Thank you Presiding Officer.
Like others around the world, we have been shocked by Russia’s continued illegal and unprovoked war in Ukraine.
The conflict has devastated the lives of innocent Ukrainians, and forced nearly 11 million people to flee their homes.
As a nation, we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Our communities have welcomed thousands of people fleeing the war; Scottish families have opened their homes; and our local authorities and third sector partners are working tirelessly to provide often traumatised people with the safety and support they need.
Presiding Officer, unlike the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, we were not able to plan in advance and homes had not already been found for people before they travelled.
The scale and speed of the displacement has been large and swift, and caused a humanitarian crisis Europe could not have predicted or planned for. To provide a comparison, in Scotland the Syrian Scheme saw planned resettlement of 3,000 people, over a period of five years.
Providing suitable accommodation and ensuring those arriving are able to access health, education and employability support has been a challenge on a scale we have never experienced before.
It is a challenge our services have risen to. Thanks in large part to our super sponsor scheme, Scotland has now offered a place of sanctuary to over 21,000 people – a fifth of all UK arrivals and double our population share.
It is beyond anything we could have imagined eight months ago, when the war began. When we launched the super sponsor scheme, we committed to welcoming 3,000 people. We have exceeded this seven times over showing we did the right thing in offering this additional route to safety.
By pausing the scheme in July, we sought to ensure we were able to continue to provide appropriate accommodation and support to those displaced who had already arrived, and those who we knew would arrive in the weeks ahead. At that time I also committed to a review of the scheme.
Led by the Chief Social Policy Adviser, Professor Linda Bauld, the review convened experts from across national and local government, academia and the third sector and included the lived experience of recently arrived Ukrainians. I am grateful to them all for their work.
Today I have published the results of that Review. With the principles of empowerment and sustainability in mind, the review has identified sixteen interventions for our Warm Scottish Welcome to improve our offer and to ensure we are doing everything that we can to help those from Ukraine. There are seven criteria as well for re-opening the super sponsor scheme. These are supported by COSLA, SOLACE and third sector partners.
I’ll briefly go through some of those interventions, particularly focusing on accommodation. They include positive steps that have the possibility of creating a real lasting benefit.
For many, moving from welcome accommodation to long term accommodation is a key milestone, and may be concerning as it’s a recognition that for the time being their homeland remains at war and they need to make a home in Scotland for longer than they may have originally envisaged. We want to be there to support them through this time.
Our aim is to improve the performance of the scheme, empower those arriving with clear advice, support and improve access to long-term housing options thereby reducing dependency on short-term accommodation.
Presiding Officer, one intervention we have already begun is to increase the supply of housing stock through the £50 million Ukraine Long Term Resettlement Fund. This is new funding, it is in addition to the £5 million granted to North Lanarkshire which has brought 200 properties into use and has started accommodating families.
Through the new fund we have already announced £486,000 in grant funding to North Ayrshire Council. I am pleased to today announce that Aberdeen City Council have been awarded over £6 million to bring around 500 void properties back into use, making more long-term accommodation available across the city. We are working with all local authorities to encourage and support more proposals.
The Scottish Government does not want anyone to stay in welcome accommodation longer than necessary. It is clear that a settled home is a better longer term outcome. So we will also set clearer expectations that stays are short-term and highlight support available to secure longer term settled accommodation.
With many arrivals now in employment or in receipt of social security benefits, where appropriate, and in line with guests in private host homes and people living in other temporary rented accommodation - we will also consider asking for a contribution to temporary welcome accommodation for those still using them.
This will help us improve the prioritisation of limited temporary accommodation for those most in need and newly arriving.
Presiding Officer, thousands of Scots were in a position to be able to open their homes to Ukrainians by offering to be a private host.
Local authority resettlement teams, supported by our national matching service, are working hard to match volunteer hosts and displaced people. Over 2,790 people have now been matched into private homes.
We want to quickly and safely place people with hosts but know that the most successful arrangements happen when both the needs of hosts and Ukrainians align.
Which is why matching is a two-way process, resettlement leads need to listen and take account of the needs and preferences of Ukrainians.
Many people may prefer to live in areas close to amenities and services, or close to pre-existing Ukrainian communities. In addition, volunteer hosts will have their own preferences and may not have space for larger family sizes or complex group compositions.
Matching takes time and considerable input. This is why we have increased resources to our local authorities to boost the process. And it also may mean that for some volunteer hosts there is unfortunately not a match to be made. There will also be many who are interested in hosting, but have not yet taken the first step as they are not sure of what is expected of them.
Therefore, we will launch a Scotland-specific campaign asking households across the nation to consider offering a place in their home to a Ukrainian.
As part of this, later this month, we will be holding our first Warm Scottish Gathering, where Ukrainians and our local communities can come together. The event will showcase Scotland’s many vibrant towns, cities and villages, and will help Ukrainians make informed choices about where to live.
The review has had to take into account that we are operating in the context of a cost of living crisis, and cuts to our budget from the UK Government. A UK Government that has failed to act effectively enough in response to the cost of living crisis itself, and continues to fail in its response to arrivals from Ukraine.
As part of his budget statement, the Deputy First Minister explained our response to the Ukraine crisis requires us to find around £200 million that had not been planned for.
For many months, I have been writing jointly with my Welsh counterpart, Jane Hutt, asking the UK Government to provide proper funding for Ukrainians arriving under the family route, and we have pressed for an increase to the £350 thank you payments for hosts. None of this has progressed, indeed in the chaos of the last few months the regular meetings the Welsh and Scottish Governments had with Lord Harrington has now been replaced with unanswered letters.
I will continue to pursue meetings with new UK Ministers, and continue to meet my Welsh counterpart, who has also just carried out a similar review of arrangements in Wales.
Scotland is facing the most severe economic upheaval in a generation, already impacting people, businesses, public services and the third sector. Difficult decisions are being taken that affect all of Scotland’s people, and our offer of support for people displaced by the conflict in Ukraine is unfortunately not immune from that.
Presiding Officer, let me now turn to the re-opening of the Super Sponsor scheme. As I said earlier we have developed seven criteria we will use to objectively measure whether or not the scheme can reopen.
Re-opening must be predicated on ensuring we are able to honour our commitment to displaced people already in Scotland, and those yet to travel. We must be assured that measures are in place to mitigate pressures on local councils and other services who have been working tirelessly, and that funding is in place to meet associated costs.
Having considered the current position, I have concluded we are unable to resume applications to the super sponsor scheme at this time.
That does not mean there are no new arrivals from Ukraine. There are daily arrivals from Ukraine, around 100 a day and more than 13,000 visa holders still to travel and the private sponsor route for Ukrainians remains open.
From the outset I have been clear Ukrainian resettlement is a national effort. Scotland’s response has demonstrated the kindness and generosity of the Scottish people.
We can only be successful by working with local authorities, third sector partners, community groups, businesses and of course Ukrainians themselves. I would therefore like to offer my deepest appreciation and thanks to all those who are providing help and support.
This also includes the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain and the Consul General Yevhen Mankovskyi. I would like to thank them for their support.
The work of the Association reinforces the importance of respecting and listening to displaced people from Ukraine so we keep people, not process, at the heart of our response.
I have discussed, and explained the rationale behind the interventions I’ve outlined today with them both and they remain supportive of Scotland’s response, recognising the significant constraints we face.
The review heard that support should be in place that empowers Ukrainians to make positive choices about their future. And that is our aim through the interventions in our paper.
The Scottish Government remains clear Ukrainians are welcome and Scotland is their home for as long as they need it.
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