Covid-19

– in the Scottish Parliament on 11th August 2020.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a statement by Humza Yousaf, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, on Covid-19. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity are also available to take questions at the end of the statement.

Before calling the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, I should mention that I have 29 members down as wanting to ask questions, and we are running late, so my message to you is to please make your questions crisp. I also ask the cabinet secretaries to give succinct answers, please, if we are going to try and get through all the questions before nightfall.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I am here at the request of the Parliamentary Bureau, together with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, to answer questions that members may have in relation to Covid.

Our understanding is that members wish to ask questions in relation to care homes, prisoners on remand and Edinburgh airport, but we will undoubtedly be answering questions on a wider range of issues than that, so my colleagues and I are happy to answer questions on those and other matters.

I am happy to leave it at that and to take questions now.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That is very kind, cabinet secretary, as you did not take up all your time. I will try to take questions from as many members as possible. It would be helpful if members pressed their request-to-speak buttons now and at the same time indicated which cabinet secretary their questions are aimed at. The first question will come from Miles Briggs. [

Interruption

.] Mr Briggs’s microphone is not working. This is a great start when we are running out of time. I am sorry about this, but I will take Monica Lennon now, then come back to Miles Briggs once we get that problem sorted.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

Does the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport agree that we need more transparency in care homes? At the weekend, there were disturbing reports of a postcode lottery of Covid-19 deaths in Scotland’s care homes and we are still relying on freedom of information requests and other journalistic investigations to get that information. What action is the cabinet secretary taking in response to those disturbing revelations and is she looking in particular at the reasons behind the high number of deaths and infections in some care homes and the lower numbers in others? What targeted support is she providing to those care homes? Further to the First Minister’s commitment to me to consider further transparency measures, will the Scottish Government commit today to publish data on individual care homes in terms of the number of deaths, the number of infections and safe staffing levels, particularly now that care homes are starting to open up for visits?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I, too, am committed to transparency. As the member knows—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am sorry, cabinet secretary. I do not know what is happening with recording, but the microphones are not going on timeously.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can now, but I could not at the beginning.

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

Oh, good. Even without a microphone, my mother said that I had a voice that could sell coal, so I think that we will be fine.

As Ms Lennon knows, I am committed to transparency. We publish a great deal of information and, in advance of it being publicly available, it is possible for me to let her know today that we have developed with our care home sector, our clinicians, our geriatricians and NHS Education for Scotland what is called a safety huddle tool, which will be a dashboard that will provide detailed information on the basis that individual care homes will upload information to it, which will make matters much simpler for them. Rather than filling in many different returns, they will upload that information electronically. That will let us, them and the Care Inspectorate see how they are doing in terms of the number of cases that they have, the staff rota and its resilience.

We will add to that information, as we progress through the pandemic, other information on, for example, falls, nutrition and so on. It will replicate in many ways the successful dashboard information that we see across our national health service, particularly in our acute sector. It will also provide additional information on resilience and assurance to residents, potential residents and their families.

My final point is on the particular report, of which Ms Lennon is aware, about the difference in the numbers of cases and, sadly, the numbers of deaths between different care homes in different parts of the country. We are working with Public Health Scotland, but want also to use our clinical university-based advisers to assist us, to identify what the correlation is between some of that data and data on wider population health in those particular areas, and to look at the timeline in all those care homes regarding how they started out in the pandemic, what support they got from us, what Care Inspectorate involvement there was, where they are on the current weekly testing programme and so on.

There is much more to this, and I would be very happy to give Ms Lennon a more detailed answer in writing.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You are not yet audible on the microphone.

There it is.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

During the coronavirus public health emergency, the drug deaths crisis in Scotland is not being given the priority that it urgently needs. Across Scotland, we are seeing cuts to drug and alcohol services at the very time that they should be protected and when there is an increasing need to support vulnerable individuals. Will ministers agree to intervene to prevent any cuts to drug services in this financial year? Given the concern about the drug deaths crisis across Scotland during Covid-19, will ministers also agree to urgent cross-party talks on the issue?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I believe that my colleague Mr FitzPatrick has already indicated that he is happy to have cross-party talks on those matters. The drug deaths task force recently reported on its work, and I am very happy to ensure that we write to Mr Briggs directly with the details of the work that it has undertaken to date, particularly about the current pandemic and what its forward plans are. I am sure that Mr FitzPatrick would happily discuss that with Mr Briggs.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

How can we reopen bars and restaurants in Aberdeen City again without addressing the following issues? Last week, members of the Scottish Parliament were told by NHS Grampian that some bars in Aberdeen did not have correct or comprehensive contact details for their patrons for the track and trace system. We saw photographs of crowds outside certain venues where patrons could just turn up without booking ahead. When the Aberdeen lockdown is eased, what can compel all venues to have a robust and safe system in place, and how can it be enforced? I am not sure who should answer that question.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I think that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport should answer that.

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

[

Inaudible

]. I am not sure what is happening here.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The microphone has to be on so that proceedings can be recorded for the

Official Report

.

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

We are good now.

Ms Martin raises serious concerns that we share. Undoubtedly, it is the case that many businesses across the hospitality sector in Scotland—small and large—have taken significant steps in order to ensure that they are complying with the guidance. Unfortunately, not all businesses have done so. That is particularly relevant to the conscientious collection of data about their customers, so that if there is an outbreak—and we can see the relevance of this in Aberdeen City—the test and protect system has the data that it needs in order to trace contacts who may have been in a particular venue at a particular time and might be considered as close contacts.

From Friday 14 August, we will move to statutory guidance for indoor hospitality the requirement to collect contact details for all customers—there are a number of ways in which businesses can do that—maintain 1m distancing, ensure that there is no queuing and no standing at bars, but rather table service, and a range of other important measures that were in guidance, but will now move into statutory guidance. There will therefore be a requirement to comply. The detail will be set out later this week.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I refer to the report “Impact: restarting elective surgery”, which details that, in the month of March, the number of Covid-19 cases in elective hip and knee replacements patients was just three cases in 634 operations. Given that the list for those waiting longer than 12 weeks has risen from 10,000 to over 20,000, and that a lack of appropriate treatment leads to a significant deterioration in quality of life, can I ask the cabinet secretary whether she agrees with the report’s conclusions that boards should be encouraged to allow redeployed staff to return to their normal roles to support the significant reopening of elective services?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I agree with Mr Whittle, in as much as that is a serious issue. I am conscious of the impact on individuals of waiting for what can be life-changing elective procedures.

As I am sure Mr Whittle knows, all our national health service boards were asked to provide remobilisation plans that would take us through to the end of March next year.

Those plans have been received and are being considered by my officials. The remobilise, recover, redesign group of key stakeholders will consider those plans; 32 individuals are part of that group, which I chair. Part of that work will be looking at a number of remaining demands on our health service: the requirement to ensure that we retain sufficient capacity to cope with any upsurge in the number of Covid-19 cases—bearing in mind that the virus remains with us and the risk of transmission and hospitalisation remains acute, which we see elsewhere in Europe and the world—a support system for the test and protect service, which is critical to our aim of keeping the virus level as low as possible; and, at the same time, beginning to restart critical services in our NHS, which include elective surgery. One of the reasons why we have retained the NHS Louisa Jordan is to assist us in doing that.

As those board plans are finalised and we reach a view on how we will remobilise, while allowing the NHS to recover and meet those other demands, I have already made a commitment, with the support of the recovery group, to come back to this chamber to set out for members across the chamber—but, more importantly, for patients and the wider public—the plans that we have to take us through to the end of the current financial year.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport for all the actions of the public authorities in dealing with the cluster in Port Glasgow. Can she make me aware of any lessons that have been learned in dealing with that cluster that can be utilised across the country to help in any future clusters?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

With regard to the Port Glasgow cluster, which members will recall involved a pharmacy and another local business, I am pleased to say that there have been no further cases since Saturday. At this point, the incident management team has agreed that it can stand down. In other words, it believes—and has the data to tell it—that it has reached the end of the transmission chain, so it has successfully contained that outbreak of Covid-19.

There are always lessons to be learned; we learned lessons from our first outbreak and use of test and protect in Dumfries and Galloway. However, the important part for us is that the local incident management team can make decisions—backed by the national support that we give in the system of test and protect—that make sense for the particular incidents that it is looking at. I am sure that Mr McMillan knows that, for example, the outbreak in Port Glasgow is significantly different in a number of important respects from the one that we are dealing with in Aberdeen. Those lessons are learned. The IMTs talk with each other and request from the Scottish Government any additional support that they believe we should be offering them. We are taking all that very seriously.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

Earlier in the pandemic, the Scottish Human Rights Commission raised concerns about prison service regulations that were introduced and the restrictions that were placed on prisoners’ bathing and exercise. Such limitations could have a negative impact on prisoners’ mental health, so I ask the Cabinet Secretary for Justice what action has been taken to ease those restrictions and move the priority of prisoners’ wellbeing higher up the prison service agenda?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank James Kelly for a very important question, which he has raised with me before. To give him reassurance, I say that I have had discussions with the Scottish Human Rights Commission and other human rights stakeholders that have an interest in our prisons. The best thing that we can do for those in our care in our prisons is, in line with public health guidance, to ease the regime as best as we can, and that has happened over the past few weeks and months. Importantly, steps have been taken to introduce virtual visits and mobile phones, to allow greater access to leisure—and, later this month, educational opportunities—and, most importantly, the resumption of physical visits. We know what a great impact that will have on the morale and, I hope, the mental health and wellbeing of those who are in our care in our prisons.

I am pleased to reassure James Kelly that it is still the case that the regulations that we introduced will be used only in extreme cases and will not be the norm moving forward.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Will the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport confirm what additional measures are being put in place to ensure that health boards such as NHS Grampian are equipped to deal with the increased pressures on services during the winter period?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

As I said in answer to a previous question, all our health boards have been asked to provide us with their remobilisation plans, which will take them through to the end of March next year. We have already gone through with them the financial outturns for the first quarter and what additional resources they need, given their spend so far in response to Covid-19.

The mobilisation plans will include all the areas that I have discussed: the boards’ plans to maintain capacity to deal with any increase in Covid cases, the support that they are offering to test and protect, and their winter planning, in particular around the increase in the seasonal flu vaccination programme that we have announced. There will be a significant increase, which I hope will see us vaccinate more than 2.25 million people in Scotland by extending eligibility. Our entire health service across primary care, dentistry, optometry and our community pharmacies will all have a role to play in delivering that programme.

In addition, the mobilisation plans from the health boards will alert us to any additional resources that they require in order to deliver on the priorities that we agree with them. We will agree those priorities through discussion with the recovery group that I spoke about earlier, which involves the British Medical Association, the royal colleges, including the Royal College of Nursing, our unions on the staff side, as well as other key stakeholders, including Scottish Care and the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Yesterday, in a BBC Radio Scotland interview, a journalist asked the national clinical director why there is no routine testing in schools in Scotland. Professor Leitch responded:

“Routine testing doesn’t work. It doesn’t help us.”

Does the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport share that view, and what assurance can she give teachers that they will be safe in our classrooms in the absence of routine testing?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

There have been a number of discussions, which have been led by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills with input from me and our clinical advisers, on the safe restarting of schools. From my perspective, part of that focused on the issue of testing and surveillance. I believe that there is now agreement with the unions concerned on what they describe as the “triple lock”, which is test and protect, the local incident management teams and health protection teams paying particular attention to what is going on in schools, and the involvement of schools in our surveillance work, which gives us important information about the level of the virus in communities in Scotland, as well as in Scotland as a whole.

In addition, we have made clear that individual teachers can access testing through the employer portal, whether or not they are symptomatic. Obviously, if people are symptomatic, they can access testing, but asymptomatic teachers, much like members of Police Scotland, will be able to access a fast route to testing through the employer portal. Therefore, we have the triple lock and we now also have that testing route, all of which is designed to ensure that we keep a close eye on whether there is any prevalence of the virus in and around our schools, so that we can act quickly through test and protect in order to contain it.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

What is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that members of the public are aware of the risk from organised criminal groups during the crisis and of how they can report suspicions safely?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Ruth Maguire raises a very important issue, which the serious organised crime task force and I discussed at our last meeting. We know that serious organised crime groups will try to take advantage of people, particularly those with vulnerabilities, during the pandemic. We work closely with the National Cyber Security Centre and Police Scotland to provide organisations and, importantly, individuals with advice and guidance on the cyberfraud threat. We also support Police Scotland’s positive shut out scammers campaign to inform individuals about the possibility of fraud.

Of course, members of the public can, and should, report any concerns to Police Scotland on 101 or, if it is an emergency, using 999. They can also report concerns to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The justice secretary will be aware that a quarter of Scotland’s prison population is on remand, which is double the number south of the border. He will also have heard the warning from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland that the number of people who are being put on remand is huge and growing. Although the pandemic has certainly exacerbated the situation, the problem is not new. Will the justice secretary advise the chamber what steps he is taking to address the disproportionately high level of remand prisoners in our prison population?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank Liam McArthur for asking a very important question. I will give a couple of caveats before I answer it. One is that bail decisions are, of course, made by the independent courts. He is right to allude to the fact that the main reason for the significant increase in the remand population has been the suspension of court business, particularly of jury trials. He is also correct to say that the problem existed pre-pandemic, too.

In the interests of brevity, I note that there are, in effect, three actions that I am proactively considering. First and foremost is the resumption of court business. If I can do that—the resumption of solemn court business has begun—that will help to reduce the remand numbers. I will make a further announcement about that before my appearance at the Justice Committee next week. The second action is continued investment in bail supervision, which increased by 26 per cent in 2018-19. That has not happened by accident; it happened because we provided funding for it.

Probably one of the most significant measures, about which I am pleased to be able to give a bit of detail today, is my intention to introduce regulations to enable electronic monitoring of bail. Liam McArthur will know that the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019 allows us to use electronic monitoring for that purpose. Subject to the agreement of parliamentary authorities, I hope to introduce such regulations in September, or by October at the very latest.

We will continue our consultation with a number of groups that have an interest in electronic monitoring. If we can get electronic monitoring of bail up and running, that will be a game changer and will allow us to reduce the remand population.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Given that a number of arm’s-length external organisations seem to be struggling to reopen sports facilities and have financial problems, has the Government had any discussions with Glasgow City Council or Glasgow Life concerning reopening such facilities, including the Crownpoint athletics venue in my constituency?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

We are aware of the particular difficulties that such organisations face. Discussions are continuing with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on how we can best support leisure bodies through local government funding. We could perhaps have, for example, a tailored lost-income scheme for Scottish councils that includes some allowance for ALEOs. Those discussions continue, and I hope that there will be a resolution soon.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The local outbreak in Aberdeen has once again highlighted the threat of transmission by people without symptoms, as well as the vital importance of contact tracing. Does the health secretary accept that testing all known contacts can help to assess and contain local outbreaks, even if test results are not accurate in every case?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

The question that Mr Macdonald has asked is an important one. As he knows, we have had many discussions on the issue. The evidence on the testing of asymptomatic individuals has evolved over time as scientists and clinicians—not just here in Scotland but globally—have learned more about the virus.

Evidence appears to be growing that people shed more of the virus in the pre-symptomatic stage—although, of course, not as much as when they are symptomatic, when they are coughing and sneezing and so on, which means that the risk is greater. Because a risk is presented by people who are pre-symptomatic, as part of the process of revising our testing strategy, which is under way and has almost been completed—I hope that it will be completed soon—active consideration is being given to the testing of contacts through the test and protect scheme.

There have been instances in which contacts have been tested, for example as part of our handling of the outbreak in Dumfries and Galloway. That proved helpful, although as Mr Macdonald said, it is possible to get false positives and false negatives with people who are asymptomatic. Consideration is being given to the testing of asymptomatic individuals as part of the revision of our testing strategy. As I said, I hope that we will be able to conclude that work and publish the new strategy soon.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

My question is for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

Prior to recess, Lady Dorrian announced pilots for the resumption of a small number of solemn criminal trials in Edinburgh and Glasgow. As the cabinet secretary mentioned, the pilots involve the use of multiple courtrooms for a single trial to help with physical distancing.

Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on how successful those pilots have been? What progress has been made to clear the inevitable backlog of cases that has been caused by the pandemic?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Rona Mackay is right—we are all very pleased to see the resumption of solemn business. Of course, that is constrained because of the physical capacity of the court estate and the need to adhere to physical distancing guidelines.

On the whole, the feedback has been extremely positive—there have been positive comments from defence agents and prosecutors who are involved in cases, and we are listening to and engaging with victims organisations to get their feedback. We are having to think about innovative solutions that we have never previously thought about in order to maximise the number of trials that can take place. As I mentioned in a previous answer, I hope to be able to make an announcement on the issue ahead of my appearance at the Justice Committee next week.

However, even getting to the number of trials that were being held pre-Covid will be a challenge, let alone more trials than that, which would help us to deal with the backlog. I am afraid that the backlog is a significant issue, on which we will need to continue to keep our minds focused.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Can the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport tell me what evidence supports the decision that gyms in Scotland must remain closed while pubs and restaurants can open?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I will be happy to provide Mr Kerr with the detailed evidence from our clinical advisers. I am sure that he will appreciate that, as politicians, we do not make such decisions without having that evidence before us. It centres primarily on the means by which transmission happens and the circumstances in which it occurs. As I said, I will be happy to provide Mr Kerr with that evidence.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

Can the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport outline what progress has been made in protecting and supporting people with learning disabilities who are at risk of contracting Covid-19?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

Every fortnight or thereabouts, I have a detailed meeting with the Care Inspectorate. We have looked in particular at the situation as regards residential care and support for people with learning disabilities, and the Care Inspectorate is now taking specific steps in that regard.

The work that we are undertaking across the piece in social care applies to adult residential services. In addition, I have had detailed conversations with Sally Witcher from Inclusion Scotland to make sure that we are covering all the relevant areas in health. Obviously, my colleague Ms McLeod has a locus in that work, as does Ms McKelvie, to ensure that we are taking forward particular areas of support.

We are now looking at how safely and how soon we can open day centre support for those who are elderly and other adults who make significant use of and take benefit from that support and who have not been able to partake of it for some months. Part of our current work in the area of adult social care is to look at the steps that we need to take to be able to safely open those centres so that people across the country can benefit from their use.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I would like to follow up on the previous questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport about the scientific guidance that allows pubs to open but not leisure facilities. What types of leisure facilities are seen as high risk? How is that evaluated?

A lot of constituents have raised this issue with me. Do we not need to see action to enable people to get vital physical and mental health benefits from access to leisure facilities, especially given the growing concerns about their financial viability, with 18 leisure centres—

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

—and eight swimming pools now at risk of permanent closure?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

An awful lot of people want to ask questions and I want to try and get everybody in.

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

Sarah Boyack is absolutely right and I would not disagree with her about the importance of many facilities, in terms of physical and mental wellbeing for adults, and in particular, children.

The two particular areas on which we have not yet reached a decision on a date for opening, although they have indicative dates, are gyms and swimming pools. I am very conscious that swimming pools offer a therapeutic opportunity for people with particular health conditions. I take that matter very seriously.

As I said to Mr Kerr, I am very happy to provide the evidence that we looked at when determining that those facilities would not open at this point. We continue to keep that under review.

We have taken steps on outdoor activities for children and young adults, and I am currently looking at what more we can do on adults and outdoor organised sport and whether we can proceed quickly in those areas.

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

Can the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity outline how the Scotland cycle repair scheme will help to maintain the positive increase in the number of people across the country who are cycling, while helping to manage demand on public transport during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

It has been very encouraging to see the number of people who are now cycling on a daily basis during the pandemic. We want to try to maintain and encourage that, particularly as the restrictions start to ease, and given the restrictions that we have on public transport, which have resulted in limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements.

The cycle repair scheme is an opportunity for those who may have a cycle, a tricycle or a manual wheelchair that they want to repair and make greater use of to get £50 towards the repair costs. We are making £1.5 million available, which will allow some 30,000 people to participate in the scheme through shops across the country.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

Before the outbreak of Covid, the two Caledonian MacBrayne ferries being built by Ferguson Marine were more than £100 million over budget and more than three years overdue. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the latest timetable for completion and the latest budget overspend for the two vessels?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

As the member will recognise, during the pandemic construction work on sites such as the Ferguson’s yard had to come to a halt. However, as the construction guidance has been introduced, it has allowed some construction work to start again.

A reassessment of the existing work programme is being undertaken, which includes looking at its associated costs. As is the case with many construction projects, that project has lost time during the pandemic due to physical distancing and the need to have restricted work arrangements.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Can the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport confirm whether the goal of the Scottish Government is the complete eradication of the Covid-19 virus in Scotland? If so, when does it believe that that can be achieved concurrently with life returning to the normality that we enjoyed before the pandemic struck, or do ministers envisage periodic lockdowns following outbreaks and health restrictions on everyday social activities becoming the new norm?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

Our goal as the Scottish Government is the elimination of Covid-19 in Scotland. We cannot pursue the goal of eradication, which would mean that Covid-19 does not exist, not least because the opportunities for importing the virus into Scotland are not ones that we have complete powers to control. The Government’s aim is elimination—that is, driving down the virus to the lowest possible level that we can manage.

We cannot expect to be able to do that and release some of the lockdown measures, as we have done, and not see outbreaks of the virus, because it is still with us. It still remains in our communities. We have seen that in the outbreaks in Dumfries and Galloway, Port Glasgow, Lanarkshire and the city of Aberdeen.

That is why two things are absolutely critical. It is absolutely critical that, as individuals, we take personal responsibility for our own behaviours that will control and eliminate the transmission of the virus. That is the point of the FACTS guidance—it is about face coverings, cleaning our hands, maintaining 2m physical distancing and, if we have any symptoms at all, not waiting to see whether they maybe get a bit better but booking a test and isolating ourselves from others, including others in our own households.

The second part of how we will pursue elimination so that we can return life in Scotland to greater levels of normality is through our national health service’s test and protect system.

We hope that, in time, there will be a vaccination for Covid-19. We take part in the four-nation work on that, and we are ready to have a vaccination programme that will deliver a vaccine to people in Scotland. However, we do not have such a thing at this point, so our pursuit of an elimination strategy has to combine the two key elements that I have talked about—constantly reinforcing the personal responsibility of each of us as the first line of defence against the transmission of the virus, and supporting and resourcing test and protect as our second line.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

Has any assessment been carried out of the impact of Covid on policing resources and the ability of the police to do their job? Given that new rules are, I think, coming out this week for pubs and other facilities, do the police have the resources to be able to police those areas?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank Alex Rowley for asking an important question.

I speak to Police Scotland—usually the chief constable or one of his deputy chief constables—at least a couple of times a week. It is fair to say that, throughout the pandemic, we have worked with Police Scotland hand in glove in relation to the regulations that have been brought forward and, indeed, the guidance. There is no doubt at all that Police Scotland officers and staff have, very admirably, been at the front line in keeping us safe and have, where necessary, enforced the measures in regulations that have needed to be taken. They have taken a very commonsense approach to enforcement throughout the pandemic.

To directly answer Alex Rowley’s question, it would be foolish to suggest that there has not been a significant financial impact right across our public services because of the pandemic. There is simply no doubt about that. I am keeping in very close contact with Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority; indeed, at the end of last week, I spoke to the interim chair of the SPA, David Crichton, to discuss that very issue. We certainly keep in close contact with them.

Obviously, we will look to see what assistance we can provide in the forthcoming spending review discussions, but it is fair to say that there is an impact not just because of Covid. We are getting to business as usual in respect of normal crime rates; we have Brexit and an imminent no-deal Brexit threat, with the implications of that; and, of course, there is the rearranged 26th conference of the parties, or COP26, which will also mean significant pressures on policing.

We have continued discussions with Police Scotland on those budgetary pressures.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice will be aware of the closure of the forensic toxicology lab at the University of Glasgow because of Covid-19, and the drug deaths in Glasgow, which have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Will he provide an update on what the current status is, with outstanding cases and new cases that are coming through the system? Can he tell us what the future holds for the forensic lab services and whether the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service will revisit the decision to withdraw from utilising its services?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I will ask the Lord Advocate to write to Sandra White with that detail. Obviously, the issue is within the Lord Advocate’s remit. Sandra White will know that it is not for the Government to intervene in his independent functions but, nonetheless, this is an extremely important issue. She will also be aware that Covid had an impact on the lab and that work had to pause. I know that that work has restarted, and I also know that it has been publicly announced that there has been a further extension of the contract with the University of Glasgow, until the end of January 2021. Hopefully, that will give some reassurance to the staff.

I cannot go into detail about the other provider, due to commercial sensitivities around that. However, I will ask the Lord Advocate to write to Sandra White to give her the detail of the additional resources that are being committed to address that backlog, which is undoubtedly causing suffering to many people who are waiting for their loved ones’ toxicology reports.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Independent

I suspect that my question is for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

In light of the question from Gillian Martin about individual establishments in the city of Aberdeen, will the regulations that the Scottish Government is introducing involve additional powers being given to licensing boards to take enforcement action against the licence holders of any establishments that are seen to be contravening the regulations and acting inappropriately, or do licensing boards already have those powers?

Will the Scottish Government send a clear message about the inappropriateness of individuals undertaking pub crawls during this period? What steps can be undertaken to prevent that from being done through multiple establishments?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

That is a set of very good questions from Mark McDonald. As many members will know, under the current rules that exist for licensing, the licence holders’ ability to obey rules and their history of doing so can be taken into account when they reapply for their licence. I have asked the Minister for Community Safety, who leads on licensing matters, to take a fresh look at this issue as a result of the current context that we find ourselves in.

If there is more that we can do in terms of discouraging bad behaviour on the part of licence holders, we will absolutely do that.

Mark McDonald makes a good point about pub crawls and people who go to multiple licensed premises during a day. The First Minister has sent a strong message in her daily briefings that people who do that are putting themselves and their loved ones at risk, because we know of the dangers of transmission in an indoor environment.

In relation to the first part of the question, again, we will seek to do whatever more we can do within the powers that we have in relation to licensing.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

I have a question for the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity.

Last week’s closure of the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful in my region was the latest in a long line of closures over many years. That route is vital for my constituents and businesses in my constituency, which rely on it every day of the week. They now require a long-lasting and permanent solution to the problem. Can the cabinet secretary explain how the Scottish Government will fix this long-running problem once and for all and state that he will not just implement another review and dig more ditches at the roadside?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That question was not quite Covid related, but I see that the cabinet secretary is getting to his feet to answer it.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am more than happy to respond to the question.

I recognise the significant concern that will be felt by those who have experienced the disruption and difficulties that have been caused by the most recent landslide at the Rest and Be Thankful in the past week. It was a significant landslide of 6,000 tonnes of material that came on to both the main carriageway and the old military road and caused significant damage to the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful. I am grateful to the engineers and those who have supported them over the course of the past week in order to get the old military road open.

I can say to the member that, as I set out at the most recent task force meeting—I am not sure whether the member was present—we are already looking at several different options for an alternative route to the Rest and Be Thankful. That is part of the strategic transport projects review 2 process.

I also set out at the meeting that I have already accelerated the process to ensure that those are the first elements of the STPR2 process that ministers consider in order to examine what the most appropriate mitigation measure for an alternative route for the Rest and Be Thankful would be.

I assure the member that we will continue to focus our work on considering what the alternative route should be in order to ensure that we have a long-term solution to a long-standing problem with the Rest and Be Thankful route.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

As the transport secretary will be aware, my constituents rely on lifeline ferry services. Will he acknowledge that the relaxation of Covid-related restrictions on bookings, although welcome, have brought us to the difficult situation whereby many sailings are now booked out well in advance?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Alasdair Allan raises an important issue, which I know will be a matter of concern to some of his constituents. He will be aware of the many competing demands across the ferry network in supporting local residents and key workers to travel around and in supporting essential trade and tourism.

Physical distancing must be maintained on the ferry network. However, given that the restriction has changed from 2m to 1m, where that is possible, capacity has been increased. To try to address the concerns and accommodate the needs of local residents and essential workers, 20 per cent of tickets are held back on any given sailing in order to be available on a turn-up-and-go basis, where possible.

I assure the member that CalMac Ferries is continuing to consider whether it can take additional measures to increase capacity. For example, it continues to engage with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in relation to relaxations around some of the regulations that apply to car decks, which have been achieved on some crossings. I also assure the member that, if additional measures can be undertaken to increase capacity further, CalMac will look at doing so.

If the member has a specific concern about his constituents’ experiences and has a view about how that could be resolved, I am more than happy to respond to him directly.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

On the BBC programme “Disclosure”, the chief executive of Scottish Care said that the Government’s advice to care homes that residents who were showing symptoms of Covid should not normally be admitted to hospital was

“unacceptable, inhumane and a derogation of the duty to protect life”.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and the First Minister refused to take part in the programme. Who is accountable for a policy that was

“a derogation of the duty to protect life”?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

Let me be clear about a couple of things. I did not refuse to take part in that programme—I was unwell at that point. I regret that I was unable to take part, because I would have sought to give a different perspective on a number of issues.

The chief executive of Scottish Care, who has been heavily involved in all our work and all the guidance that we have issued, has played a very constructive role with us in ensuring that we understand the key issues in and around care homes. He has challenged us and argued with us on many occasions, and asked for more to be done. I hope that we have responded positively on all those occasions.

We have had this discussion before. That was not in our clinical guidance. Where residents in care homes require to be admitted to hospital—if that is the clinical opinion—they should be admitted to hospital. That has always been the position. It is not for a politician to take clinical views; it is entirely for the local clinician to make their decision based on their professional judgment about where the best place is for an individual to receive the care that they determine that the individual requires. That is and has always been the Government’s position. It remains my position as the health secretary and, for as long as I am the health secretary, it will continue to remain my position. Politicians do not make such decisions; experienced clinicians do.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

Edinburgh airport, which is in my constituency, has signalled that it may shed up to a third of the 750 jobs there. Will the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity undertake to meet the aviation sector to explore testing as an alternative to quarantine? Will he rule out the possibility of a quarantine order on all English passengers, which is harming our important domestic market?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I recognise the member’s concern about potential job losses at Edinburgh airport. We are concerned about those workers who might be affected by the redundancy programme and we stand ready to provide support and advice through our services and through partnership action for continuing employment to workers who have been adversely affected today.

We have engaged extensively with Edinburgh airport. I have had a number of discussions with the chief executive, as has the First Minister. We will continue to engage with the airport to see how we can continue to support it. The member may know that the Scottish Government has provided, as part of its £2.3 billion support package, business rates relief to our airports and airlines and to the air support agencies that are based at our airports, including at Edinburgh. That is not available to airports in England and Wales.

We will continue to engage specifically with Edinburgh airport on the question of how we can recover some of the routes into Scottish airports that have been lost. That is part of our route recovery strategy. We will identify the key routes that could be re-established and which are key to our business and inward tourism sectors.

I assure the member that we will continue to engage with the sector to provide whatever support we can. However, the member will recognise that the pandemic has had a significant and global impact on the aviation sector. That will remain significant for a long time, which is why we have called on the UK Government to extend the job support scheme to support the aviation sector through this extended difficult period. I have made representation to the UK Government about that, and we will continue to press it on the issue.

Photo of Angus MacDonald Angus MacDonald Scottish National Party

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity will be aware that the bus manufacturing industry has been one of the major casualties of Covid-19, due to a significant slump in demand for new buses. He will also be aware of the restructuring plans announced by Alexander Dennis in his Falkirk West constituency.

Given that a large number of my constituents work at ADL, will the cabinet secretary tell us what progress has been made, as part of the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, in exploring ways of supporting bus operators to overcome the higher up-front capital costs of new zero-emission buses? That would have the added bonus of simultaneously accelerating decarbonisation of the bus sector.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You make the best of that, Mr MacDonald; you have waited a long time.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member raises an important issue about the on-going impact that the downturn in the use of buses in public transport is having on the bus manufacturing industry. I am acutely aware of the challenges that that creates for manufacturers such as Alexander Dennis, whose Scottish operation is based in my Falkirk West constituency.

I have had extensive engagement with the senior management team at ADL and with the trade unions to look at the risk of job losses there. We have a strong track record of supporting bus manufacturing in Scotland. In recent years, we have provided almost £17 million through the Scottish green bus fund, which has helped to support the provision of almost 500 new low-emission buses across the network.

We have also worked with Alexander Dennis to look at what further measures could be implemented to support recovery in the sector. With the Scottish National Investment Bank, we have taken forward a significant piece of work at pace on providing a leasing model so that operators can lease buses rather than buy them. The feedback so far from the bus sector has been positive and we are trying to move that forward as quickly as possible to support not only the greening of the bus fleet but the bus manufacturing sector.

We want to ensure that ADL remains at the cutting edge of new technology for low-carbon public transport. Scottish Enterprise has made available a grant of £10 million to support ADL with research and development over the next two years. ADL has had access to around £7 million of that during this financial year, and Scottish Enterprise will provide the remainder of that grant as ADL takes forward its research and development work.

I assure the member that we are working as best we can with that company to support the business and to encourage bus operators to start placing orders for new buses, and particularly for the ultra-low-emission vehicles in which Alexander Dennis specialises. I assure the member that we will continue that work to support the sector as it recovers.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes questions. I thank the cabinet secretaries and members, as we managed to get through all the questions.