Caring for Scotland’s Older People – Meeting of the Parliament, 09 June 2011

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am proud to be the first Scottish National Party MSP for the Dunfermline constituency, which comprises both the city of Dunfermline and a number of surrounding west Fife villages.

Dunfermline is, of course, the home of Bruce and Carnegie. After a difficult period and the decline of a number of traditional industries, the area now is undergoing a modern renaissance that extends from the technical advances promised by clean coal technology at Longannet power station to the impressive regeneration and restoration work taking root in Scotland’s ancient capital of Dunfermline.

The events of 5 and 6 May seem a long time off, but I do not wish to let these dramatic days pass without recognising my political opponents in the election. The sitting MSP was Lib Dem Jim Tolson, who worked hard during the campaign. We crossed swords several times, with courtesy on both sides—at least, he was always a gentleman.Alex Rowley followed John Park as the Labour candidate and was the bookies’ favourite; those fellows seldom get things wrong. Labour put huge effort into regaining the seat, but there was no mistaking Alex’s shattered demeanour when the result was announced. Nevertheless, his congratulations, which I now formally acknowledge, were whole-hearted. Our Tory opponent was James Reekie, a fine young speaker. He will, I hope, successfully complete his law degree studies before throwing his hat into the political ring again.

Turning to Jackie Baillie’s motion, I appreciate the welcome that it gives to the Scottish Government’s moves to improve the focus on care for older people, and to the First Minister’s commitment on vulnerable residents in Southern Cross homes. Several colleagues have taken up, and others will take up, a number of detailed points in the motion. I will refer to the lessons that can be learned from my experience with Labour in the SNP-led council on which I still serve.

I fundamentally disagree with Claire Baker’s analysis of the Fife survey’s findings. Social care needs disproportionately affect the elderly. In order to focus help on the most needy, over the past couple of years Fife Council has introduced a simple form of means test to ensure that financial help in these increasingly tough times goes where it is most needed, and not to those clients who could afford to contribute something on a sliding scale of charges.

Labour vociferously opposed that policy, which I regard as socially equitable, and in doing so caused great alarm among some of the elderly by quoting the extreme end of the charging regime as if it was the norm. Needless to say, that was not the case. Fundamentally, it is best in stringent financial times to concentrate resources on those who are most in need.

Residential care homes for the elderly, to which Claire Baker referred, are an increasing but necessary cost for Fife Council and throughout Scotland. In Fife only around 12 per cent of care residents live in council homes, with the balance living in the private and voluntary sectors. I do not care ideologically where the care comes from as long as it is the best that is achievable. In general, Fife Council’s stock of homes is ageing, with—for example—few en suite toilets in homes, whereas, in general, the opposite is the case in the private and voluntary sectors, contrary to what Claire Baker implied.

Earlier this year, in the teeth of furious Labour opposition, Fife Council took the decision to go out to the private and voluntary sectors to invite offers to build and run replacement homes, as the first three homes of the remaining stock—two of which are in my Dunfermline constituency—came to the end of their practical lives.

I can only guess at why Labour in opposition decided to oppose so noisily, especially as the last occasion on which council homes were closed was under a Labour administration, and many private and voluntary sector facilities have been built since then. Those sectors can source capital more easily, and can operate new and better homes more efficiently and less expensively, than the council can. However, expressions such as “selling off council homes”, “privatisation of homes” and even “turning people out into the street” were soon being thrown around, which caused alarm in some quarters.

I hope that we can now leave those fallacious arguments behind. The Scottish Government and councils throughout Scotland are trying to do more with less, which in practice means prioritising and focusing spending for some time to come while being as efficient as possible. I hope that the Labour Opposition will join a consensus, as Jackie Baillie implied. Otherwise, I shall feel free to remind others that the reason why these hard social and financial decisions must be made lies in the failed economic management policies of a recent former resident of both 10 and 11 Downing Street, the consequences of which we shall be living with for a good number of years.

Over the next five years I shall do my utmost further to recognise how best to observe, listen to and represent the people of Dunfermline and Scotland.

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