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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, February 8, 2024


Portfolio Question Time

Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time. The first portfolio is transport, net zero and just transition. I invite members who wish to ask a supplementary question to press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question, and I make the usual appeal for brevity in questions and responses.

Green Economy (United Kingdom Government Action)

1. Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, with regard to cross-Government co-ordination of net zero policy, what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding what is required to unlock the full potential of Scotland’s green economy. (S6O-03070)

The Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity (Lorna Slater)

Tackling climate change and nature loss is an environmental imperative and a significant socioeconomic opportunity. The transition to net zero and climate adaptation will transform the global economy, and Scotland is so well placed to be part of that, not least because of our renewables abundance and our expertise in energy.

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition regularly engages with her counterparts in the other three nations of the United Kingdom through the net zero, energy and climate change interministerial group. There are a number of reserved matters in which UK Government action is critical to unlocking the full potential of Scotland’s green economy. Those matters should not sit with the UK Government, but for as long as they do, we will continue pushing it to act in the interests of Scotland’s economy and people, and the world’s climate.

Michelle Thomson

According to Offshore Energies UK, backing home-grown energy will strengthen supply chains, boost capability and unlock economic growth. However, UK-wide, many businesses are holding off from confirming final investment decisions because of policy uncertainty from the current UK Government. That and the latest U-turn from the Labour Party in abandoning its policy on £28 billion investment in green energy, including £1 billion for Grangemouth in my constituency, places Scotland’s ambitions at risk. Will the minister, on behalf of the Scottish Government, emphasise to the UK Government, whichever party it is comprised of, the importance of certainty in policy to unlocking that vital funding?

Lorna Slater

I am very grateful to Michelle Thomson for that question. Policy certainty is critical to investment, and so is moving quickly and gaining first-mover advantage, where possible. The current UK Government has allowed us to be left behind as the US, Europe and others move quickly to stimulate domestic economic activity in net zero matters.

I am afraid that Keir Starmer’s Labour Party’s abandonment of its flagship £28 billion green investment pledge—this is really important and significant—on the very day when scientists confirm that the world has, terrifyingly, breached the 1.5°C warming threshold for a year, is a terrible indictment of a future Labour Government and of the economic stability of broken Brexit Britain. Scotland is accustomed to perpetual disappointment in Labour, so perhaps that decision is not a surprise; however, it is environmental and economic ineptitude.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

Wow. In addition to completely eliminating the green economy as a line item from this year’s budget, the Scottish Government has slashed the budget for the Scottish National Investment Bank, Scottish Forestry, land managers, skills development and the Scottish Funding Council. How on earth does the Scottish Government plan to deliver its targets without properly funding the green economy or being able to train the future workforce of the green economy?

Lorna Slater

The Scottish budget does, indeed, prioritise nature and the green industrial transition. We have committed to investing up to £500 million of public sector funding over the next five years in our offshore wind potential. We need the UK Government to provide clarity on its longer-term approach so that we can continue to support the sector. However, in Scotland, we are doing what we need to do to invest in the supply chain and to ensure that we get the economic benefit from the transition to net zero.


2. Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what it can do to address potholes on the road network, including what support is available for local authorities to do so, in light of reports that Edinburgh is the second-worst city in the UK for potholes. (S6O-03071)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

I appreciate the road maintenance challenges that exist in Edinburgh and across Scotland and the importance of a safe well-performing road network. However, local road maintenance is the responsibility of local authorities, which allocate resources on the basis of local priorities. In 2024-25, the City of Edinburgh Council will receive £988.6 million to fund local services, which equates to an extra £48.5 million to support vital day-to-day services. Ultimately, it is for local elected representatives to make local decisions on how best to deliver services to their local communities.

Sarah Boyack

How bad does it have to get before ministers recognise the impact of sustained cuts to council budgets?

I have a constructive question. What work is the Scottish Government doing to monitor the health and safety impacts of our deteriorating roads and the impact of potholes in damaging bikes, buses and cars? A bike crash that occurs as a result of a pothole can have a massive impact on someone’s health, never mind their wellbeing. In addition, cyclists face the cost of buying new tyres on a regular basis. We now have an issue in relation to the economic impact, too. What will the Scottish Government do to monitor that impact?

Fiona Hyslop

I understand the seriousness of the issue, but I make it clear that although the Scottish Government has responsibilities for trunk roads, road safety more widely is a collective responsibility.

As regards measurement of the impact at local level, we would expect local transport departments to monitor that. If Sarah Boyack is suggesting that that should be done in a more co-ordinated way, it might well be the case that transport officials across local authorities work with Transport Scotland on road safety. I will look into that.

I encourage everyone to think about the wider impact on road safety. That is one of the reasons why, nationally, we have increased our maintenance budget for trunk roads by 31 per cent.

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

The priorities of the Labour administration in Edinburgh are not aligned with the priorities of residents across the capital. Rather than focusing on essential road repairs and fixing the multitude of potholes on our streets, it is hell-bent on pursuing pipe-dream projects. Wasting £44 million on a business case for a Granton to BioQuarter tram extension should not be a priority. The project would also destroy a popular and well-used active travel corridor in Roseburn. In addition, the capital now has the prestigious honour of being number 1 in the world for having the worst cycle lanes. I make a plea to the minister: will you use every piece of influence that you have to ensure that the priorities of residents in Edinburgh are put first by the Labour-led council?

Please speak through the chair.

I invite the minister to respond, on matters for which she is responsible.

Fiona Hyslop

Sue Webber has made her point, but I reflect on the fact that, increasingly, people ask Scottish Government ministers to interfere with local decision making by local councils. They want centralisation, when we recognise that local authorities are elected by the people whom they represent to make the decisions that they want to be made.

The member should reflect on the fact that the budget challenges that everybody faces mean that we have to make challenging choices. The capital reduction particularly affects the transport budget.

However, it is up to the people of Edinburgh to decide what they want to do. If they want to elect parties that want to take forward ambitious projects to bring about a green transition in Edinburgh, they should do so. It is for the people of Edinburgh to ensure that their views are well known, and it is for local councillors, who are elected to do so, to make those representations.

I need more brevity in the questions and, indeed, the responses.

Public Transport (Modal Shift)

3. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I remind members of my entry in the “Voluntary” section of the register of interests.

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it has taken to encourage a modal shift to public transport. (S6O-03072)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

This Government is committed to modal shift: as we continue to invest and support an affordable and accessible transport system, we are finding ways to promote public transport as an attractive option.

For example, almost half the population of Scotland is eligible for free bus travel through our concessionary fares schemes, and the extended ScotRail peak fares removal pilot encourages the use of public transport. In addition, we continue to invest in infrastructure, drawing on examples such as the Falkirk stadium electric vehicle charging hub, in Richard Leonard’s region, where active travel links to the town enable people to choose more sustainable modes of transport.

Richard Leonard

Getting people out of their cars and on to public transport is vital if the Scottish Government is to meet its climate change targets, yet ScotRail—a company that is wholly owned by the Scottish Government—is trying to force through driver-only operations, which would remove safety-critical guards. After two years, the Scottish Government is still considering the axing of ticket office hours, and total safety-critical railway renewal spending for the next five years is £315 million lower than it was in the previous funding period, with 70 front-line workers having been made redundant over the past few months. Will the Scottish Government rule out extending driver-only operations and cutting ticket office hours and will it reverse its planned cuts to safety-critical railway investment?

Fiona Hyslop

I think that Richard Leonard is mistaken. He will know that I wrote to him on 19 January to point out the mistakes in the analysis that seemed to imply a reduction in the rail budget. The rail budget for the issues that he refers to has gone up. There has been an 8 per cent increase in spending on maintenance and a 4 per cent increase in operations spending for control period 7. The budget for the railway system has gone up from a pre-pandemic level of £1 billion to £1.6 billion.

I agree that staff presence on railways is really important because it gives people a sense of safety. The Government is committed to ensuring that our railways operate safely. We do that through maintenance and staffing. Richard Leonard will be aware that ScotRail is expanding its staffing and is recruiting staff. It is important to members that, having written to the member on 19 January—

We must move on. I call Bob Doris for a brief supplementary question.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

Removal of barriers and encouraging greater use of buses will be crucial to securing a modal shift away from car journeys. To what extent does the free bus travel scheme for under 22s help to remove barriers? How many journeys have been taken as part of that scheme since January last year?

Fiona Hyslop

The under-22s scheme has been a great success and has demonstrated the appetite for sustainable travel. Many young people travel by bus a number of times a week, and are making habitual use of public transport. Since 1 January this year, more than 7 million journeys have been made by under 22s in Scotland.

Just Transition (Gender Equality)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is embedding gender equality into its efforts to deliver a just transition. (S6O-03073)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

We are committed to doing what we can to increase diversity and representation in the workforce by supporting women and people with protected characteristics to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the green transition. Our just transition plans will show how that will be integrated into our policy making. For example, we have already funded flexible working and workplace equality programmes to support women’s participation in the workforce and we will look to mainstream gender equality across our policy interventions in that area.

Karen Adam

A survey that was conducted by the centre for international labour market studies found that women make up only 4 per cent of the total oil and gas workforce in the United Kingdom. Here in Scotland, we have an opportunity to deliver equality for women and girls through our plans for a just transition. What is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that women and girls reap their fair share of the opportunities and benefits that a just transition will bring to Scotland?

Richard Lochhead

The member’s sentiments on the issue are correct. Our forthcoming just transition plans will take into account the equality impact assessment for the energy strategy and just transition plan that is being carried out by the consultancy SWECO and which includes reference to the status of women in the green workforce. That will underpin our just transition policy to ensure that we can achieve equity of access to opportunities. We will also stay in touch with the energy sector. There is a big role for the sector itself to play in attracting more women, which is an important dimension of the debate.

Renewable Energy Sector (Ministerial Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the net zero secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding the role of the renewable energy sector in meeting its net zero ambitions. (S6O-03074)

The Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity (Lorna Slater)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition regularly meets with ministerial colleagues to discuss how to maximise the role of the renewable energy sector in meeting our net zero ambitions and delivering wider benefits for the Scottish economy. The energy transition offers significant economic opportunities for Scotland and is essential to reducing our emissions. We must also ensure that it delivers for the people, workers, communities and economy of Scotland. It is critical that we work together to deliver a just transition to a net zero energy system.

Jackie Dunbar

Recent reports that renewables technologies generated the equivalent of 113 per cent of Scotland’s overall electricity consumption in 2022 were welcome. How will the Government’s planned green industrial strategy bring about the investment that our renewables industry needs to build on that success and fully deliver our net zero ambitions?

Lorna Slater

Those statistics show that the actions that we are taking to scale up renewable energy capacity to transform and expand Scotland’s clean energy generation sector are working. Developing a green industrial strategy is a signal that we are serious about capturing for Scotland the economic benefits of the global transition to net zero. The strategy will sit alongside and support our just transition plans, and we will set out our plans to secure a fair transition to net zero for specific high-emitting sectors of the economy. It will offer a clear view of the economic sectors and industries where we have the greatest strength and the most potential and of what the Government will do to support them, so that we can give the private sector confidence to make decisions and invest in Scotland.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

It can take more than a decade for offshore wind farms to complete the planning and consent process. The Government wants to cut that time, but industry is sceptical that enough specialists and planners will be recruited. What can the minister tell industry to reassure it that the Government has made progress on that? In other words, how many more planners have been recruited in the last while?

Lorna Slater

The member is quite right that the planning system has a crucial role to play. We have engaged extensively with the United Kingdom Government to seek the devolution of the necessary powers to Scotland to provide a modernised grid consenting regime that is fit for purpose. The member is correct that planning and consenting are key to unlocking our energy potential, and the Scottish Government is working hard to do so.

Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

We know that solar energy is a crucial contributor to achieving an affordable energy mix and a just transition. While the Scottish Government’s commitment to enhance solar energy generation by 2030 is incredibly welcome, there is a notable constraint while the current cap on energy generation is set at 50kW. Can the minister provide reassurance that the Government is working towards removing such output restrictions, so that people can reap the benefits?

Lorna Slater

While policy and regulation in respect of electricity networks is reserved to the UK Government, we have established a local electricity networks co-ordination group, which brings together representatives from different sectors to find ways forward on exactly such issues. In some places, where there is a wish for a generation project greater than 50kW to be connected to the distribution network, the distribution network operator is required to seek approval from the electricity system operator. That is because there may be a wider system impact on transmission as well as on the distribution network. We recognise that that can result in cost and time delays in connecting such projects.

Budget 2024-25 (Strathclyde Partnership for Transport)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact the 2024-25 budget will have on Strathclyde Partnership for Transport. (S6O-03075)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

Scottish Government officials are engaging with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport on the impact of the budget to ensure the sustainability of its services. It is regrettable that no capital funding has been allocated to SPT in 2024-25. However, the United Kingdom autumn statement was a worst-case scenario, confirming that the Scottish Government’s capital block grant is forecast to contract by almost 10 per cent in real terms over five years. Revenue funding for regional transport partnerships, including SPT, has been provided for 2024-25, and Transport Scotland is currently preparing the specific allocation.

Annie Wells

Cutting the funding to Strathclyde Partnership for Transport will be a hammer blow and will greatly damage efforts to encourage individuals to use public transport. Equally damaging is the fact that SPT was not contacted about the dissemination of its budget prior to budget day. What justification does the Government have for cutting the budget and not informing SPT of that decision before budget day?

Fiona Hyslop

The sourcing of capital funding for SPT can come from different departments within Government. I can speak for Transport Scotland and its capital investment in the subway. The Scottish Government has provided £154.3 million to date, and it remains committed to providing £246 million of funding towards the programme.

On the other allocations, members cannot come to the chamber and complain about capital cuts without acknowledging that the party and the Government responsible for the capital cuts to our budget is the Conservative UK Government.

Paul Sweeney has a brief supplementary question.

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

Cutting the general capital grant for Scotland’s largest city’s public transport authority from £15 million to zero is an example of catastrophic misadministration, and the Scottish Government should accept responsibility for that. It will have huge knock-on effects for Glasgow’s transition and for the ability to build public transport in the city.


I urge the minister to urgently meet the chief executive of SPT and reverse that atrocious cut.

Fiona Hyslop

As I said, in budget terms, the sources of capital funding to SPT come from different departments. Transport Scotland officials are engaging with SPT. The situation is not misadministration but the consequences of a United Kingdom Westminster Government. Even if a Labour Government is elected following the next general election, that will be part-time, until the regular Conservative rule—which the Labour Party has endorsed from year to year and decade to decade over recent times—comes back with a vengeance. We need independence so that we do not have to rely on a UK Government that cuts our capital budget, which Labour is quite happy to let continue.

ScotRail (Peak Fares Removal Pilot)

7. Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I apologise for being late for this session, Presiding Officer. I got my times mixed up.

To ask the Scottish Government what criteria it plans to use to assess how successful the ScotRail peak fares removal pilot has been. (S6O-03076)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

The ScotRail peak fares removal pilot has been extended to 28 June 2024. An interim evaluation is under way to examine the impacts on rail travel patterns and other modes, as well as a formal value for money assessment.

A final evaluation will be undertaken at the end of the pilot, and the Scottish Government will carefully consider the impact and long-term sustainability of that pilot with reference to three main strands: a multimodal evaluation of current travel patterns and the impact during and potentially after the pilot; evaluation of the impact on rail travel patterns before and during the pilot; and a value for money assessment of the pilot.

Alex Rowley

The decision to remove what was, in effect, a tax on workers was absolutely correct. It has been received really well—certainly, the workers I speak to who are struggling with real difficulty at this time have welcomed it.

I welcome what the minister said. Will she ensure that she comes back to the Parliament on that? I believe that all parties should work together for what is a good policy and that we should get a decision to continue that policy indefinitely—certainly before we reach 28 June.

Fiona Hyslop

I agree with Alex Rowley that we have to look at the context of the peak fare removal within the wider issue of how we support more people to travel by public transport. However, as I have said, we need to have a robust assessment, and I am quite happy to share that with members across parties.

Alex Rowley is also correct in identifying what the pilot means for people during a cost of living crisis. Those who travel the line from Cowdenbeath to Edinburgh three times a week, from October at the start of the pilot to June at its end, will have saved £680; those who travel five times a week will have saved £1,134. There have been savings for many workers in Cowdenbeath, in Fife and across Scotland.

Yes, the evaluation has to measure value for money, but it must also measure whether we can get a modal shift so that people consistently use our railway system.

Kevin Stewart has a brief supplementary question.

Kevin Stewart (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)

Will the minister detail the benefits that that Scottish Government initiative offers to commuters and the travelling public in Aberdeen and the north-east more broadly? What does the Government hope to achieve through the extension of the removal of peak fares?

Be as brief as possible, minister.

Fiona Hyslop

The extension allows us to continue to monitor the pilot. Members will realise that we have had an extensive period of storms. The extension will help us to give a better assessment on a regular basis. It certainly helps to have more robust data to inform the final evaluation.

There are savings across the north-east. The levels of savings that I talked about in relation to Mr Rowley’s question also apply. The daily fare between Stonehaven and Aberdeen was £10.50 before the trial; it is now £7.50. That benefit is immediate. However, we have to assess the initiative for the longer term.

Transport Projects (South of Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on transport infrastructure projects in the south of Scotland. (S6O-03077)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

The Government is taking significant action to progress transport projects in the south of Scotland. We have invested in the operation and maintenance of the rail and road networks. One example is our on-going work with communities in Ballantrae and Kirkoswald on the A77 to address concerns with speeding traffic, noise and a lack of pedestrian crossings. In addition, we are improving active travel and electric vehicle infrastructure in the current financial year.

Additionally, my officials are working with their counterparts in the United Kingdom Department for Transport to finalise the details of the £8 million in funding for the A75 that was finally confirmed by UK Ministers on 7 December 2023. All efforts are being made to secure that funding and allow work to commence next financial year.

Finlay Carson

Last week, I met Michaela Yates and Samantha-jane Sheil. Their 51-year-old husband and dad died on the A75 after a collision with a heavy goods vehicle in November. They joined me in calling for average-speed cameras for the length of the A75. In addition, on Tuesday evening, there was yet another serious accident at the notorious Haugh of Urr road end. Why is the minister not considering average-speed cameras for the A75 when it is good enough for the A9 and other main routes in Scotland, and would bring about immediate improvements in road safety? I also urge the minister to accelerate the process to improve the junctions along the A75, given the high accident rates. We have had enough consultations. We simply need to get on with improvements.

Fiona Hyslop

Any tragedy on our roads is one tragedy too many, and I express my condolences to the family concerned. There has been £85 million spent on maintenance improvements on the A75, but more can always be done. Finlay Carson is correct to represent his constituents and come here with specific examples. I will take away the average-speed camera issue for my officials to examine in relation to on-going maintenance and improved safety on that road.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

With apologies to those whom I was not able to call, that concludes portfolio questions.

There will be a brief pause before we move to the next item of business to allow a changeover of front-bench members.