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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 17 November 2020

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Social Security Benefits, Veterans and Armed Forces Community, Decision Time, Musicians and Music Industry (Covid-19)


Topical Question Time

Covid-19 Megalab

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the announcement that Scotland will host one of the two proposed Covid-19 megalabs. (S5T-02529)

The Scottish Government welcomes the announcement. The creation of the megalabs will be an important step in our fight against the virus, and the decision to locate one of them in Scotland is a sign of the strength of Scotland’s life sciences sector, and of our strong skills and research base.

The lab will provide up to 300,000 tests per day when it is at full capacity, using end-point PCR—polymerase chain reaction—technology, and will have an important role beyond the pandemic in diagnostics and support for work in precision medicine. The exact location of the megalab in Scotland is still to be confirmed, and we are working closely with our counterparts in the United Kingdom Government on that.

I acknowledge the cabinet secretary’s welcome for the announcement. It will mean the creation of an extra 1,800 Scottish jobs, which highlights the UK Government’s overall commitment to supporting Scottish jobs during the pandemic. Can the cabinet secretary confirm whether she has met the UK Government to discuss the proposal? Can she reconfirm her Government’s full support in resources to ensure that it can be delivered in a timely manner?

My officials have been actively involved, virtually day-to-day, with their colleagues in the UK Government as the proposition of a megalab has developed, and they put forward the case for one being located in Scotland. They have regular contact on that.

As I think Mr Cameron knows, I have a four-nations meeting with my counterparts—the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care; the Minister for Health and Social Services for Wales, Vaughan Gething; and the Minister of Health for Northern Ireland, Robin Swann—at least fortnightly. Currently those meetings are running weekly, and the last one was on Friday. We discuss a number of issues in and around Covid, including testing and the Covid vaccine programme. We have been doing that for the past nine to 10 months.

We are in regular contact with the UK Government at ministerial level and official level, not only on the megalab in Scotland, but to ensure that the development aligns with our own three regional hubs—which are on track to be fully operational by the end of this calendar year—and to ensure that we are getting the best possible shared value, in terms of consumables and other issues.

The other organisation that I should mention, which has been particularly engaged in the megalab proposition, is Scottish Enterprise. Its knowledge of locations and business needs in and around Scotland has been particularly helpful.

The cabinet secretary mentioned the pledge to introduce three new regional laboratory hubs. The new Scottish megalab will see daily testing capacity increase by 300,000. In the Scottish Government’s clinical and scientific review, the pledge in relation to the new regional hubs was that they would open in November and December. Can the cabinet secretary give an update on whether the deadlines for those months will be met?

The three regional hubs are in Glasgow, Grampian and, I believe, in Lothian. The Glasgow hub will open at full capacity of 12,000 tests per day from 12 December. It will have done its trial runs at the back end of this month and into December to ensure that it is ready to open fully on that basis.

The other two hubs will also open in mid-December, so that by the end of this calendar year, they will be contributing an additional 22,000 tests per day, over what our national health service labs and our partnerships with commercial providers and academia provide.

Waste Exports

To ask the Scottish Government how it will reduce the amount of waste that it exports, in light of reports that 1.7 million tonnes left the country in 2018, including almost all plastics, for recycling. (S5T-02535)

In 2019, the whole-life carbon impacts of Scotland’s household waste reached their lowest level since official recording began. However, we know that there is still work to be done to reduce waste and develop a thriving circular economy.

We want to build a fully circular economy and to be able to manage more of our own waste within Scotland, including the 14 per cent of our waste that is currently processed elsewhere. Our deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers will, from July 2022, support more opportunities for reprocessing plastic. Our programme for government 2020-21 committed us to encouraging investment in reprocessing, in order to create good green jobs and a ready supply of recycled material.

It was reported at the weekend that Scotland now exports 4.5 times more waste than it did in 2004. Whether that is to England, Europe or the other side of the world, it is a filthy statistic. What are the Scottish Government’s projections for offshoring our waste over the coming years?

I reiterate what I said to the member in my first response. We are absolutely committed, as a responsible Government, to tackling our own waste. That is why we set out a number of measures in the programme for government this year.

As I have stated, that is really about trying to stimulate the development of reprocessing infrastructure to deal with waste materials, particularly plastic. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform and the Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, Ivan McKee, have been in touch with local authority chief executives to look at how we can work together to stimulate opportunities for more of that processing to take place in Scotland. In our programme for government, we committed £70 million to improving recycling collection infrastructure and developing a new route map to reducing waste. We will also introduce the deposit return scheme, which we hope will have a massive positive impact.

The minister will know that I have been campaigning for the introduction of a coffee cup levy for some time now. In October last year, the Scottish Government confirmed that that would be part of the now-dropped circular economy bill. We are already sending billions of cups to landfill per year, and that was before the pandemic introduced a new wave of single-use items. The environment cannot wait, so what can the Scottish Government do in advance of the circular economy bill being introduced?

I emphasise that the fact that we were not able to take forward the circular economy bill does not mean that any of the work that we looked to do will be halted. We recognise the issues, and I am sure that the member will be aware that we set out in the programme for government that we would see how we could put the single-use plastics directive into effect. That deals with 10 of the most common plastic items that we see washed up along the shoreline. The consultation started on 12 October for a period of 12 weeks, and it looks at how we can implement a ban to stop those items ending up in our oceans.

As I have outlined, we have the DRS scheme and the £70 million that we have committed to improving recycling collection infrastructure. We are looking at using a whole host of measures to tackle the issues that we face, and I am more than happy to work with the member and other members to see how we can improve that work. If there is anything that we can be doing, or anything that we can be doing faster, I am more than happy to look at that.

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

The Scottish National Party’s record shows that 3 tonnes of waste have been shipped abroad every minute, that just 2 per cent of plastics have been recycled in Scotland, that there is no 2021 landfill ban, that the 2013 recycling targets have still not been met, that recycling rates are lower now than they were in 2016, and that we are turning Scotland into the ashtray of Europe, with incineration up almost 400 per cent. Is the minister proud of that record?

I refute what Maurice Golden says. As I have said, we have a whole host of measures in place to tackle what we are facing, and we want to make the most of our capabilities to build the necessary infrastructure and to create a fully circular economy. I have talked about the deposit return scheme.

The member mentioned the landfill target. We continue to make progress towards our ambitious recycling and waste targets. Across Scotland in 2018, we recycled more than we sent to landfill, which is great news for our action on climate change.

We know that there is more to be done. That is why our programme for government includes the investment of £70 million that I have talked about, and we are undertaking a review of the household recycling charter and code of practice, which will ensure that the right decision is the easy decision for businesses and households when it comes to recycling.

We are absolutely committed to looking at all possible measures to improve recycling rates and to building capacity to deal with that recycling in Scotland as best we can.

As we have heard, it is shocking how much of what could be reused, recycled and remanufactured is being exported. In view of the fact that there will, disappointingly, not be a circular economy bill during the current parliamentary session, what specific support and advice has been given on the development of remanufacturing—particularly of plastics—as part of an industrial strategy? There are already excellent businesses in that area, such as MacRebur, which makes recycled plastic road surfaces, and Solway Recycling, which turns used plastic straw bale coverings into fencing, decking, hen houses and much more. Those companies act as positive models. How can we progress that far more rapidly as we move towards net zero?

I am sure that Claudia Beamish and other members will understand why we could not introduce the circular economy bill, which we, of course, wanted to progress. We are actively working with potential investors in plastic reprocessing capacity in Scotland. One potential investor has gone public with outline plans for such an investment at Dunbar, and we are working with them to create the conditions for that kind of opportunity to be realised. We are also open to working with other potential investors in that market.

One issue that is causing difficulties at present is a perception that the current extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging creates incentives for exporting waste plastic. We are currently working with the other Governments of the United Kingdom on reform of that scheme, and one of the key objectives is to strengthen incentives for domestic reprocessing.

The amount of waste that is exported by the UK to European Union countries is a huge issue and will potentially be a real problem post-Brexit. Will the minister expand on the progress that has been made by the waste sector on reducing greenhouse gases since the 1990 baseline, and will she outline what is in the programme for government that means that Scotland will be able to deal with its own waste material?

Our Scottish greenhouse gas emission statistics show that carbon emissions from waste management have fallen by more than 70 per cent, which is a reduction of nearly 4.5 million tonnes between 1990 and 2018. As I highlighted in some of my previous responses, our programme for government includes the investment of £70 million to improve collection infrastructure and to develop a new route map to reducing waste and improving recycling. There are also the other measures that I outlined to Claudia Beamish, on which the cabinet secretary and Ivan McKee are working with local authorities to see what we can do to stimulate interest in processing capacity, which is what we have to do as a responsible nation. We have to capitalise and maximise on the opportunities that are presented to us through the circular economy.

The landfill ban has now been moved back to 2025, which industry has described as a failure of Government leadership to get the—[Inaudible.] Will the minister ensure that we will not see a rush to build incinerators across Scotland to fill that gap, and will she commit to including consideration of a moratorium on incinerators in the next national planning framework?

On Mark Ruskell’s point about the landfill ban, local authorities had already made significant progress towards the target of sending no biodegradable municipal waste to landfill by 2021. Despite that progress, it was clear that full compliance by 2021 could be achieved only by relying on exporting waste and, in particular, landfilling in England. That would have had a consequent environmental impact and additional financial implications for local authorities. Therefore, an implementation date of 31 December 2025 for the ban has now been set out in legislation. However, we expect significant progress ahead of that date. There will be a centrally supported procurement solution to help remaining local authorities to secure alternative solutions to comply with the forthcoming ban, and the Scottish landfill tax will be used to provide a further incentive to ensure that transitional work proceeds at the necessary pace.