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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, September 14, 2023


General Question Time

Good morning. The first item of business is general question time.

Inverclyde Task Force

To ask the Scottish Government what funding it will provide to support the work of the Inverclyde task force, including in relation to investment in facilities at Ferguson Marine. (S6O-02512)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy (Neil Gray)

Ministers participate in the work of the Inverclyde task force to examine new ways of enabling a successful and sustainable wellbeing economy to thrive in the area.

The task force joint chairs have submitted a letter to the Minister for Small Business, Trade and Innovation, setting out a number of investment proposals, which will be given detailed consideration by the Scottish Government. Separately, a formal request for capital investment has been made by Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) and is currently undergoing due diligence. Ministers will update Parliament once that process is concluded, should further investment in Ferguson Marine be agreed.

Neil Bibby

The GMB trade union, supported by parties from across the chamber, has made the Government aware of an impending deadline for placing an order for a new plating line at Ferguson’s. Workers and management are clear that the investment is essential to improving efficiency and securing a future for the yard. Failure to do that urgently will result in many more months of delay.

The Inverclyde task force was established because the former finance secretary believed that it could make the case for levering in funding to Inverclyde. Recent job losses make the need even greater. Will the Government commit today to investing in facilities at Ferguson’s and to providing additional cash to kick-start the Inverclyde economy? If it will not do that today, when will a decision be made?

Neil Gray

I thank Neil Bibby for that question and his interest in the area. This afternoon, I am due to meet union officials with Stuart McMillan, who has invited them to Parliament, in order to discuss those issues and others. Mr Bibby will be aware of the state aid and subsidy control issues that are at play with regard to this request, but we continue to scrutinise that and look to do everything we can to ensure that the yard is supported, within the powers and resources that we have. As he would expect, we will continue to engage with both management and trade unions.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

As co-chair of the Inverclyde task force, I want to be clear that the recent funding asks from the task force and the funding ask from a cross-party group of politicians regarding Ferguson Marine are two separate matters.

The task force has outlined several ambitious projects for Inverclyde. There is an extremely urgent and important need for investment in Ferguson Marine, so I ask the cabinet secretary to update members as quickly as possible after the due diligence process has been completed.

Neil Gray

I thank Stuart McMillan for his consistent and diligent work for his constituents, with regard to both the task force and Ferguson Marine. I give him an undertaking that we will consider the issue of Ferguson Marine as quickly as possible and will update him and other colleagues as quickly as we can once the due diligence process has been completed.

As the Minister for Small Business, Trade and Innovation confirmed in his reply to the letter from Stuart McMillan and the leader of Inverclyde Council, the Scottish Government will scrutinise the proposals assembled by the task force and will continue to participate in its work, offering feedback on the proposals and working with United Kingdom Government colleagues who also have a stake in the matter.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

The Inverclyde task force has a wider remit to ensure that the region makes best use of all its maritime assets to achieve improved economic prosperity. To that end, is the cabinet secretary aware that local campaigners believe that its port facilities, including Inchgreen dry dock, are being vastly underutilised? Would he be willing to come to Greenock to meet those campaigners?

Neil Gray

I would be more than happy to engage with the work that Jamie Greene speaks of to ensure that we see the maximum benefit of the port infrastructure in place in Inverclyde, around Greenock, and across Scotland, so that the benefits of the work that I believe that we will be able to enjoy going forward can be enjoyed by as many communities as possible.

Glasgow (Golden Z Regeneration)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the regeneration plans for Glasgow’s golden Z will deliver the jobs and opportunities needed to grow the city’s economy. (S6O-02513)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy (Neil Gray)

The Scottish Government supports Glasgow City Council’s golden Z regeneration plans as they align fully with our commitment in the programme for government to drive regional growth and empowerment. The programme for government also acknowledges Glasgow’s pivotal role as a key economic driver in the region and for the rest of Scotland, and the plans will be crucial in fostering growth, generating employment opportunities, and enhancing prospects, not only for Glasgow but for the wider region.

Pauline McNeill

I also welcome the investment that has been secured to put Glasgow back on the map as the number 2 in the United Kingdom list of retail centres, a position that it has enjoyed for the past two decades. However, we are already losing shoppers because of the current state of Glasgow city centre. Significant concerns have been expressed about parts of Sauchiehall Street since the ABC went down in the Glasgow School of Art fire. Will the Scottish Government support my call for a robust economic impact assessment to ensure that there is a viable plan for the golden Z, with a delivery team in place? Without delivery, we will not see the result that we want.

Neil Gray

I thank Pauline McNeill for her question and her work to engage with Glasgow City Council and the work that it is doing. I recognise the importance of getting this right and making sure that Glasgow city centre has an offering that is relevant to what people are looking for in city centre locations.

I understand that the golden Z regeneration plans are already based on extensive research and economic analysis and, although all investment involves an element of risk, I am sure that, once they have been implemented, the plans will have a significant impact on the city’s ability to attract and retain jobs. I am more than happy to furnish Pauline McNeill with more details in collaboration with colleagues in Glasgow City Council to make sure that we can realise the city centre’s potential.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

Many shops and restaurants in Glasgow city centre have been forced to close in recent years. The British Retail Consortium recently found that footfall in Glasgow was down more than it is in 10 other large UK cities. Another report revealed that footfall was 19 per cent lower than it was pre-Covid. Does the minister recognise that the Scottish National Party council’s low-emission zone might be forcing people away from Glasgow city centre?

Neil Gray

No, I do not. The member helps to make the case for the need for the regeneration work. I also point her to the clear evidence from businesses that I have engaged with and those that return business surveys on areas of key concern for them. Those concerns are energy costs, the impact of Brexit on the labour market, the cost of living crisis and the impossible impact that inflationary interest rate rises are having on their trading environment. I therefore encourage the member to direct her focus to the UK Government to ensure that her questions are being answered.

Gas Safety

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of gas safety week taking place this week, what engagement it has had with community safety organisations regarding action to improve gas safety awareness. (S6O-02514)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

We provide Scottish Government grant funding and work with our partner the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which has supported and promoted gas safety week for many years.

RoSPA is active in the promotion of gas and carbon monoxide safety, and it represents the Scottish Government’s interests in the stakeholder forum of the all-party parliamentary carbon monoxide group. RoSPA is also working with a gas distribution network to develop a new web hub on carbon monoxide and it has just launched two surveys to assess people’s awareness of the prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Clare Adamson

We know that unchecked gas appliances run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or explosion, so it is crucial that appliances are checked regularly by Gas Safe Register engineers. What action is the Scottish Government taking to encourage people to arrange their annual gas safety check? What help might be available to those who find themselves in fuel poverty and unable to do that?

Siobhian Brown

Duties relating to the maintenance of appliances that are applicable to landlords are set out in United Kingdom legislation. Through our partners, RoSPA, we have promoted via social media and newsletters the Gas Safe Register’s advice to check gas appliances every year and to check that an engineer is Gas Safe registered.

Going forward, RoSPA is developing two surveys aimed at private landlords and the general public respectively to assess their awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning and what they should do to prevent it. The web hub will be developed to address the shortfall of information covering safety and responsibility.

Investment Zones

To ask the Scottish Government when it agreed the investment zones selection method with the United Kingdom Government. (S6O-02515)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy (Neil Gray)

Scottish and UK Government officials developed a joint approach to place selection over the period from April to June, with regular updates being provided to ministers throughout that period. Scottish and UK ministers formally confirmed their agreement to the approach and selected the two regions on 22 June, and a formal note on the selection method was published on 18 August to fulfil a commitment that was made to Dundee City Council leader, John Alexander.

Michael Marra

I am afraid that the cabinet secretary needs to get the story straight. On 18 July, he told me, in an answer to a written question:

“The invitation to host an Investment Zone was not subject to a bidding or application process”.—[Written Answers, 20 July 2023; S6W-19604.]

Then, as he said, on 18 August, a document entitled “Investment Zones Place Selection in Scotland” appeared on the UK Government’s website. However, the decision to award the investment zones to Glasgow and Aberdeen featured on page 1 of the document. Does the cabinet secretary agree with his ministerial colleague Tom Arthur, who told the Finance and Public Administration Committee that having transparency on the application process was very important? In my view, it is very important indeed, given that Dundee now has neither a green freeport nor an investment zone. The investment zone process was nothing more than a political fix.

Neil Gray

Given that one of the investment zones that were chosen was in his region, I am sure that Michael Marra has no interest in pitting community against community, as he appeared to try to do in that question.

In response to a request from John Alexander, the Scottish and UK Governments have committed to engage on what further help might be available for Dundee and the Tay city region to ensure that we take full advantage of the economic opportunities that undoubtedly exist in those communities. I am committed to engaging on that, and I believe that UK Government colleagues are, too.

Restraint of Children (UNCRC Recommendation)

5. Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to the recommendation by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to

“develop statutory guidance on the use of restraint on children to ensure that it is used only as a measure of last resort and exclusively to prevent harm to the child or others and monitor its implementation”. (S6O-02516)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Jenny Gilruth)

I am aware of Mr Johnson’s long-standing interest in the subject, and I know that he will agree that all children and young people have the right to be treated with respect and to be safe, as do the staff who work with them. Any use of restraint must be carried out with regard to the welfare of the child. That is provided for in the guidance that is already in place in education, custody, mental health and care settings that is aimed at controlling and limiting the use of restraint.

As Mr Johnson will know, we consulted on draft guidance on physical intervention in schools, and I intend to publish revised guidance in due course. We are also exploring options to strengthen the legal framework in this area, including by placing the guidance on a statutory footing. I will be happy to discuss that with him when we meet next week.

Daniel Johnson

I thank the cabinet secretary for her very welcome remarks. She will be aware that I have a consultation open on a member’s bill on the subject. Does she agree that the UN committee’s comments, and the fact that Northern Ireland is now consulting on the issue, change the context? Does she also agree that we need to have robust reporting standards, as well as training standards for teachers, rather than just guidance, if we are to make progress in this area?

Jenny Gilruth

I am aware of the consultation that Daniel Johnson is engaged in on a possible member’s bill on use of restraint and seclusion in schools. His point about the context changing in other parts of the UK, which are looking at what more they might be able to do, is valid. I look forward to considering in further detail his proposed member’s bill. I will meet Mr Johnson next week to discuss some of the detail.

Mr Johnson mentioned reporting standards and training standards, particularly in relation to teacher education. I am keen to discuss both those topics in more detail with him when we meet next week.

Business (Fraser of Allander Institute Survey)

6. Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Fraser of Allander survey that found that only 9 per cent of businesses felt that the Scottish Government understands the business landscape in Scotland. (S6O-02517)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy (Neil Gray)

We are grateful to the Fraser of Allander Institute—which I met yesterday to discuss the survey and other issues to do with the Scottish economy—for carrying out its survey of 400 businesses. There is no doubt that the results are disappointing, which is why the new deal for business group’s role of building trust with business and driving meaningful, tangible change is important.

Although the indicators from the survey could help to track progress over time, a broader set of indicators should be developed to more fully measure progress and impact. Those could include broader impact indicators such as business confidence and business investment. That will be further considered by the new deal for business group.

The new deal for business group is just part of a process to ensure that, collaboratively, we create the conditions to support business, which in turn will drive fair green economic growth, with the purpose of feeding into strong and sustainable finances to tackle poverty and support our public services in communities.

Alexander Stewart

The business community has clearly delivered a vote of no confidence in the Scottish National Party’s economic management. Will the cabinet secretary take decisive action to ensure that every minister in the Scottish Government is 100 per cent committed to the key objective of economic growth?

Neil Gray

Yes. I have been doing work, on which the First Minister has been leading, across Government to ensure that we are responsive to business needs.

However, we must recognise that not all the levers of the economy are under the control of the Scottish Government. I know—I am sure that colleagues in the Conservative Party must know, unless they have been hiding behind a bush all summer—that the main drivers of concern for people in business in Scotland are areas around the impact of Brexit on labour supply, the impact of high interest rates on their tradeable environment, and how to ensure that they can achieve economic growth. Further action is needed in all those areas from the United Kingdom Government, which has wrecked the economy with the disastrous Truss-Kwarteng budget.

Modern Studies (Attainment in Renfrewshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is regarding levels of attainment in modern studies in the most recent Scottish Quality Authority exam results in Renfrewshire. (S6O-02518)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Jenny Gilruth)

As Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and as a former modern studies teacher, I congratulate the ambition, hard work and resilience of the young people in Renfrewshire who achieved a strong set of results in modern studies.

In 2023, pass rates in Renfrewshire for modern studies were above the national average at national 5, and at higher level were the same as the national average. The achievements of those young people should be celebrated.

Paul O’Kane

I am glad to hear the cabinet secretary’s answer; she knows how important modern studies is in teaching good citizenship and respectful debate. Young people and their teachers across Renfrewshire work extremely hard to achieve their results in the subject.

What would the cabinet secretary say to a colleague who was encouraging the denigration of young people’s exam results in order to attack a political opponent? Will she join me in condemning the actions of her colleagues in local Scottish National Party branches, council groups and even the Scottish Parliament who seem to believe that the life chances of pupils at Park Mains high school, which is an excellent school in my region, are fair game in desperate political attacks?

Jenny Gilruth

We could all learn to be a little more circumspect and thoughtful in our use of social media. In particular, how and what adults say and do impacts on our children and young people. I understand that the tweets that Paul O’Kane alludes to have since been deleted, and that the member apologised at the time.

I am intrigued by the care that Paul O’Kane appears to attach to one tweet from an SNP back bencher. The Scottish Labour Party has, of course, attached no such care to the 1,620 children in Rutherglen and Hamilton West who have been affected by the two-child benefit cap under the Tories’ heinous rape clause, which is harming children and their outcomes the length and breadth of the country. Instead of coming to the chamber today with a backbone, Paul O’Kane comes to bemoan a tweet on social media.

Marie McNair (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

Schools work hard to deliver diverse academic and vocational journeys for students. For example, Bearsden academy in my constituency achieved a gold ambassador award for its work to promote academic and vocational career pathways equally. What is the Scottish Government doing to support schools in the delivery of those routes?

Jenny Gilruth

Marie McNair raises an important point. This year, a record number of vocational and technical qualifications have been achieved. The breadth of pathways is hugely important in relation to the qualifications that are on offer to our young people. She mentions Bearsden academy in her constituency; I would be more than happy to visit the school with her to hear more about the work that is being undertaken there.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes general question time. Before we move on to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to the gallery Abby Taylor, Presiding Officer of the Tobago House of Assembly. [Applause.]

I also invite members to join me in welcoming His Excellency Dr Róbert Ondrejcsák, Ambassador of Slovakia to the United Kingdom. [Applause.]