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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 27 October 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Education (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Report), COP26 Global Ambitions, Urgent Question, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Ferry Services


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Covid-19 Recovery and Parliamentary Business

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

The first item of business is portfolio questions, and the first portfolio is Covid-19 recovery and parliamentary business. I remind members that questions 7 and 8 are grouped together, and that I will take any supplementaries on those questions after both have been answered. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should please press their request-to-speak button or indicate so in the chat function by entering the letter R during the relevant question.


Covid-19 Recovery (Prioritisation)

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across Government will ensure that those hit hardest by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic are prioritised during the recovery. (S6O-00269)

Our Covid recovery strategy, which was published earlier this month, sets out the next steps in Scotland’s recovery, recognising that although the pandemic has affected every area of life, those who were already struggling have been hit hardest.

Building on lessons learned during the pandemic, the strategy addresses the systemic inequalities made worse by Covid, and aims to improve people’s wellbeing and remobilise public services to be more focused on people’s needs. Actions include upskilling and retraining opportunities, help for low-income families who are most at risk of poverty, and locally based mental health and wellbeing support for children and young people.

Although the strategy is focused on the next 18 months, it also includes actions over this parliamentary session to deliver substantial improvements on child poverty, make significant progress towards net zero and secure an economic recovery that is fair and green.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the United Kingdom Tory Government’s paltry rise in the minimum wage of 59p per hour will not offset the national insurance rise that it has imposed or the £20 per week cut to universal credit, nor will it help people facing record petrol prices, energy and food price increases and the general rise in inflation, and that it highlights that the Tories are no friends of working-class Scots?

It is undeniable that citizens in our country face a significant cost of living crisis, which will become ever-more severe over the winter months due to the significant increases in fuel and food prices that are prevalent at the moment. Mr MacDonald is correct that the increase in the minimum wage, although welcome, does not in any shape or form offset the impact of those factors.

During the budget, changes have been announced to the decisions on universal credit. I have not had the opportunity yet to fully assess their implications, but, without a doubt, there are households in Scotland that are facing an acute cost of living crisis, and the Scottish Government is focusing its efforts on doing all that we can to support those in our society who face the challenge of poverty.

There can be no doubt that our young people have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Yesterday, I asked the First Minister what it would take for face masks to be removed from schools, particularly in the classroom, but an answer was not particularly forthcoming. Can the cabinet secretary set out specifically what we expect to see before that measure can be relaxed?

Mr Mundell will be familiar with the basis of the decision making that has to be undertaken in relation to any Covid restrictions, whether that is mask wearing by pupils in schools or any other measure. The Government has to be able to demonstrate that the decisions that it is taking are proportionate to the scale of the pandemic. We are facing a situation in which case rates in Scotland are averaging around 2,000 to 2,500 per day, which is a very high level compared with the levels in Scotland in the past, when we did not have restrictions such as face coverings in schools.

The Government will take proportionate decisions based on the prevalence of the pandemic, and the pandemic remains a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of all people in Scotland, particularly young people.

Young people have faced incredible disruption during the past 18 months. Active ventilation in classrooms is key to minimising further disruption to education and to securing young people’s life chances. The Government’s ventilation inspection programme concluded prior to the October break. Can the cabinet secretary confirm how many classrooms were inspected, how may failed inspection and what the Government’s preferred method of mitigation is?

The Government has made resources available to local authorities to improve ventilation in schools. As the First Minister confirmed in her statement to Parliament yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills is writing to the Education, Children and Young People Committee. I am not sure whether that letter has been issued yet, but it will set out the progress that has been made in the ventilation assessment.

Mr Marra asks me to set out what the Government’s preferred method of ventilation is. He will forgive me if I do not dictate from Parliament the ventilation arrangements for 2,500 school settings around the country, but the prevalence of CO2 monitors and the monitoring information that they provide are essential parts of the arrangements that the Government has taken forward in partnership with local authorities.

For the record, I should state that the issue is a matter for local authority decision making as, by statute, responsibility for running the school estate rests entirely with local authorities.


Covid-19 Recovery (Cross-sector Labour Shortages)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its policies and actions across Government to support the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and how these have been impacted by the reported cross-sector labour shortages. (S6O-00270)

Our Covid recovery strategy recognises that many critical sectors across the Scottish economy—from food and drink to transport and social care—are reporting issues with the supply of labour resulting from exiting the European Union.

The strategy therefore includes investment of an additional £500 million over this parliamentary session to support new, good, fair and green jobs and to equip people with the skills to enter and progress in those jobs. We are working with employers to help people into vacancies through our employability programmes, one of which is, of course, the young person’s guarantee.

The real solution, however, lies in an end to policies that are damaging to the prospects of the Scottish economy and which emanate from the United Kingdom Government. My ministerial colleagues and I have made repeated representations to the UK Government on putting in place emergency changes to the UK immigration system to combat acute post-Brexit skills and labour shortages. So far, the United Kingdom Government appears intent on ignoring the problems that it has itself created.

Some large employers in Airdrie and Shotts, across all sectors, have expressed concern to me about labour supply. There is a particular concern about food production in the run-up to Christmas, and some employers are worried that they may not be able to honour contracts. Will the Deputy First Minister agree to meet me and the employers concerned to discuss potential areas in which to support them, including those where we need to push the UK Government to deliver, such as extending visas for migrant workers?

I would be delighted to meet Mr Gray and representatives of the business community in his constituency to hear at first hand about their experiences. I have listened to a range of businesses in my own constituency and in other parts of the country that have been expressing their concern about the availability of staff and the acute challenges that are being faced in a number of sectors, as I listed in my initial answer. In social care, hospitality, distribution, the health service and food processing, we are suffering as a consequence of the removal of the free movement of individuals. That has been a retrograde step. The Scottish Government warned that it would be damaging to the Scottish economy, and that warning was ignored by the United Kingdom Government as it pursued the hardest of Brexits and the removal of the free movement of individuals.

We know that unemployment in Scotland is projected to rise to more than 5 per cent by the year end, which equates to nearly 200,000 people of working age who will be claiming benefits and who want to work. What more can the Scottish Government do through its skills agenda to ensure that those people can be retrained to fill the vacancies that Mr Gray refers to?

The Scottish Government is absolutely focused not just on that but on the fact that about 21 per cent of our population are economically inactive. Some of those people will be able, with the proper support in place, to gain access to employment. The Scottish Government is absolutely focused, in all our employability interventions, on ensuring that that is achieved. I give Mr Fraser that assurance; immediately before coming into the chamber I had just got off a call that was focused on exactly that question.

I make the point to Mr Fraser that all the dispassionate information that is coming to us, from a range of sectors—he must be hearing this as much as I am hearing it from the business community—is that we simply do not have an adequate supply of individuals available in the economy. If unemployment rises in the fashion in which he suggests that it will, there might well be people who are currently active in the labour market who will be able to participate in other employment. However, we have historically low unemployment in Scotland today. That has been a feature of this SNP Government for many years and we are proud of the very low level of unemployment in Scotland under our stewardship.

We need to ensure that we have adequate numbers of people to contribute to Scotland’s economic base. That has been made more difficult by the removal of free movement of individuals.

There are acute labour shortages in the care sector, which have a direct impact on delayed discharge in our hospitals. They are caused by a variety of reasons, and it is undoubtedly the case that low wages are partly responsible.

Given that someone gets paid more to work in Lidl or a pub, when will the cabinet secretary value social care workers and agree that they should be paid £15 per hour?

The Government values social care workers and the contribution that they make, and I agree entirely with Jackie Baillie on how she positions the argument: the availability of social care workers is a material factor in reducing the pressure on our hospitals that is the result of delayed discharge. There is absolutely no dispute about that point.

Before the parliamentary recess in October, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care announced steps to increase remuneration for social care workers. The Government will work with our local authority partners to do as much as we can to support improvements in that direction. We will also work with local authorities and health boards to support recruitment of additional staff, to ensure that the care packages that Jackie Baillie wants in place for her constituents—the same packages that I want for my constituents—can be in place and can reduce some of the pressure on our hospitals and enable our health service to cope with the very challenging winter that lies ahead.

Before I take question 3, I point out that we are half way through our time for this set of questions. I would be grateful if we could pick up the pace, please.


Young Citizens Assembly

To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to introduce a young citizens assembly. (S6O-00271)

We have committed to establish annual citizens assemblies during this parliamentary session. We will begin work to design the young persons assembly with children and young people before the end of this year.

In the meantime, we have committed to put people at the heart of everything that we do, we are taking a person-centred approach to Covid recovery and we have convened a working group to set out how participation and deliberative democracy can be embedded. That group is due to report later this year.

I thank the minister for his pledge to establish an assembly for children and young people under 16, to ensure better representation. Does he agree that the Tory United Kingdom Government’s recent challenge to the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill makes that pledge even more necessary?

Yes, I agree. The implications of the judgment are significant from a children’s rights perspective. Given the aspirations of the Government and this Parliament when it comes to the country in which we want our children to grow up, it is regrettable that the bill has been delayed and will not become law in the form in which the Parliament agreed that it would do.

The Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to the incorporation into Scots law of the UNCRC, to the maximum extent possible, as soon as possible. Although the judgment means that the bill cannot receive royal assent in its current form, the majority of work on implementation of the UNCRC can continue and is continuing.


Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission

To ask the Scottish Government how its policies and actions across Government will take account of the key findings and recommendations of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s post-Covid-19 futures commission published earlier this week. (S6O-00272)

We welcome the post-Covid-19 futures commission’s report and will consider the recommendations closely. The Covid recovery strategy sets out the need to work collaboratively and we look forward to further engagement with the Royal Society of Edinburgh on the issues that the commission raised in its report.

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his response, and for his comments at the RSE’s event on Monday morning. The commission’s key findings and recommendations are far reaching and pretty challenging. They speak to issues of democracy; the importance of delivering on things such as the Christie commission principles and social prescribing; and the need for improved collection and understanding of data and evidence. However, I want to ask the Deputy First Minister specifically about the challenges around preparedness. Brexit and Covid have shown us the vital importance of planning for future challenges. Can he comment specifically on the commission’s proposal for a foresighting centre to scope out and plan for potential risks and crises in future?

If Maggie Chapman will forgive me, I will not give her a definitive answer on that, because I wish to consider the specific proposal first. In general, the idea of looking ahead and preparing resilience planning to meet the challenges that we face—my goodness, we have faced challenges over the past 18 months—is very much at the heart of the Government’s intentions. The Government is currently undertaking resilience planning, which involves looking at a variety of concurrent risks around the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—Covid, the implications of Brexit, and preparedness for winter. I completely accept the premise of the question, and I will consider the specifics and advise Parliament and the Royal Society of Edinburgh accordingly.


Covid Status App

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the number of people who have downloaded the NHS Scotland Covid status app. (S6O-00273)

Our Covid status app has been downloaded more than 1.1 million times and, separately, our vaccination status letter has been issued in either PDF or printed format more than 1.4 million times. As we go forward, we will ensure that those numbers are sustained. People can continue to either download or request a paper copy of their vaccination status from NHS Inform or by calling the freephone helpline on 0808 196 8565.

The Scottish Government has failed to educate the public about the new passport rules, instead relying on businesses to do the work with no extra funding, no public awareness campaign and an unreliable app. Is it not time that the Scottish Government accepted that the app does not work and focused on helping businesses to recover?

The Government is absolutely focused on helping businesses to recover. We have supported businesses in a variety of ways to recover from the pandemic, and we continue to do so.

The app is working perfectly well. It is entirely operational, and it was able to be utilised at football grounds over the weekend, with many thousands of people in attendance; there were no reports of disorder or difficulty in the operation of the app. The app works perfectly well, and I suggest to the Conservatives that they move on from this argument. Countries around the world are using apps of the same type, and I do not see why anyone should think that Scotland should be an exception. The app is working perfectly well.

Are those with a vaccine certificate from outside Scotland being allowed into venues and events?

It is our desire that visitors to Scotland from outside the United Kingdom are able to access events and venues. However, there is significant variation around the globe on what those look like and how they work, and not all are acceptable. We have published guidance and a toolkit for businesses and event organisers and customers on our website to help to explain the issues that have to be wrestled with in addressing that point.

What does the Deputy First Minister have to say to many of my constituents who continue to experience, as they have done for some time, issues with incomplete vaccine records, which make it incredibly difficult for them to get access to the vaccine passport? Is that not just another example of the failed vaccine passport system? It is about time that he ditched it.

In a situation in which more than 7 million vaccinations have been undertaken, I think that the most reasonable person would accept that there are bound to be individual cases in which there are challenges and problems with the data. I would advise Mr Rennie’s constituents, if they have an issue, to phone the NHS Inform number that I gave; the staff there will be very happy to try to address the issues that he raises. Mr Rennie will know that, on occasion, members of Parliament have raised the fact that they had a particular problem, and they phoned the number and resolved it. The mechanism is there to address the issues that he talks about.


Covid-19 Recovery (Engagement)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is ensuring engagement across Government with the public, private and third sectors to ensure that the experiences of people providing front-line support to the most vulnerable help shape the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00274)

The Covid recovery strategy has been informed by public engagement and will deliver the recovery that people want and need to see. On behalf of the Scottish Government, I held a series of four open-dialogue events with stakeholders during the summer to hear about those aspirations. We listened to views and we worked with local government, business organisations, the third sector and organisations such as the citizens assembly of Scotland and the social renewal advisory board to formulate our thinking. As part of the collective national endeavour for recovery and the focus on delivery of actions over the next 18 months, we will continue to work in close partnership with others, including those providing front-line support, in establishing a collaboration for recovery.

The cabinet secretary recently visited the Belville Community Garden Trust in my constituency, which provided over 4,500 isolation parcels to people in Inverclyde throughout the lockdown, offered a safe space when restrictions were eased for local people to meet others and continues to work with the local community for the good of our local environment. Will the cabinet secretary join me again in praising the Belville Community Garden Trust and can he inform me of what information about opportunities he took away from his visit that could be used to replicate those opportunities elsewhere in Scotland?

It was an absolute pleasure to visit the Belville Community Garden Trust in Mr McMillan’s constituency. The trust is an example of a local organisation that had a core purpose of involvement in community activity pre-pandemic but adapted significantly and quickly during the pandemic to meet the needs of individuals in the Greenock area. As a consequence of that, the trust has established itself in a variety of different areas around connections among individuals. For example, there is a fantastic knitting gathering, which I met there and which is providing socialisation for individuals who have felt isolated during the pandemic; and there is a gardens project and a skills project. The trust is a fantastic example. Such ventures exist in all communities in the country, but I compliment Belville Community Garden Trust on its outstanding work.


Covid-19 Recovery (Support for Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how its policies and actions across Government will help support local authorities to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00275)

Delivering a strong recovery from Covid-19 is critical and will require collaboration and partnership working from all of us. To date, we have provided Scottish councils with an additional £1.5 billion in direct support through the local government finance settlement, which is over and above the regular grant payments. Furthermore, we published our Covid recovery strategy, which we will deliver in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The strategy provides the overall principles that will guide our recovery over the next 18 months to meet the needs of people most disadvantaged by Covid-19.

We all know that many councils, including Glasgow City Council, are struggling and cannot reopen all the facilities that they want to, whether those are run by the councils or by arm’s-length organisations such as Glasgow Life. Clearly, the councils and the Scottish Government are short of money, so can the cabinet secretary give any advice as to how we can move the situation forward?

The Government engages in dialogue with a range of organisations, and we have engaged in dialogue with Glasgow Life on those questions. As I indicated in my original answer, we have provided local authorities with a significant amount of increased resources that are available to them to assist with the challenges. We will continue to have that dialogue but, fundamentally those decisions are for local authorities to take within the resources that are available to them. We will continue to have dialogue with Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Life on the issues that Mr Mason raised with me.


Covid-19 Recovery (Support for Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government what cross-Government support and funding it is providing to local authorities to aid the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00276)

The Scottish Government has worked with our partners in local government to agree the shared vision and outcomes of Covid recovery and to recognise the critical role of local government in our national endeavour. We will support delivery of joint programmes of work with a recovery oversight board, allowing a strong focus on monitoring and performance towards outcomes. As I set out in my answer to Mr Mason, the Government has allocated an additional £1.5 billion in direct support through the local government finance settlement and councils have been granted additional financial flexibilities to address the financial pressures that they face.

Leisure and Culture Dundee has suffered from a major drop in revenue as a result of the pandemic, resulting in a requirement for significant support from Dundee City Council amounting to almost £3 million. I recognise what the cabinet secretary has said, but that is a huge issue in Dundee. Would he or another minister be willing to meet me and Councillor John Alexander, leader of Dundee City Council, to discuss the issue further?

I am aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy met representatives from Dundee City Council on 21 September, and I am happy to meet Mr FitzPatrick and Councillor Alexander to discuss the issue further. I recognise the challenges that local authorities face, but part of my intention, in creating the joint approach with local government, is to ensure that we collaborate and use all the available resources to address the practical issues that Mr FitzPatrick puts to me.

I can help John Mason and Joe FitzPatrick with their questions. How will the block grant increases that the UK Government announced today for this Parliament, which are the largest since the devolution settlement of 1998, be used to support local authorities to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic?

As Mr Kerr will not be surprised to hear, I will look very carefully at all the details of today’s announcements. I shall look at the shiny, glossy announcements and pore over the detail to make sure that the United Kingdom Government is not pulling the wool over our eyes, as it has done on so many occasions. If ever there was a group of people adept at having the wool pulled over its eyes, it is the members of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party who are sitting right in front of me. In fact, the knitting group in Greenock that I talked about would have delivered the wool to pull over the eyes of Mr Kerr and his colleagues.


Net Zero, Energy and Transport

Members who wish to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button or type R in the chat function during the relevant question.


Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with the Danish Government regarding the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance. (S6O-00277)

The First Minister and the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity met the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Utilities on 13 October. The Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance was briefly discussed, along with other matters and initiatives concerning Scottish-Danish co-operation. In line with the Scottish Government’s evidence-based approach to policy development, we have committed to undertaking a programme of work and analysis to better understand Scotland’s energy requirements as we transition to net zero, and how that aligns with our climate change targets. We will consider the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance further alongside that programme of work and analysis and other sources of evidence that are provided.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response. I am tempering my disappointment a little that the Scottish Government is not yet ready to join the alliance but, as the First Minister stated in a speech on Monday, transition from oil and gas

“is undoubtedly one of the most difficult issues we face”

and I agree with her. Can we maintain that dialogue, not just during but beyond the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—with the members of the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance, particularly countries such as Denmark, which has had a challenging progression in transitioning its gas sector? There is much that we can learn from and contribute to the discussion with countries that are drawing a line in the sand and moving beyond oil and gas, while continuing to take their workers with them.

As I mentioned, any consideration of joining the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance would have to be consistent with our energy policy and our approach to energy policy. That will be informed by the work that we are taking forward to assess the need for oil and gas in the years ahead, as we transition to being a net zero nation by 2045. I also assure Mark Ruskell of our continued engagement with other nations, including the Danish Government, on energy matters, and we have planned engagements during the course of COP26, where we will look to explore further collaboration between Scotland and Denmark on areas of energy policy where there is a shared priority, particularly in the renewable sector. We are looking to build on the engagement that we have had with Denmark in recent years and make that a more formal arrangement in the years ahead.

The transition that has been referred to must be fair and managed for those workers. Answers to my written parliamentary questions show that the much-vaunted just transition fund and plan will not have any detail until a draft is produced in spring 2022.

Given the urgency with which the Green members want to shut down the North Sea and the impact of that on almost 100,000 jobs, how long will it be before the fund and the plan are finalised and the organisations receive funding?

As we have set out, in taking forward the north-east and Moray transition deal, we wanted to ensure that we shaped it in a way that reflects the needs of the community and the organisations that could benefit from it, and we are undertaking an engagement process in order to achieve that. However, given that the Scottish Government has committed more than £500 million as part of the deal, I am sure that the member will join me in calling on the United Kingdom Government to match that investment to ensure that a just and fair transition is achieved in the north-east. Going by the track record of his colleagues in Westminster last week in relation to the Scottish cluster, I am not holding my breath when it comes to their support of north-east Scotland in the years ahead.


COP26 (Young People)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is involving young people in the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties. (S6O-00278)

It is extremely important that children and young people are listened to at COP26, and that their views are taken on board. We are facilitating that by funding the conference of youth, which is the UN’s official youth event for COP26, and supporting, for the first time, five young people from Scotland to attend and help to shape the statement to world leaders.

We are also supporting the Young Scot-led youth summit, at which young people will agree recommendations on climate action, and have the opportunity to meet leaders and activists to share their ideas on tackling the climate crisis.

Children and young people have been pushing for climate action, and it is very important that their views are listened to, so I thank the minister for her response.

Will the minister further outline how Scotland will do what it can to contribute to a successful outcome at the Glasgow summit, including how it will engage with activists both in the developed world and from the global south?

The member is absolutely right. Young people have played a critical role in bringing climate and nature crises issues on to the international agenda. They have challenged Governments, and they have done so from the grass roots.

We also need to accept that young people have the most to lose due to any inaction now. That is why we are supporting activists on the front line to participate at COP26. For example, throughout COP, the First Minister will meet regularly with Vanessa Nakate, the founder of Youth for Future Africa.

We are also establishing a COP hub in Malawi and are supporting events by the global assembly. We have facilitated the Glasgow climate dialogues and the Women’s Environment & Development Organization. That is all about driving gender equality in climate action in the global south.

Will the minister join me in congratulating all the schools that are taking part in the moment, which is an initiative in conjunction with the Children’s Parliament and the Scottish Youth Parliament? Will she say what support is in place for children across Scotland who want to attend events, whether in Glasgow or elsewhere, that might fall on school days? Will they be encouraged and supported to be there?

Will the minister also say something about the cost of school transport for trips, because schools are saying that they cannot afford to get out and about with their young people?

I absolutely congratulate the organisers of the moment. In my constituency capacity, I am taking part in it on Friday along with schools across Clydesdale. There has been an excellent uptake of the offer to be involved.

It is important that children are involved in COP, as it can feel remote and elitist. Through our themes of people and just transition, we have been trying to bring it alive. One of the events in which I was able to take part was My Climate Path, which is delivered with Young Scot. It is all about showing young people the path that they can take now to a career in some of the green industries of the future. With those structures, and by working with Young Scot and YOUNGO, a plethora of events is available, and I would be more than happy to share more detail of them with the member.


Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries (Final Cost and Delivery Date of New Vessels)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the anticipated final cost and delivery date of vessels 801 and 802 for the CalMac fleet. (S6O-00279)

The turnaround director of Ferguson Marine updated the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee on the delivery timetable and budget for the MV Glen Sannox and vessel 802 on 30 September. The cost to complete the vessels, which remains the same as was reported in the turnaround director’s December 2019 report to the Parliament, is between £110.3 million and £114.3 million.

The answer is that the vessels will be five years late and will cost more than double the original budget.

There was once a time when one could not keep Scottish National Party ministers away from Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow—mostly for a photo call. Since the new transport minister took office, how many times has he been to the yard in Port Glasgow, and how many times has he met Tim Hair, the turnaround director? Is it not about time that he apologised to the people of Arran for the shambolic way in which his Government has handled the replacement ferries to the islands?

As Mr Greene knows full well—I recall that he was a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee during the previous parliamentary session—oversight of Ferguson Marine and the contracts lies with Kate Forbes. [Interruption.] I can assure him that she has visited the yard and meets Tim Hair.

How many times?

I will repeat that, because the member is clearly not listening. The ministerial responsibility for the issue sits with Kate Forbes. She visited the yard recently and met Tim Hair, who she speaks to regularly.

I, perhaps unlike Mr Greene, have been to Arran recently and met the Arran ferry committee. I am focused on engaging with the communities that are waiting on the vessels and working on the issue of Ardrossan harbour. That is where my responsibility lies.

Islanders look forward to the MV Glen Sannox joining the Ardrossan to Brodick route. Can the minister advise what progress is being made with the Ardrossan harbour redevelopment, which he has just mentioned, in order that the MV Glen Sannox can sail to and from Ardrossan at the earliest possible opportunity?

As I have just alluded to, we are engaged in finding a long-term solution to secure the best use of Ardrossan for connections to Arran. Discussions continue with P&O Ports on the project delivery options and the related commercial agreements. Those are challenging discussions, but a resolution must be found to deliver improvements in a practical and cost-effective way that reflect the needs of all the partners involved.

I intend to convene a further task force meeting later this year to update stakeholders on progress. However, I can advise Mr Gibson that, in keeping with the united front and approach that this Government and North Lanarkshire Council are taking, Joe Cullinane, the leader of the council, will co-chair the task force.


ScotRail (Discussions with Trade Unions)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with trade unions representing ScotRail staff. (S6O-00280)

ScotRail has held numerous discussions with all the trade unions. Two unions consulted their members and overwhelmingly accepted the offer. The third union has also accepted the very fair offer. Only the leaders of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers have formally rejected the offer and two revised offers without consulting its Scottish members.

The final offer remains open to the RMT until 5 pm this evening. The deadline tonight is essential so that ScotRail, with Network Rail, has enough time to implement contingency plans in time for the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26.

The eyes of the world will be on Glasgow next month. Some thousands of visitors from around the world could use Scotland’s trains, but many will be unable to do so if the strike goes ahead. Has the Scottish Government assessed the cost to the Scottish economy of a rail strike during COP26?

The impact of any industrial action during COP26 would be significant. We are focused on trying to mitigate that—if, indeed, the strike happens.

I make the point that—this gets lost in the argument—this is not just about COP26. The actions of the RMT’s leadership will impact everyone during the two-week conference period. We find ourselves in a deeply regrettable situation, but that is not for the want of effort on the part of ScotRail and this Government to resolve it.

When I last asked him about industrial action on the railways, the transport minister said that that was nothing to do with him. Will he confirm today that he has rejected a counter proposal from the RMT that would resolve the dispute?

First, the member’s first statement is completely untrue. Secondly, on numerous occasions in recent weeks we have been led to believe by the RMT—[Interruption.] If Mr Bibby stops chirping, he might hear the answer. Multiple times in recent weeks, we have been led—directly and publicly—to believe that there was a possible resolution to the dispute. This Government and ScotRail reached out on all occasions only to find that the goalposts had moved. It has been very difficult to establish trust in the process.

If I heard the minister correctly, he said that RMT members were not consulted on the offer. Can he confirm that and say why the RMT is not consulting its members?

I absolutely can confirm it, but I would have to direct to the RMT leadership in Scotland Mr Mason’s question about why the RMT’s members, unlike those of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association or Unite, will not be afforded that opportunity.

I am not sure that the minister’s increasingly aggressive language towards the RMT will resolve the issue. Could he answer Mr Bibby’s question? Was there a counter offer, and was it accepted or rejected by the minister?

On a number of occasions during the process, a proposal appeared to have been put forward by the RMT and then it changed. In essence, there have been a number of occasions during discussions when it has appeared that there has been progress to be made but then the goalposts have moved. That is the reality.


A77 Upgrade (Funding)

 

5.

To ask the Scottish Government how much funding it has allocated for the upgrade of the A77 in its infrastructure investment plan 2021-22 to 2025-2026. (S6O-00281)

Phase 1 of strategic transport projects review 2 confirmed the importance of investing in Scotland’s trunk road network, supported by £1.5 billion of capital allocated to the infrastructure investment plan in the spending review. On the A77, to date, funding has been allocated to enable the completion of the £46 million Maybole bypass. We have a statutory obligation to maintain the safe condition of trunk road assets. Decisions on allocating the funding for the A77 will be based on our road asset management plan. That will augment the £88 million already spent since 2007 on managing and maintaining the route.

Time and time again, in successive transport reviews, the Scottish Government has forgotten Ayrshire, and especially the A77. We heard a lot of numbers there, but I have here the official Scottish Government figures. A mere £5 million was allocated to that road, whereas other road projects have received hundreds of millions of pounds. With no sign of a full upgrade in the programme for government and little sign of one appearing in the strategic transport projects review, people in Ayrshire are left with few options. The message from the Scottish Government to motorists in the south-west of Scotland is clear, and, once again, we are being left behind. Can the cabinet secretary promise my constituents today that work to dual the A77 will be commenced within this parliamentary session? If so, will it appear in the STPR2 report?

As the member well knows, the review of the road recommended against dualling all of the route. There are two related items in STPR2. Recommendation 17 is about the development of capacity enhancement measures on the route, such as partial dualling, town and village bypasses—I have just mentioned Maybole—and improved overtaking opportunities. Recommendation 18 is on the implementation of targeted measures such as improvements to road geometry, bends and junctions, along with safety camera deployment measures. Those two proposals, among others, are currently going through detailed final appraisal, and I hope that we will be able to advise Parliament of the outcome of that process in the next few months.

Can the minister detail the impact that the Scottish Government’s A77 Maybole bypass improvement scheme, in my constituency, will have on the levels of traffic in Maybole high street when the bypass is soon opened?

The opening of the new bypass is predicted to reduce traffic on Maybole high street by approximately 50 per cent, with the number of heavy goods vehicles reducing by approximately 90 per cent. I know that that will be extremely welcome to residents.

Following the opening of the bypass, Transport Scotland will undertake an evaluation of the project, in line with Scottish trunk road infrastructure project evaluation guidance. That evaluation will be carried out to assess the impact of the bypass by comparing conditions one year and then three years after opening with forecasts made during the scheme’s design and development. However, I think that we all know that the bypass will make a very substantial difference.


Sheriffhall Roundabout

To ask the Scottish Government when work will commence to address congestion at the Sheriffhall roundabout. (S6O-00282)

The Scottish Government is committed to delivering the grade separation of Sheriffhall roundabout as part of our £300 million commitment to the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal. Following publication of draft orders, a significant number of objections were received, which Transport Scotland is currently trying to resolve. However, a public local inquiry may be required if objections cannot be resolved. As with all trunk road projects, that is the appropriate forum for consideration of outstanding objections. Delivery of the scheme can commence only following statutory approval. Thereafter, a timetable for progress can be set. I will be happy to share that detail with Parliament in due course.

Transport Scotland has suggested that an inquiry could result in a six-year wait for a potential solution, which would end in 2027. That has caused disappointment. The project is of strategic importance to Edinburgh and the south-east of Scotland. Will the minister therefore consider making it a national strategic transport project? Will he agree to visit the junction with me to see the real need for investment in it as soon as possible?

As Miles Briggs knows, there is due process to be followed. He represents a region and many people, and there will be different views on the issue. It is absolutely appropriate that all the due processes are followed. I would like the objections to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction as soon as possible so that the work can commence, and I will take him up on the invitation.


Wind Farm Developers

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the net zero secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding reports that wind farm developers are offering payments to local residents in return for signing non-disclosure agreements and not objecting to planning applications. (S6O-00283)

I can advise the member that no such discussions have taken place.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that that practice is unacceptable, that it distorts the planning system and that it has the potential to turn local communities against the very green energy projects that we will need in the future? Will he commit to carrying out a review of what is happening in practice with many of those large-scale applications?

I recognise the point that the member has raised on behalf of his constituents. However, he will be aware that it is a live planning matter that was subject to a public local inquiry, and the issues that he has raised were aired during the course of the inquiry. The Scottish ministers have not, as yet, received the report from the reporter. I am sure that the member will appreciate that, under the ministerial code, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on a live planning matter when the reporter has not yet published their report. However, I assure the member that the reporter will consider those matters, and I expect to see consideration of that in the report once it is received by the Scottish ministers.


Acorn Project

To ask the Scottish Government what role the Acorn project could play in achieving Scotland’s net zero and just transition ambitions. (S6O-00284)

Advice from the Climate Change Committee described carbon capture, use and storage—CCUS—as

“a necessity not an option”.

There is simply no realistic route to net zero without CCUS, and, what is more, the Scottish cluster is vital for a just transition. That is why the United Kingdom Government’s decision is so astonishing. It shows a lack of ambition, leadership and commitment to tackling climate change. As I outlined in Parliament yesterday, we remain committed to the Scottish cluster and to reaching net zero by 2045. We are urgently engaging with the sector and the UK Government. Quite simply, the decision is a serious mistake and one that needs to be reversed.

The north-east of Scotland is an obvious location for carbon capture projects. I agree that the UK Government’s decision not to invest in the Acorn project at this stage is a devastating blow to our net zero obligations and to the economy of the north-east. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, if the UK Government is in any way serious about a just transition, it should not only match the Scottish Government’s £500 million investment in a just transition for the north-east of Scotland but urgently reconsider its nonsensical decision on Acorn? Is it not incumbent on all north-east MSPs and their MP colleagues, regardless of party, to demand that that happens?

I am sure that everyone in the chamber is signed up and committed to delivering a just transition. However, in order to achieve that, it is important that words are followed by action. We committed to providing £500 million for the just transition fund for the north-east and Moray to support the transition away from oil and gas into low-carbon and zero-carbon industries, and we have called on the UK Government to match that funding in order to support the transition. The UK Government has been able to lean on the natural resources of the north-east of Scotland for many decades, so it is only right that it provides the necessary financial support to allow for a just transition in the north-east.

I hope that members across the chamber will apply as much pressure as possible on the UK Government to match our ambition of delivering a just and fair transition for the north-east of Scotland. At the same time, members should press the UK Government to reverse its astonishing decision not to progress with the Scottish cluster, given its importance to delivering net zero targets not only here in Scotland but across the whole of the UK. That decision is a serious betrayal of the north-east of Scotland, and it cannot be allowed to stand.