Meeting date: Thursday, February 11, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Virtual) 11 February 2021
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Hydrogen Economy, Coronavirus Acts Report, Decision Time, Covid-19 Pandemic (Economic Impact on Women), Galloway National Park
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scotland’s Hydrogen Economy
- Coronavirus Acts Report
- Decision Time
- Covid-19 Pandemic (Economic Impact on Women)
- Galloway National Park
Portfolio Question Time
Good afternoon, and welcome to this virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament. The first item of business is portfolio question time. In order to get as many people in as I can, I ask for short and succinct questions and answers. Any member who wishes to ask a supplementary question should press R during the relevant question—not before—and I will call them if I can.
To ask the Scottish Government what measures its budget will provide to support people into employment. (S5O-04993)
In the budget announcement on 28 January, the Scottish Government pledged to support individuals into work by providing £1.1 billion to drive forward our national mission for jobs and to equip our future workforce with the skills that it needs. That includes an additional £125 million of investment targeted at employment and skills support such as the no one left behind project, fair start Scotland, the national transition training fund and the young persons guarantee, together with £230.9 million for Skills Development Scotland.
I am sure that the minister will agree that it is vital that our recovery from the current crisis is a green one. How will the budget ensure that we have people with the right skills for the jobs of the future, to enable such a green recovery to happen?
Of course I agree with Alasdair Allan. As part of our green recovery, the £1.1 billion for jobs and skills to which the Scottish Government committed in the budget includes funding for the creation of a green workforce academy, alongside the first £14 million of our £100 million green jobs fund. Those targeted interventions will equip our Scottish workforce with the expertise necessary to secure work in the low-carbon economy and, as will be vital, will develop a clear support system for our young people to enable them to thrive in the good, green jobs of the future.
Local Authority Funding (Covid-19)
To ask the Scottish Government what additional funding it will make available to local authorities in response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04994)
The Scottish Government has committed to providing £456.1 million in additional Covid-19-related funding to local authorities this year, through the annual local government finance settlement. On 8 October 2020, I announced a package of financial flexibilities for Scotland’s councils that could be worth up to £600 million over the next two years. The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have also finalised a lost income scheme to compensate councils that have lost funding from sources such as fees and charges, which is worth £200 million. In this year’s budget, I announced £259 million of Covid-19 consequentials. Taken together, those measures bring the value of the overall support package for councils, in the light of Covid pressures, up to £1.5 billion.
I am sorry, Presiding Officer. My connection froze earlier and I did not hear all of the cabinet secretary’s reply. However, I thank her for mentioning the additional funding and local authority spending powers, which are welcome. Will she provide an update on the value of the overall Covid-19 support packages that are available to councils, and specifically to Glasgow City Council?
I am sorry that Sandra White did not quite catch my reply, and I hope that the clerks will tell me if the screen freezes again.
The total value of the Covid support package provided to local authorities amounts to £1.5 billion, which was the substance of my first answer.
On Ms White’s specific question, Glasgow City Council has been allocated an additional £92.5 million to enable it to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will also receive its fair share of the £200 million provided for the lost income scheme and the further £259 million of consequentials in 2021-22; that share will be allocated following agreement with COSLA on how that funding should be distributed.
There is a supplementary question from Murdo Fraser.
Local authorities across Scotland have done a sterling job in paying out funds to needy businesses, but many businesses are still falling through the gaps: they are those which, because they are not forced by law to close, but nevertheless have lost a large amount of business, are not able to access any of the funds that are currently available. Will the cabinet secretary agree to look again at the list of sectors that are able to get support, to see whether those that are currently ineligible could be given some assistance, which they desperately need?
Murdo Fraser’s question is pertinent. At the moment, the largest proportion of the overall funding available is distributed through the strategic framework business fund. We confirmed yesterday that £244 million had been paid out in January. Over and above that, we have the sectoral grant schemes, and 94 per cent of the funding is currently live.
We have prioritised the largest programme to help as many businesses as possible, but that is complemented by the sectoral schemes to try to reach that are excluded. Yesterday, details were published on support for the newly self-employed and support for mobile close contact services and I know that local authorities up and down the country have started to open their discretionary funding, which now has a total value of £120 million. Therefore, my recommendation to businesses is to look at the discretionary fund as their first port of call to see whether they are eligible for that, but I commit to keeping business support under very careful review and, where we can do more, I will absolutely consider doing more. In particular, if there are more businesses that we can capture through the strategic fund, I am keen to do so.
Glasgow City Council Finances
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to a recent three-year forecast showing a £113 million shortfall in Glasgow City Council’s finances by 2023. (S5O-04995)
Next year, Glasgow City Council will receive a total funding package of £1.5 billion to support local services. That includes an extra £29.8 million to support vital day-to-day services, which is equivalent to an increase of 2.2 per cent compared with last year. That funding for day-to-day services also includes £9.7 million to compensate the council should it choose to freeze council tax levels to protect households. The council will also receive its share of the overall Covid-19 support package for councils of up to £1.5 billion.
In short, I recognise the challenges that councils are facing right now and we will do everything within our powers to ensure that we provide adequate funding as well as flexibilities to help them to deal with those challenges.
I think that Glasgow deserves a bit better than a financial response that relies on spin rather than dealing with what is happening in the real world.
The city faces huge cuts this year, which will directly affect local services, on top of years of cuts imposed by the Scottish Government, and the finance secretary has the audacity to talk about increases in budgets. It is hard to calculate the massive impact of Covid on families and communities, but we know that it is amplifying and increasing the inequality that already exists in Glasgow. How on earth does the cabinet secretary, in all seriousness, think that Glasgow City Council can address the needs of the city without the finances to do so and when will she provide a fair settlement for Glasgow, rather than continue an approach that further disadvantages those who are already severely disadvantaged?
Considering that most local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities accept that it is an increase, I do not think that it is “spin” to suggest that it is an increase. If we also, on top of the increase in the core settlement, look at the extra funding to deal with Covid pressures, which is not ring fenced, and the extra funding on top of that to deal with lost income, the overall package is one that recognises the pressures on local authorities due to Covid as well as the need to continue to deliver day-to-day services.
We keep all that under review. If we can do more within the package of funding that we have, we will absolutely do that. Of course, Labour has an important role to play during the budget process to negotiate and to deal with the facts at hand. If Labour members are concerned about local authority funding, I hope that they will engage properly in the budget process.
Infrastructure Projects 2021-22
To ask the Scottish Government what financial support it is putting in place for infrastructure projects in 2021-22. (S5O-04996)
Total infrastructure investment next year will be just over £6 billion—a total of £6.1 billion.
The cabinet secretary will be well aware of the demands from across Mid Scotland and Fife, including from many businesses and the chambers of commerce, for an upgraded rail link between Edinburgh and Perth, which is surely in line with the Scottish Government’s commitment to a green recovery. Why has £33 million been lost from the rail infrastructure line in the draft budget?
We have to prioritise projects within the budget that we have. One of the biggest hits to our budget this year was of course the 5 per cent cut in overall capital. In this year’s budget, there is still £0.5 billion of investment in rail infrastructure. We will continue to keep that under review. The member will be aware that, just last week, we set out the capital spending review alongside the infrastructure investment plan. That is a five-year pipeline of capital projects. As most capital projects require more than one year to deliver, it is worth reflecting on that five-year pipeline of projects and the positive impact that it will have on Mid Scotland.
Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on the progress of plans to upgrade the Sheriffhall roundabout in my constituency, which remains a major cause of congestion in the local area?
We continue to progress the proposed improvements at Sheriffhall roundabout. Obviously, standard statutory procedures need to be followed. Following publication of draft orders, a number of representations have been made, including objections, and those are being reviewed and considered. Delivery of the scheme will commence only if it is approved under the relevant statutory procedures. Thereafter, a timetable for progress will be established.
Question 5 was not lodged.
Town Centre Support
To ask the Scottish Government what measures in its budget will provide support for town centres. (S5O-04998)
The budget for next year incorporates the establishment of a new place-based investment programme, which is backed with £275 million of capital over the next five years, including initial investment of £55 million in next year’s budget. That will support town centres and community regeneration—including through the regeneration capital grant fund, which has supported projects right across the country—and will deliver on the 20-minute neighbourhood ambitions. The investment builds on the additional £34 million of economic stimulus for regeneration and towns and the other funding specifically for town centres and business improvement districts in the current year.
What measures will the budget take to help to bring vacant and derelict land back into use?
The budget includes an additional £5 million for next year as part of the new £50 million low-carbon vacant and derelict land investment programme, which we will deliver over the next five years. That investment helps to lay the foundations for a green recovery that is fair and inclusive and that promotes thriving places.
Town centres were struggling before Covid. Has the Government done any analysis of the impact of Covid on town centres and of how they will be affected by the shift towards people shopping online? Will the Government bring forward a strategic plan that sets out the best way forward for town centres?
Alex Rowley’s question is so important right now, but I do not think that there is one simple answer to it. There are issues around supporting businesses to digitise, supporting and encouraging people to change their behaviour so that they visit town centres, and supporting town centres to diversify.
Mr Rowley will, I hope, be aware of the independent review of the town centre action plan, which was published on 3 February. All members who, as Mr Rowley does, have an interest in the health and vitality of our town centres should certainly consider that report, which will require action on a range of fronts. Our commitment is to consider those recommendations and to work collaboratively to implement our response. There is funding in the budget to support efforts to revitalise town centres.
Council Tax Freeze
To ask the Scottish Government what it anticipates the financial impact will be on the lowest income groups of its proposal to freeze council tax. (S5O-04999)
The funding that we have allocated to councils to support them, if they should choose to freeze council tax, will provide financial reassurance to households of all incomes, while the council tax reduction scheme will continue to protect low-income households from local tax liabilities that they would not be able to meet.
That is very interesting. Some councils have highlighted the fact that people who earn less than £15,000 a year will benefit by 1p a month from the freeze, while those who earn more than £40,000 a year will gain £30 a month.
Last night, we saw pictures of people queueing in Glasgow for charitable food. Many of them will gain a solitary brass penny from the proposed freeze while their services will be cut. I have to ask this question: is the cabinet secretary not ashamed of the Government’s perverse, regressive and—in the circumstances—ludicrous proposal?
I think that that is quite an illogical question, because it does not need to be one or the other. Households across the country have been through the most challenging of years. Many people who are still earning are working from home and face increased household bills. I am not sure whether I am hearing correctly that it is Labour’s position to hike council tax. Our position will not have a detrimental impact on local services, because councils will be fully compensated. That is the whole point of setting aside the £90 million to compensate local authorities.
As I said, it does not need to be one or the other. Alongside the council tax freeze, our budget will provide a 7.1 per cent increase in funding for the social security and older people portfolio, which will bring its total allocation to £4 billion. That includes support of more than £3 billion in benefits to support people with disabilities, £306 million for carers allowance, £42 million for carers allowance supplement and £68 million for the first full year of the Scottish child payment, which is a game-changing new benefit that will be instrumental in tackling child poverty.
It does not need to be one or the other. On one hand, we are seeking to support low-income households, which is precisely why the council tax reduction is in place, alongside the other proposals in the budget to tackle inequality. Equally, we are fully compensating any council that chooses to freeze council tax to support households across the country.
Workplace Inequalities (Budget)
To ask the Scottish Government what measures in its budget aim to tackle workplace inequalities. (S5O-05000)
The Scottish Government is committed to tackling workplace inequality as part of our approach to fair work, and that is reflected in the draft budget.
This year, we have supported a number of projects to tackle workplace inequalities through the workplace equality fund and the women returners programme, which was launched in November. We will set out further details on support in 2021-22 as part of the draft budget process.
It is not a new phenomenon, but the pandemic has again brought into sharp focus the fact that responsibility for unpaid care and domestic work often falls disproportionately on women. I know that I will not be alone in hearing directly from women who are really struggling at this difficult time. How will the budget address that issue and its subsequent impact on women’s employment and the wider economy?
We recognise that those responsibilities still fall disproportionately on women. To support access to employment, we have committed to investing a further £59 million to deliver the expansion of funded early learning and childcare, and the recent budget includes an additional investment of £125 million from expected consequentials to support employability and skills provision. We are increasing the parental employability support fund by a further £2.35 million, bringing in-year investment to £7.35 million.
Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
I remind members that questions 1 and 5 have been grouped and that questions 3 and 7 have been grouped. Anyone who wishes to ask a supplementary question should indicate that by typing the letter R in the chat box during the relevant question and not before.
Net Zero Transition
To ask the Scottish Government what environmental measures it has in place to support Scotland’s transition to become net zero. (S5O-05001)
In December, the Scottish Government updated the climate change plan with over 100 new policies, putting Scotland on a pathway to meeting our targets over the period to 2032. That is supported by a record £1.9 billion of capital funding in the Scottish budget for 2021-22 that is aimed at tackling climate change, creating good green jobs and delivering Scotland’s green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many of those measures also seek to tackle the twin challenge of biodiversity loss. For example, the budget includes £22 million for peatland restoration as part of our landmark £250 million, 10-year commitment and an increase of £26.9 million to the forestry budget. We will provide annual updates on progress against the plan through our monitoring and evaluation framework, with our first report being published in May.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that interesting response. What support will be available for local businesses to move to environmentally friendly vehicles ahead of Glasgow’s progression to phase 2 of the low-emission zone?
We are providing significant funding to help people and businesses to prepare for the introduction of LEZs well in advance of the 2022 introduction target. The low-emission zone support fund has made available £3 million of targeted grant funding in 2020-21 for taxis, heavy goods vehicles and microbusinesses, with a similar amount being made available in 2021-22.
In 2020-21, we have also provided £9.75 million for the bus emission abatement retrofit fund, allowing over 600 buses and coaches to be retrofitted across Scotland. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity would be able to furnish the member with more detail than I am able to provide.
Carbon Emissions Targets
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the action it is taking to meet its carbon emissions targets. (S5O-05005)
As I said in response to question 1, the Scottish Government updated our climate change plan in December with over 100 new policies, putting Scotland on a pathway to meeting its world-leading targets over the period to 2032. I will not repeat the rest of what I said in my earlier answer.
Delivering a just transition to net zero and reaching our 75 per cent target by 2030 will require transformational change in every area of our economy and for businesses, individuals and the United Kingdom Government to all make their contributions to delivering the change that we need.
I want to raise the issue of promoting more bus journeys in order to help to fulfil the objective of reducing carbon emissions. I believe that some of the larger bus companies are more interested in profit than in serving local communities. What is being done to support community-based campaigns, such as Get Glasgow Moving, with a view to getting more people to use buses and making bus journeys more accessible, thus helping to reduce carbon emissions?
I can speak only in general terms. I am sure that the member is aware that Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, would be able to give him a great deal more detail.
As a bus user myself—at least in normal times—I can reassure the member that I would always wish to encourage campaigning and advocating for greater bus use, wherever it takes place in Scotland but particularly in those areas that are the likely first four low-emission zones, because that will make an enormous difference in urban areas. There are challenges to the bus service across Scotland, given the huge differences between urban and rural areas, but each and every bus journey that people take makes a positive contribution to reducing our emissions.
The cabinet secretary will be well aware of the recent evidence that was taken by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, in which several witnesses cited the crucial importance of a holistic approach to net zero transition, and the part that the circular economy can play in that. When can we expect to see the flagship circular economy bill that the Scottish Government promised?
It is absolutely clear that the delay to the circular economy has been caused by the pandemic. That was not the only change that had to be made to potential parliamentary business. I would not be able to say, in advance of any future programme for government, what would be in it or when it would be introduced, but I strongly suspect that there will be a circular economy bill in future, building on the work on the circular economy bill that we would have had, had it not been for the pandemic.
Why is a target for native woodland planting not included in the climate change plan update? Will the cabinet secretary reconsider that?
I am always happy to look at further suggestions. All that I would say is that the climate change plan update could not be encyclopaedic in its nature. It is an update, not an entire climate change plan. If there are suggestions for things that people think should be included, I am happy to hear the arguments for them. It is important to remember that the climate change plan update was done at speed. It was not expected to be a full climate change plan, and everybody understood that when we set out on this process.
Tarbolton Moss Landfill Site
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on any progress being made in developing proposals for remedial action to clean up the Tarbolton Moss landfill site. (S5O-05002)
Tarbolton Landfill Ltd, the operator of the site, remains in liquidation. The Scottish Government is not directly responsible for the site. However, on 4 February, officials met the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and South Ayrshire Council to discuss how those public authorities can work together to move matters forward. Following that constructive meeting, the Scottish Government is actively considering how barriers to progressing with remediation work at the site could be overcome.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that there is considerable frustration in the local community? It is two years on since the Government sought a report from SEPA on possible options for remedial work at the site, and there is still no clear plan in place to carry out that work. Have options been presented to the Government? Given the apparent continuing deterioration at the site, are those options still viable? Who does the Government ultimately believe will carry out work at the site? This environmental mess will just get worse until somebody carries out that work.
I understand the frustration of everybody who has any connection with the situation. We are aware that issues have not moved forward in the way that local residents would have hoped, but we are committed to working with partners, as I have indicated. The liquidation process is still on-going, and I am afraid that the legal position regarding the future ownership of and responsibility for the site remains to be determined. However, there is regular monitoring, and we are looking at what potential options there are. They are under active consideration.
I understand the frustration, but the period of time that has passed has included significant other challenges that we have had to deal with. I hope that what we are able to move forward with on the basis of the 4 February meeting will better satisfy local residents.
Question 3 is grouped with question 7.
Coastal Communities (Climate Change)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to coastal communities to mitigate the impact of climate change and reduce the risk of flooding. (S5O-05003)
The Scottish Government recognises the impacts of climate change on coastal communities. For that reason, our programme for government committed £12 million over four years for coastal change adaptations to protect communities from the impacts of rising sea levels. We also provide £42 million each year to local authorities to mitigate flooding. Those funds assist the delivery of actions in the flood risk management strategies and plans, and they include £13 million for the Broughty Ferry flood scheme. In addition, our programme for government committed a further £150 million over the next five years to supporting flood protection measures.
Although coastal erosion affects fewer properties than flooding does, its impact can be more drastic due to inevitable and irrecoverable loss of land to the sea. Many organisations across Scotland, such as the Save Wemyss Ancient Caves Society in my constituency, are committed to preserving and protecting our precious local heritage. What work is being undertaken by the Scottish Government to defend natural and cultural heritage that is at risk because of coastal erosion?
Historic Environment Scotland is the lead public body that investigates, cares for and promotes Scotland’s historic environment. It undertakes extensive work to understand the impact of climate change on cultural heritage, including coastal heritage. In 2019, it published “A Guide to Climate Change Impacts on Scotland’s Historic Environment”.
The cultural importance of the caves at Wemyss has been recognised, and the caves have been designated as a scheduled monument. I understand that, historically, there has been episodic erosion in the area of the caves. As the relevant coastal protection authority, Fife Council has produced a shoreline management plan, which sets priorities for coastal erosion risk management and takes into account the preservation of assets along the Fife coast.
Flood Resilience (Mid Scotland and Fife)
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to improve flooding resilience in Mid Scotland and Fife. (S5O-05007)
Our sympathies go out to those who have been affected by last weekend’s flooding.
As I mentioned in my previous answer, our programme for government committed an extra £150 million for flood risk management in addition to the £420 million 10-year funding that was provided to local authorities. Those funds assist the delivery of the actions in the flood risk management strategies and plans, including the £28 million Comrie flood protection scheme.
We work closely with key partners to promote community resilience and flood preparedness, and we have increased to £193,000 our funding to the Scottish Flood Forum, which provides vital support to communities such as Kinglassie.
As the minister has acknowledged, it has been a really difficult time for the region. We have seen road closures in Perthshire, and, in Fife, the River Leven has burst its banks, the coastal paths have become inaccessible and Ballingry cemetery has been flooded. That was very distressing for the community.
The additional £150 million is welcome, but the criteria for the annual £42 million budget for local authorities are quite restrictive. Is the Scottish Government considering changing the criteria so that they can be more flexible and provide support for more local schemes? Although those schemes are modest, they have a significant impact on the wellbeing of communities. Their cost is not high, but the cumulative costs to a local authority can be quite significant.
As members would expect, the Scottish Government considers all matters on an on-going basis and where there is scope for improvement. I would not want to make a judgment at this juncture on the proposals that Claire Baker may have. There are no considerations at present but, if Claire Baker would like to write to me with further information about the situation that she has described, I would, of course, be open and keen to look at that.
There are a number of supplementary questions on this group of questions.
A moment ago, the minister referred to the events of last weekend. In my constituency of Cowdenbeath, we saw flooding in Ballingry cemetery and in Navitie park, and that was not the first time. To be fair, Fife Council has been out to see what might need to be done.
Turning to Rosyth, which has a long-standing problem with flooding, I know that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and others have been involved in looking at longer-term plans. Can the minister update me on where the proposed SEPA work plan stands? There has been a bit of a silence on that in recent months.
I and my colleagues are aware of the flooding in Rosyth, most recently in August 2020, and my sympathies go out to all those who have been affected.
As Annabelle Ewing referenced, SEPA and local authorities are responsible for publishing, every six years, flood risk management strategies and plans that set out the actions that have been proposed by each local authority in Scotland. The Forth estuary local plan covers Rosyth. The current plan, covering 2016-22, seeks to reduce the number of residential properties that are at risk of surface water flooding in Rosyth.
Fife Council and Scottish Water are working together to develop a surface water study to identify the most sustainable mitigation option to achieve that. I expect that, as a constituency MSP, Ms Ewing is engaged by those two authorities in correspondence on the matter that she raises. If she wishes to bring such correspondence to my attention, I would welcome looking at it.
On Christmas eve, the SEPA computer system was hacked. As well as documents being lost, some key areas of operation were severely affected. Although severe warnings that are based on forecasts are still issued, the minister will be aware that often localised extreme weather conditions are difficult to forecast. That means that river level warning systems are critical for the protection of our communities, such as Newton Stewart and Dumfries, in my constituency. Can the minister tell me when those systems will be back up and running? Why have communities been left potentially vulnerable after over six weeks?
I am sure that the member will appreciate that the cyberattack was a very significant situation. Measures to deal with that situation and its consequences are on-going.
As the member references, the SEPA flood warnings are an important contribution to the building of more resilient communities, and SEPA will continue to develop its flood forecasting and warning service over the next five years. I will take Mr Carson’s question away and seek to give him an indication, after today’s portfolio questions, of the proposed timescales for getting the full service up to the position that Scotland would expect. I am sure that he appreciates the difficulties and the serious challenge of the cyberattack.
Housing in Freuchie Mill, in my constituency, was badly flooded in August, and it has had two near misses since then, including last weekend. People in that housing estate are at their wits’ end, and they want action now.—[Inaudible.]—from the minister—[Inaudible.]—for low-cost schemes such as would be involved in Freuchie Mill in Fife?
I apologise, but I did not hear the whole of Mr Rennie’s question, due to a difficulty with the connection.
On funding for Fife in general terms, it is for local authorities to determine the allocation of funding in collaboration with other partners, including the Scottish Government. I would encourage Mr Rennie to engage with the local authority on the distribution of its funding for flood prevention and other flooding measures.
Common Frameworks (Environment)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with the United Kingdom Government regarding common frameworks relevant to the environment. (S5O-05004)
The Scottish Government has regularly pressed the UK Government on the need for progress on common frameworks relevant to the environment—most recently at the January meeting of the four-nations interministerial group for environment, food and rural affairs. The delivery of common frameworks across the four nations, which was already delayed by the impact of the on-going pandemic, has been made significantly more challenging by the prolonged uncertainty over the outcome of the UK’s negotiations with the EU and the deeply damaging and unnecessary UK Internal Market Act 2020.
This week, on behalf of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I, along with my Welsh counterpart, David Rees MS, gave evidence on common frameworks to the House of Lords. Does the minister support our joint calls for the UK Government to work with the devolved Governments more closely on common frameworks, to publish the details of all frameworks as they currently stand and to publish a list of the stakeholders that it has engaged with so far, so that we can be sure that stakeholders in the devolved nations are being heard? On the basis of his experience, does the minister feel confident that we will be fully involved in decisions about those frameworks in the next parliamentary session?
The Scottish Government supports as much information as possible being made available to stakeholders and legislators, as long as it is done in a manner that respects the wishes of all UK Administrations, not just the UK Government, and that it follows a clear and transparent process.
As to my confidence in future Scottish Government involvement, I can only repeat that the Scottish Government remains fully committed to the development of the common frameworks when they are in Scotland’s best interests. However, the UK Internal Market Act 2020 sets up significant barriers to their successful development and implementation. Of course, that act was pushed through the UK Parliament without the consent of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Parliament, and it hugely complicates the framework process.
National Performance Framework (Environment)
To ask the Scottish Government what importance it places on access to clean air and environmentally friendly spaces within the national performance framework. (S5O-05006)
We recognise the importance of clean air and the serious damage that poor air quality can cause. That is why we are taking bold action across the board to tackle it. The national performance framework aims to increase the wellbeing of all people living in Scotland, to reduce inequalities and to give equal importance to economic, environmental and social progress. Ensuring access to a healthy environment, including clean air and quality green space, will play an important role in achieving that.
In 2019, it was reported that only 43 per cent of those in Scotland’s most deprived areas visited the outdoors at least once a week, whereas the figure was 66 per cent in the least deprived areas. That is possibly partly because of the lack of pleasant outdoor facilities in ex-industrial areas, which the pandemic and the lockdown have highlighted.
Will the minister outline the Scottish Government’s plans to specifically address that environmental inequality and, in doing so, to ensure that people have easy access to clean air and to pleasant and environmentally friendly outdoor spaces? Will he support country park status being given to Woodhall, Faskine and Palacecraig greenbelt in Airdrie?
There are quite a number of points in that question, and I will be happy to correspond with the member as a follow-up.
The national performance framework is a strategy that will strengthen and build on the links between air quality and other key Government policies and strategies, including the issues of equality that the member refers to. Further progress in embedding place-making principles across policy areas, including in the communities portfolio as well as in our own, will deliver benefits for physical and mental health by creating better urban spaces that are more attractive to spend time in and easier to move around in. Of course, the development of the 20-minute neighbourhoods is also important to that.
The member raises important questions for us all to consider within the national performance framework and different portfolios in determining how we can continue to develop access to green space for everyone in all communities within our country.
International Environment Centre
To ask the Scottish Government how Scotland’s international environment centre could contribute to meeting the country’s climate change ambitions. (S5O-05008)
The Scottish Government is pleased to commit £17 million of funding towards the creation of Scotland’s international environment centre through the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. The centre will provide an integrated approach to cutting-edge research, innovation and skills development to tackle global environmental challenges. It aims to transform the relationship between environmental management and business in order that the protection and enhancement of natural resources becomes a driver of clean, inclusive growth. In the first phase of the programme, the Forth Valley environmental resilience array, which is part of the international environment centre, will create a regional-scale living laboratory to enable business innovation in low-emission sustainable technologies, products and services.
The cabinet secretary is correct in saying that £17 million of investment will be made in my constituency as part of the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal and the environment centre. It will also provide the best possible conditions and infrastructure for businesses to flourish and ensure a cleaner, greener and healthier environment for future generations. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the 26th conference of the parties—COP26—is a fantastic opportunity for the environment centre to demonstrate Scotland’s global leadership in responding to the climate emergency?
COP26 is, indeed, a fantastic opportunity to showcase to the world the world-leading climate action that Scotland is already taking across all sectors, as well as providing a platform on which to demonstrate our place in the world through our innovation and international partnerships. I am delighted that so many companies, groups and individuals are looking to engage with COP26.
Although I understand that construction of the SEIC has been delayed due to the impact of Covid-19, the completed SEIC will bring together scientists, policy experts and businesses in a state-of-the-art hub that will be an integral part of Scotland’s journey to net zero. We will explore how it can best support our COP26 programme and demonstrate that global leadership.
Rural Economy and Tourism
I remind members that if they wish to ask a supplementary question, they should enter R in the chat box while the relevant question is being asked.
Local Authorities (Tourism) (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to local authorities regarding any potential tourism-related opportunities arising from an increase in the number of people holidaying at home during the pandemic. (S5O-05009)
Provided that restrictions can be lifted safely, we are very hopeful of a strong domestic tourism market in 2021. To support critical tourism projects in our more remote areas we are more than doubling the rural tourism infrastructure fund to £6.2 million in 2021-22, bringing our total investment to more than £15 million. We are also using consequentials and increasing our package of lifeline support for tourism businesses this financial year. That includes lifting our visitor attractions support fund to £10 million and the tourism destination and sector support fund to £1.5 million. Those and other tourism support projects are being delivered through VisitScotland.
If standing orders had permitted, I would have caveated my question by noting the clear advice offered by the First Minister regarding caution about planning holidays in today’s Covid briefing.
In my Motherwell and Wishaw constituency we are blessed with a number of sites of historical significance. The Roman legacy left in Strathclyde country park is an excellent example of rich local history that is arguably overlooked. In addition, the park is a fabulous site for sport. How will the Scottish Government support local authorities to increase wider community awareness of and engagement with the local attractions in my constituency?
We are working closely with local authorities, the national parks, VisitScotland, NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland and Police Scotland, and we have developed a rural visitor management strategy. It has many aspects, including a welcome campaign; high-level messages about responsible enjoyment; and co-ordinated promotion of the access code, including messages on vital topics such as camping, fires and litter. That has been taken forward by a range of bodies working together, with a range of target audiences, including young people. We are undertaking a wide range of activities on the basis that we can—provided that it is safe for us to do so—resume domestic tourism this year.
It has been some time since the cabinet secretary announced that bed-and-breakfast accommodation and guesthouses that pay council tax rather than business rates will receive support that is equivalent to the strategic framework business fund. That is welcome, but those businesses are already having significant issues with cash flow, as in many cases they received only small sums several months ago. Many are concerned that equivalent support has been delayed, despite assurances that the scheme will be launched very shortly. Can the cabinet secretary clarify for those businesses when the scheme will launch and, just as importantly, when grant funding will be in their bank accounts?
I can confirm that the plan is that local authorities should launch the scheme from 15 February, which is next week. I absolutely agree with the member’s points that bed-and-breakfasts are an essential backbone of our accommodation provision. They are small businesses that are run by people who work extremely hard, and we absolutely appreciate the great offer that they provide to their customers.
That is why we are introducing a measure to assist bed and breakfasts that pay council tax rather than business rates; I am not sure that there is a counterpart measure elsewhere in the UK. Last year, we devoted—from memory—a sum of £3 million to bed and breakfasts that did not have a business bank account but were able to demonstrate that they were bona fide businesses operating as such. It is a key sector—I appreciate that the support is essential, and I am delighted that I have been able to work with my colleagues to ensure that it will be delivered from 15 February, which is next week.
Employment (Rural Economy)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to increase employment opportunities within the rural economy. (S5O-05010)
The “Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland: 2019–2021” sets out how we will support the needs of the rural economy by addressing skill shortages and increasing access to education and skills provision. We are also providing green skills opportunities through a specific programme of funding for island projects relating to net zero and green recovery, and through a doubling of specific apprenticeship opportunities in forestry at Scottish Forestry and Forestry and Land Scotland.
One of the needs that has been identified in rural Scotland, as it has across Scotland, is the need to build housing. Is there a specific rural programme in place for housing? Does the cabinet secretary recognise that if we want to drive the rural economy, we need to be able to give workers houses? There is a shortage in that regard. Does he accept that if we want to create jobs and increase skills in the rural economy, a national house-building programme needs to play a major role in that?
I am sympathetic to the points that the member makes. I am apprised of the fact, and I absolutely agree, that we need to match jobs, people and housing. I am well aware of that from my own part of Scotland. In places such as Aviemore, people have been able to get a job but not a house; they have moved into temporary accommodation, but they have not been able to find a place to take their family to live. That is just one example, but the member makes a good point.
I am not the housing minister, but I know that the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart, works extremely hard to recognise the particular needs of rural Scotland in respect of the additional costs and the shortage of housing. I very much agree that a flexible approach is essential, especially as more opportunities will be created in rural Scotland by the green economy in order to tackle climate change. There will be a bigger workforce with more people, and better access to broadband through the reaching 100 per cent, or R100, programme—the biggest single investment in the UK—which will provide rural people with access to superfast broadband.
All those things mean that there will be an increasing demand to live in rural Scotland, and that must be matched by flexibility, and more housing, in the countryside. I am conscious that a great deal is being—and has been—done by this Government, but there is of course much more to do.
United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund (Rural Economy)
To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the administration of the proposed UK shared prosperity fund to support Scotland’s rural economy. (S5O-05011)
Despite the importance of European Union structural and social funds to Scotland’s rural communities, there has been a continued lack of information from the UK Government regarding its proposed replacement, the UK shared prosperity fund. For several years now our requests have been ignored, with little meaningful engagement about how the fund will be delivered and allocated or about whether the replacement to the LEADER programme will be included.
Our published proposals for Scotland’s share of those funds in the future make it clear that the UK Government should extend the fund to include a replacement for LEADER. Notwithstanding the lack of clarity from the UK Government on that, we recently announced an extension of the current LEADER programme until the end of 2021.
The Tory Government has indicated that it will bypass the devolved Administrations to replace European funds. Given that Tory MSPs on the Finance and Constitution Committee accepted that those moneys must be spent in Scotland by the Scottish Government and its local partners, does the minister agree that, if the Scottish Tories want to save any face at all, it is time that they stopped undermining devolution and told Boris Johnson that those funds must be spent by Scotland in Scotland?
Yes, absolutely. As well as the lack of detail on the shared prosperity fund—despite ministers asking about the matter consistently for many years—we have seen, through this and other processes, that the Tories do not care enough about the interests of rural Scotland. They are using every opportunity that Brexit presents to grab both powers and funding from Scotland’s Parliament, and Scotland as a whole will lose out as a result.
The Tories are proving what some of us have long suspected: that they just do not respect devolution. Everything that rural Scotland values, which is embodied in schemes such as the LEADER programme, is at risk right now, because Brexit and the ideological, reckless and disrespectful approach of the UK Government are doing real damage and will continue to do so if the UK Government proceeds in the same fashion.
Peak Visitor Season (Disruption)
To ask the Scottish Government what measures are planned ahead of the peak visitor season to avoid disruption similar to that experienced in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-05012)
Our rural tourism infrastructure fund is already supporting 45 projects and 26 design grants across Scotland, with investments in car parks, waste disposal facilities and toilet provision, for example. We recognise the tangible benefits of the fund and we have more than doubled it to £6.2 million in 2021-22.
Last year I convened a group of public bodies to consider how we might collectively tackle visitor behaviour. A visitor management strategy for the 2021 season is in the final stages of drafting and will be published in the coming weeks. It will cover co-ordinated messaging and collaborative management at key hotspots. Our public bodies are working closely with Police Scotland on how they will tackle visitor behaviour in the coming season.
There were unprecedented pressures on our countryside and rural communities last year due to the high volume of visitors during peak holiday periods, including in many areas of rural Stirlingshire, an area that I represent. In addition to the measures that have just been outlined, will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the progress that is being made towards the development of a holistic national visitor management strategy that would deliver a co-ordinated and well-resourced approach across the country to ensure that those who are responsible for managing our countryside locations have the capacity and the resources that are necessary during peak seasons?
I repeat what I said in my original answer, which is that the visitor management strategy for this season is in the final stages of drafting and will be published in the coming weeks. I absolutely accept that there were huge pressures in this past year. If we are able to safely resume the domestic tourism market—as I hope that we will be—we will be able to address those problems more effectively.
We have worked extremely hard with local authorities, national parks, NatureScot, VisitScotland and the police—many people are, of necessity and rightly, involved—particularly on tackling issues that are caused by the pressures of so-called dirty camping, toilet provision, waste disposal, littering and car parking. The tourism infrastructure fund has helped projects around, for example, Doune castle, the Fife coastal path and Loch Leven heritage trail in Perth and Kinross. We work hard with local authorities on practical projects that are designed to alleviate those pressures in some of our key hotspots, and that work is an absolute priority. I look forward to publishing the visitor management strategy soon.
In addition to what appears to be the most comprehensive set of measures from any Government in these islands, as the cabinet secretary mentioned, what plans do the Scottish Government and VisitScotland have to encourage those who seek to holiday locally this year and to ensure that attractions across Scotland can benefit from what we all hope will be an increase in domestic tourism?
VisitScotland is working hard to provide a boost to the domestic market. Of course, now is not the time to proceed with such a marketing strategy—at the moment it is safety first, and caution is the watchword—but I hope that we will see a resumption of access to the countryside sooner rather than later. VisitScotland and I work extremely hard to promote the enormous benefits of holidaying in Scotland, as my family and I have done for a great many years, and of seeing more of the country; during lockdown, I have heard many people talk about that with fondness and pleasant anticipation.
To ask the Scottish Government what research it is funding to drive efficiencies in agriculture. (S5O-05013)
We fund a range of research, particularly through our strategic research programme. The research that is planned for the coming year includes crucial work on vaccines and treatments for animal diseases, which can cost farmers millions of pounds in lost revenue. We also fund research on crop development, which supports the arable sector, as well as improvements to soft fruit stock for the horticulture sector, and livestock breeding improvements. Details are available online on the SEFARI Gateway website.
Despite the minister’s ridiculous comments earlier, I want to set the record straight. The Scottish Conservatives care deeply about rural Scotland and we are concerned that although last year’s budget committed £40 million to an agricultural transformation programme, only £21.5 million of that fund was committed before this year’s budget announcement. Why was the 2020-21 agricultural transformation programme fund underspent, given that farmers tell me that there was huge interest and oversubscription to the sustainable agricultural capital grant scheme?
The funding that Rachael Hamilton references with regard to research has been considered, as one would expect. I am not clear on the direct link to the question on Scottish Government research. As I emphasised in my first answer, we fund a range of research, particularly through our strategic research programme. I also articulated the important and effective aspects in which that research is targeted and makes a meaningful difference for rural Scotland as a whole, and therefore for the benefit of Scotland as a whole.
Food and Drink Industry (Brexit)
To ask the Scottish Government what support is being provided to Scotland’s food and drink industry in response to exporting issues as a result of Brexit. (S5O-05014)
The Scottish Government chairs the weekly food sector resilience group, whose members are industry leaders across the sector, in order that it can take quick and decisive action where necessary.
The seafood sector has been particularly hard hit. On Friday, I launched the £6.45 million seafood producers resilience fund to support businesses that have lost all or part of their relevant market due to the Covid-19 pandemic and European Union exit.
We have also provided funding to Seafood Scotland to allow recruitment of three Brexit advisers to work with businesses that are struggling to adapt to the new requirements arising from the United Kingdom’s departure from the single market.
The on-going financial chaos of Tory Brexit has left Scottish fishermen and coastal communities high and dry. The UK Government announced support that the industry considers derisory. What support has the Scottish Government put in place to help people to meet their day-to-day costs, and will the Scottish Government continue to argue for a better deal for our vital seafood sector?
Yes, we will continue to fight for the sector with the UK Government—I do so day and daily. The saddest thing about the UK Government’s failure to recognise the plight of, for example, inshore fishermen, who have had no income for some time now due to the huge difficulties caused by Brexit, is that the families depend on those exports to get food on the table and roofs over their heads. We are starting to hear from local fisheries associations that people are telling them, “I have nothing left—I can’t feed the family or pay the rent”. Therefore, we have stepped in pretty quickly to set up the fund in order to alleviate hardship. I am pleased that we are able to do so, and we are working hard to get the money out of the door to where it is required as quickly as possible.
The trade dispute between the UK and the USA is having an adverse impact on the Scotch whisky industry, which had absolutely nothing to do with the cause of the dispute. There is a distillery in my constituency, and some of my constituents work at others that are a few miles away. Will the Scottish Government explain to the UK Government that the mess needs to be sorted out, and that it should be much more proactive to get the job done?
I am familiar with the Glengoyne distillery, which produces marvellous, fine Scotch whisky. The tariffs have been in place for more than a year, and have cost the sector an unbelievable £500 million. My colleagues and I have taken every opportunity—most recently, in a call last week between my colleague Ivan McKee and the UK Minister of State for Trade Policy—to press the UK Government to resolve the situation and bring it to an end.
Accommodation Providers (Financial Support)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will review the financial support available to self-catering establishments, bed and breakfasts and guest houses. (S5O-05015)
All self-catering, B and B and guest house businesses in level 4 areas that pay non-domestic rates can apply for grants of £2,000 or £3,000—depending on rateable value—every four weeks from the strategic framework business fund. Equivalent support for B and Bs that do not pay non-domestic rates, but pay council tax, is also available.
Larger self-catering and exclusive-use properties will also benefit from an additional £7 million fund to mitigate the impact of the single household restrictions.
Support packages have been designed in response to business needs and agreed with sector representatives, but we will continue to monitor tourism support needs.
I am sure that the cabinet secretary knows that there is real anger in the self-catering sector that the sector-specific support misses most of them out. Around 15,500 businesses will get nothing. For the small number of businesses that will get support, the fund has not yet opened. Many of them are on their knees, and are considering selling up already.
The cabinet secretary is generous with his time and is open minded. I suggest that he urgently changes the scheme before it is too late.
Mr Rennie raises a serious point. I am determined that all businesses whose trade has been terminated as a result of the Covid restrictions and which have been unable to offer their excellent hospitality and accommodation to their guests are supported.
The problem is a serious one. I am not sure that I recognise the figures that Mr Rennie quotes, but I am happy to discuss the issue with him, as I already have done.
We believe that the funding that we have put in place is sufficient to provide lifeline support. We previously provided support for B and Bs that did not have business bank accounts, and we are extending the support to B and Bs that do not pay business rates, as I explained in my response to Mr Halcro Johnston. We paid support to self-catering properties last year. There is also the continuing entitlement to a payment of £2,000 or £3,000 every four weeks. As with all the schemes, that is designed to provide lifeline support to get people through.
I hope that we can safely resume the staycation market. If we can do so, many self-catering properties, B and Bs and guesthouses will be well placed to continue to offer an excellent experience. They did that last summer; indeed, self-catering units and caravan parks were allowed to open slightly earlier than the rest of the tourism sector.
I accept that those businesses are the backbone of our tourism sector, especially in rural Scotland. They must get sufficient support. I constantly review whether we are achieving that objective, working closely with people such as Fiona Campbell of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers and David Weston of the Bed and Breakfast Association. I will continue that work.
Glasgow Tourism Sector
To ask the Scottish Government how it is planning to support the tourism sector in Glasgow in 2021. (S5O-05016)
Glasgow, which Mr Doris represents, is a vibrant and welcoming city, and I look forward to encouraging the return of visitors to enjoy its many world-class attractions.
We understand the severe impact of the pandemic on tourism in our cities. We have provided a support package of almost £3 billion for businesses, including the tourism sector.
We are working closely with all our partners. That work includes the establishment of a city centre recovery group and a five-year investment plan for the sector, which will be developed by our enterprise agencies and VisitScotland.
It is likely that Glasgow will rely on tourists from across Scotland, rather than on international visitors, for much of this year. In these challenging times, how will the Scottish Government support businesses in Glasgow that have been increasingly reliant on international tourism? The cabinet secretary has put some details on the record, but what more can be done?
The international sector has been hit especially hard. Glasgow has been successful in attracting visitors from around the world. Its success in areas such as business conferences is well recognised.
We are working hard with VisitScotland to pave the way for the recovery of the international market. We are also providing support for many of the key players, such as tour operators, which put people in the aeroplanes that bring them to Scotland. We are also investing to support hotels. The hotel recovery programme aims to support up to 3,000 jobs in that sector. Through the pivotal enterprise resilience fund, we awarded more than £8.9 million to hotels and other accommodation providers last year. Those are some of the elements of our support.
We hope that the efficacy of the vaccination programme here and worldwide will enable us to beat the virus. Once we have done that and have an international system for the reciprocal recognition of vaccine certification, I look forward to resuming international trade and custom, which are essential to our overall tourism offer and to the Glasgow economy.
That concludes portfolio questions.