Meeting date: Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 22 May 2019
Agenda: Business Support Inquiry, Mental Health Services (Quality and Safety), General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Local Radio
- Business Support Inquiry
- Mental Health Services (Quality and Safety)
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- Local Radio
First Minister’s Question Time
In 2013, the First Minister signed the Edinburgh agreement, which made it clear that the referendum would deliver
“a result that everyone will respect.”
We know the First Minister’s pitch to voters this week: to rerun not just one referendum, but two. I am against that, but just out of interest, is she claiming that she will respect the results of the reruns, given that she failed to do so last time?
I am, of course, glad that Ruth Davidson now appears, from that question, to be conceding that the people of Scotland should get the choice on independence. Obviously, the Prime Minister’s change of heart on second referendums is catching.
Let us look back to 2013. I seem to recall that, in 2013, one Ruth Davidson, who might be recognised by many people inside and outside the chamber, said to the people of Scotland that we had to vote against independence in order to secure our place in the European Union. What is happening now? The people of Scotland face being taken out of the European Union against our will.
Tomorrow, of course, in the most important European Union election in our country’s history, people across Scotland will have the opportunity to send a message. The message that people in Scotland should take the opportunity to send is that Scotland is not for Brexit; Scotland is for Europe.
This is not about respecting democracy or anything of the sort. It is about the First Minister using everything that she can lay her hands on to push for the only thing that she cares about. As she confirmed on “The Andrew Marr Show” at the weekend, even if the United Kingdom votes to stay in the European Union, she will still insist on rerunning the independence referendum. This is about demanding more referendums until people are browbeaten into giving her the result that she wants. Is not it the case that she is interested in democracy only when it goes her way?
Perhaps the difference between Ruth Davidson and me is that I have principles, and I stick to my principles. Ruth Davidson would not recognise a principle. She used passionately to oppose Brexit; now she supports Brexit. She used to demand that we stay in the single market; now she wants us to be taken out of the single market.
Of course, Ruth Davidson also used to call Boris Johnson names that I cannot repeat in the chamber. Now, she is cosying up to Boris Johnson—the arch-Brexiteer. I cannot help but think that it is a pity that flip-flopping is not an Olympic sport, because if it was, Ruth Davidson would be a guaranteed gold-medal winner.
I have never had a problem standing up to the alpha males in my party. I wonder whether the First Minister has always been able to say the same.
After campaigning in the Brexit referendum campaign UK-wide, the First Minister now refuses to accept the result because she lost it. She mentioned principle, so let us talk about a matter of principle. I believe that when we have asked people to make a decision, and have said that we would enact whatever they decided, democracy will be damaged fundamentally if we then insist, at the first opportunity, that the vote be held again. Does she not see that we should not change the rules after the event?
If Ruth Davidson thinks that the views of the people of Scotland should always be respected, why does she not respect the view of the 62 per cent of people in Scotland who voted to remain in the European Union? Ruth Davidson told the people of Scotland that we had to reject independence in order to stay in the European Union, but we now face being taken out of the EU against our will. Tomorrow, people in Scotland have the opportunity to send the clear message that Scotland does not want Brexit, that Scotland did not vote for Brexit and that Scotland wants to remain in the European Union.
“we have enough common sense to see the contradiction of an SNP seeking to end a UK ... union ... in which we can dismiss the government over us, while taking us into a far larger ... union in which we cannot dismiss”
anyone. Those are not my words, but the view of the former Scottish National Party deputy leader Jim Sillars, writing at the weekend. Is he not right?
The SNP is a party that demands sovereignty for Scotland, but it would trap us in the common fisheries policy and would adopt the euro. It is a party that has not met a referendum that it does not want to overturn, and it is a party that refuses to abide by the democratic decisions that we all agreed we would respect. We have had enough of referendums. Scotland wants to move on. Why can the First Minister not see that?
It is clear that the Prime Minister does not necessarily think that there have been enough referendums. It must be heartbreaking for Ruth Davidson, as the Prime Minister has just torpedoed her pitch in the European elections, to see none of her grovelling loyalty to the Prime Minister and her Westminster bosses being repaid. From the outset, she has not had anything positive to say in her pitch. Ruth Davidson is so desperate to cosy up to Boris Johnson that her conversion to a hard Brexiteer is complete.
Over the past three years, people have seen the power of small independent countries such as Ireland in the European Union. What a contrast that is to the way in which Westminster has treated Scotland. That is why I believe that when people cast their votes tomorrow they will send Westminster the message loud and clear that they do not want a Tory Brexit but want Scotland to remain in the European Union.
Renewables Industry (Jobs)
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
Three weeks ago, I raised with the First Minister a new Scottish Trades Union Congress report entitled “Broken Promises and Offshored Jobs”, which concludes that fewer than a third of the jobs that were promised in Scotland’s renewable energy sector have been delivered. Does the First Minister agree that, in the light of that record, it is more essential than ever that the fabrication contract for the EDF Renewables Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind installation be awarded to yards and workers in Scotland?
I fully support the trade unions in their campaign to bring contracts and jobs to Scottish yards. However, it would clearly not be appropriate for me to comment in detail on contracts that have not yet been awarded.
My support for Burntisland Fabrications and for the renewables industry in Scotland is well known. Today, we see one of the contrasts between this Government and our counterparts in the UK Government, in that because we intervened, BiFab still exists and is able to compete for contracts.
I want more such work to come to Scotland, which is why, a couple of weeks ago, the Scottish Government convened a very positive summit that was attended by the trade unions. We will continue to work with them to ensure that people in Scotland benefit from the many jobs that will come from Scotland leading the world in the transition to a zero-carbon future.
Just last week, EDF boasted that it is creating 60 new office jobs in Edinburgh, but what we are talking about is a renewable energy contract worth £2 billion just 10 miles off the coast of Fife that would generate more than 1,000 green manufacturing jobs in Fife. However, it has been reported today that EDF might place the contracts in Indonesia. According to the Scottish Trades Union Congress, transportation of the structures from south-east Asia would generate carbon emissions equivalent to an extra 35 million cars on the road—at a time when we are in a climate emergency. What will the First Minister do to send EDF the clear message that if it wishes to be part of Scotland’s renewables future it must stand by the promises that were made to the workers and communities of Fife?
The Scottish Government sends a very clear message to all companies that are letting such contracts that we want Scotland to be treated fairly. That message is unequivocal. However, as, I am sure, Richard Leonard appreciates, it would not be helpful to anybody for me to comment further on the detail of on-going negotiations and decisions.
The Scottish Government is acting, and it is acting in partnership with the trade unions. After the summit that I referred to a moment ago, Gary Smith of the GMB and Pat Rafferty of Unite said that they left it
“confident that the Scottish Government shares our determination to make sure we get our share of the renewables manufacturing bonanza, and that they will take all necessary measures within their powers to do this.”
We will continue to work with the unions and others—and, indeed, with the UK Government, because unfortunately not all the levers lie in our hands. The Scottish Government took the action that it took to save BiFab because we want it to have a prosperous and positive future. We are determined to do everything that we can to ensure that that is the case.
The time has come to act. When I raised the matter with the First Minister 20 days ago, she responded:
“Meeting the targets will mean that we have to up our ambition and action across the whole range of Government responsibilities. That also puts a responsibility on the shoulders of Opposition parties”.—[Official Report, 2 May 2019; c 14.]
Well, this Opposition party is shouldering its responsibility. Next Wednesday in Parliament, we will lead a debate on the future of BiFab and the awarding of renewable energy contracts, and we want to win cross-party support to ensure that Parliament sends out a united message that offshore wind must not mean offshored jobs. Will the First Minister back the Labour motion, support the trade union, stand with the communities of Fife and stand up for the jobs?
Obviously, I have not seen the Labour motion. I will make an open offer to Richard Leonard: if he wants to talk to the Scottish Government about the terms of the motion to see whether we can come together and give it joint backing, I am more than happy for the Scottish Government to have those discussions. I think that we should come together on the matter.
The Scottish Government should be judged on our actions in respect of BiFab. The company would no longer exist, but for the action that the Scottish Government has taken. Of course, the Scottish Government has a financial stake in BiFab on behalf of the taxpayer, so we want it to succeed not only for all the reasons why Richard Leonard and others want it to succeed, but so that there is a return for the taxpayer.
We will do everything in our power on the matter. We are already taking action after discussions at the summit, and we will work with anybody to ensure that BiFab and other businesses in the renewables sector flourish as they have every reason to expect to flourish. I look forward to discussions between now and next Wednesday so that we can, I hope, come together behind a motion that shows the entire Parliament’s support for BiFab and its workforce.
We have a couple of constituency questions, the first of which is from Jamie Halcro Johnston.
Places of Worship (Attacks)
The First Minister will be aware that, a few nights ago, the outside of Elgin mosque was daubed with a swastika and offensive language. It is not the first time that an attack of that nature has been brought to Parliament’s attention, and I fear that it will not be the last. Will the First Minister join me and politicians across all parties in Moray in condemning that attempt to intimidate the Muslim community in Elgin? Will she also give a clear commitment that the Scottish Government will ensure that resources are in place to protect Scotland’s places of worship, and that when they are targeted in such a manner, no stone will be left unturned in bringing to justice those who are responsible?
I whole-heartedly endorse Jamie Halcro Johnston’s comments. I know that Richard Lochhead, as the local MSP for Elgin, has already expressed similar sentiments. I unreservedly condemn every attack on a mosque, or on any other church or place of worship.
I suspect that my constituency has more mosques than any other constituency in the country, so I know the impact that an attack on or threat to any mosque has on our Muslim community. That, of course, applies to everybody of any faith and at any place of worship.
This morning, I had the honour of addressing the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. All Scotland’s faiths have a proud record of coming together and standing against intolerance, prejudice and bigotry, and we should all stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they do so.
Sexual Crime (Glasgow)
Does the First Minister share my grave concern at the deeply disturbing report in the Glasgow Evening Times revealing Police Scotland figures that show a significant increase in sexual crimes in the city since 2013? Indeed, in some areas, there has been a doubling of sexual offences in five years, with all the suffering that that brings. What reassurance can the First Minister give the people of Glasgow that the city will have the necessary police resources to address that deeply worrying trend, and that there will be sufficient support for survivors of sexual offences?
Any increase in sexual crime is of enormous concern. I would echo Johann Lamont’s comments on that. Some of the increase in sexual crime in recent years has come through reporting of historical sexual crime; we should all encourage such reporting. I do not, however, suggest that that is the case in relation to the figures that she cites.
There are more police on our streets now than when the Government took office, which is an important part of keeping the people of Glasgow and people across Scotland safe. The police and all of us should take tackling sexual crime extremely seriously. We must also do everything that we can to support survivors of sexual crime. The Scottish Government does that, and will continue to do so, through a range of initiatives.
Cycling Targets (Road Safety)
I am sure that all members will wish to join me in extending my sincere sympathies to the family and friends of the cyclist who tragically lost her life in Glasgow this morning.
Sustrans research that is out today tells us that children on bikes or on foot in the most deprived areas of Scotland are more than three times as likely to be injured or killed on the roads, simply as a result of their postcode. It is clear that, despite councils’ best efforts, a fragmented council by council approach to safer streets simply is not working. Given the obvious concerns about road safety, the Government’s own deadline for 10 per cent of journeys to be made by bike by 2020 looks more unachievable than ever. When will the First Minister take action?
I take this opportunity to convey my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the cyclist who tragically lost her life in Glasgow this morning. The tragic incident took place on one of the busiest roads in my constituency and I know that it will have shocked local people. I am sure that all our thoughts are with the woman’s loved ones.
On the wider question that Alison Johnstone raised, we have doubled the budget for active travel and we are committed to continuing that. In the cycling action plan for Scotland, we set out the vision that, by 2020, 10 per cent of everyday journeys would be by bike, and there are some signs of progress. For example, in 2017, for commutes of 5 miles or under, 4 per cent of people cycled to work. Over the past 10 years, the proportion of Edinburgh residents cycling as their mode of travel to work increased from 6 per cent to just under 10 per cent. We are determined to build on that progress to encourage cycling as part of a commute, which may also involve public transport. Of course, that is an important part of our ambitions around keeping the population healthier and tackling climate change.
Let us bear it in mind that the budget that was doubled has increased from 1.5 per cent to 3 per cent of the transport budget. It is tokenistic.
Reducing speed limits is one of the cheapest ways to make our roads safer for everyone. They are not safe enough, which is why, currently, 3 per cent of journeys in Scotland take place on a bike. The First Minister of Wales has announced that 20mph will replace 30mph as the default speed limit, mirroring the member’s bill on that issue that is currently before the Parliament. Meanwhile, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity has rejected calls from Scottish National Party-led councils, including those in Glasgow and Edinburgh, to follow suit. Dozens of organisations, including the British Heart Foundation, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Poverty Alliance, back a default 20mph speed limit. With Scotland now lagging behind Wales, will the First Minister give the leadership that is needed to make our streets safer for everyone?
First, I say to Alison Johnstone that I do not think that investment of £80 million a year, which is the active travel budget, is tokenistic—
Out of a £2.4 billion transport budget?
I understand that many people want the active travel budget to increase and we will continue to work hard to increase it, in light of the other budgetary pressures that we face.
On speed limits, Mark Ruskell’s Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill is currently before the relevant committee for stage 1 scrutiny. I give a commitment today that we will carefully consider the committee’s stage 1 report when it is published.
We have always been clear that 20mph speed limits are a good idea when they are implemented in the right environment. The bill raises two different issues, which it is important to ensure are not conflated: the first is whether 20mph speed limits are beneficial, and we certainly recognise that; the second is whether a blanket approach is the best way of achieving the desired benefits, and we will pay close attention to the views of the committee when the stage 1 report is published.
There are a number of constituency questions.
Today, a damning report on United Kingdom Government policy was published by the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. On welfare reform, the rapporteur said:
“the Department of Work and Pensions has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitized version of the nineteenth century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens”.
I acknowledge that the report has just been published, but will the First Minister give her initial reaction and set out what the Government is doing to tackle poverty?
I thank Shona Robison for raising this important issue. The report from the UN rapporteur that was published today is shocking and—frankly—should shame every member of the UK Government. It says, for example, that
“much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos”,
“British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach”.
Those comments should make every UK minister pause and reflect seriously on their welfare policies and austerity approach and decide to change course immediately.
By contrast, the report talks about the work that is being done by devolved Administrations. It says that Scotland is
“spending some £125 million per year to protect people”
“has ... put in place ambitious schemes for addressing poverty”.
We will continue to work hard to mitigate the impact of Westminster cuts and to build a system here in Scotland that protects people and is based on dignity and respect.
Attacks on Politicians
On Monday, Councillor Graeme Campbell was woken up in the middle of the night. His car had been fire bombed. The flames were spreading to his house and could easily have killed him and his family or spread to nearby homes.
I understand that the First Minister cannot comment on live police investigations, but will she condemn that attack in the strongest possible terms? Does she agree that any threat or direct action towards politicians simply for carrying out their duties, at any level and whatever their party, is an attack on our democracy and must be met with robust and decisive action?
I condemn that incident very strongly and unreservedly and I take the opportunity to send my best wishes to Councillor Campbell and his family, who I am sure were deeply shocked by what occurred. As the member rightly said, I cannot and will not comment further on the specific incident, because it is a matter for police investigation.
Attacks on politicians of any nature are to be condemned. We live in a society in which we should encourage and embrace robust debate, but we should try to conduct those robust debates in a civilised and respectful way. None of us in this chamber lives up to that on all occasions, but all of us should try harder to do so, because our democracy and the people whom we serve deserve no less.
In 2011, chaotic filing of documents that related to undercover police operations was followed by officers being sent to buy an incinerator and petrol and then taking documents to wasteland and setting them alight.
After a separate civil action and reporting by the Sunday Post, the debacle is now considered serious enough to merit the calling in of the Metropolitan Police for a further review. The chief constable said that that is in recognition of the need for public confidence in the
“vital area of covert policing”.
Does the First Minister agree that a Pitchford-type inquiry into other alleged abuses that relate to undercover policing in Scotland is necessary to maintain that confidence?
I thank Liam McArthur for raising the issue. As he said, an external police force has been asked to investigate the concerns that have been raised. The chief constable is absolutely right to recognise the seriousness of the matter and to take the action that he has. In the light of that, it would be wrong for me to pre-empt the outcome of that investigation, but when it has concluded, I am sure that if any questions or lessons are raised for the Scottish Government, they will be addressed at that time.
Has the First Minister read the report on the extensive delays to the replacement system for Airwave for the emergency services, which is currently said to be at least £3 billion over budget and many years past its due date. In addition to the delays and the massive cost overruns of crossrail, does that not prove that we should never let the Tories near infrastructure projects in Scotland?
The record of the Conservative Westminster Government in delivering infrastructure projects on time and on budget—or indeed at all—is not a particularly strong one. That is by contrast, of course, with the record of the Scottish Government. Keith Brown is right to raise concerns, particularly about Airwave. There have been and will continue to be discussions between the UK Government and the Scottish Government on that issue. However, the more responsibilities that we hold in this Parliament over those matters, the better it will be for all of us.
Does the First Minister share the serious public concerns about Scotland’s fish farming industry, as highlighted by the “Panorama” programme the other night? Does she share the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy’s view that we
“must be better at recognising and celebrating the good environmental credentials of this industry”?
When it comes to fish farming, is it growth at any cost?
I do not think that it should be growth at any cost in any sector of our economy. I recognise the concerns that people have about the environmental sustainability of aquaculture and its impact on wild salmon in particular. We are committed to sustainable aquaculture and wild fisheries. Both are dependent on the environment. Aquaculture salmon farming is important economically, but we would all agree that it must be delivered and developed sustainably, with appropriate regulatory frameworks that minimise and address environmental impacts. I know that the industry shares that view.
Processed Meats (Schools and Hospitals)
On Sunday, all Opposition parties supported a campaign to stop processed meats containing nitrites being served in schools and hospitals. Does the First Minister agree that nitro-meats should no longer be served in Scotland’s schools and hospitals and will she commit to a timetable to end that?
There are, of course, international standards, with which we will fully comply. We are absolutely committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of children in schools and have a key role to play in the provision of balanced, nutritious food and drink every day, which our regulations help to ensure. Following a review of the regulations, the Scottish Government consulted on proposed changes that include a proposal to introduce a maximum level of red meat and red processed meat that can be served in schools, and we will publish a consultation report by the end of this school year.
Land Value Capture
Last week, the Scottish Land Commission gave ministers its initial advice on land value capture. Will the First Minister say how the Government plans to take that important work forward?
We welcome the report by the Scottish Land Commission. We are interested in more effective ways to capture land value uplifts to pay for enabling infrastructure but, as the commission notes, it is a very complex area, and any attempts to capture land value uplifts must be done in a fair way that does not impact on the availability of land for development or the supply of new homes. We will consider the recommendations in detail and set out our proposals to take forward work in that area following the completion of the planning bill.
Independent Inquiry into Mental Health Services in Tayside (Interim Report)
The First Minister will have read the interim report on mental health services in Tayside. My thoughts are with all the families who are affected by the report and its terrible findings. This afternoon, the Minister for Mental Health announced another board of governance, but no actions to guarantee patients’ safety while we await the final report. Will the First Minister escalate NHS Tayside back to stage 5, so that the board has the support and supervision that it needs to guarantee patient safety over the coming weeks? Will she also instruct NHS Tayside to halt mental health service redesign, as David Strang recommended in his interim report, at least until his final report is published?
The Healthcare Improvement Scotland report also addressed patient safety issues and NHS Tayside is of course undertaking work in the light of that report.
I thank David Strang for his interim report. It is an interim report, but it highlights a number of areas in which issues must be addressed. My thoughts, too, are with all the families that have been affected. NHS Tayside, which commissioned the inquiry, has committed to learning from the interim report and we look forward to David Strang publishing his final recommendations.
Yesterday, the mental health minister met the chair and chief executive of the board and representatives of the integration joint board to seek assurances about progress in relation to the required improvement work. She has been clear in her expectations to the board and the IJB that work must be undertaken in Tayside to ensure the appropriate quality and standards of mental health services that this Government expects. I reiterate those expectations today.
Just over a month ago, the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister to call for the greater involvement of devolved Administrations in the article 50 negotiations. Will the First Minister confirm whether her call has been reflected in the Prime Minister’s new and improved Brexit deal?
As far as I am aware—although I am happy to be corrected if I am mistaken—there was no substantive response from the Prime Minister to that letter. Scotland has not been meaningfully consulted at any stage of the process, and we were certainly not consulted in advance of the Prime Minister making her speech yesterday. Scotland—the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland—has been completely ignored in the whole sorry saga. That is why I hope that the people of Scotland take the opportunity tomorrow to send Westminster and the Prime Minister, whoever he or she might be by next week, a strong message that Scotland does not want Brexit and wants to remain at the heart of Europe.
Shipbuilding (Armed Service Veterans)
I was recently privileged to visit our new aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, in Rosyth and was impressed by that fine example of British shipbuilding and assembly skills in Scotland. It is a project on which many of our armed services veterans are working. What will the First Minister do to keep our veterans skilled and working in that sector?
The Scottish Government is doing a great amount of work to support our veterans. I thank all those who serve or have served in our armed services.
I am a strong supporter of shipbuilding in Scotland. In the days when Govan shipyard was in my constituency—it is now represented by Humza Yousaf—I learned a lot about that proud industry. One of the many things that I regret about the independence referendum in 2014 is that the commitments that were made to the shipbuilding industry by the Conservatives were reneged on, as were so many of the other commitments that they made back then.
Lloyds Banking Group (Jobs in Edinburgh)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on the creation of 500 highly-skilled tech jobs in Edinburgh by Lloyds Banking Group. (S5F-03362)
I warmly welcome the announcement of the new tech hub, which is yet another vote of confidence in the quality of the Scottish workforce and the strength of our financial sector. With the announcement, Edinburgh is fast becoming one of Europe’s most competitive tech hubs, which we see in the growth of its start-up offerings and through its world-leading universities and new digital academies such as CodeClan, which provide greater choice for careers in the industry. The announcement marks a significant step forward in the Government’s work to position Scotland as a vibrant and innovative digital economy.
As an Edinburgh MSP, I am delighted that our capital is becoming one of the most competitive tech hubs in the European Union. Those industries, especially those that provide online financial services, benefit greatly from access to the EU single market. How will the First Minister capitalise on the growth in those sectors to create more jobs here in Edinburgh?
There is no doubt that Brexit is a threat. Being taken out of the single market is a grave threat to jobs in the tech sector, as it is to jobs in many sectors of our economy.
We are working in partnership with the financial services sector through, for example, the financial services advisory board, which I co-chair, to support its continued growth not just here in Edinburgh but around Scotland. Our development and skills agencies are actively engaging with the sector and professional bodies to support that growth. Our support for FinTech Scotland is a good example of the Scottish Government working with the sector, our agencies and our universities to drive growth and innovation in financial services and to attract investment and talent to Scotland.
The announcement of potential new tech jobs is welcome. It is important that there is a pipeline of skilled employees entering the sector. Will the First Minister comment on why a foundation apprenticeship in financial services remains available in only five of Scotland’s 13 college regions, excluding my constituents in the Highlands and Islands?
Given that reskilling into a technology career can cost more than £6,000 per course—a prohibitive amount for many people—will she advise on what additional support the Scottish Government can provide to those who are looking to move into the sector?
We continue to provide a range of support. I mentioned the financial services advisory board in my earlier answer; its last meeting took place just a couple of weeks ago. As has been the case at many of its meetings, the board discussed skills and how we build the skills base in the sector. There is a lot of work between Government, our agencies and the sector to make sure that we do exactly that.
I say gently to Jamie Halcro Johnston that the biggest concern for the recruitment and attraction of skills that is raised in that sector and in many others is the ending of freedom of movement that comes with both Brexit and the Conservative Government’s obsession with a hostile environment and cutting immigration. We must make sure that we have an immigration system in Scotland that continues to allow us to attract the best people, not just from within Scotland, but from countries across Europe and further afield.
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to promote active travel. (S5F-03351)
The Scottish Government doubled the active travel budget to £80 million in 2018-19. The majority of that funding is allocated to local authorities to deliver high-quality walking and cycling infrastructure. Funding also includes more than £10 million to support local authorities and communities to deliver behavioural change programmes, including cycle training and increased access to bikes and e-bikes, to encourage more people to walk and cycle.
Last year, we appointed Scotland’s first active nation commissioner, Lee Craigie, as the national advocate for the benefits of walking and cycling, including for everyday short journeys.
The First Minister will be aware that this is walk to school week. However, less than half of Scottish children walk to school and one in four parents is concerned about the impact of pollution near schools. The Scottish National Party Government has fallen behind on reducing transport emissions and its target for increasing cycle journeys will not be achieved for an astonishing 239 years. Will the First Minister agree with the Scottish Conservatives and consider investigating the use of air quality monitors to reassure parents that their children are breathing clean air when walking to school?
We will continue to take action to improve air quality by supporting councils with low-emission zones, encouraging people to walk or cycle instead of using their cars, investing in the technology that supports cleaner vehicles—buses and cars—and investing in active travel in the way that I have set out.
That is not helped by the knee-jerk opposition that we get from the Conservatives to some of the policies that give councils more powers to deal with such things. I hope that Rachael Hamilton will prevail on her party colleagues to work with the Scottish Government to make the real progress that is now within our grasp.
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that around one in five of Scotland’s free-to-use ATMs are expected to introduce charges to customers in the next 12 months. (S5F-03352)
The ability to freely and easily access cash is essential, particularly for small businesses and for those in our most vulnerable communities. That is why the Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy has repeatedly urged the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to appoint a regulator with sole responsibility for cash infrastructure. We will continue to urge Link and ATM operators to protect the ATM network to ensure that cash remains accessible to all.
The First Minister will be aware that the ATM industry body has warned that one in five ATMs could charge for withdrawals in Scotland within the next year.
In the United Kingdom, 2.7 million people rely wholly on cash for their daily lives and 78 per cent of consumers in the two lowest household income groups rely on cash two to three times a week, so we can see what the impact would be on the poorest communities.
Does the First Minister agree that we should work across the parties to support a consumer guarantee of free access to cash and get behind the crucial work that Ged Killen MP is doing to legislate for that?
I am very happy to co-operate across parties on the issue. It is the case that cash payments remain an essential part of day-to-day life for many people, especially vulnerable consumers, smaller businesses and those who live in our rural communities. Many of the levers lie with the UK Government, of course, which is why the Scottish Government minister has pressed the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, supporting the Which? campaign to ensure that cash remains accessible to all. We will continue to press the UK Government and we look forward to having the support of parties across the chamber as we do so.
Does the First Minister agree that, as bad as charging for ATM use is, it is even worse when the ATM is removed altogether? In my constituency, two of the eight branches are about to be closed by Santander and Clydesdale and the risk is that we will also lose ATMs completely from the area. Will the First Minister and the Government continue to press the UK Government as far as possible in order to try to put pressure on the banks?
We have an on-going dialogue with the banks. They will say that the pattern of custom is changing but we point out that in many communities, including those that John Mason represents, people rely on having access to banks and ATMs. I know that John Mason and his MP colleague David Linden are campaigning against those bank closures and I wish them well with that. We will continue to have those conversations with banks and to press the UK Government to use the powers and levers at its disposal to get the fairest possible deal for consumers.
The First Minister said that she is concerned about the declining free-to-use ATM network in Scotland. If that is the case, why is her Government the only one in the UK to charge business rates on Post Office ATMs, forcing many of them to close or introduce charges?
That issue was raised by the Post Office when representatives were in Parliament just last week and I have given them an undertaking that we will look into it. As anybody will point out, there are a multitude of reasons behind the closures and it is important that we address the issue in its widest sense. Where responsibilities of the Scottish Government are involved, we will not shy away from them, but we will continue to press the UK Government to take the action that it can take to ensure a fairer deal for people who rely on banks and ATMs.
Cardtronics has imposed charges on two previously free-to-use ATMs in my constituency. It appears that a dispute between Cardtronics and Link explains the charges, which disproportionately impact people on the lowest incomes. Will the First Minister offer her support to me and Patrick Grady MP as we seek to secure a meeting with the Payment Systems Regulator in an attempt to eliminate those unfair charges?
The Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy met the Payment Systems Regulator in December last year to urge it to use its regulatory powers, so I certainly wish Bob Doris and Patrick Grady well in seeking a meeting to press that case. The Scottish Government has asked the regulator to ensure that no ATM in a vulnerable community closes until a new operator is found and that communities are not left without free access to cash as a result of Link’s changes to interchange fees. I welcome the support of members from across the chamber in ensuring that the regulator is fully aware of the continued impact of ATM closures and charges on communities across Scotland.