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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 09 June 2021

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Coronavirus Acts Report, Climate Emergency, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Social Justice and Fairness Commission Report


Portfolio Question Time

Net Zero, Energy and Transport

Good afternoon. I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus, and ask that members take care to observe those measures, including when entering and exiting the chamber. Please use only the aisles to access your seats or to move around the chamber.

The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is net zero, energy and transport. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or, if they are joining us online, type “R” in the chat function during the relevant question.

I ask members who ask questions to be succinct, and I ask the ministerial team to be likewise with their responses.

Gas-fired Boilers (Phasing Out)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to provide support with the phasing out of gas-fired boilers in homes. (S6O-00001)

At least 1 million homes and 50,000 non-domestic buildings will need to change to zero emissions heating systems by 2030 to help us to meet our climate change targets.

The Scottish Government runs a number of advice and funding schemes to help homes and businesses to make the transition to zero-emissions heat. For example, households can access up to £13,000 cashback per home for zero-emissions heating and energy efficiency measures, and we are extending that scheme until at least 2023.

We have increased our overall investment in our heat, energy efficiency and fuel-poverty support schemes to £268 million this year, which is an uplift of £85 million on last year’s budget. Across those schemes, we are supporting increasing numbers of zero-emissions heating systems.

Given the International Energy Agency’s recent announcement that gas-fired boilers should be phased out by 2025, some of those timescales will have to be brought forward somewhat. Indeed, by the end of this session, we will need to be well on our way to replacing all gas-fired boilers in homes.

However, heat pumps cost up to £18,000, and despite the grants that are available, they remain unaffordable to low-income and middle-income households. Will the cabinet secretary be bringing forward further plans to ensure that this important component of transition is affordable to all?

The short answer is yes. We are continuing to look at the development of technology in the area. Daniel Johnson referred directly to heat pumps, but they are only one form of technology that can be used for net zero domestic and non-domestic heating systems. We are looking at the new technology as it develops and leads to a wider range of net zero heating systems being available.

However, there are a number of issues that we need to take into account. For example, some of the standards that apply to the technology are reserved to the United Kingdom Government, so we are working very closely with it to try to agree national standards that will allow us to move forward at pace on the standards that are to be applied to domestic and non-domestic heating systems.

Nevertheless, I assure Daniel Johnson that we are looking at how we can build on the existing arrangements to support people in making the transition.

The Scottish Government’s “Draft Heat in Buildings Strategy” states that workplaces and homes account for more than a fifth of emissions. I note the cabinet secretary’s initial answer, but will the Government also consider our proposal for a help-to-renovate scheme to support and incentivise energy efficiency improvements in owner-occupied properties?

We have a range of programmes in place, and anyone who is looking at installing a new heating system in their property, whether through a renovation or in a new build, should consider those schemes and the free-of-charge advice that is available. I encourage individuals to use such schemes to ensure that they have the most up-to-date information in making decisions.

Tarbolton Landfill

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure the suitable long-term monitoring and management of Tarbolton landfill. (S6O-00002)

I am pleased to say that the first phase of work to begin to reduce the environmental and amenity impact of the site will begin later this year. Although the Scottish Government is not responsible for the site, we have agreed to fund that initial work, which is part of a longer journey to remediate the site. I am grateful to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for agreeing to commission the work. We will continue to work with our public partners to consider further recommendations from a site investigation for longer-term restoration of the site.

I have raised the topic in Parliament many times over several years, and it has bounced around SEPA, South Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Government. The lack of any significant action has resulted in leachate pouring into the local waterways and in gas blowing across local land. The matter has to fall within the Scottish Government’s remit, because it is in nobody else’s. The site has fallen into disrepair, and the people who used to own it are no longer there. When will decisive action be taken so that the local communities can be rid of that anomaly?

I thank Brian Whittle for his supplementary question. I understand that he has had great concern about the matter over a number of years, so I want to reassure him.

The co-operative working that has led to the initial work is to be commended. I understand that he and the community—and, indeed, SEPA and South Ayrshire Council—will want work to be done in the longer term. I assure him that we will continue to approach that longer-term work, which everybody acknowledges has to be done, in the co-operative way that has got us to this point.

Incineration of Waste

To ask the Scottish Government when it will begin and conclude its review of the role of incineration in Scotland’s waste hierarchy. (S6O-00003)

Our commitment to tackling the climate emergency and transitioning to a net zero society by 2045 is unwavering. With that in mind, the Scottish Government is committed to reviewing the role that incineration plays in Scotland’s waste hierarchy, and is considering options for taking forward that review. Parliament will be updated on plans for that by September this year.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his response. However, communities such as Stonehouse in my region do not have the luxury of time. For the second time, the community is fighting proposals for construction of a large-scale incinerator at Overwood farm near the former Dovesdale site. They do not want a situation in which the can is being kicked down the road. Will the Government commit to a moratorium until the review can be completed?

I am aware of the case and of concerns around the matter. Christina McKelvie, in her capacity as constituency member, has raised the issue with me in the past few weeks. I assure Monica Lennon that we will undertake the review in a very thorough and detailed way, in order to ensure that we arrive at the right decision on the role that incineration can play in a waste hierarchy in the future. We need to consider that process in detail, in order to identify appropriate terms of reference for it and a timescale under which it will be taken forward.

Clearly, decisions on planning matters are local issues and are for the local authority to consider and decide upon through its own processes. However, I assure Monica Lennon that I will, as I said in my earlier answer, update Parliament on the matter in September, once we have had an opportunity to set out the matter in much greater detail for the chamber.

It is quite clear that, at the moment, there is a free-for-all for planning applications for incinerators in Scotland. Given that in the national planning framework there is a moratorium on nuclear power stations, and that in the next NPF there will be a ban on fracking, will the Government also consider putting a cap on incineration capacity in NPF4?

Mark Ruskell will be aware that work is currently being undertaken on NPF4. It is important that, in our wider strategic approach in Government, we make sure that there is alignment between reaching net zero, planning and the waste hierarchy. It is appropriate that the Government looks at how we can ensure that those are all co-ordinated and aligned. I assure the member that, as part of the review and through the wider work that we are undertaking in the Government, including the work on the national planning framework that is being undertaken at the moment, we will seek to do that and to achieve that balanced approach.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that information. How quickly will the review into incinerators link up the strategy and approach across net zero, waste management and planning policies? Decarbonisation of the grid has been successful, but energy-from-waste technologies can no longer be considered to be low-carbon solutions. Does the cabinet secretary agree that decisions on future management must be based on the most current and accurate data possible, and that climate change impacts must be minimised by preventing proposed planning applications for incinerators from having a detrimental impact on achieving our net zero targets?

Stephanie Callaghan has raised a number of important issues. I echo the point about the need to ensure that there is a clear link between our strategy and approach to net zero, waste management and planning policies. As she will be aware, we are conducting a national planning policy review, which is due to be published as part of the draft NPF4 programme in the autumn. We want to ensure that “Scotland’s Fourth National Planning Framework Position Statement” is also updated to reflect our approach to net zero and waste management. We want to ensure that there is co-ordination across the various elements of government, so I assure the member that that will be part of our thinking and planning as we move forward on the issue.

I want clarity from the cabinet secretary. He has already been asked whether he favours a moratorium on new incinerators, pending the review that he has announced. I am not clear about what he thinks about it. Should there be one or not?

I clarify that, as I said, I will update Parliament in September on the purpose of the review, its terms of reference and the approach that we will take with it.

Queensferry Crossing

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made to address the problem of ice falling from the cables of the Queensferry crossing. (S6O-00004)

Ice accretion and precipitation sensors were installed on the towers and deck in 2020. Weather forecasting, bridge monitoring and traffic management procedures have been continuously improved, and the mechanism for ice accumulation specific to the Queensferry crossing is now much better understood. A working group comprising Transport Scotland, the bridge operating company BEAR Scotland and a number of expert consultants has been established. The feasibility of a number of possible solutions is under consideration.

I welcome the minister to his new position. Twice, over the past winter, my constituents in Fife and people across the east of Scotland faced huge disruption from the closure of the Queensferry crossing. They do not want to go into another winter with a similar situation happening. From the minister’s response, it sounds as though any long-term solution is still some way off. Can he give any comfort or reassurance to my constituents that we will not face more winters of disruption?

As members will know, I cannot speak for the weather—weather interventions are beyond our control. What I can offer is some comfort on the extent to which we are working to find solutions. It is worth noting that no single solution has been identified for any bridge that faces similar problems anywhere in the world. We are getting into the issue in great detail. Potential options that have been identified merit further research and development work. Those include cleaning the stay cables, robotics and applying hydrophobic coatings and de-icing compounds to the cables and tower faces. We are designing a system of optical and infrared cameras to be installed in the tower tops, which will focus on the cables and help us to better understand the mechanism of ice accreting and falling off the cable stays. There is no shortage of effort or imagination at play in the process.

We are also developing a Forth estuary transport model to investigate further improved links between the two bridges so that we can use the old bridge more readily if we need to because of circumstances involving ice.

Road and Rail Infrastructure (South of Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government when it next expects to make an investment announcement for road and rail infrastructure in the south of Scotland. (S6O-00005)

Consideration of potential improvements to all strategic transport infrastructure, including road and rail, across the whole of Scotland continues to be undertaken through the second strategic transport projects review. That work will create the evidence base for transport investment decisions by the Scottish Government for the next 20 years. STPR2 will conclude later this year, with publication of recommendations for investment and an appropriate statutory consultation period.

I invite the minister to drive the A75 and A77 to see at first hand how unfit those routes are for the volume and type of traffic using them each day

Regarding the second strategic transport projects review, it is a concern that the first phase of the review includes no capital investment for the A75 or A77, which reinforces the belief that that corner of Scotland is forgotten, ignored, neglected and deprived. Will the minister reassure me that he will be the first minister to work constructively with constituents, businesses and ferry companies to address the woeful 0.5 per cent increase in the national infrastructure spend that is currently allocated to the south-west? That holds back economic growth, not only there but across Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom, as recognised in Sir Peter Hendy’s union connectivity review.

STPR2 is taking a two-phase approach, due to Covid-19. The first phase, published this February, identified short-term priorities. Phase 2 will make longer-term recommendations to ministers. There will be a public consultation, with the draft programme that will emerge from that being launched towards the end of the year.

The results of the south-west transport study have been fed into the consideration process and contain a number of recommendations. Those include making targeted improvements to the A75 and A77 and a number of suggested rail packages, including new links between Dumfries and Stranraer and Stranraer and Cairnryan. Those proposals, along with others, are the subject of detailed consideration.

Given that the strategic transport projects review was delayed even before the pandemic, does the minister envisage seeing major improvement plans being implemented on neglected roads in the south of Scotland during the lifetime of this Parliament? That might include the A75 or A77 in the west or the A1 in the east.

I expect that we will have a set of detailed proposals to consider later this year. This is a 20-year programme that is designed to deliver for the whole of Scotland, and it will do so.

I have written to the minister regarding the progress in infrastructure projects around South Scotland, such as the reopening of the Beattock railway station and the upgrading of the A75 and A77. Those projects were identified as part of the STPR2 process through community consultation that involved more than 2,000 people, whereas the UK Government union connectivity review engaged with no people in South Scotland. I therefore press the minister to give timescales for the implementation of the STPR2 recommendations, which will improve the lives of people across South Scotland.

I note the chuntering from the Conservatives at the mention of the union connectivity review. As those members should be aware, Emma Harper knows that transport infrastructure is devolved to the Scottish Government. Decisions on investment will therefore be taken by the Scottish Government, following evidence-based processes such as the capital spending review and the infrastructure investment plan, which allow cross-Government decisions about spending to be taken in a robust manner.

The second strategic transport projects review, not the union connectivity review, will be the evidence base that we use to support decisions about transport investment that focus on improving lives, boosting our economy, supporting communities and working towards net zero. I can confirm to Emma Harper that a new station for Beattock is part of that mix, along with changes to the A75 and A77.

Net Zero Targets (Community Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support communities to play their part in achieving Scotland’s net zero targets. (S6O-00006)

We have provided more than £110 million through our climate challenge fund to enable communities to play their part and we will continue to support community-led climate action as a key part of our just transition to net zero. We are building on the achievements of the CCF by developing networks of regional community climate action hubs and climate action towns. Those initiatives will run alongside the recently launched net zero nation campaign which aims to showcase and inspire climate action across Scotland, including in our communities, using the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—as a catalyst.

The transition to net zero will require every one of us to play our part. The cabinet secretary will be aware that investment through the Ayrshire growth deal would see Cumnock leading by example and propelling us on to the world stage in its ambition to become the first carbon-neutral town. Scotland is centre stage this year with COP26 taking place in Glasgow. Will the cabinet secretary outline the Scottish Government’s plans to help secure a Glasgow agreement that will see all countries committing to taking the action that is needed to tackle the climate crisis?

The member has raised an important point. I very much welcome the work that has been taken forward by the Ayrshire growth deal partners, a deal that I was fortunate enough to sign with them on behalf of the Scottish Government, setting out the ambitious plan for Cumnock to be a leading example of a carbon-neutral town. That fits the approach that the Scottish Government is taking in encouraging local communities to play their part in our becoming a net zero nation. It will also act as a clear demonstration of the inspiring leadership at community level in Scotland for global leaders as they arrive in Glasgow in November for COP26.

Between now and COP26, we will set out the range of measures that we will take as a country to achieve net zero and ensure that Scotland continues to be seen as a world leader in this area and that we get not only the environmental but the economic benefits of becoming a net zero nation.

What plans does the Scottish Government have to ensure that local employment opportunities, particularly for young people, will be a key part of Scotland’s transition to net zero.

It is important that we get not only the environmental and social benefits of becoming a net zero nation but the economic benefits. That includes working with partners to deliver the skills that will be necessary to become a net zero nation and building on the progress that we have made to date. That is why we are setting up, with partners, the green jobs workforce academy, which we have said will be launched in the first 100 days of this Government. We are progressing the development of that, with a focus on providing programmes that support retraining and upskilling to ensure that we have a just transition to being a net zero nation. That sits alongside our young persons guarantee, which also provides young people with environment-related opportunities to support our national mission of a new, good green jobs recovery.

James Dornan, who is joining us remotely, will ask question 7.

Oil and Gas and Energy Transition Strategic Leadership Group

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and welcome to your new position.

To ask the Scottish Government when the most recent meeting of the oil and gas and energy transition strategic leadership group was held. (S6O-00007)

The most recent meeting of the oil and gas and energy transition strategic leadership group was held on Thursday 18 February. That was its ninth meeting, which was chaired by the then Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands. The date of the next meeting is yet to be agreed.

Given the major role that the oil and gas sector, along with the supply chain, has in the Scottish economy and the part that it will play in economic recovery from Covid, can the minister provide an update on any initial plans that the sector has on economic recovery and how that will support the workforce and ensure that the energy transition agenda continues to meet our net zero emissions ambition?

The Scottish Government recognises the crucial role that our oil and gas workers continue to play not only in maintaining the secure supply of energy to consumers but in sustaining critical national infrastructure, as they have done throughout the course of the pandemic. In June last year, the Scottish Government announced some £62 million for the energy transition fund, which has a focus on supporting the energy sector to recover from the economic impact of Covid-19 and supporting investment in areas that can help the move towards net zero.

That work will continue, and we will continue to ensure that we engage with the oil and gas sector to support its transition to a net zero industry. Key to that will be making sure that we help to secure and sustain the skill sets in the workforce. A key part of the strategy that we will take forward is supporting the oil and gas sector to ensure that staff, or workers, in the sector have the skill sets necessary for moving into the renewables sector and green jobs.

The final question in this portfolio—number 8—is from Pauline McNeill, who joins us remotely.

Public Transport Connectivity (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to improve Glasgow’s public transport connectivity. (S6O-00008)

The Government is already making significant investment in public transport connectivity in the Glasgow city region. That includes rail enhancements from Glasgow to Barrhead and East Kilbride, and work to reallocate road space on parts of the Glasgow motorway network for buses as part of a £500 million investment in bus priority infrastructure across Scotland. Applications to the bus partnership are being evaluated.

Any future Scottish Government investment will be informed by the second strategic transport projects review. The phase 1 report recommendations were published in February. That includes a workstream on transforming cities, which is supportive of a Glasgow metro.

The report, “Connecting Glasgow: Creating an Inclusive, Thriving, Liveable City”, concluded that Glasgow has a good overall network by British standards, but that the city falls substantially short of what has been achieved in similar-sized cities in other countries, and that, with the exception of the 10.5km Glasgow subway, the entire fixed public transport network is made up of heavy rail lines. The report says that the absence of a modern mass transit system serving inner urban destinations is a glaring omission. What financial commitments is the Scottish Government making to ensure that there is a modernised rail-based system, including a modern air link system, as suggested in the report, or is the Government content to leave Scotland’s largest city behind?

No, we are not. We are considering the case for a Glasgow metro with a link to Glasgow airport as part of STPR2. In phase 1 of the review, which identifies 20 strategic transport investment interventions for the short term, we set out that the progression and development of the business case for that was a Government priority.

The Government supports Glasgow City Council’s approach to exploring the key challenges of such a proposal, and Transport Scotland is working with the council’s Glasgow metro feasibility study project team on that. However, I hope that the member recognises that a project of the scale of the Glasgow metro requires a strategic business case, to ensure that taxpayers’ money is invested to achieve the best possible outcomes and that we need to take a whole-system approach to planning transport infrastructure to ensure that decisions are taken that benefit the entire region. Our conversations with the council continue, as does the process.

Regional Land Use Partnerships

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the rural affairs secretary has had with the land reform minister regarding measures to be put in place to introduce regional land use partnerships. (S6O-00009)

I am in regular discussion with the Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, given the close links between our portfolios. This week, we met to discuss regional land use partnerships. Stakeholders will be fully engaged as those develop.

The Scottish Government remains committed to regional land use partnerships emerging in 2021. They are one mechanism to help maximise the contribution that Scotland’s land will make to achieving our climate targets. In February, we announced five pilot regions to test practicalities around governance, stakeholder engagement and working across regional boundaries. Learning from the pilots will inform any wider roll-out of partnerships across Scotland.

On the back of concerns from NFU Scotland and those of some witnesses who gave evidence to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee during the previous parliamentary session, I lodged a written parliamentary question in February to ask the Government whether the funding for the regional land use partnerships would be made available through the rural affairs budget. I was told that the Government’s intention is to make the money available through the environment, climate change and land reform portfolio programme. Can the cabinet secretary confirm whether that is the case, when the money will be made available in 2021 and whether it is the Government’s intention to ensure that the partnerships become permanent and do not remain as pilots?

I can confirm that that is the case in relation to funding. As I said in my first answer, the objective of the pilots is to test and explore the practicalities around governance, local engagement with communities and stakeholders, and working across the partnerships’ regional boundaries. We have already provided some resource funding to facilitate the establishment of the pilots this year. The funding will cover the costs of developing governance and facilitating the local engagement and stakeholder meetings that are necessary to establish the pilots. The pilots will be designed collaboratively by the regions and the Government, which will provide policy support throughout.

Will the cabinet secretary outline what steps the Government will take to improve Scotland’s system of land ownership and use, so that our land can contribute to a fair and just society by balancing public and private interests?

That is a vital point. The Government is committed to on-going, bold land reform.

That has been demonstrated by, for example, the establishment of the Scottish Land Commission and our world-leading land rights and responsibilities statement, as well as the legislation to establish a register of persons with a controlled interest in land in order to improve the transparency of land ownership in Scotland. In our manifesto, we committed to doubling the Scottish land fund to £20 million over the lifetime of this Parliament and to taking forward a further land reform bill.

Land Reform (Co-operation Agreement)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of its announcement regarding a potential co-operation agreement, what discussions the rural affairs secretary has had with the land reform minister regarding an assessment of the Scottish Green Party’s manifesto commitments on land reform. (S6O-00010)

I reiterate that I am in regular discussion with the Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, given the close link between our portfolios. The talks between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party will cover a number of issues, and further updates on those talks will be given in due course. The way in which land is owned, managed and used is centrally important to a variety of outcomes. Everyone has a stake in Scotland’s land and everyone should benefit from it. We are committed to a programme of bold land reform, including introducing a new land reform bill, and to doubling the Scottish land fund to £20 million per year by the end of this session of Parliament.

I hear what the cabinet secretary says, but many commentators have suggested that the Greens’ land proposals are very poorly thought through. For example, rural stakeholders have suggested that the plans to introduce a land ownership public interest test and to make Scotland’s land rights and responsibilities statement statutory are incompatible with human rights legislation. Adopting Green plans would put thousands of rural jobs at risk, including those in the cabinet secretary’s Angus constituency, and would lead to a lack of investment in some of our most remote and fragile environments. Will the cabinet secretary therefore rule out adopting those land reform proposals before entering any deal?

It is disappointing to hear the member reiterate those scare stories that are going around. As I said, the talks are on-going but, right now, the Government is committed to delivering what is in our manifesto. We have bold ambitions to introduce another land reform bill and double the amount that is available in the Scottish land fund. That is our focus, and we will deliver it.

Farming (New Entrants)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to encourage new entrants into farming. (S6O-00011)

The Scottish Government continues to implement a programme of initiatives to help generational renewal in the agriculture sector. Key initiatives include facilitating land opportunities through the farming opportunities for new entrants group; providing a Scottish land matching service for those who are considering joint ventures; providing basic payment scheme entitlements for new and young farmers; delivering a farm advisory service; providing a network of new entrant groups; offering a free mentoring programme; and supporting partners that are delivering pilot apprenticeship schemes. To add to that package, and in line with our manifesto commitment, we plan to provide support through a specific new entrants fund.

In August 2018, the Government stopped the capital grants scheme for new agricultural businesses. Now, three years later, there is no detail or funding. The importance of new entrants and young farmers cannot be overstated. Research that was published by the James Hutton Institute in March 2020 showed that new entrants are notably more active in their intentions for diversification and renewable energy on their land. With all that in mind, will the cabinet secretary commit to reintroducing a fully funded scheme for new entrants to help to harness that potential and to address the three years of missing funds for new entrants?

As I said in my initial answer, establishing a new entrants fund is exactly what we are looking to do. I absolutely agree with some of the points that the member made about the importance of getting new entrants into farming. That is why we made the commitment in our manifesto. The previous schemes that the member talked about were successful. Both of them were popular, but that was particularly the case with the young farmers scheme. Despite the fact that the budgets were topped up twice, both schemes closed to new applications in 2018 because the available budgets were exhausted. However, that was not before the schemes had supported more than 205 young farmers’ new businesses with the associated funding, as well as 49 smaller new enterprises.

The evaluations of those schemes are under way, and those will assist our thinking in planning for a specific new entrants fund, as included in our manifesto.

Attracting new entrants to farming must be a key long-term priority. Looking ahead to our new support system, are any changes being considered to the reference-year payment model to ensure that new entrants are not unfairly disadvantaged when it comes to support payments?

All those factors will be taken into consideration as we look to develop our new funding schemes.

Island Lifeline Services (Disruption)

To ask the Scottish Government what cross-Government action it is taking to ensure that island communities are protected from the effects of disruption to lifeline services. (S6O-00012)

I know that ferries are a lifeline service to our island communities, and I share the frustration at the current disruption and the impact that it is having. I have been working with the Minister for Transport, who, as well as meeting senior CalMac representatives to provide support, has met local MSPs to hear their concerns, and he is continuing to have regular dialogue.

A North Ayrshire Council-commissioned Fraser of Allander institute report put the value of the ferry to Arran’s community in supporting jobs and livelihoods at £170,000 per day. The cabinet secretary said that a number of meetings have taken place. Would she be willing to meet me to discuss how the voices of islanders and, indeed, CalMac workers are included in the decision-making process to ensure that we have a reliable and safe ferry service, that there is no race to the bottom on terms and conditions, and that support is put in place for Arran’s businesses and islanders, who are trying to cope with the present disruption?

I do not for a minute underestimate the impact that such disruption can have on island communities. That is why the Minister for Transport got straight to work and made the issue one of his top priorities when he came into post. He is trying to identify solutions and measures that can be put in place over the short, the medium and the longer term to resolve the situation and to build resilience in the ferry services that are available. I believe that, during last week’s topical question time, he said that he would be willing to engage constructively with any members on the matter, and I reiterate that.

Jamie Greene has a brief supplementary question.

More than half of the vessels in Scotland’s state-operated ferry network fleet are beyond their original life expectancy, with 16 out of 31 of them being more than 25 years old. The residents of Arran and many other islands are simply scunnered at the current ferry network situation in Scotland, which is a disgrace.

How far and wide is the Scottish Government looking in seeking to acquire or lease new vessels right now to offer some temporary relief to our island communities and to the network?

I can assure the member that no stone is being left unturned by the Minister for Transport in trying to find workable solutions and a resolution to the situation. As I mentioned in my previous response, there are short-term measures that are being looked at. I believe that an opportunity has arisen—which is supported by communities—to charter the MV Pentalina, which is owned by Pentland Ferries. That would enable an increase in the size of the major vessel fleet that is available to CalMac, thereby supporting the continued operation of lifeline ferry services and increasing their resilience.

Today, we had the news that the procurement process to build a new ferry for Islay is under way. Again, that will bring added resilience to the fleet. In addition, £580 million will be invested over the next five years to build resilience in the longer term. As I said, I do not for a moment underestimate how frustrating the current situation is for people who live in island communities or how vital such services are.

All this talk of ferries gladdens my heart, but it is time to move on to question 5.

Farming and Food Production Future Policy Group

To ask the Scottish Government when the farming and food production future policy group will publish its report. (S6O-00013)

The farming and food production future policy group, which comprises representatives from the farming and food production sectors, was established as an independent group to make recommendations on the future of farming and food production policy. Environmental and land management representatives also sit on the group. Earlier this week, I held an introductory meeting with the group to discuss potential publication of its report.

In January 2019, the Parliament agreed that the group should be set up. Two and a half years on, we have still not seen its conclusions. That delay is symptomatic of the Government’s indecision and inaction when it comes to setting out the future of post-common agricultural policy rural support.

When will the Scottish Government bring together the recommendations of the farming and food production future policy group and of the various farmer-led groups and set out the details of future support?

I completely disagree that there has been indecision and inaction. We sought to engage with the industry. That is why the farmer-led groups were established. I do not think that members across the chamber think that that was a bad idea. It is vitally important that we engage with the people who work in the farming and food production sectors, who will help to drive forward the policies.

A number of other reports have been compiled, including by Farming for 1.5°. We also have the climate change plan update. The farming and food production future policy group report will feed into that, as well as the reports of the farmer-led groups. We have to take all of that information into consideration. That is also why we set out that, in the Government’s first 100 days, we will establish an implementation board that will drive forward the recommendations of the farmer-led groups and get the policies moving. We do not underestimate the urgency with which this work needs to take place.

I totally agree with Foysol Choudhury about the Government’s indecision and inaction. NFU Scotland’s Andrew McCornick said in February:

“Give Scottish agriculture a policy roadmap now.”

Months later, there is no plan. It is totally ridiculous. I say to the cabinet secretary that there must be no more excuses. Where is Scotland’s future farm policy document? How much longer will Scottish farmers have to wait? Why is the Scottish National Party disadvantaging Scottish farmers?

I simply ask the member whether she would prefer it if we did not engage with the farmer-led groups or had not established them in the way that we did. It is important that we get those recommendations. That is exactly why we have said that we will move that forward within our first 100 days in government and build an implementation board that will drive those recommendations forward.

Collette Stevenson joins us remotely.

Food and Drink Sector (East Kilbride)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to support businesses in East Kilbride working in the food and drink sector. (S6O-00014)

We have committed support of more than £10 million over 2020 to 2022 towards the food and drink sector’s Covid-19 recovery plan, which contains 50 actions to help businesses across Scotland to recover from Covid-19 and the disruptions of Brexit. That includes our 100 days commitments to publish a local food strategy and provide grants from the regional food fund to support local and regional food festivals and initiatives.

South Lanarkshire Council has paid out to businesses over £1.2 million through the local authority discretionary fund, which empowers local authorities to direct funding to specific groups or sectors that are affected by Covid-19.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. I am interested to know whether the Clyde climate forest will present an opportunity for the many qualified recreational deer managers in the central belt. Does the Scottish Government believe that there is a need to support the establishment of fit-for-purpose processing facilities to use the venison locally?

The Clyde climate forest is a significant and well-timed initiative that showcases all that is good about tree planting, including a partnership arrangement with eight local authorities that are working together on a major woodland creation initiative. Sustainable deer management is key to the success of woodland creation, and recreational deer managers play a vital role in delivering that.

As we recognise the importance of processing facilities for venison to support deer management and local supply chains, we are working with the Scottish Venison Association on possible options to support processing in areas where those facilities might be limited.

Island Communities (Scottish Government Priorities)

To ask the Scottish Government what its key priorities are for Scotland’s island communities. (S6O-00015)

As detailed in the Scottish National Party’s manifesto, the Scottish Government is committed to delivering a number of priorities for Scotland’s island communities, including the new islands programme, which will invest £30 million of capital funding over the next five years to support delivery of the national islands plan.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response. It is interesting that she did not mention connectivity. In recent months, residents and small businesses across Scotland’s island communities have lost millions of pounds due to disruption to multiple ferry services because vessels are operating beyond their scheduled service lives, as my colleague Jamie Greene highlighted.

Two new replacement ferries that were meant to service the islands remain unfinished on the Clyde, more than £200 million over budget and more than three years late, with no prospect of being in service any time soon. Will the cabinet secretary take this opportunity to apologise to island communities for the massive disruption? What assurances can she give today that it will not continue?

As I have outlined in my responses to previous questions about ferries this afternoon, the Scottish Government absolutely recognises the frustration of communities at the disruption and the impact that it is having. That is why, as I have reiterated, we are doing everything that we possibly can to build resilience in the fleet and mitigate some of those problems. We are supporting CalMac to maximise available capacity across the network and ensure that there is timely resolution of the issues.

We are also delivering new tonnage to support communities, and we are working with CMal, CalMac, MSPs, community representatives and others to develop investment programmes for major vessels and small vessels. As I said previously, that investment amounts to more than £580 million over the next five years.

I will try to get the supplementary questions in. They need to be brief, as do the responses.

I have called before for an island-proofed recovery. Will the cabinet secretary commit to timely guidance for the islands on life at level 0 and beyond?


That was commendably brief.

To ask the minister how the Scottish Government will support Orkney Islands Council in its efforts to ensure that the people of Orkney will be able to benefit fully from the islands’ renewables potential.

I am more than happy to engage with Orkney Islands Council on that. I hope to visit Orkney at some point soon, in line with the restrictions, and to have those conversations.

I am glad that I allowed those supplementaries.

The Scottish Government has failed our island communities. It has failed to provide the new ferries that are required and to maintain the ones that it has, which has led to the current fiasco. At a time when capacity is 35 per cent of what it would normally be, will the cabinet secretary commit to leasing the MV Pentalina, buying the ferry that has been identified by the Mull community and identifying further tonnage that will meet demand and create the capacity that is required on our islands?

The Minister for Transport set straight to work on that as soon as he was appointed. This afternoon, I have outlined repeatedly the measures that are being undertaken to do exactly what the member has outlined—the measures that we are looking to introduce in the shorter term to build resilience in relation to on-going investment. I reiterate to the member that the matter is a big priority for the Government and for the transport minister, who has gone straight to work on addressing the issues.

Sand Eel Fishing (European Union Quota)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take in response to reports of Danish and Swedish boats intensively fishing for sand eels just off the Firth of Forth. (S6O-00016)

The terms of the trade and co-operation agreement that was established between the United Kingdom and the European Union in December 2020 entitle those vessels to fish their quota in UK waters. Through the bilateral agreement for 2021, which was finalised last week, a total allowable catch level has been set for sand eel, giving EU quota to fish against.

However, given the importance of sand eels to the wider ecosystem and the subsequent benefit in aiding the long-term sustainability and resilience of the North Sea, it remains an overarching and long-held Scottish Government position not to support fishing for sand eel or other industrial species in our waters. I have therefore instructed my officials to consider what management measures can be put in place to manage activity in the most sustainable way possible.

That is very good news. The kittiwake population has been cut in half in the past 50 years, partly as a result of industrial sand eel fishing. In the past month, more than 20 Swedish and Danish boats spent days off the Fife coast hoovering up tonnes of sand eels for pig meal. Local fishermen and RSPB Scotland are very concerned about the impact on seabirds. A previous Government took action at Wee Bankie, and we need action now. I want the minister to think of the puffins and to set out the urgent action that will be taken on sand eels.

Absolutely. I appreciate the concerns that Willie Rennie has raised, and I completely understand the one regarding sand eels. The issue is the wider ecosystem and the impact that such fishing has on species whose numbers are depleting. That is why I have committed to looking at the issue as a matter of urgency, to see what measures we can put in place. I hope that Willie Rennie takes assurance from that.

That concludes portfolio questions.