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Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, December 14, 2023


Portfolio Question Time

Net Zero and Just Transition

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good afternoon. The next item of business is portfolio question time. I remind members who wish to ask a supplementary question to press their request-to-speak button or enter RTS in the chat function if they are online, during the relevant question.

Public Transport (Festive Season)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with local authorities regarding promoting the use of public transport services throughout the festive season. (S6O-02878)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

The Scottish Government and officials at Transport Scotland engage with local authorities and regional transport partnerships regularly to promote the use of public transport throughout the year. I am pleased that, during the festive season, passengers of publicly owned ScotRail are enjoying extra late-night services in the lead-up to Christmas and additional carriages on busy services, as well as an expanded boxing day service, which will—for the first time—cover Fife, Perth and Stirling. The majority of bus services in Scotland are operated on a commercial basis by private companies and, as such, the promotion of those services is a matter for individual operators to consider. However, we are aware that bus operators run seasonal timetables.

Kaukab Stewart

The festive season is an extremely busy period for Glasgow city centre, with people flocking from all over to enjoy our local hospitality and retail businesses. Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Bus Alliance, Glasgow Taxis, the night-time economy network, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and ScotRail have teamed up to launch the choose public transport campaign. Does the minister welcome the campaign, and agree that choosing public transport during this busy period will free up travel routes, avoid congestion and cut down on travel frustration at what can be a very stressful time of year?

Fiona Hyslop

I welcome the Glasgow choose public transport campaign, which shows how collaborative work between all public transport operators can send a strong message to encourage people in Scotland to switch from the car to public transport. I am especially pleased that ScotRail has not only joined the campaign but is using all its available digital channels, including various social media, to promote public transport during the festive season.

Bus Infrastructure (Aberdeen)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting Aberdeen’s journey to net zero through investment in bus infrastructure. (S6O-02879)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

We are supporting Aberdeen’s journey to net zero through investment in bus infrastructure, including from our bus partnership fund, with up to £12.2 million awarded to the north-east bus alliance to date. That has enabled work to begin on the development of the rapid transit system and on bus priority measures in key transport corridors and in the city centre. We have also supported the acquisition of 59 battery electric buses and 25 hydrogen buses and their supporting infrastructure to operate in the city.

Jackie Dunbar

Aberdeen rapid transit is a key transformational project to put in place a cross-city route of bus priority measures in order to provide fast, reliable, accessible transport from my Aberdeen Donside constituency to the city centre. Similar to Edinburgh’s tram network, it is a key measure to improve journey times and air quality throughout the city. Will the minister provide an update on any recent engagement that Transport Scotland has undertaken with Aberdeen City Council and the North East of Scotland Transport Partnership on that infrastructure project?

Fiona Hyslop

As I have just mentioned, we are funding the development of the Aberdeen rapid transit strategic case through Transport Scotland’s bus partnership fund. As such, Transport Scotland maintains regular engagement with the north-east bus alliance, and it previously met Aberdeen City Council and Nestrans officials to discuss the development of their strategic business case in September. A further meeting between officials is scheduled to take place next week.

I was pleased to see first hand, during my October visit to Aberdeen, how the bus gates in the city centre are already delivering for the millions of bus passengers who travel through the city every year. During my visit, I met the leaders of the council and members of the partnership, who presented to me the progress that has been made with the city centre master plan since 2015. That included presentations on the city centre and the South College Street bus partnership fund projects, as well as on the Aberdeen rapid transport and on-going corridor studies.

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

The new bus gates in Aberdeen, which were sneaked through using an experimental traffic regulation order, have made a complete dog’s dinner of Aberdeen city centre and have been a disaster for businesses, with many people now avoiding the city centre altogether. Does the minister agree that a huge change such as that should be done properly, with full consultation, taking businesses and citizens with us, and that the local authority should not ruin people’s livelihoods simply as part of an experiment?

Fiona Hyslop

Douglas Lumsden has expressed his own views, but it is quite clear that the process was carried out properly and in a transparent way. Indeed, traffic orders are precisely the way in which local government makes changes, as he will know, as a former councillor.

Early operational feedback shows that bus journey times have been reduced by 25 per cent as a direct result of the bus gates in Aberdeen city centre. In the past 12 weeks, more than a million passenger journeys by bus have been quicker and more reliable, and the two main operators in the city—Stagecoach and First—are reporting passenger number increases of 5 per cent and 10 per cent. That looks like the successful delivery of a plan to improve transport in the city of Aberdeen.

National Smart Ticketing Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government, following the first meeting of the National Smart Ticketing Advisory Board, what progress has been made towards introducing a national smart ticketing scheme. (S6O-02880)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

The first meeting of the national smart ticketing advisory board, which includes a number of transport industry operators, was held on 28 November.

I have charged board members with advising me on how Scotland can collaboratively improve smart ticketing consistency, accessibility and integration between modes and regions, and to identify the best technological standard for schemes in Scotland. They will report in six months outlining how they will do that, building on the many operations that are available currently or due shortly. The plan will look to build on the successful collaborative national smart ticketing enhancements that have been made to date. For example, universal smart cards are now accepted across all modes and 98 per cent of Scotland’s buses now accept contactless payments.

Graham Simpson

The Scottish Government has been talking about having a national smart card for well over a decade. In Ireland, they have had one since 2011. The Transport for Ireland Leap card—I have one here—covers multiple operators and offers capping and smart discount features. The 5 millionth card was sold more than two years ago. This is doable and we should get on with it. How long has the minister given the board to complete all its work? I accept that there will be an update in six months, but what is the final deadline for its work?

Fiona Hyslop

I expect to get the operational plan for delivery in the next six months. I emphasise that, rather than having a national smart ticketing scheme, Scotland already uses a single smart card platform, which hosts regional ticketing schemes across Scotland and is compatible with 2.5 million smart cards that are in circulation in Scotland currently. It can be used for both concession and commercial smart tickets, and it is available for use on buses, rail, trams, subways, some ferries and domestic air travel. However, I recognise the point that Graham Simpson is making about how we ensure that that can work on a national basis like in smart, independent Ireland.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

As the minister says, contactless payment is available on most buses now, and smart cards can be used across different operators. Is she optimistic that bus patronage will perhaps increase through easier ticketing?

Fiona Hyslop

Those initiatives were introduced before and during the pandemic. It is difficult to isolate their impact on bus patronage because of the on-going impact of Covid on travel and, in particular, on reduced bus travel.

We meet bus operators regularly to understand the initiatives’ performance. They report that contactless payments generally make up the vast majority of sales, and some operators only see cash payments of less than 10 per cent. Support for that comes from the smart pay grant fund that the Scottish Government introduced to help more than 10 million contactless payments be made since 2018.

On the point about whether contactless payment encourages people, I think that it can and will. All that I am saying is that that is difficult to measure due to the comparability of data, particularly for buses, because of the Covid period.

Question 4 was not lodged.

United Nations Climate Change Conference

To ask the Scottish Government what conclusions it has drawn following COP28, including what has been learned as a result of the conference. (S6O-02882)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition (Màiri McAllan)

The 28th United Nations climate change conference of the parties has now concluded, notably with a $700 million landmark loss and damage fund and a pledge to transition away from fossil fuels in our energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner. Those are exceptionally hard-fought and historic agreements, and I pay tribute to everyone who campaigned so determinedly for that progress. It was disappointing that there was not a stronger resolution committing to a phase-out of all unabated fossil fuels, but we must now all work together to keep global warming below 1.5°C in the terms that were agreed.

The First Minister and I met global south partners and participated in many engagements that urge ambition in tackling climate change. We will publish a report of our achievements at COP28 in due course.

Colin Beattie

Despite noise from Westminster, Scotland has shown itself willing and able to engage positively with the international community regarding the existential crisis that is climate change. How does the Government intend to ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard internationally and that the views of this country on climate and nature are not mistaken for the embarrassing intransigence of the Westminster parties?

Màiri McAllan

Colin Beattie is absolutely right. The Scottish Government, and Scotland generally, are held in very high esteem on the world stage with regard to our climate change plans, our actions, Scotland’s renewable abundance and our commitment to climate justice, human rights and international co-operation. We can make a significant difference. The £2 million that Scotland pledged at COP26 for loss and damage, which helped to break a 30-year impasse on that important funding, has now reached more than $700 million, which demonstrates what small countries can do when they apply themselves. By engaging positively and at an international level, we will ensure that Scotland’s voice continues to be heard. I will not only do that but I will seek to elevate the voices of other people who are too infrequently heard, be they women, young people or people from the global south.

I have three members seeking to ask a supplementary question. I intend to take all three.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

At COP28, we saw a declaration by 24 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands, to triple nuclear power capacity by 2050. That was discussed recently in Parliament. Has the Scottish Government completed any modelling on investing in nuclear as part of a mix of renewables to support other net zero policy aims, including district heat networks?

Màiri McAllan

Brian Whittle will know that the Government’s policy is of no support for nuclear, under current technologies. We consider that nuclear never presents value for money to bill payers nor to our environment. Instead, our focus—domestically, certainly—is on a future energy system that is balanced across storage and unleashing the exceptional renewables potential that I referred to in my first answer.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

Given the commitment to the just transition that the cabinet secretary has rightly made, will she tell us what the Scottish Government will do to ramp up activity so that we have a just transition for households that are currently living in damp, inefficient homes? We are seeing energy and heat going through the walls and roofs of those houses. What will the Scottish Government do in practice to tackle that just transition, when we have the climate crisis and the cost of living crisis?

Màiri McAllan

One of the most tangible and practical examples that I can point to is the heat in buildings bill, the consultation on which the Scottish Government has just opened, in concert with my colleague Patrick Harvie. The bill will look to regulate not only energy efficiency in Scotland’s homes but energy systems. We know that energy efficiency, although often overlooked, is one of the most important ways that we can support households to lower bills and have warmer homes. Coupled with changes to the way that we heat our homes, in the name of climate change, the bill presents a very ambitious approach to decarbonising our buildings. I assure Sarah Boyack and the chamber that it, and all our climate measures, will be taken hand in hand with our communities.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

When the cabinet secretary was meeting world leaders, did she tell them about her Government’s home energy scheme and that only 164 heat pumps have been installed in the first seven months of the programme, that it takes an age to get any money or grants out of Home Energy Scotland, and that many households just give up because it takes so long to get the money? Did she tell the world leaders that, and did she tell them how she was going to fix it?

Màiri McAllan

I did not need to narrate to world leaders what Willie Rennie has said, because more often than not, world leaders are approaching the Scottish Government and asking for our advice on how we have managed to lead the way so successfully on a number of fronts. Although, in a process such as the decarbonisation of buildings, which is vast and complicated, there will always be issues to overcome, and the Scottish Government will always seek to do that, including by supporting Home Energy Scotland to support people on the ground. Willie Rennie’s narrative does not support what I see in the role that I am privileged to hold in Government, nor what I see in my constituency, where many constituents are approaching me, having taken advantage of Scottish Government schemes to change their heating systems, which I remind members consist of support of up to £7,500 and more in rural areas.

Question 6 has been withdrawn.

Shawhead Flyover Junction

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Transport Scotland in relation to the Shawhead flyover junction in Coatbridge (S6O-02884)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

I am aware that the member has raised concerns about the performance of the junction with Transport Scotland and that its contractor, Scottish Roads Partnership, is reviewing whether potential alterations would assist the movement of vehicles at the junction. I understand that Transport Scotland wrote to the member earlier this year about his concerns.

Fulton MacGregor

From the conversations with Transport Scotland that the cabinet secretary describes, I am sure that she will be aware of the issues with the junction. She might also be aware, as she said, that I have previously raised those issues in the chamber.

Since improvement works were completed some years ago, the junction has been a scene of a great many road traffic accidents of varying degrees of seriousness. The junction is well known locally and many people report avoiding it, despite it being a main transport route connecting to the M8 and other larger towns. I have had several discussions with Transport Scotland, including on-site meetings, and minor changes have been made over the years. I am grateful for its collaboration and continued support. What further discussions can the minister have with Transport Scotland to make improvements at the junction and thereby enhance driver confidence at the site?

Fiona Hyslop

The member might understand that I do not have full information about the exact details of the junction and of the problems that the Scottish Roads Partnership’s contractor is already reviewing. I will ask Transport Scotland to liaise with that contractor to give the member an insight into the current state of the review of the potential alterations. If that needs a site visit with Transport Scotland, the operator and the member, I am sure that that can be arranged.

20mph Speed Limits

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

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the next steps for implementation of 20mph zones across Scotland, following the October meeting of the multi-stakeholder 20mph task group. (S6O-02885)

The Minister for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

The Scottish Government is committed to implementing 20mph speed limits on those roads where it is appropriate to do so by 2025. At its November meeting, the task force group agreed to support local authorities to expand 20mph speed limits where appropriate as the optimum route to implement. As a result, work is now under way to establish a delivery subgroup, with a communication toolkit being finalised to be used at the local level.

Alex Rowley

As an MSP who represents Fife, I have found that traffic engineers in the council are fairly opposed to the 20mph speed limit, even when people have come forward and made the case for them. My question is therefore about what we are going to do between now and 2025. I noticed that £1.4 million was given to local authorities for assessments, and £107,000 of that went to Fife. When I asked Fife Council about that, it said that that was spent on a consultant’s report that was sent to Traffic Scotland. How many more millions will we spend between now and then? Will the cabinet secretary give guidance to local authorities that, when communities ask for safety measures to be put in place, they should at least be considered?

Fiona Hyslop

Local authorities themselves have said that they want 20mph speed limits, but the pace and scale at which those will happen in their areas might vary, as might the time that they take. There are already trailblazers on that approach, particularly in the Highlands and the Borders. The Highlands experience, which other local authorities will learn from, is proving successful. Indeed, communities that do not have such speed limits are asking for them to be implemented now.

Although some road engineers might not be in favour of the idea, if, like me, the member trusts local authorities to carry out their duties, he will agree that they will know the appropriate roads to make 20mph. By listening to their communities, they will get a resolution and an implementation of an approach that everyone recognises has benefits, particularly for communities that are now experiencing lower speed limits. Councillor Scott Arthur, who is a Labour councillor in Edinburgh, was quite clear that the safety measures that have been brought in here in Edinburgh have already prevented a number of injuries on roads in the city, which is way ahead of many other communities in implementing 20mph speed limits.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I welcome the progress that has been made across Scotland in rolling out 20mph speed limits, not just in Fife but in the Borders and the Highlands. All councils now have a detailed plan for how they will implement the roll-out of such limits across their areas, getting us closer to the target of ensuring that all appropriate roads have those limits by 2025. Given that the Scottish Government has not decided to go down the route of changing the 30mph default speed limit to 20mph, how will the minister ensure that there is consistency between councils and that there are adequate resources to get the job done, so that communities that need 20mph limits to create safer streets can have them and that we can move forward together?

Fiona Hyslop

We will watch and learn from the Welsh experience. However, our experience will be quite different, because we are asking local authorities to identify the appropriate roads on which to introduce 20mph limits.

I agree that we want consistency, but we also want local authorities to be in control of their own schemes. That is the balance that we have to strike. From what we have heard, we know that some local authority areas are well ahead—for example, Edinburgh, the Highlands and the Borders. The member has expressed the view that the introduction in Fife is progressing as well, but authorities will go at different speeds to get to 20mph. We have to recognise that that is the result of giving local authorities that option 2 choice to designate the appropriate roads themselves.

That concludes portfolio questions on net zero and just transition.

Douglas Lumsden

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I should have reminded members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that at the start of the current parliamentary session I was a councillor at Aberdeen City Council.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Lumsden. I am sure that that is now on the record.

Before we move to the next item of business, there will be a short pause to allow front-bench teams to change positions, should they so wish.