Malcolm presses the Scottish Government on Social Justice and setting up Creative Scotland
Debate on the Scottish Government's 2008-9 Programme: Social Justice & Creative Scotland Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab): I had intended to give a general speech, ending with some words about creative Scotland, but in view of events this morning, I must change the order of my remarks. Very little was uttered by the First Minister—one sentence, I think—about creative Scotland this morning. When I put three questions to the First Minister, none of them was answered—not surprisingly. However, within half an hour, a press release appeared on the Government's website that indicated a major change of policy and direction in relation to the future of creative Scotland. To say the least, that shows the Government acting in an underhand way. From the contents of the press release, it appears more accurate to say that it is treating the Parliament with contempt.

I asked the First Minister this morning when creative Scotland would be established. Of course, he refused to answer that question, as well as my other ones. The press release indicates that the body

"will be in place by April 2009",

although the legislation to enshrine it in law will not be passed until one year later. It is therefore obvious to everyone that the Government is bypassing parliamentary scrutiny on that important piece of future legislation.
What is worse, it is giving absolutely no response to the serious financial concerns that were voiced by the Parliament in June. The press release blithely says that the same financial arrangements as those that were announced on 18 June will apply.

The Government has serious questions to answer about creative Scotland, and I hope that, during his winding-up speech, John Swinney will answer the other two questions that I asked the First Minister earlier. First, and crucially, will the public services bill be amendable in relation to creative Scotland? It is a bit odd that the body will have been up and running for about a year by the time the legislation is passed. We must ask ourselves how amendable the bill will be.

The connection between culture and democracy in Scotland is very important, so it is very important that the Parliament gives the body a remit. Parliament unanimously supported the principles of the Creative Scotland Bill, and there is no reason why the Scottish Government could not have lodged a new creative Scotland bill as soon as possible, to be passed well before the set-up date of April next year.

The fundamental concerns about creative Scotland related, first, to finances. As I said, the press release indicates no change in that regard. I asked the First Minister this morning whether the Government had received a report over the past few months indicating that the cost of establishing creative Scotland would be approximately £7 million, or whether the £1 million that was announced to Parliament in June applied. The issue was revealed by The Times in August. On 14 August, the Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture indicated to the newspaper that

"she had no knowledge of the £7million estimate",

but

"said that revised estimates for the creation of the agency would be delivered by the Creative Scotland interim board next week."

Perhaps the cabinet secretary can now tell us what those revised costs are. He could perhaps also tell us whether such a report was in fact received—as the Times journalist had on good authority. There are serious questions to be asked about the Government's handling of that piece of legislation, and what it has announced in its press release today is totally unacceptable to Parliament.

I will move on to my more general remarks. I wish to ask three questions. For me, the key issues in politics now, in recent times and, in some cases, for all time, are how the Government's programme will deliver social justice, how it will deliver on climate change and how it will deliver on economic growth.

What are the social justice measures that will deliver, especially for the most disadvantaged people and communities in Scotland? Such measures are not being taken in my constituency, which is being devastated through massive cuts to the fairer Scotland fund.


Secondly, where is the action to tackle climate change emissions? Of course we welcome the proposed climate change bill and the 80 per cent reduction target, but where are the practical measures? I am sure that Sarah Boyack will talk eloquently about that and suggest some measures. In particular, where is the 3 per cent annual reduction in emissions that was promised in the SNP manifesto; what is being done about aviation emissions; and why will the basket of greenhouse gases not be covered? Those are vital questions.

Thirdly, where are the measures to deliver economic prosperity? Rather than a skills bill, which would be welcomed universally, the flagship bill is on a local income tax, which is opposed by all the major economic bodies in Scotland, from the CBI to the STUC. Other objections apart—there are plenty of them—the bill would lead to further significant cuts in services, which is far from the born-again Keynesianism that we heard from the First Minister today. Of course, that was to cover up for his interview gaffe—or should I say, his interview letting the cat out of the bag?—in the summer. I have no time to deal with that, but I am sure that we will discuss it a lot in the next few weeks. The First Minister made the fundamental mistake of separating economic and social policies.

Finally, I heard the First Minister make another interesting speech at the Edinburgh book festival, in which he contrasted the work of his Government with that of the Westminster Government, which he said was doing little in the present economic difficulties. I am sure that Johann Lamont will talk about this at much greater length, but the housing package that was announced yesterday in England is far superior to the package that the Scottish Government announced two weeks ago. Of the money in the Scottish Government's package, £40 million depends on hard-pressed local authorities and only £20 million has been brought forward to this year, when it is required urgently. We have already had a £90 million cut to the social housing budget. I am sure that Johann Lamont will say more about that, but that is the reality that the Government should face, rather than all the time pointing out how it is supposedly superior to Westminster.
September 3rd 2008, (Columns 10366-8)