26 February 2004

S2M-827 Co-operative Development Agency

Scottish Parliament
Thursday 26 February 2004
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]
... ... ...
Co-operative Development Agency
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-827, in the name of Johann Lamont, on planning for a co-operative development agency. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes the crucial role of co-operative and mutual organisations within local communities and across Scotland; recognises the wide variety in size, capacity and in areas of activity of co-operative and mutual initiatives; congratulates those involved within the co-operative and mutual sector both on the key role they play in local and Scottish-wide economic activity and in delivering social justice; welcomes the commitment of the Scottish Executive to establish a co-operative development agency—CDA—and believes that departments across the range of Executive responsibilities must work together to ensure that the CDA will effectively support and strengthen co-operative and mutual enterprises in all their diversity.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw attention to an entry in my register of interests, which shows that I am a policy holder in the mutual investment company Standard Life. I used to be in other mutual companies, but they are no longer mutuals.
I did not sign Johann Lamont's motion but only because of pure inadvertence on my part, for which I apologise. I take the opportunity to congratulate her on securing the debate.
I will not speak at great length. I am in the chamber purely because of the inclemency of the weather, which makes my journey north rather uncertain. I hope that that is not a situation that too many members in the chamber share. Perhaps members who are not here have dashed off in the hope that they can beat the weather to Aberdeen—or is there something going on in Inverness?
Community businesses are an essential part of engaging people in the interests and responsibilities of community life. They are something that I have always supported.
Yesterday's meeting of the Communities Committee turned into a most entertaining hour's discussion of the forthcoming changes to United Kingdom company law, which will introduce new vehicles such as community interest companies and community interest public limited companies. I see fellow members flinching at the thought of my going on at length on the subject, but I do not intend to do so. The debate on CICs indicates, however, that there is life in the old beast yet.
The company in which I have the most particular interest from the point of view of mutuality is Standard Life. I led the campaign in 2000 that defeated Fred Woollard when he wanted to capture the assets of the members of that company for stock market interests. Thankfully, we got a substantial vote against his attempt to do so.
People forget that Standard Life was an ordinary company until the 1920s. It was founded in the 19th century, but chose mutuality as a way of taking its business forward because it realised that its future lay in engaging with its customers. Mutuality enabled the dividends that it paid to be given to its customers by way of the products that it sold and delivered.
That point leads neatly into the issue of dividends from co-operative companies, co-operative enterprises, mutual enterprises and credit unions, all of which come under the same umbrella.
When we talk about dividends, far too often we think simply of a cheque that is provided to people who have put up money and have otherwise got no engagement whatever in the business of the company in which they have invested. Some people think of a business purely as a cash cow to be milked for everything that it has got and in which there is short-term interest in getting money out of it. Co-ops, mutual enterprises and credit unions are to be congratulated on representing our communities at their finest, with people co-operating not for the financial benefits that accrue, but for the mutual benefits that society will accrue and which people who join together and work together deliver to us.
I am happy to support the establishment of a co-operative development agency, to which Johann Lamont's motion refers. I hope that it does not get subsumed in the maw of Scottish Enterprise, because it would be of a very different character from the kind of thing in which Scottish Enterprise gets involved. However, I expect it to work co-operatively with Scottish Enterprise. I congratulate Johann Lamont and give her my support.

S2M-943 Young People

Scottish Parliament
Thursday 26 February 2004
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]
Young People
The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The first item of business this morning is a debate on motion S2M-943, in the name of Peter Peacock, on a better deal for young people, and on two amendments to that motion.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It would be fair to say that there is a genuine sense of anticipation about the minister's summing-up speech. Of course, there always is.
I have said before that, in debate, our critics are our greatest friends. Those who consider what we are doing and make constructive suggestions for modifying our behaviour, policies and practices are the ones to whom we should listen most closely. We should test the challenges that they give us.
Members should note that the SNP amendment deletes nothing from the Executive's motion. If we wanted to, we could play petty, party-political games and fiddle around with it, because the Executive congratulates itself on certain things. I am happy to subscribe to what the Executive has said, but the request to reconsider the Airborne Initiative seems to be gaining widespread support.
In his contribution, Robert Brown said that the partnership agreement contains a commitment to help children who are at risk. In many ways, the Airborne Initiative picks up those who remain at risk through late childhood into early adulthood, and that is why we support it. Robert Brown's proposal to refer the issue to a committee for consideration is one that I find attractive, although I have not yet had the opportunity to discuss it with my colleagues. Were it to be the Communities Committee, of which I am a member, I know that Johann Lamont, the convener of that committee, has been ruthless—I think that that is the correct word—in her pursuit of protecting communities throughout Scotland from that small minority of children who cause problems. I am sure that, because of its deliberations on the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill, the committee has the background to equip it to consider the issue in a fair and unbiased way. I cannot speak on behalf of the committee, but I judge that it has accepted that there are problems. As yet, the committee has to flesh out its agreement on the solutions to those problems, but that is politics and that will be dealt with in due course.
The plea for interim funding to allow the Airborne Initiative to continue is well made and I hope that the minister will be able to give an appropriate response.
During the Communities Committee's deliberations on the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill, members have been to places throughout Scotland and have listened to children who behave well and who make a substantial contribution to our communities and to children who have got into trouble. The former grotesquely outnumber the latter; we should be absolutely clear about that. We have been to Polmont young offenders institution and we have seen the effect of the programmes that take place inside that institution, which appear to be beneficial. For those who have not quite graduated to Polmont, there is a need for programmes outside such institutions.
A remark was made earlier that reminded me of the first law of epigenetics, which is that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the less able it is to adapt to another. The key is for the courts and the children's panels to have a diverse range of solutions and disposals for offenders. That is based in reality and in science.
A lot has happened since I was young. A lot has happened since most of us were young. I am a graduate in mathematics—not a terribly good one—and so is my wife. Occasionally we are asked to help youngsters with their school homework. A few weeks ago, a 13-year-old came to ask for help with homework and we found that the boy was studying mathematics that we had studied in our inter honours year at university. Nevertheless, he needed a calculator to do basic arithmetic. I make no censorious remark in saying that—Bell Baxter High School is a fine school, as Scott Barrie said, and I was happy to go there. However, we did things in a different order and at a different pace, and things have undoubtedly changed.
Rosemary Byrne hoped that the idea of tagging young people with problems would go away; however, many of the problems in our society simply will not go away.
In their manifesto, the Liberals made it clear that they supported the Airborne project, and I was delighted to hear that repeated today.
On 10 October 2002, Richard Simpson said:
"we must have processes by which it is accepted that the Executive's decisions are not always totally right or totally wrong, but are balanced decisions that are made on the evidence that is presented to us."—[Official Report, 10 October 2002; c 14589.]
Today is an opportunity for the Parliament to put party politics to one side and to accept that the Executive will get it right sometimes, although not all the time. It is an opportunity for us to grow as a Parliament and to look beyond the tiny cost of buying some time for the Airborne Initiative to give us time to consider the issue in committee. I urge the minister to take that opportunity.

25 February 2004

S2M-728 General Medical Services Contracts

Scottish Parliament
Wednesday 25 February 2004
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]
... ... ...
General Medical Services Contracts
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-728, in the name of Alasdair Morgan, on general medical services contracts. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament is concerned that the provisions made for contracting-out out-of-hours care from GPs to local NHS boards may be insufficiently funded to meet the unique challenges encountered in rural practices; believes that rural practices thus unable to opt out will have serious difficulty in recruiting new doctors, and considers that the Scottish Executive should re-examine the level of funding allocated to NHS boards providing these services in rural areas.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I would like to speak about some local issues in my constituency, starting with GP vacancies. We have two GP vacancies in Banff; two in Fraserburgh; one and a half in central Buchan; and, on the fringes of my constituency in a practice that is used by many of my constituents, two vacancies in Turriff. That is a huge number of GP vacancies, and most of them have existed for more than two years. That shows the problem against which we have to consider the out-of-hours provision. I suspect that things can only get worse. Some GPs in my constituency are telling me most vigorously that they fear that we will slip into the situation that we have with dental provision. I accept that the health board has a duty to provide GPs to those who cannot find them for themselves and that no such duty exists in dentistry. However, given the number of GP vacancies in the area that I mentioned, there is a real problem.
For Grampian NHS Board, which supports 10 per cent of Scotland's population, but receives only 9 per cent of health service funding, the provision of out-of-hours cover is a particular problem, given the rurality of the area. It is likely that costs for providing the service in Grampian will rise faster than they will in urban areas. There is no sign that the money that is provided will solve that problem.
My father was a GP. He used to have Dr Wilson come down from St Fillans to Cupar every year to be his locum. It is not without relevance that Dr Wilson was the grandson of David Livingstone—today we are looking for some new missionaries to fill the gaps in rural areas. The key point is that my father had to pay 17 per cent of his income to Dr Wilson each year to cover a gap of 7 per cent of his time. Out-of-hours cover is expensive relative to everything else.
We are coming up to the deadline. We do not know how the out-of-hours service will be provided and serviced. When I met representatives of NHS Grampian a few weeks ago, I found that the plans were pretty damn fluid.
GPs are concerned that the change in the contract will lead to their referring more injuries to accident and emergency units because they will not be paid to deal with them. That puts GPs in a difficult position.
GPs in my constituency want categorical assurance that there will be money for personnel to provide out-of-hours care. They want to know how we are going to address the problem in our rural areas. It is clear that transport will be a big issue. My father used to drive a Mini Cooper S and he occasionally took patients directly to hospital in Edinburgh, there being no other way. There are none of those cars around and my father has been dead many years. We need to hear from the minister.

12 February 2004

S2M-902 Budget (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Scottish Parliament
Thursday 12 February 2004
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]
... ... ...
Budget (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is consideration of stage 3 of the Budget (Scotland) Bill. As there are no amendments to the bill, we will move to the general debate on motion S2M-902, in the name of Andy Kerr, that the Budget (Scotland) Bill be passed.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank Tavish Scott for his congratulations on my interest in FRS 17. That is perhaps because I am slightly closer to retirement than he is. He indicated to the Finance Committee this week that he could spend
"up to £50 million"
from his contingency fund
"without coming to Parliament first".—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 10 February 2004; c 973.]
Perhaps he could approach Granada television to try and do a deal to get some questions on the subject of FRS 17 in "University Challenge".
Mr Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Ha!
Stewart Stevenson: Thank you, Jamie.
In the same meeting, it was made clear that we have had continuing difficulties getting realistic trend data. Wendy Alexander said:
"we need to set a good example by ensuring that we have comprehensive statistics in Scotland."—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 10 February 2004; c 979.]
That neatly segues into the debate about GDP, and about the restatement and the baselining that have taken place recently. It also opens up the argument about how effective the new baseline is in giving us a real indication of what is happening in our economy. Interest rates are rising: we have a rate of 4.5 per cent, while the rate is down at around 2 per cent in the European Union. In the United States, it is 1 per cent. That makes things quite difficult for business.
Let us move beyond macroeconomics and consider how our budgets affect people in the real world. In a previous debate this afternoon, Allan Wilson said that Labour wishes to reward the many, not the few. However, parliamentary written answer S2W-5627 tells me that, under Labour, people earning over £40,000 will, between them, make about £5.6 billion or substantially more. Under the current Executive, people earning under £5,000 a year will make substantially less than £4 billion. The trend figures from 1996 suggest that the disparities in our society, as measured on the top and bottom levels of the table contained in the written answer to which I referred, have increased, with inequality growing by about 400 per cent. That is hardly a ringing endorsement of the Executive's policies and its stewardship of our money.
I received a parliamentary answer on the subject of bankruptcies in the past couple of weeks. It indicates that, between 1997 and 2003, there was a rise in the number of bankruptcies from 2,534 a year to 3,363—a rise of a third. Perhaps small businesses, which account for 98 per cent of all businesses and which are at the very heart of our economy, are doing well. In fact, the number of VAT registrations has been falling over the period since Labour came to power; the number of VAT deregistrations has been rising. Those are very serious issues for us all.
I will close by asking about a specific issue that relates to my parliamentary constituency and my own interests. In the Finance Committee this week, Tavish Scott referred to
"modernising the prison estate over the next five to 10 years."—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 10 February 2004; c 986.]
I welcome hearing from the minister that there will, in fact, be further proposals to assist the Scottish Prison Service to modernise within that time frame.

04 February 2004

S2M-667 Wet Age-related Macular Degeneration

Scottish Parliament
Wednesday 4 February 2004
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]
... ... ...
Wet Age-related Macular Degeneration
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-667, in the name of Kate Maclean, on photodynamic therapy for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes the recent decision by NHS Quality Improvement Scotland on the use of photodynamic therapy for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and acknowledges that photodynamic therapy is the only effective treatment for wet AMD, the most aggressive form of the disease and the leading cause of blindness in the UK, with around 650 new patients diagnosed with wet AMD in Scotland every year; is deeply concerned that funding has not been made available for clinicians to treat on the NHS those patients who urgently require the therapy, and endorses the demand by the Royal National Institute of the Blind Scotland and the Macular Disease Society that the Scottish Executive ensures that funding is immediately provided by all NHS boards, thereby saving the sight of those who could benefit from the therapy.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Kate Maclean on initiating a debate on this important subject. As the motion says, some 650 people in Scotland each year become sufferers of the condition, so it affects people throughout Scotland.
It is difficult to engage with the subject at a technical level. For example, the description of the condition that one of my constituents has is:
"classic with no occult subfoveal choroidal neovascularisation".
It is not especially useful to go into such technical complexities in the debate. The issue is really—and inevitably—about people and the effect that the condition has on them.
I have known the constituent of mine who suffers from the condition for many years. He is a lively 80-year-old, but I can see a change in him. He has the misfortune—in one sense—to live in the NHS Grampian area, which has not had the discretionary funds to make treatment available to him. That has been particularly difficult for him because he has seen people come from south-west Scotland with NHS funding to one of the only treatment centres in Scotland, which happens to be in Aberdeen.
Of course, he could have bought treatment from the NHS and an offer was made. I understand the difficulties that are involved in deciding a fair and equitable policy for providing treatment in the early stages. However, let us consider the 650 people—I would be interested to hear the minister's numbers—and the costs that are involved. I do not think that the cost of providing the treatment in question exceeds £1 million. I do not have such money in my back pocket and it is not a trivial amount, but we must make the important contrast between it and the several millions of pounds that those 650 people would end up costing the public purse if they were not rescued from having a lack of sight. The difficulty is that different budgets are involved.
Fortunately, my constituent ended up contacting a specialist in Edinburgh and we managed to get him on a programme. However, he suffered from the wet form of the condition, which—as John Scott was informed—is a matter of extreme urgency. There was a delay of some six or seven weeks before he was treated on the NHS, which, with the wet form of the condition, is enough time for a person to lose around 50 per cent of the remaining sight that is provided by the macula, or the centre of the eye, which is the part of the eye that enables a person to recognise people, watch television and read books. One can be left with orbital sight, which enables one to navigate and move around, but the condition is serious. For people such as my constituent who are well stricken in years, such things can be difficult to cope with.
I hope that the minister will tell us that moneys will be available in the future to treat people with the condition and that there will be a relatively consistent policy throughout Scotland. I also hope that he will tell us that the two and a half years that it has taken before treatment for some forms of the disease is approved is not the kind of period that might be experienced with diseases that need treatment similarly urgently in future.

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