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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 24, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Renewable Energy Sector (Economic Impact), Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, National Drugs Mission, Decision Time


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Net Zero, Energy and Transport

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is portfolio question time, and the portfolio is net zero, energy and transport. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question or enter “RTS” in the chat function during the relevant question. Again, in order to get in as many members as possible, I would appreciate succinct questions, with answers to match.


Renewables Revolution (Benefits to Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley)

To ask the Scottish Government how its proposed renewables revolution will benefit the Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley constituency. (S6O-01589)

The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work (Richard Lochhead)

We are committed to working across society to deliver lasting action that secures a just transition to climate resilience and net zero for Scotland. That includes ensuring that communities derive maximum benefit from the renewables revolution. For example, our ScotWind programme will deliver initial lease options agreement revenues of over £750 million for the benefit of the people of Scotland.

In the Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley constituency, more than £7 million in investment has been provided through the Ayrshire growth deal, with £1.2 million allocated for the support of the installation of low-carbon heating and electricity generation. That has enabled more than 100 homes to access low-carbon heating.

Willie Coffey

The renewables revolution is certainly under way and Scotland has well and truly hit the jackpot. Local people in my constituency support the programme, welcoming the impact on the climate, but look to see what the direct benefits for them will be beyond the obvious. Can the minister offer a glimpse of what a net zero future will look like, in terms of offering more local jobs for local people, more community ownership, perhaps a share in energy companies’ profits and, ultimately, the prospect of energy bills falling as a result of Scotland’s energy bonanza?

Richard Lochhead

Willie Coffey has raised issues that get right to the heart of the just transition to net zero. The just transition must deliver green jobs, and I was delighted to see the report that was produced by the University of Warwick, the University of Strathclyde and Skills Development Scotland that says that there are up to 100,000 green jobs in Scotland. That shows that there has been good progress towards one of the key aims of the just transition.

Willie Coffey is correct that we must use our abundance of energy resources to deliver cheaper electricity and energy for the people of Scotland and its business community. Over the coming years, we have the potential to produce several times the amount of energy that we need as a country, which should bring the cost of energy and electricity down.

I assure the member that community ownership and the other issues that he has raised will be addressed in the forthcoming refresh of the energy strategy, which will go out for consultation. As part of that consultation, the first just transition plan for energy will be published, and it will address the issues that Willie Coffey has raised. In the meantime, we have seen that onshore wind developments have had significant benefits for communities around Scotland. However, there is a lot more to be achieved.


Climate Change (Role of Hydrogen)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Friends of the Earth Scotland report, “Hydrogen’s Role in Scotland’s Climate Journey”. (S6O-01590)

The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work (Richard Lochhead)

The Scottish Government is fully committed to growing our hydrogen sector. Our support for hydrogen is underpinned by a broad evidence base, including our hydrogen policy statement and the draft hydrogen action plan, as well as findings from the Climate Change Committee and reports from the International Energy Agency. Our position that the growth of renewables and hydrogen is complementary is shared by key stakeholders such as Scottish Renewables. A systems approach combining increased renewable electricity, energy efficiency and hydrogen will be required to deliver net zero. I will publish our final hydrogen action plan before the end of the year.

John Mason

The Friends of the Earth report is somewhat sceptical about hydrogen, but does the minister agree that green hydrogen is by far the best type of hydrogen and that there are specific uses, such as longer-term storage, industrial uses and, perhaps, remote rail lines, where hydrogen could be best?

Richard Lochhead

Green hydrogen, taking advantage of Scotland’s massive renewable energy resources, will be a key plank of our hydrogen strategy going forward. However, our priority is to get as much renewable hydrogen into the energy system as quickly as possible, while also supporting the establishment of low-carbon hydrogen production at scale in the 2020s. That will also be linked to carbon capture and storage.

As a Government, we are convinced that hydrogen, alongside renewable electricity, will play an extremely important part in our energy system going forward. Electrification will do the heavy lifting in our march towards net zero, but there are parts of our economy and energy system that are very difficult to electrify. Hydrogen, in all its forms, could provide a solution for some sectors such as heavy-duty on and off-road transport, shipping, aviation, industrial high-temperature heat and, potentially, some parts of our domestic heating systems. Clearly, we are on a new journey, and we will look at the variety of types of renewable energy that are out there.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

At First Minister’s question time, the First Minister said in reply to my colleague Martin Whitfield that the Scottish Government would focus on the growth of both hydrogen and green hydrogen as part of Scotland’s renewable energy mix. Given that the Friends of the Earth Scotland report highlights problems with hydrogen and green hydrogen, can the Scottish Government assure me that its focus will be on the forms of energy that we can rely on for our transition to net zero?

Richard Lochhead

Our policy is based on exploiting the massive opportunities that hydrogen offers, not only from its use in Scotland but from its export to other countries, particularly those on the European continent, given the energy crisis and the expected increase in demand there for hydrogen, which could be produced in Scotland. Our policy is to support green hydrogen—renewable and low-carbon hydrogen—which will be necessary, as I said in my remarks to John Mason, for certain industries in Scotland. That will offer great opportunities. We must learn as we go. Green hydrogen, in particular, is a huge opportunity for Scotland .


A9 Dualling (Procurement)

3. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when it expects the sections of the A9 trunk road from Perth to Inverness, on which made orders have been confirmed to create dual carriageways, to progress to procurement. (S6O-01591)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

The A9 dualling programme comprises 11 projects. Of those, two projects are now open to use, one project is in procurement and seven of the remaining eight projects have had ministerial decisions confirmed to complete statutory processes. Only one project has not yet commenced statutory processes.

Work is on-going to determine the most suitable procurement options for the remaining sections, which involves consideration of issues such as how the works can be delivered most efficiently by the industry while minimising disruption to road users. I will update the Parliament on the outcomes of that work when it is complete.

Murdo Fraser

I thank the minister for her response, and I welcome the progress that has already been made on the A9 dualling. However, as the minister is well aware, in the course of this year, there have already been no fewer than 12 fatalities on the single-carriageway sections of the A9 between Perth and Inverness. Those tragedies make the case far more eloquently than I could for why the dualling programme must be completed.

There is now a large number of sections in which the legal processes have been completed; therefore, the only delay to moving to procurement is a decision from the Government, and the communities along the route and the people who use the road want to know when the programme will proceed. Will the minister give us an update on when those vital works will commence and when they will be completed?

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Murdo Fraser for his question and for his time yesterday, when we met, along with a group of cross-party MSPs, following the debate that was held a couple of weeks ago on the short-term urgent measures that I intend to introduce to enhance road safety on the A9.

Murdo Fraser raises a number of questions. It is worth recognising that we have already invested approximately £431 million to date, including on the delivery of the dual stretches between Kincraig and Dalraddy and between Luncarty and Pass of Birnam, which opened in September 2017 and August 2021, respectively.

Murdo Fraser will understand that there is now urgent and important work on-going to look at the procurement options for the remaining sections of the A9, as I alluded to in my response to his first question. That is a complex exercise that considers a number of factors, including how the project can be delivered most efficiently by the industry. I will be happy to update him and the Parliament as soon as I have had that advice from Transport Scotland.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

I thank the minister for her considerable attention to this matter. There are, indeed, four sections of the road that are now ready to go to procurement: the Tay crossing, Pitlochry, Dalnaspidal and Dalwhinnie. Together, those four sections amount to 35km in length. It would be a massive proof positive of the Scottish Government’s clear commitment to delivering our dualling pledge if those sections now went to procurement. I understand that there might be capacity issues in the industry. What stage of preparation is Transport Scotland now at in considering how to progress the four sections to dualling and whether to do the work on the sections concurrently instead of consecutively?

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Fergus Ewing for his question and note his considerable constituency interest in the matter.

I think that it would be helpful to summarise the sections of the route that remain outstanding. The Pass of Birnam to Tay crossing project has been the subject of a co-creative process. The project is progressing towards an announcement of the preferred route—that is expected in the coming months.

The made orders for the Tay crossing to Ballinluig project have been published. The project will complete the final stage of its statutory processes when the land has been vested. The Pitlochry to Killiecrankie section is at the same stage as that.

The Killiecrankie to Glen Garry project has received a ministerial decision confirming that orders should be made. The made orders for the Glen Garry to Dalwhinnie project have been published. The Dalwhinnie to Crubenmore section is at the same stage as that. The Crubenmore to Kincraig project has received a ministerial decision confirming that orders should be made, which is the same for the Dalraddy to Slochd project. It is only the Tomatin to Moy section that is in procurement at the present time.

I have not had advice on the potential to run the outstanding works concurrently. My initial observation on that suggestion might be about the disruption that it would invariably cause Fergus Ewing’s constituents and other people if we were to plan all those sections at the same time. However, I will ask my Transport Scotland officials for advice on that, and I will be happy to discuss that and other details with him should he wish to do so.


Bus Driver Shortages (Support for Bus Companies)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to bus companies that are currently facing driver shortages. (S6O-01592)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

There is currently a shortage of drivers for buses across the United Kingdom, which impacts on Scotland’s economy and communities. To help to address that and other challenges, I have convened a bus task force, in partnership with the industry and local authority stakeholders. At our first meeting on 29 September, we agreed a range of workstreams, including the establishment of a sub-group to focus on how we can address driver shortages. I look forward to chairing the next meeting of the task force next month.

Marie McNair

The driver shortage is having an impact on bus companies’ ability to provide a full service and reliable timetables in parts of my constituency. I have been advised by one bus company that the shortage is, in part, due to recruitment issues that are related to Brexit and Covid-19. Is the minister aware that those two issues are having an impact? Can she offer any guidance on what is available to companies to help them to mitigate the issue?

Jenny Gilruth

I am, of course, aware that those two concurrent issues are having a real impact on delivery of services. Obviously, the pandemic is having an on-going impact, and we are working hard to recover from it. However, it is notable that bus patronage is down to around 60 per cent of what it was prior to the pandemic, which is having a detrimental impact on our net zero aspirations in relation to climate change.

Brexit is also a factor that is having an impact in terms of driver shortages. Of course, I have made representations to the UK Government on that matter, in relation to the shortage occupation list. At the present time, the powers over a number of factors remain reserved. I am keen for the UK Government to take part in that wider task force. I asked the previous relevant UK minister to join the group in September and have asked the new minister to join the group when it meets in December. I very much hope that that minister will be able to do so.

I have requests to ask supplementary questions from three members. I am inclined to take all three of them, if I can have brief supplementary questions and answers.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

This month, there have been 85 cancellations of Stagecoach services in North East Fife alone, and I am sure that there have been even more since I did the tally. There is no doubt that Brexit is a factor, but the Scottish Government has a huge responsibility, because we have been leading up to that point for some time. I am puzzled as to why it is only now that the task force has been established. What accelerated measures will the minister introduce to make sure that we can get drivers back on the buses, so that we can ride those services?

Jenny Gilruth

The task force has not just been established—I met larger and smaller operators from the sector over the summer. From the outset, it is important to say that they have very different needs.

The second point to make is that we have provided significant funding to the sector throughout the pandemic—for example, we have provided up to £210 million of emergency funding to support the bus sector throughout the pandemic. At the start of the summer, I chose to extend the network support grant plus, which ran from June until October. That additional funding has been important.

I have committed to working with the sector to look at what additional funding the Scottish Government might be able to provide, but I will reflect to Mr Rennie some of the challenges that we in the Scottish Government face at the moment. We have a largely fixed budget, which has implications for other economic pressures across various portfolio areas for which I do not have responsibility.

However, the situation is deeply concerning. Again, I reflect to Mr Rennie that one of the real challenges is Brexit. Although, of course, Scotland did not vote for Brexit, we are having to try to manage some of its challenges within the confines of devolution. There is probably a divergence of views between Mr Rennie and me on that subject, but it is important to recognise that.

I am happy to continue to work with the sector on the issue, through the task force. Specifically, it has been tasked with looking at driver shortages; I look forward to hearing the reports from that work when I meet the task force in two weeks.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

Due to driver shortages, bus services across Scotland have been cancelled at short notice. Has the Government compiled or received information on the number of cancellations in recent months, in order to understand the scale of the problem across the country? If not, will the minister commit to doing so and to publishing that information, so that we know how driver shortages are affecting different areas and companies across the country?

Jenny Gilruth

Obviously, we run a deregulated bus market so, as I understand it, we do not gather that data at national level because we have a number of commercial bus operators. However, I will ask my officials in Transport Scotland whether it is possible to gather that data, as Mr Bibby has asked, and to publish it. It is a reasonable request, but there are challenges in doing that because some of the decisions are being made on a commercial basis by private operators that might not want to share the information with the Government. However, I will ask the question.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

Next week, I will host an online summit with my constituents to discuss the future of bus services, and I would be happy to share the results of that with the minister. Does the minister believe that the regulator currently has enough powers to hold the bus companies to account over minimum standards of services?

Jenny Gilruth

I understand people’s frustration about the current situation, which we have heard about from a number of members today. As I mentioned, I am pressing Westminster colleagues to look at what more could be done at UK level—in particular, on the shortage occupation list—in relation to driver shortages.

Under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, bus services need to be registered with the office of the traffic commissioner for Scotland. If the commissioner considers that an operator is failing to run a service in line with its registration, she can take action against it, including by imposing fines or terms and conditions on its public service vehicle licence, or by rejecting future service applications. I would be more than happy to hear from the member about his constituents’ views on the matter, following the meeting that he will convene next week.


A96 Appraisal (Progress)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress on the A96 appraisal. (S6O-01593)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

As I said when I updated Parliament during the recent debate on essential road improvements, we are undertaking a transparent evidence-based review of the A96 corridor. The recent public consultation received nearly 5,000 responses, which generated more than 11,000 suggestions and potential opportunities for the route. Rightly, it has taken more time than was originally planned to look at and appraise all those options, but a report on the public consultation and the initial appraisal will be published by the end of the year.

Gillian Martin

I thank the minister for her answer and for her time this week in meeting me with her officials.

I am keen to know how the review report that will be published by the end of the year will show the strength of public feeling about the options. As the minister knows, a great deal of work was done on the part of the route that would bypass Inverurie as part of the A96 dualling plans. That work involved a lot of public engagement and resulted in a decision to progress with the orange route, west of Inverurie, which was welcomed by my constituents. What is the status of that route, given the pause in its development to allow the A96 review to take place, and how might the extensive work on that section of the route be progressed in the light of the review, which I appreciate will not be published for a few weeks.

Jenny Gilruth

I welcomed the opportunity to meet Gillian Martin yesterday, and I recognise and understand her strong constituency interest in the route. It is worth saying that the substantial consultation that she mentioned and the development work on the dualling programme that was undertaken previously will not go to waste. They are proving to be extremely important in informing our understanding of the route and in supporting the evidence-based review, which—as I mentioned—will end at the end of this year, in a few weeks.

On the member’s point about the strength of public feeling, I assure her that the unprecedented level of responses that were received during the consultation clearly shows the importance of the A96 corridor to the people who live and work in the north and north-east of Scotland. That feedback will be captured in the public consultation report, which will be published in the coming weeks.

I understand the member’s constituency interest and the importance of the matter to her constituents. Therefore, I have asked the review’s project team to meet her in her constituency to disseminate some of the review results when they are published.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

The consultation closed in June and, as we have heard, there were nearly 5,000 responses. If it is being done properly, most of the responses will be from people in the north-east and most, if not all, will say, “Dual it.” We surely owe that to the 13 people who have been killed and the 180 who have been injured in just the past three years.

If the Government does not follow through on more than a decade of promises, people across the north-east will regard that as an outright abdication of responsibility. After the consultation is published, showing that the people of the north-east demand it, how quickly will dualling of the entire A96 commence?

Jenny Gilruth

As Liam Kerr knows, I recognise his constituency interest in the matter; he regularly asks questions on the topic.

It is important that we get it right. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the appraisal, which will be published in the coming weeks, but the current plan is to fully dual the route. However, we have committed to conducting a transparent evidence-based review, so I would, as I offered to Ms Martin, be more than happy to arrange for the consultants who undertook the review to meet Mr Kerr to disseminate the results.

It is hugely important that we get this right for local communities. We had a vast response on the options that were put to the local community—we have more than 11,000 suggested options to consider and they have taken the consultants some time to work through. However, I recognise Mr Kerr’s strength of feeling on the matter, so I am more than happy to ensure that the consultants engage with him. When we have the data, I will come back to Parliament with a timeline and an update on the next steps in relation to dualling the A96.


Decarbonisation of Heavy Goods Vehicles (Delivery Firms)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is assisting delivery firms to decarbonise heavy goods vehicles. (S6O-01594)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

I convened the zero-emission truck task force and chaired its inaugural meeting back in May this year. The group brings together leaders from road haulage, logistics, manufacturing, the energy sector, commercial finance, Government and unions, with the sole aim of putting the sector on a pathway to net zero.

We are providing £28 million of innovation funding to help companies that are involved in the development and manufacture of zero-emission heavy vehicles. That is over and above the interest-free loans that we are offering to companies to purchase electric vans.

Graham Simpson

I am aware of the work of the zero-emission truck task force, and I look forward to seeing action as a result of it.

I have been speaking to representatives of the Scottish Wholesale Association, which fell just short of the minimum entry criteria for the Department for Transport’s recently closed zero-emission road freight demonstrator programme. That could have kick started the deployment of long-haul zero-emission hydrogen lorries in Scotland. Would the minister consider investing in the consortium’s heavy goods vehicle trial proposal, which could help decarbonise Scotland’s food and drink supply chain?

Jenny Gilruth

Mr Simpson certainly makes a worthwhile recommendation. I do not have the detail of that proposal to hand but, if Mr Simpson shares it with my private office, I would be more than happy to consider it. Our forecasts indicate that demand for hydrogen from HGVs could reach up to 1,600GW hours a year by 2035 if an affordable supply is in place. It is really important that we consider a range of opportunities, including hydrogen, for decarbonising heavy goods vehicles in particular, as well as vans.

There is also an ask here in relation to the modal shift from road to rail. Rail will have a key role to play in this regard, which is why the Government provides support through the freight facilities grant—unlike in some other parts of the United Kingdom.

Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Tory economics has had a hugely detrimental impact on the road haulage industry in Scotland, with rising fuel costs, Brexit paperwork, cabotage, groupage issues and driver shortages, all of which are clearly linked to the Tories’ ideologically driven Brexit. Does the minister agree that contending with that myriad of issues is an unwelcome distraction for the industry as it considers its journey to net zero?

Jenny Gilruth

There is no doubt that the impacts of Brexit and of other damaging United Kingdom Government policies hit the road haulage industry hard at a time when it was also contending with a global pandemic, and we now have the impacts of the war in Ukraine, including higher fuel costs. Without the resilience that the industry has shown in that regard, the shortages that we have experienced on supermarket shelves and elsewhere would have been even more problematic.

There are longer-lasting impacts. The historical driver shortage issue in the industry, which we have already touched on today, has been exacerbated. Although the acute problems of last year have stabilised to an extent, the UK Government needs to ensure that its testing regime is more responsive to that enduring problem.

The journey to net zero was already challenging for an industry that is characterised by small and medium-sized enterprises, which account for a majority of businesses in the industry in Scotland. We are very much committed to a just transition to net zero for the industry in Scotland and for other parts of the economy, too. Our work in relation to the zero-emission truck task force will be vital in that regard.


Energy Efficiency Improvements (Glasgow Cathcart)

7. James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how its recent award of £6.437 million to Glasgow City Council to deliver energy efficiency improvements to homes could benefit those in the Glasgow Cathcart constituency. (S6O-01595)

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

Our area-based schemes provide funding to councils so that they can directly target fuel-poor areas and provide energy efficiency measures to a large number of households to reduce fuel poverty. Glasgow City Council intends to use our investment this year to target 10 areas, with projects focusing on external wall insulation. The council is directing that support to areas of the city with the greatest concentration of fuel poverty and the least energy-efficient housing. Since the start of our area-based schemes, we have funded energy efficiency upgrades for more than 10,330 fuel-poor households in Glasgow.

James Dornan

Research and analysis published by the Child Poverty Action Group in August 2022 has estimated that, from January 2023, around 180,000 households in Glasgow may be in fuel poverty. Can the minister expand on how the energy efficiency measure will not only help to achieve our net zero goals but support my constituents out of fuel poverty during this cost of living crisis?

Patrick Harvie

Mr Dornan is right that the measure needs to achieve both those objectives. We are already providing significant support for households to mitigate the impact of the cost crisis. By the end of March 2023, we will have invested around £3 billion in a range of measures for households, which include support for energy bills and childcare, health and travel costs, as well as social security payments that are not available anywhere else in the United Kingdom—or are more generous than those elsewhere—such as the Scottish child payment and the bridging payment.

The Scottish child payment has been further expanded to eligible six to 15-year-olds—around 400,000 children are now eligible—and has been increased in value to £25 per week per child. That is in addition to our national fuel poverty scheme, warmer homes Scotland, which is designed to help people who live in, or are at risk of, fuel poverty.

We are doing all that with hands tied behind our backs. We cannot borrow to meet short-term challenges, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has refused to inflation-proof the Scottish budget to support our investment in services, direct support or increases in public sector pay. We should all be conscious of how much more we could do with full powers on social security, pay and regulation of the energy market.

I can squeeze in question 8 if I get brief questions and answers to match.


Fuel Poverty (Motherwell and Wishaw)

8. Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is in place to help tackle fuel poverty in the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency, including for people with pre-payment meters who are worried about rising energy costs. (S6O-01596)

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

We are using all our available powers to help those vulnerable consumers. We have doubled our fuel insecurity fund to £20 million this year. We have also provided an additional £1.2 million to boost advice services, which will further support pre-payment meter households.

In addition, we have allocated £119 million to deliver heat and energy efficiency measures that benefit fuel-poor households, which includes our highest-ever annual budget of £55 million for our warmer homes Scotland services and £2.9 million for North Lanarkshire Council’s local delivery scheme.

Clare Adamson

At a recent cost of living event, which Marion Fellows MP and I hosted in the constituency, Citizens Advice Scotland advisers raised a concern with us that an anomaly seems to exist with regards to people on universal credit who get their money paid directly in housing benefit to their landlords: they sometimes will not receive a monthly cash transfer into their bank accounts and are excluded from the energy bill support scheme as a result. Is the Government aware of that anomaly? What redress do individuals have if they feel that that is not a correct interpretation of their UC position?

Patrick Harvie

We are aware that consumers who do not have a direct contract with an energy supplier but pay their landlords for their energy consumption are not eligible for the United Kingdom Government’s energy bills support scheme. We continue to engage with the UK Government to highlight that issue. It has committed to distributing equivalent support to those consumers as soon as possible and, on 26 October, the UK Government published legislation to ensure that landlords pass on the discount to tenants who pay all-inclusive bills. It would, of course, have been more desirable if the UK Government had done so in the first instance, rather than back-fitting the measure on to the interventions that it has made. However, we will continue to maintain close dialogue with the UK Government to ensure that the changes take place.