14/05/2017 Scottish First Minister's Questions

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Recorded coverage of questions in the Scottish Parliament to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon from Wednesday 10 May.

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In a trend started under the last Labour Government the NHS in England


spends 7. 6% of its budget on the private sector. We will continue to


make sure that we are investing in the public NHS not the private


sector. Interestingly, one of the first things I did when I was Health


Secretary was scrap the private contract for the running of


Stracathrow hospital introduced by the last Labour administration. The


problem for Labour here is all these things. They Pontificate about in


Opposition are things they failed to do when they had the opportunity in


Government. Lastly, Presiding Officer, I don't expect anybody


working across our public sector to be grateful to any Government


because they are dealing with extremely tough times. I recognise


that and I recognise that particularly for people working at


the frontline of the NHS. But I would expect opposition parties to


recognise in these tough times this Government has done more in terms of


public sector pay than any other Government across the UK. That's why


agenda for change staff are paid more in Scotland than England. It's


why newly qualified nurses are paid more in Scotland than they are in


England and in Labour governed Wales. We will continue to take the


right action in our NHS, which is meaning that we have record funding


in our NHS and we have record numbers of staff working in our NHS


as well. APPLAUSE


I'm conscious we've taken a lot of time for our first two questions,


serious issues as they are. There are a number of members who wish to


get in. Two constituency questions the first from John finny. North


West Highland's gained UNESCO status in 2015. That status is assessed


every four years. It's due to be assessed in 2019. Until now the


Scottish Government has provided funding to the geopark. This year


the Scottish Government decided not to supply funding. They have raised


just 18% of the total required. Given the effort that's gone into


achieving that UNESCO status it would be a disaster if that was


lost. First Minister, would you agree to have your officials examine


options for providing the modest financial support to allow the west


Highland geopark to retain that status, please? Can I thank you for


raising this issue. I am film with geopark and the UNESCO status that


it has got. I agree that is extremely important. Oars I recall


-- as I recall, the Scottish Government provided core funding. I


am happy to have officials to look at this again and consider whether


there is anything the Scottish Government is do to help.


I will report back once we've looked at it. The tennis club is


175-year-old club offering sporting facilities to Inverclyde. Chaenking


to use and water exemption rules has left them with a bill of up to


?2,000 per annum, which could drive up membership costs or force them to


close doors. They're not the only ones. What comfort can the First


Minister provide to groups across Scotland that the government will


seriously look to the charges. Will she commit to a full and open review


into the policy? It's not too long since we had a full review of the


situation around charities with water rates or exemptions from water


rates. I remember it well. At the time I was the minister in charge of


taking forward the recommendations from that review. I remember well


that we tried to put in place a system that was as fair as possible


to as many charities across the country as possible. Now the test


for zemings are based on the income of charities and capital that


charities hold. Therefore there will always be some charitable


organisation that don't get exemptions because of income or


capital above the thresholds. I should say I'm more than happy to


have the relevant minister look at particular organisation that has


been cited here. I'm looking in the wrong direction, to look at the


particular organisation to make sure that the rules are being applied


appropriately. But the point I would make is I think all members would


recognise that with any system of exemptions like this, there will


always be some organisations that do not qualify for the exemptions. I


know that will be very difficult for organisations who are in that


position. I'll ask Rosanna Cunningham to look into this and


report back. What issues will be discussed at the next meet fght


Cabinet? -- of the Cabinet? Matters of importance to people of Scotland.


Yet again we've heard about the poor statistics on education. The mother


of our 15-year-old schoolboy said to me yesterday that she is worried her


son could be one of those statistics. He is struggling with


reading and writing. She is anxious about his future. And she is also


angry with the SNP, who have been in charge for the whole of her son's


education. What has the First Minister got to say to that mother


and her son? I'm concerned to learn of a parent with concerns like that.


I would say again how seriously I and the Government take the


challenges on education. I won't repeat as I did with Ruth Davidson


all the strengths that are there. But to recognise some of the real


improvements we're making. One of the ones I didn't mention earlier on


was the improvements in attainment of pupils with additional support


needs for example. It's because we recognise some of these challenges


that we are take the action that we are take. I don't know the school


that the child quoted or the child the parent quoted goes to but it's


likely that the head teacher of that school now has in his or her own


hands additional resources, significant additional resources to


invest in the specific areas that head teacher thinks are required to


improve attainment. It's exactly that kind of action that we are


determined to continue to drive forward. I would say to you, many of


the reforms we are taking form are reforms that he is opposing. Yes, I


think it is right that members bring concerns to this chamber. But we


also then have to be prepared to do the difficult things that are


required to see the improvements that we all want to see.


I'm afraid that's just more promises to improve school education at some


point in the future. It won't help that schoolboy now. He could be part


of a lost generation. He has been at school for a decade. Every single


day of that, the SNP education secretaries have been in charge.


They still sit round the Cabinet table today. These are the education


secretaries that rejected a pupil premium for six whole years, even


though it raised attainment in England. They delayed nursery


education for two-year-olds, rejected a penny on income tax for


education and cut thousands of places from our colleges. When the


First Minister and her ministers have got it so wrong for years,


where on earth should that mother and her 15-year-old son ever trust


them again? Firstly, these are important issues and important


challenges that we've got to face, but I would say, I do think it does


a real disservice to the young people of our country to use


language like a "lost generation". That is pretty disgraceful. Willey


Rennie talks about investments that he thinks we should have made years


ago. I would simply remind him that those years gone past are exactly


the years that the Liberal Democrats were in a Westminster coalition with


the Tories, cutting Scotland's budget year after year after year.


The last point I would make is the most important point. He says that


the young man and the parent they talked about, what money -- what


goodwill this money do? The money is in the hands of head teachers right


now. I have spoke ton head teachers who are talking about the


initiatives they are taking forward with the investment. The additional


investment direct to head teachers, the extra investment elsewhere in


our attainment fund, but also the measures we're taking forward to


ensure that we can track the progress as a result of these


measures and Willie Rennie repeatedly stands up in this chamber


and opposes the things we're trying to do to see these improvements and


make sure we can be accountable to every parent across this country.


We'll get on with doing the things that need to be done, even sometimes


when they are difficult and they don't get the support of the Liberal


Democrats. A few topical supplementaries.


Thank you Presiding Officer. Last night BBC Scotland broadcast a


shocking documentary on the human trafficking trade. It provided clear


evidence that young girls are being trafficked from Slovakia to Glasgow,


where they're forced into sham marriages to local men. This is a


scandal and a human tragedy, which is going on right under our noses


here in Scotland right now. Can the First Minister set out what her


Government will do to support girls who arrive in such appalling


circumstances and what measures can be taken to crack down on


trafficking, and traffickers who engage in this evil trade? This is


an extremely important issue. It is as she is right to say, both a


terrible crime. That is what human trafficking is. It's also a global


problem. But it's important that we take robust steps to tackle it, both


in cracking down on the crime committed but also making sure we're


supporting the victims. Now in terms of tackling the crime, the human


trafficking and exploitation act that was passed by this Parliament


in to 15 gives police -- in 2015, gives police and prosecutors


enhanced powers to detect and prosecute those who are responsible


for human trafficking. Police Scotland uses joint investigation


teams to work with Romanian and Slovakian police in this area. It's


vital police Scotland continues to work closely with UK immigration,


Europol and other nations' police forces in order to investigate


offences and bring those responsible to justice. We will continue to make


sure that our police force have the powers and eresources to investigate


and to tackle what are evil crimes against these individuals. The


second important point is how we support victims of human


trafficking. We continue to support what is invaluable work of


organisations that offer assistance to victims. In 2017/18 the


Government will provide grant funding of ?800,000 to the specific


organisations who support adult victims of human trafficking. That's


an increase on previous funding. We'll continue to work with them to


improve the support available to prevent re-trafficking. There's a


range of - I don't have time to go into all of it, I'd be happy to


write to the member with the detail of the work we are doing - but we


should all agree that the crime of trafficking is evil. We must bring


those responsible to justice and provide the support that the victims


need. The Government will continue to focus on doing exactly that.


As the First Minister may be aware there is huge disappointment and


shock following the decision by the Crown office after a prolonged


police investigation and I'm told nine court hearings to drop the case


relating to the alleged illegal killing of a hen harrier in my


constituency in 2013. They have taken a view that the evidence was


inadd missable. Notwithstanding the progress made in recent years, will


the First Minister acknowledge this case represents a serious crime


against a threatened species. Most often this takes place in remote


areas, the law and the approach of the Crown office must take into


account such factors. Will the first machine investigate this case will a


view tone suring the justice system doesn't miss any opportunities to


hold those who illegally kill indigenous species to account? Yes,


I do agree very much with Richard Lockhead. He will understand the


decisions of the prosecution of crime are decisions for the Crown


office and the law officers act in that respect independently of


ministers. I think it's important that we take wildlife crime very


seriously, indeed particularly in cases whereas he has highlighted


today it threatens a threatened species. I would be happy to ask the


relevant minister again to meet with Richard Lockhead to see what more we


can do, particularly taking into account his point about often these


crime take place in remote areas and are more difficult to detect. It's


important to make sure the policy framework, the law around this and


though it's independent of ministers, the decisions taken by


the Crown office, are doing everything possible to crack down on


these kinds of crime and I can assure him that we'll continue to do


everything we can to make sure that's the case.


Cry, College lecturers have been forced on strike for the fourth day


in this dispute, impacting on them, their family and on their students'


education and exams. Can I ask how many days lecturers will need to


strike before the First Minister intervenes to ensure the pay deal is


honoured and does she agree preparation time is essential for


high quality learning? Yes I do agree with that Leys point. I want


to see the dispute settled and I don't want to see lecturers on


strike and it is not in their interest or students. As members


will be aware, I won't go into all the detail, we have moved to a


position of national bargaining, the discussions are about a


harmonisation and this will see a pay rise for the majority. The


discussions now are about how different college by college terms


and conditions are replaced with a national system. Talks are


continuing, and I would encourage both sides to go the extra mile,


including and perhaps especially the employers. I would say in terms of


point about government intervention, ministers have been speaking


regularly with both sides in the dispute, trying to make sure we are


doing everything to encourage them to move to a resolution. The move to


national bargaining was something the unions campaigned for and


something I'm delighted to say this government has delivered. But if a


government has to step in, that is not the success of national


bargaining that, would be the failure of national bargaining. So


ministers will continue to discuss with both sides and do everything we


can to bring the dispute to a settlement. Talks are ongoing today


and certainly tomorrow I would hope we would see resolution of this,


because that is in the interests of college lecturers and students and I


hope that reassures the member that the government will continue to make


shoor we are doing everything possible to bring that about. Four


more questions. I would like to refer members to my register of


interests to ask how the Government is marking mental health awareness


week. Well, I welcome the opportunity to highlight mental


health awareness week. It is important that we all do what we can


to raise awareness. To mark the week, the minister for mental health


met with parents of children and spoke at an event to discuss mental


health stigma. We will hold the first meeting on 23rd June. That is


a specific commitment, because we know working with stake holders will


be key to building on the actions of the strategy. Thank you. In my


opinion, one of the most important actioned in the strategy is to build


a clinical network. Can the First Minister outline how the network


will help mothers experiencing mental health problems? Progress is


being made and I'm happy to confirm that this week the lead clinician


for mental health has been successfully appointed. The Scottish


Government officials attended the conference on Monday and heard at


first hand from mothers their experience in asking for and getting


the right help and I would expect the new network to help us get it


right by driving up standards of care through sbe sbrags of services


and -- integration of services and more collaboration. To ask the First


Minister whether the Scottish Government has had discussions with


SEPA to encourage it to have staff in gaining mouth. -- Grangemouth.


The Scottish government is in discussions about the SEPA estate.


SEPA staff are present in gaining mouth. But I -- Grangemouth. But I


understand following discussions SEPA has agree toad see the benefits


of supporting a Grangemouth site. Thank you. I welcome the fact that


SEPA are going to have those discussions for Grangemouth. Doesn't


require an answer. Question 6. To ask the First Minister what the


Scottish government is doing to better resource planning authorities


in light of an increase in planning fees for major applications from 1st


June 2017. We need a planning system to support business and communities


to deliver high quality development. There has been a general


understanding that fee levels are too low and in many instances not in


proportion to the work involved. We have always been clear that fees and


performance go hand and hand and we are increasing the maximum fee to


provide further resources. The Government will continue to work


wall stake holders to ensure that planning services deliver for


Scotland's communities. The First Minister will be aware that the


national view of planning fee, that maximum fees have Ryz frn 30,000 to


125,000 and let me say this is a welcome resource for local


authorities. Many planning authorities have done an excellent


job, despite cuts. Organisations such as homes for Scotland and


smaller building firms who want to make sure there is an improvement in


the service for those fees, would the First Minister recognise that


these costs could be prohibitive if there is no at dramatic improvement


in waiting times, in particular I'm looking at the figures for house


building where there is an average wait of 48 weeks and I know the


Government has a strong interest in this, planning to build 50,000


houses and I would like to know what the First Minister can do to ensure


the additional costs are spent on improving the planning system


itself? I think it would make two points. First, it is important to


stress the maximum fee and the fee increase only applies to major


applications, that less than 1% of applications. So it wouldn't impact


op plans to deliver 50,000 affordable homes. The second point


is important, the fee increase is about giving councils resources to


improve performance and improving planning performance and doing it on


a consistent basis is one of the things we can do to boost sxhibg


growth in -- economic growth in Scotland and it is vital the


increases lead to that improvement in performance. I should say we are


seeing improvements, reductions in waiting times, but there is more


that can be done and I hope this increase in the fee together with


the actions we will take from the review will help with that in the


period ahead. Question 7. To ask the First Minister in light of local


Government elections whether Scottish Scotland will act to


randomise the names of candidates on ballot papers. For someone whose


surname starts with an S, I can see the attraction. Can I congratulate


all councillors elected, we will wish them well. Following the


successful electronic count, randomised ordering of candidates'


surnames is one innovation the Scottish Government will consider. I


should say no decisions have been taken. But it is one of changes that


will be considered. Thank you. The SNP randomises its own internal SNP


ballot will and so seems reasonable to introduce such a method. In


Glasgow, 40 of the 43 contests with Mo or two candidates from the same


party stood. Glasgow City Council has populated by these names. Does


the First Minister agree that after three elections, under the Single


Transferable Vote, there is something wrong when a surname can


prove a decisive factor and if this not addressed the credibility of the


Single Transferable Vote system is at stake. I think that has to count


as a classic Kenny Gibson question. Can I say just before address the


question, I'm delighted that there was an Aiken electeded in Glasgow.


Councillor Susan atd Ken is' -- - Aitken it set to be the leader of


Glasgow council. It is important that no candidate in any election is


at an unfair disadvantage. I think we would all agree with that. That


is why we have said that we will examine the particular issue that


Kenny Gibson has raised. Its important with any changes to


elections that we build consensus around that. It is not for any one


party to decide on those changes. So as we look at that, we will be


looking at opinion not just across the parties, but across civic


Scotland. So as we do, have this consideration I would everyone to


contribute to it to build consensus. Thank you. That is the end of First


Minister's questions.


Recorded coverage of questions in the Scottish Parliament to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon from Wednesday 10 May.