Points of Order

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:59 pm on 10th January 2008.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 4:59 pm, 10th January 2008

Before we come to decision time, I understand that there will be a point of order.

I will be very happy if no one wants to raise a point of order.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

Presiding Officer, I wish to raise a point of order under rule 8.17 of the standing orders. Yesterday, the Minister for Communities and Sport made a statement to the Parliament on the future of sportscotland. During questioning on the statement, both Margaret Smith and I asked for details of the effect that the proposed changes would have on staff and how many would be based at each regional hub. In response to my question, the minister said:

"I will not indicate today the number of staff in each location".—[Official Report, 9 January 2008; c 4786.]

In response to Margaret Smith, he went further. He said:

"Clearly, before individual numbers and names are given, the new organisation's management and implementation team must be given the freedom to put in place the structure for the skill sets in each location. It is inappropriate for me to talk about the numbers in any great detail today."—[Official Report, 9 January 2008; c 4793.]

Members will have regarded that as a reasonable approach to such a complex reorganisation.

However, within minutes of the conclusion of questions on the statement, and after what journalists have termed a shambolic press conference by the minister, a Government special adviser circulated details to the press that enabled a journalist to write in today's edition of The Scotsman:

"of the 140 staff currently based in Edinburgh, 30-35 would be allowed to remain and 80-100 would be based in Glasgow. The Institute of Sport staff would remain in Stirling, with five to ten staff in Aberdeen."

Given that even the chair of the Scottish Institute of Sport, Dougie Donnelly, was unaware of the amalgamation, I am amazed at how quickly a consultation with staff took place that allowed not the minister, or even the relevant departmental heads, but a paid political adviser of the SNP to scuttle around the media corridor to save the minister from himself.

If it was inappropriate for the minister to talk to the Parliament yesterday about the numbers, it was utterly inappropriate for a Government spin doctor to speak to the media about them within minutes of the debate. What has occurred is a gross discourtesy to the members of the Parliament. Presiding Officer, I ask you to use your role to protect the interests of members and call on you to instruct the minister to apologise for providing the answers that we sought yesterday to the media, rather than to the chamber.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Is it on the same subject?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

It is on exactly the same subject. The headquarters of sportscotland is currently in my constituency and 145 staff work there. Understandably, yesterday I asked the minister a series of important questions about how many staff would remain in Edinburgh and how many might be lost from the organisation because of the relocation of the majority of jobs to Glasgow, as he outlined. As Mr McAveety said, earlier the minister had refused to answer his question about the number of staff who will be involved. Mr Maxwell also refused to answer my questions, citing the fact that, before numbers could be given, the sportscotland management team would have to look at the structure of the new organisation. The minister said clearly:

"It is inappropriate for me to talk about the numbers in any great detail today."—[Official Report, 9 January 2008; c 4793.]

The minister refused to give the two constituency members involved with the HQ relocation any detail on the number of staff who will be relocated. However, the information that we sought yesterday afternoon on behalf of affected constituents was given to the press by a Government special adviser immediately after the minister had made his statement to Parliament. Today's editions of The Herald, The Scotsman and the Evening News testify to that fact and include staff numbers.

At the end of the day, we are elected to this place to represent our constituencies and constituents. This is a crucial issue for the staff members and families involved. Presiding Officer, I appreciate the fact that you have limited ability to do anything about the content of ministerial answers, but I am concerned that on this occasion—for whatever reason—Mr Maxwell misled the chamber when he failed to disclose information that was known to his officials, if not to him. That is a slight not only to the Parliament, but to the staff of sportscotland.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I thank members for giving prior notification of their points of order. I have reviewed the Official Report of yesterday's statement and today's press coverage, and it appears that information that the Minister for Communities and Sport did not consider it appropriate to disclose during proceedings in the chamber yesterday was later detailed in the press. It is appropriate for me to invite the minister to comment at this stage.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Presiding Officer, thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to these points of order. I apologise to Parliament for the fact that this situation has arisen. It was entirely unintentional.

In answer to questions from members yesterday, I said clearly that the majority of staff would be located in Glasgow, but that citing exact and final figures was not possible. That remains the case. However, later that day, in response to queries from the media, indicative and illustrative figures for likely staff deployment were given. I stress that those figures are not final and that what I said in Parliament yesterday remains the case.

I hope that that clarifies matters. I offer again my apologies to Parliament.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I am grateful for the minister's response, but the good practice guidance that I issued on statements and announcements said that, among other things, members should be informed quickly about the detail of statements and that they should have the opportunity to question ministers on the detail of Government proposals. I appreciate the candid nature of the minister's response, but I ask the Scottish Government to reflect on that guidance, to ensure that such a situation does not arise again.