Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Agenda: Presiding Officer’s Statement, Urgent Question, Portfolio Question Time, Primary Care, Cost of Living: Mortgage Rescue Scheme, NHS Forth Valley, Point of Order, Business Motion, Decision Time, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
- Presiding Officer’s Statement
- Urgent Question
- Portfolio Question Time
- Primary Care
- Cost of Living: Mortgage Rescue Scheme
- NHS Forth Valley
- Point of Order
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
- International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Portfolio Question Time
Covid-19 Recovery and Parliamentary Business
The next item of business is portfolio questions. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter “RTS” in the chat function during the relevant question.
Scottish Child Payment
To ask the Scottish Government how the expansion of the Scottish child payment will impact on the delivery of its Covid recovery strategy. (S6O-01573)
The Covid recovery strategy is focused on reducing systemic inequalities, tackling poverty and supporting people most affected during the pandemic. Increasing financial security for low-income households and tackling child poverty are central to achieving our vision of a Covid recovery that is firmly based on a fairer future.
The extension of the Scottish child payment to children under 16 means that more than 400,000 children are now potentially eligible. We have demonstrated our ambition to achieve our challenging child poverty targets by further increasing the value of the payment to £25 per child per week.
I welcome the actions in the Covid recovery strategy to address inequalities and the role that the Scottish child payment will have in supporting families. However, recent analysis from the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that removing the two-child limit and the benefit cap could lift 300,000 children in the United Kingdom out of poverty. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that, in the middle of a crippling cost of living crisis, it is nothing short of a scandal for the UK Government to continue to prioritise bankers’ bonuses rather than use the powers that it has to support families to get out of poverty?
I understand and sympathise entirely with the point that Collette Stevenson has advanced. The analysis that the IPPR has provided has demonstrated quite clearly the negative impact of the benefit cap and the two-child limit as being both unjust and unfair.
All Governments must take action to address child poverty issues. As I said in my opening answer, the Scottish Government has introduced the Scottish child payment, which is available only in Scotland—it is not available in any other part of the UK. However, our efforts to lift substantial numbers of children out of poverty would be substantially assisted by the removal of the two-child limit and the benefit cap. That could be of enormous assistance in addressing the issue of child poverty.
To ask the Scottish Government when it expects the Scottish Covid-19 inquiry to conclude. (S6O-01574)
Section 17 of the Inquiries Act 2005 gives an inquiry chair alone, rather than ministers, responsibility for deciding how an inquiry should operate. It will be for Lord Brailsford to determine how to strike the right balance between addressing the wide range of questions that people have and making sure that the inquiry can be delivered at speed, so that we can learn and benefit from lessons as early as possible. The inquiry will provide information and updates on its website at www.covid19inquiry.scot as it progresses and as the chair considers appropriate.
From reading the terms of reference, it is not clear to me whether the Government’s response to long Covid and its failure to take that issue seriously are part of the inquiry. Can the Deputy First Minister say whether the Government’s response to long Covid will be part of the inquiry, or will we need to wait for another inquiry after we hear about the handling of this one?
I am sorry that Mr Lumsden takes that view, having read the terms of reference. I answered a parliamentary question on that from Jackie Baillie, if my memory serves me correctly, and I made clear two points in that answer: first, the inquiry remit is set out to not be prescriptive—in that only the words that are in the remit can be addressed by the inquiry—but rather to create the broadest scope to address the issues that are relevant in relation to Covid; and secondly, in my judgment, the issues relating to long Covid are certainly at the heart of the inquiry remit and should be considered by the inquiry.
It will be for Lord Brailsford to decide independently what evidence he hears and considers, but I would be very surprised if the issue of long Covid was not scrutinised by the inquiry. In my view, the remit is set with sufficient breadth and scope to enable that to be the case.
I hope that that reassures Mr Lumsden.
When Lord Brailsford was appointed, the Deputy First Minister gave me a reassurance about the centrality of bereaved families to the work of the inquiry. Is he able to give members an update on what steps have been taken to engage families?
I cannot give a specific answer to that question because, clearly, that would require me to have knowledge of the transactions of the inquiry. However, in my conversation with Lord Brailsford in the aftermath of my statement to Parliament, in which I announced his appointment, he indicated to me that he was making early preparations to meet bereaved families, and I am certain that that will be the case.
We are waiting for the Scottish Covid-19 inquiry to conclude, but would it not be more sensible to have the details and recommendations of that inquiry before ploughing on with social care reform?
Obviously, there are lots of issues to consider in relation to social care reform. As a Government, we look at all the available evidence. A parliamentary process is under way for each committee’s scrutiny of the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill. The committees will have the ability to consider all manner of questions in relation to social care, and ministers will, of course, listen with care to the evidence that is put forward.
Freedom of Information Appeals
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Scottish Information Commissioner’s section 46 report for 2021-22, which reported a 29 per cent increase in freedom of information appeals. (S6O-01575)
The Scottish Government notes with interest the commissioner’s 2021-22 performance report, which was recently presented to the Parliament. I recognise that this is a challenging time for the commissioner’s team, with a marked increase in the number of requesters seeking information from Scottish public authorities, who are exercising their right to appeal. I note that, in the report, the commissioner set out the steps that his office is taking to address the challenges that are associated with that. The Scottish Government acknowledges the vital role that the commissioner plays as an independent regulator of access to information laws in Scotland, appointed on the nomination of the Parliament.
The Scottish Information Commissioner’s report makes it clear that the 626 appeals that were received in 2021-22 were the highest number received since 2005-06 and that 18 per cent of the valid appeals were about a public authority’s failure to respond. What action will the minister take now in order to ensure that there is greater public authority compliance with freedom of information requests?
I will take the opportunity to add to what I have already said, which is that the Scottish Government is committed to learning from all appeal cases, no matter their outcome. We are working to deliver an FOI improvement plan, which was launched in July 2022, to help Scottish case handlers to recover from the disruption of the pandemic and to adjust to higher numbers of cases that are more complex.
Over the past year, our response rates for FOIs in general have been at an average of 86.5 per cent, despite cases increasing by 48 per cent over a three-year period. We will continue to work with the commissioner and others internally to ensure that we address our response rates so that we can hit the 95 per cent target.
Covid Recovery (Funding)
To ask the Scottish Government what the reduction in funding for Covid recovery will be as part of the emergency budget review. (S6O-01576)
The aim of the emergency budget review was to support those who need most help, while also managing the nation’s budget. That meant making hard choices to further prioritise spending and find savings. Many of the difficulties that are facing public finances are the result of the United Kingdom Government prematurely cutting the funding that was intended to support our recovery from the pandemic, despite the Scottish Government warning against that action.
The emergency budget review identified a further £615 million in savings. Those are not decisions that we would wish to make but, in the absence of additional funding from the UK Government, they are decisions that we were compelled to make in order to balance the books this financial year, while prioritising funding to help families, back business and protect the delivery of public services.
The First Minister committed to the build back better approach for Scotland as we recover from Covid, but what has happened to that ambition? We need investment and support for people whose lives have been fundamentally affected by the pandemic. The Office for National Statistics estimates that there are more than 170,000 people across Scotland who are living with long Covid, yet the support from the Scottish Government to date has been inadequate. The Scottish Government committed £3 million in funding when the number of Scots with long Covid was estimated to be 70,000 people. Even that has not yet been fully allocated. Funding has not increased—
Could I have a question, please?
Will the Deputy First Minister commit to working across Government to protect funding for long Covid sufferers in Scotland to help their recovery with access to physiotherapy and multidisciplinary rehab?
I sympathise very much with the point that Mr O’Kane makes about the importance of ensuring that people with long Covid are able to access the support that they require to assist them in their recovery. In some cases, that will involve clinical support; in other cases, it might involve additional assistance that individuals might require to assist them on their journey into employability. I assure Mr O’Kane that the Government is working across portfolios to ensure that we put in place the support that is necessary to assist individuals in their recovery.
The Scottish Government established a £25 million ventilation fund that businesses can apply to for support. I think that, the last time I checked, just £1 million had been paid out from that fund. Is that the case? Is that fund still available? If not, has that money been reallocated, and, if so, where to?
To my recollection, the figures that Mr Fraser quotes for the funding that was available are correct. If that funding has not been utilised, it will be made available to meet other budget pressures within the Government. Mr Fraser is familiar with the fact that I am wrestling with the challenge of balancing the budget, so any resources that are not needed for the purposes for which they are allocated are being drawn into the centre so that I can meet funding pressures across the Government.
It is impossible to give Mr Fraser a link between the individual money that was allocated for one fund and the other purposes for which it is being used in the Government—Mr Fraser knows the way in which Government funding works—but I remind Parliament that I am still working to balance the budget this year, because of the significant and corrosive effects of inflation, and because of the public sector pay deals. Parliament was well informed of the challenges that I face by the Auditor General’s statement that was issued last Thursday, which gave a fair and accurate account of the significant challenges that I face in this financial year.
Question 5 was not lodged.
Institutionalising Participatory and Deliberative Democracy Working Group (Recommendations)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made on implementing the recommendations of the institutionalising participatory and deliberative democracy working group published in March. (S6O-01578)
In the most recent programme for government, we committed to publishing a response to the report of our working group on institutionalising participatory and deliberative democracy. That will set out how we can involve people and communities, government and children and young people in democratic decision making. We are in the process of carefully considering that further, assessing the new activities and skills that would make it a success, and taking account of the resource demands that that would create.
I read the report, and the question is, what happens next? People need to know that.
The minister mentioned the recent programme for government, but the 2021 programme for government stated:
“We are committed to reforming Council Tax to make it fairer, working with the Scottish Green Party and COSLA to oversee the development of effective deliberative engagement on sources of local government funding, including Council Tax, that will culminate in a Citizens’ Assembly.”
There are controversial issues around drugs policy, the raising of extra funds and a lot of other things that a citizens assembly would certainly be able to grapple with in a way that would bring forward the views of people and communities. When are we likely to see some announcements on the issue?
I should cut to the chase and say to Mr Rowley that we are probably going to write a response to the IPPD working group’s report before the end of this year. For all of us, that will be the start of our opportunity to consider the issue and move things forward.
As always, I am happy to work with Mr Rowley and meet him to discuss many of the issues, but I can say that the Government is committed to finding a way to move forward with council tax. We have various other options and participatory groups that are available for people to engage with. It might be a good idea for Mr Rowley and me to have an offline meeting in which we can discuss these issues further.
Covid Recovery Strategy (Impact of Recession)
To ask the Scottish Government, in light of recently reported warnings by the Bank of England that the United Kingdom is about to enter the longest recession since the 1930s, what assessment it has made of the impact that this could have on its Covid recovery strategy. (S6O-01579)
The current economic landscape presents us with significant challenges. The approach of the United Kingdom Government in cutting public spending risks prolonging that recession, hampering efforts to restore the public finances. There are alternatives to austerity that invest in public services and the economy, including inflationary increases to devolved Governments’ 2022-23 budgets.
It is, unfortunately, inevitable that some of the savings that we need to make will have negative impacts. There are no easy decisions, but we have prioritised help for those who need it most. The Scottish Government remains committed to delivering the actions that are set out in our Covid recovery strategy, and our internal monitoring indicates that the majority of the strategy actions remain complete or on track.
There is no doubt that the war in Ukraine is having a significant impact on economies across the world. However, yesterday, we saw the renewed warnings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that, next year, as a result of the Tory Government’s disastrous Brexit and shambolic economic policies, the United Kingdom will be the second worst performer of the world’s largest economies. [Interruption.] Does the Deputy First Minister share my concern that, while the economies of countries such as Ireland will grow next year, Scotland can only look on powerless as the UK continues its decline, which has been accelerated by Brexit, making it more difficult to recover from the pandemic?
I am not quite sure why Mr MacDonald’s question, which is based on the substantive analysis of the OECD, was met with groans from the Conservative benches, because now, in the United Kingdom, we are wrestling with the economic consequences of Brexit, which was inflicted on us against our will by the Conservative Government. In September, that was added to by the folly of the mini-budget, which was entirely of Conservative design and will cause significant negative impact for many years to come. In addition, the political inertia of the United Kingdom Government since the revelation of partygate in December last year has resulted in there being no effective functioning domestic government in the UK over that period, and the inflationary pressures that arose from energy cost rises were not interrupted over the course of this summer. Therefore, we are dealing with very acute economic difficulties as a consequence of decisions that have been voluntarily taken by the Conservative Government. The implications are significant.
I will do all that I can to protect people from the effects of the Conservatives’ folly, but I cannot protect people from every aspect of the damage that has been done by the United Kingdom Government.
Covid Recovery Strategy (Impact of Inflation)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact that the increase in inflation will have on Scotland’s public services, as many are still dealing with the impact of the pandemic. (S6O-01580)
The current financial year’s budget has been significantly diminished by the corrosive effects of inflation. At the same time, demand for Government support and intervention is, understandably, increasing, and we have not received additional funding to compensate for the reduced buying power of that funding. The emergency budget review aimed to support those who need most help, while also managing the nation’s budget, which meant taking difficult decisions to further prioritise spending and find savings.
The Covid recovery strategy, which has been agreed with local government, focuses on reducing systemic inequalities, tackling poverty and supporting the people who have been most affected during the pandemic. Despite the challenges that I have outlined, we remain committed to the strategy and the achievement of its outcomes.
From our national health service and social care sector to our local authority colleagues, people who come to live in Scotland are a huge asset and should be welcomed with open arms. However, Labour and the Tories are in absolute lockstep with each other, as they continue to ignore Scotland’s needs on every serious challenge that faces us right now. What powers would the Scottish Government need in order to ensure an open, welcoming system of migration that supports our public sector to deliver on the Covid recovery strategy?
Deputy First Minister, perhaps we could focus on the impact of the increase in inflation with regard to those matters.
I will certainly do that, Presiding Officer, because the effects of inflation are undermining the purchasing power of our economy. As a consequence of that, and as a consequence of the issues that Emma Roddick raised about the migration stance of the United Kingdom Government, there is acute pressure on the availability of individuals to enter the labour market. We have historically low unemployment and historically high employment in the Scottish labour market now. That is creating acute labour shortages and acute inflationary pressures as a consequence.
Is that causing inflation?
For Mr Lumsden’s benefit, that is causing acute inflationary pressures and, if Mr Lumsden wants to ask me a supplementary question, I will go into a lot of detail about the inflationary pressures that arise from migration challenges, because all of the available evidence highlights that particular point.
The Scottish Government, through the work of our ministerial population task force, tries to develop concepts such as the rural visa pilot proposal, which is designed to address some of the questions that Emma Roddick has raised with me, but we need a fuller range of responsibilities to enable us to address the negative effects of the migration stance of the UK Government.
That concludes portfolio questions on Covid-19 recovery and parliamentary business.
Finance and the Economy
The next portfolio is finance and the economy. If any member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter “RTS” in the chat function during the relevant question. Again, I make a plea for succinct questions and answers.
Orkney Islands Council (Scottish Budget)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Orkney Islands Council regarding the Scottish budget 2022-23. (S6O-01581)
The Scottish Government continues to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and individual local authorities on a regular basis to cover a range of topics, including current and future budget pressures.
I was pleased to meet Councillor Stockan on 31 August during my visit to South Uist, which observers will note is not in Orkney, but it was on the occasion of a meeting with three island authority leaders, which took place on South Uist. I responded to Councillor Stockan’s most recent letter on 21 November, confirming that we will make arrangements to meet again at the earliest opportunity.
I thank Mr Swinney, and I confirm that we islanders are known to travel to different islands from time to time.
This week, Orkney Islands Council warned that the precarious state of the internal ferry fleet is risking “life and limb”, with the vulnerability of vessels having been exacerbated by recent repairs to ancient hulls and the grounding of the MV Varagen earlier this month.
I understand that Mr Swinney will meet Councillor Stockan shortly to discuss those concerns in the context of OIC’s forthcoming budget settlement. Does he accept that ferry replacement is now a matter of public safety? If so, what assurances can he offer my constituents that the Scottish Government is taking the matter seriously and is committed to finding an urgent resolution to this long-running saga?
In relation to the recent grounding of the MV Varagen, I was pleased that everyone was safe after what was a worrying incident.
Councillor Stockan has raised the issue of the strength of the interisland ferry fleet, which I appreciate causes significant concern to Orkney Islands Council and to islanders. Islanders rely on regular services in that respect, and we must make sure that those are operational and safe. That will be one of the points that Councillor Stockan and I will discuss, and I am aware that Councillor Stockan has also discussed the issue with the transport minister, Jenny Gilruth. I assure Mr McArthur that the Government is engaging constructively on the importance of renewing the ferry fleet to serve all our island communities.
Presiding Officer, I apologise that I will have to leave before the end of this session to meet another commitment, as advised.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that the road equivalent tariff was delivered on ferry routes in the northern isles by the middle of 2018; however, during the intervening four and a half years, while Shetland has benefited from those arrangements, Orkney has been left behind. That is a failure to deliver on its pledge that will have saved the Scottish Government considerable sums of money.
Will the cabinet secretary confirm how much money the Scottish Government is estimated to have saved by not delivering RET as promised, and how will he ensure that the money will be reallocated in the budget to allow it to be used for the economic benefit of Orkney?
What Mr Halcro Johnston misses out is the fact that the Government has substantially increased investment in ferry services in Scotland. When the ferries plan was developed in 2012, if my memory serve me right, the budget was a bit over £100 million, and it is now well over £300 million. Substantial investment has been made in ferry services and in road equivalent tariff. The Government works constructively with individual island authorities to maximise their economic potential, which will continue to be the case with Orkney Islands Council.
Construction Apprentices and Workers
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions finance ministers have had with the Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training to assess the number of construction apprentices and construction workers needed to support the recovery of Scotland’s economy and meet its net zero targets. (S6O-01582)
The Minister for Higher Education, Further Education, Youth Employment and Training and I share the commitment to ensure that our current and future workforce has the skills needed to support the transition to net zero.
The construction sector will need more than 25,000 additional workers by 2026, including workers with skills to support heat decarbonisation and offshore energy projects. The Scottish Government recognises that apprenticeship pathways are key to that and we are working with the skills agencies to increase the number of apprentices back to pre-pandemic levels.
I welcome the minister’s commitment. I asked about discussions with other ministerial colleagues. The minister might be aware that, last week, in my capacity as the convener of the cross-party group on construction, along with a number of industry stakeholders, including Unite the union, I met Jamie Hepburn to discuss the serious issues that are affecting construction crafts apprenticeships. The meeting was fairly positive, and we hope that a solution is in sight. However, there is a serious backlog, which is affecting around 1,700 apprentices and impacting on employers and colleges. We need a resolution, and we need to learn lessons.
Will the minister assure me that discussions are going on behind the scenes in Government? Might we get a statement from Government to Parliament by the end of the year to make sure that everyone who is waiting for good news receives it?
I will certainly convey the member’s request for a ministerial statement to the skills minister. I know that productive discussions were had, as the member mentioned, in the past week or so.
To assure the member and, indeed, Parliament, I note that, as the member might be aware, the climate emergency skills action plan is being refreshed and will be published in 2023. In addition, discussions are taking place across portfolios with the green skills minister, Lorna Slater, Jamie Hepburn and me, in my role as just transition minister. Talks are planned for the coming weeks, to make sure that the required skills are available.
Yesterday, I was in Aberdeen, visiting North East Scotland College to discuss how it is using £4.5 million that it secured from the just transition fund for north-east Scotland to build a facility to ensure that apprentices are trained up as welders for offshore platforms, electricians for installing electric vehicle charging points and so on.
A lot of activities are taking place across the country and I assure the member that we are co-ordinating them as much as we can.
We have been waiting for five years for the skills landscape reform, and the minister acted only after Audit Scotland criticised his lack of leadership in that area. The coherence and stability review for the college sector has largely been delayed, which happened in the middle of a crisis in the college sector. What chance do we have of increasing the number of construction apprentices and workers if there is a delay to reforming the skills agenda?
As the economy will transform over the next 10 years to help us get towards our net zero targets, it is clear that we must keep our skills landscape under review, given the 21st-century challenges that we face. James Withers has been appointed to carry out the review.
This Government has an excellent track record of delivering apprenticeships over the past few years. Of course, there has been a bit of a blip, because of the impact of Covid. We are now making up for lost ground. Skills Development Scotland has been instructed to deliver 25,000 apprenticeships from the start of this financial year and then to build back up to 30,000 a year in due course.
Net Zero (Economic Benefit to Scotland)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential economic benefit to Scotland of moving to a low-carbon economy and achieving net zero. (S6O-01583)
There are benefits and many opportunities arising from our transition to net zero, not least in the key energy transition sectors such as renewables and green hydrogen, but also more broadly across the whole economy, as we reduce emissions from transport, industry and our homes and as we build our natural capital resources.
The opportunities are set out in our national strategy for economic transformation and our hydrogen action plan. Those will be further developed as we bring forward our energy strategy refresh, which includes a just transition plan for energy, in the coming weeks, as well as our new climate change plan and our other just transition plans in the coming years.
The minister might be aware that NatWest has estimated that moving to net zero could be worth £22 billion to the Scottish economy. However, it warns that Scotland must increase that support to develop services in the supply chain and small and medium-sized businesses by a factor greater than two, which is much more than that required by the rest of the United Kingdom.
According to the NatWest report, we are behind the rest of the UK. What is the Scottish Government doing to support the development of our SME sector to ensure that the opportunities for our supply chain and the support services that are needed to achieve net zero remain here, in Scotland?
I am sure that the member will want to welcome the report that came out last week presenting independent research by Skills Development Scotland, the University of Warwick and the University of Strathclyde, which said that there are now up to 100,000 green jobs in Scotland. Although that is an upper estimate and it is still being researched, it is a very good indication that the green jobs revolution has started in Scotland.
We are not behind the rest of the UK. Numerous reports from PricewaterhouseCoopers, and a Fraser of Allander Institute report called “International Scotland” that came out just last week, show that Scotland is making excellent progress on that agenda in comparison with the rest of the UK. I do not think that we should talk Scotland down in that regard.
I agree with the member, of course, that there is a lot more to be done. He will be aware of the supply chain work in relation to ScotWind and other projects that have the potential to deliver thousands more green jobs in Scotland.
The emergency budget review cut £38 million from energy efficiency and £45 million from heat in buildings. Can the minister outline what impact that will have on the delivery of our net zero targets?
The member will be aware, of course, that we face a very difficult budget environment because of inflation. Indeed, the acting finance secretary outlined some of the challenges in his answer to questions just a few moments ago.
However, we are making good progress. There is a lot of planning in the pipeline. The just transition plans for energy, in the first instance, will address some of those issues. Those plans will be published with consultations in the coming weeks, after which members of Parliament can submit their views over a 12-week period.
There are good, positive signs that we are making progress in terms of green jobs being created, with the potential for many more in the near future.
West Scotland and Greater Glasgow (Economic Investment)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it is investing to support the economy across the West Scotland and Greater Glasgow areas. (S6O-01584)
The Scottish Government is a full partner in the Glasgow city region city deal, contributing £500 million over 20 years to the infrastructure investment fund. The deal empowers Glasgow and its city region partners to identify, manage and deliver a programme of investment to stimulate economic growth and create jobs in their area.
Similarly, the Scottish Government is investing £103 million in the Ayrshire growth deal, which will see transformational investment in projects across Ayrshire over the next 10 years to support long-term inclusive growth there.
If Glasgow city region were to be awarded the Clyde green freeport, it would be a massive boost to the local economy in Glasgow and the wider region. It would provide high-quality jobs and investment opportunities, in addition to accelerating net zero ambitions.
Several Scottish Greens and a Scottish National Party member of the Scottish Parliament have supported motions urging the Parliament to oppose the Clyde green freeport bid and all other Scottish freeport bids. Will the minister state his support for the Clyde green freeport bid? Does he welcome that positive co-operation between the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments?
Understandably, the member makes the case for her own region in terms of the green freeport bids. She will be aware that they are under consideration by the Scottish and UK Governments, and announcements will, I hope, be made in due course. There are a number of bids from across the country. The member has made her point well, and she will have to wait until the final announcements are made.
Will the Scottish Government provide an update on the advanced manufacturing innovation district Scotland site in my constituency, which will include two new world-class innovation centres—the national manufacturing institute Scotland and the medicines manufacturing innovation centre—and on the projected impact on the economy of the west of Scotland and the greater Glasgow area?
Natalie Don has outlined many of the benefits of that work, and the Scottish Government is fully supportive of it. The advanced manufacturing innovation district Scotland site is part of the £39 million city deal that is funded by the Glasgow airport investment area project. Work is well under way to deliver on the ambitious innovation district project.
The impact of the Glasgow city region deal will be transformational for local communities in attracting investment. Building on that investment, as Natalie Don will be aware, the Glasgow city region deal has created a regional economic strategy to help shape the long-term, post-deal economic future of the region.
Rural Broadband (Investment)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is investing in rural broadband. (S6O-01585)
I call the minister, Tom Arthur.
Oh—I am wrong. I apologise. It is Richard Lochhead.
Yes—I am still Richard Lochhead.
Future-proofed digital connectivity is vital for our rural communities, and Scottish Government delivery programmes have already connected around 1 million properties across Scotland to faster broadband. We are investing more than £600 million through the R100—reaching 100 per cent—contracts, to extend full-fibre broadband access to some of the hardest-to-reach rural communities in Scotland. Our Scottish broadband voucher scheme also provides funding to connect those who are not part of our R100 contracts or of commercial build plans.
It is also imperative that we urge all the relevant United Kingdom Government departments to extend Gigabit Networks services to Scotland’s rural communities, given that—of course—telecommunications is an entirely reserved matter.
The Scottish National Party pledged to have the R100 scheme completed by 2021, but now, after the failure to meet that target, the new estimated date is 2026. I have a response to a freedom of information request that shows that the R100 scheme has cost £21 million since it should have been completed last year. That is an enormous cost to the taxpayer and shows that the SNP pledge for 2021 has not taken place. Does the minister agree that that failure will ruin rural communities’ chances of ever getting the broadband connections that they deserve, just as the ferries fiasco did with transport connections?
Maybe I should have asked Tom Arthur to answer this question.
If the member’s Tory colleagues in the UK Government, who have exclusive competence for telecommunications, had acted a few years ago and got their act together, it would not have been down to the Scottish Government to step in with hundreds of millions of pounds of investment to make up for lost time.
The R100 project is game changing for many parts of rural Scotland. According to thinkbroadband, which the UK Government also uses to gauge the success of its programmes, 95.1 per cent of premises across Scotland are now able to access superfast broadband speeds of 30 megabits per second and above, which is up from just 59.3 per cent in 2014, when deployment began. That is superb progress. The investment by the Scottish Government is making a real difference to rural communities in the south of Scotland and throughout the country.
The disruption to EE’s 4G mobile service, which my constituents in Uig have now been enduring for six weeks, has effectively cut off a huge geographic area from all broadband access and severely impacted on medical and other essential services. Given that, does the minister agree that EE’s response has been truly woeful? Will he commit to facilitating a meeting in Uig between the R100 team and the community?
That is clearly a very serious issue in Alasdair Allan’s constituency. Although ensuring that 4G mobile connectivity is maintained is a reserved part of UK telecommunications legislation—which means that the Scottish Government does not have a mechanism to intervene directly in such matters—we will certainly consider the member’s request and I will ensure that he is written to shortly.
Responsibility falls on Ofcom, as the UK’s telecoms regulator. However, as with the recent telecoms outages that were suffered on Shetland and Coll, we urge operators to ensure that they rectify such issues as a matter of urgency.
For our part, we are investing £28.75 million in the Scottish 4G infill programme, which is delivering 4G mobile infrastructure and services throughout rural Scotland, including the Western Isles.
Land Value Tax (Discussions)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the finance ministers have had with ministerial colleagues regarding any plans to investigate the feasibility of a land value tax. (S6O-01586)
Although there have been no recent discussions on the feasibility of introducing a land value tax in Scotland, we will continue to look closely at the Scottish Land Commission’s recommendations on land reform and taxation, review any evidence in detail and assess that as part of our wider approach to tax policy. As ever, we are open to exploring how the Scottish Government can support land reform objectives, using its limited powers over taxation to generate revenues to invest in our public services and support a sustainable and inclusive wellbeing economy.
It is estimated that 432 people own 50 per cent of the privately held land in Scotland. In 2021, a record £447 million was invested in the purchase of private Scottish estates, which was a 333 per cent increase from 2018. Given that financial backdrop, does the Government accept that it is now essential that we introduce a land value tax as a matter of urgency?
As I said in my original answer, we are considering recommendations carefully. Clearly, the introduction of a new tax is a substantial matter. Although the Parliament enjoys powers to introduce local taxes, new devolved national taxes require the agreement of the United Kingdom Government and the Westminster Parliament. We are considering the details carefully; if we take forward any measures, we will do so in a way that is consistent with our framework for tax.
It is clear from stakeholders and constituents that high land prices can impede regeneration efforts and hinder attempts to assemble land for community-led development. That is why the Bute house agreement commits to delivering an effective and fair mechanism for capturing for public benefit a share of the increase in land value when a development is supported through the planning system. What benefits does the minister see coming from that commitment? Will he give an update on progress in that regard?
We have, of course, been focused on preparation and delivery of our revised national planning framework 4, and I very much look forward to appearing before the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee next week to give evidence on it.
As we move into the new year and when, I hope, Parliament approves and adopts the new national planning framework, we will turn our attention in earnest to delivery of the framework. That work will encapsulate a range of actions, including continued roll-out and implementation of the provisions in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, our on-going review of planning obligations and taking forward the Scottish Government’s and the Scottish Green Party’s commitment on the matters that the member raised.
Autumn Budget Statement (Impact on Scotland’s Finances)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment has been made of the impact that the United Kingdom Government’s autumn statement will have on Scotland’s public finances. (S6O-01587)
The autumn statement has shown that households across Scotland are paying a steep price for the economic mismanagement of the UK Government, with the Office for Budget Responsibility warning that average household disposable income will drop by 7.1 per cent next year.
Inflation is eating away at the Scottish budget, which has fallen by 10 per cent in real terms between last year and this year. Due to the lack of additional funding in 2022-23 and the fiscal constraints of devolution, we have had no choice but to have already made unplanned savings of more than £1 billion. The corrosive impact of inflation and the turmoil that has been caused by the UK Government’s economic choices mean that the Scottish Government is facing very difficult choices on public spending over the next few years.
Earlier this month, the Bank of England warned that the UK might be facing the longest recession in a century. Does the minister share my concern that the UK Government’s plans to cut public spending risk prolonging the recession? Will he advise what alternative priorities could be pursued if the Scottish Parliament had full financial powers?
I share Jenni Minto’s concern. The Office for Budget Responsibility has painted a grim picture, with the UK economy now forecast to be no bigger at the end of the current UK parliamentary term than it was at its start. That means that there will have been five years of economic stagnation. That, combined with yesterday’s forecast from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which is predicting that the UK economy will be the worst hit of all G7 nations, is a devastating indictment of the UK Government’s management of the economy.
We have made no secret of our frustration about the limitations that are imposed on us by the current fiscal framework. Our reserve funding is capped, our tax powers are limited and we have no legal ability to borrow to fund day-to-day spending. Not one of the three main Westminster parties supports giving the Scottish Parliament the fiscal flexibilities that it requires. Consequently, the only means by which we can assume those financial powers, which are so necessary, is by the Scottish Parliament assuming the powers of an independent country.
Privatisation of Public Assets
To ask the Scottish Government what assets currently in public ownership it plans to privatise. (S6O-01588)
The Scottish Government works on a case-by-case basis to secure the best outcomes for assets in public ownership. The Parliament would be notified of any future agreement to return a commercial asset to the private sector.
Three weeks ago, the First Minister told the Public Audit Committee that
“the Government’s position is that, ultimately, we want all the commercial assets that we have taken ownership of to be back in the private sector”.—[Official Report, Public Audit Committee, 4 November 2022; c 42.]
I ask again, in the interest of openness and democracy: will the minister tell Parliament this afternoon what assets the Scottish Government wants to privatise?
I can only refer the member to my previous answer, which was that we work case by case to secure the best outcomes for assets in public ownership, and that Parliament would be notified. It is thanks to the Government’s intervention that many jobs have been saved, and the contributions that the relevant industries are making to the economy are being made only because of the actions of the Government.
Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) Limited is clearly not without its challenges, but, by stepping in the Scottish National Party Government saved Scottish shipbuilding on the Clyde and hundreds of jobs that went with it. We now also see that Glasgow Prestwick Airport Limited is turning a welcome profit. Does the minister agree that moving assets and businesses into public ownership when they are failing in the private sector can and does work?
I agree. We have shown how we can, through our strategic investments, realise benefits to communities and businesses. Taking businesses into public ownership is a complex issue and in each case we work to understand the legal, financial and policy implications. I am delighted that Prestwick airport continues to grow steadily and is making a positive contribution to the local and regional economies as it supports 300 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs.
Through our intervention at Ferguson Marine, we have shown that we are standing by our commitment to the shipbuilding communities in Inverclyde, where we have rescued more than 300 jobs and supported our island communities that rely on the vessels.
That concludes portfolio questions on finance and the economy. Before we move to the next item of business, there will be a short pause to allow front-bench teams to change positions, should they wish to do so.