Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)
Meeting date: Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Agenda: Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Child Poverty, Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill, Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Scotland’s Companies
- Point of Order
- Portfolio Question Time
- Child Poverty
- Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill
- Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
- Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- Scotland’s Companies
Portfolio Question Time
Covid-19 Recovery and Parliamentary Business
We now come to portfolio questions. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question or enter the letter R in the chat function. As ever, to get in as many members as possible, I would appreciate succinct questions and answers.
Covid-19 Recovery (Staff Shortages)
To ask the Scottish Government how its Covid-19 recovery policies across Government are helping to address any Covid-19-related staff shortages across Scottish public sector bodies, including in Aberdeen Donside. (S6O-01284)
As part of the Government’s measures to assist public bodies in addressing the issue of Covid-19-related staff shortages in Aberdeen Donside, in 2022-23 Aberdeen City Council will receive £409.8 million to fund vital day-to-day local services, which equates to an extra £35.2 million—an additional 9.4 per cent—compared with 2021-22.
Councils and other public sector bodies have flexibility to manage their resources and budgets as long as they fulfil their statutory obligations and address jointly agreed national and local priorities. The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have agreed shared priorities for recovery, which involve targeting support to those people who have been most affected during the pandemic.
I welcome the fact that NHS Grampian has changed its approach to recruitment to strengthen participation in international recruitment initiatives and to promote links with further education and apprenticeship programmes. I also welcome the fact that it is undertaking a review of all agency staff, as well as providing mentoring roles to older staff.
Will the Deputy First Minister join me in welcoming NHS Grampian’s outward-looking approach? How is the Government further enhancing efforts across the public sector?
I welcome the steps that NHS Grampian is taking, which are part of the work that is being undertaken in the national health service to expand the recruitment of staff and to exhaust all options to address the shortages issue.
Obviously, there are challenges with international recruitment, which have been exacerbated by the issues around Brexit and immigration, but the Scottish Government will work with health boards to encourage them to take the steps that NHS Grampian has taken.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that, this week, a circular was issued by the Scottish Government that removed the temporary Covid protections from NHS employees. I have been contacted by NHS employees with long Covid who are worried about what that means for their jobs. They do not have access to proper diagnostics and treatment although long Covid is incredibly debilitating, and they are concerned that they will lose pay and lose their jobs. Will the cabinet secretary review the policy urgently and reassure staff with long Covid that they will still have jobs to return to?
The Government is absolutely committed to the fair work agenda, and the issues that Jackie Baillie raises are ones that would be addressed by that agenda. Individuals who face challenges with their health are entitled to support from their employers as part of that activity. I reassure members of staff that that is the case.
If Jackie Baillie is concerned about particular instances that have been drawn to her attention, I would be grateful if she would share those with ministers. We will certainly explore any anxiety that is in the minds of staff as a consequence of the guidance to which she referred.
Following on from Jackie Dunbar’s question about the NHS, I am very concerned about the current state of primary care. Poor workforce planning means that Scotland is about 225 whole-time equivalent general practitioners short. According to Audit Scotland, little progress had been made on recruiting more GPs even before the pandemic hit, with only 39 having been recruited in three years. Can the cabinet secretary tell us what is being done about the recruitment of GPs to ensure that we can deal with the current crisis?
I acknowledge that, in some parts of the country, there are particular challenges around the recruitment of general practitioners. Without generalising too much, I would say that the issue looks to be more acute in rural areas than it is in urban areas, although urban areas are not without their challenges.
The Government has invested heavily in the recruitment of general practitioners and has worked to make general practice attractive through a number of different interventions, such as reducing the financial burdens that some general practitioners have, in the past, been expected to carry and enabling them to be better supported by NHS infrastructure. Scotland has more GPs per head of population than there are in other parts of the United Kingdom, but we must continue to work to recruit general practitioners, which is a priority of the health secretary as we speak.
Covid-19 Recovery Planning (Access to Interpreters and Translators)
To ask the Scottish Government whether its Covid-19 recovery planning will include measures to improve access to interpreters and translators for people using public services. (S6O-01285)
The Covid recovery strategy is focused on bringing about a fairer future, particularly for those who are most affected by the pandemic. We will do that by transforming public services to ensure that they are person centred in design and delivery and that they support communities and the most vulnerable to thrive.
As part of that transformation, the Scottish Government is committed to improving and embedding inclusive communication within Government and across public bodies, and it is currently reviewing the effectiveness of the public sector equality duty in Scotland. Analysis of consultation responses on proposals that are designed to support public bodies to better meet PSED and the Scottish specific duties requirements is expected to be completed by August 2022.
I welcome that response. Sessional interpreters were rightly considered to be key workers during the pandemic, and they continue to play a vital role in Covid recovery and in assisting the national health service and justice services.
However, trade unions have raised some concerns about fair work and seek assurance that the Government will do everything that it can to ensure that sessional interpreters who are employed in the public sector are covered by the terms of fair work. A meeting between the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, Richard Lochhead, was requested on 29 March, but, unfortunately, that meeting has not happened yet. Will the cabinet secretary take that meeting forward or ensure that a relevant minister meets with the STUC at the earliest opportunity?
I welcome the work that is undertaken by sessional interpreters at all times, but particularly the work they have done during Covid. That work would have been particularly significant for individuals during Covid—and, in the context of welcoming our guests from Ukraine, it is ever more important in our communities.
Monica Lennon properly reflects the Government’s support for the fair work agenda. Last week, I had a discussion with the STUC on relevant issues, and I would be happy to explore a meeting with ministers to address any of those concerns. I will make sure that that is taken forward as a consequence of this exchange.
Covid-19 Ventilation Short-Life Working Group
To ask the Scottish Government how its cross-Government Covid recovery policies will take account of the recommendations of its Covid-19 ventilation short-life working group. (S6O-01286)
Our ventilation short-life working group made 10 recommendations aimed at improving the following: awareness of the contribution that ventilation has in reducing the risk of transmission; regulations; guidance; technical skills; and air quality in buildings. Work is in hand to take forward the recommendations.
We are prioritising actions that can be taken quickly to improve ventilation, ahead of this winter, to improve our resilience against Covid-19 and other infections. I will write to all MSPs this afternoon to provide more detail than I can put on the record now on the Scottish Government’s progress on the recommendations.
I welcome the Deputy First Minister’s answer. I have had constituents and organisations getting in touch with me because the working group was due to publish its recommendations by March, but they are not on the Scottish Government website.
As the Deputy First Minister said, with Covid still being with us and one in 20 people in Scotland having Covid, it is more important than ever to improve indoor ventilation. Given that the recent report by the Royal Academy of Engineering showed that improved ventilation would add billions to the economy, could the Deputy First Minister say what higher standards or investment in ventilation he will deliver to keep people safe?
I acknowledge the importance of the point that Sarah Boyack has raised. The working group gave us very clear recommendations, and I will set out in a letter to members this afternoon the steps that we are taking.
Fundamentally and in principle, we accept the group’s recommendations about the importance of taking forward the ventilation strategy, improving ventilation in our buildings and recognising the benefit that improved ventilation has for the wellbeing of individuals—and for the wellbeing of the economy, into the bargain.
Many businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, needed financial support to improve their ventilation. The Scottish Government set up a £25 million Covid business ventilation fund, but the fund paid out less than £1 million before closing. The Federation of Small Businesses Scotland said that the scheme was guilty of
“clunky admin systems and serious delays getting cash support to firms.”
Why was the fund such a failure?
We have to be careful about distribution of public money. On any other day, Mr Fraser would be citing to me the Audit Scotland report that demanded more information about distribution of public funding. On this occasion, he is asking me, in essence, to gather less information. On another day, he would demand that I collect more information.
We have committed to evaluating the 2021 business ventilation fund and we will consider the recommendations of the ventilation sub-group in light of that evaluation, while acknowledging that the Government has every interest in making sure that funding schemes that we make available are impactful in the business community, as was the case with Covid recovery funding. If there are lessons to learn about the administration of individual funds, we will learn them in order to make sure that the processes of the Government are efficient and smooth in all circumstances.
Ruth Maguire joins us remotely for question 4.
Scottish Elections (Secret Ballot)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made on ensuring that all voters in Scotland can exercise their right to a secret vote in Scottish elections. (S6O-01287)
Mr Adam, I hope that you caught enough of the question; it is in the Business Bulletin, anyway.
The secrecy of the ballot is, of course, fundamental to our democracy. That is why we continue to work with partners to explore a number of practical solutions for voters who face barriers. The upcoming consultation on electoral reform is a further opportunity for people who have an interest to contribute ideas to that important agenda.
As the minister said, voting independently and confidentially is one of the basic rights of our democracy. It is unacceptable that many blind and partially sighted people still experience problems doing so. Will the minister commit to act as promptly as possible to ensure that that right is realised for all voters in Scotland at the next vote?
Blind and partially sighted people are one of the key groups that we have been working with to ensure that we get solutions to some of the problems.
Our programme for government contains an explicit commitment to improving accessibility of elections. It is understandable that progress over the past few years has not been as quick as we would have liked it to be, but as I have made clear on a number of occasions, I am committed to the agenda and want improvements to be made as soon as is practicable, as a result of the work that I mentioned.
Covid-19 Recovery Strategy (Community Resilience and Mental Health)
To ask the Scottish Government whether its Covid recovery strategy includes the provision of funding for charities working to strengthen community resilience and support mental health. (S6O-01288)
The Covid recovery strategy highlights the importance of charities to community resilience. Our social enterprise and volunteering action plans will strengthen that role.
We have committed £120 million of recurring funding to support mental health and wellbeing, including £36 million over two years through the communities mental health and wellbeing fund for adults. The fund recognises the role of community groups and supports nearly 1,800 projects.
We are providing local authorities with £15 million per annum to fund more than 230 community mental health supports for children and young people, where the third sector is a delivery partner.
During the pandemic, Yoker, in my Glasgow Anniesland constituency, was surveyed for community resilience as part of efforts by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, Inspire, Mind and the Co-operative Group to understand what makes communities resilient and how that strengthens individuals’ mental health.
The Covid recovery strategy highlights how important communities are when it comes to tackling poor mental health and delivering support to the most marginalised people in society, who were often the most badly affected by the pandemic. Will the Scottish Government consider giving funding to charities that work on children and young people’s mental health and crisis prevention in marginalised communities, through the introduction of the whole family wellbeing fund?
I would be keen for the type of projects that Mr Kidd mentioned to be reflected in the whole family wellbeing fund. It provides us with an opportunity to recognise that some of the mental health challenges that individuals face are a consequence of a multiplicity of factors. It is by taking a holistic and, in some circumstances, a whole family approach, that we will address the issues.
During the pandemic, I had the pleasure of visiting an excellent project in Drumchapel in Mr Kidd’s constituency. That art-based project has been immensely successful in stimulating community engagement and helping to address the wellbeing of individuals. There is some very good learning from Mr Kidd’s constituency, which we can build upon.
Time and again at the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, we have heard about the essential role that third-party organisations have played in supporting people—young and old—with mental health issues and people with mental illness, while statutory services were letting them down.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental health of people across Scotland. For that reason, funding for charities and community initiatives will be more important than ever in the coming years. Access to services is crucial to supporting mental health.
Can the Deputy First Minister outline why more than 10,000 of our children and young people were refused access to mental health treatment during 2021? What assurances can he give me that urgent work is being undertaken to make services much more accessible, this year and beyond?
The issue that Sue Webber has raised is obviously very important, but the judgments that have been arrived at are clinical judgments that have been made by the services involved. I would consider some of the issues that Sue Webber has fairly raised with me within the context of the whole family wellbeing analysis that we are undertaking. If we provide more effective support to individuals—through community organisations, in some circumstances—we can avoid the crystallisation of mental health and wellbeing challenges, because people will be better supported, more included and more assisted in their endeavour. That thinking has been brought to bear.
I am delighted that our local authority partners are working closely with us on the Covid recovery strategy in trying to make it a practical reality, but we need the engagement of the third sector—which I warmly welcome, because the third sector has a track record of being able to reach individuals who might be more challenging for statutory services to reach.
Proposed Brexit Freedoms Bill (Impact on Legislative Programme)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the possible impact on its legislative programme of the United Kingdom Government’s proposed Brexit freedoms bill. (S6O-01289)
Natalie Don raises an important point. It is simply impossible at this stage to assess the full impact of the Brexit freedoms bill on the legislative programme, given how little information has been shared with us by the UK Government. We saw the full list of laws that the UK Government plans to change only when it was published last week. Mr Rees-Mogg has asked the public to identify which retained European Union laws they want to do away with, but he has not asked anyone, including the Scottish Government, which laws should be kept.
The lack of respect shown towards the devolved nations through the proposed bill is staggering, and the uncertainty that it is causing for the work of this Parliament is deeply concerning. Can the Scottish Government offer an assurance that it will provide what certainty it can by staying committed to the plans laid out in the programme for government and to the principles of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021?
As Ms Don says, the Scottish people did not vote for Brexit. We have been clear that the Scottish Government believes that a future independent Scotland should seek to rejoin the EU as soon as possible and that maintaining alignment with current EU laws will help us to achieve that aim. It is impossible to know what the full consequences of the Brexit freedoms bill will be, given how little information there is. However, the main purpose of the bill appears to be to give the UK Government the freedom to abandon legislation that has protected Scottish interests for almost 50 years.
Farmers and fishers in the north-east already know that they were sold a bad deal by the Tories through Brexit, and they know that the Brexit freedoms bill will not provide them with what they need in order to continue in their chosen profession.
Can the minister indicate what plans and mitigations he thinks the Scottish Parliament should be considering to ensure that the proposed bill does not unduly affect people, particularly those in more marginal communities?
As I said, for 50 years, EU law has helped to set and maintain high standards, created clarity for Scottish business and provided confidence for consumers.
The stark choice facing the Scottish Government is that either we do away with those things, which would be complete and utter folly, or we spend parliamentary and Government time, which could otherwise be spent on addressing the cost of living crisis, on keeping them.
To support economically marginalised communities, the Scottish Government is tackling child poverty, reducing inequalities and supporting financial wellbeing, alongside providing social security payments that are not available anywhere else in the UK.
Covid-19 Recovery Strategy (NHS Recovery)
To ask the Scottish Government what recent cross-Government discussions regarding the national health service’s recovery from the pandemic have taken place as part of its Covid recovery strategy. (S6O-01290)
In 2021, we published the NHS recovery plan, which set out commitments that will support recovery over the five years to 2026, supported by the implementation of improvements and new models of care. We have on-going discussions with key stakeholders, including the NHS, across Government and with other United Kingdom Governments around the recovery of the NHS. A full update on progress in the first year since publication will be published in September, after the parliamentary recess.
The recent statistics highlight the huge backlogs that have built up in our NHS. This year, the Scottish Government has been provided with the largest-ever core block grant, which should be used to its fullest to ensure that the NHS and public services are provided for.
Can the cabinet secretary indicate what lessons have been learned from discussions with other Governments across the UK to ensure that resources are targeted on the recovery of our public services?
That type of activity is right at the heart of the decisions that the Government takes on our priorities. In relation to the NHS, which is the subject of Mr Stewart’s question, we are looking at increasing NHS capacity to meet healthcare needs in the enhancing of primary care services and cancer services and in the transformation of mental health services.
All those points are right at the heart of the Government’s agenda to improve public services, to tackle the very clear impact of the pandemic on the waiting times of individuals for services and, as a consequence, we will endeavour to make as much progress as possible, as swiftly as possible, on improving public services.
Covid-19 Booster Vaccination Programme
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the role that the Covid-19 booster vaccination programme will play in its Covid recovery strategy. (S6O-01291)
Since its inception, the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has been guided by expert advice provided by the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation. The JCVI is reviewing the emerging clinical evidence, including about vaccine waning, infection rates and hospitalisation.
In the interim advice in May, the JCVI recommended an autumn/winter 2022 booster programme for those at higher risk of severe Covid-19. Once the JCVI has reached a final position, we will confirm booster arrangements as quickly as possible to make sure that those who are most vulnerable have the protection that they need by this winter. We will continue to be guided by the JCVI advice and by that evidence, as we have been throughout this pandemic.
Given the recent increase in cases, I am sure that I will not be the only member of the Scottish Parliament receiving inquiries from constituents asking for information about when the fourth Covid vaccine booster will be available to those not in the three categories that are currently able to get it. I raise this matter following information provided to me that at St John’s centre in Perth, with which the Deputy First Minister will be very familiar, staff were very free to offer vaccinations because of the low number of patients who were attending.
Can the cabinet secretary tell me when the information about further groups will be available?
We are in the hands of the JCVI on this question. Liz Smith will understand that we rely on the JCVI for its advice. All Governments have followed its advice and that has served us well. We expect the advice to be with us so that we are in a position to roll out the programme, probably around the end of September or early October. However, I stress that that is conditional on us receiving the advice from the joint committee, which we do not yet have.
We have strong facilities in place around the country to enable us to deliver the vaccination programme. It has been an extraordinary success and we are keen to make sure that the population’s protection is boosted as a consequence of the decisions that we take in consequence of the JCVI advice.
Net Zero, Energy and Transport
The next portfolio is net zero, energy and transport. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or place an R in the chat function during the relevant question.
Gas Boiler Replacement
To ask the Scottish Government what range of heating systems it anticipates will replace gas boilers in the near future. (S6O-01292)
“Heat in Buildings Strategy—Achieving Net Zero Emissions in Scotland’s Buildings” identifies priority technologies that are available for deployment in the near term. Those that are relevant to homes that currently use gas boilers are—first of all, of course—energy efficiency improvements; individual heat pumps in certain buildings that currently use mains gas, namely those where assessment indicates short-term cost effectiveness and those in areas that are least likely to convert to hydrogen in the future; and heat networks in areas that are deemed to be suitable for them. Those are regarded as no-regrets and low-regrets options as, across all plausible pathways to net zero, they are likely to be the most cost effective zero-emissions options in the buildings that are identified.
Some already available low-carbon systems, including electric boilers and heat pumps, have limitations. Heat pumps are disruptive to install and are simply not practical or even possible for many households. Where they are viable, they are often prohibitively expensive. Electric boilers are costly to run.
Lord Willie Haughey, who is the biggest provider of heat pumps in the country, does not believe that they are a suitable replacement for domestic boilers. Will the minister tell me which low-carbon heat source, that would be comparable to the cost of a gas boiler, the Government currently recommends for houses and flats where people cannot afford, or are unable to install, heat pumps?
I have had the opportunity to meet Lord Haughey and discuss the issues with him. I know that he has strong views on the matter. However, the experience that we have and the comparable data that we have from countries that already have a long history of using heat pumps and heat networks show that they will be effective in Scotland.
As Pauline McNeill has pointed out, there are additional challenges in relation to flats and tenements, which make up about 40 per cent of Scotland’s homes, so it is clearly important that we make progress in that part of the domestic sector to meet our statutory climate change targets. It is a complex area, which is why we have established a tenements short-life working group to provide recommendations to the Scottish Government on regulating those homes. That group will provide its recommendations by the end of the year and we will respond by setting out our proposed approach as part of the forthcoming consultations.
It might well be that heat networks play a significant role in tenements and flats, compared with heat pumps at an individual level.
As is set out in “Heat in Buildings Strategy”, when a heat pump replaces a modern efficient gas boiler, the greater efficiency of the heat pump might be insufficient to offset the higher price of electricity, which could increase the cost for the household. Therefore, will the Scottish Government urge the United Kingdom Government to rebalance energy prices to reduce the difference in unit costs between gas and electricity?
Of course, there are many areas where heat pumps are already being deployed and where, combined with good levels of energy efficiency, the overall cost is coming down and will continue to come down. However, we have consistently called on the UK Government to take urgent action, using its reserved powers, to rebalance energy prices, so that the running costs of zero emission heating systems are comparable to, or more favourable than, fossil fuel incumbents.
We are again calling on the UK Government to take full account of the needs of Scottish consumers, particularly those who are suffering most from the impact of soaring energy bills when they proceed with rebalancing the costs of energy bills.
The number of boilers that need to be replaced in the coming years to meet the Scottish Government’s target is significant, to say the least. What measures is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that there is a sufficient number of professionals qualified to install and maintain heat pumps and other renewable heat technologies, in order to deliver the transition on schedule, and to prevent a lack of available contractors pushing up installation and servicing costs?
Mr Whittle is quite right to point out that not only the scale of installations that we need to see in the coming years but the acceleration toward much more rapid installation will be significant challenges. The work that we are doing on supply chains is critical, both in terms of the supply of the kit to be installed and in terms of the skills that are required to do that.
However, we see the situation very much as an opportunity, and not just as a challenge. We estimate that an additional 16,400 jobs can be supported across the economy by the end of this decade as a result of the investment in the deployment of zero emissions heat, and it is by giving that strong signal of our intention to regulate that we will give confidence to those who are investing in the manufacturing, skills and capacity to do the installation work.
I am conscious that there is a lot of interest in this portfolio, so I ask for briefer questions and answers.
Publicly-owned Bus Services
To ask the Scottish Government what actions it is taking to support the establishment of more publicly-owned bus services. (S6O-01293)
Section 34 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, entitled, “Provision of bus services etc by local transport authorities” came into force on 24 June, which was last Friday. It provides local transport authorities with the power to run their own services in any way that they see fit within the wider context of their obligations.
We have allocated £1 million in the Scottish budget for development of the community bus fund in 2022-23 to support local transport authorities to improve local bus services and explore the full range of options that are set out in the 2019 act, including local-authority-run bus services.
The fund complements our broader package of long-term investment in bus travel, including through support for bus services, concessionary schemes for bus users and more than £500 million that is being made available through the bus partnership fund.
There has been a raft of service cuts across central Scotland, with driver shortages and efficiency cuts being blamed. When we should be increasing service provision, services are being cut. Stagecoach reported a profit of more than £32 million for the first half of the most recent financial year, yet the X28 service, which serves Cumbernauld in my region, is up for cancellation. Does the minister agree that more needs to be done to hold the private sector to account, and that more support for publicly owned bus services could ensure that the transport needs of our communities are truly supported?
I absolutely agree with the sentiment of the member’s question. It is worth pointing out that a considerable amount of public subsidy flowed to operators throughout the pandemic. I think that, from June 2020, they received more than £210 million. Ms Mackay will be aware of the additional funding that I announced to the sector only last week. That supports the sector with its continuing recovery from the pandemic and allows operators to respond to changed travel patterns that are arising from people working from home.
However, I am clear that subsidy from Government to private operators is not sustainable, and nor is it desirable in terms of the longer-term ambitions. Ms Mackay made an important point in relation to the profit margins of some operators; the point is particularly pertinent because bus travel is one of the most affordable forms of public transport.
I will write to Stagecoach about its proposed cancellations. Ms Mackay has highlighted one today, and a number of members have written to me about cancellations in their constituencies in other parts of the country.
As I said, last week I announced additional funding. Bus operators that are in receipt of the network support grant plus are required to accept the conditions that set controls on fare rises and profits, and to have regard to, for example, fair work principles. I expect operators who benefit from that public funding not to reduce services but instead to look after the communities that they serve.
We have a number of supplementaries; they will have to be brief.
There are too many bus deserts in this country, so the new powers are an opportunity to do things better. I like to be positive and to help the minister, so I have an idea for her. Will she convene a summit of councils and operators to consider the way forward?
I know that Mr Simpson likes to be helpful to me in my ministerial role, but I am ahead of him—I have already convened working groups with operators on the back of a call that I had with First Bus and Lothian Buses last week.
There are a number of challenges in that space at the moment. The first is in relation to service provision and long-term funding, and the second is driver shortages. That is a real challenge, so I want to work with operators to see what more the Government can do to support them, although we recognise the split in relation to devolved and reserved competences.
The powers are enabling powers for councils to establish publicly owned bus services. For clarity, does the minister actually want councils to use the powers? Does she agree that the bus market is broken beyond repair and that councils must take back control of bus services? If they do that, does the minister believe that the community bus fund is sufficient?
Yes—I want local councils to run their own services. Why else would I stand here talking about the powers in an act that gives local authorities the power to do so?
With regard to whether the community bus fund is enough, we are working on the design and scope of the fund, which involves discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers. I recognise that £1 million is perhaps not as much as members might think there should be, but it gives us a good impetus to trial what the approach might look like in different parts of the country. That has to be done in partnership with local authorities.
I also reflect on the resource spending review, which allocated £46 million to the community bus fund for the remainder of this parliamentary session. Therefore, although that initial £1 million might seem small to Neil Bibby, the further funding that will flow—£30 million that has been allocated in the capital spending review—will also contribute. However, we have to allow local authorities to get the funding right for their local area. That is what the powers in the act allow them to do. I am keen to work with our local authority partners to deliver that.
Collette Stevenson, who joins us online, has a brief question.
The Scottish Government has already responded to requests by local authorities to be empowered to run their own bus services. The Government has committed to investing more than £0.5 billion in long-term funding for bus-priority infrastructure and has expanded free bus travel to under-22s. Does the minister, therefore, look forward, as I do, to seeing how local authorities capitalise on the new powers and take advantage of the Scottish Government’s having placed buses at the forefront of our just transition to net zero?
Please answer as briefly as possible, minister.
Yes. I agree with the sentiment of the question. As I outlined to Mr Bibby, I am really pleased that the Government is empowering our local authorities with flexible options to revitalise their local bus networks—including, of course, by running their own bus services. I look forward to working with them on delivery of their models.
Heat in Buildings Strategy
To ask the Scottish Government whether the £33 billion estimate in its “Heat in Buildings Strategy” to decarbonise Scotland’s buildings remains an accurate forecast amount. (S6O-01294)
As we set out in the “Heat in Buildings Strategy”, £33 billion is the estimated total gross capital cost of converting our building stock to zero emissions heat. That estimate is purely indicative and is based on a single technology pathway, with cost assumptions derived from the best available evidence, including research published by the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee. The Scottish Government continues to keep cost estimates under review, incorporating new evidence as it becomes available.
In relation to decarbonising the 600,000 homes for social rent in Scotland, the ZEST—zero emissions task force—report says:
“The fund will make £200 million available over the course of this parliament”.
That equates to £333 per property. What percentage of those properties already have energy performance certificate ratings of C or above? Do the minister’s projections show that £333 per property will be sufficient?
I do not have that particular statistic in front of me, but I am happy to have colleagues write to the member to set that out.
I am aware that social housing tends to have a higher energy efficiency performance than the private rented sector, so we should congratulate the social housing sector on that. I also thank the social housing sector for the contribution that it has made to the Government’s work on the ZEST report, the response to which was published recently and seems to have been very warmly received by the sector.
Can the minister outline how the actions that were set out in the “Heat in Buildings Strategy” will help to deliver the ambitious climate change goals?
As briefly as possible, minister.
The strategy is a very broad, co-ordinated package of policies and support programmes, including £1.8 billion of investment, widening the scope of our capital and advice programmes and collaborating with a wide range of partners through the green heat finance task force. I am aware of the pressure of time—there is a great more detail in the strategy, and I encourage Bill Kidd, and all members, to work closely with us in the implementation of that strategy.
I was alarmed to hear that a new social housing development in Dalmarnock in the east end of Glasgow is not being connected to the adjacent athletes’ village district heat network. Does the minister not share my concern and agree that there are huge opportunities for municipal development of those district heat networks that could refinance local government? Will he commit to developing a municipal strategy for ownership and development of district heat across Scotland?
The member is quite right to point out the huge potential not only for connecting social housing developments to existing heat networks, but for investing further, including in publicly owned heat networks. When I launched the strategy, I visited one in West Dunbartonshire, where the local authority has taken the lead in developing that capacity. One of the roles of the new national energy agency with be to work with local government to build capacity, for which there is huge potential in the years ahead.
Energy Performance Certificate Rating (Grant for Home Owners)
I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests.
To ask the Scottish Government what level of grant per property will be made available to assist home owners to achieve an energy performance certificate rating of band C or better by 2025. (S6O-01295)
To clarify, our heat in buildings strategy proposes that homes that are purchased from 2025 will need to reach a minimum energy efficiency standard that is equivalent to EPC band C, with all homes to achieve that standard by the backstop date of 2033.
A cashback grant of up to £13,500 is available to households for energy efficiency measures and zero emissions heating systems through our Home Energy Scotland loan and cashback scheme. We have committed to replacing the cashback element with a standalone grant during 2022-23, and we have doubled the budget to £42 million.
In the case of old stone properties, getting to EPC band C will not be easy. For example, it has been suggested that getting Bute House to EPC band C will cost in excess of half a million pounds. The level of the grants that are being mentioned will not be sufficient for most houses to reach the required standard. What does the minister consider to be a reasonable investment in a property to reach EPC band C, and will he cap expenditure at that level?
I am pleased to hear that there is ambition for the level of support that needs to be available. I am sure that that is intended as an endorsement of the fact that the Scottish Government is providing more support on this agenda than the United Kingdom Government is on its equivalent.
We have a huge challenge, particularly in remote and rural areas, in tenement stock—as I mentioned to Pauline McNeill—and in older and historic buildings. All that will be considered in detail as we consult on the detail of the regulations, which will include measures relating to how we define the cost effectiveness of the measures that will be required.
Renewable Energy (Community Involvement)
To ask the Scottish Government how it will ensure that the future development of renewable energy involves communities meaningfully. (S6O-01296)
Community and locally owned energy has an important role to play in a just transition to net zero, and it will form a key part of the forthcoming energy strategy just transition plan.
The Scottish Government is committed to supporting the growth of community and local energy in Scotland through mechanisms such as our flagship community and renewable energy scheme—CARES.
We have long-standing good practice principles for community benefits from, and shared ownership of, onshore renewable energy developments. They set the national standards that we encourage renewables developers and communities to utilise.
Communities in Caithness and Sutherland live in an area that is rich in natural resources and renewable energy potential; however, many there feel that their communities are being left behind, with little to no consideration of their views or benefit. How will the cabinet secretary ensure that at least 20 per cent of new onshore wind is community and publicly owned?
As I mentioned, we have a range of measures through the CARE scheme, which helps to support community and locally owned energy projects. To date, we have almost 900MW of capacity through community and locally owned renewable energy projects, and we want to get that up to 2GW by 2030.
We encourage the developers to ensure that they are engaging in a meaningful way with local communities and are looking at community shared ownership models. However, we cannot compel developers to do that, because legislating in that area is reserved to the United Kingdom Government.
I would like us to go further. Despite the fact that we have limited powers in those areas, we provide good practice guidance, which we encourage developers to utilise when they are taking forward local projects.
My apologies, but I am not able to take supplementaries on that question.
Railway Station for Newburgh (STAG Appraisal)
To ask the Scottish Government when it expects a decision to be reached on a railway station for Newburgh in Fife following the publication of the Newburgh and area Scottish transport appraisal guidance appraisal. (S6O-01297)
The Scottish Government has provided the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership—SEStran—with funding from the local rail development fund for the Newburgh transport appraisal.
SEStran has advised that it intends to send Transport Scotland the detailed options appraisal report for the Newburgh transport appraisal in the next few weeks. That is the third and final stage of a transport appraisal in line with the Scottish transport appraisal guidance, which is known as STAG. A completed, clear and robust strategic business case is required in line with STAG before any further consideration can be made for any new proposals.
The community is very hopeful that the railway option will be highly thought of in the appraisal, because they feel cut off, even though the railway runs through the middle of Newburgh. The community, which is united, has been waiting for years for something to happen, so I want to press the minister on the issue. I know that the report will be handed over to Transport Scotland soon, but how long will it take for it to consider the report? When does she expect a decision to be reached?
I very much recognise the feeling of hope in the local community that Mr Rennie has described. He will know of the situation in my constituency and of the long-running campaign to re-establish the railway network in the Levenmouth area. I also understand the community’s feelings of disconnection from the wider rail infrastructure, recognising the geography of where Newburgh sits in the kingdom of Fife.
As I outlined in my initial answer, there is a process to be adhered to. That was the case with the reopening of the Levenmouth line and it has been the case with other rail lines in the past. As Willie Rennie will know, the strategic transport projects review 2 does not make any distinct recommendations in that regard.
Mr Rennie has asked a specific question about timescales. At this time, Transport Scotland has yet to receive the detailed options appraisal. I will ask my officials to provide my office with the timescale once the report has been received for review. I will be happy to share the details of that with the member once we have received the report.
Mark Ruskell has a supplementary question. I ask that he be brief.
The Newburgh study was funded by the local rail development fund, alongside a range of other community projects across Scotland. Will the minister give an assurance that, now that those projects are coming to the end of the STAG process, all of them will be considered when it comes to allocating funds for rail infrastructure investment under control period 7?
Be very brief, minister.
I join the member in paying tribute to the hard-working community groups across the country, such as the one that we heard Mr Rennie speak of. Last Friday, I was in the north-east, where I heard from a campaign group about the re-establishment of rail in that part of the country. Of course, it is for that reason that the Government created the local rail development fund. The projects that Mr Ruskell mentioned are under way and are being considered under STAG. Projects that present a strong business case will be considered on a case-by-case basis. However, there must be local input into the process, which is one of the LRDF’s strengths.
Water Quality (Rivers)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve water quality in Scotland’s rivers. (S6O-01298)
As I announced in my ministerial statement to Parliament last December, the publication of Scotland’s third river basin management plans sets out our objective to continue to improve water quality across Scotland from 87 per cent currently at good or better condition to 92 per cent by 2027.
The plans are complemented by Scottish Water’s “Improving Urban Waters—Route Map”, which sets out a programme of continued action to reduce waste water pollution and sewage litter over the coming decade, with investment of £500 million.
Ecologists, conservationists and anglers have all expressed concern about the recent decline in wild salmon and sea trout stocks in Scotland’s waterways, with stocks reaching record lows this year. Declining fish populations are also being affected, and the wider ecosystem is being damaged. The issue requires urgent action from the Scottish Government. What immediate steps is the minister taking to deliver on the Government’s commitment to improve water quality?
The Scottish Government takes our declining salmon stocks very seriously, and we are working with stakeholders to safeguard that iconic species. The Scottish wild salmon strategy, which was published in January 2022, sets out the vision, objectives and priority themes that will drive our efforts to protect and recover the species. A priority theme of the strategy is improving the conditions of rivers and giving salmon free access to cold, clean waters. Work is now under way, with our stakeholders, to prepare a detailed implementation plan to accompany the strategy.
Jenni Minto has a very brief supplementary question.
The campaign group River Action UK has stated that the UK Government’s draft targets for water quality to replace the European Union’s water framework directive show a general lack of ambition to improve the natural environment. We know that the Tory Brexit project was facilitated—
This supplementary question is not brief.
Please will the minister give the chamber reassurance that, in Scotland, we continue to value the natural environment and that the Scottish Government will continue to work to further protect the ecological condition of Scotland’s water environment?
I am happy to do so. The big picture is that, after a decade of investment by Scotland’s public water company, supported by independent regulation by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—SEPA—and backed by nearly £700 million, 66 per cent of water in Scotland is of good quality. That is above the European average of 45 per cent, and it is far above that of our neighbours in England and Wales, where the figure for good water quality is 16 per cent.
National Generation Target for Solar Energy
To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to set a national generation target for solar energy as it has for wind and hydrogen. (S6O-01299)
The Scottish Government recognises the importance of energy that is generated from solar photovoltaic cells in contributing to the decarbonisation of Scotland’s energy supply and in helping us to meet our target of having a net-zero-emissions society by 2045. In support of that, the Scottish Government will, in consultation with the solar sector, establish a vision for the future of solar energy in the forthcoming energy strategy and just transition plan, which will be published later this year.
I am very pleased to hear that the cabinet secretary is engaging with the solar industry and that he will establish a vision in the forthcoming revised energy strategy, but I ask him to consider seriously the inclusion of specific targets in the vision that is to be established. For example, it has been suggested that the minimum target should be in the region of 4GW by 2030 and that the level of our ambition should be set at 6GW.
I am grateful for the member’s question, and I am conscious that a number of members in the chamber have an interest in the issue. I assure the member that, as part of the work that we will do in developing our energy strategy, we will consider the overall vision for solar PV and solar energy in Scotland.
The member will recognise that we also have to adopt an approach that recognises the whole energy system and capacity in the network, which is one factor that we will take into account. I have no doubt that those who are involved in Scotland’s solar energy sector will have an opportunity to feed into the energy strategy as we take forward our public and sectoral engagement plan during the coming months.
Thank you very much, cabinet secretary. That concludes portfolio questions on net zero, energy and transport. There will be a brief pause while those on the front benches change.
Rural Affairs and Islands
Today’s final portfolio is rural affairs and islands. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question. Succinct questions and answers will allow as many members as possible to have their voice heard.
Rural Communities (Storms)
To ask the Scottish Government what preparations have been made to protect the economy of rural communities in areas like South Scotland from a repeat of the storms experienced last year. (S6O-01300)
The Scottish Government is working with resilience partnerships to ensure that the recommendations of the storm Arwen review are implemented.
We are also investing in a broad range of activities that will make the south of Scotland economy more competitive and resilient to such threats in the future. Thirty-seven million pounds was allocated to South of Scotland Enterprise in 2022-23, which will enable it to work with businesses and communities to create jobs and attract investment; and £3.6 million across 2021-22 and 2022-23 through our place-based investment programme will support town centre and community-led regeneration in the south of Scotland. Through the Borderlands growth deal, we are investing £85 million in strategic projects that are designed to boost innovation in key industry sectors, enhance regional connectivity and deliver critical business infrastructure to support economic growth.
The response from local communities to storms last year and earlier this year was admirable, and it is vital that communities be included in the development of all future local resilience plans. Will the Scottish Government work with local people, local businesses, many of which are very small in the south of Scotland, and councils to ensure that local small business economies do not face long-term adverse impacts of storms in the future, thus protecting local businesses and rural economy jobs?
The member raises important points. Engagement and partnership working are critical if we are going to address such challenges in the future.
I know that an update report on the back of the storm Arwen review was published last week, which set out some of the actions that we have already taken based on the recommendations. There will be a further update in the coming months, because within that time we have had the report from the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, too.
I reiterate that partnership and working in collaboration with our communities and local businesses is crucial and will be part of that work.
I welcome the reports of the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government on the handling of storm Arwen. Resilience planning is predicated on the good work and good will of voluntary community groups. Is the cabinet secretary confident that the Scottish Government will support succession planning for volunteer response groups financially through the winter preparedness plans, particularly as we now see a growing elderly population in rural areas?
The member raises a serious and important issue, which I am sure will be given due consideration. As I have set out in my previous response to Carol Mochan about acting on the recommendations, we want to learn as many lessons as possible from storm Arwen and ensure that we implement those changes ahead of the coming winter. I am sure that decisions such as the one that the member raises will factor into that consideration too.
Last year’s storms represented a pattern of adverse weather that is largely unprecedented. There can be little doubt that climate change has a role to play in new extremes, such as those that we saw in 2021. How will initiatives such as the winter preparedness programme help ensure that we can cope with new patterns of weather as they emerge?
In Scotland, well-established and adaptable resilience arrangements have been developed and tested over a number of years. That continuous improvement is at the heart of our approach to emergency planning. The winter preparedness programme, which the Scottish resilience partnership will lead in the coming months, will seek to ensure that we learn the key lessons from the Scottish Government’s storm Arwen review and that those lessons are embedded ahead of the coming winter.
It is important to note that the programme will review in particular the plans and arrangements for the activation of our resilience structures across the country, mutual aid between areas and organisations, public communications, how we support vulnerable people and further engagement of the voluntary and community sector in our emergency response processes.
Crown Estate Scotland (Meetings)
To ask the Scottish Government when the rural affairs secretary last met with Crown Estate Scotland. (S6O-01301)
The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands met Crown Estate Scotland on Monday 27 June 2022 as part of a wider group at the Scottish agriculture council, and I attended that meeting, too. However, as minister with portfolio responsibility for Crown Estate Scotland, I formally meet it three times a year, and the most recent meeting in that regard was on 23 April.
In 2018, the Scottish Government established a due diligence test to establish the human rights and corruption records of the companies with which it does business. That was after it dealt with Chinese companies that were connected to the abuse of human rights.
Liberal Democrat research, reported in The Scotsman today, shows that Crown Estate Scotland did not seem to know that that diligence test existed when it was awarding ScotWind sea bed leases. It invented its own test; in effect, it asked companies involved whether they had done anything wrong recently. That meant that Japanese company Marubeni, which paid corruption fines as recently as 2014, did not need to declare those fines.
The Scottish Government promised to change its ways but, in the biggest sale for years, it seems that Government bodies are still not performing stringent checks on who they partner with. Given that the Government insisted that ScotWind leases were sold on the basis of quality, not price—
Can we have a question, please, Mr Cole-Hamilton?
—should we take it that evidence of corruption is not a bar in the Government’s assessment of what quality looks like?
The ScotWind programme is administered by Crown Estate Scotland, independently of ministers. As part of Crown Estate Scotland’s due diligence, it required all bidders to submit a formal written legal declaration that they had not been convicted of unlawful activity, including fraud, bribery and corruption. Only companies that provided that legal declaration were able to proceed. That process was not invented, as it has been characterised; it was consistent with the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015.
However, ScotWind terms and conditions make it clear that Crown Estate Scotland reserves the right to void any application if false information is found to have been provided. Crown Estate Scotland will not hesitate to take action, if need be, and the Scottish Government supports it in that regard.
Seed Potato Industry (Impact of Brexit)
To ask the Scottish Government what its latest assessment is of the impact of Brexit on the Scottish seed potato industry. (S6O-01302)
The loss of the European Union seed potato export market as a result of Brexit and the United Kingdom Government’s failure to secure an equivalence agreement on seed potatoes with the EU continues to have a very negative impact on Scottish exporters. We previously exported about 20,000 tonnes of seed potatoes to the EU and 2,000 tonnes to Northern Ireland. The removal of those markets overnight has cost an estimated £11 million. That is a significant financial sum for the country, but it also affects the livelihoods of people and families across Scotland. Therefore, it is vital that all options continue to be explored in order to find a resolution. I can assure John Mason that the Scottish Government continues to press the UK Government at every opportunity.
Recently, the NFU Scotland president, Martin Kennedy, said that he is concerned that the UK and EU “remain at loggerheads” and that Scottish seed potato growers are the ones who are “paying the price”. It seems clear that that is a failure of Brexit. What engagement has the minister or others in the Scottish Government had with the UK Government about that harm to our agricultural sector?
I welcome the efforts of the NFUS and other seed potato representatives on the issue, and I share their concerns. We continually raise the impact on the sector of the loss of the EU and NI markets. We do that through a multitude of platforms—most notably, in our interministerial Government meetings, but we have also sent repeated letters.
I stress that the problem is a direct result of the UK Government’s refusal to commit to dynamic alignment. I am very disappointed by the UK Government’s lack of progress, and I am equally disappointed by its decision to allow ware growers in England and Wales to purchase EU seed while Scottish growers are blocked from selling their seed to the EU. That is further undermining the industry, and we will continue to press the UK Government to make progress.
Question 4 has been withdrawn.
Salmon Scotland (Brexit)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports from Salmon Scotland that bureaucracy as a result of Brexit is costing the industry £3 million per annum to export to the European Union and is threatening Scotland’s competitiveness. (S6O-01304)
The figure that has been quoted by one of Scotland’s key industry bodies for the increased costs that exporters face as a result of European Union exit comes as no surprise. The Scottish Government repeatedly warned the United Kingdom Government that our forced exit from the EU would be damaging to Scottish export businesses. It is hugely disappointing that increased costs are threatening the competitiveness of Scotland’s most valuable food exports.
Scottish salmon is highly prized globally, and the cabinet secretary will be aware that Salmon Scotland is calling for the full roll-out of digital export health certificates by the UK Government in order to reduce Brexit red tape. Does she share my view that the hard work of our salmon producers is currently being undermined and that the best possible future for our salmon industry would be an independent Scottish Government with the powers to make decisions that protect and support Scotland’s exports and interests?
I have to say that I entirely agree. We know that, in 2021, £788 million of Scottish seafood was exported to the European Union, but £372 million of that was Scottish salmon and Salmon Scotland reported losses of at least £11 million in January 2021 alone as a direct result of the changes that have been brought about by Brexit.
We have to remember that a lot of those costs are on-going. Salmon Scotland also estimates that businesses are continuing to spend approximately £200,000 a month on extra paperwork, and that cost continues to mount as inexcusable delays to the roll-out of the digitisation project continues. Just last month, the Food and Drink Federation Scotland published a report that set out that, among other food and drink export sectors, the strong growth in seafood products has driven Scotland’s recent economic recovery. We therefore cannot allow the Tories to further impact on the sector, which has been so resilient during these recent extraordinary times.
I share the views that people have about the damage that has ben caused by Brexit, particularly to the seafood sector, including salmon. I have Pittenweem harbour in my constituency, and it is suffering because of it. A trade war would be damaging, which is why I do not understand why the Scottish Government is pursuing the route of putting up more borders, particularly a border with England, which would be equally damaging, if not more so. With hindsight, has the minister not reflected on her position on independence and more borders?
I can confirm that I have not reflected on my position on independence. The fact that we are in this position, that I have the dealings with the UK Government that I do and that I see the damage that is continuously being inflicted on businesses in Scotland has, if anything, strengthened my resolve to pursue independence.
Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (Greyhound Racing)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission’s call for the closure of unlicensed greyhound racing tracks in Scotland. (S6O-01305)
The Scottish Government will carefully consider any recommendations from the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee and the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission for possible licensing or other regulation of greyhound racing in Scotland in due course.
I corresponded with the committee on 16 May 2022, to inform it that greyhound racing is in the work plan of the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission as an issue to be considered in the medium term and that any recommendations that are made on the possible licensing or other regulation of greyhound racing will be carefully considered in due course.
I thank the cabinet secretary for her response, and for her response to the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee. It is clear that sending dogs around a track at 40mph, with a high risk of collision, is unacceptably cruel, with injuries at the Shawfield track almost doubling between 2018 and 2020. That is why the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission is backing an end to unregulated tracks, with the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, OneKind and others calling for an end to greyhound racing altogether. Is the cabinet secretary prepared to consider a ban?
The member has raised some really important points, and I reassure him and other members across the chamber about just how seriously the Scottish Government takes animal welfare and ensuring that Scotland has the highest possible welfare standards.
It is important to remember that people who mistreat animals can now face up to five years in prison and unlimited fines under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020. We know that the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission will be considering the issue and the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee has also been taking evidence on the issue through consideration of a petition. We will consider seriously any recommendations that come out of those considerations.
It is not just on unlicensed tracks such as Thornton that injuries and deaths of greyhounds take place. Over a three-year period, 15 dogs were killed at the licensed track at Shawfield and nearly 200 were injured, while numerous dogs were found with drugs in their systems. Surely the evidence is already clear that it is time for the Government to end this animal abuse once and for all and ban greyhound racing.
I agree with some of what the member has said about some of the truly horrendous figures and cases that we hear about. Again, we are committed to ensuring that Scotland has the highest possible animal welfare standards, which is why we introduced the increased penalties that we did in the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020.
I look forward to the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee’s recommendations because it is only right that I give them and the work of the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission due consideration.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to safeguard food production. (S6O-01306)
High quality, nutritious food that is locally and sustainably produced is key to our wellbeing, in economic, environmental, social and health terms. Our vision for Scottish agriculture, which was published in March, outlines our aims to support and work with farmers and crofters to meet more of our food needs sustainably and to manage our land sustainably with nature.
We are working with the agriculture reform implementation oversight board to develop new proposals for sustainable farming support, and we will be launching a consultation to inform a new Scottish agriculture bill later this year.
The principles outlined in the Scottish land rights and responsibilities statement are not enforceable, and because of that we see farms being turned into forests to offset landowners’ environmentally damaging activities elsewhere. Meanwhile, we face a global food shortage. When will the Scottish Government put in place enforceable responsibilities and principles to ensure that landowners manage their land in the public interest or forfeit that land?
The member raises a vitally important issue, and it is because of that issue that the interim principles were established. The Minister for Environment and Land Reform will undertake a programme of engagement to ensure that the principles are being adhered to, and, of course, a land reform bill will be introduced in due course. I would be happy to follow that up with the member and provide further information.
Yesterday, the Westminster Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill Committee took evidence on gene editing. There is a widespread view in agriculture in Scotland that gene editing is a good move and would improve crop yields and resilience, which are part of our food security.
The committee heard that the European Union is definitely moving down the same route, so the issue is now not about divergence, but about whether Scotland will get left behind. It is only the dogma of the Scottish National Party Government that prevents Scotland from joining the rest of the United Kingdom and adopting this important technology.
The door is open for the minister to put aside blind adherence to EU laws and join the UK in developing this important technology. I ask once again: when will the Scottish Government set out how it will address the GE question that everyone is waiting for clarity on?
We have said that we will continue to monitor the EU’s position on the issue and the work that is happening there, and that is exactly what we will continue to do.
The report of the short-life food security and supply task force sets out a number of areas relating to food security that are reserved to the UK Government. The Scottish Government’s commitment to food production is clearly demonstrated through its commitment to active farming. Given that some of the levers on food security are reserved, what response, if any, has the Scottish Government had from the UK Government regarding the report’s findings?
In March, together with industry, I established the short-life food security and supply task force to, in essence, monitor the disruption to the food and drink supply chain resulting from the impact of the war in Ukraine. The task force reported last Thursday, when I wrote to the UK Government to highlight the findings that we provided in the report.
The task force recognised that, inevitably, there are limits on what we can influence because of the global factors at play. The reality is that the UK Government holds many of the levers that could help to address many of the issues that we need to tackle.
I have not yet received a response, but we will of course continue to urge the UK Government to take action. The rapid response by the Scottish Government in establishing the task force has been really important. I sincerely hope that we see that same focus emerge at the UK level.
Islands Bond Scheme
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the proposed islands bond scheme, including when it expects to publish the outcome of its consultation. (S6O-01307)
The delivery of the islands bond scheme is still being carefully considered in the light of the strong feedback that we received from island residents, and in the context of the current energy crisis and rising living costs that are being experienced by many islanders.
Further details will be announced later this summer as part of the response to the 12-week consultation in an analysis report. We expect to publish the analysis of that consultation in the coming weeks.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the concerns that I have about the original concept behind islands bonds, but she will also be aware that I believe that the funding can help us to achieve the objective of attracting and retaining population by making our island communities more resilient. To that end, will she agree to look at the idea of perhaps using islands bonds in conjunction with community funding to allow a third aircraft to operate across the north isles in Orkney, which would provide improved transport links, connectivity and job opportunities for those who choose to live in the islands?
I know that the member has previously raised questions and concerns on the issue. In addition to the online consultation that we undertook, officials have undertaken a series of visits to our islands and taken part in further engagement with our communities to find out what is important to them, so that we can listen to that feedback and act on it. That is exactly what we intend to do.
As I said, a lot of work has been done since the consultation. We are analysing all the feedback to that at the moment, and we will make announcements in due course.
The Scottish Government has made clear its commitment to retaining people in our island communities and attracting people to live in those communities. Does the cabinet secretary agree that many young people face particular challenges in staying in island communities, and that support needs to be provided to enable them to maintain their vital role in those communities?
I absolutely do. Our young people have a vitally important role to play, whether by contributing socially, culturally or economically to our islands. That is why, as part of the national islands plan, we created a young islanders network, which is made up of young people from all Scottish islands. It will have a consultative role in the implementation of the national islands plan, to ensure that the interests and the priorities of our young people are fully considered in the delivery of the plan.