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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 15, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 15 September 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Glow Gold September, Domestic Abuse Law, Decision Time


General Question Time

Economy (North Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to boost the economy in north Glasgow. (S5O-00141)

The Scottish Government is a full partner in the Glasgow city region deal and is contributing up to £500 million over the lifespan of the deal. The deal empowers Glasgow and its city region partners to identify, manage and deliver a programme of investment to stimulate economic growth and create jobs in the area. Scottish Enterprise works closely with 243 companies in the northern half of Glasgow across a range of different industries, from chemical services to food and drink, to support their growth ambitions, be that through entering new international markets, developing their people and their leadership skills or, indeed, investing in new product development.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of Allied Vehicles in Possilpark, which makes a huge contribution to the economy of north Glasgow, employing around 600 people. The company’s owners have invested £1.8 million of their own money in refurbishing Ashfield stadium, have helped to establish the Ashfield Development Trust and are seeking to boost the local economy by investing in the people who stay in that area. Local partners are applying to the Scottish Government regeneration fund with a £2 million bid to create a sporting hub at Ashfield stadium that would support young people who are least likely to be economically active to develop the skills that they require to gain employment. Does the cabinet secretary believe that getting those who are furthest away from the labour market to be economically active would be a very good use of the regeneration fund?

I do, and I also point out that yesterday we got new employment figures from the Office for National Statistics that show the Scottish economy outperforming the United Kingdom economy, because the unemployment rate is 4.7 per cent here and 4.9 per cent in the UK. However, that still means, as Bob Doris points out, that it is important to get those who are furthest away from the labour market into the labour market, which remains a critical aim for the Scottish Government.

I am aware of the support and help that Allied Vehicles provides locally and I commend the owners for the work that they are doing. In 2015, the owners of Allied Vehicles, Gerry Faccena and his brother, Michael Faccena—apologies if my pronunciation is not spot on—took on a major community redevelopment project in Ashfield stadium, as Bob Doris mentioned. I previously visited Allied Vehicles to see the work that the company does in converting vehicles into disabled-access taxi vehicles. Since then, Ashfield stadium has been taken over and has undergone a massive redevelopment. It now provides an important new facility for local community sports activities as well as hosting regular professional motorsports events. I am also aware that the owners of Allied Vehicles have founded a registered charity, the Ashfield Development Trust, and I am aware of its work. I wish the company and the charity every success in the future.

Does the minister agree with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report that was published last week that

“work represents the best route out of poverty”?

If he does, what action is he taking to boost job creation in Glasgow, given that figures from NatWest’s regional economic tracker publication this week show that employment growth in Scotland is slower than that in any other region or nation of the UK?

I disagree with that entirely. The ONS figures show that there has been a much greater reduction in unemployment in Scotland than there has been across the UK in the past three months. As I just mentioned, the unemployment level is 4.7 per cent in Scotland but 4.9 per cent in the UK. Given the situation here with youth employment, female employment and overall employment, I do not think that we have ever had more people employed in Scotland than we do at this time. I therefore disagree with the premise of Adam Tomkins’s question.

I agree with Adam Tomkins’s initial point about work being a route out of poverty and extremely important to people. To go back to the original question from Bob Doris, one of the biggest challenges that we have is the people who are furthest removed from the labour market. I concede that there is still structural unemployment in Scotland, as there is in the UK. That presents one of the biggest challenges, but the rewards for individuals who are furthest removed from the jobs market when they get into it are huge. We can see what that means for people in that situation if we go to the Haven supported employment development in Falkirk, for example. On that point, I agree with Adam Tomkins.

I am sure that the cabinet secretary agrees with me about the importance of local investment funding to support economic growth. Does he therefore agree that the cuts of £130 million that Glasgow City Council is having to endure are undermining its ability to promote economic growth in the city? In the forthcoming budget, will he agree to promote and support Glasgow being made a priority for funding to ensure that we promote jobs and growth in the city?

I am bowled over by the commendations of the improved employment figures, which also show benefits in Glasgow.

I agree, of course, about the need for investment. I mentioned the £1 billion city deal investment by the UK Government and the Scottish Government, which is going precisely towards the purposes that James Kelly outlined. If he has an issue with the overall quantum of money that is available to the Scottish Government and thereby to local government, he knows where that quantum comes from. It comes from his former partners in the better together campaign—the Tories. Perhaps he should direct some of his ire towards them instead of continually attacking the SNP.


To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent survey suggesting that 61 per cent of people in Scotland would like to see the country generate all of its electricity from renewables. (S5O-00142)

We welcome the findings of the poll, which highlight the high level of support from the people of Scotland for the transition to a low-carbon economy. That follows on from previous polls showing broad support for investment in renewable energy.

The Scottish Government has set ambitious electricity targets to source the equivalent of 100 per cent of electricity demand from renewables by 2020, and we are pleased that provisional statistics for 2015 show that we are more than halfway, at 56.9 per cent.

Unlike the United Kingdom Government, which announced today that it will proceed with Hinkley C, we also believe that Scotland’s long-term energy needs can be met without the need for new nuclear capacity. The nuclear strike price has been set at £92.50 per megawatt hour or £89.50 per megawatt hour if EDF investment at Sizewell C goes ahead, and it will be subsidised by UK consumers until around 2060. That compares with onshore wind projects delivering at £82.50 in 2018-19. Money could be better spent on supporting onshore and offshore renewables that can come online quickly at a competitive price.

We will reinforce our continued support for a stable, managed transition to a decarbonised energy system in our energy strategy, a draft version of which is due to be published around the end of the year.

With regard to unleashing our considerable energy potential from wind, I ask the minister what effect the removal of wind farm subsidies by the UK Government has had on realising the stated wishes of the public in this regard. Does he agree that, in order to encourage and ensure continued investment in the renewables industry in Scotland, it is vital that we remain part of the European Union?

Having a route to market for onshore wind and other renewable energy sources in Scotland is critical. The UK Government could certainly help to meet the wishes of the public who expressed their views in the survey by allowing the onshore wind industry to have certainty about its route to market. By providing a price stabilisation mechanism, the UK Government can ensure that developers have the reliability that is required for them to make the large financial commitments to build out projects that can provide us with low-cost renewable electricity.

However, it is not just in onshore wind that certainty is required. Offshore wind, too, needs clarity about future contracts for difference allocation rounds, delays to which are impacting on the industry.

I agree with Gillian Martin that our membership of the European Union is important given the role that it has played in supporting investment in renewables and helping with the statutory targets that it has put in place for all member state Governments to drive legislation at a domestic level and ensure that there is a double lock to support the development of renewable energy.

The poll is indeed encouraging on electricity generation. However, one of the continuing cultural challenges is the poor development of renewable district heating, on which we lag far behind Germany and some other European countries, as is highlighted in the UK Committee on Climate Change report. What is the Scottish Government doing to promote community and co-operative models, to work with local authorities to dispel the negative myths in this country about that essential technology and to support its installation?

Claudia Beamish has asked an important question. More than half of the energy that we consume in Scotland is consumed in our production of heat for domestic and non-domestic purposes, and that will clearly be a major focus as we develop our draft energy strategy. I will welcome engagement with Claudia Beamish as we go through the process to ensure that we take on board the point that she raises. District heating will be reflected in the draft energy strategy. In recent meetings with the steering group, we have looked at the regulatory drivers that there may be for driving forward investment in the area, and I would be interested to hear the member’s views on how we can do that to support local communities.

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests, particularly with respect to Zero Waste Scotland.

An increase in renewables, particularly wind, will lead to periods of peak supply that the transmission network cannot cope with. Will the Scottish Government consider commissioning a commercial feasibility study into an electric arc furnace to recycle steel and take excess electricity and avoid constraint payments?

I agree that we need to find markets for the electricity and ensure that they maximise the return on investment in onshore wind, so I welcome Maurice Golden’s positive remarks in that regard.

We are looking at how we can invest in storage to deal with the grid constraints that Maurice Golden referred to through new technology such as flow battery technology and through hydrogen storage as a means of using electricity to generate fuel. We have two pilot projects—one in Orkney and one in Fife—that I would be interested to show him. I will take the point about an electric arc furnace. Fergus Ewing, who represents rural economy interests, and I are in discussion about how we can support potential for recycling steel in Scotland.

Feminine Hygiene Products (Affordability)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will carry out an assessment of the impact of the affordability of feminine hygiene products on the health of women and girls. (S5O-00143)

It is an unacceptable and uncomfortable truth that for some of the most vulnerable in our society, who are those most impacted by the United Kingdom Government’s austerity programme, sanitary products can be unaffordable. Although we strain every sinew to ensure fairness and equality in the social policies that we pursue, unfortunately we cannot stop all the impacts of reckless policies of a UK Government that is intent on slashing Scotland’s budget.

We have worked hard in a number of ways to mitigate the impact of the UK Government’s cuts, and I am determined to explore what more can be done to ensure that women across Scotland do not face the indignity of being unable to access sanitary products. I, or one of my ministerial colleagues, will meet Engender, associated groups and members of this Parliament, such as Gillian Martin, who has raised this issue in the past, to explore what more can be done to tackle this gendered inequality within the limitations of the current settlement.

Following a report in The Herald last month, we know that charities such as Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid and Barnardo’s Scotland have indicated that access to feminine hygiene products can be a real problem for women and girls living in poverty here in Scotland. International research has shown that lack of access to such products can lead to health challenges.

I welcome the minister’s move towards assessing the impact on women and girls, and I ask whether she will commit to assessing the cost of providing free access to feminine hygiene products.

I thank Monica Lennon and other members who have raised this issue. As I said in my initial reply, I or one of my ministerial colleagues will meet Engender and other groups, such as those that Monica Lennon mentioned in her supplementary question, to ensure that we can explore what more can be done, within the limitations that we have, to tackle this gendered inequality.

City Deals

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the status of each of the city deals. (S5O-00144)

Cities and their regions are the engines of our economy, which is why we are committed to working with all our cities to unlock investment and stimulate growth. The Scottish Government is a full partner in the Glasgow city region city deal, supporting all three strands and contributing £500 million over 20 years to the infrastructure investment fund. Heads of terms agreements have been signed for Aberdeen and Inverness city deals, and the Scottish Government has committed to supporting city region deals for Edinburgh and the south-east of Scotland, and for Stirling city region. Dundee and Perth, together with Angus, in the north of Fife, are currently working on developing proposals for a Tay cities region deal, and the Scottish Government is committed to discussing and supporting the development of that.

What safeguards are being put in place for communities that are close to but not part of city deals? In particular, I am thinking of Falkirk, which is sandwiched between Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling.

In my first answer I mentioned the Stirling city deal. It was open to areas around Stirling to come together on that, but, as Alison Harris says, it looks as though Falkirk is not part of that deal. We have said to parts of Scotland that are not part of city deals that we are, of course, willing to listen to their representations. The example that I would give is that of the three Ayrshire authorities, with whom I will meet shortly. They are not part of a city deal but, like Falkirk, they have real concerns about how their interests are being taken forward.

We will maintain a listening mode to make sure that we take on board those concerns. If Falkirk wants to speak to the Scottish Government, we will be happy to meet its representatives.

Unfortunately I was unable to hear the cabinet secretary’s reply to the last question.

Will the cabinet secretary provide reassurance that other areas of Scotland, such as Ayrshire, will not be disadvantaged by the focus on city deals?

I am sorry that Kenneth Gibson could not hear my response because I mentioned Ayrshire specifically. We know that all areas of Scotland need to flourish if we are to deliver on our economic ambitions to increase inclusive growth. A big step towards that was taken in the unemployment figures, which have not been mentioned by any other party this morning. We are outperforming the United Kingdom with 4.7 per cent unemployment as opposed to 4.9 per cent. That benefit is being felt across Scotland.

In addition, we are committed to working with regional partnerships and to encouraging regions that are facing economic challenges to work collaboratively with local partners. That is happening in Ayrshire, specifically, with the three councils coming together. The Ayrshire economic partnership brings together North, South and East Ayrshire and a range of other regional partners to consider how best to stimulate inclusive economic growth. They are in the process of developing proposals for an Ayrshire growth deal.

We welcome the work that is under way and I will meet that partnership to discuss it further.

The cabinet secretary will recall his pledge to fund the east coast rail improvements at the time of the launch of the Aberdeen city region deal, but he will know that no timetable for those improvements has yet been published. When will that timetable be shared, particularly with local partners in the Aberdeen city region joint committee?

As Lewis Macdonald said, that was not part of the city deal. We wanted to make it so, but the United Kingdom Government would not go further than the city deal that was eventually agreed. We went substantially further. The UK contribution and the Scottish contribution to the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire city deal was doubled by the commitments that we made to the transport projects, one of which Lewis Macdonald has mentioned.

Those projects had the same timescale as the city deal, which was within 10 years. Work is on-going on the east coast main line project, so it is not necessarily the case that it will take 10 years, and the work that is being done will inform a proper timescale. As I have said already, we are happy to share that information with the partners in the city deal once we have it.

Will the Government give an assurance as part of the Glasgow city deal that it will not support a rail link to Glasgow airport unless there is an assurance that there will be sufficient partners?

It is worth outlining exactly the nature of the city deal. As asked for by the local authorities concerned, the city deal was to pass over the resources and powers for the partners to take forward work themselves—not the Scottish Government or the UK Government. We are fully supportive of the Glasgow city region deal. We want to see the Glasgow airport access project succeed. Glasgow and Renfrewshire councils lead that project on behalf of the city deal and they have the funding to deliver it. It is important that the project team continues with its work to produce a robust business case. The UK Government and the Scottish Government have put assurance frameworks in place that have to be satisfied in relation to any projects. It is important that the project team continues with that work. Given the fact that, as soon as the city deal was announced, Glasgow and Renfrewshire councils said that it was their first priority and was what the city deal was all about, it is important that they get on and deal with it. They have the resources and the powers, so it is up to them now to deliver it.

“Supporting Scotland’s Economic Growth: The role of the Scottish Government and its economic development agencies”

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take in response to the Audit Scotland report, “Supporting Scotland’s Economic Growth: The role of the Scottish Government and its economic development agencies”. (S5O-00145)

We welcome this contribution to the debate on Scotland’s economy and will consider the recommendations as part of our enterprise and skills review. The review has already benefited from high levels of stakeholder interest; 320 responses have come in already. We have also commissioned two specialist advisory reports, which we will publish shortly, alongside a summary of the call for evidence.

There is no question but that the European Union referendum result has changed the context since we started the review and, to take account of Brexit, we have to build fully on stakeholder views. In light of ministerial review group views, expressed through that forum, ministers have decided to take forward the review in two stages. Stage one concludes shortly and will set out the key recommendations for change across a number of areas. Phase 2 will take forward consideration of the recommendations with key partners. The timetable for phase 2 will be set out alongside the phase 1 outcomes.

I am conscious of time so let me briefly ask another question. If the Scottish National Party is serious about business development here in Scotland, why has it cut the budget of the Scottish Enterprise agency by 12 per cent over the past six years and why will the Government not listen to business organisations that are asking for the removal of the large business supplement, a tax that is forcing many businesses out of business? This week, the Stirling Observer carries an article saying that one of the major high street stores in Stirling is closing precisely because of that damaging tax.

It is ironic for a Conservative member to ask why budgets are reducing. To go back to the point that he started with, the report that he mentioned from the Auditor General for Scotland says that the enterprise bodies are performing well. The evidence of that is in the employment figures, on which we have heard not a squeak from the Conservative Party. Every time the figures have been announced recently, Conservatives have said that they are evidence that Scotland is being outperformed by the rest of the UK. What are the Conservatives saying now? Scotland is outperforming the rest of the UK on female employment and youth employment, yet they have nothing to say about that.

Of course we want to have our economic development and skills bodies performing as highly as possible. A look through the recommendations in the report will find that they are key to a review that we announced before we got the report and they will feature substantially in the outcomes. Dean Lockhart should be reassured that the Scottish Government is on the case, as demonstrated by the jobs figures that have come out this week.

Before we move to the next item of business, members may wish to join me in welcoming to our gallery the Hon Justin Muturi MP, Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Kenya, and members of the Parliamentary Service Commission. [Applause.]

I also welcome the Hon Lechesa Tsenoli, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of South Africa. [Applause.]