Cabinet (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 12:00 pm, 1st March 2007

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Scottish Executive's Cabinet. (S2F-2750)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The Cabinet will discuss issues of importance to Scotland.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

I hope that time will be found to talk about the implementation of the legislation that governs free personal care for the elderly. The First Minister will be aware that an independent report that was published yesterday shows that half of Scotland's councils still have queues for assessment for free personal care. He will also be aware that, in the past few months, the Scottish Conservatives have exposed the scandal that some pensioners have been charged wrongfully for meal preparation. Does the First Minister accept that the guidance that was issued to local authorities has been a farce? Can he tell me who is to blame for that?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The Conservatives may be interested in political blame, but people in Scotland are interested in the quality of this important service. People in Scotland are interested not only in the consistent implementation of the free personal care policy in relation to food preparation but in the quality of service provision for elderly people in Scotland who are, for example, in care homes. That is precisely why we have a policy of free personal care, which is fully costed and implemented, and why we insist on consistent implementation in relation to food preparation and the delivery of services—the report to which Miss Goldie referred that was published yesterday made it clear that everyone in Scotland who has been assessed as requiring a service is receiving it. That is also precisely why we insist on the quality of accommodation and facilities for older people who are, for example, in care homes being inspected properly, with any problems rectified, through the work of the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care.

That is a comprehensive approach to care provision and those are significant steps forward in 21st century Scotland. The Conservatives may wish to get involved in some kind of culture of political blame for what happened in the past but, frankly, if we get into that, they could have very red faces indeed.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

It is all very well for the First Minister to tell us that bits of the free personal care policy are working well, but if a pilot told him that bits of a plane were working well, would he still go up in it? The First Minister attempts to ignore the bits that are not working well, which is entirely predictable. The bottom line is that, in 2001, the Parliament passed legislation that entitled our older people to free personal care but, six years later, hundreds of them are still waiting for assessment for care and thousands more have been robbed of an estimated £20 million, as a result of being charged for services that should have been free. How does the First Minister propose to ensure that those pensioners are reimbursed fully and swiftly?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Annabel Goldie misrepresents the situation. The reality is that free personal care for elderly people in Scotland is one of the successes of the Parliament and the devolved Government. Throughout Scotland, thousands of people benefit from the provision of free care, by which I mean not only the elderly people who have been assessed as needing care and who benefit immediately from the provision, but all their families, who benefit because that cost is no longer on them as it was during the many Conservative years. It is important that local authorities throughout Scotland implement consistently the policy of free personal care. However, at least under the devolved Government, they can afford to do so, because of the increases in public investment that the local authorities and the devolved Government have had as a result of a stable and strong economy, after the 20 years of boom and bust under the Tories. In effect, those years of boom and bust led to the cuts in elderly care and the charges that elderly people faced in the 1990s. The comparison between then and now shows that devolution is working for Scotland.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Nowhere in that was an answer to the question that I asked about the pensioners who have been robbed of resource to pay for care that should have been free but was not. How does the First Minister propose to ensure that those pensioners are reimbursed fully and swiftly?

The fact remains that the situation is symptomatic of the rule of the Liberal-Labour pact, which promises everything but does not deliver. Six years on from the introduction of the legislation on free personal care, there are deficiencies in the implementation. On such a simple issue, in which pensioners—who could be more vulnerable?— were robbed of money to pay for services that they should have got free, we have no answer and no leadership from the First Minister as to what is to happen to them. He can blame whom he likes, but is it not the truth that the Lib-Lab pact wants to blur responsibility so that it can take the credit for everything and the blame for nothing?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The reality is that the free personal care policy and its implementation throughout Scotland have been a success for thousands of Scottish pensioners who have benefited from it. As a result of policies that the Parliament has agreed to and the way in which those policies have been implemented, those pensioners and their families have a quality of life that they could never have imagined under the Conservatives.

Scotland's pensioners have not been robbed of anything; rather, the free personal care policy has supported them. That support makes a difference to them day in, day out. We will continue to defend and promote the free personal care policy and ensure that the local authorities, which are responsible for implementing it, implement it more consistently in the years to come. They will do so with our full backing and the resources that they identified as being necessary when the policy was introduced.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour

Is the First Minister aware of the recent announcement by Inglis Allen, which is based in my constituency, that it was calling in the provisional liquidator? Some 43 jobs will be lost. The company has operated in my constituency for more than 100 years and the community will feel its loss keenly. The First Minister is aware that the printing industry in general is experiencing difficult market conditions. Will the relevant Executive departments work with key agencies in my constituency to help to secure a buyer for the company and ensure that every possible support is given to the workforce?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Obviously, we sympathise with those who are affected by such decisions. In such circumstances, we act quickly with the support of all local agencies to give people advice and assistance to get into new work or training. That policy, which has been successfully implemented elsewhere in Scotland, will be implemented in Marilyn Livingstone's Kirkcaldy constituency and the rest of Fife.

Last Friday, I participated in a meeting with Marilyn Livingstone and the local member of Parliament in which the prospect of an urban regeneration company in Kirkcaldy was discussed.

I thank her for that meeting and wish the local partners well. The local community in Kirkcaldy faces real economic challenges, and the local partners should move quickly to secure an arrangement that could ensure additional private and public sector investment in the area in the future.