their legal guardians, are the most vulnerable group of refugees arriving in Scotland. Will the Government develop plans to ensure that proactive efforts are made to reunite unaccompanied children with their parents, should such situations arise in Scotland? Will it also ensure that those who work with Ukrainian refugees, such as local council caseworkers, are trained to deal with the safeguarding concerns that are specific to unaccompanied children who do not speak English?

I thank Bill Kidd for raising a very important issue, and one that is a key concern for this Government. Sadly, the United Kingdom is in the unenviable position of being the only major European country without a legal route for unaccompanied children who do not have a prior familial connection. That position is untenable and exposes vulnerable children to preventable harm. I have raised the issue with UK ministers and have called for an urgent four nations meeting to agree what more can be done to provide sanctuary for those children. Scotland’s priority will be to ensure that children who arrive are safe and cared for.

The arrangements are considered to be temporary and are in place only until the children can return home safely, in accordance with international convention. We will continue to work with the Ukrainian authorities, operational partners and the third sector to support reunions for displaced, unaccompanied Ukrainian children.

Energy Transition Fund (North East Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government how much of the £500 million energy transition fund for the north-east has now been allocated. (S6O-01083)

The first £20 million of the 10-year £500 million just transition fund for the north-east and Moray—which we have called on the United Kingdom Government to match—was allocated in this year’s budget. Since that announcement, ministers have engaged extensively with regional stakeholders, meeting trade unions, businesses, communities and local authorities in order to develop the fund in partnership with those who live and work in the area. The insights collected have been crucial in shaping our approach. We are finalising the objectives of and criteria for the fund with our stakeholders and hope to publish those in the coming weeks.

Meetings are one thing, but people want action. The fund was unveiled more than nine months ago, but we still have no details. I hear that £20 million was allocated in this year’s budget, but it appears that not one single penny has been spent and that the money is still sitting in the Government’s coffers. We also do not know whether the fund will complement the UK Government’s £16 billion transition fund. When will the devolved Government report back with an update about the fund so that it can actually start helping the people of the north-east?

That question demonstrates the risk of scripting the supplementary before hearing the answer to the substantive question. As I said, details will be published in the coming weeks.

The member asks where the money is. I remind him that the money has been allocated for this financial year and that we are six weeks into this financial year. The rapidity with which funds are deployed is not the strongest suit for the Tories to play. It took six years for the Tory Government to get from Brexit to indicating what the shared prosperity fund would look like.

We are engaging with partners across the region and working collaboratively on a bottom-up approach. We will report back to Parliament imminently on the criteria for and aims and objectives of the funding.

That concludes general question time.