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Meeting date: Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 18 January 2022

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Point of Order, Topical Question Time, Business Motion, Covid-19, ScotWind Offshore Wind Leasing Round, Retrofitting Buildings for Net Zero, Judicial Review and Courts Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Scottish History in Schools


Topical Question Time

People with Learning Difficulties (In-patient Units)

[Inaudible.]—response is to a recent report by Enable Scotland that highlights that over 250 people with learning disabilities are living in NHS Scotland—[Inaudible.]—with one woman being there for 60 years. (S6T-00438)

Will the minister confirm whether he was able to hear enough of Mr Rennie’s question?

I think I got the gist of it, Presiding Officer.

Thank you. Please respond.

It is completely unacceptable for people with learning disabilities and more complex needs to spend long periods of time in hospital. That is why, in March 2020, the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities commissioned a working group to look at the issue. The group’s report is expected to be published in the next few weeks.

We have already allocated £20 million of funding in 2021 to integration authorities to significantly reduce out-of-area placements and hospital stays by 2024. The report includes recommendations for a framework to directly address Enable Scotland’s concerns, a national register and a national panel to support it. That is vital.

In addition, the Scottish Government is bringing forward legislation to establish a commissioner for learning disabilities and autism. The role of that commissioner will be to fully protect rights with a range of statutory powers that could include bringing individual cases. Visibility and accountability are critical.

The Government fully intends to move forward and ensure that people with learning disabilities and complex needs have homes in their communities. We need strong partnerships, nationally and locally, to make that happen without delay.

The problem is that the Government has been declaring that as an urgent priority for years. There were reports in 2018, and the original right to their own home was declared back in 2000 but, 21 years later, 250 people with learning disabilities are stuck in hospital and the guidance that was required last year has still not been published. I hope that the minister understands that there is a lot of frustration out there. Some authorities think that multibed units are appropriate, but that is just a new form of institutionalised living. Will the minister rule out multibed units?

I understand some of the frustration out there. I have heard that frustration when I have talked to folks with lived experience and people who are actively involved in the learning-disabled and autism communities.

The guidance on the community living change fund makes it clear that it should be used to design community-based solutions that negate or limit future hospital use and out-of-country placements. Going forward, we will work closely with health and social care partnerships to ensure that the funding is spent in line with the guidance and the content of the upcoming delayed discharge report, when that is published.

The use of the term “multibed units” is not good: we know that people can share homes and thrive well. That happens in my Aberdeen Central constituency and across Scotland. However, use of the term leads me to think of an alternative to hospital; I am sure that Mr Rennie is of the same view. That is not what we want. We want people to have homes in their communities.

I agree with the concerns that Willie Rennie has expressed. This year, we have already seen the unlawful practice of sending elderly patients to locked Scottish care homes and units being banned. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, specifically, was taken to court for that by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Further to the data on that being uncovered, will the Scottish Government agree to an independent review of all the vulnerable individuals who are living in such facilities?

We have gone through the process of having a short-life working group look at the issue. We will act on its recommendations and on the recommendations and asks of—[Inaudible.]—as we move forward.

We have to ensure—I agree completely and utterly with Mr Briggs on this—that we take a person-centred approach, that we look at people’s individual needs and that we put human rights at the heart of all the work that we do in this regard.

As we have already heard, Enable Scotland’s report calls for

“a Community First principle for the commissioning of support for all adults and children who have a learning disability in Scotland.”

The report welcomes the community living change fund, which has £20 million assigned to it. However, Enable Scotland says in the report that that

“is not a lot of money per HSCP area, per person”

and that the money has not always led to real and meaningful action for people in communities. Will the minister share evidence of how the fund is being used? Will he commit to further national funding to build the availability of high-quality sustainable support in every community?

I am more than happy to keep Parliament informed about how the £20 million is being spent, and I assure Parliament that I will be keeping a very close eye on how that resource is being utilised. Of course, as we move forward, in order to get this right we will have to look at further resourcing in the future to ensure that we do our level best for folks with learning disabilities and more complex needs.

Enable Scotland’s report highlights that people with learning disabilities might be placed in inappropriate settings, including care homes for elderly people. What action can the Scottish Government take to ensure that provision of appropriate residential care for younger people, including those with learning disabilities, is expanded?

I did not quite hear all of that question. However, on Ms Mackay’s final point, I say that we have to get this right for everyone. We must listen to individuals about what their needs are. We know that the needs of young people are often different from those of older folks, so in order to get it right we must listen to young people and their families to ensure that the right provision is in place so that folks can live as free and independent a life as possible.

OVO Energy (Job Losses)

2. Jim Fairlie (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on any discussions it has had with OVO Energy regarding its reported decision to reduce its workforce by 1,700 employees. (S6T-00439)

I was concerned to learn of OVO Energy’s plans to reduce its workforce by 1,700 across the United Kingdom and, following reports that OVO plans to close sites in Perth, Cumbernauld and Dunfermline, the implications that that might have for staff in Scotland. It will be a very anxious time for OVO’s employees, their families and the local areas.

I sought an urgent meeting with the company and will speak tomorrow to Adrian Letts, who is the chief executive officer of OVO’s retail energy business, when I will seek clarity about the potential impact on Scotland. Scottish Enterprise is also in contact with OVO and will work with it to look at ways of mitigating the impact on Scottish jobs.

Should job losses happen, we will provide support to all affected employees through our initiative for responding to redundancy situations—the partnership action for continuing employment, or PACE.

The minister will, no doubt, be aware of how concerning the news is for people right across the country. At the Perth site alone—which is in my constituency—there are some 700 employees who have no idea what their employment status will be and, as the minister has just pointed out, OVO also plans to cut two offices in Edinburgh, one in Dunfermline and one in Cumbernauld.

The strength of the response to the announcement will be felt by members across the chamber. Does the minister agree that the announcement is not in keeping with what senior management at OVO told employees and politicians when it bought the SSE retail arm? What support will the Scottish Government provide for employees impacted by the decision?

I share the member’s concerns as the situation unfolds across various sites in Scotland. I know that Jamie Hepburn MSP and Stuart McDonald MP have already met OVO to discuss the unfolding situation in Cumbernauld. When I meet OVO tomorrow, I shall make those very points in order to understand the rationale behind the company’s decisions and how those square with previous statements that it made regarding the importance of its Scottish sites to its operations.

As I said to the member, Scottish Enterprise and PACE stand ready to engage with the workforce and to support them throughout the situation if job redundancies take place.

When OVO agreed to acquire SSE Energy Services, the OVO chief executive and founder Stephen Fitzpatrick said, as is quoted on the company’s website:

“SSE and OVO are a great fit. They share our values on sustainability and serving customers. They’ve built an excellent team that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

Now that we see him systematically and rapidly dismantling that excellent team, does that mean that the values of SSE and OVO include viewing the workforce as dispensable? Is the minister as disappointed as I am at the decision?

I am disappointed by the decision. When I meet OVO tomorrow, I will seek clarification on its changing position and why it has a different attitude now from the one it had previously. I shall work to understand the rationale behind the decision, which, on the surface, does not look to be right for employees, their communities or for OVO, which is walking away from a valued workforce. I shall endeavour to find out as much as I can from the company tomorrow, to impress on it the importance of the situation and to encourage it to review the decision and take alternative measures.

There is real anger in Perth about the move by OVO. Just two years ago, when the company took over SSE’s retail arm, it said that it was committed to maintaining a presence in the city.

My colleague Liz Smith and I will meet OVO later this week. The minister has said that he is seeing the company tomorrow. Will he explore with it the extent to which existing staff might be able to continue in their jobs by working remotely and from home if they are unable to relocate to Glasgow or to some other place where OVO is maintaining a presence?

I shall do that. When I meet the company tomorrow, I will emphasise the importance of those jobs to local communities. I will also seek to understand the commercial logic behind the decisions and will explore alternatives that would keep those jobs in place, while meeting the company’s requirements.

I shall also explore the options for employees to work from home. Changes in working patterns make that a realistic and practical possibility. I shall ask the company about the extent to which that option has been considered and could be implemented for employees in Perth and other affected locations.

This is not the first time that OVO has broken its promises to staff. Hundreds have been laid off in the past. Can we expect companies that contravene the Government’s fair work agenda to face penalties as a consequence of their actions? What support can the minister bring forward through the Tay cities deal to ensure that there are new opportunities and support for workers in the months ahead, as was achieved at the time of the closure of the Michelin factory in Dundee when support was given to workers who lost jobs there?

We will look at all those possibilities. The Scottish Government takes the fair work agenda increasingly seriously. I met the Fair Work Convention this morning to discuss its plans to move the agenda forward and how the Scottish Government can support that. We take every opportunity to discuss our position on fair work with all employers in Scotland.

With regard to the specifics of the city region deal, that is clearly something that can be explored. Other priorities have already been identified for the resources that are being deployed there, but I am happy to speak to the relevant minister and others to discuss what the possibilities are with regard to opportunities that may be created as a consequence of the deployment of the funds from the city region deal.