Before I answer, let me extend on behalf of the Scottish Government heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of the three men—Sandy Hamilton, Kevin James McKinlay and Stuart McLevy—who lost their lives in the recent tragic accidents off Dumfries and Galloway and on Loch Lomond.
The Scottish Government takes the issue of safety in and around water very seriously indeed. Although there have been a number of high-profile tragedies and near misses in recent days, we know that there are many other people who have enjoyed Scotland’s inshore and offshore waters safely and without incident.
However, we are not complacent. Sportscotland, the national agency for sport, contributes to promoting safe recreational water activity through its national centres at Cumbrae and Glenmore by developing future coaches and offering skills development in a wide range of water sports.
We also support the aims of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents water safety Scotland group, and will provide £104,000 this year to its annual home and water safety programme. In addition, water safety Scotland is developing a Scotland-specific response to the National Water Safety Forum’s “The UK Drowning Prevention Strategy 2016-2026”, which aims to reduce accidental drowning rates in the UK by 50 per cent by 2026. Water safety Scotland is currently consulting on a draft response to that strategy document, and I encourage anyone who has an interest in water safety and recreational water activity to respond to the consultation.
I thank the minister for her response and I extend my condolences to the families who have been affected by last week’s tragedies.
There is to be a Scottish response to the national drowning prevention strategy specifically because of Scotland’s geography. We know that of the 79 drowning deaths in the UK last year, 50 occurred in Scotland, so we have a disproportionate problem in Scotland, in that regard. As chair of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on accident prevention and safety awareness, I work very closely with ROSPA, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Royal Life Saving Society UK and other organisations that are involved in water safety in Scotland. Would the minister like to visit the CPG and meet its members to discuss the final stages of the response to the strategy?
Yes—I am certainly happy to come to the CPG at an appropriate time when we can fully discuss future actions as a result of the consultation exercise that water safety Scotland is currently carrying out. I encourage the CPG and other interested members to contribute to the consultation exercise, which is on an issue that is pertinent as we come to the—I hope—hot summer weather in Scotland, when people are more likely to engage in water sports across the country.
It is important that we send out a message that ensures that people are aware of the risks, but also enjoy safely the many opportunities that Scotland’s waters and water sports can offer. We already undertake a great deal of work with the Scottish Tourism Alliance on a wide range of industry-related matters, and we will certainly ensure that we explore with it other ways in which we can ensure that safety messages can be shared with visitors who take part in activities across the country. We also have our national parks website and other communications that include extensive advice about people staying safe when enjoying Loch Lomond’s fantastic facilities, which is of course backed up by our emergency services, including Police Scotland.
One of the key hopes of water safety Scotland is that it will be able to cut deaths in Scotland’s waters by half by 2026. Every tragedy is terrible for the families involved, but the truth is that the people who are most in danger in this respect are older men aged 60 to 69. Would the minister consider how to work with pensioner organisations and others that represent that age group on how they might get across a better water safety message?
The consultation exercise gives us an opportunity to make sure that we have fully explored with any interested group or organisation how to ensure age-appropriate messaging—in particular, for the more vulnerable age group that Clare Adamson described.
There is also real recognition that we probably need to be better at understanding information and data. I understand that National Records of Scotland data shows that, in 2015, 35 people died in Scotland due to drowning or submersion. However, there are difficulties: data can be ascribed to misdescribed locations for drowning deaths, there can be inconsistency in information that is captured on death registration forms, there can be lack of information on the forms and there is the complexity of international coding systems. Also, the figure does not include suicide by drowning.
We now have an opportunity to delve deeply into the situation and make sure that we use information appropriately. We also have to make sure that we use existing partners and existing structures to ensure that we get the best possible safety messages out across the country to people who might have greater vulnerabilities.
Does the Scottish Government consider that its decision to cut the funding of free swimming lessons for all primary school children, resulting in 40 per cent of children being unable to swim by the time they reach secondary school, promotes or hinders safety in recreational water activity?
I think that it is important not to conflate the two issues. The ability to swim has not necessarily been a factor in some of the matters that we have been discussing in response to Clare Adamson’s question.
It is also important to recognise that the latest funding for sportscotland allocated over £5 million to Scottish Swimming for the past four years—the largest funding settlement for any of the Commonwealth games sports. Scottish Swimming is actively working in partnership with local authorities and leisure trusts to implement and embed the national swimming framework to support the development of swimming across the country. It is also incumbent on us and Scottish Swimming to include and work with local authorities, which are responsible for deciding what subjects are offered in their schools, taking into account local needs and resources. I will continue to engage with Brian Whittle on the points that he makes and, with that investment, I will certainly make sure that young people get the opportunities that they would like.