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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, September 22, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Ardeer Girls, Portfolio Question Time, Skills Delivery Landscape, Parliamentary Procedures and Practices, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Gas Safety Week 2022


Contents


General Question Time

Good morning. The first item of business is general question time. As ever, in order to get in as many members as possible, short and succinct questions and responses would be gratefully received.


Social Care Workers (Cost of Living Crisis)

To ask the Scottish Government what specific measures it is taking to support social care workers during the cost of living crisis. (S6O-01372)

The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (Kevin Stewart)

The Scottish Government is doing everything within its powers to tackle the cost of living crisis, but it is the United Kingdom Government that has the key levers to significantly mitigate the crisis for workers, households and businesses.

We have increased the minimum rate of pay for adult social care workers delivering direct care to £10.50 per hour from April 2022. That represents an increase of 4.8 per cent from the £10.02 pay rate that was introduced in December. That is an increase of 10.5 per cent for those workers in the course of a year, with pay rising from at least £9.50 per hour in April 2021 to at least £10.50 per hour in April 2022. For a full-time adult social care worker, based on 37.5 hours a week, the increase to £10.50 per hour represents an uplift of more than £1,600 over the course of this financial year.

Alex Rowley

I wrote to the minister in the summer and pointed out to him that those carers who were working in the private sector were getting 25p a mile for their petrol. In the public sector, I think that it is 42p, so there is an inequality there. We then have an inequality in pay, which will be even greater now that we have the pay awards in the council sector. I have talked to private sector providers up and down the country who tell me that they cannot recruit and cannot retain. What impact is that having on our hospitals and on people who are on waiting lists for care packages, and does the Government have any plan to address that?

Kevin Stewart

As I explained in my initial answer, a lot of the key levers to tackle the cost of living crisis rest with the UK Government. The Scottish Government is doing all that it can to do its level best for those people, and in particular for the most vulnerable people across the country.

On the fuel aspect that Mr Rowley raised, we are actively involved with our partners, including local government, to understand what impact the increase in the price of fuel is having across Scotland. I have recently written to the UK Government to press it to help those workers, including social care workers, who are impacted by the rises in fuel prices. It would be much better if the UK Government did all that it can to tackle the cost of living crisis, including for our public sector, rather than cutting taxes for the rich or removing the cap on bankers’ bonuses.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I will help the minister to understand the impact, particularly on rural workers and social care workers across the country: they are leaving the service. People are going without care packages and the minister just washes his hands of the whole affair and says that it is somebody else’s responsibility. We need some action to deal with the problem, particularly in rural areas, where workers are travelling hundreds of miles every week to go from house to house. Their fuel bills are going through the roof and it does not pay to work any more. What action is the minister going to take?

Kevin Stewart

I have spoken to folk right across the country, including people in the Fife care at home collaborative, and I know that these are difficult times for people, particularly with regard to fuel prices. However, we do not have the levers of power to deal with fuel prices. That power rests with the UK Government.

Mr Rennie is quite happy for all of that to rest with the UK Government, but I am not. I want those powers to come here. That is why I want an independent Scotland—so that we do not have to rely on the UK Government to mitigate these issues.


Ferries

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to improve the reliability and resilience of Scotland’s ferry network. (S6O-01373)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

I refer the member to the statement that I made to Parliament on 8 September, which is available on the Parliament’s website. In that statement, I set out a range of actions to improve the reliability and resilience of our ferry network, including the expansion of tide and weather monitoring equipment to help reduce the number of delays and cancellations related to weather.

Another key action is to increase the number of vessels and capacity. This year the MV Loch Frisa will join the Caledonian MacBrayne fleet, bringing benefits across the network, and I am hopeful that I will be able to provide more good news in this regard shortly.

Donald Cameron

The minister will be aware of on-going reports on the chaos and confusion surrounding the draft winter timetables for the main route serving Mull. That route is in some instances being reduced from a two-vessel to a one-vessel service, something that the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee has described as being “completely inadequate”. I note that today the minister has asked CalMac to rethink its proposed timetable for the route, but can she clarify when that will happen so that residents and communities on Mull receive urgent clarity?

Jenny Gilruth

The member might be aware that the delay this year related to mitigations that were put in place in Uig in relation to that outage. I am pleased that we have been able to get to a better place with the Uig outage; it has now been split in half, and the time that the port will be closed for has been substantially reduced

I met the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee yesterday along with the constituency MSP Jenni Minto to discuss this very issue, and CalMac is in discussions with the committee, too. I expect the committee to have clarification on the timetable later this week.

Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

As the minister has said, she held a meeting yesterday with the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee, Transport Scotland and CalMac to drive through the changes to the proposed winter timetable for Mull and Iona in response to issues highlighted by the community. I should also point out that other work such as the installation of new equipment on piers to improve resilience has been done. Can the minister provide more detail on that and on what else might be done this winter to create greater resilience in service provision, especially to prevent weather disruption being exacerbated by technical issues?

Jenny Gilruth

I was pleased to meet the member yesterday along with the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee and, as I mentioned in my response to Mr Cameron, I hope later this week to have clarification on the detail of that timetable to share with the community. I recognise that this has been a challenging time.

As I mentioned in my statement to Parliament two weeks ago now, there is a need for a robust cross-government approach to resilience. That is why I confirmed in my statement my intention to re-establish and refresh the islands transport forum, which will focus on ferries provision and islands resilience.

With regard to the issue of resilience more generally, it is worth saying that in 2018 a resilience fund was established to upgrade or replace key systems and equipment on older vessels, and that fund has seen recent investment of £14.5 million by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd in upgrades to CalMac vessels. Moreover, as I said in my update to Parliament a couple of weeks ago, the Government is also investing in an additional weather monitoring station network, which will provide vessel crews with the enhanced intelligence that will be crucial in giving information that might allow sailings to take place when actual live conditions are less than those forecast.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The minister has talked about additional ferries both today and previously. When is she going to be in a position to give us more details on that, and does she hope that the additional ferries will be available this winter?

Jenny Gilruth

I think that the member raised that question with me two weeks ago in response to my statement. She will be aware that some of the negotiations involved in purchasing additional vessels are commercially sensitive, so I am not able to give her confirmation on that matter at this moment in time. However, I am happy to write to her in more detail on expected timescales, because I very much recognise the need for greater resilience in the fleet and, as she knows, a spare vessel to provide greater reassurance to island communities.


Shetland Islands Council (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it was last in contact with Shetland Islands Council and what was discussed. (S6O-01374)

The Minister for Social Security and Local Government (Ben Macpherson)

The Government engages with all local authorities on a regular basis, working together on key priorities for communities. Last month, there were a number of ministerial visits to Shetland, during which key topics were discussed such as the current cost crisis; transport and additional connectivity, including fixed links; promotion of renewables and hydrogen in the context of a just transition; and the provision of care services in the context of the national care service. The Scottish Government is keen to continue to work closely with Shetland Islands Council to address these and other issues of concern and mutual interest.

Beatrice Wishart

Depopulation and decarbonisation are but two key challenges that Shetland Islands Council faces, and fixed links have a role in reversing depopulation. Tunnels replacing internal lifeline ferries could reduce emissions and improve connectivity, which is important locally. The issue is also about national infrastructure and Shetland’s contribution to Scotland’s economy.

The SaxaVord United Kingdom spaceport, the aquaculture sector and the export of millions of pounds-worth of fish landings all demonstrate that Shetland punches above its weight. However, with 21st century infrastructure, Shetland could do much more. Will the Scottish Government commit to meeting grass-roots community fixed links action groups, as well as Shetland Islands Council, to discuss tunnel infrastructure?

Ben Macpherson

I thank the member for her follow-up question, which touched on a number of aspects in which Shetland is succeeding and has further potential. Connectivity with regard to the ferry service was discussed by the Minister for Transport on her recent visit to Shetland. In the interests of expediency and productivity, if the member wishes to engage with me and other ministerial colleagues further, we can follow up constructively on the aspects that she has raised.


Transport Infrastructure Improvements (North-east Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on transport infrastructure improvements in the north-east. (S6O-01375)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

The Scottish Government remains committed to improving infrastructure in the north-east. A transparent and evidence-based review of the A96 corridor is under way and will report by the end of this year. We continue to progress proposals at Laurencekirk junction through the statutory process.

Enhancing access to affordable public transport is a key theme of the second strategic transport projects review, and Transport Scotland continues to work with partners on the Aberdeen rapid transport system through the bus partnership fund. Additionally, the Campaign for North East Rail was successful in its funding bid for a new feasibility study through the just transition fund.

Liam Kerr

This Government has repeatedly kicked down the road the dualling of the A9 and A96. We heard yesterday that colleagues across the chamber are rightly distraught about repeated tragedies. Our constituents are furious at the abject failure to give firm dates for the work starting. Year after year goes by with no meaningful progress and, now, thanks to the politicking of central belt-based Green MSPs, we have a delaying consultation on the A96, with an unpublished report that—we have just heard—has been kicked to the end of the year. The eyes of people of the north and north-east of Scotland are on the minister, and they want a firm commitment: on what date will the Government bypass its Green partners and start making life-saving improvements by dualling in full the A9 and A96?

Jenny Gilruth

I recognise some of the sensitivities around the routes that Mr Kerr mentioned—I do not think that the A9 is in his region, but the A96 is. He is right to say that the Bute house agreement sets out that we will take forward a transparent enhancement programme on the A96 corridor that will look more broadly at connectivity for surrounding towns. We have already undertaken substantial development work on the programme, which tells us that the dualling of the entire A96 will involve substantial offline new roads. In essence, that means changing part of the route of the current road. I am sure that Mr Kerr will agree that the current climate emergency necessitates that all Governments, irrespective of their politics, ensure that all roads in the future are not detrimental to our environment.

I am more than happy to meet Mr Kerr to talk about the route. I know that other members have a keen interest in the matter and I have previously met them in relation to the development that is required to be undertaken. It is important to understand that statutory requirements around the route must be adhered to and the Government cannot be seen to override those requirements.

I am sure that Mr Kerr would agree that it is important to work collegiately on matters in relation to road building. To that end, as I have said, I am more than happy to work with him and colleagues on progressing the requirements for the A96.


Fuel Costs (Rural and Island Communities)

5. Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what additional support it can give to rural and island communities, such as those in Argyll and Bute, in light of basic fuel costs reportedly being disproportionately high historically. (S6O-01376)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands (Mairi Gougeon)

The United Kingdom Government holds most of the levers to address pressures on energy bills. This month’s announcement of support by the UK Government was necessary, but more support is needed for vulnerable consumers, and we anticipate more details in the chancellor’s fiscal statement this week.

We will continue to do all that we can to mitigate pressures on households. Energy efficiency measures are essential, so we have widened the warmer homes Scotland fuel poverty programme to offer further support to island and rural communities. We intend to use our emergency budget review to double our fuel insecurity fund to £20 million this year. The fund helps households on any tariff type using any kind of fuel; it provides dedicated support for people who are reliant on solid or liquid fuels, who are often those in remote and rural communities and who are not currently covered by Office of Gas and Electricity Markets protections.

Jenni Minto

I thank the cabinet secretary for that very helpful response.

Rural communities are coming together to support vulnerable people—for example, by using community halls. However, those spaces are also being impacted by the increasing fuel prices. How can the Scottish Government support such endeavours by local community groups?

Mairi Gougeon

We very much welcome those initiatives, and we are aware that a number of local authorities and community organisations in Scotland, as well as elsewhere in the UK, are considering setting up warm banks this coming winter, essentially to ensure that people who cannot afford to heat their own home have a place where they can go to stay warm. That is a relatively new concept, and we will, of course, continue to monitor that as well as ensuring that, working together with our local government partners, we consider what other measures we might be able to deploy to provide support to those who are most affected by the rising energy prices. Our foremost concern is to support people who are worried about heating their home to access the information and support that they need to reduce their energy bills. We have expanded the capacity of our Home Energy Scotland advice service this year to help additional households to receive free and impartial advice.


Energy Costs (United Kingdom Government)

To ask the Scottish Government what its most recent communication with the United Kingdom Government has been regarding the impact of energy costs on the cost of living crisis. (S6O-01377)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

My officials have discussed the proposed package of support with the UK Government. The average annual bill of £2,500, which is an increase of 27 per cent on the current level, is simply unsustainable for many households, and the announcement has come way too late for many across Scotland who are already struggling to heat their homes. We estimate that, with the price cap frozen at £2,500, there will be around 860,000 fuel-poor households in Scotland, of which some 600,000 will experience extreme fuel poverty from October this year.

Jim Fairlie

It is clear from the cabinet secretary’s answer that there is much more that should be done by the UK Government in response to the deepening crisis.

I appreciate that no stone should be left unturned. In my Perthshire South and Kinross-shire constituency, I will soon be hosting a cost of living summit that will bring together food banks, local charities, the citizens advice bureau and representatives of Perth and Kinross Council to co-ordinate a multifaceted approach to the cost of living crisis, which will only become more critical as the winter approaches. To what extent is the Scottish Government liaising with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and local government to ensure that local and community organisations, such as food banks, are given all possible support for the difficult months to follow?

Michael Matheson

We should be absolutely clear that no household should have to make the choice between heating, eating and other essentials. The measures that have been taken so far by the UK Government are wholly inadequate to address the level of the cost of living crisis that many households now face.

We have already allocated some £3 billion in this financial year to a range of policy areas to help to meet individuals’ daily living costs. However, it is clear that we need to see much more action in order to tackle the scale of this particular crisis. That is why we have also set out the wider measures in our fuel insecurity fund and our cash-first support programme, which we will take forward with our partners in COSLA. However, it is clear that much more needs to be done if we are to effectively tackle a growing crisis throughout the country.


Ardrossan Harbour

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will give an update on the work to upgrade Ardrossan harbour. (S6O-01378)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

The Ardrossan harbour project is currently at the tender design stage, and further work is required. The legal and commercial arrangements for investment at that third party-owned harbour have been challenging. I am frustrated by the lack of progress, but I remain committed to a solution and to progress being made at Ardrossan.

Following our investment, Troon will be used when MV Glen Sannox comes into service until the Ardrossan works are complete. The investment in Troon also provides options for use as an alternative mainland port of refuge in the longer term.

Katy Clark

The failure by the landowner, Peel Ports, to agree a deal that is acceptable to the public purse has led to a delay of over four years. In the meantime, islanders on Arran, those who use the ferry services, and the Ardrossan people and economy are suffering. Does the minister agree that enough is enough? Will the Scottish Government now take urgent and compulsory measures so that progress is made?

Jenny Gilruth

I share Ms Clark’s frustration about progress at Ardrossan, but it is also worth noting that the Scottish Government will invest £40 million in ports and harbours services in this year alone. Some ports, such as the one at Ardrossan, are privately owned, which can substantially slow progress in making improvements. Any work also comes at a cost to the public purse, which is why, in my update to Parliament two weeks ago, I made clear my intention to explore with the relevant partners, local authorities and third party owners—including Peel Ports—how we can improve matters.

It is worth saying that extensive work is needed to complete the improvements at Ardrossan and that Troon—which is another private port—will be the temporary mainland port for the service to Brodick while Ardrossan is closed or if hull 801 comes in before the Ardrossan work starts. The work at Troon is now largely complete, but the need for the closure of Ardrossan and the temporary move to Troon has been widely known for some time. That relates, as Ms Clark has said, to the protracted and on-going negotiations with Peel Ports.

The project entered the design stage in April of this year and is being progressed by the project partners. The development work at Ardrossan is being overseen by the ministerial task force, which I look forward to chairing later this year.