15 January 2020

(S5O-03988) Forestry (Fire Hazard)

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact on the forestry sector of increased fire hazard due to long-term environmental changes. (S5O-03988)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Mairi Gougeon): The Scottish Government’s resilience division is working with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to include an updated assessment of wildfire risk in the second iteration of the Scottish risk assessment. Wildfires include grassland, moorland and forest fires, and the new assessment will be available to responders in spring 2020.

In addition, the programme for government makes it clear that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will develop a wildfire strategy, to ensure that we can respond to the increased risk of wildfires, including forest fires.

Stewart Stevenson: The number of reported wildfires in Scotland quadrupled in the past year, albeit that we are not at Australia’s level. Is it appropriate to consider the wider effects on communities of wildfires and, perhaps, in particular, how muirburn is one of the smallish contributors to that?

Mairi Gougeon: Absolutely. We know that, as our climate changes, we are seeing more extreme weather events. I am sure that everyone in the chamber has watched in horror the events unfolding in Australia and understands the massive impact that they have had on Australia’s landscape and wildlife, as well as the sheer human cost of what is happening there and the human effort that is needed to tackle it. Stewart Stevenson is right to point that out and to mention the impact that the issue has had in Scotland. In April last year, we saw wildfires in Moray and, in May, we saw them in Sutherland, where they burned for five days.

We must do everything that we can to prepare for such challenges. That is why, along with partner agencies, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is developing its wildfire strategy, so that we can fight wildfires, try to prevent their happening in the first place and minimise the damage if they occur.

14 January 2020

(S5T-01953) Caledonian Sleeper Services

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I had occasion to use the Caledonian sleeper when I travelled south on 23 October and returned the following day. There was a bit of alarm on my part when one of the services arrived 22 minutes early, because I thought that I had done something wrong. Will the cabinet secretary join me in congratulating the staff on board the Caledonian sleepers? I found the on-board service to be beyond complaint. The breakfast was absolutely magnificent, and I know that other passengers on those two journeys shared my delight at the new service.

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson): Stewart Stevenson’s experience is a very good advert for using the Caledonian sleepers. It is important that we recognise the progress that is being made. It might be of interest to members that, since action has been taken to address a number of issues, there has been an increase in sales and train occupancy levels continue to grow. Since the new year, the number of bookings for forward sales on the Caledonian sleepers has been at record levels. Yesterday, there were the highest ever daily sales figures for the Caledonian sleepers, which is very encouraging, and there has been a particular increase in the number of international bookings being made for the services. Since the introduction of the new trains in October, journeys have increased by 20.8 per cent compared with the same period in the previous year.

There is a real appetite to make use of the service, and it is attracting new people. We want to ensure that the service is of the highest possible standard and that it complies with the provisions that are set out in the franchise agreement. The focus is on achieving that. The figures of late demonstrate that the improvements that we have seen in recent months are starting to reap benefits.

11 December 2019

(S5O-03913) Superfast Broadband (Highlands and Islands)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Given that the UK Government is responsible for internet access, will the cabinet secretary confirm that the UK Government’s financial contribution to the R100 programme is less than 10 per cent of the overall cost?

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson): We are investing some £600 million in the R100 programme. I can confirm that the UK Government is contributing less than 10 per cent, despite the fact that it is a reserved area. That demonstrates, as ever, that the Tories never put Scotland first and always let down the Scottish people when it comes to taking necessary action. That is why this Government, having spent almost £400 million on the DSSB programme, is putting in another £600 million to pick up the mess that has been left by the Conservative UK Government.

Stewart Stevenson
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