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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 6, 2024


Portfolio Question Time

Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time and the first portfolio is wellbeing economy, net zero and energy. I remind members who wish to ask a supplementary question to press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question.

Question 1 was not lodged.

GFG Alliance (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it plans to next meet with the sole director of the GFG Alliance. (S6O-03151)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy (Màiri McAllan)

The Scottish Government regularly meets senior executives of the GFG Alliance to discuss the group’s business interests in Scotland. A meeting for me with the GFG Alliance’s executive chairman is currently being arranged.

Richard Leonard

The cabinet secretary’s predecessor was due to meet Sanjeev Gupta on 25 July last year, but Mr Gupta pulled out. This is a company that the Serious Fraud Office is now investigating for suspected fraud, fraudulent trading and money laundering. According to the Auditor General, this is a company that still does not have auditors, so it has not filed audited accounts with Companies House in recent years. The Auditor General told Parliament that these are “matters of concern” and said that, over the past 12 months, the Government’s liability under the Lochaber guarantee and reimbursement agreement has increased by a further £21 million to £135 million.

Will the cabinet secretary make a full statement to Parliament on the Government’s exposure to risk as a result of its arrangements with Sanjeev Gupta, on what has happened to the promise of downstream production and jobs and, in the interest of transparency—

No—cabinet secretary.

—will the Government finally publish in full—

Cabinet secretary.

Màiri McAllan

It is not unusual for meetings that have been arranged to be postponed or rearranged. I have already confirmed that, with the change of portfolio, I am arranging to meet the company’s executive chairman.

I cannot comment on any on-going live investigation, but I confirm that there is regular contact between officials and the GFG Alliance. As I said, I am arranging a meeting for early in my tenure.

I put it on record that it was absolutely right for the Scottish Government to intervene to save the Lochaber smelter. We will never apologise for taking access to safeguard and promote jobs in industry. I am looking to meet the executive chairman, and I shall be glad to update Mr Leonard on that meeting.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

We were promised 2,000 jobs at the Lochaber smelter, but hardly any has emerged. I am concerned that, although ground for the new aluminium billet plant was supposed to be broken last year, that work has not even started, and production is supposed to begin next year. Will the cabinet secretary tell us what on earth is going on?

Màiri McAllan

There is more than 90 years’ worth of experience of aluminium making at Fort William; the site is a national strategic asset. That underlines the Government’s involvement with it.

On the matter of jobs—which I agree is very important—GFG has created more than 40 new jobs in Lochaber since 2016, by increasing direct employment in the complex to 214 and supporting a valuable supply chain, with hundreds of associated jobs.

Question 3 has been withdrawn.

Co-operatives, Social Enterprises and Employee-owned Businesses

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

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its review of how to increase the number of co-operatives, social enterprises and employee-owned businesses as part of the move to a wellbeing economy. (S6O-03153)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy (Màiri McAllan)

I am happy to do that. The independent review, which is focused on increasing the number of social enterprises, employee-owned businesses and co-operatives, is due for completion in spring. The review group is being chaired by Neil McInroy, who is the global lead for community wealth building in the Democracy Collaborative and the chair of the Economic Development Association Scotland. The review process will ensure that expertise from across those business models will be considered. I look forward to receiving its findings.

Claire Baker

I look forward to the review, which has been delayed—we have been waiting for it for a wee while. We know that, to achieve the aim of 500 employee-owned businesses in Scotland by 2030, related activity needs to ramp up significantly.

The cabinet secretary will know that new co-operatives are more than twice as likely to survive as other start-ups are and that co-operatives are five times less likely to cease trading than other businesses, so what is the Scottish Government going to do to increase awareness of co-operative business models for potential new businesses? How is it encouraging existing businesses to consider adopting such models? Will the refreshed national strategy for economic transformation provide answers to those questions as well as the step change that we need?

Màiri McAllan

I agree absolutely with Claire Baker about the importance of ensuring that local people and businesses have a meaningful stake in relation to owning, producing and benefiting from the wealth that they create. As the wellbeing economy secretary, I absolutely support that and I have seen great examples of it in my constituency.

I will very much draw the actions that are to be taken from the review when it is complete. I hope to receive a wide spectrum of views as part of the review, and I will draw from it any actions that will support achievement of the target, which Claire Baker was right to mention.

Question 5 has been withdrawn.

Windfall Tax (Oil and Gas Companies)

6. Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding an increased windfall tax on the excess profits of large oil and gas companies, in light of reports that the income from any such tax could be used to support households struggling with the cost of living crisis, including in Scotland. (S6O-03155)

The Minister for Energy, Just Transition and Fair Work (Gillian Martin)

Households across the country continue to face a serious cost of living crisis because of the UK Government’s economic mismanagement. We support a simple, holistic and predictable windfall tax on oil and gas company profits to help with that; Labour’s plans to increase the current levy to pay for nuclear power plants in England are simply wrong.

I hope that Carol Mochan is perhaps in a position to outline how much additional revenue she predicts would come to Scotland in the next few years should Labour form the next UK Government. I am sure that she wants to be transparent with the people of Scotland and be held accountable should that investment not be forthcoming.

Carol Mochan

I think that it is the Government’s responsibility to answer questions. [Interruption.] Does the minister think that it will be a disappointment for people, but possibly not a surprise, that the Scottish National Party and Green Government has placed itself firmly behind the oil and gas giants on the issue, rather than behind working people?

The policy could create funds to support households that are struggling with the cost of living, but the SNP would rather protect the eye-watering excess profits of those at the very top. Why does the minister think that her party is more aligned with Douglas Ross and the Scottish Conservatives on the issue than with the working people of Scotland?

Gillian Martin

First, Carol Mochan is asking me about a policy that is reserved to those in the party of government in the UK. Given that her party is hoping to potentially become the UK Government this year, it is fairly acceptable that I ask her what Labour’s plans are with regard to a windfall tax and what, if any, ring-fenced funds might be deployed in Scotland as a result of that tax.

I reiterate that it is fair enough for anyone to ask anybody who wants to be an incumbent of number 10 what they want to do with the windfall tax and what they want to support. [Interruption.] If the answer is that they want to support nuclear power plants in England, I would say that the Scottish people will make a very clear judgment on that. [Interruption.] I would also say, in answer to the member’s question, if I could hear myself, Presiding Officer—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Minister, could you please resume your seat for a second? I say to members that there is far too much heckling going on while the answer is being provided. Let us have the courtesy of listening to the question and to the response.

Gillian Martin

A UK-wide energy profits levy has been in place since 2022 to tax the windfall profits of the oil and gas sector, which every party signed up to. We need to consider the level of that tax and consider, if it were increased, what the unintended consequences might be for jobs, particularly where I come from in the north-east.

Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

While the Scottish Government continues to do what it can with its limited powers to ensure that folk receive the help that they need during this Tory cost of living crisis, what assessment has been made of the potential long-term impact on jobs and on folk’s energy bills of Labour’s aggressive windfall tax plans for the North Sea, coupled with Keir Starmer abandoning his £28 billion green investment pledge?

Gillian Martin

In my last answer to Carol Mochan, I put that very question to her, because the long-term impact on jobs and people’s energy bills of Labour’s plans has not been articulated.

The Scottish Government continues to do what it can to ensure that the people who need it most receive the help that they need during the cost crisis. Offshore Energies UK has made it clear that Labour’s windfall tax proposals could cost tens of thousands of jobs and impact investment in the sector. We believe—as does the industry—that Labour’s plans are shambolic, having been revised numerous times.

Jackie Dunbar made a good point that Labour’s headline £28 billion investment pledge is being dropped entirely, which gives no certainty for the energy sector’s transition. Net zero investment is the greatest economic opportunity that we have as a nation and it is critical for our climate and social justice ambitions. It is also critical for the future of the constituency that Jackie Dunbar represents. It is disappointing to see Labour equivocating at a time when investment is so needed.

New Deal for Business

To ask the Scottish Government how outcomes from the new deal for business will be measured. (S6O-03156)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy (Màiri McAllan)

The new deal for business is about resetting the relationship between Government and business, aligning our objectives and working in partnership on policy goals to support a thriving wellbeing economy. The new deal for business metrics sub-group is developing a set of metrics on business sentiment, engagement and confidence, which will be used in conjunction with indicators to measure the outcomes from the new deal for business.

Murdo Fraser

When it was announced, the new deal for business was warmly welcomed as a change in direction from the Government, but it is fair to say that its members are now bitterly disappointed that their voices have not been listened to across a range of issues.

There is a chance for the Government to redeem itself. Just this week, the Scottish Retail Consortium highlighted that the large business supplement that is payable in non-domestic rates is currently double the rate that is payable by businesses south of the border. That will cost Scottish businesses £125 million extra over the next two years. If the Government is serious about listening to business and delivering on the new deal, will it commit to reducing that Scotland-only surcharge?

Màiri McAllan

Early on in my appointment as economy secretary, I met my new deal for business group co-chair, and I will hold the first meeting of the group next week. I have already been clear that I want—and I know that the members want—focused, business-like agendas with measurable output.

On support for business, I am acutely aware of the pressures that have been bearing down on businesses in Scotland, not least from the extremely difficult financial circumstances, many of which were either created or exacerbated by Murdo Fraser’s colleagues in the United Kingdom Government. In the most challenging budgetary settlement in the devolution era, we have had to make difficult choices in order to protect our public services, including our national health service. However, I remain absolutely committed to working with the business community, understanding what it would like to see and advocating for that.

Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

Last month, it was announced that the UK went into recession in 2023. Can the cabinet secretary tell us whether the new deal for business, which is designed to support economic growth, has had an impact on the Scottish economy, helping it to continue to grow, or did we follow the UK into recession?

Màiri McAllan

I would characterise the situation as follows: the failing UK economic model saw the UK Government enter a technical recession at the end of 2023, with two consecutive quarters of negative growth. The Scottish economy is, of course, intrinsically bound to that failing model and is still battling against some extremely challenging circumstances, including a self-imposed Brexit and the self-imposed disastrous mini-budget. It is encouraging, however, that, unlike the UK, Scotland avoided a recession in 2023.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

Metrics are vital to tracking progress on the new deal for business. What is the Government’s response to yesterday’s report from the Confederation of British Industry and Fraser of Allander Institute showing that Scotland lags behind the UK average on 10 out of 13 productivity metrics? Is the Government going to use those metrics? When will we see improvement?

Màiri McAllan

Like Daniel Johnson, I paid close attention to the CBI’s release. I thought that it was an interesting account of various opportunities and challenges that are currently bearing down on the Scottish economy, and I will continue to engage with the CBI on many of the points that it raises. I go back to the answer that I gave to the first question, which was about the importance of the new deal for business and the metrics that we are developing as part of how we measure its outputs. I will very closely foster those metrics with members of the group.

2030 Emissions Reduction Target

To ask the Scottish Government whether it is on course to achieve its 2030 target for reducing emissions. (S6O-03157)

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy (Màiri McAllan)

Scotland’s emissions halved from 1990 to 2021, while our economy grew by 57 per cent, which is a fantastic example of how economic growth and decarbonisation are mutually inclusive and reinforcing.

Scotland’s 2030 target, which every party in the chamber voted for, was always extremely stretching. Indeed, the Climate Change Committee was clear at the time that it went beyond what it would recommend. However, I will continue to push to meet our targets through direct action in Scotland and by working with the United Kingdom Government and pushing it to take action where that is needed.

Graham Simpson

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, but she did not answer the original question, which was whether the Scottish Government is on course to achieve the target. It is a stretching target, and to achieve it would require an 8.9 per cent annual reduction in emissions from 2021 to 2030. Has the cabinet secretary had any discussions with the Climate Change Committee on that, and what does it say about whether Scotland is on course to meet that target?

Màiri McAllan

The Climate Change Committee is our statutory adviser on decarbonisation and the pathway to 2045, and I have had conversations with it on our near-term and mid-century targets. I am extremely proud of the progress that Scotland has made to date, but I am utterly clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, not least the very near-term challenge up to 2030. I am considering all those matters very closely, particularly in respect of the need to produce a climate change plan, and I will update Parliament on any decisions that are made in due course.

I have a number of supplementary questions, and I will try to take them all.

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

We here all acknowledge the fact that while Scotland is tied to the rest of the UK, the progress of our emissions targets will continue to be impacted by events at Westminster. Will the cabinet secretary therefore outline what impact UK Government policies such as rowing back on climate commitments and cutting Scotland’s capital budget by almost 10 per cent have had, and may continue to have, on Scotland’s emissions targets and journey to net zero?

Màiri McAllan

The UK Government’s rowing back on various critical policies, including the Prime Minister’s announcements last year, has the potential to have a devastating impact on our environment and, as was pointed out by many commentators at the time, demonstrates complete economic illiteracy. More than that, it has also inflicted a serious further blow to the UK’s already diminished international reputation.

I have to mention the budgetary settlement that Scotland has been handed, in particular the UK Government’s cut to our capital budget of almost 10 per cent over the next five years. All that taken together points to a Government that is completely unserious about the threat of the climate emergency.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Last year, it was revealed that in 2021, Scotland yet again missed its legally binding target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. I was glad to hear that the Scottish Government has accepted or partially accepted 98 out of 99 recommendations from the Climate Change Committee. Can the cabinet secretary outline exactly what progress the Scottish Government has made on implementing the recommendations for reaching the 2030 target?

Màiri McAllan

I mentioned in response to a previous question that I am proud of what this Government has achieved in respect of decarbonisation, whether that is Scotland planting 75 per cent of all new trees in the UK in recent years, investing £250 million in peatland restoration, placing 37 per cent of our waters in marine protected areas, developing four low-emission zones or completing the world’s largest leasing round of floating offshore wind. All that has helped to contribute to the fact that we are now halfway to net zero. However, as I have also said, I am very clear eyed about the challenges that are ahead, and I am considering all that in relation to the development of the climate change plan.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary accept that a lot of businesses in Scotland are very keen to help the Government meet the net zero target? One thing that they hate more than anything else is when targets are shifted, as they have been under the UK Government, which is more interested in winning elections than in securing net zero.

Màiri McAllan

Absolutely. With regard to the trajectory for net zero, as with most things, certainty and clarity on direction of travel is what business and investors seek most. I point to the coming together of the economy and net zero within the Scottish Government as something that ought to give business great comfort in that regard.

As far as I am concerned, the energy transition is the era-defining opportunity ahead of us—economically, as well as being an environmental imperative—and I will continue to pursue that.

When will the 2013 household waste recycling target be met?

Màiri McAllan

As Mr Golden knows, the circular economy and waste route map is progressing through parliamentary committees. That work, which is led by my colleague Lorna Slater, looks to update a spectrum of commitments, some of which were made prior to the climate emergency. I know that Mr Golden is involved in the scrutiny of the route map but, given that he has not been able to ask those questions of my colleague Lorna Slater in committee, I will endeavour to have a written update provided to him.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Older interisland ferries, of which Shetland has several that are more than 40 years old, were not built with net zero targets in mind. Ferry emissions make up a large proportion of Shetland’s emissions output. What assessment has the Scottish Government made of the impact of replacement vessels and short sub-sea tunnels to connect communities and reduce emissions?

Màiri McAllan

The suite of options for better connectivity for our islands is currently being considered as part of the islands connectivity plan, which is led by the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Fiona Hyslop.

Beatrice Wishart is right to point out the need to decarbonise our ferry fleet. We have to recognise that there is a pace at which that can happen, which is line with the technologies that are coming on stream and becoming commercially available. I am currently discussing that with my counterparts throughout the UK, with regard to the emissions trading scheme.

The cabinet secretary has had discussions with the Climate Change Committee. Has it advised the Scottish Government that it will miss its 2030 emissions target—yes or no?

Màiri McAllan

It has always been the view of the Climate Change Committee that the 75 per cent target by 2030 was beyond what was achievable, and it advised the Scottish Parliament of that, prior to all members of this Parliament voting for it.

That concludes portfolio questions on wellbeing economy, net zero and energy. There will be a brief pause to allow the front-bench teams to change positions before we move on to the next portfolio.

Finance and Parliamentary Business

The next portfolio is finance and parliamentary business. Members who wish to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question.

Income Tax

1. Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the finance secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding the impact of its current income tax policy, in light of reports that higher taxes could deter experienced professionals from moving to Scotland. (S6O-03158)

The Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance (Tom Arthur)

Matters relating to all Government policy are regularly discussed between and considered by members of the Scottish Government’s Cabinet. That includes discussions regarding the 2024-25 Scottish budget.

It is important to remember that people base their decisions about where to live and work on a wide range of factors, not just the tax that they pay. Those people who call Scotland home enjoy a range of support that is not available elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That helps to explain why net migration to Scotland from the rest of the UK has been consistently positive since the Scottish income tax was introduced in 2017-18.

Alexander Burnett

The minister will be aware that the new tax rates will mean that the average doctor will now pay £5,000 more than their counterparts in the rest of the UK. Given that both the British Medical Association and the British Dental Association have said that the tax hikes undermine efforts to recruit experienced staff and that rural communities are at an even greater disadvantage, can the minister say how much those hikes will reduce output in the health service?

Tom Arthur

One thing that I would note is that, broadly, across the Scottish public sector, we see examples of better remuneration than we see elsewhere in the UK. Of course, we take into account a range of factors and considerations in relation to matters that pertain to income tax policy, and we regularly engage with partners and colleagues to understand what the implications might be. Had we followed the prescription outlined by the Conservatives on income tax policy, that would have left us with some £1.5 billion less than we currently have to support public services, and that would have been particularly harmful, including for the national health service.

There are a number of brief—I hope—supplementaries.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Can the minister confirm that the net migration figures of working-age people from the rest of the UK are positive; that housing costs and council taxes are lower in Scotland; that there is free personal and nursing care and there are no dental or eye test charges, tuition fees or prescription charges; that the national health service and the quality of life are better here; and that the people are welcoming? In short, who would not want to move here?

Tom Arthur

That is the case, and it has been that way every single year since the Scottish income tax was introduced in 2017-18. It is hardly surprising that we have those net migration figures when the benefits to people living in Scotland are so comprehensive, as the member has set out.

I will leave it to others to explain how slashing taxes and running public services into the ground would make Scotland a better place to live in. Those would be the consequences if we implemented the tax cuts that the Tories want to see.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Has the minister looked at the evidence with NHS consultants? Yesterday, Dr Alan Robertson, who is the chair of the BMA Scottish consultants committee, highlighted 436 gaps in the consultant workforce—the figure was up from last year—and he said that, with

“the new top rates of tax introduced in Scotland, the competitive disadvantage our consultants face is becoming increasingly clear.”

What evidence has the minister gathered about the impact of tax rates on consultant recruitment? That is important.

Tom Arthur

Willie Rennie has raised an important point about marginal rates. It is important that we continue to pay careful attention to that issue—I will not contest that. On a broader point, forecasting revenues and behaviour is something that the Scottish Fiscal Commission does.

I go back to the key point. Not using our income tax powers in the progressive way that we are would mean less funding for public services, including the NHS.

Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

My colleague Kenneth Gibson has already highlighted the important fact that significantly more working-age people move from England to Scotland every year than move in the opposite direction. As the minister has highlighted, they clearly value the additional public services that they receive here.

I understand that His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is collecting longitudinal data on the movement of tax per location between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and vice versa. Is the minister aware of when that data will be available and whether it will be separated by tax band?

Tom Arthur

I thank Mr McKee for his supplementary question. In answering it, I will supplement my answer to Mr Rennie’s question.

The Scottish Government has contributed to, and has continued to work with stakeholders to expand, the evidence base on our taxpayer behaviour. HMRC is currently finalising publication of the new longitudinal data set, which is intended to be published later this year. The new data set will show taxpayer migration across the UK by tax band. That will provide a valuable addition to the evidence base, which I am sure that Opposition parties and members across the chamber will welcome.

Town Centres (Investment)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to invest in and revitalise town centres in urban areas. (S6O-03159)

The Minister for Local Government Empowerment and Planning (Joe FitzPatrick)

We are committed to supporting the vibrancy and vitality of our town and neighbourhood centres as we continue to implement the world-leading town centre first principle and support progress through delivery of the town centre action plan.

Support for town centre regeneration has been backed by our capital investment programmes, including the place-based investment programme, the regeneration capital fund and the vacant and derelict land investment programme, all of which have helped to accelerate shared ambitions for town centre action. However, the United Kingdom Government’s reduction in our capital budget will impact the support that we can provide in 2024-25.

Fulton MacGregor

High streets were always valuable community centres for urban areas. They provided an opportunity to shop locally and engage with neighbours, friends, family and the wider community. Urban centres, such as Coatbridge in my constituency, have suffered from a lack of footfall since the pandemic and before it, along with other issues such as fuel costs, labour shortages and inflation. What support can the Scottish Government give to current businesses that are struggling on our high streets because of high energy costs, labour shortages, Brexit and the impact of inflation on goods and services due to the current UK Government’s maladministration of the economy?

Joe FitzPatrick

Fulton MacGregor has made strong points, particularly in relation to the impact of Brexit, which we did not vote for in Scotland, and in relation to inflationary pressures, which were made much worse by the disastrous Truss-Kwarteng budget, which was supported by Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish budget continues to support business and communities with a competitive non-domestic rates package. We have frozen the basic property rate that is levied on properties with a rateable value of up to £51,000, and delivered the lowest such rate in the United Kingdom for six consecutive years. That will save ratepayers an estimated £37 million in 2024-25, compared with an inflationary increase. We are also offering a package of reliefs in 2024-25 that are worth an estimated £685 million. That includes maintaining the small business bonus scheme, which I think remains the most generous scheme of its kind across the UK.

I have a number of supplementary questions. I will try to get all of them in, but the questions and responses will have to be brief.

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

The recent announcement of the suspension of the regeneration capital grant fund has come as a blow, particularly to Springburn in Glasgow, which had hoped to get capital investment as a result of that funding award. Will the minister agree to meet me and, indeed, all colleagues who represent the area to look at how we can invest in Springburn? It sorely needs that capital investment.

Joe FitzPatrick

The challenges to the capital investment budget are genuine. A 10 per cent reduction to our capital investment budget over the next five or so years is really challenging. Paul Sweeney will be aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance will bring the issue of capital spending back to the chamber in order that that can be looked at properly.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Will the minister join me in commending South Lanarkshire Council for introducing ambitious town centre master plans for Hamilton and East Kilbride? Will the Government outline how it will support local authorities, which have seen a massive decline in the number of planning officers and other experts in local government? How can we get more resources and support for our planning departments?

Joe FitzPatrick

The Government welcomes all our work on regeneration with local authorities. My Convention of Scottish Local Authorities colleague Gail Macgregor is a Conservative. That is one of those issues on which we really try to work in collaboration across the parties to do what is right for the area.

The reduction in the capital budget is really challenging. Monica Lennon asked about planning resources. I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that we have just launched a consultation to consider how we can properly resource our planning system across Scotland. We are looking at a range of options for how we do our business and how planning regimes across Scotland can be properly and fully funded.

I call Paul O’Kane, who should be brief.

Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

The minister will recognise that, when large employers leave a town, the impact on the town centre can be substantial. Since the Inverclyde socioeconomic task force was formed, 1,200 jobs have been lost in the local economy, and the position will worsen if EE leaves the community.

The local council has invested £72 million in capital projects to regenerate the town centre. When will the Government come to the table, get involved with the socioeconomic task force, and make the impact that we are already seeing from the council—

Be as brief as possible, minister.

—to keep jobs in Inverclyde and improve the town centre?

That takes us slightly outwith my portfolio. Those important issues really matter to local people. Paul O’Kane will be aware that the Scottish Government is engaging closely with the task force.

Autumn and Spring Statements

3. Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact on its financial planning process of the United Kingdom Government having autumn and spring statements, in light of reported calls for a multiyear budget approach. (S6O-03160)

The Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance (Tom Arthur)

In short, that process does not have a positive impact. Due to the lateness of the autumn statement and the lack of any advanced sight of the impacts of the decisions that have been taken in the autumn statement, our budget process was later than we would have desired. Now, only a week on from stage 3 of our Budget (Scotland) (No 3) Bill being voted on in this Parliament, we have a UK spring budget, which will have an impact on our budget plans.

We recognise that greater certainty over the medium term would help organisations to plan ahead but, sadly, we are tied to the UK budget process, which is rendering it nearly impossible to deliver that meaningfully. After all, we are still in a position in which we have faced more negative consequentials to financial transactions in recent weeks. Therefore, even after our budgets have been set, they are still open to being impacted by UK Government actions.

Kenneth Gibson

I thank the minister for that comprehensive reply.

It is clear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s two UK Westminster budgets in less than four months, which are desperately aimed at holding on to a few extra seats, can only play havoc with Scotland’s budgeting processes. Nevertheless, the Accounts Commission has long argued that, even in such circumstances, long-term budgeting will still bring efficiencies and better service delivery for local authorities. Is that not also the case with the Scottish Government?

Tom Arthur

Indeed. Given the disappointment of both the autumn budget statement and the spring budget statement, we are considering our resource spending outlook in light of further funding changes and the actions that are needed to deliver sustainable finances.

The Scottish Government continues to review and to seek to improve its financial planning processes, including by improving multiyear planning through spending reviews to support better planning overall. We also recognise that certainty over the medium term would help organisations to plan ahead.

It will take time to analyse the impacts of the chancellor’s statement on Scotland and the people of Scotland before we can set out next steps. We are considering the implications for the Scottish budget of what the chancellor has set out today, and we will take proposals to the Cabinet for consideration before the Deputy First Minister returns to Parliament in due course.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

On the multiyear theme, the Scottish Government said last year:

“wherever possible multi-year certainty will be provided to support strategic planning and investment”

for local authorities. What progress has been made on that?

Tom Arthur

As I touched on in my earlier remarks, we are seeking to do that and to engage with our partners. What makes this a challenge—as was discussed yesterday at the Finance and Public Administration Committee—is the uncertainty around our fiscal position with regard to the UK Government. We face that uncertainty throughout the year due to the rhythm of UK fiscal events.

We will continue to engage with partners to identify ways in which we can provide long-term certainty but, ultimately, if our budget is subject to long-term uncertainty because of actions of the UK Government, that makes it very difficult for us to provide certainty to partners.

National Care Service (Budget)

To ask the Scottish Government what spending it has allocated from its budget to date for its plans for a national care service. (S6O-03161)

Up to the end of January, £8.6 million has been spent out of a total planned budget of £10 million from the 2023-24 budget.

Meghan Gallacher

Everyone agrees that we need to vastly improve people’s experiences of accessing and delivering social care in Scotland. However, the Scottish National Party’s plan to spend as much as £2.2 billion to stick the words “Scottish national” in front of our care service is not the answer. The reality is that councils cannot afford to take on the financial cost of implementing a national care service. They need fair funding from the Government, which it has refused to deliver year on year. As with the roll-out of free childcare, is the Scottish Government setting up our social care service to fail?

Tom Arthur

There are two points. We are engaging constructively with partners and a significant reduction in costs has been projected. We will continue to look at all opportunities to lower costs and maximise finance and resource to the front line. However, no Conservative can come to the chamber and start criticising the Government on the fiscal settlement for local government. When the member wants to cut public spending by £1.5 billion through a tax cut that would disproportionately benefit the best-off in society, that is simply not a consistent position, and the people of Scotland can see right through it.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

The latest financial memorandum for the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill shows a cost range of up to 50 per cent. Given that we will vote on the bill in a matter of weeks, will we know the final cost before we vote?

Tom Arthur

As the member will appreciate, significant work on the bill has been undertaken by the Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport, and that work is continuing ahead of stage 2. The minister is committed to continuing to engage with members to provide as much information as possible to Parliament ahead of that consideration.

Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when the finance secretary last met the United Kingdom Government and what was discussed. (S6O-03162)

The Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance (Tom Arthur)

The Deputy First Minister spoke to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury this morning, ahead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s budget statement, and she reiterated the need to prioritise investment in public services and infrastructure over tax cuts. That followed a meeting in January at which she set out the Scottish Government’s priorities for the UK budget. I wrote to the chief secretary last month, and the Deputy First Minister wrote to the chancellor, urging him to invest in public services and provide targeted support for people in light of the cost of living crisis.

We are examining today’s UK budget in detail and what it means for the Scottish budget.

Collette Stevenson

The Tory Government’s spring budget that was announced today will do little to improve capital investment and it has failed to match Scotland’s lead on social security. There is no UK equivalent of the Scottish child payment and no essentials guarantee for people on universal credit. The budget will do nothing to lift people out of poverty.

I appreciate that the announcement has not long finished, but can the minister outline the potential consequences for people in Scotland of the UK Government’s statement? Can he confirm how the Scottish National Party, in government, is ensuring that we are investing to strengthen the social contract and lift people out of poverty?

Tom Arthur

Despite our calling on the chancellor to provide an essentials guarantee and to abolish damaging policies such as the two-child limit and the bedroom tax, the UK Government, in its budget, has failed to tackle poverty. We are carefully considering the implications of today’s announcement for the Scottish budget, and the Deputy First Minister will report back to Parliament in due course.

Through the Scottish budget, we are mitigating as best we can the UK Government’s actions. I am proud that, in 2024-25, we will invest £6.3 billion in social security benefits and that an estimated 100,000 fewer children will live in relative and absolute poverty as a result of our policies.

Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (Report)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has received a final report from the Scottish local authorities remuneration committee. (S6O-03163)

The Scottish local authorities remuneration committee’s recommendations report was published on the Scottish Government website on 16 February this year.

David Torrance

Increasing the diversity of councillors is a priority that is shared by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government. Does the minister agree that the recommendations in the report, including the suggestion that severance payments be introduced for councillors who lose office, would help to tackle existing barriers to recruitment and retention?

Joe FitzPatrick

It is worth putting on the record that, many years ago, when I ceased being a councillor before becoming an MSP, I received a severance payment.

Being a councillor can involve a significant amount of important work in local communities, and the terms and conditions should reflect that. It is important that remuneration does not act as a barrier to encouraging a diverse range of people to stand for elected office. We want to encourage people from across our communities to stand to be councillors in their local areas. The Scottish local authorities remuneration committee report makes a number of recommendations that require appropriate deliberation, which the Scottish Government will take forward in partnership with COSLA.

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

The Scottish local authorities remuneration committee recommends that resettlement severance payments be introduced for councillors who lose office. That would be modelled on the system that is applied to MSPs and it would be in place for the next election cycle. Has the minister been made aware of any costings for such an arrangement? If so, can he explain what data has been used to inform the costings and will he provide the chamber with that?

Joe FitzPatrick

As I said in answer to Mr Torrance, there are 22 recommendations in the report, and it is important that we look at those in partnership with our local government colleagues and then bring back proposals for deliberation. If there are any changes, I am pretty sure that the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee will take an interest in that. We will come back to Parliament in the usual way with any actions that we intend to take.

This is probably a good point to thank the members of SLARC for their hard work. They took a broad approach to the issue and I hope that we can all get behind that piece of work. It is important that we take that forward in partnership with our local government colleagues.

Sheriffhall Roundabout (Budget)

7. Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it will allocate through its budget to fund any potential cost increases related to improvements to the A720 city bypass grade separation of Sheriffhall roundabout. (S6O-03164)

The Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance (Tom Arthur)

Despite the stark challenges that we face as a result of the United Kingdom Government budget settlement, the Scottish Government remains committed to delivering the grade separation of Sheriffhall roundabout as part of our £300 million commitment to the Edinburgh and south-east Scotland city region deal. Indeed, we continue to progress the proposed improvements through the statutory process so that we can deliver the scheme as soon as possible.

As with all projects, construction of the improvements can commence only if they are approved under the statutory authorisation process. Thereafter, a timetable for progress can be set, in line with the annual Scottish budget-setting process.

Miles Briggs

It has now been more than a year since the public inquiry into the matter closed. Why is it taking so long for that to report? What assessment have ministers made of potential cost increases for the project? Given that the Scottish Government and the UK Government have committed £300 million to the project, it is clear that the huge delay—we are now in the middle of this session of Parliament—will have cost implications. What does that look like, and when will ministers make that information public?

Tom Arthur

I recognise Mr Briggs’s long-standing interest in and campaigning on the matter. As he will appreciate, a statutory process is under way, and it is important that that process is respected. As he is aware, the independent reporter has submitted their conclusions and recommendations, which are under active consideration prior to a decision being made by Scottish ministers. As I stated in my original answer, I reassure Mr Briggs of the Scottish Government’s commitment in the area, but I am sure that he appreciates and recognises that we need to observe and uphold the statutory process.

Question 8 was not lodged. That concludes portfolio question time.