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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 26 January 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Electric Vehicle Charging Network, Budget 2022-23 (Committees’ Pre-budget Scrutiny), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Domestic Abuse, Correction


Contents


Electric Vehicle Charging Network

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson, on supporting the transition to zero emission vehicles and the Scottish Government’s vision for the future public electric vehicle charging network. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

I think that the cabinet secretary’s card is not in properly. You should extract it then reinsert it.

14:57  

How we travel in Scotland will be transformed in the next decade. We want people to travel more sustainably. Last week, I set out the Government’s 20-year strategy for investment in transport infrastructure, with a clear emphasis on making transport in Scotland more sustainable. On Monday, the first under-22s will start travelling free by bus to anywhere in Scotland, which will help the next generation to choose to travel more sustainably. We have also set out our route map to cutting the kilometres that are travelled by car in Scotland by 20 per cent by 2030.

I am pleased to announce the publication of a draft vision for Scotland’s public electric vehicle charging network. I acknowledge that that might seem to be at odds with the route map. The route map makes it clear that we want more people out of their cars—however they are fuelled—and travelling more sustainably, but when road journeys are needed, they must use the cleanest technologies that are available.

Electric vehicles have a key role to play, not least in helping us to reach our targets to cut emissions by 70 per cent by 2030 and to zero by 2045. Moreover, we have already acknowledged that cars and vans will still be needed, particularly to get around in rural and island communities. If we want those cars to be electric, we will also need a seamless network of public electric vehicle chargers. That network must be accessible and available to all. The draft vision sets out how we will seek to achieve that, and recognises that tomorrow’s network will be very different from today’s. [Michael Matheson has corrected this contribution. See end of report.]

The public charging network must become an essential part of local and national infrastructure—a key pillar of a prosperous green economy and of a cohesive and fair society. We can be rightly proud of the progress that Scotland has already made in delivering the ChargePlace Scotland network. We have invested more than £50 million to create a network of more than 2,100 public charge points across Scotland. According to the latest statistics, that network is the largest per head of population in the United Kingdom outside London, and Scotland’s rapid charge point provision far outstrips that of anywhere else in the UK.

In December 2021, electric cars made up 21.4 per cent of all new car sales, and the rolling 12-month average of new electric car sales grew by 24 per cent from the figure for 2020. The Scottish Government has supported that growth. We have provided almost £150 million of interest-free loan funding to enable households and businesses to switch to zero emission vehicles. We have supported the installation of more than 14,000 charge points in people’s homes, and almost 1,400 charge points in business premises. In addition, we have invested more than £60 million to help the public sector to decarbonise almost 3,500 public sector vehicles.

It is clear that demand will continue to grow. We might expect that, by 2030, there will be between 500,000 and 1 million electric vehicles; from then on, it will not be possible to buy a new petrol or diesel car or van. Meeting that demand requires a comprehensive approach. Last July, a joint report from Transport Scotland and the Scottish Futures Trust set out how we might develop the public electric vehicle charging network, including through greater use of investment, skills and expertise from the commercial sector.

This point is key: I recognise that some people might wish for a fully publicly owned and funded network, but, with the fiscal levers and resources that we currently have, that is simply not feasible. In addition, it is not desirable—30 per cent of people do not own or run a car, and that figure rises to 60 per cent among people on lower incomes and those who live in deprived areas. The market is growing fast, with rapidly developing technologies and innovation, and a mix of new companies and established businesses in the car and fuel industries and in related industries. We want Scotland to benefit from that.

A key aim in the draft vision is to lever in more private sector investment to support the growth of Scotland’s public charging network. I announce today that we will launch a new public electric vehicle infrastructure fund worth £60 million over the next four years, with about half of that coming from the private sector. We anticipate that that investment will double the size of Scotland’s existing network of charge points over the next few years.

The new fund will draw in and smooth commercial investment so that the future charging network works for everyone. In particular, it will seek to ensure that public and private funding reaches remote, rural and island communities, as well as more-deprived urban areas. It will deliver charging opportunities in areas where off-street parking is not possible, thereby supporting households who are living in flats, in order to ensure that every individual, family and business can benefit from the transformation.

Our partnership with local authorities matters, too. I can announce today, therefore, that we have provided £350,000 of funding to projects that cover 17 local authorities, which will enable those authorities to determine how best to develop electric vehicle infrastructure in their areas.

Scotland’s public electric vehicle charging network must also be sustainable in its own right—there is no point in creating infrastructure to help to reduce emissions if that infrastructure is fuelled in a way that indirectly contributes to emissions. In short, our public charging network must be powered on clean green energy.

A whole-system approach is needed, as was signalled in our 2017 energy strategy, and work is under way to deliver that. Collaboration is already delivering results, as is demonstrated through the strategic partnership with Scotland’s electricity distribution network operators, including project PACE, which delivered about 170 charge points in North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire, with savings of up to £2.6 million.

We want our vision for Scotland’s public charging network to deliver jobs and investment and to support a just transition. By aligning with future smart grids as well as adapting and innovating, the network will seek to place Scotland as the global destination for investment in zero emission mobility.

This Government is determined to realise all the opportunities for new jobs, skills and businesses to support the implementation and maintenance of a widespread EV charging infrastructure, as part of our plans to transform Scotland’s economy. However, there is no point in developing an infrastructure if it is not easy to use or reliable. Scotland’s future charging network must deliver what the public needs and wants.

We know that existing charging infrastructure does not always adequately serve people with mobility needs, and that women drivers have also raised concerns about some charge points being in poorly lit locations making them feel unsafe. Residents, pedestrians and people with disabilities also complain of charging infrastructure that impedes pedestrian access to pavements and impedes their ability to move around freely. We can do things better. I am pleased, therefore, that we will soon begin working with design specialists at the V&A Dundee to plan a genuinely user-centric public network. This innovative and groundbreaking approach will see people’s diverse needs and interests shape the future network.

Transforming how Scotland travels requires bold ambitions and actions. Over the past few weeks, those are what this Government has set out—and, of course, there is more to come. Our draft vision for Scotland’s future public charging network and the announcements that I have made contribute to that. The draft vision sets out how we will involve other public agencies and the private sector to create a truly nationwide network. It outlines how the network will contribute to a sustainable economy and to a greener and fairer Scotland.

Our aim, ultimately, is to build a network that is available to everyone who needs to use it, everywhere in Scotland.

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement.

We all share a vision of car journeys being made in the cleanest way possible, but, absent the seamless, accessible and available EV network that the cabinet secretary dreams of—and it is absent—it is difficult to see how that will happen. The UK Climate Change Committee said that we need 30,000 public chargers by 2030. The statement suggests that we have around 2,100, which means that we need to be installing around 4,000 a year.

Despite the fact that I stood here in September and made exactly this point, all we have here is an intention to double the network over the next few years. I ask again, will the Scottish Government get to the necessary 30,000 chargers by 2030?

Secondly, the public EV infrastructure fund of £60 million over four years has half of that amount coming from the private sector. Can the minister tell us which companies are investing that £30 million? Also, when he says that he anticipates that investment doubling the size of the network, does his anticipation have any basis in data and analysis that can be supplied?

Finally, the cabinet secretary says that the Scottish Government’s partnerships with local authorities matter, too, yet the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee heard that there has been a lack of strategic consultation and co-ordination between the Scottish Government and those local authorities. What consultation has taken place with local authorities to determine what is deliverable? Why are 15 local authorities not getting anything? Does the cabinet secretary really think that this funding will compensate for a £371 million cut in the budget?

Let me pick up on a number of points that the member has made about our anticipation that this will double our network. On the basis that our existing network has been delivered with around £60 million of investment, it would be reasonable to say that it will at least double the network. Also, technology is moving on in terms of the way in which chargers operate as well as the costs associated with them.

The member rightly makes a point about the potential demand for charging infrastructure across the whole of the UK. In fact, he makes the point that about 30,000 potential chargers will be required in Scotland, as part of what is actually 250,000 charging points across the whole of the UK. It is a significant challenge, because it is a significant piece of infrastructure that needs to be put in place.

That is why I am sure that the member is grateful for the fact that Scotland has one of the most detailed and highest-level charging infrastructures of any part of the UK outside London. In seeking to almost double that charging network over the next two years, we are demonstrating the scale of our ambition to drive that forward.

In relation to private sector investors, it is very clear from the work that we have carried out through the Scottish Futures Trust and Transport Scotland that there is significant interest in the private sector in investing in our public charging network. The key issue is in ensuring that that investment complements the investment that taxpayers are making as well, so that we get the best spread of investment across all parts of Scotland.

It is also key that we do not repeat the errors of the UK Government—for example, its roll-out of broadband, which left rural areas completely disadvantaged. We want to get the investment right so that we do not find ourselves having to clear up a mess like the one that was created by the UK Government in broadband, and we will do that by making sure that the investment is spread right across the country. That is the difference between the right action being taken by the Government in Scotland and the action being taken by the member’s colleagues at Westminster.

I assure the member that the ambitious approach that we are taking in Scotland will deliver the charging infrastructure that will see investment happening not only in urban areas, but in our rural and island communities. That will ensure that no one loses out in the transition to low-carbon vehicles.

I call Colin Smyth, who joins us remotely.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement. He says that today’s announcement will mean that, over the next few years, the size of Scotland’s existing network of public charging points, which he says is currently just over 2,000, will double. However, we need to go further and a lot faster than that.

As we have heard, the Climate Change Committee has implied that a total of around 30,000 charging points will be needed in Scotland by 2030. Transport Scotland also quotes a ratio of one public charge point for every 10 electric vehicles as a guide for provision. On the basis of the estimate that the cabinet secretary has given today for the number of electric vehicles, we will need anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 public charging points by 2030. Does the cabinet secretary accept that what is in today’s announcement will not deliver 30,000—never mind 50,000—of those public charging points? What exactly is the Government’s target for 2030?

The cabinet secretary says that our partnership with local authorities matters, too, but we know that charging points must be maintained. Can he tell us what revenue funding will be given to councils to carry out that maintenance?

Finally, the announcement refers only to public charging points. When will the Government bring Scotland into line with England and make it a legal requirement that all new homes with a parking place be built with an electric charging point?

I will deal first with the last point that Colin Smyth raised. We have consulted on that in relation to both new homes and new non-residential properties, and we are considering the feedback from that consultation with a view to introducing requirements for charging infrastructure to be provided in new homes and new non-residential premises. We will make an announcement on that in the very near future.

The member refers to partnership working with local authorities. He will recall that I have just announced that £350,000 is being made available to take forward six pilot projects, which will work across 17 local authorities that have indicated an interest in helping to shape their charging infrastructure planning. The money is being provided to them to assist in that process and to allow them to develop those plans in order to ensure that the public and private sector investment that goes in reflects what they believe is required in their local communities.

On the member’s point about 30,000 charging points, as I said to Liam Kerr, I accept the challenge and the need to scale up the level of investment in our public charging network. That is why we need to lever in commercial finance to support the delivery, which is exactly what I have announced today. The proposal is for up to £60 million of public and private finance over the next couple of years to deliver on the objective of what I hope will be a doubling of our network in that period. We want to build on that in the years to come, following that investment.

The announced fund is hugely welcome. Will it mean that there will be more rapid chargers on our main routes across Scotland, and will they be in safe and well-lit locations? Full disclosure: as someone who has an electric car, it has become apparent to me in the past seven or eight months that, for lone female drivers, reliable rapid chargers are absolutely essential so that they do not spend hours alone in their car, and the chargers should be located in safe areas. I was therefore pleased to hear that referenced in the cabinet secretary’s statement.

What is being done to ensure that issues with chargers are fixed more quickly by the companies that have the contracts to do so? I hope that those who have the contracts take drivers’ experiences into account. I would be happy to pass on my experiences, both good and bad.

Gillian Martin raises an important point about the location of chargers and the need to ensure that they are in safe and well-lit locations. I can think of a couple of examples of facilities that I have been involved in directly. One is at Falkirk Stadium, which is a well-lit area that is covered by closed-circuit television cameras. The same applies at Castleview in Stirling, which is another new facility. Some older facilities are not in that type of location, and they can be poorly lit and have no CCTV coverage. We need to ensure that the planning takes that into account. We are providing funding to local authorities to support them in planning and to ensure that chargers are in the types of locations to which the member refers.

On the expansion of rapid chargers, as I said in my statement, Scotland has one of the most extensive networks of rapid chargers of any part of the UK, and we are building on that with further investment in the public sector rapid charger network.

On repairs, the contract has shifted to a new agency that is responsible for ChargePlace Scotland. By and large, most chargers that have a fault reported are repaired within 48 hours. There is an issue in that it sometimes takes longer than that, however, and that issue continues to be pursued with the charger maintenance companies.

I want to go back to Liam Kerr’s question about how the cabinet secretary plans to hit the target of 30,000 chargers by 2030, if he thinks he can do so. At the current rate of progress, it will take us until 2066 to hit the target. I do not see anything in the statement or its accompanying document that charts a course for getting there, but perhaps I have missed it. If I have, can the cabinet secretary correct me?

There are a number of factors to take into account. There will be a combination of public charging and private domestic charging, with a much greater expansion of domestic charging than we have had until now. Although we have seen investment that has supported the installation of some 14,000 chargers in homes and premises, we will see a greater expansion of that, particularly if we change the legislation to require chargers to be installed in domestic and non-domestic premises. That will support the delivery of the overall number that will be necessary for the way in which people use the charging infrastructure.

Alongside that, the number of chargers is dependent on the nature and strength of the chargers. The duration for which a vehicle is on a rapid charging point is shorter than with standard chargers. Therefore, if we put in a greater number of rapid chargers, we can get a quicker turnaround of vehicles. It will be a combination of the application of technology and greater expansion of domestic and non-domestic charging infrastructure that will help us to achieve the target, which is necessary to support people to transition to using zero-emission vehicles.

I have been approached by owners of new homes who are disappointed by the lack of EV charging points in new-build developments. The cabinet secretary has talked about specific charging points for specific homes, but what opportunities are there to ensure that a significant number of publicly available charging points can be secured during the planning and build processes when new housing developments are being proposed?

That is a key issue. As I mentioned, we have just completed a consultation that looked at ensuring adequate provision of EV charging points when new-build domestic and non-domestic premises are being constructed. We are pursuing the matter with not only the private sector but the social housing sector. We are looking at ensuring that, when social housing provision is being developed, we put in place the necessary charging infrastructure in order to address the very issue that Bob Doris has raised.

Does the cabinet secretary think that it is right that 74.2 per cent of Scotland’s public network spend on electric vehicle charging points went to one private company—the Austrian multinational corporation SWARCO—leaving home-based suppliers out in the cold? Only today, SWARCO has had to publicly apologise because, once again, the entire network has come crashing down. This morning, one electric vehicle driver said to me that it has been

“an unmitigated disaster since SWARCO took over”.

Does the cabinet secretary really think that an overseas-owned private monopoly supplier is the best way to meet Scotland’s needs?

I presume that the member is referring to the operating company rather than the hardware company. The reason why we have an operator behind the charging points is to provide connectivity between our public electric charging point network, so that there is a consistency of approach in dealing with any problems that arise from the public sector network.

The company was able to secure the contract through a normal tendering process. I hope that the member is reassured that it is not about choosing one company over another, as there was a normal public procurement process; it is about trying to ensure that there is a consistency of approach on public sector electric vehicle charging infrastructure through having an operating company behind it.

If the member has a particular issue that he believes has not been properly addressed on behalf of his constituent, I would be more than happy for him to write to me. I am sure that the matter will be properly looked into.

I welcome the role that is envisaged for the private sector, but how do we ensure that its involvement does not distort the market and that we do not end up with a network that is driven by commercial considerations and leaves rural and deprived communities behind?

The member makes an important point. As I said earlier—to hilarity, as ever, from the Conservatives—the danger is that we take the approach that the UK Government has taken on broadband. It allowed broadband to be open to the market, and rural areas were deprived of the network that was necessary, so the Scottish Government had to step in and provide investment in order to deliver the network. We needed to do that because of the UK Government’s approach.

I do not want to take that approach to our charging network. Our plan ensures that there will be investment not just in our urban areas but in our rural areas and island communities, so that no one is left behind. That is a clear demonstration of a Government that is acting in the interests of the whole nation. In contrast, the UK Government often acts in the interests of the big metropolitan areas in England, not in the interests of rural communities across the country.

I call Beatrice Wishart, who is joining us remotely.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement.

People in rural, remote and island communities in particular rely on their cars, and they will rely on the EV charging network in the future. What can the cabinet secretary say about the greater commitment to ensuring that all new public sector vehicles are electric? As demand grows, what commitment can be given that the charging network will be reliable and robust enough to keep up?

The member makes a good point, particularly given that Orkney is served by one of the most extensive charging networks and has one of the highest levels of EVs in any part of the UK.

On average, 90 per cent to 95 per cent of the existing charging network is available at any particular point. There will be on-going reporting of faults to ensure that they are addressed. Around 30 faults in around 2 per cent of the network occur per day, most of which are repaired within 48 hours. I mean to ensure that that level of performance is maintained or improved where it can be.

Supporting the transition is about ensuring that we provide support to those who want to move to electric vehicles. We do so through our electric vehicle loan scheme, which, with a zero rate of interest, supports people in making that choice. We are the first part of the UK to have opened up the scheme to second-hand electric vehicles.

We are also bringing forward our commitment to banning the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles to 2030 to ensure that, as of that date, anyone who purchases a new vehicle will need to purchase an EV.

It is important to take forward all those measures to help to support the transition to low-carbon vehicles, which individuals are using across the country, including in the member’s constituency.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

I think that I know what that might be about.

Thank you very much for your indulgence, Presiding Officer. Although the cabinet secretary is correct about Orkney leading the way in relation to electric vehicle roll-out and the charging network—we have aspirations to go much further, as he is aware—my friend and colleague Beatrice Wishart represents Shetland, not Orkney.

The member has made his point, and the cabinet secretary has noted it. [Interruption.] To respond to a comment from a sedentary position, I said “his point”. I did not refer to a point of order.

In his statement, the cabinet secretary mentioned flats and places where people do not have available off-street parking. Can he say anything about what can be done for residents, including myself, who live in tenements or work in places where no off-street parking is available?

I offer my humble apologies to Mr McArthur and Ms Wishart for giving the wrong constituency—although I noticed that Ms Wishart was nodding in agreement when I made that point. I recognise Mr McArthur’s long-standing interest in that particular issue on behalf of his constituents.

Mr Mason makes a good point. We need to recognise that not all domestic premises will be able to have a charging point for a variety of reasons. That is why we need to ensure that the public charging infrastructure, alongside the commercial charging infrastructure, is fit for purpose and that anyone who has an EV is able to utilise it, whether or not they are able to charge their vehicle at home.

Those who live in tenement or flatted properties are often in urban areas and have other options, such as using public transport. We need to recognise that it will not always be possible for all houses to have access to a dedicated charging point, which is why we need to create the right hubs in the right places to help to support people who own an electric vehicle to charge it when they need to.

At the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee meeting yesterday, we heard about a major supermarket that is rolling out EV charging points across the UK. In England, the charging points come under permitted developments but, in Scotland, each site has to go through the planning process, which significantly slows down progress. Will the cabinet secretary now work with local authorities to tackle that issue, in order to ensure that the planning process does not act as a roadblock to the roll-out of charging points?

Supermarkets can play an important part in helping to support the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. I believe that the issue that the member has raised is being considered at the moment, and I have no doubt that the minister who is responsible for planning, who is in the chamber, will be more than happy to ensure that the member is kept informed of progress on that particular issue.

Most people who have EVs want to charge them at night, which, of course, has some benefits for the electricity grid. As John Mason has said, the issue is off-street parking. Householders have difficulties with putting in their own infrastructure, as well as difficulties with accessing Energy Saving Trust and other grants. Can the cabinet secretary say anything more about that? Might the design work that he has commissioned from the V&A provide a solution so that we get better public facilities that are close to where people live and they have a convenient choice rather than having to travel to some hub in the middle of the city, which might be a considerable distance away from where they live?

Again, I recognise the point that the member has made. One of the things that we are doing with the initiative with the V&A in Dundee is looking at how we can design the type of infrastructure that will be much more accessible to people who want to make use of it.

I mentioned hubs. It might be that we are talking about localised hubs if there is no off-street parking that can be utilised by the community for charging the vehicles. That does not have to be miles away; it can be within the community’s neighbourhood. Local authorities need to plan for that, which is why the details in the plan are important. We want to balance out where public sector investment can provide that type of infrastructure and where the commercial sector might want to provide that type of infrastructure in local, urban communities. We need to make sure that we get that right, that we are not competing with one another, and that the people who live in locations where there is no off-street parking are able to charge their cars somewhere within a reasonable distance from where they live.

Many businesses and other organisations have EV charging points for the exclusive use of their staff and customers. What discussions have taken place with businesses and other organisations about making private EV charging infrastructure available to the public EV charging networks when their staff and customers are not using such facilities?

The challenge with that is that such infrastructure is often privately owned by the company that has paid for it to be installed, and it would be at that company’s discretion whether to allow those facilities to be used outwith the core times that it might be utilising them.

Most of the investment that we make in supporting businesses and public sector organisations to put in infrastructure will often mean that it has an element of being open to the public to make use of the facilities outwith core hours.

We will continue to work with the private sector to look at how we can capitalise on and make as much use as possible of the EV charging infrastructure that is being installed by the private sector by opening it up to public use when it might be available. Again, the challenge with that is that the infrastructure is funded privately, so such a decision is very much at the discretion of the owners of those particular facilities.

Thank you, cabinet secretary. That concludes the questions. I apologise to the couple of members whom I was not able to squeeze in, but we have overrun our time, and we need to move on to the next item of business. There will be a short pause before we do so.