Meeting date: Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 24 May 2017
Agenda: Cycle Capacity (Railways), Business Motion, Security, Portfolio Question Time, Cyber-resilience, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, National Parks
- Cycle Capacity (Railways)
- Business Motion
- Portfolio Question Time
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- National Parks
Portfolio Question Time
Economy, Jobs and Fair Work
Brexit (Economic Risks)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the risks to Scotland’s economy of businesses leaving the country if there is no access to the European Union single market and a so-called hard Brexit strategy is pursued by the United Kingdom Government. (S5O-01009)
There are around 1,000 EU-owned companies in Scotland and they employ over 127,000 people. Membership of the single market is vital in securing that investment. According to the Ernst & Young attractiveness survey, 79 per cent of inward investors into the UK list access to the EU single market as an important factor in their investment decision. A hard Brexit will reduce the openness of the economy and have a detrimental effect on Scotland’s attractiveness as a location for inward investment.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that in my role as parliamentary liaison officer for the economy, I take a keen interest in the economic impact of Brexit. It is generally accepted that a hard Brexit, with the UK leaving the EU single market, will act as an incentive to many businesses that are currently based in the UK and trade across the EU to move their operations to a location within the single market. What is the Scottish Government doing to encourage those businesses to locate here, rather than in another EU country?
As I have mentioned, the latest figures from the EY attractiveness survey confirm that 2016 was a record-breaking year for foreign direct investment into Scotland. It is against that background that we have to judge these issues. We have already proposed a way in which Scotland could stay in the single market even if the UK comes out of the EU, but that has been rejected out of hand by the UK Government. More worrying are some recent suggestions that the UK Government is actually scenario planning for no deal at all, which would be disastrous for both the UK and Scottish economies.
The Scottish Government will continue to do all that it can to protect Scotland’s interests in Europe during the forthcoming negotiations and, of course, to promote Scotland as a destination of choice, despite the damage that is being done by the UK Government.
What assessment has the Scottish Government made of the risks to Scotland’s economy of businesses leaving the country if a hard border is created between Scotland and our biggest market, elsewhere in the United Kingdom—that hard border being, according to the Scottish Government’s own experts, a consequence of pursuing a differentiated deal with the EU from that applying elsewhere in the UK?
We have no proposals, and see no reason, for there to be a hard border between Scotland and the rest of the UK. It surprises me that a Conservative Party that claims to be in favour of business wants to talk up the prospects of a hard border between Scotland and England—we have not suggested that. There has been no reference at all from the Conservatives, in questions or in debates on the economy, to the fact that we have just seen the UK trade deficit nearly double, from £2.6 billion to £4.9 billion; inflation is at 2.7 per cent; borrowing today is up to a three-year high; and there is a national debt of £1.8 trillion. That is the record of the Conservative Party in government. Why do they not talk a bit more about that in relation to damaging Scotland’s interests?
The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee took quite a lot of evidence on Brexit and the number of Scottish companies that are very dependent on workers from the EU. Those included Angus Soft Fruits, those in the fish-processing sector and Walkers Shortbread. Does the cabinet secretary think that the UK Government understands how much our food and drink sector needs those workers?
If it does understand, it shows no signs of it. John Mason is absolutely right about the critical importance of EU nationals, not least in the sectors that he mentioned. The hospitality sector is another very obvious sector, as well as the soft-fruit sector and financial services.
The issue that is raised with me most frequently by businesses across Scotland is the threat to there being internationally mobile people who can come to Scotland and help to improve our economy. That is a real threat that is not acknowledged nearly sufficiently by the UK Government—a threat from a hard Brexit and, even more, from no deal at all.
We will continue to provide what reassurance we can to EU nationals. I am aware from higher education institutes and others that people are leaving already—people who we would want to stay are leaving the economy already. That cannot be good for Scotland.
Once again, I urge the UK Government to make it clear that EU nationals in the UK will have the right to stay—an assurance that they should have been given immediately after the Brexit referendum.
The cabinet secretary quite rightly highlights the importance of jobs for the Scottish economy. Has he had the opportunity to read the most recent Fraser of Allander institute report, which confirms that more than 500,000 jobs in Scotland rely on the integrity of the UK single market?
My earlier response, arguing against a hard border—which the Tories are talking up—recognised the importance of the UK market to Scotland and of the Scottish market to the UK.
I was interested to read the jobs figures, which showed a 42-year low for unemployment in the UK. That is great, but Scotland’s unemployment was even lower. We have had not one word of congratulation from the Conservatives and not one mention of that, just as there has been no mention of the EY attractiveness survey and the 122 new projects that are coming to Scotland.
It seems that the last thing that the Tories would ever want to do is to talk up the positive elements of the Scottish economy.
I welcome the EY survey, which makes interesting reading, but will the cabinet secretary perhaps concede that percentage growth is down substantially on last year and that foreign direct investment has accounted for even fewer jobs than it accounted for last year? Does the cabinet secretary have an explanation for that?
It is a fair point. At least part of the explanation—perhaps a large part of it—lies in the fact that around 35 per cent of those foreign direct investments involve employers who do not want to release the details of the employment consequences. The member shakes her head, but that is stated in the report—if she reads it, she will see that that is what it says. Therefore, it is not possible for us to itemise that.
I take substantial encouragement from the fact that there has been no percentage decrease in the number of projects coming to Scotland—in fact, it has gone up, from 119 to 122. That places Scotland second in the United Kingdom, behind the south-east of England. We have also seen an increase in research and development projects, which are absolutely crucial. Stakeholders tell me that they want foreign direct investment, but they also want more research coming to Scotland, and the latest figures show a promising prospect in that regard.
Supporting Women into Work
To ask the Scottish Government how it supports women into work. (S5O-01010)
The Scottish Government is taking a number of steps to not only support women into employment but reduce gender inequality in the labour market, tackle discrimination and improve women’s position in the workplace. I recently announced funding of up to £200,000 to deliver a programme of support to women who wish to return to work after a career break, building on the £50,000 funding that I previously announced for Equate Scotland to undertake a similar programme specific to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sector. I also chair a working group to look at pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace.
We have announced funding of up to £500,000 for a workplace equality fund to address long-standing barriers to accessing the labour market, and we are establishing an advisory council on women and girls to inform our action to tackle gender inequality. On top of that funding, we are taking actions through the women in enterprise action framework to tackle the gender gap in enterprise growth. The Government continues to promote flexible working and has provided £178,700 for 2016-17 to the family-friendly working Scotland partnership to support and promote the development of family-friendly workplaces across Scotland.
The problem is indeed intractable, and the paid labour market in Scotland is fundamentally skewed away from women. As the minister and other members know, women make up the majority of workers in the lowest-paid sectors, such as the care, hospitality and retail sectors. Even women who are in full-time employment can be left struggling to pay rent, to feed their families and without financial independence, which is vital if they have to leave their home because the situation is unsafe due to domestic violence.
Does the minister agree that support for Labour’s pledge on a £10 living wage by 2020 would certainly be a step towards correcting that deplorable situation? What specific action is the Government taking to address women’s low pay?
We are delivering a range of funding to the Poverty Alliance to take forward the living wage accreditation scheme. I have met the Living Wage Foundation, which is very pleased with the work here in Scotland—we now have more than 800 accredited employers. We lead by example, by ensuring that those who are covered by our pay policy are paid at least the living wage. That is important because, as the member rightly says, those who are on low pay are predominantly women. We know that that policy is making a difference.
Through the range of activity that I have set out, through the developing the young workforce programme and in conjunction with the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and Skills Development Scotland, we are making every effort to address some of the structural and attitudinal barriers that exist in order to ensure that women are better represented across the entire gamut of the workforce.
Can the minister provide detail on how female employment in Scotland compares with female employment across the United Kingdom as a whole?
The situation has certainly improved over the past year. The latest available data shows that female part-time working has decreased over the year by 13,000 while female full-time working has increased by 32,000. That has led to a situation in which the latest statistics show an employment rate for women of 70.8 per cent and an unemployment rate of 4.2 per cent. On both those measures, we are doing better than the UK as a whole.
Does the minister believe that the loss of 152,000 college places, many of which were for part-time courses, has had a detrimental impact on supporting women into work, in particular women who are returning to the workplace after a break?
I say to Gordon Lindhurst, who I know takes an interest in these matters as convener of the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, that Scotland’s colleges are doing a lot of work to help women into employment and will be taking that further through their gender equality action plans.
We know that the number of women in full-time courses is up by more than 12 per cent since 2006-07; that women account for the majority of college enrolments—they accounted for 51 per cent of enrolments in 2015-16; and, indeed, that there are still a significant number of part-time opportunities available at colleges in Scotland. The majority of total enrolments at college are in part-time further education courses—the latest figures show that almost two thirds of courses are part time.
Our college sector is playing a significant role in improving the prospects of women and, indeed, of the entire population of Scotland.
Inclusive Growth (Orkney)
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to deliver inclusive growth for Orkney. (S5O-01011)
We are committed to supporting inclusive and sustainable growth across Scotland, including in Orkney. We are investing in businesses, communities and infrastructure across the islands. For example, we are investing in the new hospital and healthcare facilities project, and in Evie primary school, which opened last November. Through the regeneration capital grant fund, we are providing Orkney Islands Council with £0.5 million for the Orkney research campus project in Stromness, which will support more than 100 jobs.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise continues to work closely with ambitious businesses and communities to support growth and boost employment.
Furthermore, the Scottish Government continues to press United Kingdom ministers for appropriate support to ensure grid connections to the mainland and support for island wind projects. Both will significantly enhance the economic and social development prospects of the Orkney islands and thereby support inclusive growth.
I thank the minister for that answer, much of which I welcome.
Part of inclusive growth is about helping communities to overcome specific challenges that they face, so that they can play to their strengths. For my constituents, that is about allowing key sectors of the local economy to compete on a level playing field. Unfortunately, the cost of lifeline ferry services continues to put our islands at a competitive disadvantage. Nine years after cheaper ferry fares were introduced on west coast routes and one year after the First Minister’s commitment to “begin work immediately” to cut the cost of ferry fares for those living in, working in and visiting Orkney and Shetland, we are still waiting. When exactly can my constituents expect a fair deal on ferry fares?
Clearly, that question is best directed to my colleague Humza Yousaf, the Minister for Transport and the Islands, but I am pleased to respond as best I can.
We recognise the effect that reduced fares options have on demand, and we recognise the case that the local community has made for help with charges. It is worth saying that a consultation on fares was carried out at the end of 2016, and further analysis of the impact on demand of different fares options and of available options for increasing demand is being carried out.
I assure Liam McArthur that consideration is being given to looking at how any subsidy could be made available to commercial operators, to allow them to provide reduced fares. As I am sure he appreciates, that is a complex piece of work. It is important to ensure that any fares mechanism is fair and compliant legally. I hope that that answers the question.
Queensferry Crossing Construction Team (Meetings)
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the Queensferry crossing construction team. (S5O-01012)
I last met Michael Martin and David Climie of the Queensferry crossing construction team on Friday 19 May, when I visited the site to view the significant progress being made in the admittedly favourable weather conditions on that day. I was hugely impressed by the progress that is being made across a number of the key activities on the project, including roads on the north side nearing completion, the removal of the tower cranes and trestles, and the installation of wind shielding, waterproofing and the first two layers of road surfacing across the Queensferry crossing.
Given that the opening of the new bridge has already been postponed twice and is now six months late, will the minister give me the exact date when the bridge will open? If he will not, why not?
I think that Peter Chapman has heard both from the contractors and from the board of the company that oversees the contract that the bridge is scheduled to open between mid-July and the end of August. I know that he is fully aware that that window, rather than a specific date, was arranged because of the weather conditions in the Forth. It is worth bearing in mind that six months have not passed since the contract completion date, which is next month.
It is also worth comparing the Queensferry crossing with other projects. For example, it is coming in at a fraction of the cost of the Runcorn bridge although it is a bigger bridge and is being delivered more quickly. I am very pleased about the progress that has been made on the bridge.
I have made it clear to the contractors that they should proceed according to what is necessary for the safety of their employees. I am confident that it will be a world-leading bridge, in a world heritage location, that the whole of Scotland can be proud of.
Does the cabinet secretary agree with me that worker safety must be of paramount importance in all projects, and that those working on the bridge must follow the advice of experts regarding when it is unsafe to continue working?
Clare Adamson is right that, in all such projects, the safety of the workforce is of paramount importance. The Forth crossing bridge constructors consortium has continued to assure us that it remains fully committed to completing the project safely.
When I visited the bridge on Friday, I managed to get to the top of one of the towers, from where the level of activity taking place on the deck can be seen. It is important that that activity, which involves a number of different workstreams, is carried out in a way that ensures the safety of those involved. That includes working to detailed method statements that are based on risk assessments prepared by experts, who are, as Clare Adamson says, the people we should listen to in the construction field.
In relation to a whole range of procurement issues concerning the Forth bridge contract, what has the cabinet secretary learned from the process? What would he do differently next time?
Procurement is of course dealt with by my colleague Derek Mackay, but from my previous involvement in procurement I am aware that the European procurement regulations and the guidance that has been issued have changed. Of course, that has produced some changes that we may wish to take advantage of, but if people such as Neil Findlay have their way and Brexit happens, those guidelines and standards will be absent, which could be damaging for such projects in future. I hope that that will not happen.
Finance and the Constitution
Public Sector Pay Policy 2017-18 (Equality Impact Assessment)
To ask the Scottish Government whether its 2017-18 public sector pay policy is subject to an equality impact assessment. (S5O-01019)
Yes. An equality impact assessment is undertaken as part of our consideration of public sector pay policy, and the key findings from the assessment are reported in the policy.
I am sure that it was merely an extraordinary coincidence that the equality impact assessment was published the day after I lodged that oral question. I am happy that it is such a fortunate coincidence, though.
In previous years under the current public sector pay policy, when inflation was hovering at or well below 1 per cent, it could be argued that the Government’s approach was to ensure that those at the bottom end of the pay spectrum—particularly women and minority groups such as disabled people and those in minority ethnic groups—were protected. Now that inflation is increasing to well beyond that level, and given that even the £400 minimum uplift to those with an income that is below £22,000 is well below an uplift at the current inflation rate, surely we need to look again at how people at the bottom end of the pay scales in the public sector can be protected with at least an inflation-based increase.
I have some sympathy with the point that Patrick Harvie has made. I have engaged on the subject with the trade unions, whose representatives I met recently.
It is true that we have targeted support to those on lower earnings within our pay control. That is why there are specific measures such as the fixed payment and other support measures.
We must get the balance right on sustaining the workforce as well as on proper remuneration. I recognise that inflation has been an issue, but I remind members that we have a policy of no compulsory redundancies, which the United Kingdom Government does not share, to ensure that we sustain numbers and support a valued workforce.
Bearing in mind the fact that we now know that nurses, for example, are £3,400 cumulatively worse off as a result of the pay cap, does the finance secretary accept that the cap is unacceptable? Will he take action to address that specifically when the autumn budget revision comes into play in September and there are underspends from other departments? Will he use that opportunity to give those whose pay has been suppressed by the pay cap a much-needed uplift?
Through our budget process, we have invested hundreds of millions of pounds of extra resources in our public services. Labour did not support the budget, but we were able to put in those additional sums.
I have made the point that I am sympathetic to the workforce over the inflation issues. We know how inflation is being affected by wider economic circumstances, which have been partly caused by the Brexit decision and the pressures from that. I have said that I will continue to engage with the trade unions, and I will do so, especially as we look at our pay policy in the light of financial constraints.
I acknowledge the pressures that we face as a consequence of inflation, but I remind members that we in Scotland have taken specific measures that are distinct from what the UK Government has done on pay and that we have sustained the workforce. We have also ensured that policies are in place to target support for those who are on low pay and to make sure that we have no compulsory redundancies.
In Scotland, women earn on average £60,000 less over their working lives than men do. What specific steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that public sector pay policy will combat that?
That is a surprise—criticism from the Tories of public sector pay policy. We have avoided compulsory redundancies and we are looking at measures on low pay. We recognise that there can be a gender impact, which is why we have targeted extra support towards the low paid. We also support the living wage and we have made swift progress on that policy. We will look closely at gender impact and other impacts in our pay policy, which was published as part of our considerations for the budget.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that all employers, public and private, should do everything that they can to provide equal opportunities for employees? Does he share my concern that the Labour administration in North Lanarkshire, which is now propped up by the Tories, has yet to deal with equal pay claims?
I share those concerns, and I am not quite sure that that is what the parties told the electorate was their intention before the council elections.
Austerity (Impact on Scottish Government Finances)
To ask the Scottish Government what impact the United Kingdom Government’s austerity measures are having on Scottish Government finances. (S5O-01020)
By the end of the current spending review period in 2019-20, the Scottish Government’s fiscal departmental expenditure limit block grant allocation will be £2.9 billion, which is 9.2 per cent lower in real terms than the figure in 2010-11.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that Scotland has suffered enough under the Westminster Government’s austerity? Does he agree that, although the Scottish Government has mitigated the effect where it can, many Scottish families are still struggling because of Tory austerity?
Yes, they are, and I am sure that that debate will continue during the general election campaign, where there are alternatives to the Tories’ plans.
Does the cabinet secretary agree with the Fraser of Allander institute analysis that shows that there has been no reduction in the Scottish Government’s discretionary spend in real terms since the Scottish National Party came to power in 2007? Any talk of Tory austerity is merely SNP spin.
I am sorry to say that, not for the first time, Dean Lockhart is quoting selectively from the Fraser of Allander institute. There have been real-terms reductions and, under the Tories, there will continue to be real-terms reductions in our discretionary spend.
Unlike the cabinet secretary, I oppose UK Government and Scottish Government austerity. To rephrase—[Interruption.] They do not like the truth, do they? To rephrase George Adam, I ask the Scottish Government what impact Scottish Government austerity measures are having on local government finances.
Local government had a fair and strong settlement from the Scottish Government. We have consistently treated local government fairly. It is unfortunate that, not only did the Labour Party not support giving those extra resources to local government, including the £120 million attainment fund, but, where Labour is in power, it has frozen the council tax, so it is clear that the settlement is better than Labour has said it is.
Hub Projects (Payment of Contractors)
Meanwhile, back in the real world, I will ask my question.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that contractors working on hub projects are paid on time. (S5O-01021)
As I indicated in my reply last week to the member, the standard contract forms that are used for hub projects include provision about the timely payment of contractors and subcontractors.
The Vaughan Engineering Group business in my region has carried out extensive works for Galliford Try, which is one of the major contractors that are involved in Scottish Futures Trust hub projects. After completing work, Galliford Try unfairly withheld payment from the contractor for more than two years, and it is threatening to do so again, which is putting 500 jobs in jeopardy. I raised the matter with the finance secretary last week and he said that he would look at individual cases. Will he agree to meet me and representatives from Vaughan Engineering so that we can try to resolve this serious situation?
I take the issue seriously. Mr Findlay said last week that he could cite a number of cases where the same position had been the case. I will look at those matters if he supplies the details of the range of cases that he has described to me, and I will absolutely take that forward.
Income Tax (50p Rate)
To ask the Scottish Government what its current and developing position is on the introduction of a 50p rate of income tax. (S5O-01022)
Analysis that the Scottish Government produced showed that a revenue risk is associated with raising the additional rate. However, the First Minister has asked the Council of Economic Advisers to consider how and to what extent that risk can be mitigated and, if we are sufficiently assured that it can be, we will consider raising the additional rate from 45p to 50p from 2018-19 onwards.
I thank the cabinet secretary for repeating to me what was in the Scottish National Party manifesto a year ago. Does he agree with the analysis that was recently conducted for the Fraser of Allander institute by Graeme Roy, a former SNP Government adviser, who concluded that as a result of the fiscal framework arrangements that were agreed, a 50p rate of tax that applied across the whole United Kingdom would lead to a reduction in revenues to the Scottish Government?
I have set out exactly what the Scottish Government’s position is and the advice that we will take, and that will be part of our consideration for the budget. We will also engage with other parties, but the First Minister has asked the Council of Economic Advisers to consider the matter and that is exactly the source of information that I will draw on.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that, to avoid the risk of any changes to the top rate of income tax reducing rather than increasing the funds that are available for public services in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament needs to have powers over dividend and savings income tax, powers over taxes that are impacted by incorporation, including capital gains tax and corporation tax, and, crucially, powers to police tax avoidance?
Presiding Officer, I know that you want shorter answers in order to get through as many questions as possible so, in essence, yes—I agree with that point.
On the basis that the First Minister has changed her mind about eight times on the 50p tax rate, is it not the case that she tells everybody else what to do but, when she has the power herself, she runs a million miles in the opposite direction?
I am absolutely of the view that we have set out a consistent position on the matter and I have said that we will draw on evidence to make those decisions. However, it is abundantly clear that the Labour Party does not know what it is doing on tax, other than to suggest taxing some of the most vulnerable in our society by increasing the basic rate as well.
Small Business Bonus Scheme (Angus)
To ask the Scottish Government how many small businesses in Angus have received support from the small business bonus scheme. (S5O-01023)
It is estimated that the small business bonus scheme supported around 2,500 properties in Angus in 2016-17.
I have a constituent running a now highly successful high street business who tells me that the small business bonus was the difference between surviving and failing in the early years of getting the business up and running. Has the Scottish Government done any analysis of the economic benefit that the small business bonus delivers in Angus and across wider Scotland?
The Scottish Government has engaged with stakeholders and businesses directly. For example, the Federation of Small Businesses recently surveyed about 1,000 business owners and the results show that about a fifth of small firms reported that they would close the business if the scheme were to be abolished and that a similar proportion said that they would have to cancel investments or amend their plans for growth if that was the case.
Local Government Elections (Openness)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it took to ensure that the local government elections were open to candidates from all parts of society. (S5O-01024)
A wide range of people are eligible to stand for election in the Scottish local government elections. The Scottish Government would like to see that diversity reflected in the profile of those who stand as candidates and are elected to public office. One group who are underrepresented in all elections are disabled people. While the selection of party candidates is a matter for political parties, we have provided support for disabled candidates through the access to elected office fund, which was put in place to meet candidates’ additional disability-related costs. Of the 39 candidates who received support through the fund, 15 were elected to 12 local authorities.
Given the success of the access to elected office fund at our most recent local government elections, does the minister agree that that financial help has clearly opened up the electoral process to people who previously might not have been able to take part in it? Will he join me in calling on the United Kingdom Government to reopen the equivalent UK fund?
Yes. The fund has successfully enabled people who might otherwise have found it difficult to access elected office here in Scotland to do so. I encourage the UK Government to look at how the model has worked in this case, to perhaps get in touch with Inclusion Scotland, which administered the scheme, and, hopefully, to roll it out across the UK.
Air Departure Tax (Distributional Impact)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the distributional impact on households of its proposed air departure tax reduction. (S5O-01025)
The Scottish Government fully supports and recognises the importance of robust analysis of its policies. That is why it has committed to undertaking and publishing a range of impact assessments of air departure tax. That includes an independent economic assessment, which will consider the best way to design a robust monitoring and evaluation framework, so that one can be put in place to assess, among other things, the socioeconomic impacts of ADT in the future. The economic assessment will be published in the autumn, no later than when the Government sets out its secondary legislation plans for ADT tax bands and tax rate amounts.
The cabinet secretary will be delighted to know that the Scottish Greens have already done some of that work for him. Research that we commissioned shows that the richest 10 per cent of households stand to benefit four times as much as the poorest 10 per cent. Does he agree that that is not the action of a progressive Government?
We have been progressive as a Government in relation to currently devolved taxes such as land and buildings transaction tax and in how we have approached other taxes such as council tax. United Kingdom ADT is the highest tax of its kind in Europe and one of the highest in the world. We want to improve Scotland’s competitive position, connectivity and business growth, but of course all that will be part of the wider consideration. I will refer back to the assessments that we have commissioned.
What work is on-going on legislation to exempt the Highlands and Islands from ADT?
I was also asked about that in the Finance and Constitution Committee.
We are pursuing the position with the UK Government. Given that the UK is the member state, it is for the UK Government to approach the European Union through the notification process. We are working in partnership with the UK Government to try to ensure that we can continue the Highlands and Islands exemption, which is certainly this Government’s policy intention.
Local Authorities (Income from Increased Council Tax Rates)
To ask the Scottish Government what additional income will be raised in 2017-18 by local authorities that have increased council tax rates. (S5O-01026)
The additional council tax revenue in 2017-18 will be £53 million.
My local council, which until the recent local authority elections was a Labour-led council, chose not to raise council tax, despite years of asking the Scottish Government to lift the council tax freeze. How much money would a council tax rise have provided for local public services to spend?
By freezing the council tax in 2017-18, South Lanarkshire Council decided to forgo £4.2 million, reducing its overall potential increase in support for local services. Although that is of course a matter for local government and for that local authority, it is in sharp contrast to what Labour said previously.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that Clare Haughey is entirely wrong in what she said about South Lanarkshire Council? It was the policy of the council not to increase council tax rates and it stuck to that, as was its right. Does he agree first, on that factual point and, secondly, that it is not for the Scottish Government to give a view on whether councils should increase council tax rates?
I am not sure that Graham Simpson listened to my answer to Clare Haughey before he asked his question. I made the point that it was a matter for local government and for South Lanarkshire Council. I simply pointed out that the Labour Party had said for years that the council tax freeze was unsustainable, but when it was in a position to increase the tax, it froze it. I was simply pointing out the absurdity of the position of the Labour Party on that council.
For completeness, I note that there were many other Labour authorities that chose to freeze the council tax, which I think helps to make the point that the local government settlement was fair, because it put councils in a position in which they felt that they could do that.
To ask the Scottish Government when it expects the Barclay review of non-domestic rates to publish its recommendations. (S5O-01027)
The Barclay review of business rates will report to ministers this summer.
We look forward to seeing that report. However, given that the Scottish Government refused the request from the Local Government and Communities Committee to ask the Barclay review to reopen the period for consultation so that more evidence could be taken from businesses that were affected by the recent rates revaluation, what assurance can we have that the Barclay review will properly consider all the issues that arise from the recent revaluation and the impact that that has had on businesses?
I have to say that the Conservative’s first position on this matter was that we should act before the review; then it was that we should rush and hurry the review; and now it is that we should prolong the review. I accept, though, that the Barclay review is of great importance as we look at non-domestic rates, and I look forward to its findings. We will act swiftly on those findings.
The Local Government and Communities Committee has encouraged the Barclay review to look again at the consultation and to review the organisations that it has engaged with, and I believe that it has done that. Of course, it will be for Government and Parliament to consider the matters that are presented to us by the Barclay review, and matters wider than that.
Having engaged with Ken Barclay, I know that he has reflected on the comments that were made by the committee and has been able to reach out to others to ensure that the consultation and engagement is as comprehensive as possible.
That concludes this question session. We will take a few moments before we move on to the next item of business. In the meantime, at the risk of embarrassing them, I congratulate Mr Mackay and Mr FitzPatrick on getting through nine questions and nine supplementaries. I encourage all their ministerial colleagues to take a leaf out of the ministers’ book.