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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Redress Scheme, Urgent Question, Scotland Loves Local, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, East Kilbride Rail Line Dualling


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Covid-19 Recovery and Parliamentary Business

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place. Face coverings must be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is portfolio questions. The first portfolio is Covid-19 recovery and parliamentary business. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or indicate their request in the chat function by entering the letter R during the relevant question.


Local Council Elections (Spending)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration was given to increasing the maximum spend on both long and short campaigns for the forthcoming Scottish local council elections in May 2022. (S6O-00490)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business (George Adam)

Expenses limits for Scottish local government elections were updated as part of the recent set of instruments that was laid before Parliament ahead of the May 2022 local council elections. Specifically, the Representation of the People (Variation of Limits of Candidates’ Local Government Election Expenses) (Scotland) Order 2021 increased the maximum expenditure limit to £806, together with an additional 7p for every entry in the register of electors.

The power of the Scottish ministers to vary the limits on candidates’ expenditure in local government election campaigns is restricted to changes that are linked to inflation or made on the Electoral Commission’s recommendation. The increase that was made by the recent order was in line with inflation and the Electoral Commission made no further recommendation for change.

Paul McLennan

This matter is being discussed in the Scottish National Party and other political parties, particularly in relation to campaigning during Covid. Will the minister outline plans for reviewing campaign expenditure in future Scottish Parliament and local council elections?

George Adam

The Government reviews campaign expenditure limits ahead of each set of parliamentary and local government elections. As noted, the Scottish ministers’ power to amend spending limits for local government elections is limited, unless it is in response to a recommendation by the Electoral Commission. I am confident that the commission will consider any lessons learned from the holding of the 2022 elections. We will continue to work productively with it ahead of any future changes.


Omicron Variant (Covid-19 Recovery Strategy)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact of the omicron variant on the implementation of its Covid-19 recovery strategy. (S6O-00491)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

Public Health Scotland is working rigorously to assess how many cases of omicron there are likely to be in Scotland. Together with local test and protect teams, it will work to identify how the virus might have been transmitted and to break further chains of transmission. Our response to the new variant will develop as we learn more about the risk that it poses and as we find out more about its spread within Scotland. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and be guided by the latest science and clinical advice.

We will continue to do all that we can to ensure that people in Scotland are offered the greatest possible protection through vaccination, as quickly as we can. That, in turn, will help our continuing progress on recovery. Indeed, Scotland already has the highest vaccination rate of all the United Kingdom nations for the first, second and third doses.

Paul O’Kane

The arrival of omicron in Scotland is a stark reminder, if we needed it, that the virus has not gone away. Care workers I speak to, who have gone above and beyond in the past 20 months, are once again rightly concerned about how we will support the most vulnerable people in our society.

The recovery plan speaks about the importance of fair work principles in social care, so does the cabinet secretary agree that a wage of at least £15 an hour would fairly recognise the huge contribution of care workers? Will he call on his colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy to deliver that in tomorrow’s budget in order to match the aspirations of his recovery plan and give care workers the pay rise that they deserve?

John Swinney

I absolutely acknowledge the significance of the work of care sector employees. They have done a magnificent job in trying circumstances. I thank them and admire them for their contribution.

As Mr O’Kane will know, the Government has already taken steps to support and increase the pay that is available for social care staff. The finance secretary will make announcements and set out her position to Parliament tomorrow. Mr O’Kane will realise that it is not for me to make statements and comments about those issues today. However, it must be acknowledged that the Government has already taken substantial steps to enhance the remuneration of social care workers and support the efforts to improve recruitment in the sector, which are beginning to show some signs of success.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

If we are going to minimise the impact of the omicron variant, we need to ensure that people have access to booster vaccines. I have a constituent who had the first and second vaccine in Scotland but has had to move to the south of England for family reasons. She has been told that the only way for her to get her booster is to return to Scotland. Surely that is something that can be sorted out between the national health service in Scotland and the NHS in other parts of the United Kingdom. Can the cabinet secretary look into it?

John Swinney

If Mr Fraser would care to send me the details, I will look into it. I can see no good reason why that should be the case. Certainly, in light of the information that Mr Fraser has given me about the case, it makes no sense for that individual to be requested to come back to Scotland to receive the booster vaccination. If Mr Fraser writes to me with those details, I will attend to that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before calling question 3, I note that the member was late to the chamber and I would be minded not to call him. In the interests of any members who may wish to ask a supplementary, I will do so, but I would wish for him to provide an apology and an explanation before he asks his question.

My sincere apologies, Presiding Officer. I simply lost track of time. I apologise profusely to members in the chamber.

Thank you. Please pose your question.


Covid-19 Recovery (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire)

To ask the Scottish Government how its co-ordination of Covid-19 policies can ensure people living in Perthshire South and Kinross-shire are supported through the recovery from the pandemic. (S6O-00492)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

Despite progress, we know that the impacts of Covid continue to be felt acutely by many individuals, businesses and other organisations across Scotland. We are working closely with local government to implement the shared vision and outcomes of the Covid recovery strategy and we will continue to work with local authorities, including Perth and Kinross Council, to shape the recovery activity that will support the rebuilding of local public services, create and sustain good, green jobs and fair work, drive financial security for low-income households and improve the wellbeing of children and young people.

Jim Fairlie

Given the important role that vaccination will play in Covid recovery, efficient roll-out of the vaccine will be key. Unfortunately, recent changes to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation guidance meant that members of the public turned up at vaccination centres before they could legally receive their booster, and some staff and volunteers experienced abuse in our local centre. What cross-Government co-ordination can be put in place to ensure that future changes to the JCVI guidance do not result in a repeat of that unfortunate situation?

John Swinney

Obviously, the JCVI advice required us to move at pace to ensure that individuals could have access to the booster vaccination. In the context of the overwhelming scale and success of the vaccination programme, I am aware of a small number of cases where individuals were inconvenienced because of the change in approach. The necessary advice has been issued to health boards and communicated widely in the healthcare system, and the guidance has been updated on the NHS inform website. We apologise to anyone who was unable to get their booster vaccination, but I am satisfied that the measures are now in place to ensure that that approach is in operational practice at a local level and that all the clinical and legal requirements have been met.


Covid-19 Vaccination Certification Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government when ministers last met with key stakeholders, including business owners, to discuss the Covid-19 vaccine certification scheme. (S6O-00493)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

Our review process over the past few weeks has included ministerial engagement with a wide range of business sectors, including hospitality, tourism, culture and events, which have been most impacted by Covid. The new omicron variant has refocused our efforts and those discussions and, again, stressed the importance of our protection measures, such as the Covid status certification scheme. Last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy met the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and Scottish Financial Enterprise.

Pauline McNeill

I welcome that high level of engagement with the sector. The hospitality sector welcomes the introduction of testing to the certification scheme, but it notes that the scheme will still have an on-going impact. We have seen that from the experience in Wales, where there is a 20 per cent reduction in all trade levels in the sector. The Scottish Beer and Pub Association says that there has been a drop of 40 per cent in trade since the introduction of the Covid passport scheme—not just from normal times. What further steps can be taken to provide more frequent and widespread communication to the public that they can test before they go out to nightclubs and other hospitality sector venues, to deliver more spontaneous visits where it is safe to do so?

John Swinney

Pauline McNeill will be familiar with the delicate balance that the Government is trying to strike in the matter. We want business sectors to be able to operate as normally as possible, but we face significant threats, and a renewed threat from the omicron variant into the bargain. The message that the Government has been setting out over the past 10 days about increasing the volume of individual testing before socialising or going to a retail environment is important in encouraging individuals to take more responsibility in ensuring that they are safe to go out and circulate.

As I indicated in a radio interview earlier this week, I am now testing myself daily when I am likely to be in contact with members of the public. That is a personal decision to protect my family and ensure that I am able to safely exercise the functions of my office in relation to others. I encourage members of the public to do likewise.

It is essential that we ensure that lateral flow device testing kits are available. They are freely available through the NHS inform website and at numerous pharmacies. In partnership with local authorities, we are trying to extend the physical availability of the kits in communities.


Covid-19 Recovery (Island Communities)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies across Government will support island communities to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00494)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

We know that the impacts of Covid-19 continue to be felt acutely by many individuals, businesses and other organisations across our island communities.

The £30 million islands programme will ensure delivery of the national islands plan, and is informed by our learning on how island communities have responded and adapted to Covid-19. We continue to work closely across Government and with our island partners to implement the shared vision and outcomes of the Covid recovery strategy, which sets out the actions that we will take to address systemic inequalities made worse by Covid-19, make progress towards a wellbeing economy and accelerate inclusive, person-centred public services.

What can be done to build resilience to ensure that the supply chain issues that badly affected some island communities at various points throughout the pandemic are not repeated in the future?

John Swinney

I need share no information on the matter with Dr Allan, given his assiduous representation of his constituency, but the island communities are heavily dependent on the ferry connections that provide essential services in bulk to the islands. Over the course of the pandemic, there have been instances in which staff have had to isolate for Covid purposes, which has disrupted the availability of the ferry network.

I assure Dr Allan that a very pragmatic approach is taken to ensure that island communities are properly and fully serviced by ferry vessels. I noticed that, as a consequence of today’s disruption due to weather issues, CalMac Ferries has put in place additional sailings to, I think, Castlebay. That is an indication that, where possible, we will use flexibility and pragmatism to ensure that island communities are properly serviced at a time when there can be unavoidable disruption due to self-isolation and other impacts of the Covid pandemic.


Covid-19 Recovery (Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across Government will support Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00495)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The Covid recovery strategy sets out how we will rebuild by working collaboratively across Government and with our partners in local government, business and the third sector.

Recovery priorities will vary by location and local needs; therefore, we will continue to work in partnership to deliver the joint leadership that is necessary for that effort. Both Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway will benefit from the Scottish Government’s £85 million contribution to the Borderlands inclusive growth deal, which will support a range of projects and programmes designed to drive sustainable economic growth across the region.

We have also provided up to £125,000 to support the South of Scotland Regional Economic Partnership to develop the area’s first regional economic strategy, thereby establishing a framework and delivery plan for national agencies and regional partners to work together to achieve a sustained and inclusive recovery from the effects of Covid-19.

Emma Harper

Across D and G and the Scottish Borders, when Covid-19 protective measures were put in place, many businesses welcomed the Covid-19 business support funding that was made available to keep them afloat. Following the emergence of the omicron variant, what engagement has the Scottish Government had with the United Kingdom Government about whether the Treasury will make finances available to the Scottish Government, should public health protections be required again?

John Swinney

The First Minister, along with the First Minister of Wales, wrote to the Prime Minister last week to set out a number of practical issues that we believe need to be addressed in relation to the possible implications of the omicron variant. One of those issues is the possibility of business operations being interrupted due to additional restrictions that we might have to bring in. We make the point in the letter about the importance of having a flexible approach across the United Kingdom to ensure that different Administrations—which might be affected at different times, although the scale and time of any impact could be the same across the whole of the United Kingdom—have financial support made available to them.

We welcome the fact that there was support from Her Majesty’s Treasury in earlier stages of the pandemic. As we have reflected in this question time session, the threat has not gone away. It might—it is likely to—intensify as a consequence of omicron, so we need to have financial support. We will continue to discuss the matter with the United Kingdom Government.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Given the vital role that public transport will play in post-pandemic recovery in helping not only young people but others to find and secure employment, and to return to social activities, can the Scottish Government give an assurance that public bus and rail services in my constituency will return to pre-Covid levels, and that the recovery of rural areas will not be put at risk through damaging cuts?

John Swinney

I would certainly want that to be the case. I acknowledge the importance of public transport in ensuring that connectivity is available for all citizens. Its importance is particularly apparent in an area such as Dumfries and Galloway and, for the benefit of completeness in relation to the question, the Scottish Borders.

The Government has, of course, put in place significant levels of financial support to sustain the operations of transport providers during the pandemic. Of necessity—because of restrictions—public transport has carried many fewer passengers than would have been the case otherwise. However, we want to see a vibrant public sector network to ensure that the needs of all citizens, whether they are accessing college, training places or employment, or making connections across the community, are able to be satisfied. I give Mr Carson the assurance that the Government is working to that objective, although a lot of dialogue is to be had about specific services and provision.


Covid-19 Recovery (Low-income Families)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies across Government will support families on low incomes to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00496)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

Increasing financial security for low-income households is one of the central aims of our Covid recovery strategy and we are focused on supporting those most affected during the pandemic.

The Scottish Government is taking a range of actions that will transform the lives of many families across Scotland. From April 2022, we are doubling the Scottish child payment to £20 a week, which could lift a further 20,000 children out of poverty. The policy is the most ambitious child poverty reduction measure in the United Kingdom and demonstrates our commitment to supporting low-income families as we recover from the pandemic.

We are also progressing work to further expand funded early learning and childcare for one and two-year-olds, starting with those from low-income households. Alongside that, we are expanding our free school breakfast and lunch provision, starting with those who need it most.

Jackie Dunbar

I welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement that the game-changing Scottish child payment will be doubled to £20 a week in the coming budget. What impact will the policy have on tackling child poverty as we recover from the pandemic?

John Swinney

The analysis that has been undertaken so far indicates that increasing the amount of the Scottish child payment to £20 a week could lift 40,000 children out of poverty, reducing overall child poverty by an estimated four percentage points in 2023-24. That is based on initial analysis; we hope to publish further analysis in early 2022. It will give the families of more than 106,000 children under the age of six an immediate cash boost when it is introduced in April 2022.

We will, of course, look to take other steps to support the financial wellbeing of low-income families and to ensure that the interventions that we make—for example, for the creation of employment or the expansion of wraparound childcare—are also targeted at supporting those families. We will look to make sure that we use a combination of different interventions, including the child payment and employment support, to enable us to achieve the outcome of reducing child poverty and improving the financial security of low-income households.


Covid-19 Recovery (North-east Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies across Government will support the north-east’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00497)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

We are actively supporting economic recovery in the north-east. We have provided close to £100 million to support businesses and additional funding of almost £150 million to councils to help achieve that objective. We are also investing £157 million in the Aberdeen city region deal and the Moray growth deal, and over £14 million to develop the skills that are needed to support regional economic recovery.

Alongside that, we have recently confirmed our intention to commit £500 million of capital, over the next 10 years, to support the just transition of the north-east region and Moray to support energy transition, create jobs and maximise the region’s future economic potential.

Karen Adam

I welcome the investment in the north-east. As that region continues to recover from storm Arwen—and now storm Barra, as well—many people are not able to schedule or attend for their Covid vaccination booster. With the omicron variant spreading throughout Scotland, what advice can the Deputy First Minister give to my constituents who have delayed getting booster jags because of the storm disruption?

John Swinney

A number of vaccination clinics in the north-east of Scotland took a decision to close early on Friday, 26 November, for safety reasons, due to concern about the severe weather from storm Arwen. Some clinics remained closed over that weekend up to Monday 29 November. We understand that all vaccination clinics that were affected by storm Arwen have now reopened and are operational.

Where vaccination appointments were impacted, people were immediately redirected to unaffected vaccination centres, so that they would not have to wait to book their appointments on another day. Health boards have implemented processes to ensure that appointments that were missed due to the storm were rescheduled, including by contacting those for whom they hold details and issuing public communications.

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

Something that can make a huge impact on the north-east’s recovery is free port status for Aberdeen and Peterhead. Will the cabinet secretary stop playing petty politics with thousands of jobs and engage with the United Kingdom Government’s free port programme?

John Swinney

We have fully engaged with the United Kingdom Government’s free port agenda. We want to make sure that it is compatible with the democratic decisions of the Scottish Parliament. I think that this Parliament, by an overwhelming majority, wants the approach to the free port concept in Scotland to have at its heart the concept of fair work—and by “fair work”, I mean the payment of the real living wage.

If Mr Lumsden happened to see the exchange on Monday between the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Alister Jack, and the member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith, Deirdre Brock, he would have seen Mr Jack confirm that the issue that is at stake—which the secretary of state has decided to put a flag in the ground for and make the absolute obstacle to agreeing the model that we have put forward—is payment of the real living wage.

There we have it. The Conservatives want to support a low-wage economy.

That is rubbish.

Nonsense.

John Swinney

The bully boys of the Conservative benches are trying to shout me down for simply explaining to them what their Secretary of State for Scotland said to a House of Commons committee, which is chaired by my distinguished colleague, the member for Perth and North Perthshire, Pete Wishart—an excellent House of Commons committee chair, if ever there was one—and to my colleague Deirdre Brock, who managed to extract from the secretary of state that the Tories are only interested in perpetuating low pay.

This Government and, I think, members of other parties in the chamber are interested in decent pay and fair work, and the sooner the Conservatives join the journey, the better for Scotland.


Net Zero, Energy and Transport

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The next portfolio is net zero, energy and transport. If members wish to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button, or indicate so in the chat function by entering the letter R, during the relevant question.


“A Vision for Scotland’s Railways”

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report, “A Vision for Scotland’s Railways”, produced for Scotland’s rail unions. (S6O-00498)

The Minister for Transport (Graeme Dey)

We welcome the fact that the unions are sharing their ideas and views, and I look forward to discussing those with the unions at our next meeting, when arranged. However, the member should be assured that we are pressing ahead to put in place arrangements to mobilise a wholly owned company structure of the Scottish Government for the provision of ScotRail services following the expiration of the current franchise.

The new ScotRail operator, ScotRail Trains Ltd, and its management and staff will, I am sure, share with all members and the general public a desire for ScotRail to be a world-leading railway service that offers value to passengers and the wider economy while being financially and environmentally sustainable.

Graham Simpson

I thank the minister for that answer—of course, he did not actually answer the question, which was asking for his response to the report. I am not sure whether he has read it, but it was produced for Scotland’s four rail unions and is at least a vision for the future. We have heard nothing like that from the minister so far.

ScotRail is to be nationalised in March. We do not know anything about the governance, staffing, timetables, tickets and rolling stock. We do not know whether there will be redundancies. However, we know that there will be a series of big-bucks appointments, as that is already in process. Will the minister agree to cross-party talks on nationalisation? Will he make a statement on where we are with that, given that we are only a few months away? Will he also involve the unions in the process?

Graeme Dey

What we will not do is what the Tory Government is doing south of the border in slashing billions of pounds from rail services.

The member asked various questions. I am in the process of writing to the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee—the convener of which is the member’s colleague—to outline some of the information that he is looking for. That will be in the public domain within a matter of days.

I am more than happy to provide a statement to the Parliament, subject to the agreement of the Parliamentary Bureau, early in the new year.

I have read the report. I was given a copy ahead of its publication. There are a number of aspects in it on which I think we will all be in agreement. There are some good suggestions in there. I am sure that Mr Simpson has many good suggestions to make, too, and I am more than happy to meet him to hear those.


Public Transport and Connectivity (Falkirk East)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Falkirk Council to discuss public transport and connectivity within the rural areas of the Falkirk East constituency, and what was discussed. (S6O-00499)

The Minister for Transport (Graeme Dey)

Transport Scotland officials met Falkirk Council representatives on 15 November as part of the Forth valley regional transport working group, which was established to facilitate collaborative working and engagement for the second strategic transport projects review. Attendees discussed the emerging draft recommendations, which follow extensive engagement during the course of the review on the transport problems and opportunities in the region.

Michelle Thomson

Many people in the outlying areas of my constituency of Falkirk East feel that they have been left adrift by private companies that are driven by profit. Although I understand that the number of passengers is still below pre-Covid levels, that does not mean that communities should be cut off for the want of regular and reliable public transport. With that in mind, will the minister outline what support and encouragement the Scottish Government is providing to local authorities such as Falkirk Council to provide public transport and connectivity to communities, particularly at this stage in the pandemic? What further steps is the Government taking to ensure that public transport is run for the benefit of our communities and citizens and not just shareholders?

Graeme Dey

During the pandemic, we have maintained concessionary travel reimbursement and bus operator grant payments at pre-Covid levels, and we have made available up to £210 million in additional funding up to the end of this financial year. Bus operators that receive that additional funding are not allowed to make a profit and are required to adapt services to current demand, to have regard to maintaining connectivity and to keep services under review, in consultation with local transport authorities and health boards.

Covid support funding is in addition to the funding that is provided to local authorities through the block grant for supporting socially necessary services. That sum of money totalled £57 million in 2019-20.

The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 provides local transport authorities with a range of enhanced options to improve bus services in their area. We are analysing responses to the consultation on the secondary legislation that is required to implement that system.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

Rural villages across Falkirk would benefit from safer streets and improved connectivity. Will the minister agree to an urgent review of Scottish Government policy and guidance regarding 20mph zones in rural villages, especially in Reddingmuirhead and Airth, where residents have long campaigned for such zones, in order to support Falkirk Council in meeting community demands?

Graeme Dey

We covered that issue extensively during the member’s recent members’ business debate. As he well knows, we have plans to introduce a review of the presumptions in relation to 20mph zones across the whole of Scotland, not just in his region.

Question 3 is from Joe FitzPatrick, who joins us remotely.


Free Bicycles Pilot Projects

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its pilots to provide free bicycles for school-age children. (S6O-00500)

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

On 17 August, we announced the first six pilot projects that were selected to offer free bicycles to school-age children who cannot afford one. The pilots are under way across the country. Since then, a further four pilots have been launched, including a pilot on Shetland and a pilot specialising in the provision of non-standard bikes, which are modified to fit the needs of an individual rider. To date, 242 bikes have been issued, and the pilots have ambitious plans to deliver considerably more this month and beyond.

Joe FitzPatrick

The minister is aware that, in my constituency, the Dundee cycle hub, which is operated by the Dundee and Angus Cycle Hub, is participating in one of the pilot projects by providing free bikes to school-age children in Dundee. Can he provide an indication of the number of bikes that have been, and are expected to be, provided to children in Dundee during the pilot?

Patrick Harvie

Yes. The Angus cycle hub pilot is based on a central bike distribution centre for the Angus and Dundee areas, with regional support provided by dedicated development workers and bike mechanics. The pilot is providing specialist support for young people in marginalised families in Angus and Dundee in order that they can engage with cycling, active travel and health and wellbeing opportunities.

To date, 105 bikes have been delivered, 127 additional applications for bikes have been received and 502 bikes have been readied to go by the Angus cycle hub.


Fuel Poverty (Motherwell and Wishaw)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is available to people in the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency who are in fuel poverty. (S6O-00501)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

The Scottish Government’s local area-based scheme and national warmer homes Scotland scheme are available in all areas of Scotland. They are designed to make homes warmer and cheaper to heat for those living in or at risk of fuel poverty.

Since 2013, the Scottish Government has allocated more than £21 million in funding for North Lanarkshire Council as part of our area-based scheme. Our winter support fund includes £10 million for a fuel insecurity fund, which will ensure that direct financial support is available to those at risk of self-disconnecting or self-rationing energy use as a result of increased energy prices this winter.

Clare Adamson

The United Kingdom energy market is, quite frankly, broken. We have some of the highest energy prices in Europe, and we have had some of the highest hikes in recent months. That broken market is evidenced by the fact that so many providers are going into administration, which is causing more stress for my constituents who are already worried about fuel poverty.

What protections are in place for constituents whose energy provider is entering administration?

Michael Matheson

The member makes a good point about the existing structural problems with the United Kingdom energy market, which is largely broken down into two types of companies—those that have hedged on energy markets and those that have not. As a result of significant spikes in energy wholesale prices, a significant number of unhedged companies find themselves in serious financial difficulty, leading to their withdrawal from the market, which leaves customers in difficult positions.

The member is aware that the present structure of the regulation of the energy market is the responsibility of the UK Government. As it stands, the Office of Gas and Electricity Market’s supplier of last resort process covers customers whose suppliers are no longer able to provide them with the service. The process was designed to minimise disruption in such an event, and the customer should wait to be contacted by the new supplier that Ofgem has allocated to them. Any of the member’s constituents who experience difficulties with a new supplier should contact Advice Direct Scotland directly, which will be able to provide them with advice and support on the issue.

I call Liam Kerr to ask a supplementary question. He will be aware that the question in the Business Bulletin relates to the people of Motherwell and Wishaw.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

My question relates to fuel poverty, too. In March, the UK Government awarded Aberdeen City Council £2.2 million to retrofit homes to save households around £450 a year and keep them out of fuel poverty. Aberdeen has a great deal of older, granite housing stock, so decarbonisation will present huge costs. What estimates has the Scottish Government made of the cost of retrofitting those granite houses, and what financial help will be given to Aberdeen City Council to tackle that older, granite housing stock?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before I ask the cabinet secretary to respond, I stress that the question in the Business Bulletin asks about

“what support is available to people in the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency who are in fuel poverty.”

That is quite clear. However, I presume that the cabinet secretary is able to respond to Mr Kerr’s supplementary question.

Michael Matheson

I suspect that granite properties in the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency will face similar difficulties to those in areas such as North East Scotland in relation to tackling insulation issues.

I welcome the small amount of investment that the UK Government has made to assist with some of that work. The member will be mindful that we have invested some £430 million over the course of the period since 2013 in that area alone. We have increased our funding again this year in order to support the area-based scheme, so that it can assist local authorities in areas such as Motherwell and Wishaw and in areas such as North East Scotland.


Trunk Road Network (Safety)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to improve road safety on the trunk road network. (S6O-00502)

The Minister for Transport (Graeme Dey)

Scotland has some of the safest roads in the world. Despite that success, each collision and injury is traumatic for everyone who is involved, and more remains to be done to reduce collisions. We have achieved substantial reductions in accidents and casualties through targeted programmes of investment on trunk roads and joint working with road safety partners.

Members might wish to know that across 42 assessed countries in Europe and beyond, Scotland currently has the eighth-lowest fatality level. However, we are not complacent in any way and continue to look at where we can make further improvements.

Finlay Carson

The minister is aware that a trial on the A9 raised speed limits from 40mph to 50mph for heavy goods vehicles over 7 and a half tonnes, in line with other trials in the rest of the United Kingdom that, critically, had resulted in a steady reduction in the number of collisions and casualties, as it addressed one of the main driver frustrations—slow-moving lorries.

In the past five years, 170 accidents occurred on the A75, nine of which were fatal. As the main route to the ferry ports at Cairnryan, the A75 has a disproportionately high number of HGVs on the road compared with other trunk roads. Will the Scottish Government commit to reviewing HGV speed limits along the A75 with appropriate speed cameras to improve safety and reduce fatalities as a matter of urgency?

Graeme Dey

The Department for Transport published its three-year evaluation of the effects of increasing speed limits in England and Wales, which showed no statistically significant changes in the number of accidents involving at least one HGV on all single and dual-carriageway roads.

That said, we are using the evaluation from that alongside the A9 project as part of the national speed management review that was set out in the delivery plan for the recently published “Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2030”. That workstream has commenced.

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

I want to ask specifically about average speed cameras and how they can improve safety. Analysis has been done of the A9 and A90 since the introduction of average speed cameras on those roads, so could the same mechanisms be applied on the A96?

Graeme Dey

I would be happy to write to the member with the analysis that she is looking for. With regard to the A96, we deploy safety cameras where they have the greatest potential to reduce injury from collisions and where there is evidence of collisions and speeding. There are a number of mobile camera sites on the A96, including a new site at Bainshole, which became operational in April 2021. Regular camera deployments continue to take place to encourage good driver behaviour, compliance with the speed limit and a continuing high level of safety on that route.


Greener Bus Transport

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made in 2021 to adopt greener bus transport across Scotland. (S6O-00503)

The Minister for Transport (Graeme Dey)

In the year to 31 March 2021, the Scottish Government committed more than £71 million, supporting the purchase of 272 zero-emission buses awarded under the Scottish ultra-low-emission bus scheme, and unlocking more than £71 million of private investment from bus operators.

A new Scottish zero emission bus challenge fund was launched this year. It aims to support the bus, finance and energy sectors to establish a self-sustaining market for zero-emission buses and infrastructure. Bids have been submitted and are now being assessed. That will further support significant change in the bus market in favour of zero-emission technologies.

Liz Smith

Mr Dey is well aware that improving bus and train transport is absolutely key in persuading the public to go green rather than relying on extensive use of their cars. What is Mr Dey’s reaction to the fact that First Bus has cancelled altogether the X53 service from Stirling to St Andrews and that Stagecoach has reduced the X56 service between Perth and Edinburgh, both of which are causing constituents across Mid Scotland and Fife serious inconvenience?

Graeme Dey

As I outlined in a previous answer, the relationship between the Scottish Government and the bus operators is laid out very clearly. One of the services to which the member referred will be the subject of a members’ business debate next week, when we will be able to explore it in detail.

Clearly, we want to encourage the bus operators to maintain as many services as possible, especially during the pandemic, recognising of course that some of the issues that have arisen with the buses are down to driver shortages.

Question 7 has been withdrawn.


Energy Sector (West Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to support the energy sector in the West Scotland region. (S6O-00505)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

The Scottish Government has ambitious plans for offshore wind in Scotland, but that needs to come with economic returns that ensure that our local supply chain companies can benefit from the opportunities that such deployment presents. We are committed to co-designing a series of just transition plans for regions and sectors across the country, including the west of Scotland. Work on the energy strategy refresh and just transition plan has already begun, and it will consider how communities the length and breadth of Scotland can benefit from the transition to net zero.

Jamie Greene

The cabinet secretary will be aware that reactor 3 at Hunterston B nuclear power station was switched off last week after 45 years of service, supplying electricity to 1.7 million homes. It also supplied thousands of much-needed local jobs and contributed £54 million to the North Ayrshire economy every single year. Given that decommissioning will create limited job opportunities, why is there still no clear or obvious Government plan for any so-called just transition to renewable energy jobs for the hundreds of families who currently rely on that site for employment and economic prosperity?

Michael Matheson

The approach that the Scottish Government takes to energy and the development of energy projects is set out in our existing energy strategy, which, as the member will be aware, does not support the introduction of a costly and expensively subsidised nuclear industry.

I recognise that the decommissioning work at Hunterston B will be a long-term project that will maintain employment in the area over an extended period of time, but the Scottish Government’s priority is to make sure that we build an energy system that is based on targeting not only onshore and offshore wind but other parts of our renewables sector, such as tidal marine energy and the use of storage. We will set out more detail on that as we move forward with our energy strategy refresh, which will be published next year.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the renewable energy sector in West Scotland would be better placed to attract renewable investment if the United Kingdom Government did not continue to impose transmission charges that are higher than those anywhere else in the UK, which imposes an unfair financial burden on firms that are seeking to invest in Scotland?

Michael Matheson

The member makes a very important point about an issue that has been recognised across the energy sector for many years. Energy developments within Scottish waters—this also applies to some land-based projects in Scotland—are the most expensive to take forward in any part of the UK, as a result of the UK’s transmission network, which has required to be reformed for many years.

I welcome the fact that the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets has indicated that it is open to considering a review of the existing system. That work needs to be progressed at pace, because the present arrangements are having a negative impact on the sector and the economic and environmental benefits that can come from greater development of renewables. It is unacceptable to have a regulatory system that is stacked against Scottish developments. The UK Government needs to take action to correct it, and should do so at pace.