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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 05 February 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Transport Strategy, Independent Care Review, Tax and Public Spending, Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Points of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Cheyne Gang Singing Group


Transport Strategy

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on the new transport strategy for Scotland, “Protecting our climate and improving lives”. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

The national transport strategy is fundamental in setting out the strategic direction of transport policy for the years ahead, shaping the future provision of transport in Scotland around a shared vision that will protect our climate and improve our lives. Since the 2006 strategy, there has been significant change in our society, including in our economy, in our environment and in technology, which the new strategy recognises. The strategy sets out the challenges that are associated with the pace of change and how those challenges will be addressed.

We have followed a collaborative approach throughout the process of developing the strategy. More than 60 transport partners have participated in the development of the strategic framework, helping to shape the vision and consider the challenges and opportunities that relate to the transport system. In parallel, our stakeholder engagement programme saw 6,500 people attending more than 100 events in rural, island and urban communities around Scotland. In summer 2019, we held a consultation on the draft strategy that resulted in more than 1,220 responses. We have updated the draft strategy to take account of the views that were expressed in the consultation and the strategy provisions in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019.

Through our collaborative approach, we have crafted a compelling vision for the future of transport in Scotland over the next 20 years. It is a vision that will protect our climate and improve our lives. The vision is:

“We will have a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system, helping deliver a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Scotland for communities, businesses and visitors.”

The vision is underpinned by four key priority areas for transport, which are that it reduces inequality, takes climate action, helps to deliver inclusive economic growth and improves health and wellbeing. The vision and priorities are at the heart of the strategy and will form the basis on which we take decisions and evaluate Scotland’s transport policies in the future.

Another important element of the strategy is our embedding of the sustainable travel hierarchy in decision making by promoting sustainable and active transport and shared transport options in preference to single-occupancy private cars. At the national level, the sustainable investment hierarchy will be used to inform future investment decisions and ensure transport options that prioritise reducing the need to travel unsustainably and maintaining our existing assets.

These frameworks place sustainability foremost in transport decision making, and their implementation into all areas of transport planning and investment decisions will help to deliver the transport system of the future for Scotland.

For transport to play its important part in delivering the fully inclusive society that we want to live in, we must address the challenges across our transport system. The strategy identifies those challenges as they relate to the four priorities.

The strategy’s first priority—reduces inequalities—is outcome focused and reflects the breadth of our ambition. Although not a right in itself, transport plays a key role in enabling people to realise their human rights by facilitating access to employment and public services such as healthcare and education. The strategy supports a rights-based approach to transport. It also highlights a range of inequalities that transport can help to tackle, including child poverty and gender inequalities, and the need to ensure that there is accessible transport for disabled people, to allow everyone in Scotland to share in the benefits of a modern and accessible transport system.

Regional inequalities and spatial differences are also recognised in the strategy and the transport system must play its part in connecting people and communities to employment, services and social life events.

Under the second priority—takes climate action—the strategy recognises the biggest moral endeavour of our times: addressing the global climate emergency. We all have a responsibility to act, but it is important that the Government leads from the front and by example.

Transport is responsible for 37 per cent of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the move to low and zero-carbon transport is essential to our future wellbeing. In response, the Scottish Government has made one of the most ambitious climate commitments in the world: to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Over the 20-year period of the strategy, the role of transport in achieving that target will be crucial. It will require not only the use of low-carbon technology but significant societal changes, including encouraging people to move towards space-saving and sustainable travel choices and reducing the demand for unsustainable transport.

The measures in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 support emissions reduction in transport by encouraging modal shift. As an example of our commitment to this ambition, we are bringing forward significant and transformational long term funding of over half a billion pounds for buses, which will remove congestion impacts from our bus routes, reduce journey times and improve journey-time reliability.

As well as encouraging sustainable travel and reducing emissions, the transport system must also adapt to climate change impacts that are already being experienced.

Under the third priority, the strategy recognises the fundamental role of transport in the delivery of inclusive economic growth. The transport system plays a crucial role in the successful performance of Scotland’s economy and regional cohesion. It enables people to get to work and firms to get their goods and services to markets in Scotland and beyond.

We are witnessing dramatic changes for transport: in how we access information and pay for journeys, and in the switch from internal combustion engines to electric alternatives. If Scotland’s economic potential is to be realised, our transport system must also adapt to those changes by improving our network resilience, integrating with new technologies and preparing our workforce. We have one of the world’s most successful skills systems, which we must build on in order to address the challenges that we face in Scotland, including an ageing workforce, the depopulation of rural areas, digitalisation and the global climate emergency.

We must also support innovation to stimulate markets so that consumers, business, industry and our economy at large can harness the opportunities from zero emission mobility in local and international markets.

The fourth interlinked priority that the strategy addresses is improving our health and wellbeing. Our transport system needs to be safe and secure, giving users confidence that they will reach their destinations without threat, thereby encouraging active travel and sustainable public transport choices while also benefiting public health.

The transport system and the future transport needs of people will be at the heart of decision making as we deliver healthier and more sustainable places. The transport system must reduce its negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland. Thankfully, we can take actions that can simultaneously tackle multiple challenges.

For example, by taking climate action and reducing inequalities, we can, in parallel, benefit public health by encouraging healthier active travel and reducing the associated harmful emissions. Poor air quality has a negative impact on the health of all of us—particularly the health of the most vulnerable, including the very young, the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions. In Scotland, particulate air pollution is shortening everyone’s lifespan by approximately three to four months.

The national transport strategy presents the strategic framework for our transport system over the next 20 years. We all have a responsibility for delivering the strategy and making it a success—from local government and central Government implementing policies to businesses and individuals taking account of their actions when making travel choices.

Work has already begun on increasing the accountability of the transport sector and strengthening our evidence base. Working with partners, we will publish a delivery plan that will set out how the strategy will be delivered. That will be regularly updated and will provide detail on how the priorities will be realised through a range of actions, with key interventions flowing from the climate change plan update and the second strategic transport projects review.

The 20-year strategy is for all of Scotland. It is far reaching in its impact and its ambition. I am confident about its vision, and am happy to commit this document to Parliament.

I will allow around 20 minutes for the cabinet secretary to take questions on his statement.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement and for giving us a copy of the strategy document. Of course, we have not had a huge amount of time to go through it in great detail, but I assure the cabinet secretary that the Conservatives will approach the strategy in a positive and constructive way, and in a spirit of recognising that these ambitions must transcend the electoral cycles and political boundaries. I also thank the many stakeholders who participated in the process. I know that it has been a far-reaching piece of work.

It is hard to disagree that, at the heart of a 20-year strategy must lie four vital things: improving access to public transport; tackling climate change; delivering economic growth; and improving public health. In relation to all of those, we agree whole-heartedly with the premise of the statement that we have just heard.

However, now for the “but”. This is a good document, at first, cursory, glance. It is an excellent piece of research, and I am sure that there are lots of interesting points in it. However, it is noticeable that it is alarmingly bereft of detail. If the detail will lie in the delivery plan, I would like to have heard more about it in the statement. What are the policies that will help the Government meet the objectives? That is my first question to the cabinet secretary. That concerns the what; my next question concerns the who. Who are the partners that he said he will be working with on the delivery plan, and how will he work with them? My next question concerns the when. When will the delivery plan be laid before the Parliament, and how will we be able to adequately scrutinise it? The most important question concerns the how. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that he agrees that the ambitions that he has set out must be matched by investment and funding? Is he confident that the national transport strategy’s delivery plan will not simply become a wish list but will be backed up by adequate funding and a bold investment in infrastructure?

I thank Jamie Greene for his comments about engaging with the process constructively and for welcoming the provisions that are set out in the strategy.

The member will realise that the strategy is there to set the strategic national framework for policies that will be taken forward.

I recognise that time is limited and that Jamie Greene has been busy in committee this morning. Chapter 4, starting at page 42, sets out a range of measures and policies that will be taken forward in meeting the challenge. We will take forward those policies to develop the delivery plan. The delivery plan process will be very similar to the process for developing the strategy. The partners who have been involved in helping to shape the strategy will be responsible for setting out the detail of the delivery plan.

For a strategy to be in place for 20 years, it will have to adapt to changes as we make progress. It is also critical that we have proper, full accountability of the progress that we make against the strategy. The delivery plan will be updated annually, so that we can see the rate and level of progress, and where further action is needed.

I recognise the need to make sure that tangible, very specific measures are taken forward. That is the reason why there will be a delivery plan and, alongside it, a delivery board that will be responsible for its overall management. That is to make sure that we are taking forward the right types of policy initiatives in order to deliver the objectives that are set out in the strategy.

I want to reassure Jamie Greene that that will be a key part of how the framework will be delivered over the coming years. There will be the delivery plan, the framework, and the annual update that will demonstrate the rate of progress that we are making in taking forward the provisions in the strategy.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance notice of his statement.

Few will have any dispute with a vision of a more sustainable and inclusive transport system, or with the four priorities set out in the strategy, which Labour very much welcomes. The problem is with delivery under the Government.

The previous transport strategy was introduced in 2006 and has since been refreshed by the Government. However, transport emissions are now higher than they were in 1990; the Government is ending its Abellio ScotRail franchise because it has failed dismally to hit its performance targets; satisfaction with public transport is at its lowest level for 13 years; bus and rail fares are rocketing; growth in active travel has flatlined; bus passenger numbers have collapsed by more than 20 per cent since 2007—and I have not even mentioned ferry procurement.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that, if the Government is going to turn the strategy’s warm words into action, it will need transformational change? One such change would be to build on the success of the bus pass for older people, which was introduced by Labour, and extend it to cover young people. Such a policy would help to deliver all four key priorities of the strategy. Will the cabinet secretary commit to that policy, work with Labour, and help deliver free bus travel for Scotland’s young people?

I welcome Colin Smyth’s initial comments in welcoming the priorities that are set out in the strategy. As I have just said to Jamie Greene, the next piece of work to be taken forward is the delivery plan. Colin Smyth will also recognise that we have made the biggest commitment to investing in bus travel in Scotland of the past 30 years, with half a billion pounds being invested in bus prioritisation, for the very reasons that we previously set out and which were referred to in my statement.

In relation to Colin Smyth’s very specific request, I am always prepared to look at fully-costed, detailed proposals that can help to improve our transport system. I am more than happy to hear from Colin Smyth on the details of the costs that are associated with extending the bus pass to the level that he has stated, as long as those costings are undertaken in a detailed way and include an identification of the budget in the transport sector that he wishes to see cut in order to meet that additional cost. The member will be well aware of the financial constraints within which we operate. Therefore, if there is to be an increase in expenditure on one aspect of transport, it will have to come from another aspect of the transport portfolio. I am more than happy to have that engagement with Colin Smyth, if he has suggestions as to where he wants to see cuts and where he wants to see investment.

Both the statement and the front bench questions and answers have gone well over time, so I ask everyone else to be as succinct as possible, please.

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his document.

The document is neither a vision nor a strategy that is going to tackle the climate emergency. Does the cabinet secretary agree that we need integration of policies, particularly in connection with planning, if we are to see significant movement on what is required, which is carriage of goods by rail, rather than on roads?

There is a lot of information in the report about poor air quality. There has to be greater take-up of freight carriage by rail, instead of the answer that I always get from the Scottish Government, which is simply that such things are commercial matters. It is a matter that the Scottish Government must lead on.

There is a need to make sure that we have a collective vision on such matters. John Finnie might want to consider the detail that is set out in the infrastructure commission report that I commissioned, which highlights the need to consider how the existing regulatory framework can support us to create the just transition that is necessary in order to meet the net zero carbon emissions target that we have set for 2045.

I recognise that we need to take a joined-up approach, which is the approach that we have taken in shaping the national transport strategy. I have absolutely no doubt that as we move forward with the climate change plans, the infrastructure and investment plans and the capital spending review, they will all demonstrate the leadership that this Government is prepared to show to make sure that we achieve our climate change ambitions. Members should be in no doubt about our determination to ensure that we meet the targets. The measures that we will take forward over the coming months will assist us in delivering them.

The Scottish Government still has a contract to support Heathrow airport expansion, despite Heathrow’s being the single biggest source of carbon emissions in the United Kingdom. The cabinet secretary has just said that the Scottish Government must lead “from the front” in tackling the climate emergency. That could be put to the test tonight. At Westminster, Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment for a vote to cancel Heathrow’s third runway. Will the Scottish Government change its mind on support for Heathrow expansion, and ask its Westminster colleagues to join the Liberal Democrats down there in tonight’s vote?

Mike Rumbles will be well aware of the critical importance of good air connectivity to the Scottish economy and to Scotland as a whole, and of the need to ensure that we protect and improve it, at the same time as we take forward the ambitious proposals for Scotland to become a zero emission aviation region by 2040, using new technology to reduce aviation emissions over the coming years.

We are already demonstrating that in our ambition to use new technologies—for example, the work in Orkney on alternative fuel types for aircraft—that have roles to play in the aviation sector. We will play our part: we will support development in relation to the ambition to be a zero emission aviation region, at the same time as we help to ensure that Scotland remains well connected to key parts of the world in order to support and sustain our economy.

Rural areas do not, in access to public transport, have equity with our urban counterparts. For many rural residents, life without access to a car is currently not feasible. How does the strategy acknowledge that rural areas that want to play their part in reducing emissions must have particular and tailored interventions to help us to achieve our climate change ambitions?

The report and the strategy recognise the particular challenge in Scotland’s rural areas. A range of measures can be taken forward, including supporting and sustaining public transport where possible in rural areas, and helping to connect communities. That includes investment in north-east Scotland in new railway stations and rail infrastructure, which is a £300 million project to improve connectivity in rural areas. That is an example of our helping to ensure that our rural communities remain as well connected as possible.

We should also recognise that there will be a need for good road connectivity for our rural communities. We need to make sure that we have good-quality roads—for example, through the investment in the A9, which will be critical to sustaining the Highlands’ economy in the years ahead—while also supporting the transition to low-emissions vehicles by assisting people in our rural communities who have to make use of a car to move to electric and low-emissions vehicles, and by ensuring that we have a spread of charging infrastructure to support people to make that decision. A variety of measures have to be taken forward, but the particular needs of rural communities are critical. The strategy recognises that.

I repeat the need for succinct questions and answers, please. I call Maurice Golden, to be followed by Alasdair Allan.

The cabinet secretary is right that the Government should lead on climate change. However, active travel is declining and transport emissions have barely changed in 30 years. Therefore, will the cabinet secretary take this opportunity to back Scottish Conservative calls to make electric vehicles the default public procurement option, where possible?

I very much hope that when it comes to considering whether he supports our budget, the member will support the approach that we are taking to active travel, because we have doubled the active travel budget over the past two budgets and we will seek to ensure that we build on that in the years ahead.

On making more use of electric vehicles, we have an extensive programme of fleet renewal, which we are supporting across the public sector. That is to allow it to move to ultra-low emission vehicles—in particular, electric vehicles. The programme to support that transition—be it in the national health service or the police service—is the most extensive in the whole of the UK, and I am keen to ensure that we build on it.

There is a range of further measures that we can put in place to support that transition, and we are open to looking at doing that, whether that is through procurement or other means. It is important that we support the public sector in that transition, and that it undertakes it in a managed way that allows it to continue to provide essential public services.

I am sure that the national transport strategy recognises that the very welcome growth in tourism can have an impact on the transport system, whether that be roads or ferries. Can the cabinet secretary set out any of the measures that he or ferry companies will be undertaking this summer and beyond in order to cope with what will likely be a record number of visitors?

The member is correct to point out the growing level of tourism to our island communities, and the significant pressure that that has placed on our ferry services.

One of the benefits that our ferry services and island communities have had in recent years has been the introduction of the road equivalent tariff, which has helped to make it more affordable for people to make ferry journeys.

Part of our work on ferries is to look at maximising the existing assets that we have in the fleet and to ensure that timetabling optimises their use, particularly during key periods of the year. Work is being undertaken to look at this summer’s timetabling to ensure that we maximise the use of those assets during the summer months, in order to support the tourism sector in Alasdair Allan’s constituency and other island areas.

What is the message in the statement for poorer families, who will not be able to afford electric vehicles? In Glasgow, it is not possible to get a bus from the Queen Elizabeth hospital to Darnley, in the south side, after 6 o’clock at night. That is how bad it is. Will the minister tell me which of the four priorities will ensure that poorer people will not be left behind in the transport strategy?

It is critical that we tackle the types of financial inequality that people can experience as a result of not being able to access the right type of transport and that we create the type of inclusive economic growth that we want to see.

The member asked a specific question about what we are doing on electric vehicles. She may be aware that, because of the costs that are associated with purchasing an electric vehicle, we have a comprehensive programme to support people who want to do that, which we run through the Energy Saving Trust in Scotland. It supports people with an interest-free loan for a six-year period, and it has recently been changed to allow it to be used for second-hand vehicles. Scotland is the only part of the UK in which that is allowed.

You are kidding yourself.

If the member would listen to what I am saying, she might find it helpful.

We are also taking forward a range of work on electric car clubs, which provide social housing providers with a pool of electric vehicles that their residents can make use of regularly. That programme, which I launched in Bridgeton as part of our just transition towards low-carbon technology, was started more than a year ago.

The member can be assured by the measures that we have already put in place. As we have highlighted in the strategy, tackling inequality is critical, which is why it is a key element of the strategy and will be part of our policies—as it is at present—for years to come.

I welcome the Scottish National Party Government’s ambition to phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans in Scotland by 2032—ahead of the UK—and its commitment to phase out all petrol and diesel vehicles from public sector fleets by 2030.

As the cabinet secretary just said, enabling their replacement with electric vehicles and rolling out charging infrastructure are key to that. What plans does the Government have to put in place that infrastructure to allow us to meet those targets?

Willie Coffey raised an important point, because supporting and assisting people to make the transition to ultra-low emission and electric vehicles is about making sure that they have confidence in the charging infrastructure.

That is why, as has been recognised, Scotland has the most extensive public charging network of any part of the UK, with the exception of the centre of London. The extensive public network that we have created to support people in that transition will be critical in giving them the confidence to move to ultra-low emission and electric vehicles. Over the past couple of years, we have invested more than £30 million in providing that type of technology and access to charging points. We will continue that level of investment, because it will be critical in supporting the transition to low-emission vehicles.

The consultation indicated that there must be a specific focus on rural and remote communities in the strategy, the aims of which I very much welcome. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that strengthens the business case to extend the likes of the Borders railway, and does he concur that linking the south of Scotland to the west coast main line would address regional inequalities, level up spending, and improve the lives of people who live far from the cities, such as those who live in Newcastleton?

The member will be aware that we have already completed and published the Borders transport corridors study, which highlighted the options of extending the line in the Borders. I welcome the fact that the UK Government has now matched us in providing £5 million towards carrying out more detailed appraisal work on the prospects of extending the Borders railway line. That work is presently being taken forward. Once it has been completed, the options will be considered, as part of the strategic transport projects review 2 process, in order to identify a project for future investment. That work is already being taken forward, and it will be considered in due course—as all projects are—as part of the STPR2 process.

That concludes questions on the statement on the new transport strategy for Scotland. I am sorry that I was unable to call Claudia Beamish, Emma Harper, Lewis Macdonald and Stewart Stevenson. I suggest that all groups have a think—and, perhaps, a discussion—about how they can best use statements and questions so that their colleagues are not disadvantaged.