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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, March 31, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Benefit Sanctions, Portfolio Question Time, Investment in Natural Capital, Scotland’s Vision for Trade (Annual Report), Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Point of Order, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


General Question Time

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

Good morning. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place, and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is general question time. I would appreciate short and succinct questions and responses, in order to get in as many members as possible.

Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc. (S6O-00950)

The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise (Ivan McKee)

The Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc is a great example of team Scotland—comprising the Scottish Government, Dundee City Council, Scottish Enterprise and the private sector, including Michelin—working together to deliver change.

MSIP continues to make significant progress since it was formally opened in July 2020. MSIP provides job opportunities and skills development to Dundee and Scotland as a leading global destination for innovation and investment in sustainable mobility and low-carbon energy. To date, MSIP has 11 tenants on site and has created 115 jobs, and £2.1 million of funding was announced last week for the MSIP skills academy, which is due to be launched later this year.

Joe FitzPatrick

What role can MSIP play in delivering Scotland’s ambitious net zero targets, particularly around use of hydrogen? How much involvement has there been by, and how much support has come from, the United Kingdom Government?

Ivan McKee

MSIP is a key exemplar of the ambition that the Scottish Government has for a just transition to net zero by 2045. MSIP will be an international location for innovation in sustainable mobility and low-carbon energy, with a strong focus on hydrogen. It will have a mix of start-up, high growth and more mature companies, and both inward and indigenous investors.

There will be a research and innovation organisation, and facilities including the skills academy and incubator facilities for small and medium-sized enterprises. MSIP has a strong pipeline of interest and regular contact from companies in the hydrogen sector.

Officials continue to engage with the UK Government on the exciting and innovative opportunities that are available at MSIP, and to showcase Dundee as a leader in providing essential skills for future and green economic growth.

Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

When the closure of Dundee’s Michelin factory was announced in 2018, the company committed to involving Unite the union in development of the new innovation park on the site. Michelin also committed to offering the first opportunities for re-employment to former Michelin staff, and to encouraging new companies that were coming to the site to do the same. Given that the Scottish Government has already invested £60 million in the site, can the minister confirm precisely how many former Michelin staff have been employed there? What meaningful engagement has Unite the union had in the development?

Ivan McKee

Of course, we are keen that all partners are engaged in all discussions about development of that exciting opportunity. As I said, 115 jobs have been created, and the site is on target to create more than 800 jobs over the next five years. My understanding is that all 850 employees who previously worked at the site have found other work opportunities or have decided to take another course of action, including retirement. However, I am sure that businesses such as are now opening at the site very regularly will be keen to interact with former Michelin employees who are keen to work there, and that the businesses will seek to find employment opportunities for them.

Road Safety

To ask the Scottish Government how much funding it currently provides to improve road safety. (S6O-00951)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

In 2021-2022, the Scottish Government invested almost £20 million to support road safety across Scotland, through trunk road casualty reduction measures, national partnership works—such as the Scottish safety camera programme—and road safety campaigns and marketing activities, which are led by Road Safety Scotland. For 2022-23, we have increased that investment to more than £37 million. That includes the formation of a new road safety improvement fund, which will allow partners to deliver initiatives to reduce casualties, in line with our ambitious targets that were captured in “Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2030”.

Gordon MacDonald

Between 2007 and 2018, road casualties across Scotland dropped by nearly 50 per cent. The latest figures, for 2020, highlight that that reduction in the number of people being injured on our roads accelerated during the pandemic and now stands at 69 per cent below the 2007 number.

Unfortunately, however, in recent years there has been a worrying increase in the number of cyclists who are injured on our roads. What steps is the Government taking with its local authority partners to address that issue?

Jenny Gilruth

We want more people to choose to walk, wheel and cycle to get around, but it is obvious that more people need to feel safe to do so. Gordon MacDonald rightly highlights the worrying increase in injuries to cyclists in recent months.

There were 605 pedal-cycle casualties in 2020, which is 13 more than there were in the previous year. Among those were 11 pedal-cycle fatalities, which is one more than there were in 2019. We are absolutely determined to reduce those numbers, so the new road safety strategy includes the specific target of reducing deaths and serious injuries of cyclists by 20 per cent by 2030.

The Government has also increased the active travel budget—which is the largest in Scotland’s history—to £150 million next year, and we are sustaining our places for everyone programme and more than doubling the investment in the national cycle network next year.

Much of the delivery will happen, of course, in partnership with local authorities, which is why we are also increasing the capital funding programme through the cycling, walking and safer routes grant this year, which will go directly to local authorities. It will increase to £35 million from next year.

Further to that answer, what difference have the 20mph speed limit and dedicated cycle lanes had on road traffic accidents in areas such as my constituency?

Jenny Gilruth

The Scottish Government absolutely recognises that the 20mph speed limit is a key element in reducing road casualties and creating a safer environment for people to walk, wheel or cycle. The recent programme for government includes a commitment to ensuring that all appropriate roads and built-up areas have a safer speed limit of 20mph by 2025. We have formed a task group to plan the most effective route for that implementation. I welcome the work that Scottish Borders Council has done in that endeavour, in terms of introducing 20mph zones in Ms Grahame’s constituency.

Aviation Industry (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of the aviation industry to discuss the sector’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and what issues were discussed. (S6O-00952)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

The Scottish Government engages regularly with aviation stakeholders to discuss the recovery of connectivity. Officials engage with airports and airlines on a daily basis, and I had a very positive meeting last week with Edinburgh Airport Limited. We are committed, in this year’s programme for government, to working with Scotland’s airports to help to restore and to grow international connectivity, while not returning to previous levels of emissions.

In addition to our work with Scotland’s airports, last month Transport Scotland officials had productive meetings with 12 airlines to discuss existing, returning and potential new routes. Given the importance of aviation as an enabler for so many other parts of the economy, it remains our aspiration to help Scotland become as well connected as peer nations and regions.

Tess White

The Scottish Affairs Committee’s recent report “Airports in Scotland” concluded that the public funding received by Glasgow Prestwick Airport Limited

“has ensured there is not a level playing field across airports in Scotland, leading to a distortion in the market”.

What is the Scottish Government’s response to that conclusion? Can the minister provide any more information about the future of Prestwick airport?

Jenny Gilruth

Glasgow Prestwick Airport is required to operate on a commercial basis, at arm’s length from the Scottish Government, to comply with our obligations under the trade and co-operation agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

On the future of the airport, it remains our intention to return the business to the private sector when the time and the circumstances are right for the business and for the Scottish Government, as the shareholder. We are not putting a timeframe on that.

I think, however, that we need to recognise the on-going challenges that the pandemic has brought to aviation more generally. We have provided support to the sector with the powers that are available to us and within our limited resources. We have also provided support through the granting of 100 per cent non-domestic rates relief to eligible aviation businesses for 2021 and 2022.

Department for Work and Pensions (Office Estate)

4. Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Department for Work and Pensions regarding proposed changes to its office estate that could result in job losses in the north-east and elsewhere in Scotland. (S6O-00953)

The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise (Ivan McKee)

Although the Scottish Government was not consulted prior to the announcement, officials have been in contact with the Department for Work and Pensions. We are keen to understand the impacts of that change in its estate strategy on individuals and communities, and to work with it to minimise the risk of any redundancies in Scotland. The DWP confirmed that the changes will not affect any public-facing roles and that, where possible, staff are being offered opportunities to be redeployed. The DWP also indicated that it does not expect to reduce head count through that process.

I appreciate that it will be an unsettling time for individuals; they must be our priority. We have made an offer to stand up our support through our initiative for responding to redundancy situations—the partnership action for continuing employment. The DWP does not think that PACE support is required at this time. However, the offer will remain open for anyone who requires it. If needed, PACE will provide individual skills development and employability support.

Mercedes Villalba

Last September, the First Minister announced the creation of more than 2,000 jobs in Social Security Scotland by the end of this year. The DWP staff who are at risk of redundancy have a high level of expertise in delivering social security benefits, which could prove to be useful in supporting roll-out of new devolved benefits. Therefore, will the minister commit to working with the PCS Scotland trade union and the DWP to explore redeployment of those workers to Social Security Scotland, particularly in areas where there is a high risk of redundancy.

Ivan McKee

As I said, the information that we have from the DWP is that it does not expect to reduce head count through the process. PACE support is available, if it is required for people to seek alternative employment. That would, of course, include suitable opportunities that become available through Social Security Scotland or elsewhere. I am sure that the relevant minister will be happy to pick up that specific matter.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Impact of Spring Statement)

To ask the Scottish Government what the impact of the United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer’s spring statement will be on Scotland’s SMEs. (S6O-00954)

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

As with so many other aspects of the spring statement, it was a missed opportunity to help small and medium-sized enterprises, many of which are still reeling from the impact of the pandemic. In advance of the spring statement, we called on the UK Government to extend the VAT reduction for the hospitality sector, to introduce a temporary reduction of the VAT on fuels and to remove the incoming increase to national insurance contributions. Those measures would have helped to reduce costs for small and medium-sized enterprises across the country, but the chancellor did not listen.

The UK Government’s failure to provide adequate support and its decision to press ahead with an increase in national insurance when businesses are faced with the burdens of Covid recovery, inflation and energy costs, to name but a few, is extremely disappointing, to put it mildly. The measures that were announced in the spring statement are not nearly enough, given the pressures on businesses at the moment. We have urged the UK Government to take more action in reserved areas, but it has not done so with that spring statement.

Briefly, minister.

If the UK Government is not willing to use its reserved levers, those powers should be put into the hands of this Parliament, instead.

Michelle Thomson

I thank the minister for that very strong answer. He highlights the accelerating inflation, rising national insurance and so on, to which I would add borrowing costs. Much more should have been done to support SMEs. Will the minister meet me to discuss some ideas that I have about further specific actions that can be taken to support SMEs in my constituency of Falkirk East and across the sector?

Tom Arthur

I agree absolutely with the member that the chancellor should have offered more support to SMEs and all those affected by the cost of living crisis. My colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy wrote to the chancellor urging him to use the tax levers at his disposal to help people and businesses through the crisis. The failure to provide any substantial support to SMEs and the refusal to introduce a windfall tax on those who are profiting from the pandemic and the energy crisis are an indication of where the chancellor’s priorities lie. The chancellor should have introduced measures to raise the revenue required to support SMEs. I would, of course, be happy to meet the member to discuss these matters further.

Cycling Safety

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the Scottish National Party manifesto commitment for every child to leave school being able to cycle safely. (S6O-00955)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

Bikeability Scotland is the national cycle training programme for schoolchildren. The programme is delivered by Cycling Scotland using Transport Scotland grant funding. Bikeability is now delivered in 31 local authorities across the country. Before the pandemic, 47 per cent of all primary schools in Scotland participated in the programme.

In consultation with Transport Scotland, Cycling Scotland adapted bikeability delivery in response to the coronavirus lockdown. In 2020-21, training was delivered for the children of key workers at 70 childcare hubs across 15 local authorities. As lockdown restrictions have eased, Cycling Scotland has been working closely with participating local authorities to restart delivery, including through issuing guidance, funding and other support.

I am grateful for that answer.

How many children will leave school in 14 weeks’ time being able to cycle safely on our roads?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

As I pointed out during my original answer, clearly, the Covid pandemic has greatly impacted the bikeability scheme’s ability to operate fully and most effectively, which I hope that the member appreciates is understandable.

The member can take heart from the work that Cycling Scotland is undertaking to ensure a great increase in the proportion of schools that are participating by September 2023, and the fact that it is keen to do even more in the years ahead.

As the cabinet secretary has already said, just 47 per cent of primary schools deliver on-the-road training, which is nowhere near enough. How does the cabinet secretary plan to increase that number?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Bikeability Scotland is already planning to increase those numbers in the next school year. It anticipates increasing the proportion of schools that are participating to 57 per cent by September 2023. We will of course continue to invest in the bikeability Scotland scheme to grow participation numbers beyond that.

“Highway Code” (Changes)

7. Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact on travel in Scotland of the recent changes to the “Highway Code”. (S6O-00956)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

As Liz Smith will know, changes to the “Highway Code” came into force on 29 January 2022, aimed at providing better protection for pedestrians and cyclists. A main change to the “Highway Code” is the introduction of the hierarchy of road users, which places those road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy. Although that matter is reserved, the Scottish Government broadly supports those changes.

Transport Scotland continues to work with partners across the United Kingdom, including the Department for Transport, to align future awareness campaigns with any further changes to the “Highway Code”. Although it is too early to have assessed the impact of those changes thus far, they are being monitored and an assessment will be undertaken at the appropriate time.

Liz Smith

I am glad to hear that there will be some assessment, because the policing of those changes is a matter for Police Scotland. On account of the concerns that many constituents, especially elderly constituents, have raised that many drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are not properly adhering to the new code, what can be done to raise awareness of the changes and to ensure that those who are flouting the new regulations are properly dealt with?

Jenny Gilruth

To respond to some of Liz Smith’s points, in January of this year the Department for Transport informed Transport Scotland that it felt unable to embark on a communications or media plan in advance of the changes that would be coming into effect on 29 January.

Instead, it decided to propose a communication plan in two phases. The first phase was an awareness-raising campaign, which took place in early February, that alerted road users to the changes as they came into effect; the second phase is a broader behaviour change campaign that will take place in May and June, which will align with seasonal increases in active travel to help embed the changes and encourage the understanding that Liz Smith spoke to in her supplementary question.

It is fair to say that we were disappointed that the UK Government felt unable to promote those changes ahead of 29 January, so we took the proactive decision to do so ourselves in Scotland. Transport Scotland, Police Scotland, Road Safety Scotland and Traffic Scotland all used their social media to raise awareness of the changes, and the Scottish Government provided £75,000 for a three-week awareness-raising campaign, which ran in February on radio and social media.

Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

The amendment of rule 126 to add that

“tailgating will be enforced by police as a dangerous and careless driving offence”

has great potential to improve the experience of road users.

A report by the Co-op from September 2020 highlighted that

“over half of young drivers feel pressured to drive faster by other motorists”.

Does the minister agree that that crackdown on inconsiderate driving is a welcome step?

Jenny Gilruth

I agree. Kaukab Stewart highlights a key issue about ensuring that young drivers are supported and that they feel empowered to make the right choices in how they drive their vehicles.

We know that, too often, young drivers are not just the cause of road traffic accidents but, sadly, their victims, and we need to change that. It is just not acceptable for anyone to drive aggressively or in a way that lacks courtesy to other road users.

Our new “Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2030” includes a strategic action to work with partners to change the attitudes and behaviours of road users in Scotland. Last week, I announced an increased funding package of £70 million for our road safety work.

The enforcement of road laws is, of course, a matter for Police Scotland, with which we will continue to engage on a regular basis on this and other road safety and driver behaviour-related issues.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes general question time. Before we move to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to the gallery Her Excellency Saida Muna Tasneem, the Bangladesh High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. [Applause.]