Protecting Public Services
Dennis Robertson (Aberdeenshire West) (SNP): The cabinet secretary said in his opening speech that we need public services that are sustainable and fair. I agree that, if we are to continue to provide public services, they need to be sustainable and fair. I agree with Duncan McNeil that we should look at ways in which we can move forward and protect our public services at the point of delivery.
No one in the Parliament disagrees that there has been austerity or that there are greater austerity cuts to come, although we perhaps disagree about the impact of those austerity cuts on services and about the Scottish Government’s priority of mitigating some of the cuts that have come to Scotland. There has been mitigation of welfare reform, which has impacted on the most vulnerable in our society. Duncan McNeil talked about tackling inequalities, and I agree that we need to tackle such issues.
I believe that some of the programmes that the Government has taken forward are right. The cabinet secretary mentioned concessionary travel, which is not just about getting a free ride on a bus; it enables people to get out of their homes.
Neil Findlay: Given that the member represents an area with a large rural population, does he agree that people who live in a rural area where there is no bus do not get out of the house?
Dennis Robertson: Perhaps Mr Findlay is not aware of the support that the local authority and Stagecoach provide in my rural constituency, so perhaps there are buses so that people can get out of their homes.
Free concessionary travel is related to health and wellbeing. It gives people the opportunity to take advantage of a service that they would otherwise have to pay for and, with limited budgets, would probably not be able to afford.
We should be able to agree about other services, such as free personal care for the elderly, and I think that we do.
Last week, I was at the North East College in Aberdeen. It is a wonderful new college that sees the way forward and is working closely with the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University. It is considering what is needed to sustain the economy of the north-east, and it is providing the necessary skills and training in the college sector. The college commended the Government for the work that it did to bring the colleges together in the north-east, which was the right thing to do.
There are issues in the health service—no one can say otherwise—but the Scottish Government has realised that and has taken appropriate action. NHS Grampian has rightly been criticised recently. There is no doubt about that. There was mismanagement in the board and by management. No one shies away from that. However, NHS Grampian has a world-class service and a world-class new A and E department; it was just mismanaged. The Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport and the previous Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing have visited NHS Grampian. Malcolm Wright, who is there at the moment, is taking cognisance of all the factors and putting things on the right path.
Yesterday, the cabinet secretary announced additional funding for NHS Grampian, bringing it to parity with the other NHS boards in Scotland. The Scottish Government has been working towards that ever since it came to power in 2007.
We need to applaud many aspects of the services that the Scottish Government has been moving forward, such as the protection of rural schools. Rural schools take more out of the public purse—of course they do—but they support local communities and ensure that they survive.
I commend free eye tests to the members of the coalition Government parties and Labour because they are viewing the austerity programme through tunnel vision.
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