Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, January 18, 2024


Portfolio Question Time

Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good afternoon. The next item of business is portfolio question time, and the portfolio today is transport, net zero and just transition. Should a member wish to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letters RTS in the chat function during the relevant question.

Road Infrastructure (Maintenance and Rebuilding Policy)

To ask the Scottish Government what its policy is for the maintenance and rebuilding of road infrastructure. (S6O-02974)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

The Scottish Government is committed to maintaining and safely operating our transport assets, as set out in the national transport strategy. Our motorway and trunk road network is continually inspected, and the information is used to inform investment decisions.

Investment in safely operating and maintaining the network will increase from more than £510 million this year to more than £668 million in 2024-25, which is an increase of 31 per cent. That will be focused on the highest-priority safety-critical maintenance, as well as on supporting our wider commitments on road safety, air quality, climate change adaptation and resilience to severe weather events.

Stephen Kerr

Given the fact that spending on roads has reduced from £502 million to £26 million in eight years—that is a reduction of 4,000 per cent—is it not time for the Scottish Government to be honest and to tell the people of Scotland that it does not really care one jot about roads and that it thinks that car use is somehow malevolent? That is certainly what the Scottish Green Party, which seems to be in charge of the Government, thinks. How else would the minister explain those catastrophic reductions in spending on roads? Will the Scottish National Party-Green Government ever commit to properly funding road infrastructure?

Fiona Hyslop

I would explain Stephen Kerr’s comments by pointing to the failure of the Conservative Party to even barely do its homework. He should read the budget and the budget statement, and he should have listened to my answer. There has been a 31 per cent increase in road maintenance investment.

I think that Stephen Kerr might have been referring to a press release from the Scottish Conservatives that was about major developments, not major road infrastructure, which he asked about. They omitted £450 million for the work on the A9 that must happen. The cabinet secretary came to the chamber and announced that. If members of the Conservative Party cannot even get a basic understanding of the difference between the budget for road maintenance, which is up by 31 per cent, and the budget for road project development, they really have to get back to studying and doing their homework before they come to the chamber.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I welcome what I read on page 62 of the budget document, which is a 41 per cent increase on trunk road critical safety, maintenance and infrastructure spend to £524.7 million.

Mr Kerr previously blustered that the budget is about priorities. Has he indicated to the minister where he or any other Tory MSP would deprioritise expenditure in order to fund the Tories’ myriad demands for additional spending? Is the minister astonished that Mr Kerr, who clearly needs to go back to school, is not aware that we cannot reduce any figure by more than 100 per cent? Therefore, a 4,000 per cent decrease does not exist mathematically.

Fiona Hyslop

The Parliament is very lucky to have a talented and able convener of the Finance and Public Administration Committee who can work his way through the budget document.

The Conservative Party and Mr Kerr do not put forward proposals on what they would deprioritise to fund their myriad demands for additional expenditure. Kenneth Gibson is quite right to identify the increase in critical safety, maintenance and infrastructure spending on the trunk road network. That element has increased by 41 per cent because we must—and this Government always will—keep our roads safe.

Bus and Rail Services (Rutherglen)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to encourage more people to use bus and rail services in the Rutherglen constituency. (S6O-02975)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

We have committed to invest almost £2.5 billion in the coming year to support the public transport network, ensure a viable alternative to car use and enable people to make sustainable choices.

In South Lanarkshire, more than 140,000 concessionary travel card holders benefit from free bus travel, who made more than 565,000 journeys under the concessionary travel schemes in December alone. Clare Haughey’s constituents also benefit from a very frequent rail service, with six trains per hour to central Glasgow and the west end, and from lower rail fares, thanks to our peak fares removal pilot, which has been extended until June.

Clare Haughey

Getting more people to use public transport will help to tackle two of the most significant challenges facing us today: the cost of living crisis and the climate emergency. By bringing Scotland’s rail into public hands, along with the pilot to scrap peak rail fares, as well as by enabling free bus travel for the over-60s, people with disabilities and young people under the age of 22, the Scottish National Party Government is taking decisive action to promote public transport usage.

Another way in which I believe that we could increase the number of people using public transport is through publicly controlled bus services. Will the minister outline how local authorities such as South Lanarkshire Council can now do that through the new powers that have been given to them under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019?

Fiona Hyslop

The Scottish Government has now delivered all the bus powers under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, which enable local transport authorities to consider all the powers that are available to them. Those include partnership working, franchising and local-authority-run services, which sit alongside authorities’ ability to subsidise services. The 2019 act provides an enhanced suite of flexible options, allowing local transport authorities to improve bus services according to their local needs. It will be for each authority to determine which powers are suitable for its area.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

As the minister knows, it is my view that one of the best ways of getting people on to public transport, including in Rutherglen, is to have lower and simpler fares. Is it still her intention to publish the fair fares review this month?

Fiona Hyslop

It is my intention to publish the fair fares review as soon as possible. I would hope that that will be this month, but it may be into the beginning of next month.

I appreciate the member’s interest, and he makes the very important point that simplification of fares, not necessarily just for buses but across all the different transport modes, is very important. I offer him encouragement by saying that, when the review is published, that is the type of discussion and debate that we will have in taking forward policy in this area.

Greenock and Inverclyde Trunk Road Network (Investment)

To ask the Scottish Government how much has been invested in the trunk road network in the Greenock and Inverclyde constituency since Amey took over management of the network. (S6O-02976)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

Transport Scotland records trunk road maintenance and spend through the operating companies’ contracts on a whole-route basis. Therefore, figures cannot be disaggregated for exact spend between specific locations. Notwithstanding that, since the start of the Amey south-west contract in August 2020 up to the latest report covering the period to the end of September 2023, the Government has invested £25.9 million in the maintenance of the A78 and £77.6 million on the A8 trunk road through Amey’s contract. Those figures cover all aspects of maintenance, including resurfacing works, drainage improvements, road safety measures, maintenance of structures, incident management and winter treatments.

Stuart McMillan

Since Amey took over the contract from Scotland TranServ in 2020, it has been clear to see that additional work has been taking place on the A8 and the A78 in my constituency. Amey took over during the pandemic and inherited significant challenges, and I thank Amey for the work that it has done.

Can the minister assure my constituents that Amey will continue to invest in the trunk road network in my constituency and that further improvements to the road surface will take place in the next financial year, including at the Bogston train station?

Fiona Hyslop

I thank the member for recognising the maintenance efforts and the investment in the Inverclyde area, especially during the challenges of the recent pandemic, as the member noted. Transport Scotland works diligently with its operating companies to ensure trunk road maintenance and to provide safe use and reliability for those who use the roads. I can reassure members that investment will continue in the 2024-25 financial year on the A78 and A8 trunk roads, with an anticipated programme of improvement works totalling £4.7 million. I will ask officials to ensure that Mr McMillan is updated when the dates are set for certain elements of that.

National Nature Reserves (Net Zero)

4. Evelyn Tweed (Stirling) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to realise any potential of national nature reserves to help to achieve net zero through a large-scale impact on nature recovery and biodiversity. (S6O-02977)

The Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity (Lorna Slater)

The purpose of all national nature reserves is to restore and manage Scotland’s most important natural areas and to give people the opportunity to enjoy and connect with nature.

NNRs are crucial for restoring habitats in order to contribute to achieving net zero and raising awareness of the effects of climate change on people and nature. The Scottish Government is supporting extensive nature recovery work in our nature reserves, including large-scale peatland restoration, deer management for native woodland regeneration, freshwater restoration and coastal habitat creation. NNRs seek to minimise emissions that are created by their management by using electric vehicles and generating renewable energy.

Evelyn Tweed

Volunteers have been key to the success of Flanders Moss national nature reserve in improving biodiversity in my constituency. What does the Government consider the role of volunteering to be in achieving net zero? How does it intend to support volunteers in that area?

Lorna Slater

The Scottish Government is indebted to the vital contribution that volunteers make to biodiversity monitoring, restoration and management, thereby contributing to achieving net zero. There is a range of opportunities in NNRs or through other environmental organisations. At Flanders Moss, volunteers are removing encroaching scrub and installing and repairing dams on the moss to ensure that carbon is locked into the peat and that it remains there, which is an important nature-based solution for net zero.

Recognising the importance of volunteering, we are funding projects such as the Scottish invasive species initiative, which is removing invasive non-native species with the help of volunteers in order to restore biodiversity and capture carbon as those habitats recover.

Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

Scotland is one of the most nature-depleted countries on earth, ranking 212 out of 240 on the biodiversity intactness index. It is welcome that statutory nature restoration targets are being considered as part of the natural environment bill. However, does the minister agree that there is need for a more robust system of holding the Scottish Government to those targets, such as exploring an option for a Scottish environmental court?

Lorna Slater

The member is absolutely right about the state of Scotland’s nature and the work that we need to do to restore it. I am willing to hear his views about a potential environmental court. I know that that idea has been floated, and I am happy to discuss it further.

Budget 2024-25 (Net Zero)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has made any assessment of the potential impact of its budget on its net zero ambitions. (S6O-02978)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition (Màiri McAllan)

The budget includes a climate change assessment, which highlights that, in 2024-25, we are committing £4.7 billion in capital and resource funding for activities that will have a positive impact on the delivery of our climate change goals. Alongside the budget, we also published a taxonomy assessment of the impact of each budget line.

Pam Gosal

One of the shared priorities in the Verity house agreement is a commitment to net zero, but in the recent budget announcement, the regeneration capital grant fund has been cut by 27 per cent. Given that 82 per cent of all emissions are within the scope of influence of Scottish local authorities, it is extremely concerning that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is now casting doubt over Scotland’s ambitions. Does the cabinet secretary share COSLA’s concerns? What discussions have been had about allocating additional capital resources to allow Scotland’s local authorities to make further investment in reaching net zero?

Màiri McAllan

The views of COSLA and our local authorities on our pursuit of our climate targets are very important to me, because we need a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach. Regeneration capital grants are an important part of that, but the clue is in the title—they are capital grants. It is a little ironic to be questioned by Pam Gosal on capital funding when her colleagues in the United Kingdom Government have dealt Scotland one of the most difficult budgetary challenges that we have had, certainly during the devolution era, on account of its financial mismanagement and, in particular, its failure to inflation proof the capital budget. It has therefore slashed what is available to Scotland and left us with the worst of all worlds, but the Scottish Government will do its very best to protect Scotland from that.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

What initial assessment has the Government made of the potential impact of the UK Government’s oil and gas bill on Scotland’s net zero ambitions, given that it appears that no level of funding will be able to prevent Scotland’s actions from being undermined by Westminster mandating annual North Sea licensing rounds?

Màiri McAllan

My clear view is that, instead of annually licensing ever more new fossil fuel extraction, as the bill that the member referred to proposes, the UK Government should be supporting a just transition. Alongside other recent commitments from the UK Government, the bill demonstrates that the Tories are not serious about tackling climate change or about supporting Scotland to realise our enormous renewable energy potential. That is yet another situation that makes clear the perversity of the fact that Scotland has the energy while Westminster has the power—a situation that cannot be tolerated for a moment longer.

Rail Travel (Mid Scotland and Fife)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to make rail travel more affordable and attractive for passengers in the Mid Scotland and Fife region. (S6O-02979)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

A range of work is under way to improve services in Fife. As the result of a £160 million investment by the Scottish Government, a new line to Levenmouth will open, and services will commence in June. The ScotRail peak fares removal pilot has also been extended for a further three months, until June. That initiative will not only support the Government’s ambitions for more sustainable travel but continue to attract passengers to rail in the member’s electoral region and throughout Scotland, as it offers passengers significant savings.

Claire Baker

I welcome the extension of the pilot to remove peak fares, but the upcoming hike in rail fares that will hit passengers once the pilot ends is not so welcome. When the pilot ends, prices will increase by 8.7 per cent, which will follow a 4.8 per cent increase less than a year ago. Rail travel is becoming increasingly expensive, and people will see a dramatic increase when the pilot ends.

The minister said earlier that the delayed fair fares review will be presented to the Parliament in the coming weeks. When will an assessment of the pilot be made available? What is the Government doing to prevent people from being priced off the railways?

Fiona Hyslop

We will ensure that the evaluation of the pilot is made available. The disruption because of severe weather at the end of 2023 might have had an impact, so the extension will help in providing a more rounded view over the piece.

Our fares are still comparably lower than those in the rest of the United Kingdom. We have postponed the increase from the normal January date to April and, with the extension of the peak fares removal pilot, most commuting journeys will remain cheaper until July 2024 and cheaper than in July 2023, when fares had had a below-inflation increase following fare freezes for season and flexipass tickets.

Even with the increase that will affect commuting journeys from July 2024, a return fare from Burntisland to Edinburgh will increase by just over £1 on the year before, which demonstrates that we are still trying to ensure that our rail travel is affordable.

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

Are there early indications of the impact of the peak fares removal pilot on train users in Mid Scotland and Fife? What are the most frequented trains in the region? What savings have patrons of the routes made as a result of the action that the Scottish National Party led Government has taken?

Fiona Hyslop

There have been extensive improvements across areas of the Fife region. I think that many who are commuting on longer journeys to Glasgow and Edinburgh will save between £6 following the fare increase and £7 now per journey—if those figures are not accurate, I will be happy to correct them. I want to see the evaluation of the difference that the pilot is making, and I want to reflect on the disruption that we might see to what was the regular return for journeys in the area.

The Government’s continued investment in our rail services not only allows our decarbonisation to progress but ensures that we have affordable services. The member will reflect that bringing ScotRail services into public ownership has made a variety of initiatives for passengers’ benefit more realisable.

Stewart Milne Homes (Administration) (Impact on A9 Works)

7. Jim Fairlie (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of any potential impact on the proposed Shinafoot junction on the A9 at Auchterarder of the announcement that Stewart Milne Homes has gone into administration. (S6O-02980)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

I was very concerned to hear that the Stewart Milne Group, which was one of a consortium of developers that are delivering a new junction on the A9 trunk road at Auchterarder, had ceased trading. Our thoughts lie with the affected employees and their families at this difficult time, as well as home buyers.

The situation is clearly developing, so I have asked Transport Scotland officials to confirm their understanding of the implications of recent events and how they might impact on the delivery of the Shinafoot junction. I will respond to Mr Fairlie’s question, and his subsequent correspondence, as soon as possible.

Jim Fairlie

Muir Homes and Stewart Milne Homes accepted the section 75 requirements that were placed on them, which would have seen them fund an on-ramp and an off-ramp at Shinafoot and the A9 near Auchterarder. However, after building half the site, they put in a subsequent application, which was rejected by the local authority, that would have seen them construct an off-ramp only. That would push a great deal more traffic through an already extremely congested Auchterarder, causing real safety concerns about a busy section of the A9 with a very dangerous over-carriageway crossing. The situation has caused a huge amount of upset among the local community, which fears that a serious accident will occur as a result.

Given the uncertainty that has been caused by the fact that Stewart Milne Homes is unable to carry out the work, is the minister prepared to look again at the current proposition and call in the reporter’s decision to ensure that the residents of Auchterarder are served by a safe on and off junction that will provide the safest possible solution?

Fiona Hyslop

As I said in my initial response, I will need to take a more considered view of the issue, as it involves planning. In keeping with the majority of appeals that have been dealt with by the planning and environmental appeals division, the case has been delegated to a reporter to make a decision on ministers’ behalf. Ministers therefore have no involvement in the process.

Although Scottish ministers can intervene at any point before a final decision on a planning appeal is issued, a recall direction is a matter for ministers’ discretion. The power is used sparingly and normally only in circumstances in which a proposal raises an issue of genuine national interest. I understand that the reporter has issued a notice of intention. As the appeal is still live, it would not be appropriate to comment on the merits of the proposed development at this stage.

Energy Efficiency Upgrades (Regulatory Oversight)

8. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to whether there is a need for regulatory oversight of companies that install low-emissions heating systems and upgrade homes to be more energy efficient. (S6O-02981)

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

The regulation of consumer protection is reserved to the United Kingdom Government, but the Scottish Government recognises the importance of consumers being assured that any work carried out is done to a high standard. Using microgeneration certification scheme installers and TrustMark registered businesses is a requirement of accessing Scottish Government funding. I encourage anyone who is considering energy efficiency upgrades to seek expert advice from trusted sources, such as the Scottish Government’s Home Energy Scotland service.

Pauline McNeill

I thank the minister for exchanging letters with me on this subject, which I care a lot about. The minister will be aware that we currently have 1,300 companies, and there are only 4,000 installers across the UK, so we will need a lot more in time to come.

Last month, Citizens Advice Scotland warned that existing consumer protection is insufficient and could allow rogue traders and scammers to prey on people’s good intentions. There have been many examples of that. Notwithstanding that the minister has said that the regulation of consumer protection is a matter for the Westminster Parliament, does he agree that the absence of minimum legal standards for all heat-pump installations means that there will continue to be a potential risk to consumers if there is not a single accreditation scheme for all installers in the net zero market?

Patrick Harvie

Citizens Advice Scotland and Pauline McNeill are right to draw attention to that. We are concerned about the risks that people could encounter and the kind of installers that the member is drawing attention to. We have to be clear about the things that the Scottish Government can do and the things that it cannot do, and we must put pressure on the UK Government to act.

On what we can do, we published “The Heat in Buildings Supply Chains Delivery Plan: Towards an Industry for Green Heat” more than a year ago. Since then, we have been working actively under that plan to ensure that we have the high-quality skilled capacity across Scotland that we will need if we are going to see the acceleration of energy efficiency and zero-emission heating systems that the country needs. As I said, we make the MCS and the TrustMark requirements part of the Scottish Government funding package.

However, Pauline McNeill has colleagues who might come into ministerial office down south at some point later in the year, and the burden might fall on them to do some of the work that the current UK Government has failed to do.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

According to responses that I have received from the Scottish Government, it currently does not record or track the number of businesses that operate in the energy efficiency sector or the certifications that they hold. How does the minister believe that it is possible to effectively support the growth of the sector and ensure that home owners are protected from falling victim to cowboy contractors without gathering that kind of basic information?

Patrick Harvie

Rather like Pauline McNeill’s initial question, some of that relates to the consumer protection responsibilities. Brian Whittle is asking about the regulation of businesses, which falls under consumer protection and is the responsibility of the UK Government. Brian Whittle might like this Parliament and this Government to take responsibility for more of the powers that are currently reserved, and we would do a better job than the current UK Government, which is ripping up climate commitments left, right and centre.

Beatrice Wishart, who joins us remotely, has a supplementary question.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

In the past, some properties in Shetland, where energy efficiency measures have been installed by certified non-local contractors, have been on the receiving end of shoddy workmanship, with little comeback for the householder once the non-local contractor has left the aisles. Meanwhile, local contractors—often small businesses—cannot compete for that work because certification takes too long and the cost is too high.

It is vital that reputable installers carry out such work, so how can the Scottish Government help to ensure that smaller businesses can access that important certification?

Patrick Harvie

That is an extremely important aspect in relation to not only Shetland but other rural and island communities around Scotland, where the kind of experience that Beatrice Wishart described has taken place.

There has been a recent consultation on the microgeneration certification scheme and a relaunched version of that is due to be in place later this year—I think by summer. That scheme is not under the control of the Scottish Government, but we are pleased to see progress there. One thing that it intends to do is remove and reduce some of the barriers to certification that currently exist. I hope that we will be able to update Beatrice Wishart and other interested members on that activity, although, as I said, it is not within the direct control of the Scottish Government.

That concludes portfolio questions on transport, net zero and just transition. In order to allow front bench teams to change position, there will be a short pause before we move on to the next item of business.