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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, November 25, 2021


General Question Time

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

Good morning. I remind members about the Covid-related measures that are in place, and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is general questions. In order to get in as many people as possible, I would be grateful for short, succinct questions and answers to match.

Ventilation in Schools (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government what guidance it has issued related to the funding of ventilation in schools. (S6O-00446)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

A Scottish Government funding package of £10 million for the delivery of CO2 monitoring in schools was confirmed with Convention of Scottish Local Authorities leaders at the end of August. That was in addition to the £90 million of funding that was previously provided to local authorities for Covid logistics, which was made available for use for a range of purposes, including improved ventilation.

In allocating funding to local authorities, we set out that the additional £10 million should be used only for the intended purposes, in line with Scottish Government guidance. Those purposes comprise the purchase and installation of CO2 monitors and funding of associated additional staff, training or consultant resource requirements. After those elements have been prioritised, funding may also be used to contribute to the costs of any required remedial action that has been identified by CO2 monitoring.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer. Will the Government publish the inspection criteria used to confirm whether classrooms have adequate ventilation?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

The guidance is quite clear on that issue, and it is a matter for local authorities to work with the professional staff that they have in that area to ensure that the monitoring has been undertaken correctly. The situation will vary, depending on the type of monitor that the local authority chose, but we are supporting local authorities to ensure that they use the monitors correctly; indeed, local authorities are supporting one another. Following monitoring, it is for the local authority to undertake any required remedial action; again, such action will depend on what the monitoring showed up and is taken on a case-by-case basis.

I am happy to make the material from the Scottish Government on the allocation of funding and our guidance available to Foysol Choudhury in writing, if he has not already seen it.

Zero Direct Emissions Heating (New-build Properties)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will bring forward the date of 2024 for requiring zero direct emissions heating within new builds. (S6O-00447)

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

The Scottish Government recognises the crucial need to take rapid action to reduce emissions associated with heating our homes and buildings.

We recently reaffirmed our commitment to introduce regulations for zero direct emissions heating within new builds from 2024 in our heat in buildings strategy. That is faster than the United Kingdom Government is moving and it is faster than some expected. Our current review of building regulations for 2022 also includes provisions that will support the changes that are planned for 2024.

Willie Rennie

Does the minister share the concern of local Scottish National Party councillors in north-east Fife, who were powerless to prevent gas boilers from being installed recently in 30 new affordable homes in the village of Springfield, and who will be powerless to act for another three years if the SNP Government refuses to change the rules? Why is the Government waiting until 2024, when there is a climate emergency now?

Patrick Harvie

As I said, we are cracking on with that work as rapidly as we can. I am glad that Willie Rennie is enthusiastic about pushing us further. If we were to say that we would complete the work by tea time, some people might still be outraged that we were not completing it by lunch time.

I hope that that is not what is happening here, because what is necessary to achieve that work is not simply about bringing in a regulation. It is about working with the supply chain; it is about working with the skills involved so that we can go from a few thousand installations a year to hundreds of thousands installations a year by the end of the parliamentary session; and it is about working with our electricity networks so that they can cope with the increased demand on them that that work will result in.

Our heat in buildings strategy has been well received, and it is well recognised that it is more ambitious than that in the United Kingdom, in relation to both zero-emission heating and energy efficiency. We need to tackle both as fast as possible.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said that new homes and buildings will be required to install electric vehicle charging points from 2022. Does the Scottish Government have similar ambitions?

I am sure that if Mr Johnson wanted to respond to our consultation on the reform of building regulations, he would be very welcome to do so, and that we would give his suggestion all due attention.

Grouse Moor Management Review Group (Recommendations)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its progress with implementing the recommendations of the grouse moor management review group. (S6O-00448)

The Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform (Màiri McAllan)

Implementing the grouse moor management group’s recommendations remains a priority for the Government. As our 2021-22 programme for government set out, we will bring forward legislation in this parliamentary session.

Since publishing our report, ministers, officials and NatureScot have met with stakeholders to develop proposals for a licensing scheme, and NatureScot has established a task group to progress recommendations, including on licensing and muirburn, which met on 23 November. We have also commissioned a report on the impact of medicated grit, which was published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in November 2020. We have been engaging with the bodies that are involved in monitoring and regulating its use, and we will continue to do so.

Mark Ruskell

It is clear that work has started at long last on this important area. I raise also the related issue of extending the powers of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to enable it to tackle the wildlife crime that we see in many areas of Scotland. It has been 10 years since that was first proposed, and I believe that the minister is the seventh minister to consider action in that area. When can that work begin?

Màiri McAllan

As Mr Ruskell is aware, we have legislated for a task force to consider the scope of the powers. Our Bute house agreement ensures that the task force will be able to report and that any recommendations that we agree to and which require legislation will be reported in time to be included in legislation on grouse moor management.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

A key concern around grouse moors is the scale of trapping of other species through snaring. Can the minister tell us whether the animal welfare issues with the use of legal snares will be included in the snaring review, and when that review will report?

Màiri McAllan

I answered a recent question in Parliament about snaring from one of Mr Smyth’s colleagues. The rules on snaring in Scotland are the tightest in the United Kingdom, but I have made it clear that, when they are reviewed—I think that that will be at the end of this year, but I will correct that if I am wrong—I will see that their scope is extended to include a potential ban on snares.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

In thanking the minister for recently meeting with me and senior members of the Scottish Gamekeeepers Association, can I ask her to reaffirm to Parliament that the Scottish Government recognises the value to the rural economy of country sports, which are carried out professionally, as they have been and will continue to be, given the excellent professionalism of gamekeepers in our country?

Màiri McAllan

I am happy to confirm that the work that we are undertaking in grouse moor management is not intended to, and will not, put an end to grouse moor management in Scotland. Mr Ewing knows that because, in the months of September and October alone, after I met with the League Against Cruel Sports, OneKind, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Revive coalition and the Scottish Raptor Study Group, I sat down with him and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and we discussed those issues at length.

I feel very strongly that we should pursue policy in consultation with those who lives and livelihoods are affected by it, and I will continue to do that.

Flood Mitigation Schemes (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to support the funding of flood mitigation schemes. (S6O-00449)

We are committed to providing an extra £150 million over the next five years for flood risk management, in addition to the £42 million that we provide annually to local authorities.

Miles Briggs

Residents in areas that I represent in Stockbridge, Comely Bank, Ravelston and Craigleith have been hit by significant flooding in recent years, because of urban waste water issues. However, the Scottish Government’s funding mechanism operates on the basis of river flooding. Does the Scottish Government plan to review that funding mechanism to make sure that Edinburgh is given a fair funding deal to carry out mitigation projects to prevent future flooding?

Màiri McAllan

The flood risk management strategies that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency co-ordinates on behalf of all bodies responsible for flooding consider all those matters. They consider whether an area is urban and they consider the rurality of an area. They also consider sources of flooding risk, whether those come from a river, the sea or surface water. That is embedded in the work that SEPA does, and the Government is committed to funding the priority projects that SEPA puts forward in the flood risk management strategies, so long as they are viable.

Strategic Transport Projects Review 2 (Phase 2 Consultation)

5. Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the laying of national planning framework 4, whether it can provide an updated timescale for the consultation on phase 2 of the strategic transport projects review 2. (S6O-00450)

The Minister for Transport (Graeme Dey)

STPR2 will create the evidence base for future transport investment decisions in Scotland for the next 20 years. Given the link between land use and transport, it has been fundamental that STPR2 takes cognisance of the spatial strategy set out in NPF4.

Work on STPR2 is proceeding well and the intention is to publish recommendations for investment in the new year, followed by the appropriate statutory consultation period. That will be done in a way that enables it to be concluded before the local authority pre-election purdah period begins.

Emma Roddick

I thank the minister for his answer and look forward to seeing more detail in the weeks to come. Does the minister acknowledge the need to promote freight transport by rail, particularly for long-distance journeys, in trying to reducing transport emissions?

Graeme Dey

Emma Roddick will appreciate that, given the processes that we are going through, and out of respect for the stakeholders, I will not give too much detail at this stage. However, there is no doubt that getting freight on to rail will be a priority as we seek to decarbonise transport. That will, of course, involve investment in infrastructure.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

In phase 1 of STPR2, the Government pledged to carry out an audit of all lorry parks and rest areas near trunk roads in Scotland. What progress is being made on that and will there be any investment for improvements?

Graeme Dey

I will write to Graham Simpson with details on the first part of that question. We are in detailed discussions with the freight sector about a variety of subjects, including the location of lorry parks and the appropriate charging infrastructure that might be needed for them.

Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The NPF4 includes a statement that

“All local development plans should manage the use and development of land in the long term public interest”,

which is the accepted purpose of planning. However, the draft framework does not set out steps to apply that public-interest principle during the decision-making process, when planning applications are being decided. Will the Scottish Government set out a process for decision makers to follow to deny planning permission if they deem that a development would be unacceptable on the ground of public interest?

A very clear set of criteria are deployed in the context of STPR2. Those are the criteria that we use.

Deferred Entry to Primary 1 (Funding for Early Learning and Childcare)

6. Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide further details of its plans to entitle all children whose school start is deferred to access funded early learning and childcare in their deferred year. (S6O-00451)

The Minister for Children and Young People (Clare Haughey)

Positive progress is being made on delivering the commitment to offer funded early learning and childcare for all children whose school entry is deferred. The legislation will take effect from August 2023, as per the timetable approved by Parliament on 3 February 2021. A pilot programme is already under way in five local authorities. To support local authorities in preparing for full implementation, we are investing £8.9 million to enable five additional local authorities to join the pilot from August 2022.

The Scottish Government is commissioning an evaluation of the pilot approach. That research will support local authorities with full implementation by evaluating approaches to policy implementation and parents’ perceptions of the process. We anticipate that full evaluation findings will be published in spring 2023.

Fulton MacGregor

Will the minister provide further information on how the pilots are progressing? Will she outline how the Government intends to communicate the change in order to ensure that all families, in the pilot areas and more widely, are aware of their deferral rights?

Clare Haughey

The pilot is progressing well, with all participating authorities supporting families with their new entitlement. The new pilot sites were announced recently, and local authorities are leading communication at the local level. Our ParentClub website has been updated to give clear information about deferral rights to parents and carers in pilot areas and other authorities.

We ask local authorities to consider parental communications when applying for the year 2 pilot places, and communication is a key priority for our deferral working group, which will meet on 30 November. We will use that opportunity to share practice and support local authorities with their local communication plans. The meeting will also allow us to gather useful practice to share more widely ahead of the full roll-out in 2023.

Reaching 100 per cent Programme (Progress)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made towards the R100 commitment to superfast broadband for all. (S6O-00452)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy (Kate Forbes)

The reaching 100 per cent programme commitment is being delivered through our R100 contracts, the R100 Scottish broadband voucher scheme and on-going commercial coverage. Despite telecoms legislation being reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament, which is often forgotten, the Scottish Government is investing £579 million in R100 contracts, with the UK Government contribution being just £33.5 million. Work is well under way across all the contracts.

Jackie Dunbar

I have been contacted by a number of constituents in Aberdeen Donside who it is expected will not be connected to the superfast network prior to the 31 December 2021 deadline. My constituents have been advised that they might be connected in 2022, but they have received no guarantee of when it might happen.

Over the past year, we have seen how important a superfast connection is. I would appreciate it if the cabinet secretary would provide assurances that the Scottish Government will engage with residents in affected areas who have yet to be connected to ensure that they are aware of a timescale for the work being completed.

Kate Forbes

Although contract delivery for some premises in the Aberdeen Donside constituency is scheduled to take place after the end of this calendar year, the R100 Scottish broadband voucher scheme offers a voucher worth up to £400 to enable constituents to secure an interim superfast connection, thereby ensuring that everyone can access superfast broadband by the end of 2021. Where our online address checker currently shows a delivery date of 2022, it will be updated to reflect greater detail on delivery timescales, once survey work has been completed on the ground. We will continue to engage with communities across Scotland as part of the R100 programme.

Social Care Workers (Pay)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will allocate funding in its 2022-23 budget to enable social care workers to be paid at least £15 per hour. (S6O-00453)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy (Kate Forbes)

As Jackie Baillie will know, the Scottish Government budget for 2022-2023 is currently in development and will be published on 9 December. We are fully committed to reviewing pay and conditions for the social care workforce.

Jackie Baillie

The Scottish Government has received some £4.6 billion in extra funding from the United Kingdom Government for the next budget. The cabinet secretary and I discussed pay for social care staff in the previous budget round. At that time, she was concerned about continuing revenue funding. Given that that is no longer a problem, what is preventing the Government from increasing wages for low-paid social care staff?

Kate Forbes

It is not like Jackie Baillie to unquestioningly accept a Tory press release on our budget. As she will know, this year’s budget is as challenging as ever, in the light of the fact that there are no Covid consequentials. In fact, the allocation does not accept that Covid continues to have an impact on our health and education services and on local government.

When it comes to social care workers, I agree on the importance of valuing their work, which is why this year we have provided funding of £64.5 million to deliver the living wage, and why last month we committed funding of up to £48 million to lift the hourly rate for social care workers from £9.50 an hour to at least £10.02 an hour. That is in sharp contrast with what social care workers in England and Wales face, most of whom are paid the national living wage of £8.91 an hour.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes general question time. Before we move to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to the gallery His Excellency Mohammad Sarwar, the governor of Punjab. [Applause.]