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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 14 November 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Social Care, ScotRail Franchise (Break Clause), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Climate Change


Portfolio Question Time

Rural Economy

The first item of business is portfolio questions. To get in as many people as possible I ask, as usual, for short and succinct questions and answers to match. I will then not need to intervene on anybody and we will all be happy.

National Basic Payment Support Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government how many farmers have received payments under the national basic payment support scheme since August 2018. (S5O-02539)

By 9 November, more than 13,200 farmers and crofters across Scotland had received their national basic payment scheme loan payment, worth more than £308.6 million to the Scottish rural economy. The first loan payments arrived in farmers’ and crofters’ bank accounts on 5 October. Those loans were made available almost two months earlier than the start of the 2018 common agricultural policy pillar 1 payment window, which is set by European Union regulation at 1 December, and before any comparable loans or advances were made elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I encourage every farmer or crofter who has yet to take up the Scottish Government’s offer of a national basic payment scheme loan to consider so doing.

I thank Mr Ewing for a helpful answer. Given that many farmers had to use their winter fodder supplies in the summer months due to the exceptionally dry conditions, what assurances can the Scottish Government give that farmers will be well supported if we have a bad winter?

Liz Smith makes a very fair point. We all agree that the weather this year has been exceptionally bad. First it was exceptionally wet, with snow, and then it was exceptionally dry. That has caused real difficulties, of which I am acutely aware having had many discussions with farmers. That is precisely why we responded by setting up a weather panel and providing other modest assistance to farmers.

Farmers are extremely resilient and, working with NFU Scotland and other bodies, they have taken a number of measures to ameliorate the situation and tackle problems such as the lack of fodder. We are certainly keeping a watching brief on all those issues.

Our main task is to ensure, in so far as we are able to within our powers, that the administration of the support payment scheme is as smooth and effective as possible. That is why I am very pleased that the loan scheme—it is really an advance payment scheme—provided assistance to farmers and crofters in Scotland earlier than anywhere else in the UK. We will continue to review that and, frankly, I do that daily.

Is the cabinet secretary able to establish what the take-up of the loan scheme is among crofters specifically, to ensure that they benefit from it as much as other groups?

Overall, there has been an extremely high take-up of the offered loan. I take the opportunity that is presented by Dr Allan’s question to say to any farmer or crofter who has not yet applied for a loan payment, “Please do so. It is still possible to obtain a payment.” In most cases, provided that the individual farmer or crofter unit is eligible, the loan will be available at 90 per cent of estimated entitlement. That is still available, and I urge any remaining crofters to take up that opportunity. I will specifically check with the Stornoway rural payments and inspections division office whether there are any further local measures that we can take, as a follow-up to the matter being raised by the local member.

Rural Parliament

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting the rural parliament, which is being held in Stranraer. (S5O-02540)

The rural parliament, which is being delivered by Scottish Rural Action, aims to empower rural communities across Scotland by giving them a stronger voice to initiate change at local and national level. The Scottish Government has supported SRA, which is a voluntary organisation, since its inception in 2014, which has enabled three rural parliament events to take place. The previous rural parliament took place in my home city of Brechin.

I will be at the rural parliament later today and tomorrow. On Friday, the Scottish Government will be represented by the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Michael Russell. The event is timely due to Brexit, which looms ever larger. In the run-up to the event, SRA has been engaging the underrepresented voices in our rural communities on the future of rural funding and policy after 2020, to ensure that their voices are heard. The Scottish Government has been happy to support that work with £25,000 from the Brexit stakeholder engagement fund, to ensure that people in rural Scotland have had a say in the process.

The minister will be aware that Stranraer, the Rhins and other parts of Dumfries and Galloway share many of the challenges that are faced by other parts of rural Scotland. What assurance can she give us that the new south of Scotland enterprise agency will work for the benefit of all parts of Dumfries and Galloway, represent all of the south of Scotland region and ensure that more events like the rural parliament are brought to the area, along with the associated economic benefit?

I give the member my absolute assurance that that will be the case; that is the clear focus of the south of Scotland enterprise agency. The agency has a focus on place and will play a vital role in driving growth across the region as a whole. The agency will deliver a tailored approach and try to consider the particular opportunities and needs of the whole of the south of Scotland. It will consider how to support businesses, strengthen communities and drive the economy. We have tried to engage widely in our plans for the new agency. We know that on-going engagement with stakeholders is essential in driving that work forward.

The board will be chosen to provide a balanced mix of relevant skills and expertise and we aim for it to be representative of the whole south of Scotland region. The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018 is now in force and we will be working towards equal gender representation on the agency board.

Food Tourism Action Plan

To ask the Scottish Government how its food tourism action plan will aim to support producers. (S5O-02541)

The new food tourism Scotland action plan is a unique initiative that will allow our tourism, food and drink sectors to double from £1,000 million to £2,000 million the amount that visitors to Scotland spend annually on food and drink. Several specific actions will support the plan, such as supporting our top 100 visitor attractions to get taste our best accreditation—VisitScotland’s quality assurance scheme on local sourcing—and working to get all our major events showcasing local food and drink. That work and much more will directly benefit our local food producers and manufacturers as we seek to make Scotland a good food nation.

The cabinet secretary will know the key role that is played by Scotland’s chefs in promoting food at home and abroad. As we mark the year of young people, will the cabinet secretary join me in wishing our culinary world cup team—the youngest team in a competition that involves more than 100 teams—the best of luck in Luxembourg later this month.

I am delighted to welcome the efforts of the Scottish culinary world cup team, who have carried out a great job in recent years in ensuring that our food is highly prized, presented and championed both at home and abroad. I wish Robbie Penman and his highly skilled young team every success in Luxembourg at the end of the month. I have no doubt that they will do a great job of further raising the profile of our fantastic produce and helping Scotland to meet its aspiration of becoming a global food tourism destination.

So far, the regional food fund that was established in the Scottish Government’s ambition 2030 strategy has awarded grants to 15 collaborative projects that are designed to promote local Scottish producers. What direct economic benefit have those grants had on local producers and tourism and are there any plans to expand the scheme further?

Those events and others have had significant benefit. We promote our food and drink at a national event in Gleneagles biannually; as a result of its success, I decided that a regional showcasing event should take place. We are having a variety of them, and the first have already taken place. An analysis of our estimates of the value of those products will be made in due course. Rachael Hamilton will appreciate—I know that she is experienced in the sector—that some benefits take time to come through. For a local producer who wins a contract with the supermarkets, such things take time to develop; business relationships take time to build up trust and to come through. The analysis cannot necessarily be produced in a few months after an event. However, the Gleneagles events have been spectacularly successful for the companies that were involved, and I will share what information I can—as I always do—as soon as possible.

Public Procurement Food Contracts (Access for Farmers)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to ensure that farmers have access to public procurement contracts for food. (S5O-02542)

Since 2007, we have seen a 41 per cent rise in the proportion of locally sourced produce in the public sector, with more and more farmers and other food producers supplying our public sector contracts, such as those provided through Scotland Excel. We want more of our local produce to be served in our schools, hospitals and prisons and in other public bodies, and we are facilitating that through a range of measures such as the supplier accreditation programme, regional showcasing—which I have just mentioned—and the expansion of the food for life programme.

Mossgiel farm near Mauchline is leading the way in organic milk production; it has also done away with plastics in favour of bottling its milk. The farm supplies local businesses, restaurants and cafes, but the farmer has told me that it is next to impossible for local suppliers such as his farm to make any headway with Scotland Excel public procurement contracts. Sixty-nine per cent of the food that is supplied under that system comes from outside Scotland, which I am sure the cabinet secretary will agree is unacceptable. What can he and the Scottish Government do to support our local food suppliers and simplify the public procurement process—

Let us get to the question, please, Mr Whittle.

—so that locally procured food can make it to our school dining halls?

I understand that 100 per cent of the fresh milk that is used across Scottish schools is Scottish, from Wiseman and Graham’s dairies, so there is already a Scottish supplier of milk to our schools in Scotland, which I am pleased about. Mr Whittle mentioned another supplier, and if he cares to write to me, I will look into the circumstances of that company.

Mr Whittle also mentioned Scotland Excel, which now requires a Scottish price in its groceries and provisions framework. It does that by having a secondary price list for products whose country of origin is Scotland. The definitions of “country of origin—Scotland” and “manufactured in Scotland” are now included in the Scotland Excel frozen tender. I have met Scotland Excel, and I have heard of the excellent work that it does.

It is difficult for small businesses to break into public procurement, which is why we have a supplier accreditation programme and why, in the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, we made specific provision to encourage small businesses so that they can get into procurement. It is still not easy in some cases. A relationship needs to be built up with local authorities and other public sector bodies, which takes time and input from all sides. I am delighted that we have made significant progress, with more and more Scottish produce being provided to our schoolchildren, patients, hospital workers and people across the public sector. That work continues.

In spite of that work, it is very difficult for small producers to supply their local primary school or the health sector. Could the cabinet secretary address the matter in a good food nation bill?

There is no need for me to do so, because the work is already under way and in train. The food for life programme is extremely successful—indeed, Mr Whittle mentioned it a fortnight ago in relation to East Ayrshire Council. We have a £400,000 programme to extend that good work to all local authorities over a period of years.

There are many examples of great success by relatively small or medium-sized businesses in supplying food to schools around Scotland. For example, Swansons Fruit Company in Inverness supplies locally sourced fruit and veg to schools across the Highlands—the region that Rhoda Grant represents; McWilliam butchers in Aberdeen supplies meat to schools in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire; Corrie Mains farm in East Ayrshire supplies primary schools with eggs; and Fenton Barns farm in East Lothian supplies 40 per cent of the poultry that is sourced by the national health service. Many companies are succeeding, and we are doing a lot of work. We do not need any further legislation to do that—we just need to get on with it, and that is what we are doing.

Fish Processing Industry

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the fish processing industry in the north-east regarding training workers to make best use of exiting the common fisheries policy. (S5O-02543)

The Scottish Government is in regular dialogue with the seafood processing industry regarding the many challenges facing the sector as a consequence of Brexit.

The loss of freedom of movement, which provides opportunities for people from the European Union to live and work in Scotland, is key. Given that more than 70 per cent of the seafood processing workforce in north-east Scotland are non-United Kingdom nationals from the European Economic Area, the processing sector has every right to be concerned.

The UK Government has failed to provide clarity and certainty for people who are already here, working in fish processing and in other industries. That failure was compounded by the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee for future immigration policy. That all serves to reinforce why Scotland should have full control over immigration powers.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that full answer. On 2 November, north-east Scotland politicians attended one of the regular north-east fisheries development partnership meetings at the new Peterhead fish market. They were shown a new training space in the facility, which Tory MSP Peter Chapman said that he welcomed on the basis that it would help replace foreigners working in the industry with local youths. Mr Chapman was reminded at the time that the fisheries development partnership has an equality policy and that his comments were out of order. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, especially in the context of Brexit, all discussions over the future of the fishing industry must be conducted in a way that does not discriminate against people or stoke xenophobia?

Yes, I agree with the sentiments that Maureen Watt expresses. People from across the European Union and beyond have made Scotland their home. They have enriched our communities, especially our rural communities. In many cases, they bring a strong work ethic, family values and a strong sense of community spirit. We are fortunate to have them give their effort and time to work in Scotland. Therefore, I endorse what Maureen Watt says. However, we must not forget that 70 per cent of those working in the north-east in the processing sector come from EU countries. It is difficult to see how that sector would continue to be successful without the excellent contribution from those welcome residents in Scotland.

Cairngorm Funicular Railway

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to mitigate the potential impact of the closure of the Cairngorm funicular railway on the area’s economy. (S5O-02544)

The safety of passengers at this time is paramount. The Scottish Government continues to work closely with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to mitigate any economic impact. HIE and business gateway are supporting local businesses that might be affected, including by offering one-to-one advice and access to loan funding, where appropriate. A funicular response group has been established to oversee the operational and communication needs relating to the closure.

Tourism plays a significant role in our economy, and winter sports are of particular importance to the rural economy. Will the cabinet secretary outline what is being done to develop further opportunities for the Cairngorms funicular and other winter sports facilities? What help is being given to reopen the railway as soon as possible?

I assure Richard Lyle that HIE is working flat out on those matters and I am in touch with its staff very regularly. They are about to receive a report, which should be available at the beginning of December, on the potential problems that the funicular faces.

HIE is working on ensuring the availability of snow-making equipment in early December, which will, I hope, be operational as soon as possible thereafter. It is working hard with local community representatives to ameliorate the problems that are posed by the temporary—we hope—loss of the funicular railway service and to ensure that skiing takes place on Cairn Gorm mountain this year as soon as possible and to the maximum extent possible. We are absolutely determined to make those efforts bring as much success as possible to the area because the funicular railway and Cairngorm Mountain Ltd are essential to the success of the local economy of Badenoch and Strathspey.

I regret that I have been unable to call Angus MacDonald, Alex Rowley and Neil Bibby in this set of questions. We have no time in hand and I have to move on.

Waste Incineration

To ask the Scottish Government what the expected demand will be for the incineration of waste following the ban on sending biodegradable waste to landfill from 2021. (S5O-02549)

The Scottish Government is committed to the waste hierarchy, which promotes reduction, reuse and recycling of waste as the preferred options for waste management. Statistics show that we now recycle more than 60 per cent of waste from all sources.

We recognise that incineration is a necessary part of the management of residual waste if we are to reduce our reliance on landfill. We have commissioned a waste market study in order to understand better the current and future markets for disposal and recovery of biodegradable municipal waste, including the energy-from-waste market, and to understand the implications for the Scottish waste system of alternative disposal and recovery options, once the ban comes into effect. We will have a clearer picture of key issues, including likely future demand for energy-from-waste facilities, once the report is completed.

Correspondence that was sent to me by the cabinet secretary suggests that we will see a sevenfold increase in waste incineration capacity in Scotland in the next three years. Given that such facilities require continuous waste as feedstock, what will be the impact on recycling rates and the waste hierarchy? Is not it now time for a moratorium on new incinerators?

We have to ensure that we can manage the waste that is produced. I remind members that we are talking about residual waste, so I encourage everybody to ensure that as little residual waste as possible is produced and ends up being treated in this fashion.

We need to deal with the landfill ban: incineration will be a key part of that. There is an issue around managing incineration once we get beyond the period when it is needed most, and the study that I referred to will help us to get a handle on that. There is an issue and there is undoubtedly concern. However, the situation needs to be managed and we are doing the best that we can to manage it correctly.

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

The cabinet secretary has outlined that the Scottish National Party’s solution to the ban on landfilling biodegradable municipal waste is to construct an extra 1 million tonnes of incineration capacity. That seems to be absurd. Will the cabinet secretary outline what non-incineration treatment options are being considered? How does the Scottish Government plan to support them?

I have made it clear that supporting incineration is not the only thing that we are doing. I emphasise that we are talking about residual waste and how important it is that we reduce the amount of residual waste that we produce in the first place. That is the real focus of what the Government is doing.

There seems to be a pick-and-mix approach to waste management across local authorities. Some have four bin collections, while some have one and recycling. Is there best practice out there that the Scottish Government is looking at so that it can advise local authorities on the best way forward?

There is, indeed, best practice. The last time I looked, approximately 26 of the 32 local authorities had signed up to our household recycling charter. They are not, of course, able to switch overnight to a uniform system. That charter was agreed between the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. I would be happy to update Alex Rowley on detail around that and on some of the more specific questions that I have been asking recently about where we are in terms of each local authority’s adherence to the charter.

Hill Tracks (Environmental Impact)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it or the grouse moor management group has made of the environmental impact of hill tracks that are constructed on open moorland. (S5O-02550)

The grouse moor management group was established in November 2017. Its remit was to examine the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices including muirburn, use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls, and to advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.

There have been no requests to consider the environmental impact of hill tracks. It is for planning authorities to consider the environmental impact of individual hill tracks on a case-by-case basis when determining planning applications or prior notifications.

In 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform approved the Cairngorms national park plan. It contains a presumption against new constructed tracks in open moorland. The problem is that the authority can properly implement that presumption only over the 25 per cent of the area that is a national scenic area. Given that the International Union for Conservation of Nature categorises national scenic areas and Scottish national parks as category 5 protected landscapes, does the minister agree that both deserve the same level of regulatory control?

I am aware of Andy Wightman’s concern about the issue, and I know that some issues around it were discussed in relation to amendments to the Planning (Scotland) Bill in a recent meeting of the Local Government and Communities Committee. All the concerns can be addressed when the Scottish Government consults on permitted development orders. As Andy Wightman will know from the response that he received from the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning when an amendment in has name was being discussed in the committee, the Scottish Government has committed to carrying out a review of the general permitted development order after completion of the bill’s passage. The minister said:

“we will consider calls for changes to permitted development for private ways alongside other proposals for change. Any proposed changes will be subject to full public consultation.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 31 October 2018; c 60.]

Can the minister outline the steps that led to the introduction of the grouse moor management group, and say what action the Scottish Government has taken to tackle wildlife crime in recent years?

In 2016, we were faced with a number of reports about tagged golden eagles going missing, which led to claims and counter claims about what was happening. The cabinet secretary asked Scottish Natural Heritage to commission an analysis of all the data to see whether there were any suspicious patterns. What emerged from that report was the shocking finding that up to a third of golden eagles had gone missing in suspicious circumstances, many of them in clusters on or near grouse moors. That finding led to the decision to set up the group, which is led by Professor Alan Werritty, to examine whether we need new regulation of grouse management. Alongside the work of Professor Werritty, the cabinet secretary also commissioned a research project to examine the costs and benefits to Scotland of shooting estates.

Professor Werritty’s group is due to report back in April. We will see what recommendations are made at that point and whether any improvements can be made.

The minister will know of the Revive coalition’s report on grouse moors. In view of the wide range of concerns that have been expressed on the issue, not only in relation to Andy Wightman’s proposed amendment to the Planning (Scotland) Bill, but directly to me by constituents, does the minister agree that the remit of the grouse moor management group could be expanded to examine the issue? That would feed well into the welcome review of permitted development rights.

My only concern would be that to add that work at this late stage could slow down the progress that the group has been making. We will have an opportunity to consider permitted development orders once the bill process has been completed.

I am aware of the report from Revive that was published last week. This week, I met Scottish Environment LINK, which conveyed to me its concerns about hill tracks. The consultation on that will come after completion of the bill. We have given that commitment. We will consider all the issues around permitted development rights and hill tracks at that time.

United Nations Climate Change Conference

To ask the Scottish Government what issues it expects will be given priority at the United Nations climate change conference in December. (S5O-02551)

The 24th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—COP24—will take stock of global efforts through the culmination of the Talanoa dialogue process, which the Scottish Government has contributed to, and will seek to agree the rule book for how the Paris agreement will be implemented.

I plan to take Scotland’s positive messages on climate action to COP24, and to show the world that our low-carbon transition demonstrates that deep emissions reductions are achievable, and that they can be delivered in a way that promotes sustainable and fair economic growth.

Following a personal invitation from Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the First Minister also plans to attend this year’s COP, subject to any urgent Parliamentary business and the on-going mess that is Brexit. That invitation is further confirmation that Scotland’s experience remains highly relevant to the rest of the world.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is essential that not only is Scotland represented as a nation at such global events but that we continue to be leaders in the global effort to fight climate change?

Indeed, I do. As most people know, the Government is committed to international co-operation and regularly engages with partners overseas to share its successes and to learn from others. In adopting new and more stretching emissions reduction targets, Scotland is among a select number of countries that have committed to translating the Paris agreement into domestic law. We also remain the only country in the world that has statutory annual targets, matched by a comprehensive package of stretching and credible on-the-ground delivery measures, as set out in our climate change plan.

Plastic Waste (Farms)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the forthcoming ban on the burning of plastics on farms, what contingency plans it has should the market approach to recycling farm plastic not work. (S5O-02552)

The relevant amendment to the Waste Management Licensing (Scotland) Regulations was made in 2013 and a group was established in autumn 2016 to plan the transition towards a position where the ban could be enforced. The group had membership from NFU Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Zero Waste Scotland, the Scottish Government and several waste plastics collectors and reprocessors. The transition to full enforcement has therefore been carefully considered.

In most areas of the country there are recycling collection services available and I am advised that, since the announcement, the network has expanded. That is one of the reasons why a transition period until 1 January 2019 is in place.

SEPA has published clear guidance for farmers to help them decide how best to dispose of plastic waste, and there are also local SEPA offices across Scotland that can provide more direct assistance.

I have been contacted by crofters in rural Scotland and in island communities, who say that there are no recycling facilities local to them. There is a concern that the only option that they have is to bury the plastics, which will have a knock-on effect on the environment and on animal health, should they become unburied. Will the cabinet secretary consider working with local authorities, to see whether they could recycle farm plastics along with the normal household recycling?

We would want to have conversations where necessary. A list of plastic waste service providers is available on the Zero Waste Scotland website; perhaps access to that would be helpful in those circumstances. If all other options have been exhausted, and we would need to make sure that that was the case, and there is really no recycling service available, the waste can be sent to landfill at a licensed site or to an energy-from-waste plant. However, that should be considered only as a last resort. We would want to have a serious conversation first, to ensure that there is not, in fact, an alternative solution.

Three members wish to ask supplementary questions. If you ask short questions and give succinct answers, I can take all three. Otherwise, I cannot.

Following on from Rhoda Grant’s concerns, which are clearly concerns that have been expressed by constituents in Orkney, will the cabinet secretary undertake to ask SEPA to complete an island impact assessment, so that we can explore the options, which, at the moment, either involve landfill or potentially one or two ferry journeys to get plastic away?

I am conscious that, particularly on islands, there are transport issues. I am happy to discuss with SEPA whether the member’s request is appropriate and I am happy to speak to the member about the particular circumstances that he has raised. Part of my reply to Rhoda Grant’s question may also apply to the member’s constituency.

I declare an interest as a farmer. The Government agreed to hold a number of stakeholder events, supported by an engagement programme, in order to support farmers’ transition to the requirements of the ban. How many events have been held?

I do not have a note of the precise number of events, but I do know that there has been a clear amount of discussion. The group whose membership I read out has been involved in that, and it includes the NFUS. I undertake to get the numbers and the locations of any such meetings for the member, and any other member who wishes to know can contact me to see whether a meeting has been held locally.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that we must continue to work on reducing the amount of plastic that is used in all sectors and industries and can she confirm that farmers will have time to prepare for the ban ahead of it coming into force?

We have already prioritised action on plastics and we will continue to do so. I think that most members will know about the work that has already been done in respect of some of the single-use plastics and the work that is planned.

We support EU plans to tackle single-use plastics and to ensure that all plastic packaging is easily recycled or reusable by 2030. We are a founder member of the plastics pact. Our commitment to a deposit return scheme signals a step change in our ambitions and I can confirm, as I indicated earlier, that there is a transition period until 1 January 2019 to allow farmers time to prepare for the ban. I invite members who know of local farmers, crofters or anybody else with specific concerns to flag up those concerns to me, and we will see what we can do.

Woodland (Access for People from Deprived Areas)

To ask the Scottish Government what action the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform is taking to enable people from deprived areas to access woodland areas. (S5O-02553)

The Scottish Government recognises that access to woodlands improves the lives of people in deprived areas, and we have committed about £1 million this year to the woods in and around towns programme, which tackles the barriers to people accessing woodlands. The current programme for government supports Europe’s largest green space project—the central Scotland green network, which this year will receive £950,000 to support woodland creation with a particular focus on deprived communities.

Furthermore, the national forest estate’s investment in urban woodlands includes over £5 million at Cuningar Loop, which supports the regeneration of deprived communities in the Clyde gateway.

I welcome the minister’s response, particularly given that the tackling of health inequalities crosses all portfolios.

Is the minister aware that the green networks of urban woodlands have been found to bring value of £14 million per year through recreation and health benefits as well as contributing to the network of carbon sinks? Given the minister’s answer, will she work with the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning to set a target for urban woodland expansion to ensure that such spaces and their benefits are accessible to people across Scotland, and particularly those for whom travelling into the country is much more difficult?

I thank the member for that question. I agree with her that the issue crosses all portfolios. One of my first official visits was to Jupiter Artland in Edinburgh in relation to a £600,000 fund that Scottish Natural Heritage has launched that aims to help children, and particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds, to experience nature and get into our woodlands. So many positive projects and initiatives are being run by organisations, including in our national parks.

We recognise the travel issues. Looking at the work that is being done by the woods in and around towns programme, I note that, in 2017-18, there were over 520 events and activities and 14,000 people attended those from areas of deprivation including Castlemilk, Craigmillar and other areas in Glasgow’s east end. The programme also had Forestry Commission Scotland grant aid for 1,360 hectares of sustainable woodland management for public access, 7,600 metres of footpath upgrades and nearly 9,000m of new footpaths. A raft of positive work is going on there, and we want to encourage and further develop that work.

Mossmorran Petrochemical Plant (Scottish Environment Protection Agency Investigation)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s investigation into the Mossmorran petrochemical plant. (S5O-02554)

Unplanned flaring at the Mossmorran site remains under investigation by SEPA as an independent regulator. SEPA provides updates, where it is able to do so, through the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay section of its website.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer. I understood from previous statements by SEPA that the report was to be concluded this month. Will the cabinet secretary clarify whether that is also her understanding and whether the report will be made public, as will be the case with the joint SEPA root-and-branch review with the Health and Safety Executive? Can she clarify that, when that review finally reports—we do not know when that will be—it will be made public so that my constituents can assure themselves of their safety?

Both regulatory authorities are fully aware that local communities want to be kept informed of what has been happening. SEPA’s investigations into the unplanned elevated flaring that occurred at the Mossmorran facility in 2017 and 2018 have been on-going and are at an advanced stage. SEPA has been clear that the evidence gathered during its investigations cannot be made public because that could compromise any potential enforcement action.

SEPA has not committed to publishing a report, but it has provided updates at local meetings and working groups as well as publishing information on its website, including on the enforcement actions that it has taken to date. Aspects of this work are being jointly carried out with the Health and Safety Executive. We expect the joint SEPA and HSE review of the site to conclude this month. In respect of safety issues, HSE will consider what can be made public and when as a result of its work.

I am sorry, but I have to conclude questions there. I apologise to James Kelly, Kenneth Gibson and Kezia Dugdale as there is no time in hand and we have to move on to the next debate.

That concludes portfolio questions.