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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 09 December 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Budget Update, Education, Economy, Coronavirus Acts Report, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time, Bus Services


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

Good afternoon. I remind members to observe social distancing and so on when they are in the chamber and moving around the campus.

The first item of business is portfolio question time. We begin with questions on the environment, climate change and land reform. Members in the chamber who wish to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button; those who are contributing remotely should put “R” in the chat function.


Climate Emergency Response Group

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the climate emergency response group’s interim assessment of progress report, which was published in November 2020. (S5O-04825)

I am delighted that 90 per cent of this Government’s climate emergency response has been rated as meeting or making progress towards meeting the CRG’s proposals, with the group noting the disruptive impact of Covid-19.

Our 2020-21 programme for government demonstrates our commitment to building a green recovery with transformative investment, including £1.6 billion for heat and energy efficiency and the £100 million green jobs fund.

I welcome the CRG’s contribution as an opportunity to reflect on our work to deliver a green recovery and a just transition to net zero, especially as we finalise our climate change plan update.

The CRG also identifies in the report 14—out of 20—key proposals about which it has concerns, either about the pace of progress or about there being critical gaps in the proposals. That is not just down to Covid. The report states:

“we were disappointed there was not more progress in the development of policies and programmes in the months before the pandemic, losing valuable time.”

What is the minister’s assessment of why so many key policy areas have been missed? Can she confirm when the Government will deliver the key recommendations, as outlined in the report?

I do not recognise Jamie Greene’s characterisation of our response to the CRG’s asks. We have been working closely with the group over a considerable time to ensure that we can progress all aspects, which we both agree are absolutely necessary.

However, Jamie Greene should, of course, be aware that there are always issues and concerns about particular matters that might make progress slower in some areas than it is in others. That is only to be expected.

The climate change plan update, which will be published soon, will deal with a number of other aspects, so the member might want to look out carefully for that. However, I believe that Scotland is making excellent progress; indeed, the CRG accepts that.

We have two brief supplementary questions.

Will the cabinet secretary set out when the £11 billion of annual public procurement money will be mobilised to support the climate emergency response? That aspect received a red rating in the CRG’s interim report. That is absolutely key to supporting—

No—stop. I said a brief supplementary. We will stop at the question about the £11 billion, please.

As Claudia Beamish knows well, that issue extends beyond my portfolio. I am aware that the CRG flagged procurement as one of the areas in which not enough has been done.

However, we continue to underpin our commitment with significant action. The CRG’s assessment on procurement does not reflect the innovative legal and policy levers that we have already embedded to drive climate ambition in that area; nor does it reflect that much of what needs to be done cannot be done by the Government alone or through procurement alone. We are urging strong leadership through a range of channels. Of course, that is one of the areas that have been hit hard by Covid.

As the United Kingdom prepares to turn its back on our European Union neighbours, how will the Scottish Government ensure that our climate efforts continue to be co-operative, inclusive and international, even in the face of Brexit?

In the face of the unwanted Brexit, Scotland remains a strong believer in international co-operation and is committed to working with Governments at all levels to drive a just transition to a net zero world.

We will continue to work closely with a diverse array of Governments and organisations to achieve our collective goals. We will not accept being cut off from our friends in Europe and the world, and we will work with our international partners to deliver an ambitious, inclusive and successful 26th conference of the parties—COP26—in Glasgow next year, including as European co-chair of the Under2 Coalition.


Flood Defences (Local Authority Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government what the allocation formula will be for local authority funding for flood defences. (S5O-04826)

Funding for flood schemes is linked to the prioritisation of actions that is set out in the flood risk management strategies and plans that are developed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and local authorities, in collaboration with other relevant bodies.

The next round of strategies and plans will set out the work that needs to be prioritised for action by local authorities within the 2022-28 flood risk management cycle to reduce the risk of flooding to our communities. No decisions have yet been made on what the allocation formula will be for actions that are prioritised in that next round of strategies and plans.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the significant incidents of flooding in my Cowdenbeath constituency—in Cardenden, Rosyth, Dalgety Bay—and across Fife. Does she therefore consider that Fife should be a priority for flood risk management investment? How will the United Kingdom Government’s proposed 5 per cent cut to the Scottish Government’s capital budget impact on the level of funding that will be available?

I am aware of the flooding in Cowdenbeath and wider Fife, and my sympathies go out to all those who have been impacted by it. As I indicated in my earlier answer, SEPA and local authorities are currently reviewing and updating the strategies and local plans. Those will be published for consultation next year and will set out the work that needs to be prioritised. The 14 strategies and plans will ensure long-term planning to manage flood risk, which will include consideration of what actions will need to be prioritised in Fife, and funding for them.

Capital investment can have one of the greatest positive impacts on economic growth, so a cut at this time is especially harmful. However, despite the UK Government’s decision to cut the capital budget, the Scottish Government will proceed with the plans that we have recently set out, which include investment in flood risk management of an extra £150 million over and above the £42 million that has already been committed, which is provided annually to councils.


Fly-tipping

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it is having with local government regarding fly-tipping during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04827)

I wrote to the member last week about the action that we are taking against fly-tipping, but I am content to reiterate that fly-tipping is illegal, dangerous and unnecessary, and that we continue to work with local authorities and key partners on a range of prevention and mitigation activities.

At national level, our waste management marketing campaign and web resource set out how the public can manage waste at this difficult time, and they include messages on fly-tipping prevention. In addition, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has been taking action to ensure that those who offer waste collection services have the correct permits to do so.

We plan to invite key stakeholders—who will, of course, include local authorities—to a round-table discussion in the new year to discuss proposals for future action on fly-tipping.

In her written response to me, the cabinet secretary mentioned the dumb dumpers campaign’s national tool for reporting fly-tipping, which is run by Zero Waste Scotland. However, there is still frustration about the scale of underreporting nationally, with some councils estimating that reports through the dumb dumpers campaign reflect only 8 per cent to 10 per cent of actual instances of fly-tipping. Although I appreciate the efforts that the cabinet secretary and stakeholders are making to tackle the issue, the fragmented approach across local authorities is creating a postcode lottery.

Get to your question, please.

I ask the cabinet secretary to join me, NFU Scotland and others in calling for the creation of a national database for fly-tipping.

In response to the concerns that have been expressed, we have worked with partners, through the waste and resources sector forum, to consider current and future measures. A range of actions, local and national, have been or are being progressed by SEPA through householder communications and enforcement measures to tackle illegal waste carriers. An enormous amount of good work is being done right across the sector; I pay tribute to all those who are involved in it.

Legal responsibility for tackling littering and fly-tipping remains with local authorities, public organisations and landowners. However, as I have indicated, because of the level of on-going interest in the subject, at our meeting in January we will be open to discussing all key proposals for future action on fly-tipping.

I remind everybody that fly-tipping is undertaken by individuals who need to take more responsibility for their own actions.


Net Zero Emissions Target

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its progress in meeting its target of achieving net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045. (S5O-04828)

Scotland’s emissions in 2018 were down by 50 per cent from the 1990 baseline, which is halfway to net zero. Scotland continues to lead the United Kingdom as a whole and is second only to Sweden in western Europe for emissions reductions.

As the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change put it in its recent Scottish progress report:

“The Scottish economy has decarbonised more quickly than the rest of the UK and faster than any G20 economy since 2008. Emissions have fallen rapidly while the economy has grown.”

Central heating is responsible for up to a third of greenhouse gas output, which is a challenge that must be met as we work towards net zero targets. The green hydrogen project, H100 Fife, is the world’s first hydrogen network and will bring 100 per cent renewable hydrogen into homes in Levenmouth. It will provide zero-carbon fuel for heating and cooking and will put Levenmouth at the forefront of the clean energy revolution. Does the cabinet secretary agree that hydrogen has a major role to play in helping us to achieve net zero emissions by 2045?

Decarbonising Scotland’s heat supply while maintaining affordability for customers is a critical part of delivering a successful energy transition and a fundamental step towards achieving our net zero ambitions.

Hydrogen has the potential to replace direct use of natural gas for domestic and commercial spaces and for water heating in some areas of Scotland. Projects such as the H100 Fife project, to which we have granted £6.9 million, will be vital in accelerating our efforts to understand more about the costs of hydrogen systems in comparison to other options and how hydrogen systems would be safely constructed, integrated and operated.

The climate emergency response group highlighted the lack of progress in tackling climate change and said:

“A culture change is required with leadership at all levels”.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that that must include Government ministers?

Of course—it includes absolutely everybody in the chamber, everybody who works in the Parliament and every individual across Scotland: nobody is excepted. However, nobody can do it on their own.

We have a supplementary question from Ruth Maguire. Keep it brief, please.

Can the cabinet secretary offer an update on when she intends to publish the climate change plan update and Scotland’s indicative nationally determined contribution? I know that they have been welcomed by Scotland’s environmental non-governmental organisation community ahead of the 26th conference of the parties—COP26.

Both of those things will be published in the very near future.

That is lovely. Thank you for the brevity.


Climate Change Targets

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on whether it has met its climate change targets that were set during session 3 of the Parliament. (S5O-04829)

The emissions reduction targets that have been set by this Parliament—including by the member’s party, of course, which voted for them—are the most ambitious in the world.

Since the passing of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, nine annual targets have been reported on. Those for the years 2014 to 2016 were met; those for 2010 to 2013 and 2017 to 2018 were missed. It is always disappointing to miss a target, but these world-leading targets are intentionally set to provide an extremely stretching pathway to net zero, and it is long-term progress that is most important. I refer the member to my earlier answer on the progress that Scotland is making.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer, but the target to provide 11 per cent of heat demand from renewables by 2020 was set in November 2009 by the Scottish National Party Government and was voted for by the Parliament. Over the past 11 years, we have seen some small progress but nowhere near enough to come even close to the 11 per cent target. In 2019, only 6.5 per cent of heat came from renewables. Is that not just another example of the SNP Government talking a good game but never delivering anything?

I refer the member back to the direct quote I gave earlier from the Committee on Climate Change. Scotland has made remarkable progress right across the board, including in decarbonising its energy sector. I am sorry that the Conservatives do not seem able to bring themselves to recognise that.

What action will the Scottish Government take to ensure that the journey towards net zero and low-carbon heat does not push more families into fuel poverty, given that the house condition survey figures that were released last week showed that one in four Scottish households was still living in fuel poverty before the pandemic?

That is one of the key issues that we discuss regularly and that the just transition commission is looking at carefully. The issue has implications for the way in which we make decisions. We cannot make decisions that, on paper look, to be absolutely the right thing to do for the climate but that will necessitate real upset and deprivation for many people. We are absolutely keeping an eye on that balance. Obviously, that involves not just my portfolio but a number of other portfolios across the Government.


Crown Estate Revenues

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of the devolution of Crown estate revenues to coastal communities. (S5O-04830)

No assessment has been made to date of the impact of the funding provided to local authorities from Scottish Crown estate revenues, as that information is only starting to become available. We will undertake the appropriate assessment and will publish details once the necessary information is fully available.

I have been able to see the real benefits in my community when Crown estate revenues helped to form part of an emergency fund to save many worthwhile charities that were affected by a recent subsea cable break. How have Crown estate revenues been used to help businesses and third sector organisations that have been more broadly affected by Covid?

We have been doing everything that we can to support those affected by Covid, including people and businesses in our coastal areas, which are often reliant on tourism. That is why we widened the remit of the coastal communities fund to include Covid relief and agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that the allocations that have already been provided to local authorities to date can be carried over into 2021-22. By relaxing the rules for the use of the Crown estate revenues, we are enabling local authorities to use those funds to directly support local coastal businesses, including third sector organisations that are facing the full force of the economic shock from the pandemic.


Environmental and Emissions Targets (Local Initiatives)

To ask the Scottish Government what importance it places on local initiatives to reach environmental and emissions targets in the surrounding communities. (S5O-04831)

The Scottish Government recognises that local communities have made, and will continue to make, a huge contribution to reaching environment and climate targets. That is reflected in our programme for government, in which we committed to build on our climate challenge fund by developing community climate action hubs, and to support the development of 20-minute neighbourhoods, both of which will support local areas to contribute to the transition to net zero and to live in better and greener communities. We will also introduce low-emission zones in our four biggest cities to improve local air quality, and we have provided an additional £1 million to build on our successful Scotland loves local campaign.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of local initiatives such as Smart Sustainable East Kilbride, which exists to revitalise the town and promote zero-carbon initiatives. It has already achieved some success. Does the cabinet secretary agree that local initiatives are extremely important in this regard, and will she encourage colleagues in local government and national Government agencies to recognise such initiatives’ worth, support their efforts and confirm that a small investment often brings about substantial reward?

I agree with Linda Fabiani on the importance of organisations such as Smart Sustainable East Kilbride. I feel that, in pre-Covid times, the question would have been followed by a request that I visit the organisation and by my accession to that request, but, unfortunately, we cannot do that in the current circumstances. It has been successful in driving forward East Kilbride as a centre of low-carbon innovation and in providing green jobs training for local people. I recognise the importance of local initiatives in our national endeavour towards net zero emissions by 2045, and I will continue to advocate for collaboration between local and national agencies on such efforts.

To demonstrate our commitment to localism, we are developing the climate action towns initiative, alongside undertaking the town centre action plan review, which places emphasis on how Scotland’s town centres can contribute towards our climate ambitions.


Recycling and Food Waste Collection Services

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that recycling and food waste collection services suspended by local authorities due to the pandemic are resumed. (S5O-04832)

Local authorities have worked hard to maintain essential waste and recycling collections through the pandemic while making significant operational changes to ensure safe working. I want to thank all involved for their efforts.

The vast majority of local authorities have reinstated those recycling and food waste collection services that were temporarily suspended at the outset of the crisis. Only three councils report challenges in reinstating separate kerbside recycling or food and garden waste collections.

We continue to engage actively with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local authorities and other partners to identify and address remaining challenges to waste service provision.

The cabinet secretary is probably aware that, instead of reinstating its back-court food waste collection services, Glasgow City Council is removing food waste bins from back courts and expecting people to use bring sites instead, which will inevitably lead to large amounts of food waste going straight to incineration. Is that happening because the requirements on local authorities are too lax and permit that, or is Glasgow City Council breaching the requirements that exist on it?

I am aware that Glasgow City Council is one of the three councils that are continuing to have difficulty in reinstating their recycling and food waste collection services. Local authorities remain responsible for, and are best placed to make decisions on, the provision of local waste services, taking account of their legal duties to provide a comprehensive recycling service for households and any short-term pressures that the pandemic has caused. I am sure that Patrick Harvie would be quick to condemn me if I tried to override local authorities’ responsibilities in any area.

I am aware that Glasgow City Council has recently undertaken a trial for flats in tenements in north-west Glasgow, which is intended to allow the council to assess alternative means of delivering food waste collections. It will be for the council to consider the results of any such trial and to decide on the best model for fulfilling the legal requirement to provide food waste collection in the future.

That concludes questions on the environment, climate change and land reform.


Covid-19 Christmas Restrictions (Holiday Accommodation)

To ask the Scottish Government what guidance it is providing to the holiday accommodation sector regarding the relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions over Christmas. (S5O-04833)

I call the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing.

Ms Cunningham will be relieved to hear that I do not expect her to answer the questions on rural economy and tourism.

I will have to suspend the meeting briefly while we connect with Mr Ewing.

14:22 Meeting suspended.  

14:26 On resuming—  

We resume business. Mr Ewing, will you say something, so that I know that we can hear you?

You are muted, Mr Ewing. Can you hear us? You cannot. I will suspend the meeting again.

14:27 Meeting suspended.  

14:28 On resuming—  

We resume again. Mr Ewing, can you hear me?

Hello?

I thought that you were going to get a round of applause there, but members in the chamber are mean spirited. [Applause.] Ah—I thank members for giving Mr Ewing a round of applause. We were struggling to—

Hello?

Oh—you cannot hear me. I will suspend the meeting again.

14:29 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—  

[Inaudible.]—off-and-on business. I suggest that we move on to the next item of business—the ministerial statement on the budget update—after a short pause to get the speakers here. We can then try to get back to portfolio questions, because we cannot have this nonsense.

I think that that makes sense. I ask members to bear with me.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I appreciate how difficult this is for everyone, but other meetings have been arranged for me this afternoon on the basis that I would ask my question now and would then leave. Will you advise on when you will be able to update us and when we will be required back in the chamber?

I will do that as soon as I can. Obviously, things are ad hoc at the moment. Once we have had the next item of business, I will be in a better position to know how Fergus Ewing is placed.

We will try to have portfolio questions when relevant members are here, as we will the coming debate. We will try to accommodate you, Ms Lamont, and any other member who has a portfolio question.

No one would want to be disrespectful by not being in the chamber. I am sure that you appreciate the position that we are in, Presiding Officer. Dialogue between members and the chamber desk would be appreciated.

There certainly will be such dialogue. We will get the situation in hand. It is not the end of the world; it is just a small hiccup.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sorry to be difficult, but I have a question about whether the people who are in—[Inaudible.]

We are back to the problem with your card, Ms Smith. A bit of sabotage is going on. You will have to move seats and put your card in somewhere else, because what we say has to be on the record.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sorry to be difficult, but I have a question on behalf of those members who are following on, particularly as the next item is a statement. Will they have had sufficient time to read the copy that will have been given to them with prior notice?

I will find that out. Like you, I am finding out as we go along. I will let you know.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I wish to be helpful. Members have not yet received a copy of the statement, with less than 20-odd minutes to go. That is unfortunate.

Well, yes. I did not know that, but I do now.

I suspend the meeting for 10 minutes so that we can get some order back into the afternoon.

14:34 Meeting suspended.  

14:50 On resuming—