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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 22 February 2017

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Social Security, Motor Neurone Disease (Gordon’s Fightback Campaign), Digital Economy Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Industrial Strategy


Portfolio Question Time

Broadband (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the roll-out of broadband in the Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse constituency. (S5O-00669)

The £400 million investment that the Scottish Government and our partners are making through the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme will extend fibre broadband access to at least 95 per cent of premises by the end of 2017. Without that investment, only 66 per cent of premises would have been reached. To date, the programme has provided fibre broadband access to 4,215 premises in the Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse constituency, 95 per cent of which are capable of accessing superfast speeds.

I welcome that answer, and I am sure that the 4,215 premises in my constituency will welcome it, too. However, constituents from the village of Stonehouse have had a very difficult time with getting access to broadband, and, when they have got access, they have experienced loss of service and slow service. That has been disruptive not only to domestic users of broadband services, but to the many businesses in the area that depend on an uninterrupted high-speed service in order to do their business. Will the cabinet secretary look into the particular problems that my constituents in Stonehouse face and reassure them that everything possible is being done to provide them with a quality service from the £400 million investment?

Yes, I am happy to provide Ms McKelvie with that assurance, and I would be happy to receive more details from her if she wished to provide them.

Ms McKelvie will, of course, appreciate, as we all do, that telecommunications and telephony are a reserved responsibility for the United Kingdom Government. Despite that, we are committed to providing 100 per cent superfast broadband access by 2021.

I am aware that BT handles many of these cases, but I am very happy to take up any particular case with Ms McKelvie, who is obviously working hard for her constituents on that serious matter.

NFU Scotland (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the board of NFU Scotland and what issues were discussed. (S5O-00670)

I last met the board of the NFUS on 22 December last year, when we discussed common agricultural policy greening and the issue of linked holdings in relation to livestock movements. I will meet the new NFUS presidential team tomorrow morning.

I wish the new NFU Scotland board, which was announced at the recent annual general meeting, and in particular Martin Birse from Pitgaveny Farms near Elgin, who is the new regional board member for Highland, all the best.

The NFUS was very supportive of the new farm advisory service when it was launched in September last year. The scheme, which cost £20 million, will run until 2020. What has been the uptake of the scheme so far, and what feedback on the new service has there been from crofters and farmers?

Just this morning, I discussed with the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee some of the good work that Scotland’s Rural College does. That includes arranging, facilitating and handling meetings for farmers so that they understand the opportunities that exist to avail themselves of greening measures that are good for the planet and their pockets. The SRUC undertakes a wide range of activities.

I recently had discussions on various matters with the SRUC, and I have asked for a further meeting specifically to address the issues that Mr Ross has fairly raised. If he wishes, after that meeting I would be happy to go over with him what it is doing. There is a substantial contract, and it is absolutely essential that we do all that we can to address those matters in these challenging times, with farmers facing the risk of possibly losing their common agricultural policy and Scotland rural development programme financial support as a result of the United Kingdom Government’s total failure to give any details thereanent.

What changes to the greening measures has the cabinet secretary taken forward in response to the concerns of the NFUS and farmers?

I have announced three particular measures: shortening the period during which maintenance of field drains is prohibited on ecological focus areas that are EFA fallow, from 1 to 15 July; allowing hedges to count separately as EFA; and enabling agroforestry that is supported under the forestry grant scheme and located on temporary grassland to count as EFA.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, and I have also announced the establishment of a group, chaired by Professor Russel Griggs, that has been asked to undertake a forward-looking review of our approach to greening. Further, we plan to publish our analysis of the impacts of changes to rules, as requested by stakeholders. Further research will be commissioned on those matters.

It is my understanding that the twin announcements of specific measures and of on-going serious consideration of those matters have been broadly welcomed by farmers and their representatives.

I am sure that the NFUS board will wish to discuss with the cabinet secretary the progress that is being made on payments for 2017. At a recent meeting with the NFUS in Orkney, a concern was raised about uncertainty around the payments for 2016. Some farmers have yet to receive payments, and given the change in the regime, I think that there is a lack of clarity there. Would the cabinet secretary consider writing to all farmers to explain about the payments that have been made and about any outstanding payments that are still due?

Mr McArthur raises a perfectly reasonable point. I can assure him and all other members that those matters occupy a great deal of my time and attention, and rightly so. My officials are working flat out to address them. I believe that substantial progress is being made. I can also say that I discussed those matters in Shetland—although not in Orkney—on Monday, with the farmers there.

In respect of the various farming payments, I should point out that, as Mr McArthur will know well, a loan scheme was brought in and implemented in the first fortnight of November. That ensured that most farmers received up to 80 per cent of their full entitlement, and they received it earlier than would normally be the case. That injected a sum—if I remember correctly—not unadjacent to £270 million into the rural community in Scotland, including on the isles of Orkney, where farming is of such importance.

Scottish Roads Partnership (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives from the Scottish Roads Partnership. (S5O-00671)

Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, last met with representatives of the Scottish Roads Partnership, project contractor, on 1 February 2017, when he visited the site to view progress on the Raith underpass. Transport Scotland is part of the Scottish Government, and officials meet with representatives of the Scottish Roads Partnership regularly.

I welcome the significant progress that has been made on the on-going works at the Raith interchange, including the opening of the East Kilbride underpass. However, there are problems with a general lack of appropriate signage and, in particular, of signs to make motorists aware early enough of the new East Kilbride underpass road configuration, such that many drivers are ending up on the bypass by mistake. They then have to make a detour and double back to get to the Bothwell and Glasgow turn-offs, which adds to the confusion and congestion at the Raith interchange.

Will the minister take up that issue, and can he confirm the completion date for the entire project?

I thank the member for the constructive way in which she approaches the issue. Major road works will, of course, involve disruption. We do our best to advertise that disruption, as well as diversion routes, as early as we possibly can.

I take the member’s point with regard to signage. I will ask the contractor and my own officials in Transport Scotland to look at the issue and see whether anything can be done.

With regard to the completion date, I will stick to what has been said about spring 2017. That is the schedule that we are working to, and that is when we expect the entire project to be complete.

Will the minister advise why the Government chose the Scottish Roads Partnership public-private partnership model, as opposed to a traditional roads maintenance contract? Will he agree to publish the level of profits that is being delivered through that public sector contract to the private investors involved?

If Neil Findlay were sitting in my role—which is a feat of imagination—I do not think that the Labour Party would have constructed the amount of infrastructure that we have managed to construct, with projects involving the M8, M73 and M74, the Aberdeen western peripheral route and, of course, the dualling of the A9 and A96, as well as many others.

I will write to Neil Findlay to give him a little bit more information, but he will, of course, understand that commercial confidentiality is important. The Government has a great record not only in delivering infrastructure projects but in delivering them on time and on budget—and that is something that I am very proud of.

I simply asked the minister whether he would publish the level of profits that is being provided under that contract. Will he do that? It is a public contract.

As I said, there is commercial confidentiality. I will explore what can and cannot be published—what is and is not appropriate to publish—and then I will write to the member.

Livestock Worrying

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle livestock worrying. (S5O-00672)

We are fully supporting the campaign that was launched recently by Police Scotland to highlight the importance of dog owners keeping their pets under control when walking in rural areas. That campaign, which is being run in conjunction with the Scottish partnership against rural crime, Scottish Natural Heritage and the representative body, Scottish Land & Estates, is timed to coincide with lambing season, when the effects of livestock worrying can be devastating.

Police Scotland is committed to using the law robustly if dog owners fail to keep their dogs under control, including investigating all incidents of livestock worrying and reporting cases to the procurator fiscal with a view to securing convictions.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response and for the very helpful information that he has just provided. He will know about the really dreadful event that happened in Muthill, when a whole field of pedigree sheep was destroyed. According to NFU Mutual, the cost of dog attacks on livestock is estimated to be about £1.4 million right across the United Kingdom, and the costs in Scotland have more than trebled.

I appreciate what the cabinet secretary has just said about the policing of the issue, but will he also tell us what is happening to ensure that the farmers who are affected are reporting the issue in the first instance?

My attention has been drawn to that particular episode, which is absolutely devastating—for not only the financial but the emotional consequences for any farmer who sees his livestock suffer in that way. It really is appalling. It must be said that the primary responsibility must lie with the dog owner to keep his or her dog under proper control. Indeed, there is legislation that criminalises the owner of a dog that attacks livestock, chases it, or is at large, but not under close control, in a field. That legislation is in place, but of course it relies on evidence in order for there to be prosecutions. That is why, in 2015, the former Solicitor General conducted a review to ensure that the matter was taken absolutely seriously—which it is.

To respond to the second part of Liz Smith’s question, I obviously encourage every person who witnesses an incident to report that to the police. The duty to report really is our civic duty. If that duty was taken seriously by most people—I am sure most people do that, and, of course, most dog owners are responsible ones—that would be of great help in being part of the solution to this serious matter.

Food and Drinks Sector (Public Contracts)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports Scottish firms in the food and drink sector in accessing public sector contracts. (S5O-00673)

Significant progress has been made in recent years, with almost half of our public sector food and drink contracts now being awarded to Scottish businesses. However, I want to see more of our schools, hospitals and public sector organisations taking advantage of the high-quality food and drink that is produced in Scotland.

That is why I convened a round-table discussion earlier this month, to bring together the supply chain for the first time, to discuss the barriers to and opportunities for increasing local sourcing in public sector contracts, and to help boost the economic potential of the food and drink sector. A range of collaborative actions is now being considered and a further round-table event will be convened later this year to review progress.

In my constituency, there is great concern among food producers such as Macduff Shellfish (Scotland) Ltd in Mintlaw that they will face severe difficulties if they cannot get a guarantee that workers from other European Union member states can continue to work in Scotland when we leave the EU. What contingencies should we be suggesting to food producers as they prepare for the future—for example, as they bid for the kind of contracts that we have just discussed?

The member has raised an extremely important point. I know from my visits to Peterhead and Fraserburgh—and indeed, this week, to Shetland—just how crucial the continued presence of EU nationals working in the food and drink sector, including in processing, is to Scotland. About 8,000 EU nationals work in that sector and a further 15,000 EU nationals are employed by Scotland’s farmers. They are all welcome in Scotland and we want them to continue to be welcome. If, as a result of the granite-hard Brexit plans proposed by the UK Government, they are no longer welcome, we may see the horrendous human tragedy of people leaving. That is repulsive and repellent to us.

That would also have the effect of shrinking the economy. For example, if a processing factory relies on half of its workforce being of EU origin and living in Scotland, that factory cannot continue to operate if those people leave and the other half of its workforce—indigenous Scottish residents—will also risk losing their jobs. The matter could not be more serious in relation to the rural economy. Therefore, this Scottish Government believes that it is essential that everybody stands up and defends the right of EU nationals to continue to work in Scotland and to enjoy it as their home, which of course it is.

I am glad that the Scottish Government is treating the issue of local food procurement with the importance that it deserves. There is however a real performance gap between our better-achieving rural areas and underperforming urban areas in public sector contracts. What further work will the cabinet secretary undertake to narrow the gap?

In the past couple of weeks, I have convened the very first event of its sort in Scotland, bringing together those involved in procurement. I am not sure that I would necessarily accept the presentation of the situation that Mr Chapman puts forward, although if he wants to send me evidence, I will happily have a look at it.

Great progress has been made in sourcing more food and drink from Scotland and from local sources, but the issues are substantially practical and business ones. The supply of food and drink is very much a business issue. Farmers and co-operatives, for example, need to co-operate to provide food and drink to large retailers daily, 365 days a year. There are business issues here and Government should not dictate to business. However, there is a great deal of good will among local authorities, the Scottish Government and all the businesses involved in the chain and I think that working collaboratively is by far the best way to advance these matters.

Avian Flu

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the incidence of avian flu, and what advice and support it is giving to commercial and domestic poultry keepers. (S5O-00674)

To date, there has been only one confirmed finding of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 in Scotland this winter, in a wild peregrine falcon found in the Dumfries area. There have been no confirmed cases in domestic poultry or captive birds in Scotland.

I have met key representatives of the poultry and game bird sector in the past few weeks to discuss how we can best support keepers during this unprecedented situation. In addition, we have regularly provided advice and support to poultry keepers on how best to protect their birds at this time, through digital media, news releases and emails to a wide range of stakeholder groups. We also arranged for the Animal and Plant Health Agency—APHA—to issue email and text alerts to subscribers through its notifiable diseases alerts service.

Subject to there being no further outbreaks, when does the Government expect to be able to lift the current restrictions on the movement of live poultry?

I would answer that question in this way. I am not a scientist. We act on advice from Sheila Voas, the chief veterinary officer, and her colleagues. However, my understanding is that the virus is not expected to be killed off until the warmer weather arrives, so it is not reasonable to expect an absence of problems until perhaps May or June.

A number of outbreaks and nine cases have been confirmed in England. On veterinary advice, we have taken the step of indicating that when the current prevention zone comes to an end at the end of this month, it will be renewed but it will also be amended so that birds may be let out, subject to heightened biosecurity. That will have the benefit that those who are producing free range eggs will not forfeit their free range status, provided that they maintain the other conditions apart from the birds being outdoors and free range.

The issue is extremely important to Scotland because an enormous amount of money—£46 million of business—is involved. This is not a minor issue, which is why I met many of the players who are involved, including some farmers, who are important players in the field. The problem has been receiving the utmost attention, which is, of course, quite right.

That was a detailed answer and so, although there were a couple of supplementary questions, I am afraid that we do not have time for them.

Opencast Site Restoration (East Ayrshire and South of Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure the safe restoration of opencast coal mine sites in East Ayrshire and the south of Scotland. (S5O-00679)

Following the liquidation of Scotland’s two largest coal mining companies, a cross-party Scottish opencast coal task force was established to deal with the key issues of coal sector employment, improving regulation and promoting restoration of legacy sites. Two sub-groups to the main task force were established in 2014 to look at and make recommendations on compliance monitoring and financial factors. The final report to the task force was published in October 2015 and included a comprehensive suite of 29 recommendations. In addition, a short-life coal restoration working group was established to take forward the task force’s recommendations. It met between February and October 2016.

The Scottish Mine Restoration Trust was formed in May 2013 to seek innovative solutions to restoration. The SMRT, which is chaired by Professor Russel Griggs, is continuing its work and has now taken over the ownership and care of eight legacy surface mines.

The Scottish Government continues to work closely with councils, communities and industry to ensure the safe restoration of surface mines in Scotland.

As the cabinet secretary will be aware, the mining companies were supposed to accumulate a restoration fund to ensure that the landscape could be properly restored after mining was finished through regular surveying and cost analysis. The eye was taken off the ball and, when Scottish Coal folded, it was discovered that the funds had been grossly underestimated.

These sites scar the landscape and, at the very least, need to be made safe for local communities. However, there are some interesting and innovative alternatives to just making the sites safe, such as using them for pumped hydro storage schemes or for bike tracks and other outdoor activities that could attract visitors to the areas. Will the Scottish Government commit to at least the minimum investment that would be required to make the sites safe, and will the minister further consider looking at some of the interesting projects that might be worth further investment?

We already support such work with funding through the work of the SMRT, the group that has been working on the situation since 2013. Most of us would agree with the member’s concerns about the environmental oncost of the effective closure of mines and the consequences thereof. I know that a great deal of work is being done and I hope that my initial answer will have indicated to the member that the Government takes the issue extraordinarily seriously.

What is the Scottish Government doing to address the coal-related damage to the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands special protection area?

As the member might be aware, on 10 March 2016 we published details of the package of measures that are being deployed to address the ecological impacts of opencast coal mining in the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands special protection area. Work is on-going and includes the partial restoration of the Powharnal opencast site, the restoration of the Grievehill opencast site, the re-establishment of supportive mitigatory land management and the extension of the SPA to compensate for the permanent loss of habitat. In addition, work to remove an overland coal conveyor from the SPA was completed last year. We have made a significant financial commitment to support the completion of that work, with some £2 million being spent during the current financial year, and a commitment for a further £8 million to be spent over the next four years.

Has the cabinet secretary or any of the organisations involved considered making clearer definitions of restoration at a Scotland-wide level? For example, East Ayrshire Council has been asked to consider three possibilities: restoration; partial restoration and reinstatement; and alternative use. A number of constituents have approached me to highlight the fact that that would help community groups and everyone else who is involved understand what the process is with regard to particular sites.

The member raises an interesting point. It might very well be that that issue is part of the discussions that are already taking place but perhaps not in as overtly defined a way as she might wish. I will ensure that her comments are drawn to the attention of the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust, in particular, to determine whether there is a way to make the process more systematic, which I suspect is what the member is looking for.

Tree Diseases

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to prevent the spread of diseases that affect woodland and forestry. (S5O-00680)

Tackling threats to tree health is a priority for the Scottish Government, and our approach to preventing the spread of diseases that affect woodlands and forestry is set out in “The Scottish Plant Health Strategy”, which was published in March last year—I hope that the member has had an opportunity to have a look at it. The aims of the strategy are to demonstrate the importance of safeguarding Scottish plant health to protect and enhance Scotland’s economy and natural environment; to indicate how Scotland will take forward the plant biosecurity strategy for Great Britain; and to ensure that the Scottish Government and stakeholders work together to protect plant health in Scotland.

A few months ago, Forest Enterprise Scotland confirmed that almost 20 hectares of woodland will have to be felled as a result of the spread of larch disease to new areas in Argyll and Stirlingshire. Surely that spread of the disease into areas outside the so-called management zone means that efforts will have to be increased across the whole of Scotland to stop the spread and that the Scottish Government must act now, as the strategy for 2015 to 2017 is not effective enough.

I outlined the position of the Scottish Government on the general issue of plant health and tree health. After preparing for this question, I now know more about potential diseases in trees than I thought I would ever need to know. I am conscious of the concerns about the spread of the disease. However, if I recall correctly, there is still a view that the west coast is the biggest area of concern in respect of this issue. We are keeping the matter under close consideration.

The member will also be aware that the health of our forests is a matter for everybody who is involved. It is not just for the Scottish Government or the Forestry Commission; it is also the responsibility of landowners and others. I do not believe that the Scottish Government’s plans on how the issue is taken forward are in any way insufficient. The draft budget has protected Forestry Commission Scotland expenditure, and we anticipate that the budget will be adequate to meet our on-going tree health requirements at similar levels to those in recent years.

Sometimes, the only option when woodlands and forests are affected by disease is to clear the area, so I am sure that the cabinet secretary will agree that the replanting of trees is crucial. How many trees have been planted in Scotland since 2007 and how does that compare to the numbers in other United Kingdom nations?

The national statistics estimate that, since 2007, Scotland has planted 59.4 thousand hectares of new woodland, or around 119 million trees. The estimate for the same period in England is around 50 million trees for new woodland, and for Wales the figure is 9 million. The replanting of trees following felling is in addition to those numbers. Detailed estimates of replanting numbers are not available; the figures that we have are for initial planting rather than replanting.

Devolved Management of Sea Bed Assets (Orkney and Shetland)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to piloting the devolved management of sea bed assets to the island communities in Orkney and Shetland. (S5O-00681)

The first priority for Scottish ministers is to complete the devolution of management of the Crown Estate to the Scottish Parliament and to ensure a smooth transition. The devolution of the Crown Estate takes effect on 1 April this year, and we have made a commitment that communities will benefit directly from it. After Crown Estate revenues are devolved to Scotland, coastal and island communities will receive 100 per cent of net revenues that are raised from Crown Estate marine assets out to 12 nautical miles. With the three island councils, we have been exploring the potential for piloting enhanced local accountability ahead of legislation on a new long-term framework for managing Crown Estate assets in Scotland.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and for sparing the time to meet me and Tavish Scott on that very issue. From that meeting, she will understand the long-standing desire in Orkney and Shetland to take responsibility for managing the Crown Estate assets, extending what already happens under the Orkney County Council Act 1974 and the Zetland County Council Act 1974. As she knows, the issue is not just the revenue but the opportunity to manage the sea bed resources that are so critically important to the island communities that I represent. Will she therefore agree to allow Orkney and Shetland to lead the way and take forward pilots ahead of legislation being introduced to Parliament later this year?

The member may be interested to know that I am meeting the leaders of the three island councils on 2 March, and discussions will continue between the Scottish Government and the island councils on the potential for a pilot in the islands. We have received an outline proposal from the councils, which is being considered but—as I indicated in the meeting to which the member referred—a detailed proposal is required to enable us to make a proper decision. I know that Liam McArthur and his colleague Tavish Scott will ensure that they are kept well informed on the progress of the proposal, and I look forward to further meetings with both of them, singly or together.

Does the cabinet secretary share my view that the Smith commission stressed the importance of devolving sea bed assets to local authority areas such as Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles? Is she sympathetic to, and relaxed about, further empowerment of island communities and the need to avoid centralisation in Edinburgh?

As the member knows, there is an on-going consultation on the long-term future of the Crown Estate commission. We have had to devolve functions on an interim basis initially to bring the powers to Scotland. The consultation and future legislation will determine what the long-term plans will be. As the member is aware, there are a variety of views on that, and we intend to ensure that as many communities as possible benefit directly from the devolution of the Crown Estate with regard not only to the funding but—as Liam McArthur pointed out—to the management.

Environmental Standards (Towns and Cities)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that the environmental standards in towns and cities help promote Scotland’s image. (S5O-00682)

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of the environment and its contribution to the quality of life of our communities and to Scotland’s international image and reputation. The Scottish Government supports the delivery of local environmental standards through its establishment of policy frameworks and supporting tools and funding for local authorities and other organisations.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in these challenging economic times, it is even more important that the environment in our towns and cities is cleaned to a high standard? She may be aware that the previous Scottish National Party-led Renfrewshire Council won awards with its clean Renfrewshire campaign. Does she agree that such educational campaigns are a way to ensure that we keep our towns and cities clean and promote a positive image of Scotland?

Our national litter strategy supports higher-quality local environments. I encourage all local authorities to share best practice so that successful approaches to influencing behaviour can be replicated or adapted to suit individual councils’ circumstances. Not every plan will fit every area, but where there is good practice, such as the clean Renfrewshire campaign, other councils would be advised to have a look to see whether lessons can be learned.


To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the incidence of fly-tipping. (S5O-00683)

The Scottish Government is committed to tackling fly-tipping. We have provided the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and local authorities with the powers to fine people who are caught fly-tipping, with a minimum fixed penalty of £200 and a maximum fine of £40,000 if someone is prosecuted. Zero Waste Scotland has introduced the FlyMapper system to enable the recording, managing and reporting of fly-tipping, making it easier to catch offenders and to deal with illegal dumping sites.

Keep Scotland Beautiful’s 2016 report “Scotland’s local environmental quality in decline” painted a concerning picture of increases in littering and fly-tipping. Keep Scotland Beautiful is calling for a review of the effectiveness of the fixed penalties that the cabinet secretary outlined to see whether enforcement is actually deterring fly-tipping. Will the Scottish Government commit to a review of the current penalties?

We keep these issues constantly under review. We want to ensure the maximum environmental standards for Scotland and we work behind the scenes to ensure that those keep going forward on a regular basis. However, the member will be aware that it is difficult to catch fly-tipping offenders. As much as I would like to argue for increasing penalties—which is what I suspect lies behind the member’s question—the issue is more how one actually gets individuals to court in the first place. That is an important aspect of the assessment that needs to be done. Increasing penalties is one thing, but actually getting people into court is key. I hope that the member agrees with me that that is where we need to put our focus in the early stages. There is no reason for anyone to fly-tip material when councils are providing recycling and residual collections. I think that every member would condemn fly-tipping.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is the responsibility of councils such as South Lanarkshire Council to ensure that those who are known to be guilty of fly-tipping are held to account, whenever possible, and that councils should do all that they can to encourage the responsible disposal of items of rubbish?

The member will have heard some of the comments that I made to Miles Briggs. The trick here is knowing who is responsible. We might know that, anecdotally, in some places, but knowing it in a way that allows us to take it to court—with evidence—is a different matter.

Councils play a vital role in holding fly-tipping offenders to account, and we have supported councils by increasing the level of fixed penalty that they and others with enforcement powers can impose on fly-tippers when they are identified. We encourage the use of those powers.

I should perhaps in response to Miles Briggs have mentioned that there is guidance for enforcement officers who deal with the illegal disposal of waste in Scotland, in a document called “Flytipping in Scotland: A Guide to Prevention and Enforcement”. Those who are interested in the issue will perhaps want to have a look at that.

Natural Environment (Economic Value)

To ask the Scottish Government what the value of Scotland’s natural environment is to the economy. (S5O-00684)

Scotland’s natural environment is estimated to be worth around £20 billion per annum to the economy. Many of Scotland’s growth sectors, such as tourism, energy and food and drink, depend on our high-quality air, land and water. We believe that protecting and enhancing our stock of natural capital are fundamental to a healthy and resilient economy, which is why in 2011 we became the very first country in the world to establish a natural capital asset index.

Does the cabinet secretary, therefore, agree that it is essential that we continue to invest in our environment and work to unlock opportunities that will not only help to protect the environment but benefit Scotland’s economy?

Yes, I agree that investing in our natural environment is important in helping to grow the economy. We make that point in “Scotland’s Economic Strategy”, which explicitly states:

“Protecting and enhancing this stock of natural capital ... is fundamental to a healthy and resilient economy.”

I draw members’ attention to the fact that much of our wonderful produce is sold on an image of Scotland’s environment, and I would hope that that image was always reinforced by reality. It is really important that the private sector, in particular, understands that the reality must sustain the image on the back of which it chooses to sell its premium products.

Scotland’s prosperity is intertwined with Scotland’s natural capital, which is why the Scottish Conservatives have made natural capital a key part of the new environmental policy paper that we launched today. Will the cabinet secretary explain what specific steps the Scottish National Party Government is taking to develop a holistic model to leverage finance for protecting our natural capital?

As I have indicated, this Government and this country are the very first in the world to have established a natural capital asset index, and I would have expected the member to welcome that fact. I am aware of the document that has been published today, and I reassure the member that I will be looking at it all very carefully indeed. One of the stand-out highlights so far is the Conservatives in Scotland committing to two new nuclear power plants in Scotland, with no indication whatever of where any of the money for that will come from. Indeed, that is absent from the entire document—not a single cost has been put to anything. I wonder whether the member would have regard to that aspect of things as well when he rises in the chamber.

That concludes portfolio question time.