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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, April 18, 2024


General Question Time

Ferguson Marine Workforce

1. Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what the Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy meant by her reported comments to the Ferguson Marine workforce on 9 April 2024, that the Scottish Government will

“stand with you long into the future”. (S6O-03316)

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

I meant just that. As I said at the launch of the Glen Rosa, the young apprentices with whom I was delighted to share a platform, and who trained at the yard, represent the future of shipbuilding in Scotland, and the Scottish National Party stands behind them. When we made our decision to take Ferguson Marine into public ownership, we were clear that we had done so to protect jobs and vital skills, and my comments on 9 April reaffirmed our continuing commitment to shipbuilding in Scotland.

Neil Bibby

Those apprentices and the wider Ferguson Marine workforce need to see the actual investment and award of future work that, for months now, there has been cross-party support for the Scottish Government to provide. That is urgent and critical.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s planned attendance at the summit on 16 May that is being organised by the GMB union, but I respectfully say to her that the time for indecision is over. Will the workers at Ferguson Marine know by 16 May whether the Scottish Government will invest in facilities at the yard and grant them the future work that they need?

Màiri McAllan

I have consistently said that the best way for Ferguson Marine to secure future public and private work is for it to increase its competitiveness. That is why, as Neil Bibby is right to narrate, we have been working with Ferguson Marine on an updated business and investment plan. That plan has been received by the Scottish Government, and we are now considering it fully, albeit speedily. As Neil Bibby rightly said, I have agreed to attend a round table with the GMB on 16 May, and I look forward to discussing the detail of it then.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

Securing a sustainable future for the Ferguson Marine workforce and ensuring the workers’ continued welfare is of the utmost importance. With that in mind, can the cabinet secretary provide an update on the continued engagement that is taking place with the trade unions and the workforce?

Màiri McAllan

I most recently met the GMB union formally to discuss the matter on 27 February, but I also took the opportunity to meet workers and representatives of the union at the launch of the Glen Rosa on 9 April.

As I have said, we will leave no stone unturned when it comes to securing a sustainable future for Ferguson Marine. With that in mind, I look forward to the round table that I will attend in May.

School Estate (Community Access)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its recent consultations with local authorities about community access to the school estate, including sports facilities. (S6O-03317)

The Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care (Neil Gray)

The Scottish Government recently convened a working group that includes representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, sports organisations and community organisations to explore how community access to community facilities such as the school estate can be enhanced.

The group has met twice and has held positive conversations on how partners can more effectively share best practice and address challenges. It will continue to meet over the coming year, and it will produce key findings and any recommendations by spring next year.

Liz Smith

That is good to hear, but I am sure that the cabinet secretary is aware that there is considerable strength of feeling among local authorities about the significant cutbacks to budgets that are forcing many local authorities not to provide such facilities, whether they be swimming pools, gym facilities or meeting rooms in schools. Those are significant concerns. What is the Scottish Government doing to engage with local authorities to open up the school estate, especially at times when much-needed facilities are underused?

Neil Gray

I know that Liz Smith is, as I am, a passionate advocate of physical activity and its importance to health and wellbeing. Access to the school estate and other leisure and community facilities is incredibly important in that regard.

Local authorities are responsible for those buildings where they have that responsibility. We have given record increased funding to local government, although I understand that there are financial pressures on all elements of the public sector. I am due to meet sportscotland this afternoon and, as part of that discussion, I will seek to discuss how we can best manage the facilities that are available to communities and ensure that community access is available. After that, I will report back to Liz Smith.

Childcare (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to support childcare groups that provide after-school care and care outwith school term times. (S6O-03318)

The Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise (Natalie Don)

The Scottish Government recognises the vital role that school-age childcare plays in supporting families to meet their childcare needs.

In October 2023, we published the school-age childcare delivery framework, which sets out our approach to building a system of school-age childcare. We are working closely with providers, children and families to co-design a future system, including considering what support those providing school-age childcare might need.

Last year, we invested more than £12 million in supporting families to access school-age childcare services through a range of partners, including local authorities, childcare services and activities providers.

Marie McNair

I have been made aware that funding provisions for some out-of-school care groups in my constituency have not been replicated this year. We know how important parental employment is in tackling child poverty, but lack of childcare can be a barrier to full employment. Will the minister advise what funding options may be available to out-of-school care groups to allow them to continue offering those services to support parents staying within the workplace?

Natalie Don

We absolutely understand the vital services that school-age childcare provides for working parents and know that the cost of childcare provision is a challenge for many families on low incomes. That is why we remain committed to expanding access to childcare that is targeted towards the families that need it most.

The Scottish Government does not directly fund school-age childcare because it is the responsibility of local authorities to allocate financial resources, based on local needs. However, as I said in my previous answer, we are working with providers, children and families to co-design a future system that includes consideration of the support that those providing school-age childcare might need. We will soon host a series of sessions with providers to discuss the topics that they have told us are important and to think about how we can make positive changes to support providers and make the system more sustainable. I will be happy to update the member on that.

The Presiding Officer

Question 4 is from Monica Lennon. [Interruption.]

We move on to question 5, which has been withdrawn.

My apologies: we will backtrack a little. I ask Monica Lennon to put her question.

Skills Development Scotland (Budget)

4. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government for what reason it reportedly delayed the approval of the budget for Skills Development Scotland, which, according to the National Union of Students Scotland and the National Society of Apprentices, led to unnecessary distress and disruption for thousands of apprentices. (S6O-03319)

The Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans (Graeme Dey)

Since the publication of the Scottish Government’s budget in December, and in the face of the most challenging budget circumstances since devolution, we have worked closely with SDS on how to maximise apprenticeships from within its overall budget allocation. Following that work, SDS commenced contracting for up to 25,500 new modern apprenticeship opportunities at the start of April.

I do not accept the assertion that that caused disruption for thousands of existing apprentices. There was no delay in the release of Scottish Government funding for the 38,000 apprentices in training; that funding is committed and apprenticeships continue to form a vital part of our skills system.

Monica Lennon

I am astonished to hear that denial from the minister, who must be saying that the Scottish Training Federation is wrong and has imagined the impact on 1,000 employers and thousands of apprentices. The delay happened and was not a one-off, because it happened last year, too. What will the minister do to guarantee to everyone in Scotland that there will be no delay next year?

Graeme Dey

The member may well be astonished, but it is a simple fact that there was no issue for existing apprentices.

I accept that the small delay that occurred will have created some degree of upset for some apprentices and we will, as ever, work to avoid such a situation in future.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

The Scottish Government’s failure to agree the £100 million employability budget, which means that contracts to deliver employability support programmes cannot be issued, freezes another skills programme. When will the Scottish Government sort that delay?

I will write to the member about that, because it does not sit in my area of responsibility.

Question 5 has been withdrawn.

Fair Fares Review

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to progress the recommendations contained in its fair fares review. (S6O-03321)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

First, I thank all the MSPs who contributed to the constructive debate before the recess on the fair fares review. The debate was challenging but reasonably consensual.

Transport Scotland is actively collaborating with operators and stakeholders to progress the fair fares review’s recommendations and actions. That close working will continue as we progress the medium to long-term actions alongside more immediate ones such as monitoring and evaluating the pilot that has removed peak fares from ScotRail services, as set out by the review, supported by robust governance arrangements to ensure timely progress.

Bob Doris

I believe that Maryhill and Springburn and the wider Glasgow area are well placed to participate in and benefit from the proposed bus flat fares pilot. Any pilot would ideally also be integrated with our city’s urban rail network. Can the cabinet secretary update me on how candidates for such a pilot, including Glasgow, will be considered and how plans will be developed?

Fiona Hyslop

The fair fares review recommended the development of

“a proposal for a bus flat fares pilot for an area-based scheme to provide flat fares on bus travel, or reduced fares on zonal integrated travel for consideration in future budgets.”

The development work will ensure that any proposal for consideration is clearly aligned with the objectives of the fair fares review, and the determination of suitable criteria for selection will take place as part of that development process.

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

The fair fares review excluded the Glasgow subway from the national concessionary travel scheme. The justification for that was apparently that Glasgow has a strong bus system, but anyone who has used the buses in Glasgow will know that they are completely dysfunctional. Will the cabinet secretary revise that absurd decision so that the Glasgow subway is part of the NCTS?

Fiona Hyslop

In relation to the fair fares review, a lot of that is operating, particularly in the nationally supported public sector area. I add that the Scottish Government has invested a considerable amount of funding in the modernisation of the Glasgow subway. However, with the financial constraints that we have—which I understand the Labour Party wants to continue at Westminster—we are not in a position to support areas such as the subway or indeed the Edinburgh trams.

Rail Services (Dumfries and Galloway)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to promote and improve rail services in Dumfries and Galloway. (S6O-03322)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport (Fiona Hyslop)

Our aim remains to continue to encourage greater rail use across Scotland. That is why we have the pilot that has removed peak rail fares until June 2024. Only last month, Network Rail completed the £1.9 million upgrade of the Stranraer line, which was funded by the Scottish Government. That involved replacing more than a kilometre of track and creating 650m of new track drainage, thus improving the resilience of the line. People travelling from Dumfries station will soon benefit from the £3.6 million improvements that are being delivered through the access for all scheme, which will provide full step-free access throughout the station.

We are supportive of new operators enhancing connectivity for Scotland and are pleased that the Office of Rail and Road has approved the new open-access service between Stirling and London Euston from Grand Union Trains, which will have calls at Lockerbie, offering some new direct cross-border services from June 2025.

Finlay Carson

It is ironic that the cabinet secretary talks about improving the rails when there are no trains to run on them. Stranraer has been denied any rail service to Ayr since last September, following an arson attack on the former railway hotel in Ayr. Now, rail travellers are being told that the situation is expected to drag on until the summer to allow South Ayrshire Council to carry out safety repairs. The situation is having a serious impact on the travelling public who want to visit Wigtownshire and those travelling via the ferry terminals at Cairnryan. It would not be happening in the central belt.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the situation is totally unacceptable? Will she investigate how the process can be speeded up to restore rail services sooner rather than later?

Fiona Hyslop

I remind the member that Conservative-led South Ayrshire Council is responsible for the building and that the building itself is causing problems, not least the extension to the north building. I understand that the council has used section 29 of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003, on dangerous buildings, to instruct the demolition.

The Conservatives may want passengers to travel in unsafe circumstances and rail workers to complete remediation in an unsafe environment, but this Government will not allow that. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the cabinet secretary.

Fiona Hyslop

We are committed to supporting the resumption of the rail line, but it must be done in a safe way. We should emphasise that to all the passengers and the rail workers that the member wants to leave in a dangerous position.

I call Bob Doris for a brief supplementary question.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

Rail services for Dumfries and Galloway are important to residents but also to visitors to the area, including my constituents, so that they can benefit from the wonderful attractions on offer. How has the removal of peak rail fares supported both endeavours?

Fiona Hyslop

There has been extensive support for rail services in the south of Scotland in particular, including Dumfries and Galloway. On the lines that are in operation, a 20 per cent reduction, on average, has been achieved across the commuting public through the peak rail fares trial. That is very supportive. The resumption of that would benefit not just Dumfries and Galloway but those who want to travel up to Ayrshire and the central belt.

That concludes general question time.