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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 14, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Virtual) 14 January 2021

Agenda: Managing Scotland’s Fisheries, Portfolio Question Time, Employment Opportunities (BAME Women), Drug Deaths, Decision Time


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Social Security and Older People

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

We move on to portfolio questions. Our first portfolio brief this afternoon is social security and older people. I remind members that I have grouped questions 1 and 4 together. We will hear the first question and supplementary, then other supplementaries will come after question 4.


Older People (Access to Essential Requirements)

1. Tom Mason (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to help older people to access essential requirements including food, medical attention and prescriptions, under the current Covid-19 restrictions. (S5O-04897)

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

We have made available £15 million of funding for local authorities that are already at protection level 4 in order to strengthen their local response, and to support the needs of people in their communities who do not have support networks and are struggling with the restrictions or guidance—particularly those who are most at risk through health or social inequalities. That could include people who are at higher clinical risk, older people and disabled people who encounter barriers that emerge—for example, in accessing food and other essential items, as Tom Mason suggests.

As before, we can all help by looking out for others. Some people will continue to rely on family, friends and neighbours for help with getting food and other essentials. Anyone who needs additional advice, information, support or help can call the free national assistance helpline on 0800 111 4000, which is available from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. The helpline continues to provide a freephone connection to local authorities, which can provide additional support including access to food, pharmacy services, social services, emotional support, and third sector services and even volunteers. Advice on how to get help for those who need it and advice for people who want to help others safely in their community is available at ready.scot.

Tom Mason

Back in March last year, over-75s were asked to shield for four weeks, which quickly became eight weeks, then 12, then until the summer, then until Christmas, and now well into the spring. Those who are living alone will face isolation and loneliness as face-to-face contact is again reduced. Understandably, many older folk are now near their wits’ end. Age Scotland is warning that another lockdown will be extremely difficult for older people to endure, and that a winter action plan will be needed to ensure that they can access the food, medicines and treatments that are needed in order to get through the latest measures.

Will the minister commit to delivering those provisions in a winter plan for our older people, as they face the challenges that the restrictions will bring in the weeks ahead?

Christina McKelvie

I have seen the Age Scotland report that Tom Mason has referenced, which includes all the challenges to which he referred. Age Scotland is one of our key partners on the national implementation group on social isolation and loneliness, and members will not be surprised to hear that we have been working closely together.

As well as the national helpline, to which I referred in my response to the initial question, we also have a national helpline that is run by Age Scotland and has been funded by the Scottish Government to the tune of almost £1 million.

We are working closely with the national implementation group, as I said. We are also working closely with members of our older people’s strategic action forum, who regularly come to us with intelligence, issues and challenges, and with very good ideas about what is happening on the ground.

We are working across those sectors in a number of areas, including access to food, pharmacy services and volunteers—the whole thing—in order to support older people in lockdown. We know that the restrictions have been absolutely terrible for older people, especially older people who do not have a support network around them. That is why they have the national helpline, and it is why we are working so closely with Age Scotland. I will be keen to update Tom Mason on any other aspects of that, if he wants to get back to me.

We have in place a winter plan, which we announced just before Christmas and is funded to the tune of £100 million. A huge proportion of that is to support older people so that they can remain connected, and to ensure that those connections are sustainable in the future. I look forward to speaking to Tom Mason, perhaps, about some of the details of that.


Older People (Lockdown Restrictions)

4. Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it will provide to assist older people in coping with the January Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. (S5O-04900)

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

My answer to that question feeds nicely into my answers to Tom Mason’s questions.

We realise that this winter will be particularly difficult for older people. As we know, lockdown restrictions are necessary, but they are also very hard. As I outlined in my previous answers, we have put in place a range of support to help people to manage those aspects of the situation.

As I also said, I will continue to work alongside our older people’s strategic action forum, which is absolutely determined to come up with ideas that will best meet older people’s needs, and is working closely with people who are affected. I am pleased to say that funding of more than £1.3 million has been provided to allow the forum to react, reach out and support its networks.

We will continue to update and publish guidance on the support that is available to help people to overcome challenges in accessing and affording food and other essentials. I strongly encourage individuals who cannot get help from others to call the national helpline that I mentioned earlier, which is a key point of contact that I hope all members will share with their local networks.

Christine Grahame

This dreadful virus has made it necessary for elderly people to access the internet for essentials and—which is perhaps more important—for human contact. I commend the work of Outside the Box. It provides elderly people in my constituency with tablets and 24 gigabyte pay-as-you-go data SIM cards, which gives them access to the internet, together with individualised support through the digital buddies project, which I believe the minister will visit next week.

Does the minister agree that that project should be replicated across Scotland? Now that I have heard the chink of money—by which I mean the £1.3 million that the minister mentioned—I ask her to say whether any would be available to roll out the project elsewhere in Scotland.

Christina McKelvie

I am delighted to confirm that I am meeting representatives of Outside the Box and the digital buddies project on 19 January, which I look forward to.

Christine Grahame’s question touched on the work that we do through the connecting Scotland programme. The digital buddies in her constituency are not the only ones to do such work—a lot is being done elsewhere. For example, Anne and Christine from Outside the Box have ensured that their group of older people have embraced getting online, which can sometimes be a bit scary. The digital buddies project has allowed practical support to be delivered despite the restrictions on meeting people.

If you do not mind, Presiding Officer, I would like to read a couple of quotations from people who have taken part in the project. People have said:

“It’s been amazing, I haven’t been able to see my grandsons much for the last 9 months, now we video call every week, I just love it.”

“I hadn’t been able to go to the community council meetings since lockdown started, it was great to be able to take part again.”

“My sister lives in America, with help from my digital buddy we had a video call … It was the first time I had seen her in 10 years. It was brilliant and very emotional.”

I do not think that any of us could say that those comments are not evidence of transformational change. My thanks go to Outside the Box, which I look forward to visiting next week.

As Christine Grahame knows, members of the older people’s strategic action forum will certainly keep me on my toes, too. I look forward to continuing our work in the area.

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

Since the start of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has invested £350 million to help communities through the current public health crisis, which has allowed charities including the Food Train to help older people to access food. How many older people have been supported by the Food Train?

Christina McKelvie

The Food Train is a smashing organisation. In the past, the Scottish Government has worked with it to tackle malnutrition in older people and to ensure that they are well nourished. Since the onset of the pandemic, it has been provided with £314,000 to support older people through provision of meals and shopping services. It runs a number of programmes that have supported, on average, 3,500 older people a month, which will be the number that Shona Robison is looking for. That is a great testament to the work that it does.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you very much, colleagues. We might have to have slightly more succinct contributions, if we are to get though all the questions.


Older People (Impact of Covid-19)

2. James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to protect older people in Glasgow from the impact of Covid-19. (S5O-04898)

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

Our focus throughout has been to protect people across Scotland, including people in Glasgow, in James Kelly’s region.

We have a wide range of advice, information and resources available through our Ready Scotland website on how people can stay safe, get help and give help to others during the coronavirus pandemic, and we have provided mental health advice through our Clear Your Head campaign, as well as specific advice on keeping people safe via the FACTS campaign.

People who require to self-isolate have access to information and support via the national helpline, which is connected to local authorities, and wider funding of £350 million has been provided to support work directly in communities.

Vaccinations—which bring us all a bit of hope—are now being rolled out for residents in care homes, older adults and their carers; people over the age of 80 and front-line health and social care workers remain a top priority.

James Kelly

I am very concerned about the loneliness situation among pensioners in Glasgow. Many pensioners are cut off from their families and are unable to leave their homes, and they do not have access to their normal support networks, such as local pensioners clubs. For some pensioners, that has resulted in a desperate situation, where they are suffering from not only loneliness but depression.

What action has been taken to identify older people who are potentially in that vulnerable situation and what action has been taken to follow up on that?

Christina McKelvie

That is an important question. We know about all the groups and the organisations that we are involved in, but we need to make contact with people who may not be involved in those groups and organisations. That is why a lot of our media campaigns and the work that we do are around ensuring that people get the right information and the support that they need.

We need everybody to pass on that information about support. If James Kelly has particular constituents who need that information, we would be happy to provide that. Loneliness is an incredibly serious issue.

We have funded the older people’s strategic action forum to go online and to be digital, to make and sustain those connections and carry people through the pandemic. Many aspects of the work that the forum has been doing help to make those connections and identify those people.

The most important aspect is to identify the people who need that support, especially if they do not have support structures. Many of the groups are doing just that. I get intelligence almost weekly about the people whom they are now contacting and the areas that we may need to focus on.

We are always moving and we are always refining and updating the work that we are doing. However, if there is anything specific in Mr Kelly’s constituency that he thinks we should be focusing on, I would be happy to hear about it, because we all have a responsibility to make sure that we work together on the issue.


Older People (Support while Shielding)

3. Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that older people who are shielding receive appropriate support. (S5O-04899)

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

We have made a £15 million flexible fund available to local authorities that are at protection level 4 to strengthen the local response to supporting the needs of people who do not have support networks, including those on the shielding list, older people and disabled people. Anyone who needs advice or support can call the national assistance helpline—I cannot overstate how important that is. I hope that everybody puts that information on their social media and advertises that helpline in any other way that they can. The helpline connects to local authorities, which can provide practical and emotional support, including access to food and other essential items.

In December, we sent everyone on the shielding list a booklet providing advice and information on the support that is available. That is especially important for people with less digital access to information and helpline numbers. It also targets the group that James Kelly just spoke about, who may not be digitally connected. I know from the feedback that I have had from the older people’s strategic action forum that getting the booklet through the door was a real benefit for those people.

Rachael Hamilton

We know the toll that the virus has taken. It has taken a substantial toll on the older population in Scotland and the mental and physical health impacts have been well documented. Christina McKelvie confirmed that the Scottish National Party’s connecting Scotland programme targets just 5,000 older and disabled people. Considering that the Scottish Government’s own household survey in 2019 showed that there were about 123,000 over-65s living with no home internet, will the Scottish Government commit now to increasing the number of older and disabled people supported by that programme, and can the minister confirm today whether work on the Government’s connected Scotland strategy, which was paused in the spring, has now restarted?

The Presiding Officer

Please keep your answer as brief as possible, minister.

Christina McKelvie

There were a couple of questions there. It is not just 5,000 people who are supported by the connecting Scotland programme; it is 5,000 older people, but the programme involves 9,000 individuals who are at high clinical risk from Covid-19, including older people. The programme is expanding and developing all the time, and it involves a lot more than 5,000 people. I am happy to give Rachael Hamilton an update on it.

Rachael Hamilton also asked about the connected Scotland strategy. We paused the work on the details of the strategy, but we did not pause the work of delivering on it. The national implementation group involves key partners in all the actions that we are taking to ensure that anybody who is socially isolated and lonely gets the support that they need. That is why the funding is being delivered through those key partners.

The Presiding Officer

We have a brief supplementary question from Bill Kidd.

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

I have listened to what has been said, but can the minister confirm that an older person who is on the shielding list can sign up for priority access to online supermarket delivery slots, as was the case in the first lockdown?

Christina McKelvie

Yes. We have offered everyone on the shielding list access to priority online supermarket delivery slots, and that offer remains open so, again, it would be good if members could share that. In December, we sent everyone on the shielding list the booklet that I spoke about entitled “Balancing the risks of daily activities during coronavirus”, which has additional advice on how to sign up for priority online supermarket delivery slots. The chief medical officer’s letter of 5 January also reminded everyone about signing up for that. Those communications provided advice on contacting the national helpline for anyone who needs to sign up. Again, I appeal to members to get that message out to their constituents.


Universal Credit

5. Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what issues regarding universal credit have been raised in recent discussions or correspondence with the United Kingdom Government. (S5O-04901)

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

The Scottish Government has written to the UK Government on eight occasions during the pandemic with calls to address the myriad of issues that affect universal credit. I have had calls with UK ministerial counterparts throughout the same period to reiterate those issues.

We have repeatedly urged the UK Government to confirm that it will make the £20 per week uplift to universal credit and working tax credit permanent and extend it to legacy benefits. We have also called for urgent fixes, including offering non-repayable grants for new applicants and scrapping punitive policies such as the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and the two-child limit. We will continue to urge the UK Government to make universal credit a system that works for people and not against them.

Linda Fabiani

Despite the recent ruling in what has come to be known as the Johnson case, which was supported by the Child Poverty Action Group, the Department for Work and Pensions is continuing with the practice of penalising workers who are paid four weekly because they are paid twice within one assessment period. There is also the issue of employees who are paid monthly being paid early, perhaps because of the weekend or a public holiday, and who face the same situation. I have previously written to the appropriate UK Government ministers about that, but I have had no satisfactory response that protects constituents. Will the cabinet secretary please add that issue to the list of many issues for discussion with the appropriate ministers and the DWP at the first opportunity?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I give Linda Fabiani a reassurance that I will absolutely do that, as I share her concerns about the issue. I agree with the High Court judgment that the treatment of claimants who are paid on anything other than a monthly basis is terribly inflexible and unfair. In effect, it leads to an imposition of a benefit cap. To quote the ruling, that approach is one that

“no reasonable Secretary of State”

would have taken.

Last year, the number of households in Scotland that are subject to the benefit cap nearly doubled, to 6,400, and 97 per cent of those households had children. The UK Government urgently needs to fix a myriad of issues with universal credit, but Linda Fabiani is right to point out that concerning issue, and I urge the DWP to look at it seriously. As I said, I am more than happy to reiterate to the DWP my concerns on the issue and on other issues with universal credit.


Covid-19 (Loneliness and Isolation)

6. Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what is being done to tackle loneliness and social isolation resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04902)

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

I know that the new, tougher restrictions are hard. We are all very well aware of the social harms of social isolation and loneliness, which we have spoken about a lot this afternoon. That is why, as part of our £100 million winter funding package, we have invested nearly £6 million in promoting equality and tackling social isolation and loneliness. That includes £4.3 million of additional funding for our connecting Scotland programme specifically to get an additional 5,000 older and disabled people online, as well as funding for befriending helplines. For example, Age Scotland’s helpline, which has now received more than £1 million since the start of the pandemic, has been expanded to meet that need.

Dr Allan

As I am sure the minister will confirm, there are particular dangers of loneliness among people who do not have access to a car and who live in rural areas, where public transport is limited at the best of times and might now be non-existent. What is being done to reach out to people who find themselves in that specific situation?

Christina McKelvie

As part of our £5.91 million winter support package, Befriending Networks Scotland has been awarded £100,000 for a scheme to award small grants of up to £5,000 to tackle loneliness and isolation. Grants will be balanced across rural and urban locations, as well as age groups and other specific groups. We are well aware of the rural aspect.

We know from the Scottish household survey that people in the 16 to 24 age group are most likely to report experiences of isolation and loneliness, and our evidence base suggests that some groups within that group can be at particular risk, such as young mums. That is why we have funded YouthLink Scotland, which already has a role in distributing grant funding to a range of youth work organisations that work on the ground, by providing it with £150,000 to administer a grant scheme to help young people across Scotland—including those in rural and island communities—to get the support that they need to communicate.


Low-income Families (Best Start Foods)

7. Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how best start foods has supported children and families who are living on a low income. (S5O-04903)

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

The best start foods scheme provides direct financial support to low-income families on certain benefits to ensure that healthy foods are part of their family’s diet. We are building a benefits system in Scotland that treats people with dignity, fairness and respect. The devolved best start foods scheme has ended the stigma associated with the United Kingdom paper voucher system by replacing it with a payment card, which can be used like a regular debit card. The scheme has increased the level of payment that is provided to recipients, and it offers more choice by including a wider range of foods for families to purchase and increased access to a wider range of retailers.

Uptake of the scheme increased to around 75 per cent in 2019-20, compared with a take-up rate of 58 per cent for healthy start vouchers. Since August 2019, we have invested £11.7 million to ensure that children and families have access to healthy foods through the best start foods scheme.

Bob Doris

The best start foods scheme has been a clear success. That said, I have been working with the Glasgow north baby food bank in an effort to end double delivery charges by supermarkets for families who use the scheme. I welcome the fact that, following my representations, Social Security Scotland is in discussion with supermarkets in an attempt to have additional online service charges for those families removed. Such charges are often imposed because of the low value of an online order.

I also welcome the fact that it emerged during those discussions that Tesco and Iceland have developed offers and discounts for families who use the best start foods scheme, but those might need to be better advertised in the future.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it would be a hugely positive step if supermarket chains across Scotland eliminated double delivery charges, as well as offering a range of discounted or free products for families who use the best start foods scheme?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I recognise the issue that Bob Doris has raised, and I thank him for again bringing it to my attention. We will continue our engagement with retailers on delivery charges in an attempt to find solutions whenever possible. It is particularly welcome that certain supermarkets have been offering special deals to those who have been on the best start foods scheme. That is obviously fundamentally a choice for the retailers themselves, but it has given welcome assistance to those who are in receipt of best start foods, particularly at this difficult time. I encourage other retailers to look at such deals and those retailers that already have them to extend them, particularly as the crisis goes on. I also thank those retailers for looking at what can be done to assist people at this time.

The Presiding Officer

If we are very brief, we can squeeze in the final question.


Older People (Loneliness)

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

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to help alleviate loneliness in older people during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04904)

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

Dean Lockhart will not be surprised to realise that I have answered a lot of that question in my earlier responses, including on the funding of £15 million and £40 million, access to the helpline, and working alongside our older people’s strategic action forum. I hope that those answers respond to Dean Lockhart’s questions, but I look forward to his supplementary.

Dean Lockhart

One of the activities that older people can do to alleviate loneliness is to meet a family member or a friend outside. However, in recent weeks, because of the winter conditions, some paths and walkways have become more dangerous for older people. That situation has been made worse by the failure of local authorities to clear paths and walkways. Will the minister join me in calling for local authorities to do more to make paths and walkways safer for older people in these winter conditions?

Christina McKelvie

That is obviously the responsibility of local authorities and I am always happy to support our local authorities to do what they need to do to make areas safe. It is not for me to dictate that to them, but I recognise the issue that Dean Lockhart has raised, and I know that a number of partners in the older people’s strategic action forum have also raised the issue.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you, and I thank ministers and colleagues for squeezing all the questions in again. That concludes the questions on the first portfolio, so I hand over to Lewis Macdonald to chair the next session of portfolio questions, which are on finance.


Finance

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald)

The next portfolio questions are on finance. I remind members that they should enter R in the chat function if they wish to ask a supplementary question.


Covid-19 (Targeted Business Support)

1. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance’s announcement on 9 December, how many businesses have received support from the £185 million funding package. (S5O-04905)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Kate Forbes)

For context, I am sure that Jamie Greene knows this, but we have allocated more than £3 billion to businesses since the beginning of the pandemic. That is more than a third of overall Covid spend, with the vast majority having been paid out to businesses already.

Things have changed, with the changes to the current restrictions on business, so right now just under 50,000 businesses can apply to the open strategic framework business fund to receive their recurring four-weekly grants, which will be paid in January. Those are administered by local authorities.

The December payment was made more than a week early, before Christmas, and we are on track to make the January payment on time. I remind members that all eligible businesses that have been forced to close can apply right now. That is clearly a vast swathe of the business community. Most of them will also a get a top-up of up to £25,000, which will be paid in January and is, obviously, more generous than the top-up that was announced in the December statement. Businesses can apply for that grant right now, but in order to reduce the administrative burden for businesses and local authorities, we have streamlined the schemes, so both payments will be made in one go in January.

Jamie Greene

I thank the cabinet secretary for her lengthy response, which unfortunately did not answer my question. How much of the £185 million that was announced on 9 January has actually been paid out to businesses? We are halfway through January and businesses are going to the wall. Jobs are being lost every day. It is not good enough to make top-line promises without delivering quickly enough on the ground.

I again ask the cabinet secretary to explain how much of the fund has been physically delivered to real businesses, in cash, on the ground. If the cabinet secretary does not know the answer to that, will she commit to researching and gathering the data from local authorities, and to publishing and reporting it every week so that we know that businesses are getting the money that is announced after top-level announcements?

Kate Forbes

I thank Jamie Greene and humbly suggest that he should also do research when it comes to gathering the facts because, right now, businesses require information rather than misinformation.

Data on payments that were made in December will be published imminently. On businesses that can receive support, I told the member in my first answer that just under 50,000 businesses can currently apply to the open strategic framework business fund to receive four-weekly recurring grants, which will be paid in January. On our track record, local authorities paid out the grant in December a week early.

The top-up that was announced on Monday means that pubs and restaurants in Scotland that have a rateable value of up to £15,000—in other words, small businesses—will receive more than £2,500 more this month than their equivalents in England will receive under the Tories. Local authorities are working extremely hard to distribute the grants, which will be paid in January as we promised. We recognise the huge pressure on businesses right now.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

As part of the £185 million package, the cabinet secretary announced that hospitality businesses will receive a very welcome one-off payment of between £2,000 and £3,000. Can she provide detail on how many businesses in Scotland it is expected will be eligible for those payments?

Kate Forbes

As Colin Beattie rightly said, in December we announced a one-off payment. For the hospitality sector, that has been considerably increased to up to £25,000 for larger businesses. That means that a property such as a pub or a restaurant with a rateable value of more than £51,000 will receive £16,000 more than its equivalent south of the border.

We expect tens of thousands of business premises to be eligible for that top-up, which covers retail, hospitality and leisure. As eligibility is aligned with the strategic framework, businesses need to make only one application. They will receive the four-weekly recurring grant as well as the top-up. In my previous answer, I indicated that a majority of the businesses that apply will receive that top-up.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

The additional top-up for hospitality, retail and leisure is, of course, very welcome. Unfortunately, the self-catering sector appears to have been missed out. Such businesses are also hospitality businesses. There are hundreds of self-catering businesses in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park area, and there are thousands throughout Scotland, including in the cabinet secretary’s constituency. Those businesses feel that they are being treated very unfairly. Why are there no similar one-off grants for that sector, and will the cabinet secretary urgently review the position?

Kate Forbes

I will correct the record on one point that Jackie Baillie made. She is quite right to ask about self-catering properties, but I stress that they are already eligible for grants through the strategic framework business fund. All non-domestic-rated businesses that are required by law to close—that includes self-catering businesses in level 4 areas—are eligible. We have not excluded them.

On the member’s question about one-off payments, the self-catering sector is one of the very few that have a bespoke sectoral scheme. Work is at an advanced stage on designing that and making payments. That will be the second sectoral scheme for self-catering businesses; the previous one was launched last summer. All members know from our mailbags that many sectors that would like sectoral schemes do not have that kind of specific support.

I understand the concerns. We have announced a self-catering business specific grant, and we will honour the commitment to deliver it.


Barnett Consequentials 2020-21 (Allocation)

2. Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how much of the Barnett consequentials announced for 2020-21 it has formally allocated. (S5O-04906)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Kate Forbes)

To date, £8.2 billion of consequentials have been formally allocated via the summer and autumn budget revisions, as I indicated in my letter of 8 December to the Finance and Constitution Committee. Since then—just hours before Christmas—a further £400 million of funding has been provided in consequentials. That funding will support a range of costs and has already been distributed to cover support for further grants that have been made under the strategic framework and the top-up business grants that were announced on 11January. Those funds are demand led, so—as Liam Kerr will appreciate—sufficient funding must be allocated to cover that demand until the end of the financial year. Final allocations will be set out in the spring budget revision.

Liam Kerr

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, but businesses in Aberdeen and the north-east are on their knees and are desperate to receive the support that the cabinet secretary has promised. Data that were published yesterday show that only seven out of 30 funds have even been launched, and that only £6 million of the new funding that was announced in October has actually reached businesses. Without that money, businesses cannot survive and jobs will be lost.

As the cabinet secretary pointed out, the Scottish National Party has got the money from the UK Government, so what is causing the delay? When will the SNP get its act together and give businesses in the north-east the funds that they have been promised?

Kate Forbes

Liam Kerr says that data have been published. He might find that what was published was actually a Conservative press release and not data, because those figures are not accurate.

With regard to support for businesses right now, I remind him of what I said to his colleague Jamie Greene, and suggest that the Conservatives, rather than misleading businesses, start to distribute information and facts. That information includes the fact that the strategic framework, which is the main focus for businesses—the main fund that is available right now—is live and open, and payments will be made on a four-weekly basis. The next payment date is at the end of January—if payment in December is anything to go by, we will meet the deadline and might, in fact, try to beat it.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

The UK Government recently pledged an additional £4.6 billion to support business across the UK, which included an additional £375 million for Scotland. However, I understand that the UK Government has subsequently backtracked on that commitment and has suggested that Scotland will receive no additional funding at all. Can the cabinet secretary advise members on what the Scottish Government’s latest engagement has been with the UK Government regarding consequentials arising from that announcement?

Kate Forbes

In the immediate aftermath of that announced change, I wrote to the UK Government to express my disappointment that the announcement of funding for businesses in England did not, despite the initial indications, generate new funding. That is a blow to Scottish businesses, many of which were confused by the announcements.

I had hoped, considering that the Scottish Tories seem to be so certain about what funding is available to the Scottish Government, that that situation might have reminded them of how fluid the situation is, and of how complicated it is in terms of the funding that is allocated to the Scottish Government. We do not wait for the UK Government to get its act together—we make announcements and get funding out the door. That is precisely what we are doing with the strategic framework business fund, from which the next payment will be made at the end of January.


Level 4 Restrictions (Business Support)

3. Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it has allocated to provide financial support for businesses in the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency that have been impacted by level 4 Covid-19 restrictions. (S5O-04907)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Kate Forbes)

I recognise that businesses in the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency have been badly hit by the level 4 Covid restrictions and will, as are businesses across the country, be struggling.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have allocated almost £3 billion in support for businesses. Grants are provided to local authorities, which can distribute them to businesses in their area on a demand-led basis. Those funds are live and are available for application right now. The details of any funding that is available through local authorities is available on the Scottish Government website.

Clare Adamson

We know that a number of businesses have, for different reasons, been eligible for the various business support schemes that have been implemented since the start of the pandemic. The Scottish Government has stepped in and announced the local authority discretionary scheme, which will allow councils to be flexible in awarding financial support. What guidance has been given to councils in the formulation of that scheme? Can the cabinet secretary give further details on when and how businesses in my constituency may expect to benefit from it?

Kate Forbes

That is an important question. We recognise that there are gaps in UK Government schemes and, indeed, in our own schemes, and we recognise the challenges that have been faced by businesses that feel that they have been excluded from the beginning. One of the ways in which we have tried to reach them has been by providing discretionary funding to local authorities. I emphasise that that funding is discretionary in nature. Apart from our asking that the funding be spent on businesses, and that local authorities try to reach businesses that have not received funding to date, it is for local authorities to determine themselves how to distribute the funding, and they have been given guidance to that effect.

My officials have engaged with North Lanarkshire Council, and I understand that the details of the council’s discretionary scheme are being considered for approval by its enterprise and growth committee on 4 February, with the scheme being set to go live shortly thereafter. I am sure that the details of the scheme will be published on North Lanarkshire Council’s website.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Question 4 has not been lodged.


Covid-19 (Business Support)

5. Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it will allocate to support businesses experiencing difficulties due to Covid-19 that do not qualify for current schemes, or for which the assistance is inadequate to meet their needs. (S5O-04909)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Kate Forbes)

We will continue to do all that we can to support businesses. In addition to the announcement that I made this week about top-up payments in level 4, I have also announced the discretionary payment to island local authorities for businesses that are not required by law to close but are seeing reduced custom and trade. That additional, one-off funding will help island local authorities support businesses in their areas.

That is in addition to the funding that is already available through the £38 million discretionary fund, and it means that support for businesses in island communities can be brought up to the same level as that for businesses that are affected by level 4 restrictions on the mainland. As I said in my previous answer, that discretionary fund is truly discretionary, and it can reach those that have been excluded from current schemes.

Rhoda Grant

I am grateful for that. Many island businesses are impacted in exactly the same way as mainland businesses, because they depend on those areas for their trade.

Laundries and dry cleaners throughout Scotland have been told to remain open as well, because they are an essential service. However, the bulk of their trade is from hospitality, which means that their business has totally disappeared, but they do not qualify for assistance—nor do people who do not pay business rates but have high overheads, because they are not covered by support grants. Many other businesses do not receive support.

Will the cabinet secretary look at making support available to all viable businesses that will otherwise fail due to Covid-19?

Kate Forbes

Rhoda Grant highlights a number of very important points. The nature of our business community is complicated, so the schemes that are available have to be complex in nature in order to reach all businesses. Blanket schemes leave some out.

I have already answered the point about island communities, in saying that this week we announced funding for our island local authorities to help them provide support on a par with that provided to businesses in level 4 areas.

On the point about other businesses that Rhoda Grant has mentioned, there are two ways of resolving that. The first is discretionary funding for local authorities across Scotland, which, again, can be used at the discretion of local authorities. The second is sector-based grants, which we have moved into providing.

As I said in December, there is a risk of the landscape of grant support becoming quite complicated and complex. However, for the self-employed, businesses that do not owe domestic rates and businesses that are not registered in any way in Scotland but that need support—for example, businesses in the wedding sector, taxi drivers or mobile close-contact businesses such as beauticians—those sectoral schemes will reach them.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I will raise the issue of self-catering accommodation providers, which was referred to earlier. The cabinet secretary had previously announced a £7 million scheme. When will that scheme be open for applications and, given that there are more than 16,000 registered self-catering properties in Scotland, and £7 million averages out at just over £400 each, is that sufficient to compensate the sector for the losses that it is suffering?

Kate Forbes

The one form of support that Murdo Fraser did not mention but which the self-catering sector is receiving is the on-going strategic framework business fund. Self-catering properties will receive grants of up to £3,000 in January and on top of that, as he mentioned, there is the sectoral scheme, which I announced in December would go live in January—that remains the intention. We are happy to take feedback, which I have heard loud and clear throughout these questions, but at the moment all self-catering properties in level 4 areas will get a grant of up to £3,000 in January and those in our island communities can receive support from the discretionary fund that has been given to our island local authorities.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Following my discussion with the finance secretary last week, I thank her for accepting the case for additional funding to allow businesses in level 3 areas such as Orkney access to the same support that is available to level 4 businesses from the strategic fund. However, is she able to allay fears among businesses in my constituency by confirming that island councils are free to use the top-up funding to support any business, including self-catering and bed and breakfasts, that would be eligible for support under the framework fund, and that the sector-specific funds that have been announced are in addition and are open to businesses in level 3 and level 4?

Kate Forbes

We have listened to feedback from people such as Liam McArthur and others in relation to ensuring that there is support available for the island communities. On the specific question, discretionary funding is available to local authorities, including island local authorities, to do whatever they want with as long as it is for businesses and it reaches those who had been excluded. My view is that the top-up funding should mean that businesses in island communities receive the same support at the same level as businesses in level 4 areas.


Covid-19 (Construction and Development Industry)

6. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it has allocated to support the construction and development industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04910)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Kate Forbes)

When the pandemic began back in late March, we moved rapidly to put in place a support package to protect businesses, jobs and livelihoods. That included the business support grant fund, totalling more than £1 billion, which included the small business grant fund offering grants up to £10,000 on properties in receipt of certain reliefs.

We also introduced the pivotal enterprise resilience fund for vulnerable small and medium-sized enterprises that are vital to the local, regional or national economy, and that delivered almost £12 million of support primarily to the construction sector. Separately, we provided a £230 million return-to-work package to stimulate Scotland’s economy and provide the confidence that our construction industry requires. Together, that package of support has tried to address the challenges that the construction industry faces.

Brian Whittle

The cabinet secretary will be aware that in the construction industry the workforce is predominantly provided by subcontractors, which can furlough staff should those staff be uncertain of their ability to come back to work. That often leaves main contractors and developers the cost of interest payments, site costs and losses if the site has to close. What support can the Scottish Government give to those in that situation?

Kate Forbes

That is a good point; if the member wants to flesh out the specifics of what he is talking about, I would be happy to look at that.

On the question about subcontractors, where businesses need support there may well be support available to them. Secondly, right now, confidence is imperative. Brian Whittle talked about contractors being concerned and worried about their pipeline of work and therefore about taking decisions on subcontractors. There is an important role for Government to play in providing that confidence. In two weeks’ time, there is a budget and, as part of that, I intend to set out a pipeline of infrastructure work, not just over the next year but over the next few years, to give that confidence and, I hope, allow construction companies not just to invest in their workforce but to expand it in order to meet the pipeline of work that will be available.


Covid-19 (Business Support)

7. Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how much funding it has made available to business throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04911)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Kate Forbes)

Since the early stages of the pandemic, our support for business and the economy totals almost £3 billion, which is more than a third of total Covid funding. That demonstrates our firm commitment to provide as much as possible to directly support affected businesses.

Ruth Maguire

It is important that steps are taken to ensure that demand for business support does not outstrip the resources that are available. However, a lack of fiscal flexibilities limits the action that the Scottish Government can take in that regard. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the United Kingdom Government should urgently release reserves to enable the Scottish Government to provide additional support to business?

Kate Forbes

I thank the member for that question and I assume that she is talking about the fact that the UK Government has announced a £55 billion Covid fund for the coming year, but has allocated only a small amount of that funding. From the outset, we have been clear that this year’s Covid funding from the UK Government is welcome but that it does not cover all the need. In these questions alone, I have heard calls for additional support for businesses in different sectors, and it is clear that businesses are facing challenging times. We will use every penny that we can to get the support out of the door.

We also need to make sure that we cover all the costs and needs between now and the end of the financial year. I am concerned that, at this stage in the financial year—almost halfway through January—we are still awaiting our final funding settlement for 2020-21. Furthermore, the UK Government might release additional consequentials that it has announced but not allocated. That is why I wrote to the chancellor this week to request that that reserve be allocated, so that we know what we are planning with, because that would allow us to fully plan and respond to the crisis now rather than waiting for the delayed UK budget in March.


Public Finances (Shared Prosperity Fund)

8. Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether there has been an update from the United Kingdom Government on the UK shared prosperity fund and how it will impact on Scotland. (S5O-04912)

The Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance (Ivan McKee)

Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, Scotland is now unable to participate in future EU structural funds programmes.

The recent UK spending review provided outline information about the shared prosperity fund and a modest £220 million one-year additional funding programme to cover the entire UK. How those funds will operate in practice or how the Scottish Government will participate in their development are questions that remain unanswered.

Based on a like-for-like replacement of previous EU funding support for Scotland, we seek an annual replacement value of £183 million for Scotland from the UK fund.

Given the lack of concrete information from the UK Government, we are unable to determine how Scotland will benefit from those funds, but we are working hard to ensure that Scotland is not short changed. We have published our proposals for the shared prosperity fund and continue to press the UK Government for full devolution of funding to ensure that Scotland’s distinctive needs are met.

Colin Beattie

Given the continuing uncertainty in respect of how Scotland’s finances will be impacted post-Brexit, how does the Scottish Government propose to mitigate those risks and is the UK Government taking steps to provide reassurance in that regard?

Ivan McKee

We are doing all that we can with the powers that we have to mitigate the worst impacts of the UK’s exit from the EU. Measures are being taken to protect trade and critical supply chains in order to reduce the risks of disruption of goods and people crossing borders and to provide Scottish businesses with the vital advice and information that they need to continue to operate effectively.

However, we are clear that we will not be able to mitigate all the impacts completely. Any loss of structural funds moneys on the scale that I have outlined would be very difficult for us to mitigate. The impact on many of Scotland’s most fragile communities could be significant and we should not be surprised that the Tories are finding new ways to attack the poorest in our society. That is why we will continue to press for full devolution of our fair share of future funding, for the lost structural funds at least to be replaced in full and for there to be no grab by Westminster of our devolved powers in that area. That is what our stakeholders want and that is what we will keep trying to deliver.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes questions on finance. I will hand over the chair to the Presiding Officer for the next set of portfolio questions.


Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Our final portfolio this afternoon is environment, climate change and land reform. I remind members that questions 4, 6 and 8 are grouped together and questions 5 and 7 are grouped together. That means that supplementary questions will come at the end of each grouping. There are quite a lot of members who wish to ask supplementary questions today, so I encourage all members and ministers to be concise.


Offshore Wind Farms (Protection of Marine Life)

1. Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that marine life is protected in the development of offshore wind farms. (S5O-04913)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Ben Macpherson)

[Inaudible.]

The Presiding Officer

Minister, I am going to pause you for a moment because your microphone is not working.

We will move to question 2 and then come back to you.


Climate Change (Support for Innovative Projects)

2. David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports the design of new and innovative projects that can help to tackle climate change. (S5O-04914)

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

The climate change plan update, published in December, sets out several measures to support innovation and encourage new technologies and ideas. That includes £180 million for a new emerging energy technologies fund, which will support the development of Scottish hydrogen and carbon capture and storage industries, as well as new negative emissions technologies.

Innovation happens at the community level, too. Last week, I was delighted to announce support of £3.2 million this year for more than 270 projects through the community climate asset fund, which provides new and innovative ways for communities across Scotland to contribute to the national endeavour.

David Torrance

We have seen many successful community energy projects, which have not only provided people with improved energy efficiency options but helped to regenerate communities. What assistance can the Scottish Government give to community groups that are keen to take a proactive role in achieving Scotland’s zero carbon goal through community-led renewable energy projects?

Roseanna Cunningham

I have already mentioned the community climate asset fund. The Scottish Government also continues to support the growth of community and renewable energy through its community and renewable energy scheme. Since its inception, CARES has made available more than £51 million to support more than 600 community and locally owned renewable energy projects across Scotland. That is helping communities to play a part in the transition to net zero. The next iteration of CARES, which is due to commence on 1 April, will focus on decarbonisation—particularly heat decarbonisation—and driving community-led activity.

The Presiding Officer

I am hopeful that we have reconnected with the minister, Ben Macpherson. The question was from Beatrice Wishart on the development of offshore wind farms.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Ben Macpherson)

Throughout the development process for offshore wind farms in Scottish waters, the Scottish Government manages a delicate balance between delivering our net zero commitment and protecting Scotland’s diverse and precious marine environment. Strategic environmental assessments ensure that environmental issues are taken into account at the planning stage, and habitats regulations appraisals are undertaken to determine whether a plan or project will have an adverse effect on the integrity of a protected area.

Following that, at the application stage, developers must submit an environmental report identifying potential impacts on marine life, which is subject to rigorous consultation with environmental stakeholders. Ministers are required to consider those impacts when making their determination. Should consent be granted, it is subject to conditions mitigating and monitoring the effects on the environment where necessary, maintaining the important balance between the need to produce clean green energy and protecting our natural environment.

Beatrice Wishart

It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 tonnes of unexploded munitions in British waters, and many of them will be at Scottish sites that are earmarked for offshore wind farm development. As the Scottish Environment LINK orca species champion, I am concerned about the impact on cetaceans of clearing munitions. Detonations and explosions can displace animals and cause permanent hearing loss, and fish breeding grounds can be impacted.

I have had correspondence with the cabinet secretary about low-order deflagration, which is a new disposal technology. What progress has been made on the introduction of a policy change to make use of such technology to protect marine life?

Ben Macpherson

I thank Beatrice Wishart for mentioning her correspondence with the cabinet secretary in the autumn. As she will know, should an unexploded ordnance require detonation, a European protected species licence would be required from Marine Scotland. Compared with other methods of UXO disposal, deflagration has the potential to significantly reduce acoustic impacts. However, for a change in policy to require that technique to be used, such methods must be proven to be commercially viable. We await consideration of that. We are happy to continue to correspond with Beatrice Wishart on those important matters.


Flood Prevention Measures (Lothian)

3. Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support flood prevention measures in Lothian. (S5O-04915)

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

In our programme for government, we committed to providing an extra £150 million for flood risk management, in addition to the £420 million 10-year funding that we have provided to local authorities.

We continue to work with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, local authorities and other relevant bodies to deliver the actions that are detailed in the current flood risk management strategies and plans. That includes supporting the estimated £42 million Musselburgh flood protection scheme, which is at design stage. The next round of strategies and plans will detail the actions that have been prioritised in the 2022 to 2028 flood risk management cycle in order to reduce the risk of flooding to communities in Lothian and elsewhere.

Miles Briggs

The cabinet secretary will be aware that, after torrential rain in early December last year, the River Almond burst its banks at Kirkliston, much to the concern of local residents, who have faced regular flooding threats and the damage that floods have caused over many years. What assessment has been made of the additional measures that will be required to protect residents and businesses in Kirkliston? Will the cabinet secretary assure local people that the Scottish Government will support any necessary measures? Will she also agree to a site visit with me to see the impact of flooding on the local community in Kirkliston?

Roseanna Cunningham

I am not certain that I can agree to the site visit proposal in the current circumstances. I will need to take advice, but we will certainly liaise with Miles Briggs on that.

For any proposal, detailed discussions involving local authorities and SEPA need to take place. I am not certain how far that process has gone in relation to Kirkliston. If Kirkliston is not already one of the areas that is listed in the plans, consideration will be given to its inclusion. I undertake to write to Miles Briggs on that specific issue. Given the recent nature of the incident that he talked about, it would be helpful to know the extent to which consideration and discussions are already taking place on the inclusion of Kirkliston in future flood risk management proposals.

Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

A number of areas in my Edinburgh Pentlands constituency—in particular, parts of Longstone, Kingsknowe, Currie and Balerno—are prone to flooding. What discussions has the Government had with SEPA, Scottish Water and the City of Edinburgh Council on delivering the actions that are set out in the flood risk management strategies and plans?

Roseanna Cunningham

We do, of course, engage extensively with SEPA, Scottish Water and other relevant agencies—including the City of Edinburgh Council—on a wide range of issues to ensure that Scotland is resilient to the challenges of flooding and other climate pressures. National and local working groups provide a forum for discussion on issues including monitoring progress of the flood risk management strategies and plans. The Scottish Government discussed the strategies and plans at the latest Scots flood risk management group meeting in November 2020. The City of Edinburgh Council and SEPA are both members of that group.


Fly-tipping

4. Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made in tackling fly-tipping. (S5O-04916)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Ben Macpherson)

Throughout the pandemic, we have worked closely with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and local authorities to support the reopening and continued safe operation of household waste and recycling centres and essential waste services.

Updated Scottish Government guidance explicitly allows people to travel to access essential waste and recycling services. Local authorities are working hard to keep waste collections operating under very difficult circumstances. I want to pay tribute to and thank all refuse workers for their hard work in keeping our vital services running.

I urge everyone to manage their waste responsibly at this difficult time. Our waste management marketing campaign and web resource, which includes messages on fly-tipping prevention, set out how the public can do that.

Finlay Carson

Since 2015, the inclusion of unauthorised sites within the landfill tax legislation has allowed Revenue Scotland to charge tax on unauthorised dumping. Information sharing also takes place between Revenue Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency that allows SEPA’s intelligence team to share information with Revenue Scotland to determine whether unauthorised disposals have been undertaken.

The legislation relates to unauthorised disposals, including fly-tipping, made with or without the agreement or explicit knowledge of the landowner, where the person liable to pay tax is

“any person who ... made the disposal, or ... knowingly permitted the disposal”.

Can the minister explain why not one penny has been recovered in relation to unauthorised disposals, given that the Government says that it is doing everything that it can to stop fly-tipping?

Ben Macpherson

I thank Mr Carson for that important follow-up and the technical detail. Given that the supplementary question covers both this portfolio and the finance portfolio, I will take his question away, consult finance colleagues and provide him with a written response on the matters raised.


Littering and Fly-tipping

6. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to reduce levels of littering and fly-tipping. (S5O-04918)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Ben Macpherson)

We are working closely with local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to ensure that household waste recycling centres remain open under current Covid-19 restrictions to allow for the recycling and disposal of waste. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have established a waste and resources sector forum to bring together key partners in the waste sector and ensure that we work closely on key issues, including littering and fly-tipping.

Our national litter strategy, which includes measures on fly-tipping, is coming to the end of its five-year lifespan and we are reviewing how to best take forward policy in this area. At the end of the month, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform will attend a round-table discussion to hear proposals for further measures to tackle fly-tipping from various stakeholders.

Claire Baker

I will focus on littering. We are all aware of the importance of using face coverings and masks in the battle against Covid-19, but we are seeing far too many of them littering our streets, beaches and countryside, which presents a risk to wildlife in particular, as well as a health risk.

It is estimated that around 30 per cent of Scots use single-use face coverings. What is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that those face coverings are being disposed of correctly and safely, and how it is promoting the use of reusable face coverings?

Ben Macpherson

Throughout the pandemic and following changes to regulations to stipulate the wearing of face coverings, there have been a number of initiatives on messaging, from national marketing campaigns on how and when we should wear face coverings to encouraging people to use face coverings that can be reused safely once rewashed. There has also been messaging, with partners, on how to dispose of single-use face coverings safely and appropriately. I give the member an undertaking that I will continue to keep considering this important issue and our initiatives as a result of her questions.


Fly-tipping

8. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what discussions it is having with local authorities regarding fly-tipping. (S5O-04920)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Ben Macpherson)

I refer Murdo Fraser to the answers that I have given to the previous questions on this subject. I take the opportunity to restate the Government’s continued and frequent liaison with the waste sector, including the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, via our waste and resources sector forum. The forum has met regularly since the start of the pandemic. In addition, I extend our continued thanks to our key workers in refuse, who are working hard in difficult circumstances to keep that key service running. I am sure that I speak for colleagues in that regard.

Murdo Fraser

Local authorities have the power to issue fines for fly-tipping, but that power is seldom used because there are procedural issues and because of difficulties in the collection of evidence.

When did the Scottish Government last review the legislation that empowers local authorities to take action? Does the Scottish Government believe that it is time to look again at the law on the matter to try to increase the level of prosecution in relation to what is a growing problem?

Ben Macpherson

The Scottish Government is always willing to strengthen our approach to littering and fly-tipping. We increased the penalties in 2014, but if new or additional measures would provide a further deterrent, we are willing to consider those. Such measures might involve looking at how we can strengthen the waste carrier regulations. Those are important questions for us all to consider as we develop the next strategy, and the Scottish Government will certainly do so.

The Presiding Officer

We have a number of supplementary questions on this issue. I am not sure how many we will get in, but we can try. We go to Colin Beattie first.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

What preparation is under way to ensure that our waste sector can continue to operate during this second national lockdown, which is so important to us in stopping the spread of Covid, protecting our national health service and saving lives?

Ben Macpherson

Waste collection is an essential service. As I have said, we are grateful to those who work to keep such services going in communities across Scotland. During this national crisis, we continue to work proactively with COSLA, local authorities, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Zero Waste Scotland and the waste sector as a whole to understand the overall resilience of disposal and collection arrangements and to explore solutions where any challenges are identified.

That process includes working with the waste sector—and with other sectors that have faced similar issues—to share best practice from the first lockdown. In partnership with Zero Waste Scotland, COSLA and SEPA, we are extending our programme of national communications through the managing our waste campaign to support households and industry to manage their waste effectively during this second lockdown.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

On the topic of fly-tipping and littering, will the minister give an update on plans for and progress towards banning harmful single-use plastics as part of the Scottish Government’s intention to build a circular economy?

Ben Macpherson

As members know, the Scottish Government has committed to meet or exceed the standard that is set out in the European Union directive on the use of single-use plastics. We remain committed to long-term initiatives to tackle our throwaway culture and encourage a circular economy.

The consultation seeking views on proposals to ban single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery, plates, balloon sticks and expandable polystyrene food containers was published on 12 October 2020 and closed on 4 January 2021. We are now analysing the responses, ahead of preparing draft regulations. The proposed introduction of market restrictions is part of a package of wider measures that we are taking forward to address marine litter and support a shift away from a throwaway culture.


26th Conference of the Parties (Preparations)

5. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on preparations for COP26, scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November. (S5O-04917)

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

We are, of course, delighted to be hosting COP26 and look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate Scotland’s world-leading climate action as the eyes of the world turn to Glasgow. My officials continue to support planning preparations for delivery of a safe, secure and successful COP26 and they are working with partners to ensure that. That includes recent involvement in a safety and security risk assessment and the creation of a planning group to provide Scottish public health advice and to support the United Kingdom Government in ensuring that the already-postponed event can safely operate within a Covid-19 environment.

Anas Sarwar

COP26 is, of course, an important opportunity to demonstrate global leadership, but it is also an important economic opportunity for the city of Glasgow. Given the restrictions that have been put in place because of the pandemic, are there contingency plans in case the conference has to be scaled back or, indeed, cancelled? If either were to happen, how early would the Government make the decision and communicate it to stakeholders in Glasgow?

Roseanna Cunningham

Anas Sarwar will recognise that the situation with the pandemic is incredibly fluid. We are currently preparing for a COP26 in November, as previously desired. I anticipate that, as a result of what has happened, proceeding on that basis will probably involve a great deal more virtual work than would perhaps have been the case for previous COPs. The extent to which virtual work may become an even greater component is difficult to gauge at this point. The issue is kept under constant review.

At the moment, we do not have a fixed deadline by which decisions would have to be made. In any case, for obvious reasons, that is not a decision that would be made simply by the Scottish Government. It would require to be made in collaboration with the United Kingdom Government and other agencies, not least of which would be the United Nations. It is a slightly more complex matter than it might initially appear.


26th Conference of the Parties (Preparations)

7. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what preparations it is making for its participation in COP26. (S5O-04919)

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

Beyond the operational readiness that I set out in response to Anas Sarwar, we are taking action across the board to prepare for COP26 around our agreed themes of just transition and people. We have recently published a draft public engagement strategy and we are partnering with Glasgow Science Centre on a community engagement programme.

We were honoured with our appointment as co-chair of the under2 coalition and we are using that to drive momentum and ambition globally. We will also shortly take the novel approach of publishing “Scotland’s contribution to the Paris Agreement—an indicative NDC”, focusing on Scotland’s world-leading targets and summarising our plans to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

Stewart Stevenson

At previous COPs, Scottish ministers have been a formal part of the United Kingdom delegation—indeed, I was, on more than one occasion. Is that expected to be the case at COP26?

Roseanna Cunningham

Yes—I have been a formal part of the UK delegation in each year since I was appointed to this job. We have been consistently represented at the COPs since 2009 and we expect that to be the case at COP26. As I have already referenced, we will demonstrate our leadership at COP26 when, as co-chair of the under2 coalition, we will drive momentum and climate ambition on the global stage.

The Presiding Officer

My apologies to members, but we have run out of time to squeeze in any more questions. We have to move on to other business, for which I will hand over the chair to Lewis Macdonald as Presiding Officer.