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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 30, 2023


General Question Time

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good morning. The first item of business is general question time. As ever, I would appreciate succinct questions and answers to match in order to get in as many questions as possible. Members who are seeking to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question.

Teacher Training (Employment-based Routes)

To ask the Scottish Government what its policy is in relation to employment-based routes to teacher training. (S6O-02822)

The Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans (Graeme Dey)

The Scottish Government is supportive of a range of university-based routes into teaching, and we are open to working with our university providers to consider alternative routes that lead to an appropriate teaching qualification. The member will be aware that we offer bursaries for career changers who wish to become teachers in our most hard-to-fill subjects. However, it is the General Teaching Council for Scotland that determines what constitutes a recognised teaching qualification.

Liz Smith

I am asking the question because of concerns that have been expressed to me by those who have been working with the University of Buckingham as mentors to postgraduate certificate in education students that this might be the last year that the University of Buckingham offers its highly regarded and rigorous training course in Scotland. Allegedly, that is because of changes to Scottish Government policy on employment-based routes into teacher training. Can I ask the minister for some verification of that, and can he provide me with details about what has happened?

Graeme Dey

The University of Buckingham offering was at no time an employment-based route into teaching as such; it was a transitional arrangement that followed the requirement for teachers working in the independent school sector to be registered with the GTCS, which was introduced in 2017. The University of Buckingham delivers a top-up programme to enable that to happen, but it was accredited only for a small category of teachers, with a limited timescale in which to complete it.

I hope that that provides Liz Smith with sufficient clarity, but if it does not or if I have not quite captured the essence of her question, I am more than happy to engage with her further on that.

Will the minister confirm that the Scottish Government is still committed to a graduate teaching profession?

The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to the teaching profession full stop, but it will always engage with opportunities to universities to see how we enhance that further.

Willie Rennie is joining us online.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The minister will know that I am concerned about the high levels of unemployment and short-term contracts in the teaching profession. That will not be particularly attractive to those who are looking to switch careers into teaching. What is the minister doing about recruiting the 3,500 extra teachers who were promised and the reduction in teacher contact time that will be essential to recruit those extra teachers?

Graeme Dey

As Mr Rennie knows, that is not my area of responsibility, but I am more than happy to write back to him in full detail on that. I know that he had an exchange with the cabinet secretary in the chamber not so long ago, when I think she answered that question quite fully.

Subsidised Bus Routes

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to local authorities to ensure that any subsidised bus routes are maintained. (S6O-02823)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

Local authorities receive funding from the Scottish Government via the general revenue grant and have a duty to consider supporting socially necessary services that are otherwise not commercially viable. In 2021-22, local authorities spent £55 million supporting bus services in that way.

Evelyn Tweed

Stirling Council has recently launched its budget consultation, which includes three options for public transport, all of which would see cuts to the subsidised X10 and C60 services, which are vital in linking Stirling’s rural communities. What conversations take place with local authorities to ensure that there is an awareness of the importance of the provision of bus services in rural areas?

Fiona Hyslop

Under the Transport Act 1985, local authorities have a duty to identify where there is a social need for particular bus services, and they can subsidise those services at their discretion. That means that local transport authorities can provide subsidy for services that are not provided on a commercial basis, but that is entirely a matter for local authorities to determine, and the Scottish Government has no powers to intervene in those matters.

Under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, local transport authorities now have powers that enable them to run their own services. Those powers sit alongside their existing powers to subsidise local services. However, it is for local transport authorities to decide whether they want to use those powers to improve services. I discussed rural transport bus issues with the regional transport partnerships only this week.

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

The M2 bus that runs from Toryglen to Castlemilk, in my region, is an hourly service that is regularly used by older people, and it is the only bus that serves the bottom of Spittal and Dunure Drive. For the past month, it has been reduced from an hourly service, and recently to no service at all, due to repairs. It has taken over a month for that work to be done and there has been no replacement. What can the minister do to establish why that has gone on for so long? What mechanism can she put in place to ensure that replacement services are there now and in the future?

Fiona Hyslop

I am sure that the member will be aware that the bus services are run by commercial operators in the deregulated market. As we have just discussed, some are subsidised by the local authority, but they are run by private companies.

I appreciate that, as is generally the case across all transport areas, repairs and replacement of parts are placing pressure on transport issues. When it comes to bus services, the member, as an MSP, is best placed to make representations on behalf of her constituents directly to the bus company. If she has not yet met with the bus company, I strongly encourage her to do so.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I ask the minister about the importance of local political leadership on this issue. My understanding is that Stirling Council has had money from the community bus fund to develop new local rural services and that Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park is also committed to establishing new routes, working with the council, which will be included in the forthcoming park plan. It seems that all the ingredients are there to restore rural bus services, but what is lacking is the local political leadership to pull it all together and use the new powers in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019.

Fiona Hyslop

It is disappointing to hear that bus services are deteriorating in the Stirling area. It is a matter for local political leadership, just as it is a matter for national political leadership to put transport front and centre in our priorities. Anybody who has concerns about private operators can approach the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland.

On the provision of enabling tools, on the back of the 2019 act a whole suite of regulations are coming into force or are already in force, giving more powers and responsibilities for local authorities to use. The community bus fund is intended to support local transport authorities in considering the powers from the 2019 act and to improve local services. More than 500—

Thank you, minister. We need to move to the next question.

COP28 (Scottish Government Priorities)

To ask the Scottish Government what its priorities are for the 28th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP28. (S6O-02825)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition (Màiri McAllan)

In summary, our principal objectives for COP28 are that our leadership on loss and damage builds momentum for urgent funding; that our co-chairmanship of the Under2 Coalition supports action and commitments; that our commitment to low-carbon energy and a just transition to net zero, particularly around offshore wind and hydrogen, can influence others to do more to achieve net zero; and that we will advance international relationships, attract investment in Scotland and enhance Scotland’s global reputation, particularly on renewable energy. We will also continue using our platform to platform the voices of women, young people and the global south in the COP28 debate in action.

Monica Lennon

Now that the European Union has decided to criminalise offences comparable to ecocide, will the Scottish Government take the opportunity at COP28 to meet Governments and campaigners who are advancing ecocide law, in the light of the Scottish Government’s commitment to maintain alignment with the EU on environmental protection?

Màiri McAllan

I welcome Monica Lennon’s question. I have a very full programme at COP28, which includes a number of meetings centred on the twin crisis of nature loss.

The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to protecting Scotland’s environment. Monica Lennon is right to recognise the progress at EU level. We will assess the final revised EU environmental crime directive against our own policy to seek to maintain alignment where we can with EU law. Of course, I will take that important matter into a number of the conversations that I will be having at COP28.

Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

The climate credentials of the United Kingdom Government are in absolute tatters, and the only thing that the Labour Government-in-waiting seems capable of is flip-flopping and U-turns. How can Scotland work with the international community at COP28 to effect a positive outcome and show the world that our views and ambitions for the future of the planet are not represented by Westminster?

Màiri McAllan

Karen Adam is absolutely right to point out how much of a leader Scotland is already recognised as being in the climate space, not only in our commitments and actions—particularly on renewables and nature-based solutions—but, equally, in our pursuit of climate justice.

We will use our platform at COP28. The First Minister is already there, and I will follow as he returns home. However, the point is that no nation has all the answers or the means to respond at the scale that is required. That is why national leadership and representation at fora such as COP28 are so important, and Scotland will use its role to our full potential.

Regeneration and Economic Renewal Projects (South of Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what funding it is providing for regeneration and economic renewal projects in the south of Scotland. (S6O-02826)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy (Neil Gray)

Our place-based investment programme has directly provided more than £18 million to councils in the south of Scotland region since 2021, and the area has received more than £48 million from other Scottish Government regeneration funding programmes.

The Scottish Government is also investing £85 million in the Borderlands deal and £300 million in the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland deal, to support a wide range of projects and programmes that are designed to stimulate economic growth. In addition, we have allocated more than £34 million to the South of Scotland Enterprise agency in 2023-24, to support economic and community development across the region.

Finlay Carson

I recognise the funding that the United Kingdom Government’s levelling up fund has brought to projects such as the one at the George Hotel in Stranraer.

The cabinet secretary might be aware that, in April 2016, the Scottish Government committed to invest £6 million towards the regeneration of Stranraer when the ferry port closed. Unfortunately, previous Scottish National Party and Labour administrations at Dumfries and Galloway Council and the Scottish Government have failed to deliver a process to draw down that money, despite knowing that the investment could bring transformational change, jobs and opportunities for local people. What discussions has the cabinet secretary had with the current administration? What progress has been made to draw down that money?

Neil Gray

We have been in constant dialogue with Dumfries and Galloway Council and have made it clear that, in the absence of detailed proposals, we cannot release those funds. Officials met council representatives on 13 November to discuss Stranraer’s place plan and underlined the need for the council to develop and submit detailed investment proposals for us to consider.

Stranraer has already benefited from £2.8 million from the regeneration capital grant fund. Through the Borderlands growth deal, we have also committed £16 million to support the redevelopment of Stranraer marina, with a focus on creating new jobs and drawing in new visitors to the area. I hope that that gives Mr Carson some reassurance.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I have previously raised regeneration and economic renewal in relation to addressing the many vacant, abandoned and derelict sites across south Scotland, such as the Arches restaurant in Stranraer and the Interfloor factory in Dumfries.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is crucial that funding to address derelict sites ensures that rural areas such as D and G are included? Will he agree to meet me to discuss how those sites can be better addressed?

Neil Gray

I am happy to meet Emma Harper to discuss that issue and the fact that the vacant and derelict land investment programme is open to applications from all local authorities, including those in the south of Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway. The programme will assist them in tackling the persistence of vacant and derelict land in the areas that they cover.

Buses (Actions to Increase Use)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to increase the use of buses across Scotland. (S6O-02827)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

Earlier this year, we co-funded a successful national marketing campaign with bus operators, to encourage people to return to bus or use it for the first time. The campaign reached an audience of millions, prompted more than 32,000 visits to the website and increased older and disabled persons’ concessionary journeys by 5.8 per cent during the campaign period.

In addition, our concessionary travel schemes provide access to free bus travel to more than 2 million people in Scotland, including around 170,000 in Fife. The schemes account for more than 3 million journeys every week and help people to cut costs, which makes sustainable travel a more attractive option.

Alex Rowley

Although I have repeatedly welcomed the under-22 bus pass scheme in the chamber, I have also repeatedly raised the issue of unaffordable and ever-increasing bus fares for people who are without the benefit of a concessionary scheme. The United Kingdom Government has introduced a blanket cap of £2 for all bus fares in England, to help to tackle the issue during the cost of living crisis.

Will the minister examine the case and cost for a similar fare cap in Scotland that would benefit all bus users?

Fiona Hyslop

The rest of the UK does not have the generous concessionary bus scheme that Scotland has—more than 2 million of our population benefit from the scheme. However, the member makes an important point about working people who cannot afford bus fares and are not eligible for the concessionary scheme. That is why our fair fares review, which is due to report shortly, is looking at the balance there, including the issue of tackling poverty. One of the biggest blights resulting from successive Westminster Governments is in-work poverty. If the Scottish Government can do anything to help to relieve that, we will do it.

Let us be realistic, though. When it comes to achieving what the member and I want to achieve, which is properly to tackle poverty in Scotland, we are facing a very serious budget situation.

The minister is perhaps missing an opportunity here, because we could have a Scottish bus fare cap if she chose to consider it. Is the minister prepared at least to look at the proposal and what it might cost?

Fiona Hyslop

The member makes an important point, but he also fails to reflect that Scotland does not have a centralised system for what can be done in local authority areas. We are in the process of introducing regulations that will give more powers, for example over franchising; powers over running services are already there. Unless the member wants to centralise all decision making on transport, what he suggests would be problematic in our context.

I have met regional transport partnerships from across Scotland, and I think that all of us—whether in local authorities, regional transport partnerships or in the national Government—are thinking about how we can do things in a better way. However, I do not think that centralising everything, as the member suggests, is the route forward that our local authorities would want.

Public Service Provision (East Lothian)

7. Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with East Lothian Council regarding the future of local public service provision in the area, including in relation to the Loch Centre in Tranent. (S6O-02828)

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

The Scottish Government places great importance on community sports and leisure facilities. The Deputy First Minister met representatives of East Lothian Council on 23 August. We are fully aware that local councils, like all public authorities, are facing challenging financial circumstances, which is why, in 2023-24, we increased the resources that are available to local government by more than £793 million.

In 2023-24, East Lothian Council will receive £221.5 million to fund local services, which equates to an extra £8.1 million to support vital day-to-day services, or an additional 3.8 per cent compared with 2022-23.

Martin Whitfield

The International Society for Physical Activity and Health’s sixth priority in its publication “Eight Investments That Work for Physical Activity” states:

“Sport and recreation opportunities must target audiences where the need may be greatest or participation rates may be lower”.

The Scottish Government agrees, and the Loch Centre in Tranent does exactly that.

Does the minister agree that, although it is right and proper that local authorities should decide how local funding is distributed to their communities and, in turn, how to provide and maintain community and sporting facilities, they must have the political and practical support from the Government to meet that need properly?

Joe FitzPatrick

The member makes a strong point. The benefits of physical activity, and sport as part of that, are huge across our country. It is really important that we all work together, and local authorities, the Scottish Government and sportscotland are working hand in hand. We absolutely understand the particular challenges that we face with the estate, which is why sportscotland has been tasked with looking at facilities across Scotland and how they can be sustainable in the long term.

It is also why the Government’s programme for government mentioned a working group, including our partners in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and sportscotland, to look at how we can better use all of that estate, particularly the schools estate. On many occasions, although the best facilities in a community are located in the schools estate, they are often inaccessible to members of that community. We need to do more, but we need to do it in partnership.

I can squeeze in question 8 if I have succinct questions and answers. Dr Gulhane joins us remotely.

Public Services and Facilities (Glasgow)

8. Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Life regarding the future provision of public services and facilities in the region, including the Glasgow national hockey centre. (S6O-02829)

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

The Scottish Government is fully aware that local authorities are facing challenging financial circumstances, in particular in maintaining and operating facilities, largely due to energy costs and other cost of living pressures. The Scottish Government will continue to regularly meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and individual local authorities to cover a range of topics, including current and future budget processes. It is vital that all avenues are explored to ensure, where possible, that local clubs and communities have access to sport and leisure facilities.

Sandesh Gulhane

I am sure that the minister will be aware that the hockey centre in Glasgow is a 2014 Commonwealth games legacy venue. A question mark now hangs over the facility’s future viability. Scottish Hockey has a potential investor, but I am told that progress has been slowed due to inactivity on the part of Glasgow Life. No one wants to lose potential investment in a valuable sporting venue in Glasgow, so will the minister intervene to ensure the future of the facility and the many clubs that use it?

Joe FitzPatrick

Sandesh Gulhane will be well aware that Glasgow City Council, like other local authorities, is a democratically elected institution, and it is important that this Parliament respects the democratic mandates of local councillors across Scotland.

On the specifics of the question, I know that Scottish Hockey has written to the Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport, and a response will be going to Scottish Hockey in due course.