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Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, January 27, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Holocaust Memorial Day, Portfolio Question Time, Budget (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Adverse Childhood Experiences


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Maternity Services (Moray)

1. Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

More than three and a half years ago, maternity services in Moray were downgraded after a similar downgrade for Caithness hospital. It means that hundreds of women will now have to travel long distances, often in labour, to give birth or receive treatment at Raigmore hospital in Inverness.

On 7 December, Humza Yousaf stood in the chamber to respond to the independent review on maternity services in Moray. He told me:

“I absolutely believe that there is capacity in place to deal with the additional women who may have to go to Raigmore”.—[Official Report, 7 December 2021; c 39.]

That confidence is not shared by more than a dozen clinical experts, who have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care about the review report. They said that the findings were unworkable and unsafe. They wrote privately to the cabinet secretary and, when he did not respond to them, they went public.

What does the First Minister say to mums to be, and to their families, who are in fear during their pregnancy about how far away help and support will be? Given that her health secretary has not responded to the clinicians on the front line, will she address their concerns about the proposals?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Before I come to that extremely important question, I acknowledge that today is Holocaust memorial day, which is an opportunity to remember all those who were murdered in genocides in the Holocaust, of course, and more recently in Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia. It is an opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves to resisting the hatred and prejudice that drives such atrocities. Whatever opinions or points of view might divide us, we should never forget that our bonds of common humanity are stronger and must always unite us.

I turn to the important question. On all those questions—I hope that this is a point that Douglas Ross will accept—the safety of pregnant women, mothers and babies is the paramount imperative of the Government and of clinicians who work on the front line.

Obviously, a review was commissioned on the issues of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s hospital and the implications for Raigmore. The report is thorough and substantial. Before Christmas, the cabinet secretary met staff, the health boards and local people, and the Scottish Government is considering very carefully all the recommendations. It is absolutely important that we get it right and that we recognise the understandable and important desire of women to give birth as close to home as possible. It is also really important that we do not lose sight of the issues of patient safety. I give an assurance to members and, more importantly, to local people that all the issues will be subject to the most serious and careful consideration.

Douglas Ross

I echo the words of the First Minister about Holocaust memorial day. Immediately after First Minister’s question time, my colleague Jackson Carlaw will lead a members’ business debate on the subject, and I am certain that every member will stay in the chamber for such an important debate.

The future of maternity services at Dr Gray’s hospital has consequences for mothers all over the north-east and the Highlands. It has impacted my own family, but it has caused far greater problems for many others. Here is one example from the recent review of maternity services. These are the words of a mum, who says:

“I had been told that if I had a bleed before giving birth, the chances were slim that I would survive, and consequently neither would my baby. I spent months in constant fear that I would bleed. Then the worst happened, and I started bleeding at home. I was transferred, initially to Dr Gray’s, then to Aberdeen in a blue-light ambulance. The bleeding did initially stop, and I was told my baby had a heartbeat; but, when the bleeding started again, on the way to Aberdeen, I was told the heartbeat had gone. I therefore thought that my baby was dead, and it was likely I was next.”

That will happen to more and more women the longer the situation is allowed to go on.

Doctors and midwives are saying that the options on the table will not work. What will the First Minister and her Government do about it? Why are they not responding to the medical experts?

The First Minister

First, I acknowledge and understand the personal experience. Many of us, myself included, have personal experience of baby loss at different stages, so I absolutely understand the emotion, sensitivity and seriousness of these issues.

The Scottish Government commissioned a report, conducted by Ralph Roberts, as part of our commitment to reintroducing consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s in a safe and sustainable way. That is really important. The report that has been published is substantial and thorough, and it is important that all its recommendations are considered extremely carefully. The Government will again meet representatives from NHS Grampian and NHS Highland to look at practical next steps. Core to that, of course, will be listening to clinicians at Raigmore in any further discussions. I think that the health secretary has already indicated this, but, if not, I will indicate now that he is prepared to meet clinicians—it is important that he meets clinicians at Raigmore.

The Keep MUM campaigning group also has views on the recent review and report, and they also have to be listened to.

I do not underplay at all the seriousness of this issue, nor do I deny or challenge in any way how important it is to all women to give birth as close to home as possible. That is not just desirable; there are many good clinical reasons, and reasons of support, for it.

The most important thing, which is acknowledged and which underpins the questions that are being asked here—there have been experiences, which drive some of this—is that maternity services are safe for women and their babies. That principle will drive all the decisions that are arrived at. Those decisions will, of course, be informed by all those who have opinions or clinical expertise to bring to bear.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister said that the health secretary will now respond, but the clinicians wrote directly to him. They kept that private because they wanted to put across their views and get his response. When the health secretary did not reply to those front-line experts, they went public in the local papers. They still did not get a response, so I am raising it at First Minister’s question time. The issue should not have to come to the chamber here in Parliament to get a response.

This issue does not just affect mothers in Moray. During the past 15 years of this Government, the temporary or permanent closure of maternity units has reduced services in Inverclyde, Paisley, Skye, Caithness, Angus, Perth and Dumfries. It is unacceptable to force pregnant women into lengthy and distressing journeys.

We have heard from Cara Williamson, who was transferred from Aberdeen to Kirkcaldy because of a lack of beds. She was told that she would not be allowed to go with her newborn twins as they were transferred to the neonatal unit at Ninewells hospital in Dundee, and she would have to wait for a separate ambulance. All that Cara wanted was to get closer to home and to her family, but she was left alone, hundreds of miles away. Do families in every part of Scotland not deserve better than that?

The First Minister

Let me say two things in addition to what I have already said. First, on the letter from clinicians, I am more than willing to look into why a reply was not sent. However, I believe that the health secretary has said publicly that he will meet Raigmore clinicians, and it is inconceivable that decisions would be reached on this issue without properly engaging the front-line clinicians who are responsible for implementing those decisions. I assure those clinicians and the populations that are affected that that will absolutely happen.

On the more substantive issue, I do not need to remind members that I was health secretary for a number of years, so I have grappled with many of these issues. The starting point is that everybody wants every woman to be able to give birth as close to home as possible. However, there are often safety and sustainability challenges associated with that and we have to consider those issues carefully. For example, in some of the smaller units in our country, sometimes the issue is that the small number of births means that it is not possible to have the specialisms to support the complexity of care that might be required. During these years, there have also been some recruitment challenges in some of these units that have added to these issues.

It would be completely wrong and irresponsible for a Government or clinicians on the front line not to have regard to those very serious issues as we try to strike the right balance between quality specialist care and care that is as close to home as possible. That is a balance that we have to grapple with in many aspects of national health service care, but it is particularly important when we are talking about the safety of pregnant mothers and their babies.

We are talking about really difficult issues. I absolutely understand the views of families and women who give birth, but it is so important that we get the decisions right. I absolutely acknowledge that, in getting those decisions right, the views of front-line clinicians are essential.

We have given commitments to continued investment in Raigmore as we take forward the options and any recommendations.

The health secretary will engage directly with clinicians, as is right and proper, and we will continue to treat all these matters with the utmost seriousness.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister mentioned the small number of babies who are born in some of our smaller hospitals. That is because the units in those hospitals have been downgraded. There has been an 80 per cent reduction in babies being born in Moray because of decisions that have been taken by the local health board and the Scottish Government.

The First Minister said that the health secretary will fully engage with clinicians in NHS Highland, but that should have happened by now. I am raising the issue today because they are at the end of their tether in trying to get a response. They are worried about whether the health secretary is going to listen, given what he said on 7 December, when he told the chamber:

“I absolutely believe that there is capacity in place to deal with the additional women who may have to go to Raigmore”.—[Official Report, 7 December 2021; c 39.]

It does not sound as though he is open to listening to the clinicians when he has already made up his mind that the situation is fine.

Another woman we spoke to, Billie Cowie, described her experiences. Late in her pregnancy, over Christmas, she had to make the journey of more than 60 miles from her home to hospital in Aberdeen. Over the Christmas break, she was admitted to hospital repeatedly and, each time, she was forced to make the same journey. She described those journeys as “awful”. It is 2022. Nobody anywhere in Scotland should have to go through that, let alone repeatedly.

The First Minister was elected on a manifesto that promised to restore a consultant-led maternity unit at Dr Gray’s hospital in Elgin. Will she keep that promise? Will she make a commitment that there will be no further downgrades to maternity units anywhere in Scotland?

The First Minister

The manifesto commitment stands, but it is important in relation to all services that we deliver such commitments in a way that is safe and sustainable. That could scarcely be more important than it is in the context of the issue that we are talking about here.

I appreciate that, while I have talked about—indeed, Douglas Ross has done so, too—a number of different maternity units, the issues of distance are much more acute in the area that he represents than they will be in other parts of Scotland. I absolutely do not deny the experiences, the views or the wishes of the mothers quoted in the chamber today. I absolutely understand those.

However, likewise, I know that there are some women, some of whom I have spoken to, who choose to go to bigger centres. Jackie Baillie is in the chamber; in the past, I have had such discussions with her about the Vale of Leven and Inverclyde.

We are talking about difficult issues. We have to strike the right balance between local access and safety and specialism, particularly for cases that involve more complex care. We need to do that carefully, taking account of the views of clinicians.

I repeat the point that I made about investment in Raigmore, if that is necessary. That is an important part of our commitment.

We will continue to take forward these issues carefully and listen to mothers who have given birth, mothers who will give birth in the future and clinicians who deliver the services, so that we get to the best balance that ensures not only that there is local access and that the need for travelling long distances is avoided but that our maternity services are rooted in safety as the absolute guiding principle for pregnant women and their children.


Social Care

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

On Holocaust memorial day, we remember the millions of Jews who lost their lives to prejudice and hate, and all victims of genocide. We cannot be complacent. There can be no hierarchy of prejudice; we cannot pick and choose. Hate against one is hate against all.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact. Nowhere has that devastation been felt more than in our social care sector. Less than 1 per cent of our population live in a care home, but they account for a third of all Covid deaths.

A report that has been published by Audit Scotland today makes it clear that

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the long-standing challenges facing the social care sector”.

It goes on to say that the service is in “near crisis” and that

“a lack of action now presents a serious risk to the delivery of care services for individuals.”

What urgent action is the Government taking now to address those challenges?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I welcome today’s Audit Scotland report. In many respects, it does not tell us anything of which we have not all been aware. There is an urgent need for reform of our social care services; we are taking that forward through the proposals for the national care service. Before I move on from that, it is important that I recognise that the findings of the Audit Scotland report that has been published today are largely in line with those of the independent review of adult social care that Derek Feeley led for us. That is why we are moving to establish a national care service by the end of this session of Parliament.

In the meantime, we are increasing investment in social care. We are increasing the pay of people who work in social care because recruitment and retention, and valuing the social care workforce, are important parts of what we need to do. That work will continue as we take forward the plans for the national care service over the next few years. Everyone across Parliament will have the opportunity to contribute to those plans.

Anas Sarwar

The report also states:

“Regardless of what happens with reform, some things cannot wait.”

We had a staffing crisis even before the pandemic. Services are now reporting that they do not have the staff that they need: 60 per cent of housing support services, 59 per cent of care at home services and 55 per cent of care homes for older people do not have the staff that they need.

Audit Scotland’s stark report makes it clear that

“a lack of action now presents serious risks”.

According to Audit Scotland, social care staff are “under immense pressure” and

“are not adequately valued, engaged or rewarded for their vitally important role”.

Does the First Minister accept that we urgently need a credible workforce plan, and that a 48p pay increase simply will not cut it? Will she back our plan for an immediate increase in pay to £12 an hour, rising to £15, for care workers?

The First Minister

We are taking action now, as we progress the plans for the national care service. We have a commitment to increase public investment in social care by 25 per cent over this session of Parliament and we have started on that journey.

We have also taken steps to increase the pay of people in the adult social care workforce. In referring to 48p, Anas Sarwar misrepresents the scale of the amount. That is an increase of 48p per hour. That represents an increase of 12.9 per cent from March 2021 and is the first step towards substantially increasing pay in the adult social care workforce. We have already delivered an increase of 12.9 per cent. Does that go far enough? No. We have said that we want to go further. It is interesting that that is more than the increase in the part of the United Kingdom where Labour is currently in office and where just the real living wage is paid.

We recognise the need for immediate action, and we are taking action immediately. We are also working with partners to attract more people into the sector. In November last year, we launched a national marketing campaign to attract and recruit more people into the sector. I hope that Anas Sarwar will acknowledge that there are real pressures on recruitment across health and social care—and across the wider economy—because of the impact of Brexit and the ending of free movement. That is a significant challenge. We will continue to make the investment that attracts people into the sector and will invest more in that sector as we take forward the longer-term reform of creating a national care service.

Anas Sarwar

The Scottish National Party has been in Government for 15 years. No one else is to blame. The social care sector that was neglected before the pandemic has been failed during the pandemic. The workforce has been ignored, overstretched and undervalued. People who are in need of care at home have been neglected and are struggling to cope. Unpaid carers—of whom a disproportionate number are women—carry the burden of this Government’s failures.

We have been calling for a national care service for more than a decade, but it cannot now be used as a Government slogan to delay action until 2026. Carers and those who need care cannot wait another four years.

There are things that the First Minister can do right now. Will she take the burden off family carers by restarting respite services, pause commissioning to allow focus on delivery of social care, end non-residential care charges now and, finally, reward our front-line heroes with the pay increase that they deserve?

The First Minister

Those who listened to my first answer to Anas Sarwar will not have heard me blaming anybody. They will have heard me talk about the things that this Government is doing, building on the action that the Government has taken in years gone by.

However, I cannot allow this moment to pass without reminding Anas Sarwar that, while we have been in office in national Government for 15 years, for much of that time in Glasgow City Council, for example, Labour was in administration and was denying female workers the equal pay to which they were entitled. It took an SNP administration in that council to deliver equal pay to women workers across Glasgow. Forgive me, Presiding Officer, if I am not prepared to take lectures on that matter from the leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

We will, of course, continue to increase the pay of adult social care workers. We have already taken the step that I have described. Just this month, we have, for example, announced additional investment to help unpaid carers with respite, and we will take forward the plans to deliver the national care service. That is a reform that, I hope, future generations will look back on as having as much significance as the establishment of the national health service has had for this generation.

We will get on with doing the hard work of supporting people who work in adult social care and who do such a sterling job on behalf of us all. I take the opportunity today to thank them for what they do.

We will have some constituency and general supplementary questions.


Adult Disability Payment

Elena Whitham (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)

I am delighted that the Social Justice and Social Security Committee this morning voted unanimously for regulations to allow the roll-out of the new adult disability payment this year. That is a significant step in building a more compassionate and dignified social security system in Scotland. Will the First Minister outline the improvements that the new benefit will deliver for people across Scotland?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am absolutely delighted that the adult disability payment regulations were passed unanimously this morning. Starting in March and being phased in ahead of national roll-out in August, the payment is the 12th benefit that we will deliver, and is the most complex to date. It is a major milestone for our social security system that will mean that there is a very different approach from the current adversarial Department for Work and Pensions process. It will put an end to the anxiety that is caused by undignified physical and mental assessments and an end to private sector involvement. It will also end the stressful cycle of unnecessary reassessments.

Starting from a position of trust, the adult disability payment will provide disabled people with a compassionate system that is designed around what they have told us is important and which will, crucially, be rooted in our values of dignity, fairness and respect.


Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production Programme (North Ayrshire Bid)

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

North Ayrshire is one of the five areas that have been shortlisted for a new prototype nuclear fusion power facility through the United Kingdom spherical tokamak for energy production—STEP—programme. The programme has the potential to generate a huge chunk of zero-carbon energy, which is much needed, without the dangerous waste that is so often cited in Parliament. More important is that it has the potential to generate up to 3,500 much-needed jobs for the local area.

Given that it ticks the boxes of so many of the First Minister’s economic, energy and climate ambitions, will she support North Ayrshire’s bid? If so, what will the Scottish Government do to support it?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We will continue to discuss with North Ayrshire Council and other councils their ambitions across a wide range of areas, including that one. The technology is very early-stage technology. My concerns about nuclear power, which are not just about the waste that is generated from current nuclear technology, but are about real doubts about value for money, are well known.

We will discuss with councils any ambitions that they have, but in the meantime we will continue to invest in renewable energy, in which Scotland has vast potential to support our transition to net zero.


Glasgow School of Art

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

The report on the first Glasgow School of Art fire in 2014 noted that the legacy ventilation system was a major contributor to the rapid spread of the fire. The report that was released this week on the 2018 fire notes that

“The construction, layout, and high fire loading allowed the fire to spread unchecked ... in all directions”,

leading to

“50% of the building being well alight within thirty-eight minutes

of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service arrival. The art school management has claimed that its approach to the protection of the building was gold standard, but we find that the fire alarm did not work.

Does the First Minister agree that lessons appear not to have been learned from the original fire, and that we owe it to the arts community and to the residents of Garnethill, who have been devastated by two fires and locked out of their homes for four months afterwards, that there should be third-party independent oversight of the management of the rebuild to ensure that confidence is restored?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

First, I take the opportunity to thank the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for its work on an incredibly challenging and complex investigation. Unfortunately—and I think that we all feel frustration at this, although it is not the fault of the Fire and Rescue Service—due to the extensive damage that was sustained at the site and the destruction in the fire of physical evidence, the Fire and Rescue Service was unable to determine its likely origin and cause.

Nevertheless, it is important—I agree with Pauline McNeill—that, wherever possible, all lessons are learned, because of the importance of the art school and the Mackintosh building to Glasgow, to Scotland and to the arts and culture community. We will continue to consider how the Scottish Government can support that lessons-learned exercise and to support the art school as it takes forward plans for the future.

Of course, all higher education institutions must comply with the terms that are set out by the Scottish Funding Council and with the principles of good governance that are set out in the Scottish code for good higher education governance. We expect the highest standards of propriety from organisations that receive public funding.

I will give further consideration to Pauline McNeill’s suggestions and will come back to her in due course.


OVO Energy

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

As the First Minister will be aware, OVO Energy, which has a major presence in my constituency, has announced that it intends to lose 1,700 jobs, including up to 700 in Perth. She may also be aware that, last week, the Deputy First Minister, the Perth and North Perthshire MP, Pete Wishart, and I met the chief executive officer, Adrian Letts; unfortunately, the owner of the company, Stephen Fitzpatrick, refused my invitation to attend. The conclusion of that meeting left us all very concerned that compulsory redundancies will be forced on the workforce, which could result in vital skills being lost to the economy. Is there anything that the Scottish Government can do to impress on the company how damaging those losses will be to my constituents and to the wider economy?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank Jim Fairlie for his question and for his efforts on behalf of his constituents. I know that he is joined in those efforts by Pete Wishart and the Deputy First Minister. Obviously, we are very concerned about the proposed job losses at OVO Energy. This is an anxious time for the staff who work there, for their families and, given the importance of the company to the local area, for the wider community.

Last Wednesday, the Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise spoke with the CEO of OVO retail, exploring and interrogating the rationale behind the decision. OVO advised that the voluntary redundancy programme had not been open for long and that it was speaking to staff and to the Unite union. The business minister will continue to press OVO on all relevant points and has asked that it remain in contact with Scottish Enterprise to explore ways of mitigating the impact on jobs.

We will do everything that we can to seek a reversal of those decisions, if that is possible, or their mitigation. We will also do everything that we can, through the partnership action for continuing employment initiative, to support those who might be affected by redundancy. However, I appeal to the company—indeed, I say that it is an expectation of the company—that it engages with local representatives and the Scottish Government and makes sure that its decisions are fully transparent to its workers and to the wider community.


Gender Recognition

Meghan Gallacher (Central Scotland) (Con)

The Equality and Human Rights Commission wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Local Government and Housing about the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. It outlined the need to improve healthcare services for transgender people and the potential consequences of self-identification, such as

“those relating to the collection ... of data, participation and drug testing in ... sport, measures to address barriers facing women, and practices within the criminal justice system”.

Does the First Minister acknowledge the concerns that have been raised by the EHRC? Which part of society does she believe will bear the brunt of those consequences, and how does she propose to mitigate those impacts if her Government maintains its current plans?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I note the letter that was received yesterday from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I also note that it represents a significant change in the position of that organisation. It responded to both the Government’s previous consultations. In its response to the 2017 consultation, it said:

“the Gender Recognition Act 2004 is far removed from reflecting ... best practice ... and has a significant negative impact on the lived experience of trans people.”

In the 2019 consultation on the draft bill, it said:

“The Commission considers that a simplified system for obtaining legal recognition of gender ... would better support trans people to live their lives free from discrimination, and supports the aims of the draft Bill.”

Obviously, it is for the commission to say why its position has changed, but it is important for me to narrate that that is a change in position.

I am slightly concerned about some of what I consider does not accurately characterise the impact of the bill. The bill will seek to simplify an existing process; it will not confer any new rights on trans people, nor will it change any of the existing protections in the Equality Act 2010. It will not change the current position on data collection or the ability of sports organisations to take decisions, for example.

We will continue to engage with a range of organisations, but let me stress again: this is a bill that is designed to simplify an existing process, to reduce the distress, trauma, anxiety and, often, stigmatisation that trans people suffer in our society. The Government will set out its plans for the timetabling of that legislation in due course.

I call Maggie Chapman.

Apologies, Presiding Officer. I want to come in on a later question. I have unpressed my button.


Cabinet (Meetings)

3. Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

On Holocaust memorial day, I say on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats that, although the actions and the murderous regime of the Nazis are passing out of living memory, they haunt us still. We have a duty to remember and to pass on that knowledge to future generations, and to work together to ensure that atrocity and genocide can never again happen in this world.

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S6F-00713)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Tuesday.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Anas Sarwar has already pointed to the Audit Scotland report that was published today that shows the crisis in our care sector: care needs not being met, poor pay and conditions, and a staffing workforce that has been hollowed out and cannot wait for action. There is a frightening a symmetry between that report and a report that was published yesterday by the Royal College of Nursing, which says that six out of 10 in that profession are considering leaving it, because they, too, feel that they cannot provide adequate care to the people in their charge.

The issue is really serious. Retention is almost as important as recruitment, because we need to stop people leaving, and that is why we have called for burn-out measures. We also need to listen to staff, whose expertise is not being heard—they do not feel that they are listened to.

I offer a suggestion and ask the First Minister whether she will instruct a national health service and care staff assembly, modelled on the citizens assemblies that we both support, so that we can close that important gap.

The First Minister

I will consider any proposals made in the chamber, but we are getting on now with the job of supporting the NHS and social care workforce. Obviously, Alex Cole-Hamilton will have heard my responses to Anas Sarwar about not only our long-term reform plans but the action that we are taking now to invest in adult social care, to increase the pay of those who work in it and to support them in a wider sense.

I turn to the Royal College of Nursing’s report. Of course, this has been a torrid time for nurses and others working at the front line of our national health service, but, right now, nursing and midwifery staffing is at a record high in NHS Scotland. It is up by almost 7,500 since this Government took office. That is staff in post—none of that number is vacant. We have also announced staff expansion in the last year alone to create nearly 5,000 extra nursing and midwifery posts, more than half of which are already filled. We are taking action now to increase the number of those working in the national health service and to support those who are already working in it, backed, of course, by record funding.

I will, of course, consider a proposition for further discussion about how we do that in the longer term, but what is more important is the action that we are taking now, and that is what we will continue to focus on.


Domestic Abuse Courts

4. Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the findings of a recent report by the virtual trials national project board, which states that specialist online courts should be set up to deal with domestic abuse cases. (S6F-00715)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We welcome Sheriff Principal Pyle’s report and support the recommendation, which could deliver significant benefits for victims by reducing the traumatising impact of the court environment. I recognise the potential for the proposal to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and court delays, which is to be welcomed for that category of vulnerable victims in particular.

Although the court programme is a matter for the Lord President, I hope to see such courts utilised more widely as an element of the courts recovery programme. We will be happy to consider the possibility of future primary legislation to support the proposal in due course, subject to consultation and further discussions with victim support organisations.

Gillian Martin

Victims of domestic abuse have, for many years, said that giving evidence in front of the person who abused them has been highly retraumatising, as the First Minister has just said, so I am pleased to hear that the report has been viewed positively by the Scottish Government.

The report suggested having dedicated virtual domestic abuse trial courts in each sheriffdom. Given that there are about 33,000 summary trials outstanding, those dedicated courts would, as has been said, ease pressure on the court system. However, they would require additional sheriffs, sheriff clerks, prosecutors and defence agents, all of whom would have to be trauma informed.

What has been done to ensure the development of trauma-informed practice and procedures for everyone working in justice, regardless of the type of case? Should the virtual model work for domestic abuse cases, might there be the flexibility for it to be extended to other types of cases in which victims have suffered extreme trauma or, indeed, in which geography or victim mobility is an issue?

The First Minister

Those are all really important points. On the specific issue of trauma-informed practice, the work of the victims task force is informed by the voices and experiences of victims and survivors. We recognise the impact of trauma on those giving evidence in court and have committed to developing a trauma-informed and trauma-responsive workforce in the justice system.

Our programme for government commits to a new framework specific to justice, to give staff the knowledge and skills to understand and adopt a trauma-informed approach. That work has been taken forward by NHS Education Scotland, with direct input from victims.

Current legislation allows the virtual trial model to be used in any category of case. Although, as I said a moment ago, the court programme is a matter for the Lord President, the model has the potential to benefit a range of victims and witnesses in the justice system.

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

It is clear that emergency legislation and the virtual trials project board give us real opportunities for changing things and doing things differently in the future. One issue that has been raised is how child contact proceedings can be used by perpetrators as a form of control and on-going abuse. Does the First Minister agree that online courts could play a role in securing justice and safety for vulnerable women and children, and that they could prevent perpetrators from abusing child contact proceedings?

The First Minister

Yes. In principle, I acknowledge that reality and agree that the model could offer at least a partial solution. That is another reason why it is important to treat the matter very seriously.

In relation to children in the criminal justice system, we are developing the barnahus model, which is really important in trauma-informed practice.

I agree with Maggie Chapman on the more general point. None of us wanted to live through a global pandemic, but, as we come out of it, we should open our minds to doing things differently from how we did them going into it. I think that we would all reflect that some of the things that we have had to do by necessity because of the pandemic are perhaps better ways of doing things. That is one area in which that may absolutely be the case.


Rail Travel

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

 

5.

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking to encourage rail travel in Scotland. (S6F-00733)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We have continued to invest in Scotland’s railway and to support operators throughout the pandemic. We have allocated a record £4.85 billion to maintain and enhance the railway in the current control period, and we have supported our rail franchises with about £1 billion, including more than £450 million of additional funding via the emergency measures agreement. We are committed to ensuring that rail fares are affordable. ScotRail fares are still, on average, 20 per cent cheaper than fares in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I know that Stephen Kerr will particularly welcome the fact that work is well under way to provide passenger services in the public sector, under Scottish Government control, from April. Like me, he will be very much looking forward to that transition.

Stephen Kerr

Indeed. In a few days’ time, Nicola Sturgeon and her Government will become fully responsible for the operation and performance of ScotRail. For someone who travels from Falkirk to Edinburgh and back every day of the working week, it costs just £72.50, but for someone travelling from Falkirk to Glasgow and back every day of the working week, it costs £85.50. Those fares are outrageous.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers has called out the Scottish Government for a 38 per cent increase in fares since 2012. What is the First Minister’s plan to reduce fares and get more people out of their cars and on to trains?

The First Minister

I am not sure that Stephen Kerr’s fondness for the RMT will be reciprocated, but that is a matter entirely for the union. [Laughter.]

It is a serious issue. We will continue to make investments in our railway to improve passenger services, because it is really important for the country’s connectivity that we have good-quality railway services. Bringing the railway into public ownership will help with that. ScotRail will be under Scottish Government control from later this year. I had not noticed that, before now, the Scottish Government had escaped responsibility or accountability for those matters, but perhaps we will have more ability to shape things in the future.

Affordable fares are part of a high-quality railway. We need the investment in our railway. Less of the investment in the railways in Scotland comes from passengers through fares than is the case in other parts of the UK—more of it comes from Government subsidy. Of course, we want fares to be as affordable as possible. However, I return to the point that I made earlier: rail fares in Scotland are, on average, 20 per cent cheaper than they are in the rest of the UK, where—if memory serves me correctly—Stephen Kerr’s party is in Government.

Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

Does the First Minister share my view that, if the Scottish Conservatives sincerely want to support Scotland’s railway network, passengers and employees, they should lobby their colleagues in the UK Government for full devolution of responsibility for Scotland’s railway to the Scottish Parliament?

The First Minister

We have seen in recent weeks that the Tories at UK level do not pay that much attention to what their Scottish Tory colleagues say.

We have long called for those powers to be devolved. There is a serious reason for that. If the whole rail system in Scotland, including Network Rail, is fully accountable to the Scottish Government and the Parliament, we will be better able to provide the railway services that people in Scotland want and expect. Anyone with a genuine interest in those matters and in ensuring the future prosperity of our railway should get behind us and demand the full devolution of those powers to the Scottish Parliament.


National Care Service (Private Sector Contracts)

To ask the First Minister how much has been spent on private sector contracts in the preparation of the proposed national care service. (S6F-00720)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I refer Jackie Baillie to the public contracts Scotland website, where the details that she has asked for are published.

It is entirely appropriate for the Government to procure specialist services to support the development of our national care service proposals. We must ensure robust review of the evidence and future principles for outcome-focused person-centred design to ensure success. All contracts awarded by the Scottish Government are subject to robust contract management and adhere to the principles of transparency. Any outputs procured in relation to the national care service will be published to ensure that they are publicly available.

Jackie Baillie

I welcome the First Minister’s support for Labour’s proposals for a national care service, which she rejected 10 years ago—I always welcome late converts. How disappointing that, so far, £700,000 has been outsourced to big, private sector consultancy firms to develop the national care service. KPMG alone was awarded a contract of £500,000 to develop the business case. Now I discover that the private sector is lining up to benefit from a multimillion pound contract for information technology and data services for the national care service.

Why is that happening at a time when KPMG is not bidding for UK Government contracts because it has been suspended pending investigation? Why is the First Minister using private sector consultancies when there is a wealth of expertise in the social care sector that understands what needs to be done? Finally, how can the First Minister find millions of pounds for private sector contracts, but hardworking social care workers have to settle for a measly 48p pay rise?

The First Minister

Where it makes sense to use external expertise to free up civil servants to focus on policy development and implementation, we will do that. Other Governments do that, too.

Let me give one example of the kind of contracts that Jackie Baillie is talking about: a contract to analyse the consultation responses. It is routine for analysis of consultation responses to be undertaken independently. That work is often put out to an open and fair procurement process, and that independence is normally considered to be a good thing. I can only imagine the howls of “Bias!” that we would hear from Jackie Baillie had we decided to analyse the consultation responses internally instead of having that done independently.

Jackie Baillie talked about changes of heart. I want to come on to that point briefly. She now seems to think that Government should always do such work itself. However, as a minister, she did not have that view. When Communities Scotland was being set up, the Labour social justice minister at the time told the Parliament that external consultants’ costs were part of the tens of thousands of pounds spent to establish it. The minister responsible back then was, in case members have not guessed it by now, one Jackie Baillie.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The First Minister is making the same mistake with the formation of the national care service that her predecessor, Alex Salmond, made with the formation of the national police service. Does she not realise that wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a national care service—a big bang reorganisation—is disrespectful to the workers who deserve a decent pay rise now? She should be investing in the care service rather than creating a national care service monolith that will not help people right now.

The First Minister

As I listened to Willie Rennie, I could only conclude that, if the Parliament had existed and he had been in it back in the days of the establishment of the national health service, he would have opposed that, because he would no doubt have used the same arguments then.

The opportunity to create a national care service to mirror the national health service is one that we should seize and grasp with both hands. It is vital that we get it right, and all members of the Scottish Parliament will have the opportunity to contribute to that.

Willie Rennie should listen to more people around the country about the care service that they want to see in the future—he should reflect on that. In the meantime, we will get on with increasing investment in social care and increasing the pay of those who do such a fantastic job working in it.