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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 17, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 17 September 2020

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Employment Support, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Economy, Fair Work and Culture

The next item of business is portfolio questions. As usual, in order to get as many people in as possible, short and succinct questions will be good.

Members who are tuning in remotely and who want to ask a supplementary question should please indicate that with the letter “R” during the relevant questions. Others should press their request-to-speak buttons.

Covid-19 Assistance for Cutural Organisations (North East Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what financial assistance it has made available for cultural organisations in the north-east since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown. (S5O-04597)

Cultural organisations in the north-east have received funding from many Scottish Government Covid-19 funds, including Creative Scotland’s open project funding and performing arts venues relief fund; the pivotal enterprise resilience fund; the creative, tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund; the third sector resilience fund; and Covid-19 emergency funds administered by Museums Galleries Scotland.

Aberdeen Performing Arts, Castlegate Arts, the Out of the Darkness Theatre Company in Elgin, Deveron Projects in Huntly, and Findhorn Bay Arts are among those that have received funding.

I have also recently announced further funding of £59 million for the culture sector, from which cultural organisations in the north-east will be able to seek assistance.

It is clear that that funding is too little, too late for the first city in Scotland to have had to contend with a second lockdown.

In the past few weeks, one of Aberdeen’s biggest nightclubs, Nox, has closed its doors. Three other venues have had to launch a crowdfunder in order to survive. Comedy clubs, including Breakneck Comedy, have written to the Scottish National Party Government warning that Scottish comedy is at breaking point. Restaurants and pubs are closing, including, just yesterday, the popular Under the Hammer.

For all the warm words and self-congratulation, when will the SNP Government finally start to take an interest in the north-east, and provide some genuine support that might reverse the trend?

There is a succinct question for you.

The cultural organisations that I speak to are very grateful for the funding that has been announced. Much of it comes from consequentials from the United Kingdom Government, which may have been announced but are yet to be spent.

From today, the £15 million culture organisations and venues recovery fund, which will help support many of the organisations that Liam Kerr has talked about, including the comedy and theatre sectors, is open for applications. I encourage those who want to apply to make sure that they contact Creative Scotland to do so. That is action; it gets the money to cultural organisations; and people are very grateful for the efforts that have been made.

It is tough; it is difficult for everyone. However, I hope that Liam Kerr will also encourage the UK Government to think about the other sectors—in particular, the events sector—that cannot open any time soon, and to think about providing them with additional funds. That would bring consequentials, so we could do even more than we are already doing to support the north-east.

Last year, the cabinet secretary visited Creative Stirling, and I am sure that she was impressed with its role as a real incubator of innovation and social enterprise. However, across Scotland, such organisations are struggling to fit with Creative Scotland’s very narrow vision of what the sector can do. How will the cabinet secretary ensure that organisations such as Creative Stirling get the funding that they need to help lead placemaking and the recovery from Covid?

The culture organisations and venues recovery fund is very broad, and deliberately so. I cannot give an answer today as to whether Creative Stirling, which I have visited, is eligible, but I encourage it to consider applying to the fund. The fund has opened to applications today and the guidance was produced last week.

I was extremely impressed with Creative Stirling’s support for freelancers and artists and the vibrancy that it is bringing to the city centre. It is a really good example of what the creative industries and culture can bring. We have announced funding for freelancers and we hope to open that fund to applications soon, which will help individual artists. The Creative Stirling venue, the service that it provides and the energy, innovation and ideas that I experienced when I visited it are all welcome. I want Creative Stirling to survive and thrive.

On breakfast television, I saw Brian Cox doing an interview in which he said that he had written to the First Minister to make the case for the King’s theatre in Edinburgh, which is an independent theatre. I have tried to make that same case in writing to the cabinet secretary in relation to the Alhambra theatre in Dunfermline, which is also an independent theatre. Some independent theatres do not seem to be included in the money that is being distributed. Can that be looked at?

The King’s theatre is eligible for the performing arts venues fund, and it has applied to that. Brian Cox’s interest was to do with a capital project at the theatre, which we have had discussions about previously. In August, I replied to two letters from Capital Theatres in relation to that issue, and discussions on that are on-going.

However, the £15 million culture organisations and venues recovery fund is exactly for the type of theatre that the member wrote to me about. It is not just about support for regularly funded organisations. We want to try to prevent insolvencies and support freelancers. That fund is open for applications today, and I am sure that the Alhambra theatre, which the member wrote to me about, can consider applying to it.

Regional Economic Development (Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress with Scottish Enterprise’s strategic approach to regional economic development in Ayrshire. (S5O-04598)

Our response to the advisory group on economic recovery committed Scottish Enterprise to working intensively with partners in Ayrshire over the next 12 months as part of a continued shift to a more regionally focused place-based model for economic development. Scottish Enterprise is examining ways to strengthen collaboration in the region with partners in the Ayrshire regional economic partnership. The strategic approach to economic development in Ayrshire will also be the focus of discussion by the Scottish Enterprise board in early October.

I am pleased that that approach to delivering economic growth for Ayrshire is focusing on our local needs and aspirations. Can the cabinet secretary give an indication of what engagement there will be with the private and public sectors and whether that will include direct participation by local members of the Scottish Parliament and members of the United Kingdom Parliament?

I encourage Scottish Enterprise to work with the regional economic partnership, of which it is part, along with the local authorities. Obviously, engagement with elected members in the Scottish Parliament, Westminster and the local authority is expected of the regional partnerships.

We are keen that the Ayrshire growth deal is signed as soon as a date can be co-ordinated with the UK Government, as that will help to drive forward the investment that we are looking for. The vision for Ayrshire and collaboration between the three Ayrshire councils are really important. Central to that is support and investment from the private sector. All the growth deals have a combination of public funding and private investment. That co-ordination and regional focus from Scottish Enterprise will, I hope, bear fruit. We are in difficult times, which is exactly when we need the vision and drive to deliver economic growth in Ayrshire.

Apprenticeships (Highlands and Islands)

To ask the Scottish Government what additional action it is taking to protect apprenticeship schemes in the Highlands and Islands, and how this compares with the rest of Scotland. (S5O-04599)

Apprenticeships are a core part of Scotland’s skills system and continue to play a key role in our economic recovery from Covid-19. In the Highlands and Islands specifically, Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Government and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have signed a charter agreement that includes a commitment by the local authority to provide low-cost housing for apprentices to enable young people to earn, learn and live in the islands.

Funding is also available to support the provision of modern apprenticeships in Scotland’s rural areas through the rural supplement, and in 2019-20, spend in the Highlands and Islands was £459,250.

In addition, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Skills Development Scotland has been working with partners in the Highlands and Islands to support regional economic planning and to protect and expand existing apprenticeships within the region.

Apprentices in the Highlands face particular problems relating to travel. As many of them are unable to drive, they rely on transport that is provided by their employer and which is driven by another employee. To some employers, that is providing an unacceptable level of risk.

What advice can the minister give to employers and apprentices who face that challenging situation?

I would say to them that they should discuss that matter with their training provider. The very point of the rural supplement that I mentioned is to take account of the additional difficulties that I recognise exist in rural communities—Edward Mountain will have a better appreciation of those challenges than I do—in being able to commute to and from a place of work. The rural supplement provides support to meet some of the additional costs involved.

As I said, in any circumstance, I would encourage the apprentice and the employer to discuss such matters with their training provider in the first instance.

Consequentials (Allocation to Arts, Culture and Heritage Sectors)

To ask the Scottish Government how much of the £97 million in United Kingdom Government consequentials announced on 5 July for the arts, culture and heritage sectors is still to be allocated, and when a decision will be made on the allocation of any remaining funding. (S5O-04600)

The £81.47 million of emergency funding that has already been announced, together with the £10 million for performing arts venues, brings the total to more than £91 million.

Today, I can confirm that a further £5 million will be provided. That includes £4 million for historic environment sector recovery, which will support organisations to remain solvent, protect jobs and ensure that attractions can reopen. It will also assist investment in critical repairs and maintenance, and support historic building projects across Scotland that have been put at risk because of the pandemic. The other £1 million will support Scotland’s science centres as part of funding that has already been announced.

We are still in discussion with the sectors about the remaining funding, and we will consider, for example, supplementing the funds that have already been announced once demand is fully understood.

Although it is welcome that some of the funds are already open, the timescale for delivery of the funds goes well into November. Can the funds be accelerated? Is any bridging support available to enable organisations to get to that point?

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that companies can apply to the funds in question even if they already receive the small business support grant? The awarding of that grant excluded companies from receiving the events industry support fund.

The fund that has been announced today is the £15 million culture organisations and venues recovery fund. The guidelines for that were announced a week ago, and it opens for applications today. The applications will be assessed by 24 September. We are taking a very quick and rapid approach to our treatment of that fund.

As Claire Baker said, it might take until November for some of the funds to be allocated, but that is no different from the situation with the United Kingdom funds. The UK funds were announced earlier, but the application process is later—they will be distributed in November.

I am sorry—I should correct what I said. The additional funding for the performing arts recovery fund will be announced on 24 September. Applications can be made to the culture organisations and venues recovery fund from today and the deadline is Thursday 24 September.

We want to ensure that we reach as many organisations as possible. We are being quite targeted, and we are looking at how we can expand provision for freelancers.

We have also included nightclubs that provide live music as part of the venue’s activities—we know that that is an issue that Claire Baker and others have talked about. I understand the desire to get the funds distributed as quickly as possible but they have to be dealt with through a robust application process.

The awards for the grass-roots music venues stabilisation fund will be announced on Tuesday 22 September, and applications for the independent cinemas recovery and resilience fund opened on 14 September and have a deadline of 5 October.

There is a lot of work to be done on trying to process the applications and set up the schemes from scratch, but we are doing it by trying, where we can, to make sure that we have focused funds in areas where we know that there is general interest—the culture organisation and venues recovery fund is an example of that. We are also trying to make sure that we reach as many people as possible, and that is why we are holding back some funds—although it is not a huge amount—because we know that there will be great demand for the freelancers fund, for the venues fund and also, I suspect, for events funding.

I appreciate that your answer had to be long because there was a lot of detail in it, cabinet secretary. I will take a brief question from Maurice Golden.

In recent correspondence, the Scottish Government was unable to confirm whether further support would be available for Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre. Will the cabinet secretary take the opportunity today to remove that uncertainty for one of Glasgow’s much-loved institutions?

Maurice Golden was probably the last of about 20 MSPs who wrote to me about the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre. It has probably had more letters written about it than any other venue.

The Pavilion is a commercial theatre and it has international backing. It is quite well provided for, but it has pressures—I understand that. If Maurice Golden reads the letter that I wrote to him, he will see that I said that we are looking at what can be provided. A week ago, the theatre would have understood that applications to the culture organisations and venues recovery fund would open today; the guidance was available last week.

I am pleased that Maurice Golden has come belatedly to the final charge from all the members from across Glasgow and beyond to support the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre. It can now apply for the recovery fund, but Maurice Golden might want to tell it that the deadline for applications is Thursday 24 September and to put in an application; it has been able to look at the guidance for the past week.

I want to try to get through all the questions. Question 5 is from Murdo Fraser.

Covid-19 Restrictions (Business Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is giving to businesses that have been impacted the most by Covid-19 restrictions. (S5O-04601)

The Scottish Government has provided a package of direct support for business that is worth more than £2.3 billion. We have provided £972 million-worth of Covid rates relief to reduce business costs. That includes 1.6 per cent in rates relief for all non-domestic properties in 2021 and 100 per cent relief for properties in retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation. We have also funded more than 90,000 grants, exceeding £1 billion, targeting businesses that have been impacted most by Covid-19 through the small business and retail, hospitality and leisure support grants.

In addition, we have provided £157 million to 4,060 small and medium-sized enterprises and 5,676 self-employed people through our hardship and pivotal enterprise resilience funds, which gave our enterprise agencies and local authorities the flexibility to identify and support businesses that were suffering the greatest impact from the economic crisis. That support is provided on top of United Kingdom Government schemes, which we have welcomed. However, as we have pointed out repeatedly, the UK Government can and should go further to support Scottish businesses during these challenging times.

We have a number of wedding venues in Perthshire. They make an enormous economic contribution through direct employment and, more particularly, through indirect employment with ancillary employers. Those venues are struggling: they have had no income for most of this year, and they have no certainty about their ability to take bookings for future events. What more can the cabinet secretary do to assist those struggling venues?

We take the issue of wedding venues very seriously. Indeed, my colleague Fergus Ewing has engaged with the sector and in particular with venues such as hotels that rely on weddings for their income.

The announcement of changes to the number of people who are able to take part in receptions was welcomed by the hospitality industry because that can create the movement that they need for bookings.

A member of my family is getting married next year, so I know that there is a lot of pressure because of the lack of activity at the moment. Next year will be extremely busy and a lot of the issues are about sustainability between now and when businesses can reopen.

We are looking closely at the very few sector areas that still require to be closed or to have severe restrictions. I have discussed that with the UK Government. We know about aviation from yesterday’s debate and about the events sector, which we have talked about. We also know about nightclubs that do not have music, for example, as well as wedding venues. We are looking at the issue very seriously, and we are trying to take some steps.

The emergency funding through the hotel recovery programme, which Fergus Ewing also announced, will help particular venues and hotels. Again, that additional funding is specific to Scotland.

I would like to get everybody in, so I ask for short answers and short questions.

Murdo Fraser seems to have forgotten one lifeline. An extension of the furlough scheme would provide a lifeline for businesses that have been impacted most by the coronavirus restrictions and which will not have fully recovered by October. Given that the UK Government is not willing to extend the scheme, does the cabinet secretary agree that further fiscal flexibility should be devolved to Scotland to enable us to protect jobs and firms?

If the UK Government does not want to take on the responsibility to extend the furlough scheme, the least that it could do is to provide Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland with the flexibility to borrow, to allow us to move forward.

This afternoon, we have an opportunity to vote collectively for an extension to the furlough scheme. We understand that it cannot be extended for ever. Ken Skates of the Welsh Government, Nadhim Zahawi of the UK Government and I had an active discussion about the furlough scheme only yesterday at the quadrilateral meeting. There was no indication that the UK Government will change its position, but the minister was open to understanding the arguments for why the position should change.

I appeal to the Parliament to get behind the Government’s motion today and to send a strong message from Scotland that, given the evidence base and the international comparisons, we should be able to find a way forward.

With so many large offices rightly adapting to home working, the challenges that face independent businesses in our city centres are immediate and long term. What steps can the Scottish Government take right now to prevent our city centres from dying? Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in the long term, increasing the amount of domestic residential use in our city centres is one important part of the solution?

Last week, I had an active discussion with the Scottish Cities Alliance and the political leadership of all of Scotland’s cities about Patrick Harvie’s last point. We looked at how we can ensure that there is a vibrancy to our city centres that respects the changes in work patterns, which is important.

Only yesterday, the First Minister and I were on a call with the Scottish Retail Consortium, which is obviously very concerned about the footfall issues. We are also working with the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Scottish Trades Union Congress on how we might have a sensible phased return to remaining offices that respects home working and the changes and shifts that most companies are now making, which will probably be permanent.

We need to look at the lifeblood of city centres. That means diversification, and a revisioning of what that means. Rethinking residential use in city centres will help people who are looking for more housing, but it will also help the independent businesses to which Patrick Harvie referred.

Home Working (Public Sector)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports home working in the public sector. (S5O-04602)

In July, we published cross-sectoral guidance on home working that supports the public sector and all employers with the continuation of home working, where possible.

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture wrote to public sector leaders across Scotland recently to encourage them to act in accordance with the statement of fair work practices, which was published on 19 July. That includes facilitating home working and other flexible working arrangements. The statement outlines the shared commitment to putting fair work at the heart of Scotland’s economic recovery.

The trend towards home working that has been brought about by the pandemic has the potential to be beneficial in the longer run for Scotland’s rural and island areas, with more and more people able to pursue their chosen career path without having to move away from their communities. What can the Scottish Government do to ensure that more posts in the public sector can be open to people working from home or, perhaps, from hot desks in rural offices?

A recommendation on the subject was made at a meeting of the Convention of the Highlands and Islands in October 2019 and the Government has committed to analyse it with particular reference to the Highlands and Islands. Covid-19 has somewhat overtaken that work, but we are seeing that shift happen anyway, as employers are responding to the challenge and facilitating home working.

We need to show leadership in that regard. The Scottish Government is facilitating home working for its own workforce and is also committed to assessing the scope for the establishment of a centre for workplace transformation. Part of that work will involve discussions with those who represent the rural economy. We are committed to that exploration both as a short-term necessity and for the many benefits that it will bring in relation to flexible working for individuals and local economies, such as those that Alasdair Allan represents.

Investment (Stimulation)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to stimulate greater investment in Scotland’s economy in the wake of Covid-19. (S5O-04603)

The Government recognises the role of investment in Scotland’s economic recovery, as is clearly illustrated in the recently published programme for government 2020.

We have already launched our £3 billion green investment portfolio and will launch our inward investment plan in October this year to build on our performance as the best-performing place in the United Kingdom, outside of London, in attracting inward investment.

The minister knows fine well that Derek Mackay, the then finance secretary, promised a foreign direct investment growth plan. Where is that plan? How much has it raised and how is it different from the inward investment plan? When will the latter be published?

The member is perhaps a bit confused. The programme for government 2019 was quite clear that we would publish a foreign direct and inward investment plan in the summer of this year. That has clearly been delayed by a few weeks as a consequence of officials rightly focusing on the response and recovery plans in reaction to Covid. The FDI plan will be published, as I said, at the beginning of October this year. I look forward to seeing the member in the chamber for my statement on it and to answering his questions then.

Greater London, with 13 per cent of the UK’s population and 0.6 per cent of its area, received 28 per cent of UK Government transport investment and 46 per cent of UK Government infrastructure investment last year. What discussions have been held with the UK Government to ensure that Scotland receives its fair share of taxpayer-funded investment in transport and infrastructure?

I agree that it is essential that Scotland receives a fair and sufficient funding settlement on transport and infrastructure as well as on other key areas of spending and investment. The UK Government has been focused on London for too long and needs to deliver on its rhetoric of levelling up across the UK.

We published a paper in June that outlined 10 principles that the Scottish Government believes the UK Government should follow to support the economy and public finances as they recover from the impacts of Covid-19. Those principles include pressing the case for a significant fiscal stimulus and accelerating major investment in infrastructure, as well as loosening the restrictions on our borrowing powers.

The Scottish Government remains committed to increasing levels of investment through our national infrastructure mission, and the Scottish ministers will continue to promote the value of infrastructure investment in our dialogue with the UK Government.

Covid-19 (Funding for Grass-roots Music Venues in Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government how much funding it has provided to grass-roots music venues in Glasgow since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04604)

The grass-roots music venues stabilisation fund is worth a total of £2.2 million. Applications closed on 3 September and outcomes are expected to be notified on 22 September. To date, almost £240,000 has been awarded to grass-roots music venues in Glasgow from other Scottish Government funds.

Although any support is welcome, industry representatives still have serious concerns about the long-term survival of our much-loved venues and potential redundancies are just around the corner. Glasgow cannot afford to lose those vitally important venues. More than 16,000 jobs in Glasgow depend on the night-time economy, which generates £2.16 billion per year in income.

Can the minister urgently review what further support can be provided to that vital industry for Glasgow and work with local authorities, industry representatives and trade unions to ensure that that desperately needed support is provided?

My Scottish Government colleagues have engaged with the night-time economy and I encourage them to go further with that. We understand that 98 applications have been received for the fund that I just mentioned, 29 of which are from Glasgow venues.

I have had several recent discussions with Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow City Council. She has underlined the importance of the night-time economy and the music industry to the survival of much of our culture and the vibrancy of music tourism. As the UNESCO city of music, Glasgow has a great focus on that. I understand and appreciate, and am fully aware of, the seriousness of the issue. We will constantly look at other means by which we can help to support the night-time economy—I mentioned further issues regarding nightclubs that we will continue to look at.

That concludes questions on economy, fair work and culture. Time is pressing, so I will move straight on to the next item of business as I see that members are all here and ready.