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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 4, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 04 November 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones, Portfolio Question Time, Social Security Benefits, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

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

Glasgow Kelvin and Clyde Colleges

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will give an assurance that Glasgow Kelvin and Clyde colleges will not be taken over by the City of Glasgow College in connection with the review of tertiary education. (S6O-00327)

The Scottish Government accepts the Scottish Funding Council’s review recommendation that Glasgow Colleges Regional Board and its three assigned colleges explore other organisational options.

There is no proposal for City of Glasgow College to take over the other two colleges, and we have no plans for such. I expect a recommendation from the SFC on the future of Glasgow Colleges Regional Board shortly.

I thank the minister for that answer, which I find encouraging. Does he accept that the colleges in question have quite different roles? City of Glasgow College is at a different level and is aiming at a different clientele, whereas Glasgow Kelvin College and Glasgow Clyde College are very much community based and involved in helping people who, in terms of their background, are far away from education.

I say to Mr Mason that I like the activity that each college does. Each college makes a distinct contribution, but they are all engaged with their communities. All three colleges are doing well as regards the proportion of higher education entrants from the 20 per cent quartile of the Scottish index of multiple deprivation areas that we are seeking to target. All of them are ahead in that regard, especially Glasgow Kelvin and Clyde colleges.

Whatever recommendation the SFC makes, I do not want the distinct contribution of the colleges to be lost, or there to be a loss of community engagement, and that is the manner in which I will approach the matter.

Lochs and Rivers (Ecological Status)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support the ecological status of Scotland’s lochs and rivers. (S6O-00328)

Scotland’s river basin management plans set out the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to a wide range of measures that are protecting and improving the ecological status of our rivers and lochs. Actions that are already under way include ensuring that good agricultural practice is adopted and providing investment in public waste water infrastructure to improve water quality.

Achievement of the objectives that are set out in the plans is a responsibility that is shared between the Scottish Government, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, local authorities, and other public bodies and regulated businesses, such as Scottish Water and agriculture, fish farm, distillery and hydro power businesses.

Does the minister agree that SEPA’s recent assessment found that Scottish rivers, lochs, canals and burns are in the worst state on record? Does she intend to bring forward urgent plans to address that dreadful situation?

It is not correct to say, as was reported on 22 October, that Scotland’s rivers and lochs are in the worst state on record. The number of water bodies that were awarded “bad” overall ecological status by SEPA fell from 126 in 2018 to only 64 in 2019. SEPA’s monitoring and assessment of the water environment shows that the number of rivers and lochs that have been rated as “bad” or “poor” due to pollution is at its lowest ever level—just 1 per cent were classified in that way in 2019.

The United Kingdom Government made a partial U-turn on allowing raw sewage to be dumped into rivers and coastal waters only after its members of Parliament came under extreme criticism. Scotland undertakes around 80 per cent of the UK’s tree planting and was one of the first nations in the world to declare a climate emergency.

Does the minister therefore share my view that the Scottish National Party Government needs no instruction from the Tories on how to conduct itself when it comes to the environment?

Eighty-seven per cent of our water environment is now at the “good” quality level, which is hard evidence that this Government has taken its environmental responsibilities seriously for many years.

There have been several instances of pollution of the river Eden in my constituency over recent years, with the death of many fish and an impact on other wildlife. Does SEPA have sufficient resources and authority to enforce environmental law? Has the minister considered whether wildlife crime officers could have an additional role?

I am happy to meet Willie Rennie to look into that matter further.

Climate Technology Industry (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports the climate tech industry. (S6O-00329)

A vibrant tech sector is critical to our economic recovery and net zero ambitions. Through the implementation of the Scottish technology ecosystem review, the Scottish Government is committed to creating a world-class technology ecosystem, enabling a pipeline of profitable, scalable tech businesses, including climate tech businesses. This year, we have allocated £7 million to support the first-year implementation of the review, which includes establishing a national network of tech scalers that will support 300 to 500 tech companies through the tech scalers programme.

Other policy interventions include our recent artificial intelligence strategy. The strategy sets out actions to build on the success of our AI climate emergency challenge, which saw six companies develop concepts to use AI to address the climate emergency. The Scottish Government is also supporting challenges in CivTech 6—the sixth CivTech programme—which explores the roles that tech can play in carbon sequestration, an important tool in getting to net zero.

The “Innovation Critical” report by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, BT, ScotlandIS and the Royal Society of Edinburgh tells us that

“Up to 75% of the emissions reductions we need to achieve net zero are dependent on technologies which are immature, have not been deployed at scale or have not even been invented yet.”

Will the minister assure me that Scotland’s tech industries, which have major strengths in climate tech, are getting the support that they need to develop solutions, not just for Scotland but for our contribution to global efforts to get to net zero?

I thank Willie Coffey for his question and his consistent interest in this issue. I agree that there is huge potential in this area.

I have two points to make. One is about supporting the tech industry itself, which I referred to in my first answer on the tech scalers programme. The other is about supporting the industries that will use technological interventions. We have committed more than £2 billion in capital investment over the course of this parliamentary session to deliver low-carbon and natural infrastructure.

Climate tech cuts across a range of businesses, so this is about support for businesses themselves and for the wider mission of a just transition to net zero, which will drive the economy for tech start-ups.

Marine Environment (Protection)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the measures it has been taking to protect and enhance the marine environment through no-take zones and marine protected areas. (S6O-00330)

Following recent designations, including the Red Rocks and Longay urgent MPA for the critically endangered flapper skate, the marine protected area network now covers 37 per cent of our seas. Most sites already have the required protective measures in place, and we have committed to putting in place further fisheries management measures on MPAs, where required, by March 2024.

We have also committed to designating, by 2026, 10 per cent of our waters as highly protected marine areas, which will provide a higher level of protection, providing for additional recovery and enhancement of the marine environment.

The current Scottish National Party Government established its first no-take zones in the Clyde. I understand that marine interest groups in Ayrshire propose to undertake a scoping exercise regarding a 30 per cent no-take zone along the eastern coastline of the Clyde, which includes the coast of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. I would be grateful for advice from the minister on what support the project could expect to receive from the Scottish Government in line with the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—endorsing Scotland’s lead in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss through marine protected areas.

The development of highly protected marine areas goes beyond no-take zones by providing for the strict control or exclusion of all human activities, not just fishing. The Scottish Government will develop a policy framework for HPMAs in the coming months and will ensure that the wide-ranging perspectives of all marine stakeholders are taken into account throughout the selection and designation process. We would encourage all stakeholder interests with proposals to manage inshore fisheries to develop those measures within the relevant regional inshore fisheries group.

I would be very happy to meet Ms Whitham to discuss activity on the Ayrshire coast further.

The only no-take zone in Scotland is in Lamlash bay, in my constituency. What is the difference between a no-take zone and a highly protected marine area?

The proposals for developing the details around highly protected marine areas are still under development. We will be working on a policy framework for HPMAs in the coming months, and we absolutely need to make sure that a wide range of perspectives from all marine stakeholders are taken into account. I look forward to presenting that information to Parliament, or to it being presented by one of my colleagues, in the months ahead.

Barr Environmental

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that Barr Environmental has received a £99 million fine for having not paid tax on disposed waste. (S6O-00331)

It would not be appropriate for Scottish ministers to comment on any individual tax dispute. The collection and management of the fully devolved taxes are matters for Revenue Scotland in its role as Scotland’s independent tax authority.

I thank the minister for that answer. As he may know, Barr provides waste management services to both East Ayrshire Council and South Ayrshire Council. Due to the findings of the tribunal, the councils may have to provide more funding to Barr for it to provide waste services, as the company cannot operate under the terms of its previous contracts. What discussions will the Scottish Government have with both councils regarding the future of the company and waste management services in the area in order to ensure that the councils receive any extra funding that they require so that there is no impact on local services?

I stress to the member again that it would not be appropriate for Scottish ministers to comment on the matter. However, I stress that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency works to ensure the safe management of all licensed landfill sites in order to protect the environment and communities.

COP26 (Innovation and Economic Activity)

To ask the Scottish Government what role Scotland is playing during the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—in relation to innovation and economic activity. (S6O-00332)

Achieving global climate change targets requires new ways of thinking about economic policy, finance and investment, as well as new instruments and interventions to make the change. We are working with partners and businesses from Scotland and around the world to deliver a COP26 programme that will accelerate change across those areas.

Through our programme of events and ministerial and business engagements, we will showcase our strengths in innovation, trade and investment to a global audience. For example, Scotland’s climate ambition zone is hosting a programme of events during the COP26 fortnight that is putting the spotlight on Scotland as a world leader in sectors such as decarbonising heat, the circular economy, hydrogen and green skills. Furthermore, in association with partners such as the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc, in Dundee, we are highlighting innovations in the area of low-carbon transport, which is a key enabler for a net zero economy.

We will use COP26 as a platform to showcase and attract investment into Scotland’s green investment portfolio, which will bring together market-ready projects worth £3 billion by 2022. We are participating in events covering natural capital, green ethical finance and finance for nature, providing a platform to address the crucial issues of financing a fair and just transition to net zero. By sharing our experiences across those sectors, we intend to galvanise action in the business community and help others on their journey to net zero.

COP26 is not an end in itself, however—

Minister, I ask you to draw your remarks to a close. Thank you.

I certainly will, Presiding Officer.

We will build on the opportunity through delivering our national strategy for economic transformation.

I thank the minister for that extensive answer to what was a very open question. What is the Scottish Government doing to promote green hydrogen innovation, specifically at COP26? What action is being taken to advance the pace, the scale and the role of green hydrogen in our energy mix in the drive to cut carbon emissions?

I am grateful to Fiona Hyslop for that supplementary question. I will try to answer it succinctly but comprehensively.

The Scottish Government will shortly publish its five-year hydrogen action plan, which will set out the actions that it will take to support Scottish supply chain activity and drive the development of low-cost hydrogen capability to meet the 5 gigawatt ambition by 2030.

The Scottish Government’s upcoming hydrogen action plan will be supported by a five-year £100 million programme of investment to help accelerate the development of the hydrogen economy in Scotland. The Scottish Government, in collaboration with Scottish Enterprise, has developed a series of hydrogen events during COP26 to showcase Scotland’s expertise and innovation in hydrogen technology. We will be seeking opportunities during COP26 to strengthen our existing international partnerships and seek new collaborations to accelerate the growth of our shared hydrogen economy.

Active Ventilation in Classrooms

To ask the Scottish Government what its plans are for active ventilation in classrooms now that its inspection programme has been completed. (S6O-00333)

Guidance on reducing risks in schools makes clear the on-going approach to ventilation that local authorities and schools should adopt. The guidance includes advice on identifying and implementing local approaches that balance the need for fresh air in key parts of the school estate with the maintenance of adequate temperatures.

Following completion of local authorities’ initial CO2 monitoring activities, it is expected that CO2 monitoring will continue to play a role in supporting implementation of the approaches set out in the guidance. We are working with stakeholders, including the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the Scottish heads of property services, to ensure that suitable longer-term strategies are in place across all local authorities.

I thank the minister for that answer and I note the statistics that she set out to the education committee. The Scottish Government has taken more than a year and spent £10 million of taxpayers’ money on alarms to let teachers know when to open the window, with no real regard for the sustainable active ventilation systems that we need. Real action would make schools safer environments by reducing Covid transmission rates and would also reduce education disruption. Can the minister tell us how many classrooms failed inspections and what remedial actions she would expect now to be taken?

I point Mr Marra to the fact that, although the Scottish Government gave £10 million to local authorities recently, that is, of course, in addition to the £90 million that was given previously in the year for such remedial actions, including dealing with CO2 monitoring exercises.

The assessment outcomes, which have come from the local authorities themselves, have reported that the remedial actions have in the main been very small. They have required looking at, for example, changes to repairing windows or removing obstructions to ensure maximum opening. There have been very limited requirements for any further improvements than those, but where they have been required to be undertaken, they will be undertaken by local authorities. Of course, the Scottish Government continues to be in close contact with local authorities to ensure that that monitoring is on-going and that remedial action is undertaken.

Export Statistics 2019

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the 2019 Scottish export statistics. (S6O-00334)

Through our export growth plan “A Trading Nation”, the Scottish Government is focused on supporting the growth of exports from 20 to 25 per cent of gross domestic product by 2029. The 2019 Scottish export statistics show strong growth in Scotland’s exports before the economic shock of the global pandemic and the damage caused by the United Kingdom Government’s reckless approach to European Union exit.

In 2019, Scotland’s total exports of goods and services increased by 4.3 per cent to £87.1 billion, including increases in the international exports of goods and services by 3.4 per cent to £35.1 billion, and exports to the rest of the UK by 5 per cent to £52 billion. The growth in exports to the rest of the UK was driven by an increase in electricity exports, helping to keep the lights on in England and Wales. More recent HM Revenue and Customs statistics only underline the negative impact of EU exit, as Scottish goods exports fell by 24 per cent in the latest year to June 2021, compared with the equivalent period in 2019.

I thank the minister for that extensive response. We welcome the statistics, which show a 3.4 per cent increase in Scottish exports. However, they also show an increase in the proportion of goods exported to the rest of the UK, with the figure increasing by 5 per cent to £53 billion, which is 60 per cent of exports from Scotland.

Given the increasing importance of the UK market, does the minister agree that any potential trade barriers between Scotland and the rest of the UK would risk significant economic damage?

I do not know whether international trade is the strongest suit for the Conservatives to lead on, but—[Interruption.] On a note of consensus, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are important trade partners for Scotland, and I assure the member that they will remain so once we have achieved independence.

Thank you. That concludes general question time.