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21 March 2002

(S1O-4926) Rural Post Office Services

9. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will make representations to Her Majesty's Government on the possible impact on rural areas of any reorganisation of post office services. (S1O-4926)

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): Consignia, post offices and postal services are a reserved matter. However, the Scottish Executive is in regular contact with the UK Government on a range of issues that include postal services, as Mr Stevenson will know from yesterday's members' business debate.

Stewart Stevenson: In last night's debate, the minister said:

"the Executive has a real locus in the question of service provision in rural areas".—[Official Report, 20 March 2002; c 10461.]

Will he confirm that he meant that he and his colleagues in the Government will campaign vigorously to protect delivery of mail at an affordable and uniform cost to every door in Scotland every day?

Ross Finnie: I can certainly confirm that we have a real locus in the provision of services in rural areas. Yesterday evening, I also made it clear that, although the postal service is a reserved matter, we have a real interest in the provision of service delivery. In conjunction with Andy Kerr and the modernising government unit, we are looking closely at how we can embody some of the sensible suggestions that are coming from the "Your Guide" project. That might help in providing the framework that would assist the Post Office in the delivery of its services.

David Mundell (South of Scotland) (Con): Is the minister aware that many members who were present for last night's debate on post office services were disappointed with his response to the debate? As always, he expressed kind words, but he offered no practical resolution to the issue of the future of post offices. Will he make real positive proposals that will allow our post offices to continue to operate in rural and deprived areas?

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Hear, hear!

Ross Finnie: Anyone who says, "Hear, hear!" must believe that they are sitting in Westminster. The postal service is a reserved matter. To expect me to announce what Consignia will do is wholly unreasonable. I pointed out our commitment, which I will repeat, that Andy Kerr and our modernising government unit will consider whether brigading services would provide a foothold that would work and that would mean that post offices could survive. "Your Guide" offers another opportunity or link by which that can be done in Scotland. That is what Andy Kerr and I will work towards.

14 March 2002

(S1O-4891) Bus Transport (Aberdeenshire)

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what the average cost to passengers per mile is for a bus journey in Aberdeenshire in comparison with the average cost in the city of Edinburgh. (S1O-4891)

The Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning (Lewis Macdonald): The information requested is not available centrally. However, the grant-aided expenditure, for which the Scottish Executive is responsible, for subsidised bus services amounts to £4.33 per head in Aberdeenshire and £4.32 per head in the city of Edinburgh.

Stewart Stevenson: I have a penny here, minister.

I thank the minister for his reply. Does he recall that, some time ago, the Executive's proposals for its integrated transport bill stated that it would take action on concessionary fares that would help pensioners stay in touch with family and friends? Is he aware that high fares in rural areas, limited services and his Executive's failure to exercise the full gamut of powers conferred by section 68 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 leaves the Executive trailing far behind the SNP's commitment to achieve a national concessionary scheme? Is it not time that the Executive moved over and made way so that the people who would implement that commitment could take control?

Lewis Macdonald: I wonder whether Mr Stevenson is the only person in Scotland who is unaware of our commitment to introduce free local off-peak travel for pensioners and disabled people from October of this year.

Mr Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Will the minister confirm that local authorities have already received, as part of their allocations from the Executive, funds to provide the free concessionary transport for all senior citizens? Will he also confirm that councils such as Aberdeenshire Council have the mechanisms in place to implement the service when it is due to be implemented later this year?

Lewis Macdonald: I confirm both those points. I also confirm that Aberdeenshire Council is one of the councils that have taken further steps to take advantage of the powers under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001. Those steps include a pilot scheme on through-ticketing, which is already in place in Aberdeenshire and will be extended to a community in Mr Stevenson's constituency in due course if it proves to be successful. I am also aware that Aberdeenshire Council has an existing non-statutory quality partnership with Aberdeen City Council and the two main local bus operators to provide bus services. Mr Rumbles is right to highlight that Aberdeenshire Council is one authority that has taken advantage of the provisions that we made in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001.

7 March 2002

(S1O-4833) Transport (Budget)

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what transport projects would go ahead if the additional notional allocation of £84 million in the transport budget, outlined in the report "Is Enough Being Spent on Transport in Scotland?", were made available. (S1O-4833)

The Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning (Lewis Macdonald): The figure that is quoted is hypothetical. The Scottish Executive transport budget continues to increase year on year in real terms.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the minister aware that spending per capita on transport has increased both in Wales since the establishment of the National Assembly and in Northern Ireland's domain? Is the minister aware that any further decline in per capita transport expenditure in Scotland, as adumbrated by the ministers' own transport adviser, Professor David Begg, will, especially in rural areas such as those beyond Aberdeen, further fuel the public's deep cynicism about the Executive's intention?

Is the minister aware that people are sick and tired of the dithering and dancing of the Executive, which is not making real progress on the ground? We do not need more studies; we need the people's priority, which is transport.

Lewis Macdonald: It is a great shame that Mr Stevenson has not read David Begg's report, to which he refers. Had he done so, he would be aware that Professor Begg does not suggest that there has been a decline in transport expenditure in Scotland. Quite the contrary: Professor Begg recognises that the task of comparing transport spend per head across different parts of the country is difficult. [Interruption.] Mr Stevenson may be pointing to the piece of paper in his hand, but I am afraid that that is no substitute for actually reading the report.

Bristow Muldoon (Livingston) (Lab): Does the minister agree that it would be a welcome development if the members in this Parliament who whinge about budget priorities produced some priorities of their own?

Lewis Macdonald: One of the great mysteries that face all of us who are engaged with transport spend is finding out what the Scottish National Party's transport priorities actually are. If that is the party to which Bristow Muldoon referred, I am sure that there will be opportunities to explore the matter further in the future.

At the time of the strategic roads review, the SNP's then transport spokesman, Kenny MacAskill—who has once again become the party's transport spokesman—said that all roads were a priority. That is clearly a bottomless-pit commitment, but the SNP will no doubt tell us how it intends to fund it in due course.

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