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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 06 March 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Urgent Question, Early Years, Supporting Scottish Agriculture, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal


Portfolio Question Time

Finance, Economy and Fair Work

I advise members that the Presiding Officer has selected an urgent question, which will be taken after portfolio questions. As a consequence, decision time will be at 10 minutes past 5. A revised business programme has been issued to all members.

The first portfolio area is finance, economy and fair work. I advise members that questions 3 and 7 will be grouped together. In order to get in as many people as possible, questions and answers should be short and succinct, please.

Future of the Economy

To ask the Scottish Government what its assessment is of the future of the economy. (S5O-02939)

Scotland’s economy has continued to grow in 2018, carrying on the pattern of stronger growth over the past 18 months alongside record low levels of unemployment. The Scottish Fiscal Commission forecast that Scotland’s gross domestic product would grow further in 2019, by 1.2 per cent, assuming a relatively smooth and orderly Brexit process. However, a no-deal Brexit would put future growth at risk.

Analysis by the Scottish Government shows that a disorderly, no-deal Brexit has the potential to generate a significant economic shock that could tip the Scottish economy into recession. Depending on the scenario, there is potential for GDP to contract by between 2.5 and 7 per cent in 2019, and for the level of unemployment to increase by 100,000 people. As a responsible Government, we are continuing—and, indeed, intensifying—our work to prepare as best we can for all outcomes. We will do everything possible to prepare, but we will not be able to mitigate all the impacts of the United Kingdom Government’s approach to Brexit.

In view of his response, I expect that the cabinet secretary will agree that a no-deal Brexit would be an unmitigated disaster for the Scottish economy. Does he also agree that the Prime Minister’s deal would cause significant damage to businesses, jobs and the social fabric of Scotland—and my constituency of Stirling—and that the only way to safeguard our economy and social fabric is to remain in the single market and the customs union, or, preferably, to stay in the European Union, as 68 per cent of my constituents voted to do?

That was a fair analysis. On several occasions, the Prime Minister has announced in Downing Street that the choices were her deal, no deal or no Brexit. We would take no Brexit, thank you very much. Her deal is damaging to the Scottish economy, partly for the reasons that Bruce Crawford has stated, and a no-deal scenario would be particularly catastrophic. Both her deal and a no-deal exit would negatively impact the economy; the only question is to what extent and scale.

That is a further reminder that a no-deal Brexit would lead to recession. The United Kingdom Government would take us into a recession with its eyes wide open as to the economic consequences that that would have, such as business failure, soaring unemployment and reduced support for trade and success. The Prime Minister’s deal would be equally damaging, in that it would not keep us in the single market and the customs union. The Scottish Government is concerned by that prospect and will do all that it can to avoid it. We have offered another way through, and we will prepare for every contingency, but the way out of the situation is in the UK Government’s hands.

I will take two supplementary questions. Shorter answers will be required if we are to get through all the questions.

Last week, the cabinet secretary announced that Scotland’s economy might adopt a new currency in the event of independence. Given the potential significance of that proposal, I assume that he has made a full assessment of the financial consequences of such plans. Will he therefore confirm the level of reserves that would be required for the establishment of a new Scottish central bank? How would such reserves be funded?

That question is quite far away from the original one that was posed. [Interruption.] I am more than happy to answer it; I am just not sure that I can do so in the timescale that I have been given by the Presiding Officer.

I know the proposition that we have set out in the growth commission’s report and which I will present to the Scottish National Party’s party conference. I no longer chair the conference but I will be happy to attend it in my party capacity.

Considering that I have been asked about potential Scottish National Party policy, I will just say that this is an area where we can use the levers and tools that come with independence to make our country more prosperous and fairer. All the small advanced economies around the globe that are doing better than Scotland have only one thing that Scotland does not have—independence—and that is what we intend to get.

The Scottish Government’s report “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which was published in January 2018, forecast that, by 2030, 60 per cent of the drop in Scotland’s GDP would be accounted for not by a loss of trade per se or a loss of in-migration but by a fall in productivity. Moreover, the Fraser of Allander institute wrote last year:

“Back in 2007, the Scottish Government set a target to ‘rank in the top quartile for productivity amongst our key trading partners in the OECD by 2017.’”

Can you come to your question, please?

That target was missed, so—

Can you come to your question, please?

—what meaningful steps has the Government taken to close the productivity gap?

I find it very interesting that Richard Leonard is trying to suggest that Brexit is not the greatest threat to Scotland’s economy. I actually agree that productivity is a challenge and an opportunity for Scotland’s economy, but the fact is that over the period of devolution we have made more progress on productivity, and have done so better, than any other part of the UK. Given that, thanks to the other unionists as well as the Conservatives, we have touched on the issue, I point out that the growth commission has been able to show how, with the powers of independence, we can enhance our productivity. That will involve people, the ability to grow our population, the ability to innovate and the ability to support our economy in the way that we cannot at present because of the straitjacket of the union that Richard Leonard supports.

Right. I want to have a quick word with members. This is not First Minister’s question time but a chance for back benchers to put questions to and get answers from Scottish Government cabinet secretaries and ministers. Can we bear that in mind for the rest of this item?

I call the very sensible Mr Tavish Scott.

Members: Oh!

Bond Finance (Restrictions on Local Authorities)

I entirely endorse your sensible remarks, Presiding Officer—by which I mean, of course, your observations about the front bench.

To ask the Scottish Government whether there are restrictions on local authorities using bond finance to support investment proposals in their areas. (S5O-02940)

I call Derek Mackay. [Interruption.] Sorry—I mean the very sensible Kate Forbes.

Indeed, Presiding Officer.

It is a matter for each local authority to consider the ways in which it might want to borrow, including the use of bond finance, and the terms of that borrowing. The Local Authority (Capital Finance and Accounting) (Scotland) Regulations 2016 set out the statutory arrangements for local authority borrowing, which, in line with the prudential code, should be prudent, affordable and sustainable.

Given that Aberdeen City Council has successfully raised £415 million in bond finance to finance its magnificent new conference centre, would the minister encourage Shetland Islands Council at least to explore that capital financing mechanism to pay for the fixed links that are desperately needed to join the islands in the Shetland archipelago, not least because of the considerable pressures on capital finance that come with every Government?

As long as councils do so in a fiscally responsible manner, we are definitely willing to explore the possibilities of using bond finance. That funding mechanism has great potential for wider use in Scotland in funding key projects, and the project in Aberdeen is a good example of how it can be used effectively.

I remind members that questions 3 and 7 will be grouped together.

Brexit (Areas of Economy Most at Risk)

To ask the Scottish Government which parts of the economy and areas of employment are most at risk from a no-deal Brexit. (S5O-02941)

Analysis has highlighted that all sectors and regions of the economy will be negatively affected by Brexit, but the sectors that are most at risk from a no-deal Brexit include agriculture, food and drink, chemicals, construction and some areas of manufacturing. Local authorities with the highest concentration of workers in those sectors are typically in more rural areas, reflecting the importance of sectors such as agriculture and fishing to those areas.

Dumfries and Galloway is one of the regions in Scotland that will be most exposed if there is a no-deal Brexit, given that between 20 and 24 per cent of workers earn their wages in the most vulnerable sectors. Does the minister agree that it is utterly outrageous for the United Kingdom Tory Government to threaten the south of Scotland in that way?

Yes, I agree with the member on that. As I highlighted in my first answer, rural areas will be particularly hard hit by Brexit and, in particular, by a no-deal Brexit. It is completely unacceptable that the UK Government is forcing on Scotland a potential recession for no reason other than to deal with infighting in the Conservative Party.

Brexit (Economic Impact)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact on the economy of a no-deal Brexit. (S5O-02945)

On 21 February this year, the Scottish Government’s chief economist published an analysis setting out the immediate economic implications of a no-deal Brexit for the Scottish economy. The analysis indicated that there is potential for the economy to contract by between 2.5 per cent and 7 per cent by the end of 2019 and for it to be pushed into recession, depending on the way in which a no-deal Brexit evolves. Previous analysis published in “Scotland’s place in Europe: people, jobs and investment” outlined the long-term implications of Brexit for Scotland’s economy.

Is the cabinet secretary aware of the concerns of fish processors in my constituency, who are worried that they will be unable to obtain the necessary export health certificates in a timely fashion to allow them to get their fresh fish products to markets in Europe and elsewhere?

The impact of a no-deal Brexit will have catastrophic consequences for the seafood sector in Scotland. Our seafood sector will be severely impacted by disruption at the port of Dover, which will jeopardise the just-in-time nature of the seafood supply chain. The sector will also be required to comply with a range of administrative burdens, including the requirement for export health certificates for all seafood consignments that are exported to the European Union. We anticipate at least a fourfold increase in the requirement for export health certificates, with a potential additional cost to the industry of more than £15 million per year. The Scottish Government continues to press the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on our proposals for controlling imports to and exports from the UK.

I agree with the minister’s remarks about a no-deal Brexit. Has he conducted any research to compare the negative economic impacts of a no-deal Brexit scenario with those of a no-deal independence scenario?

If Willie Rennie had read the growth commission’s report, he would be aware of the potential of an independent Scotland standing alongside other small to medium-sized nations across Europe, which would lead to significant increases in the growth rate in Scotland’s economy. If we look at how those nations have grown in the past decade compared to Scotland, we see that the difference is not in the amount of resources that those other countries have, as we have more resources, and it is not in the people whom they have, as we have better trained and skilled individuals. The only difference is that those countries can pursue their own economic policies because they are independent.

Question 4 was not lodged.

Brexit (Discussions with Businesses)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with businesses regarding the potential economic impact of Brexit. (S5O-02943)

The Scottish Government engages extensively with individual businesses and their representative bodies. Those discussions routinely confirm that, although Scotland did not vote for Brexit, it is the biggest and most immediate economic challenge that businesses face. Raising awareness in and action by businesses is vital. Last year, we launched the website, which offers readiness self-assessment tools and expert advice as well as access to learning and networking events and grants for Brexit planning support. That campaign can help many more businesses to take steps to enhance resilience despite the on-going uncertainty of Brexit.

Businesses that I have spoken to in my constituency are disappointed with the lack of engagement from the United Kingdom Government. Is there any evidence that the views of Scotland’s businesses have been heeded by the UK Government or, as with most things related to Brexit, have the Tories run roughshod over those views in favour of keeping their party together?

There is clear evidence of the UK Government ignoring the views and interests of Scottish business. I will focus on immigration policy, which is a significant factor in ensuring that businesses have the skilled workforce that they and we need to grow and prosper. That is clear from two quotations from businesses that are in the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing, “Immigration policy—the countdown to Brexit”, which was published in January.

This is the voice of business in Scotland. The Federation of Small Businesses Scotland policy chair, Andrew McRae, said:

“The UK Government’s obstinate approach to immigration is a clear threat to many of Scotland’s businesses and local communities. These proposals will make it nigh impossible for the vast majority of Scottish firms to access any non-UK labour and the skills they need to grow and sustain their operations.”

Scottish Tourism Alliance chief executive Marc Crothall said:

“The UK Government’s measures on immigration ... could have potentially devastating effects on Scotland’s tourism industry, in particular, a £30,000 minimum salary threshold ... There is no doubt that the government’s plans will exacerbate the existing recruitment crisis considerably, placing our tourism industry and what is one of the most important economic drivers for Scotland in severe jeopardy.”

The UK Government is not listening on immigration or on a range of issues that relate to Brexit and the economy.

I can allow a very quick supplementary and a very quick answer.

It is estimated that unemployment will rise to up to 8 per cent if there is a no-deal Brexit. What plans does the Scottish Government have to deal with that rise and mitigate its impact?

As the member will be aware, the Scottish Government’s resilience room—SGoRR—is meeting on a weekly basis to evaluate and bring forward steps to mitigate the worst impacts of Brexit. An extensive range of measures are laid out in “Economic Action Plan 2018-20”, which the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work published. The plan sets out the many steps that the Scottish Government has taken across a range of aspects of the economy to mitigate the worst impacts of a no-deal Brexit.

Budget Impact (Orkney and Shetland)

To ask the Scottish Government how its budget will impact on Orkney and Shetland. (S5O-02944)

The budget invests in our local authorities, including Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council, to enable them to deliver services to the people who live in their areas, from education and social care to transport and planning.

The budget delivers a fair financial settlement for local government by providing funding of £11.2 billion, which is a real-terms increase of £300 million. Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council will both receive their fair formula share of the total funding.

Ahead of the conclusion of the budget process, the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Mike Russell, came to Orkney. While he was there, he spoke about the funding of internal ferries in Orkney and Shetland and the shortfall between what is given to the council and the cost of maintaining services. Mike Russell said:

“this is a big issue in Orkney, and obviously it needs a resolution”.

However, a month later, we hear that there is no resolution. Why has this Scottish Government yet again failed to meet its pledge to provide fair ferry funding for Orkney and Shetland? One local councillor described the decision—

Please come to a conclusion.

The local councillor described that as “Donald Trump politics”.

When will Mr Russell pledge to go back and raise this “big issue” with cabinet colleagues? Did he do so, and if so, was he simply ignored?

I ask Jamie Halcro Johnston why he voted against the provision of £10.5 million for ferries in the budget for this year—and last year, as well.

Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council remain responsible for the delivery of the internal ferry services, but we recognise the challenges that that presents. The budget made available £10.5 million this year—as was the case last year—for local authority ferry services.

We have also ensured, through the local government settlement, that the two councils have the money to deliver their services, and we have given councils more flexibility around council tax.

I ask Jamie Halcro Johnston how much more difficult it would be to fund local services in Orkney if we had to follow his tax plans and find an additional £500 million for those services.

I am delighted that the minister had such a positive visit to Orkney earlier this week.

The minister will have been informed that Orkney has received £200,000 less for internal ferry funding this year, leaving a shortfall of well over £1 million. How does that square with the Government’s commitment to fair funding for our lifeline internal ferry services?

I had a thoroughly enjoyable two days in Orkney and I am most jealous of Liam McArthur’s opportunities to go back there weekly.

We recognise the challenges around local ferry services, as I said, and I had that discussion with the local council. In our budget, we have been clear about ensuring that we provide adequate funding, and we have given local authorities, who are responsible for the ferry service, the funding that they need to deliver the services.

Local Government Finance (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent meetings the finance secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding local government finance. (S5O-02946)

As part of the annual budget process, I met all relevant ministerial colleagues regarding local government finance, both individually and collectively. Local government finance was also discussed at meetings of the Cabinet in the lead up to the announcement of the 2019-20 Scottish budget.

On 15 November 2018, when I last asked about the £5 million of funding that is required to remove overhanging rocks at Stromeferry, the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands confirmed that he would raise the matter with the finance secretary. Can the finance secretary confirm when he last met the minister, what additional funds the minister requested for Stromeferry and what funds he will make available?

As far as I understand, those matters are principally the responsibility of Highland Council. The member will be aware that we increased financial support to local government in revenue and capital terms. The uplift in capital is particularly relevant to the case that he raises.

I have done some research on what Tory tax cuts would mean for individual local authorities. What pays for public services? It is the raising of revenue. What do the Tories want to do? They want to cut tax for the richest in society, which will reduce the amount of revenue to Scotland’s public services. If we followed Tory tax policy, the cut to Highland Council would be £23.5 million. This Government is allocating more in resource and capital terms to Scotland’s local authorities so that they can get on with infrastructure matters in the face of reckless and irresponsible Tory opposition.

Disposable Drinks Cups (Charge)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to introduce a charge on disposable drinks cups. (S5O-02947)

As was indicated in the budget statement, the Scottish Government agrees in principle to the introduction of a charge for disposable drinks cups. In deciding how to proceed, we will consider the recommendations of the expert panel on environmental charging and other measures, which is due to report later this year. The panel is taking an evidence-based approach and is considering a range of measures to address the issue.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s action on the issue, which I have raised in the chamber and at the Scottish National Party conference. Does the minister agree that, for the policy to be successful, work needs to be done with retailers so that they can change their way of working, including by signing up to some of the various cup exchange schemes and by helping with any infrastructure challenges that might exist, particularly for independent retailers? Can the minister provide any information on what the money from the levy would be invested in?

I agree that we need to work with retailers to tackle the issue. I do not know whether the member is aware of the Glasgow cup movement, which was launched recently by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. Keep Scotland Beautiful has designed the campaign, which is to ensure that single-use cups do not end up in landfill or as litter and that far more cups are recycled. It will encourage people to use reusable cups instead of disposable cups. The campaign has involved working with a range of partners including Starbucks, Caffè Nero, Costa Coffee, Greggs, McDonald’s and Bewley’s, as well as the cup manufacturers.

In Scotland, we use 500 million single-use cups a year. In the greater Glasgow area, the figure is 95 million, so the problem that we need to tackle is massive. We will monitor the project closely to see how it goes and whether we could roll out a similar scheme across the rest of Scotland.

It has emerged that, in the past three years, 1.5 million disposable cups were bought through the SNP Government’s official catering contract—that is equivalent to one cup every minute. What assurance can the minister provide that that situation will not continue?

I will be more than happy to look at that issue. It is important for the Scottish Government to take a lead, which is why we have removed single-use plastics and have to use reusable cups in Government buildings. I will look into the issue and get back to Maurice Golden with a response.

Question 2 was not lodged.

Mossmorran Petrochemical Plant

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency/Health and Safety Executive report regarding the Mossmorran petrochemical plant. (S5O-02949)

The Scottish Government understands that the regulators have completed their investigations at the plant. SEPA published an update on 27 February, setting out that the action that has been taken to date in relation to the repeated unplanned flaring at the plant has been effective and appropriate. Nevertheless, SEPA has not ruled out future enforcement action if that is deemed necessary.

I am aware that SEPA published its investigative update last week. One action point was a forward programme for environmental monitoring. Can the minister provide any clarity as to what that environmental monitoring will entail on the ground?

SEPA recently announced enhanced air quality monitoring at the Mossmorran complex, which will include monitoring of the relevant pollutants in order to provide up-to-date monitoring data and comparison with the previous monitoring and modelling studies that have been undertaken. That monitoring commenced in January this year, and it is expected to run until April, with the result being published later this year. The location of the monitoring equipment was determined following liaison with community representatives, and the monitoring programme is in addition to the substantial work that has already been undertaken by the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay independent air quality monitoring group, which advises Fife Council with regard to the quality of the ambient air associated with emissions at Mossmorran.

Plastic Nurdles on Beaches

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to reduce the amount of plastic nurdles on beaches. (S5O-02950)

Marine plastics are a global problem, and we are taking actions to prevent and reduce nurdle pollution. We are working with the plastics industry to expand on its successful operation clean sweep guidance. We are engaging with all sectors that handle pre-production plastics, and we are exploring the feasibility of a move towards a system that is auditable, to allow for traceability and accreditation. On 22 February, at the marine litter symposium, the Scottish Government committed to co-operative working with the other British-Irish Council Administrations to further reduce the loss of pre-production plastics across the supply chain.

I wish that I had been at the marine litter symposium. There are particular concerns about the beaches on the Forth estuary in my constituency—particularly Ruby bay, where there are millions of nurdles. I respect the minister’s answer, but what is the timescale for implementing the measures that she has set out, and how will that be monitored? If the measures do not work, will the minister consider legislation?

It is vital that we work with industry as far as we can, because this is not just about the plastics industry. The supply chains around it are complex, which is why we have to work right across the industry to tackle the problem in the best way. I would rather look at and exhaust all those options before we consider further action. I have mentioned operation clean sweep, which is a plastics industry-led initiative that is rapidly being adopted by industry members. We also have a pre-production plastic pellets steering group, which has a membership that includes Ineos, PlasticsEurope, the British Plastics Federation, the Road Haulage Association and the Scottish Plastics and Rubber Association. With the work that the steering group will undertake, we can start to have an impact on the problem. I will also mention the fantastic work of Fidra and of the Marine Conservation Society, through its great nurdle hunt, which is raising awareness of this important issue.

We will have short supplementary questions from Gail Ross and John Scott, please.

Will the minister outline what else the Scottish Government is doing to tackle marine litter, given that approximately 20 per cent of it originates from the marine sector?

I am really sorry, Presiding Officer—I will try to keep this short, but an awful lot of work is going on.

Littering at sea by the shipping industry is already prohibited under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. We have been supporting a number of initiatives, including KIMO’s fishing for litter scheme, since 2005. Over that time, 300 Scottish vessels have removed more than 1,220 tonnes of waste from our seas.

We have helped to fund the SCRAPbook project, which is helping to map the marine litter sinks that exist right along our coastlines. We also had the marine litter conference—I detected a wee hint of sarcasm in Willie Rennie’s voice about that conference; I do not know whether he was being serious, but that international conference was vital. It brought lots of people together and allowed us to hear ideas, to hear about what is happening in other countries and to see where collaborative work can take place. There is also a £1 million innovation fund for plastics capture, collection and recovery. In addition, the First Minister announced at that conference a £175,000 campaign to promote reusable sanitary products, which is aimed at reducing the 100 billion pieces of sanitary waste that are disposed of each year.

Phew! I call John Scott.

My question might have been answered already; I am not certain. There was so much in that answer, which was wonderful.

Could the harvesting of nurdles from our beaches, seas and oceans on an industrial scale provide a resource for general recycling, such as the building of roads, as has been detailed in the press this week? What is the Scottish Government doing to encourage the development of such a recycling industry—in addition to what the minister might already have said?

We are always happy to consider innovative ways in which we can work with those materials. However, we must ensure that there are no knock-on impacts such as seeing more nurdles or plastic pollution as a result. All of those issues have to be considered carefully.

It is also vital to talk about the important work that is happening across our universities, which is at the forefront of research. I recently visited the University of Stirling, where two important pieces of work are being undertaken in relation to microplastics, including mapping them across the ocean. The university is at the forefront of work in that area, and we are lucky to have people who are leaders in the field, as it means that we can take strong positive action in Scotland.

Question 5 was not lodged.

Glasgow Airport (Personal Rapid Transit System)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the environment secretary has had with the transport secretary regarding the environmental implications of the proposed personal rapid transit system for Glasgow airport. (S5O-02952)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, has not held any meetings with Michael Matheson in his role as the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity regarding the environmental implications of the proposed personal rapid transit system for Glasgow airport.

The projects within the Glasgow city region deal are for the relevant local partners to develop and deliver. The Glasgow airport access project is being taken forward by Glasgow City Council and Renfrewshire Council.

I am utterly astonished at that response. The cabinet secretary must be aware—and the minister must be aware—that the Glasgow airport rail link was seen to have social, economic and, critically, environmental benefits. Given the decision to scrap that plan, is the minister confirming that there was no environmental impact assessment of the people-pod option as compared with the airport rail link option before that decision was made?

Will the minister reflect on the fact that it is essential that the environmental issues around the airport link are properly addressed, and that it is a failure of Government for the environment secretary not to be discussing this critical matter ahead of a decision that will have direct consequences across the west of Scotland?

I was certainly not confirming that an environmental impact assessment did not take place. My answer to the initial question was about whether the environment secretary had met the transport secretary and that had not happened—that is what I was talking about in my initial response to the member. Any significant concerns should be raised with the relevant councils and the city region deal cabinet.

What would be the impact on Ayrshire commuters and the Ayrshire economy should the airport rail link, as proposed by Labour, be implemented? Based on what we have been told, any dire consequences would impact the Ayrshire and Inverclyde economies.

Members across the chamber will be aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity was clear in the statement that he made to Parliament on 7 February that there would be impacts on rail users should the tram-train service between Glasgow airport and Glasgow central station—as proposed by the city region deal project—be delivered.

The analysis has shown that, although it might be possible to introduce a tram-train service to Glasgow airport, it would have a detrimental effect on performance and require a reduction in current rail services, the deferral of future service enhancements, and significant and high-cost infrastructure enhancement at Glasgow central station, which is not currently funded.

Hunterston (Decommissioning of Oil Rigs)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the environment secretary has had with the energy minister regarding the environmental impact of the proposed decommissioning of oil rigs at Hunterston. (S5O-02953)

As the Hunterston project is a major infrastructure project, plans for it span several ministerial portfolios, including that of the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands. The Scottish Government is committed to environmental protection and to working with the relevant consenting authorities to ensure that statutory environmental processes are undertaken in order to protect the environment while promoting Scottish opportunities within an emerging industry that is estimated to be worth £15 billion to 2025.

As a result of a freedom of information request by local residents, it was discovered that two Scottish Government agencies—Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage—encouraged North Ayrshire Council to conduct a full environmental impact assessment, which it did not do. I requested that the Scottish Government call that in and require a full environmental impact assessment, but it declined to do so. Will the minister please explain why, despite two Government agencies recommending an EIA on what she has conceded is a major project, which involves half a million tonnes of dredging, the Government declined to require an environmental impact assessment?

I understand that, when the proposal was initially introduced in June 2017, Marine Scotland determined that an environmental impact assessment was not needed. However, I believe that the proposals that have come forward since then have substantially changed and that officials are currently considering whether the revised plans that have come forward require an environmental impact assessment. I would be happy to liaise with Ross Greer or have the cabinet secretary contact him if he wishes to discuss the matter further as it progresses.

Kenneth Gibson has a short supplementary question.

Does the minister agree that it was agreed on a cross-party basis that there should be no environmental impact assessment because the information was that there would be no damage to the site of special scientific interest at Hunterston and that the project will deliver hundreds of jobs for an area that much requires them? Does she agree that the Scottish Government, through Scottish Enterprise, awarded a £10 million grant to Hunterston on condition that those jobs are delivered, that there is no damage to the environment and that, if there is any damage to the environment, that money can be clawed back in part or in whole?

The decisions that were taken at that time on not requiring an environmental impact assessment were based on the proposals at that time. As I have just intimated in my response to Ross Greer, the plans that have come forward are substantially different from the plans that were first submitted, so officials are considering whether an environmental impact assessment is required.

Landfill (Municipal Waste Ban)

To ask the Scottish Government what the timeline is for the ban on municipal waste going to landfill. (S5O-02954)

The ban on biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill in Scotland will apply from 1 January 2021. Much progress has already been made, and a significant number of local authorities and commercial operators already have long-term or interim solutions in place. However, we are aware of the significant challenges that some local authorities face, and we are working with public and private sector partners to address them. Our focus is on identifying ways in which they can comply with the ban as soon as possible.

I understand that Falkirk Council is on target to meet that deadline because its current contract lasts until 2022, which takes it over the 2021 deadline. That is in the short to medium term. What are the longer-term plans and solutions?

We are working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Zero Waste Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish Environmental Services Association, and we are really trying to work with the councils that have not identified any solutions. The target was set in 2012, and we have it in place because we have to be ambitious and we need to set ambitious targets, especially when it comes to such vitally important environmental issues. Fourteen councils already have a solution in place and other councils have interim solutions. The priority for us right now is to work with those local authorities to ensure that we can meet the timescale, but we are trying to implement the ban as soon as possible.

Elaine Smith has a short supplementary question.

With the upcoming ban on biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill, it is important to have viable alternative solutions. Does the minister agree that they should not include private companies imposing unwanted and potentially dangerous incinerators on our communities? Can she tell us when the environmental impact assessment for the proposed incinerator in Carnbroe in Coatbridge might be available?

Mairi Gougeon should give a short answer, please.

I am afraid that I do not have an answer to that specific question, but I am happy to take it back to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform so that she can provide that information to the member.