Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, January 26, 2023


General Question Time

Road Improvements (A77 and A70)

To ask the Scottish Government what road improvements are being carried out on the A77 and A70 to address any challenges faced by road users. (S6O-01828)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

The Scottish Government continues to invest in the safe and efficient operation of the A77. Planned improvements for 2023 include slope stability works at Glengall, the upgrade of a number of existing lay-bys, upgrades of the Whitletts and Dutch House roundabouts and improvements to existing drainage at Cairnyan. Since 2007, the Scottish Government has invested approximately £64 million in five separate road schemes on the A77, including the recent completion of the £29 million Maybole bypass, which opened in January 2022.

The A70 is a local authority road.

Sharon Dowey

The A77 is a vital trade link between the central belt, Ayrshire and Northern Ireland, and the A70 could become a strategic link into the heart of Rabbie Burns’s homeland in Ayrshire. They are very important roads for local people, trade and tourism. The lack of good public transport links means that people rely on the A70 and the A77, but the roads are crumbling and they are a major safety concern, especially on dark winter nights. Will the Scottish National Party focus on improving those vital roads, or has its coalition deal with the Greens stopped any chance of extra investment in the roads in Ayrshire?

Jenny Gilruth

I very much understand the sentiment of Ms Dowey’s question. We have invested, particularly in the A77, and I will detail some of the spend in relation to maintenance thus far.

I recognise the challenges that Ms Dowey has outlined in relation to connectivity and public transport. Those challenges exist across Scotland currently, which is why I am focused on how we can better improve delivery of the modal shift from car to rail and bus. One of the ways in which we can do that is through our very generous concessionary bus travel scheme, which means that almost half of the population of Scotland can travel free by bus.

On the specifics of Ms Dowey’s question in relation to the A77, recommendation 40 of strategic transport projects review 2, which was published in December last year, includes improvements on the A77. The cabinet secretary will deliver a statement to that end later today.

On the maintenance spend, in 2022-23, investment has continued. So far this year, £9 million has been spent specifically on the A77. This year alone, the following schemes have been completed: the north end of the Kilmarnock bypass has been resurfaced; the A77 to the B7038 Coodham interchange has been resurfaced; and we have done resurfacing at Dutch House, as I mentioned—

Briefly, please, minister.

Jenny Gilruth

I will not go through the further detail—I think that Ms Dowey has asked me a written parliamentary question on the matter. However, I hope that that reassures her about the level of Government investment in the routes that she has asked about.

Siobhian Brown (Ayr) (SNP)

The Maybole bypass on the A77, which opened in February last year, represented £29 million of Scottish Government investment and was described as “a dream come true” by those who campaigned for it. Does the Scottish Government have any data on, or means of assessing, the difference that the project has made to the experience of road users?

Jenny Gilruth

I recall opening the Maybole bypass at this time last year, and I know how significantly transformative the project has already been for the local community. Transport Scotland is planning to undertake an evaluation of the bypass this year. We will look at data collection from the spring, which will be in line with the Scottish trunk road infrastructure project evaluation, which is hugely important. It will look at the scheme’s objectives, its operation and the environment. The completed evaluation will be published on Transport Scotland’s website, and a further evaluation will be undertaken three years after the scheme’s opening.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

2. Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, including the latest discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government. (S6O-01829)

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

Preparations for the reconsideration stage are well under way. They include engagement with UK Government officials on proposed amendments to bring the bill within legislative competence.

Discussions with UK Government officials currently focus on what the Supreme Court judgment means for the application of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child compatibility duty when a public authority is acting under powers conferred by UK acts in devolved areas. My officials are exploring options, and Parliament will be updated on what that means for the provisions in the bill after the options have been carefully considered. The Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law as far as is possible within devolved competence.

Martin Whitfield

The minutes of the meetings between Government representatives and the various committees and groups that are involved in the bill show that there have been varying responses to people who have asked for updates on the bill. In September, the Scottish Government was

“still on track to have the ... Bill ... by the end of the ... year”.

In October, the position was:

“We therefore have no timeline as yet”.

In November, it was:

“We can’t say whether the amended Bill will be presented to Parliament before the end of the year”.

Again in October, the position was:

“we are fairly confident that the amendments we have proposed will address legislative competence.”

What is the position, cabinet secretary? Have amendments been drafted, are they sitting with the UK Government, and what is the deadline for a response from the UK Government on this?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I assure Mr Whitfield that we have been looking at detailed amendments. I point out to him that we are not the only player in this. The difficulty is that it is exceptionally complex when we have to consider not just what is happening with, and the views of, the Scottish Government, but also the sovereignty of the UK Parliament and the Supreme Court judgment.

I appreciate that it has taken longer than any of us would have hoped. However, particularly given the overall approach of the UK Government to the powers of the Scottish Parliament, I think that it is very important that we understand the views of the UK Government. We are taking time to ensure that we do and that we understand whether they have implications for how we amend the bill.

I assure the member that our programme of work to embed children’s rights continues at pace and that it is not reliant on the development of the bill. That work is continuing.

Before we move to question 3, I emphasise how helpful it would be if questions and responses were concise.

Energy Sector Workforce (Retraining and Upskilling)

To ask the Scottish Government what engagement it has had with stakeholders regarding retraining and upskilling the north-east energy sector workforce. (S6O-01830)

The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work (Richard Lochhead)

The oil and gas sector and its highly skilled workforce have long been at the forefront of energy innovation and have a really important role to play in Scotland’s energy transition. On 2 November, in partnership with industry and Skills Development Scotland, we held an offshore energy skills summit with key stakeholders, which focused on delivering a just transition for the offshore energy workforce. It included sharing views and insights, encouraging greater collaboration and pinpointing where more action is required.

Throughout our recently published draft energy strategy and just transition plan, we have also set out a pathway to ensuring a fair and just transition for our energy workforce.

Audrey Nicoll

During a recent visit to a geodata specialist company in the north-east, I heard about how remote technologies are offering opportunities for workforces to be located elsewhere, in some cases outwith Scotland. Can the minister outline how the Scottish Government is supporting businesses to utilise their extensive knowledge base in subsea marine engineering, including by developing remote technologies, while at the same time attracting and securing the future workforce in the north-east and across Scotland?

Richard Lochhead

I have visited many companies that are involved in taking forward such technologies. It is incredible to see the innovation that is out there, particularly in the north-east of Scotland, in the North Sea sector, where people are looking at opportunities in clean energy and renewable energy as part of the energy transition.

In Scotland, we have the most advanced hub in Europe for the testing and demonstration of green energy technologies. We are, we hope, ideally placed to both shape and benefit from the future potential of the global marine energy market. We have also supported a number of initiatives, such as by providing £18.25 million to Wave Energy Scotland and £75 million to the energy transition fund. A number of other measures are under way, many of which are referred to in the draft plan, which, as I mentioned, has just been published. It is a really important agenda that we are attempting to support.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

The energy strategy trumpets a figure of 77,000 local low-carbon energy jobs by 2050. However, the Scottish Government has no idea what those jobs will be, no road map for how they will be delivered, and no idea of their average salaries and thus whether they will be comparable to the current jobs in the energy sector. Does the minister therefore understand why the energy strategy was also forced to report that the majority of respondents to the survey tended to express low confidence in a just transition for the sector and that the oil and gas workers believe that the impact on their jobs will be negative?

Richard Lochhead

I point out to the member that it is not that the Scottish Government is simply trumpeting those figures, as he phrases it; they are the result of research from the likes of Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, in his region. I suggest that he visit that esteemed university and discuss with it the research that we are quoting in our draft plan. That says that it is estimated that the number of jobs can go from 19,000 in 2019 to 77,000 by 2050 as a result of the just energy transition. In terms of the number of low-carbon jobs, that is a net gain in jobs for the member’s region. He should be celebrating that and the measures that are being taken by this Government to make that a reality, and he should speak to the many organisations out there that agree with the Scottish Government that the plan has massive potential to deliver new jobs for the member’s constituents.

Question 4 has been withdrawn.

Rail Patronage (Mid Scotland and Fife)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is encouraging increased patronage on rail routes serving Mid Scotland and Fife. (S6O-01832)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

The Scottish Government is investing in the new railway to Cameron Bridge and Leven and in the electrification of rail services in Fife. ScotRail’s recently launched half-price ticket offer is just one way in which Scottish Government funding is ensuring that a publicly owned and operated ScotRail can deliver real benefits and savings for passengers. In addition, once it is launched, the ScotRail peak fares pilot will apply to all routes for the whole six months, which will encourage people back to rail.

Claire Baker

As the minister knows, the cost of peak rail travel remains prohibitively expensive for many people. She will also know that, in Fife, the cost per mile is more expensive than it is in the rest of Scotland, and we have some of the most restrictive peak travel measures in place.

In her reply, the minister said that the peak fares pilot will apply to all routes. At a committee meeting last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport threw that into doubt by saying that there were not the resources to provide for every route so the pilot would be limited to particular routes.

In The Courier last week, a spokesperson for the Scottish Government said that the pilot would apply to all routes, so can the minister give me confidence by clarifying that it will apply to all routes across Mid Scotland and Fife—

Briefly, Ms Baker.

—because the cabinet secretary created confusion last week?

Jenny Gilruth

I recognise the point that Ms Baker makes. At Mr Matheson’s appearance last week, he reiterated the Scottish Government’s commitment to remove peak fares via a six-month pilot. For clarification, the peak fares pilot will apply to all routes for the full six months during the next financial year. It is true to say that work on the precise methodology and design is on-going, and my officials in Transport Scotland are working very closely with Scottish Rail Holdings and ScotRail to deliver maximum benefit. I reiterate that the pilot, backed by £15 million of Scottish Government investment, will apply to all ScotRail routes for the whole six months. I hope that that reassures the member.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Last June, in relation to the Scottish transport appraisal guidance, I asked the minister when we would get a decision on the proposal for a Newburgh railway station. She promised to share the timescales with me. We are now six months on, so when will we get a decision?

Jenny Gilruth

As far as I understand it, the Newburgh detailed options appraisal is currently being reviewed by officials and a response will be provided imminently. Transport Scotland officials have been working to give advice more broadly to SEStran—the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership—at key stages of the on-going appraisal. I am more than happy to write to Mr Rennie with an update on that work, but it is on-going, as I have outlined.

Transport Connectivity (Islands)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will improve transport connectivity for Scotland’s islands. (S6O-01833)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

The Scottish Government is taking forward a range of actions to improve connectivity for our island communities. Work on the islands connectivity plan is under way. The draft long-term plan for vessels and ports was published in December 2022, with formal public consultation to begin this year. Earlier this month, I announced further significant investment in our ferry network, with a commitment to four new major vessels to serve Islay and the Skye triangle routes, alongside further port investment at Tarbert, Lochmaddy and Uig. I also recently announced a six-month fare freeze on our ferry networks.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

The minister will not need reminding that Scotland’s ferry fleet is ageing and increasingly unreliable, with breakdowns often leaving communities cut off. As has been said in the chamber far too many times, we need serious investment in our ferry fleet, and we need it to start now and to be on-going.

We should also give consideration to fixed links, assess the economic and social benefits from feasible fixed links and consult island communities on which transport options they want. How is the Scottish Government undertaking work on fixed links for some of our islands and some of our mainland communities? How is it engaging with local stakeholders, including residents and businesses?

Jenny Gilruth

On Monday, I was in Arran to engage with the local community there. As transport minister, I engage regularly with local communities on the issues that the member has raised.

It is worth pointing out that there has been significant investment from the Government. In the past year alone, we have bought and deployed the additional vessel MV Loch Frisa; we have chartered the MV Arrow to provide additional capacity on the network; we have made significant progress on the construction of vessels 801 and 802; we have commissioned two new vessels for Islay; and we have progressed additional investment in our key ports and harbours.

I mentioned in my initial response that Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd will be given additional funding to the tune of £150 million to provide two further major vessels. That is important because it will bring a degree of standardisation to the fleet.

On the member’s other point, fixed links were considered in the second strategic transport projects review—STPR2. The cabinet secretary will give an update on that later this afternoon, and I am sure that he will be able to provide the member with further detail.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Orkney ferries are old and in need of replacement. The council has been asking for assistance from the Scottish Government for many years but is yet to receive it. Will the Scottish Government agree to run those services now or, at the very least, to provide access for CMAL to replace the ferries and lease them back to the council?

Jenny Gilruth

I did not quite catch the start of Ms Grant’s question. In relation to local authority ferries, I recognise some of the financial challenges. It is worth saying that we provide significant funding to support local authorities in delivering those vessels. We have provided more than £136 million in the past five years alone to support the running of those services.

As part of the budget process, the Deputy First Minister has already committed to further work with Shetland and Orkney, to which the member alluded, to develop their fleet-replacement plans, in recognition of the challenges that those islands face.

We are aware of the growing need for local authorities to replace their ageing ferry fleets and infrastructure. Although responsibility for funding replacement infrastructure remains wholly with councils, we are committed to continuing that engagement, and I look forward to the outcome of the on-going work with my officials in Transport Scotland in relation to Orkney and Shetland.

Sexual Harassment and Abuse

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on zero tolerance of sexual harassment and supporting victims of abuse. (S6O-01834)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

The Scottish Government is committed to building a safer Scotland that is free of sexual harassment and sexist behaviour. We are determined to tackle the scourge of sexual harassment wherever it happens, whether in public spaces, places of education or workplaces.

Through Scotland’s equally safe strategy, we are tackling the underlying attitudes, inequalities and culture that perpetuate that behaviour. We also support victims of abuse by investing record levels of funding, including significant levels of funding in front-line services, to support victims of violence against women and girls.

Annie Wells

If the Scottish National Party Government has zero tolerance of sexual harassment and supports victims of abuse, why was Patrick Grady allowed back into the SNP after having been suspended for sexual assault?

His victim said:

“The decision to give Grady his job back while I’ve lost mine is a slap in the face to anyone who has experienced sexual harassment.”

What does the Government have to say to the person whom Patrick Grady abused?

I remind members that questions that are put to Scottish Government ministers must be on matters for which the Scottish Government has general responsibility. We will therefore move to the next question.

Gender Pay Gap

To ask the Scottish Government how it is tackling the gender pay gap. (S6O-01835)

The Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work (Richard Lochhead)

In 2022, Scotland’s median gender pay gap for full-time employees was 3.7 per cent, which was lower than the figure for the United Kingdom, which was 8.3 per cent. That has been the case since 2003.

We are not complacent, so we are undertaking a range of actions, which include investing £15 million in the coming year to contribute to the design of a year-round system of school-age childcare for families on the lowest incomes; providing an additional £20.4 million for local carer support in 2022-23; and providing up to £700,000 of funding to Close the Gap from 2021 to 2024 and £220,000 to Flexibility Works in 2022-23 to support employers to address pay gaps and offer flexible working.

Gillian Martin

I thank the minister for that answer, which is proof that progressive policies are making a difference.

During the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee’s inquiry into the gender pay gap in the previous session of Parliament, we found that social care workers are disproportionately female and that low pay in that sector contributes to our gender pay gap. How do the proposals for the national care service seek to improve pay and conditions for that mainly female workforce? How might an improved care offer mean that fewer women need to leave work to meet previously unmet caring responsibilities?

Richard Lochhead

The fair work agenda is at the heart of the Government’s proposals for a national care service. From April 2023, adult social care workers’ pay will increase to a minimum of £10.90 an hour, which represents a 14.7 per cent increase in the past two years. We will transfer £100 million to deliver that uplift. That will take recurring funding for those workers to £600 million a year.

The national care service will pave the way for the introduction of full collective bargaining across the social care sector, which will further support improved pay and standardised terms and conditions.

I hope that that reassures Gillian Martin that fair work is, indeed, at the heart of our motivation for setting up a national care service.