News conference at Bute House
Welcome to the second of my monthly press conferences.
I should warn you that you are likely be leaving just as the Scotland rugby team is arriving. In other words, this press conference is only the first occasion in which the Bute House drawing room has been full of fit, toned athletic young men...
The purpose of today's reception is to wish the team well ahead of this year's 6 Nations tournament. 2015 was a really positive year for Scottish rugby - sell out crowds at Murrayfield and, of course, the fantastic World Cup performance when only a really dodgy refereeing decision stood between Scotland and what would have been a well deserved place in the semi final.
It's also been a good year for the future of the game - the number of competitive youth matches doubled and the Scottish Rugby Academy was opened. The Academy looks to develop the best young rugby talent - male and female - and will no doubt provide the Scotland players of the future.
So there is every reason to feel optimistic about the future of the sport in general and about the 6 Nations in particular. I am looking forward to cheering the team on in person at their opening match against England at Murrayfield on 6 February.
I want to briefly cover some other issues before opening up to the questions you will have.
Firstly, and obviously of high importance we are reminded again today that this is a very difficult time indeed for people working in the North Sea with the news from BP of a number of job losses over this and next year.
I think it's also important thought to note and indeed to welcome BP's continued commitment to the North Sea. BP has reiterated today its investment plans, both in capital investment and operational investment in the North Sea this year and has said that is sees a long-term future for its business in the North Sea.
Nevertheless, this news today is difficult news. We will be engaging closely with BP to understand in more detail the announcement they have made today and I will also - as I have been doing in the past year - making sure that the task force that I established round about this time last year, chaired by Lena Wilson the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, is focused on doing everything that we practically can do to help individual s who are facing the prospect of redundancy but also helping the industry in general as it seeks to cope with what are very difficult market conditions.
I am making a significant announcement today about mental health services. Scotland was the first country in the world to set targets for mental health treatment. But the awareness of mental health issues, which is increasing, and the stigma associated with seeking support for mental health issues, which is thankfully reducing, we are seeing demand for services rise dramatically. That means we need to expand the range and capacity of services that are available.
I am therefore announcing today additional investment of £54m over the next four years to improve access to psychological therapies for people of all ages, including children and adolescents.
£24.7m of that will help health boards increase capacity to see more people more quickly. £4.8m will help boards redesign existing services. And £24.6m will be invested specifically in new staff and training for existing staff.
This investment will enable treatment to be offered to 10,000 additional patients in the first year - an increase of 25 per cent on current numbers - and to an extra 20,000 patients by 2019/20 - a 50 per cent increase on current numbers.
As you will see from the news release, this announcement has been welcomed by mental health charities and is a clear sign of our commitment to improving services in what is an increasingly vital - but traditionally under-valued and under-appreciated - aspect of healthcare.
I also want to mention flooding. The DFM is making a statement in parliament this afternoon. As you are aware, I visited the north east - Inverurie - on Saturday and announced a package of funding worth £12m - in addition to the £4m that was announced after Storm Desmond at the start of December. That funding I announced on Saturday will help individuals, business, farmers and local authorities deal with the impact of flooding.
However, I can confirm today that the Infrastructure Secretary is writing to the UK government asking them to make an application - as the member state - to the EU Solidarity Fund. The Solidarity Fund was established after the severe flooding in Central Europe in 2002. Payments can be made to help fund emergency operations to deal with damage such as salvage operations, repair of infrastructure, temporary accommodation and cleaning.
Applications can only be made by member states, Scotland is ineligible to apply in our own right. The UK actually received €162m after the January 2007 floods, but so far has declined to make an application in relation to recent flooding.
We are asking that they now do so, because an application may well provide additional and very welcome funding to local authorities to deal with the impact of the last few weeks.
It is of course possible, and I am purely speculating here, that one of the reasons they are reluctant to do so is that they don't want to draw attention to any of the benefits of EU membership.
On that, I am increasingly concerned by reports - and they are just reports at this stage - that the EU referendum could be held as early as June, following an agreement struck at the European Council in February.
And the concern is, if that is the case, it would leave barely four months, including the period of the Scottish election, for the public to fully engage in and for the arguments about EU membership to be heard fully. In the Scottish referendum, the two year debate provided for a vigorous campaign and genuine public engagement. Even the AV referendum involved a year of public debate.
I will be campaigning for Scotland and indeed the UK to stay in the EU - but the decision that is taken should be informed and that requires a proper public debate.
I fear that by focusing on the narrow issues up for renegotiation the UK Government is in danger of selling the pass on the big economic and social arguments for staying in the EU and then leaving too little time for these big issues to be engaged with.
I think David Cameron should make clear now that - once the renegotiation is concluded - he will focus on the big in-principal arguments on jobs and investment for staying in the EU. Not to do so will risk jobs in Scotland and across the UK.