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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 23 March 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) Holdings Limited, Ferries, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Colleges (Industrial Relations)


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Covid-19 Recovery and Parliamentary Business

Good afternoon. 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.

The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is Covid-19 recovery and parliamentary business. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should indicate so by pressing their request-to-speak button or by entering the letter R in the chat function.


Covid-19 (Vaccination Certification)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has for the future of the Covid-19 certification scheme. (S6O-00894)

We have lifted the legal requirement for venues to operate a Covid certification scheme, but some venues might opt to use certification to make their customers and staff feel safer.

The Covid status app will remain in place for as long as it is needed to facilitate international travel. A domestic certification scheme will remain in our package of protective measures and might be used if it is required in the future to manage Covid outbreaks, although we hope that that will not be necessary.

In her Covid statement last month, the First Minister said that the passes would be retained on a voluntary basis for any business that wants to use them, and the Deputy First Minister has said that again. That creates, in effect, an unregulated scheme, with businesses free to refuse custom to anyone on the basis of their not having the right piece of paper or the correct barcode on their phone, and there is no suggestion of when the scheme will end. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that that creates a potentially dangerous loophole in which the liberties and the right of Scots to medical privacy could be undermined indefinitely?

No, I do not take that view, because the arrangements around the gathering, handling and processing of information relating to the Covid certification app are all carefully regulated and compliant. Any business would have to be mindful of its policies, decisions and legal obligations in administering any scheme. I am satisfied about legal compliance, and the onus is on businesses to ensure that their operations are legally compliant, too.

Given that this entire debacle has cost the taxpayer £7 million, which went to Danish and American companies to build an app that many Scottish companies, including those in the Forth valley, could have made more cheaply and effectively, what lessons has the Deputy First Minister learned from the experience? What does he plan to do to ensure that such a thing does not happen again?

I do not recognise Mr Kerr’s characterisation of the situation. There is an open procurement process, and the Government has to ensure that such services are procured properly and are legally compliant. That process was followed in these circumstances.

The scheme was expanded significantly beyond its original purpose, which is why it cost more money. Clearly, if we expand a scheme beyond its original concept, it will cost more money—that is as straightforward as B following A.

The Government subjects all its decisions to careful scrutiny with regard to financial handling, legal compliance and compliance with other regulatory arrangements. The scheme has complied in every aspect.

I stress that the scheme is a valuable tool in ensuring that we can take the necessary steps to suppress circulation of the virus. It also allows individuals to provide a crucial piece of evidence to enable them to undertake international travel. If Mr Kerr wants to support our airports in attracting more custom, he should note that they require their customers to be able to comply with the requirements of the Covid status app.

I call Sharon Dowey.

Sorry—I wanted to come in on question 5.

Okay. You had pressed your button. That is why I called you.


Covid-19 Recovery (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what work and action across Government it is undertaking to support local authorities and local communities in their recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00895)

Across Government, we are working closely with our partners in local government and the third sector to deliver outcomes that will bring about a fairer future, particularly for those who have been most affected during the pandemic. By working together, we will align services around the individuals and families who need them.

The “Covid Recovery Strategy” sets out clearly the outcomes that we will improve for communities. We will increase financial security for low-income households, enhance the wellbeing of children and young people and create good green jobs and fair work through a package of targeted actions. Alongside the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, I chair the Covid recovery strategy programme board, and we met last week to progress further that ambitious transformation of public services.

Businesses will play a crucial role in the recovery of local communities up and down the country. However, large rises in energy bills, increased costs for everyday essentials and rising interest rates will mean that businesses will see their margins squeezed.

Does the Deputy First Minister consider that the measures that the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out in his statement just hours ago will have any substantive effect on businesses that already struggle with Brexit-related import costs and supply chain problems, as the high streets that serve our communities try to recover from the impacts of the pandemic?

I have not had a lengthy opportunity—because of other business—to take in all the details of the spring statement. I have not heard enough in that statement to be confident that businesses have been protected from the challenges that they face. Some measures, such as the reduction in fuel duty, will have an effect, but the implications of Brexit, particularly on the availability of labour, are colossal challenges for the business sector. I hear about that issue every week in my constituency from organisations that cannot recruit enough staff because of the removal of free movement of European Union citizens. What I have heard so far today does not give me confidence that the business community has been given the support that it requires to address the challenges that businesses currently face.

Universities are a vital part of many local communities, and we must ensure that they recover from the pandemic in a way that protects the health of students and staff. However, in light of rising Covid cases nationally, we continue to see outbreaks in universities such as the University of St Andrews, where more than 450 students tested positive in a single week.

Does the Scottish Government agree that we should consider continuing to mandate protections such as face coverings, testing on campuses, social distancing and ventilation in our universities?

I acknowledge the significance of the points that Ms Villalba puts to me. We are now going through very significant levels of community transmission, which is presenting itself in a number of ways in university and college campuses around the country, where it is important that we are taking every measure to sustain the education of young people and to protect their safety into the bargain.

In the strategic framework that the Government has published, there is a range of baseline measures that we expect institutions to take forward, and some of those will be around ventilation. We have a mandatory position on face coverings, but Ms Villalba will realise that that position is not universally welcomed in Parliament—the Conservative Party vigorously opposed our extension of the face coverings measures. However, I think that those measures are appropriate for the moment, given the significance of the challenges that we face. Of course, the Cabinet will consider those measures for review at its meeting on Tuesday, and there will be a statement to Parliament next week about those issues.

The additional funding that was given to third sector organisations during the pandemic was much needed, and essential to allow them to offer their crucial support to families. However, this year’s budget hands a cut of around £1 million to third sector organisations. The need for their advice and services has never been greater, particularly as we recover from the pandemic but also in the cost of living crisis and as a result of people taking refuge here because of the war in Ukraine.

What engagement is the Scottish Government having with the third sector to ensure that adequate funding arrangements are in place? Can the Deputy First Minister provide an update on any further considerations that the Scottish Government has given to the development of multiyear funding models?

The question of multiyear funding models is an issue that arises from the degree of prospective information that we have on the financial arrangements from the United Kingdom Government. We are in a different situation at this moment, because we now have a longer line of sight than we have had for a number of years. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy will reflect on those points, because it is desirable for us to give multiyear settlements, and I know that the finance secretary has shared that position with the third sector.

I encourage Pam Duncan-Glancy to look at all budget lines, not just individual budget lines where there might be changes that members would like to see reversed. The Government is making a range of funding streams available to third sector organisations. Within the “Covid Recovery Strategy”, there is a heavy emphasis on the role of the third sector in supporting the work on Covid recovery.

More will be said tomorrow when the social justice secretary shares with the Parliament the approach to the child poverty implementation plan. Obviously, the third sector is critical in supporting our work to eliminate child poverty in our country.

Question 3 was not lodged.


Freedom of Information Requests

To ask the Scottish Government what percentage of FOI requests made to it were answered in full within 20 working days, within the last 12 months. (S6O-00897)

During calendar year 2020-21, we responded to more than 4,000 freedom of information requests, 86 per cent of which were answered within the statutory deadline. That is broadly in line with the average of other Scottish public authorities, and represents the continued recovery of our performance since the start of the pandemic.

That is interesting. Perhaps it is just me, but I have numerous examples of FOI requests not being responded to within the time limit, even those that I have had to appeal. Even a simple question such as, “When will vessels 801 and 802 be delivered?” has been left unanswered for more than four weeks. Surely a Government minister with their finger on the pulse should know the answer to that. Will the minister undertake to look at the 14 per cent of FOI requests that did not make the cut and find out why they did not?

The simple answer to Mr Mountain’s question is that there are other methods of parliamentary scrutiny. He could ask parliamentary questions, should he wish. [Interruption.]

Minister, could you resume your seat? Could we please have less sedentary comment. A question has been asked, so please let the minister answer. That is the courteous way to proceed. Minister, please resume.

In summary, Presiding Officer, there are more than adequate measures for members to ask questions about anything they wish to in the chamber.


Covid-19 Recovery (South Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across Government will support South Ayrshire to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00898)

Priorities for recovery will vary by location. Across Government, we are committed to working with communities to understand local needs and tailor support services to support them. We announced an £80 million Covid economic recovery fund for local authorities to target support for businesses and communities. South Ayrshire Council will receive more than £1.68 million and will have full discretion over how to target that support to maximise economic recovery.

Further to that, the Scottish Government is investing £103 million in the Ayrshire growth deal, which will see transformational investment in projects across Ayrshire to support long-term inclusive growth. Regional partners estimate that the deal will create 7,000 new jobs and unlock an additional £300 million from the private sector.

In my constituency, I was proud to see communities and the third sector organisations coming together to support South Ayrshire Lifeline when the pandemic began. That allowed the organisation to expand services such as its helpline and its prescription collection and distribution network, but that would not have been possible without people going above and beyond for their communities. Will the Deputy First Minister outline how the Scottish Government will continue to fund the third sector and retain people in local organisations?

This is a very important issue. The type of service that Sharon Dowey talks about is increasingly evident within our communities, and is also increasingly developing, because communities are building their capacity to make services and support available on an on-going basis. Just last week, I had a helpful conversation with a number of community development organisations to establish how the good example that Sharon Dowey has put to me can be replicated in other parts of the country. There are many other comparable examples that are already working well.

I am keen to explore how we can ensure that that capacity exists, not just to deal with a situation such as Covid, but to deal with other situations such as winter weather or flooding or other examples where we can use community capacity to assist the public services in addressing need within communities.

I welcome the information about the example that Sharon Dowey has put to me, and I assure her that the Government is keen to build up community capacity.

Siobhian Brown has a supplementary question.

How much money has the Scottish Government spent in South Ayrshire to mitigate the United Kingdom Government policies that are hitting families in my constituency hard as we recover from the pandemic?

The Scottish Government has made available a number of funding streams in the South Ayrshire area. As part of the local government finance settlement, South Ayrshire Council is receiving funding of £247.6 million, which represents a real-terms increase of 8.2 per cent, and cost of living support of nearly £5 million will be made available to South Ayrshire.

In addition, South Ayrshire Council was allocated £533,000 from the flexible element of the winter support fund. We also allocated more than £1.7 million in discretionary housing payment to the council to fully mitigate the damaging effects of the UK Government’s bedroom tax.


Covid-19 Recovery (Low-income Households)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken with ministerial colleagues across Government to ensure that Scotland’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic addresses the reported disproportionate impact of the pandemic on low-income households. (S6O-00899)

Our strategy is focused on those who have been most affected during the pandemic and on creating a fairer future for everyone who has been affected. We will do that by transforming public services to ensure that they are person centred in design and delivery, and by working closely with our partners, including the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local government and the third and private sectors. That will multiply the impact of our actions and support communities and the most vulnerable to thrive.

The Government has declared tackling child poverty to be a national mission and is working to mobilise all of Scotland to help us to achieve that goal. We will publish the second tackling child poverty delivery plan tomorrow, which will outline the transformational action that we will take, alongside our delivery partners, to tackle child poverty, which lies at the very heart of the Covid recovery strategy.

Recent polling suggests that more than 80 per cent of people in Scotland are worried about the Tory cost of living crisis, with food, fuel and household bills skyrocketing. As inflation soars to a 30-year high, does the Deputy First Minister consider that the United Kingdom Government’s spring budget goes anywhere near far enough to reverse the damage that has been caused by a decade of Tory cuts? Without drastic action, those low-income households will not be a part of Scotland’s recovery.

Emma Roddick makes a very fair point. I highlighted the fact that the drive to tackle and eliminate child poverty lies at the heart of our Covid recovery strategy. Although, as the Scottish Government announced in December’s budget, the Scottish child payment will be increased in the next financial year, at the same time, the UK Government has removed important increases that were put in place on universal credit. That is a glaring example of how the efforts of the Scottish Government to tackle child poverty are undermined by the actions of the UK Government.

As I said in my answer to Rona Mackay, I have not had a large amount of time to take in all the details of the spring budget statement, but I heard the strong contribution of my parliamentary colleague Alison Thewliss, in which she made the point that not nearly enough action had been taken to tackle the effects of poverty on low-income households. Such action is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s strategy. We would like to have our actions reinforced, not undermined, by the UK Government.


Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill (Emergency Powers)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will remove the provisions on the extension of emergency powers from the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill. (S6O-00900)

The Government will, of course, consider carefully the views of Parliament as it completes its stage 1 scrutiny of the bill, but I must stress that removing key provisions from the bill in the way that Ms Baillie suggests would mean that Scotland would not have the public health protection measures in place that are needed to counter future public health threats, and I do not believe that that is in the public interest.

The Deputy First Minister has chosen to use the made affirmative procedure, which means that measures can be routinely introduced without parliamentary scrutiny or approval in advance. That does not allow for consultation or for the voice of our constituents to be heard in the chamber.

The Parliament has demonstrated that it can operate quickly. I remind Mr Swinney that we have passed primary legislation in a week—indeed, that was the case with the very first bill that the Parliament considered—and Covid bills have subsequently been passed in a matter of days.

Rather than risk the other positive measures in the bill, will John Swinney change the provisions on the extension of emergency powers so that they are at least subject to scrutiny in advance?

I do not think that, in these circumstances, Jackie Baillie’s characterisation of the issue is appropriate. The made affirmative procedure is only ever used where time circumstances do not allow us to undertake the normal consultation and dialogue around the affirmative procedure.

I have gone on the record before the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee to make it clear that the Government does not routinely intend to use the made affirmative procedure. We would prefer to use the affirmative process, to enable the type of dialogue that Jackie Baillie talks about.

What the Government is trying to do—I am very keen to engage with Parliament on this question—is ensure that we have a statute book that enables us, having learned the lessons of Covid, to respond swiftly and promptly to challenges that may come towards us. Jackie Baillie knows the issues of Covid well; she knows how quickly events have changed in front of us. The legislative framework that we are putting in place is designed to create the capacity for us to act swiftly.

I am keen to ensure that I work with parliamentary colleagues to try to address the legitimate concerns on this question, but, fundamentally, we must have a statute book that is fit to deal with the challenges of the pandemic, and that is my objective in this legislation.

I have received a number of requests for supplementaries, and I intend to take all of them. The first is from Sandesh Gulhane.

In order to ensure that Parliament is able to scrutinise emergency powers in advance of their being enacted, could we agree a raft of emergency powers and leave them dormant? If the need arises, we could get a statement—either virtual or in person—and we would, in the time that it would take to play a football match, be able to grant the Government those powers.

Well, that is a rather interesting development of the Conservative position, which I am very happy to explore with the Conservatives, since we are now talking turkey on the issue. That is very welcome. Maybe Jackie Baillie will catch up with the new reformist thinking of the Conservatives, who have once again moved ahead and dumped her from the better together alliance.

I welcome Dr Gulhane’s suggestion. What we are trying to do—I go back to my answer to Jackie Baillie—is ensure that there is a framework of legislation in place that enables Parliament to act quickly, where we require to do so. Dr Gulhane has offered an interesting perspective on that, and it is obviously something that can be advanced in the legislative process. If he would care to write to me, I would be happy to meet him and his colleagues to explore what might be involved in that, because—as always—I am keen to build consensus in the chamber.

Well, that is a very interesting development of the Government’s position, because when I asked the very same question of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, at the Education, Children and Young People Committee, she rejected the suggestion out of hand. I suggest a bit of co-ordination on the Government side.

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland gave some important evidence on the bill to the committee. He said that he had

“considerable concerns”

that

“Permanent powers ... may ... not be lawful under ... Article 15 of the ECHR.”

Why is the Deputy First Minister ignoring the concerns of the children’s commissioner?

I am not ignoring them—I am addressing them. I understand the perspective of commentators and commissioners, but ministers have duties to protect public health. Members such as Mr Rennie come to the chamber and complain, if ministers do not act quickly enough to protect public health. I see that Mr Rennie is shaking his head, but I have sat here and listened to him complaining about ministers not acting quickly enough to do certain things.

I am happy to engage in discussion and dialogue on the provisions of the bill, but there is one fundamental point: we must have in place a legislative framework that will allow us to act quickly, should appropriate circumstances arise. That is the purpose of the legislation, and the Government will engage constructively with Parliament to try to achieve it.

Opposition members often whine when Scotland is a little bit different from England. Will the Deputy First Minister clarify whether the provisions will move us closer to the position in England, or further away from it?

The statute book in England and Wales contains many such provisions, and they have enabled the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly to act, within their legal framework, swiftly and immediately.

Mr Mason has characterised how the Opposition parties sometimes contribute to the debate. I will not comment on his assessment, but I will say that Opposition parties often come here and ask us to learn lessons. We have learned a lesson from the pandemic, which is that our statutory framework was not adequate to deal with the issues, which is what I am trying to address in the legislation that is before Parliament.


Covid-19 Recovery (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies across government will support people living in Glasgow to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00901)

By working collaboratively with our partners in local government, business and the third sector, we will deliver a strong recovery that meets needs specific to each area. For example, the Glasgow city region deal empowers Glasgow and its city region partners to identify, manage and deliver a programme of investment to stimulate economic growth and create jobs in the area, thereby supporting the region to achieve its shared long-term vision for the local economy.

The Government is actively involved in dialogue on the city region deal, and we will continue that dialogue, with our focus being on recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report that was published last week by PWC said that Glasgow had slower growth than Aberdeen and Edinburgh in 2021, and that that would continue this year. The United Kingdom average growth across 50 cities that were measured in the report was 7.4 per cent, but, worryingly, Glasgow is at only 4.4. per cent.

Yesterday, the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee published an excellent report. It highlighted that the bosses of AGS Airports, which own Glasgow and Aberdeen airports, have said that the pandemic

“has ... set us back decades”,

not just because of

“loss of passengers”,

but because of

“loss of connectivity”

to the whole of Glasgow and its city region.

What more evidence does the Government need that Glasgow is in trouble and needs more assistance and special attention? Will the Government elaborate on what intervention it would make to help the Glasgow city region?

I acknowledge the importance of ensuring that every part of the country is supported to recover, and it is vital that that is the case in Glasgow and the city region. The Government is engaged with the city region partnership. We use a range of interventions and measures to enhance transport infrastructure and ensure that there is adequate connectivity. Ministerial colleagues are actively involved in discussions on these matters with the relevant organisations.

We have made significant skills investment in the college and university sector in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, to make sure that the skills that are required for the future are adequately delivered and to support the recovery of key sectors that have been affected by the pandemic.

If we look at the overall position on economic recovery, we see that the economy is broadly back to where it was before the pandemic. The key challenge is to make sure that the many strengths of the city of Glasgow and its surrounding areas are built on, to ensure that all citizens can appreciate and enjoy the opportunities of economic growth. That is at the heart of the dialogue between the Government and local authorities.

How much will Glasgow stand to benefit from the regional economic partnership fund? How does the Scottish Government envision that funding supporting Glasgow’s economic recovery?

The funding to which Mr Kidd refers is important, and we have to consider the ways in which it can have an effect on economic opportunities in the city of Glasgow. Applications are being assessed by officials, and I can confirm that Glasgow has submitted an application. Decisions will be made in due course and applicants will be notified.

The objective of the partnership is to support internationalisation of the regional economy and ensure that the foundations of the city and regional economy are secure for the long term. That will lie at the heart of decision making about the fund.

That concludes portfolio questions on Covid-19 recovery and parliamentary business.


Net Zero, Energy and Transport

We move on to questions on the net zero, energy and transport portfolio. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter R in the chat function during the relevant question.

Annie Wells joins us remotely for question 1.


Energy Company Obligation 4

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on when it is scheduled to meet with United Kingdom Government ministers to discuss the implementation of the energy company obligation 4 scheme in Scotland. (S6O-00902)

The energy company obligation is a UK Government scheme. Although the ECO4 scheme is scheduled to begin in April 2022, the design of the scheme has not been confirmed by the UK Government.

Since June last year, we have repeatedly attempted to engage with UK ministers on the future of the warm home discount scheme and ECO, but our approaches have not been answered. I would welcome a meeting with UK Government ministers to discuss how ECO can better tackle fuel poverty and deliver a just transition in Scotland.

I have been in touch with energy businesses in Glasgow, which are extremely concerned about the lack of communication from the Scottish National Party-Green Government about the transition period between the ECO3 and ECO4 schemes. They have revealed to me that if there is no confirmation of a transition period, they fear that, when ECO3 expires in just eight days’ time, many jobs in Glasgow could be relocated to England and Wales.

Will the minister urgently clarify that an ECO3 interim period will apply in Scotland, to help to save those jobs?

I very much appreciate the frustration that many people have with the lack of clarity. Clarity is needed. However, it is the UK Government that has refused to confirm the design of the ECO4 scheme. Even though that scheme is due to come into force in April, we do not anticipate seeing the regulations that will be laid to define it until April.

Some of the changes that were signalled in the UK Government’s response to the public consultation appear to be based on the English definition of fuel poverty. That might limit the number of eligible Scottish properties.

For clarity, let me say that we have known for a long time that this change was coming. In February 2021, the Scottish Government proposed combining the warm home discount and ECO schemes into a single more flexible fuel poverty scheme in Scotland. Scottish ministers wrote to their UK counterparts in June, in October and in December to ask whether that approach would be acceptable to the UK Government, and we have still not had an answer from it one way or the other.


Offshore Energy Sector (Skills Transition)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking, in relation to green skills, to remove barriers facing offshore oil and gas workers in transitioning to green jobs in the offshore energy sector. (S6O-00903)

I am pleased that OPITO, with Scottish Government support through the energy skills alliance, is making excellent progress towards the enabling of a skills passport.

In the coming months, the ESA will publish its skills transition plan, which will set out work to date and next steps. There has been great progress in what is a complicated and important piece of work, which will support the offshore workforce in its transition journey.

I look forward to meeting the minister tomorrow, alongside trade unions and climate campaigners, to discuss the need for an offshore training passport.

Another barrier that faces offshore oil and gas workers in transitioning to green jobs is the poor employment practices in the offshore wind supply chain. The Scottish Government often talks about its commitment to fair work, so will it support sectoral collective bargaining in the offshore wind industry?

I look forward to meeting the member tomorrow to discuss progress on the offshore skills passport.

The Scottish Government absolutely supports workers. In “Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation”, the member will see that we support collective bargaining and workers having more of a say in how their jobs are executed.

In a written answer to me, the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, Richard Lochhead, admitted that, having delivered only approximately one in 20 of the offshore wind jobs that it forecast, the Government proposes to widen the definition of a green job. He proposes to use a different definition from the one that the Office for National Statistics—and therefore the rest of the United Kingdom—is using. Does the minister accept that widening the definition would give a distorted picture of how the Government is really performing on the creation of green jobs and that it will make it impossible meaningfully to compare that with performance in the rest of the UK?

The discussion of what a green job is is absolutely a live one. It is fair to say that, in the future, all jobs will be green jobs. Tackling the climate crisis is not something that we can put in a box.

How can it be green if you do not have one?

Everybody needs to play their part; all sectors need to play their part. Of course, it is useful to have a definition when we are planning training and investment, but it is correct that the Scottish Government—[Interruption.]

Minister, please resume your seat for a second. I call for some courtesy from Conservative members, please.

Please resume, minister.

It is absolutely right that Scotland develops a definition of green jobs that is appropriate for our workforce and our industry here.

Question 3 was not lodged, and question 4 was withdrawn.


Net Zero (Fiscal Measures)

To ask the Scottish Government what ministerial discussions have taken place regarding whether its net zero ambitions could be supported through the introduction of new fiscal measures. (S6O-00906)

Ministers regularly consider new policies, proposals and fiscal regulatory measures to accelerate our transition to net zero. While Scottish ministers endeavour to take all action required to reach net zero, many levers sit within reserved competence. For example, transmission charging sits with the UK Government, and that acts as a disincentive to renewable energy investment in Scotland. It is therefore essential that the UK Government works with the Scottish Government to ensure that fiscal measures support our net zero ambitions.

Not only will the ambitious net zero targets set by the Scottish Government require to be funded; the frameworks need to be developed, too. That cannot be done in isolation without consideration, by those with the full fiscal levers, of what measures could be utilised. Given the scale of the challenge and the fact that the majority of green tax powers are reserved to the UK Government, does the cabinet secretary share my concern at the recent Westminster Public Accounts Committee report, which noted that the UK

“Government has no clear plan for how the transition to net Zero will be funded”?

Given that a number of the crucial levers, including but not limited to green tax powers, are reserved to the UK Government, I share the member’s concern, referring in particular to the issues that have been highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee about the UK Government’s lack of any

“clear plan for how the transition to net Zero will be funded.”

Prior to publication of the UK Government’s net zero strategy, we made consistent calls for action to be taken in a number of crucial areas that are within reserved competence. Although the strategy contained a number of positive steps to be taken to support achievement of net zero, it was a concern that there was no clear indication as to how those actions would be pursued at fiscal level. That is why it is absolutely essential that the UK Government works with the Scottish Government in ensuring that the fiscal measures that are within the hold of the UK Government also meet Scotland’s ambitious climate change targets.

As I have highlighted, transmission charging, for example, acts as a disincentive. It is therefore essential that the fiscal measures are consistent with achieving net zero by 2045.


Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives from the energy regulator, Ofgem, and what was discussed. (S6O-00907)

I last met Ofgem’s board, the gas and electricity markets authority, on 9 February 2022. That was a general catch-up with the board, but the main topics discussed included the price cap announcement, the outcome of Crown Estate Scotland’s ScotWind leasing round and transmission charges. Scottish Government officials continue to meet and engage with Ofgem on a regular basis.

With rising energy costs and the increase to the price cap, the Tory cost of living crisis is about to escalate. Can the cabinet secretary set out the average cost per household of United Kingdom Government-imposed VAT and energy policy costs, and does he agree that the Tories must cut VAT from household energy bills and immediately implement a fairer warm home discount scheme to support people?

Ofgem has estimated that the VAT component of the average household’s dual fuel energy bill will be around £60 per year and policy costs added are over £150 more. I have taken the issue up with the UK Government on a number of occasions and have asked it to consider a temporary cut to VAT.

Alongside that, we have asked it to take action on the warm home discount scheme and to review the socioenvironmental costs that are included in energy bills. We believe that those actions could collectively help to support families who are facing spiralling energy costs, which are adding to the wider cost of living crisis that the Conservative Government is responsible for. That is why it is essential that the UK Government takes proper concerted action to address the crisis.

Sadly, that was lacking in the spring statement, and the reality is that households will still face very considerable energy costs alongside other rising costs of living, which the UK Government is responsible for taking action on.

I have a number of supplementary questions, and I intend to take all of them. The first is from Elena Whitham, who joins us remotely.

For many rural households in my constituency who are off grid and use oil as their primary source of heating, there are no price-cap protections. Many people are seeing price increases from around 50p to £1.40 per litre, with minimum delivery quotas and payment required on delivery. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the UK Government must intervene to tackle the unregulated heating-oil industry and prevent uncertainty and extreme fuel poverty for rural households?

That area of the energy market is unregulated, and we have raised the issue consistently with the UK Government. It impacts particularly on people who live in rural areas of Scotland, and I recognise the points that the member makes on behalf of her constituents who have had significant increases in the cost of oil for heating systems. That is why we believe that there is a need for proper regulation in the sector to protect households and address the ever-increasing costs that those who rely on oil heating face. It is a policy area that we want the UK Government to take action on urgently.

A constituent has recently argued that they believe that the estimated energy bill that they were given during the latest wave of the pandemic was excessive. Has the Scottish Government had any discussion with Ofgem on the use of estimated bills when meter readings cannot be taken?

That area is regulated by Ofgem. If the member has a particular concern about a constituent’s circumstances, he can pursue that directly with Ofgem and ask it to consider the complaint. Estimated bills have a role to play for some households, but there is a process that can be used for individuals to ask for that to be revised on the basis of their submitting a reading.

If the member’s constituent continues to experience problems, advice can be provided on pursuing those issues with their energy supplier to ensure that their energy bill reflects their use of energy, given that their previous bills have been based on estimates.

My question relates to the targeted charging review of transmission demand residual. Ofgem analysis of domestic consumers highlights that the no-floor approach could result in consumers in north Scotland receiving credits that are driven by consumption during the evening peak. A floor approach shows that that would result in an overall decrease in transmission network use of system—TNUOS—charges for typical domestic consumers, apart from those in Scotland. For north Scotland in particular, Ofgem notes that charges will increase compared with current charges, given the assistance for areas with high electricity distribution costs—AAHEDC—policy. The north-east pays more again. Does the cabinet secretary agree with flooring the forward-looking charge at zero?

What I agree with is that the existing system is not fit for purpose, which is why the whole system needs to be changed.

We have a system now in which the predominant TNUOS charging regime is based on providing energy as close to the consumer as possible. However, the reality is that, as we move to a net zero age, the vast majority of energy will be much more distant from centres of population. That is why it is important that any regime that we have in place is one that is reflective of the need to move to net zero.

In addition, any price cap mechanisms that are introduced on the back of that and alongside those measures need to be reflective of the situations of households, including households in our rural areas. As yet, Ofgem has failed to take forward an approach that is reflective of the needs in Scotland.

Question 7 has been withdrawn.


“Is Scotland Climate Ready?” (Response)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Climate Change Committee’s latest report “Is Scotland Climate Ready?”, which states that progress in delivering climate change adaptation measures in Scotland has stalled. (S6O-00909)

Preparing for the locked-in impacts of climate change forms a key part of a just transition, and we are making real progress on that. That progress includes an extra £150 million for flood risk management and £12 million for coastal change adaptation over this parliamentary session.

We are pleased that the Climate Change Committee supports our vision for a climate-resilient Scotland. However, we accept that more needs to be done. This is a global challenge, and we are not alone in needing to accelerate progress. We are now considering the committee’s recommendations, and we will respond to them in due course.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, but perhaps I can help him give the real answer to Michelle Thomson’s questions about the concerns around reaching Scotland’s net zero targets. The Climate Change Committee’s report is scathing in its criticism of the Scottish Government. It says that

“action is not being implemented with sufficient scale and urgency”,

that there is no

“credible planning to adapt farmland habitats and species”,

and that there is a

“gap in planning for maintaining a weather-resilient energy system”

and

“insufficient inclusion of adaptation in plans for many key infrastructure sectors”.

It contains repeated criticisms of

“a critical lack of relevant datasets to assess ... progress”

making it difficult to properly assess progress or evolving risk.

When will the Scottish Government realise that the success of its plans will not come from good headlines but from actually doing the hard work?

If the member’s interpretation of the report is that it is scathing about the Scottish Government, I wonder what that means for the UK Government and its failure in this area of policy, given the comments that the report makes about the United Kingdom Government and the fact that the Scottish Government is ahead of it in climate adaptation.

I am sure that the member, as we would often expect from the Opposition, will be selective about the aspects of the report that he chooses to mention. For example, he could pick up on the report’s highlighting of the progress that we are making in transport on rail and climate change and the way in which we are taking forward policies to provide greater resilience there; or the fact that

“Progress has been made in planning for adaptation in commercial forestry”,

which is, again, highlighted in the report; or a number of other areas where the report highlights that Scotland is demonstrating strong and clear leadership in those areas.

However, clearly, we need to do more. That is certainly what we intend to do, and we will respond to the recommendations in the report, which rightly raises the challenge that climate adaptation has to be measured against the same actions that we take when tackling climate change overall and that we need to make sure that they are treated in an equal fashion. That is why we are putting increased funding into a range of areas to help to support the embedding of our actions to tackle climate adaptation. We will look to do more of that as we move forward.

I do not think that most people would agree with the cabinet secretary that the measure of success is being marginally better than the Conservatives.

A vision counts for not very much when the action is not delivered. The report says very clearly:

“The majority of Scotland’s shoreline is not covered by Shoreline Management Plans”.

I am deeply concerned about many properties and a lot of land in my constituency. What is the cabinet secretary doing to make sure that those plans get delivered, and soon?

I concede that measuring ourselves against the Conservative Party in Government at Westminster is not a high bar to set. However, I assure the member that we are certainly doing more than the low bar that that Government consistently operates at.

The member may be aware that we are already taking forward the second phase of the dynamic coast project, which I launched in August last year, in Montrose. A key part of the project is the modelling work that is being undertaken to look at coastal erosion and the potential risks in individual parts of the country—no doubt including areas of the member’s constituency. That particular piece of work is being done to understand the areas of risk and the potential mitigations that need to be put in place in order to manage that risk.

That work is happening just now. The member will appreciate the complexity and some of the challenges involved but the dynamic coast project is there specifically to try to address the type of concern that the member has raised, and we are providing funding to try to support local authorities in taking forward some of the mitigation measures that are necessary in order to address the issue of coastal erosion.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, although there is clearly much more to do, the Scottish Government’s efforts and ambitions around tackling the climate crisis have been widely recognised, including by Chris Stark, the chief executive of the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee, who said on “Good Morning Scotland” recently that the Scottish Government “has been noticeably better” than other parts of the UK

“at putting a vision around ... what it wants to do to make Scotland more resilient”

in terms of climate, and also said that

“We don’t see that, for example, from DEFRA in the UK”?

I recognise that we are making progress on this. The report recognises that we are making progress on it but also calls for us to do more in order to show greater urgency in tackling the issue of climate adaptation.

We are doing more than other parts of the UK and we are further ahead than other parts of the UK, although I recognise that, at Westminster, the bar is low. Having said that, we also need to recognise that there are further measures that we need to take. That is why there is the £150 million for flood risk management and the £12 million for coastal adaptation that I referred to, as well as the investment that we are putting into areas such as peatland restoration. Those are all measures that help to support our climate adaptation work, alongside the investment of £60 million in climate adaptation on our trunk road network. However, we need to look at what more we can do to adapt to the changing climate that we face, and members can be assured that this Government is determined to do that and to continue to show the leadership that is necessary, not just here in Scotland or in the UK but internationally, on tackling climate adaptation.

That concludes portfolio questions on net zero energy and transport. There will be a short pause before we move to the next item of business.