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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 22, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 22 September 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Standing Safe Campaign, Business Motion, Local Taxation, Events, General Question Time, Decision Time


General Question Time

Rural Payments (Digital Mapping System)

To ask the Scottish Government what type of digital mapping systems it uses for making and assessing rural payments. (S5O-00171)

Our rural payments and inspection division uses a digital mapping system known as the land parcel identification system to support the validation of common agricultural policy payments, including payments under the basic payment scheme.

Can more be done to ensure that the mapping system is as accurate as it can be? For example, is the Scottish Government making the most of available technology?

Yes, I believe that we are. We use a geographic information system, which is supplied by ESRI (UK) Ltd, one of the largest GIS suppliers in the world. Our mapping is updated regularly using Ordnance Survey MasterMap data, along with aerial photography specifically commissioned by RPID to update our land parcel identification system. I am happy to arrange for RPID staff to brief the member to provide further information.

The minister will be aware of the importance of getting the mapping system right in order to meet European Union regulations on CAP payments. Audit Scotland’s report in May raised serious concerns about the ability of the information technology system to minimise disallowance. Will he confirm that the mapping system is sufficiently accurate and up to date to ensure that the Scottish Government will not have to pay disallowances of up to £25 million?

I do not believe that the Audit Scotland report criticised the mapping system per se, and I was encouraged—as I am sure the member will have been—by the very positive reaction to my announcement in a statement to Parliament that, to deal with the difficulties, we are bringing forward a national loan scheme of up to £300 million, which will be injected into the rural economy in November. I was delighted to see that Finlay Carson, along with NFU Scotland, recognised that that will provide certainty and clarity to rural communities in the winter months.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that a number of mapping systems are used in crofting. Registers of Scotland, the Crofting Commission and, indeed, the CAP payment claim forms have maps of crofts. Does that cause any confusion in relation to the mapping system that is used for the CAP payments?

I suppose that it is fair to say that confusion is not entirely absent from crofting legislation. On the other hand, I do not think that the mapping system contributes to that confusion. If the member wants to write to me with any particular concerns, I would of course be happy to consider them further.

Energy Storage Systems

To ask the Scottish Government how it encourages investment in and the development of energy storage systems across Scotland, and how it intends to further support those initiatives throughout this session of Parliament. (S5O-00172)

I am not entirely sure that that is the question in the Business Bulletin, Mr Torrance. Can you answer that question, minister?

Energy storage at all scales can play a crucial role in Scotland’s low-carbon energy system.

Scotland’s existing pumped hydro storage assets offer a proven means of large-scale energy storage. We are working with the industry to outline the many benefits of the technology and to make the case to the United Kingdom Government to support new capacity.

The local energy challenge fund is supporting the demonstration of innovative energy storage technologies. For example, we provided £3.2 million to the Edinburgh and surrounding towns heat energy action through thermal storage—EAST-HEAT—project to support the deployment in homes throughout the Lothians and Falkirk of the thermal storage battery that was developed by the Scottish company Sunamp. In addition, the Levenmouth community energy project has received £4.3 million to build on the hydrogen production and storage facilities at Methil, which include facilities to provide low-carbon fuel for Fife Council vehicles. The surf ’n’ turf project in Orkney has also received £1.175 million. That project will produce hydrogen from onshore wind and marine energy, which will be stored, transported and converted back into electricity for use in buildings and berthed ferries at Kirkwall harbour.

Further support for the development and deployment of energy storage will be considered as part of the Scottish Government’s new energy strategy, a draft version of which is due to be published around the end of the year. We continue to work on storage solutions and grid connections to them.

An energy storage proposal is moving forward in the Kirkcaldy area after developers identified spare capacity at a local substation and appropriate land nearby. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to overcome higher transmission charges for Scottish grid connections in order to attract similar investment throughout Scotland?

David Torrance highlights an issue that is of great concern to the Scottish Government. We have been calling for a change to the transmission charging regime for years. We welcomed the partial improvements that were implemented through project transmit but, as we made clear earlier this year when Longannet power station was closed, there is still a long way to go until there is a fair system that does not discriminate against Scotland and call much-needed power supplies into question. Scottish ministers regularly meet the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets and National Grid, and continue to encourage them to ensure that the transmission charging regime stops penalising Scottish generation.

I am aware of a project in Mr Torrance’s constituency led by AES UK and Ireland. We have been in regular dialogue with that developer, including as recently as 19 August, to hear about its grid-scale lithium-ion battery technology. We look forward to trying to help that company overcome any barriers.

Will the minister elaborate on the potential that the Scottish Government sees in liquid air storage technology to reduce our reliance on imported gas for heating?

Alexander Burnett highlights an important matter. In our draft energy strategy, which we hope to publish around the end of the year, we will try to tackle the overwhelming problem that 54 per cent of Scotland’s energy consumption is required to provide heat, mainly for space heating purposes. We look to alternative technologies to support the continuing supply of heat to our communities and tackle fuel poverty affordably. There are exciting projects on that, including projects to explore hydrogen and other technologies.

Social Care Workers (Cost of Living Wage)

To ask the Scottish Government how much paying at least the living wage to social care workers from October 2016 will cost health and social care partnerships. (S5O-00173)

We have made national estimates of the cost of increasing wages to the living wage level. That analysis has been placed in the Scottish Parliament information centre—bib number 57809.

Although we have estimated at a national level the investment that is required to pay the living wage, circumstances will vary across authorities in Scotland—for example, in the volume and balance of contracted-out care and the progress that some councils and providers have already made towards payment of the living wage. Health and social care partnerships are working closely with providers to assess the cost of implementation in their areas and to determine, negotiate and agree the appropriate approach.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that the national estimate to which she refers has proved to be wholly inadequate? Will the Scottish Government agree to review that estimate for the coming year, starting by simply asking integration joint boards what the actual costs have been? Will she put in place a proper, long-term framework that ensures that future funding takes account of the actual costs in each area, increases as the living wage increases and takes account not only of the living wage but of training and career progression?

The Scottish Government has provided significant investment to fulfil that commitment: £125 million has been made available to partnerships to enable the living wage to be paid to care workers who support adults and to help to meet a range of existing costs that local authorities face in the delivery of effective and high-quality services. I am absolutely confident of the living wage being paid from 1 October. I hope that Opposition members will welcome that. As we discuss the matter with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the sector as part of the spending review, we will ensure the sustainability of the payment of the living wage.

General Practitioners (Recruitment)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact changes to the structure of national health service boards will have on the recruitment of general practitioners. (S5O-00174)

We are transforming our primary care services, and we are working with all health boards and key stakeholders to support GP recruitment and retention. That includes investing more than £2 million in a GP recruitment and retention fund, increasing our GP training places and creating a £20 million support package for GP practices.

As was set out in the programme for government, we will begin work in this session of Parliament to examine the number, structure and regulation of health boards, as well as their relationship with local authorities. In taking forward that review, I want to reduce bureaucracy and remove any barriers to effective patient care. The review will, of course, take account of forthcoming proposals for an islands bill, which will include a commitment to island-proof future Government legislation and policies.

I am grateful for that answer. Does that mean that the cabinet secretary will not sweep away NHS Shetland? Will she ensure that the future of the NHS will be about the recruitment of the GPs who are badly needed not just in Shetland, but in many other parts of Scotland?

In his letter, Tavish Scott said:

“While we support the principle of a review of health boards on the basis of improving patient care, it cannot lead to a solution which centralises health services away from the Islands.”

As he knows, most primary and community health services are now under the auspices of the world of integration through our integration joint boards and, of course, many acute services that are provided to the island communities are already provided by other territorial boards.

I can give Tavish Scott the guarantee that any review of or changes to health boards will be carried out on the basis of improving patient care. That and no other consideration will be the starting point for the review.

Before we move on to the next item of business, members will wish to join me in welcoming to the gallery Mr Robin Newton, the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly. [Applause.]

Members will also wish to join me in welcoming His Excellency Dr Rizal Sukma, the ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to the United Kingdom. [Applause.]

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am aware that general question time did not start until 10 minutes later than planned, due to unforeseen circumstances. I seek your guidance. Is there any provision under standing orders to allow for an additional 10 minutes of general question time either now or at the end of business to allow members to raise the issues that they were scheduled to raise?

I thank Mr Kelly for that point of order. I intend to have discussions with him and the other business managers about whether members wish to get the 10 minutes back and when that would happen. We will arrange those discussions after First Minister’s question time.