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3 December 2020

(S5O-04818) Economic Recovery (Funding Support)

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what its latest engagement has been with the United Kingdom Government regarding the funding provided to support the economic recovery from Covid-19. (S5O-04818)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Kate Forbes): Ahead of the UK spending review last week, I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to stress the importance of delivering a fiscal stimulus package that will support businesses and households while regenerating the economy. I reiterated those points on the morning of the spending review.

Sadly, there was instead a cut to the Scottish Government’s capital and financial transaction budgets and a freezing of public-sector pay rises for many hard-working front-line staff. The chancellor ignored the proposal for a £9.21 per hour national minimum wage, and he failed to replace European Union funding in full, or to even to offer a proper plan on how to do so.

Stewart Stevenson: Many countries, including France, Germany and New Zealand, have introduced substantial economic stimulus packages in response to Covid. The cabinet secretary has just described the UK Government’s response. Has the UK Government articulated an argument to show that its response will help us, or will it do otherwise?

Kate Forbes: Stewart Stevenson mentioned other countries that have introduced much more generous economic stimuli than the one that the chancellor provided last week. As I said, ahead of the spending review, I urged the chancellor to follow the lead of those countries and to prioritise public services and economic recovery through a fresh stimulus. We suggested that the stimulus should be at least 5 per cent of gross domestic product, which would equate to £98 billion.

That investment is even more necessary, given the uncertainty that has been caused by the UK Government’s reckless approach to EU exit. Headlines today continue to prove that point. As we know, the UK spending review fell far short of what we proposed, which will only make it harder for us to deliver the fairer, greener and more prosperous Scotland that we all want.

25 November 2020

(S5O-04788) Covid-19 (Support for Further and Higher Education Students)

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what financial and mental health support has been made available to students in further and higher education who have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. (S5O-04788)

The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Richard Lochhead): Eligible students in further and higher education have continued to access bursary, grant and loan payments throughout the pandemic. Earlier this year, the Scottish Government provided emergency funding of £5 million to support students and early access to £11.4 million of higher education discretionary funds. In addition, £2 million was brought forward for further education students by the Scottish Funding Council. I also announced a digital inclusion fund of £5 million to support access to digital equipment and to tackle digital poverty.

Finally, we are investing a further £3.645 million to support our existing commitment to introduce more than 80 additional counsellors in colleges and universities, and I announced additional funding of £1.32 million to help students deal with the mental health impacts of Covid-19.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the Scottish Government for the support that the minister has just delineated. What discussions has he had with the university and college sector about the provision of support to students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds? The minister referred to the digital inclusion initiative. How helpful has the initiative been to that part of the student community? Is there access to the basic necessities of life, such as food deliveries, and are there specific steps that might help to ensure that students do not feel isolated?

Richard Lochhead: The member asked a variety of questions, but I will try to answer quickly.

Our universities and colleges have an obligation to ensure that welfare support and support with supplies are available for any student who is self-isolating in halls of residence and for other students of whom the institutions are aware. That support has now been taken forward and, as the member knows, institutions are making a huge effort to support students.

On the digital inclusion fund, it has been heartening to see the photos on social media of our colleges and universities with rooms full of laptops that they are distributing to students in need and others. That shows that the funding from the Scottish Government—as well as funding from the institutions, which they are using for that purpose—has been put to good use.

With regard to wider support, I know that 3,500 students have tapped into the £11.4 million funding for support that I mentioned in my initial answer. Those will be students in need, who fit the criteria for that fund. Another 1,500 students have successfully applied to the other funds that were already available.

12 November 2020

First Minister's Questions: United Kingdom Government Climate Change Champion

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): The United Nations brings its climate change conference to Glasgow next year. Does it not undermine prospects for its success that Boris Johnson has appointed as his Government’s climate change champion a pro-fracking Tory member of Parliament who has campaigned against wind farms?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon): I think that the appointment of the climate change champion will have raised some eyebrows for the reasons that Stewart Stevenson sets out. Consistent with our ambition to become net zero, we would have to oppose fracking and support wind power. That is important.

Obviously, I wish anybody who is in that position well. I want to see them succeed, and we look forward to working with the United Kingdom Government. However, all of us—and I include the Scottish Government very much in this—as we get towards the 26th conference of the parties, or COP26, which will happen at this time next year, will have to be judged not just on our words about climate change but on our actions. Boris Johnson should remember that as well.

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