Meeting date: Thursday, May 31, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 31 May 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Edinburgh City Bypass (A720), Portfolio Question Time, Medium-term Financial Strategy, Housing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Edinburgh City Bypass (A720)
- Portfolio Question Time
- Medium-term Financial Strategy
- Housing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Decision Time
Portfolio Question Time
The next item of business is portfolio questions. I will try to get as many people in as possible in each part of the 40 minutes—there are 20 minutes for each subject. I ask members to be aware of that and to ensure that we have quite succinct questions and answers so that all their colleagues get an opportunity to come in.
Skills Development (Rural Economy)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it gives for skills development in the rural economy. (S5O-02147)
The Scottish Government supports skills development in rural areas through the developing the young workforce programme, modern apprenticeships, schools, colleges and universities. That activity provides opportunities for people living in rural Scotland to develop their skills and gain qualifications, including in traditional rural industries like farming, forestry and land use. We committed in the programme for government to developing a rural skills action plan and will publish that in due course.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting young people who had completed a shared forestry apprenticeship scheme that was delivered by Rural Skills Scotland, which is a non-profit-sharing organisation that is based in Lochgelly. The land-based sector needs an injection of new and young talent to keep up with the growing demand for skills. However, the sector comprises mainly small businesses and microbusinesses, many of which find it difficult to employ apprentices through the existing model.
Will the cabinet secretary join me in congratulating Rural Skills Scotland on that piece of innovative work, and will he take the time to look at that successful project in order to consider how to provide sustainable mechanisms for the future delivery of apprentices in the sector?
Yes. Mr Rowley has made a very fair point. I am pleased that he mentioned that good scheme. I anticipated that he would mention it, so I looked into it.
Through Forestry Commission Scotland, the Scottish Government has over the past two years provided £107,000 to the shared apprenticeship scheme, and six apprentices were employed by Rural Skills Scotland and placed with forestry enterprises, mostly in the public or third sectors. Forest Enterprise Scotland subsequently provided eight young people with apprenticeships in the south of Scotland. I understand that there were more than 200 applications for that, so quite a number were unsuccessful. I certainly undertake to look into the matter further. Good progress has been made, but more can be done.
I declare an interest as a partner in the farming business, J Halcro-Johnston and Sons.
I recently attended a National Sheep Association event and spoke to a young person there who is considering entering sheep farming as a profession, but faces a number of barriers. Such new entrants are vital to the sustainability of Scotland’s rural economy. What update can the cabinet secretary give on the Scottish Government’s commitments to improve opportunities for new entrants? In particular, what co-ordination is there with skills providers and rural businesses and communities to ensure that we are building rural skills in a way that meets the needs of those areas?
Since 2015, grant schemes under the Scottish rural development programme have helped to kick-start more than 250 new agricultural businesses with about £13 million of support, mainly to young farmers. In addition, we have set up farming opportunities for new entrants—I devised the acronym FONE for it; it is catchy—which seeks to maximise land opportunities for those who are seeking access to the first rung on the farming ladder by making available land from the public sector that is owned by local authorities, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Water and the Forestry Commission. Already, thanks to the good work of Henry Graham and others, we have created more than 50 new land opportunities through that initiative.
Thirdly, we have, under our farm advisory services, put in place a dedicated new entrants to farming programme, which is providing a network of support, advice and skills.
I acknowledge that we need to do more. Mr Halcro Johnston’s question is apposite, and I will be very happy to work with him as we develop our plans further.
Central Scotland Transport Infrastructure
To ask the Scottish Government what investment it has committed to transport infrastructure in the Central Scotland region. (S5O-02148)
The Scottish Government continues to invest heavily in transport infrastructure across the Central Scotland region. Recent and on-going commitments include the completion of the £500 million M8-M73-M74 motorway improvements project, the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme on the rail network, the Shotts electrification project, the refurbishment of the Kincardine bridge and continued investment in the canal network and in active travel infrastructure through our community links and community links plus programmes.
The Twechar bridge over the Forth and Clyde canal is now out of commission, which means that my constituents who live in the Auchinstarry marina can no longer travel west. The Twechar bridge might not be as grand as the Falkirk wheel, but it serves exactly the same purpose of opening the canal network to travel. If the Falkirk wheel broke down, we would expect to see immediate action. My constituents expect the Twechar bridge to be repaired and the central Scotland canal network, which successive Governments have committed millions of pounds to, to reopen permanently.
Mark Griffin has raised an important issue. I should make a couple of points. The first—perhaps it is obvious, but it is worth reiterating—is that the reason for the closure of the Twechar bridge is safety, which must be paramount. Where there are problems or failures of assets, we cannot risk people’s lives, which is why we have taken the action that we have taken.
The Government increased the budget for Scottish canals in the most recent budget. At the moment, there are restricted hours of operation for the Bonnybridge and Twechar bridges. I should say that the last time the Twechar bridge was open, only about half a dozen people took advantage of that.
To give Mark Griffin some reassurance, I can say that Scottish Canals is continuing work to identify potential solutions in order to restore full operation of the Twechar bridge. If he has not met representatives of Scottish Canals recently, I will ensure that we facilitate that meeting.
It is, of course, worth saying that the overwhelming majority of users of the canal are on foot and cycling, using active travel, which will continue to be the case. Notwithstanding that, I will ensure that Mark Griffin is kept up to date.
The questions and answers are getting a bit laborious. We have only just reached question 3.
Passenger Air Links (Islands)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessments it has conducted of passenger air links to Scotland’s island communities. (S5O-02149)
Following a discussion at the Scottish transport forum, I assigned Highlands and Islands Airports Limited the task of considering what air services in the Highlands and Islands could and should look like in the future. HIAL will shortly carry out a consultation seeking views on what the strategy should be over the coming period.
I thought that that might annoy those members.
I thank the minister for that reply and acknowledge the general surprise from the members on that side.
Given the level of dependence of the island routes on a single operator and the effect that that has on competition, can the minister say whether he has had any discussions with any other potential providers of services on the routes, and whether he agrees, in principle, that competition would have a benefit with regard to the level of service provided?
Jamie Halcro Johnston will know that Flybe entered that market in direct competition to Loganair. When it did so, the market share of people using air services increased, although there is no doubt that that had an impact on Loganair. Of course, Flybe eventually ended up pulling out.
From the perspective of the Scottish Government, the more connections and air services there are to our islands, the better. Therefore, if there is an approach—through Jamie Halcro Johnston or from an operator—I will consider it with an open mind. The main point is that sustainability of air services to and connectivity in our islands is foremost in my mind.
I welcome the minister’s revelation that HIAL will engage in a prior consultation.
With regard to internal air services in Orkney, the minister might be aware of capacity issues on what are lifeline services for those small island communities. Will he commit to engaging with Orkney Islands Council about how that situation might be addressed as part of the overall discussions around lifeline air and ferry connections between the small isles in Orkney?
I do not know whether that is the opening salvo of another round of budget negotiations from Liberal Democrat members—at least, they were formerly members of the Liberal Democrats—who voted for the Scottish Government budget in support of internal ferry services. I will take up that discussion in my next conversation with Orkney Islands Council.
Although Liam McArthur laughed and scoffed, it is worth noting that, yesterday or the day before, HIAL announced that it will be extending its exemptions based on the consultation on the passenger surveys, which will include people who travel from other islands and might be affected by car parking charges.
Last year, the number of passengers who used HIAL airports went up by 15.4 per cent. Does the minister agree that we should do all that we can to ensure that businesses, residents and tourists can continue to benefit from lifeline services to the Highlands and Islands?
Yes. Gail Ross is right to emphasise the importance of our Highlands and Islands airports. The sustainability of our air services is vital, and car parking charges are being brought in to ensure that air services are sustainable for the future for our island communities and our Highlands communities.
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact on farming of Brexit. (S5O-02150)
Numerous studies confirm the Scottish Government’s position that Brexit is a major threat to farming in Scotland. Those include one from the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute, which is funded jointly by the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations, Scotland’s Rural College, Quality Meat Scotland and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. All the studies show that the failure to replicate the current trade arrangements with the European Union will mean that Brexit will have a detrimental impact on farmers, and sheep farmers in particular. Farm incomes could be seriously affected due to Scotland’s ability to export being reduced and the possibility of a reduced budget from the UK Government for farm support. In addition, businesses are already reporting problems with workforce availability.
Can the cabinet secretary update Parliament on what progress has been made on the review of convergence funding, which was promised by the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, last year?
Mr Gove promised that there would be a review. Incidentally, that promise was made originally about five years ago by Owen Paterson, who was then in the UK Government, but that promise has since been broken by successive ministers. Eventually, last November, Mr Gove decided that the UK Government would get round to implementing the pledge, and it promised to have the review—indeed, a Tory MP claimed credit for it.
Since then, Mr Gove has said that such matters rest with the Treasury. When I met Mr Gove with Ms Cunningham a few weeks ago, I explained to him that the matter is very serious. The EU intended the money to go to Scottish farmers, and Scottish farmers alone, because only Scottish farmers qualified for the particular convergence funding. Therefore, my recommendation to Mr Gove is that he implement his promise without further delay, that he persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Hammond, to bring the matter up to the top of his in-tray and that we get on with the review, which was promised many years ago and has still not been implemented by the UK Government.
I very much share the cabinet secretary’s frustration over the lack of progress with the review. Does he agree that one of the frustrations for Scotland’s farmers is what they perceive as the lack of detail from the Scottish Government on its vision for the future of agricultural support post-Brexit? Organisations such as NFU Scotland and Scottish Environment LINK are leading the way, exploring alternatives to the common agricultural policy and setting out clear principles behind what that support should look like. Can the cabinet secretary say when he will do the same and set out clearly the Scottish Government’s vision and views on what post-Brexit support should look like in Scotland?
I do not accept that, and the reasons for that are twofold. First, at meetings with Mr Gove and Mr Eustice, we have repeatedly sought clarity about precisely what the powers of the Parliament will be. We have no absolute clarity on that. Secondly, we have asked for clarity on funding post-Brexit, and we know nothing about that. Can any member tell me any business plan—I have been in business—that has no figures in it? It is ludicrous to suggest that anybody could come up with a detailed plan as long as the UK Government completely fail to obtemper the promises that were made during the Brexit referendum campaign, during which it was said that the funding would be at least matched. No wonder people voted for Brexit when they were told that there would be the possibility of getting more money. Now, we know nothing whatsoever.
There is a second reason why I disagree with Mr Smyth. We expect a report from the agricultural champions on the future of agriculture. In addition, the National Council of Rural Advisers will, very shortly, publish a consultation document, with its final report to come in September. Incidentally, that council was set up directly in response to Parliament’s wishes. We are doing exactly as this Parliament has requested.
Notwithstanding the cabinet secretary’s answer to Mr Smyth, will he tell Parliament when the Scottish Government will outline its plans for the future support of agriculture and what his priorities might be in that regard. The cabinet secretary did not answer the previous question.
As soon as the UK Government says what the funding will be, it will be possible to produce a plan. I used to run a business. We had figures of estimated income and expenditure. There are no post-Brexit figures at all from the UK Government, yet you guys and your party promised that the people would be better off.
Speak through the chair, please, Mr Ewing.
Those guys over there, Presiding Officer.
We shall shortly see the publication of the agricultural champions’ proposals. Those four champions are independent experts. Instead of Opposition members carping and making political points, they would be well advised to study carefully the champions’ recommendations.
South Scotland Food and Drink Industry
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is giving to the food and drink industry in South Scotland. (S5O-02151)
Direct investment in and support for the food and drink sector in Scotland from the public sector equate to about £100 million per annum across a range of areas including skills, education, research, industry development, standards and capital investment. That funding is provided on a national basis and is available to companies throughout the South Scotland region.
Many of the food and drink companies in South Scotland are microbusinesses and need a local approach. When will connect local hold a workshop in Dumfries and Galloway? What monitoring will be put in place to ensure geographical parity of awards from the new regional food fund?
The member is correct to point to connect local and the work that it does. The Scottish Government provides £3 million-worth of funding to it, which enables it to provide an advisory service in the four-year period to 2020. I understand that a connect local event is expected to take place, and I can write to the member with the detail and the timescales.
Dumfries and Galloway has an outstanding reputation for excellence in the production of high-quality food and drink. I work closely with the new South Scotland vehicle, which is led by Professor Russel Griggs and Rob Dickson. There are enormous opportunities for businesses in the sector to be even more successful.
Later today, Young’s Seafood is expected to announce bad news at Pinneys of Scotland. Will the cabinet secretary set out what support will be made available to the workforce? Will he reaffirm that the Scottish Government remains 100 per cent committed to ensuring that a new operator continues production on that site?
As the member knows, Paul Wheelhouse leads on that matter. It is extremely important to us that we get the best possible outcome, and I have been involved in meetings and discussions thereanent. We are absolutely determined to get the best possible outcome, as Mr Mundell knows. That remains unchanged and will continue to be the case.
Question 6 was not lodged.
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making with the roll-out of fibre broadband, including ensuring that all new-build homes have access. (S5O-02153)
The digital Scotland superfast broadband roll-out has passed its 95 per cent fibre coverage target. Thinkbroadband, the independent commentator, reports that superfast coverage of 30 megabits per second and above stands at 93.4 per cent. New investment—gainshare funding—will increase those figures even further through 2018. Beyond that, we are investing £600 million in the initial phase of the reaching 100 per cent—R100—programme, which will extend superfast access to every home and business.
I welcome that, particularly the benefits for families and businesses in Paisley. What funding is the United Kingdom Government providing to support the roll-out of superfast broadband to all premises in Scotland, including those in Paisley, given that, after all, the policy responsibility is entirely reserved?
I acknowledge that the UK Government contributed £100 million of the more than £400 million investment in the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme. That was less than the Scottish public sector contribution but, nonetheless, it was a reasonable size of contribution. However, in respect of R100, the funding for the whole of Scotland is £600 million, which is the most funding for any single broadband project ever in the UK, and I am very sad to say that, of that, the UK Government is contributing £21 million. We are contributing £579 million and the UK Government is putting in £21 million, which is 3 per cent. That is a disgrace. I do not understand why, when the Scottish Tories say that they are standing up for Scotland, not one of them has criticised that pathetic contribution of £21 million. Not one of them here or in Westminster has had the guts to say that it is a reserved function and that the UK Government should be making its fair contribution. That is truly sad and pathetic. However, we are seeking to obtain a proper commensurate contribution from the UK Government and, obviously, we will not let the matter rest.
Emissions Targets and Air Pollution (Glasgow)
To ask the Scottish Government how it will meet its carbon emissions targets and lower air pollution in Glasgow. (S5O-02157)
Our climate change plan sets out the actions that are needed to continue to drive down Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Many of those actions will have additional positive impacts, such as improvements in local air quality. For example, the plan includes the introduction of low-emission zones in Scotland’s cities, the first of which will, of course, be in Glasgow by the end of this year. The Scottish Government is also working closely with Glasgow City Council as it implements the measures in the council’s air quality action plan and is providing practical and financial assistance to monitor air quality and support the delivery of measures.
On top of that, we are looking to see how we can move more freight from road to rail and increase electric vehicle uptake, and we continue to invest in public transport in Glasgow and in Scotland more widely to reduce our carbon emissions.
We all agree that carbon emissions need to fall. There are clear health benefits as well as climate change considerations. Before London introduced the congestion charge, huge investment was made to deliver improved public transport and active travel opportunities. What additional transformative investment will be made in public transport and active travel opportunities in Glasgow before any charging is introduced?
The low-emission zone is not a charging scheme as such, although Labour councillor Matt Kerr proposed an amendment to the city administration’s recent proposals that would introduce congestion charging. I am wary of that, but we will have conversations on that issue.
Mr Sarwar is right in saying that investment in public transport is vital, and it goes hand in hand with the low-emission zone—it is not an either/or situation. We will continue to invest in the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme, which will provide faster journey times between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and in new rolling stock, which will attract more people to our railways. On other investment, if the member goes to Victoria Road, in the south side of Glasgow, he will see the south city way, in which we are investing to provide better active travel opportunities from the south of the city into the city centre. There are also many other active travel projects. I emphasise that it is not an either/or situation; we must invest in the low-emission zone, which is pioneering in Scotland, and in the public transport network.
If we are to achieve the targets that the minister spoke about, surely, when there is money to invest in the built environment, it needs to be spent in a way that achieves a direct reduction in the volume of polluting transport and makes it safer and easier to use active travel—for example, through the installation of bike lanes of the standard of the one that is being used on Victoria Road, in the south side, which the minister just praised. Will it be a missed opportunity if Glasgow City Council continues with its plans for Byres Road, which is one of the most polluted parts of the city, without including mitigating measures to reduce through traffic and without putting in proper, safe, physically separated cycle space so that people can cycle on that busy road without being constantly in danger as a result of the volume of traffic?
It is for local authorities to make decisions on whether to take particular schemes forward. The member can engage directly with Glasgow City Council about that.
The member will agree with me that, through the leadership of Councillor Anna Richardson and officials such as George Gillespie, there has been a step change in Glasgow City Council’s new administration, with a cultural shift towards more active travel. We see that in the community links and community links plus projects to which the council has committed.
On the Byres Road scheme, it would be best if the member took the issue up directly with Glasgow City Council.
River Bank Erosion
To ask the Scottish Government what support is available to farmers to prevent river bank erosion. (S5O-02158)
The rural payments agri-environment and climate change scheme contains a number of funding measures aimed at the restoration and protection of river banks.
A number of constituents across my Dumfriesshire constituency are struggling to access funds that are urgently needed following the severe weather that we had over the winter. River banks have broken and huge quantities of land are disappearing. Can the cabinet secretary do anything to look into the matter and accelerate payments to those who need them most?
We are aware that some customers are experiencing difficulties in submitting applications for various integrated administration and control system options. We have identified the applications that are currently in draft—I do not know whether those are the ones to which the member refers—and, in those cases, we will allow the submission of late applications, after 31 May. We understand that the issue is likely to affect about 20 applicants. I would be happy for the member to bring me the names of his constituents, so that I can see whether they marry up with the information that I am being given. We will see whether we can help to get things on to a better keel.
As the cabinet secretary knows, as well as erosion, pollution is a major issue for our rivers. In Muir Dean, run-off after a farmer spread industrial waste caused an environmental incident, with polluted water and an extremely noxious smell in Dunfermline, which was so bad that it made some residents physically sick. What assurances can the Government give me that its agencies have the power to stop people when they deliberately damage the environment around them by dumping or spreading pollutants?
I suppose that that supplementary question was broadly related to the main question. If the cabinet secretary is content to answer, she may do so.
As it happens, Presiding Officer, the member raised related issues at the meeting of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, of which he is a member, on Tuesday morning, so I am conscious of his concerns about how some matters are being handled. If he cares to write to me with details of the incident to which he refers, I will be happy to investigate.
Clean Air Bill
To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to bring forward a clean air bill. (S5O-02159)
We continue to make good progress in delivering the actions that are set out in our strategy “Cleaner Air for Scotland—The Road to a Healthier Future”, including the establishment of Scotland’s first low-emission zone, in Glasgow, by the end of this year and the establishment of LEZs in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh by 2020. We have committed to a full review of the strategy by 2020, and any requirements for further policy or legislative changes will be considered as part of that process.
It is a quarter of a century since the Clean Air Act 1993 was passed. Is it time for a new clean air act that adopts the World Health Organization principles on air quality guidelines? British Heart Foundation research at the University of Edinburgh has shown that diesel exhausts produce nanoparticles that can injure blood vessels and contribute to cardiovascular disease. Will the cabinet secretary update the Parliament on the activity that the Scottish Government has undertaken to reduce air pollution and minimise exposure to harmful diesel fumes?
I have just said that we are undertaking a review of our “Cleaner Air for Scotland” strategy, which was published only in November 2015. The fact that we are holding a review as quickly as that indicates the urgency with which we understand the matter is being treated. Once that review has been undertaken, we will look at the matter very carefully and, if legislative changes are required, we will think very carefully about that.
Scotland is leading the way in delivering cleaner air, and we have already adopted several of the proposals in the current draft strategy from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We do not want to allow an impression to develop that we are somehow lagging behind. In 2016, we were the first country in Europe to adopt the World Health Organization’s guideline value for fine particulate matter, which is something that the United Kingdom Government is only beginning to look at.
According to Cancer Research UK, in 2015, cigarette smoking was responsible for 5,736 people being diagnosed with cancer while 288 cases were due to other forms of air pollution. Will new clean air policy include action to further reduce cigarette smoking and its deadly impact on Scotland’s health?
Legislation on smoking in enclosed public spaces is already in force, and the Parliament has further legislated on smoking in cars. The Government has also legislated to bring in no-smoking areas around hospital buildings, and many local authorities already have restrictions on smoking around play areas for children in parks. Our forthcoming tobacco action plan will include proposals to restrict smoking in other places, such as communal stairwells. At the moment, however, we have no proposals to include smoking measures in any clean air legislation that might emerge from the review that I mentioned in my earlier answer.
Wholly Recycled Retread Lorry Tyres
Question 4 is from Kenny—sorry, I mean Kenneth Gibson.
To ask the Scottish Government what the environmental impact is of using wholly recycled retread lorry tyres compared with new ones. (S5O-02160)
The reuse of tyres that are retreaded to the required British standards of quality and safety clearly has a positive environmental impact by extending the life of the original product, decreasing the number of used tyres that are sent for disposal and reducing the number of new tyres that are required for the market. It fits in with our “Making Things Last—A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland”, which encourages people to keep materials in high-value use for as long as possible, thereby minimising the need for the use of virgin material.
Every wholly recycled retread lorry tyre saves 85 litres of oil and such tyres last up to 150 per cent longer, which is, no doubt, why at least 15 Scottish local authorities use them. Will the cabinet secretary encourage other local authorities, the wider public sector and indeed the private sector to do likewise, given not only that such tyres are more friendly to the environment but that they are retreaded in Scotland and they sustain Scottish jobs, whereas new tyres are wholly imported?
The benefits are indeed considerable. The Scottish Government supports all forms of reuse and remanufacture, particularly when Scottish business and the Scottish economy are benefiting. Scottish waste legislation is underpinned by the waste hierarchy, and the high-quality reuse of materials is key to its application.
The important thing is that all retreads reach the required standards, but I certainly encourage all stakeholders who use tyres to consider their merits and, more generally, how a more circular approach can be good for the environment and for business.
Glasgow Low-emission Zone
Question 5 is from Bill Kidd.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. It should be William Kidd. [Laughter.]
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress developing the low-emission zone in Glasgow. (S5O-02161)
I call Roseanna Cunningham.
No—that should be Humza Yousaf. [Laughter.]
Sorry. There was a look of shock on the cabinet secretary’s face.
I can see how you get us confused.
Glasgow City Council published an update report on 20 March on progress with developing the Glasgow low-emission zone, and a further update is expected to be published in June.
Emissions and fumes from traffic affect everyone and they need to be tackled, but those who are on lower incomes are most affected not only by pollution but by any fare increases. How can grants to bus companies for retrofitting help to avoid fare rises?
The member is absolutely right. We are committed to helping to fund retrofitting and emission abatement measures by bus operators, and we are providing substantial funding towards low-emission zones across the four cities. Therefore, I see no reason for such zones to be used as an excuse to raise fares. The last time that there were fare rises in Glasgow, I took those up directly with First Glasgow. There is no reason why the implementation of such a zone—which has a lead-in time, being phased in over a number of years—should give rise to fare increases.
The minister will be aware of reports from Friends of the Earth Scotland that have warned of the significant possibility of ozone events happening across Scotland this week. With that in mind, what arrangements does his Government have in place to protect vulnerable people with pre-existing lung conditions from illness that might be brought about by low air quality from such ozone events should they occur in Scotland?
If Claudia Beamish will forgive me, I will have to have a look at the Friends of the Earth reports to which she refers. However, the Government is taking a range of measures, which the cabinet secretary has outlined. The most ambitious plan that we have here is for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, in which transport must play a key part. In fact, at the moment, transport is the largest producer of emissions, which is not a good thing. It must play its part through LEZs, active travel and the uptake of electric vehicles, on all of which—and more—we have ambitious targets. Clearly, there is a cross-Government responsibility here. As transport minister, I certainly intend to play my part in that.
Active Travel (Environment and Climate Change)
To ask the Scottish Government how its environmental policy and its climate change commitments are informed by active travel. (S5O-02163)
As I said in my previous answer, active travel and building an active nation are very much at the heart of this Administration’s thinking on our climate change plans and commitments. That is why, as Brian Whittle will know, we have doubled the active travel budget from £40 million to £80 million per year. That funding is providing cycling and walking infrastructure across the country, such as segregated infrastructure in towns and cities, greater access to bikes—including, I hope, electric bikes—education and training programmes for adults and children who are learning to cycle, and generally making our towns and cities safer, friendlier and greener places in which to live and work.
I welcome the projects that the minister describes. However, I point out that in some projects there have been missed opportunities. For example, at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital there is a lack of bike racks; major infrastructure projects are being designed without cycle routes; and capacity for bikes on rail carriages is being reduced. Will the minister impress upon his colleagues in other portfolios that active travel considerations must be paramount if environmental targets are to be met?
Generally speaking, Brian Whittle makes a fair point. However, when it comes to projects on the ground, in various local authority areas we have more than doubled funding—from £15 million to £36 million—for the community links project, which helps to build some of the infrastructure projects to which he has referred. The first round will be announced shortly, but there will be some money for round 2 and subsequent rounds, so I encourage Mr Whittle to speak to partners in areas that he thinks might benefit from that very important funding.
There is very good and collaborative cross-Government working on this agenda. For example, I regularly meet the Minister for Public Health and Sport, Aileen Campbell, to talk about our commitment on an active nation commissioner.
Lastly, I gently make the point that although Mr Whittle says that he welcomes the doubling of the active travel budget from £40 million to £80 million per year, it would have been nice to have had the Conservatives’ support for the budget and that increase in it.
I thank the minister for the comments that he made a few moments ago. What further actions can the Scottish Government take to encourage people to change their behaviour? Might such work take place with a campaign or further work with local authorities?
I think that it can. Behaviour change is hugely important. Looking at our younger generation, we offer as many young people as possible the opportunity of receiving cycling training, both in schools and in on-the-road practical training. I know that Mike Rumbles, too, has a particular interest in that issue.
We must also look at people who perhaps have not previously had the confidence to cycle and who might have mobility issues or even disabilities or chronic health conditions. That is perhaps where exciting opportunities around e-bikes might present themselves. I am looking very hard at how we might use some of the doubled active travel budget not only to effect behaviour change, which is important, but to make cycling and active travel more accessible for more people—and for as many as possible.
We were a little late starting this section of portfolio questions. I call Jeremy Balfour to ask question 8.
Plastic Pollution (Firth of Forth)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce plastic pollution in the Firth of Forth. (S5O-02164)
The Presiding Officer would probably disapprove of me if I embarked on a very long list of the things that the Government is doing, but in our marine litter strategy, many policies are under way to target the issues that are faced in the Firth of Forth, namely sewage-related debris and preproduction plastic pellets, which are also known as nurdles.
Scottish Water is investigating the problem of litter entering the estuary area through sewage systems. It will report this summer and will identify solutions. Two plastics are being dealt with: microbeads and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. With regard to nurdles, we support the plastics industry’s operation clean sweep scheme, which encourages responsible handling of preproduction plastics. However, more needs to done.
Surveys over the years across the Firth of Forth have found between 200,000 and more than 2 million plastic nurdles. People have been keen to clean up the Lothian beaches and last autumn 450,000 nurdles were removed from the shore close to Bo’ness by volunteers. Will the Scottish Government consider localised plans for the worst plastic pollution hotspots?
I would consider anything that would help this difficulty. Nurdles are a major problem. I have followed some of the local activity on social media, but it is one of those things that needs to be dealt with across the country. It is a global problem. Nurdles are an essential part of the production of plastic, and the difficulty is about managing them at source, because we cannot produce plastic items without them. One way in which we can help, of course, is to reduce the reliance on plastic in the first place.
Sunnyside ocean defenders are doing amazing and inspiring work across Scotland. They are based in Glasgow Provan, a constituency that is not noted for having a coastline. Does the cabinet secretary agree that their valuable activity is tangible proof that this issue affects everyone, not just those with a shoreline?
The children of Sunnyside primary have worked tremendously hard to highlight the problem of single-use plastics. They have supported the Government’s introduction of our deposit return scheme with their have you got the bottle? campaign, and they are now promoting the nae straw at aw message. Despite being landlocked, they are working hard with the Marine Conservation Society to do beach litter surveys at Prestwick south and are involved in clean-ups at Ayr, and at Arrochar, which might interest Jackie Baillie. They clearly show that the issue concerns us all, regardless of age, on the coast or inland. I applaud all their efforts and those of children the length and breadth of Scotland who are concerned about the impact of plastic on land and sea.