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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 4, 2024


Topical Question Time

European Union Funding (Investment Projects)

To ask the Scottish Government for what reason it has reportedly not allocated £450 million of available European Union funding for investment projects in Scotland. (S6T-02023)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Gaelic (Kate Forbes)

That allegation is simply wrong. The programme is not yet complete. By the end of the programme, most of the funding will be spent. The claims that other parts of the United Kingdom will achieve specific levels of spend are also wrong, because their schemes have not closed either. We do not expect Scotland to be markedly different from the level that was achieved in previous schemes.

Liz Smith

I am interested in the Deputy First Minister’s response, which is the same response that the First Minister provided: that EU funds will be spent by the Scottish National Party Government in the future. However, according to EU data, the Scottish Government has already returned an unspent €199 million to the fund, and reports are that it is struggling to spend the other €331 million. Does the Deputy First Minister understand why those in local government—who are running enterprise and investment programmes and our cash-strapped public services—are so angry?

Kate Forbes

No. Liz Smith’s question fails to understand how the scheme operates, which is through the Scottish Government paying out funds at its own risk then claiming reimbursement from the European Commission. The idea that the Scottish Government is sitting on lots of money, which it will return, completely fails to understand how the scheme operates. Even when the scheme was suspended, the Scottish Government still paid money to partners, so there was no point at which partners have not been able to claim the money from the Scottish Government, which then claims reimbursement.

Liz Smith sits on the Finance and Public Administration Committee, so she will understand how outturn data works. There is no outturn data. When it is published, it will be provided to the Finance and Public Administration Committee very shortly after it is provided to the Scottish Government.

There has been no conclusion to the scheme. It will continue, and we will endeavour to spend as much of it as possible. Sixty per cent of the allocations are being made to local government. The rest is allocated largely to non-departmental public bodies such as NatureScot and Skills Development Scotland. There are close relationships in that. We will continue to provide that money to partners at our own risk then claim reimbursement from the European Commission, which is the way that those schemes have operated for years.

Liz Smith

The Deputy First Minister says that she will try to spend the money. Surely that money was available previously, so it should have been earmarked for spending that would help the Scottish budget.

In her recent budget statement, the finance secretary said:

“Quite simply, we cannot spend money that we do not have”.—[Official Report, 19 December 2023; c 19.]

Does the Deputy First Minister agree with the finance secretary? The Government had that money, which could have been spent on urgently required investment.

Kate Forbes

It is being spent. We have until 2025 in which to continue to spend it. It is being spent currently, it will continue to be spent and there has been no point at which it has not been being spent. We will continue to maximise the funding that is available.

I have looked closely at the source of the figures that were reported—I have looked at the European Commission’s open data portal—and cannot in any way that is based on that data arrive at the £450 million that was quoted.

The point is that we are maximising the funding that is available. Liz Smith’s party is stripping all EU funding from Scottish communities. For as long as the scheme exists, we will maximise the funding that is available. Many thousands of people, businesses and communities in Scotland have already benefited, and will continue to benefit until the scheme closes next year.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

In October 2021, Michael Gove awarded £23.7 million in levelling-up money—a partial replacement for EU funding—to upgrade the B714, which is a strategic necessity. Two weeks ago, I met him to point out that neither the funds nor the inflationary increase to deliver the project—in common with 60 of 71 projects across the UK—had been delivered, and Mr Gove is now retired as an MP. Will the Scottish Government press an incoming Government to honour the levelling-up commitments that were made to deliver on essential strategic projects that the outgoing UK Government promised?

Kate Forbes

We will, of course, press the incoming UK Government—whatever the party—to honour its levelling-up commitments. However, as Mr Gibson said, levelling-up was “a partial replacement for EU funding”, and neither of the parties that are most likely to form the next UK Government want to return us to being able to benefit from that EU funding.

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Audit Scotland confirmed that access to the funds is available until the end of June 2024. According to the EU’s cohesion open data platform, the SNP has 27 days to spend €280 million. Even by its own standard of fiscal incompetence, that is chaos.

The SNP’s initial budget has already been reduced by €72 million due to—by the SNP’s own admission—lack of demand or lack of ability to spend it. If the Deputy First Minister does not recognise the figure of £450 million, what is her figure for the underspend? Was funding for programmes fully matched by public bodies, or were the cuts that were made by the Government multiplied? Will the Government supply the full figures at the end of June?

Kate Forbes

Much like Liz Smith did, the member fails to understand how the scheme works. When partners receive money from the Scottish Government, the Scottish Government allocates the funding and then claims reimbursement. Therefore, the risk sits entirely with the Scottish Government. It is not the case that grant funding comes to the Scottish Government and then is allocated by the Scottish Government. I appeal to members across the chamber to understand how the scheme works.

The final expenditure figures will not be known until 2025. Yes, they will be published. In fact, they will be published openly and transparently, and they will reveal to Scottish people just how much money they have benefited from by being associated with the European Union. The Scottish people will also realise how disappointing it is that no party that is likely to form the next UK Government—including the Labour Party—will in any way restore that funding to them.

Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

It is welcome that the Deputy First Minister has confirmed that the Scottish Government’s expectation is that most of the funding will be spent by the time that the programmes conclude. Can the Deputy First Minister say any more about the projects that those EU investment funds have supported in Scotland to date? Does she share my concern that the UK Government’s replacement funding programmes fall far short of the EU funding that was lost to Scotland after Brexit?

Kate Forbes

The member’s last point is indisputable.

Hundreds of projects across Scotland were supported by the last programme of European structural funds, and if we go all the way back to when they started in 1973—because that is how long benefit has been flowing to the Scottish people—we can see thousands of programmes.

In the Highlands, there are new enterprise hubs, such as the rural and veterinary innovation centre. The funding has also supported children with foundation, modern and graduate apprenticeships. On our climate change objectives, the programmes have helped with electric vehicle charging points and active travel schemes. There is also free advice and support for businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises across Scotland because of the programmes.

I hope that members can unite in recognising how critical the funds have been not only to their own constituents, but across Scotland. It remains a matter of sadness that UK Government’s replacement funding, such as the shared prosperity fund and the levelling-up fund, is not a like-for-like replacement.

Household Waste Recycling Target

To ask the Scottish Government whether it remains its position to have a target of 60 per cent of household waste recycled annually by 2020, in light of reports that the target is being dropped. (S6T-02027)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy (Màiri McAllan)

Scotland recycled 62.3 per cent of all its waste in 2022, which is the most recent year reported on. That is the highest level since records began. To reassure Mr Whitfield, I want to be clear that we are not dropping targets. Reports to the contrary are inaccurate. The Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill, which is passing through Parliament, and the draft circular economy and waste route map set out the measures that we intend to take to improve and modernise local recycling services and to drive up reuse and recycling rates. That includes a commitment, which is in line with advice from the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee, to set new circular economy targets from 2025 so that they are future proofed, support our work to tackle the climate emergency and help us to measure progress on reducing emissions.

Martin Whitfield

I am glad that we are not dropping targets but, in the face of the unknowns that have added instability to the industry—the moving targets, the proposed deposit return scheme and the bill’s provisions—how will the Government support our local authorities, which are at the forefront of delivering household waste recycling, to increase recycling levels?

Màiri McAllan

I am pleased to be able to address that important question head on. Co-designing our approach to improving reuse and recycling with local authorities, businesses and communities has been absolutely central to the Government’s position. That has been backed up by funding support: the £70 million recycling improvement fund has already supported 25 councils to reduce waste and increase their recycling rates. The bill and the route map set out new powers and actions, including working with local authorities and households to design new statutory standards for recycling across Scotland. We will continue to work with partners in pursuit of that aim.

Martin Whitfield

One concern was that we were discussing targets that were due to be hit in 2020. National household recycling rates in Scotland have flatlined for a decade. In contrast, Wales has made steady progress and has raised its household recycling rate to a national average of 65 per cent. Its target, which is 70 per cent by next year, is expected to be met. Where is the Scottish Government’s ambition and where is its drive? When will it set its sights on raising our recycling rates, which will address our problems in relation to the climate and the economy? When will the Government, for once, do the right thing?

Màiri McAllan

The ambition is there in the draft route map, the bill that is currently passing through Parliament, and the investment to support those interventions through the £70 million recycling improvement fund that I mentioned. The overall recycling rate in Scotland is at its highest since reporting began in 2011. However, we recognise that much has changed since then—not least the confirmation of a climate emergency—and so our targets should be updated, in particular on separate waste streams and carbon accounting, as per advice from the Climate Change Committee. I am pleased with the consensus that has dominated the passage of the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill, which I hope will continue.

Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary mentioned the carbon metric, guidance on which was published on 15 March 2011. It said:

“The Scottish Government intends to use the metric to assess recycling performance for Scotland.”

What has the Scottish Government been doing for the past 13 years?

Màiri McAllan

I am happy to set out the progress that we have made against many of our targets for improving reuse and recycling in Scotland. As I said earlier, in 2022 the overall recycling rate was 62.3 per cent, which is the highest since reporting began. Official statistics show that we now send to landfill less than a quarter of all our waste: 23 per cent, which is the lowest level on record. The total amount of waste that goes to landfill in Scotland has nearly halved over the past decade. We have also now met our target to reduce total waste arising by 15 per cent against 2011 levels for two years in a row. To top all that off, in 2021 the waste sector’s carbon emissions were 76 per cent lower than the 1990 baseline. I recognise that as progress. I hope that Maurice Golden will, too.

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

The Scottish Government has been ambitious in its plans for a circular economy. It has taken action on problematic items to help tackle throwaway culture, and it is already introducing a ban on many single-use plastic items; most recently, it has taken action to ban disposable vapes. However, it is clear that the pandemic impacted household recycling rates. Can the cabinet secretary detail how the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill will help us to meet our ambitions in that regard?

Màiri McAllan

The contributions from Mr Kidd and from members on all sides of the chamber make it clear that we have to make the circular option the easiest for Scottish households and our communities, and that the Government and local authorities must work together in pursuit of that aim.

That is why the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill gives ministers and local authorities the tools that we need to help Scotland to achieve that transition. The bill will support local authorities, businesses and householders to co-design recycling services to create more consistency across Scotland. It will make a number of other interventions, not least by providing powers to bring in charges for specific throwaway single-use items and restrictions on the disposal of unsold goods.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

Given the importance of reducing waste in our communities and—as the cabinet secretary said—tackling our climate emergency, do we need the Scottish Government to redouble its efforts to support our councils as they co-design to deliver on the new targets that will come in next year? Welsh local authorities have received £1 million over the past decade, which is why they are now world leading in delivering on reducing waste in their communities.

Màiri McAllan

I absolutely accept the premise of Sarah Boyack’s point: that funding behind ambitious Government proposals is essential. I point again to the £70 million recycling improvement fund, which—as I said in response to an earlier question—has already supported 25 councils across Scotland to reduce waste and increase recycling rates. I have also given an on-going commitment to close working between the Scottish Government and our local authority partners on the implementation of what is a very ambitious piece of legislation.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

A ban on biodegradable municipal waste entering landfill is planned from 2025, yet a Government-commissioned report has confirmed that Scotland will not have the capacity that is needed to manage the waste without landfilling.

The former Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity repeatedly refused to answer this question. Can the cabinet secretary now say whether she expects Scottish waste to be exported for landfill in England when the ban comes into force next year?

Màiri McAllan

The point is well made by Liam McArthur. First, it is important to point out that in the past decade, from 2012 to 2022, the amount of waste sent to landfill in Scotland nearly halved. That has been pursued alongside changes that we have sought to make in incineration; the balance there has to be managed carefully.

On the specific point that Liam McArthur raised, I know that the Minister for Climate Action, Gillian Martin, is considering the matter carefully, and is engaging with colleagues on all sides of the chamber as we move to stage 3 of the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill. I will ask that she engages with Liam McArthur on that point, if she has not done so already.

That concludes topical questions.