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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 05 February 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Transport Strategy, Independent Care Review, Tax and Public Spending, Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Points of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Cheyne Gang Singing Group


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Finance, Economy and Fair Work

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The first item of business is portfolio questions, and the first set of questions is on finance, economy and fair work.


United Kingdom Budget (Council Tax Rates)

1. Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what the impact will be on Dumfries and Galloway Council of the UK Government’s decision to publish its budget on the same day that local authorities in Scotland must legally set their rates of council tax. (S5O-04087)

The Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy (Kate Forbes)

The impact would have been very damaging had it not been for the Scottish Government’s decision to bring forward the publication of its own budget. The United Kingdom Government’s decision certainly demonstrates its ignorance of the budget process in Scotland. Its lack of engagement is unacceptable to not only the Scottish Government but every local authority here and the citizens who depend on our public services.

Emma Harper

The UK Government’s decision to push back publication of its budget until 11 March is causing major uncertainty for both the Scottish Government and local authorities. Does the cabinet secretary—or the minister—agree that such uncertainty could have been avoided altogether if Scotland had had the full fiscal powers of an independent country?

Kate Forbes

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work and I agree that independence would give us control over our budget planning and provide the necessary economic levers to grow the Scottish economy.

In the face of the uncertainty that I have mentioned, this year, the Scottish Government intends to present its budget at the earliest practical date, which is tomorrow. We will do so in full recognition of the fact that it is vital for us to give local authorities, including Dumfries and Galloway Council, the security and clarity that they need on their own budgets as early as possible—unlike the UK Government.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

In her answer, the minister expressed her concern that the Scottish Government has not received sufficient information from the UK Government. Does the Scottish Government have enough information to enable the cabinet secretary to bring forward a budget and to allow local authorities to set their budgets on the date on which the UK Government sets its own, or should we expect in-year revisions? If there are to be in-year revisions, when will those be announced?

Kate Forbes

In order to give clarity to local government, we are basing our budget on the best available estimates. As the cabinet secretary announced on 31 January, to assist local authorities with their budget preparations, our intention is that the local government settlement will include confirmation that local authorities will again have flexibility to increase their council tax rates by up to 3 per cent in real terms. That demonstrates our willingness to use the best available estimates in our own budget process in order to give clarity to local authorities.


Small Businesses (Coatbridge and Chryston)

2. Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports small businesses in Coatbridge and Chryston. (S5O-04088)

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

The Scottish Government supports businesses across Scotland via a range of interventions that are delivered through our enterprise and skills agencies, Business Gateway and other inclusive measures such as business improvement districts and city region deals.

Regeneration has been a key focus in Coatbridge. For example, the regeneration capital fund grant funding of more than £1 million has transformed the former Luggie Glen sewage works site into Drumpellier business park, which is a flagship centre for start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises and social enterprises.

Fulton MacGregor

From his own constituency work, the minister will be aware that, last week, the Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council confirmed that it will impose parking charges on people looking to shop in Coatbridge town centre, as well as in the villages of Stepps and Chryston in my constituency. I am all for having a phased environmental strategy in the local area, but many businesses are already struggling because of their close proximity to Glasgow Fort shopping centre, which has free parking, and the increase in online shopping. Does the minister agree that that is a wrong decision that could bring further detriment to small and local businesses in my constituency?

Jamie Hepburn

As Mr MacGregor alluded to, I represent the constituency adjacent to his, so I am well aware of the issue. In my capacity as a Scottish Government minister, I should say that it is a matter for North Lanarkshire Council to deal with, but in my capacity as a constituency representative, I am of course exploring it in the interests of my own constituents.


Glasgow City Council (Funding)

3. Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what representations it has had from Glasgow City Council regarding local government funding. (S5O-04089)

The Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy (Kate Forbes)

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including Glasgow City Council, to discuss a range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

Johann Lamont

The minister may be aware that, last month, Glasgow Scottish National Party councillors sought and failed to defeat a Labour motion demanding that the council leader, Susan Aitken, make direct and public representation seeking fair funding for the city. Will the minister confirm whether she has received those representations?

While trying to avoid standing up for Glasgow, the SNP is at the same time bringing forward proposals for severe cuts to services that will make Glasgow’s funding crisis real. Closing community centres and libraries and getting rid of golf courses are only part of that dereliction of duty to Glasgow’s citizens. Will the minister listen to the grave concerns of charities, unions, communities and all those who want to stand up for Glasgow, and produce a budget that understands the needs of Glasgow and the severe consequences for all too many families if the current plans go ahead?

Kate Forbes

Susan Aitken is a great champion for Glasgow, and the member knows full well that the biggest budget pressures faced by Glasgow City Council at the moment are a result of the equal pay settlement, which is an issue entirely of her party’s making. The SNP councillors in Glasgow City Council and the SNP members in this Government will continue to stand up for Glasgow, as they have demonstrated in the past few months.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Can I have short supplementary questions, please?

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Along with Glasgow City Council, authorities across Scotland have seen savage real-terms cuts to their core funding under the SNP Government. With the block grant from Westminster for the coming year increasing by at least £1.1 billion in real terms—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Can I have a quick supplementary, please?

Murdo Fraser

Does the minister agree that there could be no case for any further cuts to local government funding?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That is not really relevant to the question, but if the minister would like to respond, she is very welcome to.

Kate Forbes

All I will say is that I look forward to the day when the United Kingdom Government reverses the whole decade of austerity that Scottish public services have suffered under the Conservatives.

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s decision to increase the rate of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board by 1 per cent will be detrimental to Scotland’s councils’ ability to carry out essential infrastructure projects. Does the minister agree that the UK Government should urgently rethink that decision and engage with the Scottish Government and local authorities on the matter?

Kate Forbes

I fully agree with Shona Robison and have written twice to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on the matter. The decision on loan funding was taken in the light of decisions about English local authorities, not Scottish local authorities, and it will have a direct impact on infrastructure spend in Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Members should note that supplementary questions should be relevant to the original question.


Scotland and United Kingdom Economic Divergence

4. Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what the cumulative percentage divergence has been between total gross domestic product growth in the Scottish and UK economies since May 2007. (S5O-04090)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work (Derek Mackay)

Since the second quarter of 2007, Scotland’s GDP has grown by a total of 10.3 per cent, while GDP for the United Kingdom as a whole has increased by 15.2 per cent.

However, the majority of that divergence can be explained by the fact that Scotland’s population has grown more slowly than the UK’s since 2007: Scotland’s population has grown by 5 per cent and the UK’s has grown by 8 per cent. That demonstrates why we have called for immigration powers to be devolved. The introduction of a Scottish visa would allow Scotland to attract and retain people who have the skills and qualities that are needed for our communities and economy to flourish.

Our refreshed economic action plan sets out how we will tackle the climate emergency, grow an inclusive economy and face up to the challenges of Brexit, changing demographics and shifting global circumstances.

Dean Lockhart

Derek Mackay has just confirmed that the Scottish economy is 5 per cent smaller—that is £7 billion—than it should be after 13 years of SNP Government. That is £7 billion of economic growth that could have generated thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds in extra tax for public spending in Scotland.

We have listened to the SNP blame Brexit for that economic stagnation, but it has been going on for 13 years, and last year, the Scottish economy grew at less than half the UK’s rate. When will the cabinet secretary start to listen to leading business organisations across Scotland and change the direction of his economic policy?

Derek Mackay

When it comes to listening to the business community, the Tories have absolutely ignored it in relation to Brexit, which is about to destroy the economic credentials of the Tories, if they had any to start with.

As far as the past 13 years are concerned, I made the point that the divergence in GDP is largely down to population. Who controls population? Who controls migration? As with other macroeconomic matters, it is the UK Government that does so, and that is the primary reason for the divergence in GDP.

When it comes to areas on which the Scottish Government plays a lead, we have been outperforming the rest of the UK. On attractiveness, Scotland is second only to London and the south-east of England and, on exports, we are outperforming the rest of the UK. For many quarters, unemployment in Scotland has been lower than, and it is currently the same as, unemployment in the rest of the UK. On GDP growth, whereas the Tories predicted recession, we have been delivering growth for our economy.

The greatest threat to Scotland’s economy right now is Brexit, which has been delivered at the hands of the chaotic, incompetent and inept Tory Government.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Everybody is getting a bit nippy today. [Laughter.] Could we tone it down for the rest of the session, please?


Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland Figures

5. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I will do my best, Presiding Officer.

To ask the Scottish Government how much time and money it plans to spend producing an alternative to the GERS figures. (S5O-04091)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work (Derek Mackay)

I am sure that this answer will tone things down, Presiding Officer.

The GERS publication explicitly states that it shows Scotland’s position within the UK and not as an independent nation. As the United Kingdom Government increasingly disregards the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland, it is more important than ever that we complete the necessary steps to hold a referendum on independence.

The Scottish Government produced a comprehensive plan for an independent Scotland in 2014. As we set out in our programme for government, we will undertake the necessary work to update that plan and ensure that the people of Scotland have the information that they need to make an informed choice about the future of their country.

Jamie Greene

Never mind the relevance of supplementary questions—I am afraid that even that answer was not relevant to the question. I asked how much time and money civil servants will spend on producing an alternative to the GERS figures.

Last month, the cabinet secretary said that he wanted to produce alternative GERS figures because he feels

“frustrated when the GERS figures are published every year.”

Why is he so frustrated with those independent figures? Which impartial economic authority will independently verify his figures when he produces them?

Derek Mackay

I will always expect the civil service to act in the professional and impartial fashion in which it acts. I dare say that our work will be of much greater value than the UK Government spending £5 million on propaganda telling us how great the union is at this point in time, which we have heard the speculation about. That is very interesting, coming from the Conservatives in Westminster. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

This is getting overrude and I am really not appreciating it. It is just not funny.

Derek Mackay

I simply make the point that we want to have an informed debate on the future of our country. I have never challenged the impartiality of our statisticians. What I have found frustrating is the misrepresentation of the figures as they relate to Scotland that occurs when people misrepresent the GERS figures by trying to suggest that they reflect the potential of an independent Scotland when they do not do so. The GERS figures do not reflect the potential of an independent Scotland; they reflect the estimated notional position within the current constitutional arrangement.

I think that it is right and fair that we have an informed debate about the options for our country and that that debate should be based on fact and the wonderful potential that Scotland has.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We will preserve the calm with a short supplementary question from Kenneth Gibson.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I bring peace and love. [Laughter.]

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is sheer hypocrisy for Tory members to criticise the Scottish Government for trying to improve the accuracy of the GERS figures when the UK Government that they so slavishly support will spend £5 million of taxpayers’ money on a campaign to highlight the alleged benefits of the union to the people of Scotland?

Derek Mackay

I agree that the spending of £5 million in that way would indeed be a waste of taxpayers’ money. We have been working on a fully informed, rational debate about the future of our nation, which should be based on facts. That debate will be much better than the likes of the leave campaign that we saw in relation to Brexit. In Scotland, we should have a mature, responsible and decent debate about the future of our country that is based on the facts and on how rich our country is. With the powers of independence, it could be even fairer.


Economic Growth (West Lothian)

6. Angela Constance (Almond Valley) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports jobs, business and economic growth in West Lothian. (S5O-04092)

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

West Lothian has benefited from a range of projects that are designed to promote investment and create jobs, including £2 million of investment in Livingston trade park from the building Scotland fund and £1.8 million from the town centre fund, which is supporting 112 projects.

In addition, during 2018-19, more than 1,400 West Lothian companies were helped through Business Gateway, about 1,000 modern apprenticeships were supported and Scottish Enterprise provided £2.3 million in research and development and in innovation grants.

Angela Constance

The minister is well aware that API Foils Ltd, in Livingston, has gone into administration, leaving more than 100 workers with an uncertain future. How will the Scottish Government help to secure the site and jobs for the future and ensure that API Foils workers get full support, including their full redundancy and pension entitlements?

Jamie Hepburn

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet Angela Constance to discuss some of those matters, and I would be happy to meet her again should she require to discuss them further.

Right now, our priority is to ensure that the workforce is supported in the immediate term. Our partnership action for continuing employment team attended the announcement of administration on Monday, and a PACE support event is taking place today in West Lothian College, which Unite the union is attending. I have offered to intervene in cases of delays in individuals’ receiving payments from the redundancy payment service. I hope that that will not be necessary, but I will readily intervene if it is.

Our immediate priority is to support the workforce. Thereafter, our other priority will be to support the acquisition of API Foils as a going concern. I assure Angela Constance and the rest of the chamber that my and Scottish Enterprise’s attention is turned to that matter.


Inclusive Growth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes)

7. Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports inclusive growth in the Mid Fife and Glenrothes constituency. (S5O-04093)

The Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation (Ivan McKee)

In addition to the reopening of the Levenmouth rail link, Mid Fife and Glenrothes will benefit from our £450 million investment in two city region deals: the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal and the Tay cities deal.

The Edinburgh deal is already delivering benefits. Construction will start soon on nine new business units in Glenrothes as part of the £35 million of Scottish Government investment in the deal’s i3 programme, which supports industrial innovation. We continue to press the United Kingdom Government to sign the Tay cities deal as a matter of urgency.

Jenny Gilruth

DPS Group, which is based in Glenrothes, is one of the UK’s only integrated electrical, instrumentation and control system providers. It supports businesses globally and closer to home, including by providing the bespoke lighting and electrical systems that are used for the royal Edinburgh military tattoo. Given the importance of that local employer in my constituency, would the minister like to join me in Glenrothes to visit DPS Group and to learn more about its valuable work?

Ivan McKee

As the member might be aware, I spend a considerable amount of time travelling round the country and visiting innovative businesses in order to understand the great technology that Scotland has to offer and how the Scottish Government can support businesses to internationalise that technology. I would be delighted to join the member in her constituency to visit DPS Group and to understand what it contributes to Scotland’s strong economy.


Large Business Supplement

8. Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how much revenue has been raised by the large business supplement since 2016. (S5O-04094)

The Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy (Kate Forbes)

Since 2016-17, the large business supplement has raised £510 million. The Scottish Government has committed to reviewing the level of the large business supplement at each future budget, in the light of its affordability.

Alexander Stewart

Businesses in my region and across Scotland are still being put at a competitive disadvantage thanks to the large business supplement. With the budget just round the corner, will the Government now commit to ensuring that Scottish businesses are not held back?

Kate Forbes

Frankly, that is not true. In fact, Scotland offers a very competitive tax environment, with support provided through the business growth accelerator, nursery relief, renewables relief and a number of other reliefs. I am delighted that, after yesterday’s vote, we will still be able to provide such reliefs. The budget is tomorrow, and I look forward to the Tories’ continued engagement in that process.


Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind members that questions 5 and 7 are grouped together. Any member who wishes to ask a supplementary question on either of those questions should press their request-to-speak button in the usual way.


COP26 (Global South)

1. Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to encourage representation from countries in the global south when Scotland hosts COP26 in November. (S5O-04095)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

It is important that COP26 is inclusive and includes representatives from the global south, whose countries are among those that are least responsible for the global climate emergency but are being affected first and most severely by it. The Scottish Government will seek to develop a programme of opportunities whereby all voices can be heard in a respectful and collaborative way. We will also encourage the United Kingdom Government to ensure that the process of securing visas is as easy as possible and that delegates from around the world are able to attend COP26.

Bill Kidd

I am sure that we all welcome the First Minister’s tweet yesterday in which she made clear her intention to make COP26 a success. Nonetheless, does the cabinet secretary agree that Boris Johnson’s reported hostility to the role of the Scottish Government in co-hosting this global event is counterproductive, particularly when tackling climate change requires the collaboration of all communities, whether it be Scotland or vulnerable peoples in areas such as the Pacific islands?

Roseanna Cunningham

The world is facing a climate emergency and we must now move to a net zero future in a way that is fair and just. COP26 can set us on that course, but it has to be a shared endeavour and we are determined that political differences will not play any part in it. The Scottish Government has continually demonstrated our commitment to delivering a successful COP26 in partnership and collaboration with the UK Government, Glasgow City Council, Police Scotland and others, and the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday to reiterate that commitment.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

I am heartened by the cabinet secretary’s response to Bill Kidd’s question. Does she agree that, as the UK moves rapidly towards hosting COP26, the Prime Minister would do well to take a lesson from the effective way in which the Scottish Government and Parliament developed the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 across parties and beyond? If we cannot co-operate across the UK as hosts, what hope is there for the global south?

Roseanna Cunningham

COP26 in Glasgow has the potential to be a very significant moment in our global efforts to tackle the climate crisis. I assure people that, globally, folk are looking forward very much to the event. It is really important that it does not end up being about political differences, because on climate change there is a huge degree of cross-party collaboration, not just here. In fairness, the UK Government is also prepared to commit to a net zero target date; many countries are not. We should be in the business of celebrating the progress that we are making, not getting ourselves into a wrangle that will do the opposite.


Climate Emergency Challenges

2. Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what the greatest challenges are in Scotland in tackling the climate emergency. (S5O-04096)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

We have responded to the global climate change emergency by committing to world-leading emissions reduction targets. Our challenge now is to adopt policies that make achieving those targets a reality. Work is under way to produce an update of our climate change plan in April. The Committee on Climate Change has been clear that achieving Scotland’s net zero target is a collective endeavour—that goes back to the previous question—and it is contingent not least on the United Kingdom Government, which the committee challenged to

“step up and match Scottish policy ambition in areas where key powers are reserved”.

Willie Coffey

In evidence at yesterday’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, Scottish Renewables told us that Scotland leads the way in low-carbon electricity charging for electric vehicles, at only 50g of CO2 emissions per kWh compared with 200g in the United Kingdom, and that, with a little more support, Scotland’s electric vehicle drivers could soon be almost totally carbon free. What more can the cabinet secretary do to push that forward and make a huge contribution to tackling climate change in Scotland?

Roseanna Cunningham

Since 2012, we have invested over £30 million of funding in developing the publicly available charging network in Scotland and we now have over 1,200 charge points, including 275 rapid chargers.

We are committed to continuing to expand the network until 2022. In June last year, we announced £20 million of funding through our switched on towns and cities and local authority support programmes to install a further 500 charge points across Scotland. We will continue to offer further funding opportunities to local authorities, households and businesses to assist the growth of the charging network.

I will make sure that my colleague Michael Matheson’s attention is drawn to the question.

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

The Scottish National Party is set to miss a range of climate change targets this year. It will fall short on one in six biodiversity targets, progress on active travel has declined and all public sector vehicles were supposed to be using alternative fuel by now. Does the cabinet secretary intend to meet any of the targets that were missed this year? If so, when?

Roseanna Cunningham

The Scottish Government continues to be as ambitious as it possibly can be in respect of a range of issues in the climate change portfolio, as the member knows particularly well. We are progressing. We are doing better than a vast number of countries; we are one of the global leaders. I should also say that we are well in advance of our colleagues in the rest of the United Kingdom.


Plastic Packaging (Food and Drink)

3. Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it is having with food and drink manufacturers regarding their use of plastic packaging. (S5O-04097)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

For Scotland to become a net zero society will require long-term and sustainable changes to consumer and producer behaviour. We have engaged with food and drink manufacturers on a number of policy initiatives, most recently our circular economy bill proposals and the deposit return scheme for drinks containers.

We are co-operating with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, along with other nations in the United Kingdom, on a new approach to extended producer responsibility for all packaging. Our aim is to provide stronger incentives to reduce waste and use more sustainable packaging across a wide range of products.

Richard Lyle

The cabinet secretary might be aware of Tesco’s recent and welcome announcement that it is taking a major step to remove multipack plastic packaging. I would be grateful to hear from the cabinet secretary what discussions could take place with other large retailers and grocery stores on reducing their use of plastic.

Roseanna Cunningham

I welcome all steps that are being taken by big stores, particularly the giant supermarkets, because they could make a big impact in this area. We are engaging with the grocery supply chain, including retailers, through the UK plastics pact. That is a voluntary commitment, setting ambitious targets for signatories to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that they use and to work to improve their environmental impact. That work is on-going and will continue until we achieve what we want to see.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Although there is widespread support for a DRS, including on these benches, there are still significant concerns about the timescale for its introduction if it is not part of a UK-wide scheme. In 2015, Northern Ireland concluded that, although desirable, it would not be feasible to introduce the scheme on a Northern Ireland-only basis. In 2017, the Welsh Government also concluded that it would be preferable to establish a UK-wide scheme. Given that, why is the cabinet secretary so determined to introduce the scheme on a Scotland-only basis when it will mean additional costs and disruption for business, especially when DEFRA has consulted on a scheme that will cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland that will commence in 2023?

Roseanna Cunningham

It might have been advisable for Finlay Carson to put the word “allegedly” before the word “commence” because, at the moment, there is no certainty about when that scheme will proceed.

We have devolved responsibility in this area. We can do these things in Scotland. I am therefore surprised that the Conservatives, who are constantly asking us to get on with doing things in the devolved arena, somehow object to that when it happens in practice.


Mossmorran

4. Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government when the environment secretary last met communities living near the natural gas and ethylene plants at Mossmorran. (S5O-04098)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

I receive regular updates on developments at Mossmorran and officials are in very regular contact with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and others that have statutory responsibilities in relation to the plant.

I appreciate the concerns of local communities following repeated unplanned flaring events during the past few years and have been clear that the situation needs to improve. However, I have been equally clear that regulatory and enforcement actions are for SEPA to consider in its role as an independent regulator.

Mark Ruskell

I recognise the plans and the regulatory action that SEPA has taken to ensure that the plant operates in the law and ends the misery of communities in the surrounding area, but none of those actions addresses the climate emergency and Mossmorran remains the second-largest emitter of carbon in Scotland.

Given that there will be a climate camp near Mossmorran this summer, bringing together protesters in the local community ahead of the 26th conference of the parties—COP 26—is the cabinet secretary prepared to convene a round-table event to enable the plant operators, the community and others to plot ahead about how the plant can decarbonise?

Roseanna Cunningham

I am always prepared to consider what might be helpful interventions. I should, of course, point out that Mossmorran is a cross-portfolio issue, so any consideration would have to be given on that basis.

I am aware of the climate camp. In my view, there is no doubt about this Government’s commitment to tackling climate change. We want to make sure that that is done in a just way. I am sure that the member accepts and understands that there are just transition issues with a plant as important to the local economy for employment and that the direct and indirect benefits need to be taken into consideration.

Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

On the important issue of local engagement, would it not be appropriate for SEPA now to engage directly with each of the affected community councils in my constituency—Crossgates and Mossgreen, Hill of Beath, Cowdenbeath, Lumphinnans, Lochgelly, Kelty, Benarty and Cardenden, and, as far as Braefoot Bay is concerned, Aberdour, and Dalgety Bay and Hillend? In doing so, perhaps SEPA could be encouraged by the cabinet secretary to let us all know when it will finally complete its investigation into the hugely disruptive, unplanned flaring incident at Mossmorran in April 2019.

Roseanna Cunningham

I need to repeat what I said in my initial response: SEPA is an independent environmental regulator.

I understand that SEPA is in the final stages of concluding its investigation into flaring in April 2019. The current focus is on completing a safe restart of the plant while minimising the impact on the neighbouring communities. SEPA will be in a position to conclude its investigation once the restart of the plant is concluded.

I hope that the member is not asking me to interfere with SEPA’s independence—I am sure that she is not. I understand the frustration while we wait for the outcome of the investigation.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Does the cabinet secretary recognise that, while there are investigations into the flaring last April, the safe restart has included a long period of elevated flaring that has caused a lot of light pollution, noise pollution and distress to the local communities? Would she be prepared to engage with ExxonMobil and SEPA to look at how the restart has been done? I accept that there are safety issues that need to be given consideration.

Roseanna Cunningham

I am assured that SEPA and, in fact, the Health and Safety Executive are monitoring developments very closely during the plant restart.

Regulatory investigations must be allowed to take their course. As I understand it, the company is taking steps to reduce the size of the flare and to provide updates for the local community. As I said earlier, I appreciate the concerns and the anxiety of the local communities about flaring at Mossmorran. In my view, it is important that the company takes all reasonable steps to minimise the impact of that on them.


Deer Management

5. Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how rural communities can be supported socially, economically and environmentally by a more robust deer management system designed in the public interest. (S5O-04099)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Mairi Gougeon)

Robust deer management systems can benefit rural communities by reducing the damage that is caused by deer, such as overgrazing, trampling vulnerable habitats, preventing young trees from growing and damaging crops. Wild deer also cause a significant number of road accidents each year, and effective deer management systems can help to reduce the risk of deer vehicle collisions.

The deer working group report, which is entitled “The Management of Wild Deer in Scotland” and which we published on 29 January this year, sets out a number of recommendations to improve deer management in Scotland. We will consider all those recommendations, alongside other evidence, and publish our response in due course.

Claudia Beamish

Does the minister agree that many of the rural land management issues that we face are made more difficult by knowledge gaps? Will the Scottish Government require a publicly accessible national deer cull database, as proposed in the Werritty report’s recommendations?

Mairi Gougeon

That point has been identified in some of the reports that have been produced. The Werritty report and the deer working group report have both been published recently. We need to take a deep and careful look at all the recommendations in those reports and establish where the gaps might be and whether we need to fill them, as well as considering the other recommendations. We will give full consideration to that.


Deer Management

7. Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to regulate deer numbers. (S5O-04101)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Mairi Gougeon)

In 2017, we commissioned an independent review by the deer working group. The group’s remit was to recommend changes to ensure that we have an effective deer management system in Scotland that safeguards public interest and promotes the sustainable management of wild deer. The group’s report, which we published on 29 January, contains recommendations on the regulation of deer numbers. We will carefully consider all those recommendations alongside all other evidence before publishing our formal response.

Mike Rumbles

Will the minister ensure that she engages with the professionals who are involved in the practical control of deer numbers—that is, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association—to ensure that they have a major input into any new system that is designed to better regulate deer numbers?

Mairi Gougeon

It is absolutely our responsibility to engage with all relevant stakeholders. I mentioned the publication of a report, but a lot of other reports on deer have been published in recent times. We have to consider all the evidence as well as engaging with people as we go forward. That is very much part of our plans.


Fly Tipping

6. Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports local authorities in tackling fly tipping. (S5O-04100)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

Fly tipping is criminal, dangerous and unnecessary. Valuable resources that could be recycled are wasted, and local authorities and landowners bear the cost of clear-up. Local authorities are primarily responsible for dealing with fly tipping, and we provided them with updated guidance on doing so in the revised code of practice on litter and refuse, which was published in 2018. Zero Waste Scotland and the Scottish partnership against rural crime provide strategic national support and regional partnerships to assist in tackling fly tipping.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

I am sure that the cabinet secretary will agree that fly tipping remains a considerable problem for rural communities in my region. It is irresponsible, harmful to the environment and, in some cases, dangerous. Although prevention is of course important, the reality is that very few of these crimes, when detected, make it to court, even in cases where clean-up costs are considerable. With local council budgets under increasing pressure, what can the cabinet secretary do to ensure that local authorities have sufficient resources to deal with fly tipping and the pursuit of those who are responsible for it? What can the cabinet secretary do to ensure that, where an offender is identified, it is more straightforward for local authorities and landowners to recover the costs of cleaning up the mess that is left behind?

Roseanna Cunningham

That question was in two parts. The first was to do with the overall issue of local authority funding. As I am sure the member will expect me to say, that is part and parcel of the budget negotiation. The money that goes to local authorities is negotiated with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and thereafter there is a decision on individual local authority funding. It is then for individual local authorities to make decisions about what they prioritise or otherwise in their budgets.

More broadly, in my opening answer, I referred to the Scottish partnership against rural crime, which last year published its “Rural Crime Strategy 2019-2022”, which includes commitments to tackling fly tipping. The partnership involves Police Scotland, Zero Waste Scotland, NFU Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates and Forestry and Land Scotland among others. Since the strategy was launched, a number of regional partnerships against rural crime have been set up. I do not know whether Jamie Halcro Johnston has managed to engage with a regional partnership in his area. That might be an interesting first point of contact for him.

He rightly mentions that there is a difficulty with detection and enforcement, as there always is with crimes that take place far away from the public eye and the possibility of detection. I am sure that advice and support will be there for local authorities in thinking about how they press forward with prosecution, and I hope that they are all accessing that advice.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes questions on the environment, climate change and land reform portfolio. I apologise to Lewis Macdonald for not being able to take his question.