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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 17, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 17 November 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Flexible Working Practices, Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, Innovation, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Contents


General Question Time


Poverty and Fuel Poverty

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

To ask the Scottish Government how it is tackling poverty, including fuel poverty, in the Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley constituency. (S5O-00355)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

The Scottish Government is taking action to tackle poverty across all of Scotland with the resources and powers available to us. The fairer Scotland action plan sets out 50 concrete actions that we will take over this parliamentary term to deliver on our ambitions for a fairer Scotland.

Tackling fuel poverty has always been a priority for this Government and by the end of 2021 we will have committed over £1 billion to making our homes and buildings warmer and cheaper to heat. We have also committed to introducing a warm homes bill to tackle fuel poverty. We do not hold figures for constituency areas, but Scottish Government fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes have spent approximately £23 million on improving domestic energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty across the three Ayrshire council areas since 2012.

Willie Coffey

I welcome the substantial additional investment that the cabinet secretary mentioned, which I hope will mean significant extra investment in my constituency, on top of the existing measures that we have brought in to help those in fuel poverty. Is the cabinet secretary able to say when she might be able to respond to the Scottish fuel poverty strategic working group’s recommendation to change the definition of fuel poverty, so that we can do more where it is required?

Angela Constance

The Scottish fuel poverty strategic working group and the Scottish rural fuel poverty task force between them made 100 recommendations, which, as a Government, we are working through.

On the specific issue of the change to the definition of fuel poverty, we will work very closely with the fuel poverty forum to agree the scope of the review and will commission the work as soon as possible. We expect the review to be completed within the first half of 2017. I want to be clear that that does not mean that we will define fuel poverty away. Any changes that come out of the independent review must be justified and must ensure that those in need receive the most support.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

Does the Scottish Government recognise the importance of the third sector in tackling issues such as poverty—organisations such as Centrestage, Morven day services, the Holiday Project and East Ayrshire churches homelessness action, to name but a few in the Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley constituency? Will the Scottish Government ensure that East Ayrshire Council and the councils across Scotland are properly funded so that they, in turn, can ensure that those vital charities in our communities are fully supported?

Angela Constance

We certainly recognise the importance of the third sector in tackling poverty. I would like to commend Centrestage for the very innovative and person-centred work that it does; Jeane Freeman has recently visited that particular project.

As a Government, we have invested £24 million this financial year in the third sector. It is, of course, imperative that local government and the third sector work together and collaborate. In relation to fuel poverty, there is some great innovation in the social enterprise sector that involves registered social landlords and housing associations in particular. I point to the example of Our Power, which is a housing association-led social enterprise that is supplying power and energy to tenants, saving hundreds of tenants hundreds of pounds a year. Along with Centrestage, it is another sterling example.


National Manufacturing Institute

2. Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it will take forward plans to establish a national manufacturing institute. (S5O-00356)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Keith Brown)

Scotland has a proud manufacturing heritage, and manufacturing has the potential to be a key driver of our future prosperity through global exports. The creation of a national manufacturing institute for Scotland is an ambitious proposal that is aimed at shaping the future of manufacturing and innovation in Scotland.

As stated in “A Plan for Scotland: The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2016-17”, a key action for this year will be developing the business case for the national manufacturing institute for Scotland. We have taken a multipartner approach, with Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, Skills Development Scotland, Zero Waste Scotland and the Scottish Government involved in developing the business plan for the institute. That work includes building an evidence base and working closely with the private sector on the detail of the proposition.

Clare Haughey

My constituency has a wide range of family-run and medium-sized manufacturing businesses, including sack makers, switchboard and electrical manufacturers, ventilation product manufacturers and food manufacturers, to name a few. It is also home to the Shawfield retail and trade park, which is currently being developed by Clyde Gateway as part of the national business strategy. Has the Government considered a location for the national manufacturing institute for Scotland? If not, I suggest that Rutherglen would be the perfect location.

Keith Brown

I listened carefully to what the member said about the excellence of some of the activity that is going on in Rutherglen. However, options for the location of the new manufacturing institute for Scotland will be considered in developing the business case for the institute. Wherever the institute is located, we are determined that it will benefit the whole of Scotland.

Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The Government’s manufacturing action plan, which was published earlier this year, promised, among other things, an enhanced manufacturing advisory service capital asset review by quarter 2 of 2016. It also promised that, by quarter 3, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise would have implemented a workplace innovation service aimed at workforce engagement. Can the cabinet secretary inform the Parliament where those initiatives lie?

Keith Brown

Yes, I can. I thank Richard Leonard for the question. On 18 March, Zero Waste Scotland launched the £18 million circular economy investment fund for business. On 1 June, the Scottish manufacturing advisory service launched the new capital asset review service to which Richard Leonard referred and, on 22 August, Scottish Enterprise launched the new workplace innovation service. As the member can see, we are making real progress on the issue as we try to revitalise and assist manufacturing in Scotland where possible.

Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

We welcome the plans to establish a national manufacturing institute. We hope that it helps to improve Scotland’s productivity from the current levels in the third quartile. Will the cabinet secretary please tell me when he will announce new targets for Scottish productivity going forward?

Keith Brown

It would be useful, when we have questions from the Conservatives, if they could at least acknowledge that two Governments are active in the economy in Scotland—a point that has been denied by Dean Lockhart and others in the past. There are two Governments involved, and to have some reference to the role of the United Kingdom Government and some of the shortcomings of its involvement in the economy would sometimes be useful.

It is important that we keep productivity under review. We have seen in Scotland an increase in productivity that we have not seen in the rest of the UK. In addition, as part of phase 2 of the review of the skills and enterprise agencies, we will look closely at future targets and performance measures in relation to productivity.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Question 3 has not been lodged.


South Lanarkshire Council (Meetings)

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

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met South Lanarkshire Council and what issues were discussed. S5O-00358)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

Ministers and officials regularly meet the leaders and chief executives of all Scottish local authorities, including South Lanarkshire Council, to discuss a variety of issues. Senior officials attended the board meeting of South Lanarkshire community planning partnership on 27 October along with the council’s chief executive.

Christina McKelvie

I suggest to the cabinet secretary that further meetings on town centre regeneration should be a focus of the work that the Government does with local authorities. Angela Crawley MP and I have published a report on a consultation on Hamilton town centre. One of its recommendations is a discrete town centre business bonus scheme to encourage new business and sustain existing business. What financial levers can councils use to promote economic development and regenerate town centres like that of Hamilton?

Angela Constance

I am sure that Ms McKelvie is aware that the small business bonus scheme already reduces non-domestic rates for more than two in every five rateable properties throughout Scotland. The Government has a commitment to expand the scheme from 2017 so that it lifts 100,000 properties out of rates altogether. Councils also have powers under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 to apply further rate reductions to any properties in their area, and Perth and Kinross Council is using that power this year to support its town centres.

The Scottish Government’s town centre action plan remains a key driver of action across Government. It sets out the right conditions for town centre regeneration in Scotland.

We have been very encouraged by the approach that local authorities and wider public bodies have taken to the town centre first principle since its inception. It is good to see that town centres are being prioritised in public investment decisions, which is leading to positive change.

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

The minister may be aware that data protection has been cited as the reason why councils such as South Lanarkshire have decided to remove the displays of residents’ names from the foyers of council tower blocks such as Wyler Tower. Some residents, however, wish their names to be displayed in order to aid deliveries and for routine doctors’ visits or emergencies. To comply with data protection legislation, should those residents be given the option of having their names displayed? Should that be part of the tenancy agreement?

Angela Constance

Margaret Mitchell raises an interesting point. We must listen to the needs of residents, and the member outlines some practical reasons why people would want their names to be displayed outside their home. In particular, she cited doctors making emergency calls and assisting the ambulance service. I will look at the data protection issue that she raises and see whether the resolution lies at local level or is in the Scottish Government’s gift.


Tenant Farmers

5. Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with tenant farmers and their representatives. (S5O-00359)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

The Scottish Government has frequent contact with tenant farmers and their representatives on a wide range of issues. I attend a large number of events—in particular, farming shows over the summer—where I meet and have discussions with tenant farmers on a variety of topics.

More specifically, I met the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association on 27 July to discuss tenant farming matters including mediation, and I met it again this morning. I met representatives from NFU Scotland on 4 August, 5 September, 17 October and 9 November to discuss various topics. I last met Andrew Thin, who is the independent adviser on tenant farming, on 29 August.

Tenant farmers were represented at the last common agricultural policy stakeholder group meeting that I attended, and they will be invited to attend relevant rural summits that I am due to hold, including on farming and food production.

Throughout this time, Scottish Government officials have also had substantive and significant contact with tenant farmers and their representatives on a range of matters.

Andy Wightman

Thank you for that.

Presiding Officer, as you are probably aware, that was not my original question, as I was advised that it might breach rule 7.5 of the standing orders. Two weeks from today, tenant farmers’ families will be evicted. Because of the Scottish Government’s failure to honour its commitments to tenant farmers who are facing eviction, those farmers have had to take ministers to court so, as a consequence, I cannot fulfil my parliamentary role to hold the Government to account for its actions.

Will the cabinet secretary explain how we got into this situation? Will he commit to emergency legislation to halt the evictions, pending proper mediation and compensation? Will he join me outside Parliament at 1 pm to meet the affected tenant farmers and receive a petition that has been signed by 25,000 people calling for a halt to the eviction of the Paterson family on Arran?

The Presiding Officer

Mr Wightman was referring to standing orders that refer to the sub judice rule. There is an active on-going court case at the moment: Parliament must be mindful not to interfere in judicial proceedings.

Fergus Ewing

I am mindful of that advice. I understand that I am not permitted to comment because legal proceedings are active in relation to a matter that is proscribed in section 2 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. I am constrained in what I may say about any matter that is the subject of the current litigation.

I can say to Andy Wightman and to every member in the chamber that, as the rural secretary, I am extremely keen that we do everything we possibly can to help tenant farmers—and, indeed, all farmers in the community—so that we have a thriving tenanted sector. I also assure members that, following resolution of the litigation that currently prevents a more direct response, the Scottish Government will consider the outcome with great care and will, no doubt, come back to the chamber on the matter as swiftly as possible.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that although tenancy arrangements between landlords and tenants are private, in rural communities such as those on Arran it is in everyone’s interests for the land to be farmed productively, sustainably and effectively, and for tenant farmers who are committed to food production, business diversification and land management to enjoy stability and security of tenure?

Although the cabinet secretary cannot talk about the cases that are currently in court, what general advice can he give to landlords and tenants who find themselves in dispute?

Fergus Ewing

Mr Gibson made that point very well. I hope that all members in all parties across the chamber will subscribe to the sentiments that he has expressed—namely, that we all want a thriving agricultural sector that includes new entrants, crofters, smallholders, tenant farmers, owner-occupiers and landlords. A vibrant tenant-farming sector is one of the cornerstones of Scottish agriculture.

In direct response to the question what advice I would offer, I point out that the Scottish Government has provided mediation services. Those services are entirely private between the tenant and landlord in a contract. In cases in which there is a live dispute, I urge both parties to avail themselves of those mediation services. That is general advice that we have sought to apply in individual cases.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

I declare an interest as a farmer, although I am not a tenant farmer.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the declining supply to let in the tenanted sector, as was predicted by Alex Fergusson and other members in past sessions of Parliament. Can he assure Parliament that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 will increase the supply of tenanted land that is so vital for new entrants to the industry?

Fergus Ewing

Mr Scott has made a very sensible point. I share that aspiration—as, I hope, do we all. Just last week—or the week before—I convened a meeting of all public bodies that have land holdings, including the Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Water, Scottish Natural Heritage and local authorities, with the specific remit of asking them to look at whether they have within their holdings land that could in the future be made available for new entrants. It was an extremely positive meeting.

I will be delighted to continue to work with Mr Scott and members across the chamber on securing an objective that we all recognise as being in the interests of bringing in new entrants—not least because, sadly, the average age of a farmer in Scotland is 58, which is just one year less than my own age.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Does the cabinet secretary intend to amend land reform legislation to make sure that people who should have security of tenure will have it in the future?

Fergus Ewing

Land reform has been closely debated in Parliament. Rhoda Grant has taken a long-standing and passionate interest in it, and I respect that.

We are always looking for ways in which we can improve the legal framework in order to secure the objective of a thriving agricultural sector. The Scottish Government is starting to implement much-needed changes in agricultural holdings legislation. On 11 November, the first Scottish statutory instruments to implement aspects of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 were laid. I will continue to work with Rhoda Grant and others across the chamber on further improving the legislation that affects our farmers.


Traffic Congestion

6. Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to tackle traffic congestion in the west of Edinburgh. (S5O-00360)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government has invested significantly in major schemes in the west of Edinburgh that contribute to reducing congestion. They include the £41 million Edinburgh Gateway station, which is due to open on 11 December.

Since 2014, we have provided grants for sustainable and active travel, with 14 active travel projects. Transport Scotland works with the City of Edinburgh Council through the development plan process to ensure the continued safe and efficient operation of the road network.

Gordon MacDonald

I thank the minister for that answer. The A70 and A71 are the two main arterial routes into Edinburgh through my constituency. Over the past five years, there has been an 18 per cent increase in the number of buses, coaches and light goods vehicles using the A70 through the villages of Balerno, Currie and Juniper Green. In total, there are close to 45,000 vehicle journeys daily on those two main roads. With on-going house building in West Lothian all being commutable into Edinburgh, how can we encourage more use of public transport in order that communities along the A70 and A71 routes are not further impacted by increased traffic congestion.

Humza Yousaf

Gordon MacDonald has made a good point about congestion affecting our urban areas. In that vein, officials are working closely with regional and local planning and transport authorities to undertake a cross-boundaries multimodal transport study. It will assess the impact of current projected travel demand and will take into account housing proposals in the local development plan that the member mentioned.

The current phase of the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvement programme—electrification of the short lines—will result in journey-time savings and additional capacity. I have mentioned the Edinburgh Gateway station.

There are also opportunities in the upcoming transport bill to see how we can improve bus patronage and deal with the issue of road works, which also add to congestion. I will keep Gordon MacDonald fully briefed on that.