Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Thursday, March 2, 2023
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2023, Portfolio Question Time, Policing, Caledonian Sleeper Train, Scotland’s Links with the Arctic, Motion without Notice, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Point of Order
- Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2023
- Portfolio Question Time
- Caledonian Sleeper Train
- Scotland’s Links with the Arctic
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
General Question Time
Good morning. The first item of business is general question time. I would appreciate short and concise questions and responses because, as ever, there is much interest.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its progress on cladding remediation. (S6O-01956)
The safety of residents and home owners is our absolute priority. The 27 buildings that were in the initial pilot programme have all started the single building assessment process, which is a comprehensive and technical assessment of fire risk and required actions. We have now expanded that pilot to 105 buildings, and a regional breakdown of that list has been published.
I have always been clear that, if immediate action is needed to safeguard residents, the Government will not hesitate to take action. On the basis of advice from fire safety engineers, we have established a waking watch at two buildings, as a precautionary measure to safeguard residents.
What discussions have taken place with developers, whose responsibility it is to ensure that their buildings are compliant with fire safety regulations? Can the cabinet secretary offer any reassurances to people who live in the properties that are affected, including those in my Glasgow Kelvin constituency, who are, understandably, concerned and frustrated?
On a general point, we have continued to work with Homes for Scotland and some of the country’s largest housing developers to develop an accord to address cladding issues.
At Lancefield Quay in Glasgow in particular, a number of positive discussions have taken place between the Scottish Government and the developers, and I am pleased to confirm that the developers have agreed to meet the costs of the waking watch that is currently in place at Lancefield Quay.
I appreciate that the residents want to quickly move to a situation in which there is no longer a need for a waking watch. Technical experts are working at pace to design a longer-term solution, which the developers will then deliver.
I have been contacted by constituents who are currently unable to secure a remortgage because they live in such properties. Those individuals are complaining of radio silence from the Government on the issue, and a lack of urgency and leadership. What advice is being provided to individual householders who are trying to remortgage and who live in those 105 properties?
Communication is important. If Miles Briggs will give me more information in writing about the circumstances, I will make sure that there is more regular communication, because regular communication is important.
Miles Briggs talked specifically about lending. We are pleased to hear that, for the first time since the crisis started, banks are willing to lend on properties that have dangerous cladding. As I am sure Miles Briggs is aware, mortgage lending is a reserved matter, and we expect that the position will therefore be extended to all nations of the United Kingdom. We are working with UK Finance to formalise a process that works for lenders as well as home owners in Scotland. I am happy to keep him informed of that.
However, I do not recognise Miles Briggs’s characterisation regarding urgency and leadership, which we are providing in very difficult circumstances. We want to provide assurance to home owners that we are working at pace with developers to get to a situation in which the buildings that need remediation have that done at speed.
The residents in a number of the buildings in Glasgow are seriously worried about the situation, and they have not yet seen the reports that have been made available to the Government. Will the cabinet secretary set out when those reports will be available, so that the residents can have some safety in understanding what the problem is?
I appreciate the point that Pam Duncan-Glancy makes about this being a worrying time for residents. The Scottish Government wrote to all residents notifying them of the decision on 31 January and the factor disseminated that letter to them on the morning of 1 February. On 6 February, Scottish Government officials, together with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the firm that is providing the waking watch, held a briefing session for the residents committee. We have been working with Homes for Scotland and the developers to address some of the wider issues with the development of an accord.
I hope that that provides Pam Duncan-Glancy with a sense of some of the communication that we have had with residents. However, if we can do more, we will.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle homelessness, in light of reports that the number of people classified as homeless has reached a record high. (S6O-01957)
Our ending homelessness together action plan is the right long-term strategy for preventing and tackling homelessness and is strongly supported by Scotland’s homelessness sector. Aligned with the plan, I have commissioned an expert group to bring forward innovative ways to reduce the number of households in temporary accommodation and I am meeting housing conveners to inform our approach. In the meantime, we continue to lead the way on delivering affordable homes in the United Kingdom, having delivered 115,558 affordable homes since 2007 and started work towards our target of delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032.
Thirty-six people have needlessly died while in temporary accommodation in six hotels across Glasgow. Campaigners argue that hotels are not equipped to support people who are in a crisis, so vulnerable individuals are missing out on access to potentially life-saving drug and alcohol treatment and mental health services. However, as expected, the Scottish National Party Government has no shame. Will the cabinet secretary commit to establishing a public inquiry and declare a housing emergency immediately, as Conservative members have repeatedly called for?
First, we will continue with our massive investment of £3.5 billion in affordable homes, which is not replicated anywhere in these islands, because we recognise that affordable housing is a key lever in tackling poverty.
Pam Gosal referred to a difficult situation with vulnerable residents in hotels in Glasgow. I am sure that she understands the complexity of some of the issues that are facing the people concerned. Any death in those circumstances is a tragedy. She will also be aware, I hope, of all the work that is going on to try to ensure that people are supported. Issues such as addiction and mental health problems require to be addressed, along with trying to get people into settled accommodation.
Our housing first programme is working to support people with wraparound support. We will continue to work with Glasgow City Council and any other local authority to ensure that we can support people in the way that they require.
Scottish Child Payment (Glasgow Anniesland)
To ask the Scottish Government how many payments of the Scottish child payment have been made in the Glasgow Anniesland constituency since it was introduced. (S6O-01958)
Social Security Scotland routinely publishes official statistics for the Scottish child payment, including application and payment data. Although those statistics include information by local authority area, they do not currently include information by Scottish Parliament constituency. The latest statistics, which were published earlier this week, show that a total of 331,180 payments were made to clients living in the Glasgow City local authority area between February 2021 and the end of December 2022.
The Scottish child payment is putting money into the pockets of low-income families at a crucial time and more families than ever are eligible for support.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said:
“The full rollout of the Scottish Child Payment is a watershed moment for tackling poverty in Scotland, and the rest of the UK should take notice.”
Will the cabinet secretary provide further detail about the impact that the SCP is projected to have on poverty levels in Scotland and what more could be achieved if the United Kingdom Government stepped up and matched that ambition?
In March 2022, we published analysis that suggests that the Scottish child payment could reduce relative child poverty by an estimated 5 percentage points in 2023-24, lifting 50,000 children out of relative poverty in Scotland.
Of course, the United Kingdom Government could use its powers to tackle child poverty and the cost of living crisis by—just to name a few measures—introducing a £25-a-week uplift for universal credit and means-tested legacy benefits and by ending the benefit cap and the two-child limit. Reversing key UK Government welfare reforms that have occurred since 2015 could bring an estimated 70,000 people in Scotland out of poverty, including 30,000 children. That is something that I think that we would all want the UK Government to do.
Clyde Metro Project (Milngavie Rail Services)
To ask the Scottish Government how the Clyde metro project will improve rail services on the existing Milngavie line. (S6O-01959)
Although it is currently too early in the process to advise exactly how the Clyde metro will impact rail services on the Milngavie line, I can say that the metro will complement and integrate with the region’s existing rail and bus networks.
The system might include wholly new track, the reuse of former rail routes or the conversion of existing lines. That will lead to more reliable public transport, increase travel choices to key employment, education and healthcare destinations and help to address inequalities. It will be truly transformational for Glasgow and its surrounding communities.
I share the minister’s enthusiasm for the transformational Clyde metro project. Despite recent improvements, the Milngavie line continues to be one of the worst-performing lines in Scotland, with regular delays, cancellations and issues with capacity, all tied to the limitations of it being a single-track line.
Does the minister agree that the only way to resolve those issues and achieve the Clyde metro’s ambition for frequent services on the Milngavie line is to re-dual the line and build the long-mooted Allander station?
For trains terminating at Milngavie, ScotRail has advised that performance is comparable to that of the suburban west service group and, indeed, ScotRail as a whole. However, if there are issues with specific services, such as those that the member has alluded to, I am more than happy to raise those with ScotRail. I know that it was in Parliament only yesterday for a drop-in session with MSPs.
With respect to the metro, obviously, it will be for the design development process to look at what impact, if any, it will have on rail. I am sure that it will have an extensive impact in relation to the delivery of services locally, but I also note that work that the local council, East Dunbartonshire Council, did with regard to its local transport strategy in 2019 concluded that having a standalone station at Allander, in combination with double tracking, which the member mentioned, offered poor value for money. Instead, the council preferred a bus-based option to improve access to existing rail services.
However, if the council has changed its view in the interim, I am happy to ask my officials in Transport Scotland to re-engage with it on this matter.
Medical Centre for Lochgelly
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the new medical centre for Lochgelly. (S6O-01960)
The Scottish Government’s capital investment group considered the outline business case for the Lochgelly health centre project at its meeting in June 2022.
In response to the feedback provided, the NHS Fife project team is currently updating the business case. We do not have a date for when the updated business case will be resubmitted to the Scottish Government for approval.
The minister will know, from her preparations for this question session, that, on 28 October 2021, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care gave me “an absolute confirmation” that, when the business case for the new Lochgelly medical centre was in place, the funding would be found.
Can the minister also confirm that, and give that assurance to my constituents? Can she also advise my constituents in Lochgelly when they can expect finally to get their new medical centre?
Absolutely—I am happy to provide that assurance. I recognise that the current health centre and much of the national health service estate needs replacement. That is why the Scottish Government is committed to investing £10 billion in health infrastructure over the next 10 years. That will include funding for a replacement health centre in Lochgelly, because we remain absolutely committed to that project.
Our planning assumption is that the phasing of the funding is likely to be in the second half of the decade, and NHS Fife will align the update of the business case to that expected timeline.
Aberdeen to Central Belt Enhancement Project
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the £200 million Aberdeen to central belt enhancement project, which aims to reduce travel times between Aberdeen and the central belt by 20 minutes by 2026. (S6O-01961)
The ministerial commitment to spend £200 million on enhancing the Aberdeen to central belt rail corridor was made alongside, but not as part of, the Aberdeen city region deal, for delivery within the same 10-year timescale.
Some concerns were expressed at a relatively late stage by the Network Rail operations team last year. Those concerns, which have since been resolved, have led to a delay in Network Rail formally signing off the option selection process. Nonetheless, good progress is now being made, and the project remains on track.
The Scottish National Party has been in power for 16 years, and the people of the north-east are still having to put up with a second-class rail service. The new trains for the north-east are 40-year-old diesel 125 cast-offs. There is no chance of electrification to Aberdeen, of dualling at Usan, or of reducing journey times to the central belt by 20 minutes by 2026. The local chamber of commerce has said that that is vital to economic growth in the area. Does the minister agree that rail services to Aberdeen and the north-east are being neglected by the SNP Government?
No, I do not agree with Mr Lumsden’s characterisation of investment from the Government in relation to the north-east. I remind him that the Scottish Government is investing £379 million in the Aberdeen city region deal, compared with just £125 million from the United Kingdom Government.
Aberdeen and the north-east have, of course, benefited from significant rail enhancements in recent years. That includes £330 million of investment to support the redoubling of the line to Inverurie, which allows a half-hourly service to Aberdeen and an hourly crossrail service to Montrose; the opening of the new Kintore station between Inverurie station and Dyce station in October 2020, which features the largest electric vehicle charging facility in the north-east and which was backed by £15 million of investment from the Government; and Aberdeen station’s refurbishment, which is being supported by over £8 million of Scottish Government support.
In relation to the rail enhancement programmes—
It is worth reflecting that Network Rail raised some concerns last year, as I have mentioned. That set progress back. Nonetheless, good progress is now being made, and I am sure that Mr Lumsden will welcome that progress.
I was going to say, “Let’s examine the facts about the investment that the Scottish Government has made.” However, Jenny Gilruth has just listed everything that I was going to say. There is the Kintore station work, the dualling of the Aberdeen to Inverness line in time, and the completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route. Meanwhile, the Tory United Kingdom Government pulled the plug on £1 billion of carbon capture investment for Peterhead in 2015, and it is contributing only £125 million to the city region deal as opposed to the Scottish Government’s contribution of £370 million—
Ms Martin, do you have a question?
My question is: will the minister take the opportunity to further describe how the UK Tory Government should be stepping up for the people of the north-east rather than letting them down?
The minister must, of course, answer the question in relation to matters for which the Scottish Government has general responsibility. I ask her to do so briefly.
Ms Martin has distinctly outlined the record investment coming from the Scottish Government to rail services in the north-east of Scotland and to her constituency. Additionally, since ScotRail came into public ownership, we have made significant investment of over £11 billion in rail infrastructure, including in the refurbishment of Glasgow Queen Street station and Edinburgh Haymarket station, and invested £1 billion in the past 10 years to electrify over 400km of track.
Mobility as a Service
To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to roll out mobility as a service across Scotland. (S6O-01962)
Mobility as a service provides people with better travel information, ticket booking and payment services so that they can decide how to undertake their journey.
Back in 2018, the Scottish Government made a programme for government commitment to establish a £2 million fund to support innovative, digital data-driven solutions to test mobility as a service in Scotland. Five projects, covering the Highlands and Islands, Tayside and the south-east of Scotland, were awarded funding, and they will complete later this year.
I welcome the pilot projects, but we do not want to see those suddenly stopping. Can the minister assure us that funding will continue? Will we see the results of those pilots published?
I very much recognise the value of the Scottish Government’s investment in mobility as a service. Indeed, last month, I was in Inverness seeing for myself how that investment is being used to support the development of the Go-Hi app. Last Thursday, I was in Dundee visiting Dundee and Angus College to see the approach that it has used in the local area to join up transport providers for college students and national service health workers, and even for use in Loch Lomond national park.
Having invested that £2 million from the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland is now required to evaluate the outputs from the investment in the projects to assess the viability of the concept across Scotland. That evaluation will look at a number of different factors. The projects are, of course, yet to complete, and I do not want to arrive at a view before they have completed. However, I recognise Mr Simpson’s interest in the subject. That is a really important piece of work in relation to joining up transport across Scotland, and I hope that we will be able to learn lessons from those investments from the Scottish Government.
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making towards fulfilling its commitment to introduce a national system of rent controls by the end of 2025. (S6O-01963)
Long-term rent control measures will be included in the forthcoming housing bill, which is expected to be introduced as soon as possible after the 2023 summer recess. That will enable the Scottish Government to meet our commitment to deliver rent control by 2025.
I appreciate that there is litigation in relation to the rent cap and the eviction ban but, as the minister knows, the cost of living crisis continues. Therefore, can he reassure tenants that the Government remains committed to providing protection against unfair rent increases and to introducing the national system of rent controls?
Yes, I can. The member is correct that we cannot comment on current legal proceedings. However, the Scottish Government has led on housing over the long term, whether that is through the abolition of the right-to-buy investment in social housing or, most recently, the emergency rent freeze in the face of the cost of living crisis, as well as our long-term commitment to a national system of rent controls. I know that many Labour colleagues share great enthusiasm for seeing us continue with that work.