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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 26, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 26 October 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Disability Sport, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Strategy, Diet and Obesity Strategy, Hydro Nation, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


General Question Time

Transport Poverty

1. Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Sustrans report, “Transport Poverty in Scotland”. (S5O-01365)

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

Transport poverty is not acceptable in Scotland, which is why we invest more than £1 billion annually in public and sustainable transport. We will take account of the Sustrans research in our current review of the national transport strategy. In the programme for government, we announced our intention to double our annual spend on active travel to £80 million per annum.

Neil Bibby

Sustrans said in its report that more than 1 million people live in data zones where there is a high risk of transport poverty and access to public transport is not good enough.

Under this Scottish National Party Government, bus passenger numbers have plummeted and fares have gone up. The Government is now formally consulting on restrictions to the bus pass, which is currently available to everyone over the age of 60, including people who are on low incomes and in in-work poverty. The SNP Government failed to back Labour’s plan to freeze all rail fares this year, and it wants to cut air passenger duty for the wealthy, frequent-flying few.

Will the cabinet secretary concede that the Government’s decisions can contribute and have contributed to transport poverty in this country? What steps will he take to poverty-proof transport policy and ensure that public transport is accessible to and affordable for all?

Keith Brown

I do not accept the premise of Neil Bibby’s question.

It was this Government that asked, through the Smith commission, for the ability to have a public transport bid for our rail franchises, which is something that the Labour Party failed to do—the Labour Party said that it wanted to do that, but it failed even to ask through Smith. This Government has contributed hugely to the expansion of rail services in areas that were not previously served by stations—and in the Borders rail line we have the biggest new railway line in 100 years in the whole of the United Kingdom.

It is important that we have the concessionary travel scheme, although over the years during which I have been in this Parliament I have heard calls from Labour members to limit the scheme. I have heard that from Conservative members as well. It is perfectly proper for us to consult on the concessionary travel scheme. Of course, the first place in Scotland to introduce a full concessionary travel scheme was my local authority, Clackmannanshire Council. The SNP has a proud record on concessionary travel. We have extended the categories of people who can access the scheme and it is quite right that we hold a consultation on its future development.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

Will the cabinet secretary advise on progress in considering reopening a rail link from Dyce to Ellon and perhaps beyond, to the towns of Banff and Buchan, to give my constituents and those of Stewart Stevenson the public transport options that people in many other areas of Scotland enjoy?

Keith Brown

We remain fully committed to funding high-quality, reliable rail services, as I said, and to securing the necessary funding for sustainable investment in the railway to support communities and meet projections of future demand. There is a huge increase in demand for rail travel.

The offer that we have received from the UK Government leaves a shortfall of £600 million on what the industry tells us that it needs. I assure Gillian Martin that our immediate priority is to press the Treasury to secure a fair deal for Scotland—indeed, my officials are meeting their Treasury counterparts today. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the rail industry to plan for the next rail investment period, from 2019, including options for investment such as the one that the member mentioned.

Transport Scotland is reviewing work that the north east of Scotland transport partnership undertook to consider options for transport improvements north of Aberdeen, as part of its Fraserburgh and Peterhead to Aberdeen strategic transport study. I understand that Nestrans has invited local MSPs, MPs and councillors to a briefing on 3 November to outline its emerging findings.

Early work has commenced on a strategic transport appraisal, as part of the Aberdeen city region deal, in which I was involved. The appraisal will take a 20-year strategic view of the north-east’s transport connections across all modes, including road and rail. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of the study in due course.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The Sustrans researchers applied their calculations to the whole of Scotland and found that 20 per cent of neighbourhoods that were studied had a high risk of transport poverty. What is the Scottish Government’s response to the finding that high-risk areas are largely outside urban areas, which demonstrates the SNP’s lack of care for and lack of focus on rural communities?

Keith Brown

Imagine hearing about lack of support for bus services from the Conservatives when it is the Conservatives who are responsible for the budget cuts. Despite those cuts, we have funded bus services hugely through bus service operators grants and concessionary travel. Over the years, I have heard a number of calls from the Conservatives for us to cut back on the concessionary travel scheme.

Transport Scotland has welcomed the Sustrans report. The report has some limitations in its analysis, which Sustrans itself has pointed out, but we welcome it and will take it into account as we seek to take forward the national transport strategy and future funding and support for bus services, which is at record levels under this Government.

Sport and Physical Activity (Deprived Communities)

2. Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes to encourage people from deprived communities to get involved in sport and physical activity. (S5O-01366)

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell)

The Scottish Government is committed to increasing rates of physical activity. The active Scotland outcomes framework sets out our ambitions for a more active Scotland and is underpinned by a commitment to equality. We are committed to ensuring that community sport hubs provide opportunities for all to participate in sport and benefit the communities they serve. Current work is focusing on hubs located in communities in the lowest 5 per cent of Scottish index of multiple deprivation areas. In addition, our active schools programme offers opportunities for children and young people who might experience barriers to participation.

Mark Griffin

The recently published Barclay report recommends that certain public buildings, such as leisure centres and possibly some of the hubs that the minister talked about, which are operated at arm’s length by local authorities, should pay business rates. In North Lanarkshire, the estimated cost of that would be £4.5 million to £5 million a year, and it would have a massive impact on the council’s ability to encourage people who live in deprived communities to get involved in sport and physical activity. Does the minister agree with me about the impact of the proposal and will she lobby the finance secretary to reject that recommendation?

Aileen Campbell

Derek Mackay made a statement to Parliament to set out his approach to recommendations from the Barclay review, and the further consideration that he wants to give to the impact on arm’s-length external organisations. I understand that he will be making a statement to update Parliament this year.

Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Will the women and girls in sport advisory board examine the challenges to female participation in deprived areas?

Aileen Campbell

The women and girls in sport advisory board will look at how to increase participation and raise awareness of sport and physical activity for girls and women and will explore all the barriers that they face to accessibility, including deprivation.

We should take heart at what is happening across the country to provide girls with opportunities. That was recently illustrated through a women and girls in sport week. Sports are reporting an increase in girls’ participation, including in karate, rugby, dodgeball and cross-country. Good work is happening, but more must be done, and I will continue to keep the member, who has a clear interest in the subject, updated with that work as it progresses.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

Given that we know that, if we get young people to be active, they are more likely to remain active into adulthood, and that the active schools programme highlights an 11 per cent greater uptake in deprived areas, should increasing extra-curricular activity not be a main drive of the Government in making sure that there is access to sport for all?

Aileen Campbell

The active schools programme has been a success and has indicated that there are higher participation rates in areas of deprivation, showing that, when there is a broad range of opportunities for young people, they will take them up. That is why we will continue to work with sportscotland to support that good work and ensure that young people, and older people, get the opportunities that they need to become more active because of the health benefits that that brings.

Richard Lochhead (Moray) (SNP)

The minister knows that, if we are to address this issue, we need sports facilities in our communities. Will she therefore welcome the exciting proposal for a Moray sport centre and urge her officials and sportscotland to offer appropriate financial support and any possible advice?

Aileen Campbell

I am well aware of the proposals that the member outlines and of his enthusiasm for promoting them. I understand that discussions are on-going between the developers and sportscotland on the plans and proposals, and I strongly encourage all parties to continue that dialogue. We will certainly do what we can to support with advice as the project progresses. I look forward to being kept updated on the project and to continuing to engage with the member on the work.

Transport Scotland (Meetings)

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

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Transport Scotland and what issues were discussed. (S5O-01367)

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

As Transport Scotland is part of the Scottish Government, meetings with ministers occur regularly in the normal course of business.

Claire Baker

During the recent debate on the Levenmouth rail link, the Minister for Transport and the Islands said that he was

“minded to instruct officials from Transport Scotland to take on responsibility for”—[Official Report, 27 September 2017; c 89.]

the governance for railway investment projects 4—GRIP 4—process. However, since then, in a response to a written question, the minister has said that

“it is not possible to define timescales for any GRIP4 work”

until completion of

“the STAG and a GRIP Stage 3 assessment”.—[Written Answers, 16 October 2017; S5W-11613.]

Will the cabinet secretary confirm what stage of the process we are at, and what work, if any, Transport Scotland is currently carrying out in relation to the Levenmouth rail project?

Keith Brown

During the members’ business debate last month, I think that my colleague Humza Yousaf said that, as Claire Baker mentioned, he was going to task Transport Scotland with taking forward the feasibility work around the Levenmouth rail campaign, but that that was to be done with the agreement of Fife Council. I understand that those discussions are on-going.

Claire Baker has spoken on the issue a number of times in the chamber, as have a number of other members from Fife. The intention is there to do that work and it is in the process of being discussed by Transport Scotland and Fife Council. If Claire Baker is keen, I can make sure that Humza Yousaf passes on a full account of how the discussions are going.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

We know that spending on ferries in Scotland has doubled in the past 10 years and that subsidies to operators have also doubled over the same period. Audit Scotland has recently warned that there is no Scotland-wide long-term strategy, that the state of half our harbours is unknown and that Transport Scotland will find it increasingly difficult to provide services within its budget. If that is the case, why is the Scottish Government so intent on awarding direct, in-house contracts, which will surely only add to the cost of the network?

Keith Brown

The position of awarding future contracts is under review for reasons that Jamie Greene will be well aware of. I am not sure whether he is attacking the Scottish Government for the introduction of the road equivalent tariff, which has seen a major boost to our islands, or for keeping prices affordable for our island communities.

This Government has a proud record of supporting the communities that are dependent on ferries. That support includes the building of new ferries, such as the fantastic MV Loch Seaforth. Many areas of Scotland have benefited from investment in our harbours and ports, and we are very proud of the huge investment by this Government in our ferries. If Jamie Greene and the Conservatives want to propose cuts to those services, they will get the chance to do that in the budget, but this Government will continue to support our remote and island communities by investing in our ferries and our ports.

Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Will the cabinet secretary clarify the position regarding concerns that I have read about recently over United Kingdom Government cuts to the Scottish budget for railway investment and how that might jeopardise vital improvements around the country? As rail improvements to East Kilbride are long overdue, will he confirm that the upgrade of the East Kilbride to Glasgow railway line will remain a priority?

Keith Brown

The Scottish Government is very concerned about the UK Government’s recent decision. The projection that has been made leaves a shortfall of about £600 million. That estimate has not been made by the Scottish Government; it is an estimate by the industry of what it needs. I can assure the member that our immediate priority is to press the Treasury to secure a fair deal for Scotland and, as I mentioned earlier, officials are meeting their Treasury counterparts today.

In the meantime, we will continue to work with the rail industry to plan for the next rail investment period from 2019, which includes options for investment in the East Kilbride line. Further details on our approach to investment across the network in Scotland will be contained in the investment strategy, which is due for publication later this year and will provide more information for the member on the question that she asked.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

The cabinet secretary might be aware that the Kilcreggan to Gourock ferry service that is run by Clydelink Ltd for Strathclyde partnership for transport is off more than it is on, which is having a hugely negative impact on people in my constituency. Will he fulfil the promise that the Scottish Government made to take over the running of the Kilcreggan to Gourock ferry before the contract is renewed next year?

Keith Brown

That ferry service is not run by the Scottish Government; it is the responsibility of SPT. It requires work and the active support of SPT for any decision to be taken with regard to the service coming into the remit of the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland. I am happy to get my colleague Humza Yousaf to respond to Jackie Baillie about exactly where we are at with that. Around the country, in other places that do not have services that are directly run by the Scottish Government, we have made the offer that we are willing to enter into negotiations to take those services on. The same applies to the Kilcreggan ferry, but that will require SPT’s support.

Fire Prevention (Sprinklers)

4. David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the importance of sprinklers in preventing deaths from fire. (S5O-01368)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Following the tragic fire at Grenfell tower, the ministerial working group on building and fire safety is considering all relevant measures to ensure the safety of residents in high-rise domestic buildings, including a review of evidence on automatic fire suppression systems, which include sprinklers.

As the member is aware, since 2005, building regulations have required an automatic fire suppression system to be installed in a variety of new buildings, including high-rise domestic buildings, residential care buildings, sheltered housing complexes, schools and enclosed shopping centres.

The provision of sprinklers within existing high-rise domestic buildings is not compulsory, and sprinklers are only one of a range of risk-reduction measures. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service raises awareness of fire risk in the home and encourages people to take steps to make their homes safe.

David Stewart

The minister will be well aware that in Scotland there have never been multiple fire deaths where a working sprinkler system has been in operation. In Wales, and in the Fife Council and Angus Council areas, there is already a policy of having sprinklers in new-build social housing.

Will the minister work with me on my member’s bill to ensure wider coverage of sprinkler systems to prevent death, injury and damage caused by fire in future?

Kevin Stewart

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of fire suppression systems. We have put in place a working group to look at all aspects of the issue and a separate working group to look at building standards.

I know that the member has taken a great interest in the matter and that he met the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities on 12 September. We will continue to update him on the work that we are doing, and I am sure that he will continue to engage with us in that vital work.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

The Fire Brigades Union has been calling for sprinklers to be fitted in all tower blocks, not just those built since 2005, for the past eight years. When will that happen?

Kevin Stewart

As I said in my earlier answer, fire suppression systems are one of many ways of ensuring safety. The expert group that we have put together, which includes international experts, will look at all safety aspects. Beyond that, Mr Simpson will be aware that the ministerial working group has called for an inventory of all high-rise buildings in Scotland to make sure that the decisions that we take are the right ones for those buildings.

Income Tax

5. Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will confirm its position on income tax ahead of its budget. (S5O-01369)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business (Joe FitzPatrick)

Mr Mackay is on official business in London today, so I am answering this question on his behalf.

We will shortly publish a discussion paper on income tax, and I encourage everyone in the chamber, and throughout the country, to participate. The draft budget will be put before Parliament on 14 December and we will announce our formal policy intention then.

Maurice Corry

Although I thank the minister for his reply, a recently released response to a freedom of information request revealed that the First Minister was warned in March that plans to implement the citizens basic income proposal would cost at least £12.3 billion a year. Can the minister tell us whether it is fair for every Scottish taxpayer to face a tax rate of 50 per cent to pay for this Government’s basic income policy, as evidenced by the Government’s own briefings?

Joe FitzPatrick

I thank the member for his question. The Scottish Government is very clear about the principles that will guide our tax policy. We believe that tax should be progressive and that those on the lowest incomes should not shoulder the burden of the United Kingdom Government’s budget cuts. The upcoming discussion paper will cover the importance of progressivity and we will publish our policy intentions on 14 December.

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

Given the substantial challenges in the Scottish budget around addressing the issues of child poverty, properly funding local councils and ensuring fair pay for public sector workers, does the minister agree that substantial changes around taxation are required in order to fund those?

Joe FitzPatrick

The Scottish Government has been clear in the process that we are going through that stakeholder engagement is very important. We have written to all party leaders to ask for their views on income tax so that we can have an honest, informed discussion. Unfortunately, I do not think that the Labour Party has as yet responded to that request.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Before we start First Minister’s questions, members will wish to join me in welcoming to the gallery His Excellency Steve Katjiuanjo, High Commissioner of the Republic of Namibia. [Applause.]