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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 07 October 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19, Scottish Qualifications Authority National Qualifications 2020-21, Urgent Question, United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, South-west Scotland Transport Infrastructure


Portfolio Question Time

Rural Economy and Tourism

Good afternoon. Before we start business, I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus, so please take care to observe those measures during this afternoon’s business, including when entering and exiting the chamber.

The first item of business is portfolio question time. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or, if they are joining us remotely, they should indicate that in the chat function by entering the “R” during the relevant question.

Ayrshire Tourism Recovery Plan (Digital Technology)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will take forward a tourism recovery plan for Ayrshire, and what role it believes digital technology can play in assisting with this. (S5O-04657)

The Scottish tourism recovery task force will publish its recommendations imminently. In the context of those, we will consider what actions are required at national and regional levels. Any actions will build on our £103 million investment through the Ayrshire growth deal and our programme for government commitment to promote Ayrshire as a tourism destination. Through that, we are investing £1 million in tourism developments, including the establishment of the Còig, which is an industry body that is using digital marketing technologies to work more closely with the private and public sectors to encourage more visits to the area.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of some of the new ideas for using digital technology that have emerged out of necessity during the current health emergency, such as online ordering of food for delivery by restaurants and shops, online performances by musicians and even online broadcasting of and participation in the Parliament. Does the cabinet secretary recognise that digital solutions can play a big part in helping to enhance the tourist experience, with more online content and interactions offering a high-quality experience for visitors to Scotland that might not be possible in person but is possible using digital technology?

I agree that digital technology has come to the fore during Covid, perhaps through necessity—as we are using it, right now. It has enabled people who are adept in its use to develop different methods of entertainment, information and education, and of promotion of our tourism economy. I think that such use of technology will play a part in the future, as Mr Coffey advocates.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the huge effect that Covid-19 has had on bed and breakfast numbers, hotel bookings and visitors to Ayrshire. What further measures can be taken to support the sector in Ayr, Prestwick and Troon, given that the proposed development of the Còig makes little difference to South Ayrshire?

Mr Scott raises an important point. Bed and breakfasts are an important segment of accommodation provision in the tourism sector, and we value their work. In the earlier period of Covid lockdown, we endeavoured to ensure that there was reasonable access to financial support for people with bed and breakfast businesses who are dependent on the business for their livelihoods. That was part of an overall package of £2.3 billion. The support was intended to provide a lifeline to businesses to help them through Covid but, as Mr Scott perhaps implies, Covid has gone on for longer than any of us wished.

Therefore, it is now sensible for the UK Government to reconsider what more needs to be done to promote, protect and rescue tourism around these islands. I will not go into the details, because that would take too much time, but I advocate that the UK Government work in partnership with us to help businesses such as bed and breakfasts to survive Covid, which is going on longer than anyone would have expected or wished.

I draw members’ attention to the fact that question 1 has taken an overly long time. We will not come close to getting through the questions unless members bear in mind the need to be a bit more succinct.

Tourism (North East Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is available for major projects in the north-east to drive the area’s tourism sector. (S5O-04658)

The Scottish Government and its agencies continue to support projects to boost tourism in the north-east of Scotland through the Moray growth deal and Aberdeen city region growth deal, through the rural tourism infrastructure fund and, in the case of Lossiemouth east beach footbridge, directly.

The Aberdeen harbour project will be a key driver of tourism to the north-east, not least because of the intended cruise ship capacity. However, in July, we learned that its construction has been delayed until 2022. What discussions has the cabinet secretary had with the project to identify what it needs? What support will be made available to ensure that the project is completed by the new date?

The member is correct to say that the Aberdeen harbour project is a major project. Some years ago, when I was energy minister, I had the pleasure of visiting the harbour, meeting the project sponsors and discussing the exciting project with them.

Aberdeen harbour is a trust port that is run by an independent board for the benefit of its stakeholders. The issue does not fall directly within the purview of my portfolio, but I know that the Scottish Government is in fairly close contact with the sponsors of the project. It is true that it has been delayed, but I am hopeful and confident that those delays will be overcome. I am told that the project might be completed as early as next year, which would bring substantial benefits to Aberdeen and the north-east economy generally.

Given that the V&A Dundee has been a transforming investment for the north-east’s attractiveness as a visitor destination, can the cabinet secretary confirm what investment the Scottish Government has made in the V&A? What role does the Scottish Government consider that museums will play in the recovery of our tourism economy?

The Scottish Government has been substantially supportive of the project in financial terms, and a stalwart supporter of it from the beginning. Shona Robison has been an advocate for the benefits of the project since its inception and has seen it through. An excellent attraction has been delivered for the citizens of Dundee.

I think that the V&A has helped to embed further the reputation of Dundee as the city of discovery and much more—not just in the eyes of Scotland but further afield—and to highlight the key role that it plays in the areas of design and innovation. It has been an outstanding project, which the Scottish Government has supported handsomely.

Crofting (New Entrants)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to encourage new entrants to crofting. (S5O-04659)

Last year, there were 458 new entrants into crofting. The Scottish Government has a range of support available to potential new entrants. Our croft house grant and the crofting agricultural grant scheme, which is known as CAGS, remain accessible, and our Farm Advisory Service continues to offer advice and mentoring services to crofters.

On 8 July this year, I announced £325,000 of additional funding for the Crofting Commission to expand crofting development activities and to create new commission jobs in the Western Isles, in Dr Allan’s constituency, after substantial lobbying—not least by Dr Allan—for dispersal of such employment. In addition, as is mentioned in the programme for government, we have committed to extending the work of the Scottish Land Matching Service to increase crofting opportunities for new entrants.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his reply. Does he share my concern about the rising asking prices for many croft tenancies? That is a particular issue in areas that are suffering from depopulation. For example, a croft tenancy in my constituency was advertised recently with the staggering asking price of £200,000. Although that is an extreme example, it illustrates how inflated the market sometimes is. If young families are priced out of crofting, that will threaten the islands’ sustainability and culture. Is there more the Scottish Government feels that it can do to address that issue?

Yes—and I know that my colleagues Aileen Campbell and Kevin Stewart are extremely active in considering with local authority and other local partners the provision of more housing. In addition to that, in my area, the Scottish Government has approved croft house grant payments of more than £21 million to help to build and improve over 1,000 croft homes.

Although that is welcome, it does not directly address the problems that Dr Allan has correctly identified, so the Crofting Commission is increasing its work to enforce crofters’ adherence to duties, in some cases leading to assignation of a croft, on its sale, to a new entrant.

The wider problem of price inflation is an extremely serious one, and a wide variety of measures are required to tackle it. I am very pleased to say that the Scottish Government is dealing with and implementing a lot of those.

Sheep Farming (United Kingdom Trade Deals)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the reported concerns of the National Sheep Association that the future trade deals with Australia and New Zealand negotiated by the UK Government could negatively impact Scotland’s sheep farmers. (S5O-04660)

A trade agreement with both parties would create significant challenges for the UK agriculture sector, and specifically Scottish sheep farmers, as we and stakeholders regularly point out. At a time when the sheep sector stands to lose tariff-free access to the European market for a third of its product, there is a threat that additional Australian and New Zealand lamb being imported into the UK market will further undercut Scottish producers.

Even the UK Government expects the economic benefits to the UK from those deals to be minuscule. We need it to live up to its promises about maintaining standards for imports.

The Scottish Farmer has reported Phil Stocker of the NSA warning that Antipodean free trade deals will result in our market being flooded with cheap meat that was produced at lower environmental and animal welfare standards. Does the minister agree that that is completely unacceptable, particularly as our hard-pressed sheep farmers could also lose the European market, which accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of their sales?

I absolutely agree with Joan McAlpine and the comments that she referenced from Phil Stocker. Our sheep farmers have very little to look forward to when we leave the European Union. They will face tariff as well as non-tariff barriers to trade, as well as an increasing pressure from the trade agreements with two of the largest sheep meat exporters: Australia and New Zealand.

It is important to remember that, in the event that no free trade agreement is reached between the UK and the EU, tariffs of around 40 to 50 per cent will be applied to Scottish sheep meat that is destined for EU consumers. Scottish sheep meat producers export around £400 million-worth of products each year, with 88 per cent of the exports destined for European consumers, so this has the potential to be catastrophic for the industry.

It is not just the Scottish Government that is raising how damaging this could be. The UK Government’s own economic modelling suggests that the Scottish agriculture sector is likely to be adversely impacted by any free-trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand.

In addition to all of that, there has still been no confirmation of the Brexit costs from the Treasury, which Michael Gove previously promised.

Kent Access Permit Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government what impact it expects on Scotland’s rural economy and Scottish producers’ ability to export their goods of the proposed Kent access permit scheme. (S5O-04661)

It is quite simply lamentable that we are now having to prepare to face Brexit’s consequences, such as huge delays to exporting through Kent. We have continually raised concerns about the impact of operational barriers and the United Kingdom Government has only recently proposed that solution.

It has consulted on traffic management for the Kent area and proposed the system for hauliers to check that they are ready to cross the border, which would be mandatory for hauliers entering Kent. However, the UK Government has yet to publish the outcome of that consultation and it is not clear whether it intends to share those outcomes with us and the other devolved nations ahead of publication.

However, following sustained pressure from the Scottish Government, the new proposals envisage a system of prioritising hauliers carrying live and fresh produce such as Scottish seafood. Although it remains to be seen how such prioritisation will work in practice, it should help to ensure that our exporters have at least a chance of being able to reach European Union markets in time.

The minister will be aware of the UK Cabinet Office scenario of 7,000 lorries held for up to two days, and delays. That is completely unacceptable for high-value, perishable goods such as seafood and live fish. Can the minister rigorously pursue clarity on the outcome of that consultation with what I readily accept is a non-co-operative UK Government and examine opportunities for the Scottish Government to assist and promote the speedy carriage of those time-sensitive goods by rail freight to reach continental markets?

Absolutely. I can assure John Finnie that that is something that the Scottish Government has continually pursued over the past three years, throughout the Brexit process, and, of course, it is something that we continue to pursue. We absolutely recognise that it is vital for the seafood industry in Scotland, and the transport secretary met the Road Haulage Association recently.

As much as the UK Government tells us that it is geared up and ready for the change, we are getting quite a different message from the industry. It has outlined its serious concerns that the processes and information technology systems will not be ready in time, by the end of the year. For our part, I can assure the member and members across the chamber that the Scottish Government will be doing absolutely everything in our power to support our industries.

Covid-19 (Impact on Arran Economy)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Fraser of Allander institute report, “The Impact of Covid-19 on the Arran economy”, including its comments on how this has affected tourism. (S5O-04662)

I agree that the situation is concerning. We know that Covid-19 continues to have a profound impact on our island communities. We are currently working closely with our partners, including North Ayrshire Council, Taste of Arran and the Arran economic group.

I do not underestimate the impacts and I understand that a tailored approach will be necessary. Our £30 million pledge to deliver the national islands plan and our new £2 million islands green recovery programme will be vital in stimulating new economic activity across our islands, helping businesses recover from the impacts of the pandemic and creating new high-quality jobs.

The report states that—

Excuse me, Mr Gibson. We are finding it difficult to hear you, which is, of course, unusual. Could you put your microphone up, please?

I apologise for that, Presiding Officer.

The report states:

“on average, each day of ferry operation contributes just under £170,000”

to Arran’s economy. That is just more than £62 million a year. How can the Scottish ministers optimise the ferry service at this difficult time? Can the cabinet secretary go even further than he has already gone in supporting island businesses, to ensure that Arran’s economy survives and can ultimately thrive?

I absolutely agree that the ferry is essential to Arran. It is a lifeline service and the gateway for everybody who visits the island. It is a marvellous tourism offering and there have been real difficulties over the Covid period. Businesses have been facing constraints during lockdown and beyond. Mr Gibson is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that the ferry service is reliable, and we need to look to the future to see what more we can do for the service. As the Fraser of Allander institute recognises, the Arran economy is extremely different from the North Ayrshire economy. I know that Mr Gibson, who has been a forthright advocate for Arran over the years, will continue to ensure that the arguments are kept to the fore.

Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government how much of the sustainable agriculture capital grant scheme funding has been allocated. (S5O-04663)

The £10 million sustainable agriculture capital grant scheme opened for applications on 7 September this year, and the application window is due to run for a period of five weeks, closing on 11 October. The applications will then be assessed and grant award letters will be issued thereafter.

The cabinet secretary will, of course, be aware of the value and importance of that funding to those who have struggled as a result of rural crime. We know that the cost of rural crime to our farmers has risen to £2.3 million and that rural crime has more than doubled since 2017. I am sure that that is a concern to all of us. What conversations is the cabinet secretary having with his justice counterparts to ensure that we tackle rural crime and that his department is offering everything that it can—financially or otherwise—to farmers who have struggled as a result of rural crime?

Jamie Greene has raised a very important point, which I have pursued rigorously as cabinet secretary alongside my colleagues in the Cabinet and in working with the police and others on despicable crimes that cause enormous difficulty to farmers. By the very nature of those crimes—they sometimes occur under dead of night in rural Scotland—evidence is very difficult to establish in many cases, given the lack of eyewitnesses. I have pursued that issue rigorously for a very long time.

I gently point out to Mr Greene that that issue is not relevant to the question that was asked, which was about the agricultural transformation programme, the purpose of which is primarily to assist farmers and crofters in respect of sustainable agriculture and which looks in particular to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That programme has nothing to do directly with crime. However, I have no objection to answering a question that is irrelevant to the primary question.

Hospitality Restrictions (Impact on Supply Chain)

To ask the Scottish Government what financial analysis it has carried out of the impact that restrictions on the hospitality sector will have on the wider supply chain. (S5O-04664)

The measures that have been introduced for the hospitality sector have, like those in other sectors, been driven by the need to protect public health and drive down transmission of the virus. However, economic concerns are important, and they have, where possible, been balanced in the decision-making process through the four-harms approach that the Scottish Government has adopted, which takes account of direct and indirect health impacts, societal impacts and economic impacts.

I draw members’ attention to my resignation—[Laughter.] I meant to say my register of members’ interests entry.

As the cabinet secretary will be aware, restrictions have had a detrimental effect on the hospitality supply chain—especially breweries, merchants, laundry services and wholesalers. Businesses want answers and certainty. Will the cabinet secretary commit to publishing in full the data and scientific evidence behind decisions that have been made for the restrictions put in place today, which may be the death knell for the hospitality industry?

I am very pleased to hear that Rachael Hamilton is not resigning. We can therefore continue to work together on tourism interests.

I am very happy to assure and inform Rachael Hamilton that I have worked very closely with the Scottish Wholesale Association, for example, to ensure that, in so far as possible, financial assistance has been available to some of its members. As Rachael Hamilton correctly said, they are a vital part of the jigsaw in the supply chain to many businesses in tourism and the wider rural economy.

The Scottish Government has provided £2.3 billion of assistance. Every day, I am involved, correctly, in calls, discussions, engagements and videolinks with the tourism industry. Every day, we do our best to assist it and work hard with it. I know how it is suffering. It is a shame that the United Kingdom Government refuses to extend the furlough, which has provided an absolute lifeline for many people in Scotland. It is not too late for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reconsider that imprudent decision, which is likely to cost so many people in Scotland their jobs.

That concludes questions on the rural economy and tourism portfolio. I apologise to those members I was unable to call to ask supplementary questions because of the time that members are taking for questions and answers. I ask both members and ministers to bear that in mind in the next portfolio section, so that we can get through all the questions.

Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity

The next item of business is portfolio questions on transport, infrastructure and connectivity. If members wish to ask a supplementary question, I ask them please to press their request-to-speak button or, if they are joining us remotely, the R button.

Port of Cairnryan (Post-Brexit Improvements)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding changes to infrastructure and consequent improvements to the region’s arterial routes that will be required for the port of Cairnryan after the Brexit transition period ends. (S5O-04665)

Scottish Government officials have been engaging with the UK Government on how the end of the transition period could impact on the ports, but plans are vague and, even now, many questions remain unanswered by the UK Government.

The lack of clarity about import and export processes under the Northern Ireland protocol is undermining our ability to meet infrastructure and operational readiness requirements. However, we are progressing our appraisal of the potential transport interventions that will contribute most to the national transport strategy, including the 23 recommendations from the South West Scotland transport study, some of which relate to A75 and A77 improvements.

I raised the issue of Cairnryan at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee earlier today, and it is concerning that there is a lack of clarity around what is happening with that port. Given that the port is on a strategic route for Ireland and the south-west of Scotland, can the cabinet secretary outline what impact he expects the lack of planning, combined with the need for checks at the border, to have on movement through Cairnryan and its surrounding arterial routes, the A75 and the A77?

Emma Harper raised that matter with me at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee meeting. I can say, and it is important for members to recognise, that, as yet, the UK Government has not confirmed—indeed, it has not agreed with the European Union—what checks will be required between Northern Ireland and Scotland. We do not want to introduce new controls, but we have a responsibility to inspect certain commodities and we are engaged with the UK Government to try to get the necessary preparations under way.

The port is adjacent to the strategic road network that provides access to the rest of the UK. Nonetheless, we are considering enhancements for the A75 and A77. We will continue to pursue the matter with the UK Government, but the lack of clarity over the arrangements that need be put in place at Cairnryan is a very serious concern. It is absolutely critical that we get clarity on that sooner rather than later.

Has the Scottish Government analysed the potential cost to the Scottish economy of the loss of business that is already happening on the port of Cairnryan to Belfast route as businesses migrate to the Dublin-Heysham-Liverpool route, due to the poor road and rail infrastructure in the south-west of Scotland?

It is clear that the Government is committed to looking at further infrastructure investment in the south-west of Scotland, as set out in the south-west Scotland transport study. I do not think that it befits anyone who is elected to represent the south-west of Scotland to talk down the existing infrastructure in that area. The member can be absolutely sure that our priority is not to have a six-lane M8, but to make sure that we get the right infrastructure in areas such as the south-west of Scotland, and that is what we are committed to doing.

Superfast Broadband (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the provision of superfast broadband in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency. (S5O-04666)

The latest figures produced by Ofcom show that 97 per cent of premises in Strathkelvin and Bearsden can already access a superfast broadband connection. Our reaching 100 per cent programme will ensure that every home and business can access superfast broadband by the end of 2021. That commitment will be delivered through the R100 contracts for north, central and south Scotland; our Scottish broadband voucher scheme; and commercial deployment in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden area.

Ms Mackay’s constituents will benefit either through commercial deployment or through our investment. Our online checker can show people when they might expect work to connect their premises to begin.

My constituents in Baldernock have been patiently waiting for a fibre broadband connection for many years and are finally on course to receive it. However, there have been delays due to incorrect data being collected, and data collection is crucial in the R100 procurement stages. Can the minister confirm, with some urgency, whether that issue has been looked at, in order to allow households to take advantage of the voucher scheme and finally get connected?

Ms Mackay raises an important matter, and I know that emails have been exchanged about it during the past week. The status report in our online checker is informed by data that is sourced from commercial providers. That data is then cross-checked against other data sources to ensure consistency, before it is reflected in our online address checker.

There are agreed monitoring plans in place, and regular updates are received from broadband providers throughout the year. Any change is reflected in the online checker. In a dataset of more than 2.8 million premises, however, we can expect that there might be some discrepancies, as is the case in Baldernock.

I reassure Ms Mackay that the R100 team is speaking to the community council and broadband providers in the area to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. She should rest assured that any premises that find themselves outside the coverage of a commercial provider can get superfast broadband through the R100 Scottish broadband voucher scheme. I look forward to keeping in touch with Ms Mackay on the matter.

Sheriffhall Roundabout Upgrade (Review)

To ask the Scottish Government when the conclusion of the review of the upgrade to the Sheriffhall roundabout will be published. (S5O-04667)

The review work that is being undertaken on Sheriffhall forms part of our statutory responsibility to fully consider objections and representations that are received on the proposed scheme. I understand that Transport Scotland recently held a productive workshop with officials from the various city region deal partners, and that the review work has developed sufficiently to progress the resolution of objections. The conclusion of the review will be shared in due course, as we continue to take forward the statutory process for the scheme.

As the cabinet secretary will know, councils across the south-east of Scotland are dealing with rapidly rising populations. They are sticking to their end of the deal by building more affordable homes, but they are being let down when it comes to access to Edinburgh. We need development at Sheriffhall, and we need it urgently.

I understand that the funding for the upgrade is already in place. Can the cabinet secretary confirm whether any deal has been done to delay or stop the development? Can he say that there will not be a delay to the scheme once he gets the results of the review, and can he start to give a firm date for when the ground will be broken at Sheriffhall?

There are several different issues there. The first answer is no, there is no plan to stop the project. We are still very much committed to it. It represents £120 million of investment and forms part of the south-east Scotland city region deal, which we are progressing.

The review is looking at the feasibility and desirability of enhancing active travel and public transport infrastructure in the project—that is where there is a specific focus. The need to do that is reflected in the statutory process that has to be undertaken. Where objections are received—and there have been objections—we have to try to address them. If we cannot get the objections removed, the matter will go to a public local inquiry. All that determines the timescale for delivery of the project.

There is a statutory process that we have to undertake. Part of that process gives landowners, residents and businesses the opportunity to make objections, and those have to be taken seriously and considered. That is exactly what is happening at this point. Once that statutory process has concluded, the timeframe for the completion of the project can be set.

Christine Grahame has a short supplementary.

The cabinet secretary’s colleague, the finance secretary, told Parliament yesterday that the delay to the United Kingdom Government’s budget will of necessity mean that the Scottish Government’s budget for next year will be provisional and that the uncertainty will run to billions of pounds. Will the UK budget delay and the knock-on effect for the Scottish Government’s budget impact on the timetable for improvements to the Sheriffhall roundabout, which is otherwise known to cyclists as “the meat blender”?

There is serious concern about whether, if there are delays to setting the budget, that could have an impact on a range of projects that are being undertaken or are planned. That is why it is critical that the UK Government recognises the importance of giving clarity to the Scottish Government about its budgetary requirements.

Alongside that, during the past week, the union connectivity review was announced, which shows the UK Government’s desire to start to set project priorities for transport in Scotland, with the apparent intention to almost cut part of our capital spending allocation so that it can be reprioritised to be spent in the areas that the UK Government sees as priorities. That is the type of power grab that we have become accustomed to from the UK Government, and it could have an effect on the very project that Christine Grahame has referred to, and that Michelle Ballantyne has said is critical to the Edinburgh economy. That is the type of short-sightedness that we have got used to from the UK Government on such matters.

Question 4 is from Johann Lamont. [Interruption.] Excuse me. We are now on question 4. Question 3 is over, so can members please stop shouting across the chamber?

I call Johann Lamont.

Face Coverings on Public Transport (Glasgow)

It is usually me who gets a row for shouting. It is nice to be on the other side, Presiding Officer.

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with transport operators in Glasgow regarding compliance with the wearing of face coverings on public transport. (S5O-04668)

Transport Scotland is in regular dialogue with transport operators who have been reminded, as per Scottish Government guidance, that they are expected to consider displaying prominent signage highlighting that face coverings must be worn and also that their staff may make inquiries of a passenger who is not wearing a face covering and remind them of their legal obligation to do so, unless they are exempt. Transport Scotland officials continue to monitor levels of compliance with the legislation, in conjunction with operators. The guidance and the legislation remain under review.

In recent weeks, there have been several reports of a significant number of people not wearing masks on buses. Just last week, FirstBus contacted every school in Glasgow over concerns that a significant number of pupils were flouting the rules, a situation that is

“putting drivers’ lives at risk”.

Given that concern, will the minister make a commitment to engage with transport operators in Glasgow, Police Scotland, Glasgow City Council and all the relevant agencies to ensure both that enough support is in place to protect drivers and allow them to operate safely, and that all passengers are aware of and co-operate with the national guidance?

Johann Lamont raises an important issue. I recognise the concerns that she has expressed, which is why we have regular dialogue with transport operators to make sure that they are reinforcing the message that people need to wear face coverings.

Johann Lamont mentioned school pupils. That issue was identified a number of weeks ago when the schools returned after the summer holidays. At that point, we took proactive action by engaging directly with local authorities to make sure that they were communicating the need for school pupils to wear face coverings when they are on public transport and at particular locations. We also worked with the British Transport Police and Police Scotland to make sure that there are officers at key hubs, encouraging school pupils to make sure that they have a face covering.

I assure Johann Lamont that we will continue to engage with local authorities to make sure that they are getting that message across as effectively as possible to parents and school pupils. We will continue to look at what further measures we can take to make sure that we encourage people to wear face coverings when they are on public transport, for their own protection and for the protection of those who work on our public transport systems.

There is a loud discussion going on at the back of the chamber. If members want to carry that on, could they go elsewhere?

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sorry; there is dubiety over the seating plan and I am being asked to vacate this seat. My understanding, from the maps that the Parliamentary Bureau produced, is that this seat was allocated to the Conservatives and two others to the Liberal Democrats. If that is wrong, I am happy to move out of the chamber on your instruction, Presiding Officer.

I am not going to tell people where to sit; I refer you to your business manager. If members of other groups have problems, they should also go to their business managers. I ask those in the chamber who are not asking questions to keep the noise down.

A90/M90 Traffic Levels

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact on traffic levels on the A90/M90 of planned housing developments. (S5O-04669)

Scottish planning policy sets out that planning authorities are expected to appraise the impact of their development plan spatial strategies, including planned housing developments, on the transport network. That should include the potential impact on trunk road traffic and identification of mitigation measures where appropriate.

Transport Scotland collects and processes land use allocation data, including data for planned housing development, from every planning authority in Scotland every two years. That data is used in relevant land use and transport models to appraise transport interventions as required.

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for that reply. Last week, a developer unveiled a new master plan for Echline in Queensferry, which involves 1,000 new homes, as well as new supermarkets, shops and restaurants; it is a massive development. However, without changes to the A90 access at Queensferry, the key road in and out of the town will have to run through the middle of that new estate and right past the new primary school. The Scottish Government has previously refused my requests to consider opening the old Forth road bridge A90 slip road, but that massive new plan makes the need for that change critical. Will he agree to meet me and local councillors to ensure that we can get a solution that works for that growing part of my constituency?

I reassure the member that, as it stands, before the application can be considered in detail, there will be a need for a full transport assessment to be undertaken as part of the planning process. My understanding is that, for that particular development, the planning assessment is to consider several key areas, which would all have an impact on the existing local road network and on the M90 at the Queensferry crossing area. I assure the member that, once that transport assessment has been completed, it will be considered by Transport Scotland officials. Following that assessment, they will be in a position to identify the mitigation measures that would need to be put in place.

Mark Ruskell has a quick supplementary question.

One significant way to reduce traffic levels on the M90 would be to extend the Edinburgh tram line to Fife, but the regional spatial strategy identifies that councils and developers will not have the funds to put such a project forward and complete it successfully. What commitment can the Government give to funding projects that have been identified by the spatial strategy for the region?

The member correctly identifies that a project of that nature would be a matter for the local authorities to consider taking forward. At the moment, they have made no representation to me in relation to a project of that nature. If that was their intention, we would be happy to engage with them on that project, but they would have to fund it through their existing funding structure.

Pavement and Double Parking (Enforcement)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the enforcement of the pavement and double parking provisions in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. (S5O-04670)

The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 is a multi-topic act with an extensive number of statutory instruments needed to implement the various parts. Progress on each part of the act, including the parking prohibitions, is dependent on parliamentary timescales and priorities, which have been affected by the current Covid-19 outbreak and European Union exit preparations.

Given those factors, and the fact that work on the secondary legislation programme is at an early stage, we are currently unable to give a precise date for when the pavement and double parking prohibitions will come into force. However, I will ensure that the Parliament is kept up to date on those matters.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his reply, and for his detailed response to the letter that I sent him. I understand the situation with Covid-19 and legislation going through, and I acknowledge that he says that he will update the Parliament. I know that he cannot give a definitive timescale, but can he indicate whether the guidance will be finalised before dissolution?

As I mentioned, implementation planning for the parking provisions in the 2019 act has been paused during the pandemic. That work has now restarted, and I reassure the member that it is a priority for us to make progress on it. Officials are currently developing an updated timeline for the secondary legislation and the consultation requirements for the implementation of the provisions, and I will ensure that the member is kept up to speed with that work.

Alongside that, my officials have engaged extensively with stakeholders, including local authorities, on the development of the parking standards guidance that will underpin the parking provisions. I will ensure that we make progress with that as quickly as we can, and I will certainly make sure that the member is kept up to date with the timelines around the provisions in the act.

Road Connectivity (South Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to improve road connectivity in South Ayrshire. (S5O-04671)

The Government recognises the importance of a connected, safe, resilient and high-quality strategic transport network for South Ayrshire. Since 2007, we have invested £75 million in the maintenance of the A77 and £50 million in the A78, and we are spending £29 million on building the Maybole bypass.

Good progress is being made on the construction of the bypass, which will provide benefits for the residents of Maybole as well as improving connections to the ports at Loch Ryan. Any further enhancements to either the A77 or A78 will be a matter for consideration as part of the second strategic transport projects review process.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer. However, he will be aware that both the Dutch House roundabout and the Whitletts roundabout were identified as pinch points in STPR 2. He will also be aware of the need for the dualling of the A77 between the Whitletts and Holmston roundabouts, which was identified in the first strategic transport projects review in 2008. To date, no action has been taken on upgrading those roundabouts or dualling the A77. Will the cabinet secretary give a commitment that those projects will now be taken forward?

I would appreciate a quick answer, cabinet secretary.

I can certainly give the member a commitment that we will consider those issues as part of the STPR 2 process, as they were identified in an initial appraisal for the south-west of Scotland that was published a number of months ago.

Transport System (Affordability)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to make the transport system more affordable and accessible for people living in poverty. (S5O-04672)

The national transport strategy, which underpins our investment in those areas, sets reducing inequalities as a key priority and states:

“Everyone in Scotland will share in the benefits of a modern and accessible transport system.”

The first annual national transport strategy delivery plan, which will set out our actions to deliver the strategy’s priorities, will be published by the end of the year.

In 2019, there were 1.4 million people with national concessionary travel cards in Scotland. We are progressing our review of concessionary travel on all public transport to look at those under the age of 26, and we have begun the necessary preparatory work to deliver a national concessionary travel scheme for free bus travel for under-19s.

This year’s challenge poverty week takes place against the backdrop of Covid-19, but even before the pandemic we saw a rising tide of poverty. A key cause of that was the high cost of transport in particular, which is often unaffordable for people on low incomes.

Can the cabinet secretary tell us what the new timescale is for the introduction of free bus travel for people under the age of 19? Will he listen to the calls from the Poverty Alliance to urgently extend that scheme to all those under 25, who are currently the hardest hit by unemployment, and to those on universal credit in order to loosen the grip of poverty on their lives?

I can assure the member that, under the review that we are undertaking on the present concessionary schemes, tackling child poverty is a key element that is being considered as part of our assessment. I expect that work to be completed by the end of this year.

Work on preparations for concessionary travel for under-19s was paused during the course of the pandemic, but that work has now restarted and we are looking to identify the timeframe for its delivery.

I assure the member that tackling poverty—in particular, the poverty associated with the transport costs that are experienced by young people and the difficulty that that can cause for them—is a central factor that we are considering as part of the review work that is already being undertaken.

That concludes portfolio questions. My apologies to those whose supplementaries I was unable to take.