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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, April 25, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 25 April 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, International Workers Memorial Day, Portfolio Question Time, Advance Redress Payments, Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Final Stage, Changing Lives Through Sport and Physical Activity, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

To ask the Scottish Government what support it will provide to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to assist it with its upcoming summer concerts in South Scotland. (S5O-03136)

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the other national performing companies are committed to performing their work across the whole of Scotland. For its summer tour, the orchestra will travel to the south of Scotland in June. More specifically, it will go to Stranraer’s Ryan centre, Annan academy and Galashiels volunteer hall.

Scotland’s five national performing companies, including the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, are in their 12th year of a direct funding relationship with the Scottish Government, which started in April 2007. For the financial year from April 2019 to March 2020, the Chamber Orchestra was given funding of just over £2 million.

As the cabinet secretary will know, music has always played an important part in Scottish culture, particularly in the south of Scotland, where people will hear it everywhere they go. Does she agree that a future of music participation, particularly at a high level, should be open to all young people? Is she aware of the Education and Skills Committee’s recent report on instrumental music tuition, which shows the growing concern about the inequality of opportunity for young people? Will she join me in ensuring that all young people have the opportunity to participate in music at that high level that the Government is supporting?

I agree with the member. I feel passionately that music tuition should be accessible to all young people. It is unfortunate that some local authorities, including the one that covers my constituency, have chosen to impose extremely high fees where there were none previously. Some councils, however, continue to provide free tuition.

I have responsibility not for education or instrumental music tuition but for the cultural aspects. In successive years, I have managed to protect the youth music initiative, which allows all primary school children to have access to participation. Our challenge is in meeting the growing demand when children go to secondary school. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and I have met John Wallace and the music education progress group, which has been working with a number of partners to see how the vision that Michelle Ballantyne and I share can be realised.

Listed Buildings (South Ayrshire Council)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with South Ayrshire Council regarding the preservation of listed buildings and other built heritage. (S5O-03137)

The Scottish Government recognises the economic, social and cultural importance of our built heritage and is keen to ensure that that hugely important asset is protected appropriately and proportionately.

The protection of our heritage assets has been statutorily delegated to local government, given its role in the planning and development process, and Historic Environment Scotland. The Scottish Government becomes involved only in strategic or specific issues. I am aware that officials have spoken with representatives of South Ayrshire Council regarding, among other subjects, the potential preservation and renovation of listed buildings, but those conversations are part of a wider discussion.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the expected reports on the Station hotel in Ayr, which is a grade B listed building. If the structural report is optimistic about the practicability of saving the building, will the Government, through its various agencies, offer the practical and financial support to return the building to worthwhile public and private sector use?

Obviously, the development of the Station hotel would be led by South Ayrshire Council as part of its wider regeneration work. With other agencies, Historic Environment Scotland is already involved in the Ayr station task force. It also spoke about the issue at a recent Ayr town centre conference that was organised by the Ayr Station hotel community action group. In December 2018, Historic Environment Scotland provided a summary of considerations to Transport Scotland relating to what needs to be discussed or justified in any listed building consent application, which will depend on what proposal is presented for the hotel’s future. It will continue to provide advice, to help secure the hotel’s long-term future based on the local community and council’s decisions about what they need. HES also provides help through funding.

Obviously, some of the issues that the member raises are operational matters for Historic Environment Scotland. I keep a watching brief, and HES reports to me. I will continue to take an interest in the issue.

Film Industry

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to help the film industry. (S5O-03138)

We are strongly supporting our vibrant screen sector through significantly increased Scottish Government funding while the recently launched screen Scotland is helping to grow the industry with streamlined public sector support.

Since its launch last year, screen Scotland has expanded the production growth fund for film and introduced new funds for television, skills and talent development, including the broadcast content fund. That fund has already awarded funds totalling nearly £1.3 million to 10 Scotland-based companies, including Firecrest Films, Once Were Farmers and Blazing Griffin, to support production and new programme development.

Figures from Creative Scotland show that screen sector production spend has risen to a record high of £95 million, while we are seeing more high-profile films and network TV drama being made in Scotland, such as “Outlaw King”, “The Cry” and “The Victim”.

Infrastructure is important to continue that growth, and we welcome screen Scotland’s tender last December to seek a private company to convert and operate the Pelamis building as a high-end studio. We look forward to the outcome of that project.

That is quite impressive. What action is the Government taking to encourage outside production firms and producers to come to Scotland? Does any department in the cabinet secretary’s portfolio have regular discussions with the film industry?

Creative industry officials in my department have regular discussions with film companies. Only last week, I was at Blazing Griffin, which is a Scotland-based company, where I discussed some of the opportunities that it has on film, television and gaming.

However, the responsibility to support inward investment and production lies with screen Scotland and, indeed, with cities and other organisations in Scotland. We are a very attractive place to locate to, but the big difference in what we are doing now is to ensure that indigenous Scottish companies can generate recurring drama and films that are attractive to broadcasters to screen all over the world.

Last November, Iain Munro, who is from Creative Scotland, updated the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee on screen Scotland’s plans for a film studio and talked about the process for testing state aid rules. The cabinet secretary has briefly referred to that, but can she provide any further information on progress in that area and on the tender process?

The tender process is proceeding. Screen Scotland, which sits in Creative Scotland, is finalising the process. I am not in a position to share information about it, but the tender process is reaching its final stages.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, given the ever-increasing, high demand for quality productions, additional studio capacity should always be under consideration? A studio in Inverclyde would offer such additional capacity.

Screen Scotland leads on the expansion and delivery of infrastructure for the screen sector. Currently, it markets 136,000 square feet of full-time converted stage space and 335,000 square feet of build space across Scotland.

I have just answered a question about the on-going tender process. I have repeatedly said that there is room in Scotland for more than one studio. Indeed, we already have a studio in Wardpark. If a private sector company is willing to develop studio space in Inverclyde, that would be very welcome indeed. I am not aware of any current plans or proposals to do so.

BBC Scotland Channel

To ask the Scottish Government what research is taking place into citizen engagement and satisfaction with the new BBC Scotland channel. (S5O-03139)

The Scottish Government welcomes the launch of the new channel in Scotland and continues to urge the BBC to take a strategic lead in developing the creative industries in Scotland. The United Kingdom regulator Ofcom carries out research into public attitudes to the BBC, including in Scotland, to inform its assessment of how the BBC is performing against its public purposes. Television viewer figures are collated by the Broadcasters Audience Research Board.

There is a perception that the majority of the filming and production for the new channel is concentrated in the central belt. Does the cabinet secretary agree that this is the perfect opportunity to enable all parts of Scotland, including my constituency, to produce quality and meaningful content for the new channel? Will she encourage the BBC to make use of the talent that we have throughout the country?

Clearly, the BBC is independent and makes its own creative decisions, but in our arguments to ensure that there was more spend in Scotland, I and other members of the Scottish Parliament argued that all of Scotland should be represented by the BBC. I therefore encourage the BBC to locate productions in different parts of Scotland. The vast majority of BBC Alba’s output is from commissioned independent producers and that process is very effective. We encourage BBC Scotland to do that, too.

The member might be aware that a number of the production companies that are performing very well in terms of new productions are located in the central belt. To grow the sector, we must ensure that we have more successful production companies that have recurring series, particularly drama, and that there are opportunities for creative work to happen all over Scotland.

However, I reiterate that BBC Scotland is independent of the Government, so I cannot tell it what to do.

Tourism Businesses (North-east Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it offers to tourism businesses in the north-east. (S5O-03140)

The Scottish Government supports VisitScotland to maximise the economic benefits of tourism across all of Scotland, including the north-east. VisitScotland works closely with public sector partners and local tourism businesses to ensure that Scotland’s destinations offer an enjoyable and desirable visitor experience.

On 20 March 2019, I had the pleasure of addressing the VisitAberdeenshire conference during Scottish tourism month, discussing the tourism and business needs of the industry in the north-east. VisitScotland’s public accreditation projects are very successful in the north-east, with 487 business in the quality assurance scheme and 184 members of the visitor information programme.

Hotels and restaurants in the north-east, which are crucial for our tourism offering, still feel singled out for high business rates. Given the importance of tourism, which is a key sector of growth in the region’s economy, will the cabinet secretary back the call by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce to bring forward the next revaluation to 2021, as both the United Kingdom and Welsh Governments have already done?

The member will know that we have the most competitive rates system for businesses, not least because of the hospitality discount, which the Government announced would continue until the next revaluation. The member will be familiar with the Barclay review, which involved extensive research and consultation. I know that there are challenges for businesses and I have been up front about the cost challenges that many hospitality and tourism businesses face. We have more visitors, but the increase in their spend is not commensurate with their increase in number. I am therefore very sympathetic towards giving any support that we can to the hospitality sector, but I emphasise that we have already reduced rates substantially and kept the cap in place for hospitality businesses, including those in the hotel sector.

I understand and am grateful for the cabinet secretary’s comprehensive answer, but will she back Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce’s call to bring forward the revaluation?

Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce has not written to me and I have not seen its proposals. I am not responsible for the Government’s finance and business policy, which is the finance secretary’s responsibility. I am sure that the member will understand that the timing of any revaluation would have to be considered in the round for not just one area and sector but all Scotland. In addition, as the Presiding Officer will understand, it is not my role or responsibility to answer questions for the finance secretary. I encourage the member to ask that same question of the finance secretary.

Tourism on Arran (Ferry Services)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs has had with the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands regarding the importance of ferry services to Arran’s tourism industry. (S5O-03141)

The importance of physical and digital connectivity to support the visitor economy on all our islands, including Arran, together with on-going Scottish Government investment in new vessels and ferry infrastructure, is a frequent topic in my discussions with colleagues. Island connectivity and the crucial role that sustainable tourism plays in island economies were among the topics relating to the year of coasts and waters 2020 that I discussed with the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands at our recent meeting on Tuesday 23 April 2019.

Is the cabinet secretary aware of reports from the Arran ferry committee that the number of cancelled crossings has doubled over the past year? In a damning report, the committee states that the current service

“promotes frustration, confusion, low confidence and reputational damage, threatening the current and future sustainability of our island.”

That disruption affects many aspects of island life, including Arran’s tourism industry. Given that the only way that tourists can get to Arran is by ferry, will the cabinet secretary ensure that the concerns are acted on and that confidence is restored in a ferry service that is of such central importance to the island’s tourism industry?

As the member will know, I am not responsible for ferries either, as responsibility for ferries lies in the transport portfolio. That said, I recognise the absolute importance of ferry connections to tourism and the economy of the islands. In August 2018, the Scottish Government announced a £3.5 million resilience fund, to which an additional £4 million has been allocated in the 2019-20 budget period that we are now entering to ensure future reliability and availability of vessels and continuity of service. Moreover, the Scottish Government has introduced other measures such as, for example, the road equivalent tariff, which has considerably benefited the islands and increased visitor numbers.

What is the impact on Arran’s tourism industry of the Government’s decision to increase the number of summer sailings and to implement the road equivalent tariff in 2014, which has more than halved ferry fares from what they were under Labour, as well as the provision of the £12.6 million MV Catriona on the Lochranza to Claonaig route?

Despite the fact that I am not responsible for either finance or ferries, I would say that tourism is everyone’s business, which is why connectivity matters so much. I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed, but I can tell the member that, on the main Ardrossan to Brodick route, single car fares were reduced by 64 per cent and passenger fares by 46 per cent as a result of the Government’s introduction of RET on the Arran links.

We know that more people are travelling to and from Arran, with an average increase on both Arran routes of around 40 per cent for passengers and around 60 per cent for cars since the introduction of RET. That demonstrates Scotland’s commitment to North Ayrshire, Arran and the tourism sector in that area.

The cabinet secretary will be relieved to learn that I am not going to mention the late delivery of the new Arran ferry—although I just have.

Outside my regional office, I often see cars queueing up for another ferry route in the same area. It is mainly tourists in peak season but there are often locals, too, and they can queue for up to two hours to make the short 10-minute journey from Largs to the island of Cumbrae. Is there a role for the Government in assisting local authorities to ensure that there are more parking facilities on the mainland as well as good public transport on the islands to encourage tourists to travel as foot passengers instead of feeling the need, as they often do, to take their car?

As the member will be aware, there are very regular and frequent ferry services in that area. Obviously, peak times and flows should be managed, and that is something that the council can do.

However, these things are the results of success. I am very pleased that the Ayrshire growth deal, in which the Scottish Government has been instrumental, has a key focus on the marine economy and tourism in general, and I am going to keep a keen interest in that. I was in North Ayrshire to announce the £300,000 from the Scottish Government for the Coig project—which covers five different routes, including Cumbrae—and that, again, demonstrates our commitment to Ayrshire and to tourism businesses in the area.

Everyone has a role to play; it is that partnership approach that will lead to success, and I encourage the council to ensure that any waiting times are, where possible, limited and to look at what can be done in surrounding areas. However, I again point out that, as the member’s party is always reminding us, councils are independent of Government, and we have to respect their independence in making such decisions.

Tourism (Cowdenbeath)

To ask the Scottish Government how it promotes tourism in the Cowdenbeath constituency. (S5O-03142)

The Scottish Government fully recognises the importance of tourism to the economy and continues to see its benefits across the whole of Scotland. Only yesterday, I launched the new Forth bridges strategy, highlighting Fife’s role as a gateway to the north across the iconic Queensferry crossing.

The constituency of Cowdenbeath possesses its own unique attractions for visitors and locals alike. With VisitScotland, we will continue to work with local authorities, destination management organisations and businesses to ensure that each of Scotland’s destinations can offer exciting, enjoyable and high-quality experiences.

I very much welcome the launch of the new Forth bridges strategy. The cabinet secretary might be aware of another recently launched initiative—the new Fife pilgrim way, one of the starting points for which is in North Queensferry in my constituency and which passes through historic Inverkeithing and the scenic Lochore meadows country park. What plans does the Scottish Government have to promote this important tourist route, which winds through the heart of Fife, to ensure maximum benefit for local communities?

I am very keen that the Government should support the Fife pilgrim way, which has been planned for some time. VisitScotland is working closely with Fife Council and Fife Coast and Countryside Trust on the launch of the new route, from which all communities should benefit. Yesterday, I visited North Queensferry, which, as the member has pointed out, is one of the route’s starting points.

The Forth bridges tourism strategy offers a great opportunity. It is a 10-year plan to ensure that we can grow tourism by using the opportunity that is provided by the iconic three bridges. North Queensferry holds other attractions, including the Stevenson-built lighthouse, which I had the pleasure of lighting yesterday. I was delighted when the local volunteers who run it presented me with a certificate to demonstrate that I had passed a short introductory course in lighthouse keeping.

On that cheery note, we will end our consideration of portfolio questions. I apologise to Jenny Gilruth for failing to reach her question.