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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 05 June 2019

Agenda: Sustainable Aquaculture, Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, South of Scotland Enterprise Bill: Stage 3, South of Scotland Enterprise Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Child Safety Week 2019


Portfolio Question Time

Finance, Economy and Fair Work

I remind members that questions 2 and 3 and questions 7 and 8 will be grouped together. That means that I will take questions 2 and 3 and members’ supplementaries pertaining to them after them. If members want to ask supplementary questions to questions 2 and 3, they should press their buttons, but those questions will be taken after questions 2 and 3.

I hope that I have explained that. If not, I have muddled myself up in the process.

Unemployment (Mid Fife and Glenrothes)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is tackling unemployment in the Mid Fife and Glenrothes constituency. (S5O-03324)

The Scottish Government and its agencies are committed to tackling unemployment by supporting inclusive economic growth across Scotland, including in Mid Fife and Glenrothes. For example, in 2018-19, Scottish Enterprise committed investment of over £1 million in local companies through regional selective assistance and research and development awards.

In 2017-18, Fife had an impressive 7 per cent of the national total of modern apprenticeship starts, and more than 27,000 people took up the qualification. However, the most recent statistics for 2018-19 point to a slight drop in female modern apprenticeship starts compared with those in the same period last year. What practical work is being done by Skills Development Scotland in my constituency to close the gender gap in modern apprenticeships?

As Ms Gilruth points out, Fife is doing very well in the number of its modern apprenticeships overall. In 2017-18, which is the last full year for which we have figures, there were 1,893 modern apprentices in Fife. We should place on record our thanks to employers across the kingdom of Fife for offering those opportunities.

However, I recognise that more has to be done to diversify participation and improve female participation. Work on that is under way in Fife and across the country. Skills Development Scotland has its apprenticeship equality action plan, and there is the science, technology, engineering and mathematics strategy to try to tackle gender segregation in subject choice at school, as emphasised in our “A fairer Scotland for women: gender pay gap action plan”.

There is activity in train, but I absolutely recognise that much more remains to be done.

One of the ways to tackle unemployment in Mid Fife and Glenrothes and other communities in Scotland is to lift people out of poverty. Will the Government take urgent action to investigate the £22 million of European social fund funding to tackle poverty that the European Union has suspended and take immediate action to release that money into Scotland’s communities?

I can assure Mr Kelly that we are aware of that issue and are actively exploring it. However, we should also place on record the fact that a number of the projects that are funded through that source continue to be supported. I can assure Mr Kelly and other members that we are actively exploring a resolution to that issue.

Inclusive Growth (North Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to promote inclusive growth in the North Ayrshire economy. (S5O-03325)

The Scottish Government is committed to achieving inclusive growth in all parts of Scotland, including North Ayrshire. Inclusive growth is assisted by our significant investment in housing, education and skills, transport, health and other areas.

Specifically, the North Ayrshire economy will benefit from the £103 million that the Scottish Government has committed for the Ayrshire growth deal. The heads of terms agreement, which was signed in March, includes significant local investment proposals, including in the great harbour, the i3 project and marine tourism in North Ayrshire, as well as regional initiatives for skills, digital, and community wealth building.

It is over six months since the Fraser of Allander institute published its “North Ayrshire Economic Review” for North Ayrshire Council. That review highlighted the importance of inclusive growth in tackling regional inequalities. It stated:

“if significant in-roads are to be made in tackling regional challenges this will require major investment and national strategic support.”

Given that North Ayrshire Council’s spending power has been diminished through Scottish Government cuts and that North Ayrshire was passed over as a location for the new social security agency, despite being identified as the best option for inclusive growth, what will the Scottish Government now do to turn its rhetoric into reality on inclusive growth in North Ayrshire?

As Neil Bibby should be aware, Scottish Enterprise has approved a funding offer of £10 million towards Peel Ports’s £30 million proposed project to redevelop its Hunterston park site in North Ayrshire; North Ayrshire has been allocated £1.4 million from the town centre regeneration fund for 2019-20; and North Ayrshire projects have received more than £2 million through empowering communities programme funds to date. Scottish Enterprise also continues to deliver support to businesses in North Ayrshire via innovation grants, the Scottish manufacturing advisory service, regional selective assistance and research and development grants.

Job Opportunities (North Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to bring job opportunities to North Ayrshire. (S5O-03326)

The Scottish Government and its agencies are committed to achieving inclusive growth in all parts of Scotland, including North Ayrshire. We are working with a range of partners to create high-quality jobs and opportunities in the area. Specifically, North Ayrshire will benefit from the £103 million that the Scottish Government committed for the Ayrshire growth deal. The heads of terms agreement, which was signed in March, includes significant investment proposals from the Scottish Government for projects in North Ayrshire. The Ayrshire regional partners estimate that the deal with result in 7,000 new jobs across the region.

I am pleased that the minister welcomes the multi-Government investment in North Ayrshire. However, the Scottish Government’s regional employment study highlighted that underemployment in North Ayrshire has risen to 13.5 per cent, whereas underemployment is falling in other local authority areas. What specific action is the Government taking to address underemployment?

The North Ayrshire inclusive growth diagnostic is a joint piece of work between the office of the chief economic adviser and North Ayrshire Council. The work involves looking at the barriers to growth in the area, a significant one of which is underemployment, as the member identified. Work has been rolled out through North Ayrshire Council’s fair for all strategy in order to tackle inequalities in the area and to influence investment decisions that will deliver long-term transformational change in the North Ayrshire economy.

The minister will be aware that, if delivered, the proposed economic master plan for Hunterston will bring more than 1,700 jobs to North Ayrshire. The master plan is supported by local Labour and Tory councillors, as well as by me and the local MP. Does the minister agree that it is time that Mr Greene came off the fence on the issue and stops trying to be all things to everyone? Through the Ayrshire growth deal and directly, what support will the Scottish Government provide to successfully deliver the master plan?

As the member and others are aware, the Scottish Government has committed to providing £103 million for the Ayrshire growth deal over the next 10 years. We and our agencies are committed to working with all partners to secure the future of the Hunterston site and maximise opportunities for inclusive growth, and I encourage all local politicians to work in common purpose on the matter. On direct support, as I said earlier, in November last year, Scottish Enterprise committed to providing £10 million towards the redevelopment. The investment and joint working between Scottish Enterprise, North Ayrshire Council and private sector partners have the potential to deliver significant benefits to the North Ayrshire and wider Ayrshire economies.

TalkTalk Employees (Stornoway)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made in assisting the workforce of the TalkTalk call centre in Stornoway. (S5O-03327)

The Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—partners are continuing their contact with TalkTalk and with the staff who face redundancy to ensure that all employment opportunities are explored, and that pay support is provided.

TalkTalk has been a significant employer on Lewis, so the loss of jobs will have an impact on the broader economy. Will the Scottish Government commit to examining whether there are opportunities for more public sector jobs to be based on the islands?

I very much recognise the key role that public sector jobs play in the economy of the islands and, indeed, in economies in all parts of Scotland. The Scottish Government is consulting on development of the national islands plan, which will set out a number of objectives, including on employment, for supporting and promoting our island communities. We will always be willing to look at opportunities that make sense, and at what can be done.

I agree that public sector jobs should be dispersed throughout Scotland and should not be centralised. Will the minister consider a staff buy-out of TalkTalk? That would allow staff to bid for call-centre work so that the jobs could be retained in Stornoway.

Thus far, no such proposition has been advanced, but as Rhoda Grant knows from my previous remarks, the Government has high ambitions in respect of employee-owned businesses. If the workforce is interested in making such a bid, I would be delighted to engage with the staff directly.

Teachers Pay Agreement (Implications for Public Sector Pay Policy)

To ask the Scottish Government what the implications are for its public sector pay policy of the agreement reached with the teaching profession. (S5O-03328)

The public sector pay policy sets a framework for pay negotiations, and balances delivery of a fair deal for employees with affordability and investment in high-quality public services. The policy acts as a benchmark against which employers have the flexibility to deliver pay awards that meet local circumstances.

The pay award for teachers includes an element that is targeted at addressing recruitment and retention issues, as well as a wider package of measures to address workload issues and support the empowering schools agenda.

As the minister will be aware, exactly the same circumstances apply to Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd with regard to the pending air traffic controllers strike, which has been suspended for next Wednesday but is still threatened for the future. Will she bring the same flexibility to those pay negotiations? Of course, ministers directly intervened in the teachers’ strike. We could do with some intervention in the ATC strike, too, because lifeline air services depend on those people.

As Tavish Scott does, I recognise that it has, with the disruption, been a difficult time for travellers. I welcome the suspension of the industrial action that had been scheduled for 12 June, and I encourage HIAL’s air traffic controllers to consider carefully HIAL’s latest offer of a new retention allowance.

I also go back to my earlier answer and reiterate that the pay policy is a guide and benchmark. In that sense, delivering a pay package is a matter for negotiation between employers and employees.

Does the Scottish Government still have a public sector pay policy that is worth the paper that it is printed on? From the latest deals that have been struck, it does not sound as though it does.

We do, indeed, have a pay policy that ensures affordability of and investment in high-quality public services. However, as I have said, the policy acts as a benchmark against which employers have the flexibility to deliver pay awards that meet their local circumstances. We reflect on the impact of all sectoral awards in developing pay policies, and we will do so again in time for next year’s pay policy, in the context of the spending review.

I commend the Educational Institute of Scotland for securing a deal for its members, but I note that when the Scottish Government gave some prison officers a pay upgrade while leaving others floundering, it was taken to court by the Public and Commercial Services Union and caved in. In the same vein, the Government is treating some council workers one way and others another way. What has happened to the pay policy, and what is happening to fairness?

For a moment, I thought that we were drifting away from the subject of teaching, but the question is about the public sector pay policy.

Again, I reiterate that the pay policy does not apply directly to all workforces. Instead, it acts as a benchmark for pay awards in other sectors, and sets the tone for the wider public sector to increase labour participation and productivity, which will ensure that work pays for the individual and the Scottish economy. Key sectors including local government, the health service, the police and the fire service have all delivered arrangements that are broadly in line with our public sector pay policy.

Question 6 has been withdrawn, and questions 7 and 8 have been grouped together.

Real Living Wage Employers

To ask the Scottish Government how many accredited real living wage employers there are in Scotland. (S5O-03330)

Scotland has 1,473 living wage accredited employers, which, proportionately, is over five times more than the rest of the United Kingdom.

According to living wage Scotland, more than 3,000 workers across Lanarkshire have received a pay increase to the real living wage of £9 per hour. However, low pay is still one of the main drivers of in-work poverty. What action is the Scottish Government taking to encourage more employers to pay, as I do, the real living wage not only in Motherwell and Wishaw but across Scotland?

I hope that people will view the figures that I have given on accreditation as positive, although, of course, much more needs to be done. Through our work with the Poverty Alliance, we are aiming over the course of this parliamentary session for an uplift of 25,000 in the number of workers who are paid at least or more than the real living wage as a result of accreditation. Of course, we are also taking forward our fair work first agenda to ensure that, under all job-related grants that are made by our agencies, the living wage is paid, and we are undertaking activity in the social care and early learning and childcare settings to ensure that workforces there are paid the living wage, too.

Clare Adamson made a salient point when she mentioned that she is a living wage employer. That shows that members, too, can show leadership, and should be encouraging all employers in our areas and communities to become accredited and to pay at least the real living wage.

Living Wage

To ask the Scottish Government how many people in Scotland earn less than the living wage. (S5O-03331)

The living wage initiative is an important part of the Scottish Government’s fair work agenda. In 2018, there were 470,000 workers earning less than the real living wage in Scotland. However, since 2015, the number of workers in Scotland earning the real living wage or more has increased, meaning that, in total, 80.6 per cent of all workers in Scotland now receive the real living wage, which is the highest proportion of all the United Kingdom countries.

In West Lothian, 16,000 people in 2012 received a wage that was lower than the living wage; that figure is now 17,500. We could make an impact on that figure if there was the political will to do so. Why—this is a very straightforward question—does the Government not insist in its public procurement policy that contractors pay the living wage, and that companies that receive Government direct assistance must pay the living wage?

I have already pointed to our fair work agenda, which I think will lead to improvements.

The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 took every opportunity to address the real living wage through procurement. The legislation requires that public bodies’ procurement strategies include a statement on their general policy of paying the living wage to people who will be involved in delivering contracts.

In October 2015, we published statutory guidance addressing fair work practices, including the living wage and the procurement practices that public bodies should be following.

The Government has carried out a recent trawl, which shows that 96 per cent of all suppliers who were awarded a Scottish Government collaborative agreement during the period January 2017 to March 2018 made a commitment to pay the real living wage. That significant progress is encouraging, but we continue to strive towards 100 per cent.

Single-use Plastic Usage

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the action that it is taking to reduce single-use plastic usage. (S5O-03332)

You took that very slowly—I think that that was to allow the minister to get into place. Are you ready, minister?


You are. I call Mairi Gougeon.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. We are absolutely committed to tackling Scotland’s throwaway culture and to matching the pace that was envisaged by the European Union single-use plastics directive. We are already taking very ambitious action: we are the first country in the United Kingdom to announce our design for a deposit return scheme; we have taken action on plastic cotton buds and microbeads; our expert panel is considering measures to reduce the use of difficult-to-recycle items, such as single-use beverage cups; we have committed to increasing the single-use carrier bag charge to 10p; and we are part of a UK-wide consultation on the reform of packaging producer responsibility arrangements.

You can speed up your delivery now, if you like, Mr Crawford.

Forgive me, Presiding Officer. I was trying to allow time for the cabinet secretary to get ready to answer—I had not realised that the minister would be responding.

Is the minister aware that a recent centre for international law report found that the proliferation of single-use plastics around the world is accelerating global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change? The UK Committee on Climate Change was clear on the need for action in order for Scotland to reach its net zero ambitions. Given the importance of reserved UK policy levers, will the cabinet secretary outline any areas on which action is required by the UK Government?

You have been promoted, minister.

We very much welcome that report, and we have already taken steps to address the recommendations on single-use plastics.

On the CCC advice and the need for UK Government action in reserved areas, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform has written twice to the UK minister of state, Claire Perry, requesting an urgent meeting to discuss action to accelerate the deployment of fully operational carbon capture and storage facilities and the decarbonisation of the gas grid; redesign vehicle and tax incentives; commit to adhering to future EU emissions standards; reduce VAT on energy efficiency improvement in homes; and ensure continued support for the renewables industry. Those areas are reserved, and if we are to meet our ambitious targets, we need the UK Government to take action to address them. That is imperative.

There is a whole host of other areas where action could be taken but where a contrary approach has been adopted, which has disincentivised renewable technologies, for example.

Plastic pollution is, indeed, a systemic problem that is dangerous and causes damage to our environment. Will the Government commit to a system-wide arrangement for measures to tackle the issue? For example, will it have a range of targets to reduce the different types of plastics, and will it ban those plastics that cannot be recycled?

We are doing a whole power of work when it comes to single-use plastics, both on land, by reducing, reusing and recycling plastics, and when they end up in our marine environment. The cabinet secretary or I would be happy to have a further conversation with Claudia Beamish about her proposals.

Does the minister agree that education is one of our strongest tools in tackling single-use plastics, and that groups such as the Ullapool sea savers are great examples that could be replicated across the country?

It will probably not surprise Gail Ross to hear me say that I absolutely agree with her. The Ullapool sea savers, in particular, have really led the way on the issue.

Members across the chamber will be aware from their visits to primary schools—this is certainly the case whenever I visit primary schools in my constituency—that the issue of marine litter and plastics and what we are doing about it is raised every time. It is only right that our young people continue to push us to strive to do more. We should be proud of the fact that young people in this country take such an interest in the issue. We are listening, and we are doing what we can.

Climate Emergency (Remote and Rural Areas)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will assist people in remote and rural areas in dealing with the climate emergency. (S5O-03333)

Delivering the transformative change that is required to tackle the global climate emergency must be a shared national endeavour. The Scottish Government is now looking across our range of responsibilities to make sure that we continue with the policies that are working and that we increase action where necessary.

Over the summer, the Scottish Government will engage the public, communities, businesses, industry and the public sector, including in remote and rural areas, in a discussion about what more can be done and how we can work together.

Many of the measures that have been outlined that will reduce an area’s carbon emissions require transformative action at local authority level. How will the particular challenge of decarbonising transport in areas such as mine in Aberdeenshire, which has one of the highest road mileages and a high proportion of off-gas and hard-to-heat homes, be addressed? Will tailored assistance be provided? How will an administration be held to account for its decisions in our national endeavour to deal with the climate emergency?

The Scottish Government supports the Energy Saving Trust, which provides bespoke advice to home owners on insulation and energy storage, which is particularly useful for those with off-grid and hard-to-heat homes. We have provided almost £10 million to local authorities across Scotland to ensure that electric vehicle charging points are installed across the country and are encouraging local authorities to focus on solutions for remote and rural communities.

The Scottish Government will keep exploring the use of hydrogen as a zero-carbon substitute fuel. As the member is probably aware, Aberdeen has been a leader in that—there are already 10 hydrogen buses running on two routes in Aberdeen, and a further 10 will come into service later this year.

Scotland is the only country to have statutory annual climate targets, which ensure that progress is regularly scrutinised in Parliament, and there will be annual reporting on a sector-by-sector basis on progress in delivering the climate change plan. However, as I have said previously, the Scottish Government cannot do this work on its own—it will be a widespread endeavour in which local authorities will be involved. They will be expected to step up and, in that regard, I welcome the announcements by Glasgow City Council and the City of Edinburgh Council in respect of their climate targets.

With the deposit return scheme now being rolled out as part of the response to the climate emergency and rural shopkeepers starting to think about the likely cost to them, can the cabinet secretary tell Parliament what the expected cost of installing a machine to recycle plastic will be to each rural shopkeeper? Will the Government help to defray that cost?

As the member is probably aware, we are involving organisations that represent shopkeepers the length and breadth of the country, including the very small ones, in discussions. We have indicated that there will be a variety of different options available for return, which may—or may not—include return vending machines. That conversation will be had with those organisations.

I should point out that there will be a handling fee. It is expected that, in the end, the measure will be cost neutral for all the shopkeepers who are involved.

What can be done to support people in less conventional housing tenures in rural areas, such as those that involve agricultural holdings or tied cottages, to allow them to increase energy efficiency and reduce household emissions, and to tackle fuel poverty?

There are a lot of things in play. I know that the member will be aware of the widespread work that the Government is doing on energy efficiency, which will continue.

I am aware that the tenure of homes can sometimes create an issue but, of course, it is not the only issue. Sometimes, there are other concerns. Unusual scenarios are among the harder ones to look at.

If the member has specific examples in mind in asking her question, it would be helpful if she could come to me, and we can discuss them in more detail. I am aware that different tenures, and tied housing in particular, can create some real barriers for people.

Mossmorran Petrochemical Plant

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to Fife Council’s call for an independent inquiry into the Mossmorran petrochemical plant. (S5O-03334)

We are aware of the motion that Fife Council passed on 2 May. We have not received any formal request from Fife Council regarding Mossmorran since then.

The Mossmorran complex is subject to regulation by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency as an independent environmental regulator. On 25 April, SEPA announced a formal investigation at the site. Calling for a further inquiry at this time could prejudice any potential enforcement action that SEPA may take. [Interruption.]

Switch off recording, please. [Interruption.]

I have forgotten where I was. Was I calling you, Ms Ewing?

You were, Presiding Officer.

That was a senior moment from me. I call Annabelle Ewing.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer. It is perhaps a wee bit disappointing to know that Fife Council has not yet managed to forward to the Scottish Government its motion, which calls on the Scottish Government to commit to an independent inquiry.

However, I am sure that the cabinet secretary will be aware that one of the strands of Fife Council’s motion—and an issue that constituents raise with me—is the need to have empirical data as regards health impacts. Can the cabinet secretary clarify whether any work is on-going with regard to that matter?

I have seen the motion, although there has been no formal approach from Fife Council. I understand that SEPA is sharing information with NHS Fife where possible while carrying out its on-going regulatory investigation. Once NHS Fife has assessed that data, an attempt will be made to address the most common health concerns in the local community in the most appropriate way.

NHS Fife has not been contacted by any local general practitioners specifically regarding the Mossmorran complex. However, it is reviewing published health data with a view to engaging with local representatives and making information accessible for communities.

At a recent public meeting in Lochgelly, we heard powerful testimonies from hundreds of local residents, including families coping with autism, whose lives have been made a misery by the noise, light and vibration from the plant. Is the cabinet secretary aware of any equality impact assessments that SEPA has carried out in relation to the operation of the plant? How will the Government support those families?

I do not have detail on the specific meeting that the member mentioned. He raised some very specific issues, which obviously have some health impacts. I do not know that it would have been within SEPA’s purview to have looked at the kinds of impacts that the member talked about, but I will go back and ask whether or not that is part and parcel of, for example, some of the work that NHS Fife might be considering, and I will ensure that the member is kept aware of that.

On-going work is being done by SEPA. It is monitoring and looking at the situation within the regulatory set-up that it is required to consider, and we will estimate whether there are other things that need to be done by other public bodies, perhaps once that work is done.

I call Alexander Stewart. Please be brief, Mr Stewart.

Given the recent difficulties at the plant regarding environmental health and social impacts, can the cabinet secretary indicate what further assistance can be given to ensure that local residents have confidence and trust in the operation of the site?

As I indicated, SEPA continues to provide updates on its dedicated Mossmorran hub and on-going monitoring will inform its investigation. So far, air quality monitoring information continues to show no cause for concern. However, other activities are being taken forward—following previous enforcement action, both operators have submitted to SEPA assessments of the best available techniques for carrying out their activities, which are currently being reviewed and, on 23 May, SEPA served further permit variations.

Work is constantly on-going and, as I indicated in my response to Annabelle Ewing, NHS Fife is also looking at the specific aspects that are more properly for it to consider. The information will all be brought together at an appropriate moment.

Low-carbon Infrastructure and Homes

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the climate emergency, what action it is taking to act on the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change to deliver low-carbon infrastructure and homes. (S5O-03335)

The Scottish Government has acted immediately in response to the committee’s advice, with amendments to our Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill to set a net zero emissions target for 2045 and to increase the targets for 2030 and 2040.

We are now looking across our whole range of responsibilities, including infrastructure and homes, to make sure that we continue with the policies that are working and increase action where necessary. Our high ambition will be matched by on-the-ground delivery and we will update the climate change plan within six months of the bill receiving royal assent.

There are tens of thousands of houses across Scotland that are described as being too expensive to insulate. If not in the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill or in the climate change bill, when will the cabinet secretary legislate to address the state of Scotland’s existing homes, the poor state of which is one of the key drivers of both fuel poverty and climate change? Does the cabinet secretary agree that doing so would be a win-win on both issues and that the sooner that we get those houses insulated, the better?

The Government is doing an enormous amount of work on energy efficiency and a huge amount of finance work is on-going, which I think will be well over £1 billion by the time we get to 2021. That work is very much part of the answer to Mr Rowley’s question.

There are some very significant issues when it comes to retrofitting housing, which I think the member is probably well aware of. “Energy Efficient Scotland”, which was published last year, is our route map to making all our buildings warmer, greener and more efficient, by ensuring that homes meet energy performance certificate band C by 2040. We are already consulting on the impact of bringing forward that date, if possible, and we are also consulting on how to decarbonise the heat supply in buildings that are off the gas grid. A review of energy standards in building regulations is under way, to consider further opportunities to reduce emissions from new homes, and there is continuing work on energy efficiency.

If Mr Rowley is asking when I will introduce housing legislation, I am sure that he is absolutely aware that doing so would not be for my portfolio, but I will make sure that his request is relayed to the housing minister.

If we have brief questions and answers, I can get the last three members’ questions in.

Deposit Return Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government what impact it believes the proposed deposit return scheme will have in tackling climate change. (S5O-03336)

There is a global climate emergency, and the Scottish Government is acting accordingly. Our first step has been to immediately lodge amendments to the targets in our Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, in line with the independent, expert advice of the Committee on Climate Change.

By enabling more, higher-value recycling, Scotland’s deposit return scheme will contribute to those efforts by reducing emissions by around 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over 25 years. That is an average of 160,000 tonnes each year, which is the equivalent of taking 85,000 cars off the road.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that groups such as St Eunan’s primary school in Clydebank, whose students are on a mission to reduce plastic use in all primary schools throughout West Dunbartonshire, will have an opportunity to become involved in the deposit return scheme?

I thank the pupils of St Eunan’s for their efforts in this important area and echo the comments that Mairi Gougeon made earlier about primary school children being very exercised about such issues at the moment.

We recognise the potentially significant role that schools and other community services can play in making the DRS a success, which is why we intend to allow for those facilities to act as voluntary return points for containers that are captured through the scheme. I also encourage all school pupils to consider the benefit to their schools of encouraging the donation of deposits to their schools, for instance, or litter picking to claim deposits.

Air Quality (Urban Areas)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to improve air quality in densely populated urban areas, such as Coatbridge. (S5O-03337)

The Scottish Government’s cleaner air for Scotland strategy sets out a series of actions for Government, Transport Scotland, local authorities and others to further reduce air pollution across Scotland. An independent review of the strategy is currently under way, which will identify priorities for any additional action.

The Scottish Government works closely with North Lanarkshire Council to provide practical and financial assistance to monitor air quality, support the delivery of measures and implement its air quality action plan to improve local air quality.

It is great to hear the assistance that is being provided to make my constituency and the wider area a cleaner and healthier place to live and grow up. The minister will be aware of a controversial and long-running proposal to build an incinerator between Carnbroe and Shawhead next to the busy M8/A8 in Coatbridge. I do not expect her to comment on the application, which is subject to appeal, but she may be aware that that particular area—

No. I need a question.

That particular area is one of the most polluted areas in the country and number 1 in North Lanarkshire. Has the Government any data about the impact of incinerators on air quality in areas where pollution is already known to be high?

The responsibility for air quality monitoring and data lies with individual local authorities, but I am not aware of any local authority having identified as a result of that work any significant impact from incinerators on local air quality.

On general air quality in North Lanarkshire, the latest data shows that air quality there continues to improve year on year in most locations. A few hot spots of poorer air quality remain, as they do in many other Scottish towns and cities, but we are absolutely determined to tackle those remaining hot spots as soon as we possibly can. North Lanarkshire Council has produced an air quality action plan that covers the authority’s three traffic-related air quality management areas. The plan contains a comprehensive range of measures and the council is working closely with the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and other partners on its implementation.

Climate Change Plan (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on Glasgow’s progress in meeting the policy outcomes in its climate change plan. (S5O-03339)

Progress in meeting the policy outcomes in Scotland’s climate change plan is monitored nationally. The Scottish Government acknowledges the ambitious approach that Glasgow has taken to establishing its low-emission zone and the recent announcement by Scottish Power in support of the city’s ambition to become the first in the UK to achieve net zero emissions. Those are positive steps for the whole of Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s climate change plan states that its

“ambition is to reduce emissions from transport in ways that promote sustainable environmental and socio-economic wellbeing.”

How will active travel contribute to realising that ambition and how, in particular, will the cabinet secretary ensure that active travel will be available not only in the less deprived areas of cities such as Glasgow but in the more deprived areas?

That issue is fundamental to what my colleague Michael Matheson is promoting with active travel and, indeed, the whole of the Government is promoting. The active travel budget was doubled recently, so a great deal of money is going into it. We are very cognisant of the need to consider active travel in terms of not just recreation but actual access for local people, particularly in the circumstances that Adam Tomkins has raised. I will be meeting Glasgow City Council next week to discuss its proposals for being a net zero city by 2030, and I undertake to specifically raise active travel with them when I do.

Point 1 on Glasgow City Council’s climate emergency working group terms of reference emphasises renewable heat. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, over the next few years, we will need to take very large numbers of residential and non-residential properties off the gas grid and give them access to heat networks, and that that will happen only with a much more ambitious approach from the Scottish Government as well as local government?

That will indeed be required, but I note that Patrick Harvie missed out the other Government that will be necessary to achieve that, which is the Westminster Government. Without decarbonisation of the gas grid, the logistical issues of doing what is required for domestic heating in Scotland would be very considerable. I hope that he will join me in calling on the Westminster Government to get a move on and do its part of what is required to be done if all of us in the United Kingdom are going to achieve our climate change ambitions.