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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 22 September 2021

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Diversion from Prosecution, ScotRail, Scottish Ambulance Service, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Point of Order, National Eye Health Week 2021


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Covid-19 Recovery and Parliamentary Business

Good afternoon, colleagues. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place. Face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

Questions 3, 4 and 7 have been grouped and I will take any supplementary questions after they have all been answered. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question. In order to get in as many members as possible, I urge that we have short and succinct questions, and answers to match.


Covid-19 Recovery (Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across Government will support Ayrshire’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00167)

The Scottish Government is working to ensure that Ayrshire recovers and prospers as it emerges from the pandemic. The Ayrshire growth deal will see the Scottish Government invest £103 million over 10 years across Ayrshire by funding projects such as the great harbour and the Ayrshire manufacturing investment corridor. We are supporting the development of Ayrshire’s regional economic partnership, which will set out a strategic vision for the region. Ayrshire will also benefit from national policies that are included in our 10-year national strategy for economic transformation, our fair work first approach and our infrastructure investment plan.

The Scottish Government is establishing a £500 million transition fund for the north-east of Scotland. With the closure of Hunterston B in January and the loss of some 570 jobs over the next three years, will the cabinet secretary consider a transition fund for north Ayrshire, as part of its Covid-19 recovery, in order to help with the transition from nuclear power to renewables?

I recognise the significance of the issue and the importance that is attached to it by Mr Gibson. The Hunterston B site is important for north Ayrshire and the wider community. With the forthcoming decommissioning of the site, we want to ensure that valuable skills are not in any way lost to Ayrshire or the Scottish economy. That is why the Ayrshire growth deal contains a skills fund that will support skills interventions across the region. Also included in the deal is a project, which is sited at Hunterston, to specifically address energy decarbonisation and support offshore renewable energy development.

The Ayrshire regional economic partnership is leading work on long-term strategic economic development, and the Government will support it in that on-going work.


Covid-19 Recovery (Measurement of Progress)

To ask the Scottish Government what actions it is taking to measure the progress of its Covid-19 recovery policies. (S6O-00168)

We will continue to take a range of actions to measure the progress of our Covid-19 policies. That will include regular measurements around furlough levels, employment statistics and business resilience, and tracking Scotland’s broader wellbeing through the national performance framework. I will shortly publish the Covid recovery strategy and, with partners, we will develop a monitoring framework alongside that to ensure that we are making progress.

At the recent Scottish elections, all political parties spoke about a jobs-led recovery. What action is the Scottish Government taking across all departments to support the creation of jobs? In which sectors will those jobs be created? What can the Scottish Government do to ensure that support is in place for people who may lose their jobs in the coming months as furlough comes to an end?

Those are important questions and I welcome Katy Clark’s thoughts and contributions in that respect. The Government is undertaking a number of employment-based interventions. For example, the transition training fund is designed to address exactly the circumstances that Katy Clark has put to me in supporting individuals to move from one sector to another.

In relation to sectoral activity, the situation will vary around the country. For example, Mr Gibson’s question about the north-east of Scotland raised the issue of oil and gas transition. I assure Katy Clark that at the heart of the Government’s employment strategy is a focus on the communities that have been hardest hit by Covid and are at the greatest risk of disruption due to the end of the furlough scheme. Our interventions will be focused on supporting individuals to sustain employment in such circumstances.

Citizens Advice Scotland research shows that, across Scotland, 1.4 million people have run out of money before pay day in the past year, and CAS warns that the end of furlough and the cut to universal credit risk further financial insecurity. What assessment has the Deputy First Minister made of the impact that that will have on Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19?

I recently had a very helpful discussion with Citizens Advice Scotland in which it explained its wider assessment of the impact of financial hardship on our society and the dangers of changes such as the reduction of universal credit. If the universal credit cut takes place, it is estimated that it will push 60,000 Scots into poverty and hundreds of thousands of others into hardship.

I have just come from a discussion with my ministerial colleagues about the measures that the Scottish Government is taking to address child poverty and ensure that we have in place effective support so that our objectives are achieved and we protect individuals as far as we can from the negative effects of a reduction in universal credit, which would inflict hardship on many citizens in our country.


Vaccination Certification Scheme (Monitoring and Review)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will monitor and review the Covid-19 vaccine certification scheme. (S6O-00169)

As with other Covid measures, we are under a legal duty to review the necessity of the regulations every three weeks. We have a duty to review the necessity and proportionality of the recommendations, and policy decisions at the review points will be informed by a range of evidence from the four harms perspective, with which Parliament will be familiar.

The review will measure the certification programme outcomes against the policy objectives of increasing vaccination uptake and reducing the prevalence of Covid-19 and the pressures on the national health service. A key factor in the review will be to ensure that the policy impact remains proportionate for the business sector and society at large. The certification regulations are due to expire on 28 February 2022, but we do not want to have the scheme in place for any longer than is necessary. Therefore, if evidence and clinical advice indicate that certification is no longer required, we will remove it.

We have just over a week before the scheme is supposed to come into place. The Night Time Industries Association is launching legal action against the plans, which it says are not proportionate and are “likely to be unlawful.” UKHospitality Scotland has said that business confidence has been “shattered”. Yesterday, Liz Cameron of Scottish Chambers of Commerce said that businesses are expected

“to bear the burden of implementation costs, without any financial support whatsoever”,

of a scheme that

“is not workable in the timelines being proposed.”

Does the cabinet secretary think that all those bodies are wrong?

I quite clearly accept that there is a difference of opinion between the Government and those bodies. However, I invite them and the Conservative Party to think about what the alternative is. The alternative is that many of the sectors would have to close because of the levels of infection in society. We do not want that, so we are trying to take proportionate action to prevent that situation from prevailing. That is the type of proportionate action that the Welsh Government is taking, and it is the type of proportionate action that the United Kingdom Government is prepared to take should it judge that to be necessary.

We are engaged in dialogue with the sectors and we have set out the basis on which the scheme will operate. Further details will be set out in due course and it will be implemented, as the First Minister confirmed yesterday, at 5 am on 1 October.


Vaccination Certification (Status)

To ask the Scottish Government what arrangements are in place for people to question their Covid-19 vaccine certification status if they believe their records are incorrect. (S6O-00170)

Any suspected errors in a person’s vaccination record should be reported to the Covid-19 vaccination status helpline on 0808 196 8565. The helpline can resolve issues only in relation to vaccinations administered in Scotland. We are aware that some health boards are experiencing increased requests to update vaccination records. People can do that via the helpline. People who received their vaccine from a general practitioner can still register online to receive their vaccination record if it is required for international travel.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his helpful answer. I note the First Minister’s answer to similar questions after her statement on Covid yesterday. Can the cabinet secretary give an indication of when other anomalies in the system will be addressed? They include the position of people working in the oil industry in the middle east who have returned having had their first vaccine outwith Scotland, and other examples were raised following yesterday’s Covid statement.

We are acting to address any particular issues that individuals face on a systemic basis. A number of the points in relation to the common travel area have been resolved already, and we will work as expeditiously as we can to ensure that all the potential scenarios that may emerge can be properly and fairly addressed.

I remind members that I will take supplementaries on the grouped questions after question 7.


Vaccination Certification Scheme (Exemptions)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the anticipated criteria for exemption from the Covid-19 vaccine certification scheme. (S6O-00173)

We have identified the following three criteria for exemptions: being under 18 years of age, being a participant in a vaccine trial and being unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons. We are working on the medical conditions that would most closely be linked with a patient being unable to be immunised. We expect that the number of people in such a position is very small. All clinical trial participants have already received from the principal investigator a letter that can be used as proof of their trial status.

The cabinet secretary mentioned this issue in his response to Clare Adamson a minute ago. Can he elaborate on the proposed guidelines for how people who have been fully vaccinated abroad can obtain a vaccination certificate, or clearance to attend events in Scotland at which a certificate is required?

With regard to exemptions that are based on health grounds, does the cabinet secretary anticipate the need for a doctor’s note or other medical note, or will the relevant individuals be, in some instances, able to self-report that they have an exemption?

We are developing an approval process for medical exemptions. We will publish the detail of how that will work before its implementation, along with the necessary guidance. If any issues arise out of that guidance, I encourage people to contact the national helpline on the number that I gave earlier.

In relation to the scenario in which people have been vaccinated in other countries, the scheme will recognise people who have been vaccinated with a vaccine that has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Before the scheme goes live, we will put in place an interim process to enable residents of Scotland who have had a dose outside Scotland to have their vaccination record updated. Visitors from the rest of the United Kingdom and the wider common travel area will be able to use their existing Covid status apps with QR codes, and paper-based certificates, to gain entry to relevant venues in Scotland.

I will follow up on Fulton Macgregor’s question. Visitors from other parts of the United Kingdom who do not have apps, but only paper proof of vaccination, will be travelling to events and football matches in Scotland. Will guidance be issued to venues and football clubs on what appropriate certification is needed for people in that category, given that it varies among different parts of the United Kingdom?

Guidance will be made available. We will also continue to discuss with football authorities what information would be relevant for them to have to guide the decisions that they will have to make in implementing the certification scheme.

Can the cabinet secretary provide any information on discussions on those—in particular, younger people—who have not yet been able to receive a second dose of the vaccine due to their having been recently infected with Covid? How will that affect their ability to access events and venues that are covered by the certification scheme, given the likelihood that they, too, will have developed antibodies?

I suspect that the number of cases in such scenarios will be relatively limited. I encourage individuals, should they be unable to be vaccinated for the reason that Emma Roddick outlined, to raise such circumstances with the national helpline.

We are, obviously, trying to ensure that we have in place a proportionate intervention that ensures that we strengthen safety, that we minimise the risk of transmission in certain venues and that we boost the level of vaccine uptake, into the bargain. Those are the objectives that we are trying to achieve. We encourage individuals to secure the necessary vaccination certification to enable us to achieve the policy objectives of that intervention.

I am, as are my constituents, delighted that QR codes are in place. However, one constituent of mine who travelled to France on 5 September found that, unfortunately, the QR code did not work, so she did not have access to cafes, restaurants or museums. As the cabinet secretary can imagine, that put a damper on things. Have there been reports of similar problems, and how will the Scottish Government iron out such glitches in the system quickly?

If Jackie Baillie wishes to share with me the details of that case, I will, of course, have it investigated.

There will, inevitably, be technical challenges in the roll-out of any scheme of this nature. Obviously, we try to minimise them. Where we identify particular problems, we work to address them as quickly as possible.

As I said, if Jackie Baillie furnishes me with the details of that case, I will address it and respond to her and her constituent directly. I am sorry that her constituent was unable to access facilities, as a consequence.


Covid-19 Recovery (Mid Scotland and Fife)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across government will support Mid Scotland and Fife to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00171)

We are actively supporting economic recovery in Mid Scotland and Fife, as we are across the whole of Scotland. That includes more than £150 million to support local businesses and additional funding of more than £170 million for the area’s four local authorities.

We have committed more than £495 million across the three city region deals in mid-Scotland, which will help to drive a sustainable recovery from the pandemic in the long term. That includes £25 million for the industrial innovation programme in Fife, which will support growth of cutting-edge businesses that can deliver good and fair jobs for local people.

Although young people were least likely to become ill during the pandemic, there has been a huge impact on their education, their mental health and their work. Many young people in my region are anxious about the long-term impacts of the pandemic; we must ensure that those impacts do not translate into further inequalities. With regard to the programmes that the cabinet secretary mentioned and the policies for recovery, how is the Government making sure that the generational impact of Covid is being addressed?

Claire Baker raises a fair point. The economic interventions that the Government is taking forward are designed, in part, to create long-term sustainable economic and employment opportunities for people. By their nature, that involves ensuring that the interests of young people are very much at the heart of the design of the interventions.

We will make sure that all the interventions that I talked about in my original answer will have relationships with higher and further education institutions—with which Claire Baker will be familiar—in the Mid Scotland and Fife region. All the institutions will have particular roles and responsibilities in ensuring that the needs of young people are adequately and fully represented.

I am confident that the challenges that young people have faced in the past 18 months through Covid can be properly and fully addressed by ensuring that we have in place an approach to skills, education and investment that meets their needs, ensures that they are able to access opportunities for the future, and are in no way disadvantaged by their difficult experiences during the course of the pandemic.


Covid-19 Recovery (Hospitality)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the Covid recovery secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding action to support the hospitality sector to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00172)

I recognise the value of the hospitality and tourism sectors and I acknowledge their importance in the recovery. I have regular dialogue with my colleagues, as part of Cabinet discussions. Those will be on-going as we prepare for the 2022-23 budget. We will continue to ensure that the budget prioritises recovery, and we are aware that hospitality has been particularly hard-hit.

Over the past year, the Government has worked closely with sectoral organisations including the Scottish Tourism Alliance, UK Hospitality and the Scottish hospitality group on the recovery, and support for the tourism and hospitality sectors has been designed to address the issues that they have drawn to our attention.

What support is being provided to the retail and hospitality sectors, which are increasingly facing non-compliance with the requirement to wear face coverings and physical distancing?

Over the past few weeks, as the Government has worked to address the high levels of infection that we have been experiencing, we have been engaged in a series of discussions with a range of business sectors, including retail, hospitality and tourism, to encourage them to apply baseline measures, such as the wearing of face coverings, in order to provide maximum resistance to circulation of the virus. In those discussions, I have had to applaud the willingness of the retail, hospitality and tourism sectors to work with us. The recent reduction in the number of cases—although the number is still high, it is lower than it was—is, in part, a consequence of the response to our appeals for their support.

In addition, the Government is communicating, through a great deal of public messaging, to ensure that individuals are aware of the necessity of wearing face coverings and of the advantages and protections that come from it. We will continue to share those messages with a wider audience to ensure that the baseline measures effectively resist circulation of the virus.


Covid-19 Recovery (Cross-government Co-ordination)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on cross-government co-ordination of Covid-19 recovery policies. (S6O-00174)

The impact of Covid requires us to ensure that we have, across our public services, a coherent approach to the necessity of Covid-19 recovery. Dean Lockhart will be aware that the justice recovery plan was published in March and that the national health service recovery plan was published on 25 August. A number of ministerial groups have been established to ensure co-ordination and collaboration across the Scottish Government and to ensure that we take a collective view on the priorities for recovery.

I will shortly publish the Covid recovery strategy, which will set out how, collectively, we will ensure that actions at national and local levels are prioritised, co-ordinated and targeted most effectively to meet the needs of people who have been disproportionately disadvantaged by Covid-19. The work follows a number of months of open discussions involving Scotland’s public, private and third sectors, to allow them to shape the sort of recovery that Scotland requires.

Some concern has been expressed about the transparency of Scottish Government spending on Covid-19 recovery. Last week, a report from the Auditor General for Scotland warned that it is becoming

“increasingly hard to define what is, and what isn’t, Covid-19 spending.”

What steps will the cabinet secretary take to increase the transparency of Covid-19 spending?

The Government publishes a vast amount of information on its public expenditure, including regular public reporting on very small items of public expenditure, so I do not think that there is a shortage of information about public expenditure.

I agree with Audit Scotland that it is challenging to distinguish between expenditure that is exclusively on Covid-19 recovery and wider public expenditure, given the fact that Covid-19 has had a cumulative effect on the Government’s priorities. Mr Lockhart’s question is predicated on the need for cross-Government co-ordination of Covid recovery policies, which suggests that there is a cross-Government impact from Covid. We will continue to be as open and transparent as we can be about public expenditure, but we have, as the starting point of any analysis, to accept that Covid has affected all areas of public expenditure and policy. As a consequence, it is likely that public expenditure will be similarly influenced.


Net Zero, Energy and Transport

I remind members that, if they wish to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button, or indicate so in the chat function by entering the letter R, during the relevant question.


Strategic Transport Projects Review (Scottish Borders)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the aspects of the strategic transport projects review regarding the Scottish Borders. (S6O-00175)

The Borders transport corridors study emphasised the importance of a connected, safe, resilient and high-quality strategic transport network for the Scottish Borders. The study’s recommendations are now being appraised within STPR2. The appraisal involves consideration of a range of criteria to determine the socioeconomic benefits and overall value for money, and takes into account factors such as affordability, deliverability, risk and uncertainty. That consideration is important, given the pressures on current and future public finances. The review is due to conclude later this year with the publication of recommendations and a statutory consultation period.

The announcements on STPR2 in February and the recent programme for government made no mention of the introduction of a feasibility study to extend the Borders railway, yet Kate Forbes said in the Scottish Affairs Select Committee that the Scottish Government is

“certainly committed to pursuing the process which will hopefully deliver the extension”

and that the deal of which the Scottish Government is a signatory

“includes a commitment to progress that work”.

When will the feasibility study begin, who is undertaking it and how will the £10 million Borderlands inclusive growth deal funding be spent?

The member is aware that part of the Borderlands growth deal is our commitment of £5 million towards the feasibility study. However, the study will be carried out after STPR2 has been completed, as that will identify the rationale and justification for whether an extension of the Borders railway line should be taken forward in the first place. The feasibility study should follow the review, which is exactly what we propose and what continues to be the case.


Climate Change (Young People)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is giving to young people in the run-up to the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—to ensure that their views on climate change are listened to. (S6O-00176)

Last week, we announced £300,000 of support for the 16th conference of youth—COY16—which is the UN’s official youth event for COP26. For the first time, five young people from Scotland will join participants from around the world and will help to shape the conference’s statement. We also support the Young Scot-led Scottish youth climate programme, which enables Scottish children and young people to host a climate youth summit ahead of COP26 to design the legacy that they want from the conference and to act as local champions across the country.

We all know that our young people will live the longest with the decisions that we make today. Given that and the fact that the climate youth conference that the cabinet secretary mentioned will be the platform in which young people can be heard on the issues, can the cabinet secretary outline how ideas and suggestions that are proposed at said conference will be introduced to COP26? Based on the conference, how will Scottish outcomes be measured?

It is extremely important that the voice of children and young people be fully integrated into the approach that COP26 takes in considering how to tackle climate change in Glasgow, which is why we have committed to funding the youth summit. The summit will allow young people to come together to set out a statement, which will then be submitted directly to COP26 for the consideration of international leaders.

It is critical that young people’s voices are at the heart of considerations around COP26. The funding of the UN’s youth conference is a specific example of the proactive action that the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that children and young people’s voices are heard. Our younger generation will have to deal with the consequences of our decisions at COP26 and in the future, and it is essential that they have an input into designing the outcome of COP26.


Tree Planting Targets

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in meeting its target of planting 30 million trees by the end of 2021, and whether it achieved the 22 million target last year. (S6O-00177)

The Scottish Government’s woodland creation target for 2021-22 is to plant 13,500 hectares, which equates to approximately 27 million trees. Between April 2020 and March 2021, we created 10,660 hectares of new woodland, which is approximately 22 million trees.

The SNP-Green coalition deal was struck after the decision to honour the Green manifesto pledge to double the number of wind farms in Scotland by 2030. Statistics released by Forestry and Land Scotland in February last year showed that, since 2000, 13.9 million trees have been axed to make way for 21 wind farm projects. That not only disturbs the natural habitats of many endangered animals but could impact climate change targets. How many mature trees will be lost because of that manifesto pledge?

That is a detailed and technical question so, if the member agrees, I will take it away and send her a written note in answer.

I just point out to the member that the Scottish Parliament voted for the world’s most ambitious climate targets and that we have an obligation to meet them. One reason why Scotland can be so ambitious is because of our natural environment’s scope to sequester carbon and support biodiversity. The question of land use and its change in the next five to 10 years will be pertinent, and I hope that we can all work together on it.


Railway Journey Times (South Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to improve journey times on the Dumfries to Glasgow and Stranraer to Ayr railway services, to help reduce emissions from the use of other modes of transport. (S6O-00178)

Seventy-five per cent of all passenger services are undertaken by zero-emission trains, with the remainder to be decarbonised by 2035. That could give us journey-time savings through the use of more efficient and cleaner trains across the south west of Scotland. Options to replace the class 156 diesels that run on the Dumfries and Galloway and Stranraer to Ayr routes are being considered. The options include self-powered fleets with battery or hydrogen fuel cells.

There are only four trains per day on the single-track Stranraer line, and it takes two hours and 20 minutes to get to Glasgow, compared to just two hours by car. On the Dumfries line, it takes one hour and 59 minutes to get to Glasgow by train but only an hour and a half by car. Given the climate emergency and the need to reduce the number of car journeys, is there potential for increasing the frequency of the trains on those lines? Can the minister outline when the lines, which are currently diesel, will be decarbonised, which will improve journey times?

The proposed May 2022 timetable seeks to improve services in the south-west of Scotland by increasing the number of services and capacity compared to the present-day timetable. It is proposed that there will be an additional six Ayr to Stranraer services compared to the current timetable, and services from Glasgow to Dumfries and beyond will increase by five. Overall, there will be an additional 1,000 seats every day across the south-west service group to encourage modal shift. A study is under way to examine potential line speed improvements and the use of faster rolling stock that might become available as a consequence of changes elsewhere on the network. That will be subject to the usual affordability constraints.

I am pleased that Emma Harper has asked the Government about its commitment to improving journey times and reducing emissions, because the proposals that are on the table appear to be for slashing rail services in the south of Scotland. The Government has the power to halt such cuts. Is the minister not aware that those are double standards, that they make a total mockery of his commitment to climate change, and that they are just another attack on rural areas? Will he confirm that the rail service will increase in the next few years?

In his haste to jump up and ask a supplementary question, Finlay Carson was clearly not listening to my first answer, so I will repeat what I said. It is proposed that there will be an additional six Ayr to Stranraer services compared to the current timetable, and that services from Glasgow to Dumfries and beyond will increase by five. There will an additional 1,000 seats every day across the south-west service group to encourage modal shift. Having listened to that, I am sure that Mr Carson will welcome the news.

Question 5 was not lodged.


Programme for Government Commitments (Net Zero Nation)

To ask the Scottish Government how the commitments in the programme for government will help secure a net zero nation. (S6O-00180)

The programme for government will deliver lasting action to end Scotland’s contributions to climate change, restoring our nature and enhancing our climate resilience in a just and fair way. Specifically, the measures for a green transport revolution and how we heat our homes will accelerate action to reduce significant emissions. Concurrently, our comprehensive cross-Government response to the just transition commission sets out our ambitious agenda and first steps on delivering a just transition for Scotland, including a skills guarantee for workers in carbon-intensive sectors and the development of an energy just transition plan.

It is clear that the retrofitting of housing and businesses will be key in meeting our net zero targets. What plans for the coming year does the Government have to embark on that massive challenge? Can the cabinet secretary provide an assurance that an independent advice service will be easily accessible to home owners and small businesses?

We are taking a number of steps in that area, some of which we touched on in yesterday’s net zero nation debate. Those steps include the investment over the course of the next five years of some £1.8 billion to support and accelerate the deployment of heat and energy efficiency measures in homes and buildings across the country. Alongside that, given the nature and the scale of the transition, we are establishing a national public energy agency to help to educate the public on the changes that are required and to bring new co-ordination and leadership to harness the potential of the programme of decarbonisation that will be necessary across domestic and non-domestic premises over the next 20 years.

I can also assure Fiona Hyslop that households and small businesses will continue to have access to comprehensive, bespoke and independent advice via Home Energy Scotland and the energy efficiency business support service to support the transition.

The programme for government commits to securing between 8GW and 12GW of installed onshore wind by 2030 to help with the achievement of net zero targets. Between 2013 and 2020, Scottish National Party ministers directly ruled in favour of 62 onshore wind farms, despite receiving 21,500 representations. Will the SNP review the planning system for onshore wind farms to ensure that councils are properly resourced to deal with such applications and that the SNP respects the wishes of local people?

I am sure that Liam Kerr will recognise that there is always a balance to be struck between the competing interests of the need to take forward measures to tackle climate change and the needs of local communities. That balance always needs to be struck in any planning process.

I imagine that Liam Kerr is aware that we are presently reviewing our national planning framework. That review will take into account some of the issues to do with planning that have been raised over recent years and how the planning framework can remain compatible with achieving net zero. I assure him that we will always seek to balance such considerations appropriately, while making sure that we meet the statutory targets that all parties in the Parliament supported in order for us to become a net zero country by 2045.


Circular Economy

To ask the Scottish Government how it will support Scotland’s move to a more circular economy. (S6O-00181)

The programme for government outlines our commitment to introduce a circular economy bill this parliamentary session. That bill will put in place legislative measures to support and encourage reduction of consumption, reuse, repair and recycling in order to reduce waste. There are significant economic opportunities in building a circular economy, including job creation and steps towards a wellbeing economy, as well as a reduction in litter on our beaches and streets.

We continue to support businesses to reduce waste and increase recycling, reuse and repair through Zero Waste Scotland, and, in March, we launched a £70 million fund for local authorities to use to improve their recycling systems.

We are working on introducing extended producer responsibility schemes, including our deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers and major reforms to existing United Kingdom-wide packaging schemes, to reduce waste and litter and increase recycling.

This is an easy question: can the minister confirm that the deposit return scheme will be fully operational and launched, as promised, on 1 July 2022—yes or no?

We recognise the significant impact that Covid-19 and the UK’s exit from the European Union have had on the drinks industry and other sectors with responsibility for delivering Scotland’s deposit return scheme. We remain fully committed to implementing the UK’s first ever deposit return scheme. We want to ensure that we have a go-live date that is both ambitious and deliverable. [Interruption.] The industry has made a positive start on delivery, including the establishment of a scheme administrator, Circularity Scotland, but Covid-19 and the EU exit have had a significant impact on the businesses that would make the scheme a success.

Excuse me. Could you resume your seat for a second, minister?

I really do not want all this sedentary harping—please listen to the minister’s answer.

In light of those challenges and in line with our commitment to continue monitoring the impact of the pandemic, we commissioned an independent review of the impact of Covid-19 on the go-live date of the scheme. We have also been considering wider feedback from stakeholders such as small businesses. We will update Parliament and businesses shortly. Our ambitious deposit return scheme will play an important part in helping to cut emissions, increase recycling rates, reduce littering and build a more circular economy in Scotland.

Does the minister agree that there should be a moratorium on new large-scale incinerators? Will she commend the Dovesdale action group in South Lanarkshire for its commitment to reducing waste and building a circular economy?

I commend anyone who is working to reduce waste and build a circular economy. We are all here to work together to do that. I am glad to see support on that matter from across the chamber.

We will update Parliament on our plans for the review of incineration before the end of September. I know that a number of stakeholders have raised the need to have a short review period, and we are considering that carefully.

Responsibility for dealing with planning applications and local planning matters rests, in the first instance, with the relevant planning authority. As a matter of law, all planning applications must be determined in accordance with the development plan for the area, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Monica Lennon will appreciate that the Scottish ministers are not able to offer comment or judgment on specific live cases.


Energy Transition Zone (Aberdeen)

 

8.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am a member of Aberdeen City Council.

To ask the Scottish Government whether it remains supportive of Opportunity North East’s ambition of establishing an energy transition zone adjacent to the new Aberdeen south harbour. (S6O-00182)

The Scottish Government remains supportive of Opportunity North East’s ambitions for establishing an energy transition zone and has committed £26 million of funding to support its development. Site selection for the energy transition zone is primarily a matter for local partners and the planning authority—in this case, Aberdeen City Council.

It is clear that, when it comes to energy transition and net zero, the Scottish National Party is the junior partner in this coalition of chaos. Support for the oil and gas business has gone, support for dualling the A96 has gone and there is no firm support for the energy transition zone plans. With this coalition, we see that the tail is certainly wagging the dog. When will the cabinet secretary stand up to the Greens and protect jobs in the north-east?

Let us deal with the facts rather than the empty rhetoric from Douglas Lumsden. We have put £26 million into the energy transition zone in the north-east of Scotland to support the skills base that will be critical to supporting the transition to zero carbon emission technology. That commitment is driving forward changes within industry and I know that it is welcomed by those in the north-east who are committed to the transition. Alongside that, £500 million will be invested in the north-east and Moray in the years ahead to support the transition.

I hope that Douglas Lumsden will find in his heart the ability to welcome that half a billion pounds and that he will be big enough to stand up to his partners in London and tell them to match the ambition of the Scottish Government by providing £500 million—as we are doing, demonstrating this Government’s commitment to the north-east of Scotland and a just transition.

That concludes portfolio questions. Before we move to the next item of business, which is follow-on business, I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and the fact that face coverings should be worn when members are moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.