Website survey

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

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 13 September 2017

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Housing, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, University of Stirling (50th Anniversary)


Portfolio Question Time

Energy Efficiency and Climate Change (Support for Products)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to companies selling products that improve energy efficiency and tackle climate change. (S5O-01225)

I think that the microphones might need to be turned up, but I invite the cabinet secretary to proceed, in a loud voice.

The Scottish Government provides support to companies through our enterprise agencies. For instance, Scottish Enterprise works with businesses to understand the business opportunities of low-carbon products and services and provides support with product or service development where appropriate.

The Scottish Government also supports the sustainable energy supply chain programme via the Energy Saving Trust and Resource Efficient Scotland. The programme supports businesses across Scotland to help build capacity and aids in maximising their share of spend from various Scottish and United Kingdom Government programmes.

Two businesses in my constituency, one of which the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy visited a couple of weeks ago, provide various products and services that improve energy efficiency in buildings across the country. What assistance is provided to businesses to help them to fully test their products and get them to market, which could have a beneficial effect on the environment, the economy and job creation?

As I indicated, a wide range of services are available to companies through the enterprise agencies and universities to support their innovation journey from initial concept development to market launch. The support ranges from expert advisory services to support with raising investment and grant funding to develop new products and invest in research and development. For instance, SMART Scotland provides grants to small and medium-sized enterprises that are based in Scotland to help them to undertake technical feasibility studies and R and D projects that have a commercial end point. Information on the full range of services and contact information are provided on the Scottish Enterprise website.

What efforts has the UK Government made to seek the Scottish Government’s opinion on the each home counts review and the improved standards framework for installation of energy efficiency products, particularly in light of the fact that hundreds of consumers in Scotland continue to suffer financial hardship as a result of issues with the UK Government’s previous green deal initiative?

The Scottish Government has long held the view that the UK Government needs to strengthen its consumer protection frameworks to ensure that customers are well protected. We therefore welcomed the each home counts review when it was first announced, when officials met Dr Bonfield to share best practice and offer examples of areas where things needed to be improved.

We recognise that the recommendations from the review are really just the start of the process and that further details will need to be developed. We are considering carefully the review’s recommendations as part of developing Scotland’s energy efficiency programme. We will continue to liaise with the UK Government to understand better how it is building on the report’s recommendations and ensuring that proposals for improving consumer protection are fully implemented.

Companies should be properly supported not only to make products that help to tackle climate change but to transport them in a greener and more low-carbon way. Will the new plans for low-emission zones that were outlined in the programme for government also include urban consolidation hubs for goods vehicles, given that transport emissions have not fallen under this Scottish National Party Government?

That is one of the things that we are consulting on. As the member might be aware, on 9 September—I think that that was the date—we launched the consultation on low-emission zones, which includes reference to precisely the issue that he raised. Low-emission zones will of course be developed in conversation with local authorities. They might look like an attractive option for many local authorities, but at this stage we are not mandating specific frameworks for low-emission zones—they will be developed over time. I invite the member to look at the consultation. He might also wish to advise others to have an input on that specific issue.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of widespread concern in the north-east about the First Minister’s decision to wind up the energy jobs task force after she attends its final meeting today.

In that context, what new initiatives will the Scottish Government take to support and encourage oil and gas service companies to provide their experience and knowledge of engineering, construction, commissioning and maintenance to large projects, such as the Moray offshore wind project, that are designed to tackle climate change and which really need the expertise of the existing North Sea industries?

That is quite a broad question, but perhaps the minister can succinctly answer the part of it that applies to her.

I will struggle to bring that within the remit of my portfolio, but I am aware that some of the aspects that the member raised are germane to my previous portfolio responsibilities in fair work, skills and training. If he wishes to have a much more detailed conversation on that with one of my colleagues, either Paul Wheelhouse or Keith Brown will be only too happy to oblige.

Climate Change and Sustainable Development (Support for Targets)

To ask the Scottish Government how its targets on climate change and sustainable development are supported through renewable energy projects such as the turbines in the Pentland Firth. (S5O-01226)

Scotland is a world leader in tackling climate change. We have made sustained progress against ambitious statutory targets and we are introducing new legislation to ensure that we maintain that leading position.

We know that a variety of low-carbon generating capacity will be required by 2050 to achieve our binding climate change targets. Our support for innovative renewable energy projects such as the MeyGen tidal array in the Pentland Firth, which is the first large-scale array of its type in the world, is just one illustration of our commitment to building a modern, integrated low-carbon energy system.

Will the cabinet secretary outline the support that the Scottish Government is giving to sustainable and renewable initiatives in my constituency, Midlothian North and Musselburgh?

Since 2008, 986 awards have been made in 622 communities around Scotland through the climate challenge fund. In Midlothian North and Musselburgh, the climate challenge fund has awarded a total of £176,000 to five different projects and, through our low-carbon infrastructure transition programme, we have provided early advice to a number of projects in the constituency. Commercial confidentiality prevents me from providing details now, but it is the programme’s aim to publish all information when it is available.

I refer members to an interest in renewable energy in my entry in the register of members’ interests.

On the Scottish Government’s updated target to end the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032, will the cabinet secretary clarify whether the Scottish Government has made any initial assessment of the energy capacity that will be required to meet that target and of the proportion that will come from renewable energy sources?

That work is currently on-going and we hope to be in a position to give further advice on that in the—I want to say, “in the near future”, but I am looking at my colleague the Minister for Transport and the Islands to ascertain whether he wants me to say that. A number of people will want an answer to that question and we are doing a great deal of work on it.

What representations will the Scottish Government make to the United Kingdom Government over the failure to award a contract for difference to the MeyGen tidal development in the Pentland Firth?

Although the announcement of the result of the second allocation round was disappointing, I am not sure that it came as a surprise. The way in which the scheme is structured and designed means that innovative projects will always lose out in favour of bigger players and more mature technologies, which is why the Scottish Government continues to press the UK Government to commit to a fairer system that would offer early-stage technologies the chance to replicate the impressive cost reductions that we are currently seeing in offshore wind.

Environmentally Friendly Initiatives (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it gives to initiatives that aim to make Glasgow more environmentally friendly. (S5O-01227)

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of the environment and its contribution to the quality of life of our communities as well as Scotland’s international image and reputation. The Scottish Government supports delivery of local environmental quality through its establishment of policy frameworks, supporting tools and funding to local authorities and other organisations.

I am pleased to see that an inquiry into air quality has been launched by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and that the Scottish Government made a number of commitments last week as part of its new climate change bill. However, three streets in the city of Glasgow were recently named as the most polluted in the country, with a number of schools breaching the 150-metre safe zone. In line with the comments from the British Lung Foundation in Scotland this week regarding the need for the Scottish Government to ensure that councils improve pollution monitoring, particularly outside schools in urban areas and in line with one of the Scottish Conservatives’ plans, what action will the minister take to ensure greater transparency on that, and the recording of data by local authorities?

Local authorities are responsible for air quality in their areas. It is, of course, an issue that is of concern not just to Glasgow but a number of urban areas. I am aware of the streets that are on that list. I understand that for a number of them the pollution is likely to be mitigated as time goes by because of the construction of new motorway, but there are a couple of streets where there are some very particular problems. I am also conscious of the issue around schools, about which there has been considerable publicity this week. There is a deal of work to be done on that, although again, in terms of taking the measurements, we look for local authorities to consider how best they can get that information brought in.

We are introducing an air quality fund to support local authorities with the delivery of air quality action plan transport-based mitigation and I hope that local authorities will have a look at the availability of that. We will obviously have to work with the commercial and bus sectors as well, in respect of their vehicles. There are a great many things that can be done and I very much hope that Glasgow will take up some of the offers that are available.

Annie Wells has raised an interesting question. What impact does the cabinet secretary expect that the doubling of the funding for active travel will have on Glasgow and other major cities, including my own constituency city of Stirling?

The doubled funding will basically allow us to expand our programme of building segregated and, by that method, attractive cycle and walking routes in our major cities, and to create environmentally friendly places for people to enjoy. We are also supporting work on the creation of a long-distance cycle and walking route, which I know will be of great interest to many people.

Increased funding will enable us to ensure that the encouragement and support that people need in order to enjoy the new routes is in place, such as the smarter choice, smarter places programme, the cycle friendly communities programme and, perhaps more important, cycle training. Some members may be aware that I recently got on a bicycle for the first time in more decades than I care to remember. It occurred to me that as well as training teenagers how to cycle safely perhaps returner cyclists need a bit of focus.

The cabinet secretary will be well aware that air pollution in Glasgow and the rest of Scotland kills 2,500 people each year. Does she share my view that the solution is clear? It is a four-point plan. We need to support the creation of more low-emission zones, ramp up investment in active travel, as we have just heard, introduce bus regulation, and make 20mph the default speed limit in cities. That plan will tackle climate change, boost active lifestyles and help the economy. Does the cabinet secretary agree?

The 20mph speed limits are a matter for local authorities to consider. I know that Edinburgh, for example, has brought them in already in a number of areas. I cannot speak for every single city, but no doubt consideration is being given to those limits.

David Stewart will be aware from the programme for government that low-emission zones are something to which this Government is very committed. We were already committed to introducing the first one by 2018, but we now want to raise that ambition to committing to low-emission zones in the four biggest cities by 2020 and, where evidence supports them, in other air quality management areas by 2023.

The member will have heard me refer to the consultation on low-emission zones earlier. That will contain a discussion about a number of the sorts of things that he has raised in his question and which will be important to consider. I am not sure that I want to add anything more to what I said on active travel in my previous answer.

Air Pollution and Climate Change Targets (West Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government how its newly announced innovation fund will impact on air pollution and climate change targets in West Scotland. (S5O-01228)

One of the most important stages of innovation is demonstrating your technology or business model commercially—we have already had a question that referred to that in a different way. The new funding will be used to focus on innovative low carbon energy projects, building on the low carbon infrastructure transition programme.

One of the key application requirements for the phase 2 fund will be to demonstrate an anticipated carbon reduction against the business-as-usual situation, which in many cases involves gas. In phase 1, the low carbon infrastructure transition programme supported five innovative low carbon capital projects in the west of Scotland. All new funding will be made available through open and fair funding invitations announced against specific low carbon criteria.

As we know, the cost of air pollution is too high for our environment and our health, with around 3,000 deaths a year attributed to that cause. Does the minister agree that cutting air passenger duty in the hope of increasing air travel will do nothing to meet the objectives of the Scottish Government to reduce the emissions that pollute our air?

The entire climate change plan that is currently in development will be finalised early in 2018. It fully takes into account the impact of changes to air passenger duty and balances it across all of the sectors.

Scotland is one of the world’s leaders on climate change. I think that we have demonstrated our capacity to manage that across all sectors, and we will continue to do that.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is vital that Scotland continues to take a global lead in tackling climate change and that taking a lead on innovation will not only be important for our environment but also hugely beneficial for our economy?

I have made reference in a couple of my previous answers to the fact that Scotland is already a global leader on climate change. The issue is an important one for the environment, but it is also important that our efforts on climate change work in concert with the economy. Innovation has long been one of Scotland’s strengths, and it is incredibly important that we build on that historic strength and encourage innovation with a focus on commercial viability, because that is key to Scotland’s continuing economic success.

We already have a long record of achievement in low carbon innovation, and I think that the innovation fund that was announced in last week’s programme for government means that we can look forward to further collaboration between the public sector, the private sector and academia to continue to maximise that advantage for Scotland’s communities.

How many electric vehicle charging points will be required to meet the Government’s target of phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, and how many will be put in place with the innovation fund?

Work is being done at the moment with stakeholders to establish what the network will need to look like if we are to achieve the ambition that we have set out. When there is a finalised figure, I have no doubt that it will be made public.

Plastic Nurdles (Beaches in North East Fife)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the amount of plastic nurdles on beaches in North East Fife. (S5O-01229)

Presiding Officer, do not smile. Nurdles are small plastic pellets, about the size of a lentil, that are produced by industry to be used in the manufacture of plastic goods. I dare say that Willie Rennie attended Greenpeace’s lobbying event, and that that is where he, like me, discovered the existence of these items. They make their way into our seas and on to our shores as the result of spillages that occur when they are handled or transported by business.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Government does not collect data on the amount of plastic nurdles on beaches in North East Fife—one can imagine how difficult that would be, given the size of the area. Surveys are undertaken by volunteers.

Ruby Bay beach in North East Fife is polluted by hundreds of thousands of those plastic beads, but Fife is not alone. It is estimated that about three quarters of beaches in the UK are polluted, which poses a risk to wildlife and the environment. Operation clean sweep works with industry to cut the spillage of nurdles, but not every company that handles that plastic is participating. Will the minister consider legislation to ensure that every company will participate in future?

I would never rule anything out, although I am not sure how practical that would be. That is my superficial response, and I am happy to discuss the matter with Willie Rennie if he thinks that that route will be helpful. He is right to flag up the very serious nature of the extent of marine litter, particularly of plastics, in our ocean, which is why we gave considerable focus to that issue in the programme for government.

Stagecoach and FirstGroup (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when the Minister for Transport and the Islands last met representatives of Stagecoach and FirstGroup, and what was discussed. (S5O-01235)

I call the minister—sorry, cabinet secretary—Humza Yousaf.

I am definitely a minister, Presiding Officer.

I last met with representatives of Stagecoach on 7 August at the bus stakeholders group and with representatives of FirstGroup on 11 September, when a number of issues were discussed, from bus to rail policy and much in between.

As the minister may be aware, his previous meetings with FirstGroup and Stagecoach on 28 and 30 March this year became part of the growing list of ministerial meetings that, through freedom of information requests, we know have not been minuted. Given the on-going issues about transparency at the heart of the Scottish Government, and given that important issues that relate to the forthcoming transport bill are likely to have been discussed at those meetings, will the minister explain further the reasons why no minutes were taken? Were minutes taken at his recent meetings?

A lecture from a supporter of North Lanarkshire Labour Party about transparency is like a lecture from Donald Trump on responsible Twitter usage; it is a pathetic attack to make. If Monica Lennon wants an idea of what was discussed, I am more than happy to write to her. We have a shared agenda in bus policy of seeing an increase in bus patronage, as opposed to a decline.

As for the meetings that the member discussed, introductory meetings are just that—an opportunity for us to get to know one another and to understand the basic issues that trouble the bus sector and what the Government can do to help to rectify them. If Monica Lennon wants an explanation of each meeting and what was discussed, she can write to me and I will be happy to provide it. I am sure that that information will be substantiated by FirstGroup and Stagecoach.

I am sure that the minister meant to strike a slightly more humorous tone than came across. I encourage all members to be courteous to one another across the chamber.

On a constructive note, will the minister explain how the Scottish Government plans to provide local transport authorities with improved options to influence the provision of bus services in their areas to better meet local users’ needs?

I thank Angus MacDonald for his constructive question. A constructive answer is that we look forward to introducing the transport bill. The bill will have a bus element; the consultation on that was launched today and we will consult on a number of issues, such as local franchising, municipally owned bus companies, enhanced partnership and open data. All those elements will give local authorities more powers to shape bus services that will help their communities.

On top of that, we will continue our support through the bus service operators grant and our support for the national concessionary travel scheme, which we will look to extend. All in all, we hope to drive up bus patronage, which has been declining not just for years but, I am afraid, for decades.

The minister will no doubt be aware of the impact that peak-time congestion has on commuters who use buses and coaches. Does he have plans to extend bus and coach priority to other parts of the trunk road network, given the perceived success of what is happening on the A90? What are his views on usage of the motorway hard shoulder during peak-time congestion?

I am more than happy to take constructive suggestions such as that and to look at what more we can do on the trunk road network. When bus operators speak to me about congestion, it is usually at the local level. Glasgow and the west of Scotland perhaps have some of the worst congestion across the country. What more can be done on that is up to local authorities and bus operators, but of course they can have a conversation with the Government about how we can help to address that congestion, and low-emission zones might be part of that conversation.

I am more than happy to take away some of the suggestions that have been made. If the member wishes to write to me with more details, I will explore what more can be done on the trunk road network. We are doing some work on that with Transport Scotland but, if the member has more specific suggestions, I will examine and explore them. I highlight that we need to tackle congestion at a local level to reverse the trajectory of decline in bus patronage.

In future discussions with Stagecoach, might Humza Yousaf be willing to take up the issue of a reduction in services in Caithness in the far north of Scotland? That is not only having an impact on travellers in the Caithness area but disrupting connections with ferry journeys to and from my Orkney constituency, which can only result in fewer people taking the bus and using it as an option.

That issue was raised with me on my recent visit to Orkney. We were delighted at that time to announce the reduction in ferry fares to the mainland, but the point was made that, when people use the Scrabster to Stromness route in particular, there need to be enough bus services to take them the length of their journey thereafter. I am more than happy to raise that issue with Stagecoach.

Stagecoach is a commercial entity, so the decision is a commercial decision for the bus operator to make. If the member would like to make his representation to Stagecoach, I advise him to do so if he has not already done so, but I am more than happy to raise the issue at my next meeting with Stagecoach.

Fibre Broadband (New Housing Developments)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that fibre broadband is installed in new housing developments. (S5O-01236)

From 1 January this year, amendments to the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004 have set a new standard for in-building physical infrastructure for high-speed electronic communications networks, which will enable easier installation of fibre at any time. I understand that Openreach also now offers fibre-to-the-premises connectivity to developments of 30 properties or more, as well as a tariff proposal for smaller housing developments.

For homes that are delivered under the affordable housing supply programme, the Scottish Government issued guidance to local authorities and registered social landlords that advised that homes should include ducting to future proof access to internet and broadband services where possible.

In new-build developments where there is commercial demand for superfast broadband, we expect it to be delivered commercially without the need for public funding.

The vast majority of my constituency has had fibre broadband installed, which is welcome. However, thousands of new houses are planned for Coatbridge and Chryston and hundreds of households already do not have fast broadband and will not have it for many years to come. I welcome the response that I have had, but will the cabinet secretary work with the housing minister to ensure that Openreach and housing developers are working together to install fibre broadband as part of any new-build programmes?

We are working with the private sector. We have good relations with the main players, with whom we engage regularly. The building warrant requirement for new homes is a step forward—it is a good thing—but, of course, it does not affect existing homes. We have been able to extend access to broadband to 750,000 homes and premises as a result of our contracts with BT, but there is more work to do. I assure the member and other members who are interested in the issue that we very much share the objective of ensuring that such access is universally available.

Question 3 has not been lodged.

Access to Superfast Broadband

To ask the Scottish Government what changes it plans to the next BT contract for 100 per cent access to superfast broadband by 2021. (S5O-01238)

I should first make it clear that, contrary to the premise of the question, we are making no assumptions about who will win the contracts—neither BT nor anyone else—to deliver our reaching 100 per cent commitment contracts. We seek to ensure competition in the procurement process.

I note the cabinet secretary’s point on procurement.

Too often, residents who are told that their postcode has access to superfast broadband, and who are therefore included in the coverage statistics, do not have access in reality. An example is that in Keig, which is a village in my constituency of Aberdeenshire West, the superfast fibre cable passes the very road on which residents live, but they do not have access to it. Will the Scottish Government revise its definitions of the terms “fibre enabled” and “have access to fibre” in its new contract—whomever it goes to—to ensure a more accurate representation of superfast broadband?

The supplementary question was certainly well disguised by the original question, which was entirely general. If Alexander Burnett cares to write to me about the specific instance, I will look into it.

That said, I remind him that responsibility for regulation of the mode of introduction of access to superfast broadband—and therefore the power to regulate what must be done—rests entirely with the United Kingdom Government under schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. That is sad, because the UK Government has not taken the outside-in approach to ensure that rural areas get access to broadband as quickly as urban areas. That access has not happened because the UK Government has not chosen to use the regulatory powers that it possesses and which it could have used—as other countries have done—for precisely that purpose.

Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of it being Scottish food and drink fortnight, what advice it has on supporting the food and drink industry, and what action it recommends the public takes as part of the fortnight. (S5O-01239)

Scotland’s food and drink sector is one of our great success stories. Food and drink fortnight aims to encourage producers and suppliers to promote Scottish produce and pride in our farmers, fishermen, crofters and distillers and in others who make our great food and drink.

This year, the key message is “change one thing”, whereby everybody—whatever their connection to the industry—is encouraged to change one thing about their relationship with Scottish food and drink to make a positive contribution to the industry.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the growth of the food and drink sector in constituencies such as mine has been supported in recent years through grants from the European Union?

Last week, I visited Katy Rodger’s artisan dairy in Stirlingshire. In June, Katy received funding for new equipment that would help to expand her business. Will the cabinet secretary advise whether the UK Government has guaranteed that, if we leave the EU, it will provide financial support in the future for such innovative food-and-drink businesses?

The cabinet secretary should note that I have committed to eating more of Scotland’s fantastic dairy produce as part of the fortnight. I hope that he will agree that that should not be too much of a hardship for me.

It is an excellent thing that Mr Crawford has adopted. Having had a look at Katy Rodger’s website, I recommend that everybody visit it as well as her premises, which I believe are near Balfron and which produce high-quality yoghurt products. That is the advertorial part of my answer.

On the substantive question, the UK Government has confirmed that contracts that have been entered into at the point of UK exit will be guaranteed. However, that is only 18 months away. What will happen after that? We do not know in respect of this particular form of grant finance, which is important especially to small businesses such as that of Mr Crawford’s constituent. Therefore, my advice to Mr Gove is that he get on with the day job. He should get on with the work of sorting out how we are going to continue to help our food and drink industry to grow with the grants and financial assistance that we have come to expect to be available from the EU.

Animal Welfare (Installation of Closed-circuit Television in Abattoirs)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on whether it plans to legislate for the mandatory installation of CCTV in abattoirs to monitor animal welfare. (S5O-01240)

The Scottish Government has already recommended the installation of CCTV as best practice in the monitoring of animals at the time of killing, and I am advised that an estimated 95 per cent of animals that are sent to abattoirs are slaughtered in plants where CCTV has been installed voluntarily. As was announced in the programme for government, in 2017-18 the Scottish Government will consult on the introduction of compulsory video recording of slaughter at abattoirs in Scotland to aid the enforcement of welfare requirements by abattoir management and Food Standards Scotland.

The current advice is that CCTV does not by itself prevent welfare failures or secure welfare compliance. Therefore, we will continue to monitor animal welfare at the time of slaughter through the presence of Food Standards Scotland veterinary and inspection staff in all approved slaughterhouses.

I was pleased to see in the programme for government the commitment to consult on the mandatory installation of CCTV because, although Mr Ewing and I may disagree on other issues from time to time, I am sure that neither of us would want it to be said that he was falling behind the aforementioned Mr Gove in making progress on the issue.

Understandably, Mr Ewing says that CCTV does not in itself ensure compliance with welfare standards and should not be a substitute for good management, but will the consultation clearly set out how the mandatory installation of CCTV could form part of the good management of such facilities and will the consultation be on the question of how and not whether that should be done?

I think that we share the approach of wanting the highest animal welfare standards. My answer reflected the fact that the expert Farm Animal Welfare Committee, which provides independent scientific advice to all Great Britain Administrations, has provided the advice that

“CCTV cannot act as a substitute for direct oversight by management or veterinarians”.

Further, as I think Patrick Harvie knows, that group of experts said:

“By itself, CCTV does not prevent welfare failures or secure welfare compliance.”

That expert committee did not recommend that CCTV be made a legal requirement; instead, it recommended that CCTV be promoted by assurance scheme operators. I am pleased that Quality Meat Scotland has updated its processor assurance scheme standards to add a new animal welfare section that applies to slaughterers. That might be of interest to the many members who have raised this important issue in the chamber.

As with all consultations, it is right that the consultation sets out matters factually, in detail and comprehensively and that it gives those who are interested—particularly those who have an interest in the industry and in animal welfare—all the facts. The consultation should set out those facts dispassionately and in a neutral fashion. That is the right way to do it, because, in conducting consultations, we do not prejudge the outcome; we want to see the responses to the consultation before we decide what to do.

Rural Economy Support (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting the rural economy in that well-known island of Skye, and in Lochaber and Badenoch. (S5O-01242)

I am very familiar with the island of Skye—I am sure that all members are—and there is nary a one who is not aware of that fact.

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting sustainable economic growth across Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch with a range of actions through our enterprise agencies as well as direct activity such as supporting the GFG Alliance’s purchase of the former Rio Tinto Alcan aluminium smelting plant in Fort William. I stress that it is early days, but the predicted investment will add £1 billion to the local economy over the next decade.

The cabinet secretary will agree with me that broadband will be transformational in the rural economy. I warmly welcome the commitment in the programme for government to put rural Scotland at the front of the queue in the R100—reaching 100 per cent—roll-out. Is the Scottish Government committed to working with community broadband groups such as Locheilnet and Badenoch Broadband in that process?

Yes, we are committed to working in that way. The community-led broadband networks, some of which have been supported by community broadband Scotland, have had a positive impact. Indeed, Locheilnet is an excellent example, having connected, I believe, 390 premises and having benefited from £91,500 of CBS funding.

Through our R100 programme, we want to provide broadband access to every home and business premises in Scotland by the end of the parliamentary session, and we are committed to doing so in our manifesto.

I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests.

Given that the less favoured area support scheme is an important part of supporting the remote areas that Kate Forbes has spoken about, what does the Scottish Government plan to do with the savings from the LFASS parachute payments option?

I am not sure that there will be any savings from LFASS. Perhaps Mr Chapman means that, because the current intention is that LFASS payments, according to European Union rules, are to be paid for the forthcoming year at 80 per cent of the previous entitlement, there is a question about what happens to the remaining 20 per cent. We considered the matter carefully, and rightly so. It would have been contrary to EU rules for us to have devised a back-door route to make up that 20 per cent loss directly to LFASS recipients. That would have been a clear contravention and would simply have resulted in disallowance on a major scale.

As I presume that Mr Chapman knows, the European Parliament has urged the European Commission to reconsider the introduction of 80 per cent LFASS this year and is urging that that happen next year. I understand that the Commission is considering that proposal. As soon as we get further information, we will report back to the Parliament. Were that to be the case, I would have to find £13 million from my portfolio to make up the payment. I would certainly want to do my damnedest—if that is not an unparliamentary term, Presiding Officer—to do just that.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that Lochaber and Skye enjoyed a busy tourist season this year. However, that has brought its own problems, given the lack of infrastructure to cope with the tourists. The single-track roads on Skye that lead to iconic attractions are at gridlock, as is the A82 through Fort William. What will the cabinet secretary do to improve the essential infrastructure, to enable tourists to enjoy the sites and to enable locals to go about their business?

Kate Forbes has made me aware of that important issue through her assiduous work over the summer in meeting local groups. I am pleased to hear that Rhoda Grant shares those interests.

In some ways, Scotland is a victim of its own success. Tourism has become so popular, with things going extremely well thanks to the leadership of VisitScotland, assisted from time to time by the minister for tourism, that pressures are coming from that success. Members should not forget that the value of the money that comes into the economy is great. The extension of the shoulder season and attractions such as the north coast 500 are helping to make a step change in the contribution that tourism is making to the Highland economy.

Overall, that is a great thing. I know that a lot of effort is being made locally by businesses and people in Skye—Kate Forbes is involved in that—to tackle the problems that come with success, particularly at some of the sites that are extremely busy and, as Rhoda Grant is right to point out, at the end of single-track roads. Highland Council is also making efforts in that regard—I have discussed the matter informally with Margaret Davidson. A lot of work is going on behind the scenes, with the public and private sectors working together, to see what can be done in practice. I am delighted that tourism is doing so well in Scotland.