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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, May 16, 2024


General Question Time

Good morning. The first item of business is general questions. As ever, I would appreciate succinct questions and answers to match.

Fair Work First Requirements

1. Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it is ensuring that those awarded public sector contracts and grants meet its fair work first requirements, including the payment of the real living wage. (S6O-03444)

The Minister for Employment and Investment (Tom Arthur)

For public sector grants, as is stated in the fair work first guidance, monitoring compliance with fair work first principles, including the real living wage and effective voice conditions, is the responsibility of individual grant managers across Government and that of relevant funders across the wider public sector. That will be part of existing grant governance, assurance and monitoring processes, as with any other condition of grant, such as agreed outcomes.

For public sector contracts, as stated in the practical guidance, “Fair Work First in Procurement”,

“the terms and conditions of the contract and the approach to contract and supplier management”

should be

“agreed with the winning bidder(s). This will help to ensure that any commitment to adopting the Fair Work First criteria ... offered by the winning bidder(s) are adopted and complied with for the duration of the contract.”

Daniel Johnson

I thank the minister for that very detailed answer. I hope that he is aware that Police Scotland’s facilities contractor is OCS. According to the GMB, OCS is failing to pay workers the real living wage, which is a key requirement of the fair work guidance. The Government has aspirations for Scotland to become a fair work nation by next year, but that is a clear example of a public sector contract failing to comply with that framework. Who is accountable for ensuring that fair work conditions are met, what is the remedy for non-compliance, and how will the Government ensure that every single contract across all organisations in the public sector is compliant with fair work principles and the fair work framework?

Tom Arthur

As I am sure Mr Johnson appreciates, given that the contractual relationship is between the Scottish Police Authority and OCS, it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to intervene directly and to comment on those matters. However, I can confirm that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs discussed the issue with the chair of the Scottish Police Authority in November 2023 and received assurances that the SPA was content with the actions that Atalian Servest had taken to address any outstanding issues with its staff, and that the company was paying the living wage to its employees.

I appreciate that this is a matter of interest. I am new in post, and I will be keen to engage with Mr Johnson and other Opposition spokespeople on this issue.

Grangemouth Refinery

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I remind members of my voluntary register of trade union interests.

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with the owners of the Grangemouth refinery, its workers and trade unions regarding the future of the site. (S6O-03445)

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

The Scottish Government continues to engage extensively on those matters. I most recently met representatives of Petroineos yesterday, alongside ministers of the United Kingdom Government from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the Scotland Office. During the meeting, I made clear the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to engage constructively with the business and our desire for all parties to co-operate on a sustainable future.

I also had a chance yesterday, at the All-Energy conference, to meet representatives of Petroineos and RWE regarding the new green hydrogen plans that were announced yesterday. Ministers met representatives of Unite the union and the Scottish Trades Union Congress on the morning of the import terminal announcement last year, and we have subsequently met several times, including at a just transition round-table event that I held with unions on 29 February. Petroineos and the unions are members of the Grangemouth future industry board’s leadership forum, which I most recently convened on 28 March. I also have a further meeting with Unite planned in the coming weeks.

Richard Leonard

The UK sustainable aviation fuel mandate is due to commence in 2025, and it will apply to jet fuel suppliers. The Grangemouth refinery is a long-established and profitable supplier of aviation fuel. Grangemouth is an ideal location for a future fuels hub. Will the Scottish Government work with the current owners, including PetroChina, and with the trade unions, especially Unite? Will it use its agencies, such as Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish National Investment Bank and the just transition fund, to realise that vision, to extend the life of the refinery and to plan for and invest in a sustainable fuel future for the workers, for the industry and for the community?

Màiri McAllan

I agree with much of what Richard Leonard has said. I will repeat what I have said before: my preference is that refining operations continue for as long as possible. In the meantime, it is also my expectation that we work to maximise future opportunities at Grangemouth, which the Scottish Government is doing. I agree with Richard Leonard that the production of sustainable aviation fuel at Grangemouth is one possible future opportunity. However, the regulatory framework, including the hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids—HEFA—cap and the consideration thereof post-Brexit, lies with the UK Government. That is why I have been convening meetings, including the trilateral that I had yesterday, in order to take matters forward.

Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I note the cabinet secretary’s reference to the German firm RWE. Could the cabinet secretary briefly outline how that company’s proposals for a hydrogen site in place of the Grangemouth refinery would help to fulfil at least part of the Scottish Government’s just transition plan?

Màiri McAllan

Michelle Thomson is right that, as well as sustainable aviation fuel, as Richard Leonard has mentioned, we are exploring the opportunities for fuel switching and the production of hydrogen at Grangemouth. As I said, I welcome RWE’s announcement with Petroineos that they are taking forward that project together. The issues are multifaceted and responsibilities lie with the companies, the regulatory framework under the UK Government and, of course, the Scottish Government, which also plays its part. I am determined to pursue all options through all the forums that I have mentioned.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

At the beginning of March, the Grangemouth future industry board

“agreed to draft an actions plan outlining activities that the Board can deliver within the next 100 days.”

Who is responsible for delivering the plan? When will it be published?

Màiri McAllan

I chaired my first meeting of the Grangemouth future industry board’s leadership forum recently and those matters were discussed. My officials and I are taking those issues forward. For the chamber’s interest, the membership of the board is broad and includes the Scottish Government, the UK Government, local colleges, local authorities, the companies and others. We are working together on the production of documents. I am happy to update the chamber when I have the next date for the meeting.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. (S6O-03446)

Ministers and Scottish Government officials regularly meet with representatives of all health boards, including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to discuss matters of importance to local people.

Paul O’Kane

Earlier this month, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board approved the permanent downgrading and reduction of the out-of-hours general practitioner service in Inverclyde, which is now the only area of the board that does not have a full service. That was despite widespread opposition to the closure in the public consultation and the unanimous opposition of Inverclyde Council. Although local Scottish National Party parliamentarians have tried to excuse the cut, reports to the board have made it clear that there has been a lack of investment in front-line services, including out-of-hours services. The director of finance for the board has said that it will have to review every line of spend in order to meet its savings targets.

Why did the Scottish Government call in the decision in the face of widespread opposition? Will the cabinet secretary be yet another SNP health secretary who comes to Inverclyde and tells people that services are safe with the Government and then presides over cuts, closures and second-tier provision?

Neil Gray

Of course, I recognise the strong feeling in the local area about the matter. Obviously, it is for the health board to make the decision, but I expect services to be provided safely, sustainably and as close as possible to where local people need them. Paul O’Kane is right that significant engagement took place across the board; there were approximately 40 activities across the region, including four public drop-in sessions in Inverclyde. The possibility of offering a seven-day service in Inverclyde was explored, but the health board was clear that, because of the small patient numbers from Monday to Friday, which averaged four patients in a 14-hour period, that could not be sustained. The board has also agreed to offer patient transport to all Inverclyde patients who need to receive care at a primary care emergency centre outwith those times.

On the financial front, the Scottish Government has protected health spending as far as it possibly can in the face of a declining United Kingdom Government block grant. We have provided a record level of funding, including a 3 per cent real-terms increase to all national health service boards, although I recognise the challenges that exist in spite of that, due to increased pressure.

Renfrew Bridge

4. Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Renfrewshire Council regarding the timetable for the joining up of the sections that will form the Renfrew bridge, which will cross the River Clyde to Yoker. (S6O-03447)

The Minister for Employment and Investment (Tom Arthur)

Our role in the project is as a funder through the Glasgow city region deal. We have committed £500 million to the deal, of which £39 million is going towards the new bridge that will connect Renfrew with Clydebank and Yoker. The latest update, given on 17 April at the most recent meeting between officials and the regional programme office, was that construction is scheduled to be completed in August. As the project is led by Renfrewshire Council, further details are not held centrally, and the council will be the best place to pursue further information.

Bill Kidd

As the minister has said, the Glasgow city region deal, which is nearing its 10th anniversary, has been central to the project’s success. How does the Government intend to build on that and other successful projects that are undertaken as part of the city deal through new initiatives such as the Clyde mission?

Tom Arthur

We are committed to working constructively and in partnership with local authorities, regional economic partners and wider civic Scotland to ensure that we provide support for building on the legacy of the city deal. The city deal is delivering significant benefits to Glasgow city specifically, and to the wider area with the partnership authorities. As Minister for Employment and Investment, that comes within my responsibilities; I am committed to engaging with partners, and I would be more than happy to meet Mr Kidd to discuss further opportunities to work collaboratively.

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the announcement of the Glasgow city region deal, it is good to see that the bridge is nearing completion. Will the minister confirm whether the bridge has been designed at least with the idea of integrating with Clyde Metro in future, so that it can take light rail infrastructure?

Tom Arthur

I appreciate Mr Sweeney’s supplementary question and his long-standing interest in these areas. I am not in a position to give him a specific and detailed answer to his question, but I am more than happy to write to him to provide further information and to meet him to discuss these matters further.

Tourism (Inclusion and Accessibility)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it can take to ensure that tourism is inclusive and accessible for all. (S6O-03448)

The Minister for Employment and Investment (Tom Arthur)

Our vision for a fairer Scotland means that everyone should be able to benefit from our vibrant visitor economy. Scotland outlook 2030, our national tourism strategy, includes a commitment to ensuring that Scotland is an inclusive and accessible destination. Equality, diversity and inclusion are threaded through all the missions of our tourism and hospitality industry leadership group. Our national tourism organisation, VisitScotland, focuses on inclusive tourism as a key strand of its responsible tourism strategy. That includes publishing an inclusive tourism toolkit, with tips and support to help individual businesses ensure that they are inclusive and welcoming to all.

Roz McCall

Four out of five disabled people do not have a holiday of any kind, primarily due to the limited number of holiday venues that can accommodate their additional needs. When I recently visited the Rings site in Cupar, in my region, to see for myself its wonderful fully accessible accommodation that provides hospitality for all, I was surprised by how simple and unobtrusive many of the alterations were. Will the Scottish Government agree to look at various legislative obstacles, including planning, to ensure that hospitality and tourism in Scotland can be fully accessible?

Tom Arthur

Yes, I would be more than happy to commit to doing that, and I am grateful to the member for bringing that important issue to the chamber. I reiterate that we want to ensure that everyone in Scotland has an opportunity to enjoy our world-class visitor economy. In that spirit, I am more than happy to meet the member, and any other members, to discuss those matters further.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

Will the minister visit Galashiels in the heart of my constituency to see the significant measures that have been put in place on public transport by bus and train, as well as the improvements that have been made to pavements, to increase accessibility to tourist destinations, such as the great tapestry of Scotland, for people with mobility challenges? To my cost, I am learning about such challenges—temporarily, I hope.

Yes, I would be delighted to. I commend Christine Grahame for raising those matters, and for securing what I think must be her third or fourth ministerial visit from me since I was first appointed.

Question 6 has been withdrawn.

Glasgow Low-emission Zone (Taxis)

7. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Glasgow City Council and representatives of the taxi trade, in light of reports of potentially significant job losses in the sector as a result of the implementation of the low-emission zone. (S6O-03450)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

Scottish Government officials have frequently met Glasgow City Council officials and representatives of the taxi trade to discuss the rates of taxi low-emission zone compliance. As Glasgow City Council is responsible for the administration and enforcement of its LEZ, it may grant local time-limited exemptions where appropriate. From June 2023, a 12-month extension was offered to Glasgow taxi operators with non-compliant vehicles. The council has recently announced a further extension, beyond June 2024, to the exemption for some taxis, where the operators can demonstrate a commitment to retrofitting their vehicles or purchasing compliant replacement vehicles.

Pauline McNeill

In answer to a question from Annie Wells last week, the cabinet secretary said:

“Unlike other major cities in Scotland, Glasgow City Council does not have an age limit on taxis, so there is a higher proportion of older... taxis”.—[Official Report, 9 May 2024; c 3.]

I would like to highlight to the cabinet secretary the fact that, at a recent meeting of taxi drivers in the city, older workers with older vehicles said that they were unable to finance a new vehicle and were ineligible for a grant from Glasgow City Council. Hundreds of older drivers are in that situation, but the city council has offered them no options, so they will be forced out of business—and we are talking about up to 300 licences here. Does the cabinet secretary agree that this is unfair to older drivers, who do not have another option? They are experienced drivers, and they will be a loss to the city. Indeed, not granting a further exemption might be considered as indirect discrimination against older drivers.

Fiona Hyslop

Pauline McNeill is correct to look at the different experiences in different cities. In Dundee, taxi compliance is already at 90 per cent; in Aberdeen, it is at 75 per cent; and, in Glasgow, where the LEZ has been running longer, it is down at 63 per cent.

As for the finances that are available, we have recently announced further retrofitting funding, which is available to those who want to apply for it. It is not necessary to purchase a new cab to meet the entry standards. Retrofitting costs after the grant are typically £2,500 to £4,000, and, alternatively, drivers can purchase a second-hand Euro 6 standard taxi up to eight years old, which can still meet LEZ standards.

Pauline McNeill has raised an important point, but I also suggest that someone facing retirement might want to sell their taxi on, and one that has been retrofitted will have more value than one that has not been. As well as highlighting the Government-supported retrofitting fund, I think that there is also an issue here for lenders to look at sensitively.

Ardrossan Harbour (Redevelopment)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the redevelopment of Ardrossan harbour. (S6O-03451)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

The essential business case and cost review work is now nearing completion and I expect to give a further update on the project before summer recess. The work has been vital in providing clarity on the scope, benefits and potential costs of the project and in updating the investment requirements from the main funding partners. A meeting of the Ardrossan harbour task force is planned for later this afternoon, and the business case review work is expected to be with ministers for consideration thereafter.

Katy Clark

CalMac Ferries has said that it is the failure of port owners, Peel Ports, to invest that has left the harbour in substandard condition, despite the owners receiving more than £15 million in harbour dues over the past decade. Given the long-standing issues, there have been repeated calls to bring the port into public ownership.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that the current situation is unacceptable? Will she confirm the Scottish Government’s commitment to Ardrossan and outline her strategy? Given that there has been no meeting of the task force since March 2023—I note that there is due to be one later today—will she come back to the chamber with a statement to outline the Government’s approach?

Fiona Hyslop

I have already said that I will provide an update before summer recess. That is the plan.

Our focus is on ensuring that a robust business case is developed; the case for Ardrossan is properly considered; and the cost and scope is well understood, so that investment decisions can be made. Regardless of ownership, it is important that both parties—CalMac and Peel Ports Group—address these operational issues so that they can resolve them quickly and ensure minimal impact and disruption to the services to island communities. Of course, any purchase will depend on an owner willing to sell.