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30 May 2013

(S4F-01423) Air Services (Highlands and Islands Airports)

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the First Minister what economic value the Scottish Government places on services from Highlands and Islands airports to hub airports with worldwide connections. (S4F-01423)

The First Minister (Alex Salmond): Maintaining capacity on services from Highland and Islands airports with worldwide connections is essential for that area’s economic development. The effect of the United Kingdom Government’s air passenger duty has been amply demonstrated by Flybe’s recent announcement of the sale of its slots at Gatwick. The chairman of Flybe, Jim French, said:

“with the absence of a regional aviation strategy and the government’s penalistic and ludicrous policy of charging Air Passenger Duty (APD) on both legs of a domestic flight, I’m afraid it’s inevitable that high frequency services from the UK’s regions will ultimately be squeezed out”.

That is a significant warning statement, and it underlines the absolute necessity for air passenger duty to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the First Minister recall that, in 2008, air services from Inverness to Heathrow were ended? In light of that, is it not important to say that

“Protecting the links from Inverness to Gatwick is now even more essential”?

Of course, those are not my words but those of the local MP, Danny Alexander, in 2008. Is it not rank hypocrisy that the local MP had one opinion in 2008 but has done nothing in government to support air services from Inverness?

The First Minister: Well, we should remember the context: Danny Alexander is a Liberal Democrat, so adopting two positions at the same time might itself be party policy. It is a rather invidious position to be in to be the Chief Secretary of the Treasury and the local member for Inverness and to be responsible for the very air passenger duty that is threatening services from Inverness while complaining about it and posing as their defender. Perhaps if we agree on devolving air passenger duty to this Parliament as a policy that benefits the Scottish economy, Danny Alexander will be relieved of the difficulty of having to be the Treasury’s man in Inverness while pretending to be Inverness’s man in the Treasury.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): Will the First Minister hold talks with the UK Government, Flybe and easyJet, which now has the flights from Inverness airport? Will he look at having a public service obligation on routes to Gatwick airport? Will he also speak to the airlines about connectivity from the islands through to Gatwick, which used to be booked through one operator and will now require to be booked through two?

The First Minister: Talks are going on between the Minister for Transport and Veterans and the airport carriers at present. The member should direct her attention to what Flybe has said and the extent of studies across Scottish airports and carriers, which are looking at the differential impact that air passenger duty is having on Scottish flights. That is the key to and source of the difficulty. I hope that the member will join the Government in calling for APD to be devolved to this Parliament so that we can produce an airport and passenger policy that benefits the Scottish economy as opposed to threatening vital services.

8 May 2013

(S4O-02086) NHS Grampian (Dentistry)

12. Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government what its plans are for the provision of dentistry in NHS Grampian. (S4O-02086)

The Minister for Public Health (Michael Matheson):

The responsibility for the overall provision of national health service general dental services in the area rests with NHS Grampian.

Richard Baker: I welcome the fact that increased numbers of patients in Grampian are registered with a dentist. What reassurance can the minister give me that there is proper monitoring of the practices that have received NHS grants to establish new surgeries to ensure that they fulfil the requirement that 80 per cent of their work is NHS treatment, and to ensure that patients who are registered with the practices are receiving check-ups and treatment at appropriate intervals? I know that those issues have already been raised with the Scottish Government.

Michael Matheson: The member referred to the Scottish dental access initiative that was developed to increase the number of dental practices that will register NHS patients, particularly in areas in which there is a lack of service. He rightly recognises that there has been a significant increase in the level of NHS dentistry that is being made available within the NHS Grampian area. It is part of the condition of that grant that a significant number of the dental practice patients are registered as NHS patients and individual boards are responsible for monitoring that.

There have been some issues with a practice in Grampian that NHS Grampian took appropriate action to address. I understand that NHS Grampian has also written to all the practices that have received support through the Scottish dental access initiative to ensure that their status remains the same and that they are delivering the services that are agreed on as part of the grant conditions.

The point about check-up rates is very important. It may be helpful if I inform the member that 83.6 per cent of patients who are registered in Grampian presented for treatment in the previous two years. That figure is higher than the Scottish average of 79.3 per cent, so it is clear that a significant number of patients in Grampian are making use of NHS dentistry services, the provision of which has significantly increased under this Government. I have no doubt that patients will continue to benefit from the increasing level of access that has been made available to them.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Is the minister aware that, 10 years ago, there were areas of Grampian in which it was impossible to register even for private dental treatment and that some of my constituents used to travel twice a year to Budapest, Amsterdam and other European cities for their treatment? Can he assure us that we will continue to see improvements in the provision of NHS dental care in the NHS Grampian area?

Michael Matheson: The member makes a good point because there were significant difficulties for patients in the NHS Grampian area who wanted to access NHS dentistry. For example, in 2007 only 59.2 per cent of children in NHS Grampian were registered with a dentist under NHS arrangements; as at 30 September 2012, that figure had reached 77.1 per cent. In 2007 only 28.9 per cent of adults in NHS Grampian were registered with a dentist under NHS arrangements; as at 30 September, 2012, that figure had reached 56 per cent.

We continue to make provision under the Scottish dental access initiative, which is available in Grampian—particularly in Aberdeenshire and in Morayshire—to target areas where there continues to be limited access so that we can ensure that those patients in NHS Grampian who wish to have access to an NHS dentist are able to do so.

Stewart Stevenson
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