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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 15 May 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Treatment Time Guarantee, Education, Point of Order, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Foster Care Fortnight


Portfolio Question Time

Rural Economy

The first item of business is portfolio questions, and the first portfolio is rural economy. I remind members that questions 2 and 4 will be grouped together.

Food Production (Behavioural Change)

I declare a relevant interest.

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on encouraging behavioural change with regard to food production, in light of evidence received by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee from the Committee on Climate Change. (S5O-03222)

Scotland is world renowned for the quality and provenance of its food and we want farmers and food producers to work with us to produce more of it sustainably. We are supporting behavioural change and the shift to low-carbon farming practices through a range of activity, including the farm advisory service, the beef efficiency scheme and Quality Meat Scotland’s monitor farm programme.

I thank the minister for her answer. She will be aware of the Committee on Climate Change advice on the need to reduce red meat consumption significantly in order to meet future targets. Is the Scottish Government of the view that that is necessary, or do the Scottish Government and the minister support my view that a balanced diet should include sufficient red meat consumption and that that should be a matter of individual choice, particularly as most of the red meat produced in Scotland is grass fed?

I am aware that the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee took evidence from the Committee on Climate Change this week. We want to continue to lead in promoting behavioural change towards low-carbon farming. As I mentioned in my first answer to John Scott, we have done that through the establishment of the beef efficiency scheme and our support for agri-environment schemes, and by ensuring that high-quality advice, information and on-farm demonstrations are available through the farm advisory service and the farming for a better climate programme.

We want to work with farmers. I said that in my statement yesterday, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform feels the same. However, we are in a climate emergency, and this is an issue that we have to try to tackle together. That is why we have a number of initiatives in the area. We also have our climate change champions, who are hoping to lead by example and show that we can still have livestock farming and that that can still contribute to what we are aiming to do in the climate emergency.

In order to change practice, farmers and crofters need advice and information, but they also need financial support. What measures will be in the new agricultural support scheme to help farmers and crofters to make the required change in practice?

As I have highlighted, a number of schemes are already available in which we are investing in that change, and we will have to continue to do that. Research and innovation are going to be vital as we move forward and try to work with farmers and crofters to see how we can tackle the climate emergency together.

As I mentioned in my previous response to John Scott, we have the climate change champions and the farming for a better climate programme, where we are looking at soil regeneration. The Government is providing funding for a number of schemes, and that research and innovation will become a vital part of support as we move forward.

Questions 2 and 4 will be grouped together.

Food and Drink Sector (Cambuslang)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to promote the food and drink sector in Cambuslang. (S5O-03223)

Direct investment and support from the public sector that helps to promote the food and drink sector in Scotland equates to approximately £100 million per annum across a range of areas, including skills, education, research, industry development, standards and capital investment. That funding is provided on a national basis and it would be available to any business that is based in Cambuslang.

The minister will be aware that the 2 Sisters chicken processing plant in Cambuslang closed last year. That was despite the payment to 2 Sisters of £650,000 in regional selective assistance on the basis that the plant would be kept open.

That money is now in the process of being repaid, but the Scottish Government has confirmed to me that it will be recycled for general economic activity, and not invested in Cambuslang. That is despite an assurance in November from the First Minister that the town would be involved in consultation on how that money would be spent. Does the minister agree that the repaid money should be invested in Cambuslang, and will the Government urgently review its decision on the matter?

Contrary to Mr Kelly’s comments, the Scottish Government’s position on the issue has been clear and the commitment has not changed. Previously in the chamber, the First Minister explained the process that Scottish Enterprise would embark on to obtain repayment of moneys paid to 2 Sisters in relation to the site at Cambuslang. That process has been undertaken, and a repayment plan to return the moneys in full has now been agreed with 2 Sisters. I know that that was explained to Mr Kelly in a recent letter from my ministerial colleague Jamie Hepburn.

The First Minister has also said in the chamber that, in due course, we would have discussions with the local community about future investment. I know that, since then, Scottish Enterprise has been in discussion with South Lanarkshire Council on the actions that are needed to boost economic growth in the area and how those might be reflected in the council’s refreshed economic strategy, which is supported by the £500 million Scottish Government commitment to the Glasgow city region deal. I also know that a further discussions are planned for 13 June to identify the key economic challenges across the authority area, aligning with the Glasgow city region plan, particularly around the five city region deal projects that are relevant to South Lanarkshire. Those include suitable projects in both Cambuslang and the wider area, and the Government is fully committed to them.

Food and Drink Sector (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports the food and drink sector in Glasgow. (S5O-03225)

Glasgow is home to a wide range of food and drink companies and plays a key role in our food and drink success story. Since 2012, four companies have been supported with £2.31 million in food processing, marketing and co-operation grants. They include McQueens Dairies, which I believe is based in the member’s constituency.

I draw the minister’s attention to the company TheVeganKind, which is a hugely successful vegan retailer, including of food, and which is based in Maryhill, although it uses an online platform for its sales. I understand that its growing success is boosting demand for vegan foods and creating new opportunities for vegan food producers, including here in Scotland. How might the Scottish Government consider supporting innovative models of food retail such as TheVeganKind in Maryhill, given the boost that their success can offer vegan producers in Scotland and the additional, accessible and convenient dietary choice that can be offered to families?

The growing vegan market offers opportunities for Scottish food producers and businesses to develop produce using our natural larder in Scotland. I know that Scotland Food and Drink supports food and drink producers to capitalise on that growing demand. Another good example is a company called Fodilicious, which produces fresh convenience food using quality locally sourced Scottish produce to help those with special dietary requirements. Having started in the free from market, it has now developed a successful vegan range. I know that some people adhere to a strictly vegan diet for a variety of reasons, but I am keen that we continue to promote healthy locally sourced Scottish produce—produce that is grown and made in Scotland, which can support jobs and livelihoods here and, most important, which helps to reduce food miles.

Does the minister agree that the biggest threat to the food and drink sector in Cambuslang and beyond is Brexit, and that it would help a lot if Mr Kelly and his chums were to come off the fence and oppose Brexit?

It will not surprise the member that I agree with him. The Scottish Government has been clear from day 1 that leaving the European Union without a deal would have an absolutely catastrophic impact on the food and drink sector: it is expected to cost us £2 billion—that is from the United Kingdom Government’s own figures. There would be an impact on exports, the protected geographical indication status of some of our most important products and the free movement of people. I talked about some of the other impacts on our sheep sector in the statement that I made to Parliament yesterday.

The Scottish Government has always asserted that the best future for Scotland is remaining in the EU and that the second-best option is maintaining as close an alignment to the EU as possible. It is high time that others started realising that that is the case, if we are to avert the untold damage that will otherwise be done not only to the food and drink sector but to the wider economy.

Seasonal Agricultural Workers

To ask the Scottish Government what action it plans to take in light of the Scottish Affairs Committee’s evidence session on seasonal agricultural workers. (S5O-03224)

Seasonal migrant workers make a vital contribution to farming and food production in Scotland, and we share the concerns of the NFU Scotland about the availability of suitably skilled workers, and the risk that that presents to this year’s crops and harvests.

The United Kingdom Government’s future migration proposals do not meet Scotland’s needs. The evidence that was presented to the Scottish Affairs Committee highlights serious issues with the pilot scheme, which seeks to recruit 2,500 workers for the whole of the UK—not enough to meet the number of current vacancies in the horticulture sector in Angus alone.

We will continue to monitor the situation and to work across Government to address skills and employment needs throughout the rural economy, but it is clear that one of the key solutions is to fully devolve immigration powers so that Scotland might develop a tailored migration policy to meet our needs.

Seasonal agricultural workers are often seen as low-paid and low-skilled. However, all the evidence suggests that many of the jobs that they do are highly skilled. Losing those workers will not only be a hard blow to employers and their local economies, but will have a significant knock-on effect in terms of depopulation of already fragile remote communities.

Will the cabinet secretary join me in supporting the workers in Europe and beyond who form a vital part of the backbone of rural Scotland by providing skilled labour and injecting a breath of fresh air into our rural communities?

I am happy to agree with David Stewart and am pleased that he has made those remarks.

Those workers work extremely hard. Certainly in berry picking, the day starts very early, the conditions are tough and the work is hard. We really appreciate and welcome what those people do and the contribution that they make to the economy of, and society in, rural Scotland. We think that they should continue to be welcomed in Scotland. That is why it is important that freedom of movement continues to be our policy. I very much hope that the Labour Party in Scotland will support freedom of movement, because Mr Corbyn seems not to support it.

Will the cabinet secretary agree that it is scandalous that three years after the Brexit vote farmers still do not, due to Tory inaction, have any certainty or clarity about their workforces? Scandalous! [Laughter.]

Mr Lyle has made the point clearly. I see that the Tories are laughing. I do not know why: this is a serious matter. Just about every employer in the rural economy has been making the same point for three years now. In those three years, a solution could have been found that would enable people from other countries who work hard in rural communities—whose work is indispensable and is a sine qua non of the functioning of the rural economy—to continue to do so, but the Scottish Tories have said nothing about it during that time. It is an absolute scandal; Mr Lyle is quite right.

Question 5 has been withdrawn.

Fishing Industry (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives from the fishing industry and what was discussed. (S5O-03227)

The Scottish Government met the Clyde Fishermen’s Association on 11 May 2019, and meets regularly with representatives of the fishing industry.

Enforcement of marine protected areas is already difficult, which allows a small number of rogue fishing vessels to wreak havoc in protected habitats and undermine the fishing industry for everyone else. Last December, Parliament voted to roll out electronic monitoring of fishing vessels across the whole fleet to ensure that enforcement can be effective. When does the Government expect to be able to enforce marine protected areas properly by monitoring all fishing vessels?

I am delighted that the Scottish Government is investing £1.5 million in fishing vessel tracking and monitoring. I had an excellent and productive meeting with stakeholders about precisely how that investment will be made in order to get best value and to make it as efficacious as possible. The investment is one of the most practical things that can be done to ensure that sustainable fishing takes place. I am determined that that initiative be put in place as quickly as possible.

However, the real priority is to ensure that it is effective, that we have the right systems—because various options are available—and that it is efficacious in terms of securing the objective that we all share, across the chamber, as was made clear in the debate last December, to which Mr Greer alluded. It is important that we get it right, but I assure members that there will be no dragging of feet.

Food and Drink Sector (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of the food and drink sector and what was discussed. (S5O-03228)

The Scottish Government meets representatives from the vital food and drink industry on a regular and on-going basis to discuss a range of issues.

Next week, I will attend the prestigious Scotland food and drink excellence awards in Edinburgh to meet representatives from the sector, and to celebrate the best that our successful industry has to offer.

Over recent months, I have met a number of local businesses in my constituency, including the impressive family-run business Fife Creamery Ltd. It is one of a growing number of companies that are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental responsibilities and of the importance of phasing out single-use plastic in their packaging. Can the cabinet secretary advise what support and guidelines exist for businesses that are keen to invest in greener and more sustainable alternatives?

Zero Waste Scotland’s food and drink advice and support service provides audits to businesses to help them to reduce their food and drink waste. It also has the £18 million circular economy investment fund to support investments in that area.

I am indebted to my hardworking and energetic colleague, the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Ms Gougeon, who recently met that company, and assures me that it does great work. We are keen to continue to work with it and our agencies to ensure that the changes that are made—and the objectives that we all share—are pursued in an effective and pragmatic fashion. Such businesses want to do their bit for their environment, but they quite rightly want to do it in a way that is sensible, well thought out, pragmatic and deliverable.

Agri-environment Climate Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government whether all outstanding agri-environment climate scheme claims from farm businesses in the north-east for the 2017 claim year will be paid by the end of June 2019. (S5O-03229)

Yes. That is our intention.

The remaining cases from 2017 have been complex to process, with there being eligibility issues associated with each claim, which staff are currently working to resolve. My officials assure me that they are confident that all outstanding issues will be cleared over the next few weeks, which will allow all remaining claims to be paid by 30 June this year.

I appreciate that it is not an instantaneous process and that there will be some delays along the way. Given that total Scottish farm debt is currently about £2 billion, and that almost half of our farmers are failing to make enough money to pay themselves the equivalent of the minimum wage, those resources are vital.

What safeguards can the cabinet secretary put in place to ensure that such delays are lessened in subsequent years?

Mr Mason raises a perfectly fair and correct general point. It is for precisely that reason that, at my specific direction, working with the full co-operation of colleagues including the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, farmers and crofters in Scotland received advance payments—up to 90 per cent of their full entitlement, in most cases—on 5 October last year. From memory, I think that there were nearly 18,000 offers, which were worth more than £317 million. That money was received by the bank accounts of farmers and crofters in Scotland about 2 months before those south of the border received money.

Members: Oh!

Yes. It is precisely because of the difficulties and enormous uncertainties that are being caused by Brexit—which is Tom Mason’s party’s preferred policy; or, at least, we think it is, because it does not really say—that we have ensured that farmers and crofters get their money, and that they get most of it earlier than farmers in the rest of the United Kingdom. I want to keep it that way.

I will take a quick supplementary from Maureen Watt.

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the payments for 2018 are on time, and that the Scottish Government wants to keep farmers in Scotland farming and producing food, contrary to what Mr Gove told the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee this morning?

We have made a strong start to the payment of the 2018 agri-environment climate scheme claims. We commenced the 2018 payments on 29 March, which is two months earlier than we commenced the 2017 payments. More than 47 per cent of claims, which are worth £7.8 million, have now been paid. At the same point last year, we had not yet begun to make payments. I hope that members will agree that that is excellent progress.

I pay tribute to all the hard-working staff in rural payments and inspections division offices throughout the country who are delivering that work. They do a superb job and are respected by the farming community. I am wholly indebted to them for their efforts.

Road Equivalent Tariff (Orkney and Shetland)

To ask the Scottish Government when road equivalent tariff will be fully introduced on Orkney and Shetland ferry routes. (S5O-03230)

The Scottish Government is engaging with the European Commission following a state-aid complaint that was made to it by a private operator on 8 June 2018 regarding our plans to reduce ferry fares to the northern isles. Scottish Government officials met Commission officials on 12 November, and we await a formal view from the Commission regarding next steps.

In June 2018, we reduced passenger and car fares on routes to Shetland by 20 per cent. That was possible to implement, as it did not affect Orkney services. We remain committed to pursuing all avenues to reduce fares for Orkney and Shetland.

Next month marks 12 months since RET was supposed to have been rolled out on ferry routes that serve Orkney and Shetland. Over that time, people who use those lifeline routes have been forced to continue to pay over the odds. Will the minister commit to reinforcing with the Commission the urgent need to conclude its investigation, reach a decision, and allow those who rely on those lifeline services a fair deal? Will he also commit to ensuring that the moneys that have not been spent on RET over the past year are directed to supporting the internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland?

On Liam McArthur’s first point, I reassure him that we continue to engage with the European Commission on the state-aid complaint that was made by a private operator. We wrote to the Commission recently in light of Lord Boyd of Duncansby’s judgment in relation to the judicial review in the Court of Session. Liam McArthur will, of course, be aware that there is a potential appeal to that decision, so I cannot comment further. I reassure Liam McArthur, however, that we continue to engage with the Commission to urge a resolution to the state-aid complaint as quickly as possible.

On Liam McArthur’s second point, we have discussed the use of the funding allocated for RET for internal ferry services. That issue was raised by Councillor Stockan, Orkney Islands Council’s leader, when I met him recently in the Parliament. Orkney Islands Council has committed to taking the issue away and engaging with local stakeholders—I presume that that includes Mr McArthur and other local elected members—to discuss the issue further. I remain open to holding further discussions with the council.

The minister will be aware from his recent visit to Dunoon that local residents have asked whether RET will be applied to the particular service there, now that it is in the CalMac Ferries portfolio. Can the minister provide the Parliament with an update on that?

That issue has indeed been raised and, as Donald Cameron may be aware, there was, for a period, the risk that there might be a judicial review of any decision to implement RET on the Gourock to Dunoon route. I am pleased to say that the indications from the private operator in the area—Western Ferries—are that it will not pursue that option and that it is keen to discuss with ministers the implementation of RET on the Gourock to Dunoon services. We have indicated to local stakeholders, including the ferry group, that we wish to discuss that. Our intention is certainly to take that issue forward positively.

Could the Scottish Government look at indemnifying private operators that implement RET on the northern isles route prior to receiving reassurance from the European Commission? That would allow the Scottish Government to implement RET sooner rather than later.

I have not looked at that specific proposal. Obviously, we have to tread very carefully. There is a live complaint and, as I said in response to Liam McArthur’s question, we continue to engage with the Commission to get a resolution as early as possible—we all have an interest in ensuring that. We have made a commitment to implement the policy when we can do so, but I have not looked at the particular opportunity that Rhoda Grant has raised. I will have a think about that and perhaps write to her about it.

Ferry Vessels 801 and 802

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the development of ferry vessels 801 and 802. (S5O-03231)

The delay to delivery remains a concern to Scottish ministers and we share the frustration of the communities that are affected and the workforce in the yard.

The management of the contract is for Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. However, this week, Scottish Government officials have again written to FMEL to request information relating to vessels 801 and 802, in order to support a detailed programme with key milestones to support a revised cost of completion for both vessels. In order to move matters on, Scottish ministers have sought an independent view of the contractual dispute between FMEL and CMAL.

In this morning’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee meeting, we learned that the first of the new ferries might be ready in about a year or so—more than two years behind schedule—and that the second ferry might be completed at some point next year. Both ferries might be over budget to the tune of tens of millions of pounds, and the public purse might need to foot the bill. Is it not simply the case that the minister’s Government might have made a complete shambles of the matter?

Mr Greene might want to reflect on the strongly held views of people in Inverclyde about his lack of support for the shipbuilding sector.

Apologise to the communities that you are letting down.

Mr Greene is chuntering from the sidelines, but the Government has made a commitment to try to support shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde, and we are working very hard to ensure that the vessels are delivered. I hope that Mr Greene will reflect on the fact that we are trying to bring the contractual dispute between FMEL and CMAL to a resolution, as best we can. FMEL has indicated that there will be revised timescales for delivery, to which Mr Greene has alluded, and which my colleague Michael Matheson discussed with the committee this morning. As I said in my first answer, we have sought further detail to underpin those estimates, because we want to see details in relation to the work plan.


Mr Greene can chunter from the sidelines, but I am trying to answer his question, and I would have thought that he would want to listen to the answer. [Interruption.] Mr Greene can continue to criticise the Government, but he and other members would expect us to get the detail of FMEL’s commitments to deliver the vessels, in relation to the revised work schedule and key milestones, so that we can manage the contract to completion. It would be a mistake to do anything else, and I hope that Mr Greene will reflect on the nature of his question.

I would like to take three supplementaries, so they must be quick, please.

Notwithstanding the issues between CMAL and FMEL regarding the vessels, will the minister confirm his support for the workforce at the yard, who are attempting to ensure that the two vessels, which will support the CMAL fleet, are built?

Absolutely. Stuart McMillan, who represents Inverclyde, makes an important point. Whatever issues have arisen, we recognise that the quality of the workmanship and the standard of the skills at FMEL are not in question. CMAL has made very positive remarks about the FMEL workforce, and we want to do all that we can to help. The Government’s actions, which are being led by my colleague Derek Mackay, have tried to support the shipbuilding sector and ensure that the workers in the yard have a long-term sustainable future. We continue to focus our efforts on those aims.

Given the impact of the dispute on FMEL, and the fact that the workforce wants the issue to be resolved more than anyone else, will the minister tell us a bit more about what is being done to support the workforce and, crucially, to protect the long-term future of the yard, along with the vital jobs and skills that it delivers?

The significant funding that the Government has provided is now a matter of record. It is worth stating that FMEL won the contract fair and square. Thereafter, we have been supporting the yard to continue its work and ensuring that sufficient resource is provided to see the contract through and to support the workforce during that period.

As members would expect, we continue to engage with the business on the support that we can give in relation to investment and skills. We continue to look at the establishment of a longer-term pipeline for the whole shipbuilding sector in Scotland to ensure the visibility of further work. The latest vessel that we are doing design work on is the Islay vessel. In due course, there will be the opportunity for FMEL and other yards to tender for that work.

We are trying to do a number of things across the spectrum. I am happy to meet Colin Smyth if he wishes to discuss the matter further.

Will the minister confirm that the Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to the completion and delivery of the Glen Sannox, 75 per cent of which has already been outfitted, to serve the Ardrossan to Brodick route, as well as to boat 802? Unlike Mr Greene, having asked the question, I will now listen to the answer, rather than heckle the minister.

I thank Kenneth Gibson for the question. I take this opportunity to stress that the contract for the vessels for CMAL is with FMEL, as the member indicated. As I said to Mr Greene, we are currently seeking details on the programme to complete the vessels. I would not want to comment on the exact percentage of the work that we understand has been completed at this time, but I note the figure that the member quotes. I will seek to have that confirmed and to get further detail of the work that remains to be completed on vessel 801 and vessel 802.

As previously stated, we remain absolutely committed to the completion of the vessels and to their deployment to serve their communities, such as those in Arran and in North Ayrshire more generally, and to ensuring the future of shipbuilding at the site and making sure that it continues for the long term.

Question 3 was not lodged.

Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (Signage)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to review the signage for the AWPR. (S5O-03233)

Significant consultation was undertaken prior to designing the signage for this project. That resulted in a strategy that was agreed with local authorities during the design development stage.

Prior to opening to traffic, all new sections of road undergo a safety audit that includes a thorough review of signage. All signage is reviewed to ensure that it fully meets the required design and road safety standards. The audit confirmed that all signage is compliant with the appropriate standards and the aforementioned strategy. Consequently, no further changes are planned.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, but I am disappointed with it. There have been a litany of issues with the management of the AWPR project, and signage is one that is still causing problems.

I will give the cabinet secretary three specific examples of where the signage falls down. First, signage at the start of the AWPR at the Stonehaven end do not include major north-east towns such as Fraserburgh and Peterhead. As a result, I have been contacted by local businesses in those areas, because drivers heading to the towns who do not know the area do not take the AWPR and end up going through Aberdeen.

Secondly, the signage still does not show that tractors are banned from the route, causing confusion and disruption to the local farming community.

Thirdly, local businesses on the old route have had their own signage removed because Transport Scotland does not allow it but refuses to work with them to find a compromise.

It is clear that the signage is not up to scratch, so I ask the cabinet secretary to commit to working with north-east councils and communities and to conduct a further review—

This question is taking longer than it took to build the road.

Excuse me! I will decide when a question is taking too long. Will you finish please, Mr Chapman?

Thank you.

It is clear that the signage is not up to scratch. Will the cabinet secretary commit to working with north-east councils and communities and conduct a review of it?

Can we have a short answer, please, cabinet secretary?

There was a delay in the completion of the road. However, it was delayed for some 65 years, before this Government made sure that it was delivered for the north-east of Scotland.

The member is incorrect. The audit shows that the standards of the signage are correct. The strategy for the signs was agreed with the local authorities, and it has been complied with in the completion of the route.

The member said that some of the signs are not able to hold local route information. In part, that is because if that was included, there would be too little room for the signs to carry the information that is required.

The member has raised the issue of tractors being allowed on the road on a number of occasions. The orders to designate the road a special road were issued back in 2010. It is a special road that is not allowed to be used by agricultural vehicles of the type that I know Mr Chapman is keen to see using it. I am afraid that they are not allowed.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I have just realised that I have been speaking about tractors and I did not declare an interest as a farmer, so I do so now.

I am pretty sure that most people would have guessed that you are a farmer.

Aircraft Noise

I will move on from tractors and start talking about aeroplanes.

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that communities are protected from the effects of aircraft noise. (S5O-03234)

I recognise the impact that noise from an airport can have on those who are affected. Although airspace management is reserved to the United Kingdom Government, under the Environmental Noise (Scotland) Regulations 2006, airports are required to produce noise action plans, which set out the actions that they will take to mitigate the impact of their operations on local communities. An airport is required to use all reasonable endeavours to take the actions that are set out in its action plan, and we would take action under the regulations if we thought that an airport was not doing so.

The cabinet secretary outlines the range of powers that airports have as competent authorities in relation to noise regulations. They also have very wide permitted development rights in planning, which often allows their unregulated and uncontrolled expansion. Does the cabinet secretary believe that, in the case of Edinburgh airport, ministers should have more control over operating conditions through formal designation of the airport and the use of powers under section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982?

As I mentioned, the Scottish ministers would use powers under the Environmental Noise (Scotland) Regulations 2006, which impose a requirement for the airport to have in place an action plan in relation to tackling noise. Any actions that were taken by Scottish ministers would relate to those regulations, and that is the approach that we would take with Edinburgh airport.

Mark Ruskell is correct in saying that airport operators have permitted development rights within the designated area of the airport. Permitted development rights are set out in secondary legislation under the existing planning powers. We have committed to reviewing permitted development rights following the passage of the Planning (Scotland) Bill, which is presently before Parliament.

Question 6 was not lodged.

Transport Infrastructure Investment

To ask the Scottish Government how much it has invested in transport infrastructure in the north-east in the last decade. (S5O-03236)

In the last decade, the Scottish Government has invested in roads that benefit the north-east, including the £745 million Aberdeen western peripheral route, the Balmedie project and the Inveramsay bridge improvement. Our planned dualling of the A96 will involve approximately £3 billion of investment.

We have invested around £11 million in sustainable active travel and have allocated £7.8 million to north-east councils for cycling, walking and safer streets. We are funding the £330 million rail improvement projects between Aberdeen and Inverness and Aberdeen and the central belt, which includes a new station at Laurencekirk. The investment involved in our purchase of the four vessels that operate ferry services between Aberdeen and the northern isles and our support of a further vessel and harbour improvements totals more than £59 million. Our annual support of £200 million for buses, including the national concessionary travel scheme, brings significant benefit to the people of the north-east.

Wow. In any other context, that would be worthy of a round of applause.

We have heard from Aberdein Considine that there has been a substantial increase in the number of views by potential customers of houses to the south of Aberdeen in Stonehaven and to the north. Is that not a serious early indication of the 16,000 new jobs that it is predicted that the AWPR might bring to us and the other benefits from that massive investment that has just been described?

All the early feedback on the AWPR has been overwhelmingly positive. In particular, there is a recognition that it is transforming journey times in the north-east, which is helping to improve and boost the north-east economy. The type of feedback that the member has just referred to is an example of the economic benefits that are starting to be realised. The AWPR is a demonstration of the Scottish Government’s determination to ensure that Scotland has a strong and robust economy, including in the north-east. We will continue to invest in major infrastructure projects, not just in the north-east but across the country, to support our communities and the Scottish economy.

I am sorry that there is no time for supplementaries; the afternoon’s business is very packed.

Question 8 was not lodged. That concludes portfolio question time.