16 December 2010

S3M-7605 Antisocial Behaviour Framework

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 16 December 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Antisocial Behaviour Framework

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7605, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the antisocial behaviour framework.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

It is a very great pleasure to return to a subject in which I was closely involved during the passage of what became the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004. In the stage 3 debate on the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill, which I opened for the Opposition, I stated that there was

"a real problem and ... a real casus belli underlying the Executive's determination to pass the bill",

but I also said that there were continuing disagreements about

"whether the remedies that the bill proposes are proportionate and appropriate."—[Official Report, 17 June 2004; c 9369.]

An issue on which the then minister, Margaret Curran, and I agreed—I always agree to recognise the wisdom of someone who accepts an amendment from me—was that research and reporting post hoc would be important to inform future generations of legislators as to whether certain provisions about which we disagreed were or were not effective in practice. It is self-evident that some of those provisions have contributed much less than the Labour Party suggested that they would in 2004.

Let me lighten Nigel Don's darkness. In an answer to me in March 2007, Robert Brown said that there had been no parenting orders. In response to the questions that he asked in spring and autumn 2008, John Lamont received the same answer.

James Kelly: The member stresses the importance of reporting and monitoring. Does he share my concern that page 36 of the report that is before us outlines the fact that there will no longer be any requirement for reporting at national level and that monitoring will take place only at local level? Surely that undermines the ability of national Government to assess the statistics on antisocial behaviour.

Stewart Stevenson: One of the clear lessons that emerged from the then Communities Committee's travels around every police area in Scotland was that success in engaging with antisocial behaviour depended on local action. Such engagement was successful when local action was taken.

On the subject of reporting, I identify for members that my amendments 95 and 96 to the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill, which sought to introduce sections after sections 14A and 20, both specified a reporting period of three years. In accepting an amendment from me, Margaret Curran recognised that three years was an appropriate period to assess what was going on.

Of course, there are still differences between members and parties in the chamber. With some disappointment, I heard Mr Butler suggest that an ASBO being granted is a measure of success in dealing with antisocial behaviour. I take a fundamentally different view. The issuing of an ASBO is a measure of failure to deal with antisocial behaviour. I worked very closely with Donald Gorrie, a previous member of the Liberal Democrats, and he took the same view.

Bill Butler: An ASBO is simply a court's recognition that an offence has been committed. Does the member not agree?

Stewart Stevenson: That is fundamentally correct, but that it should get to the point at which the last and only remedy available is a court intervention is a measure of possible failure in the process. I do not regard the figure of 0.1 per cent of complaints leading to ASBOs as necessarily a sign of failure. I take a different view and other members will do that, too.

It is worth saying that we have seen the courts make a range of interventions that we regard as helpful. For example, the length of sentences for knife crime has doubled in five years, from an average of 118 days in 2005-06 to 263 days now. Of course the courts have an important role to play in that area, as they do in dealing with the criminal and the antisocial lout. It is important that the courts clearly address the needs of each individual case. I quote Chief Constable David Strang:

"Each offender has a personal background and I think it's absolutely proper that the court, having heard all the circumstances of the offence and of the offender's circumstances, can impose a sentence that is appropriate."

I trust the courts. I might not always agree with them, but they have an expertise that I do not necessarily have.

Robert Brown said that there is no simple solution, and I am happy to agree with him.

Labour's obsession with ASBOs is simply unhelpful, and as it turns out, I agree that Labour's proposal is pointless, simplistic and a waste of time.

James Kelly said that I could look out of St Andrews house and see the snow. My office was actually at Victoria Quay, but we should not quibble about that.

In the past week, I have been delighted to receive, as I often do, an e-mail from a constituent; they welcomed the resolution of a local problem in one area of my constituency as a result of something that I described in a similar way at stage 1 of the bill. I said:

"The councillor had the initiative and the guts—as councillors and members of the Parliament should have—to bring community groups together, to hold public meetings"—[Official Report, 10 March 2004; c 6472.]

and to ensure that solutions were obtained. By the way, I was describing and commending the work of an Edinburgh Labour councillor. Everyone in politics has a shared duty to their constituents.

I close by making an observation about Labour's approach to the debate. There was a glimpse of a proposal from the Labour members, but we now know that it is toothless and it will simply lead to more bumping of gums. There is never a proposal of substance from Labour, never a suggestion for action, never a way forward and nothing but girn and gripe.

If that sounds like an empty phrase from me, I have found a way to measure it. It occurred to me that a word in Labour's amendment sounded familiar. I refer to the first word, which is "regrets". Labour members are no fans, then, of Edith Piaf's "Je ne regrette rien", but serial offenders. There are currently 16 motions before Parliament that contain the word "regrets"; 11 are from Labour, three are from the Green Party, and there is one each from the SNP and Liberal Democrats. There is regret among the Labour members; action is entirely absent.


08 December 2010

Statement: Severe Weather

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 8 December 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 14:01]
... ... ...
Severe Weather

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a 10-minute statement by Stewart Stevenson on severe weather. As the minister will take questions at the end of the statement, there should be no interruptions or interventions during it.


The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I am grateful for this opportunity to update Parliament on recent weather events and their damaging effects on the transport network. I should begin by saying that the westbound M8 fully reopened to all traffic at 13:15.

On Monday, a combination of events—the return of many adults and children to work or school after a period of school closures and disruption from previous snow, combined with more and heavier snow that fell over a longer time than expected—contributed to a very sudden deterioration in road quality and public transport services in central Scotland. The key question is whether our response could or should have been better in these very unusual circumstances.

The fact of the matter is that if the transport system grinds to a halt and people are forced to spend the night in their cars, something has clearly gone wrong. I regret that and apologise for the failure to communicate the situation effectively to the many people affected on Monday when the extent of the problem became apparent.

Of course I am sorry that anyone should have to experience the gridlock and inconvenience of recent days and, in terms of the aspects of the problems that can be resolved by Government, I accept that responsibility rests with me. We must be clear what the issues are.

I also want to be very clear on one matter. No doubt parts of the system did not work, but that does not mean that thousands of men and women—local government workers, those on gritters and in emergency services and many volunteers—did not do the best that they possibly could in the circumstances. To those who have worked the extra hour, who have helped their neighbour, who have pushed cars and who have brought aid and assistance—thank you. [Applause.]

That said, we are looking at exceptional circumstances. There are two big issues to address: fixing the immediate problem; and considering how we as a society can adjust if this weather is to become more common.

For the benefit of this chamber and the people beyond it I will try to describe the events that led to this situation. I should add that I am more than open to the idea of a wider review of what happened and I will be attending next week's meeting of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee where these matters may be discussed.

On Monday morning, we faced a perfect storm. A highly unusual weather system came in and hit our transport system exceptionally hard. Over the past fortnight, Scottish resilience has been managing snow volumes in the central belt at significantly higher levels than have been seen in many years. The Cabinet sub-committee on Scottish Government resilience has been in operation since 24 November. Resilience arrangements were well established over the weekend of 4 and 5 December, and meetings took place on both days; indeed, meetings have been occurring on a daily basis both at ministerial and official level. Weather forecasts from the Met Office were monitored closely throughout that time as part of the resilience process. Across the whole country, strategic co-ordination groups—connecting emergency services and local authorities, which plan for all manner of contingencies—were already working on the snow situation.

On Sunday 5 December, we were aware of weather warnings in which snowfalls in central Scotland were forecast. I have been asked what forecasts the Scottish Government received and when it received them. I would like to give members some details on that.

The first indications of heavy snow were issued by the Met Office at 16:01 on Sunday. The bulletin said:

"A band of heavier snow is expected to affect higher parts of the Ayrshires and Lanarkshires giving 5-10cm of fresh snow. Higher parts of West Lothian and the western Borders could see accumulations of 3-5cm. Western areas will still see mainly rain although this could gradually turn to snow in Glasgow where accumulations of 1-3cm are possible. Elsewhere accumulations of 1-3cm are likely including in the Edinburgh area."

A Met Office bulletin that was issued at 08:01 on Monday described the weather forecast at that time. It said:

"Generally amounts of fresh snow will be in the region of 2 to 5 cm although higher areas may see a further 10 cm. Behind this band of snow it will be generally dry and clear."

Presiding Officer—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order. There is too much noise.

Stewart Stevenson: The next Met Office bulletin, which was issued at 10:37 on Monday, accepted that the position had become unexpectedly severe. It said:

"The band of snow that moved southeastwards overnight extended further eastwards than forecast, which has given more significant snow accumulations than were expected yesterday across eastern parts of the Central Belt. This has caused transport disruption across parts of Scotland and has been exacerbated by ice quickly forming on roads and the fact that the snow arrived across the central belt during the rush hour ... The snow will continue to move southwards during this morning, clearing the Central Belt by mid afternoon."

We have now received accurate measurements of the snowfall during the 24 hours from 09:00 on Monday. Those measurements show that some areas clearly received more snow than the amount that was forecast. At Gogarbank in Edinburgh, 7cm of snow fell; in Penicuik, 9cm of snow fell; and at Livingston Mill in West Lothian, 12cm of snow fell. There were falls of 20cm in other areas, which was twice the maximum that was forecast. Some reports suggest more than 30cm of snow fell in East Kilbride. A North Lanarkshire Council report that was issued at 02:50 on Tuesday said:

"The heavy snowfall yesterday morning was not forecast to be as late in the morning or nearly as severe."

All that demonstrates that, although the Met Office was giving reports to the best of its ability, the snowfall was greater than it was estimated to be even after the incident had started.

Let me say a little about preparation and forecasting. We have a network of cameras around the trunk road network that are generally co-located with ice-monitoring equipment. When actual temperatures drop to 3°C, we invoke road treatment action in anticipation of icing. In that respect, we act in a similar way to the Met Office and others. Observations of current conditions are used, coupled with a view of recent changes to predict future weather conditions. Ploughs and gritters were out and applying appropriate treatments before the snowfall hit central Scotland, but access to the road network became difficult as jack-knifed lorries—as many as a dozen of them on Monday evening—and a small number of car incidents blocked key roads and junctions.

In central Scotland alone, Transport Scotland had 327 staff using 63 vehicles working round the clock. Throughout Monday night and Tuesday, more than 1,000 additional police officers and the Red Cross were active. I pay tribute in particular to the work of police officers throughout Strathclyde, Central Scotland and Lothian and Borders. We hired in extra vehicles to recover lorries, but in many cases clearance was followed too quickly by further incidents, and it became increasingly difficult to reach those lorries.

For the M8 westbound, the absence of moving traffic and temperatures below the level at which salt works allowed significant build-up of ice, despite appropriate treatment, and led to closure. As I said, the M8 is now fully opened. This morning, Transport Scotland and its contractors have given a special treatment to the M8, with double levels of salt and grit, and gritters and snowploughs operating together.

There have been problems on our railways, too. Network Rail has special squads looking after the most critical junctions. Heating blankets are supplementing points heaters and have proved largely effective, but diversion routes and sidings are not available, which means that any train failure has greater-than-usual impact. Therefore, Network Rail has restricted network capacity. Our most modern diesel rolling stock, the class 170s, are designed for operation down to -17°C. In fact, they did a bit better than that, but were frequently defeated by ice, with up to 3 tonnes per carriage.

Yesterday, 80 per cent of scheduled bus services and 55 per cent of normal train services operated. Today, our airports are open, with the exception of Campbeltown and Wick, which will open shortly. Overnight, vehicles worked continuously to keep the road network working. Police report that temperatures dropped to -17°C in places and the Met Office said that the temperature would continue to fall until 9 this morning. The Army has been helping, and we thank it. It has assisted the Scottish Ambulance Service by providing 10 four-by-fours and 50 soldiers.

A slight alleviation of the worst of the cold conditions is forecast for the next few days. I am determined that we should make the best use possible of that window of opportunity to bring services back to normal. Today, two thirds of schools are open, which is a better performance than for 10 days.

I am the transport minister and I am responsible. What happened on Monday has been extremely difficult and challenging. It should not have happened and I have apologised for the failure to communicate the position better and earlier. However, the steps to prevent it and the actions to negate it are hugely complex. The areas that I want to review are long-term strategic issues. Public communication should be improved. What went wrong with links between Met Office forecasts and information flows? Do we need to invest more in heavy-duty winter equipment? Although we deployed help and assistance quickly, should we have increased additional resources even more speedily than we did?

My focus now is to make this work and to put in place a system that is robust. If the weather is to be more severe, more often, the fact is that we need a step change. That applies to everyone in Government, every business and every household.

02 December 2010

S3M-7159 The Scottish Economy

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 02 December 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 09:15]

The Scottish Economy
... ... ...
The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-7159, in the name of Jeremy Purvis, on the Scottish economy.

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I start by delineating some of the areas of agreement in the debate, of which there were a substantial number. There was broad agreement that we can and must do better, that we can and should export more and that we need a structure that provides support for business, which is probably segmented into support for large growing companies, mid-range growing companies and small start-ups. There was also broad agreement that we need a banking system that provides transaction services for business and private individuals, provides access to small-scale borrowing to keep the economy going, and—this is fundamental—has local presence. Those are the fundamentals.

The Liberals have brought forward a useful debate that at least brings forward a proposal that is open to analysis and discussion. That is perhaps in stark contrast to the blank-sheet-of-paper approach to policy formulation that the Labour Party takes.

Jeremy Purvis correctly said that the Scottish economy is a tiny economy in a fast-growing world. I do not think that that is beyond a fact—it is simply true—and it highlights an important thing. Tiny and small economies take an approach that is different from that which has to be taken in large economies. Small economies can be fleet of foot and can respond more rapidly to changes and opportunities.

Jeremy Purvis suggested that we should see exports rise by 50 per cent over the next session and by 100 per cent over the next 10 years. We all wish that parameter to move ahead over those periods of time. He also mentioned China and India. It is likely that they will be partners for us rather than competitors. That is an important point. Small countries do not operate in isolation from the broader world economy or from the major and growing players in the world. That is why it is so important that Government ministers have spent time in China and India with Scottish companies that are successfully exploiting the opportunities in those countries.

Robert Brown: Will the minister help us by defining the extent to which the Scottish economy is distinct from the UK economy, particularly in light of the Irish experience?

Stewart Stevenson: It is clear that the Scottish economy is different from the UK economy in a number of respects. It is also different from the Welsh economy. Compared with the Scottish economy, a much more substantial proportion of the Welsh economy is involved in manufacturing. The Scottish economy has particular strengths in intellectual endeavours—in training and education—and, as a result, many of our universities set up outposts in other parts of the world. We do not have to be there to deliver there. There are differences in the Scottish economy, which is precisely why we need a different approach. If we had a wider range of powers, we could do even more than we currently do.

Let us consider the proposals that the Liberals have put in front of us. Some people have read those proposals and some, rather than reading them, have relied on gossip from others. If each of us took a couple of pages of the document, we would be able to read its 47 pages quite quickly. In certain respects, there is muddle in the present iteration of Mr Purvis’s proposals, but he has made proposals that pose the right questions.

Mr Purvis has talked about the difficulties in securing finance. It is fundamentally correct that there are difficulties in doing that. He has identified that a network of 13 regional banks would be the answer to those difficulties, and his motion mentions

“a single body to offer equity finance support for businesses and a single promotional, marketing and inward investment body”.

As politicians, we love to tinker with such things and we love to introduce legislation—it is fun and gives us a sense of achievement—but it does not necessarily influence the outside world in any way. However, it keeps us employed.

Mr Purvis made the important point that all of that would be self-financing, but underwritten by the Government. That is fair enough as far as it goes, but, of course, things would not be taken off the Government’s balance sheet. Liabilities would remain for the Government and, if things were not properly managed, private companies would be able to play fast and loose with public money. There is an opportunity to develop that point further. I invite Mr Purvis to consider doing so, not necessarily today, but in the future. There is a genuine difficulty that we need to consider.

Jeremy Purvis: I caution the minister that the model that I have used is, by and large, operating in the south of Scotland loan scheme, which has been in operation and self-financing for a number of years. I think that the Government entirely supports it.

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that members will not think that I shot Mr Purvis’s proposal out of the water absolutely. That was not my intention.

Let me make a broad general point. All the parties that are represented in the chamber are minorities. Minority Governments must lay out their fundamental goals, but they should work within the long-term grain of strategies. Those strategies may have been inherited from previous Administrations, and it is likely that, in a chamber of minorities, we will all have contributed to such strategies. There is certainly something in that.

David Whitton: Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am really out of time for dealing with the points that I have to deal with.

There is a divergence between the principles that have been espoused and the proposals that have been made.

Rob Gibson talked about Stavanger, Seattle and Ullapool. Ullapool has changed a little bit, but not much; Stavanger and Seattle have changed.

Mary Mulligan made a very amusing speech, although I am not sure that she meant to be so amusing. She referred to housing. The previous Labour Administration built six council houses. She talked about the previous UK Government’s capital reduction and criticised it, and she said that food sales are close to zero. The rumbling sound was obviously the sound of empty stomachs around the chamber. She also talked about ring fencing of the tax on supermarkets, although I think that she meant hypothecation.

Lewis Macdonald said that the popularity of bankers is at an all-time low. Those who have looked at my register of interests will realise that I have moved from banking to politics in an attempt to improve my reputation. That has worked, which is very good. He also talked about the proposed company in Aberdeen. The important point is that with limited liability companies, that is just what we get.

Joe FitzPatrick referred to the four Gs of Dundee and showed that there are local opportunities that we all have to take.


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