Ministerial Working Group on Gypsy/Travellers minutes: May 2019

Minutes of the fifth meeting for the Ministerial Working Group on Gypsy/Travellers, held on 16 May 2019.

Attendees and apologies


  • Christina McKelvie, Minister for Older People and Equalities (Chair)
  • Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Business, Fair Work & Skills
  • Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing & Planning
  • Joe FitzPatrick MSP, Minister for Public Health, Sport & Wellbeing
  • Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Children & Young People


  • Cllr Elena Whitham, COSLA Spokesperson, Community Wellbeing Board

from the Gypsy/Traveller Youth Assembly (GTYA):

  • Davie Donaldson, Charlotte Donaldson, Sookie McPhee

from the Gypsy/Traveller Women’s Voices Project:

  • Susan and Yvonne Townsley, Michelle Foy (supported by Dominique Barr and Lucy Arnott)

Items and actions

16 May is Romani Resistance Day, which commemorates the 1944 act of resistance of Roma and Gypsy people incarcerated in Auschwitz. Christina McKelvie invited Davie Donaldson to tell the group about the Romani Resistance, and the group observed a minute’s silence in honour of the Roma and Gypsy victims of the holocaust.

Welcome, introductory remarks

Christina McKelvie welcomed Ministers and guests to the meeting to look at the draft action plan. This is a time limited plan which will set out the actions Scottish Government and COSLA will take in the next two years. She thanked the guests from the gypsy/traveller community for attending, and for their frank and candid feedback on the draft action plan, which she acknowledged still needed some work.

Noting her gratitude to COSLA for their partnership in developing the plan, she invited Cllr Elena Whitham to speak.

COSLA’s role

Cllr Whitham: COSLA has been working hard with the Scottish Government for many months to develop this joint action plan. 

It’s really important that the views of the community are at the heart of the plan. But the actions must be achievable. COSLA is committed to delivering more and better accommodation but this must be culturally appropriate. As part of this we will be working with local authorities to test out ‘negotiated stopping’ as a way of supporting families who are travelling. We will also develop a local leaders network to champion the rights of gypsy/travellers in local areas. 

Views from the Gypsy/Traveller community

Christina McKelvie invited the guests from the gypsy/traveller community to give some feedback on the draft plan. Overall, they felt that the actions were ambitious but deliverable, but some further changes are needed. It is really important that there is funding in place to deliver the actions. 

Specific comments: 

  • the accommodation actions need to be strengthened because as they stand they won’t deliver ‘more and better accomodation’. The Scottish Government’s commitment to affordable homes does not include sites, which isn’t fair. Provision needs to be culturally appropriate, otherwise people can feel forced into settled housing. Accommodation actions must also take account of diverse needs and tenures
  • culturally appropriate accommodation includes temporary stopping places which enable people to travel. The Scottish Parliament voted in favour of a network of traditional sites and this needs to be explicitly referenced in the action plan 
  • minimum site standards should be reviewed to ensure they are equivalent with social housing, and more robust action should be taken against landlords whose sites don’t meet the minimum standards
  • the ‘Local Leaders Network’ is welcome but there should be disciplinary action against officials or politicians who speak or behave in a discriminatory way
  • the commitment to include gypsy/travellers in the One Scotland campaign is really important
  • the actions on ensuring representation are also important key so that gypsy/traveller voices are involved in decision-making

The community members said that the working relationship with both the Scottish Government and COSLA has been very positive and inclusive over the last 18 months. This needs to continue so that Gypsy/Travellers can play a full part in implementing the actions and delivering change. Community members would like to be involved in reviewing progress against the actions, every six months.

Update on progress from Ministers

All five Ministers outlined the actions in the plan from their respective portfolios, all of which were welcomed. Jamie Hepburn asked for officials to work together to strengthen the actions from his portfolio. 

Christina McKelvie asked Kevin Stewart to respond to the feedback about the accommodation actions. 

Kevin Stewart:  

  • housing needs and demands assessments should capture the needs of gypsy/travellers but we need much better engagement with the community to get a better understanding of what the community wants, understanding that ‘culturally appropriate accommodation’ means different things to different people
  • we will also ensure that gypsy/travellers are fully involved in our work to plan for Scotland’s accommodation needs in the longer-term (this programme of work is called ‘Housing 2040’)
  • we will convene a short life working group over the summer to consider how best to take forward the accommodation actions, and it will involve gypsy/travellers
  • while we want landlords to go beyond the minimum standards, we are very concerned that some sites still don’t meet current standards. We have met landlords with failing sites, and will continue work with the Scottish Housing Regulator on this
  • we can see the benefits of moving the budgets for sites from the General Fund to the Housing Revenue Account so that all social housing tenants are treated the same, in terms of services and consultation


Christina McKelvie asked guests to comment on what they had heard from Ministers:

Elena Whitham: Need to acknowledge that gypsy/traveller needs have been excluded from housing and homelessness programmes over the years – a lot needs to change. There is a willingness in local government to do more and better for this community. All policies need to be inclusive, but we need to be clear about how it will be resourced. 

The working group being set up is a good idea because there are lots of different views about what accommodation is needed.

As Mr Stewart said, housing needs and demands assessments don’t reflect gypsy/traveller needs. Local authorities need help to work with gypsy/traveller communities to develop in-depth knowledge which will inform better provision in the future. 

We need to consider the implications for councils of moving sites to the Housing Revenue Account.

The representatives from the gypsy/traveller community wanted to see: 

  • firmer wording throughout the plan – not exploring or considering but doing, especially in relation to accommodation so that the community can be confident that the actions will lead to more and better accommodation
  • more robust action to enforce minimum standards
  • six-monthly updates, involving the community
  • a separate action on how traditional stopping places will be mapped and where possible reopened

Next steps

Christina McKelvie confirmed that that ministers would continue to work on the actions, and would meet again later in the year to share the revised plan (this has now been arranged for Thursday 26 September). She also offered to convene a meeting between Ministers and community members on a six monthly basis to review progress on the actions. 

A further discussion took place in private between Ministers and COSLA after the guests had left the meeting.


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