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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 18 June 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Cycling Action Plan, Business Motion, Planning (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 (Day 1), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Unforgotten Forces Consortium


Portfolio Question Time

Tourism Businesses (North-east)

To ask the Scottish Government what consultations it has had with tourism businesses in the north-east regarding factors that can impact on the effectiveness of their operation. (S5O-03397)

First of all, Presiding Officer, I wish you, and all members in the chamber, a happy Linlithgow marches day. Long live Linlithgow and long live the marches.

The Scottish Government recognises the growing importance of tourism to the north-east’s economy and is committed to its sustainable development. In March, I had the pleasure of visiting Aberdeen and of giving the keynote address at VisitAberdeenshire’s conference, at which I met and heard at first hand from key individuals in the industry about not only the issues that they face but the area’s wider ambition. We will, of course, continue to engage with all stakeholders, including those in the tourism sector, in delivering our policies and functions.

Recently, Charles Skene, the founder of the Skene Group and a key individual in the industry, warned of the devastating impact that the Scottish National Party’s approach to business rates is having on his and other hospitality businesses in the north-east. Has the Scottish Government considered the effect of such policies on the north-east’s tourism economy? If so, what does it propose to do about it?

In Scotland, the poundage for 2019-20 will be set at 49p, which is an increase lower than the rate of inflation. That will ensure that, next year, more than 90 per cent of properties in Scotland will pay a lower poundage than they would in other parts of the United Kingdom. In 2019-20, we will also continue to offer the most generous package of reliefs in the UK, which is worth more than £750 million. We will also maintain the unique business growth accelerator, which encourages new business investment by temporarily suspending rates liabilities on new-build properties and non-domestic property improvements. Further, we will continue to apply transitional relief for all but the very largest hospitality industry organisations in Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire until 2022. That means a 12.5 per cent real-terms annual cap, which is confirmation that we value the hospitality sector across Scotland, but especially in the area that Mr Kerr represents. Not only are our business rates generally competitive; we offer additional support for the tourism sector in Aberdeen. Some of the higher-end organisations in the hospitality sector might have their own issues, but I say to Mr Kerr that the vast majority of tourism and hospitality businesses in the north-east welcome those measures.

Historic Environment Scotland (Foreign Visitor Numbers)

To ask the Scottish Government what the percentage change in foreign visitor numbers at Historic Environment Scotland sites has been since 2014. (S5O-03398)

Historic Environment Scotland’s general visitor numbers have been steadily increasing since 2014. The number of overseas visitors to sites in its care has increased by an estimated 41 per cent in five years. That figure, which is based on visitor sampling across the estate, clearly indicates the growth of the organisation’s international market in recent years. The reduction in the value of the pound since 2016 and the expansion of passenger numbers through Edinburgh airport are two of the driving forces behind the increase. Historic Environment Scotland seeks to maintain that by working with partners, communities and stakeholders to develop a strategic vision and plans for prioritised sites.

I welcome the higher figures for visitors to historic sites, which are a welcome boost to our economy, especially locally, with a number of such sites having benefited from being film locations for United States-financed dramas such as “Outlander”. However, the cabinet secretary will be aware of an increase—in both her constituency and mine—in the number of foreign visitors visiting film locations at points of historic interest, which has resulted in increased traffic on local roads. Is she aware of any plans that Historic Environment Scotland or the National Trust for Scotland might have to erect “keep left” signs at exits from their properties, similar to those that are located at sea ports and airports and on tourist routes, to act as a reminder to foreign drivers who might be unfamiliar with driving in Scotland and the wider UK?

The National Trust for Scotland is, of course, independent of the Scottish Government.

I am aware of the issue, and I have contacted Historic Environment Scotland about local issues in my constituency.

Transport Scotland is not aware of any general plans to install “keep left” signs at properties. Before anything was to be placed on a public road, consultation with the roads authorities would be required. However, the member may be aware that, yesterday, at Urquhart castle, Police Scotland and road safety Scotland launched a new campaign to remind tourists to drive on the left. The campaign, which coincides with the peak tourism season, encourages visitors to enjoy Scottish roads safely.

A new-look tourist information leaflet on driving in Scotland will be distributed when people pick up hire cars, and an electronic version will be issued at the time of booking. In addition, “drive on the left” wrist bands in multiple languages, which are to be worn on the left wrist by drivers, will be distributed via car rental companies to remind and prompt visitors to keep left.

Although it is good news that Historic Environment Scotland has seen a 5 per cent increase in visitor numbers in the past year, with Blackness castle having seen a 36 per cent increase, that will add to the infrastructure and maintenance costs at sites. Over the past two years, Historic Environment Scotland has seen a 12 per cent cut in its budget, and, although the increased revenue is important, it does not compensate for that reduction. What discussions is the cabinet secretary having with the heritage sector about its ability to meet visitor demand, including for improved accessibility?

As we speak, the eastern borders of Linlithgow are being inspected at Blackness, which is the port for the town. As the member said, there has been a major increase in visitor numbers, which is related to “Outlander”.

Last week, at Doune castle, which doubles as Castle Leoch in “Outlander”, I announced the latest round of our rural tourism infrastructure fund, which exists precisely to make sure that there is added investment. Doune village will be better connected to the castle so that it can benefit from the increasing tourist numbers. Given the increasing pressure of numbers, we are working with local communities across the country to ensure that there is infrastructure such as car parking, facilities, signage and paths.

Historic Environment Scotland’s overall spend has been maintained, partly because it has seen an increase in visitor numbers and, indeed, because the generation of its external funding has increased. We are very conscious of that. However, I stress that, at a time of difficult financial pressures, we have managed to maintain the grant funding that Historic Environment Scotland gives to others. It has been able to maintain its investment precisely because of the increased tourist numbers complemented by the investment by the Scottish Government.

In recent years, the Scottish Government has, for the first time, provided capital investment to Historic Environment Scotland specifically to help with its infrastructure needs. That has been welcomed by the Historic Environment Scotland board.

Edinburgh Festivals (Artists’ Visas)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it is aware of any action being taken to ensure that the Edinburgh festivals do not experience the same difficulties as last year regarding complex visa rules faced by some artists. (S5O-03399)

At the end of last month, I was pleased to close the members’ business debate on the important topic of visa issues for festivals. For the benefit of those who were not in the chamber on that day, I repeat that I have written to the Home Secretary as well as to other ministers, inviting their attendance at an international festivals visa summit here, in Edinburgh. I have reiterated that a better solution for visiting artists, performers and others must be integral to any future immigration system.

The United Kingdom Government’s current visa application process for visitors who come to Scotland for our festivals is lengthy and complex, and there is a catalogue of examples of poor decision making. The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that Scotland’s voice and that of our internationally renowned festivals is heard in the discussion on the future immigration system.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and for her efforts to address the problem. The issue needs to be addressed for the long term. Will the cabinet secretary join me in calling on the UK Government to make the visa process for this year’s festivals more transparent and to allow festival organisers a chance to put any errors or omissions right before a visa refusal is received?

I will, indeed. We have reminded the Home Office that it needs to address that for this year, not just for future years. The member will have heard about the real concern of two Indian artists who have come as part of a UK-India cultural exchange programme, which was set up by the UK Government with funding from the British Council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government. Paragon, a charity that promotes Scottish inclusive music and dance, was involved in that particular programme.

The galling thing is that the artists’ non-disabled colleagues from the charitable foundation in Chennai, who were travelling to Glasgow with them to support them, were granted entry without any trouble but the two young artists were not. We are looking into the issue and we are asking the Home Office to look into it. As of now, and as of this weekend, we are continuing to see the issues that are faced by cultural artists who want to come and perform here. They should be made welcome, and we should celebrate our international musical connections. The Home Office really must pay special attention to those issues this year.

I am aware that we are well over halfway through portfolio questions time-wise but not question-wise, so I ask members to be a bit sharper, please.

Remembering Srebrenica Scotland (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Remembering Srebrenica Scotland and what was discussed. (S5O-03400)

There are regular discussions with Remembering Srebrenica Scotland on all matters of interest. Most recently, we discussed how ministers could participate in its lessons from Srebrenica delegations. I understand that Ms Todd, the Minister for Children and Young People, attended earlier this month. The First Minister visited Srebrenica in 2016 and described it as an incredibly powerful experience. The Scottish Government recognises the importance of learning from what happened so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

Last week, I was in Sarajevo. In 1984, it hosted the Olympic games and was seen as a multi-ethnic, multifaith city. By 1992, it was a city under siege. In the four years that followed, 160,000 people lost their lives. In these times of rising division and prejudice, can the cabinet secretary set out how we are learning lessons from that in our classrooms and communities across the country? It was best put by Rashad, a survivor, who said:

“We must not just live next to each other but live with each other. We must stop the ‘us v. them’ and the othering, and we must speak out against prejudice no matter whenever or wherever it takes place.”

I followed the member’s own contribution to his visit with interest. The message is one of how rapidly a community and a society can descend into hate, and that is something that we must all learn from. I know that other colleagues are pursuing the issues in relation to classrooms and communities.

On the matter of bringing people together, the point that it is not a case of “us v them” is precisely the message that we have put into our “We are Scotland” campaign on social media, to ensure that we, as a Government, stand firm. Standing firm and showing leadership at this time is so important. In the society that we live in, what has been fomented by some in the far right in this country, in particular, should lead us to be always vigilant. That means tackling issues up front rather than when they actually arise. As we have seen in other countries, a society can descend into such situations very quickly, and we should definitely guard against that.

Tourism Careers

To ask the Scottish Government how it will support the tourism industry in championing the sector as a career destination of choice. (S5O-03401)

The Scottish Government has committed to promoting tourism as a career of choice and has set aside £100,000 to develop a campaign to support that commitment. The campaign will build on the existing tourism skills investment plan led by Skills Development Scotland. It aims to address existing and future skills challenges across the sector, particularly those that will arise as a result of exiting the European Union. The Scottish Government has also engaged with the Poverty Alliance, with the aim of increasing payment of the living wage and enhancing fair work practices within the sector in order to support that aim.

A vital part of encouraging people to work in tourism is ensuring that people are studying courses on the industry at further and higher education levels. However, according to the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, in North East Scotland College in 2017-18 2,648 people were enrolled in health studies courses, 748 were doing hair or personal care courses and only 178 were studying tourism. Does the cabinet secretary agree that we need more people to take tourism courses? What does she plan to do to make that happen?

That is precisely why we are having a campaign to promote tourism as a career of choice. As Tom Mason might be aware, the number of young people is reducing, so we need to encourage people of all ages into the tourism sector. However, the sector is, of course, in competition with the health sector, among others. It is therefore more important than ever that we embark on such a campaign, and that we have champions who can show how tourism can be a very successful career choice. People can go very far in the sector at a very young age, which should make it very attractive to that market.

I will take a short supplementary from Stuart McMillan.

How will the tourism sector be affected by Brexit and visa restrictions?

The sector will be severely restricted. Six of our 10 key markets are in the European Union, and 12 per cent of our workforce are non-UK EU nationals. It is essential that we retain those who are already here and that we make clear their importance to our society and economy, but we also need a future pipeline of EU nationals. The current United Kingdom immigration white paper, which I sincerely hope is withdrawn and rewritten, proposes a £30,000 minimum salary, which will cause severe issues and difficulties in recruiting into the sector in the future.

Before I call Willie Rennie, I have to point out that we are not going to get to the end of the questions, which is a mark of people giving statements as well as asking questions, and of rather long answers, too.

Scottish Fisheries Museum

To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to the Scottish fisheries museum in Anstruther. (S5O-03402)

The Scottish Government continues to provide support to the Scottish fisheries museum. In the current financial year, a total of £109,000 has been allocated to the museum, with £75,000 for operational costs and £34,000 for capital expenditure. In 2018-19, the museum received additional in-year funding of £75,000 and a further £330,000 to assist in the refit of the museum’s flagship, Reaper, bringing the total investment from the Scottish Government to £830,000.

The museum celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and I look forward to joining the celebrations, which will begin on 4 July with Reaper returning to its home port of Anstruther.

I declare an interest as a trustee of the museum.

The cabinet secretary is right to highlight the fact that the national museum has been going for 50 years. It is grateful for the support that the Scottish Government has provided in that time—not just to the museum but to the Reaper. The special occasion will be marked by a number of special events, including a flotilla of up to 50 boats in early July. Will the cabinet secretary set out whether there are any further opportunities for the museum to engage in the wider community across Scotland in order to ensure that communities can engage with our seas and the fishing industry?

Willie Rennie is quite right to advertise that fantastic celebration, in which I hope everyone can take part. However, we have to do more. At yesterday’s strategic historic environment forum meeting, we had a session on industrial heritage, with a particular focus on how we might engage more people in sites and museums such as the fisheries museum to ensure that they know about the very rich heritage that we have not just in places in Fife, but further afield.

Tayside Tourist Numbers

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it plans of the impacts on tourist numbers in Tayside. (S5O-03403)

I was very pleased to speak at the Dundee and Angus tourism conference in March last year, which brought together the area’s tourism interests and bodies, with a focus on the wider tourism opportunities ahead. We understand from figures supplied by the Moffat centre that visitor numbers in the Dundee and Angus area have increased 13.3 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with last, and that the V&A Dundee has had a wider impact by supporting visitor numbers elsewhere.

VisitScotland is supporting businesses and local authorities in the Tayside area in developing a regional tourism strategy.

Although Tayside has international attractions including the V&A, there are no international air connections from Dundee airport. Given the millions of pounds that it has poured into Prestwick airport without that figure being matched in Dundee, will the Scottish Government commit to investing in Dundee airport in order to bring international tourists to the heart of Tayside?

I am not the transport secretary, but Bill Bowman is correct to highlight the importance of bringing in direct flights, wherever they come from. Some creative work has been done for some airports in that respect. As tourism secretary, I would support the suggestion, but I cannot tell the member about any particular plans. If colleagues can contribute anything in that regard, we will communicate that to the member.

I will take a very quick question from Kenneth Gibson.

Còig Tourist Trail

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made with devising and implementing the Còig tourism trail. (S5O-03404)

In January, I announced £300,000 from the Scottish Government to support Còig feasibility work, and that money has enabled the establishment of a partnership steering group between industry and North Ayrshire Council. We are also providing North Ayrshire Council with a further £400,000 for 2019-20 to progress the project.

Extremely quickly, please, Mr Gibson.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and for the financial support. The Còig—the Five—is expected to attract an additional 80,000 visitors to North Ayrshire next year, supporting 168 jobs and allowing for an extra £4.5 million of economic impact.

Will the cabinet secretary expand on how the timescales for the devising and implementation of the Còig tie in with 2020 being the year of Scotland’s coasts and waters?

I understand that the Ayrshire tourism action plan, called “Making Waves in North Ayrshire”, runs from 2018 to 2020. Of course, we have designated next year as the year of coasts and waters, which is a fantastic opportunity to advertise the Còig and to ensure that people visit Ayrshire to celebrate everything that it has to offer—maritime and otherwise.

That was not bad. That concludes portfolio questions.