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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 19, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 19 September 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Social Security Scotland (First Anniversary), Portfolio Question Time, Getting it Right for Every Child (Practice Development Panel Report), Pre-release Access to Economic Statistics (Committee Bill Proposal), Decision Time


General Question Time

St Andrew’s Day Events

To ask the Scottish Government how it will support St Andrew’s day events this year. (S5O-03557)

Modern Scotland’s sense of national identity is proudly and passionately inclusive, diverse, compassionate, open and outward looking, as is emphasised by the Scottish Government’s we are Scotland campaign. Reflecting those values, the Scottish Government supports a range of initiatives on and around St Andrew’s day—including funding and supporting with partners the Scotland’s winter festivals events fund, which is administered by VisitScotland’s events directorate; BEMIS Scotland’s multicultural events programme; and Scotland’s participation in the global fair Saturday movement—in order to develop unique and distinctive events in Scotland that celebrate Scotland’s national identity in an inclusive manner and internationalist spirit.

I thank the minister for meeting, earlier this year, the cross-party group on St Andrew’s day, which I convene. Will he join me in commending the work of the All About Barrhead Ltd business improvement district, which is organising a festive fair that will take place in Barrhead on St Andrew’s day, which will highlight the ethos of fair Saturday and feature Scottish entertainment to celebrate St Andrew’s day as part of its “An awfy Scottish winter wonderland” event? Will he also join me in thanking the entire All About Barrhead team and, in particular, its manager, Andy Dunlop, for the excellent series of cultural events that it organises in the town throughout the year?

I commend Tom Arthur and the whole cross-party group on St Andrew’s day, and I thank it for its engagement and its work. I am also delighted to commend the work of All About Barrhead in planning for St Andrew’s day and what it does throughout the year. I thank the whole of that team.

To fully harness the significant potential that events can provide, partners across Scotland—local authorities and bodies such as community and business organisations, like All About Barrhead—are always encouraged to support and help to deliver their own activities as to join in the celebration of Scotland’s winter festivals, including St Andrew’s day.

I particularly thank and commend the team at All About Barrhead for, this year, engaging in the fair Saturday movement, which is a global movement that encourages communities to follow the consumerism of black Friday with a response through cultural activity on fair Saturday in support of social causes in a spirit of social empathy. This year, fair Saturday falls on St Andrew’s day, which is 30 November. I encourage as many communities across Scotland as possible to sign up to hosting a St Andrew’s day fair Saturday event by visiting, just as All About Barrhead has commendably done.

Sheriffhall Roundabout (Planned Improvements)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made with the planned improvements to the Sheriffhall roundabout on the A720. (S5O-03558)

The Scottish Government remains committed to undertaking improvements at the Sheriffhall roundabout, and Transport Scotland continues to progress the detailed development and assessment of the preferred option for the grade separation of the roundabout with a view to publishing draft orders later this year for formal comment.

As part of the essential preparatory work, Transport Scotland has undertaken ground investigation and environmental survey work, with the output informing the design of the scheme. In addition to that, extensive consultation with active travel stakeholders has been undertaken to ensure that the proposed improvements include suitable provision for all users, including cyclists.

The improvements have been promised for years, and it sometimes seems to commuters from my constituency that they have spent those years waiting in a queue at the Sheriffhall roundabout. Will the minister please give us a date on which the work will start?

The member will be aware that the improvements were committed to through the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal, which was agreed back in 2017. Progress has been made since then, and the development assessment work on the preferred option is being taken forward by Transport Scotland.

It is difficult to give a specific date for completion because, once the draft orders are issued, individuals are allowed to comment on the matter, which could trigger a local public inquiry, and that could have an impact on the timeframe. I assure the member that we are committed to taking the project forward. I wish to see the project moving as quickly as possible, but certain issues could have an impact on the finalised timescale for completion of the project.

Glasgow to East Kilbride Train Line (Improvement)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to improve the Glasgow to East Kilbride train line. (S5O-03559)

Following extra seating capacity being added in May, the first physical works that will inform proposals for future investment on the Glasgow to East Kilbride rail corridor will commence this month. Key site and geological investigations will be undertaken following tree and vegetation clearance by Network Rail along the 11-mile route corridor. The outcome will help to determine the right long-term solution for the route, which will focus on providing enhanced connectivity and better transport integration, with improved park-and-ride facilities. While delivering that, our aim is to move towards carbon-free journeys by progressing the option of efficient electrification.

The cabinet secretary mentions improved park-and-ride facilities, which will be possible if we move the existing station at Hairmyres and get a new station. Can he give a timeline for when work might start—or, at least, when a decision will be taken—on that project?

I am aware of the request for additional parking at Hairmyres station. That will be a principal focus of the project to enhance the Glasgow to East Kilbride line. I am aware that Network Rail and Transport Scotland have been working with South Lanarkshire Council and the Strathclyde partnership for transport on the issue, and they are looking to make progress on plans for enhanced provision at Hairmyres station. That will be part of the wider package of measures to improve services and connectivity on the line. We have provided Network Rail with almost £25 million to start that work and to finalise plans on what enhancements should take place in the next couple of years.

Transforming Towns

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the FSB Scotland report, “Transforming Towns: Delivering a Sustainable Future for Local Places”. (S5O-03560)

I have read, and I welcome, the report by the Federation of Small Businesses and its ideas and ambitions for our town centres. We are committed to supporting our town centres in becoming more diverse, successful and sustainable. Officials will meet the FSB in October, along with Scotland’s Towns Partnership, to discuss the report in more detail.

Despite what the minister has just outlined, according to a PWC report, more than five shops a week closed on Scotland’s high streets in the first six months of this year, with increasing business rates cited as one of the main reasons. More than 22,000 firms across Scotland are now subjected to the large business supplement, which is pushing many of them close to bankruptcy. When will the minister listen to leading organisations across Scotland and scrap the financially crippling large business supplement?

The member will know that the large business supplement is discussed at every budget, and I warmly welcome his engagement with this year’s budget. The FSB report also highlighted that more than half of FSB premises-based members pay no business rates, because we are committed to supporting the high street and ensuring that more than 100,000 small businesses are lifted out of paying rates altogether.

Does the minister agree that the FSB report on transforming towns provides a positive outlook for the Scottish economy? In particular, Kippen features on the report’s list of the top 20 towns in relation to the self-employment rate, and Stirling’s vacancy rate for non-domestic premises is well below the national average. Does that not demonstrate not only that the Stirling area is open for business but that, given the city region deal and the Scottish Government’s small business bonus scheme, Stirling is the place to do business?

I certainly agree that Stirling is one of the places to do business. I will not mention that some of the towns at the top of that list are in the Highlands—that is for another day. The Scottish Government understands that businesses face both challenges and huge opportunities in our evolving town centres. That is why we have provided the £50 million town centre fund to stimulate growth and investment and to back the businesses that are already doing well in our town centres. We will continue to back small businesses through our town centre action plan.

Mossmorran Ethylene Plant

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the operators of the ethylene plant at Mossmorran regarding the climate emergency and the need for a just transition. (S5O-03561)

I met representatives of ExxonMobil on 12 September 2019 to discuss its £140 million investment through 2019 and 2020, which will significantly improve the site’s efficiency, sustainability and environmental performance. The investment will support employment opportunities and, by implementing necessary infrastructure improvements, it will support the transition towards a net zero emissions economy in a way that is consistent with a just transition. Alongside reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we expect that the investment will help to address key issues identified by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the local community through lowering the frequency and impact of flaring, as well as associated issues such as noise pollution.

I welcome the £140 million investment announced by the operators this week. ExxonMobil was forced into that announcement by the regulatory and political pressure that has been exerted on the company over the past few years. Not a penny of that investment will enable us to meet the net zero climate target that is currently in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill. Will the Scottish Government back a green new deal and an industrial strategy for Fife that will help to plan investment in jobs in clean industries and technologies that have a genuine future?

Mr Ruskell raises important points. The programme for government that was announced in the past fortnight highlights a number of measures that will benefit the Fife economy through their support for industrial development and decarbonising the economy. I have had assurances that a considerable part of ExxonMobil’s investment will go towards improving the efficiency of the plant, including its energy efficiency; reducing greenhouse gas emissions from flaring; and improving the air quality in and around the area that is served by the plant. I believe that significant progress is being made there, but I note Mr Ruskell’s point that we in this Parliament are working together to deliver a net zero emissions economy, and I look forward to working with him on that.

Does the minister agree that ExxonMobil’s welcome announcement of £140 million investment with 850 jobs attached is an illustration of what determined communities can achieve through ensuring that their voices are heard? Will the minister confirm that robust scrutiny and monitoring of the plant will continue apace?

The investment is indeed very welcome. I pay tribute to the role that Annabelle Ewing and other campaigners have played in representing the concerns of the local community. The recent variations to the permits of both operators at Mossmorran will mean that there is a clear timetable and detailed plans for implementing improvements in flaring. Those actions should improve compliance and drive further investment to better protect local communities.

SEPA has a range of enforcement powers. I understand that the air quality monitoring equipment will remain in force and will be used throughout the process. My hope is that SEPA will not be required to use its enforcement powers and that ExxonMobil will move swiftly to implement the promised improvements.

Motorway Improvements (Compensation for Residents)

To ask the Scottish Government how much compensation has been paid out to residents by the M8/M73/M74 motorway improvements project, including for noise pollution and house damage. (S5O-03562)

Approximately £10.75 million has been paid in compensation for the acquisition of land on the M8/M73/M74 motorway improvements project to date. In addition, a number of part 1 claims for the depreciation of value to property through the use of the works have been received. I confirm that those claims are under active consideration by the district valuer and that formal negotiations are expected to commence shortly.

The cabinet secretary will be acutely aware of the many questions that I have asked both in and outwith this chamber, on behalf of my constituents, about the M8/M73/M74 improvement programme. How soon will we get a fuller picture on whether my constituents will receive other compensation for their inconvenience? How will that information be communicated to them?

As I have confirmed, the part 1 claims have been received and are currently under active consideration by the district valuer. That includes consideration of the pre-scheme noise readings against the predicted noise levels, reviewing nearby sales information and undertaking a number of external inspections. I anticipate that the initial sift will be completed shortly, and that formal negotiations with Richard Lyle’s constituents or their appointed agents will commence directly thereafter.

Much of the congestion that remains around the M8 is at Glasgow airport, and the improvement project has done very little to address that. The cabinet secretary might be aware of the efforts of the A737 action group, which is hoping to reduce some of the fatalities on that road, which feeds into the M8 at Glasgow airport. Is he aware of the campaign, and will he update us on what action the Government has taken to address the group’s concerns about the road?

I am aware of the campaign and, as Jamie Greene will be aware, we are actively looking at a range of potential options to help to address congestion on the M8, particularly around the Glasgow airport area. One of the commitments that we set out in the programme for government is to look at how greater provision of public transport could help to reduce congestion in that area, including the possibility of repurposing parts of the motorway network around Glasgow to address some of the issues by reducing the number of cars on the M8. We are committed to taking forward a range of measures to reduce congestion, including the repurposing of parts of the motorway for public transport.

Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (Vessel Reliability)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that vessels operating on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services are robust and reliable. (S5O-03563)

Under the terms of the CHFS2 contract, CalMac Ferries, as the operator, is required to keep the vessels seaworthy and in a good and efficient state of repair. That is done during the annual vessel overhaul of the CHFS fleet, which includes maintaining the classification of the vessels with the relevant classification society, as well as complying with all other regulations and requirements, statutory or otherwise.

In August 2018, the Scottish Government announced the creation of a £3.5 million resilience fund for the CalMac fleet during 2018-19, with a further £4 million being allocated in the 2019-20 budget.

The minister may be aware that a ferry summit took place on Islay on Monday, which was chaired by his colleague Mike Russell and attended by a wide variety of organisations and individuals, including me. All parties present agreed a set of proposals, which will shortly be published in a local paper, The Ileach. Will the minister commit to working with the public bodies that developed the proposals, so that Islay benefits as soon as possible from a ferry service with enhanced capacity?

I certainly welcome Donald Cameron’s positive remarks. Our officials participated in the summit and will be feeding back to me their thoughts on what can be taken forward. I am happy that the summit took place and that there was obviously a very constructive discussion around the improvements that are needed to meet the growing needs of the Islay economy, with the growth in distilling activity on the island.

We are conscious that there are also commercial plans for investment in ferry services to Islay, but I commit to working with Donald Cameron and others across the chamber to make sure that we get the right balance and supply of ferries to meet the needs of the community on Islay. Donald Cameron will be aware that we are taking forward our new ferries plan, which will go beyond 2022, and also updating the vessel replacement deployment plan to take on board the issues that he has raised.

Regulation of Legal Services (Review)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress of the Roberton review of the regulation of legal services. (S5O-03564)

The Scottish Government formally responded to the Roberton review in June 2019. That response set out that we will seek to build consensus as to the way forward with regard to the future of the regulatory framework, prior to taking forward legislative change. We are currently working with the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates in order to build that consensus. In the programme for government, which was published on 3 September 2019, we committed to launch a consultation on reforming our legal services in early 2020.

A number of my constituents have raised serious concerns about existing practices in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, particularly around transparency of investigations, the lack of oral representation during proceedings and the lack of available appeal mechanisms. They believe that those things may be a breach of their human rights. What assurances can the minister give that the review will consider those important issues in a timely manner?

I thank the member for raising those important issues. The complaints system is integral to the legal services system, but we recognise that the Law Society of Scotland and others sought a review to consider the wider aspects, rather than the complaints system alone. In my view, there should be a joined-up, forward-looking regulatory framework of legal services in Scotland and, as such, the system should be reformed through one piece of legislation rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

Before we move to First Minister’s questions, I am sure that members would like to join me in welcoming to our gallery, from Ireland, the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil Éireann, Seán Ó Fearghaíl. [Applause.]

I also invite members to welcome His Excellency Edil Baisalov, Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic. [Applause.]

I have one further item before we turn to First Minister’s questions. I am sure that members will share my disappointment that significant details of the statement on getting it right for every child and the named person’s legislation have been leaked to the media in advance of this afternoon’s announcement. I understand that the Government is investigating the matter, but as members know, announcements on major policies should not enter the public domain before they are communicated to Parliament. I urge the Government to have regard to that guidance on announcements, which I expect it to adhere to.