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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 01 September 2021

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19, Food and Drink, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Insulin Discovery Centenary


Portfolio Question Time

Covid-19 Recovery and Parliamentary Business

Good afternoon. I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus. I ask members to take care to observe those measures, including when entering and exiting the chamber. Please only use the aisles and walkways to access your seats or when moving around the chamber.

The first item of business is portfolio questions, and the first portfolio for questions is Covid-19 recovery and parliamentary business. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or, if they are joining us online, press R in the chat function at the time of the relevant question.

Covid-19 Recovery (Communities)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across Government are supporting communities to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00065)

Recovery from the pandemic is an urgent priority for the Government. The policies that we set out in May and delivered within 100 days were for bold, ambitious and transformative measures. I assure Mr Fairlie that we are only at the beginning of the Government’s programme and that there is much more that we can and will do to build a fairer and more sustainable country, as we continue to drive Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic. The 80 commitments that we delivered were co-ordinated and targeted policies for demonstrable and positive change for the people, families and communities who need it most, and for our economy, public services and environment.

In my constituency, the north Perth and city centre Covid-19 community support group was formed during the pandemic as an affiliation of community groups from across the area, including Letham4All, North Muirton community council, Tulloch Net, and many others. The group mobilised more than 180 volunteers to help with everything from food shopping to delivering prescriptions to, quite simply, being someone to talk to.

Does the Scottish Government have any plans for sustaining and utilising the skills and resources that such community groups offer?

I echo Mr Fairlie’s comments. I am familiar with a number of the organisations to which he referred—not least, North Muirton community council, which is in my constituency. Those organisations have provided critical services to members of the public in the city of Perth; I know that similar organisations have done the same thing in other parts of the country.

With our work with local government, we want to focus on a community-based approach to Covid recovery, and to sustain many of the good examples of community initiatives that arose during the pandemic and which can support individuals—in particular, people who are vulnerable or lonely—in our communities. That was what we envisaged when we passed the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 to enable much greater community participation and engagement, and it will be central to the Government’s response in supporting organisations to make a meaningful impact on their communities.

In communities across Scotland, many individuals are still waiting to make an appointment for a face-to-face meeting with their general practitioner. I know that the Scottish Government addressed that issue in its plan for national health service recovery, but will the cabinet secretary update us on what the target date might be for getting back to some degree of normality for those who want to meet their GP face to face?

It is important to note that the process of meeting the needs of individuals during the pandemic has required many public servants, including general practitioners, to work in different ways, and they have all risen to that challenge. Some of the new models of operation are ones that we do not want to lose once the pandemic is over. Accessing public services through video consultation, which many GPs have started to use, is a beneficial way of ensuring that the maximum number of people get treatment when they require it.

Face-to-face consultations of course have a significant role to play, and general practitioners around the country are working hard, as is envisaged in the NHS recovery plan, to maximise the amount of face-to-face consultation that is undertaken. However, I would not want that to happen at the expense of our continuing to use the advances in technology that have enabled us to deliver healthcare and other services during the pandemic.

The cabinet secretary will recognise that carers are a key section of our community. They are struggling, and many of them are still isolating as case numbers rise to record levels. In some cases, care packages were withdrawn at the start of the pandemic, respite care was stopped and carers were left to cope alone. When will all those services be restored? Where is the remobilisation plan for social care?

Those issues are covered in the NHS recovery plan and in the wider steps that we are taking to recover public services, which in many respects are being progressed by our local authority partners.

Partners are trying to re-establish services as safely and sustainably as possible. In a sense, Jackie Baillie answered part of her question in her own words, when she referred to the challenge of rising case numbers and the anxiety that that will cause individuals who have health vulnerabilities.

We are working in close partnership with a variety of organisations to make sure that we restore services to meet people’s needs, but restoration of services has to be commensurate with how safe it is to do so in the context of the pandemic. Of course, the First Minister will have more to say on that when she addresses Parliament this afternoon.

There is a major issue with care in the community. I do not know how the Government can prioritise people, but in Fife, for example, the number of people on waiting lists for a care package has spiralled out of control. Will the Government look at how it can intervene? Fife Health and Social Care Partnership says that it simply cannot recruit the carers that it needs to provide the care that is required. The current situation is storing up a major problem, as we move into winter.

Mr Rowley has put his finger on a very significant issue—the availability of personnel to undertake certain essential tasks in our society. Across a range of sectors—Mr Rowley has understandably highlighted the situation in the social care sector—we are all hearing that there are simply not enough people coming forward for recruitment in certain occupations. The reduction in the number of people available, which is a consequence of the removal of freedom of movement as a result of Brexit, is undoubtedly having an effect.

We are working with health and social care partnerships to maximise the opportunities for recruitment, and we will continue to discuss such issues with local authorities and health boards as we support the recovery of care services, which is essential to ensuring that we meet the needs of individuals in our society.

Covid-19 Recovery (Inverclyde)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across Government will support Inverclyde to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00066)

The Scottish Government has provided Inverclyde Council with £7,651,250 to support businesses in the area during the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of the economic stimulus package in 2020-21, we provided an additional £100,000 to Inverclyde Council from the regeneration capital grant fund to ensure the delivery of the new Craigend resource centre in Greenock.

Inverclyde Council has also been awarded up to £504,804 of funding from the regeneration capital grant fund in 2021-22 to support delivery of services for Inverclyde Shed’s meet, make and share project, which is also in Greenock.

In addition, Scottish Enterprise is working with the area to deliver regional business support plans and to support regional company-growth pilots.

The cabinet secretary is well aware of the challenges that Inverclyde faces, some of which it faced even before the pandemic. Skills Development Scotland’s recent report, “Regional Skills Assessments West Region”, which was published in July 2021, states:

“Inverclyde is not forecast to meet pre-pandemic employment levels in the period up to 2031”.

My area needs additional assistance to arrest our population decline and to deal with our ageing population demographic. In the light of that, is there anything further that the Scottish Government would consider doing to support Inverclyde to recover from the pandemic?

The Government is very open to further discussions with the local community and the local authority on what steps can be taken. A great deal of planning has already been undertaken through the work of Glasgow City Region, which is, in essence, taking forward a range of projects that will have an impact on Inverclyde. The Government will be open to further dialogue beyond the propositions that are advanced in that proposal.

Glasgow City Region supports three projects in Inverclyde, which will promote growth in the area. The issue of population decline that Mr McMillan raised is one of the central issues in the focus of that work, and the Government stands ready to support Inverclyde Council and local partners in the most effective way that we can in order to advance some of the priorities that will assist in addressing population decline.

Covid-19 Recovery (Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across Government will support local authorities in their recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00067)

To date, we have provided Scottish local authorities with an additional £1.5 billion in direct support through the local government finance settlement, over and above the regular grant payments for Covid recovery. It is important that we deliver a bold and ambitious recovery plan for Scotland. My priority within Government is to work collectively and collegiately to ensure that that is the case.

I recognise the important role that local authorities have to play in that respect, and I am leading engagement to strengthen our partnership with local government in order to support recovery and to maximise every possible benefit for our citizens.

Will the cabinet secretary outline how the Scottish Government will engage with the hospitality industry in particular, and ensure that support is put in place to recover from the effects of Covid and the loss of business?

We have provided a tremendous amount of support to the hospitality sector to enable it to shoulder much of the strain that has come during the period of restrictions. We are now operating in a context in which the hospitality sector is able to trade in a fashion that is fairly close to normal, and we welcome the contribution that the sector can make to the economy.

A number of ministers have been involved in a range of discussions with the hospitality sector. I have been involved in discussions principally with the Glasgow city centre hospitality community, with whom Kaukab Stewart will be familiar from her constituency interests and responsibilities. That community is very much focused on supporting the recovery of the city centre to enable more footfall and, as a consequence, to boost the work of the hospitality sector.

The Government is happy to engage further with the sector on positive steps that we can take to address the concerns and aspirations of the hospitality community.

What steps will the Scottish Government take to ensure that unrestricted Covid recovery funds for councils are spent on appropriate Covid recovery matters and with well-thought-out plans that ensure that funds get to the people and communities that need them and deliver value for money for the United Kingdom taxpayer?

There is an interesting philosophical point in the question that Mr Kerr asked. There is a view—which has been pretty predominant within Parliament—that, when we distribute funds to local authorities, it is for local decision makers to decide how that money is spent. For the Government to come along and second guess decisions that have been made at local level would, I think, possibly attract—[Interruption.] Mr Kerr is suggesting that that is not second guessing; however, I am not quite sure what would be happening if the Government was scrutinising funding decisions that are taken by local authorities. Indeed, I think, to be frank, that local authorities would rail against such a stance being taken by the Government.

I am happy to explore the points that Mr Kerr raised, if he is suggesting that the Government should intervene in those matters. If that is the Conservatives’ latest position, I will explore that. However, fundamentally, I believe that a partnership with local government is a reliable and effective way to ensure that communities are well supported in the process.

Covid-19 Recovery Consultation

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to encourage people to engage with and respond to the Covid-19 recovery consultation. (S6O-00068)

On 17 August, the Scottish Government launched a 12-week public consultation to review the legislative powers that have supported our response to Covid. It is a full public consultation that is open for views through to 9 November and aims to support Scotland’s recovery from Covid.

The consultation has been widely publicised on social media, and a dedicated web page with supporting information has been established. We have ensured that the 30 topics that the consultation covers have been brought to the attention of key stakeholders, and we are considering how best to include the voices of disabled people in the consultation process, following representations on that issue during the passage through Parliament of the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Act 2021. I am pleased to say that the consultation has already attracted a lot of interest, and that more than 1,600 responses have been submitted so far.

During the pandemic, swift progress was made to set up remote jury centres. It is important that services can continue to operate in a way that does not impede access to justice. Can the cabinet secretary outline the Scottish Government’s proposals for helping our justice system to renew and recover from the pandemic?

I should say that I am just out of a meeting of the Criminal Justice Committee, at which we had a really useful session with the justice ministers.

The consultation invites views on 30 specific legislative proposals that have the potential to support Covid recovery, including proposals for justice system reform to ensure that the tangible benefits of modernisations and practices that have been adopted during the pandemic can be maintained, where that is appropriate. I stress, “where that is appropriate.”

Proposals will also cover the response to the impact of Covid on Scotland’s justice system specifically where backlogs have, unavoidably, built up. There is an opportunity in the consultation to address a number of the aspirations that are inherent in Mr MacGregor’s question, and the Government looks forward to engaging with members of the public on those points.

Covid-19 Recovery (North-east Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across Government will support the north-east to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00069)

We are actively supporting economic recovery in the north-east and have provided close to £100 million to businesses and additional funding of almost £150 million to councils to help to achieve that. We are also investing £157 million in the Aberdeen city region deal and the Moray growth deal, and more than £14 million to develop the skills that are needed to support regional economic recovery. Alongside that, we have recently confirmed our intention to commit £500 million of capital to support the just transition of the region and Moray, to support energy transition and to create jobs and maximise their future economic potential.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and I welcome absolutely everything that he listed. There is an opportunity, in Covid recovery, to address a number of Government objectives. Inequity in the ability to access fast low-emissions public transport is one that has long been an issue in my constituency and the wider eastern corner of north-east Scotland.

Will the Government, in its commitment to reopen analysis of the Dyce to Ellon rail line, look at the wider societal, environmental and economic benefits of such a rail link and base its decisions on wider criteria than simply projected passenger numbers? Will it commit to working with the people in my constituency and the neighbouring constituency on the case for the line, taking into account the workforce changes since Covid and the need for the jobs market to be accessible to people in rural areas who are seeking work?

I am very happy to commit the Government to engage on that basis. The strategic developments to which Gillian Martin has referred are significant in the north-east of Scotland, and they provide the opportunity to contribute to achievement of the Government’s obligations on net zero emissions. We look forward to engaging on those points, which will be the subject of further analysis as we develop the projects.

There are a couple of supplementaries. I would welcome brief questions and succinct answers.

I met Fraserburgh Harbour Commissioners on Monday. The commissioners detailed in their master plan ambitious and exciting expansion plans, which could significantly support the north-east’s recovery from the pandemic and give even more reason to send trains up there, as well as to improve the roads. Does the Scottish Government support Fraserburgh Harbour Commissioners’ ambitions, and will the cabinet secretary back their expansion proposals?

The Government engages on a range of projects around the country. Resources are challenging—I think that everybody knows that—but I certainly welcome the proposals to which Liam Kerr refers. My ministerial colleagues will be happy to engage on any proposals that come forward.

Remobilising our national health service will be critical to our Covid recovery in the north-east, and ensuring that we have the staff in place to do that will be vital.

Will the Deputy First Minister help that process by supporting the district nurses in Dundee who, three years ago, were regraded from band 6 to band 7 but have not had the process honoured by NHS Tayside? Does he agree that the situation is disgraceful, after those nurses’ selfless service during the pandemic? Will his Government intervene to ensure that the upgrading is honoured immediately?

As Mr Marra will be aware, the issue is the responsibility of NHS Tayside to determine. The board must make decisions that are appropriate based on all the advice that is available to it. I will certainly draw Mr Marra’s representations to the attention of NHS Tayside as a consequence of our exchange today.

Covid-19 Recovery (Parliamentary Procedure)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will commit to ensuring that any legislation it introduces to support the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic does not seek to allow regulations to be made or changed without being subject to the affirmative parliamentary procedure. (S6O-00070)

I thank Alexander Stewart for asking the first question that I will answer as a minister.

The Government is currently consulting on 30 public health, public services and justice system proposals that have the potential to support Covid recovery. Given the range of topics and potential scenarios that are covered by the consultation, the Government cannot commit to the standard affirmative procedure applying in all circumstances in bills that we introduce following the consultation.

However, I assure the member that we will consider carefully how we ensure that the Scottish Parliament is able effectively to scrutinise regulations that the Scottish Government brings forward in future. Of course, any bill that the Government introduces will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and there will be the opportunity for the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee and other committees of the Parliament to consider fully the procedures that apply to delegated powers.

Under the current coronavirus legislation, regulations do not have to be proactively put before the Scottish Parliament if the Scottish ministers consider that they need to be made urgently. Does the minister agree that it is not acceptable to enact, or approve without a vote, regulations that affect everyone’s lives? Will he rule out the inclusion of provisions in that regard in any legislation under the temporary coronavirus powers?

As the situation with the pandemic has changed, ministers have had to take swift action in relation to legal restrictions and requirements, and the emergency coronavirus regulations have been required to take effect quickly. That is the case not only when restrictions require to be imposed quickly, but when they require to be lifted because they are no longer necessary. The procedure allows for a swift response to put restrictions in place and to lift them when they are no longer needed. There is a time and a place for us to take action to make things better for the people of Scotland.

Covid-19 Pandemic Public Inquiry

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will outline the timescale for the independent public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00071)

The Scottish Government will establish a Scottish public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 by the end of this year in order to scrutinise decisions that were taken during the course of the pandemic so that lessons are learned for future pandemics. The Scottish Government is currently inviting views on the inquiry’s draft aims and principles, which will shape the terms of reference. Discussions are also going on with the United Kingdom Government on the planned UK inquiry in order to ensure that all areas that need to be considered are covered in a way that gives confidence to bereaved families and others.

Given the importance of the issues involved, is it anticipated that there could be staggered reporting as the inquiry progresses, by way of interim reports, such that important lessons can be learned and recommendations made in a timely manner?

Annabelle Ewing makes a reasonable point, but the process of and timescale for the inquiry will be matters for the chair of the inquiry, who will operate independently of ministers.

We can, of course, set out some of our expectations as a consequence of our discussions with interested parties. A very good example of how phased reporting can illuminate issues that an inquiry is wrestling with is provided by the inquiry into historical abuse, which Lady Smith chairs: a number of case studies have been reported and the approach has provided clarity and certainty for many individuals who have suffered in that regard. There are models that can operate in the spirit that Annabelle Ewing envisages, and I will consider the issue as we establish the terms of reference.

Question 8 is from Siobhian Brown, who joins us remotely.

Covid-19 Recovery (Spending Decisions)

To ask the Scottish Government what assurances it has had from the United Kingdom Government that decisions on spending on the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will be taken in Scotland. (S6O-00072)

The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 has undermined any assurance around decisions on Covid recovery spending in devolved areas being taken in Scotland. The act’s spending powers cover a wide range of areas, including some that relate to Covid recovery. Any such spending could bring the prospect of unco-ordinated spending and policy incoherence, which could hinder, rather than support, Covid recovery. The way that the UK Government has used the powers so far offers little assurance—rather, it has been the opposite.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is crucial that no more devolved powers are stripped from the Scottish Parliament and that decisions on Covid recovery spending in Scotland should be placed firmly in the hands of the Scottish Parliament?

I agree with that point. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have made it crystal clear that the UK Government’s 2020 act is unwelcome legislation that undermines the Scottish Parliament’s powers. It is crucial that the Scottish Parliament’s powers are respected. Those powers were supported by people in a referendum in 1997 and they have subsequently been enhanced by various legislative instruments that have been passed. Our decision-making structures should not be undermined or eroded by the UK Government.

Net Zero, Energy and Transport

The next portfolio is net zero, energy and transport. A number of members have already indicated that they want to ask supplementary questions and we are breaking new ground by having four different ministers answering questions in this session, so I would be grateful for brief questions and answers whenever possible.

Pavement Parking Prohibition

1. Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government when it expects to implement the provisions on pavement parking prohibition in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. (S6O-00073)

Officials are continuing to consult local authorities to develop the secondary legislation and parking standards guidance and to consult the public on areas that are contained in the legislation. In addition, local authorities require about 12 months to undertake assessments to consider whether they wish to exempt, subject to the criteria, any areas of pavement from the prohibition. As such, the majority of the secondary legislation is likely to be in place by 2022.

It is now almost two years since the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 received royal assent. What funding is the Government providing to aid the implementation of the provisions to ban pavement parking? What assessment has been done of any funding that it has provided to date?

As the member is aware, implementation of the parking elements was hindered by Covid and Brexit, but work is now well under way. An initial £1.6 million of funding for assessments has been distributed to councils alongside the draft chapters of the parking standards guidance document.

Question 2 is from Colin Beattie, who joins us remotely.

Net Zero Emissions (Community Groups)

2. Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what further guidance and support it will provide to community groups to help them meet the goal of net zero emissions. (S6O-00074)

We must engage communities across the country in our journey to net zero. Communities are being supported via the climate challenge fund as well as through the developing network of climate action hubs and towns. We are also launching a number of national initiatives in the run-up to climate week.

Our new website aims to help the public and communities to understand how they can play their part in tackling the global climate emergency, and it provides resources for community action. The website also signposts to further practical and financial support that is available to communities through other initiatives.

In my Midlothian North and Musselburgh constituency, there are well over 250 community groups with varying sizes and levels of activity. What financial support might be made available to those groups to assist them on their journey to net zero?

A number of Scottish Government funding packages are available to communities. For example, the Penicuik Community Development Trust in the member’s constituency was awarded just under £116,000 in the current financial year from the climate challenge fund for its Penicuik carbon challenge project, which offers free support to help residents and groups to reduce their carbon footprint by tackling waste.

The funding that is available to support communities on their journey to net zero includes the Scottish Government’s community and renewable energy scheme, which provides advice, loans and grant funding. Up to £5.25 million is available in the current financial year to support local community groups to develop renewable energy projects, supporting the growth of community and locally owned energy projects. There is also the Energy Saving Trust programme, which delivers a range of initiatives such as the e-bike grant scheme and provides support to community-based organisations to move to active travel. Further community support is available through the love local campaign, which is being rolled out nationally.

There are a range of different funding streams that community groups can access. I encourage any community group that is looking for advice on them to look to the website for further information, or to the Scottish communities climate action network website, which also contains a considerable amount of information on the area.

Net Zero Targets (Small and Medium-sized Businesses)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the net zero secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding action to support small and medium-sized businesses to reduce their carbon emissions, as part of wider efforts to reach net zero targets. (S6O-00075)

I regularly meet ministerial colleagues to discuss the collective action that is being taken across the Scottish Government to support our net zero ambitions.

In advance of the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—we have made targeted commitments to drive opportunities for Scottish businesses and supply chains—for example, through an additional £2 billion of infrastructure investment over the current parliamentary session to stimulate demand and create jobs in the transition to net zero. As part of our climate emergency skills action plan, we will build a toolkit to help small and micro businesses develop the skills and knowledge that they need to adapt to the demands of the transition to net zero.

We are also working across the Scottish Government to finalise plans for the Scottish climate week, which will run from 13 to 19 September and will support small and medium-sized enterprises across Scotland to hold events or take forward climate action with their teams.

The cabinet secretary may be aware of research by accountancy firm Grant Thornton UK LLP that suggests that roughly only half of businesses have a net zero strategy, despite strong recognition among the business community of the value of strong environmental performance. With such a high proportion of Scottish businesses in the SME sector, will the Scottish Government put a higher priority on supporting that kind of innovation in SMEs in relation to net zero instead of constantly targeting the few big businesses that Scotland currently has?

Everyone has a collective responsibility to play their part in helping to achieve Scotland becoming a net zero nation by 2045, whether that be at an individual, community or business level, as an SME or a major corporation. They all have a part to play in helping to support us in achieving that target, and we are already taking a range of actions. I have mentioned the net zero nation campaign, which is presently being rolled out in order to inform individuals, communities and businesses about the actions and opportunities that they can take forward in achieving net zero.

Those are all part of the on-going plan, but it is equally important that we help businesses to seize the opportunities that will arise as we become a net zero nation through the new technologies that will have to be developed and the deployment of those new technologies across domestic and non-domestic premises. All of that will provide opportunities for SMEs across the country to play their part in the range of work that we are taking forward, such as the skills academy and in other areas around green skills.

According to research that Citizens Advice Scotland published earlier this year, Scottish businesses were less likely than businesses across the United Kingdom to have introduced decarbonisation measures. Will the Government adopt all the recommendations in that report? Can the cabinet secretary say how much funding is available for the toolkit that he mentioned?

Monica Lennon’s question relates to the answer that I just gave to Brian Whittle. It is important that all parts of our community, including businesses, play their part in helping us to meet our net zero nation aim. That is why the on-going communication plan covers engagement with business organisations, helping to support them to inform their members about the work that they can take forward in order to become net zero businesses.

The reality, from my engagement with businesses at both the SME and corporate levels, is that they recognise that becoming net zero will be a key part of their business and that people want to see businesses playing their part in achieving net zero. That is why we have funding streams through a number of programmes that can support businesses to get loans and grants to assist them in decarbonising their operations. A big part of that will be about making sure that we build on that work as we progress.

I do not have a specific figure for the toolkit, but it is an important part of what the business community has asked us for in order to assist and support those businesses that do not have plans in place just now to take the necessary action.

Rest and Be Thankful Landslips (A83)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it has spent, and plans to spend, over the next four years, on the mitigation of landslips at the Rest and Be Thankful on the A83. (S6O-00076)

Since 2007, we have invested £87 million in the maintenance of the A83, including more than £15 million in landslide mitigation works to provide additional resilience at the Rest and Be Thankful, such as debris netting, bunds and improvements to drainage.

Subject to the annual budget process and spending review, our current plan is to spend a further £8.8 million over the coming years on short-term mitigation measures. There is also budget set aside for progression of the medium-term and long-term works in Glen Croe, which shows our absolute determination to invest in the road in the short, medium and long terms to help keep Argyll open for business and enable residents and visitors alike to travel to and from the area.

The minister has acknowledged that £15 million has been spent and a further £8 million is in the pipeline, and £1 million has recently been spent on extending the catch pits at the Rest and Be Thankful. Does he think that that will be enough to withstand a large landslide of, say, 100 tonnes of debris? If so, why does Transport Scotland keep on closing the road when it rains? Does he believe, therefore, that now is the time for all alternatives to be explored in order to maintain access to Argyll?

As Jackie Baillie well knows, because we have met to discuss the issue, there are no certainties about this; we are in the hands of mother nature. I know that Jackie Baillie would not sit there and suggest to me that we should not conduct those measures—we need to do so in order to minimise the risk there. A great deal of effort goes into ensuring that any risk associated with the route is minimised. I absolutely agree with her, and I hope that I can give her some assurance if she does not have it already. A parallel process is taking place: every mitigation possible is being deployed and, at exactly the same time, work is going on to develop proposals for the medium and long terms in order to provide the outcome that we all desire.

Can the Scottish Government give an assurance to residents, businesses and visitors of Argyll and Bute that the mitigation work that is currently under way is not to the detriment of a long-term solution? Can the minister share with Parliament the timeline for finding that solution?

As I have just said to Jackie Baillie, there is a parallel process that includes the current mitigation work, the medium-term development work and the long-term work. We are currently in the phase of gathering data in order to inform the best choice of specific route. That should be concluded by the end of this year. At that point, all being well, we will have a clearer picture of the workable options.

We will then move to the development of a final proposal for a medium-term solution. There are, of course, many unknowns, such as ownership of the land depending on the route, engineering requirements and ground condition, but we are working with all haste on that. I do not want to give hostages to fortune, but it is feasible that, towards the end of next year, we will have a firm, shovel-ready proposal to take forward. That is where we hope to be at that point.

Net Zero (Housing)

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am the owner of a rental property in North Lanarkshire.

To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has commissioned of the likely costs to homeowners and landlords of reaching net zero emissions in housing by 2045. (S6O-00077)

Scottish Government analysis suggests that the total capital costs of converting our building stock to zero emissions by 2045 is in the region of £33 billion. That includes the installation of zero-emissions heat and energy efficiency measures in both domestic and non-domestic buildings. It does not take account of the business-as-usual investments that households and businesses would need to make in order to replace fossil-fuel boilers as they reach the end of their lives, nor the additional investment that is likely to be needed in wider energy infrastructure. The Government has commissioned a range of further research to understand the wider costs that are associated with the heat transition, and that work will be published once it is finalised.

Recent announcements on the decarbonisation of all properties across all tenures in the wider Glasgow city region put the cost at £9 billion to decarbonise their heating and make them energy efficient. Two thirds of those properties—300,000—are owner-occupied. While some owner-occupiers will be able to afford to make a contribution, we know that many, including in my region, will not. Can the minister set out the Government’s plans to support low-income owner-occupiers who have little savings, the expectations on those owner-occupiers and the support that the Government will provide to enable them to participate fully in the journey towards 2045?

No one doubts that that is a mammoth challenge for us all, which will have a wide range of impacts on people in different tenures and economic circumstances. The Scottish Government already makes support available—for example, through the home energy Scotland loan scheme, which involves interest-free unsecured loans of up to £38,500 per home to enable owner-occupiers to install energy efficiency and heating measures and a cashback scheme that provides eligible households with up to £13,500 towards zero-emissions heating systems and energy efficiency measures. A range of other schemes are also in place, including area-based schemes, which have been extended to include zero-emissions heating, and the Scottish Government has also introduced a top-up grant to support that process.

The member is well aware that we will continue to research the scale of the challenge and the steps that both this Government and the UK Government need to take. The actions of the latter will be necessary to make zero-carbon heating systems affordable by comparison with fossil-fuel ones.

I will allow a brief supplementary question from Liam Kerr.

The cabinet secretary recently told me that it would cost £17,000 per property to upgrade off-gas-grid homes from EPC bands E to G to EPC band C. There are around 500,000 off-grid homes, more than 100,000 of which cannot be fitted with a heat pump; so, even if it were just those upgrades, it would cost more than £1 billion—

That is not brief, Mr Kerr.

What analysis has been done of that process and who will be expected to pay?

I have already indicated a significant range of measures by which the public purse helps to meet those costs. Obviously, the public purse cannot meet all of them, nor should homeowners do so. We all have to rise to the challenge.

In relation to heat pumps, most of us recognise that not one single solution is right for every property in every location. We do not intend to take a mandatory approach to imposing a single solution for all properties. As with Mr Griffin, I am sure that the Government will want to keep Mr Kerr and all parties informed of further work in that area.

ScotRail Service Reduction

6. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reported proposals by ScotRail to no longer run 300 train services from May 2022. (S6O-00078)

I will provide a full picture of the ScotRail proposal. I am sure that Colin Smyth is not deliberately trying to give the impression that service levels overall have been reduced. The fact is that, under these proposals, we would see an increase of 100 services per day on the current level. By way of example, the Glasgow to Carlisle via Kilmarnock and Dumfries line, in the member’s region, would benefit.

The review seeks to create a national rail service that meets the country’s needs and travel patterns. ScotRail has examined, pre-Covid, an expected future demand and developed a proposed timetable that seeks to match service patterns with uptake, with scope for additional future capacity, while recognising the need for financial and environmental sustainability.

The proposed timetable is a new starting point, not the end point. It has been designed to accommodate pre-pandemic levels of demand while removing much of the unused capacity on the network. As more people return to using rail, further services for which there is a demand will be introduced. The public consultation provides an opportunity for ScotRail customers and businesses to help shape a reliable and responsive timetable change, and I encourage people to make their views known.

I am sure that the minister does not want to mislead people by implying that the overall number of services will not be reduced compared to the pre-pandemic level, because that is exactly what the proposals are about. Frankly, we will not get people back on our trains by taking their train away. I ask the minister this specifically: will the Scottish National Party-Green Government rule out reducing the overall number of rail services compared to pre-pandemic levels when that new timetable is introduced in May 2022?

It is, frankly, baffling that a member of the Scottish Parliament can sit here and call for a never-ending increase in services, with no consideration for the cost. The direction of travel that was set by this Government pre-pandemic saw services increase and stations open up—that is the journey that we are on. We are currently—[Interruption.]

Listen to the response, please.

As a parliamentarian, I have yet to encounter any set of draft proposals that is perfect or, indeed, that is not ultimately amended in some form as the associated processes work through. It is therefore important that people work through the consultation. However, in doing this work, we have to be realistic because we cannot run services that are little utilised. As we build back, we need to match services to demand and build from there. Alongside all of that, we will be delivering a raft of improvements, such as decarbonisation of the network, new stations and a modal shift for freight from road to rail.

We have a quick supplementary from James Dornan.

Can the minister tell us what has changed in rail services in Scotland since the SNP came into power in 2007?

A very great deal—and for the better—is the answer. Under this Government, communities and businesses have benefited from significant investment across Scotland’s railways. We have seen that in the number of seats on trains, the stations that have reopened and decarbonisation. As I said earlier, that is the direction of travel. To characterise it more fully, prior to the pandemic there were 190,000 more seats on our trains compared to 2008.

We have a very brief supplementary from Graham Simpson.

Minister, is this a taste of things to come when ScotRail is nationalised?

That is exactly the kind of question that I would have expected from Mr Simpson. The direction of travel that has been set by this Government is clear: investment in rail, decarbonisation of rail and a great deal of support for rail. That is where we are going.

Water Scarcity Reporting

7. Elena Whitham (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that water scarcity reporting is accurate and reflective of all areas of Scotland. (S6O-00079)

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is responsible for the forecast, monitoring and reporting of the situation facing Scotland’s water resources; it produces a weekly report on that. Of course, on the ground, information from local authorities is crucial in understanding the impact that drought is having on water supplies. That is why a dedicated reporting line has been set up, enabling local authorities to provide real-time information to the Scottish Government and SEPA. The Scottish Government very much values the monitoring and assessment work that goes on in that regard.

It was alarming to have constituents contact me during the summer to advise me that their private water supplies were lower or dry and that we were at a standing start for supplying emergency drinking water. I would like to have noted my thanks for the assistance from the Scottish Government to my many constituents who are not on the mains water supply due to the rurality of their properties. I ask that the minister commits to ensuring the robustness of water scarcity reporting so that both spheres of government can react to the real humanitarian crisis when indicators suggest that private water supplies are at risk.

I understand Elena Whitham’s concerns and, as someone who relies on a private water supply, I understand the concerns of those who have experienced water scarcity. In recognition of those scarcity events this summer, the Scottish Government acted quickly to fund a scheme for the provision of supplies of bottled water. That scheme is on top of an existing, non-means-tested grant of £800, which is already available to owners and users of private water supplies, to make improvements to their system. The national water scarcity plan sets out clearly how water scarcity levels are determined by SEPA and how those are informed, using a scientific approach and current research.

Glasgow City Council (Connectivity Commission Recommendations)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it plans to provide to Glasgow City Council to implement the recommendations in the report by the Connectivity Commission, including funding for the proposed metro system. (S6O-00080)

Pauline McNeill will be aware that that work was commissioned by Glasgow City Council and it will be for the council to determine whether it wishes to implement the Connectivity Commission’s recommendations.

However, we are progressing the second strategic transport projects review, which is considering the case for a Glasgow metro, and the Scottish Government is working collaboratively with Glasgow City Council on that. Decisions on future funding will be made after STPR2 is concluded and as part of the Scottish budget process.

Of course, the Glasgow city region local authorities have more than £1 billion in their growth deal infrastructure fund, of which the Scottish Government committed £500 million, to use for investment in infrastructure such as the Glasgow metro.

The minister is aware that it is one of the biggest projects that Glasgow intends to support in order to transition to sustainable transport—it is a really important project. However, press reports indicate that the private finance that the leader of the council is seeking looks uncertain. Does the minister share my concerns that the funding needs to be nailed down and that Glasgow City Council’s intention to at least partly fund the metro system with private finance raises questions about whether the necessary progress will be made in a reasonable timescale? I accept that the work is a collaboration, but I hope that the Scottish Government can assure me that it will take a strong interest in it. Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city. We desperately need a project that will help us transition to net zero, and that looks like it could be the one.

Briefly, the fact that the project features in STPR2 is a recognition of its national importance.