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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 02 October 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Nursery Funding (Deferred Entry to Primary School), ScotRail Franchise, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Scottish Women and Girls in Sport Week


Portfolio Question Time

Rural Economy

The first item of business is portfolio questions and the first portfolio is rural economy. I remind members that questions 1 and 3 will be grouped together.

Convergence Funding Allocation

To ask the Scottish Government what criteria it is using to determine where the £160 million of convergence funding is allocated. (S5O-03601)

I welcome the United Kingdom Government’s commitment that it will right an historic wrong and repay the £160 million convergence funds to Scotland.

I have already said that those moneys are ring fenced in Scotland for agriculture, and I have made it clear that many of those who are in the greatest need are those who farm in our marginal uplands, our hill farms and our island areas. It is therefore right that they should benefit from the convergence moneys. However, I am still waiting for the UK Government to deliver on the commitment.

Does the cabinet secretary agree with The Scottish Farmer that the bulk of that money should go to land in regions 2 and 3, or should it be used across all sectors of agriculture?

As I said, the convergence moneys were intended for Scotland and they should have been paid to Scotland between 2014 and 2020. [Interruption.] The Tories are complaining about that, but it was their Tory Government that did not pay that money, so it is a bit off that they are grumbling about it now.

We shall of course consider extremely carefully how best and most appropriately to disburse those funds. I have already met various parties and am listening to views. It is right that we help those who are in greatest need: those who farm on our marginal uplands, our hill farms and our island areas.

Convergence Funding

I agree that the Tory Government needs to hand over the funding as quickly as possible to allow us to get it to the farmers and crofters who need it most.

I am sorry, but you must begin with the question as it is on the Business Bulletin. I reprimand you for that.

My apologies. To ask the Scottish Government when it expects to receive the £160 million in convergence funding. (S5O-03603)

The United Kingdom Government has said that the money will not be paid until the next financial year, and the Scottish Government is therefore writing to the chancellor to state that the money should be paid now. The reason for that is that although most budgetary matters are matters of judgment as to how taxpayers’ money is disbursed, this matter is not in that category. This is about righting a wrong—an historic injustice—that the Prime Minister said must be corrected.

There is no excuse for money that has wrongfully been withheld to be withheld for a further six or nine months. The money should be paid over now, and the sooner that it is paid, the sooner we will be able to make plans to disburse it to those who most need it. [Interruption.] I am astonished that the Scottish Tories do not want the money now. That is absolutely shocking, and I invite them to reflect on their position.

I agree that the Tory Government needs to hand over the funding as quickly as possible to allow us to get it to the farmers and crofters who need it most. Will the cabinet secretary advise what else he is doing to make sure that they have as much financial certainty as possible ahead of Scotland being dragged out of the European Union, potentially through a harmful no-deal Brexit on 31 October?

Just yesterday, we initiated loan payments totalling £327 million to those farmers and crofters who returned their acceptance forms by 27 September. Those payments are being made to more than 13,400 farmers and crofters, which represents between 75 per cent and 80 per cent of those who received a loan offer.

As far as I know, that payment of £327 million is the largest single payment to any group of people anywhere in Britain that will effectively mitigate against the potentially catastrophic consequences of a no-deal Brexit. I am truly grateful to the Scottish civil service, which is so efficiently administering that vital aid.

Given that the cabinet secretary has just said that he believes that the UK Government should pay the money right now, when will he set out exactly how he believes the money should be allocated? Farmers are waiting for that answer.

We are working on that now, and we have been working on it in the relatively short period since the chancellor announced in his autumn statement that the money would be paid. Of course, unless it is paid to us, we cannot pay it, and not only is the cheque not in the post, but it is not yet signed. That is why I hope that all members will unite behind the task of obtaining the money now without further delay. After all, the money was wrongfully withheld by successive UK Governments. [Interruption.] The Scottish Tories appear to challenge that. Their London counterparts have admitted it, but it appears that the Scottish Tories still cavil at it.

We are working hard to determine how best to issue the funding. I do not believe that a formal consultation should take place, because that would almost certainly delay the decision about how to disburse funds, possibly until next year. Obviously, I will keep the Parliament fully informed of our progress.

I appreciate that the issue is important, but it has taken more than six minutes just to get through two questions, and I would like to get through more.

Farm Payments (Land Parcel Identification System)

To ask the Scottish Government how many farm holdings will have support payments withheld as a result of unresolved disputes regarding the land parcel identification system mapping process. (S5O-03602)

We are not aware of any farm holdings that will have support payments withheld as a result of unresolved disputes regarding the land parcel identification system mapping process. However, it should be noted that although we are not aware of any specific unresolved farmer issues regarding the mapping system, we annually review and update thousands of map changes. Therefore, should there be any such case that has not yet been highlighted to us, we would be keen to review it and resolve any issue that any farmer or crofter may have.

Huge concerns have been raised with me regarding out-of-date aerial photographs and Ordnance Survey maps being used as the basis of decision making. Errors have been made where parcels of land were removed and a letter was sent stating that they were ineligible, but the data used was from 2017 and showed pipeline construction on land that is now being farmed. Will the cabinet secretary give a commitment that the most up-to-date data will be used to identify land parcels and that timely site visits will be carried out where appropriate?

From extensive visits to the rural payments and inspections division offices throughout the country, and from many lengthy discussions with the people who carry out that work, I can say that we should all respect and admire their professionalism and that we should not challenge or cavil at it. I am not aware of the member writing to me on any of those matters. Members should actually raise individual cases rather than make general smearing accusations. If he has any individual cases, I will of course look into them.

Local Authority Services (Rural Economy)

To ask the Scottish Government what the impact has been on the rural economy of reductions to local authority services. (S5O-03604)

The funding of local authority services is the responsibility of individual local authorities. In 2019-20, the Scottish Government is delivering a funding package of £11.2 billion for local authorities, which represents a real-terms increase of £310 million, or 2.9 per cent.

The passing of cuts to councils by the Government has resulted in severe cuts across all communities. Rural communities need investment in roads, transport and infrastructure to attract new business opportunities and a strong workforce. How does the Scottish Government expect the rural economy to grow and attract inward investment when councils that fund the infrastructure are faced with—

I am sorry to interrupt, but members are all drifting into very long questions, and other members are not getting in.

I think that that question is primarily for my colleague with responsibility for local government. However, I can inform the member that the funding available to local authorities has been increased, not reduced, so we do not accept the fundamental premise of her question. Indeed, in the west of Scotland, East Renfrewshire has received an additional £7.6 million, Inverclyde an additional £8.2 million, North Ayrshire an additional £31 million and Renfrewshire an additional £19.9 million. I could go on, but I think that the point has been made.

Will the minister comment on the fact that the loss of people working in key rural sectors in local communities is a real threat to our rural economy and public services? What is the Scottish Government doing to encourage European Union nationals to stay in rural Scotland?

I agree with Gillian Martin. The programme for government sets out a commitment to stem rural depopulation, which includes establishing a cross-portfolio ministerial task force. Of course, uncertainty relating to Brexit continues to be a significant threat to rural Scotland. For example, more than 90 per cent of vets in our abattoirs are EU nationals.

Our stay in Scotland campaign recognises the vital importance of EU nationals to Scotland and the rural economy. The campaign provides essential advice and support to help them to remain here, as they are very welcome.

Food and Drink Sector (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports the food and drink sector in Glasgow. (S5O-03605)

Direct investment and support from the public sector, which helps to promote the food and drink sector in Scotland, equates to about £100 million a year across a range of areas including skills, education, research, industry development, standards and capital investment. The funding is provided on a national basis and would be available to any business based in Glasgow.

In addition, the Government has also made food processing, marketing and co-operation grant awards to projects in Glasgow totalling £2.31 million since 2012.

I draw the minister’s attention to Launch Foods, which is a social enterprise that uses quality produce that otherwise might go to waste to provide free and nutritious meals to primary schools in my constituency. How can the sector do more to reduce food waste? Will the minister come out and see the great work done by Launch Foods?

I would be happy to, because it sounds like a fantastic initiative. I very much welcome the work that Launch Foods is carrying out in Bob Doris’s constituency, because it is playing its part in our commitment to reduce food waste by 33 per cent by 2025.

We recently announced an additional £1 million investment in the food redistribution charity FareShare, to increase the help that it provides to organisations that are responding to food insecurity. That investment, which builds on work undertaken in the spring, is in addition to the direct grant funding that we provide to community food initiatives through the fair food fund.

The importance of increasing local food provision in public sector procurement contracts is one of the key reasons that we support the food for life programme with the Soil Association. The programme has made a massive difference to the lives of young people across the country. By signing up to the programme, schools are guaranteeing that our young people access healthy and sustainable food that is grown, sourced and produced in Scotland.

Will the Government introduce mandatory reporting of food and drink waste?

I am happy to discuss that matter with the member.

This summer, I spent the day at Easter Grangemuir farm, which is near Pittenweem, picking strawberries, in order to understand the impacts of the shortage of workers on that sector. I am interested to hear from the minister what discussions she has had with the United Kingdom Government about making sure that the sector has sufficient workers to succeed.

We have monthly meetings with the other Administrations of the UK and that point is continually highlighted. The seasonal agricultural workers scheme has been introduced, but, of the 2,500 workers allowed for the whole of the UK, Scotland’s share is only 650 workers. To put that into context, the whole of Angus alone has about 9,500 seasonal workers. The number of workers that we have been allocated through the scheme is shocking. The UK Government has to wake up, recognise how important seasonal workers are to Scotland and take action.

Tree Diseases and Pests

To ask the Scottish Government what is being done to protect the forestry industry from the threat of tree diseases and pests, such as oak processionary moths and bark beetles. (S5O-03606)

The Government is working closely with other Administrations across the United Kingdom to safeguard Scotland’s forests, which play a vital role in our response to the climate emergency and supporting the rural economy.

We have implemented strengthened protection by introducing emergency statutory measures to restrict the movement of larger oak trees, which have the highest risk of carrying oak processionary moth. We have also undertaken surveillance to monitor tree diseases, including damaging bark beetles and taken action, including statutory measures, to contain any outbreaks.

I welcome that answer. We have seen recent incursions into Scotland of oak processionary moth, which causes allergic reactions in susceptible people and animals. If the closely related pine processionary moth were to be imported, it would have terrible ramifications for Scotland’s unique Caledonian pine forest. Ensuring that growers use assurance schemes to make sure that only UK-sourced and grown trees are planted can help to prevent the spread of this disease. Does the Scottish Government support such assurance schemes?

I do, and I am glad that Joan McAlpine has raised those points, because they show why our plant and tree health surveillance measures are vital. Oak processionary moth carries a public and animal health risk.

Our border control measures are based on risk management, and our modelling suggests that pine processionary moth is not well-suited to current climatic conditions in Scotland. However, the use of UK-sourced and grown plant material will further reduce those risks, which is why we welcome the development of assurance schemes. My officials are engaged in those processes.

Farm Tenancies

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the new agricultural tenancy legislation is having on the number of farm tenancies. (S5O-03607)

Since the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 came into force, there has been a 5 per cent reduction in agricultural tenancies, which is part of a long-term downward trend in the number of secure heritable tenancies.

However, some of the changes have been positive. For example, 30 holdings appear to have purchased their land. Other types of tenancies have also increased during this time. Limited duration tenancies have increased by 18 per cent, and short limited duration tenancies have increased by 10 per cent. The act also introduced modern limited duration tenancies, which came into force on 30 November 2017, and by June 2018, there were 28 of them.

Will the cabinet secretary outline what measures the Scottish Government has taken to extend the scheme to new entrant farmers, and whether they have been successful?

Through the Scottish rural development programme, we have already invested £24 million to kick-start more than 250 new agricultural businesses and fund more than 850 new business development projects. Over the same time, we have provided over 90 new business opportunities through access to publicly owned land.

Looking ahead, the new Scottish land matching service, which I launched at a farm near Dunblane last Friday, also offers opportunities to bring new entrants into agriculture.

Will the cabinet secretary advise the chamber what else the Scottish Government has done and is doing?

We work with all stakeholders, including NFU Scotland, which is very active in this area.

We believe that the land matching service offers opportunities to bring together outgoing and potential incoming farmers and crofters, which has much potential.

In addition, the farming opportunities for new entrants initiative—FONE—which is headed up by Henry Graham, has also identified many farm units, most of which are small, on land that is owned by various public sector bodies.

The Government is doing a variety of things, and we will continue to work with all stakeholders on what more can be done.

Broadband Connectivity (Stirling)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its programme to improve broadband connectivity in the Stirling constituency. (S5O-03609)

Latest thinkbroadband figures show that superfast broadband access in Stirling has increased by 34 percentage points over the past five years, from 56.5 per cent in January 2014 to 90.5 per cent in September 2019. Latest assured figures show that 14,482 premises are now connected as a direct result of our digital Scotland superfast broadband programme.

Commercial coverage has also played an important role in improving broadband connectivity. I welcome plans by commercial operators such as CityFibre, which has committed to making Stirling the United Kingdom’s first gigabit city—I had the pleasure of seeing the build-out on a recent visit.

Crianlarich will not be part of the main R100 programme and will instead benefit from a bespoke solution to ensure that superfast broadband will be brought to the village, with the result that superfast broadband is likely to be delivered in Crianlarich ahead of the main R100 programme. Can the minister confirm that, given that broadband is the responsibility of the UK Government, it is the height of hypocrisy for Tory politicians to attack that proposal?

I agree very much with Bruce Crawford about the hypocrisy of some in this place and in another place who appear to be criticising the Scottish Government at a time when the Prime Minister is already backtracking on his weeks-old commitment around delivering full fibre broadband by 2025.

Bruce Crawford also makes an important point about legislative and regulatory powers over telecommunications being wholly reserved to Westminster. However, despite that, we have made a commitment to ensuring that every home and business across Scotland can access superfast broadband—a commitment that we have backed up with our £600 million R100 programme, 96.5 per cent of whose funding is met by the Scottish Government.

On Bruce Crawford’s point about Crianlarich, although we are disappointed that a solution cannot be delivered to Crianlarich through the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme itself, the programme has been hugely successful—as he knows, as I have corresponded with him on that point—and has delivered access to fibre broadband to more than 936,000 premises, which is 100,000 premises more than was originally anticipated.

I reassure Bruce Crawford that we are working with Stirling Council to identify a solution for Crianlarich through R100, which could result in superfast broadband being delivered to the village in advance of the main R100 programme, as he said.

We are committed to ensuring that every home and business in Scotland, including in Stirling, can access superfast broadband, and that is what we intend to deliver.

In June, the minister confirmed further delays to R100 but said that he anticipated the announcement of a bidder by the end of September. Today is 2 October. Can he assure the Parliament that the R100 programme is still on schedule?

I can assure Finlay Carson that we are close to making a significant announcement around the R100 procurement, and I hope that that will happen soon. As he knows, we are going through the evaluation of the tenders. I apologise for the fact that there was no announcement by the end of September, but there should be one soon. I hope that that will be positive news for him and for colleagues across the chamber.

From the outset, we said that the process would be highly complex. Our main objective has been to deliver a competitive procurement process that ensures best value for money. I am confident that we will get good value for Finlay Carson’s constituency and other areas of the south of Scotland. However, I hope that he will be patient. We will very soon be able to give him the announcement that he is looking for.

Road Improvements (A92 at Glenrothes)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on planned improvements to the A92 in the Glenrothes area. (S5O-03610)

Through Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government will continue to engage with the community on the development of improvements on the A92 at Cadham and Balfarg in the Glenrothes area.

Further to Transport Scotland officials meeting with north Glenrothes community council on 27 August, a meeting will be arranged in March to provide further information on the plans that are being developed for the Balfarg junction. In the meantime, our operating company, BEAR Scotland, is working to deliver the short-term measures at the Balfarg and Cadham junctions, and will undertake any necessary public consultation.

The news that road improvements are to go ahead on the A92 was warmly welcomed by my constituents, including the Glenrothes Area Futures Group, which has campaigned on the issue for a number of years. Can the cabinet secretary provide a more detailed timeline for when he expects the work that has been approved at Balfarg and Cadham in particular to be completed?

I know that officials have discussed a range of short and long-term upgrades to the A92 near Glenrothes. The short-term improvements should be delivered by the end of this year, subject to consultation with and agreement by stakeholders. The most substantial improvements, which relate to major junction improvements, require further development and will be considered in any future year budget allocations.

Our operating company has programmed the detailed design of the improvements—primarily, the signalisation of the junctions at Balfarg and Freuchie—for completion by the end of this financial year. Following that, Transport Scotland officials will meet the community to provide a further update on the longer-term items.

Queensferry Crossing (Snagging Works)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made in completing the snagging work on the Queensferry crossing, which is due to be completed by the end of the year, and whether that will lead to road works. (S5O-03611)

I am pleased to report that good progress has been made on the snagging work on the Queensferry crossing. The tower lifts and tower concrete finishing are nearing completion and underdeck painting is well advanced. As I reported to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee on 11 September, the contractor has advised that snagging work will be completed by the end of this year, weather permitting. Traffic management will continue to be required at times to enable safe access by operatives when they are undertaking those works. All works that require traffic management are undertaken overnight to minimise disruption to road users.

Last night, when I drove across the Queensferry crossing at around 9.30 pm, the northbound carriageway was down to one lane. That is a frequent occurrence, as the cabinet secretary will know, causing a great deal of frustration for my constituents in Fife, particularly when there are traffic delays as a result. I am sure that he will understand the frustration and concern that a bridge that has been open to the public for two years is still facing a large programme of work, which is causing those delays. What guarantees can he give my constituents that the works will not extend past the end of the year? How are the costs of the snagging works being met?


Are they part of the contract, or are they additional costs to the taxpayer—

Get a move on with it, Mr Fraser.

The costs of the snagging works are met by the contractor. I am sure that Murdo Fraser will recognise the significant benefit that has been gained from the opening of the Queensferry crossing. Over the two years, there have been at least 34 occasions when the Queensferry crossing was able to continue to operate but the Forth road bridge would have been closed to high-sided vehicles. I am sure that he welcomes the additional resilience factor that has been provided to his constituents and those beyond his region in being able to cross the Forth during adverse weather.

Murdo Fraser will also be aware that the traffic management that is deployed for the work that is undertaken by operatives cannot commence before 8 o’clock in the evening; even then, it can be delayed if the evening peak continues for an extended period. There have been instances when the traffic management system has not been engaged until 10 o’clock at night in order to allow traffic flows to reduce. I am sure that he will recognise that, in big infrastructure projects, there will always be snagging work that should be undertaken after the infrastructure is in use. He will also recognise that we have to appreciate the health and safety needs of those who operate on the bridge and put in place appropriate measures to consider their welfare while that work is being completed. That is why the traffic management system is required.

Bus Usage

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to encourage increased use of bus services. (S5O-03612)

In the programme for government, we committed to a step change in bus investment, with more than half a billion pounds for bus priority to tackle the negative impact of congestion on bus services. Investment in bus priority will make services faster and more reliable, which will in turn encourage more people to take the bus. That unprecedented investment will support the implementation of the Transport (Scotland) Bill, which provides a range of tools for local transport authorities to improve bus services.

How will the Scottish Government target residential areas of Glasgow so that people who are outwith the city centre can have access to convenient and sustainable travel options?

Bill Kidd may be aware that the Transport (Scotland) Bill, which we will be debating at stage 3 this time next week, will provide a range of tools for local authorities to employ in order to improve bus services in their areas. At its heart is a new statutory bus partnership model—the bus service improvement partnership—that will enable local authorities to work with bus operators and others to improve bus services in their area. That measure is being provided in the bill to deal with the specific issues that he has raised.

In addition, the investment of more than £500 million in bus priority infrastructure will include a bus partnership fund to support the implementation of the bill so that local authorities can tackle congestion, which can help to leverage improvements in bus services within cities.

As we head towards stage 3 of the Transport (Scotland) Bill, the Government appears to have accepted Labour’s calls to allow local councils to establish and run local bus services directly. I very much welcome that, but does the cabinet secretary accept that, having recognised the value of municipal bus services, making that positive policy work will require financial support from the Government to meet the substantial start-up costs in particular?

Colin Smyth will be aware that, at stage 2, the Scottish Government brought forward measures to allow local authorities to provide bus services. I welcome the fact that the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee supported that move, and amendments sought to take that issue further. Next week, we will have the opportunity to look at the new provisions that the Scottish Government is introducing to extend it even further.

Colin Smyth will also recognise that it is for local authorities to determine how they deliver bus services within their local area and that, should they choose to make investments in the provision of buses, that is a matter for them. However, the unprecedented more than half a billion pounds of investment that we are putting into bus prioritisation is a key step change in helping to support local authorities to improve bus services in their area and to improve services to residents.

Congestion (Edinburgh)

To ask the Scottish Government what co-ordination discussions it has had with the City of Edinburgh Council, bus companies and businesses regarding congestion during the Edinburgh festivals. (S5O-03613)

The Scottish Government, through Transport Scotland, has had discussions with transport providers as part of the Edinburgh international festivals transport forum to improve connectivity to and within Edinburgh during major events. Traffic congestion within Edinburgh is the responsibility of the City of Edinburgh Council, which has a duty under the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 to manage local roads. The recently announced significant new funding to improve bus priority infrastructure will also support local authorities to tackle the impact of congestion on bus services.

According to the bosses at Lothian Buses, this year’s festivals were their worst ever. It is clear that the Scottish National Party-Labour administration in Edinburgh cannot manage the situation because of its incompetence, so will the Scottish Government commit to leading a joined-up approach to manage such problems and ensure that the people of Edinburgh do not face the same problems next year?

To be perfectly frank, given the state of the United Kingdom Government’s competence, that is not a strong point for the Conservative Party to major on.

The matter that the member raises would probably be better addressed to the local authority, which is in the region that he represents. He would be better to address his issues directly to the local authority, which has responsibility for such matters.

To help councils to tackle congestion in Edinburgh during peak periods, can the cabinet secretary outline how measures that were announced in the programme for government will support local authorities to prioritise park-and-ride facilities, such as the one at Hermiston in my constituency?

I know that Gordon MacDonald has raised that matter previously. As we highlighted in our draft national transport strategy, buses will play a key role in our future sustainable transport offer for the public. The investment of over half a billion pounds to support bus infrastructure through the bus partnership fund, which I have referred to several times, is to support local transport authorities in transforming how they provide bus services in their area, to tackle congestion issues, which have a direct impact on the quality of the services that bus operators are able to provide and, in particular, to tackle the negative issues that can impact on congestion. Park-and-ride facilities are an important contribution to making that work effectively.

Dundee Northern Relief Road (Cost Benefit Analysis)

To ask the Scottish Government what cost benefit analysis has been undertaken on building the Dundee northern relief road since the fourth strategic transport projects review was published. (S5O-03614)

The first strategic transport projects review, which was published in December 2008, included as part of the detailed options appraisal the calculation of a scheme cost benefit ratio for a Dundee northern relief road. I can confirm that Transport Scotland has not undertaken any further analysis since the publication of the STPR in 2008. The second STPR, which is now under way, will reappraise the need for any improvements at that location in order to confirm that it remains a priority within the wider strategic transport network in Scotland.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that admission and update.

In July, local press reported that a single van toppled over on the southbound stretch of Forfar Road at Claverhouse and caused a closure of all lanes into Dundee for nearly three hours and gridlock on the A90. Does the cabinet secretary agree with me and 75 per cent of readers of one newspaper survey that that situation is unacceptable for a city in the 21st century? Will he look into an urgent upgrade of Dundee’s road infrastructure?

Any accident on our roads is to be regretted, which is why we have a clear strategy for reducing the number of road traffic accidents on Scottish roads. Through that strategy, we have been successful in doing that over recent years. As I said, any future investment in the trunk road network in the Dundee area will be considered as part of the STPR2 process. However, local roads in Dundee are a matter for the local authority.

ScotRail (Customer Satisfaction Targets)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to ScotRail failing to meet its customer satisfaction targets for the second year running. (S5O-03615)

It is disappointing that ScotRail failed to attain the overall satisfaction key performance indicator, but it is worth noting that the ScotRail franchise is one of the few franchises in the United Kingdom to have specific key performance indicators linked to the national rail passenger survey.

Transport Scotland holds ScotRail to account through the contractual requirements that are specified in the franchise agreement, as evidenced by the remedial plan notice that was issued on 8 February. The commitments that are contained in the overall satisfaction remedial plan are specifically aimed at addressing the areas that passengers have identified and at driving up satisfaction levels.

The cabinet secretary fails to understand the facts. The Abellio franchise is a catalogue of failure—delays, cancellations, overcrowded trains and skip-stopping. Since Abellio took over the franchise, there have been 75,000 train cancellations—an average of 47 a day. The figure is 60 per cent higher than it was when Abellio took over. What will it take for the cabinet secretary to take away the contract from failing Abellio?

Presiding Officer—[Interruption.]

I would like to hear the answer. The issue is being debated this afternoon.

We will use the contract to ensure that we apply the necessary penalties and make the necessary changes to the existing franchise.

The Labour Party calls for the public ownership of our railways, and tonight every single Labour member will have the opportunity to vote for exactly that by voting for the Scottish Government’s amendment. However, I suspect that they will vote with the Conservative Party to ensure that the Parliament and the Government do not have the power to run a public railway service in Scotland. As we know, Labour members say one thing outside the chamber, but they never deliver on what they have said when they come to Parliament. At 5 o’clock tonight, we will know where they stand. Will they stand up for their principles, or will they run to vote with the Conservative Party in order to keep the existing rail infrastructure?

I think that question 8 might be more sedate.

Rail Electrification (Kilmarnock to Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will give an indicative timescale for the electrification of the Kilmarnock to Glasgow rail line. (S5O-03616)

As we committed to in the programme for government, we will publish, in spring 2020, an action plan for decarbonising Scotland’s railways by 2035. The primary focus will be the continuation of a rolling programme of efficient electrification, the procurement of battery trains and the development of hydrogen fuel cell propulsion trains. Further detail on how that might affect specific routes will be set out in the action plan.

In the immediate term, we are working closely with our industry partners to identify opportunities for increasing capacity on the Glasgow to Kilmarnock route to ensure that passenger demand is met.

The Scottish National Party’s investment in the half-hourly service, which was made some years ago, provided a huge boost to my constituents, but journey times on the line are on a par with those during the steam age, due to a single-track section. Does the cabinet secretary accept that journey times need to improve and that the line needs to be brought into the 21st century in order to meet the needs of a modern travelling public?

The member raises an important point. I recognise his concerns, which he has raised directly with me previously.

There has been significant growth in demand on the Kilmarnock route, in particular, and performance on the route has consistently been above the 92.5 per cent overall public performance measure. In addition, by the end of this year, all the trains that are used on the route will have completed their upgrade work to provide modern train facilities such as new seating and flooring, power sockets and wi-fi, which passengers would expect in modern rolling stock. Over and above that, we are also considering developing further support to improve the rolling stock upgrade programme, which also supports important jobs in the member’s constituency, at Brodie Engineering and at Wabtec Rail Scotland in Kilmarnock. I assure the member that the Kilmarnock route is one of those that we are looking at to see how they could be fitted into the further improvement programme as we move into control period 6.

That concludes portfolio questions. We managed to get all the questions in the Business Bulletin asked.