Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Thursday, September 7, 2023
Agenda: General Question Time, Anniversary of the Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, First Minister’s Question Time, Alcohol Services, Motion of Condolence, Portfolio Question Time, Professor Sam Eljamel (Update), Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete, Programme for Government 2023-24 (Opportunity), Business Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- Anniversary of the Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Alcohol Services
- Motion of Condolence
- Portfolio Question Time
- Professor Sam Eljamel (Update)
- Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete
- Programme for Government 2023-24 (Opportunity)
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
Portfolio Question Time
Net Zero and Just Transition
The next item of business is portfolio questions on net zero and just transition. I remind members wishing to ask a supplementary question to press the request-to-speak buttons during the relevant question. I also remind members of the time allocations for questions and, indeed, responses.
Decarbonisation of Buildings (Assistance Schemes)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress towards the decarbonisation of buildings and the schemes of assistance that are available to the public to help them make the transition. (S6O-02472)
We will publish our annual update on progress against our heat and buildings strategy by the end of October. The update will include a summary of progress on our support schemes. The Scottish Government offers a range of support to households, including our warmer homes Scotland and area-based schemes, as well as the home energy Scotland grant and loan scheme, which is open to all domestic households in Scotland and provides the most generous grants in the United Kingdom for zero-direct-emissions heating systems.
I thank the minister for that update, which confirms that Scottish households have access to the most generous grant support in the UK when it comes to increasing the energy efficiency of their homes. Will the minister note that public awareness and participation is crucial if that record support is to be granted effectively amid rising costs? Does the minister agree that Scottish Government interventions are undermined by a UK Government that has failed to tackle sky-high energy prices or to support fuel-poor households in Scotland?
Willie Coffey is absolutely right on the issue of public awareness. The public engagement strategy for Scotland will be led by the new heat and energy efficiency Scotland agency.
It is also vital that the UK Government publishes firm plans to rebalance fuel prices. That is necessary to ensure that climate-friendly heating systems are cheaper to run than fossil fuel systems. We are pressing the UK Government for more urgent action to enable delivery in Scotland, to address market disincentives to switching to zero-emission heat, and to accelerate decision making on the potential role of hydrogen. We have clear ambitions to decarbonise buildings faster and we offer significantly more support for heat pumps and other zero-emission heating systems than other parts of the UK, but we cannot afford to delay taking action and the UK Government needs to match that ambition.
There are several supplementary questions and how many I get in will depend upon the brevity of questions and responses.
The Public Audit Committee heard this morning that we have no idea what it will cost to decarbonise buildings in Scotland. Does the minister accept that he and his Government need to set out what it is going to cost individual householders?
We have a high-level estimate of the total cost of decarbonising heating in Scotland. It is clear that that cannot be met from public funds alone. We want to make sure that it is affordable for householders, communities and business and that will include using a blend of public support, as well as financial products, with a role for private investment and the energy industry, too. More detail will be set out as we move forward to consult on the heat in buildings strategy later this year.
What lessons have been learned from the £133 million underspend last year on retrofitting homes to make them energy efficient and affordable to heat? My understanding is that a lack of trained staff was a key blockage across the country. Given the fact that fuel poverty is now hitting 39 per cent of our households, what is the Scottish Government doing to address this massive problem and to create jobs and training opportunities across Scotland?
A range of factors influenced the uptake of voluntary demand-led schemes during Covid and in the wake of the cost of living crisis and the spike in energy prices. We need to take account of all those factors, including skills and capacity across the supply chain. Our supply chain delivery programme is working with industry to address those issues, and they will also be addressed in the consultation that we will carry out later this year.
The overwhelming majority of my constituents live in properties that are not connected to the gas grid and many are potentially unsuitable for heat pumps. What options will be available to those who rely on oil in that situation, and what financial support will be on offer?
Our approach to reducing emissions from buildings is technology-neutral. However, we know that heat pumps are a proven technology and that they work efficiently when they are designed and installed correctly alongside the appropriate energy efficiency measures. Many rural households have already made the transition, and colder countries, such as Norway and Finland, that have large rural populations, are also far ahead of us in this.
However, we recognise that bioenergy might be the best option for a small number of buildings. We already provide an extra £1,500 on top of the £7,500 Home Energy Scotland heating and energy efficiency grants to cover the higher costs in rural areas. We have also recently announced an uplift for rural and remote areas in relation to the social housing net zero heat fund.
Strategic Transport Projects Review (A75)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the second strategic transport projects review in relation to improving the A75. (S6O-02473)
The second strategic transport projects review will inform the Scottish Government’s transport investment programme over the next 20 years. As detailed on page 41 of the review, there are clear recommendations for the A75.
In August, I met the leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council and the chair of the regional transport partnership, the South West of Scotland Transport Partnership, in Dumfries, where we discussed our shared ambition for the route and the next steps for the bypassing of the villages of Springholm and Crocketford. As we committed to in our programme for government this week, we will continue to press the United Kingdom Government to fulfil its commitment to fund and support the next steps for improvements on the A75, and we are awaiting a response to the invited bid that was issued to it in April. In fact, I am meeting the UK minister responsible, Richard Holden MP, next week to discuss that very issue.
In a television interview on “Representing Border” earlier this week, the First Minister gave a categorical assurance that the A75 and the A77 will get vital improvements. We have had such promises before. Indeed, in January this year, Michael Matheson said that the STPR2 timetable would be published in spring. However, with 38 out of the 45 recommendations either started or completed, we are yet to hear when the A75 improvements will be rolled out.
I have previously welcomed the UK Government’s constructive collaboration with the Scottish Government on the Euroroute, but given that transport is devolved, the failure to deliver on previous commitments lies squarely at the door of the Scottish National Party Government. Will the minister give my constituents an indicative start date for the Springholm and Crocketford bypasses that it has promised but failed to deliver?
As I said in my first answer, as the new Minister for Transport I have been active in engaging with the key stakeholders in Dumfries and Galloway Council and SWestrans, as well as with the UK Government. I have done that on the basis that the committed support from the UK Government must be resolved in order to commence work on some of the issues that we are talking about, if, as I think Mr Carson is calling for, we are to do that collectively with the UK Government, particularly in relation to the connections to Northern Ireland. I will continue my work on the issue in that spirit.
There are a couple of brief supplementaries. Again, brevity would be appreciated.
When the UK Government published the Peter Hendy review, it committed to provide funding to the Scottish Government to improve the safety and efficiency of the A75. I agree that we need those upgrades urgently, but will the minister indicate whether the UK Government has provided any information on how much funding will be provided and when it will be received?
As called for by a number of people, not least Conservative MSPs, we are co-operating with the UK Government on that. I will meet the minister responsible, Richard Holden MP, on Monday, and I hope that we can agree a way forward and secure the amount of funding that it is seeking to provide.
The transport review was published in December—years late—and we were told that there would be a delivery plan by spring. Communities in Crocketford and Springholm do not want to hear two Governments bickering over who is going to pay for the bypasses—they want to see them happen. Will the minister give an indication of when she will tell Parliament exactly when work will commence on those communities’ bypasses? They have been waiting years for an announcement from the Government.
If the member listened to my tone, he would hear that I am far from bickering. I look to work in co-operation with the leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, the SWestrans chair and the relevant MP. If people want us to work in a collective way, I will take that forward. However, in that relationship, we need to identify the steps that are required. As I said, how they can be delivered is actively being discussed. I will continue to work in that spirit, as I have committed to—[Interruption.]
Mr Carson, you had an opportunity to ask a question, so please stop shouting across the chamber.
If we want co-operation in delivering transport projects, perhaps the questions and the answers should reflect that.
Question 3 has not been lodged.
Offshore Wind Power (Harbour Infrastructure)
To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to support the development of the necessary harbour infrastructure, including in relation to the operations and maintenance support phase of offshore wind, to deliver a just transition to rural communities, such as Fraserburgh. (S6O-02475)
Scotland’s ports and harbours have various ownership models. Fraserburgh is a trust port that is run by the Fraserburgh Harbour Commissioners. The Scottish Government recognises the importance that ports and harbours infrastructure plays in delivering a just transition to coastal communities.
The Moray East operations and maintenance base in Fraserburgh has created around 100 local high-value skilled jobs, which will bring economic opportunities as we work towards achieving our net zero ambitions. The strategic investment model will further assist in identifying shared priorities, with an initial focus on investment in ports and harbours, infrastructure improvements, manufacturing and fabrication.
My constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast has a huge part to play in Scotland’s net zero ambitions. I thank the Scottish Government for its unrelenting support for the Acorn project at St Fergus and the Moray offshore wind projects and its funding of the Campaign for North East Rail’s feasibility study on bringing rail back to Peterhead and Fraserburgh.
The Fraserburgh harbour master plan has a huge part to play in our net zero goals. Will the minister meet with me and the harbour board to discuss its ambitious plan?
The Scottish Government recognises the crucial role that the north-east plays in working towards achieving the net zero ambitions. We have been urging the United Kingdom Government to commit to carbon capture and storage in Scotland for well over a decade. Its recent, long overdue decision to begin its due diligence and hold discussions with Acorn recognises the importance of the potential of the Acorn project and the Scottish cluster.
The Campaign for North East Rail is passionate about its railways. Its award of up to £250,000 from the last just transition fund to conduct a multi-modal study of transport options is also a step forward. Transport Scotland officials continue to work with the relevant bodies, and they attended the Fraserburgh Harbour Commissioners board meeting on 20 September to discuss its ambitious plans. I would be happy to meet with the member to discuss any outcomes from that meeting if that would be of interest.
To unlock the benefits of harbour improvements at Fraserburgh, it is vital that road infrastructure to Fraserburgh is also improved. Last week, six people were taken to hospital after a car accident at Cortes junction, and we have all heard of the many incidents at the notorious Toll of Birness.
Can I ask the minister how many more lives will have to be impacted before the Government will sort out the dangerous route to Fraserburgh? Without that happening, a just transition will never be delivered.
I reflect on my remarks about the £250,000 for the multimodal transport study. Clearly, infrastructure for access to harbours affects residents, as has been referred to. Given the growth of support for the offshore industry, we should also be looking at the different issues around freight and so on. I certainly will ask my officials to look at the particular issue that the member has raised in relation to those accidents, and I will reply to him when there is something additional that I can provide to give him some reassurance.
Offshore Training Passport
To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made on the development of an offshore training passport, as funded by the just transition fund. (S6O-02476)
The Scottish Government strongly supports delivery of a skills passport that will work for the different offshore energy industry sectors, as we recognise the cross-sector skills of workers and the importance of supporting a fair and managed transition.
Since the development of our prototype skills passport in 2022, work has been on-going to test and finalise the technical aspects of the passport. Alongside technical developments, project partners in renewables, oil and gas, as well as trade unions, have been working hard to increase cross-sector collaboration on the development of the passport, including by seeking agreement on mutual recognition of training requirements across sectors.
The passport is due to be rolled out later this month, but offshore trade unions—in particular, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—remain concerned that their members will end up continuing to pay a price if their qualifications are not recognised by developers and contractors in the offshore wind sector. Will the minister guarantee that all developers of wind farms that are leased through ScotWind will be required to recognise the passport? Will he commit to working with the trade unions on implementing the passport when it is finally launched?
Of course, I will commit to working with the trade unions to implement the passport once it is finalised. We are talking about a major exercise that will benefit the sector for very many years to come. The passport involves close collaboration between the energy industry, its workforce, Governments and their agencies, trade unions, trade bodies, skills bodies and education and training providers. It is important that we get this right and that all parts of the industry get behind it.
As I say, as we look toward the energy transition of the next 10 or 20 years, it is important that we get this right and that we get it in place in a proper way.
Renewable Heating Systems in Homes
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its target for renewable heating systems in homes. (S6O-02477)
More than 1 million homes must convert to zero-emissions heating by 2030 if we are to meet Parliament’s interim climate targets. We have developed regulations to deliver that in all new buildings. We have also introduced a new Home Energy Scotland grant, and shortly we will relaunch the warmer homes Scotland programme. As I mentioned in response to an earlier question, we will also be consulting soon on proposals for a heat in buildings bill.
Over the recess, I had the pleasure of visiting Sunamp in Tranent, in East Lothian. Sunamp is a fantastic and growing company that makes heat storage systems for individual domestic use and local housing associations. I know that the minister is aware of the company. What lessons can the Scottish Government learn from that fantastic East Lothian-based company on the importance of heat storage in tackling poverty and meeting net zero commitments?
I and a number of other ministers have visited that particular company and been impressed by its work. I am pleased to hear that there is cross-party support for that and recognition of the important role that heat storage and electrical storage will play in the future of a decarbonised and renewable energy grid. Martin Whitfield is quite right that it will also have an important role to play in the jobs benefit that will come from the decarbonisation of heat. We believe that many thousands of jobs and high-quality careers are to be had from that programme of work, which will benefit communities the length and breadth of the country.
There is a bit of interest in this issue. I will try to get all the supplementary questions in, but they will need to be brief.
District heating systems can offer a number of advantages in decarbonising heating in existing—as well as new—properties, potentially providing a low-cost effective solution that enables access to a heat source that is not available to individual households. What work is the Scottish Government taking forward to accelerate the roll-out of district heating networks in existing properties?
This is another hugely important aspect of the agenda. The Parliament passed the Heat Networks (Scotland) Act 2021 in the previous parliamentary session, and we are implementing that legislation. Public bodies are under a new duty to assess whether their estate would be suitable to connect to district heating systems, and local authorities have powers to identify areas that are suited to district heating. We are exploring the potential for further legislation to strongly encourage buildings to connect to heat networks. Meanwhile, district heating projects in Scotland can receive pre-development support from our Heat Network Support Unit and grant and loan funding from Scotland’s £300 million heat network fund or our district heating loan fund.
I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am a private landlord, as well as the owner of my own house.
Renewable heating targets are important. When the Government is considering them, will it publish the estimated cost to the public purse of upgrading renewable heating in the public housing stock?
I am not entirely sure what Edward Mountain is referring to as “the public housing stock” and whether he is talking about council housing or social housing. We have a substantial social housing net zero heat fund, which he is aware of. We work with local authorities as well as housing associations and other social housing providers. In fact, this is part of the wider heat in buildings programme, and the overall high-level costs that I referred to earlier have been published and put into the public domain.
The minister will be well aware of the Queens Quay district heat network in Clydebank, which is the biggest in the United Kingdom and was pioneered by the Glasgow-based engineering company Star Refrigeration. The company is saying that scaling that across the Clyde corridor, with the potential to take hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses off the gas grid, is constrained by access to affordable electricity. What is the minister doing to unlock that opportunity for affordable electricity supply along the Clyde and to get that density of commitments through the planning obligations? Together, that would unlock the huge potential—
Minister, as briefly as possible.
We engage actively with both Star Refrigeration, which is showing the jobs potential for manufacturing in relation to the decarbonisation of heat, and the Queens Quay development. I hope that all members will encourage local authorities, public bodies and housing associations to access the support for heat networks that I referred to earlier.
The issues around the affordability of electricity supply come back to the regulatory power that currently sits at UK level. If we are to decouple gas and electricity prices, we need the UK Government to act. That would enable us to pass on the benefit of the cheap, abundant, clean and green renewable electricity that is being generated in this country to benefit bill payers.
Skills Development Scotland and Built Environment—Smarter Transformation (Partnership)
To ask the Scottish Government how its action to achieve net zero will be supported by the recently agreed partnership between Skills Development Scotland and Built Environment—Smarter Transformation. (S6O-02478)
The construction sector is critical to achieving a just transition to net zero, and the Scottish Government is supporting a range of plans for a more sustainable, innovative and diverse construction industry.
The new strategic partnership that Bob Doris has referred to will allow Built Environment—Smarter Transformation and Skills Development Scotland to collaborate and identity ways in which the construction industry can help the sector to address its net zero challenges.
As we navigate the economic changes that will accompany our transition to a net zero society, apprentices with the skills and knowledge to transform sectors such as construction will be crucial to Scotland’s drive towards net zero. What role does the cabinet secretary see apprentices playing on that journey?
Apprenticeships are a critical tool for employers and a critical way for them to invest in their workforce and provide the skills that are needed to support the imperative of transitioning to net zero. They are vital for supporting young people into valuable and rewarding careers and helping people to upskill, reskill and progress in their chosen careers. Statistics published by Skills Development Scotland show that, in 2022-23, construction operations had the largest number of overall starts, at 26 per cent. We will continue to work collaboratively to maintain and to boost that number.
A9 (Prevention of Deaths)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it has conducted any analysis of how many deaths on the A9 could have been prevented if it had been fully dualled. (S6O-02479)
One death on our roads is one too many, and the tragic fatal accidents that have been recorded on the A9 in 2022 and 2023 have occurred on dual and single carriageway sections. There will be families who are grieving, as there will be for all deaths on our roads. An assessment of potential future reductions in fatalities as a result of dualling the whole length of the A9 has not been made.
However, the 2016 “Case for Investment” report on the A9 dualling programme between Perth and Inverness forecasted that there would be approximately six fewer fatalities annually following dualling. That comparison is with performance prior to the introduction of average-speed cameras, following which there has been an average reduction of three deaths annually compared with the baseline. That assessment will be updated as part of the work to consider the optimal approach for completion of the A9 dualling programme.
The minister is right—deaths have occurred on the A9 on dual and single carriageway sections of the road. However, over the past five years, the number of deaths that have occurred on single carriageway sections of the A9 outnumber the number of deaths on dual carriageway sections by 20 to one. On such an important route, dual carriageways are much safer.
Will the cabinet secretary be specific in Parliament and provide a timetable for the full dualling of the A9? If she is unable to provide that now, will she commit to providing me with a written response this month?
I am responding as the Minister for Transport.
On Tuesday, the First Minister announced that the contract notice for the dualling of the Tomatin to Moy section has been issued and reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to full dualling of the A9. I would have thought that the member would have wanted to welcome that.
The Scottish Government will provide more detail, including detail on the timelines for full dualling, in the autumn, as planned, as was announced several times before the summer recess in the chamber to those MSPs who were present.
A lot of members have supplementaries. I will not be able to fit them all in, but I will fit in as many as I can.
The First Minister has reaffirmed his cast-iron commitment to the folk of the Highlands, and the Scottish National Party has a record of delivering infrastructure projects for Scotland that the Scottish Government will continue to deliver on.
The cost of dualling the Tomatin to Moy section has risen from £115 million to £150 million. What impact is the inflation that was caused by the Tories’ economic negligence and cuts to Scotland’s capital budget having on the Government’s ability to deliver on such projects?
The member makes an important point. The first point to make is that we are going to dual the A9.
I am not sure whether to respond to the member who asked the question or to those members who are heckling.
In response to Jackie Dunbar’s question, there is significant pressure on the Scottish Government’s capital budgets, not least because of the economic mismanagement that there has been over recent times. Inflation has had a considerable impact on construction costs. The fact that our budget has not had an uplift for inflation has meant that there has been a 7 per cent cut in our capital budget. Despite that, the First Minister has made a commitment in the programme for government that we will dual the A9.
Thank you. We have no more time and need to move on to the next item of business.