Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, January 24, 2023


Topical Question Time

Prestwick Airport (Funding)

1. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reported comments by the Auditor General for Scotland suggesting that Prestwick airport will continue to require millions of pounds in continued public funding while it remains in public ownership. (S6T-01128)

No loan funding has been provided to Prestwick airport since 2019. The budget makes no provision for additional loan funding, as we do not envisage any being required in 2023-24.

Brian Whittle

I thank the minister for that answer. When the Scottish Government bought Prestwick airport in 2013, it was right to do so. It was a necessary step to protect a valuable national asset and sustain thousands of jobs in the local economy.

Since then, the airport has received loans totalling more than £43 million, of which £31 million has already been written off. In the Auditor General’s evidence to the Public Audit Committee last week, he said that he expected that the millions of pounds being spent every year to sustain the airport would continue for as long as it remained in public hands. Does the minister believe that that is sustainable for the airport or the public finances?

Ivan McKee

To be honest, I am not sure on what basis the Auditor General made that statement because, for the past three years, the business at Prestwick airport has been profitable. As I said, we have no indication that any further additional funding will be required in this financial year, and we expect that profitable position to continue into the future.

Brian Whittle

I think that we agree that Prestwick airport has immense potential as a base for Scotland’s growing space sector, a cargo hub, a research space and even an aircraft recycling facility. However, to achieve those goals requires investment far beyond what the Scottish Government can possibly commit. The airport needs and deserves substantial private sector investment to secure its future, create jobs and grow the local economy. Given the Scottish Government’s unenviable record of overpromising and underdelivering with other public sector buyouts, does the minister accept that the greatest value for taxpayers and Scotland’s economy from Prestwick airport can be achieved by returning it to the private sector and not leaving it relying indefinitely on public sector-funded life support?

Ivan McKee

I agree that the airport should return to the private sector when we have a buyer that can purchase the airport with a solid business plan and can fund investment as required.

I am glad that the member acknowledges that we were correct to buy the airport back in 2013. He will know that, at that time, the airport was losing money. It is a matter of record that the Scottish Government put in funds up to 2018 but, as I said, since 2019, the business has been profitable and the Government has not put in any more funds. We expect that to be the situation going forward now that the business is back to profitability, with a significant increase in turnover over that period.

As I say, we are interested to hear from any prospective buyer and to have a conversation about the future of the airport because, as the member rightly identifies, the future of the airport will be in private sector hands.

It is worth noting that, during the Auditor General’s recent appearance at the Public Audit Committee, he commented:

“We have not formed an overall value-for-money judgment on the investment in Prestwick airport.”

I know that he made an overarching comment about public sector interventions, but that is what he had to say on our intervention on Prestwick airport specifically.

Siobhian Brown (Ayr) (SNP)

I am grateful that the Scottish Government saved Prestwick airport in 2013. Over the past decade, more than 4,000 jobs have been supported in the surrounding area, and global companies have been attracted to base themselves at Prestwick, as one of the leading aerospace hubs. The airport was also an integral part of the £80 million Ayrshire growth deal. Although the Government still seeks a buyer for the airport, does the minister agree that it is really important that any such buyer supports the long-term economic vision for the area?

Ivan McKee

I think that the member is absolutely right. She correctly identifies the value of the aerospace and space cluster around the airport, which all members who represent the area recognise. The value of the Mangata Networks inward investment that was recently announced, which involves almost 600 high-paying jobs, is testament to that. Other investments from private sector businesses are taking place around that cluster, which is hugely important.

It is important that the future of the airport is considered in the round with our aspirations for Ayrshire and for Scotland as a whole in the aerospace and space sectors.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I am a bit puzzled about what the minister is saying about the Auditor General. The minister seems to be in conflict with what the Auditor General has said. Will he clear that up? What discussions has he had with the Auditor General to resolve that difference of opinion, and can he explain why it has come about?

Ivan McKee

I have not had any conversations with the Auditor General. I had a look at his appearance at the Public Audit Committee just before I came down to the chamber, and I have looked at the numbers on Prestwick airport. I can state the facts, which are that no money has been put in since 2019. The business has been profitable for the past three years, and it continues to be profitable. We have no expectation that that will change this year. Therefore, as I said, I am not clear about the basis on which the Auditor General made the comment that millions of pounds are still being used to support the airport on an annual basis.

Education (Extremist Online Misogyny)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure teachers are equipped to discuss and address the issue of extremist online misogyny with pupils. (S6T-01111)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

We are committed to ensuring that all pupils receive high-quality education on relationships, sexual health and parenthood, which includes recognition and rejection of misogyny. Through curriculum for excellence, young people should experience factual and objective learning that enables them to make informed decisions and choices that promote and protect their own and others’ wellbeing.

Learning is supported through provision of updated resources, including the RSHP online resources, and will be further supported through our established work on personal and social education and on gender-based violence in schools. That work contributes to the delivery of the equally safe strategy, which is Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls.

Katy Clark

The Educational Institute of Scotland union has issued guidance to teachers who are looking to tackle the harmful effects of online misogyny on young people, as some misogynists continue to gain popularity on online platforms. Will the Government make further resources available to ensure that all teachers have access to equality and diversity training that explicitly includes content on gender equality and tackling misogyny, and which addresses violence against women and girls?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I welcome the on-going commitment and work by the EIS and other unions on this important issue. I hope that I can reassure Katy Clark, in as much as we already have resources available to assist teachers. One resource——contains lesson plans, activity resources and information for parents and carers to help them to reinforce the messages at home. As the member would expect, that is available in a fashion that is age appropriate for a child’s education.

We are, of course, considering what more needs to be done. There has been the review of personal and social education, which made recommendations about what more could be done. Good progress is being made on delivering those recommendations. However, I agree with the member that there is absolutely no room for complacency on the issue. Misogyny is a societal problem. As schools are part of our society, it is important that they play a role in ensuring that young women and men receive the types of support and learning that they should have to allow them—as I said in my original answer—to make informed and educated decisions.

Katy Clark

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the specific problems in schools; I am sure that she will agree that teachers have an important role to play in addressing the issues. The EIS is calling for development of more specific anti-sexism learning in the curriculum and for issues such as misogyny to be explored through existing subjects. Will the cabinet secretary look at updating curriculum for excellence so that it includes across all subjects specific aims around tackling misogyny and promoting gender equality in schools?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I am happy to look at any or all suggestions on the issue, whether they come directly from Katy Clark, the EIS or other members and stakeholders. Clearly, in Scotland we do not have a national curriculum, so it is up to schools to decide what resources they use. However, we all have to work together to ensure that staff are supported and have the best and most up-to-date resources in front of them. Given that it is an online space, in particular, that we are talking about, there is a real obligation on us to keep up to date with developments.

I am happy to look at that. Obviously, I already chair a task force that is looking at what can be done especially in this area, and in many more besides. The unions are involved in that—in particular, the EIS. I am happy to look at further suggestions on what could be done, and to see whether there are gaps in provision and whether updates need to be done.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

Social media mean that such abuse can follow pupils home. Does the cabinet secretary agree that mental health support is crucial in tackling the effects of such abuse? If so, what is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that that support is available for all?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Brian Whittle has raised a really important aspect of the issue, which has changed markedly since any of us were at school. That is the ability for bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and misogyny to follow a person, or young girl, home from school. When it comes to mental health in particular, he will be aware of the counsellors in our secondary schools, for which we have provided funding to local government. They are in place and play an important role. Obviously, there is also wider support through child and adolescent mental health services.

However, it is very important that we have an environment that supports not just mental health but overall wellbeing. There must also be provision in schools to ensure that young women and girls feel supported and able to come forward to report issues that they are having in schools, and that they have the absolute belief that action will be taken on that.

As I said to Katy Clark, I am more than happy to receive suggestions on this issue in particular, which I hope is something on which we can come together. I am very happy to work across the parties on the matter.