Liam McArthur MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Like others, I welcome today’s debate and thank Liz Smith for securing it. I listened to the earlier exchanges between her and the cabinet secretary and I agree with Save the Children’s analysis that our education system serves the majority of our children well, but there is no room for complacency, as it is still failing too many of our poorest children.

I whole-heartedly support Neil Bibby’s amendment, which focuses on improved pre-school provision and the needs of looked-after children. It reflects the content of the amendment that I lodged. However, the Government’s amendment is the usual disappointing mix of self-congratulation and Westminster bashing.

There is undoubtedly much to be proud of in what we are doing in Scotland. Mr Russell highlighted a number of examples of remarkable work that staff and pupils in schools are doing across Scotland. In part, that reflects the commitment to the issue that has been shown by successive Administrations and by MSPs from across the political spectrum, as well as the work that is being done directly by those who are involved in the sector.

The risk in the SNP claiming credit for anything positive and blaming everything else on Westminster is that that approach absolves Scottish ministers and the Parliament of taking action when action is possible and necessary. That point was made by Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, in evidence to the Education and Culture Committee earlier this week. While reiterating the central importance of child poverty to child attainment issues, he made it clear that the Scottish Government could be doing things that would make a difference. Targeting resources where they are most needed is perhaps the clearest example. However, Scottish ministers have been reluctant to act and have preferred to blame Westminster for an overall lack of resources, despite being in a position that is no different from that of any other part of the UK.

Interestingly, that point was also noted in the report of the social mobility and child poverty commission, which was published earlier this month. Although it was extremely positive about the early years collaborative and the joint working and understanding that that facilitates, the report observed that programmes

“do not focus specifically on pupils from disadvantaged households in their project conception, design and evaluation.”

It went on to say:

“it is particularly worrying that these programmes do not use any data to target ... effectively”.

The criticism about a lack of transparent data was interesting. It chimes with the Education and Culture Committee’s concerns in the context of the extensive work that we have done since 2011 on attainment and outcomes for young people who are going through the care system and in the context of our more recent consideration of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill.

Time and again, ministers fall back on condemnation of welfare reform. That would be fair enough if the SNP’s alternative proposals were demonstrably different or credible but, in truth, they have been neither. After months of SNP ministers and back benchers railing against the work programme, sanctions and even universal credit, the SNP’s welfare reform commission recommended—surprise, surprise—a work programme, sanctions and the principle of universal credit. Meanwhile, its fiscal commission called for the Government to match the trajectory of debt reduction. Changing the names but adhering to the principle and offering no new money does not an alternative vision make. Let us please have a little more honesty and let us ensure that we are doing all that we can in the areas of our own responsibility.

One such area is early learning and childcare. Thanks to the case that was made by the Scottish Liberal Democrats and a range of children’s charities over many months, Scottish ministers have agreed to extend free provision to more of Scotland’s two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds. One could argue that that is a rare example of effective targeting on those who are most in need instead of the ministers’ long-standing insistence on universal provision being made for three and four-year-olds. Welcome though the latter is, it fails to address the benefits of targeting interventions at children below the age of three and those who are most in need.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liam McArthur

I am sorry, but I have to carry on.

One of the strongest advocates of that approach has been Save the Children, which addresses it in the briefing that it supplied to members before the debate. It points out that the learning gap emerges in the early years, long before children reach school, and that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to close. That is why, although I welcome the steps that were taken in the budget in January, I urge ministers to go further and to match what is in place south of the border for two-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

The evidence shows that, for every £1 that is invested before the age of three, £11 is saved later in life. That means that, as well as helping to close the attainment gap, that is a sound investment in the country’s economic and social wellbeing. That is perhaps not a bad way for the new First Minister to begin her tenure.

Save the Children calls for

“targeted initiatives that support pupils living in poverty to catch up quickly if they start school already behind”,

using a range of measures that include one-to-one teaching and parental involvement. That reflects the thinking behind the pupil premium, which is in place in England, and ministers should consider that in order to make the most effective use of the available resources.

The challenge that we face in tackling the attainment gap is significant and complex. It is impossible to do it justice in the short time that is available this afternoon, but I am grateful to Liz Smith for enabling the debate to take place. Like Jayne Baxter, I am proud of the work that the Education and Culture Committee has undertaken during this session of the Parliament and of the important progress that it has helped to achieve.

Further progress is clearly needed, and tackling poverty will be key to that, but evidence suggests that it is not necessarily a prerequisite. Save the Children points out:

“Some schools and local authorities are achieving great things for the poorest children in their areas, ensuring that their ability to do well in the classroom is not hindered by growing up in a low-income household.”

There is a basis on which to build, there are ideas to draw on for how we target resources and, I hope, there is a continued consensus that will allow us to make progress.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liam McArthur

Will the member give way?



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Liam McArthur

Will the member give way?



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I congratulate my good friend Linda Fabiani on giving us this opportunity to mark—rather belatedly—world mental health day, which this year focuses on schizophrenia, as members said. I also take this opportunity to commend Support in Mind Scotland for its excellent one in 100 campaign.

This is just the latest debate in the Parliament on mental health. I was fortunate to be able to take part in the debate that my Liberal Democrat colleague Jim Hume led in April. I might return to one or two of the points that I made then. During the debate, it struck me that many if not all the members who spoke were drawing on some element of personal experience. Stewart Stevenson rightly drew us back to such an approach in this debate.

It came as no surprise that members should draw on personal experience. The figures from SAMH and others suggest that one in four people suffers from a mental illness at some point in their lives and three out of four of us will know someone, fairly directly, who suffers from poor mental health. Mental illness remains the dominant health problem for people of working age, and it continues to damage careers, relationships and lives, coming at a colossal financial and human cost.

As Linda Fabiani fairly observed, there has been a succession of initiatives over many years, in successive Administrations. I congratulate the current Government on its mental health strategy, which has waiting times targets and emphasises data collection, both of which are fundamental to ensuring timely diagnosis and delivery of effective treatment. Treatment can safeguard the individual’s welfare in the first instance, and—without offering any guarantees—it can increase the chances of the person subsequently enjoying good mental health.

However encouraging the early signs of progress towards meeting targets have been, recent figures suggest that there is cause for concern. Mary Scanlon pointed to issues at a regional level. We are seeing variations between health boards, which SAMH suggested earlier this year are giving rise to a postcode lottery. For example, although additional experts have been recruited, there is evidence of significant variation in the per capita ratio of psychologists in different parts of the country, which is cause for concern.

There is particular concern in rural areas. As I said in the debate in April, SAMH, in its know where to go campaign, showed how people who live in remote and rural areas face additional barriers to accessing information, help and support. A culture of self-reliance and stoicism in places such as Orkney can work against efforts to get people with health issues, including poor mental health, to engage early with medical professionals. Although the wider community can be a source of support, that can make things more difficult and increase the fear of stigma, for not just individuals but their wider families. The result is delays in getting people to seek help for mental health problems, and, as SAMH explains,

“the later individuals engage with health services, the more complex their treatment and recovery will be”.

In the islands that I represent, there are additional practical difficulties as well. Orkney Blide Trust and Orkney Minds, which do fantastic work, highlight a lack of transfer beds at the Balfour hospital for those who may require a spell in hospital on the mainland and instances of poor discharge planning affecting patients who return to Orkney. Although those who are involved in the mental health team in Orkney carry out phenomenally good work, there is an opportunity, with the move to the new Balfour hospital and the further integration of health and care services in the islands, to look at how the needs of mental health patients can be addressed more timeously and effectively. I am sure that that will be the focus of an event that the Blide Trust is organising next month, which I am looking forward to taking part in.

The stakes are high. SAMH highlights suicide rates that are twice as high for those with mental health issues. As Stewart Stevenson observed, each of us probably has some experience of a close friend—in my case, it was a guy called Andrew Harrison whom I worked with at Westminster back in the early 1990s—committing suicide almost out of the blue. Such mortality rates are not unusual. As Linda Fabiani’s motion says, the mortality rates are far higher for those with mental health issues. A report in the British Journal of Psychiatry on a Nordic study states that, even given improvements, we are still seeing far higher rates of mortality among those with mental health issues. It is just one of the reasons why mental health needs to be put on a similar footing to physical health.

As I said in April, the issue needs to be discussed openly, taken seriously and addressed effectively. It is not a second-class condition and, ultimately, there is no good health without good mental health. I welcome the fact that Linda Fabiani has secured the debate and look forward to the minister’s response.

18:06  

Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Liam McArthur

As I said in my earlier remarks, I very much welcome the approach that is being taken by the strategy. However, the minister will recall the exchange that we had in the debate in April about the legal status or priority that is attached to mental health, as compared with that for physical health. Does he believe that a signal about parity in law in that regard might address some of the issues that Stewart Stevenson recognised in terms of the pointer that it would give to people regarding the disciplines that they could pursue through higher education and, indeed, the research funding and so on that would go into research into those sorts of conditions?



Meeting of the Parliament 02 October 2014 : Thursday, October 02, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I, too, congratulate Hugh Henry on securing this debate.

Hugh Henry and Jenny Marra have rightly set the context of the special place that Royal Mail has in the affections of people across the UK. After two minutes of Hugh Henry’s speech, I thought that he was going to break the all-time record for references to Britain in a speech in the Scottish Parliament. However, that reflects the importance of Royal Mail to all our constituents. Hugh Henry was also fair to acknowledge the particular significance that the universal service obligation has for constituents, such as those whom I represent, in the islands and in rural areas—and not just individuals in households but small businesses. If I have time I will perhaps touch on the related issue of high delivery charges, which is a touchstone issue for my constituents.

The motion outlines very fairly the concerns that quite demonstrably exist, and the proposals are reasonable. As Kenny Gibson and Gavin Brown indicated, a review is planned for the end of next year. However, given what we are seeing in the development of the market and the aspirations of Whistl and possibly others, there is now a pretty compelling case for accelerating that review. That view seems to be shared by Community, whose briefing was very helpful, although I disagree with some aspects of it.

I think that there is now evidence of direct delivery competition putting a strain on Royal Mail’s ability to honour the universal service obligation. Whistl argues that the agreements are subject to negotiations with the Royal Mail on the basis of cost, but I do not think that those costs reflect the costs of delivering to places such as Orkney and other rural communities across the UK. In addition, and as Hugh Henry indicated, Whistl is not bound by the requirements that Royal is bound by as the universal service provider.

The universal service obligation is critically important as a principle in spreading and socialising costs across customers throughout the UK. However, it is more than just a principle for people in Orkney and other rural areas. For small businesses in my constituency, for example, it is vital and often leads to the levelling of the playing field in relation to competition from businesses in other parts of the country.

The issue goes beyond businesses. The recent Citizens Advice Scotland report on delivery charges highlighted the extent of the problem in that area. A third of the respondents from Orkney said that they had been subject to surcharges for goods sent to Orkney and a quarter found that some businesses refuse to deliver to Orkney at all—I think that the same applies to many other parts of the Highlands and Islands. I have taken up that issue with a number of the companies concerned and, to be fair, when confronted with the evidence, some are prepared to review their charging policies and delivery charges. Some have removed the delivery surcharges entirely and others will often reduce them, but some will just be more up-front about the costs at the outset. However, in too many cases there is still an unwillingness to look at alternatives.

That issue is distinct from that of the universal service obligation and the concerns that Hugh Henry highlighted in his motion, but I think that it is related. We need to avoid a similar situation emerging in the letters market.

Royal Mail has adapted to the challenges that it faces in terms of new technology, competition and even affordability of pensions. However, we cannot expect it to continue to do so while requiring it to undertake that fight with one hand tied behind its back.

I again congratulate Hugh Henry on bringing the debate to Parliament. The call for an urgent review by Ofcom is an entirely reasonable one that appears to be garnering support across the political spectrum and within the industry itself. I hope to see some progress made on that in the months ahead.

12:59  

Meeting of the Parliament 02 October 2014 : Thursday, October 02, 2014
Liam McArthur

Given that this is a members’ business debate, there will not be a vote on the motion. However, I am sure that Ofcom is watching our proceedings with great interest. Perhaps there could be a cross-party approach to Ofcom with the Scottish Government to make the case for accelerating the review. That would reflect the sentiments that we have heard.



Meeting of the Parliament 25 September 2014 : Thursday, September 25, 2014
Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I join others in welcoming the presence of BSL signers for the debate. As a member of the corporate body, I reflect on the fact that the Parliament has a good track record on accessibility. It is a key guiding principle of the institution, but that is not to say that we cannot keep on learning and improving.

I also welcome the debate and congratulate the minister on his motion and Jenny Marra on her helpful amendment, which draws attention to the accessible tourism project in particular.

I declare an interest because, as colleagues may know, my brother has been a wheelchair user since a serious rugby accident 18 years ago. In my remarks, I will draw on some of the first-hand experience that he has had and that we as a family have had.

This is an issue of principle. It is a question of fairness, equity and social justice. The minister quite rightly asked why those who have a disability should have any less of a right to a holiday or to a break than the rest of us.

These debates are often in danger of lapsing into discussions around the cost and practicality of adaptations, the cost of preparing materials and so on. It is therefore important that we emphasise the significant opportunities that we have. As other members have said, tourists who have disabilities contribute £370 million to our tourism industry. The trend is on the rise, which perhaps reflects the loyalty of those who find destinations and accommodation that meet their needs.

High as that figure is, it could and should be significantly higher. Research commissioned from the University of Surrey and published earlier this year suggests that the European tourism sector is missing out on around €140 billion per year because of the lack of support offered to travellers who have special access needs.

That does not surprise me. My first family holiday after my brother’s accident was to Barcelona 15 years ago. I was interested in Mark Griffin’s comments about Spain being an exemplar because, certainly 15 years ago, there was a lack of information, and although there were facilities, there were not many. Patricia Ferguson made the same point that Inclusion Scotland brings out very clearly in its briefing: the facilities are at the higher end of the market and perhaps not financially accessible to many who wish to travel.

It is not just a question of accessibility when travelling. Those who have disabilities are often required to travel with particular clothing, medication or equipment, and those who are flying—as we did—might not be able to keep their equipment and so on with them at all times. The risks associated with that were rammed home to us when British Airways lost my brother’s shower chair on the flight on the way out. I spent the first 48 hours of that holiday pushing my Spanish language skills to the absolute limit in pursuit of a replacement. Members should not labour under the misapprehension that that was a bit unfortunate for us, because BA managed to lose two of the wheels on the return journey a week later. Significant improvements have been made since then, but the Commission-sponsored research suggests that we have a way to go yet.

The question is often one of providing information for travellers, and the Scottish Government-sponsored project during the Commonwealth games drilled down into that aspect. I entirely agree with the minister that hotel access statements are not gobbledegook; they are absolutely essential, as, indeed, is the training for volunteers. The feedback shows that they are being seen as part of the success of the games that were held earlier this summer.

A lack of facilities is a frustration, but it is as nothing when compared with the frustration felt by those who arrive at a destination to find that the facilities are not as advertised. Chic Brodie and Jenny Marra referred to Euan’s Guide and the service that it provides. It is absolutely critical that people who have disabilities test out facilities, provide their feedback and make that feedback as widely available as possible. The more input and feedback there is, the better the service will become.

I will conclude with a couple of examples from my own constituency. Buchanhaven cottage is a self-catering cottage in Kirkwall for people who have dementia. Given the increase in the numbers of dementia sufferers that we have seen and the projections for those numbers in the future, I welcome the fact that that part of the market now appears to be being catered for. Buchanhaven cottage is owned and managed by Marilyn Buchan, who was, for 25 years, a nurse who supported those with dementia and other mental health issues. In the cottage there is a focus on things such as lighting, colour and signage. For example, the doors are brightly painted and labelled. The facility recognises the particular needs of dementia sufferers as well as those who have autism and other mental health issues. That example highlights that there is a need for not only overall improved provision and information but more specific and tailored provision.

The motion talks about the importance of the public and private sectors working closely together. That point has been well made. It has been illustrated to me by the visits that my brother, who is based in Edinburgh, continues to make up to Orkney.

In addition to good self-catering accommodation and more accessible facilities, the support from the occupational therapy team—from hoists to expert advice—has been invaluable. If it were not for the contribution from the public sector, what is on offer from private providers and local businesses would be far less accessible. That is probably reflected nationwide.

I welcome the debate. Raising public awareness and improving the information that is available are critical to removing many of the physical, mental and other barriers that continue to exist. It is a simple question of fairness and equity, but by reinforcing the message about the economic benefits we improve the chances of improvements being made more quickly.

15:45  

Meeting of the Parliament 25 September 2014 : Thursday, September 25, 2014
Liam McArthur

I listened with great interest to what Stewart Stevenson said. The point that Jenny Marra makes in relation to ferries is valid, but I recall that, not long ago, taxis were required to be wheelchair accessible. For some, that was a practicable option and we have moved in that direction; however, for minicabs it was frankly impossible. The risk is that we would choke off businesses that cannot adapt for no benefit, either to those who are able bodied or to those who are not. As Jenny Marra said, we need to be careful about how we transition from where we are to where we aspire to be.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

 
NoDefeated

 
YesDefeated

 
NoCarried

S4M-11304.3 Michael Russell: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—As an amendment to mo
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NoCarried

S4M-11304 Liz Smith: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—That the Parliament believes
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NoCarried

S4M-11123 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11114.2 Kenny MacAskill: Policing—As an amendment to motion S4M-11114 in the name of Graeme Pear
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11114 Graeme Pearson: Policing—That the Parliament acknowledges that policing in Scotland contin
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11116.1 Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to motion S4M-11116 in the name of Jo
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Not VotedCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Liam McArthur
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11304.1: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 28/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10777.1: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 12/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10718: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10717: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10263: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 09/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10417: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10320: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 12/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10147.2: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 28/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10148: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 27/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10116: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 21/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Liam McArthur
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-22637: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 30/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22636: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 30/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03539: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22418: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22417: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22419: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22416: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 19/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22035: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 02/07/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22034: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 02/07/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22033: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 02/07/2014 Show Full Question >>

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