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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee 30 November 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, Fuel Poverty Strategy, Subordinate Legislation, Public Petitions


Public Petitions

Improve the Reliability of Island Ferry Services (PE1872)

Our next item is consideration of two public petitions. The first petition is PE1872, on improving the reliability of island ferry services. The petition was lodged by Liz Mcnicol in May 2021 and calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to urgently ensure that all islanders have access to reliable ferry services. I thank the petitioner for lodging the petition.

I invite members to note paper 6, which provides some background information and reminds us of our options in relation to petitions. With respect to the challenges experienced with ferry services across Scotland recently, we should note that Audit Scotland is undertaking a substantial inquiry into ferry services. That report is due to be published in March 2022.

The first step that the committee can consider in relation to the petition is to write to the Scottish Government to ask what steps are being taken to address the challenges being experienced by island communities and others in relation to ferry services. Do members agree to take that approach?

Members indicated agreement.

Are there any particular issues that members would like us to address in the letter to the Scottish Government?

Notwithstanding the Audit Scotland report, it is incumbent on the committee to ensure that some of the other challenges are addressed. That might involve writing to CalMac Ferries on access to its ferry services, given that they are a lifeline for the communities in our islands. We can ask what is being done about camper vans, emergency access to get to hospital on the mainland and access for white vans, given that ferries underpin island economies.

I completely agree with that. We are looking at writing to the Scottish Government and to CalMac and then, depending on the responses, we can have an evidence session.

Yes. The petition dates from May, but as we know, islanders are experiencing on-going and serious issues. We can look at the Audit Scotland report, which is a review of the arrangements and learning in relation to the procurement and management of projects. However, we should also ask the minister whether steps are being taken, in advance of the Audit Scotland report’s publication, to improve the current lifeline ferry services.


We need to consider that in advance of the spring and summer seasons. The petitioner was writing in reference to some of the impacts on tourism. We have to ask the minister to look at both the lifeline issues that Collette Stevenson mentioned and the implications for tourism.

We should put similar issues to CalMac. It is good to see that this week CalMac is offering half-price tickets for schools that are taking part in activities on the mainland. That has been a long-standing issue. There might be other practical steps being taken. We need to ensure that those are put on the record and understood.

The minister might want to come back to us in advance of the Audit Scotland report if there is anything that can be announced in relation to the lifeline services, as well as looking forward to the tourism season.

I completely agree with those points.

I agree with the points that my colleagues have made. We should write to both the Government and CalMac. I agree with the deputy convener that the issues raised by the petitioner dating back to May are fairly urgent and that we cannot wait for the Audit Scotland report, which will probably look at a narrower set of issues. It is right that the committee takes further action.

I thank the petitioner for bringing the matter to the Parliament’s attention.

I have nothing to add to the important comments that have already been made.

I agree with all the comments so far. An important part of access is the cost, particularly for those who are vulnerable and cannot afford regular travel. I know that many young people in the islands use a ferry service in the way that people on the mainland might use a bus service. It would be useful to know what consideration the Scottish Government has given to that. The roll-out of concessionary travel for under-22s on the buses is starting in January, but it would be interesting to know whether the Government has done any analysis of the cost of extending that to ferries. I know that the transport minister announced several weeks ago that the fair fares review will look in detail at the structure of ferry prices and how that will impact on people who are struggling.

That is a very good point. We seem to be agreed on our approach. We will write what will probably be quite a lengthy letter to the Scottish Government, setting out those concerns, and we will send a similar letter to CalMac. It will be an on-going line of inquiry for the committee. We do not want to duplicate the work of Audit Scotland, but as Monica Lennon said, it is important to take up the concerns raised in the petition and get a response from the Scottish Government and CalMac.

Translocate Protected Beavers to Reduce Licensed Killing (PE1815)

We now turn to PE1815 on translocating protected beavers to reduce licensed killing. The petition was lodged by Steve Micklewright on behalf of Trees for Life in August 2020. It calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to initiate a programme to translocate protected beavers to suitable habitats, to minimise the need to kill animals that are adversely impacting arable farmland.

I again refer members to paper 6, which sets out some relevant information, including a highly relevant court case in which the petitioners were involved, which concluded recently. It also highlights a recently announced new policy on the translocation of beavers.

I point out, by way of background, that NatureScot was in touch with the clerks yesterday afternoon to comment that, in relation to paragraph 7 of the clerk’s paper, it takes a slightly different interpretation of the court judgment and would prefer the first sentence of paragraph 7 to read:

“The judgement ruled that NatureScot erred in law by not setting out the reasons why it was issuing the management licences.”

I state that simply to put on record NatureScot’s views on the court case.

Members should also note some developments that have happened since the petition was submitted. The Scottish Government has recently announced that it will begin to identify new sites for the translocation of beavers and that there will be a consultation with local communities that might be affected, to identify and mitigate possible areas of conflict. In addition, NatureScot is in the process of drafting guidance to show future consultees how it will handle conservation translocation applications, how their views can be presented, and what can be expected from a competent and fair consultation exercise.

With that, I invite thoughts from committee members on how we might respond to the petition and what we should be highlighting to the Scottish Government and NatureScot.

First of all, we should congratulate the petitioners on managing to change Government policy. Translocations are now happening, which is great; indeed, I think that one happened yesterday in the Stirling area.

To be fair, I think that some follow-up work is needed on the back of this. Although it would probably be useful to write to the Scottish Government, I think that we should certainly write to NatureScot to ask for more detail on its view of the change in the beaver management framework, particularly with regard to existing licences for lethal control, the funding of translocations and how the process itself can be streamlined. I know that some of that will come through forthcoming guidance, but I would still be reluctant to close the petition. You could look at this and think that pretty much everything that the petitioners have asked for is now happening, but there are some issues for the future with regard to guidance and the management framework that will need to be followed up, to ensure that we get substantial change.

I agree, and I think that your point about the financial implications of translocations is important. The question is whether the budget in place is adequate, because I imagine that some additional budgetary requirements will be imposed as a result of this new policy area.

I am not sure whether Ciaran Jenkins of Channel 4 News is aware of the discussion that we are having, but members might want to look at a very lovely Twitter thread that includes a video of the first family of beavers in Scotland to be moved to their new home.

I agree with Mark Ruskell that this is good news, but, like him, I have some questions about how this will be operationalised and the resource and funding requirements. Perhaps we should ask NatureScot and the Scottish Government for a response to the recent court ruling, given that some matters might be open to different interpretation, and from a landowner’s perspective, there might be questions about compensation for putting adaptation measures in place.

I note that 115 beavers—or around a tenth of the population—were shot and killed in Scotland last year. Despite the change in policy, there is still scope for licensing lethal control, and we need to get a better sense of what that will look like.

I agree. I suggest that we also inform the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee in writing of what we are doing in this area, to ensure that, given the overlap in the committees’ remits, we can co-ordinate our work with whatever work the other committee is undertaking. Are we agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

Now that we have agreed a significant course of action for following up the petition, I look forward to working with committee members on it.

That ends the public part of the meeting.

12:09 Meeting continued in private until 12:30.