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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, May 10, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 10 May 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Highlands and Islands Airports (Car Parking Charges), Energy Efficient Scotland, Decision Time


Contents


Energy Efficient Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12140, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on a route map to an energy efficient Scotland. We have quite a bit of time in hand, so I can give time for wonderful speeches or interventions.

14:30  

The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy (Paul Wheelhouse)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to open the debate and to discuss the important issue of energy efficiency. Just a week on from the launch of “Energy Efficient Scotland: Route Map”, which flowed from the “Scottish Energy Strategy” and “Climate Change Plan: The Third Report on Proposals and Policies 2018-2032”, which were published in December 2017 and February 2018 respectively, this is a good time for our Parliament to examine the challenges and opportunities ahead of us in transforming Scotland’s homes and buildings to be warmer, greener and more energy efficient.

Improving the energy efficiency of our homes and buildings lies at the heart of achieving that and will help us, through cross-portfolio working, to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and meet our new all-energy target to deliver 50 per cent of Scotland’s total energy needs from renewable sources by 2030. Crucially, as the Government’s motion sets out, it is essential to invest in energy efficiency if we are to remove poor energy efficiency as a driver of fuel poverty.

By improving the energy efficiency of households that are living in fuel poverty, we are supporting our commitment to address the underlying economic and social inequalities in our society, and we are fundamentally helping to make Scotland a fairer country. Of course, as our climate change plan and energy strategy also make clear, better energy efficiency of our workplaces will help to improve business productivity and competitiveness.

Our latest statistics show that buildings account for almost 20 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, so improving the energy efficiency of all Scotland’s residential and non-domestic buildings crucially underpins our efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and meet our world-leading climate change targets.

Our investment in energy efficiency will stimulate economic growth and support jobs across Scotland. Research suggests that a 10 per cent improvement in the energy efficiency of households will lead to a sustained expansion of gross domestic product of around 0.16 per cent. It is also estimated that every £100 million spent on energy efficiency improvements in 2018 would support approximately 1,200 jobs. That is why, in 2015, we designated energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority, and the route map sets out that the whole-economy cost of the programme for the public, private and third sectors will be between £10 billion and £12 billion in today’s values.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

I highlight to the minister the issue around training for those jobs, and local training in particular. I encourage him to comment on the opportunities to plan for that in the context of the shift to the low-carbon economy.

Paul Wheelhouse

I very much welcome that comment. We clearly wish to think carefully about the labour market impacts of such a major investment programme. My colleague Jamie Hepburn, as the minister responsible for skills and training, will be examining that issue closely on our behalf.

There are tremendous Scotland-based supply-chain opportunities, which we are determined to develop and support in partnership with Scotland’s energy and construction sectors. Our commitment to improving the energy efficiency of Scotland’s homes and buildings is not new. By the end of 2021 we will have allocated more than £1 billion since 2009 to tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency. In addition, we have invested more than £85 million since 2007 in loans to support Scottish households, businesses and organisations with energy efficiency and renewables measures, and in the development of district heating schemes, supporting more than 5,200 applicants in total so far.

Our energy efficiency loans to businesses alone have generated energy savings of 339 gigawatt hours since 2008, with carbon savings of 130 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent and financial savings of £36 million.

We introduced regulations for the assessment and improvement of larger non-domestic buildings in 2016. Although they will have limited impact on our overall stock, they provide a solid basis from which we will extend regulation across the sector, as set out in our route map. Our non-domestic energy efficiency framework and support unit are catalysing energy efficiency retrofit throughout Scotland’s public sector, with a strong project pipeline in place.

That activity, working in partnership with local government and energy companies, has helped to deliver more than 1 million measures to more than 1 million households since 2008. That is reflected in the energy efficiency profile of the housing stock, with 42 per cent of homes in Scotland at energy performance certificate band C or better in 2016, which was an increase from 24 per cent in 2010.

This year, we have allocated more than £146 million to improving the energy efficiency of Scotland’s building stock, which is a real-terms budget increase. We remain on track to deliver the 2016 programme for government commitment to make £0.5 billion available to tackle fuel poverty and boost energy efficiency over the four years to 2021. We want to continue to improve on that record and tackle the more than 1 million homes that do not yet have a good energy efficiency rating, which means C or better.

For our non-domestic building stock, given its diversity in scale, age and specification, work is on-going to understand and benchmark the energy and emissions performance across Scotland and how that can best be improved.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Is the minister aware that better insulated homes have a second level benefit for rural dwellers who are dependent on kerosene, in that, with the reduced kerosene consumption that comes with better insulation, they are less likely to require kerosene to be delivered when the weather makes it difficult to do so because of snow and road conditions? That is often of great value to people in rural areas, along with the primary benefit of warmer homes.

Paul Wheelhouse

Stewart Stevenson makes a very good point. I do not personally depend on kerosene, but I know that many constituents in Mr Stevenson’s constituency and people elsewhere in rural Scotland will very much see the benefit of a lower demand for kerosene and therefore greater predictability and energy security in bad weather situations.

Through recent reviews of building regulations that have been led by my colleague Mr Stewart, the Minister for Local Government and Housing, and his predecessors, we now set very high standards for new buildings. A comparison with those standards offers an initial insight into the state of our existing stock. Less than 5 per cent of our non-domestic buildings are close to or better than new-build standards and around 60 per cent of our buildings are less than a third as efficient as new buildings. Indeed, around 10 per cent of our building stock is at least five times worse than the new-build standard.

That illustrates the significant challenge that lies ahead for all of us under our new energy efficient Scotland programme and why the preparatory work that we have already undertaken and the work that we will undertake over the next few years are so important. We have set out in the climate change plan a bold ambition that, by 2032, some 70 per cent of heat and cooling for non-domestic buildings will be supplied using low-carbon heat technologies. The Scottish Government is already investing heavily in energy efficiency measures. As I said, we have already committed £500 million of funding for the four years to 2021. I remind the Conservatives that no equivalent funding is available in England, which is a point that is not lost on the sector and stakeholders.

On launching our route map last week, the First Minister announced that we are allocating £49 million in this year alone to our area-based schemes, which are delivered by local authorities. We are also providing £5.5 million of additional funding to support the energy efficient Scotland transition programme, which will continue to provide a mix of advice, grant and low-cost loans to support property owners over the next two years.

I am delighted that my colleague Kevin Stewart has announced further detail on the transition programme, with more than £3.5 million of the funding being made available to social landlords—housing associations, co-operatives and local authorities—through a new decarbonisation fund. As well as assisting social landlords in decarbonising their heating, the fund will encourage innovative thinking and fresh ideas. As of today, the fund is now open for expressions of interest. That underlines our commitment to tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency for the wellbeing of the people of Scotland.

The “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map also outlines the framework of national standards that we will put in place. It proposes that all of Scotland’s homes will have a good rating for energy efficiency—which means at least EPC band C—by 2040, with the phasing of that varying by tenure.

For the private rented sector, we are proposing an earlier target: we are consulting on plans that could result in all private rented properties achieving a rating of EPC band C or better by 2030. To reiterate what the First Minister confirmed last week in her keynote speech at the all-energy conference in Glasgow, we will bring forward regulations to confirm milestones on that journey, requiring landlords of privately rented homes who are reletting their premises, at any change of tenancy, to have their properties at an EPC band E rating or better starting from April 2020, and then requiring all private rented sector properties to be rated EPC band D or better by 2025.

For social housing, following encouraging progress in the sector, we want to go further, with social landlords maximising the number of social-rented homes that meet EPC rating B by 2032. We want to maximise the number of owner-occupied homes that reach EPC band C by 2030 and will provide support and advice to home owners to help them to reach that rating. If progress through voluntary action proves insufficient, we are prepared to consider what additional action will be needed after that point to help to drive change.

The Tories’ amendment calls for all properties to meet EPC C by 2030, and they have a duty to explain today exactly how that would be incentivised, given that their tax-cutting agenda would have starved this Parliament of almost half a billion pounds in spending power this year. Alternatively, the Tories should say today how they plan to compel owner-occupiers to achieve that by 2030.

Finally, we will develop additional standards for non-domestic buildings for 2021 and phase their introduction so that, by 2040, all buildings are assessed and improved to the extent that is feasible.

My colleagues Angela Constance and Kevin Stewart are setting a target date of 2030 for households that live in fuel poverty to achieve a good energy efficiency rating, which will make a massive difference to low-income households. Through the energy efficient Scotland programme, we have set targets to deliver and monitor progress on energy efficiency in buildings, and through framework legislation that will be introduced shortly, we will show that we are meeting our climate change targets and fuel poverty commitments. Our new climate change bill will set new targets to reduce emissions and our fuel poverty bill will set a new definition and target to end fuel poverty.

All our proposals are founded on extensive stakeholder engagement. From the outset, we have worked with our delivery partners, stakeholders and other experts to design the energy efficient Scotland programme. In parallel with consultation on Scotland’s energy strategy, we undertook public consultations from January 2017 on aspects of the programme, including local heat and energy efficiency strategies, regulation for district heating, energy efficiency itself and conditions standards in the private rented sector. Through pilots, we continue to co-design the operation of the programme with local government and national delivery partners.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

The minister has mentioned the climate bill and its targets. One target was around the provision of renewable heat, and it looks like we will not meet that target by 2020. What specific actions will he take to deliver that target and ensure that district heating will be decarbonised when we roll it out?

Paul Wheelhouse

I recognise Mark Ruskell’s demand for renewable heat. It is a very strong priority for us. We had progress, but the year before last, we had a setback with the closure of the plant at Markinch, which had an impact on the overall figures. I confirm to the member that we are driving to try to achieve that target for 2020. I have no doubt that that will be challenging, because we do not have control of all the interventions for the renewable heat incentive—we are consulted on RHI, but we do not have control. At the recent all-energy conference, we continued our engagement with Claire Perry, Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, on the importance of RHI to us, and I will continue to engage with Mr Ruskell and would be happy to meet him to talk in more detail about it.

Indeed, the Scottish Government believes that a long-term strategic partnership with local government is essential if we are to successfully deliver at the scale needed to tackle fuel poverty and reduce Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. That is why Mr Stewart and I are placing area-based schemes at the heart of our approach and creating a framework, through local heat and energy efficiency strategies, to support local government prioritisation and targeting. We believe that those strategies will allow local authorities to design a tailored solution to meet the needs of their areas and identify appropriate solutions to decarbonise the heat supply.

Our pilots have funded work to develop the capacity of local government partners to deliver this opportunity. To date, through our pilot programme, we have supported 22 local authorities over 2017-18 and 2018-19, 12 of which are piloting local heat and energy efficiency strategies, and we aim to support all 32 during the transition programme. Different paths can be taken to decarbonise the heat supply in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, as set out in our energy strategy, and there is uncertainty right now about what the most appropriate pathway will be. That uncertainty is caused by the UK Government, which must take decisions on such issues as the long-term future of the gas grid. There is also a complete lack of certainty over the future of the energy company obligation on a UK-wide basis. When that is combined with the severely limited scope of the devolved powers that are available to us, it makes it impossible for us to deliver a version of ECO that would have meaningful benefits for the people of Scotland.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

Last night, at 2 o’clock in the morning, when I could not sleep, I became aware of the BBC World Service intimating that, in California, it is about to become part of the regulatory burden on house builders that all new houses must be fitted with solar or photovoltaic panels—that will be a precondition of the granting of a planning application. Does the Scottish Government have a view on such an innovative idea?

Paul Wheelhouse

We do not have a monopoly on wisdom and will always consider examples from around the world. We very much support solar energy and other renewables at a domestic scale. Building regulations are a matter for Mr Stewart and I do not want to overstep the mark, but we would certainly be interested in any ideas in that regard, and we are considering ways of making it easier to allow properties to get renewable energy installations through permitted development rights and other means. That is one way in which we can support those important technologies.

We are working with the United Kingdom Government, the wider academic community and energy experts to identify the right long-term solution or solutions. We must take the time to research, evidence and plan our approach so that people can invest with confidence, knowing that our route map is not only sufficiently ambitious but grounded in reality and deliverable. Our “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map focuses on what we can do now and on what is certain in the context of much uncertainty in another place. That will mean focusing first on the things that we can control: energy efficiency, which underpins our current and future efforts to reduce emissions from our heat supply, and low-carbon heat solutions, including district heating, where it is an appropriate solution for the long term.

We are also continuing to support low-carbon and renewable heat. As announced in the programme for government, we have made a further £60 million available to accelerate low-carbon infrastructure projects, through our hugely successful low-carbon infrastructure transition programme. Of course, that is on top of the £41 million of capital funding that is already offered in co-investment through that fund.

We are confident that the energy efficient Scotland programme is not only challenging and ambitious—and rightly so—but also, crucially, deliverable. There is no single or quick fix to improving the energy efficiency of, and reducing emissions from, our homes and non-domestic buildings. It will take work, effort and commitment. The energy efficient Scotland programme provides a framework of support, advice and standards that will work together to operate across all parts of Scotland to improve lives.

Over its lifetime, the energy efficient Scotland programme will transform Scotland’s buildings so that they are warmer, greener and far more efficient, and it will support jobs and boost sustainable economic growth in doing so.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Energy Efficient Scotland Route Map and continued recognition by the Scottish Government of energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority; acknowledges that, by 2040, the Energy Efficient Scotland programme will make the country’s homes and buildings warmer, greener and more efficient, remove poor energy efficiency as a driver of fuel poverty, help achieve Scotland’s climate change targets and maximise the local economic benefits across all of Scotland arising from an investment programme that has a “whole economy” value of around £10 billion; welcomes Scotland’s ambitions to tackle climate change and fuel poverty as a huge opportunity to transform the energy efficiency of existing domestic and non-domestic buildings, drawing together action at a national and local level that is undertaken by individuals, businesses and the public and third sectors, and notes that this will build on the work of the Scottish Government, Scotland’s 32 local authorities and partners that have improved over one million homes and non-domestic properties since 2008.

14:47  

Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

There is no doubt that the principles of the Scottish Government’s “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map are supported across the chamber. At a time when Governments all round the world are racing to reduce their impact on climate change, and communities are looking to reduce their carbon footprints, we all must do our part. With that comes a responsibility to improve on our energy efficiency targets for Scottish homes.

As a keen environmentalist and someone with an interest in biomass district heating systems, I have helped many households and businesses to reduce their energy bills, improve their energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprints. In that regard, I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests—something that I know that I get a bit of heat about. I am proud to refer to businesses that I own that provide renewable energy and housing, because that shows that I was working to improve matters as a member of the public long before I became a member of Parliament.

The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called for the SNP’s energy efficiency target to be brought forward from the current date of 2040. We strongly believe that we can achieve transformative change in energy efficiency across Scotland, with all properties achieving an EPC rating of C, or better, by 2030. There is a question about the accuracy of the EPC system, but that is a debate for another day. However, the Scottish Conservatives recognise the different characteristics that affect rural properties, so we will support the Liberal Democrat amendment, which seeks to improve energy efficiency in remote, rural and island communities.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

In the interests of clarity, I should say that although I welcome Mr Burnett’s support, our amendment was not selected for debate, so he will not have an opportunity to vote on it later this afternoon.

Alexander Burnett

Well, we certainly support the principles behind it.

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I welcome Mr Burnett’s support for those principles, because there is a reference to remote, rural and island communities in the Labour amendment. I look forward to the Scottish Conservatives supporting the amendment later.

Alexander Burnett

We will come to that.

Regardless of those exceptional areas, the SNP’s current aim is still 10 years too late. The existing homes alliance Scotland has noted that research suggests that if the SNP brought all homes up to EPC band C by 2025, that would support 6,400 jobs throughout Scotland, which would create a boost for the economy because it would increase gross value added by 0.27 per cent annually.

That is not the only reason why the 2040 target is not ambitious enough. Labour points that out, which is why the Conservatives will support the Labour amendment, come decision time.

Paul Wheelhouse

Given his urging of the Scottish Government to take more precipitate action, I would be grateful if Alexander Burnett could clarify that the UK Government’s “The Clean Growth Strategy” makes it clear that it is its aspiration

“for as many homes as possible to be EPC Band C by 2035, where practical, cost-effective and affordable”,

but there is no firm commitment for it to do anything by 2025 or 2030, as he suggests we should do.

Alexander Burnett

If the minister had been listening, he would have heard me refer to the existing homes alliance and its suggestion of 2025, and the examples of improvements to the economy that more ambitious targets could achieve.

The route map seeks to reduce fuel poverty by removing poor energy efficiency, but it needs to widen its outlook and ambition on the benefits. The existing homes alliance noted that a closer target year could reduce costs for fuel-poor homes by £245 a year, reduce our gas imports by 26 per cent, and save NHS Scotland between £31 million and £52 million.

The Government needs to understand that incentives are key to ensuring that residents are quicker to install energy efficiency measures in their homes. Local authorities currently offer council tax reduction schemes, but a reply to a parliamentary question from Monica Lennon showed that only six—yes, six—properties in Scotland had taken up the energy use reduction schemes over three years. The current incentives are clearly not working, or are not being taken advantage of.

We ask the Scottish Government to consider recommendations by Citizens Advice Scotland. CAS found that

“a prompt Council Tax Rebate ... should be ... the headline consumer incentive to accompany SEEP”.

Its research showed that a £500 rebate in the year following installations was more popular than pay-outs of £100 for 10 years. We support that measure.

Stewart Stevenson

I remind members that the late Conservative member of Parliament Alex Johnstone helpfully made an amendment to the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill in 2009 that provided that for businesses. The Labour party did the same for private houses. It remains unproven that people are motivated by such payments.

More fundamentally, not all councils have made much of the opportunity. We all have a duty to encourage councils to pick up the challenge of what we legislated for in 2009, rather than imagining that new legislation will make a difference, in and of itself.

Alexander Burnett

I agree that we all need to do more at all levels—Government, council and individual household. The minister asked what incentives we could look at, so I have been talking about the incentives that are in place at the moment but are not working, and what could be done to improve them. I hope that that is a constructive point.

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Mr Burnett talks a lot about incentives. We recently had Tory proposals in the budget to reduce the spending power of the Parliament by half a billion pounds. Would Mr Burnett give an indication of how the Tories would pay for the incentives that he is talking about?

Alexander Burnett

It would be unfortunate to push aside this constructive debate on how we can assist our contribution to tackling climate change by tackling energy efficiency, in order to rehash the debate about who could run the economy better, regardless of whether that is about the SNP’s current failure in Scotland’s economy or about the Conservative’s policies across the rest of the UK, which are working.

Unfortunately, and not just on the economy, we have the recurring theme with the SNP Government that we are living in a cluttered landscape. It is no surprise that it is difficult for constituents to be aware of incentives when there are so many policy programmes tackling energy efficiency, including the home energy efficiency programmes for Scotland, the energy efficiency standard for social housing, the energy company obligation, Scotland’s energy efficiency programme and the regulation of energy efficiency in the private sector.

To remedy that situation, Citizens Advice Scotland has recommended a one-stop-shop approach that would tackle the clutter and allow us to build on the best features of all those programmes. We need to make it as easy as possible for consumers to install energy efficiency measures. There being one organisation to provide advice on assessments, incentives and installation could help us to reach our target of all homes having an EPC C rating or higher by 2030. The route map states that there will be a fund of £54.5 million for energy efficiency for 2018-19, but we believe that additional funding is required in order to ensure that it is designated as a national infrastructure priority.

Paul Wheelhouse

Will Mr Burnett take a brief intervention on that point?

Alexander Burnett

I will not, because I have taken more than my share of interventions in this speech.

WWF Scotland and the consumer futures unit of Citizens Advice Scotland have both called for additional funds to be added to the budget if the Scottish Government is to meet its future targets and ambitions. We will, therefore, support the Green amendment, which calls for an acceleration—

Mark Ruskell rose—

Kevin Stewart

The Green amendment was not chosen for debate.

Alexander Burnett

I thank the minister for pointing that out. We would have supported the amendment that the Greens lodged, which called for acceleration in public spending to achieve our aims.

As the Scottish Conservatives set out in our 2016 manifesto, we believe that the energy efficiency budget needs gradually to reach 10 per cent of the Scottish Government’s capital budget allocation. That would mean capital infrastructure investment rising from this year’s £80 million, which currently sits at under 3 per cent of the budget, to £340 million by 2020-21, which would equate to a cumulative total of £1 billion.

The route map states that steps are “not set in stone” because of the ever-changing nature of the energy sector. I therefore ask the cabinet secretary to be mindful of people who are classified as being off the grid.

We also look to the Government to ensure that sufficient support is given to fuel companies that serve a higher proportion of rural residents. I join the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers in calling on the Government to consider a step change to “The Clean Growth Strategy”, because modern, high-efficiency oil-condensing boilers could help to reduce carbon emissions and fuel costs by 30 per cent.

As I have outlined today, the Scottish Conservatives are fully behind an energy efficiency programme that aims to reduce fuel poverty while simultaneously reducing our carbon footprint. Last year, my colleague Graham Simpson joined members from all parts of the chamber in sending a letter to housing minister Kevin Stewart, detailing many of the points that I have raised today on the measures that the Scottish Government needs to adopt. We had hoped that the proposals would be considered, so we jointly repeat our recommendations today.

However, we still find the SNP’s current programme to be just not ambitious enough. We must decarbonise the system. We need to help to take people out of fuel poverty. Consumers are facing a cluttered landscape. Energy efficiency targets will be a decade too late, fuel poverty proposals are weak and energy efficiency incentives need to be improved. The decisions that we make today will affect future generations, and we do not want to be seen as the generation that could have done more. We believe that we can do more than what is currently proposed.

I move amendment S5M-12140.1, to leave out from “and continued recognition” to “£10 billion” and insert:

“; considers that the target for all homes reaching EPC ‘C’ rating, where feasibly possible, should be no later than 2030, not 2040, given the urgency to reduce carbon emissions and to ensure that every home in Scotland is warm and properly insulated; believes that an earlier target will alleviate, more quickly, the problems arising from poorly insulated houses, which can all have a negative impact on people’s health and wellbeing; notes that a letter addressed to the Minister for Local Government and Housing, signed by opposition party members, called on the Scottish Government to adopt targets for 2030”.

14:58  

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

For clarification, the Labour amendment and the Tory amendment to the Scottish Government motion are the only two amendments that have been selected for debate.

Labour welcomes the publication of the route map. It sets out a series of targets to ensure that homes are warmer, greener and more fuel efficient, and it seeks to reduce the scourge of fuel poverty, which—as we all agree—blights the lives of so many people and families across Scotland. In addition, it lays out further steps to meet our climate change obligations. In my speech, I will cover mainly housing; my colleagues will cover other aspects of energy efficiency in their contributions.

We agree that we must, when we set policy, always help our most vulnerable people. There is therefore a huge amount to be done to reduce actively the burden on poorer households who are trying to stay warm and reduce their energy bills.

There is a lot that we can welcome in the route map but, in truth, it has failed to be the ambitious framework that it might have been. It is a missed opportunity, so we set out to influence its direction of travel in the debate today. We share the view of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, in that we do not believe that a commitment to reduce fuel poverty below 10 per cent by 2040 properly represents a commitment to end fuel poverty.

We do, however, welcome the new definition of fuel poverty, which is calculated after housing costs, but we believe that the timescale is too long. We agree with the SFHA that a commitment to reducing fuel poverty below 5 per cent by 2040, or even below 10 per cent by 2030, would have been more desirable.

We disagree strongly with the Government’s decision not to include a rural minimum income standard in the new definition. It is quite astonishing that rural fuel poverty does not feature much in the route map, when the highest levels of fuel poverty are found in Scotland’s rural and island communities. The fuel poverty rate for rural households in Scotland is 37 per cent, which is more than 10 per cent higher than the national figure.

We agree with the Government that energy efficiency should have the status of an infrastructure priority—a point that was covered by Alexander Burnett. However, as has been said by the consumer futures unit of Citizens Advice Scotland, we believe that significantly higher levels of funding would have been commensurate with the designation that would be required to make it a reality as an infrastructure project. That is a missed opportunity.

The £54 million budget that was announced by the First Minister for 2018-19 is not all new money; it is rather disappointing that only £5.4 million is new funding. The Scottish Government needs to rethink that. Energy efficiency cannot be taken seriously as a national infrastructure priority with only £54 million having been allocated to it.

Paul Wheelhouse

Will Pauline McNeill take an intervention?

Pauline McNeill

I knew that the minister would want to intervene on that point, so I will let him.

Paul Wheelhouse

Just for clarity’s sake, I say that £146 million is being invested in energy efficiency in the current financial year, as I said in my opening statement. I appreciate that there are different strands of funding and that that may be confusing for members, but I want to clarify the position for the purposes of the debate.

Pauline McNeill

That was helpful. In this debate, it is important that we draw all that together, so that we can see what is going on. However, the essential point is that if energy efficiency is to be a national infrastructure priority, it has to look like one. Admittedly, it does look a bit more like that, if £146 million is the figure that we are considering.

So, what are the biggest challenges? According to the existing homes alliance, the biggest challenges are owner-occupiers, who make up 61 per cent of the housing sector. Roughly half of home owners have an EPC rating lower than C, but the route map contains no new incentives or financial support for that group to make use of. That will be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving the goals that are set out for that sector. Only 1,325 households have made use of a Scottish Government loan over the past year. That is quite a small number that will not even make a dent in the problem. A home energy efficiency programme for Scotland grant is another option for home owners, but many people will not qualify because eligibility is largely based on income.

We agree with Citizens Advice Scotland that a one-stop shop for home energy advice is essential if we are to make it easier for home owners to investigate energy efficiency options. It is quite a confusing path for home owners: most people do not associate energy efficiency with climate-change reduction, and many lack understanding regarding their options. There is a clear need for much greater promotion of the schemes that are available, perhaps including face-to-face promotion, to get the message across to home owners about the various forms of assistance that are open to them.

Kevin Stewart

All MSPs could do much to promote the home energy Scotland helpline, which provides people from all tenures with the opportunity to find the pathways that they can use to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. As I have done before in the chamber, I appeal to all members to highlight that helpline in communications that they have with constituents, whether they are in social, private rented or owner-occupied housing.

Pauline McNeill

I will be delighted to play my part in that. However, the essential point is that we have good organisations, but it is a confusing path for many owners and we need to do more to make sure that it comes together. The suggestion from Citizens Advice Scotland is that there should be a one-stop shop and that there should be more face-to-face options in order to improve uptake.

Labour, with others, has argued that it is time to set a target for the private rented sector to reach EPC C rating by 2025, which was also mentioned by Alexander Burnett. Tenants in the private sector need strong action to secure better conditions. We are pleased that the Government is consulting on the matter, and hope that it will have an open mind and consider 2025 as target. We will try to influence the debate when it comes around.

At the heart of the debate is the fact that more than half a million households cannot afford their energy bills. Hundreds of thousands of homes are poorly insulated or have outdated heating systems that contribute to rising energy consumption. Approximately half a million houses in Scotland have an EPC rating lower than D.

Tenants in the social sector have particular need of assistance. In that sector, 31 per cent of households are in fuel poverty, despite social housing having the most energy efficient housing stock overall. The SFHA echoes that observation and notes that although housing associations have the most efficient homes, their tenants tend to be on lower incomes and are more likely to be vulnerable, so more needs to be done there.

We will support the Tory amendment tonight, because we agree that the target for all homes to reach EPC rating C in 2040 is far too far away, so we want a much more ambitious target. There is nothing else on the table, so we are happy to support 2030, for the time being.

Overall, we need to take a more ambitious approach to energy efficiency and to tackling the question of warmer homes. Because of the extent of the problem, we must be more ambitious as a country. It will simply take too long to make serious inroads in tackling energy efficiency without significantly higher levels of investment.

The current financial commitment does not adequately reflect the fact that energy efficiency is supposed to be a national infrastructure priority. I call on the Scottish Government to raise its ambitions in that regard and to make it a real national priority.

I move amendment S5M-12140.4, to insert at end:

“; believes that the Scottish Government’s proposed target to reduce fuel poverty levels to below 10% of households by 2040 is not ambitious enough and condemns a generation to living in fuel poverty, and further believes that the forthcoming Fuel Poverty (Scotland) Bill should provide a clear statutory foundation for the new fuel poverty strategy, including an ambitious new target date for the eradication of fuel poverty, and should include action to eliminate poor energy performance as a driver of fuel poverty, with priority given to fuel poor homes and homes in rural, remote and island communities.”

15:06  

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I declare an interest as a homeowner who has benefited from a recent Government energy efficiency loan. Perhaps I was one of the 1,300 people whom Pauline McNeill talked about, who benefited in the past year.

I welcome today’s debate coming quickly after the launch of the Scottish energy efficiency programme. We are at the start of our scrutiny of the plan, not at the end of it, and all the drafted amendments, including the ghost ones from Greens and Lib Dems, underline the level of cross-party consensus that exists between all Opposition parties to see the ambition raised further. There is a majority in this chamber for increasing the ambition—maybe not right now, but there might be at 5 o’clock.

I thank WWF for helping to forge that consensus. I also thank the Greens’ head of research, lain Thom, who has been so effective in his cross-party work over the years that he is now sadly leaving us to work for everyone in a new role in the Scottish Parliament information centre. I am sure that all members will wish him well in that role.

We have all repeatedly extolled the triple bottom line of energy efficiency. It seems to be the best tool in the box to lift hundreds of thousands of families out of fuel poverty and create thousands of skilled jobs while slashing carbon and building resilience in our energy system. As the challenges of driving climate change action grow in the years to come, we might well look back at these debates and wonder why a bit of universal lagging and draft proofing seemed beyond the reach of our society.

We cannot rely on building our way to success through building standards when 80 per cent of our homes are already built; we must tackle the here and now. The SEEP must create the right motivation, especially for owner-occupiers. We can get too used to working around the difficulties of living in a poorly insulated house and be unwilling or unable to take the opportunities to make lives flow a little better in a healthier home environment.

The research by the consumer futures unit of CAS should guide the SEEP. What does upgrading to category C actually mean for a householder—how will it make their day a little better?

The incentives also need to be there. Members have mentioned the need for a strong financial cashback scheme in year one, which might help somebody to buy that sofa or fix that door that needs to be replaced. It could improve our wellbeing.

The scheme must also be accessible. In my personal experience, using HEEPS has been clunky and bureaucratic. I cannot explain how it works to my neighbours, my constituents or my local joiner in under a minute. There is confusion around the plethora of the failed green deal, occupancy assessments, EPCs and the offers that come down the phone and through the letter box every month. The one-stop shop concept is good, but it needs to be simplified further and built on.

I turn briefly to budgets, and this as much a message for Mr Mackay as it is for Mr Stewart. It is clear that the £137 million in this year’s budget needs to be substantially increased if we are to get the vast majority of homes up to category C by 2030. The existing homes alliance has pitched that we need to be spending around £450 million by the end of this session of Parliament, and multiple funding commitments are important to build an effective long-term approach. That will add certainty to the market, helping to lever in public and private sector funding, and it will lead to better workforce planning—a point that Claudia Beamish raised—which I hope will mean new apprenticeships and college courses to train and retrain workers.

Last year’s programme for government pledged to spend £500 million over four years on tackling fuel poverty and energy efficiency through SEEP, and annual budgets must now reflect the status of energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority. The engineering might not be as visually iconic as the Queensferry crossing, and you cannot drive across it, but the infrastructure that we spend most of our lives in is four walls and a roof, and our homes have the power to improve our wellbeing and enable us to thrive, but only if we invest in the future today as a strong national infrastructure priority.

Paul Wheelhouse

Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That was a good try, minister, but Mr Ruskell has finished his speech.

I am sensing a wee bit of sympathy for Mr Ruskell, because it appears that I let him speak for only four minutes. Allow me to explain. I have agreed with Mr Ruskell’s group that he can split his allocation between opening and closing speeches. For everyone else, the time limits are as previously announced. I call Liam McArthur to speak for around six minutes.

15:11  

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. It was not sympathy for Mr Ruskell on my part, but mild panic. Nevertheless, I am delighted to be taking part in the debate.

I welcome last week’s publication of the “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map, and I welcome the fact that we have an early opportunity to debate the important issues that it raises. As has been acknowledged by most, if not all, the main stakeholders with an interest in the area, the proposals that are set out in the route map represent an important step forward. Equally, however, there is a risk that the route map could come to be seen as a missed opportunity to eradicate the scourge of fuel poverty and achieve our climate change objectives unless more ambition is shown in a number of key respects. Both of the amendments that are being debated this afternoon, as well as the two that did not make the cut, make a contribution in addressing that risk. For that reason, the Scottish Liberal Democrats will support both the Conservative amendment and the Labour amendment at decision time.

The case for greater urgency in achieving our targets for improving the energy efficiency of all our housing stock is compelling. So, too, is the need to back the welcome inclusion of energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority with the sort of funding that will make that designation meaningful—a point that was picked up by Pauline McNeill and Mark Ruskell. The call in Labour’s amendment for greater ambition on fuel poverty is obviously one that we strongly agree with. Indeed, that was very much the focus of the amendment that I lodged, and it is the area on which I will concentrate the remainder of my remarks.

As colleagues in the chamber will scarcely need reminding, I have the highly dubious honour of representing the constituency with the highest level of fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty in the country. Being off the gas grid and facing higher energy costs, not least because of an unfair surcharge, as well as suffering longer, harsher winters and having more hard-to-heat properties, Orkney’s reasons for finding itself in that position are not hard to understand.

I pay tribute to the coalition of different local organisations that all demonstrate great commitment and no little ingenuity in finding ways to tackle the problem of fuel poverty in our islands and to provide a bit of a one-stop shop—another point that was raised by Pauline McNeill. However, it is not easy for those organisations, particularly when the circumstances that they face are different from those that are found in other parts of the country and do not conform to the expectations underlying funding programmes or regulatory requirements. That is why I was pleased when the Government agreed to set up a stand-alone fuel poverty task force for rural areas under the chairmanship of the highly respected Di Alexander, who has a deep knowledge of and passion for tackling fuel poverty in rural communities.

Stewart Stevenson

Alexander Burnett helpfully referred to some difficulties with the current household rating system. Certainly, my house, cosy as it is, cannot get down to a C rating. Does the member recognise that what the amendments to the Government motion seek is impossible, given the current system? That is the case unless we can revisit the definitions and have a common goal of ensuring that everybody lives in a cosy, affordable home. The present EPC system just does not work well enough.

Liam McArthur

Stewart Stevenson makes a valid point. It is one that I have made in relation to many of the properties in my constituency, because there will be challenges there. Unless we are more ambitious in the targets that we set, we run the risk of falling far short of where we need to be.

As I said, I was pleased to see the Government set up the task force, which spent over a year taking evidence and reflecting on the particular characteristics and drivers of rural fuel poverty before coming forward in October 2016 with “An Action Plan to Deliver Affordable Warmth in Rural Scotland”. The plan set out sensible, realistic and practical actions to

“make it significantly easier for people living in rural and remote Scotland to keep their homes warm”.

In making the case for rural proofing any policy on fuel poverty, the task force explained:

“Rural and remote Scotland has a population of 1 million and is characterised by a multiplicity of small, scattered and often hard to reach communities, which bring additional policy, service delivery, cost and funding challenges.”

Sadly, there seems to be no evidence at all that the route map that was launched by the First Minister last week has been rural proofed or, indeed, island proofed. If it has, that raises serious questions about whether the process is meaningful or is little more than a tick-box exercise. I appreciate that word count is hardly a reliable gauge of anything, but the lack of any reference to “rural” in the route map is a bit of a giveaway.

Paul Wheelhouse

Will the member at least acknowledge that, as I set out in my opening speech, we have interim targets for the private rented sector and social housing that are well in advance of the deadlines that he mentioned? In rural areas like the south of Scotland, as he will know from his own area, much of the rented market is taken by private sector rented accommodation, and we are prioritising that early in the period.

Liam McArthur

I note the points that the minister makes, but I am teeing up to go on to the need to define rural fuel poverty instead of using EPC designations. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Excuse me, Mr McArthur. Can Mr Wheelhouse and Mr Carson stop having a private conversation, please?

Liam McArthur

There is a coffee lounge outside the chamber.

What is more substantive is the Government’s failure to accept that using a single minimum income standard to determine fuel poverty in both urban and rural areas is inappropriate. Di Alexander and his colleagues were explicit in their report—they have reiterated this message in response to the Government’s revised definition of fuel poverty—that any minimum income standard would need to be uprated by between 10 and 40 per cent to reflect the higher costs of living in rural, remote and island areas. Worryingly, the minister has chosen to ignore that recommendation as well as the subsequent advice from the fuel poverty definition review panel, which called for a

“specific remote rural enhancement to the new MIS income threshold”.

It makes no sense for the Government to acknowledge the rural dimension to fuel poverty, set up a task force to develop proposals and then simply reject key recommendations made by those experts. I do not believe that the issue breaks down along party lines; I am almost certain that there will be MSPs on the Government’s benches—perhaps including the minister, Mr Wheelhouse—who represent rural constituencies or regions and who feel similarly confused and uncomfortable with the approach that is being taken by the minister, Kevin Stewart.

To make matters worse, the redefinition of fuel poverty and the use of a single minimum income standard will allow the Government to claim that fuel poverty rates in rural areas are around 20 per cent rather than the current average of 35 per cent. At a stroke, without any additional funding or new policy intervention, ministers would be able to claim that they had achieved their fuel poverty target for 2030. Clearly, that is nonsense. Surely, no one thinks that that is credible or represents a sensible way of addressing fuel poverty in our rural communities.

Yes, there is a need to target resources more effectively at those who are most in need of help, and I accept that the programmes that have been introduced by successive Administrations, with the best of intentions, have often struggled to make a difference for some of those in the greatest need. However, using such a blunt instrument, failing to recognise the specific dimension to fuel poverty in rural and island areas and ignoring the advice of those who have real-life experience and expertise is not a recipe for being any more successful in the future.

The Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart, and I are due to meet to discuss the issue next week, in the context of amendments that I lodged to the Islands (Scotland) Bill, which is the legislative expression of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that policy and law making take proper account of island needs and circumstances. I would be happy to cancel that meeting in return for confirmation by Paul Wheelhouse or Kevin Stewart this afternoon that the Government is prepared to accept the task force’s recommendations.

As I said at the outset of my speech, the route map represents an important step forward in improving energy efficiency to tackle fuel poverty and climate change. However, where it falls short in ambition or is misdirected—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must close, Mr McArthur.

Liam McArthur

We need to see cross-party commitment to press for change.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am beginning to understand why Mr McArthur was panicking at the idea of his speaking time being cut to four minutes.

We move to the open debate, with speeches of around six minutes, please. I have a little time in hand for interventions.

15:20  

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

The energy efficiency route map that the Scottish Government published last week shows welcome commitment to improving Scotland’s housing stock. The investment of £54.5 million, as part of the wider investment of £146 million to which the minister referred, will help people to stay warmer, assist people on low incomes and help us to play our part in tackling climate change.

It perhaps will not surprise members, given that I am convener of the Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, that I want to focus on climate change, because in that context the route map is meaningful news.

In designating energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority, as it did in 2015, the Scottish Government acknowledged the role that energy efficiency has to play in tackling climate change. Today, as we debate a matter that will have a major impact on our climate change efforts, two ministers and a cabinet secretary, none of whom has climate change in their title, have been drawn to the front bench.

I think that that reinforces a point that is often made in the Parliament and in the work of the committee, which is that all ministers and cabinet secretaries in this Government must be climate change ministers and cabinet secretaries. If Scotland is to respond fully to the challenges that climate change poses, all its MSPs, all the committees of its Parliament and all the portfolios of its Government need to be dialled in. The route map on energy efficiency, backed as it is by the cash that I mentioned, is evidence that that is happening, as is this debate.

As was noted in the climate change plan, the energy efficiency programme will not just save consumers money but support thousands of jobs, creating a substantial domestic market and supply chain for energy efficient and renewable heat services and technologies as well as related expertise, which can transfer to international markets.

The low carbon and renewable energy sectors already support some 49,000 jobs in Scotland. Moreover, every £100 million that is spent on energy efficiency improvements in 2018 is estimated to support approximately 1,200 full-time equivalent jobs in the Scottish economy. Our ensuring that we act to tackle climate change is good news not just for the planet but for our economy and jobs.

Energy efficiency is a key area that requires attention, as is evidenced by the fact that Scotland spends £2.5 billion every year heating or cooling buildings, which represents more than 50 per cent of our annual energy use. Almost 120,000 households, including those who were helped in 2017-18, have benefited from the home energy efficiency programmes for Scotland, and another £116 million has been allocated in this year’s budget, with the aim that, by 2020, 60 per cent of walls will be insulated. I will talk more about HEEPS in a moment.

In its report, “Reducing emissions in Scotland—2017 progress report”, the Committee on Climate Change noted that domestic buildings accounted for 13 per cent of emissions in 2015, with 5 per cent of emissions coming from non-residential buildings. Significant progress has been made in reducing emissions in Scotland. A billion homes and non-domestic properties have been improved since 2008. However, I think that all members acknowledge that we must go further.

The route map shows what “further” looks like and sets out a course to reducing emissions from all buildings to as near zero as feasible by 2050. I hear and sympathise with calls to quicken the pace, but I am not hearing how that would be incentivised and funded. That is important.

Sitting alongside our approach is, of course, the need to move to renewables. It is estimated that in 2017, the equivalent of 68 per cent of gross electricity consumption came from renewable sources—that is up 14.1 percentage points on the 2016 figures. Whether we are looking at wind, wave, solar, tidal or other renewable technologies, renewables have a role to play, but ultimately improving energy efficiency will be pivotal to ensuring that we green the energy-related element of the economy.

Claudia Beamish

Will the member give way?

Graeme Dey

I want to crack on, if the member does not mind.

It is important that MSPs do not just talk the talk but walk the walk. Last summer, having replaced my radiators and had a new central heating boiler installed in the family home, I re-insulated my loft. That was something of a physical undertaking, I have to say, but the difference that it has made to the warmth of our 26-year-old house has been pronounced.

I can therefore stand here today and say that implementing energy-saving measures is not just the right thing to do morally but also good for our pockets and our comfort. I could add that I have switched to a green electricity supplier that sources electricity entirely from renewables, but I reckon that that would be pushing my luck, as I could be open to accusations of self-satisfaction—perish the thought.

It is vital that we get maximum bang for our buck when we invest public money in energy efficiency measures. I have seen an example in my constituency where such an opportunity was perhaps not fully exploited. A couple of years ago, Angus Council secured more than £1 million of funding under a HEEPS area-based scheme to externally clad privately owned houses that lacked wall cavities. The council had identified clusters of such properties in Arbroath, Forfar and Montrose. However, rather than focusing on a single location, or maybe two, and squeezing the maximum return from that sum, it decided to do a number of houses in each location.

The net result in Arbroath, in my constituency, was that just 30 homes were addressed, with a number of properties being left out of the project, and it was a similar story elsewhere. I was told that the council would apply for a further tranche of money under the scheme in the following year and, if successful, would pick up where it had left off in all three towns. However, that would have involved moving back into those areas, with all the costs of re-establishing the footprint that was needed to carry out the work eating into the budget. I would argue that smarter thinking would have made the money go a little further.

On the issue of smarter thinking, can we please encourage more holistic thinking when it comes to implementing measures that are aimed at reducing emissions and our carbon footprint? We will all have heard or come across examples where home insulation, for example, has been carried out by firms that have travelled considerable distances to carry out one-off pieces of work. I am aware of an example where properties just north of Aberdeen had loft insulation installed by firms that had travelled from Elgin and places even further afield, such as Inverness. Can those who are charged with delivery of such schemes please give some thought to shortening the supply chain and, through that, reducing transport emissions?

Angus South is, of course, a partly rural constituency, and I recognise some of the points that Liam McArthur made. We must make sure that our energy efficiency schemes are open to and publicised to those in rural areas.

We face a big challenge in tackling climate change, but take that on we must, and the plan from the Scottish Government has an important role to play in ensuring that our buildings are front and centre in that work, as they require to be.

15:27  

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

I begin by declaring an interest as a home owner and an owner of property that I lease.

I welcome this debate, following the Government’s publication of its “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map last week. I note that, although all parties share similar objectives of achieving an energy efficient Scotland, each has a different route map for how to get there.

Let us look briefly at the scale of the task that is ahead, starting with housing. Some 1,490,000 homes in Scotland have an EPC rating that is lower than C. Of those, 420,000 are in bands E, F or G, and only about 50,000 are being upgraded to a D rating or above each year. Almost 1 million homes with an EPC rating of D or lower are owner-occupied, and as the minister, Paul Wheelhouse, noted, there is a major challenge in improving that housing stock.

At the moment, regrettably, most owner-occupiers are not installing energy efficient measures but are making do with what they have. That is bad enough in our towns and cities, but the situation is worse in our rural areas, where peripherality contributes significantly to the problem. Graeme Dey mentioned that. Getting skilled tradesman is difficult enough in our towns and cities, but it is much more difficult and expensive in rural Scotland—if they exist there at all. In both town and country, energy inefficient homes lead to respiratory and other medical problems, including mental health problems, and they cause and contribute to the daily growing demand on our national health service.

Regrettably, World Health Organization research suggests that, in the winter of 2016-2017, 30 per cent of winter deaths in Scotland could have been avoided if people had been living in warm and adequately insulated homes. I can only speculate that, in the winter just past, such deaths will have been still greater in number than those in the year before, due to its severity—and it is still not over in much of rural Scotland. Self-evidently, the worst numbers will have been among the elderly and those who live alone.

Christina McKelvie (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)

I hear what John Scott says about winter deaths. Can he perhaps tell us what proportion of such deaths were down to the fact that people who were on universal credit could not heat their homes?

John Scott

I thank Ms McKelvie for her intervention, but that is a debate for another day.

That is why we are disappointed by the lack of ambition in the Government’s target to raise all homes to a C rating by 2040, as that lack of ambition is costing lives and contributing to overflowing hospital wards and bed blocking. Spending to save used to be one of the Scottish Government’s policies—I well remember John Swinney extolling it from the SNP benches. Given the cost of extended stays in hospital for elderly patients, relative to the cost of upgrading energy inefficient homes, making homes more energy efficient truly wins hands down every time.

Paul Wheelhouse

Will the member take an intervention?

John Scott

Of course.

Paul Wheelhouse

I thank John Scott for taking my intervention—as always, he is a gentleman.

I appreciate the point that John Scott makes, but we are committing more than £500 million over the four-year period up to 2021 on energy efficiency in Scotland. No such scheme is in place for England. I wonder whether he might reflect on that in calling for more ambition here. His colleague Mr Burnett did not answer that point.

John Scott

I thank Mr Wheelhouse for his intervention. Of course I will reflect on what he has said.

In place of the Scottish Government’s target of upgrading all homes to a C rating or above by 2040, Scottish Conservatives want to see such work completed universally by 2030—10 years earlier—which will mean spending now to save lives and reducing health service costs at the same time. I say to the minister that that is where we would get the funding from.

I turn to how delivery of warm homes could be better achieved. We need to do more than just look at funding; we also need to change attitudes to fuel poverty in the minds of not just landlords but owner-occupiers, for whom not creating an energy efficient home is truly a self-inflicted wound—I probably fall into that category.

Government schemes such as the council tax rebate scheme need to be changed, so that there is better uptake, and perhaps front loaded, as suggested by Citizens Advice Scotland, whose research suggests that a £500 one-off council tax rebate in the year following the installation of energy efficient measures would be more popular than a rebate of £100 per year for 10 years. I say to the minister that that is certainly worth a try. Perhaps both approaches could be run in parallel to find out which was more popular.

I return to the “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map. Scottish Conservatives want to see the Government go further than it appears to be prepared to go at this time. We want to see better incentives to encourage people to help themselves, which will require better regulation and more support, and which may include subsidised loans for the installation of energy efficient measures. It will also require the Government to better promote such schemes, as the uptake of existing schemes for home owners has been poor. We will need to raise awareness of the availability of future support for improving EPC ratings, and the Government must show leadership and determination in seeking to deliver such targets.

In old-fashioned parlance, there is a selling job to be done to make local authorities and housing associations aware of the incentives that are on offer to improve their housing stock, as Pauline McNeill suggested. We need to make individual home owners better aware of what they might do to help themselves, rather than leave all the communication to the many nuisance telephone calls and messages left on call minder from ambitious companies that are trying to sell either new double-glazed windows or new boilers, Hard-to-reach, elderly rural home owners must be approached—perhaps face to face, as I think Pauline McNeill also suggested—and made aware of Government ambitions in a different way from cold calling, which, in my view, drives some potential customers away. We must do more to eradicate fuel poverty, which, again, is all too evident among those who live in local authority housing stock.

If we can achieve warmer, better, more energy efficient homes, the prize will be huge. Better physical and mental health will happen as surely as night follows day, and our constituents will have a significantly better quality of life. That is why we in the Conservative Party want to move the upgrade forward as quickly as possible. Go to it, minister, and you will have our support.

15:34  

Christina McKelvie (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)

I share in celebrating the moves that Scotland has already made, and the moves that it is committed to advancing through the route map that was launched last week. It is more important than ever that we position ourselves as trailblazers, not only through our alternative energy sources but by ensuring that they are commercially viable and that people can afford them.

The grand plan is a visionary projection that sets out the kind of infrastructure and efficiency improvements that the Scottish Government is committed to delivering. We have heard a lot about that this afternoon. I welcome in particular the commitment to ending fuel poverty. We need better insulated homes, and the schemes that are available make some progress in that regard. However, it does not matter how well insulated someone’s home is, and how many projects they have taken part in—if they do not have the money to switch on the heating, they are in a terrible situation.

But—there is a very important “but”—I have been working in my constituency of Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse with families in fuel poverty in which children either go cold or eat cold food. There are people who request a cold bag at the food bank because they have no means of cooking the food. That is not acceptable in a fuel-rich nation. I am talking about our most vulnerable groups of people—the sick, the elderly, those with special needs, children and babies and those who are so infirm that they are barely able to move for themselves. I have met them all; they are all real people.

More recently, I have met people on universal credit, which was rolled out in 2016 for single men and in 2017 for families in my constituency. I know of some people who spent most of the winter wrapped up in as many layers of clothes and blankets as they could get, because they could not get out of their homes for the cold. The pensions or allowances that they now receive are not adequate to keep them warm and fed. We should think about that for a second.

Working families often find themselves in the same predicament—more so since October 2017, when universal credit was rolled out. Children are expensive to feed. I know that, because I could not keep my boys fed. They are expensive to clothe and keep warm. Parents should not need to choose which essential their children get that week. The increasingly obvious devastation that has been brought on by Tory cuts and the introduction of universal credit leaves an ever-larger number of people who are unable to pay for ordinary household expenditure, including the energy to warm their homes.

Fuel poverty is not about to become a curse of the past, but we have a plan to eradicate it for our future, and the route map goes some way towards doing that. The visionary aim of the route map to 2040 is to eliminate fuel poverty by that time. I, like everybody, would like it to be eradicated quicker, but we need to have a plan. However, we should not let that target blind us to the pressing need in communities such as mine. That is why I am glad that vulnerable people and people who are in fuel poverty are the first targets in the route map. The here and now is the reality for my constituents. Families are trying to survive on ever-reducing and ever-limited resources. That is the reality for my constituents in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

I want to share a real-life intervention and the difference that it makes. An SNP councillor for Lanark, Julia Marrs, and I set about establishing a scheme to persuade energy retailers that they could offer innovative ways to help combat fuel poverty. Scottish Power signed up first, with a real commitment that the company should be recognised today for delivering; I am very grateful to Scottish Power for that. Now, eight different agencies are providing variations on the quick credit scheme. We introduced it initially, and it is now used across the UK and not just in Scotland.

The scheme started in Hamilton, Carluke and Birkenhead food banks late last year, at about the same time that universal credit was rolled out for families. The scheme offers a £49 winter credit payment for those who are in danger of being disconnected or those who have no means to warm their homes or cook their food. Scottish Power has said that the idea behind the scheme is that it is led not by the customer, but by the partner agency spotting the requirement and assessing when to promote the scheme and who to promote it to. The company has partnered with food banks, citizens advice bureaux and community energy projects. Households do not have to pay anything back, and they are entitled to three payments in a 12-month period.

I am very happy, but also very sad, to report that the Scottish Power scheme has given out 172 quick credit vouchers so far through Hamilton’s food bank; it has also given out 52 vouchers in Clydesdale. I am sad that so many people needed the scheme in the first place. More retailers are talking to me now, and I will continue to encourage private sector buy-in as a way of highlighting the sector’s corporate social responsibility commitments.

I am firmly convinced that such an innovative and straightforward community-led support scheme is the right approach for our most vulnerable groups. I continue to encourage energy suppliers to share the responsibility to help those who are in fuel poverty in that way or with similar programmes, such as those that are being developed by other energy companies.

That £49 is extremely important to someone who is trying to keep an elderly relative or a baby warm, and to their family, as they are in immediate crisis. They are the people who do not answer calls or open the dreaded letters from their energy supplier—they need the money now. The Scottish Government’s commitment to £1 billion over 22 years to eradicate fuel poverty is a welcome advance, but I make the plea for people who are in crisis. The improved infrastructure is welcome, but we need crisis intervention, too. It is the practical money-in-the-hand relief that makes sense when someone is struggling. I have been confronted with families who have been handed that £49 and members will not be surprised to hear that it had a big impact on them. It is an emotional impact, because it means that people can go home and be warm for at least another month. The difference is amazing.

The scheme is a meaningful mitigation that draws together the big energy providers—they do not have a good reputation with some people, but they have a good reputation when it comes to the scheme—to work with local communities, such as those in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse. I hope that they will work with communities everywhere else in the country, because we are working towards the scheme becoming nationwide.

In the longer term, I hope that the Scottish social security agency proposals have examined how best to manage existing fuel poverty until the wonderful day when it no longer exists. I want claimants’ energy needs to be assessed and addressed as part of the process, as well as the risk of them falling into, or deeper into, fuel poverty.

I truly welcome the route map. We are all on a journey and we all want more. I look forward to a day when everyone has a warm home, irrespective of their personal financial circumstances.

15:42  

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

I welcome the publication of the route map, as do members across the chamber. Nobody in the chamber denies that the process of optimising our housing and building stock for a low-carbon future will be difficult. The Scottish Government’s route map moves us in the right direction, but it is insufficient on the counts of detail and funding in the longer term.

On climate change, in the latest greenhouse gas emissions statement, the Scottish Government brushed aside criticisms of its failure with regard to rising emissions in the residential sector with cries that we have had a cold winter. That is something of a circular argument. Cold winters cannot be used as an easy excuse, because that surely demonstrates how tough the winters would have been for those who are vulnerable to fuel poverty, and the absolute need for stronger and more immediate action.

The minister and Graeme Dey, the convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, highlighted the climate change plan and how it underpins the route map. Strong ambitions on energy efficiency measures could deliver multiple benefits, including the reduction of household bills, the alleviation of fuel poverty, health improvements, the creation of economic and employment benefits, and the reduction of the sector’s CO2 emissions, which were 6.1 million tonnes in 2015.

It is vital that energy efficiency improvements go hand in hand with low-carbon energy technologies. Scottish Renewables highlighted in its briefing its concern that the proposed measures on district heat networks are not strong enough, with at best only a small beneficial impact, and that the measures fail to engage off-grid areas, which is a major concern in my South Scotland region. It is very disappointing that the Government allowed the proportion of heat that is generated by renewable sources to fall in 2016. That needs to be a priority.

Paul Wheelhouse

I share Claudia Beamish’s concern to try to address renewable heat targets and I am not taking away from that. However, does she accept that we cannot control the success or failure of private sector schemes, including the scheme at Markinch, which unfortunately went out of commission through the closure of the Markinch paper mill?

Claudia Beamish

I take that point. I will come on to the private rented sector later in my remarks.

If we are to tackle fuel poverty in a just and fair way, due regard must be paid to the specific circumstances of the wide range of people living in Scotland today. I have long been concerned about those living arrangements in which energy efficiency measures are more complex, such as in private rented accommodation, or in multi-occupancy buildings.

In 2014, I proposed an amendment to the Housing (Scotland) Bill to introduce a provision on energy efficiency standards in private rented sector properties, including those in multi-ownership buildings. That amendment did not receive the support of the Scottish Government at the time, and it was not agreed to, but buy-in from owner-occupiers is crucial. I would very much welcome comment from the minister in his closing remarks about such cases, which are more complex, and about the Scottish Government’s plans for people in those circumstances; co-operation and indeed shared funding—feeding into a collective pot or some such—may well be required. That might require legislation.

As we know, significant action has been undertaken by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, which has led on these issues. As its briefing reminds us, its

“members have already made significant progress in increasing the energy efficiency of their homes and in developing innovative approaches to providing affordable warmth such as renewable heating, district heating and setting up their own not for profit energy company.”

I acknowledge the fund that the minister has highlighted today, but I point out that the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations is calling for more support.

For many more people on low incomes, we must prevent other forms of fuel poverty, and further action is needed. I highlight our amendment in that respect. Like the minister, I represent rural South Scotland, and a significant number of my constituents live in fuel poverty. In 2016, as we have already heard—I stress this again—37 per cent of rural dwellings were in fuel poverty, compared with 24 per cent of urban dwellings.

I am utterly mystified as to why the Scottish Government’s national document on energy efficiency can have zero mention of the words “rural”, “remote” or “island”. Liam McArthur highlighted that issue robustly. It is more expensive to live on islands, in that it is difficult for the required materials and fuel to be taken there by boat, and I think that there should be a minimum income, which should be different for rural and island communities. I hope that the minister will consider that.

The cost of alternative fuel becomes more manageable if people can buy at times when supply is cheaper. It seems unlikely that the winter fuel payment will be brought forward so that it may be accessed earlier, even for this coming winter. I ask the minister to reconsider that, as both Scottish Borders Council and Dumfries and Galloway Council, in my region, are having serious issues. I thank Age Scotland for highlighting the stark statistic that six in 10 single pensioners live in fuel poverty. That is important to note, too.

With regard to financial support, I ask the minister to consider how the Scottish national investment bank criteria could help the Scottish Government’s plan to decarbonise heating in homes and businesses and to bring jobs to local communities. In that context, I highlight area-wide projects.

I have highlighted some of the specific circumstances in which people find themselves vulnerable to fuel poverty, but it is something that everyone in Scotland has to consider. Pauline McNeill and other members across the chamber have argued for a one-stop shop, and I support that. As a rural dweller, I find it confusing when I am investigating what I should do to better insulate my home and do all the other things that we need to do—and that is my brief. It is really important that those things are done appropriately.

The United Nations affords us the right to adequate housing. Here in Scotland, that must mean a warm home—today, and for future generations. A national infrastructure priority deserves more.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I advise members that we have now eaten up most of the extra time. I think that all groups have had a fair shot at that. I therefore ask members to stick to the six-minute limit from now on, please. That would be useful.

15:49  

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

The “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map sets out a programme to improve energy efficiency and, in so doing, will help to achieve our priorities of tackling climate change and reducing fuel poverty. It will also improve the day-to-day lives of people across the country, making their bills cheaper and their homes and places of work more comfortable. Businesses and public sector providers will also benefit, and the savings that they make from increased energy efficiency could be reinvested in their services or workforce.

It is a testament to the Scottish Government’s commitment to making those improvements that, since 2015, energy efficiency has been designated as a national infrastructure priority. However, the area has seen investment and action from the Government since long before then. Between 2009 and 2021, the Government will have allocated over £1 billion to improving energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty.

Although the investment to date has been significant, we all agree that there is still much to be done. That is why “Energy Efficient Scotland” takes a long-term approach to energy efficiency. The route map’s vision is that, by 2040, Scotland’s homes and other buildings will be warmer, greener and more efficient. That will be achieved by setting long-term mandatory energy performance standards for all buildings and using a phased approach that recognises that different building sectors will start from different points and improve at different paces.

I am particularly pleased that the route map makes it clear that those making the transition to greater energy efficiency will be offered good-quality independent advice. In my constituency and, I am sure, in others, there is a real issue with cold calling about energy efficiency. Companies will falsely claim that constituents are required to make changes to their homes under the pretence of a Government scheme. That can often have grave consequences, as individuals make unnecessary changes to their homes at great expense. I hope that the minister will confirm in his closing speech that the advice that is provided will help to raise awareness of such fraudulent practices.

I am also pleased with the ambitious target that is proposed in the route map to maximise the number of homes in the social rented sector achieving EPC B rating by 2032. In the Highlands, a large amount of the social rented housing stock is prefabricated or constructed by a method that makes houses hard to heat. I would be interested to hear from the minister what challenges he believes there may be in improving that type of housing stock to the desired standard.

Improved energy efficiency can help some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society by removing a driver of fuel poverty, as Christina McKelvie outlined perfectly. The fuel poverty bill, which will be introduced later this year, will set statutory targets to eradicate fuel poverty. The Government’s most recent consultation on the issue sets out a framework to show how those targets will be achieved.

Improved energy efficiency will also help us to achieve our climate change targets. Across households, businesses and public services, around £2.5 billion is spent every year on heating and cooling the buildings that we use. Scottish Government statistics show that buildings account for nearly 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Improving efficiency is therefore crucial to tackling climate change. The Government’s climate change plan, which several members have spoken about, sets out the policies and proposals that will keep Scotland on course to achieve our 2050 target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent.

Implementation will not tackle only those two issues; it will have wider economic, social and health benefits. It will improve people’s day-to-day standard of living, make bills more affordable and make our homes and the places where we work more comfortable. As well as assisting existing businesses, improved energy efficiency could help to create businesses. The roll-out of the energy efficient Scotland programme could create a substantial Scottish market and supply chain for energy efficiency services and technologies. As the route map shows, every £100 million that is spent on energy efficiency improvements in 2018 is estimated to support approximately 1,200 full-time equivalent jobs.

To conclude, I want to give an example from my constituency of what energy efficiency can do. This particular example is included in “Energy Efficient Scotland”. In 2012, Ignis Wick Ltd purchased the assets of the failed Wick district heating scheme and took over its operation. The company invested £2.5 million in a biomass steam boiler to replace the existing oil-fuelled boiler. That reduced fuel costs and secured heat supply to 165 homes along with the Old Pulteney whisky distillery. Ignis continued to invest in the network with assistance from the Scottish Government’s district heating loan fund and, subsequently, the Green Investment Bank and Equitix acquired the site. The network now supplies 200 homes, the Highland Council’s assembly rooms, the distillery and Caithness general hospital. That shows exactly what, on a larger scale, the energy efficient Scotland programme can achieve by tackling climate change and fuel poverty, improving energy efficiency in homes, public buildings and businesses, promoting growth and investment and reducing bills for residents.

To Graeme Dey, I say that if he wants to talk about travel distances, I will see his Elgin to Aberdeen and raise him Glasgow to Wick.

15:55  

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Improved energy efficiency could go a long way to alleviating fuel poverty, particularly in rural areas. Last year, Graham Simpson, with other MSPs, wrote to Kevin Stewart about energy efficiency and fuel poverty and said that priority should be given to fuel-poor households, particularly in remote and rural communities. I, too, would have liked to see that in the Government’s route map for energy efficiency. However, the route map that was published last week says nothing about rural homes. The SNP Government has failed to seriously address the issues that energy-inefficient homes present for rural residents.

Paul Wheelhouse

Will the member give way?

Finlay Carson

Not at the moment.

The SNP Government says that it is committed to removing poor energy efficiency as a driver for fuel poverty. However, its lack of ambition to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland, by committing only to reduce it to less than 10 per cent by 2040, is not good enough.

The link between better insulated, warmer, more efficient homes and tackling fuel poverty cannot be clearer. A target of EPC band C for all homes by 2040 is laudable enough, but I am sure that the residents of the 420,000 premises across Scotland that are currently rated in the lower EPC bands of E, F and G, who will have to spend 22 more winters in freezing homes, will not agree with the Government—they will agree with me when I say that those targets are simply not ambitious enough.

The route map also fails to outline the practical means by which households are expected to achieve energy efficiency by 2040.

Christina McKelvie

Will the member give way?

Finlay Carson

No, thank you. The SNP Government has not committed new funding for energy efficiency. With a lack of encouragement for new home owners to take measures to make their homes more energy efficient, coupled with a lack of adequate regulation, there is a great risk of that crucial sector flat lining. The approach also presents significant problems for social landlords, which are being asked to increase energy efficiency while not increasing rents. Home owners are also being asked to improve their homes without incentives on offer. The existing homes alliance Scotland has outlined that incentives must be in place long before the target deadline approaches if we are to achieve the Government’s target for reducing carbon emissions, tackling fuel poverty and achieving the transition to an energy efficient Scotland.

In addition, as the member for Galloway and West Dumfries, I know that many of my constituents could benefit from renewable heat technologies. That is why I was dismayed to see that the Government’s route map does not make the most of opportunities for the renewable heat industry, especially as it is not on track to meet its 2020 renewable heat target.

Although the route map confirms emission reduction targets, it contains little detail on how those targets will be achieved. It is welcome that the Government is preparing to support some district heating, but it has failed to engage off-gas-grid areas, which is a major missed opportunity for rural communities, given the cost effectiveness of renewable heat technologies. It is essential that such technologies as smart electric heating, heat pumps, biomass and solar are taken advantage of to ensure that the heat that we generate is used in the most efficient way as well as being low carbon. I call on the Government to commit to providing future support for those technologies, given that current funding will run out in the next three years, and I encourage the SNP Government to consider how new technologies can promote energy efficiency in an up-to-date, modern manner.

If we are going to become energy efficient, we must be clearer to households and businesses about what they need to do. The installation of energy efficiency measures must be as straightforward as possible for consumers, who should be able to immediately enjoy the many benefits of energy efficiency. Organisations such as Citizens Advice Scotland have indicated that the biggest challenge to a transformation to an energy efficient Scotland will be improving standards of energy efficiency in owner-occupied properties, as already touched on by Alexander Burnett. Buy-in from owner-occupiers is critical in achieving energy efficiency targets, but home owners are not installing those measures fast enough at present. It is clear that the Government must work harder to highlight the many benefits of installing these efficiency measures to encourage owner-occupiers to improve their homes.

In order to achieve energy efficiency, it is also essential that consumers have confidence in and trust Government schemes. I know how constituents of mine in Galloway have struggled with these energy schemes. One woman in Dalry struggled to secure new heating and insulation before winter set in, and the timescale on her HEEPS loan ran out owing to supplier delay. The recommended supplier said that her property was too far away and that there was insufficient manpower to carry out the work. Following that, the recommended supplier went to the wall, and many of the other companies that could have carried out the work were based in central Scotland. In another case, a contractor who installed a heating system went bust, leaving my constituent with an unusable heating system and no recourse. Those cases highlight the work that we have to do in order to truly achieve an energy efficient Scotland. The benefits of the approach are still to be felt by far too many people, who simply do not have the required information.

16:00  

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in this debate as a member of the cross-party group on energy efficiency and the cross-party group on housing, but most of all as a constituency MSP. I warmly welcome the Scottish Government’s “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map.

I vividly remember that, after a public meeting when I was standing for election, a young lad came up to me and said, “Ben, it’s great that all the new houses are being built, but don’t forget about the older homes, like mine, that are still too cold and damp.” I think of that conversation often, and I think of it today. I think of that lad and too many people like him in my constituency and elsewhere in Scotland who live in buildings that are too inefficient and which absolutely need improvement. Historical decisions by a range of political parties have brought us to where we are today, and it will take all of us working together, stakeholders and local authorities to make the difference that is needed.

I welcome the fact that energy efficiency has been a priority for the Scottish Government even before the publication of the route map, which is evident in the SEEP scheme, the HEEPS scheme and the warm homes Scotland programme, which I have seen delivered in my constituency by Warmworks Scotland. The new “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map will build on that. With £54.5 million, the route map will play an important role in furthering the Scottish Government’s efforts and all of our efforts to tackle fuel poverty, reduce carbon emissions and protect the planet for future generations. Let us remember that 53 per cent of Scotland’s energy consumption currently goes towards heating and that buildings account for 19.7 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

I started by talking about my constituency, and I am sure that many members will appreciate that Edinburgh Northern and Leith is an urban constituency—indeed, it has some of the densest urban areas in the whole of Scotland. As other members have noted, with regard to our current stock, we face a significant challenge in ensuring that existing buildings are warmer, greener and more efficient by 2040. We need to address the issue of how we can enhance the current stock so that it meets the standards of new buildings in the social rented sector, for example.

Others have touched on the challenges in relation to owner-occupiers and the private rented sector. Tenements represent one of the most important and widespread forms of housing stock in those two sectors. In January, I led a debate in Parliament about tenement repairs and maintenance—I thank members across the chamber for their support for that motion and for their participation in the debate. The word “tenements” sometimes makes people think of certain parts of certain cities, but we should remember that, under the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004, a tenement is defined as

“a building or a part of a building which comprises two related flats ... or more than two such flats at least two of which ... are, or are designed to be, in separate ownership; and ... are divided from each other horizontally”.

That represents 500,000 homes in Scotland—a quarter of Scotland’s current domestic housing stock. That means that how we manage, enhance, improve and repair our tenements is vital to rural and urban Scotland, and is key to energy efficiency.

I declare an interest as someone who owns a tenement flat. It is not just my personal interest but much more the casework that I have received as a constituency MSP that has driven me to take action on this. I know colleagues have had the same type of correspondence. Since the debate in January, I have received emails from all over Scotland about the issue.

As we heard earlier, the problem is that some owners are unwilling or unable to undertake works. When it comes to shared property within a tenement, whether that is the roof or the common stair, there are real challenges about how individual owners mobilise themselves to undertake works.

That is why, together with other MSPs across the chamber, including Graham Simpson, we have collaborated to bring together a working group of experts and MSPs to look for new solutions to how we enable and encourage owners not just to repair the current tenement stock, for which there is an absolute need, and not just to maintain the current stock, for which there is also an absolute need, but to enhance it. I raise that issue today because enhancing our tenement stock can make a remarkable difference to how we deliver our aspirations on energy efficiency.

The working group is up and running. It is looking for solutions and is open to other MSPs who want to be involved. If we want to help tackle climate change and fuel poverty and enhance our rural and urban environments, enhancing our tenement stock is important. It is about improving quality of life, and I hope that the Government will continue to be open to that working group as we come forward with new solutions.

16:07  

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I welcome the debate and the route map published by the Scottish Government to transform Scotland’s buildings to be warmer, greener and more efficient.

The route map is a step in the right direction. In particular, it is welcome that the Government is consulting on regulations to require private rented sector homes to be rated energy performance certificate B and C by 2030.

However, the route map fails to live up to the Government’s promise to make energy efficiency a national infrastructure project, with no significant financial commitment, a lack of any detail on how home owners can improve the energy efficiency of their homes, and no mention of the particular struggles faced by rural communities.

In other words, it is a map that shows you where we want to go, but is short on the detail of how we are going to get there. We must be more ambitious when it comes to ending Scotland’s fuel poverty shame.

Paul Wheelhouse

A number of members have mentioned the lack of specific reference to rural housing in the document. I want to emphasise that the initiatives are to help 100 per cent of properties in each property category—private rented and so on. We are trying to deal with 100 per cent of properties, and as a rural member that includes the properties of my constituents and Mr Rowley’s.

Alex Rowley

Given the impact of rural fuel poverty, which I will say more about, it needed to be referred to in the document more often. That is something that the minister could address.

As Age Scotland has said:

“Almost six in ten single pensioners and four in ten pensioner couples live in fuel poverty in Scotland, with those in rural areas most affected.”

Age Scotland continues to be concerned at the continuing prevalence of excess winter deaths with 2,720 recorded in 2016-17. There was a significant increase in excess winter deaths among people aged 85 and over, with 1,430 additional deaths compared to 970 in 2015-16, according to the National Records of Scotland. Indeed, the World Health Organization estimates that around 30 per cent of excess winter deaths could have been avoided if everyone in Scotland lived in a home that was adequately insulated and heated.

Was the Scottish Parliament not created to be able to tackle the big social and economic issues that impact on the people of Scotland? Scottish Labour is committed to ending poor energy performance as a driver of fuel poverty, and we believe that the Government’s proposals fall short in a number of areas.

The Scottish ministers designated energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority in 2015, but the level of funding that is available pales into insignificance in comparison with funding for other infrastructure projects. There is a commitment to continue to fund programmes to reduce fuel poverty and increase energy efficiency and to continue multiyear funding, but there are no new or additional moneys planned. The plan provides barely any detail on how the Government will support private landlords and home owners to reach the targets that are outlined. If householders are to be active participants in improving the energy efficiency of their homes, financial and fiscal incentives are needed.

One such suggestion comes from Age Scotland, which calls on the Government to explore whether improvements that are made in order to meet energy efficiency standards should make home owners eligible for a reduction in their council tax. I merely suggest that we need to look at how we support people if we seriously want to eradicate fuel poverty from Scotland.

It is deeply worrying that, as has been discussed, there is no mention in the route map of rural homes. We face unique challenges in trying to prevent fuel poverty in rural areas, because of the use of off-grid fuel for rural homes. We have asked the Government to give priority to fuel-poor households, especially those in remote and rural communities.

As Scottish Renewables said in its briefing,

“The Route Map has little detail on how the programme will accelerate the roll-out of renewable heat, particularly in off-gas grid areas, which we regard as a missed opportunity given recent policy changes, and the eventual closure of the Renewable Heat Incentive in 2021.”

Labour has called for a warm homes bill to tackle fuel poverty, and we welcomed the SNP’s commitment to take that forward. However, the warm homes bill has been renamed the fuel poverty (Scotland) bill, and there is no guarantee that it will include provisions to improve energy efficiency. The minister might want to address that point in closing.

The recent announcement by UK Labour that it would invest £2.3 billion per year to provide financial support for households to insulate their homes, and for local authorities to drive take-up and delivery of insulation schemes, shows the scale of ambition that is needed. We recognise the benefits that that would bring, not only in tackling fuel poverty but in terms of jobs and the economy.

Last year, Labour, along with the other Opposition parties in the Parliament, signed a letter calling on the Government to—among other actions—establish a goal to end poor energy performance as a driver of fuel poverty; set a target to get the vast majority of homes rated at EPC band C or above by 2025 to 2030; and prioritise fuel-poor households, particularly in remote and rural communities.

The message today must be that, although we are on the right track, we must be far more ambitious if we are to end the blight of fuel poverty in Scotland.

16:13  

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in this debate, and I welcome the publication of the route map, which provides a long-term framework within which to plan and implement strategies. There is no doubt that our buildings need to be comfortable to live and work in, and heating them should be affordable. The route map will address issues in that respect.

I was particularly pleased to see that the route map reiterates a separate Scottish Government proposal to introduce a package of regulatory measures to support district heating. District heating was first mooted for the town of Grangemouth in my constituency way back in the 1950s. We are still waiting, but a major new system is on the horizon. The proposal in the 1950s was to harness the gas that was being flared off from the stacks at the oil refinery to provide cheap heating for the town. Sadly, that never came to fruition at the time, mainly as a result of a lack of vision, but it is most definitely on the cards again.

Exciting plans have been developed, which I hope could lead to a district heating network in the town producing low-cost heating for industry and households, particularly in parts of the town with low-income households. The ambitious Grangemouth energy project is a team effort involving Falkirk Council, the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and major companies in the town. It is all thanks to a task force that was set up in 2013 to assess the potential impact of the threatened closure of Ineos and which took up the challenge of finding out whether a more resource-efficient, low-carbon and low-cost energy solution could be found that would cut the costs facing local firms and householders.

A comprehensive appraisal of the demand for heat and power was carried out to tackle serious concerns about the cost burden facing businesses in the Grangemouth industrial complex. That identified a wide range of power-generation options, including industrial heat recovery, geothermal heat recovery and gas-fired combined heat and power. For the district heating element of the project, there were potential socio-economic benefits coupled with carbon emission reductions through the re-use of waste heat. Unfortunately, just in the past couple of weeks, Ineos has pulled out of plans to develop a district heat network that would benefit the local community. The network will still do that, but Ineos has made alternative plans to provide energy at its plant, which is understandable but disappointing.

I take this opportunity to urge Ineos to engage more with the local community, in the hope that the firm can contribute to positively to it, over and above being an employer, albeit a major one. Ineos can also be a good neighbour to the 18,000 people who reside in Grangemouth, who live cheek-by-jowl with heavy industry day in and day out. Taking part in the district heating scheme would have helped the firm to ingratiate itself with the local community. However, despite Ineos’s departure from the scheme, Falkirk Council is hopeful that other major players will come on board, because the opportunity is too good to waste.

We can learn much from our Nordic cousins across the North Sea in Denmark when it comes to district heating. Way back in 1979, Denmark passed its first heating supply law, and although there have been several revisions, it is still in effect today and has resulted in many years of active energy policy, systematic heating planning and regulation. Looking ahead, district heating systems will remain a key element of the energy system in Denmark. By 2020, about half of Denmark’s electricity consumption will be supplied from wind power, which has increased the focus on flexible district heating and combined heat and power systems. Those systems use heat storage, electric boilers and heat pumps and they bypass power turbines in order to support the integration of wind power into the energy system. There is clearly much still to learn from Denmark.

I turn briefly to climate change. It is clear that improving the way that we tackle the issue is vital for achieving our ambitious climate change targets. We know that Scotland cut its greenhouse gas emissions by around 40 per cent between 1990 and 2014, and it met its statutory emissions reduction targets for both 2014 and 2015. The data on Scottish emissions in 2016 is due to become available next month, and we hope that it will be just as good.

That is all well and good, but there is clearly much more to do, especially when we take into account the fact that buildings account for 19.7 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. With the proposed action to ensure that all homes are improved by 2040 so that they achieve an energy performance certificate rating of at least C, there will have to be a significant programme of retrofitting. In that regard, it is only right to highlight an issue flagged up by Age Scotland, which is that there will be a need for substantial dedicated funding for incentives for people matching any new standards, particularly older people who own their own homes and are asset rich but cash poor. Age Scotland rightly highlights that interest-free loans may not provide a sufficient incentive for them to undertake the necessary work. The organisation has come up with a suggestion that is worthy of consideration: the Government should explore whether owner-occupiers carrying out improvements in order to meet energy efficiency standards should be eligible for a reduction in or rebate to their council tax. I will leave that sitting with the minister.

16:19  

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

There can be few more important subjects than the standard and condition of Scotland’s homes. Last year, I, Alex Rowley, Mark Ruskell and Liam McArthur wrote to Kevin Stewart on energy efficiency and fuel poverty. It was a rather odd alliance, I grant you, but we were and, I think, still are at one in our belief that more needs to be done.

We pointed out that the target for the elimination of fuel poverty by November 2016 was missed and that 35 per cent of Scottish households were in fuel poverty. We called for the elimination of poor energy efficiency as a driver of fuel poverty. We called for credible fuel poverty and climate change goals. We noted the recommendation of the expert fuel poverty strategic working group that all fuel-poor homes should be brought up to at least an EPC band C rating by 2025. We called for all fuel poverty programmes to be rural proofed, as recommended by the rural fuel poverty task force.

We said Scotland’s energy efficiency programme should have an interim target for the residential sector of supporting the majority of homes—those for which it is technically feasible and appropriate—to reach an EPC band C rating by between 2025 and 2030. We said that priority should be given to fuel-poor households, particularly those in remote and rural communities.

We also supported efforts to work with the UK Government to improve the assessment methodology that underpins the EPC in order to improve its accuracy, and called for improved quality assurance of EPC assessments, as they have been too hit and miss.

How does the “Energy Efficient Scotland” programme that was published last week fare when set against that cross-party ambition? Let us take each of those asks in order and see how the Scottish Government’s so-called route map stands up.

The first ask was on the elimination of poor energy efficiency as a driver of fuel poverty, and the second was that all fuel-poor homes should be brought up to at least an EPC band C rating by 2025. The programme commits to the first, but is there enough in it to give us any confidence that it will deliver? No, there is not. What we have is a consultation—the Government is very keen on consultations—and a proposal to get fuel-poor households to EPC band B by 2040. It is safe to say that not a single Government minister will still be in post in 22 years and most of us will no longer be MSPs. Talk about kicking the can down the road. The commitment to have fuel-poor homes at EPC band C by 2030 is not as ambitious as the target that we called for. Why not?

In addition, we have dark warnings from stakeholders that the much-heralded warm homes bill might be dropped in favour of a watered-down fuel poverty bill that will not deal with energy efficiency. I hope that my information on that is wrong.

Paul Wheelhouse

A bill that is focused on fuel poverty is coming forward, but we also intend to introduce further legislation on warm homes and energy efficiency. I reassure the member of that. We are in the first phase of a two-bill process.

Graham Simpson

There was a manifesto commitment to a warm homes bill. From that answer, I am not clear whether it is still going to happen.

Paul Wheelhouse

To be clear, we are going through the process of working out the best method of addressing district heating, local heat and energy efficiency strategies with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and other stakeholders. We intend to introduce further legislation that will address the points that the member raised on making our homes warm and energy efficient while tackling fuel poverty. We are focusing on the fuel poverty target at this stage.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Mr Simpson, I will give you the time back.

Graham Simpson

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

That is not quite the same thing, minister.

The third ask was on rural proofing. The route map says nothing about rural homes, which a number of members have mentioned. That is a clear failure. Current proposals for supporting people in fuel poverty ignore the recommendations of the Scottish rural fuel poverty working group that the higher costs of living in rural areas should be taken into account when targeting fuel poverty support.

The fourth ask was that Scotland’s energy efficiency programme should have an interim target for the residential sector of supporting the majority of homes to reach an EPC band C rating by between 2025 and 2030. The majority of homes in Scotland—61 per cent—are owner-occupied. How are we going to get those home owners to upgrade their properties, a million of which are below EPC band C?

The “Energy Efficient Scotland” programme is particularly lacking on that question. There is another consultation—why not? We might as well—and the Government says:

“We want to continue to encourage and enable owners to take action”.

Any suggestion of anything stronger will be left to the

“later stages of the programme”,

whatever that means. The plan does not say in any detail—

Paul Wheelhouse

Will the member take an intervention?

Graham Simpson

Yes, if I get the time back again.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

If you wish, Mr Simpson.

Paul Wheelhouse

In my opening speech, I made it clear that we would look at 2030 as being a point by which, if we had not achieved our target to bring owner-occupied properties up to EPC band C or better through voluntary action, we would look for further methods to compel that to happen thereafter. However, I have not yet heard from the Conservatives how they would achieve the earlier target without compulsion or any credible incentive.

Graham Simpson

What the minister did not say earlier—perhaps he can say it later—is what that further action might be. The Scottish Government is kicking the can down the road again, and it is a road that takes until 2040 to travel. I tend to agree with Citizens Advice Scotland that we need to make things easy for people, so a one-stop-shop approach should be considered. We cannot force people to do things to their own homes, but we can enthuse them to want to, and we can offer them things such as meaningful council tax discounts or low-cost loans and grants.

Finally, the EPC should be more robust. I am glad that the Scottish Government has finally agreed to look at EPC methodology. It cannot be right that someone can assess a home without even seeing it and give it a rating, and it cannot be right that two people can give the same house different ratings. That is the current position.

I want to mention one more thing—the condition of our existing homes. The route map does not deal with that. Many of Scotland’s homes are ageing and crumbling, as Ben Macpherson mentioned, and the Government does not have a clue what to do about that. It has been left to those of us who can see the problem to form a cross-party working group, along with experts, and we will come up with proposals.

“Energy Efficient Scotland” is a missed opportunity. We need to do better.

Thank you for the extra time, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Well, you took interventions and we had some time in hand, so it was only fair.

16:27  

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I am grateful to Ben Macpherson for making me aware that I have tenements in my constituency. I had not previously twigged that a block of four houses on two floors sharing a common stair could qualify as a tenement, so I will go away and have a wee look at the implications of that.

It has been an interesting debate in all sorts of ways. I want to pick up on a few wee things. One thing that we have spent comparatively little time debating is district heating. We recognise that it looks unlikely that the targets that were set previously look will be met.

In the north-east, we have a unique opportunity to use geothermal heating. I had the privilege, as a minister, to visit a Stagecoach bus depot to see its geothermal heating. Two boreholes went down only 100m, but water could be pumped down to the bottom of the hole and brought back up to heat a large garage, inside which, even with snow on the ground and the doors open, it was really too hot. The cost of doing that about 10 years ago was something like £40,000. That is not a huge amount of money for a heating proposition for a bus depot of that kind, but it is considerably more than most people would consider investing in a domestic scheme. On the other hand, if we think about 10 houses sharing such a facility, we start to get into the realms of economic possibility.

However, as I look at the subject, I find that there are some practical difficulties in relation to way leaves—in other words, taking utility supplies across other people’s properties. Statutory undertakers can get way leaves. They include rail, light rail, tram and road transport, water, ports, canals, inland navigation, docks, harbours, piers and lighthouses, airport operators and suppliers of hydraulic power. However, missing from the list of statutory undertakers are suppliers of heat. It seems from my research that no way-leave condition is available for transport of heat from one place to another. I have heard that that has proved to be difficult for Michelin Tyre plc in Dundee when it wanted to transport heat, so there is a legal issue in that regard.

I am unclear, to be candid, as to whether district heating comes under a reserved power. We have powers under section 9 of the Energy Act 1976 that allow us to legislate for liquefaction of offshore natural gas, but none of the other powers that might cover district heating appear to be devolved. There is a lack of clarity, and my research is not necessarily complete, but I think that there are opportunities to consider how we might produce district heating, particularly in the north-east. We have a very good example in Aberdeen, but it is of quite a different character. Geothermal energy is not just a north-east issue, although Mons Grampus, and the granite therein, provides particular opportunities.

I join Gail Ross in outbidding Graeme Dey on travel distances. When my wife was getting the insulation in our roof void taken from 200mm up to 600mm, workers came from Lanarkshire to rural Banffshire to do it. However, I can even outbid Gail Ross on the distance travelled, because they had to come twice. They did not bring enough material the first time and my wife would not let them in the house until they turned up with enough, which meant that they had to make the journey twice. I therefore claim precedence over Gail Ross on that.

There is a serious point in the story of putting in that insulation. In a rural single-storey dwelling that is never going to be EPC C-rated because of the way it is constructed, the simple act of putting in that insulation cut our fuel consumption of kerosene by 40 per cent. In fact, it took us a full week of tweaking the thermostats on the radiators to get the temperature down to an acceptable level, as we were roasting because of the additional insulation. Were that sort of intervention to be installed in all rural houses, that would be great. The Government has done a great deal; that installation was through a Government-funded scheme and did not cost us anything at all.

I will talk finally about tax incentives, about which we have heard a number of comments in the debate. As I mentioned in an earlier intervention, the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which I had the privilege of taking through Parliament, provided tax incentives for improving houses. However, it relied on councils bringing forward schemes, but by no means all of them did so. In fact, I am not sure that very many did. I suggest that the track record for tax incentives based on houses is, at the moment, showing a “Not proven” verdict, at best.

I am a wee bit disappointed that the Tories are seeking to delete from the Government motion that there is a “‘whole economy’ value” of £10 billion. I would have thought that the Tories would have been quite interested in that sort of number. I certainly am, so I say “Go to it, minister.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to closing speeches.

16:33  

Mark Ruskell

I have two minutes at hand, and two brief reflections to make on the debate. First, it is clear from members’ speeches that SEEP needs to address the real lived experiences of people who are suffering from fuel poverty across Scotland. We heard very powerful speeches from Ben Macpherson and Christina McKelvie about the kind of innovation that we need in order to tackle fuel poverty in our communities, whether it is joined-up support between food banks and energy companies or the innovation that we need around development of tenemental properties.

However, we have to get the communications right. I was shocked to hear earlier in the debate that the answer to a parliamentary question from Monica Lennon showed that only six properties received a council tax rebate on energy efficiency in the past year, which I find absolutely incredible. I repeat that we have to get the communications right.

A number of members—Liam McArthur, Claudia Beamish, Graeme Dey, Finlay Carson and many others—talked about the lived experiences of people in rural communities. There are particular challenges in rural communities, including the cost of fuel and transport and the challenges of retrofit with older stone-built properties in off-gas areas. I ask ministers to reflect on those issues and on Pauline McNeill’s point about a rural minimum income standard. We need a Scottish energy efficiency programme that does not mask rural poverty and which addresses the specific needs of rural communities.

My second reflection is that at the beginning of the debate, the minister threw down an interesting challenge, which I think was aimed primarily at our colleagues in the Tory party. If we do not meet the aspirational targets for 2030, we will have to move towards regulation. Therefore, I was pleased when John Scott jumped up and extolled the benefits of high regulation and compulsory solar panels in California. I reach out to the Tories, because we need a strong consensus if we are to drive the Government to be bolder in its strategy, and that will mean a commitment to appropriate regulation to drive the kind of progress that we would all like to make.

16:35  

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The minister set out the Scottish Government’s aspiration this afternoon when he quoted the vision statement from the “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map:

“By 2040 our homes and buildings are warmer, greener and more efficient”.

It is fair to say that every other speaker endorsed that aspiration. However, we have debated how much warmer and greener and how much more energy efficient our homes should be, and whether we need to wait until 2040.

This is not a new policy area for the Scottish ministers. Energy efficiency has been a devolved responsibility since 1999, and every Government has pursued the same policy objective of greater energy efficiency.

What is new, ministers would say, is that energy efficiency is now not just a policy objective but a national infrastructure priority. I think that all members agree that a step change is required, and the designation of energy efficiency as a national priority seems to imply that a step change is to be delivered. Mr Wheelhouse certainly confirmed a continuing commitment in that regard and further steps that the Government intends to take. However, in our view, he did not demonstrate that those steps will deliver at a sufficiently greater scale or pace to justify the designation.

The Government’s route map identifies a desirable destination for 20 years from now, it provides a number of milestones along the way, and it confirms the targets for emission reductions that are set out in the climate change plan. However, as Scottish Renewables said, it contains very little detail on how to achieve those aims. The route map rightly identifies energy inefficiency as a driver of fuel poverty and rightly commits to earlier milestones in relation to fuel-poor households. Again, though, there is little detail as to how milestones are to be achieved and how progress is to be defined.

An energy efficiency programme without an ambitious target on fuel poverty is, at best, incomplete. The Government needs to be clear about what it intends to achieve and by when. Its consultation last November suggested a target of reducing the proportion of people in fuel poverty to 20 per cent of the population by 2030 and 10 per cent by 2040. Our amendment urges ministers to be more ambitious about ending fuel poverty and doing so sooner.

As Liam McArthur, Claudia Beamish and Alex Rowley said, it is disappointing that there is no specific recognition in the route map of the particular challenges that are faced by remote rural and island communities, albeit that Paul Wheelhouse acknowledged the challenges early in the debate. Fuel poverty and energy efficiency are at their highest in the remotest places and are high everywhere that is off the gas grid, where communities do not have access to the affordable and reliable mains gas for heating and cooking that many households in urban Scotland take for granted. Precisely for that reason, energy companies could and should be encouraged to deploy innovative solutions in rural Scotland that can improve energy efficiency and affordability while reducing carbon emissions. I acknowledge the minister’s point about the benefits of targets for private rented homes for many rural areas, but an explicit priority for all housing in rural areas would have been widely welcomed.

Innovative things are happening in urban Scotland, as members said. I am thinking, not least, of the district heating networks that have been established by the Aberdeen Heat and Power Company over the past 15 years, which have reduced energy costs and carbon emissions for many hundreds of households in Aberdeen that used to be in fuel poverty. The work that ministers are carrying forward separately to further enable district heating is welcome, as are other funding streams that support interventions in other Scottish cities. All those policy streams can work together, but they need to be joined up, which is where a national infrastructure initiative can help.

A number of speakers commented on the lack of specific proposals for financing or delivering change in the owner-occupied sector. Indeed, that was highlighted at the outset by Pauline McNeill. Owner-occupied homes account for three fifths of Scotland’s housing stock and for two thirds of the houses with poor energy efficiency. Reducing heat waste from 1 million owner-occupied homes cannot simply be left to the market if we want to make a real difference to energy efficiency overall. It is up to the Government to introduce effective fiscal and financial mechanisms to provide incentives for owner-occupiers and to put milestones in place to measure progress.

The minister said that the right time to think about many of those questions is after 2030. We believe that that is simply not soon enough. If energy efficiency is to be treated as being on a par with other national infrastructure priorities such as transport and electricity networks, surely action is required to improve standards across the board. As Citizens Advice Scotland puts it,

“the National Infrastructure Priority designation ... implies a wider scheme of new support, both financial and in advice provision, for all consumers.”

We acknowledge that the Government’s “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map points in the right direction, but we on the Labour side will continue to call for greater ambition and for the resources to go with it. Designation as a national infrastructure priority must be about more than words; it also requires action and ambition to back up those words, and that is what we will vote for tonight.

16:41  

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I begin by referring to my entry in the register of members’ interests in relation to residential property and renewable energy.

I welcome the opportunity to close for the Scottish Conservatives. I view this debate as an extra step in ensuring that Scotland continues to lead on green technology, improving the energy efficiency of our homes and helping to reduce the cost of energy to our constituents. As we begin to debate wider issues that relate to our relationship with energy, particularly with the climate change plan and the proposed climate change bill later this year, 2018 has the potential to be a landmark year.

Like colleagues across the chamber, we welcome the publication of the Government’s “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map, and we look forward to continuing the debate on the matter. I note with caution that, all too often, we have seen reports that talk a good talk but fail to deliver in practice, and the route map must not be one of them. However, I credit the Government for the approach that it has taken.

As others have done, I stress that, although we welcome the need to take action and view the route map as a starting point for a wider debate, it is lacking in ambition and, in some cases, it appears to roll back from earlier suggestions by the Government. We Conservatives have been adamant and consistent in our call for ambitious targets to ensure that all of Scotland’s homes meet the EPC C rating by 2030. We have made that call in various speeches in the chamber and outside it, and we have put it directly to the Government. It is a call that has been backed by other parties and organisations such as WWF Scotland.

There is a widespread view, which has been expressed this afternoon by the Opposition parties, that the SNP Government’s target for all Scottish homes to achieve an EPC C rating by 2040 is a decade too late. As Sarah Beattie-Smith of WWF Scotland has said,

“homeowners must be supported to take action to upgrade their homes faster than proposed if we are to meet existing and future climate change targets”.

Stewart Stevenson

I think that the member’s colleague Mr Burnett properly said that there are difficulties with the EPC C definition. My house could not be warmer but, because of its construction, it will never meet the standard, and I will not be alone in that regard. Is it not the case that we should have a better definition before we hook our target to it? The Government is equally guilty, by the way; we are talking only about different years, so everybody is at fault.

Donald Cameron

I believe that there is a review. There is a healthy debate about the utility of the EPC rating, which I simply do not have time to go into, but I say to Mr Stevenson that I represent the Highlands and Islands and I accept that there will be properties in my region that will never reach that standard. In our amendment, we say explicitly that that should happen “where feasibly possible”. To be honest, the Government’s language in the route map is similar, in that it speaks about it being “technically feasible”.

Lori McElroy of the existing homes alliance said:

“This must be done well before 2040 to effectively tackle fuel poverty and climate emissions from our homes.”

The simple fact is that, with almost 1.5 million homes being rated below the EPC C standard and just over 400,000 homes in bands E, F and G, the issue is pressing and deserves swifter action.

A much starker—and tragic—fact emerges from National Registers of Scotland: 2,720 more people died in the winter months of 2016-17 than died in its warmer months. The WHO suggests that around 30 per cent of such deaths could have been avoided if everyone in Scotland lived in an adequately insulated and heated property.

With all that said, our view is that it is important that the Government reviews the target, and commits to ensuring that all Scottish homes achieve an EPC C rating by 2030. However, we recognise that, in addition to being more ambitious, the Government needs to inform people better about the long-term benefits of investing in energy efficiency in the home and about the schemes that are available to help them. CAS notes that the energy discount schemes that are offered by local authorities have had poor uptake, which it apportions to, among other causes, a lack of awareness. It emerged during the debate that we have a problem with communicating to the wider public about energy efficiency schemes. The response to a freedom of information request that we submitted showed that section 65 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which requires local authorities to establish an energy efficiency discount scheme that offers a one-off council tax rebate for householders who carry out energy efficiency measures, has given out just £20,000 over 10 years. That is not an impressive record, but it reveals that there is an information problem and that the Government needs to ensure that its agencies and local authorities are making people aware of such schemes.

I agree with my colleague Graham Simpson, who spoke about rural proofing. As I have said, as a member who represents the Highlands and Islands, I am acutely aware that many rural and remote properties present different challenges from properties in urban Scotland, such as the age and design of buildings; the difficulty of insulating them; the fact that they are often exposed to far harsher climates; and the fact that many of them are not connected to the mains gas grid. Scotland and the south-west of England have more properties than anywhere else that are off the gas grid. Liam McArthur spoke about a particular issue in Orkney. The other very salient point that he made—and it is an important one—is that the route map does not include evidence of rural proofing and island proofing. We are about to legislate for island proofing in the Islands (Scotland) Bill and I sincerely urge the minister to take that into account in the forthcoming bill that he has mentioned this afternoon, irrespective of what is in it.

It is often easy to get bogged down in the aims, statistics and targets that reports such as this one often necessitate. However, the actions that we take will have an impact on the communities and people we represent. Only last week, I had the pleasure of chairing a meeting of the cross-party group on health inequalities at which we discussed the issue of fuel poverty at great length. A presentation from the Energy Agency was particularly poignant, because it highlighted the immense benefits to people’s health and wellbeing from making homes more energy efficient. In each example, individuals who had received upgrades to their properties reported saving money on their bills and feeling warmer. In one instance, a man indicated that his respiratory problems had improved, and that he had visited hospital on fewer occasions. Those are just anecdotes, but it is clear that there are immeasurable benefits from improving energy efficiency. That cross-party group heard very impressive evidence about public engagement and going directly to patients in hospital waiting rooms. There are significant lessons to be learned on communicating with the public and, as Pauline McNeill and John Scott have said, the approach should be about reaching out and going directly into communities, face to face, to spread the word.

I do not have much more time left, but I would like to commend the Government on its strategy. We do not feel that it is ambitious enough, but we all think that diversifying the way in which we heat our homes has the potential to help us to reduce our carbon footprint and make greater use of Scotland’s natural resources.

16:49  

Paul Wheelhouse

I thank all members for their contributions to the debate. Although there might be disagreement about the pace and the mechanisms by which we deliver energy efficiency in Scotland, I am heartened that there is consensus that we are doing the right thing, even if there is not agreement on the way in which we are doing it. I take a lot of positive points from today’s debate. People are trying to be constructive and encourage us, if anything, to be more ambitious, and the Government will do its best on that. I will try to reflect as many of the points that have been raised today as I can.

Before I do so, I reiterate that the “Energy Efficient Scotland” route map is not the end; it marks the beginning of the next stage of our journey to make our homes and buildings warmer, greener and more efficient by 2040. It is also worth reiterating that what the Government is committing to through the energy efficient Scotland programme will bring benefits to the whole of Scotland.

The energy efficient Scotland programme is a significant cross-government programme that responds to our designation of energy efficiency as an infrastructure investment priority. Graeme Dey made the good point that the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, the Minister for Local Government and Housing and I are not climate change ministers; we are here because we are doing our bit, through the energy efficient Scotland programme, to tackle climate change. I thank the member for his warm remarks in that respect.

We are also helping to tackle fuel poverty, which has been an underlying theme throughout much of today’s debate. It clearly motivates us all, either as regional or constituency MSPs, as we try to help our constituents. I understand the strong sense of urgency on tackling fuel poverty.

We also want to address the need to deliver sustainable economic growth. I think that Stewart Stevenson made the point that it is a shame that the whole-economy figure of £10 billion would be wiped out by the Conservative amendment. It is important to stress that the programme is not only about public investment; it is about private sector investment, businesses and investment from householders. The programme involves the whole economy—public, private and third sector—and £10 billion over the lifetime of the programme. It would be a mistake to remove that figure from the motion, because it is clearly an important factor in underlying the success that we might achieve.

John Scott

Can the minister confirm that the spend to save policy is still Government policy, and that the programme will pay for itself by the reduction in costs to the health service? If the programme was brought forward more quickly, we would achieve much more.

Paul Wheelhouse

I agree with John Scott that energy efficiency investment is a great example of preventative spending. That has come across in all the speeches today. We recognise that it has an impact on health and on educational outcomes, with school children having a better environment in which to study. Investing in energy efficiency is a classic form of preventative spending, and it is important to do that. That is one of the reasons why we are driving forward our energy efficiency targets.

The route map outlines the proposed framework of national standards for the energy efficiency of buildings that we will put in place, as well as the support that we will provide. It is a truly cross-sector approach to improving the energy efficiency of domestic and non-domestic buildings. There has not been much focus on non-domestic buildings today. We want Scotland’s homes to be improved so that they achieve an energy performance certificate rating of at least band C by 2040. However, as I set out earlier, there are milestones on the way. Our priority in the early stages of the programme is on fuel poor households, the private rented sector and social rented houses. As we move through the 2020s to 2030, the focus will turn to non-domestic buildings. I want to reassure members that we are very much targeting the houses and properties that need to be tackled first.

I accept some of the points that were made about rural properties. However, I want to highlight that there is a specific case study in the route map on a property in Ballater, involving a “Miss R”, which might be of interest to Mr Burnett. We have set out some examples, and I will give some examples in a moment of some of the initiatives in rural Scotland in order to give members confidence that that is a focus of our work.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

If the Government loses the vote tonight on accelerating the targets, will the Government implement what the Parliament wants to happen?

Paul Wheelhouse

I am relying on my persuasive skills, Mr Rumbles. I hope that, by the end of the debate, I will have persuaded the Liberal Democrats to vote for the Government’s motion and to reject the inappropriate amendments. I regret that Mr McArthur’s amendment was not taken, but it was mentioned by Mr Burnett, which I am sure was positive for him.

There are a number of issues, perhaps about presentation, that we have to make clear. I want to emphasise that £146.1 million is being spent in the current financial year and that £500 million will be spent over the four years to 2021, which is an ambitious level of spending. It is a £10 billion whole-economy programme and that might go up to £12 billion. That is a significant scale of ambition for our economy and all the stakeholders in the economy, and I reassure members that we believe, after consultation, that we have the right amount of ambition. Notwithstanding that, we can adjust as we go along, as I am sure that we will as we reflect on progress and try to achieve our targets. We are putting the appropriate resources in place to deliver an ambitious programme and, regardless of how today’s vote goes, I hope that that reassures members.

We are putting area-based schemes at the heart of our approach and creating a framework, through local heat and energy efficiency strategies—LHEES—to support local government prioritisation and targeting. Mr Stewart and I are working hard with COSLA to develop a programme of activity to address some of the concerns that members have outlined about communal properties, mixed tenures and the difficulties of trying to deliver programmes. Graeme Dey gave an excellent example of how funding can sometimes drive inefficiency if it is not co-ordinated properly. Through LHEES, identifying the appropriate technologies in each location and identifying the best way to deliver, we hope that we can drive out those inefficiencies.

We can learn by rolling out pilots in new towns and other places where we have communality of housing stock. There are lots of areas in which we can improve efficiency and make sure that, in these early years, we identify the best technologies, delivery methods and ways of co-ordinating our activity at local level. We need to ensure that we get the best bang for the public buck and make it as attractive as possible for the private sector, owner occupiers and private landlords to take part.

I have two examples of that in rural Scotland. In Arbroath, Cairn Housing Association, with support from our area-based scheme loans, improved the energy efficiency and heating systems of 25 homes in Albert Street from EPC band D to EPC band C. Residents have benefited from warmer and more efficient-to-heat homes, and customer satisfaction rates are at 85 per cent.

In Stirling, a programme was undertaken of photovoltaic solar panel installations, which picks up on Mr Ruskell’s and John Scott’s point about solar panels in California. That is a demonstration of the potential for alternatives to the standard grid-connected model of powering and heating our homes.

Claudia Beamish

Will the minister give way?

Paul Wheelhouse

I am pressed for time, Miss Beamish. I apologise.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

While you are taking that pause, I remind members that it is very rude not to listen to what the minister has to say. It is very interesting, so pay attention.

Paul Wheelhouse

I want to highlight the fact that, on the non-domestic front, we have relaunched the small and medium-sized enterprises loan fund. Members might win favour with their constituents by pointing out that there is cashback on those loans, so they can gain an incentive to invest in energy efficiency. Small businesses around the country are already benefiting from that.

I wanted to address the budget issue with Mr Ruskell during his closing speech, but I realised that he had only two minutes and I did not want to steal his time. In respect of the budget, it is the whole-economy cost. I took his point earlier about ambition, but I hope that he now realises what we are referring to with regard to the overall scale of ambition in the programme.

We believe that LHEES will be an important part of the framework that we are taking forward to make sure that we co-ordinate our activities.

On the actions around tackling fuel poverty, I want to highlight that we propose in our consultation that all homes of fuel-poor households should reach EPC band C by 2030 and band B by 2040. It is important to stress that we are going beyond band C for those households that are affected by fuel poverty. In that regard, I congratulate Christina McKelvie on the work that she has done with Scottish Power and other agencies on her voucher proposal. That is a welcome initiative.

Our ambitious target will act as a guide for our national area-based fuel poverty programmes and I hope that that will give a structure—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am sorry—it is getting too loud again as members come into the chamber. It is very disrespectful to the member who is speaking.

Paul Wheelhouse

In respect of the case study on page 40 of the route map, which I referred to earlier, we will reflect on and take away the points that were made about rural Scotland. We are very much working on the basis that this is an all-Scotland programme and we are targeting fuel poverty wherever it is found. I reassure members that that is the case.

A number of points were made on the national infrastructure priority, and we have now identified half a billion pounds to deliver it. Scotland’s energy efficiency programme—SEEP—as it was referred to in previous programmes for government, is now called energy efficient Scotland. Hopefully, that ties that up and members can see where the funding has come from and that a programme has now been identified to deliver that funding in practice.

A number of references were made to needing a one-stop shop for energy efficiency. That was started by Alexander Burnett and was taken up by other members. I emphasise the point that Kevin Stewart made very well: that home energy Scotland is a very useful tool in helping all of us to help our constituents. Members could help us and help their constituents by advertising it. It is a simple system to use, and an excellent service is provided to constituents.

I finish by emphasising that this has been a very positive debate. The route map that we set out last week, and which the First Minister launched at the all-energy conference, is a bold, ambitious but—importantly—deliverable programme. It has been modelled, and we believe that it can give confidence both to the supply chain and to investors, whether they are householders, businesses or third sector organisations.

I thank members for their attention. I have enjoyed the debate.