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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 5, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 05 December 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Art in Action Campaign, Portfolio Question Time, Disability Sport and Participation, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Trunk Road Network (Safety)

To ask the Scottish Government how it can help improve safety on the trunk road network. (S5O-03865)

Scotland has some of the safest roads in the world. In spite of that success, each collision or injury on the road network is traumatic for everyone involved, and more remains to be done to reduce the number of collisions. Through joint working with partners in other parts of the sector, we have achieved substantial reductions in the number of accidents and casualties as a result of our targeted programme of investment in our trunk road network.

Scotland’s road safety framework sets out our wider programme to allow us to maintain progress towards our 2020 casualty reduction target, with key actions for the Scottish Government and our partners set out.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that, in Transport Scotland’s annual road safety review, an accident culture has been identified on the A84, near the Blair Drummond safari park? Additional road safety investigation work has been undertaken, which might result in the installation of a roundabout. Will the cabinet secretary ensure that any capital works that emerge from the investigation will be given the fullest possible consideration for inclusion in the next funding cycle for strategic transport projects?

I am conscious that Bruce Crawford, as the constituency member, has raised that matter with me on a number of occasions. Regular screening of the trunk road network has identified an accident cluster site near to a farm access point adjacent to the A84, which is the area to which the member referred. An investigation was carried out recently by BEAR Scotland to examine the nature of the accidents that have been recorded at that location, and potential solutions. As a result of that analysis, it has been recommended that monitoring of the effectiveness of the recent relocation of the electronic queue warning signs be undertaken, and that work will be taken forward.

I assure the member that Transport Scotland, in taking forward the strategic transport projects review, will engage with local stakeholders, particularly the local authority, in order to understand transport priorities across the whole Forth Valley area. I give the member an assurance that the issue that he has raised will be given serious consideration as part of that process.

One of the newest roads in the trunk road network is the Aberdeen western peripheral route. Since it opened, there have been a series of crashes, which have often been clustered around particular parts of the route. As long ago as May, commuters were warning that particular junctions were accidents waiting to happen. What work is being done to establish the underlying causes of such accidents? What steps are being taken to prevent further incidents, before it is too late?

I have no doubt that Liam Kerr does not want to give the impression that the AWPR has reduced safety on our roads in any way. In fact, it has improved safety on north-east Scotland’s road network and is providing considerable benefits to the local community. From those whom I have engaged with in north-east Scotland, I know that there is broad welcome for the significant improvements that have resulted from the Scottish Government’s investment in north-east Scotland’s road network.

As with any major infrastructure project, evaluations are undertaken one year, three years and five years after the project’s completion, in order to identify the benefits and any issues that have arisen. As I said in my answer to Bruce Crawford, a process is undertaken to look at any sites where there might be accident clusters. The data is analysed, including by Police Scotland, to look at the nature and cause of such accidents and at whether mitigation measures need to be put in place.

Overall, we are very satisfied with the significant improvements to north-east Scotland as a result of the Aberdeen western peripheral route.

One of the roads in my constituency about which there are a lot of safety complaints is the A90 at the Toll of Birness fork, from Ellon to Fraserburgh and Peterhead. In lieu of any major infrastructure decisions on future dualling, there have been calls for a roundabout to improve traffic flow and the safety of the junction in the meantime. The A90 is a trunk road, but it borders on a council road. Can the cabinet secretary provide clarity on whether building the roundabout would be a Government investment?

The constituency member will be aware that there are two proposed housing developments to the west of the A90, each comprising in the region of 500 houses, which means that there will be 1,000 houses in total being added to the local road network. That will, of course, increase queuing on local roads, as well as the amount of turning and manoeuvres that need to be undertaken at the Toll of Birness junction. Transport Scotland has secured planning conditions on those developments to contribute to a scheme that will improve the area at the Toll of Birness junction. That may take the form of a roundabout, as has been suggested, although other forms of mitigation might be appropriate.

It would now be for the developer and the local authority to develop those proposals and to agree them with Transport Scotland. The local authority, along with the developer, is in the lead in taking forward those measures in consultation with Transport Scotland. At present, we have not been provided with a timescale on when the council intends to take forward those issues with the local developer.

I have been relaxed about the length of supplementary questions so far. However, I am afraid that my relaxation has gone and I would like the supplementary questions to be nice and snappy. That has put you on notice, Ms Lennon.

Bus Services (Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will publish guidance on the provision of bus services by local authorities. (S5O-03866)

The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 received royal assent on 15 November. A good deal of preparatory work will be undertaken on the significant volume of regulations and guidance required in relation to the new provisions on bus services. My officials have started to engage with local transport authorities, bus operators and other relevant stakeholders, and that will continue over the coming months with a view to beginning commencement of the provisions during 2020.

Increasing democratic control over services is an important issue to many, not least to hundreds of my constituents who use the vital X1 bus service between Hamilton and Glasgow. The cabinet secretary is aware that First Glasgow threatened to axe that service, but following a public backlash there has been a reprieve until Christmas on a use-it-or-lose-it basis.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that we need a system that puts the public, not the owners of big bus companies, in the driving seat? What reassurance can he give to my constituents who rely on the X1 that they will not lose that vital service?

I am aware of the issue with regard to the X1 service. That matter is being pursued by the constituency MSP Christina McKelvie, who has raised it with me on a number of occasions. A service is now being provided and is well used.

Monica Lennon will be aware that the bus services improvement partnership provisions within the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 require local authorities to work in partnership with the bus industry. Going forward, I expect the local authority to consider doing that, in relation to services in the Lanarkshire area. The member will also be aware that Strathclyde partnership for transport has a responsibility to look at social need as part of the regional transport provision within its area. I encourage Monica Lennon to engage with SPT around any transport issues in relation to bus services in the Lanarkshire area.

Motherwell Railway Station

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the proposed upgrades at Motherwell railway station. (S5O-03867)

Transport Scotland officials are working closely with Abellio ScotRail to finalise a funding agreement to upgrade Motherwell railway station. Further details will be announced in due course.

Does the cabinet secretary know whether an active travel hub at Motherwell station is being considered as part of the upgrade proposals? Would he be willing to meet local organisations in my area that are encouraging cycling in the area, to see how they might engage in the process?

I am always happy to engage with the member’s constituents. The groups within her constituency have an interest in that matter. The redevelopment of Motherwell station will include enhanced cycle parking facilities, in order to support active travel. That will be complemented by the work that North Lanarkshire Council is doing and by the Motherwell town centre transport interchange project, which will see access improvements to the station and enhancements for interchange between car, bus, bike and train.

The council’s project will also encourage increased modal shift to public transport and active travel, which will provide a transport hub and a gateway into Lanarkshire. I understand that a communication plan is being developed to ensure that stakeholders and customers are kept informed during the various stages of the work and I am more than happy to ensure that members are kept informed of the process.

Reaching 100 Per Cent Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government when it expects to announce the preferred bidder to deliver the reaching 100 per cent scheme in the north area. (S5O-03868)

In response to a general question on 21 November that was lodged by Mike Rumbles, I announced that we have selected BT Plc as a preferred bidder for the north lot of the R100 programme.

It is clear that the R100 programme is well behind its original timetable, and Fergus Ewing pledged to quit if he failed to deliver on the R100 project by 2021. As it is very clear that the scheme will not be delivered on that timeframe, will the minister follow the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy’s example?

Oh dear. As we made clear in the information that we provided to, for example, The Herald newspaper for its coverage today, the contracts that were referenced have been awarded to resource the R100 delivery team and therefore do not correlate directly with the date of completion of the deployment. To answer Mr Chapman, we are currently looking to complete the procurement process.

I want to set out the Government’s record on delivery on broadband for Scotland. We met our target for providing access to fibre broadband to 95 per cent of premises across Scotland on time and on budget. Indeed, we exceeded that target; more than 940,000 premises can now access fibre broadband, which is about 100,000 more than was anticipated. Digital Scotland superfast broadband gainshare funding will be deployed in 2020, so DSSB will continue into 2020 as we finalise the procurement process for R100.

We are going where others would not. Before the DSSB programme, there were no plans at all for commercial fibre deployment for Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles. Now, more than 80 per cent of premises in those areas have access to broadband. We have gone faster, and 90 per cent of premises are now capable of accessing superfast broadband through DSSB, which far exceeds the original target of 77 per cent.

In saying that, I hope that I am giving Mr Chapman confidence that the Scottish Government will deliver on broadband. To be absolutely clear, the Scottish National Party is already well ahead of any United Kingdom party in its commitment to deliver superfast broadband. Its timescale is ahead of any other UK party and it is investing £600 million, precisely because the Tories have failed to deliver. I remind Mr Chapman that broadband is a reserved matter, so we did not need to make the investment. We are doing it in the interests of Scotland.

The minister is refusing to admit that his target date of the end of 2021 for R100 is not going to happen. Is that not the modern-day equivalent of Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch? Is he really sticking to the end of 2021 as the target date?

It used to be the Liberal Democrats who were the dead parrots in politics, but from Labour’s poll ratings, it is more likely to be the Labour Party now.

On the serious point that Mr Smyth raised, as I have explained to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee—[Interruption.]

If Mr Smyth will listen to my answer, he will hear that I have explained to the committee that we are in the depths of a procurement exercise that is governed by procurement law, and I cannot discuss the details of bids. I have committed to appear before the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee to discuss the matter as soon as I can—probably at the end of January—and to give the details that he and other members seek. We are not hiding from anything, but we have to see through the procurement process, which is governed by law.

Would it not be better for the minister to just come forward and say that the target is not going to be met by the end of 2021? He knows it. We know it. Everybody knows it. Why does he not just say it?

As Mr Rumbles knows—because we have interacted in meetings of the committee itself on this point—I would dearly love to be more open about the future of the programme. He knows that I am governed by procurement law, and I have explained that at length to committee members.

The fact that I cannot give him the information that he seeks does not indicate a lack of respect to members of this chamber or the committee. I undertake to answer Mr Rumble’s committee questions and those of his colleagues when I get the opportunity. I can say to Mr Rumbles—because I know that he is concerned about this point—that we are committed to 100 per cent coverage and that I am confident that we will have a good outcome for the people of Scotland.

ScotRail (Festive Season)

To ask the Scottish Government what action ScotRail is taking to prepare for the festive season. (S5O-03869)

From 15 December, ScotRail will deliver approximately 10,000 more seats as it introduces its new timetable. ScotRail will also increase capacity in the lead-up to Christmas. On the pre-Christmas weekend, ScotRail will provide approximately 40,000 more seats compared to the same period last year. Over the five days between Christmas and new year, ScotRail will provide around 184,000 more seats compared to the same period last year.

The last trains of the day on Christmas eve and new year’s eve will depart earlier than normal and there will be changes to train timetables over the Christmas and new year period.

I welcome the extra seats and carriages, but I have to express caution. Although morning peak services have been improved for commuters, there could be difficulties on evening peak services. Obviously, the festive period is a very busy time. Does the cabinet secretary have any comment on why the number of carriages on evening peak services has not been increased?

The member is right to recognise that there is a significant increase in capacity, with an extra 1,500 seats per day being provided for passengers on the Borders route, through a combination of more services and longer trains. Some services that are presently three carriages are going up to six carriages, and the number of two-carriage services is reducing in favour of larger trains. Across the whole of the day, capacity will be increased.

I assure the member that ScotRail is seeking to make the greatest use of its existing rolling stock. The enhancements that it will provide in the Borders are to help at times when there are particular difficulties on the Borders route and in areas where the volume of passengers using the service at peak times is a challenge.

Clearly, as further timetable changes are taken forward over the course of 2020, there will be an opportunity to look at what further capacity can be added, not just in the Borders but in other parts of the network.

Parking Enforcements (Consultation)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to consult on penalty charge levels as part of parking enforcements set out in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. (S5O-03870)

We are currently developing a full public consultation on penalty charge notices, which will include notices related to the parking prohibitions that are set out in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. We expect to launch the consultation in early 2020.

Mount Florida community council, which is based in my constituency, has raised concerns that the current fixed notice rates are too low to deter motorists from being inconsiderate during events at Hampden stadium. Will the Scottish Government consult local authorities, residents and community councils to ensure that there is flexibility to vary the rate of penalty charge notices in potential problem hotspots such as Hampden?

I assure the member that the PCN review will include a full public consultation. We have been engaging with local authorities on the issue and we would welcome views from a range of stakeholders, including Mount Florida community council and members of the public, in the consultation process. I encourage those stakeholders to participate in the consultation once it begins.

We will explore a range of options through the consultation. We recognise that there are problem hotspots, but there is a requirement for us to balance the need for any changes to be fair and proportionate across the network with the need for charges to act as a suitable deterrent to address parking infringements. I assure the member that the issues that he is raising will be part of the consultation exercise and that there will be an opportunity to participate in that process.

Cycle Provision (Dundee)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to improve cycle provision in Dundee. (S5O-03871)

Since 2017-18, the Scottish Government has provided more than £2.63 million in funding to Dundee City Council to support the provision of cycling and walking infrastructure and behaviour-change projects. Additionally, Dundee City Council received a grant award of around £800,000 from round 1 of the European regional development fund to construct an active and low-carbon travel hub on Dundee’s waterfront and to upgrade 1.4km of pathway.

Is the cabinet secretary aware of Dundee City Council’s application for funding to undertake a business case analysis for city-wide cycle network integration, to join up all the current routes? Does he share my hope that such an analysis will provide robust evidence of the positive impact of greater investment in and integration of Dundee’s cycle network and provide the necessary impetus to take forward that bold and imaginative plan?

It is certainly a bold and imaginative plan, and I encourage the council to take it forward, because I am very supportive of measures that encourage walking and cycling for everyday journeys.

Of course, Dundee’s bid will have to be subject to the normal scrutiny process, alongside other bids for the places for everyone funding programme, which is run by Sustrans on behalf of the Scottish Government.

I am aware that Dundee City Council is expected to publish its bike life report early next year, which will set out detailed evidence and local communities’ views on the benefits that can come from investment in cycling and walking. I hope that that will contribute towards the council’s ambitious approach to improving cycling and walking as options for everyday journeys.

Transport Infrastructure (Net Zero Economy)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to develop a transport infrastructure suitable for a net zero economy. (S5O-03872)

The Scottish Government’s commitment to taking climate action is clearly demonstrated in our draft national transport strategy. We understand that transport plays a key role in achieving our net-zero target.

That commitment is at the heart of our work on the second strategic transport projects review, which will set out our infrastructure investment priorities to help to deliver the target.

We are investing in low-carbon infrastructure. The Government has committed more than £500 million for bus infrastructure, it has doubled active travel investment to £80 million and it has spent £30 million on a comprehensive electric vehicle charging network.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his encouraging response.

Over the past few years, FirstGroup has closed a number of bus routes in the Glasgow Anniesland constituency. What steps will the Scottish Government take to ensure that constituents who live outwith high-return areas are able to access sustainable public transport that allows them to continue to meet the requirements of life such as travelling to work, the doctor or the shops?

As we said in our programme for government, we are ambitious in relation to how we can utilise bus to support our zero-carbon targets. The member will be aware that the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 provides a range of new tools that local transport authorities can use to meet local needs and circumstances, whether they want to pursue partnership working arrangements with local bus service providers, pursue local franchising or run their own bus services.

Alongside the provisions in the 2019 act, we will bring forward transformational funding, with the biggest funding package in the history of devolution to support bus infrastructure, to make greater use of bus, tackle congestion and improve services.

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, as the local transport authority, has a lead role in helping to ensure that bus services are provided where social need is identified. I encourage the member to engage with SPT on the issues in his constituency.