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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 22, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 22 February 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Stone Group, Prestwick Airport, Population Needs and Migration Policy, Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, Decision Time


General Question Time

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (Centre 1 Closure)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the potential economic impact on East Kilbride, what its response is to reports that HM Revenue and Customs has leased premises in Glasgow to progress the closure plans for Centre 1. (S5O-01784)

The power to collect and manage taxes raised in Scotland remains reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament, and that includes decisions about HMRC office locations. The Scottish Government is clear that those powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and that decisions about tax should be founded on close engagement with the taxpayer community in Scotland and on consideration of best practice from elsewhere. The Scottish Government is also clear that it has deep concerns over HMRC’s transformation programme, not least over its potential negative impacts on local communities, including East Kilbride.

Has the cabinet secretary noted that the staff capacity of the Glasgow location would be less than that of East Kilbride, never mind the capacity of offices such as Cumbernauld? Does the cabinet secretary agree with the Public and Commercial Services Union that, with Brexit uncertainty and reports of tax avoidance, the vision should be for a fully funded HMRC that can close the tax gap, rather than reducing staff numbers and closing local offices, with the impact that those will have?

I have listened closely to what Linda Fabiani has said, and she has spoken strongly about these matters. The Scottish Government has raised her concerns with the UK Government, given its decision-making role in these matters. I reiterate that if the Scottish Parliament had powers over tax administration and collection, we would be able to create a service that would be specifically tailored to Scotland’s needs and would take the operational decisions about the issues that Linda Fabiani has raised. I will continue to take forward the concerns and to raise these matters with counterparts in the UK Government.

Edinburgh Waterfront

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions ministers have had regarding the future regeneration of Edinburgh’s waterfront. (S5O-01785)

Scottish ministers were involved in discussions with the city region partners of the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal. The deal had its heads of terms signing in July 2017, which included a commitment to support the delivery of a significant number of new homes across the region by unlocking seven strategic sites, including Edinburgh’s waterfront.

Scottish Government officials also meet colleagues from the City of Edinburgh Council on a regular basis and have been kept up to date with plans for the Edinburgh waterfront. Yesterday, my officials attended a meeting led by the chief executive of the council, where further details of its plans and aspirations to create transformational change in that area of the city were shared.

Does the minister agree that we have an unrealised potential in Edinburgh’s waterfront and that connecting communities from Cramond to Portobello would provide many regenerational, cultural and leisure opportunities? What discussions have ministers had regarding proposals for the development and relocation of the National Galleries of Scotland collection facility in Granton, a project that I believe could act as a real catalyst in the regeneration of that section of the capital’s waterfront? Will the minister commit to attend a summit that I am looking to arrange with other elected members and key stakeholders later in the year to help to take forward a vision for the future of Edinburgh’s waterfront?

With regard to the National Galleries of Scotland, Mr Briggs would be better to write to my colleague Fiona Hyslop about that.

I am pleased that the City of Edinburgh Council is developing plans for the waterfront area. That work offers a significant opportunity to create transformational change, as I have already said, creating a sustainable neighbourhood and reconnecting the city with its waterfront. I will ensure that my officials continue to work collaboratively with the council towards agreeing a vision and outcomes for the area and to look at how public sector collaboration could support the delivery of those outcomes.

Through the city region deal, the regeneration of Edinburgh’s waterfront will be helped by our commitment to provide housing infrastructure funding of up to £50 million, predominantly in private sector loans, to be spent on projects that will unlock housing in strategic development areas across the region, including the waterfront here in Edinburgh. We will prioritise work with partners to support council borrowing, to share the financing risk of infrastructure delivery required across those key sites.

We have also supported the construction of a new road at Granton waterfront, which will allow the provision of 104 affordable new homes by Port of Leith Housing Association. That road will also allow access for approximately 300 further affordable homes, to be provided in a later phase. Through our affordable housing programme, we are currently planning to support—

Mr Stewart, there is another supplementary question, so you will have time to expand on your answer.

Improving Edinburgh’s waterfront is an issue that I have been working on since I was elected. What consideration has the Scottish Government given to the significant potential for regeneration of Edinburgh’s waterfront, particularly in terms of delivering more affordable housing, and what consideration has it given to overcoming any barriers to investment, in order to encourage and enable development, particularly in the Granton and western harbour areas?

I have already mentioned the new road and the 104 affordable homes that are to be built by Port of Leith Housing Association, and the fact that that road allows for an additional 300 affordable homes to be built at a later phase. Through our affordable housing supply programme, we are planning to support over the next few years a project with Link Group housing association and two further projects with Port of Leith Housing Association, which will provide up to 538 affordable homes in the area and receive around £22 million of Scottish Government grant.

That is a suite of proposals and there are also a number of budgetary measures that will ensure that the waterfront develops as envisaged by Mr Macpherson and others. The Government is doing a great deal to help to support the vision for Edinburgh’s waterfront.

2 Sisters Food Group (Cambuslang Factory)

To ask the Scottish Government what engagement it has had with the 2 Sisters Food Group regarding its consultation on closing its factory in Cambuslang. (S5O-01786)

I have written to the chief executive of 2 Sisters Food Group to make clear our desire to work with him and his team to ensure a sustainable future for production in the Cambuslang area. The Scottish Government’s main economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise, is exploring options with the company to help to achieve that aim. Although our primary focus is on identifying actions that protect employment at the site, given the consultation that is now under way, we have also offered support to employees who may be affected, through our partnership action for continuous employment initiative. The local PACE team is meeting the management of the 2 Sisters Food Group on 5 March.

Since the announcement of the factory’s proposed closure earlier this month, I have been working with relevant stakeholders to ensure the long-term viability of the site. I have met senior management, the workers, trade unions and neighbouring local businesses to ensure that I am doing all that I possibly can to support 450 jobs at the plant. Indeed, the local community has set up a campaign to save the business, demonstrating just how important the issue is locally.

The potential job losses would be devastating for the local economy, not only in Cambuslang but in surrounding areas. Will the minister give me, the workers and the community the assurance that the Government will leave no stone unturned in finding a positive resolution for the plant?

I commend Clare Haughey for her involvement in trying to support the workforce and, indeed, the company in securing a long-term future for the site. I absolutely give her an assurance that the Scottish Government is committed to working with the company, the trade unions, the workforce and the local authority to provide every support possible to ensure a productive future for the Cambuslang site and its workforce. I am happy to continue to work with Clare Haughey, who I know has shown great interest in the issue and has contacted me directly to see what help can be provided, and I am keen to work with all local stakeholders and elected members to make that happen.

Ayrshire Growth Deal

To ask the Scottish Government when it will take forward the Ayrshire growth deal, given that it has not yet received United Kingdom Government support. (S5O-01787)

As I have previously made clear, the Scottish Government is committed to growth deals covering all of Scotland, including the Ayrshires. We have already committed £5.3 million to the Halo project in Kilmarnock.

I acknowledge the hard work that all three local authorities have put into preparing proposals for the Ayrshire growth deal and welcome their steps towards creating a regional economic partnership to steer the region towards greater inclusive growth.

We have a commitment to 100 per cent of coverage of Scotland with growth deals and we want the UK Government to join us in that common purpose. I last met the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 1 February to discuss the issue and we have agreed to meet again shortly to explore how best to make progress.

For more than 18 months, the people of Ayrshire have waited for the UK Government to take forward the growth deal. However, despite heavy hints, winks and suggestions dating back more than a year, we appear to be no further forward in relation to a commencement date, meaning that Ayrshire is likely to fall further behind other, more prosperous parts of Scotland where deals are already in place. Does the cabinet secretary agree that even a truncated deal involving the three Ayrshire local authorities and the Scottish Government would allow at least some investment projects to begin and possibly encourage the UK Government to finally get its finger out and invest in Ayrshire?

I share the member’s frustration about the length of time that it has taken to come to a conclusion on the Ayrshire growth deal. In my substantive answer, I said that we are committed to growth deals throughout Scotland. That perhaps provides part of the answer to the member’s question about the Scottish Government’s intent.

We have a preference to work in partnership with the UK Government, not least because that expands the resources that can go in to any particular deal. We want to maximise the investment opportunities for Ayrshire, and I will remind the secretary of state when we meet that progress on the deal cannot be delayed forever and we will all need to move much more quickly to ensure that Ayrshire can capitalise on the opportunities presented by the growth deal proposals.

I notice that there is no line in the Scottish budget that was passed yesterday for the Ayrshire growth deal, so perhaps I could offer the cabinet secretary the opportunity to update Parliament on how much, in financial terms, his Government is committing to the Ayrshire growth deal.

The member will find that there is provision in the budget for growth deals, and I have made it explicit, as have other members of the Government, that we are committed to the growth deal. If only we had the same commitment from the UK Government. However much is being talked about, it is substantially more than the zero pounds currently being proposed by the UK Government. We will take forward this deal and we hope that the UK Government will do the same. However, until it does that we cannot make any progress. We have been committed to every growth deal so far and, as I have just said, this Government is committed to a growth deal in every part of Scotland.

Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress regarding the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. (S5O-01788)

The Scottish Government remains fully committed to a city region deal for Stirling and Clackmannanshire and we have been leading engagement with the city region partners and the United Kingdom Government throughout the process. We remain engaged in discussion with the UK Government and the city region partners to agree and deliver the best possible deal for the region and we are working to conclude those negotiations and reach a heads of terms agreement as soon as possible.

I would be grateful if the cabinet secretary would confirm what additional moneys are committed to the city region deal as a result of the successful passing of the budget yesterday, which was not supported by either the Tories or the Labour Party. Will he also confirm what progress has been made in regard to the UK Government’s generous offer to gift land at Ministry of Defence Forthside if it becomes redundant in future? Will he also confirm or otherwise the helpfulness of the local Tory Conservative MPs in a process that was meant to be a partnership?

The scale of Government investment in the deal and the projects included in it will of course be subject to negotiation between Governments and between the city region partners. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution made provision in the budget for around £120 million for city deals generally. However, we do not yet know the UK Government’s contribution to the deal.

The member is right to say that an explicit commitment was given by Lord Duncan of the UK Government that MOD land would be transferred at no cost—additional to the city deal—and decontaminated. I do not think that that commitment still holds. Perhaps Bruce Crawford and other members with an interest in the issue might want to ask the UK Government whether it intends to see through that commitment, in terms of both the Stirling deal and the Tay cities deal.

For our part, the Scottish Government’s contribution will be genuinely additional and wholly new capital investment that would not be happening without the city region deal. We have committed over £1 billion on city deals for Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh. We are the biggest contributor to city deals.

We want to see a successful deal here and I only wish that some of the local Conservative members—MSPs and MPs—had taken the constructive approach that we have seen in relation to other city deals, instead of the sniping and undermining of the process that is doing damage both to Stirling and Clackmannanshire in terms of seeing through the city deal. They should get behind the people of Stirling and Clackmannanshire and get behind the deal.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s growing support for repurposing the MOD site for social housing, which is desperately needed in Stirling.

I want to ask about Clackmannanshire, which was added relatively late on in the city deal process. How will the Scottish Government ensure that communities in both the Stirling area and the Clackmannanshire area benefit from the city deal?

Mark Ruskell makes a good point. We have helped not least by providing, for the first time, additional support to the council—given the council’s size and the fact that it came to the deal later—through the Scottish Futures Trust, and Scottish Government officials to help the council formulate its proposals. Good progress has been made with the proposals coming from Clackmannanshire Council.

I only wish that the UK Government, when it mentions this deal in Parliament, would mention Clackmannanshire, as it said that it would do. Clackmannanshire is a vital part of the deal, just as Stirling is. I reassure the member that the Scottish Government, for our part, will do what we can to assist in the redevelopment of Clackmannanshire and Stirling and will take both parts of the city region deal together. I am pleased that Clackmannanshire and Stirling have agreed to work together on the deal.

I remind the cabinet secretary and Bruce Crawford, for that matter, that the budget passed yesterday is based on extra real-term funding coming from the UK Government to the Scottish Government. When will the cabinet secretary stop playing politics, show leadership and start spending some of the extra funding for the benefit of the people of Stirling and Clackmannanshire?

Once again, Dean Lockhart misunderstands the process. The city deals are agreed by all the parties. We announce when all the parties are agreed and satisfied with the proposals. People in Stirling and Clackmannanshire will be well aware that he and his colleagues demanded that we put in the budget provision for city deals and then voted against that budget yesterday, including those resources. People will not forget the actions of the Conservative MSPs and MPs.

Scottish University Staff Pensions

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding safeguarding the value of Scottish university staff pensions. (S5O-01789)

Scottish Government officials are closely monitoring developments and have sought updates from stakeholders on this issue, including from the UK Government.

I encourage both sides to engage in further talks to find a resolution to this issue.

I thank the minister for that response and express solidarity, and indeed that of the Scottish Green party, with constituents at the Scottish Association of Marine Science in Oban today and all members of the University and College Union across the country who are out on strike. I am sure that they will also welcome the support of the National Union of Students.

The UCU has stated that changes to the pension scheme could see members lose up to £200,000. I appreciate that there is no direct role for the Scottish Government, but would the minister advise whether she has discussed the issues with Universities UK and will she encourage Scottish university principals to get back to meaningful talks to resolve the dispute?

As the member points out, this is not a Government-funded pension scheme so there is no direct locus for the Scottish Government as staff pay and conditions are matters for autonomous institutions, such as universities.

The Scottish Government is monitoring the situation closely and engaging with the relevant stakeholders. I had a meeting with UCU officials on Tuesday, which they deemed to be very constructive, to discuss their concerns about the lack of discussions. As I said in my original answer, I encourage both sides to get back to the negotiating table and engage in further talks. That is the right thing for the UCU and its members and it is the right thing for students.

Additional Support Needs Pupils

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what it is doing to improve support for pupils with additional support needs. (S5O-01790)

We want all children and young people to get the support that they need to reach their full potential. We continue to support education authorities in meeting their duties under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2009 to identify, provide for, and review the additional support needs of their pupils.

We have empowered children through the extension of their rights under the Additional Support for Learning Act. This landmark extension of rights is supported by a new children’s service, funded by the Scottish Government. We have also published further guidance on a children’s learning code of practice, on supporting children with healthcare needs in schools and on complaints to Scottish Ministers.

Despite the number of pupils identified with ASN having increased by 47 per cent since 2012, we know that resources are dwindling. The number of additional support for learning teachers has fallen by 12 per cent since 2012 and the latest figures show that local authority spending has dropped by £459 per pupil since 2012, which represents an 11 per cent cut. Based on those figures, and the feeling among teachers that not enough time is being devoted to ASN training, does the cabinet secretary truly believe that adequate support is being provided?

As a matter of fact, the number of staff supporting pupils with additional support needs increased between 2015 and 2016, the latest years for which figures are available. We will get the figures for 2017 shortly.

It is a matter for local authorities to determine the amount of resources that they put in place to support the special needs of young people, but they have statutory obligations that they are obliged to meet.

The day after the Conservatives argued for less public expenditure, tax cuts for the rich and less investment in the budget—and voted against the budget—it is a bit rich for them to raise with me the question of extra spending in relation to this issue.

Before we move on to First Minister’s questions, I am sure that members will wish to join me in welcoming to our gallery Mr André Antoine, President of the Parliament of Wallonia. [Applause.]

I also ask members to join me in welcoming Ann Jones AM, Deputy Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales. [Applause.]