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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Portfolio Question Time

Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio questions on the wellbeing economy, fair work and energy.

Members who seek to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button or, if they are online, should indicate as much in the chat function by entering “RTS” during the relevant question.

Employment Law Devolution (Impact on Wellbeing Economy)

1. Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact that any future devolution of employment law to the Scottish Parliament would have on the development of the wellbeing economy. (S6O-02552)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

Securing the full range of powers on employment law would enable the Scottish Parliament to implement the policies that would best meet Scotland’s distinct needs. Those powers would enable us to create fairer workplaces, enhance workers’ rights in Scotland, help to shift the curve on poverty and deliver on our shared ambition for a just transition to a net zero, nature-positive wellbeing economy that is fair, greener and growing.

In our paper “Building a new Scotland: a stronger economy with independence”, we propose a number of specific labour market measures, including a fair national minimum wage set at a rate that better reflects the cost of living and that applies to all ages, and better access to flexible working.

Keith Brown

Given that both the Scottish and United Kingdom trade union congresses have come out in support of the devolution of employment law, and that a number of Labour Party MSPs have spoken previously in the Scottish Parliament in support of that policy, does the minister have any explanation as to why not a single Labour member of this Parliament signed the motion that the Parliament considered last night in support of the devolution of employment law? The motion did not mention independence; it mentioned only devolution, which is meant to be the settled policy of the Labour Party. Is he aware whether the UK Labour Party still supports the policy of devolving employment policy to the Scottish Parliament?

I suggest to the minister that he answer the question with reference to matters that fall within his jurisdiction.

Richard Lochhead

The Scottish Government supports the devolution of employment law, and it asks all parties in the chamber—in particular, the Labour Party, given its members’ past comments on the matter—to support the Scottish Government’s position. Given what Keith Brown has highlighted, it appears that Labour’s enthusiasm for the devolution of employment law is waning—and it seems to be waning because a Westminster election is approaching, which should worry us all in Scotland. I urge the Labour Party to clarify its position and to get whole-heartedly behind the Scottish Government position that the devolution of employment law should happen as soon as possible in the event of a Labour Government at Westminster.

Gender Pay Gap

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what it is doing to tackle the gender pay gap and promote equal pay. (S6O-02553)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

Our 2023 programme for government outlines the direct action that the Scottish Government is taking to tackle gender pay gaps and to promote equal pay in Scotland’s labour markets. That includes action in sectors with historically low pay and job insecurity, where women are disproportionately represented.

From April 2024, adult social care workers who deliver direct care in commissioned services will see their pay increase to a minimum of £12 per hour. Alongside that, we will provide funding to uplift pay in the private, voluntary and independent sector to £12 an hour for those delivering early learning and childcare.

Marie McNair

I welcome the Scottish Government’s efforts to close the gender pay gap with a real determination to make progress. It is clear that the United Kingdom Government is holding progress back, and the Labour Party’s appalling record on equal pay is a concern, too. Does the minister agree that, if we aspire to end the gender pay gap using all the tools that are available, it is essential that employment law be devolved to this Parliament?

Richard Lochhead

The member gives yet another reason why employment law should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and why that should happen as soon as possible. The fact that, at 12.2 per cent versus 14.9 per cent, the median gender pay gap for all employees is lower in Scotland than in the UK as a whole—and has been for many years—as well as the fact that the median gender pay gap for full-time employees, too, is lower in Scotland than in the UK as a whole, shows that in areas where we, as a Parliament, have influence, we are making a real difference to people in Scotland who are affected by this issue. Therefore, the more powers that we have, the more positive a difference that we can make.

Hydrogen Technology

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to help businesses take full advantage of Scotland’s hydrogen potential. (S6O-02554)

The Minister for Energy and the Environment (Gillian Martin)

The “Hydrogen Action Plan”, which was published in 2022, is supported by a programme of capital funding that is designed to accelerate the production of renewable hydrogen in Scotland. Funding to date includes more than £7 million in grants offered to projects via the hydrogen innovation scheme. Those projects will drive innovation in renewable hydrogen production, storage and distribution.

The next tranche of the hydrogen investment programme, the green hydrogen fund, will launch later this year. The fund will be open to projects that support renewable hydrogen production from Scotland’s abundant renewable energy resources.

Kevin Stewart

I look forward to those announcements in the future.

How can we build on the successful work on hydrogen-powered transport in Aberdeen, and what can we do to increase the amount of hydrogen refuelling sites throughout Scotland?

Gillian Martin

Early on in my tenure as minister, I visited the very impressive Aberdeen hydrogen hub. We have invested more than £15 million from our energy transition fund in developing the hub, which aims to accelerate the hydrogen economy in Aberdeen. Indeed, it is leading the way on that, and I know from my visit that local authorities from throughout the United Kingdom have been visiting the model with the aim of establishing it in their areas.

We will continue to work with partners in the public and private sectors to understand and stimulate the demand and the infrastructure needed for hydrogen vehicles. The zero-emission truck task force, which includes Transport Scotland, is exploring the energy infrastructure that is required for heavy goods vehicles, including the consideration of hydrogen refuelling, and we will also be publishing an HGV decarbonisation pathway next year.

I have a number of requests for supplementaries. I intend to take each of them, so I hope that everyone will be reasonably brief.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I think that we will all agree that Scotland is uniquely placed to capitalise on the green hydrogen market. I know that the minister was at an event last night on the supply chain. At a business meeting yesterday morning, I was told that it was really important for the approach going forward to be demand led. What is the Scottish Government doing to create a marketplace for the green hydrogen companies that are now coming to fruition?

Gillian Martin

There are two markets for hydrogen: the domestic market and the export market. This morning, I was pleased to have a meeting with Graham Stuart of the UK Government, and in answer to my question on injecting hydrogen into the gas grid to make up 20 per cent of the total gas—something that we have been calling for for quite a while—I was told that the UK Government is actively looking at that. That is a use for hydrogen. The distillery sector, which is massive, is also using hydrogen to decarbonise.

The question gives me the opportunity to say that Neil Gray is in Germany at the moment to promote and further Scotland’s hydrogen interests and to support Scottish companies to participate in and benefit from the development of the international hydrogen market. As Mr Whittle will know, Germany has already started work on decarbonising its industry using hydrogen, so that is a great market for us.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I welcome the minister’s reference to renewable hydrogen, as it is critical that we produce green hydrogen in Scotland. Does she acknowledge the importance of linking to renewable electricity production and creating jobs and opportunities not just in the north-east, as she outlined, but in Grangemouth?

Gillian Martin

Absolutely—we have a commitment to that. Quite a lot of hydrogen innovation is happening throughout the country. For example, Ms Boyack will be aware of the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney; when it could not get its tidal energy into the grid, it made hydrogen with it instead. Quite a lot of micro hydrogen production is happening throughout Scotland.

I have been having conversations with the Grangemouth facility about the hydrogen that it intends to produce and, more recently, there have been positive noises about green hydrogen, in particular.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Shetland is well placed as an energy hub at the centre of the energy-rich North Sea, with the local Orion project aiming to produce wind-powered green hydrogen by 2025. What engagement has the Scottish Government had with that project?

Gillian Martin

I have not had the pleasure of going up to Shetland yet, mainly because the cabinet secretary went to the Northern Isles in the summer and it did not make sense for us both to go. However, I look forward to engaging with the project—perhaps Ms Wishart would like to invite me.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The empty Longannet site in Kincardine, in my region, has huge potential for green jobs. What recent discussions has the minister had with Scottish Power, which owns the site, about its plans for the site and how it can help advance the Government’s hydrogen ambitions?

Gillian Martin

I will have to look back at all the engagement that I have had with the owners of the site, and it is entirely possible that Mr Gray has engaged with them, too. I will get back to Ms Baker to let her know what engagement there has been.

Export Statistics (Publication)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on when the next set of export statistics will be published. (S6O-02555)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

“Export statistics Scotland” provides the official estimates of the value of Scotland’s exports, and it covers Scotland’s exports of goods and services—excluding oil and gas—internationally and to the rest of the United Kingdom. The next set of statistics will be published on 29 November 2023 and will include data up to 2021. That was pre-announced by the chief statistician in August.

His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs regional trade in goods statistics, which include figures for Scotland, are released quarterly, with the next update, for the third quarter of 2023, due to be released on 14 December. The Scottish Government publishes quarterly manufacturing export statistics for Scotland, with the most recent data covering the period up to quarter 2 in 2023.

Murdo Fraser

The latest set of export statistics were published in December 2021, so there has been a long gap since then. Those statistics showed that Scottish exports to the European Union accounted for 19 per cent of total exports and that we exported three times more—60 per cent of the total—to the rest of the UK. Does that not demonstrate the folly of seeking to align ourselves with the EU at the expense of aligning with the rest of the UK, which is by far the largest market for Scottish exporters?

Richard Lochhead

For the sake of jobs in Scotland and of the Scottish economy, the Scottish Government should be increasing our exports to the rest of the UK and to the rest of the world, including the European Union. Exports to the European Union have, of course, suffered as a result of Brexit, which we did not vote for and which was imposed on Scotland by the rest of the UK. Brexit has led to a decline in many key exports to the European Union. If Scotland were to be a member of the European Union in its own right, that would open up lots of export opportunities for Scotland.

Our exports are performing extremely well. We should congratulate our businesses on that and be proud of it.

Again, I have received a number of requests for supplementary questions. I intend to take all of them.

Will the minister provide an update on the continued impact that export barriers caused by Brexit are having on business costs?

Richard Lochhead

The latest business insights and conditions survey, which was published in September, shows that, of the businesses in Scotland that face exporting challenges, more than a third—36.1 per cent, to be precise—named Brexit as the main cause. The survey found that more than a quarter of Scottish businesses face extra costs as a result of Brexit, with 16.2 per cent facing higher transportation costs and 12.5 per cent facing increased red tape.

Furthermore, the latest small business survey, which was conducted between November 2022 and April 2023, reported that half of the small and medium-sized employers in Scotland that predicted a decrease in turnover next year highlighted Brexit as a contributing factor.

The additional barriers and costs of Brexit continue to weigh on the economy as a whole. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that UK gross domestic product will be 4 per cent lower in the long run due to Brexit. In Scotland, we have experienced a 38 per cent decline in exports of fruit and veg to Europe and a 45 per cent fall in exports of animal feed to Europe.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

One side talks down trade with the United Kingdom and the other side talks down trade with Europe. Instead of revelling in the prospect of new trade opportunities, why do both Governments not work together to break down trade barriers?

Richard Lochhead

We will, of course, continue to do our best to break down trade barriers. That is why we oppose Brexit. I believe that Mr Rennie’s party also opposed Brexit, although, unfortunately, it appears to have changed its mind because of views in the rest of the UK, irrespective of the damage to Scotland.

As I said before, our strategy is to increase exports to the rest of the UK—we do a lot of work in London, for instance, to promote Scottish exports—the European Union and the rest of the world, and that is the best outcome for Scotland’s economy.

Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

The minister will be aware that, in the period since Brexit, Scottish exports, excluding oil and gas, have grown at around twice the rate of exports from the rest of the UK but that UK export growth as a whole has been lagging behind international competitors. Does the minister agree that that demonstrates the folly of Brexit but also confirms the approach of the Scottish Government, which has a coherent strategy to boost exports that was agreed with industry and is delivering results?

Richard Lochhead

I absolutely agree with Ivan McKee, and I thank him for his efforts in his previous role to build up Scotland’s fantastic track record in exports. The value of Scotland’s international goods exports increased by 13.2 per cent in the year ending in June 2023, compared with the previous year, which is greater in percentage terms than the 12 per cent increase experienced by the UK. Therefore, the Parliament should celebrate and be proud of the fact that Scotland is outperforming the rest of the UK on exports and, indeed, inward investment. That is really good news for the Scottish Government’s approach, which involves working in partnership with our business community and enterprise agencies, and it is good news for jobs in Scotland.

Programme for Government (North Ayrshire Economy)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the measures in its programme for government 2023-24 will have on the growth of the economy in North Ayrshire. (S6O-02556)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

Our programme for government will increase equality, create a fairer society and drive opportunity for the people and businesses of North Ayrshire. It will promote inclusion and reduce inequality in the area, benefiting in part from our £70 million investment in community-led regeneration. It will also support the delivery of the Ayrshire growth deal, in which we are investing £103 million to transform North Ayrshire and the wider regional economy.

Ruth Maguire

A quality job that pays well is one of the primary routes out of poverty. Will the minister outline what action the Scottish Government and partners are taking to ensure that all sizes of companies in my constituency are able to contribute to tackling inequality while growing their businesses?

Richard Lochhead

As Ruth Maguire will be aware, the Government’s policy is that business is vital to creating a wellbeing economy, and it has a key role to play in Cunninghame South and beyond. That is why we support businesses to be a force for good, putting purpose and fair work at their heart, noting that that benefits productivity and profits as well as people.

As part of our £11.5 million investment in the Ayrshire growth deal, community wealth building and the regional skills and inclusion programmes, we will be supporting local businesses to put fair work first, while supporting local people to ensure that they have the skills that businesses require. We are also working with other organisations, such as Developing the Young Workforce in Ayrshire. The issue that Ruth Maguire raises is central to our economic strategy for the whole of Scotland, including Ayrshire.

Seasonal Agricultural Workers (Fair Work)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its work to ensure that seasonal agricultural workers have access to effective worker voice under its fair work commitments. (S6O-02557)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that agricultural workers have access to effective worker voice under its fair work commitments. In March 2023, we provided funding of £123,000 to support the reopening of the Worker Support Centre. The WSC assists all seasonal agricultural and horticultural workers in Scotland, irrespective of nationality, to access free impartial and confidential information on workplace rights.

Maggie Chapman

Migrant workers, particularly those with the seasonal worker visa for horticulture, including in the north-east region, are known to be at risk of exploitation and trafficking. They are not unionised, and they face significant language barriers, are often housed in poor, unregulated housing and struggle to access healthcare. They are at the mercy of their employers, who might, without notice, say that there is no work for them, leaving them stranded without money or options.

What further actions will the Scottish Government take to reduce the risks of trafficking and exploitation and ensure that all workers have access to individual and collective workplace representation?

Richard Lochhead

As I said in response to the very important issue that was raised by Maggie Chapman, the Scottish Government has funded the Worker Support Centre to assist all migrant seasonal agricultural workers in Scotland. We have produced seasonal workers’ rights information leaflets that include guidance on human trafficking and exploitation, and we have outreach arrangements in place to support workers who speak Ukrainian, Romanian, Russian, Polish or English. Outreach staff are available at a range of times to talk to workers and provide information or support.

Where it is appropriate, the centre can refer workers to legal charities, the Scottish Government’s agricultural wages enforcement teams and other advisers for further support with a range of issues that they might face.

Maggie Chapman might also be aware that recently published independent research made recommendations to be pursued by both the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments, so a lot of work is under way to ensure that we treat the issue seriously.

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (Economic Benefits)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has undertaken any evaluation of the relative economic benefits of small modular nuclear reactors compared with other forms of energy provision. (S6O-02558)

The Minister for Energy and the Environment (Gillian Martin)

The Scottish Government does not support the building of new nuclear fission power stations in Scotland under current technologies. Although SMRs are innovative in their size and construction technique, they use the same method of electricity generation as traditional nuclear fission. That means that they carry the same environmental concerns as traditional nuclear power plants, while their economic competitiveness is still to be proven in practice. New nuclear power could take decades to become operational. It would be expensive and so would push up household bills.

As we have set out in our draft energy strategy and just transition plan, significant growth in renewables, storage, hydrogen and carbon capture provide the best pathway to net zero and will offer a climate-friendly energy system that delivers affordable, resilient and clean energy for Scotland.

Sandesh Gulhane

France delivers 70 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy, which gives it a great base load, and it is now the world’s largest net exporter of electricity. Has the Scottish Government made any estimate of the opportunity cost of Scotland’s not pursuing a similar strategy?

Gillian Martin

The fact is that existing nuclear power systems are expensive. For example, under the current contract awarded by the United Kingdom Government for the Hinkley Point C station, the electricity that will be generated will be priced at £92.50 per megawatt hour. That is in comparison with electricity generated from offshore wind, which we have in abundance in Scotland and on which we are planning to do an awful lot more. Such electricity is currently priced at £37.35 per megawatt hour.

The member mentioned France. [Interruption.] However, let us look at a list of all the European countries—

Minister, please resume your seat

—that have decided to ditch nuclear power.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Minister, please resume your seat for a second. I do not need to hear a running commentary from members in a sedentary position while the minister seeks to respond to the question.

Minister, please resume your answer.

Gillian Martin

I can list those countries. In April, Germany shut down the last of its three nuclear power plants, joining other member states that have no nuclear power stations and that remain opposed to nuclear power. They are Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta and Portugal.

Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan (Publication)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will publish its final energy strategy and just transition plan. (S6O-02559)

The Minister for Energy and the Environment (Gillian Martin)

The 2023 programme for government confirmed our commitment to publish and start implementing a new energy strategy and just transition plan. We are fully considering the views that were expressed in the consultation that took place earlier this year, and we will provide further details on that shortly.

Mercedes Villalba

When the Scottish Government published its draft strategy, the Scottish Trades Union Congress said that workers had “little faith” in the Government’s plan. In the light of the STUC’s submission to the Government’s consultation, will the minister set out precisely what policy changes have been incorporated into the final strategy since then?

Gillian Martin

As I have said, the final strategy has not yet been published. However, I recommend that Mercedes Villalba come to the chamber tomorrow to listen to my statement on the vision for Scotland’s future energy, which will give more information about when the energy strategy will be published. She will understand that she is asking for details of a final strategy that has not been published yet.

Kevin Stewart has a supplementary question.

Kevin Stewart (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)

As is outlined in the draft energy strategy and just transition plan, all the evidence tells us that we can protect and create jobs in Scotland if we get our energy transition right. How will the recent Tory net zero U-turns impact on that transition in the future? Does the minister agree that the Tory backtracking, and the uncertainty that it has caused, could hold back growth in renewable energy jobs and harm our economic future?

Gillian Martin

Kevin Stewart will be aware of the recent report, “Powering up the Workforce: The future of the UK offshore energy workforce”, from Robert Gordon University, which shows that Scotland has enormous energy potential and that we have the natural resources and skills that are required to lead the global energy transition.

However, Kevin Stewart is right: the UK Government’s backtracking is putting green jobs, inward investment and economic growth at risk. I also highlight the failure to secure any offshore wind projects in the recent allocation round 5. We have made representations, and I believe that the sector has made a great deal of representations, to the UK Government on improvements that we want to see ahead of allocation round 6.

Finance and Parliamentary Business

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the second portfolio, which is finance and parliamentary business. Again, if a member wishes to request a supplementary, they should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question or enter the letters RTS in the chat function if they are online.

Fiscal Framework

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the fiscal framework. (S6O-02560)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

I am pleased to say that the first review of the Scottish fiscal framework concluded on 2 August, with a joint agreement reached between the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments on changes to the 2016 agreement.

That review has yielded a fair and pragmatic set of changes, providing a sensible and proportionate set of improvements to the fiscal framework. That furnishes the Scottish Government with more effective levers with which to manage the Scottish budget. I welcome the opportunity for a full debate in the chamber in the coming months, in addition to a dedicated committee evidence session.

Liam Kerr

In her letter of 2 August to the Finance and Public Administration Committee, the cabinet secretary made it clear, as she has done in her answer just now, that she was signing up to the new deal because the arrangements work in Scotland’s favour and the changes that have been made are—as she just said—

“fair and pragmatic and will strengthen the financial management levers available to the Scottish Government”.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is exactly the sort of joint working between the Westminster and Holyrood Administrations that the public both wants and deserves, rather than the endless constitutional bickering that so often characterises our politics?

Shona Robison

John Glen, who is the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is a bit of an anomaly in the Westminster Tory UK Government, as he actually sits down in a sensible, pragmatic and co-operative way. However, he is the exception to the rule. It is because of that arrangement that we have managed to secure those pragmatic changes to the fiscal framework. Again, I had a very co-operative meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury just last week. It is a shame that the rest of the UK Government does not operate in that manner.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

There was some concern under the previous fiscal framework that we were competing with London and the south-east of England, which puts us in a difficult position. Does the cabinet secretary have any concerns that that will continue to be the case?

Shona Robison

I am confident that we are well placed to build our fairer, greener economy. Per person, our economy has outperformed the UK’s economy since 2018. The latest data shows that our income tax performance per capita is improving, and is outperforming the rest of the UK in 2022-23.

However, it is clear that the UK economic model is disproportionately weighted towards London, which has an impact on Scotland. I am sure that John Mason would agree that, with the full powers of independence, we would be able to tailor our economic approach to Scotland’s needs and emulate the success of our near European neighbours, who all perform more strongly economically than the UK.

Taxation Policy (Oxfam Report)

2. Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recommendations regarding taxation policy in Oxfam GB’s analysis, “Payment Overdue: Fair ways to make polluters across the UK pay for climate justice”. (S6O-02561)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

As Oxfam’s “Payment Overdue” report recognises, the regulation of fossil fuel industries and the majority of tax powers remain reserved to Westminster. We will keep pressing the United Kingdom Government to take the urgent action that is needed, especially after its recent backsliding on net zero ambitions.

In Scotland, we are committed to using the powers that we have to meet our world-leading climate targets. We will continue with our progressive approach to tax and working to ensure that we achieve a just transition, which will help us to meet our climate goals, safeguard jobs and protect those on the lowest incomes.

Mark Ruskell

Transport remains Scotland’s most polluting and highest-emitting sector. An investigation by The Scotsman revealed that more than 1,500 empty or nearly empty commercial passenger flights, which are also known as ghost flights, passed through Scottish airports last year. That must change.

Does the cabinet secretary agree with the Oxfam report’s recommendations on the use of taxation to reduce air travel demand? What is her view on implementing a higher tax for more polluting aircraft, such as private jets?

Shona Robison

We very much recognise the impact of transport on overall carbon emissions, and we are committed to reducing emissions across all modes of transport, including air travel.

We remain committed to introducing the air departure tax, once a solution for the Highlands and Islands exemption has been identified, which, of course, is not an easy process. In doing so, we will carry out a review of the rates and bands of the tax to ensure that they are aligned with our world-leading climate ambitions.

Income Tax Policy (Economic Growth and Job Creation)

To ask the Scottish Government what its assessment is of the effectiveness of its current income tax policies in stimulating economic growth and job creation. (S6O-02562)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

We have the most progressive tax system in the United Kingdom, which raises additional revenue to invest in public services and Scotland’s economy. Since our five-band system was introduced, in 2018, our economy has outperformed that of the UK. Taking into account population growth, gross domestic product per person has grown by 0.2 per cent in Scotland compared with a fall of 0.8 per cent in the UK, while more than 45,000 working-age people moved from the rest of the UK to Scotland in 2021, with a net in-migration of 5,000 people. That is consistent with findings from our policy evaluation of the 2018-19 income tax reforms, which showed no evidence that they were having a negative impact on the economy.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

When he appeared in front of the Finance and Public Administration Committee on 19 September, David Bell, professor of economics at the University of Stirling, told my colleague Liz Smith that

“where you have differential tax rates between jurisdictions, you will set up incentives that will cause either capital or labour to move. That move might not be instantaneous, but if two distinct tax systems sit close by each other, incentives are created over time.”—[Official Report, Finance and Public Administration Committee, 19 September 2023; c 16.]

Given that, under the Scottish National Party-Green coalition, Scotland is now the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom, how is the Scottish Government monitoring for the long term any movements of that nature?

Shona Robison

As I set out in my first answer, there is no evidence of such movement. People move to Scotland and stay in Scotland because of a range of factors, not least the social contract and the various policies and supports that are available here that are not available elsewhere. In addition, I remind Jamie Halcro Johnston that, based on the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s figures, the Scottish Government calculates that more than 52 per cent of taxpayers in Scotland pay less than they would if they lived elsewhere in the UK.

Those matters will be kept under review. I have set up the expert group on taxation to inform me in relation to current and future tax policy. The Tories cannot get away from the fact that they want tax cuts, but they still come to the chamber to ask for more public expenditure. There is no system in the world that supports that type of economic model.

I have received requests from a number of members who wish to ask a supplementary. I intend to accede to each request.

Can the Deputy First Minister quantify the damage that UK Tory tax policies announced in last September’s mini-budget and since have done to Scotland’s economic growth and job creation?

Shona Robison

The disastrous mini-budget is indicative of the on-going economic mismanagement of the Tory Government, which has given us the highest inflation in the G7. That is causing real hardship to families in Scotland. The UK’s high inflation is part of the reason that the Office for Budget Responsibility is forecasting the largest fall in living standards on record, with real incomes expected to fall by £1,200 by the end of this year.

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Speaking to the Finance and Public Administration Committee last week, Professor David Heald warned:

“We will get into a position whereby national health service consultants ... will start negotiating with their employers for net pay,”—[Official Report, Finance and Public Administration Committee, 19 September 2023; c 4.]

and stressed the need to be “very careful”.

When we are in a situation in which we need to attract key talent, such as, in the case of Dundee, breast cancer oncologists, what assessment has the Scottish Government made of the impact of income tax policies on the recruitment challenges in our NHS workforce?

Shona Robison

These days, it is hard to work out who is Labour and who are the Tories in this chamber. I will say two things to Michael Marra. First, NHS consultants in Scotland are not on strike, as those down south are. Secondly, junior doctors get paid more here in Scotland than they do down south. When doctors come here to Scotland, they will take into account a range of factors, not least the pay and conditions that they get, as well as all the services that they get and the additional elements of the social contract that I explained earlier. What a strange line of questioning for a Labour member in this chamber.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

When John Swinney was the long-standing wise and cautious finance secretary, he knew about the careful balance needed to avoid behavioural change. The finance secretary and Deputy First Minister seems very bullish about the tax rises. I thought that the last set of tax rises was an emergency rise, but now the Government is talking about further rises. Is she sure that she is getting the balance right?

Shona Robison

Let me say clearly to Willie Rennie that no decisions have been made about taxation in any form and they will not be until we get into the budget process. I was describing the set of tax decisions that have already been taken, which have led Scotland to be the most progressive part of the United Kingdom, with five tax bands, which take account of what people earn in terms of the tax that they pay.

We will, of course, very carefully consider all the issues that we should do in concluding what is the right balance between tax and the funding of public services, and making sure that we are able to sustain those public services. Although it seems that Labour members come to the chamber wanting us not to make any additional revenues through taxation or anything else, that poses the question of where the money comes from to pay for the public services and the demands that members across—

Thank you, cabinet secretary. We will now turn to the next question.

—the chamber make on a regular basis.

John Swinney (Perthshire North) (SNP)

From my careful and long-serving perspective, I will ask whether the Deputy First Minister agrees that it is somewhat rich for Jamie Halcro Johnston, as a Scottish Conservative, to come here and complain about differential taxation when his colleagues supported the concept of this Parliament having the powers to vary those taxes and responsibilities in accordance with the needs of people in Scotland. Does she agree that the judgments that individuals will make through the careful behaviour analysis that is undertaken on all those questions will take into account all the benefits of living in Scotland in terms of the availability of public services, lower council tax, access to a range of free services—

Thank you, Mr Swinney. We will now turn to the cabinet secretary’s response.

—and the ability to send their children to school?

Shona Robison

I agree with every word of that. The important thing is to look at the evidence. As John Swinney absolutely correctly pointed out, the evidence in the round shows that people in Scotland get a range of services that are not available anywhere else in these islands. Actually, those on lower incomes are supported in a way that they are not supported anywhere else in these islands. According to the Scottish Fiscal Commission, 52 per cent of taxpayers in Scotland still pay less than they would elsewhere in these islands.

We have to look at these things in the round and make careful consideration. What we will not do is follow the economic catastrophe and the policies that led to that, which seem to be being articulated and replicated in the chamber. We will certainly not do that, because we know the damage that it does to households and businesses.

Glasgow (Metropolitan Status)

4. Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the on-going local governance review, what discussions the Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance has had with ministerial colleagues regarding any potential benefits to public services and assets of granting Glasgow metropolitan status. (S6O-02563)

The Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance (Tom Arthur)

The local governance review is a key element of the Verity house agreement and an important opportunity to strengthen local decision making. We are equally committed to delivering regional economic development and will continue to work with regional partnerships as we take forward the recommendations that stem from the regional economic policy review.

We will also continue to work with the Glasgow city region on its ambitions, and I will engage with ministerial colleagues on how work in that space can be expanded to further empower all of Scotland’s regions.

Kaukab Stewart

Metropolitan status is given to city regions in other parts of the United Kingdom and in many European nations. Like Glasgow, many of those cities are home to nationally significant infrastructure. In the next two years, Glasgow City Council is investing £3 million in the Clyde tunnel and the upkeep of Glasgow Botanic Gardens, while the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is directly funded by the Scottish Government. Does the minister share my view that there is room for a healthy discussion on the long-term funding settlement regarding national assets in Scotland’s largest city?

Tom Arthur

There is no doubt that the Glasgow city region is a key engine of the Scottish economy. Capitalising on progress made by the Glasgow city region, we will continue to work in partnership with Glasgow City Council and the other local authorities in the region. We support the region in attracting inward investment to support the regional economic strategy, which will help to create a sustainable wellbeing economy and tackle inequality.

The published regional economic policy review contains a recommendation to explore the aggregation of budgets to increase capacity within regions. Officials are scoping out options for delivery.

The Clyde tunnel is on the local road network, and all local authorities are responsible for their road networks. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh operates a total of four gardens and has a statutory responsibility to safeguard Scotland’s national living plant collection and herbarium. It also has a global presence and status in the world of plant-based scientific research and education, which is a very different model from the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

Local authorities across the country face a combined two-year shortfall of £1 billion. Much of the remainder will be dedicated to immediate needs, essential statutory services and workforce shortages. Does the Scottish Government believe that granting metropolitan status to Glasgow city region offers a solution for service and infrastructure challenges?

Tom Arthur

We have no plans to pursue a mayoral or metropolitan model in the style of elsewhere in the UK, but, in many respects, the Glasgow region already functions as a metropolitan area. We are committed to working with all local partners, local authorities and communities to capitalise on Glasgow’s status and look for opportunities through partnership working to generate efficiencies and better, more person-centred delivery of public services.

Programme for Government (Community Wealth Building)

To ask the Scottish Government how the measures set out in its programme for government 2023-24 will support community wealth building. (S6O-02564)

The Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance (Tom Arthur)

Employment of the community wealth-building model of economic development has the potential to improve the impacts of a wide range of measures that are set out in the new programme for government. Specifically, in the year ahead, we will work to ensure that procurement activity continues to contribute to community wealth building in the form of stronger businesses and high-quality jobs. The programme for government also confirms that we will collaborate with our partners in the public, private, third and community sectors on legislative proposals informed by the recent community wealth building public consultation.

Colin Beattie

It is clear that the community wealth building approach is one of our most effective tools in building a sustainable wellbeing economy in which everybody in Scotland can thrive. Does the minister agree that measures taken this year to support our local economies and supply chains will help to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive community wealth-building bill later in the parliamentary session?

Tom Arthur

I agree that the community wealth-building approach is one of the most effective tools that we have to create a sustainable wellbeing economy, support business growth and create fair jobs. We will continue to build on the excellent progress that has been made to date by local authorities working in partnership with communities, businesses, the third sector and wider public sector organisations to support the implementation of the approach.

We will publish the findings of the recent consultation on community wealth-building legislation later in the autumn. The consultation has provided a rich source of ideas and evidence that will help to frame the development of legislative proposals to advance community wealth building in Scotland.

Swimming Pool Support Fund

6. Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether the finance secretary plans to allocate to local authorities any funding from the block grant that has arisen as a result of Barnett consequential funding from the United Kingdom Government’s swimming pool support fund. (S6O-02565)

The Minister for Local Government Empowerment and Planning (Joe FitzPatrick)

Local sport and leisure facilities, including swimming pools, are vital in supporting the physical and mental health of the nation.

Compared to the less than £6 million of consequentials that the Scottish Government received for swimming pools following the UK budget, the Scottish Government allocated £100 million of additional funding to local government at stage 3 of the budget bill, which was funded in part by those consequentials.

Douglas Lumsden

It is immoral of the Government to get funding for swimming pools from the UK Treasury and not pass it on for its intended purpose. In Aberdeen, Bucksburn swimming pool was closed and has been stripped back to the walls by the local Scottish National Party council, which is being taken to court by its own citizens over the closure. Is the minister happy that swimming pools in our communities are being forced to close?

Joe FitzPatrick

The member was a local councillor, so he knows that councillors are democratically elected to make decisions on the priorities in their local communities. It is really important that, as elected members, we respect the democratic mandate of councillors across Scotland.

The money has all been allocated, and the difference is clearly that Mr Lumsden is coming to the chamber and asking the Scottish—

Minister, please resume your seat. There are members shouting across the chamber; that is not acceptable. The minister has been asked a question and we must listen to his response.

Joe FitzPatrick

As I said, the money has been allocated. It was allocated to budgets as part of £100 million of additional funding that went to local government at stage 3 of the budget bill.

Mr Lumsden has come here to say that that money should have been ring fenced. I encourage him to speak to his local government colleagues, because I know that they are looking for more flexibility. They are not asking us to ring fence more pots of money. In fact, they are asking for exactly the opposite—more flexibility, so that they can use their democratic mandates to determine what is best for their local communities.

Nuclear Weapons (Removal from Scotland)

7. Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to propose a parliamentary debate on the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland, as proposed in its paper “Creating a modern constitution for an independent Scotland”. (S6O-02566)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business (George Adam)

As Mr Kidd knows, any proposals for Government business in Parliament are agreed by the Scottish cabinet, subject to consideration by the Parliamentary Bureau and, in turn, approval by the Parliament.

The Scottish Government’s fourth paper in the “Building a New Scotland” series, “Creating a modern constitution for an independent Scotland” was published on 19 June. The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture then led a debate on that paper on 27 June.

Bill Kidd

I know that time is precious, and I might lodge a members’ motion on that issue, which I hope members from across the chamber will support.

When war is raging on Europe’s borders and the spectre of nuclear escalation is ever present, does the minister agree that it is not only time to have that debate here but across Europe and to start the journey to a nuclear weapons-free Europe, as has happened in areas across the globe? Would he be happy to support Scotland taking a lead on that journey?

George Adam

Mr Kidd has been at the forefront of that debate for many years, and of course I agree that a nuclear-free world would be most welcome. It is entirely up to the member if he wishes to lodge a members’ motion. Our Parliament is made all the richer by the varied debate and discussion that we have during members’ business debates and what they bring to the Parliament.

That concludes portfolio questions on finance and parliamentary business. There will be a short pause before we move on to the next item of business.