Meeting date: Thursday, November 30, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 30 November 2017
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Ferry Services (Gourock to Kilcreggan), Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Motion without Notice, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Ferry Services (Gourock to Kilcreggan)
- Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
This morning, the Minister for Transport and the Islands was asked to give clarity on what the Government knew about the partial closure of the Queensferry crossing and when it knew that. He failed to do so, so can the First Minister clear that one up for the thousands of people who rely on the crossing?
I am more than happy to do so, as the transport minister did on the radio this morning. However, before I come on to the issue of ministerial and public knowledge, which I will do in a minute, let me address the central issue. I think that most people listening to this would understand and accept that it is entirely normal for snagging work to be required on a large infrastructure project, and of course the Queensferry crossing is one of the largest infrastructure projects ever carried out in Scotland. The particular piece of work involved will be done over five days, starting tonight. The bridge will not be closed during those five days; instead, southbound traffic will use the existing Forth road bridge, which demonstrates the increased resilience that comes from having two bridges in place.
Further snagging works will be required over the coming months, which as I said is entirely normal on an infrastructure project. However, let me make it very clear that the work that will start tonight is the only identified snagging work that will require peak-time lane closures. Any future lane closures that cannot be avoided will take place at night, not during the day or during peak hours. Of course, under the contract, all snagging works are carried out at no additional cost to the Scottish Government.
I turn to the issue of ministerial and public knowledge of the matter. When the solution to this particular work had been agreed, ministers were told. That happened on Tuesday of last week. As soon as there was confirmation from the Met Office about the weather window that is required to carry out the work, which was received on Monday of this week, Parliament and the wider public were informed. In other words, there was no delay and everything happened completely timeously.
Some Opposition MSPs that I heard commenting yesterday appeared to give the impression that the concept of snagging works being required had never before been shared with anybody. However, on 28 June, David Climie, who is the project director, appeared before the relevant parliamentary committee and said the following about what would happen after the bridge opened to traffic:
“There will be a phased handover of between three and six months. It will happen gradually, as the remaining snagging and other work is completed.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 28 June 2017; c 7.]
Some MSPs who were commenting yesterday as if they had no idea about this work were present at that committee session.
All snagging works that are carried out will be done in a way to minimise inconvenience to the travelling public. That is the priority of Transport Scotland, that is the priority of those responsible for the bridge and that is the priority of this Government.
I thank the First Minister for that long and instructively defensive answer. Lost in there was the fact that Transport Scotland knew that the road over the bridge was faulty when it was opened last August. That is what its officials said in Parliament yesterday, yet the transport minister said this morning that he knew nothing about the partial closure until last week. Is the First Minister happy that nobody in Government apparently knew anything about a major fault in what she has just called
“one of the largest infrastructure projects”
in Scottish history?
This really is quite desperate stuff, but it is of importance to the travelling public, which is why I am giving long and detailed answers to correct some of the misinformation that Ruth Davidson and others seem to want to convey.
In August, Transport Scotland and those responsible for the bridge did not know what work they required to do to fix this particular stretch of road, which they realised had not been laid with correct tolerances, so they had to do further investigative work. They had to look in detail at what would be required to fix that particular defect, and when they had done that, they informed ministers, as they would have been expected to. They informed ministers last week, as the transport minister made clear and as I am making clear today.
The further bit of information that they had to get clarity on was when they would get a weather window to allow them to carry out that work. They got that information from the Met Office on Monday of this week, which enabled them to say that the work could start tonight at 10 o’clock, and they then advised Parliament and the wider public. That is the entirely the correct way for the issue to be have been taken forward.
Finally, I remind Ruth Davidson that the bridge will not be closed. Those coming southbound will use the existing Forth road bridge. We will continue, in partnership with Transport Scotland, to make sure that any—[Interruption.] The Conservatives want to put misinformation around, but they do not want to actually listen to the answers. Not one of them is listening to the detailed answers that are being given right now, which speaks volumes. We will continue to make sure that any snagging works, which are entirely normal on a major infrastructure project, are carried out with minimal inconvenience to the travelling public. That is our priority, that is my priority and that is the way we will continue to work.
What jars here is that the Government pushed through the opening of the bridge in the summer and claimed it as a symbol of Scottish National Party competence, but now that there is a problem, it is a case of, “Don’t look at us; we’re just the Scottish Government.”
In September, it was job done and pats on the back all round, but on Monday, we were told that another five days of work would be needed. Yesterday, those five days became another 10 months of possible disruption. Does the First Minister not see that it is the dripping out of that kind of information rather than simply levelling with people that is damaging the public’s trust?
Ruth Davidson says that the Scottish Government is somehow trying to pass the buck. I am standing up here giving detailed answers that she and her colleagues are not interested in hearing.
Ruth Davidson accuses us of pushing through the official opening of the bridge. That comes from the same party that, if memory serves me correctly, was complaining bitterly when we announced a 10-week delay to the opening of the bridge. The bridge opened at a time when it was right for the bridge to open because the travelling public could start to use it.
Let us take this back to the personal sphere. Anybody who has ever moved into a new house knows that snagging is required on construction projects. There is snagging work to be done. The project director told Parliament in June that there would be a period of three to six months of snagging work. That is being carried out. [Interruption.]
People who are watching this will take a lot from the fact that members across the chamber are not interested in listening to the facts. However, I will carry on with the facts.
The final point I want to make in response to Ruth Davidson is about how she said that five days has turned into 10 months. That is completely and utterly inaccurate. As I said in my opening answer, which she would have heard if she had been listening, of course further snagging works will be required. However, this is the only piece of work that will require daytime and peak-time lane closures. If other work requires lane closures, they will be closed at night.
This is an important subject to the travelling public, but it is also important for everybody to keep a sense of perspective on it.
The First Minister has to learn that if she wants to take the plaudits, she also has to accept responsibility for the failures.
The First Minister is right in saying that motorists have been pretty patient until now, but they deserve some straight talking in the coming months. Can the First Minister be clear on what happens now? She has just said that there will be no further peak-time closures. Can she actually tell motorists what other closures and partial closures they are going to face in the coming 10 months? How many will there be, how long will they last, and what level are we talking about? Finally, will she ensure that her ministers get on top of works that are needed to keep our country moving?
If Ruth Davidson had listened to any of my previous answers, she would have got the information that she has just asked me for. If further lane closures are required as the further snagging work is identified, they will not take place during the day and during peak hours; they will take place during the night. The bridge operators will inform the public in advance if those lane closures are required. That is the normal way of doing things in a construction project of this nature.
The other point to make about the repair that will start tonight is that it is essential to allow the bridge to move to a 70mph speed limit, which will happen before the end of December.
This is a massive construction project. It was made clear at the outset that snagging would be required. It was made clear at the outset that the speed limits would be increased on a phased basis. That is what is happening. That will continue to be taken forward properly. Any further work that requires to be done, at no cost to the Scottish Government, will be done in a way that minimises any inconvenience to the travelling public. That is the right way to proceed.
In the future, if Ruth Davidson wants to listen to the detailed information that she is being given, she might not have to ask the same questions over and over again.
Local Government Funding
Last week, I met representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, who told me that, just to stand still, local authorities need an additional £545 million in the Scottish budget in two weeks’ time. Will they get it?
I am glad that Richard Leonard met COSLA representatives last week. The finance secretary met them this week to discuss budget issues. We will set out our budget on 14 December and will set out our spending plans at that time. However, as can be seen from previous budgets, we are in a very difficult and challenging financial climate with our budget being cut by Governments at Westminster. In fact, next year, our revenue budget for day-to-day spending will be cut by more than £200 million in real terms. Within that challenging financial climate, we have treated local government fairly and will continue to do so. In this financial year, taking account of core funding, health and social care integration funding and, of course, council tax reforms, there was just under £400 million extra available in spending power for local authorities.
With the cuts imposed by Westminster and with our need, for example, to ensure significant increases in the health budget so that it can deal with rising demand, I am not pretending that it is going to be easy for local government or for our budget generally. Nevertheless, we will continue to do what we always have done and treat local government fairly.
It is a straightforward question that demands a straightforward answer. Scotland’s councils need more than £0.5 billion simply to maintain current services such as teaching our children in schools, providing care services to our elderly and keeping public libraries open. The First Minister talks about councils using council tax powers, but she knows full well that increasing the council tax alone last year would not have closed the austerity gap that she imposed on Scottish local services. [Interruption.]
She knows full well that we cannot trust the Tories and that the money will need to come from her Government through progressive taxation. Earlier this week, it was revealed that local councils are being forced to draw upon emergency reserves just to keep day-to-day spending going on essential front-line services. Again, will the First Minister deliver the funding that local government requires to provide the services that the people of Scotland need—yes or no?
The Scottish Government will bring forward our budget on 14 December. In that budget, we will put forward the settlement for local government as we put forward our spending decisions for other parts of the public sector. That is how Governments the world over decide and present their spending plans.
I thought that Richard Leonard’s question was illuminating, because he was probably trying to get his defences in early although not particularly effectively. Richard Leonard’s core argument is that local government does not have enough money. I would be the first to agree that this is a very challenging period for local government. That is partly why we reformed council tax to allow councils to raise additional revenue. All councils opted to take advantage of that in the current financial year with the exception of eight councils across the country. Each and every one of the councils that chose not to increase council tax revenues is a Labour-led council. Right now, there could be millions of pounds more going towards local services had Labour councils taken advantage of every opportunity that they had to raise more revenue. Until Richard Leonard can answer the question why they did not do that, there is always going to be a pretty big flaw in his coming here and presenting such questions to me.
The answer is simple. Even if every council the length and breadth of Scotland had raised the council tax by a full 3p, that would have raised only £70 million, whereas the SNP Government cuts were £170 million last year. The reality is that the SNP Government has taken Tory austerity and doubled it for local councils across Scotland.
How can the First Minister possibly promise to close the educational attainment gap between the richest and poorest children in Scotland if she slashes the budget for education and schools? How does she expect our elderly to live in dignity in retirement when she cuts into the budgets for social care? How on earth can we stop people sleeping rough in shop doorways in freezing temperatures when housing budgets are being cut to the bone?
In the end, austerity is a political choice and not an economic one, so what does the First Minister choose: Tory cuts, sharpened and so deepened by her Government, or re-empowered local communities and properly resourced local services? Will she stand up for communities and for the people of Scotland?
Let me try to work my way through what I must say was a bit of an incoherent rant in order to answer those questions that I could identify.
In the context of this Government’s budget being cut by the Tories, we have given £120 million directly to headteachers to tackle the attainment gap. Labour voted against that, incidentally. We are investing record sums of money in delivering 50,000 affordable homes across our country. We have a rate of house building in Scotland that outstrips that seen anywhere else in the United Kingdom. On homelessness, just this week we announced additional funds, directed by an expert group, to tackle the problem of rough sleeping not in the future but this very winter.
I return to the central point. Richard Leonard’s argument appears to be that, because he thinks that councils should have got more money, it was right for Labour councils to turn their back on the money that they could have had. That is a ridiculous, incoherent argument that says that Labour prefers politicking over delivering for people across our country. At the start of this financial year, eight Labour councils turned their backs on more than £20 million of funding that, right now, could be being spent on education, social care and other council services. On that issue, Labour really does not have a leg to stand on, because its own councils did not take the opportunity to maximise the resources that they had to spend. This Government will continue to make sure that maximum possible resources go to local government and local services as we work hard to protect people against the Tory austerity that is being imposed on this Parliament.
Munro (Highland) Ltd
Munro (Highland) Ltd construction in Easter Ross processed recyclables for Highland Council. At 2 minutes past 10 on Friday 17 November, Highland Council sent a letter by email advising the company that its contract, which was due to expire the following day, would not be extended. The contract was awarded to a French multinational, SUEZ, which has said that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations do not apply to the employees. I am now told that, due to their indeterminate employment status, the 31 workers are unable to claim benefits. Henceforth, recyclable waste from the Highlands will go to Newcastle. I ask the First Minister to have her officials urgently look at the various aspects of the case and see what assistance the Scottish Government can provide to the workers and their families.
I thank John Finnie for raising the issue. I am not aware of the details of the issue but will, of course, ask my officials to look into it and see whether there is any assistance that the Scottish Government can offer. From what John Finnie said, it sounds as though it is very much a matter for Highland Council. However, the issue is of concern to the workers whom he talks about. I will reply to John Finnie in writing when I have had an opportunity to look at the detail and decide whether there is any action that it is appropriate for the Scottish Government to take.
Bank Branch Closures
The Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 73 per cent owned by the United Kingdom taxpayers, has announced that it will close two branches in my constituency, in Kilbirnie and in Saltcoats. That follows a wave of closures in recent months by the Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank and TSB. The scale of bank closures is now so great that it is making life difficult for many older and vulnerable people.
Banking is, of course, a reserved matter. Is the First Minister aware of the UK Government taking any action to ensure that high street banking does not disappear completely from Scotland’s small and medium-sized towns?
I share Kenny Gibson’s concerns. I think that many people are concerned about the scale of bank branch closures across Scotland, and those concerns will be shared by communities and small businesses that rely on access to local banking services.
I recognise that this is a worrying time for branch staff who are directly affected by closures, but I also appreciate that banks have commercial decisions to make and that people are carrying out their banking today in a way that is different from how they carried it out in the past. Nevertheless, I think that we all appreciate—I am certainly acutely aware of it—that banking services must consider the needs of everybody across society and that there is a continued need for face-to-face provision in banking.
The Scottish Government will continue to engage closely with banks as they implement changes. We regularly engage with senior representatives from all major companies in the financial services industry. The regulation of banking is ultimately a matter for the UK Government, but I am not aware of any particular action that the UK Government is taking on this issue. It is for the UK Government to act in terms of more regulation, but we will continue to engage in terms of the economic and social impact.
People who depend on the bridge over the Forth have been commendably patient, but this is now the third Christmas of disruption. People are fed up with ministers’ boasts, self-congratulation and excuses. Who spends more than £1 billion on a new bridge then closes it weeks later? Who blames commuters for queues on the bridge? Who knew that it could get windy in Scotland? The First Minister told us that the new crossing was the culmination of a momentous journey, but now we discover that that journey involves a bypass over the old bridge. With work predicted to last until September next year, the completion of this crossing will be two years late. People deserve openness, at last, from this Government. Can the First Minister explain what this work is that will last until September? Can she list in detail the work that needs done?
I ask members to keep the volume down.
There were so many inaccuracies in Willie Rennie’s question that it is hard to know where to start. He talked about the third Christmas of disruption. This is work that will start tonight and be completed by next Wednesday morning—I think that next Wednesday morning is within the first week of December. As I said earlier, that is the only identified snagging work that will require lane closures during daytime or peak-time hours. Therefore, Willie Rennie’s characterisation of the situation is completely and utterly inaccurate.
Secondly, Willie Rennie said—I think that the Official Report will bear this out—that the bridge will be closed. Again, that is simply not true. The bridge will not be closed. For a period of five days, southbound traffic will go over the existing Forth road bridge. It is important that, when raising important issues, members of this Parliament do not mischaracterise the situation.
Thirdly, Willie Rennie talked about wind. The wind protection on the Queensferry crossing is significantly better than the wind protection on the Forth road bridge, which is why this bridge will be more resilient in future to wind than has been the case before.
I want to, again, bring a sense of perspective to the issue. I do not want there to be any inconvenience caused to any person who requires to travel across the Queensferry crossing, but I think that most reasonable-minded people know that on a project of this scale and complexity, snagging works will require to be carried out once the bridge is in operation. Their expectation of the transport authorities and of the Government is that we will ensure that those works happen in a way that minimises that inconvenience, and that is exactly what this Government will continue to do.
I do not think that people will appreciate the First Minister’s pedantry over whether the bridge is closed or not. [Interruption.]
This is the third small business Saturday that has been hit. For three years in a row, small businesses are paying the price for this Government’s incompetence. I think it is reasonable to ask those questions. The Government’s priority was not to disrupt the ceremony with troublesome facts, and the problem is now piled on the backs of commuters and businesses. The question has to be pressed.
The Minister for Transport and the Islands did not even know about the closure until last week, but yesterday a committee of this Parliament was told that a decision to close the bridge was made back in August. The minister normally brags about filling a pothole, but is absent from decisions about the most important mile-and-a-half in this country. This is a question about the quality of the governance and decision-making that tries to string it out for three months and then closes the bridge on the busiest day for business. Why has the First Minister not been able to explain why the transport minister was absent?
First, what Willie Rennie wants to call pedantry, I call accuracy and honesty.
Secondly, as the transport minister set out, and I have set out again, it was not known in August what would require to be done in order to fix that particular stretch of road. There had to be investigations, and a design for the repair had to be prepared. When that had happened, and when it was known that that would require a lane closure and the diversion of south-bound traffic to the existing Forth road bridge, ministers were informed. We were informed last week, and when it was known when the weather would allow the repair to be carried out, Parliament and the public were informed of that. That is exactly how such things should happen.
What we have, as I have said repeatedly today, is a bridge that is one of the biggest construction projects in the history of this country that requires some snagging works to be done. I know that politics comes into play when we debate such things in this Parliament. I am not complaining about that—we are all guilty of it—but I think that most people who use the bridge and travel across it will understand that once such a bridge is in operation there will require to be pieces of work done to deal with any snagging defects that arise. That is what is happening. I regret that it is happening, because I do not want to see any inconvenience to the travelling public, but it is important to put those things right, not least so that the 70mph speed limit can be introduced and so that people can continue to use the bridge in the way intended. Let us focus on that and, with the greatest of respect to Willie Rennie, let us stop mischaracterising what is happening.
We have a couple of supplementaries. The first is from Mark Ruskell.
I declare an interest as a member of the British Veterinary Association. Scotland is a nation of animal lovers and there is huge public concern that, in the Brexit bonfire, we have lost article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty—the principle of animal sentience. Does the First Minister believe that article 13 represents both the recognition of sentience and the requirement that all policies from Government respect the welfare of all animals and, if so, will the Government ensure that that principle is written into Scots law before we are dragged out of the European Union?
I absolutely agree with the thrust of Mark Ruskell’s question; I certainly recognise the concept of animal sentience. I am sure that he is aware that that is already written into Scots law, although I share his concerns that that is one of the many implications of Brexit that may involve unintended consequences. We will continue to make appropriate representations to the United Kingdom Government and to take whatever action is required in this Parliament to continue to ensure the protections that come from EU law, which are put in jeopardy by the wrong-headed Brexit process.
World AIDS Day
I remind members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the First Minister.
What is the Scottish Government doing to mark world AIDS day tomorrow, with a particular focus on reducing the stigma of HIV?
It is incumbent on us all to play our part in reducing the stigma that is associated with HIV. Tomorrow is world AIDS day and one of the simplest things that we can do is wear the red ribbon that signifies world AIDS day, which many of us are doing.
A lot of awareness is being built around the fact that HIV is no longer the death sentence that it once was. People who are diagnosed with HIV and get effective treatment go on to live long, happy and healthy lives, which is why it is important to raise awareness about testing. I took a test yesterday to demonstrate how quick and easy it is to do and I encourage all members to look at doing likewise in their constituencies. There is still unwarranted stigma associated with HIV and we all have a responsibility to help to reduce it and, ultimately, to eliminate it.
To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will provide an update on its plans to deliver access to superfast broadband to 100 per cent of premises by 2021. (S5F-01773)
Yes, I will, and with a great deal of pleasure. We are committed to delivering 100 per cent access to superfast broadband for all Scottish homes and businesses by 2021. That commitment is unmatched anywhere else in the United Kingdom and stands in contrast to the UK Government’s lack of ambition, which will consign those in most rural areas in the rest of the UK to the slow lane for internet speed. It has become abundantly clear that we cannot wait for the UK Government to deliver for Scotland, which is why the Scottish Government has chosen to act. Procurement for the reaching 100 per cent programme will commence shortly.
What difference has the Scottish approach to rolling out fibre broadband made to my constituents in Coatbridge and Chryston, and how is the UK Government supporting the 100 per cent ambition, given that it is a reserved matter?
As a result of the £428 million invested through the digital Scottish superfast broadband programme, 97 per cent of homes and businesses in North Lanarkshire, which includes Fulton MacGregor’s constituency, now have access to not only fibre broadband but broadband at superfast speeds. Through the Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish councils, we have invested more money in the digital superfast programme than the UK Government, and that is allowing us to meet our commitment of 95 per cent fibre access by the end of this year.
We now move on to the reaching 100 per cent programme. To be clear, that is a commitment to deliver superfast broadband with speeds of 30 megabits per second to 100 per cent of residential and commercial premises in Scotland by the end of this parliamentary session, which is backed by significant public funding and delivered by the Scottish Government. There is no similar commitment anywhere else in the UK.
We will set out further details of that in the budget; it will involve hundreds of millions of pounds of investment by the Scottish Government. So far, the UK Government has said that it will commit £20 million to that programme. If I were a member of the Scottish Tories, I would not be boasting about that; I would be deeply embarrassed. It is because the UK Government has failed to act—on something that is technically a reserved responsibility—that the Scottish Government has got on with doing the job.
I am afraid that the First Minister has completely missed the point that the UK Government made. The fact is that the Scottish Government was given funding for phase 2 of the broadband programme in 2014 but, three years on, it has not even started procurement. That has put Scotland behind every English local authority, the Northern Ireland Executive and Wales. Therefore, my constituents will welcome the UK Government funding for the next generation of broadband going directly to local authorities. Surely the First Minister welcomes that too.
We are getting to the nub of the issue because that question completely misunderstands the approach that the Scottish Government has taken to procurement. In England—[Interruption.] The Tories might want to hear this—[Interruption.]
Let us hear the answer, please.
In England, because the initial procurements were small-scale, local authority procurements, additional phases were required. In Scotland, we put in place the digital Scotland superfast programme. That was on a bigger scale than anything that happened anywhere in England. It now enables us not to go to a phase 2 of the initial programme but to go straight to the reaching 100 per cent programme.
With the agreement of the UK Government, its measly £20 million is being put towards that. However, that commitment will cost hundreds of millions of pounds to deliver so, as I said, if I were the Scottish Tories, I would not boast about a measly £20 million; I would be embarrassed by it. The UK Government might want to take responsibility for delivering a 100 per cent superfast broadband coverage in Scotland. Actually, it already has that responsibility so, if it wants to discharge it, it should be our guest, step forward and do it. However, it should be warned that it will cost an awful lot more than £20 million. If the UK Government does not want to discharge its responsibility, it should stop misleading people and let the Scottish Government get on with doing its job for it.
Does the First Minister agree that it is totally unacceptable that Orkney has a connectivity rate of 65 per cent—a lot lower than the 95 per cent that she was talking about—or does she agree with the arrogant assertion by her Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity that Orkney would have zero coverage without the Scottish Government’s intervention? Is it not time that both our Governments stopped this destructive war of words, got together with local authorities and delivered 100 per cent coverage?
The member raises a reasonable point. The fact of the matter is that, because of our island and remote communities in Scotland, we are delivering broadband in one of the most challenging geographies in Europe. That has to be recognised and remembered.
The member points to the figure in Orkney, where 65 per cent have access to fibre broadband. Of course, the reaching 100 per cent programme is about getting superfast broadband to 100 per cent of premises throughout Scotland, but the key point is that, without the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme, backed by investment from the Scottish Government, the figure in Orkney would not be 65 per cent; if it had been left to the commercial market, it would be 0 per cent. Therefore, the intervention of the Scottish Government—as well as councils and Highlands and Islands Enterprise—has taken a figure that would have been 0 per cent in Orkney if left to the market to the 65 per cent that it is today.
The independent Ofcom published a report saying that Scotland had made faster progress in delivering broadband over the past year than any other part of the UK. We will get on with doing the job of meeting the commitment that we have for the end of this year and then getting on with delivering superfast broadband to 100 per cent of premises throughout Scotland. Again, that commitment is unmatched by any other Government anywhere else in the UK.
To ask the First Minister what maintenance procedures are in place for the Queensferry crossing. (S5F-01764)
Maintenance of the Queensferry crossing will be the responsibility of the trunk road operating company Amey. The contractor for the bridge, the Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors consortium, retains responsibility for construction defects, or snagging, that may arise following the completion of the project. The works that begin tonight are snagging works and are therefore the contractor’s responsibility.
We know that there are also defects in the wind shear protection on the Queensferry crossing. Will the First Minister confirm to the Parliament whether those are faults of workmanship or design and whether the press comments earlier this week, which reported that there was a safety issue because some parts had fallen into the River Forth, are accurate?
There are no safety concerns over the Queensferry crossing wind barriers—I know that everybody in the chamber would want to be very clear in communicating that message to the public. Site inspections found that three panels were incorrectly fitted. They have been repaired by the contractor. Adjustment of the wind shear panels is on-going as part of the contractor’s finishing works and will be completed by the end of the year. Routine inspections are carried out on all bridge elements and there are no safety concerns about the wind barrier or indeed any other elements of the bridge.
Living Wage (Amazon)
To ask the First Minister what discussions the Scottish Government has had with Amazon regarding the living wage. (S5F-01777)
Amazon has brought many jobs to Scotland, but we must ensure that those jobs are of good quality and provide pay rates in keeping with our ambition, which is to see the real living wage replace the national minimum wage. The Scottish Government has held several meetings with senior Amazon officials to discuss the fair work agenda, including the benefits of paying the real living wage, and that dialogue will continue. In Scotland, we now have proportionately more than five times as many accredited living wage employers as there are in the rest of the United Kingdom, which is testament to our commitment to making Scotland a living wage nation.
In March 2016, when she was Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training, Roseanna Cunningham urged Amazon to sign up to the real living wage, but it did not. In December 2016, the current Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown, met Amazon and called on it to adopt the living wage. Amazon said that it would consider it. One year on, it is still not paying the real living wage and we have also seen reports of unacceptable working conditions. Companies such as Amazon receive substantial sums of public money. Will the First Minister consider linking future payments of regional selective assistance to payment of the living wage?
We will continue to give consideration to that point. We have said all along that we will continue to encourage companies to pay the living wage and to sign up to the business pledge, but of course we will keep under review whether giving support should be linked to such policies.
I have heard Labour politicians—including Jackie Baillie, I think—talk before about the money that Amazon has had in grants for employment. That is indeed true; it is important, though, to point out that no financial assistance has been given to Amazon since 2015. The whole amount that Amazon has received was between 2005 and 2015. When I checked the figures, I found that almost half the total amount was awarded to Amazon in the years 2005 to 2007, when Labour was in charge of these things.
We will continue to support employment creation; we will continue to encourage inward investors into Scotland, because that is good for our economy and good for jobs, but we will also continue to press the case for fair working practices, including the living wage.
The First Minister might need to be reminded that the living wage was introduced in 2007, when her Government was in office.
I am not sure that that is a question.
Can I respond?
It was more of a statement than a question, but I will allow the First Minister a chance to respond if she wishes to.
That is why, as I said in my original answer, we proportionately have more than five times as many accredited living wage employers as there are in any other part of the UK—in fact, we have a higher percentage of people in employment who are paid the real living wage than any other UK nation. There is work still to do, but the Scottish Government and indeed those who pursue these policies on our behalf deserve a lot of credit for the progress that has been made.
That concludes First Minister’s questions.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I believe that the First Minister has inadvertently misled Parliament over when the problem causing the partial closure of the Queensferry crossing was first known. Yesterday, in evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Ms Rennie—a civil servant who is head of major transport infrastructure projects—said that she knew about the problem back in August, before the bridge was opened. There is a legitimate question as to why the transport minister was unaware of that if his head of major transport infrastructure projects was.
The First Minister said that it is important to have all the facts about the matter on the public record. I agree with her entirely. Presiding Officer, can you ensure that the Official Report of yesterday’s committee proceedings is published immediately, so that the First Minister and everyone else can read it for themselves?
That is not a point of order. The Official Report will be published in due course.