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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 22, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 22 February 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Stone Group, Prestwick Airport, Population Needs and Migration Policy, Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, Decision Time


Contents


Scottish Stone Group

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09968, in the name of Graeme Dey, on the establishment of the Scottish Stone Group. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the establishment of the Scottish Stone Group, which has been set up to raise awareness of the country’s indigenous stone sector and promote an important environmentally-sustainable material, by what it considers some of Scotland’s leading stone companies, Denfind Stone of Angus, Hutton Stone of the Borders and Tradstocks of Stirlingshire; notes that, while approximately 85% of stone used in Scotland is currently imported, the group aims to promote the use of indigenous natural stone and grow the industry, creating more jobs and apprenticeships, and wishes it success in realising these ambitions.

12:49  

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

I thank the members who signed my motion and so allowed it to be debated, and I thank all those who will participate. I welcome the representatives of the Scottish Stone Group who I believe are in the public gallery.

A highly successful campaign is presently being waged to protect Scotland the brand in the food and drink sector against a supermarket campaign to stick a union flag on products that are made here, which is bizarre when we consider the reputation and provenance of our food and drink. “Made in Scotland” is a label of pride—it is something to be boasted of, not undermined. “Made of Scotland” is the equally proud and, I hope, equally effective boast of the Scottish Stone Group.

The group, which was established in 2016 and officially launched last year, has three members: Denfind Stone of Angus, which is in my constituency; Hutton Stone of the Borders; and Tradstocks of Stirlingshire. The group seeks to

“Promote ... collaboratively within the sector the positives of using natural stone, such as creating skilled jobs in Scotland, supporting communities, and producing sustainable and ethically sourced materials”,

and to share innovation and work together

“where possible for the good of the industry—raising the level of quality standards across Scotland.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Excuse me, Mr Dey. I ask those in the public gallery to leave—or to sit—quietly, please. Please continue, Mr Dey.

Graeme Dey

Thank you, Presiding Officer. The group also seeks to engage

“with research, academia, skills development or knowledge transfer to enhance the value of the industry.”

The stone sector is an important manufacturing industry and has considerable growth potential. A 2016 British Geological Survey report that was funded by Historic Environment Scotland found that 160 people were employed in the stone quarrying and processing industry in Scotland and that the combined turnover of the firms involved in the sector was about £10 million. However, currently, about 85 per cent of the stone that is used in Scotland is imported, which comes at an estimated cost of £40 million a year to the economy.

The indigenous industry has something to offer beyond economic benefit, important as that is. It can also help our response to the impacts of climate change and our emissions reduction efforts, because stone lasts. It should serve a purpose for hundreds of years and it has a vital role in preserving our historic built heritage. Interestingly, Scotland has more stone buildings per head than any other country in the world. Natural stone is not made—it already exists—and processing it uses minimal energy. There is a dramatic difference in the carbon footprint between our indigenous stone, and imported stone and reconstituted and other building materials. Indeed, sandstone that is imported into the United Kingdom from China has about six times as much embodied carbon as sandstone that is sourced in the UK.

In the Victorian industrial era, the natural stone industry was the country’s largest employer, and tens of thousands of quarriers and stonemasons used locally sourced stone to construct Scotland’s towns, cities and infrastructure. The stone industry declined rapidly towards the end of the 19th century and in the early part of the 20th century due to changes in the labour market, the widespread adoption of cheaper building materials, changing architectural styles and the great war.

Demand for natural stone for new buildings, as well as for repairs, is on the rise. The size of the industry leads to much of that stone needing to be imported. The near absence of an indigenous building stone industry throughout much of the previous century also means that, today, there is a shortage of knowledge and skills in key areas, such as operating a building stone quarry and repairing the stonework in traditional buildings. Furthermore, the use of inappropriate materials in repairs, which can lead to accelerated stonework decay, is a widespread problem.

There is a gap to be filled but, thankfully, if properly encouraged and supported, a solution is at hand, and I will expand on the specifics of that solution.

Tradstocks, which is based in Thornhill, near Stirling, is focused on sustaining and creating Scottish built heritage by providing the iconic Scottish stones traditionally used throughout our country’s history. It supplies stone for projects from prestigious public realm projects for town centre rejuvenation or flood defence schemes, to new-build homes and restoration.

If we were to head down to West Fishwick in the Borders, we would find Hutton Stone, which is famous for its three exclusive sandstones. However, I suspect that it will surprise no one that I want to focus on Denfind Stone, which is based in Monikie in my constituency, whose development I have followed with interest. The firm was founded in 2004 by Brian and Alison Binnie as a farm diversification project following their purchase of their tenanted farm in 2001. It included a sandstone quarry that had lain dormant for almost a century.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Pitairlie quarry was at the heart of the thriving Angus sandstone industry, providing sandstone for use in many projects throughout the UK. Around the time of the outbreak of the first world war, the demand for Angus sandstone dwindled and the quarry ceased operating in 1915.

The new business started off selling dyking stone before identifying an opportunity to develop a unique range of cladding products principally for residential, commercial and public sector buildings.

Denfind Stone is now a leading Scottish natural stone supplier, employing 18 people, and it works collaboratively with the Scottish Stone Group. In 2012, its operations were moved to a purpose-built facility, with an investment of £1.25 million. I was privileged to perform the official opening, and from there—I claim no credit for this—the business has grown through significant investment in new plant, machinery and buildings and is currently seeing the benefits of that not just in increased sales and revenue figures but in wider reputational growth. With a view to developing the business, the company is looking to invest in a new shed at a cost of £200,000, which will reduce noise and dust as well as provide a carbon saving of 20 tonnes. The company estimates that that investment will also reduce journey miles for its vehicles by 3,000km annually.

Denfind Stone, working collaboratively with its colleague companies, is involved in flood prevention schemes and other local authority projects the length and breadth of Scotland. However, we can also find Denfind’s work beyond our borders: in Wales, in England and all the way over in Dubai. Perhaps, though, it is its work closer to home that illustrates the best thing about the business for me. We often hear of businesses supporting local supply chains, without seeing further evidence of that. However, Denfind is not just based in Angus; it supports other businesses in Angus and nearby. It uses local hauliers and other local companies and is a local success story that has locals sharing in that success.

Denfind is also sharing its knowledge, with a view to the future. Denfind has identified a shortage of skilled stonemasons who are familiar with using Angus stone, and the company is working closely with Dundee and Angus College and Historic Environment Scotland to develop additional learning modules for construction sector apprentices to enable them to have dedicated time working with natural stone. The company has also been involved with local schools and teachers to work with young people to aid their transition from school to the workplace environment. The developing the young workforce initiative has included a group of fifth-year pupils from Carnoustie high school visiting the nearby Denfind premises for a tour of the quarry and the production facility. A local primary school has also engaged in that way. That is all good news for the sector if it is to achieve its potential.

I hope that everyone will join me in wishing Denfind Stone and the rest of the Scottish Stone Group every success in the future, because the group has much to offer Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate, with speeches of around four minutes, please.

12:57  

Bill Bowman (North East Scotland) (Con)

As ever, a members’ business debate paves the way to explore new ground, and I thank Graeme Dey for bringing his motion before Parliament.

As the motion states, Scotland imports around 85 per cent of its building stone, at a cost of approximately £40 million each year. That has not always been the case. The Scottish stone industry used to stretch far and wide, with thousands of quarries supplying stone for the construction of buildings, walls, roofs and pavements throughout the country. Indeed, Scotland still has over 450,000 traditional buildings, all of which are in need of maintenance and repair or will be at some point. However, the slowing supply of, and dwindling domestic demand for, home-grown stone has meant that public awareness of the industry has waned. In turn, that has reduced the take-up of jobs relating to stone extraction, putting the industry at risk of disappearing altogether.

Now, imported stone reigns. The famous growing economies that we often hear of, such as those of China and Brazil, have forced their way to the top of the stone exporting chain, offering vast quantities of identical blocks at far cheaper rates than Scotland or, indeed, the European Union can. I am an advocate of free trade, but certain products hold a reputation and quality that separates them from others. It is easy to distinguish between ripe and rotten fruit or between a Land Rover and a Lada, for example, but I would wager that, on the topic of stone. the average Scot would not be able easily to tell any differences. Why would they? Knowledge of the stone industry and its rich Scottish history sits at an all-time low. For instance, I must admit that I did not fully appreciate until this week that this very building was constructed using several different types of stone, some of which came from my North East Scotland region: the famous Aberdeen granite.

Raising awareness of the industry might prop up the struggling demand, but it would likely not be enough. The imported low-cost alternatives have enforced the idea of uniformity, asserting that symmetry equals quality. I disagree. I believe that the range and variation in natural stone is what makes it so distinguishable and desirable. As a Scottish Conservative, I am always eager to hear of more ways to grow the economy and promote localism, and the resurgence of the Scottish stone industry ticks both those boxes.

It has been estimated that, if all Scotland’s building stone was sourced domestically, it would create around 1,600 jobs directly, with more coming from the process of exporting, should the Scottish alternative prove internationally attractive. That would benefit the whole of Scotland, but it would particularly benefit the rural areas where many quarries—probably most quarries—are based.

The north-east currently houses one of the Scottish Stone Group partners, Denfind Stone, as Graeme Dey mentioned. It supports jobs through its operations in Pitairlie quarry, and it recently provided the stone for the Dundee riverside’s vital flood protection wall, which I have seen. I visited Denfind Stone this week and can testify that the organisation is impressive and a credit to the north-east.

Hutton Stone, which is a Scottish Stone Group member that is famous for its sandstone, has spent the past two centuries providing jobs in the Scottish Borders and enriching Scottish stone’s valuable history through its operations, including the reopening of Swinton quarry in 1990. My colleague Rachael Hamilton tells me that the stone from that quarry was used in Edinburgh castle’s hall of honour.

The third member of the Scottish Stone Group, Tradstocks, uses its base in Stirling to support and maintain Scottish heritage through supplying the stones traditionally used throughout Scotland’s history.

However, a hurdle stands in the way of Scottish building stone suppliers such as the three founders of the Scottish Stone Group. European Union procurement and fair competition laws prevent public contracts from being awarded to stone suppliers from specific quarries. Although some exemptions exist, the rule has been described by the Natural Environment Research Council as creating a reluctance

“to risk a legal challenge from other stone suppliers or from the European Parliament”,

meaning that Scottish building stone is

“never specified for new construction in public projects.”

That policy, which is intended to benefit the EU, has resulted in most of its members importing stone from outside the EU’s borders, benefiting none of the suppliers within. That is one area where the Scottish stone industry can excel in the coming years. As we leave the EU and are no longer bound by the directive, we can ensure that home-grown Scottish stone is at least considered in public contracts.

Together, by raising industry awareness and building the workforce’s relevant skills, we can—if you will excuse the pun, Presiding Officer—carve out a “boulder” future for the Scottish stone industry. I therefore welcome the establishment of the Scottish Stone Group as the first step in that process.

13:02  

Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Graeme Dey for securing the debate. Stone has been used as a building material across Scotland from prehistoric times to the present day, and in its heyday as a building material in the 19th century there were more than 700 quarries across the country. As Graeme Dey said, it has been estimated that Scotland has more stone buildings per head than any other country in the world.

Edinburgh alone once had 25 quarries, from Camstone quarry in what is now Holyrood park to Redhall and Hailes quarries in my constituency, both of which are now also public parks. Redhall sandstone was used in the construction of St. John’s church at the corner of Princes Street and the Film House in Lothian Road. Hailes sandstone was used for both Dalry and Roseburn primary schools. The use of local stone for much of the city helped to make it unique and gives it character and a sense of belonging to the area.

Edinburgh’s old and new towns were awarded the status of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization world heritage sites in 1995, in recognition of their outstanding architectural, historical and cultural importance. The local sandstones, some of the finest in Britain, supplied the majority of the building material for those buildings, helping to establish that uniqueness of surroundings.

Unfortunately, building in stone fell into severe decline after the first world war, although stone-clad buildings continued to be constructed well into the 1930s. As a result, all the quarries in Edinburgh, and a vast number across Scotland, closed, until by the end of the 20th century there were only 20 remaining in Scotland, mainly providing building and pavement stone.

Work on Edinburgh’s new town began in 1760, and more than 250 years later many of those stone buildings are in need of repair, but the local quarries where much of the sandstone came from no longer exist. Thankfully, stone from Cullaloe quarry in Fife—I hope that I have pronounced that properly—had been identified as early as the 19th century as an alternative to the Craigleith sandstone that was used for much of the sandstone, and the quarry was reopened in 2003 to meet the demand from builders repairing Georgian Edinburgh. Cullaloe quarry is owned by one of the companies that came together to form the Scottish Stone Group in 2016.

Stone cladding is once again being used on buildings across Edinburgh, but 85 per cent of that stone is imported from as far afield as China. Scottish whinstone can match or better Chinese granite for strength, durability and longevity. Scottish stone is also a low-carbon product. With more architects and builders using locally sourced stone, more jobs and apprenticeships will be created.

Using stone that is not local to an area can have a detrimental impact not only on the character of an area but on the buildings that are under repair. Local stone is more resistant to weathering than some imported stone. A 2008 report by the British Geological Survey on Edinburgh’s new town highlighted that

“the use of replacement stone of different mineralogy and porosity compared with the original sandstone masonry has resulted in both aesthetic degradation and accelerated physical decay”.

If Edinburgh is to continue to be a world heritage site and attract tourists from across the world to visit the city, with its unique character and architecture, it is up to planners to ensure that our built environment is protected. As the BGS report concludes,

“It is clear that robust strategies and policies for safeguarding the stone built heritage, supported by the public, are necessary for the benefit of the present and future generations.”

The creation of the Scottish Stone Group and its promotion of the use of local Scottish stone will not only help to protect our historic built environment but will provide much-needed employment in rural and semi-rural areas.

13:06  

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I thank Graeme Dey for bringing what I think is a unique subject for debate to the chamber today, and I pay tribute to the Scottish Stone Group for its efforts to preserve one of Scotland’s great industries. People who are born in Dumbarton are known as sons and daughters of the rock—the rock on which stands Dumbarton castle—so my constituents will feel a particular affinity for this debate.

Scotland has a rich history of building with stone, including many famous structures such as castles and bridges. All those stone structures have contributed greatly to the historic landscape of our country. As we have heard, our stone working industry was once a major employer in Scotland, supporting tens of thousands of jobs spread across several thousand quarries. It is difficult to imagine that now, because the building stone industry has greatly diminished. Little more than a handful of quarries are still in operation and the future of the industry is threatened further by the growing use of imported stone. Two of the very few remaining quarries are in my constituency—one at Dumbuck and the other at Sheephill. The noise that we regularly experience is something that we have come to associate with both quarries.

As Graeme Dey rightly highlighted, at the last count in 2016 only around 160 people were employed by companies producing building stone in Scotland. The jobs are spread across 17 active quarries, only seven of which are active continuously. Given that, as other members have said, around 8.8 per cent of the total UK imports of stone come to Scotland, that represents around £40 million, yet the combined turnover of the Scottish stone industry is approximately £10 million. One does not need to be a genius at maths to work out that we can clearly do better and anchor more of the stone supply chain in Scotland.

Stone has the potential to serve its purpose for hundreds of years, making it probably the best-value building material in terms of lifetime costs, because stone is not man made; it already exists. As Gordon MacDonald said, processing stone uses minimal energy; if we used our own stone instead of importing it, it would make a huge difference to our carbon footprint. Most importantly, from my perspective, promoting an important manufacturing industry such as the stone industry has the potential to create hundreds if not thousands more jobs. If the amount of stone that is currently imported to Scotland was produced in Scotland, that could bring highly skilled jobs—estimates suggest as many as 1,600—to local communities. Many of those skilled jobs would be in the rural economy and economically deprived areas. We must not forget that any new jobs in the industry would have a positive benefit in indirect jobs and spending in our local economies.

It is incumbent on all of us across the chamber to work with the industry to ensure that it can continue to support jobs and, we hope, grow. We must work with local communities and local authorities to show the benefits that the stone industry can bring.

There are, of course, sensitivities when quarries are located close to residential areas, and environmental concerns too. By working together within the planning system, we should be able to deal with those and arrive at sensible positions. Indeed, many quarries are helpfully in rural and isolated areas, so it may not be a significant issue everywhere.

I hope that we can all get behind the Scottish Stone Group and promote the industry. The potential increase in jobs and apprenticeships alone is something that we simply cannot ignore.

I thank Graeme Dey for bringing the debate to the chamber. This is probably the first time that I have spoken about stone in a debate. I am sure that it will not be the last, if it is anything to do with him.

13:11  

David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I, too, congratulate Graeme Dey on bringing this motion to the Parliament to welcome the establishment of the Scottish Stone Group. This is the first time that a debate has taken place in this chamber on the Scottish stone industry, and I am delighted to be able to take part in raising awareness of such a relevant topic.

Scotland has experienced a very rich history which has made a unique contribution to our culture and society, as well as our economy. That is why today we are celebrating the Scottish Stone Group for raising awareness of one of Scotland’s biggest legacies. Our landscape and architecture contain thousands of years of history that highlight our cultural diversity. The Scottish diaspora has meant that our stones and architecture have been used and appreciated internationally.

According to Historic Scotland, 450,000 traditional buildings exist today. However, thousands are in need of repair. Our ability to complete repairs is restricted by the lack of indigenous stone. In addition, we are at risk of losing the knowledge and skills of a historic industry, as well as the cultural heritage of our towns. Our towns are a cultural asset, contributing to our local socioeconomic wellbeing.

Today, only 160 people are employed by stone-producing companies in Scotland. Thousands of people in our local communities were employed by the Scottish stone industry during the industrial revolution, and the collapse of the industry was just one of the many effects of deindustrialisation on our local economies. The effects were felt throughout Scotland, as related employment in transport and construction was affected.

In Kirkcaldy, as in most Scottish towns, the architecture of our buildings makes a significant impact on the uniqueness and sense of place for our residents and for the thousands of tourists who visit Kirkcaldy every year.

Supporting the stone industry creates skilled employment and innovation in technology. It is estimated that reviving the industry would create 1,600 jobs, with further employment potentially created as a result of exports.

As the demand for Scottish stone is growing, we must consider the environmental impact of the industry. We must safeguard reserves and encourage our local councils to recycle and reuse materials. There are several environmental benefits to utilising stone as a building material. It is durable, and using it uses less energy than the use of widely used construction materials such as concrete and brick.

We live in a globalised world, and Scotland faces intense competition from China, India and Brazil, which export stone widely. According to recent research, 85 per cent of Scotland’s stone is imported, and sandstone imported into the UK from China uses six times as much carbon as sandstone sourced in Scotland. The use of alternative building materials such as mortar has meant that our buildings are subject to further decay at a higher speed. The environmental costs are too high, and we must take advantage of a more environmentally friendly option.

Looking to the future, there are signs of significant accomplishments. We must develop and promote policies that contribute to placemaking and sustainable development, while continuing to recognise the historic value of our Scottish stone. Increased partnerships between important organisations such as Historic Environment Scotland, the Built Environment Forum Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, to name just a few, will contribute.

The Government must continue to work with these groups in order to raise public awareness of the social, economic and cultural benefits of the industry. It has identified potential for opening new quarries, particularly in rural and marginalised areas, in order to stimulate local economies by creating new skilled jobs and combating population loss. In line with recommendations from the Scottish Stone Group, we must organise workshops to discuss these important issues, involving as many groups as we can.

I thank Graeme Dey and the Scottish Stone Group for raising awareness of the importance of our historic landscape. We need to continue to spread the information to all relevant sectors, ranging from quarries and construction companies to local areas. We must celebrate Scotland’s diverse geology and restore an industry that brought great prosperity to our culture, society and economy.

13:15  

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

I welcome this interesting members’ business debate and I thank Graeme Dey for bringing it to the chamber.

It is important that we encourage the use of Scottish stone in buildings and municipal works around Scotland. Interestingly enough, some local councils have used imported stone for projects to upgrade town centres, including granite from China and the far east, to which David Torrance referred, because it has a lower cost than the stone produced in the United Kingdom and Scotland in particular.

We need to look at opportunities to help Scottish stone producers to be competitive, with competitively priced products. Many years ago, we saw the demise of Ballachulish slate, which was replaced with imported Spanish slate.

We now have a real gain in Scotland as a result of the manufacture of Scottish curling stones, which use Ailsa Craig stone. I am proud that Ailsa Craig, or Paddy’s milestone as it is sometimes called, is in my region of West Scotland. The curling stones are currently used all over the world in all curling competitions—this year they are being used in the winter Olympics in Korea. Let us hope for some success for team GB—let us hope that the stones bring us some gold medals. They are the only accepted competitive curling stones in the world. What a great example of our Scottish stone products.

I propose that any Government and local government projects that involve stone—I am talking about stone generally, not just curling stones—should be encouraged, wherever possible, to use Scottish-produced stone in their construction. That would encourage increased production of Scottish stone and increased awareness of it. It would also encourage attractive prices for the construction companies as a result of increased volume.

If we can achieve the recognition and international reputation gained by the Ailsa Craig curling stone, surely we can do the same for our fantastic and good-quality stone products. I hope that the Scottish Stone Group will encourage that. I wish it all success.

13:17  

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

I congratulate Graeme Dey on securing the debate and welcome the contributions that members across the chamber have made.

I am genuinely delighted that we are having a debate about an industry that has maybe not been in the spotlight and has perhaps not had the attention that it deserves. We have heard from members across the chamber how important our stone is to the heritage that we sometimes take for granted in this country. It is a great part of what makes Scotland a special place. As David Torrance said, it affects all our communities and town centres. I suspect that we will all have had correspondence from constituents about the quality of the built environment, because it upsets people when they see it deteriorate.

Having a domestic source of stone to replace worn-out stone on deteriorating buildings is absolutely vital if we are to preserve the iconic structures and town centres that we all take for granted.

As Graeme Dey highlighted, the Scottish Stone Group was established with the excellent aim of promoting the use of indigenous stone in Scottish construction projects. I was delighted to attend its launch in the Scottish Parliament, as many other members did, in November. It was great to see members of the group looking around the chamber today as well. I welcome them to the chamber.

It is important that we raise awareness of the issue, as other members have done. A significant amount of stone is imported into Scotland at this time and there is a great opportunity to grow the sector and replace imported products with quality Scottish stone that is quarried here in Scotland.

Scotland has a great variety of stone that is suitable for building, due to its varied geology, to which Gordon MacDonald, David Torrance, Graeme Dey and other members referred. It also has a tremendous heritage of impressive stone buildings throughout the country. Indeed, as members have said, it is claimed that Scotland has more stone buildings per head of population than any other country in the world. With Stirling Castle, the royal mile and Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland’s landscape is undoubtedly enhanced by its tremendous stone buildings that fit so well into their settings. The types of stone that are used vary across the country and give a sense of place, from the warm sandstones of the Borders to the granite of Aberdeen that Bill Bowman and Maurice Corry referred to.

Therefore, I am delighted that three stone companies—Denfind Stone, which is in Mr Dey’s Angus South constituency; Hutton Stone, which I had the pleasure to visit in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders; and Tradstocks, which is based in Stirlingshire—have seized the opportunity to co-operate and create the Scottish Stone Group. The group will raise awareness, collaborate, look for ways in which it can make the sector more competitive and help to build a relationship with the Government and our agencies so that we can support the industry in important areas such as innovation.

Those companies’ combined experience, knowledge and product provides the group with a strong foundation for success—a rock solid foundation, if I can add to the puns that we have heard today. I applaud them for doing so. [Interruption.] Sorry, I did not want to disappoint Jackie Baillie; I knew that she was waiting for a pun from me.

The Scottish Government promotes good design, which respects context and makes use of materials that are sympathetic to the setting of the project and limit the impact on the environment. Jackie Baillie, Graeme Dey and others have raised very powerful points on the carbon intensity of the process when stone is sourced from locations such as China.

Our built environment has a rich legacy of the innovative use of stone, and we are keen to capitalise on, and promote the use of, our national assets wherever possible. As well as looking attractive and fitting into our landscapes, Scottish stone has the advantage of being very environmentally friendly. Notwithstanding the valid points that Jackie Baillie raised on the need to be mindful of communities and the environmental impact of the quarrying process, great strides forward have been made. How modern processes are becoming more efficient and less damaging to the environment is one of the important messages that we have heard from the Scottish Stone Group. Perhaps people’s view of the quarrying industry is founded in something that happened hundreds of years ago, but we have moved on a lot and technology is helping that process.

Stone needs little processing as a product, and it does not need to be transported any great distance, which is an important consideration given that it is such a heavy material. Among potential clients who purchase stone, it is important that we raise awareness of the fact that they can reduce their environmental impact by sourcing locally.

Given that the built environment accounts for approximately 50 per cent of carbon emissions in Scotland, the construction sector can make a significant contribution to the Scottish Government’s sustainability targets for 2020 and 2050. Greater use of Scottish stone can help us to achieve those targets.

I am pleased to note that Historic Environment Scotland, in partnership with the British Geological Survey, has committed to hosting a Scottish stone forum, twice a year, at the Engine Shed in Stirling. That will bring together the construction, conservation and heritage sectors so that they can learn more about the importance of Scottish traditional materials and promote their use. The Scottish Stone Group has indicated that it will support and attend that event, which is a very welcome early intervention by the sector. Alongside Scottish Enterprise and the construction Scotland innovation centre, hosting the Scottish stone forum will enable Historic Environment Scotland to renew the commitment that it made to the Scottish stone liaison group. It also made a commitment that it would continue to work with public and private sector partners to promote the use of Scottish stone.

Bill Bowman very fairly referred to some of the constraints around public procurement, and he was right to do so. However, by raising awareness of the validity of using Scottish stone, its importance and its environmental advantages, we can make potential public and private clients aware of the merits of using Scottish stone.

On that note, I congratulate Historic Environment Scotland and the British Geological Survey on the work that they are undertaking to produce the building stone database for Scotland. The database, which is due to be launched in the summer, will hold details of the building stones that are used in Scotland—current building stones and the many historical ones. Earlier, Gordon MacDonald went through an extensive list of examples that have been used. The database will link each building stone to the quarry from which it originated and to some of the buildings in which it has been used. The information will be supported by images and links to reference materials. I am particularly pleased that the database will be publicly available, as it will increase knowledge of this important part of our built heritage. It has the long-term objective of helping to maintain and conserve our country’s priceless built heritage assets and I look forward to the resource becoming publicly available.

The Scottish Stone Group received support from Co-operative Development Scotland to set up as a consortium co-operative during 2016. It recently participated in the CDS consortium development programme, which was a programme of support that ran for around nine months, was consultant-led and focused on developing strategic and behavioural aspects of the consortium. I am pleased that the Scottish Stone Group fully recognises the benefits of collaboration to increase productivity and creativity and to influence the Parliament, the Government, local government and other potential clients.

Scottish Enterprise and the construction Scotland innovation centre are fully supportive of the Scottish Stone Group and its aims. Scottish Enterprise will work with the group to market and network with the wider construction industry—architectural professionals and others who need to be aware of the product’s potential offering—and support its plans to promote the use of Scottish stone.

It will also facilitate engagement with the construction industry leadership group. I am confident that that will lead to a better understanding of how best to utilise the tremendous variety of our native stone in the construction industry and to develop, where possible, new products that will help with cladding and for other purposes so that we can make sure that we can have modern architecture in historic settings that will blend in with its surroundings.

This has been a valuable debate on a sector that has perhaps not had the attention that it deserves. It has modest employment at the moment but, as members have said, there is great potential for growth. I know that members on all sides of the debate are focused on actions to promote the use of Scotland’s natural resources in a way that is sensitive but has the potential for long-term employment opportunities.

I congratulate Brian Binnie of Denfind Stone, Peter Stewart of Tradstocks and Marcus Paine of Hutton Stone on their initiative in forming the Scottish Stone Group. I wish them good luck and every success—as do all members in the chamber, I am sure. As a Parliament, we are all here to support them and to help them to develop the successful Scottish stone sector.

13:25 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—