Website survey

We want your feedback on the Scottish Parliament website. Take our 6 question survey now

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Loading…

Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 11 November 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, University and College Students (Support), Covid-19 Testing (Health and Social Care Workers), Covid-19 Support (Tourism and Hospitality), Urgent Question, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Housing Market (Islands)


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Finance

Good afternoon. Our first item of business is portfolio question time. The first portfolio is finance.


Treasury (Engagement)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent engagement it has had with the Treasury. (S5O-04729)

I am in regular communication with Treasury ministers, and my officials are in close contact with Treasury officials. As recently as 2 November, I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, seeking greater clarity on Covid-19 funding consequentials as well as flexibility regarding the job retention scheme.

I know that the cabinet secretary has already welcomed the positive—although long overdue—announcement about the extension of the job retention scheme. However, there are still questions about the poor targeting of the self-employment income support scheme, which offers no relief for people who have become self-employed more recently. Will the cabinet secretary set out the impact of that approach on the self-employed in Scotland, and will she continue to push the chancellor to improve the scheme?

Ruth Maguire has raised an important point. Due to the continuing gap in eligibility for the United Kingdom-wide scheme, an increasing number of self-employed people have had no support since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Scottish Government has tried to step in where it can—for example, through grants made under the newly self-employed hardship fund. However, I will continue to ask the chancellor to review the eligibility requirements for the UK Government’s scheme, so as to open up such support to self-employed people who, so far, have been unfairly excluded.

I should have indicated that questions 1 and 3 have been grouped together. We will now take question 3 and then come back to question 2.


Chancellor of the Exchequer (Discussions)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last spoke with the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. (S5O-04731)

I am in regular contact with the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As recently as 2 November, I wrote to the chancellor, asking for an urgent meeting to discuss consequentials as well as the furlough scheme. Unfortunately, that meeting did not take place.

It is my view that our response to the pandemic needs to be long term and involve forward thinking. I know that councils across the country, which have Covid recovery plans, feel the same. I am therefore concerned that the United Kingdom Government has reduced its spending review limits to one year, which does not allow proper longer-term planning—financial or otherwise—to take place. Does the cabinet secretary intend to discuss that at her next meeting with the chancellor?

Linda Fabiani has raised an important point. Throughout the pandemic, our ability to respond quickly has been contingent on our having both flexibility and clarity on funding.

Looking ahead, under the current arrangements we are dependent on receiving a funding settlement from the UK Government for next year’s Scottish Government budget, which we are already starting to plan. If the UK Government will indicate our funding for only a year at a time—and, at that, will not do so in a fulsome way, through a budget, rather than through a spending review—it is hard for us to plan beyond that point. The UK spending review that will take place later this month will give us only a provisional and partial picture ahead of the fuller information that will appear in the delayed UK Government budget, for which we still do not have a date.

I want to be clear that the UK Government’s spending review is not the same as its budget, so we will have to set our budget in advance of knowing what the UK Government’s tax and spending plans are for the coming year. It will be clear to everyone—including those in local government and members in the chamber—that that will make it difficult for us to plan financially for the longer term.

At this point we will take supplementaries to questions 1 and 3.

Over the past few weeks, the UK Treasury has given the Scottish Government additional spending guarantees of £1.7 billion, which takes the total of such guarantees made in the current financial year to £8.2 billion.

We all have constituents—both individuals and businesses—who are suffering from Covid-19 restrictions and are desperate for support. When will the Scottish Government set out to members in the chamber how these new funds will be allocated?

To be completely clear, every penny of that additional funding, as with all consequentials that we receive from the UK Government, will be spent on dealing with Covid, and a substantial amount is being spent on supporting businesses. Murdo Fraser will already be aware of the initial £2.3 billion. That was exceeded in the autumn budget revision and exceeded again with the October restrictions and it will continually be exceeded by the on-going financial support to businesses that are being impacted.

Murdo Fraser will also know that the next point at which we will clarify and formally detail how that money is spent is the spring budget revision, but I have indicated to the Finance and Constitution Committee that I am keen to be flexible and to provide as much transparent information as possible on how that money is being spent in advance of that budget revision.

What discussions have there been with the UK Government specifically about the differentiated economic impact of Covid both within and between the nations of the UK?

That issue regularly comes up at the quadrilateral meetings of the finance ministers and it came up again last month. I also detailed it in my letter to the chancellor last week because, given the different impacts, with different restrictions happening at different points according to the health advice, it is important to have maximum financial flexibility so that the Scottish Government and indeed the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive can tailor our Covid support to each nation’s distinct needs.

To be fair to the Treasury, that is one of the reasons why it has put in place a guarantee that slightly deviates from the normal means of providing consequentials, which would be only as and when announcements are made. That has helped, but of course Tom Arthur will know that, from the beginning, I have asked for some temporary flexibilities around our financial settlement in order to tailor our response further.

Can I get an update on discussions with the UK Government over the future of BiFab, which is now at a critical stage? Commitments were given at last week’s ministerial statement for a UK and Scottish Government working group, but time is now running out and there appears to be a lack of urgency.

As Claire Baker will know, it is my colleague Fiona Hyslop who leads on the response to BiFab. Those conversations with the UK Government are on-going and there has been a willingness to work together when it comes to BiFab. I know that Fiona Hyslop outlined more information on that in her statement last week and has committed to keeping Parliament regularly updated in light of the importance of BiFab, not just to local members and to the workforce but to Scotland.


Green Recovery

To ask the Scottish Government how it will finance the green recovery. (S5O-04730)

The Scottish Government is committed to a green recovery from Covid-19 that captures the potential opportunities of our transition to net zero and, crucially, creates good, green jobs in Scotland. We are already investing significant sums in that, not least an additional £2 billion of capital spending for transformative net zero projects over the next parliamentary session, a multi-annual commitment to peatland restoration worth £250 million, and a £62 million energy transition fund that was announced this summer.

Our continued commitment to a green recovery will be set out in the upcoming climate change plan update and 2021-22 budget.

Job losses in my area are a particular concern, with many of my constituents working in the oil and gas sector. This week, the Scottish Tory leader said that we should abandon climate change targets to protect oil and gas jobs. Does the minister agree that that ill-informed and simplistic view ignores the fact that oil and gas workers’ expertise is key to a transition into a more sustainable economy and that, in order to build the sectors of the future, Scotland needs the borrowing powers to front load recovery and to create the right conditions for new jobs and a future for the workers of the north-east?

I agree with Gillian Martin. As I said, the Scottish Government remains committed to achieving net zero by 2045 and to doing so in a just way. That is why we have committed to a just transition fund, as I mentioned in my previous answer, and why we are building from the principles that are already embedded in our climate change legislation and the advice from the independent just transition commission’s interim report.

As the member would expect, planning will be crucial to ensuring that opportunities from the transition for the economy and society are not missed, and that risks associated with rapid structural change are mitigated. It is crucial that a sustainable and resilient future is developed for those in the oil and gas sector and its supply chain, whose skills and expertise will be vital for the transition. As always, as the cabinet secretary mentioned a few moments ago, we continue to press the United Kingdom Government for more financial flexibility, particularly around borrowing, to support our economy, especially in the context of the pandemic.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

Since 2016, the Scottish National Party has spent millions of pounds promoting recycling, but Scotland’s recycling rate is actually worse than it was then. A further £2.8 million has been thrown at SNP-run Glasgow City Council, with no improvement seen in the latest figures. In fact, 11 local authorities have recycling rates that are either stagnating or declining. Can the minister explain why so little has been achieved, despite so much being spent?

Our commitment on recycling is embedded in legislation and is in partnership with local government. Recycling is an important part of our collective commitment to and focus on reducing our waste in a way that is as carbon neutral as possible. We are focused on an approach that utilises innovation and involves consideration of how to reduce carbon in the chain of the recycling process, as well as a move towards greater upcycling in society as a whole.

The work is on-going. I will consider the aspect that Maurice Golden has raised, and I am happy to write to him with more detail about those points. However, it is unfounded to question the Government’s commitment to recycling. It is important that we work together collectively to boost and encourage recycling in society and to support local government in that endeavour.

Green energy will be central to the recovery, so why are huge profits from wind energy projects being exported to the boardrooms of multinational companies across Europe and venture capital firms, when those profits could be kept in the community and used for public services? What hard cash is available for community and publicly owned wind farms?

That is an important question. Neil Findlay will be aware that the UK emissions trading scheme—the contracts for difference scheme—is reserved, so many of the aspects with which he contextualises his question are matters for the UK Government.

It is important to reflect on the historical position of the UK as a whole. Several decades ago, we had a comparative advantage in the development of wind energy technology, but we lost that. That is why the construction takes place in other European countries, as the member mentioned. However, in other areas of innovation, such as the marine energy sector, and particularly in tidal energy development, Scotland has several innovative companies that are at the forefront in the world on developing technologies.

The UK Government is currently reviewing the contracts for difference scheme, which is welcome. However, we need the UK Government to support the development of tidal energy and other forms of marine energy so that we can maintain the unique selling point and the technologies on which we have a comparative advantage in order to ensure that some of the considerations that Mr Findlay has raised about wind are not replicated in relation to the technologies that are being developed for the future.

The minister will know that reducing transport emissions will be key to Scotland meeting its climate change objectives. Does he therefore accept the need for the Government to help to fund the replacement for the existing ferry fleet, including those ferries serving the lifeline internal routes in Orkney, with low-emission vessels? Will he commit to ensuring that that happens in a way that is in keeping with the urgency of the climate emergency and the needs of the island communities that are served by those ferries?

Excuse me, Presiding Officer, but I did not pick up all of that question, because of the poor quality of the line. However, some of the points that Liam McArthur raised would perhaps be better directed at Mr Wheelhouse. I give an undertaking that I or Mr Wheelhouse will write to Mr McArthur on the points that he raised.

I do not question the Government’s commitment when it comes to renewables. However, when it comes to the creation of jobs in renewables in Scotland, the Government’s story is one of failure. That is just a fact. Where are the jobs going to come from? What is the plan for jobs to build back a greener economy?

As I mentioned in my initial response to Gillian Martin, as part of the programme for government, we have invested £100 million in the green jobs fund, in addition to the extensive package of skills and employment support that we had already announced. As I also mentioned, we are investing in significant other initiatives in the programme for government as part of our mission to create new, good green jobs.

As Mr Rowley would expect, we are aligning that with the provision of skills and employment to support green jobs, including the £60 million youth guarantee. We are providing increased opportunities for green apprenticeships across public sector bodies, which I am sure is welcome, and there is the £25 million national transition training fund, which is aimed at supporting up to 10,000 people who face redundancy and unemployment, and sectors with the greatest potential for future growth, as part of which there is a focus on the provision of green skills.

Lots of investment is being provided and lots of work is on-going. Of course there is more work to do, but significant potential exists for Scotland to lead in green energy, and there is an opportunity for a significant return on our investment in green jobs. We should all get behind the national efforts to realise that potential.


High Streets (Regeneration Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government what further funding it will allocate to support the regeneration of high streets and encourage footfall, in light of the rise in online shopping due to Covid-19. (S5O-04732)

That is an important question. We have established a collaborative town centre review to develop a new vision for our towns, taking Covid-19 into account, and to establish the means to achieve that. The review, which is due to report in December, will help us to decide what further support might be needed for town centres.

Since March, we have provided £22 million for towns. In addition, we have launched our Scotland Loves Local campaign to encourage people to safely support their local businesses by shopping locally and accessing local online offerings. I know that David Torrance and many other members across the country have been actively supporting that campaign in their constituencies.

Over recent years, a number of high streets across the country have undergone dramatic changes as a result of a shift in our buying habits. In my constituency, Kirkcaldy town centre has been greatly impacted by the increase in online and retail park shopping, and it currently faces many challenges, including a significant number of empty buildings.

How can we encourage owners of vacant properties to turn them into affordable social housing and promote town centre living, which has been shown to be a key factor in helping to regenerate high streets by increasing footfall and creating a sense of community ownership?

The town centre review will consider all issues for town centres, including the provision of affordable social housing, the ownership of vacant properties and considerations around that when it comes to planning law. Kevin Stewart is very interested in that, as members would expect.

Many local authorities are promoting town centre living, and it is a key theme of our town centre action plan. We are further supporting it through our town centre fund and the regeneration capital grant fund, through which local authorities are repurposing vacant and derelict properties for affordable housing. The potential exists for significant change in that regard.

David Torrance asks an important question. If he would like to follow it up in writing with me and Mr Stewart as the review is published, we would welcome such correspondence.

Question 5 comes from Claudia Beamish, who joins us remotely.


Local Authorities (Budget Shortfalls)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it plans to take to meet any budget shortfall that local authorities are facing going into winter. (S5O-04733)

I recognise the pressures on local government, which has in many ways been on the front line in our response to Covid, whether through providing business grants or welfare support.

We have committed £382.2 million in additional Covid-related funding to local authorities, and on 8 October I announced a package of financial flexibilities for Scotland’s councils that was developed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and which could be worth up to £600 million over the next two years.

We are also currently working with COSLA to finalise a lost-income scheme that would be worth an estimated £90 million. Taken together, those measures bring the value of the overall support package for councils up to £1 billion.

The financial settlement for this year had already provided an increase in day-to-day spending. Clearly, while there are additional pressures, that additional funding will go some way, at least, towards supporting local authorities.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that detailed answer.

However, local authorities have little resilience after 10 years of cuts, despite all the different funds that the cabinet secretary has highlighted. The Scottish Parliament information centre has estimated that funding to local authorities fell by 7 per cent in real terms between 2013 and 2020.

Additional support for local authorities, in the form of permission to delay payments on borrowing and short-term borrowing, gives immediate respite, but only pushes the problem down the line. Without more funding, how can councils prevent cuts to vital services? Will the Scottish Government respond to Unison’s call for it to plug the gap and look at the matter again?

Rather than dispute whether local government funds have been cut—I put that in the context of the overall cuts to the Scottish Government’s budget after a decade of Tory austerity—I make the point right now that, as we look ahead, we need to ensure that we work closely in partnership with local authorities to respond to Covid. I said at the outset that they have, in many ways, been on the front line of the response, and I think that their response has been exemplary.

We work very closely with COSLA to understand the financial impact on local government; we will continue to do that in advance of next year’s budget. However, when it comes to next year’s budget, it is worth bearing it in mind that we will be setting a Scottish budget with partial and provisional estimates from the UK Government in advance of its budget, so it will be an extremely difficult budget to set. I want to ensure that we support local authorities and protect their budgets, but to do that I need maximum clarity and support in our budget from the UK Government.


Additional United Kingdom Government Funding

To ask the Scottish Government how the additional £700 million of funding from the United Kingdom Government for the current financial year will be spent. (S5O-04734)

Every penny of the additional £700 million—and, indeed, every penny of any additional consequentials that we receive from the UK Government—will be, and has been, spent on dealing with Covid. A significant amount has been spent on directly supporting businesses in the light of the economic impact, as well as, of course, on ensuring that the health service can respond to Covid.

Thus far, more than £2.3 billion has been spent on supporting business. The most recent autumn budget revision provided a further £190 million in business support, including employment and training support. Since then, we have gone further in providing, initially, over £40 million for businesses that are directly affected by the second wave of the pandemic, although that number continues to rise weekly as business grants are paid out under the current strategic framework.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer.

Given the increased amount of unallocated money that the Scottish Government now holds, will the cabinet secretary consider increasing funding for care-at-home providers in order to allow carers to spend more time with those whom they care for in the home environment, as a result of Covid-19?

I thank Edward Mountain for that question. It is worth clarifying that there is a difference between the formal allocation process in the autumn budget revision, which he alluded to, and the fact that every penny that we receive is going towards budget pressures that we know of.

Edward Mountain rightly mentioned pressures on health and social care. It is important that that funding is available; of course, it is likely that the most recent guarantee will need to last for the next five months, until the end of the financial year.

We will ensure that funding that needs to be spent on health and social care is paid to health and social care. Edward Mountain will know that the most recent autumn budget revision included another £1.8 billion for the health and social care budget, bringing total health and social care Covid-19 spending to more than £2.4 billion.

Covid-19 is, first and foremost, a health crisis, so we will continue to prioritise health funding through the remainder of this financial year and beyond.

The news of a guarantee of further consequential payments is generally welcome. However, we are all aware that although the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that support for businesses in England will be open ended, the same assurance has not been provided for businesses in Scotland. Will the cabinet secretary say whether the Scottish Government has received further clarification on how funding will be provided for demand-led business support in Scotland, where demand is greater than the Barnett share?

Stuart McMillan touches on a particular concern that we have with the way in which our budgets are set. I am, of course, obliged by law to balance the budget, but when there is a requirement to fund demand-led schemes such as business support schemes that involve an unquantifiable number of businesses for an indefinite period of time, there are challenges.

The UK Government has made moves to provide the guarantee to which I alluded, but we need reassurance that businesses in Scotland will receive the support that they need, even if that support exceeds the guarantee that has been provided to date. If demand is greater than the funding that is provided, we need reassurance that it will be funded.

No such funding assurance has been provided yet, but I continue to press the case and to try to work constructively with the UK Government to ensure that we can proactively manage our response to the pandemic, whether we are talking about the economic challenges or the health issues.

The finance secretary referred to the guarantee; it seems that she is mirroring what the UK Government is doing with grant support. I have come across lots of businesses that are missing out on financial support that they really need. What flexibility does the cabinet secretary think she can get through the system? Can she get that flexibility from the UK Government?

Willie Rennie’s question touches on a challenge that we face right now, which is that we are, because of the need for me to balance my budget and ensure that we cannot overspend, required to use the funding that we have. We must make it go as far as possible, on the understanding that I need to be prudent and cannot overspend.

In the funding that we have provided to date, we have tried to push the spending envelope as far as possible. That is why, going back a few months, we provided the pivotal enterprise resilience fund, which was the only fund of its kind in the UK, and the hardship scheme, which was also the only one of its kind in the UK. Most recently we announced additional funding for nightclubs and the soft-play sector, for example. I am keen that where we can provide additional funding, over and above what the UK Government is providing, we do so.

Right now, with my hands being tied by the need to balance my budget, I will use the funding that has been provided and will make it go as far as possible, but the grants that we have provided on a recurring basis as part of the strategic framework are in line with the grants that are being provided by the UK Government in England.


Furlough Scheme (Discussions with United Kingdom Government)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the UK Government regarding the furlough scheme. (S5O-04735)

The Scottish ministers and officials have had numerous discussions—perhaps too many to count—with their UK counterparts about the furlough scheme. There have been eight different versions of the furlough scheme announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, three of which have not been implemented. All that has happened while employers have struggled to keep track and to make business decisions.

We welcomed the chancellor’s long-overdue announcement, at the 11th hour, that the coronavirus job retention scheme would be extended until March 2021. We have repeatedly urged the UK Government to make that support available for as long as it is needed. Although the extension will help to prevent job losses, it has come too late for many businesses and workers, in all our constituencies.

The chancellor’s recent announcement that the furlough scheme will be extended was welcome. However, the months of unnecessary confusion that the UK Government has caused have meant that some employers took the difficult decision to make people redundant because they expected the scheme to be withdrawn. The UK Government had fair warning that that would happen—indeed, the Scottish National Party had been calling for months for an extension.

Does the cabinet secretary believe that Scotland’s businesses deserve better than the UK Government’s confused approach?

That “confused approach” has caused unnecessary confusion and hardship for employers and workers throughout Scotland at an extremely challenging and difficult time. As Alasdair Allan said, we called for months for an extension. It took England going into lockdown for the chancellor to change his tune and extend the scheme for a month, and it took a bizarre exchange within the Scottish Conservative Party in the past week to see him extend it to March.

Since the coronavirus job retention scheme was announced in March, we have repeatedly called on the UK Government to ensure that it continues for as long as businesses and workers need it. It is clear that the delay has cost many people their jobs. It is highly likely that some of those job losses would have been prevented if the chancellor had taken the decision to extend the furlough scheme earlier in the year.

There are pertinent questions to be asked about why the chancellor changed his mind, and why he did not value Scottish and, indeed, Welsh businesses as much as he valued English businesses.

I apologise to Michelle Ballantyne. I am afraid that we will have to move on to environment, climate change and land reform portfolio questions.


Marine (Scotland) Act 2010

To ask the Scottish Government how it is meeting its duty under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 to ensure the protection and enhancement of the health of the Scottish marine area. (S5O-04737)

Scotland’s national marine plan, which was adopted in 2015, sets out the framework for the sustainable development and use of our marine area in order to protect and enhance the marine environment while promoting both existing and emerging industries. The marine protected area network covers 34 per cent of our seas, and work continues to complete further site designations, to implement the required management measures and to deliver a monitoring programme. We have a robust process in place for licensable marine activities, to ensure that their environmental impacts are managed and minimised.

A leaked unpublished Government report titled “Scottish Overall Assessment 2020” provides a bleak scientific assessment and concludes that marine habitats in five regions have shrunk in the past nine years. Why is the Government yet to announce the classification of marine special protection areas to protect our sea birds, as is required under European Union law, despite the first draft publication being produced in 2014 and the final advice being received to classify the sites in 2018? Classifying those important sites would be a clear opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to reversing biodiversity loss, maintaining EU standards and ultimately giving sea birds and their habitats a brighter future.

I assure Claire Baker that work on designating the MPA and SPA sites is on-going. We completed the consultation, and I hope that Claire Baker and other members across the chamber understand that that work was delayed because of Covid-19 and the way in which all areas of Government have had to respond to it. However, I assure Claire Baker that we are continuing that work as well as continuing with a whole host of other measures that are under way.

Does the minister agree that there is a need for greater protection of our coastal waters, as is advocated by the #OurSeas campaign group and the Community of Arran Seabed Trust? What steps will be taken over the next 18 months to enhance that protection?

I agree with Kenny Gibson, and I absolutely recognise the need to protect our coastal waters. That has been set out in the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and Scotland’s national marine plan.

As I said in my response to Claire Baker’s question, Scotland’s MPA network exceeds the anticipated targets, which require 30 per cent sea coverage under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Over the next 18 months, we will take forward fisheries management measures for a number of inshore MPAs and for 11 priority marine features outside MPAs. As I said in my response to Claire Baker’s supplementary question, there is on-going work to complete the network of Scottish MPAs.

I hope the member understands that that work could not have been progressed as we would have liked because of all we have had to deal with due to the Covid-19 crisis. We want to continue that work as soon as possible, but the timeline will depend on how soon we can resume stakeholder consultations in the light of Covid-19.

Given the aforesaid unacceptable leak of unpublished confidential reports from NatureScot relating to the health of the Scottish marine environment and the consequential loss of the confidence of our fishing communities, how does the minister plan to rebuild trust and confidence in Marine Scotland and NatureScot, particularly as we welcome back and look forward to the roll-out of vessel monitoring systems and in relation to the need for collaboration in data collection?

We work closely with all our stakeholders, and we will publish the marine assessment over the coming months. Those relationships are important to us, especially in relation to all the work that I have outlined today that we are currently undertaking on the designations of MPAs and SPAs. There are many interests involved in each of those designations and in all the work that we do, so, of course, the relationship that we have with each of those stakeholders is vital to enabling us to continue that work.


Scottish Environmental Protection Agency Powers (Sewerage System)

To ask the Scottish Government what powers SEPA has with regard to Scotland’s sewerage system. (S5O-04738)

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has the powers to set conditions on the licences that it issues to Scottish Water in order to protect the water environment from sewage discharges. SEPA can also take enforcement action for breaches of licence conditions.

Over the past few months, a constituent has had human effluent waste running down his driveway from houses next door that, surprisingly, do not seem to be connected to the sewerage system. Scottish Water and the local council have failed to resolve the problem, and they say that it is a private matter. Scottish Water suggests that SEPA does not have the power to regulate in the matter. If it does not, why not? Is it not an environmental situation?

Obviously, there is some history to that situation that I am not aware of. I am happy for Richard Lyle to bring that detail to me, if he wants to. SEPA’s powers for dealing with discharges of sewage are triggered only if there is an associated impact on the water environment, which means that SEPA does not have powers to address nuisance issues arising from sewage discharges to land unless they reach a watercourse. The local authority is responsible for dealing with sewage pollution to land. I am aware of a recent issue at Bothwell Road, where a private pipe was damaged; I understand that it has now been repaired. As I previously indicated, there are obviously some historical issues there, and I would be happy to engage further with Richard Lyle on the matter.

Heavy rainfall in August led to beaches up and down the Forth coast breaching safe water quality levels as sewerage systems overflowed, including in Kinghorn and Aberdour. Given that climate change will lead to more frequent occurrences of heavy rainfall events, what plans does the Scottish Government have to prioritise Scottish Water’s investment in sewerage systems in coastal towns to increase capacity and stop those routine overflows of sewage on to our beaches?

We have had to deal with sewage overflows on to beaches over a long period of time—that is the reality of dealing with a particular level of rainfall. The member is right to flag up the increasing incidence of such events and the potential for this to become even more of an issue in the future. We look at such issues very carefully in relation to the investment in adaptations that will be required because of climate change—the member may be aware that there is now extra money for coastal defences and the flooding work that SEPA does—as well as looking to the infrastructure that Scottish Water may be involved in.

That work can be complex, and I know that a number of members have specific issues in their areas, particularly in relation to bathing waters. The way in which bathing waters are assessed involves consideration of a five-year period, so it can sometimes look a bit out of sync with what the reality is, but I would be happy to engage further with Mark Ruskell on the specific issue that he raises about his area of interest.


Green Recovery (Support for Communities)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is available to communities to support a green recovery from Covid-19. (S5O-04739)

We are committed to delivering a green recovery from Covid-19 that captures the possibilities of a just transition to net zero, including by creating good, green jobs. Action in this regard is at the heart of our recent programme for government, and communities will have a prominent role to play in its delivery.

We recently launched the £3.5 million community climate asset fund and the £2 million islands green recovery programme, which are both aimed specifically at supporting communities to play their part. Our town centre funds, including our £18 million town centre capital fund and our £1 million Scotland loves local fund, aim to promote, improve and green local places while supporting local economies and our 20-minute neighbourhood ambition.

It is clear that communities across Scotland have risen to the challenge of Covid by looking after one another while having to stay apart. The cabinet secretary says that they will be central to a green recovery. Can she outline what lessons can been learned from her experiences during Covid restrictions and how they can contribute to a greener, fairer future for Scotland’s communities?

Covid-19 has affected us all. My thoughts are especially with those who have lost loved ones to the virus. We can perceive that there are likely to be serious longer-term lessons to be learned from what has happened. The way that we live, work and travel necessarily changed as we stayed at home to protect ourselves and each other. It is important that, as we recover from this experience, we learn lessons from that. Our social renewal advisory board is looking closely at just that—how we support communities through the pandemic; how, when it is possible, we return to a more normal way of life; and what needs to change to help us to build a fairer, more equal Scotland.


Climate Change (United Kingdom Government Investment)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the impact on Scotland of the UK Government’s investment in measures to tackle climate change. (S5O-04740)

The upcoming net zero review and net zero strategy will be crucial in clarifying the level of ambition from the UK Government.

We continue to press the UK Government to take urgent action in a number of reserved areas, including by decarbonising the gas grid, particularly as Scotland’s target of net zero by 2045 is five years ahead of the UK’s target. The success of both Governments in reaching their respective targets is intrinsically linked. We also urge the UK Government to work with us on the joint UK emissions trading scheme, to maintain carbon pricing after we exit the European Union, instead of implementing a reserved carbon tax that will remove the Scottish ministers’ accountability for a key mechanism to decarbonise 28 per cent of Scotland’s emissions.

Within the past fortnight, the UK Government has allocated £500,000 to develop electric vehicle batteries in Thurso and an extra £9 million to support dozens of green initiatives across Scotland. The investment in cutting-edge Scottish projects will help us to reach net zero by 2045. Will the cabinet secretary join me in welcoming that investment? Does she agree that climate change will be best tackled by Governments working together across the UK and the rest of the world for a better future?

As I indicated in my earlier answer, a great deal of work is being done, including on the joint UK emissions trading scheme. Working together can be stymied by indecision on the part of the UK Government, which has, over this entire period, reserved the fallback option of a carbon tax, which it refuses to rule out. That is now jeopardising our ability to introduce that scheme on 1 January, when it is actually needed.

Money from anywhere is going to be useful in fighting climate change, but I need to advise the member that we need UK Government action in a number of different sectors. I have already raised the UK ETS. The net zero review, which is a completely separate thing, is Treasury led. Carbon capture and storage, low-carbon hydrogen, green hydrogen, contracts for difference, Ofgem, decarbonisation of energy networks, biomass, heat in buildings and hydrogen transport are all areas in which we need the UK Government to be moving faster than it already is. I hope that the member will join me in encouraging his counterparts south of the border to deal with us as equals, instead of what is happening at the moment.


Emissions Reduction (Urban Areas)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce harmful emissions in densely populated urban areas. (S5O-04741)

Following an independent review, a consultation on a draft new air quality strategy for Scotland was published on 30 October. The new strategy sets out a series of actions for Government, Transport Scotland, local authorities and others to further reduce air pollution across Scotland. A number of the proposed actions relating to transport and domestic burning have particular relevance for densely populated areas. Our commitment to introduce low emission zones in Scotland’s four biggest cities remains a key initiative for further improving urban air quality and protecting public health.

Can the cabinet secretary outline some details of the cleaner air for Scotland strategy that will contribute to reductions in emissions in urban areas, and say how the Scottish Government intends to engage with the public on the plans and encourage as many people as possible to respond to the consultation?

As I have just highlighted, there are a number of specific actions that are of particular relevance for urban areas, including proposals to control the supply of the most polluting domestic fuels, which will help to improve air quality in our cities and towns. In addition, many of the transport actions will also deliver important benefits in urban areas. For example, we will work to deliver our active travel vision of enabling walking, cycling and wheeling to be the most popular modes of travel for short, everyday journeys by 2030.

We have been raising awareness of the consultation via stakeholder engagement and through an on-going social media campaign, but I encourage everyone and anyone with an interest—that includes colleagues right across the chamber—to provide their views as part of this consultation, particularly those who will be impacted by the proposals. I gently suggest that this issue is a good thing for people to take back to their constituencies and that it could be used as a potential hook for various newspaper columns that need to be written. I know that thinking about what to write next can be a strain, so here is an ideal opportunity for everybody.


Waste (Illegal Dumping in Lay-bys)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken in partnership with local authorities, landowners and tourism operators to prevent illegal dumping of waste in lay-bys. (S5O-04742)

Fly-tipping is illegal, dangerous and completely unnecessary. Although this is primarily an issue for local authorities, we have supported the establishment of waste facilities in rural areas through our £9 million rural tourism infrastructure fund, and we are committed to working with partners at a national level to examine how we might make the best collective use of public resource to tackle waste management issues.

The minister will be aware that tourism is everyone’s business. Will she consider introducing a multi-agency public awareness campaign to make people aware of the dangers of dumping their chemical waste in lay-bys and to discourage wild campers from dumping their waste wherever they are? Does she agree that any public awareness campaign must have landowner representation in order to give it the best chance of success?

I am sure that Stuart McMillan will be aware that, in September, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism held a national summit on the issue, and that a multi-agency group was tasked to look at the difficulties that have been caused by irresponsible visitors. That group, which includes national park authorities, Scottish Natural Heritage, NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland and others, is due to report to ministers this month, hopefully with a series of recommendations on how the public sector might collectively manage visitors to the countryside. As all colleagues know, this is an issue that we need all these bodies to buy into, and we need them all to collaborate and work with us if we hope to tackle the issue effectively. Part of the focus of the national summit and the multi-agency group is on how those bodies can educate and inform visitors and businesses and involve all the necessary stakeholders, including private landholders.

To go back to the member’s first point about public awareness campaigns, along with Zero Waste Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and local authorities, we have developed waste marketing campaigns that address how to manage waste responsibly and which include messages on littering and fly tipping, and we have also conducted a campaign with Zero Waste Scotland and Keep Scotland Beautiful regarding littering, which was launched in the summer.

We want and need to get the message across that the behaviours that the member raises are unacceptable. We live in a beautiful country and people should, quite simply, dispose of their waste responsibly by putting their litter in a bin or taking it home.

On that point, I ask the minister whether, in the discussions that she is having with local authorities, any thought has been given to legislative changes that would allow the local authorities to have powers to pursue the prosecution of fly tippers by means other than a report to the procurator fiscal.

I believe that that work may be part of the review of the litter strategy, which was looking at enforcement and penalties. I am happy to get back to the member with more information on that.


Flapper Skate (Egg Protection)

To ask the Scottish Government what urgent action it is taking to protect the eggs of the critically endangered flapper skate, which have recently been found off the north-west coast of Scotland. (S5O-04743)

We welcome the discovery of flapper skate eggs in the inner sound, which provides further evidence of our rich and outstanding biodiversity. Marine Scotland has received initial advice from NatureScot regarding that particular location and they are now working together to consider the available evidence, including looking at the potential threats from all human activities, in order to determine the most appropriate action that we can take. I expect to receive advice on the matter imminently, which takes account of the urgency associated with it, in order to determine our next steps.

The minister will be aware that flapper skate is an ultra-rare endangered species. I found out today that it is more endangered than the giant panda, so I learned something today. NatureScot and the Scottish Association for Marine Science nurtured a flapper skate egg for the first time, from laying to hatching, which allowed scientists to confirm the gestation period accurately. Given that the marine protected area network currently fails to achieve ecological coherence and that there is only one designated area for the critically endangered flapper skate, is the minister really saying that it is a matter of time before there will be a second site to protect that endangered species? Is that where the Government is heading?

Pauline McNeill is absolutely right about how important the discovery of that species is and how important the species is. It is on the OSPAR convention’s list of threatened and/or declining species and is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list. The discovery is vitally important and I reassure the member that we are treating it as a matter of urgency. However, there are a number of things that we have to take into consideration including, as I said in my first response, taking into account all human activities and looking at the best way to protect the site that has been found. I will, of course, continue to keep the Parliament updated as that work progresses.

Apologies to Richard Lyle and Clare Adamson. I am afraid that we have run out of time.