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The first item of business this afternoon is time for reflection. I thank you, Presiding Officer, for your kind welcome and for the invitation. It is an honour to address Parliament in this time for reflection. We are met in this chamber at an historic juncture, with the date for the European Union referendum fast approaching. One may say nothing, of course, of the ins and outs of the matter, but I thought that I would mention it—the elephant in the room. They are large things, elephants in rooms.

They are not meant to be indoors; they are high maintenance; and they squeeze out the available space for other, needful things. I spent 12 years of my life in Lesotho and South Africa, from to Those were years of historic change, from the imposition of a national state of emergency by P W Botha through the release of Nelson Mandela and his election as state President—it is so easy to rhyme it off now; it was so much more difficult then—and the presentation of the first five volumes of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I had five congregations in townships in and around Johannesburg. Though the lingua franca of the struggle against apartheid was English, my parishioners were more at home in their first language, which was southern Sotho. Often, when they spoke of their lives, they referred to Sotho stories and proverbs, some of which introduced elephants.

I thought that I would pass on two bits of what we might call elephant wisdom, with an eye on our current moment. My first lesson came by way of a proverb: when two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets hurt.

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I heard that often in Alexandra township, where the people, though they were resilient in their defiance, were battered and bereaved, valiant and vulnerable. Hearing the proverb today, we might think of refugees and of our desire to welcome them warmly and wisely. It is a call to diligence regarding our care of those who are most vulnerable, even when large campaigns are being waged. The second lesson features an elephant and a hippo. Early on, I received the following guidance as a young Canadian in Africa: you must be like the elephant, and not like the hippo.

The hippo has a very large mouth and very small ears. The elephant, on the other hand, has very large ears and a small mouth. You must be like the elephant, and not the hippo. You will know who you are. The challenge to listen well comes into its own precisely when we disagree with what we are hearing, or with the person who is saying it, or both. There is no end of opportunity to test that elephant wisdom. Elephants—how much better they look when they are let out of rooms.

May God grant you grace and wisdom as, together, you serve the people of Scotland. The next item of business is topical question time. Question 1, in the name of Jackie Baillie, has been withdrawn. To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of financial difficulties at Police Scotland following the departure of its director of financial services.

The departure of the director of financial services is a matter for the board of the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland. The Scottish Government has no role in the matter. One of the most ificant driving factors behind the establishment of Police Scotland was promised cost efficiencies. The report referred to the financial situation in the spending review period and did not take into the funding allocations that have been arrived at by the Scottish Government. It also worked on the assumption that no further financial savings would be achieved in Police Scotland, but that is exactly what the reform budget is there to do—to invest in areas in order to get greater efficiencies.

The financial position that was set out in the Audit Scotland report does not reflect the situation following the spending review. I hope that that will reassure the member about the actions that the Scottish Government is taking to continue to invest in our police service in Scotland. We certainly do not copy the approach that has been taken by his colleagues in England and Wales, which has resulted in the loss of almost 17, police officers.

Again, that is a matter that has been overtaken by events, because the SPA has set out its initial version of its long-term, year financial strategy, which will take it up to I understand that the SPA intends to revise the strategy further in the next few months. The matter will be progressed by the SPA, which has set out its initial approach for its long-term financial strategy, as was recommended—and rightly so—by Audit Scotland. More than 1, civilian staff have lost their jobs since the creation of the national force.

Does he acknowledge that the arbitrary target for officer s on which the Scottish National Party and the Tories reached agreement after the election has contributed to the haemorrhaging of skilled civilian staff, forcing officers to undertake jobs that they were not trained for? In some cases, that has caused real harm. In reforming policing, we always made it clear that there would be areas of overlap. When eight forces came together into one, it was inevitable that certain aspects that were being provided in one area would be ones that had already been delivered in another.

As part of the reform journey, we were clear that there were areas of duplication and that that would result in Police Scotland having a lower level of staff than we had across the eight forces. The redundancy programme is there to allow those staff who find themselves in posts that are no longer required as a result of the reform programme to take early retirement or voluntary redundancy.

The member will also acknowledge that we have an agreed position of no compulsory redundancies. That is the approach that the SPA is taking forward. That has been a necessary part of the reform approach to ensure that resources are diverted into more effective areas of policing, rather than being used in areas that no longer have to be covered or are being duplicated elsewhere. We will continue to work with Police Scotland so that it can take that reform programme forward.

That is exactly why we have provided an extra year of the reform budget in this financial year—to assist Police Scotland in the reform programme that it has been taking forward over the past three years. It is exactly the same for our fire service in Scotland. That is the equivalent of approximately 1, members of staff. We have repeatedly made it known to the UK Government that that discriminatory approach to Police Scotland is entirely unacceptable and that it should treat Police Scotland in the same way as every other police service across Great Britain and Northern Ireland is treated.

Police Scotland should be treated with parity and allowed to reclaim VAT. The only reason why that has not been taken forward is that UK ministers cannot be bothered to lift a pen to make sure that action is taken to redress what is an extremely unfortunate situation that discriminates against Police Scotland. Does the cabinet secretary believe that morale in the police has improved or deteriorated following the establishment of Police Scotland and the subsequent financial problems that the service has experienced?

There is no doubt that there are serious issues around morale in Police Scotland, which were highlighted in the staff survey that was published towards the end of last year. The new chief constable has made it clear that a key part of the work that he will be taking forward is making sure that the issues of concern that were raised in the staff survey are addressed. Police Scotland, along with the SPA, is taking forward a range of work to address the concerns that have been raised by staff.

As I am sure that the member will recognise, when any major organisation goes through ificant reform there are consequences that can have an impact on staff morale. His party was supportive of the creation of a single force in Scotland. The chief constable and the SPA have set out clearly the course of action that they will take to address the issues that were highlighted in the staff survey.

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She went on to say:. Again, the member is slightly behind the curve, because action has already been taken to address those very issues. The SPA has also set out its financial strategy, which was published towards the end of March this year, and which sets out the course of action that it is taking. A range of actions have been taken forward, and I have no doubt that the SPA and the chief constable will continue that programme of work to address the concerns that Audit Scotland raised. What support has the Scottish Government had from the other parties in the Parliament to end the farce of Police Scotland being singled out to pay VAT, unlike any other police force in the United Kingdom?

I hope that all members recognise the situation in which Police Scotland finds itself, in being discriminated against in that way by the UK Government. The situation is completely unacceptable. I know that there has been finger pointing and that it has been said that we knew before we created Police Scotland that the situation would arise. I often hear excuses from Conservative members and others, who say that it arose because we created a single force. Exactly the same situation applies to the fire service.

I note that he are down on the Conservative benches. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the full cost of Police Scotland, including the VAT, is covered from the Scottish block grant, and that if our police force no longer had to pay VAT it would be wholly reasonable for the cost of the VAT to be removed from the calculation of the block grant? That is the warped way in which the Conservative Party wants to look at the issue.

The reality is that most emergency services in the UK, including police services, are given the right to reclaim VAT, and Police Scotland is the only service in the whole of the UK that is not able to do that. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M, in the name of Shona Robison, on taking Scotland forward: delivering a healthier Scotland. It is a privilege to be back in the job that I relish, driving forward a healthier Scotland and ensuring that services are fit for the future.

The Government has a mandate to ensure that health and social care remains at the top of our agenda. That reputation has been won by the thousands of dedicated staff who work in our health and social care sector. We pay tribute to their tireless effort whenever we debate health and social care, and I do so again today.

Why will she not give unequivocal opposition to TTIP? We have been consistent about that and see it as the key priority for that trade deal and other trade deals. We want to go further in this session of Parliament. We will enshrine safe staffing levels in law and put nursing and midwifery workforce planning tools on a statutory footing. We will increase the of general practitioners and nurses working in communities. We will increase the of GP training places and medical school places—including by establishing a new graduate medical school—and we will train additional advanced nurse practitioners.

We will also train 1, paramedics to work in the community. We will improve recruitment and retention and—alongside the continuation of our no compulsory redundancy policy—we will enable the living wage to be paid to social care workers, who support some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Despite the record of success and the priorities that I have laid out, I do not shy away from the difficult issues.

Those things matter to the people of Scotland—they told us so last year, as part of the national conversation on creating a healthier Scotland. That conversation reached around 9, people through events, with more thanwebsite and social media inputs. That fantastic response formed the basis of the report on the key outcomes of the conversation, which I published in March.

The report focused on six key themes: preventing illness; the vital importance of mental health and wellbeing; person-centred care; the need for increased awareness of the range of social care services available; the need for more accessible and flexible services; and a real recognition of the challenges ahead and the need for clear priorities.

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What is important here is the interrelationship between our priorities for health and wellbeing and those for increasing attainment and sustainable economic growth. It needs, and will get, cross-portfolio working—for example, between health, education and social security.

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