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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, October 27, 2022


General Question Time

Hydrogen and Electric Buses

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on whether it anticipates meeting its target to have over 50 per cent of buses running on hydrogen or electric by the end of 2023. (S6O-01468)

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

The Scottish Government set a high bar on the decarbonisation of Scotland’s bus fleets. As a consequence, the proportion of zero-emission buses in Scotland is now three times higher than it is in other parts of the United Kingdom. We have invested £113 million to date, which is supporting 548 zero-emission buses and associated infrastructure.

I know that small and medium-sized enterprise operators face additional challenges. The Minister for Transport launched the market transition scheme on 10 August specifically to support SME operators to prepare for the next round of capital funding, which will be launched in spring next year.

Brian Whittle

Despite bold promises from the Scottish Government, the reality is that it looks as though it will fall well short of delivering a zero-carbon public transport system by the end of next year. Earlier this week, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport described hydrogen as

“Scotland’s greatest industrial opportunity since oil and gas”,

which I absolutely agree with. Despite that, I can count on one hand the number of hydrogen refuelling stations in Scotland.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Scottish Government must support investment in hydrogen refuelling infrastructure now to give bus operators—and transport operators more widely—the confidence to commit to hydrogen as a fuel source and support the growth of a new hydrogen industry in Scotland?

Michael Matheson

The member might be aware that what I think is the largest hydrogen fuel cell bus fleet in Europe is operating in Aberdeen, as a result of funding support that came from the Scottish Government. [Michael Matheson has corrected this contribution. See end of report.]

On the potential for hydrogen investment, I agree with the member that hydrogen refuelling is a key part of helping to give the industry confidence in the growth of the technology. However, the way in which bus decarbonisation funding operates is that it is agnostic on the technology. The vast majority of bus operators have chosen to invest in electric battery buses, many of which, fortunately, are built in my constituency, at the fantastic Alexander Dennis Ltd factory, which is a world leader in battery electric technology.

We want to make sure that bus operators can use battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell buses if that is what they choose to do, and that there is the right fuelling infrastructure to support them should they choose to go into hydrogen.

Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

I am aware of the difference that the Scottish Government’s investment is making in my constituency, with Aberdeen benefiting from exciting new hydrogen vehicles.

The Scottish National Party has the huge ambition to decarbonise buses as one of our commitments on our net zero journey, while the UK Government seems, through its actions and rhetoric, to be committed to a war on nature and a race to the bottom on environmental standards. How does the Scottish Government’s approach differ from what is happening elsewhere in the UK?

Answer on the substantive question, please, cabinet secretary.

Michael Matheson

The Scottish Government is investing in the member’s constituency and in other towns and cities across the country in order to help to decarbonise the bus fleet. Aberdeen has benefited from Scottish Government funding to the tune of £12.7 million, which has supported 37 battery electric buses, and £7.5 million to support 25 hydrogen fuel cell buses. That is in addition to the decarbonisation of transport hydrogen bus support that we have provided through the Scottish emerging hydrogen economy programme.

I assure the member that we will continue to support our bus sector to decarbonise, including through improved connectivity, and that we will support the indigenous Scottish businesses that are world leaders in developing decarbonised bus fleets.

Question 2 was not lodged.

Deposit Return Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government whether it can provide an update on the progress that has been made on a deposit return scheme. (S6O-01470)

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

Scotland’s deposit return scheme will begin on 16 August 2023. Good progress has been made in recent months. That includes the scheme administrator signing contracts for its logistical and information technology services, the start of construction of the sorting centres and significant financial investment being made by the service providers and retailers, as well as there being £18 million loan funding from the Scottish National Investment Bank and the Bank of Scotland. With just under one year to go until the scheme goes live, businesses are preparing for launch and are working closely with the scheme administrator, Circularity Scotland, to ensure that they are ready.

Maurice Golden

The minister and I both want deposit return to succeed, but industry is worried that the scheme is turning into a car crash. Its concerns are mounting about the huge costs of the scheme; about labelling and point of sale not being clarified; about an online take-back system that is impossible to deliver as planned; about the complete lack of information on collection services; about the risk of dealing with broken glass; about product lines being withdrawn; and about the utter lack of central guidance from the Scottish Government or the secretive company that it has created. Will the minister publish the latest gateway review from May and accept that action must be taken before it is too late?

Lorna Slater

I thank Maurice Golden for the question and, as always, for his interest in the scheme being a success.

We are now looking at the scheme’s operational details and are engaging very closely with industry, stakeholders, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, local authorities and Circularity Scotland. We are at the stage of working out exactly the details about which the member has asked. The legislation that the Parliament passed is quite broad, which means that industry has the opportunity to adapt the scheme to its specific needs.

That is the stage that we are at. We are making the scheme work for industry and we are doing that by working closely with it. I am very confident that the scheme will be a success and that it will launch on 16 August next year.

Health Service Equipment (Protection)

To ask the Scottish Government what resources are available to protect important equipment within the health sector in the event of incidents such as fire or floods. (S6O-01471)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf)

All national health service boards have developed fire risk assessments and flood risk assessments of NHS sites to help to manage and mitigate the risks of fire and flooding. Assessments using the NHS fire code guidance are required in all hospitals and other NHS buildings from which healthcare services are provided.

As part of the wider programme of work to understand the risks of climate change, NHS Scotland Assure has prepared climate change impact assessments and flood risk assessments for each health board to identify current and future climate risks—including flooding—to equipment and services.

James Dornan

Does the cabinet secretary agree that we should investigate all angles in order to protect the environment? Is he aware of the good work that scientists who are working with the University of Glasgow and Strathclyde University are doing on protection of goods and of equipment that is used in hospitals, in case of floods? Is he also aware that one such product was launched at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties, or COP26? Will he agree to investigate that work further to find out whether there are, in Scotland, any more potential solutions of which we are as yet unaware?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, I will happily investigate that. I am aware of the technology to which James Dornan referred. In fact, my colleagues Ivan McKee and, in her constituency MSP capacity, Kaukab Stewart, went to see the automated flood tent that was developed by Mr Mohammed Iftkhar in his role at the University of Glasgow. I am absolutely aware of that work. Of course, Mr Dornan is welcome to provide me with more detail, which we would pass on, through the appropriate channels, to our NHS national procurement service.

Independent Fiscal Forecasts

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether independent fiscal forecasts should be published alongside significant fiscal policy events. (S6O-01472)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

Following the devolution of tax and social security powers to Scotland, the Scottish Government set up the independent Scottish Fiscal Commission, which has provided credible independent forecasts to Parliament and the Scottish Government since 2017. The Scottish Fiscal Commission Act 2016 requires the commission to produce at least two forecasts each financial year, containing its five-year forecasts of the economy, demand-led social security benefits and receipts from the devolved taxes, non-domestic rates, income tax attributable to a Scottish rate resolution and assigned VAT receipts. The Scottish Government will always respect the commission’s role and our budgets will always be accompanied by its independent forecasts.

Michael Marra

Last month, the Tory Government’s refusal to publish fiscal projections led to a collapse in our currency and to economic misery that will endure for years to come. Last week, Scottish National Party MPs voted for those fiscal projections to be published immediately. However—I find this to be scarcely believable—the SNP Government is refusing to publish its fiscal projections to accompany its economic policy, in the document that I have here. Can it really be true that the Scottish Government will provide no fiscal framework prior to its proposed referendum?

John Swinney

I am glad that Mr Marra has some really good reading material. It might help to change his mind about a few things and improve his views about certain questions.

Essentially, Mr Marra answered his own question in how he put it to me. The fiscal chaos that has been created by the United Kingdom Government is hardly a backdrop against which to make a dispassionate assessment of the condition of Scotland’s finances, because of the mess that the UK Government has created. As Mr Marra knows, this Government believes in fiscal responsibility, and we stand on our record for fiscal responsibility. We have delivered fiscal responsibility and we will continue to do so.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The Deputy First Minister is doing his usual huffing and puffing because, I suspect, he has been caught following Liz Truss’s rulebook on fiscal probity.

Is not it time to be honest about the damaging impact of his plans for an independent currency for Scotland, and to publish an independent fiscal forecast for his dangerous plans for this country?

John Swinney

I have everything to learn about huffing and puffing from Mr Rennie, so I promise to be a faithful student of the art, as taught by him and, no doubt, by the other oracle of huffing and puffing, Jackie Baillie, on the Labour front bench.

When it comes to political honesty, Mr Rennie should be honest about the damage that he and his colleagues inflicted on this country by propping up the Conservatives in 2010 and creating the agenda of austerity that has caused such misery for the people of this country.

Planning Policy (Mixed Energy Generation Methods)

I huff and puff to ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given in its planning policy to the role of mixed energy generation methods. (S6O-01473)

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

Our draft national planning framework 4 set out how planning and development will support our net zero ambitions by 2045. It proposed clear support for all forms of renewable energy and low-carbon fuel technologies, including transmission and distribution infrastructure, and energy storage. We have been giving careful consideration to the outcomes from the public consultation and the Scottish Parliament’s scrutiny of the draft NPF4, and I will lay a revised version in the Parliament for approval shortly. We have been pleased with the broad support for the general direction of travel proposed in the draft NPF4.

Stephen Kerr

The most recent United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change report to the UK Parliament makes it clear that nuclear—particularly advanced module nuclear reactors—must be part of our energy mix, as a high priority, to deliver energy security. What is it that the Scottish Government knows that that committee does not which allows it to maintain its stance that nuclear is superfluous to Scotland’s energy future?

Tom Arthur

The muted applause from the Conservative benches suggests that Mr Kerr is in a minority of one with that particular view.

The Scottish Government is clear about its policy: we do not support new nuclear fission power stations. With regard to small modular nuclear reactors, they are very much still at the design and licensing stage, so their economic competitiveness remains unproven.

Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Will the Scottish Government include initiatives to respond to a range of barriers that currently act as a disincentive to planning for further solar deployment? Will the new energy strategy include targets to grow Scotland’s solar generation capacity, which is currently around 3 per cent of the UK total?

Tom Arthur

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of energy generated from solar power in contributing to the decarbonisation of Scotland’s energy supply and helping us to meet our targets for a net zero emission society by 2045. In support of that aim, we will consult on a solar vision for Scotland as part of the draft energy strategy and just transition plan. The vision will consider the key barriers to enabling greater development of solar and will set out the commitments that the Scottish Government will make in order to reduce such barriers and encourage greater deployment of solar in Scotland.

I am pleased to confirm that we are also bringing forward our consideration of permitted development rights for domestic and non-domestic renewable energy equipment, including non-domestic solar panels. We intend to consult on that early in 2023, which I hope will be welcomed by members across the chamber.

United Kingdom Government Fiscal Policy

To ask the Scottish Government what the implications will be for its budget of recent changes in the United Kingdom Government’s fiscal policy. (S6O-01474)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The UK Government did not engage with the Scottish Government on the most recent changes in fiscal policy for our budget. We face the prospect of further reductions as it tries to manage the damage caused by the Conservative mini-budget some weeks ago. Indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself has warned about “decisions of eye-watering difficulty”.

I have just completed a call with the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has assured me that there will be dialogue with the Scottish Government in advance of the UK Government’s autumn statement on 17 November. I welcome that assurance. With inflation eroding the real-terms value of our budget by £1.7 billion since it was introduced in December, the UK Government needs to use the autumn statement to set out how it will protect public services, households and businesses from inflation and the cost crisis, and rule out a return to austerity.

Colin Beattie

The U-turns that have been made by the UK Government have caused great uncertainty for many Scots, with mortgage products being pulled and the pound crashing. That has only been made worse by the UK Government’s unwelcome delay to its budgetary plans, which the chancellor announced this week. People need certainty and stability. Does the Deputy First Minister agree with me that the only way in which we can provide certainty for Scotland’s economic future is through the full powers that independence would bring?

John Swinney

I agree with Mr Beattie on the central premise of his question. One of the key points that were made in the 2014 referendum campaign by those who argued for the union was that it offered fiscal certainty. Any independent observer looking at the events of the past few years—not just the past few weeks—would understand the fiscal and economic damage that has been done as a consequence of our continued participation in the United Kingdom. That includes the economic effects of Brexit, which everyone knows is having a negative effect on economic performance and migration, and the mind-numbingly damaging decisions that were taken in the mini-budget, which will create economic hardship for people in this country, who will lose homes and jobs as a consequence of the unnecessary increases in interest rates.

Mr Beattie makes a strong argument. I am delighted to associate myself with it and to ensure that it will be put to the people of our country.

People’s Plan for Action

8. Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the people’s plan for action published earlier in October by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Poverty Alliance, Living Rent and a number of other groups. (S6O-01475)

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government (Shona Robison)

The cost of living crisis is the most immediate challenge to people and businesses across Scotland, and I am keen that we work together to do what we can to support those who most need help.

We are already providing significant support for households to mitigate the impacts of the cost crisis. By the end of March 2023, we will have invested almost £3 billion in a range of measures for households, supporting energy bills, childcare, health and travel, as well as social security payments that are either not available anywhere else in the United Kingdom or more generous here.

We are making hard choices to prioritise spending, redirect resources and find savings so that we can provide support and reduce burdens where we can.

Ross Greer

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s answer. Enforcing fair work practices is one of the campaign’s nine key asks. Requiring all those who seek public sector grants to pay at least the real living wage would be an example of such enforcement and was a commitment that was made in the Bute house agreement between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Government. Will the cabinet secretary therefore confirm that the Scottish Government intends to implement that conditionality as soon as possible?

Shona Robison

We remain fully committed to strengthening our approach to conditionality, including payment of the real living wage and channels for effective voice. It is clear that fair work, including fair pay, is more important than ever given the cost of living crisis. We will use all the levers that we can to support people who are affected most.

As we committed to doing in the Bute house agreement, we will introduce a requirement for organisations seeking public sector grants to pay at least the living wage to all employees and to provide appropriate channels for effective voice, subject to the limits on devolved competence. Ministers will confirm the detail of the conditionality on public sector grants in the coming weeks.