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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 19, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 19 January 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Jobcentres (Glasgow), Draft Climate Change Plan, Rural Development (Funding), Decision Time, Points of Order


General Question Time

Green Investment Bank

1. Ash Denham (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding reports of potential asset stripping when the Edinburgh-based Green Investment Bank is transferred to the private sector. (S5O-00569)

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

Since 2015, the Scottish Government has made repeated representations—including yesterday and today, as it happens—to the United Kingdom Government about the strategic importance of the green purpose of the bank; the significance of the retention of the Edinburgh headquarters; and, of course, the related jobs.

Ash Denham

I welcome the Scottish Government’s action in relaying those concerns, which I am sure are shared by many members on all sides of the chamber.

It is disappointing that the Tory Government has not continued to help the Green Investment Bank to flourish. As an Edinburgh MSP, however, my concern is for the 55 jobs that are based in the city. Has the UK Government given any assurance that those jobs will be protected?

Keith Brown

I share Ash Denham’s concerns about those jobs and the green purpose of the bank. I received a partial reassurance from the UK Government in yesterday’s phone conversation to the effect that the strategic importance to Scotland of the bank itself will be fully considered as part of on-going discussions around its privatisation.

I spoke to the UK Government Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry. During that conversation, I pressed for greater transparency around the privatisation process and for confirmation that the bank will continue to be headquartered in Edinburgh, along with the 55 jobs that I mentioned.

I should say that it seems passing strange that virtually every newspaper in the country has mentioned the name of the preferred bidder for the bank, and yet the UK minister, in our conversation yesterday, would not confirm—even at this stage, when everyone else in the world seems to know—who the preferred bidder is.

I believe—as I am sure Ash Denham does—that headquartering the bank in Scotland is extremely important. There was a campaign to ensure that that happened, and it succeeded. It is important not only because we have the pool of expertise that is needed to support that function but because the bank is symbolic of Scotland’s role as a leader in the green energy sector. That in turn helps to sustain and support the Scottish Government’s reputation, which has been boosted not least by our winning a circular economy award, along with previous awards relating to climate change. The bank is extremely important to Scotland and we will continue to make representations.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

Ash Denham is right to highlight the potential impact on jobs, which may affect my constituents in Edinburgh Southern. What assurances have been made, and what role can the Scottish Government play in engaging with potential purchasers of the Green Investment Bank? Has the Scottish Government had any guarantees from the UK Government to that effect?

Keith Brown

As I said, the assurances have been somewhat partial. That is true for the issues around jobs, the headquarters function and the green purpose of the bank. For each of those areas, we have pressed the UK Government to make a good point about the discussions that we could have with preferred bidders.

I think that we are now at the stage of having a preferred bidder rather than a series of bidders. We will do—and are doing—what we can, but it would be much easier if the UK Government could at least confirm who the preferred bidder is. It is very difficult at present to ensure that we have those discussions, but we are not being passive on the matter. Members will be able to see more of what is happening when more becomes clear in the course of time.

I assure Daniel Johnson, who, like Ash Denham, is a member for Edinburgh with an interest in the matter, that we are pressing very hard in a number of different forums not just for the existing 55 jobs to be maintained but to ensure that the number is increased. There is a possibility that that will happen, but we want those jobs to be high-quality headquarters jobs.

In addition, we want to ensure that the green purpose of the bank is maintained. I am also pressing very hard to ensure that we are not about to see asset stripping as part of a private takeover. Those issues are being pressed, and if the member wants to discuss them further with me, I am happy to do so.

Crown Estate (Social Remit)

2. Richard Lochhead (Moray) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made in providing the Crown Estate with a social remit as part of the devolution arrangements. (S5O-00570)

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

Control over the management and resources of the Crown Estate in Scotland should rest with the people of Scotland. We are currently undertaking a public consultation, which was launched on 4 January, to help to shape the long-term arrangements for the management of Crown Estate assets in Scotland. The consultation contains our proposals and options on how those assets can be managed differently in future, which cover the overall aims of the estate and opportunities for further devolution.

Richard Lochhead

I am sure that the cabinet secretary will agree that the hard-won devolution that allows Parliament to provide a social and economic remit to the Crown Estate will help the likes of tenant farmers in Glenlivet and Fochabers and communities such as Tomintoul and Portgordon in my constituency, and of course communities elsewhere in Scotland, to have much more say over their own future. Will the cabinet secretary ensure that her officials keep those communities up to date through the consultation process and beyond?

The surplus that the Crown Estate usually generates would previously have gone to the United Kingdom Treasury. Are there any prospects of any surplus being retained by the Crown Estate to reinvest into those communities?

Roseanna Cunningham

My officials and I have met stakeholders, including representatives of the rural estates. We are happy to meet any community representatives who wish to speak to us about the issue. Anyone with an interest in the transfer should approach officials about arranging a meeting.

On whether the surplus can be used for investment, the Scotland Act 2016 requires the Crown Estate to be managed as an estate in land or as estates in land managed separately, which would require primary legislation. We need to maintain the Estate and there is provision for on-going investment in each financial year for that purpose.

The consultation outlines our intention to continue funding maintenance and investment costs in the longer term. That includes the management of liabilities from gross revenue or the capital budget.

We have committed to provide councils with the net revenue from marine assets out to 12 nautical miles. We are making provision for the interim body to retain a portion of revenue for investment in the Estate. In addition, the Scottish ministers have discretion to vary the proportion retained and we will keep the issue under review.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

I was very interested in that answer. An interest that I have—I held it during my time on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee in the previous parliamentary session—is the redefinition of the Crown Estate’s remit on social inclusion and sustainable development and its mission statement.

Although it is reassuring that the cabinet secretary stresses that the consultation has been initiated, can she give further reassurance that it will be widely publicised, so that marine harbour groups, coastal communities and, indeed, tenant farmers, as highlighted by Richard Lochhead, will have the best opportunity to be involved in developing the policy, which will allow us to have a really inclusive Crown Estate for the future?

Roseanna Cunningham

I can reassure Claudia Beamish about that. It is important that all communities with an interest in any aspect of the Crown Estate’s workings look at the consultation and consider whether they can contribute. Sometimes, the tendency is to presume that it is only local councils and/or some of the bigger estates that might have an interest, whereas relatively small bodies and organisations will be key to the work.

We want to hear the widest possible range of views, so work is on-going to ensure that we get out and about and that communities understand that they, too, can play a role. I ask members in the chamber to ensure that, where there are Crown Estate interests in their constituencies, they generate as much interest in the consultation as they possibly can.

Youth Unemployment

3. Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it is tackling youth unemployment. (S5O-00571)

The Minister for Employability and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

In December 2016, I published the second “Developing the Young Workforce: Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy” annual report, which highlighted the progress that we are making towards the programme’s headline target of reducing 2014 levels of youth unemployment by 40 per cent by 2021.

The report highlighted developments in growing vocational provision for young people in the senior phase, including growth in our modern apprenticeship programme, a significant expansion of foundation apprenticeships, establishing 17 of the 21 planned developing the young workforce regional groups and investing in the earlier introduction of careers advice, refocusing activity across our youth employment programmes on young people who need the most support.

Annie Wells

The Scottish Government’s progress report into its national drive to tackle youth unemployment revealed that the number of jobless youngsters increased over the past year by 2.4 per cent to 42,000. Last month, the Scottish Government missed a great opportunity for young people in the job market after it failed to ring fence the £221 million in apprenticeship levy funds. How can we ensure that young people are given opportunities in skilled training and that that decision on the funds will not discourage businesses from relocating apprenticeships elsewhere?

Jamie Hepburn

Annie Wells failed to mention the fact that Scotland continues to outperform the United Kingdom on youth employment, unemployment and inactivity rates. She also failed to mention the fact that Scotland’s youth unemployment is at its lowest rate since those statistics began to be gathered and, indeed, is the second-lowest youth unemployment rate in the European Union.

I am surprised to hear the Conservatives once again mention their apprenticeship levy. Let us never forget that the UK Government introduced the levy without prior notification or consultation with the Scottish Government. Of course, that £221 million is not new funding for the Scottish Government to spend. It replaces existing funding and, indeed, when we take account of the £73 million cost to the public sector, it reduces the Scottish Government’s spending leeway by some £30 million.

However, through our draft budget, we are investing significant resource in supporting young people into employment. We have £81.5 million to increase modern apprenticeships; £11.5 million to expand graduate-level and foundation apprenticeships; £9.3 million to support employers to recruit young people who face barriers to employment; a new flexible workforce development fund of £10 million; £3.9 million to support individual learning accounts; an increase of £16.4 million in workforce budget to support the delivery of a devolved employability service from April 2017; and other funding to support young people into employment. That is why I am sure that, once they properly assess the budget, Annie Wells and the rest of the Conservatives will have to support its passage through the Parliament.

Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare (Meetings)

4. Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government when the joint ministerial working group on welfare will next meet and what will be discussed. (S5O-00572)

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

The next joint ministerial working group on welfare meeting is scheduled to take place on Monday 20 February. The agenda for that meeting is still to be finalised.

Mark Griffin

The Scottish Government has announced a welcome consultation on using flexibilities in universal credit to make more frequent payments. What discussions about split payments have there been at the joint ministerial working group? Why is the Government not progressing with a consultation on that measure at the same time? It could, for example, prevent the social security system from forcing a woman who is experiencing domestic abuse to be financially dependent on her abusive partner.

Angela Constance

I assure Mark Griffin that we are looking very closely indeed at split payments. Some intensive work and discussion are going on between Scottish Government officials and Department for Work and Pensions officials.

We are also taking the time to consider all the consultation responses—there were more than 500—on the way ahead for social security. Split payments was one of the issues that people pressed home hard to the Scottish Government as part of the consultation. We are examining the issue closely. We have to find ways to enact political will—we have to find the delivery mechanisms—and will keep Parliament and the Social Security Committee fully informed as we proceed.

Residential Property (Short-term Letting)

5. Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will take action to regulate growth in short-term letting of residential property. (S5O-00573)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

The Scottish Government has no plans to regulate the growth in short-term letting. However, we recognise that some concerns exist and we welcome the opportunity to engage further with stakeholders on the matter.

Our Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 will come into force later this year. It will provide security, stability and predictability for tenants through measures that include a new modern tenancy, rent increases being possible only once in every 12 months and tenants having three months’ notice of changes to enable them to budget accordingly. In addition, councils will have the power to apply to ministers for a cap on rent increases in their areas for up to five years, and there will be a broadening of access to dispute resolution through the housing and property chamber of the First-tier Tribunal.

Andy Wightman

Over the past few weeks, I have been speaking to constituents who live in the old town and the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. It is clear that there is a substantial problem with unregulated growth in short-term holiday lets. A substantial part of the residential population in those areas might disappear within the next decade. Very audible sex parties have taken place in the flat above one constituent, and an elderly couple are now living out the rest of their years lonely in a tenement stair that has lost all its other permanent residents. Others with young families live in a state of stress and anxiety due to the rent-seeking behaviour of a growing number of property owners.

Does the minister agree that a tighter regulatory framework is required for use of residential property? In particular, does he agree that the planning system—specifically use-classes orders—could play a significant role in ensuring that communities and councils have the tools that they need to regulate the residential character of not only the city of Edinburgh but many villages and rural areas across Scotland?

Kevin Stewart

I sympathise with the people in the stories that Andy Wightman gave us, but the planning system cannot always readily distinguish between different types of housing tenure. Where a householder proposes to change the use of an existing residential flat, the requirement for planning permission will depend on the circumstances of each individual case, and the matter will be for the planning authority concerned, in the first instance. Mr Wightman might want to engage in the current planning consultation and urge the residents to whom he has spoken to do so, too.

Crime (Recording)

6. Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it is content with the way that it records crime. (S5O-00574)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson)

Yes. The Scottish Government records crime using the Scottish crime and justice survey and police recorded crime statistics. Both measures tell a similar story of falling crime levels.

The production of our police recorded crime statistics is carried out by independent statisticians and is overseen by the Scottish crime recording board. That ensures that the data are transparent, trustworthy and produced in line with the “Code of Practice for Official Statistics”.

The success of that approach was confirmed just last year when the UK Statistics Authority designated our recorded crime data as national statistics and sent its congratulations to the Scottish Government on the leading approach that our statisticians are taking to improve the value of that information and users’ understanding of it. That contrasts with the position in England and Wales: the UK Statistics Authority will not assess their statistics until there is an improvement in police recording practices.

Douglas Ross

The Scottish Government issues press releases with misleading figures for crimes of violence when the true figures are much higher. The cabinet secretary will know that the Office for National Statistics, in its figures for England and Wales, makes no distinction between different levels of violence. Why does he not agree with Derek Penman of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland, who said:

“It’s important crime is classified correctly so data published ... provides the public with an accurate picture of violent crime.”?

Michael Matheson

Douglas Ross might not be aware of this, but the classification of recorded crime and offences in Scotland has been exactly the same since the 1920s. Therefore, the process that this Administration has used is the same as that which has been used by every Administration since the 1920s. It is clear that the member had absolutely no idea about that.

On HMICS’s recommendation on looking at aspects of the statistics, the Scottish crime recording board is already taking forward that work. That work is on-going and will be considered in the coming weeks.

Despite Douglas Ross’s efforts to try to undermine our statistics for Scotland, they are, because of the excellent standards that we apply, the only statistics of that nature that have national classification.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

The cabinet secretary might be aware that “Wildlife Crime in Scotland—2015 Annual Report” came under scrutiny recently in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. It was revealed that a number of bird of prey persecution incidents from two years ago were withheld from the report despite details from other sources being in the public domain. Will the cabinet secretary undertake to investigate why that information was withheld, and will he say what Police Scotland can do to ensure that wildlife crime reporting is transparent, accurate and has the confidence of the public?

Michael Matheson

Classification and the way issues are recorded in the statistics are developed by statisticians, and the approach must comply with the code of practice that is applied to recording of crime statistics. I have no doubt that if the Scottish crime recording board believes that there is a need for any alterations, it can consider that issue, as we move forward with any changes that could take place. However, I will ensure that Mark Ruskell receives a full and detailed response on the specific nature of wildlife crimes.