Website survey

We want your feedback on the Scottish Parliament website. Take our 6 question survey now

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 05 September 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scottish National Standardised Assessments, Programme for Government 2018-19, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, University of Stirling (University for Sporting Excellence)


Portfolio Question Time

“Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland”

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recently published GERS figures. (S5O-02299)

GERS provides estimates of revenue raised in Scotland and spending for Scotland, under the current constitutional arrangements. It does not report on the finances of the Scottish Government.

GERS shows that Scotland’s tax revenue is rising and that its notional deficit is falling, on the back of continued economic growth, rising exports and falling unemployment. That success and wider potential are directly threatened by the United Kingdom Government’s drive to take Scotland out of the world’s largest single market. That poses a huge risk to Scottish jobs, investment and living standards, which is why we will do all that we can to secure the least damaging Brexit possible.

I, for one, welcome that Scotland’s public finances are improving and encourage every member in this chamber to celebrate the news that overall revenue in Scotland is £60 billion, for the first time ever. Surely the cabinet secretary agrees that such figures underline that Scotland has a productive and growing economy, despite the UK Government’s London-centric economic policies.

Further to the figures, it is fair to say that over the summer a number of economic indicators in Scotland have shown a very welcome trend: falling unemployment, increased productivity and the continuation of Scotland being an attractive place for foreign direct investment—second only to London. Other indicators show an increase in confidence.

That is all the more reason to build on that success, which is why I welcome so much of the economic interventions that the First Minister announced yesterday.

I call Richard Lyle—[Interruption.] You do not have another question? Okay. That is quite enough from Richard Lyle. [Laughter.] Sorry, Richard. I call Murdo Fraser.

Richard Lyle strangely omitted to mention that the GERS figures tell us that the union dividend in Scotland amounts to £1,882 for every man, woman and child, which leads to record higher public spending per capita in Scotland of £1,576—so we are spending more than the UK average on schools, hospitals and all the things that matter to us. Does the cabinet secretary agree that it would be reckless folly to put those fiscal transfers from the rest of the UK at risk by pursuing a policy of Scottish separation?

On the contrary, as Murdo Fraser will expect me to say, small advanced economies around the world are doing better than Scotland. What is the one thing that they have that we do not have? It is independence. If we had the full levers of independence, we would be able to stimulate our economy even further and have a more prosperous and fairer society.

Murdo Fraser referenced the notional deficit. That notional deficit is a product of the current constitutional position, not Scottish independence.

Given the £13.4 billion deficit that is reported in GERS, will the cabinet secretary and author of the cuts commission report say what areas of public spending he would propose to cut in his plan to sever Scotland’s links with the rest of the UK?

James Kelly has had a number of months in which to read the growth commission’s report, but it appears that he still has not read it. The report sets out a way in which we can grow the economy and our public services and reduce the notional deficit at the same time. The deficit would be reduced while public spending increased in real terms. That is the reality of what the growth commission proposed.

Onshore and Offshore Revenues

To ask the Scottish Government what Scotland’s onshore and offshore revenues were in 2017-18, and how these compared with the previous year. (S5O-02300)

According to the latest figures, overall revenue in Scotland reached £60 billion in 2017-18—up more than £3 billion on the previous year—and included a £1 billion increase in offshore revenue. That growth underlines the fact that we have a productive and growing economy, despite the United Kingdom Government’s London-centric economic policies. With the limited economic powers that are currently at our disposal, the actions that we are taking to promote sustainable economic development are helping to ensure that the key economic indicators are moving in the right direction.

One important point about the GERS figures and what they mean for an independent Scotland that should be reiterated comes directly from the Fraser of Allander institute, which said:

“If the very purpose of independence is to take different choices about the type of economy and society that we live in, then a set of accounts based upon the world today will tell us little about the long-term finances of an independent Scotland.”

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, with independence, the Scottish Government could design policies that would be tailored to Scotland and not UK Government circumstances?

Of course we could. That is the essence of what the growth commission said about how, with control of people, productivity and participation, we could make a substantial difference to Scotland’s economy. If we had all the levers of control, we could make different choices about, for example, UK Government expenditure in Scotland on defence, and not invest in Trident nuclear missiles on the Clyde. That is one substantial example of how we could make different choices from those that the UK Government makes about how it spends resources in Scotland.

We could do better if we had control of more economic levers to grow our economy.

Offshore revenues might be up but, last year, they were at their second-lowest level ever, after the 2013 independence white paper told us that an independent Scotland would be dependent on estimated oil revenues of around £7 billion a year by now. How does that prediction compare to the real figures of today?

In fairness, nobody—no economist—predicted the international downturn in the oil and gas sector that affected the UK and Scotland. It has been a major contributor to the subdued performance of the Scottish economy.

Recognising that point, is it not to be welcomed that there are signs of growth and recovery for jobs, income and revenues from the North Sea sector? Is it not worthy of some reflection that North Sea revenues have contributed £333 billion to the chancellor’s coffers? We should continue to support the sector to ensure the growth in the offshore industry and the onshore supply chain. Onshore revenues have increased by a substantial £2 billion during the past year.

I think that the cabinet secretary has already touched on this, but can he advise members how much revenue has accrued to the UK Treasury at current prices from the Scottish sector of the North Sea since oil and gas were first discovered?

I can confirm that the figure of £333 billion accruing to the UK Treasury that I have just given is at today’s prices. That is a substantial contribution to the Chancellor. Of course, should we choose to seek it, there are as many barrels of oil and gas still to come, if we make the right interventions in tax, exploration and innovation.

All that is part of a wider economic strategy to grow our offshore and onshore economies.

Austerity (Impact on Public Services)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact 10 more years of austerity could have on public services in Scotland. (S5O-02301)

The Scottish Government has repeatedly highlighted the devastating impact that the United Kingdom Government’s austerity agenda is having on Scottish families and public services, and has called for the UK Government to stop causing such unnecessary hardship.

In contrast, the Scottish Government’s innovative approach to income tax policy has reversed this year’s real-terms budget cuts imposed by the UK Government, ensuring that the majority of Scottish taxpayers will pay less tax than the rest of the UK, while continuing to provide certainty and stability for Scotland’s public services.

Prolonged austerity is damaging for us all and it is vital that the Chancellor uses his autumn budget to change course.

The SNP cuts commission says that we would see eye-watering levels of cuts of up to 11 per cent of gross domestic product, which would impact desperately on public services. It would also mean a £5 billion solidarity payment to the UK Government and introduce something called flexicurity, which is the ability to sack people more easily. Does the cabinet secretary, the co-author of the report, agree with and sign up to all the proposals within it?

As a member of the growth commission, which Neil Findlay has just referenced, I am proud of the recommendations, which show how we can grow our economy, deliver a fairer society and engage around productivity, participation, gender issues and inequality in a way that is good for society in the round.

Austerity and continued austerity are products of the union that is so loved by Neil Findlay. The growth commission rejects austerity. The deficit would be reduced while public spending increased in real terms. The way to deliver for our society is to accelerate that inclusive economic growth, not to continue austerity under successive UK Governments.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the chaos that is emanating from Brexit—which Mr Findlay supports—is having a devastating effect on the Scottish public sector and the Scottish public finances and that, therefore, it is imperative that this Parliament gets the powers to protect this country?

Yes, I agree with that. There is a consensus that Brexit started off as a Tory gamble, then became a guddle and now is just a clear act of economic self-harm. It is harmful to our communities and businesses and to the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK. That is why we are trying to get to the least worst Brexit possible. We know just how damaging it is.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. What opportunity is there for members who deliberately mislead the chamber to correct the record? Could you provide some guidance on that to the member who has just spoken?

I note Mr Findlay’s comment but, as he knows, all members have the opportunity to ask further questions, submit written questions or write to members who they think may not have provided accurate information.

Do members have the right to tell lies about other members?

Mr Findlay is aware that that language is not acceptable in this Parliament. I ask him to withdraw that term.

I withdraw the word “lies” and replace it with the word “misleading”.

“Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland”

I will give the cabinet secretary another chance to reconsider his answer.

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the recent “Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland” figures. (S5O-02302)

GERS provides estimates of revenue raised in Scotland and spending for Scotland, under the current constitutional arrangements.

We are seeing a strengthening Scottish economy. Scotland’s economy grew twice as fast as that of the United Kingdom at the start of this year, productivity is increasing and the latest EY attractiveness survey showed that Scotland remains the top UK region outside London for foreign direct investment projects.

To me, the GERS figures show that, as Murdo Fraser has already said, the union dividend delivered £1,882 for every person in Scotland, up from £1,400 the previous year. Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is thanks to the on-going co-operation of the UK Government that Scotland can continue to spend more to support our vital public services?

Scotland has more than paid its way within the United Kingdom. We have contributed substantially. The point of the work that is being done around what independence could do for Scotland is to show a path that rejects austerity, can grow our economy and can create a more inclusive society by using all the tools that are at our disposal. That is the kind of vision that we have for Scotland.

I say again that the current national deficit is a product of the current constitutional position rather than the opportunity that would come with Scottish independence.

Brexit (United Kingdom Government Technical Notices)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the potential impact on Scotland of the United Kingdom Government’s recently published technical notices to prepare for leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement. (S5O-02303)

The UK Government’s technical notices lay bare the risks that Scottish businesses, the economy and public services would face as a result of a no-deal situation. From the bureaucratic burden that will be imposed on EU imports and exports to the need to strike a wide range of no-deal deals before the end of March, the notices only add to the uncertainty and chaos surrounding the current Tory Brexit.

Will the cabinet secretary join me in calling again on the UK Government to rule out a disastrous no-deal Brexit and focus instead on securing the best outcome for us all, which—short of staying in the EU—is to remain part of the single market and the customs union?

There is no doubt that staying in the EU is the best option. We have constantly argued that, if that option is not to be taken, the only acceptable change would be to stay in the single market and the customs union. All opinion and research support that and it is extraordinary that the UK Government is now talking openly about a no-deal situation. Mervyn King commented on that Government’s incompetence today, and we should all think about that. How is it possible that we have got to this stage? It can only be because Brexit is now a Tory civil war.

Local Taxation and Local Government Finance (Reform)

6. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what approach it plans to reform local tax and local government finance. (S5O-02304)

The Scottish Government will set out its financial settlement for local government later this year as part of the 2019-20 Scottish budget and welcomes constructive engagement in that process from all political parties, including Mr Harvie’s.

The Government welcomed constructive involvement when it created its commission on local tax reform, in which we all took part in good faith. One simple way in which it could return to the stalled agenda of local tax reform relates to the creation of a power for local government to introduce a transient visitor levy—a tourism tax. To be super clear, I am not asking the minister whether that would be a good or a bad policy, but I want to know what possible reason there is that the decision on whether to introduce such a tax should be a Scottish Government choice rather than a local government one.

The Scottish Government has made clear its position on local discretionary tax powers, but the door is open on negotiations as part of the budget process. I believe that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work has already been in touch with Patrick Harvie to take forward those negotiations. That is the most appropriate forum for all discussions, not least those on local taxation. I do not intend to pre-empt those budget discussions.

On a similar note, the minister will be aware that the City of Edinburgh Council voted for a tourist tax, which could raise £11 million a year to be invested in areas where tourism puts pressure on the city’s infrastructure and to improve public services. I note a slight move in the Government’s position. Does that mean that the Government has confidence that Scottish councils can establish and could deliver effective tourist tax schemes for their areas?

The member heard my answer to Patrick Harvie. If the Labour Party, along with other parties in the chamber, can make credible proposals for local discretionary tax powers, among other tax powers, I am sure that the cabinet secretary will listen to them. From what I saw of its engagements last year, finding a credible position on tax powers will be difficult for the Labour Party, but the cabinet secretary remains open to negotiation.

Will the minister guarantee that any reform to local taxation will not increase its complexity or be used simply to increase taxes on hard-working families?

As part of the budget process, there are discussions between the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on next year’s local government finance settlement. Those are already under way and the outcome will be announced later this year as part of the normal budget process. The current local government finance system is kept under constant review by the Scottish Government and COSLA, which ensure that it continues to be fit for purpose.

Non-domestic Rates Reform (Implementation)

To ask the Scottish Government what level of engagement there has been on the Barclay implementation consultation on non-domestic rates reform. (S5O-02305)

We are consulting extensively on those important reforms. We have established the Barclay implementation advisory group to advise on the implementation. The group includes representatives from all the key non-domestic rates stakeholder groups including the Federation of Small Businesses, the Confederation of British Industry, the Scottish Property Federation and the Scottish Retail Consortium along with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Assessors Association. It has met five times since the start of the year and its views were instrumental in the design of the consultation document.

The consultation closes on 17 September and I encourage all stakeholders to engage in it and submit their views. My officials have continued to consult a range of stakeholders and I plan to meet in the next few weeks representatives from business organisations, local authorities, sports clubs, the charitable sector and independent schools.

It seems clear from the programme for government that the domestic rates bill will take forward most of the Barclay review recommendations apart from, for example, the key recommendation that the large business supplement should be reduced and made more competitive. Is it still the intention to ignore that key recommendation? If so, on what basis is it being picked out?

That is certainly a matter for the budget process. I have encouraged other parties to put forward credible proposals for inclusion in the budget and I know that the cabinet secretary’s door is open if the member wants to discuss things such as the large business supplement recommendation, which the Barclay review said should be considered only when it is affordable to do so.

In the meantime, we have focused on supporting small businesses and we have measures that are unique in the United Kingdom—such as the growth accelerator, which applies to large and small businesses—to ensure that Scotland is a good place to do business.

Manufacturing (Renewable Technologies)

To ask the Scottish Government how many contracts for the manufacture of renewable technologies have been awarded to Scottish-based companies in the last five years and what the total value is of these. (S5O-02309)

The information, which relates to commercial discussions between developers, tier 1 contractors and the wider supply chain, is not collected centrally by either the Scottish or the United Kingdom Government, and difficulties remain because of the use of standard industrial classification codes for estimation of employment impacts.

However, there is increasing published evidence concerning the scale and value of renewable energy development to Scotland’s economy. That comes in the form of economic impact studies capturing activity and jobs in manufacturing as well as in operation and maintenance, research and innovation, and environmental and other services. The Office for National Statistics has produced estimates of low-carbon and renewable energy sector jobs, with some detailed breakdown by technologies. However, those details require refinement.

Is the minister aware that, in the 1970s, the Offshore Supplies Office was established with the objective of securing 70 per cent of the North Sea supply chain for UK companies? Hundreds of companies provided thousands of jobs as a result. When it comes to renewables, I note the recent comments from the former energy minister, Brian Wilson, who said:

“As the windiest country in Europe, we should be angry and embarrassed that every single turbine around us has been imported.”

When is the minister going to introduce a manufacturing strategy for Scotland? When is the Government going to accept that if we are to get the economic benefits and jobs from the renewables sector, we need the state to play a role? We need a Government that will stand up for Scotland, and a Government that will bring jobs to Scotland.

When Richard Leonard, Mr Rowley’s party leader, was standing outside Burntisland Fabrications taking selfies, it was this Government that was helping to save the business; a little bit of recognition by Mr Rowley of the efforts that have been made by the Government to support the supply chain in offshore wind would be welcome.

I have respect for Mr Wilson as a former minister. However, Mr Wilson has predicted the death knell of the offshore wind industry in recent years and he is obviously not aware of the work that is in the pipeline. In Scotland, we now have 4GW of offshore wind consented and 1.4GW of offshore wind projects under construction, in addition to the 588MW Beatrice field that is being developed in the Moray Firth at this moment.

This Government takes the needs of the supply chain very seriously. Before the UK Government established the offshore wind industry council, we established the offshore wind industry group. We have a detailed supply chain working group, which I would be happy to share details of with Mr Rowley. The group works closely with industry to maximise the supply chain benefits for the Scottish economy, and I am happy to meet Mr Rowley any time to discuss our work in that respect.

Figures that were published by the Improvement Service in collaboration with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities earlier this week show that the number of Scottish businesses that sell to their local councils has almost halved nationwide over the past decade, with more contracts being awarded to companies based outside Scotland. What action will the minister take to reverse that worrying trend?

As I said earlier, with respect to the renewable energy sector, we are working with developers, Scottish Renewables and other key stakeholders, such as the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, to maximise develop supply chain opportunities for Scottish businesses. We monitor closely as best we can the economic impact of projects, and useful contributions have been made by Scottish Power and SSE and tidal generators such as Nova Innovation, which provide detailed information about the supply chain impact for the Scottish economy. The position is not perfect, and the UK Government would agree with that. Both Governments work closely together to maximise the supply chain opportunities for the Scottish economy and, in the case of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the UK economy as a whole. I reassure Dean Lockhart that we take the issue very seriously and that developers know that economic impact is a key material consideration in planning applications, in which we look for detail on supply chain benefits.

Temporary and Seasonal Workers’ Rights (Edinburgh)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve and protect temporary and seasonal workers’ rights in Edinburgh. (S5O-02310)

The Government is committed to fair work and we want Scotland to be a world-leading fair work nation. Scotland performs best of the four United Kingdom countries for paying the living wage; we have published statutory guidance on fair work in procurement and we work constructively with the Scottish Trades Union Congress through a memorandum of understanding and biannual meetings with the First Minister to promote fair work across Scotland. There is more to do. Although employment law remains reserved to the UK Parliament, I have committed to publishing a fair work action plan before the end of this year, which will set out the steps that we will take using the powers at our disposal.

Is the minister aware of the fair fringe charter? It is a voluntary scheme, much like his business pledge, which encourages employers to promote decent wages and trade union recognition. What can the minister do between now and next year’s Edinburgh festivals to ensure that employers pay a decent wage and look after workers at such an important time of the year?

I agree with the tenor of Ms Dugdale’s question. I go back to the point that employment law is reserved, so we cannot impose these things. On the basis of operating voluntary schemes, I am aware of the terms of the fair fringe charter and commend the efforts of the people involved. Earlier this year, I discussed with the better than zero campaign the issues that caused the rise of the charter. I have corresponded with the people behind the charter and look to better understand what they seek to achieve and how we can work together to ensure that fair work is a hallmark of the Edinburgh fringe.

Edinburgh and South-east City Region Deal

To ask the Scottish Government how its investment in the £1.3 billion Edinburgh and south-east city region deal will help to deliver inclusive economic growth across the region and benefit residents in Midlothian North and Musselburgh. (S5O-02311)

The Scottish Government has committed £300 million over 15 years to the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal to support delivery of a programme of investment to stimulate inclusive economic growth and create jobs right across the city region. The deal was signed in August by the First Minister and we look forward to working with partners in the coming years to deliver it. The partners will use the deal to deliver a transformative impact across the whole city region and deliver new jobs, new homes and skills training. For the two areas that Colin Beattie highlighted, there will be direct investment in the Easter Bush campus of the University of Edinburgh in Midlothian, which features prominently in the data driven innovation programme; in the food and drink Innovation campus, which will be located at Craighall next to the Queen Margaret University campus at Musselburgh; and in a £120 million upgrade to the Sheriffhall roundabout to deliver benefits to all users of that part of the A720 Edinburgh bypass.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that Scottish Government investment will help the region to continue to thrive and grow and fulfil our ambition for it to be one of the fairest and most inclusive areas in the country? I ask him to set out how the Government’s investment in such deals across Scotland matches that of the United Kingdom Government.

Inclusive growth was a key consideration in the development of the south-east Scotland city region deal. Our £25 million investment in the integrated regional employability and skills programme will maximise the synergies between the different projects within the deal and equip people across the region to benefit from the additional jobs that will be created by the investment over the next 10 to 20 years.

With city region deals across Scotland to date, we have matched and in some cases exceeded the UK Government’s commitment. So far, the Scottish Government has committed to invest £1.125 billion over the next 10 to 20 years, compared to the UK Government’s commitment of £1.046 billion.

Retail Representatives in Renfrewshire (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of retailers in Renfrewshire, and what issues were discussed. (S5O-02312)

Ministers regularly meet and correspond with retailers and business organisations representing businesses across Scotland, including many in Renfrewshire, as part of our on-going engagement with business sectors. My colleagues and I have had several meetings recently to discuss issues such as business rates, town centre regeneration and the economy.

We all know what a challenge it is to attract businesses to our town centres and support our local retailers. The Paisley 2021 campaign, which was driven by the community, showed a vision of what the town centre could be, but I know from speaking to local businesses in Paisley that it has not been immune to the retail slump. What is the Scottish Government doing to support retailers in town centres such as Paisley and to help attract visitors? Does the minister agree that, against that backdrop, the decision by Renfrewshire Council to hike up parking charges by as much as 33 per cent will only make it harder to attract visitors to Paisley and is tantamount to economic vandalism?

Neil Bibby fairly referred to the city of culture bid, which was cross party and consensual and which energised Paisley and inspired confidence in its people. I am tempted to do some political knockabout, but I will resist that temptation and say this: the town of Paisley is a proud town that deserves our unity and joint energies to try to ensure that it is a place for the future. What kind of measures can we take? We can provide a competitive tax environment for properties and businesses in Paisley and a focus on events and investment. The Scottish Government will do everything that we can to support that. That community cohesion is really important, so let us not go back to the past in Paisley by having cheap party division on the issue; let us stay united on the big ideas that will regenerate Paisley and beyond. It is that kind of vision that will stimulate the economy and provide the attractions that will turn around Paisley’s fortunes and on which there is consensus in the town.

Exports (South Scotland)

I point members to my registered interest as a business owner.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to promote the export of goods from the South Scotland region. (S5O-02313)

As outlined in the programme for government, we will work to boost the value and range of Scottish products, services and businesses in overseas markets. “A Trading Nation: Our Plan for Growing Scotland’s Exports” will set out how we will achieve our export ambitions, working with industry and other partners, particularly the Strategic Board for Enterprise and Skills. The plan, which will be published in spring next year, is underpinned by over £20 million of investment over the next three years.

As part of that work, we will invest £2 million over three years to intensively support 50 high-growth businesses per year to ramp up overseas activity and we will create 100 new business-to-business peer mentorships per year for new exporters. We will also expand the network of in-market specialists to identify untapped potential in overseas markets and to support Scotland’s exporting interests, and we will increase export finance support for Scottish companies that are looking to enter new markets. Those steps will benefit businesses across all parts of Scotland, including the south of Scotland.

At present, it seems that the only support that is available to small and medium-sized enterprises that wish to export is to join the Scottish Enterprise pipeline, which then offers consultancy and market research. However, there appears to be no funding support for SMEs that want to get their products in front of potential customers by, for example, attending trade shows. With the new south of Scotland agency coming on stream, will the minister look at the issue to ensure that funding investment directly supports SMEs to grow their export markets?

As I outlined in my previous answer, there is a big focus on supporting all businesses to increase their exports. We are focusing on 50 high-growth potential businesses per year to help them ramp up their overseas activities. Scottish Development International already works through Scottish Enterprise to significantly support a range of businesses, including through export missions. In 2017, the Scottish Government gave £400,000 of funding to the Scottish Chambers of Commerce to launch five local regional export partnership pilots across Scotland, including one in the south of Scotland. Such pilots provide one-to-one support through SDI’s expert advisory service for business and a programme of local export events across the region.

“Quantifying the implications of the Paris Agreement: What role for Scotland?”

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to the Tyndall centre and Uppsala University report, “Quantifying the implications of the Paris Agreement: What role for Scotland?”, and its implications for the economy. (S5O-02314)

We have considered the report, which was commissioned by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and Friends of the Earth Scotland, because it adds to the already substantial body of evidence that serious and urgent action to reduce emissions is needed. That is why we have introduced the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, which includes targets that are in line with the advice of our statutory advisers, the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change. They are in line with the Paris agreement and extremely stretching, but they are also feasible and would bring Scotland to carbon neutrality by 2050. It is vital to maintain a balanced approach to our climate, economic and social responsibilities.

The report outlines the need to leave the majority of fossil fuel reserves that we already know about in the ground. The Scottish Greens’ research paper “Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy” outlines how hundreds of thousands of jobs can be created in the transition to a renewables-based economy. The Highlands and Islands will be integral to that transition. There is decommissioning in Lerwick and the Cromarty Firth, the European Marine Energy Centre is in Stromness and there are wind projects such as the Beatrice project. In light of that, will the minister ensure that the communities that will power Scotland’s renewable energy future get maximum benefit from employment opportunities by ensuring that the proposed public energy company is headquartered in the Highlands and Islands?

John Finnie raises an important point because, as we transition to a low-carbon economy, there will be lots of job opportunities. We will establish the just transition commission to help advise on the transition to a low-carbon economy. I am sure that we can discuss where that commission will be based at some point.

We have ambitious targets, and the approach that we have taken, through the introduction of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, is realistic and as pragmatic as possible. We need to balance all the considerations regarding our economy, our society and our help for the climate. I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform will be happy to have further discussions with John Finnie. We are committed to delivering on this, which will have a very positive impact on Scotland.

Question 7 has been withdrawn.

Decommissioning Jobs (Dundee)

To ask the Scottish Government how many decommissioning jobs have been created in Dundee in the past 12 months. (S5O-02316)

The Scottish Government is committed to maximising the economic benefits that are available from decommissioning, and to support Scottish industry to develop the appropriate capability and capacity to win valuable contracts. Our decommissioning action plan, which is supported by the decommissioning challenge fund, aims to leverage investment to ensure that Scotland is in a position to capitalise on market opportunities.

The Scottish Government does not hold information on specific job numbers in Dundee. However, Scottish Enterprise has provided start-up advice and support to a number of companies that are looking at opportunities to position themselves in decommissioning in the city. The Scottish Government has also supported projects in Dundee through our decommissioning challenge fund, which was launched in February 2017. That includes an investment of more than £500,000 in a permanently fixed heavy-lift crane that will facilitate the transfer of material to the quayside. That will generate cost and time efficiencies and improve the attractiveness of Dundee as a destination for decommissioning.

I am sure that the minister will agree that all those developments are very positive and that we want to see the best outcome. If he does not have the specific numbers for Dundee, perhaps he can tell me how many Scottish jobs have been created in decommissioning in the past 12 months. Will the minister give the Government’s backing to calls that decommissioning jobs should meet the pay rates and conditions that are set out in the construction sector’s blue book?

As the minister knows, the Tay cities deal has not yet been signed. Does he agree that the agreement needs to be signed as soon as possible in order to bring an economic boost to Dundee?

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, who is, I think, sitting behind me, is leading on the Tay cities deal, and I am sure that he would agree that we have tried to push the United Kingdom Government to commit to it and that he shares Jenny Marra’s aspiration for it to develop the economy not just of Dundee, but of the entire city region. I will leave it to the cabinet secretary to engage with her on the details of that.

Jenny Marra is right on the decommissioning challenge fund and the wider exploitation of decommissioning opportunities. We believe that there is up to £17 billion of value to be taken from decommissioning activity in the UK continental shelf between now and 2025. Much of that is already coming to Scotland in respect of well plugging and abandonment, but we are working on the shore-side disposal of topside structures from the North Sea. The projects that we have funded through the decommissioning challenge fund have already levered in a further £3.4 million from private funders.

I will try to get further details to Jenny Marra on employment impacts, but we have supported an estimated 200 jobs across the Scottish economy so far.