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Meeting date: Thursday, March 10, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 10 March 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Social Care Staff Pay, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Carmont Passenger Train Derailment, Climate Emergency, UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time


General Question Time

Good morning. I remind colleagues of Covid-related measures and that face coverings should be worn while moving around the chamber and the wider Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is general question time. As ever, I would appreciate succinct questions, with answers to match.

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

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. (S6O-00846)

We remain committed to the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law to the maximum extent possible as soon as is practicable.

Although the Supreme Court’s judgment means that the bill cannot receive royal assent in its current form, we are urgently and carefully considering the most effective way forward for the legislation, to ensure that incorporation can happen as quickly as possible and with confidence that amendments to the bill will not attract further challenge.

Our preference is to address the Supreme Court’s judgment by returning the bill to Parliament via the reconsideration stage. In parallel with planning for that, we are also exploring options for extending our powers to incorporate the UNCRC beyond those that are available under the current devolution settlement. The Deputy First Minister issued a copy of his exchange with the Secretary of State for Scotland about that in an update to the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee.

Next Wednesday will mark a year since the UNCRC bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament. I am concerned about the letter that the minister referred to, because it suggests that, in the reconsideration process, the Government is seeking further powers in order to make the bill competent, rather than working with the United Kingdom Government to make the bill competent within the powers that it currently holds.

Political point scoring over the constitution by the Scottish Government has already delayed the bill, and it seems that it will continue to do so. In the meantime, young people have no idea of the timescale that the Government is working to or of how long the process will take. They need to be reassured that the Government remains committed to their rights and to bringing the bill within the Parliament’s competence as soon as possible, and they deserve to know when incorporation of the UNCRC will be a reality.


When will the Government bring back the bill?

The Deputy First Minister has committed to keeping Parliament and the committee updated on progress with the bill.

It is important to recognise that the majority of the work in relation to incorporation of the UNCRC is continuing at pace.

Stephanie Callaghan, who joins us online, has a brief supplementary.

The “Make it right” campaign, which is led by the young people of North Lanarkshire, is encouraging other local children to better understand their rights. The young people have even created and starred in their own social media video.

What steps is the Scottish Government taking to involve young people in raising awareness of children’s rights ahead of incorporation of the UNCRC in Scots law?

Scottish Government officials are due to meet North Lanarkshire Council later this month to learn more about that excellent project and to discuss how we can share good practice.

The Scottish Government commissioned Young Scot and Children in Scotland to work with children and young people to develop resources to raise awareness of children’s rights across all sectors. In September 2020, materials were published to coincide with the introduction of the UNCRC incorporation bill to Parliament.

Good work is under way in schools. UNICEF UK’s rights respecting school awards provide a framework for embedding the UNCRC strategically and practically in schools, thereby ensuring awareness of children’s rights among children and young people. In addition, the Children’s Parliament has recently launched a complementary resource, “Dignity in School”, which aims to demonstrate ways in which primary schools can adopt a rights-based approach and help to make rights real for children.

People get fed up when our two Governments cannot just sort things out, especially when it comes to the issue of rights for children.

Last week, we heard about the number of children who are locked up in prison when they should not be, so the matter is real. Rather than hunting for a never-ending battle with the Conservatives, when will the Government sort this out? We need a date.

As I said in my answer to Pam Duncan-Glancy, the Scottish Government is working at pace on the issue. The Deputy First Minister will write to the relevant committee and inform Parliament.

Co-operative Development

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on co-operative development in Scotland. (S6O-00847)

We are committed to working through Co-operative Development Scotland and the enterprise agencies to support the growth of co-operative and other alternative business models, which we know can deliver strong outcomes on fair work and bring benefits to local communities.

The Scottish Government is determined to significantly increase the number of co-operatives, social enterprises and employee-owned businesses in Scotland, while supporting regional regeneration and the wealth of local communities. Our recently published 10-year national strategy for economic transformation sets out our commitment to undertake and publish a review of how best to do that.

The Scottish Government has stated that its goal is the creation of 500 employee-owned businesses by 2030. In 2018, it set up a Scotland for employee ownership group to achieve that. Co-operatives and employee ownership were mentioned again in last week’s economic strategy.

The problem is this: the co-operative development team in Scottish Enterprise was dismantled and Scottish Enterprise axed the budget for awareness raising about co-operatives. Grant support to cover 30 per cent of the cost of the transaction to convert a business to worker ownership has been withdrawn. The Scotland for employee ownership group has become little more than a ministerial photo opportunity.

Please ask a question.

As a result, Scotland is going not up but down the United Kingdom worker-ownership league table. When will the Scottish Government finally address that, stop paying lip service, put in place a credible industrial strategy, back that with the resources that it needs and show that it really is serious about co-operative development?

I clarify that Co-operative Development Scotland is the arm of Scottish Enterprise that works in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise to support company growth through collaborative, co-operative and employee ownership. Regarding the number of such businesses, Scotland continues to be ahead of the rest of the UK.

We are focusing on all alternative business models, including social enterprises. The member will be aware that, in the past two years, we have doubled our funding for social enterprises to almost £2 million over three years to support the activity that is happening on that.

Resources are in place and Co-operative Development Scotland continues to work as part of Scottish Enterprise. The Scottish Government remains committed, as we have highlighted in the national economic strategy, to developing co-operatives, social enterprises and other alternative business models in Scotland, because we recognise the value that they bring to communities, to Scotland’s employees and to its economy as a whole.

Ayrshire Economy (Scottish Government Investments)

To ask the Scottish Government how its investments have helped the wider Ayrshire economy. (S6O-00848)

The transformational £103 million Scottish Government investment in the Ayrshire growth deal supports projects that are identified as having the greatest potential for long-term inclusive growth. Regional partners have estimated that the deal will create 7,000 new jobs across Ayrshire and will unlock an additional £300 million from the private sector.

The projects that are included will transform the regional economy through high-value jobs creation and strong regional supply chains, and through tackling weak productivity and delivering skills across Ayrshire. Ayrshire has also benefited from investment from a range of regeneration programmes that support development and delivery of local solutions to tackle poverty and disadvantage in communities across Ayrshire.

Can the minister confirm that the investments that are being made by the Scottish National Party Government are making a positive impact on the Ayrshire economy, in particular at Prestwick airport, where financial intervention has saved many jobs directly and even more in the wider economy, and will support the potential for thousands more jobs across Ayrshire, in association with the Ayrshire growth deal?

Without our invention in 2013, Prestwick airport would have closed. Hundreds of jobs would have been lost as a result, but were saved by our actions at that time. We were clear that closure would have had a significant impact on the local economy through job losses at the airport and in the other businesses that rely on the airport’s operations.

We will invest £30 million in projects in and around Prestwick airport over the course of the growth deal. Four space and aerospace projects will benefit from that investment. Those projects will deliver significant economic benefit and will play a key role in signalling Prestwick as a major inward investment destination for the international space market. Regional partners have estimated that more than 7,000 new jobs will be created as a result of the deal, with that number expected to include more than 2,700 direct, indirect and construction jobs within the Prestwick hub.

In a letter to the Scottish Government, the Ayrshire economic joint committee notes that projects in the Ayrshire growth deal have seen an increase in costs since they went to tender. It writes that councils might require contingency funds for some projects, but that budget pressures might make that impossible. What funding will the Scottish Government provide? Will it guarantee that all projects that it is involved in will be fully funded and delivered on time?

Sharon Dowey will be aware that some of the growth deal money has been agreed between the Governments, and that we are working with local partners to direct how the funds will be spent. We are well aware, as the whole economy is, of the on-going cost pressures in construction and other sectors. The Scottish Government procurement team is working hard to do what it can to mitigate them and to provide advice and support, where possible, to partners across the public sector that are facing on-going cost challenges.

Trunk Road Network Safety (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on any safety issues on the trunk road network in the Perthshire South and Kinross-shire constituency. (S6O-00849)

The trunk road network in Scotland is subject to an annual road safety review based on statistics that are recorded by Police Scotland, and measures are then prioritised where they are expected to contribute to the Scottish Government’s 2030 casualty reduction targets. That process has identified road safety investigations on the A85, the A9 and the M90, which are currently under way. They are considering trends of recorded injury accidents as well as focusing on vulnerable groups such as motorcyclists. Any recommendations for improvement work such as signing, resurfacing and speed management that emerge from that will be considered and prioritised for construction as appropriate.

The minister may be aware that there is growing community concern about the planned new junction on the A9 at Shinafoot, east of Auchterarder. Residents have concerns about road safety and speeding issues, the location of the proposed junction and the fact that it appears to have been scaled back from a two-way to a one-way system. Will the minister agree to meet me on site to discuss the concerns with local representatives?

I am aware that the Shinafoot junction proposals are intended to support developments that were identified in the Perth and Kinross local development plan and that they address junction issues that would otherwise exist on the A9. The design of any new junction on the A9 would, of course, be subject to a safety audit and other checks.

I recognise that, as Mr Fairlie outlined, concerns have been raised by members of the community that he represents. As I understand it, they relate mainly to local roads access to existing communities and new developments. I will, of course, be more than happy to meet Mr Fairlie and members of the community that he represents on site, because it is essential that we get road safety improvements right for the communities that they serve.

Questions 5 and 6 have been withdrawn.

Offshore Wind and Green Economy Jobs

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to increase the number of jobs in offshore wind and the wider green economy. (S6O-00852)

The Scottish Government is determined to maximise the economic opportunity for the Scottish supply chain from our offshore wind potential. We will drive forward offshore wind skills development, working with stakeholders to focus on the opportunities for diversification and skills transfer from our oil and gas sector, in line with our commitment to a just transition.

The introduction of ScotWind’s supply chain development statements demonstrates how serious the Scottish Government is about holding developers to account if they do not honour their supply chain commitments and create green jobs.

To make the most of the opportunities in the development of the green economy, we must ensure that our education system produces a skilled workforce with skills that are appropriate for future jobs. We missed that boat with the development of onshore wind, but we now have opportunities with offshore wind, hydrogen, electric power and all the associated servicing skills. What is the Scottish Government doing to embed the green economy in the education system?

It is not easy to overstate—it really cannot be overstated—what an enormous opportunity ScotWind is. The number 25GW will not mean much to many people, but it is huge. The ScotWind leasing round will provide a strong pipeline of projects through the current decade and beyond. To prepare our workforce for those skills, we have the future skills development plan and the climate emergency skills action plan. It is vital that we equip the people of Scotland—young people who are coming up the way, people who are transitioning from high-carbon industries and people who are returning to work—with the skills that they need.

Our national strategy for economic transformation commits to lifelong learning for all the people of Scotland and the appropriate skills development that we need for the green industrial revolution.

Given the importance of transitioning from oil and gas to green energy such as offshore wind, this matter is of great importance to businesses and residents in my constituency of Aberdeen South and North Kincardine and in the wider north-east. How is the Scottish Government engaging with north-eastern employers in the energy sector, particularly given that this is Scottish apprenticeship week, to ensure that support is in place to train apprentices and reskill existing employees?

Be as brief as possible, minister.

The north-east has enormous potential not only in offshore wind but in green hydrogen. Looking at the Scottish ports—and in particular at the opportunities in Aberdeen, in that respect—the Scottish Government is completely committed to supporting the north-east through the energy transition, including with skills development.

Mercedes Villalba has a very brief supplementary question.

Previously, the Scottish Government promised to deliver 130,000 green jobs by 2020. However, just a sixth of that number have been delivered. Latest figures reveal that the number of green jobs is falling, with the loss of nearly 3,000 since 2014. Will the Scottish Government support Labour’s call for the £700 million from the ScotWind licensing, and all annual income, to be ring fenced for investment in the creation of green jobs?

Applicants to the ScotWind leasing round were required to submit a supply chain development statement to set out the anticipated level and location of the supply chain impacts, including jobs. Developers can update their statements throughout the developmental phase. The introduction of that statement demonstrates how serious the Scottish Government is about holding developers to account if they do not support their supply chain commitments. We fully expect developers and original equipment manufacturers to engage with the domestic supply chain to create green jobs and to fulfil their commitments.

Economic Growth (Transport)

To ask the Scottish Government how the country’s transport system can help to improve economic growth. (S6O-00853)

Supporting inclusive economic growth is at the heart of the national transport strategy. We have a vision for a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system that helps to deliver a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Scotland for communities, businesses and visitors. All our investment in transport aligns with that vision, as we have set out in the second strategic transport projects review. By focusing investment on sustainable transport options and continuing to invest in green innovation, we are making Scotland more accessible for residents, visitors and businesses, and we are supporting Scotland’s workforce.

Last week’s so-called national strategy for economic transformation said of the country’s transport network that there remain opportunities to improve connections within and between certain areas, and it said that the trunk road network is a crucial facilitator for the national and local delivery of goods. Given that, is the minister now prepared to break free of the shackles of the extremist Greens and commit to properly funding improvements on the A77, A75, A83, A9 and A96?

I remind Mr Simpson that, since 2007, the Government has invested approximately £9.5 billion in managing, maintaining and improving Scotland’s trunk road and motorway network. The £3 billion investment to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness is one of the biggest transport infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history.

I turn to his substantive point on the national strategy for economic transformation. That sets out the priorities for Scotland’s economy as well as the actions that are needed to maximise the opportunities of the next decade to achieve our vision of a wellbeing economy. Scotland’s transport network has been identified as a key driver in helping to achieve the ambitions and the vision that are outlined in the refreshed strategy.

He will also be aware that the recently announced strategic transport projects review 2 is highlighted as a means to improving connectivity and infrastructure, which he touched on. STPR2 is currently out for public consultation until April. A meeting with Mr Simpson next week will be welcome, and perhaps we can discuss some of those matters in more detail.

Fiona Hyslop has a very brief supplementary question.

The minister will be aware of the reopening of the Bathgate to Airdrie line, which has brought great economic and social benefits to my constituency and across central Scotland. Will she identify how many transport projects the Scottish Government has invested in? I am sure that, like me, Graham Simpson will want to welcome them all and the economic contribution that they have made.

Minister, bear in mind that you can write with further detail.

Fiona Hyslop is absolutely right to highlight the huge investment that the Scottish National Party Government has made in transport infrastructure. For rail alone, we have invested £1 billion, including £300 million on the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link improvement, which brought three new stations and a 31 per cent increase in the number of passengers at existing stations; and investments in the electrification of all rail routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow—and to Stirling, Alloa and Dunblane.

That concludes general question time. There will be a slight pause before we move to the next item of business.