12 December 2013

(S4O-02713) Small Rural Communities (Marketing Support)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): 7. To ask the Scottish Government what support is available for small rural communities to market themselves. (S4O-02713)

The Minister for Local Government and Planning (Derek Mackay):

This Government attaches great importance to the wellbeing of communities across Scotland, including rural Scotland. We provide a range of services and funding through a number of key partners that give communities the means to make a positive difference to their area and to market themselves more effectively. Notable successes include the LEADER programme under the Scottish rural development programme, the community account management initiative that is run by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and the VisitScotland growth fund.

Stewart Stevenson: The LEADER fund has been a significant player in helping communities in the north-east of Scotland to develop initiatives, and in the Moray part of my constituency, Highlands and Islands Enterprise is excellent at supporting communities that wish to market themselves.

Will the minister advise us what help is available for small rural communities that are not currently eligible for help under the town centre action plan? In many of those communities, we are now down to very small numbers of shops and we need to ensure that they are able to remain sustainable for the foreseeable future.

Derek Mackay: I am sure that Mr Stevenson welcomes the fact that the town centre action plan has produced a range of actions and methods, as well as a toolkit from which any community can draw to support itself so that it is more dynamic and vibrant and can be sustained in difficult times.

As we deliver continued recovery, every part of Scotland can benefit from the funding packages that we have made available. I also draw more attention to community ownership, social enterprises in communities, the sense of place campaign, business improvement districts and the people and communities fund.

Mr Stevenson will also welcome—as will most members of the Parliament—the announcement on business rates, which will continue to ensure that Scotland has the best package of business rates reliefs in these islands.

12 November 2013

Common Agricultural Policy Budget Allocation

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I wonder whether the minister can welcome what Alistair Carmichael said on his website on 25 June 2013 in relation to an EU decision. He said that “peripherality is a characteristic that should be supported and protected”, suggesting that he might have been part of the consensus that emerged on the subject. Is it not time that Alistair Carmichael became Scotland’s man in London and not the other way round?

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (Richard Lochhead): I believe that, when the new Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael, looks back—I was going to say “in a few years”, but perhaps even in a few days—he will be deeply embarrassed by his comments in response to Owen Paterson’s decision last Friday. More important, however, I think that his constituents in Orkney and Shetland will be deeply disappointed and will feel betrayed by the lack of support that they have had from the Secretary of State for Scotland on the issue.

However, it is not too late for him to get behind Scotland’s cause in the coming days and weeks over the issue and the fact that he stood by Owen Paterson’s completely indefensible decision.

I congratulate Stewart Stevenson on his detective skills. He is quite right to highlight that comment from June 2013. We have special challenges in this country, and that is why a formula is in place to ensure that the funding is decided on a per hectare basis.

30 October 2013

(S4O-02503) HM Prison Grampian

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
To ask the Scottish Government what benefits Her Majesty’s Prison Grampian will bring to the north-east. (S4O-02503)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Kenny MacAskill): HM Prison Grampian will be Scotland’s first community-facing prison and it will accommodate men, women and young people from the north-east of Scotland. It will provide offenders with the ability to maintain close links with families and communities, which is intended to help them to desist from offending and to better reintegrate with their communities in the north-east and elsewhere on release.

The north-east community will benefit by an additional 40 jobs, which will bring commensurate economic benefit to the local community. There will also be an improvement to the visual image of the area, an increase in local work placements where there is a need for them, an overall reduction in travel time to courts and reduced carbon usage.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments. Given that the primary objectives of a prison are community safety and the reform of convicts, does he agree that the previous success of Peterhead prison’s specialist sex offenders unit is an excellent base on which HMP Grampian can build?

Kenny MacAskill: Absolutely; I agree with that. There was outstanding expertise at that unit. This morning, I was at the Prison Officers Association conference in Peebles, at which the unit was being commemorated and officers from Peterhead prison were present. Their expertise will be used and shared across the prison estate, and I say on the record that we should all express our gratitude to those officers at Peterhead prison for the outstanding expertise that they built up. I assure the member that those skills will now be shared across the prison estate.

1 October 2013

(S4T-00464) Emissions Targets

1. Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the publication of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, what action it is taking to ensure that all relevant policies and proposals are properly costed and acted on to ensure that annual emissions targets are met. (S4T-00464)

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Does the minister recall that one of the key contributions to the considerations of the IPCC was the seminal report by Sir Nicholas Stern? That report identified that the costs of not dealing with climate change were some 10 times greater than those of dealing with climate change. Does the minister agree that all Governments should still take notice of that, as climate change is both an environmental and an economic disaster that could engulf the world?

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Paul Wheelhouse): I agree 100 per cent with what Stewart Stevenson has said. Nicholas Stern identified the fact that countries that act quickly will prevent much greater cost to their economies in the longer term. That is why, when we engage on international issues to do with climate change, we stress to other countries what Scotland is doing not just because we want to talk about a positive story in Scotland, but in an effort to get across the fact that there are advantages in moving quickly to implement climate change mitigation measures. As well as saving their economies cost in the long run, the creation of a low-carbon economy or an economy that is circular in its handling of waste will give rise to economic opportunities that will help to generate jobs, investment and prosperity. As the member quite rightly identifies, as a society we would face huge costs if we were not to act now to tackle what is a fundamental problem.

The IPCC report indicates that temperature rises of up to 4.5°C could occur. I hope that I do not have to tell members what devastation temperature rises of that scale would cause, not just in Scotland but in our key markets around the globe. A sea-level rise of 0.82m might have a devastating impact even in Scotland, especially on some of our smaller islands such as the Uists and the Shetland islands, where many areas are low lying and much of our heritage is vulnerable to rising sea levels. We all have an interest in dealing with the issue, from the point of view not just of protecting society from devastating change, but of exploiting the economic opportunities that arise from that.

26 September 2013

(S4F-01587) Royal Mail Privatisation

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the First Minister whether the Prime Minister has responded to his letter calling for a moratorium on the privatisation of the Royal Mail. (S4F-01587)

The First Minister (Alex Salmond): I am disappointed that I have not yet heard from the Prime Minister. It is clear that the people of Scotland resoundingly do not want this misguided privatisation and that the moratorium should be confirmed as soon as possible.

Stewart Stevenson: It is surprising that the First Minister has not had a response.

Yesterday, Labour Party members, at their conference in Brighton, overwhelmingly backed a resolution that called for the renationalisation of the Royal Mail should the sell-off go ahead. Will the First Minister urge Mr Miliband to back the position of the Scottish Government by publicly endorsing the views of his party, which could render the privatisation infeasible?

The First Minister: It is true that I have not had a response from the Prime Minister, but I seem to have got a response from the Labour Party conference, which is all to the good. Now that, after six months, the Labour Party has followed the Scottish National Party policy of repeal of the bedroom tax, we should welcome the Labour conference’s endorsement of our call to take the Royal Mail back into public hands.

I am told that the resolution was passed overwhelmingly. I hear that it might even have been passed unanimously. I presume that that means that the Scottish delegates at the conference, such as Johann Lamont, voted for the renationalisation of the Royal Mail. [Interruption].

I do not know why Johann Lamont is pointing; I am just saying that if the resolution was passed nearly unanimously, I assume that she was there, speaking for the majority wishes of the unions and Labour Party members. That makes the attacks that I had from MSPs following First Minister’s questions last week all the more strange. So, which is it: the response to public ownership that we saw so resoundingly from the Labour conference, or the back calling at the SNP that we saw from Labour MSPs last week?

25 September 2013

(S4O-02423) Fuel Poverty

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the Scottish Government how the draft budget supports people affected by fuel poverty. (S4O-02423)

The Minister for Housing and Welfare (Margaret Burgess): The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth announced the Scottish Government’s spending plans for 2014-15 and 2015-16 on Wednesday 11 September. For fuel poverty, he announced a budget of £79 million in both years. As with this year’s budget allocation, we will use our funding to lever in private sector funding from the utility companies that are seeking to meet their obligations under the energy companies obligation to create a fund of £200 million per annum. That will be used for both area-based and national scheme delivery through our HEEPS—home energy efficiency programme Scotland—schemes. The budget will address the fuel poverty forum’s interim report recommendations on Scottish Government funding programmes, continue to support our targets to eradicate fuel poverty as far as practicable by 2016, and contribute to meeting our climate change commitments.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the minister agree that, at 31 per cent among rural dwellers in Aberdeenshire, current levels of fuel poverty are unacceptably high? I very much welcome the financial support that the minister has identified. With the full powers of an independent country, what more could we do besides putting in place the mitigations that are currently available to us?

Margaret Burgess: The member will be pleased to know that, under our current measures, Aberdeenshire Council has the second-highest allocation in Scotland, at £4.4 million. That will provide assistance to just under 2,500 households in the area. I am sure that the member will be pleased to note that. Alongside what we are currently doing, the Scottish ministers continue to work to protect the interests of consumers. In the future, the expert commission on energy regulation will look to provide evidence on what improvements could be made to Scotland’s stewardship of electricity and gas regulation in an independent Scotland. The commission will provide advice on ways in which an independent Scotland could promote fairer, more affordable energy prices, given the need to address fuel poverty, and measures to improve energy efficiency.

Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab): With an estimated 29 per cent of Scottish households currently living in fuel poverty—a level that has failed to drop below 25 per cent since 2007—can the minister inform us how the national retrofit programme will ensure that Scotland meets its 2016 target? Is the minister supportive of the Labour Party’s energy price freeze commitment?

Margaret Burgess: To repeat what I said earlier, we will continue to work to protect the interests of Scottish consumers and continue to fund the HEEPS programme, which is providing measures throughout the whole of Scotland—unlike the United Kingdom Government, which has put zero into that. On the other question, there are some big ifs in that. If there were a future Labour Government, it is unclear how it would implement that future policy. Has Labour spoken to the fuel companies and what is their commitment? What would be the eventual impact on fuel bills?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I will allow a brief question from Alex Johnstone.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): As the minister will be aware, one of the reasons for high fuel costs in rural areas is the high cost of off-grid gas and oil supplies for heating. What advice and support can the Government give to those who seek to create buying clubs to cut the cost of off-grid supplies?

Margaret Burgess: We are currently looking at that issue. We have been in discussion with some rural communities, particularly in the islands—I discussed the issue when I was up there during the summer recess—and we continue to talk with them about that. We well appreciate the difficulties that island and rural communities face because they are off grid, as the member mentioned. I would be willing to sit down with the member to inform him what discussions we have had so far and where those are going. If he has any other suggestions to offer, I am willing to discuss them with him.

4 September 2013

(S4O-02326) Oil Fund

Drew Smith (Glasgow) (Lab): 5. To ask the Scottish Government in what year it anticipates an oil fund could be set up in an independent Scotland. (S4O-02326)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth (John Swinney): The fiscal commission working group is developing a fiscal framework to ensure that, from the outset, an independent Scotland will have in place a mechanism to manage year-on-year changes in oil and gas revenues and to ensure that, when appropriate, a proportion of those receipts is invested for the long-term benefit of the people of Scotland. The fiscal commission working group will in the coming weeks publish a report on the operation of an oil stabilisation and savings fund.

Drew Smith: I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer—although he did not provide us with a better answer than the Deputy First Minister managed on Radio Scotland yesterday.

Does the cabinet secretary at least accept that tax revenues from the North Sea cannot be spent twice in an independent Scotland, any more than they can be in any other country? Given the conflicting views that have so far been expressed by Scottish ministers on the matter, will he tell us now whether he plans to take money from public services to pay into an oil fund while Scotland remains in deficit?

John Swinney: The Scottish Government’s position on an oil fund has been absolutely consistent, and it is that we can contribute to an oil fund only when the circumstances and opportunities enable us to do so.

The illustration that I give to Mr Smith is about the last year for which information is available. That information shows that, in 2011-12, Scotland had a relative financial surplus of £4.4 billion. To translate that into other language—for the benefit of Mr Smith—that means that Scotland was in a stronger position, in terms of our public finances, than the rest of the UK. That opens up choices for Scotland to spend more of that differential advantage, to invest more in an oil fund or to reduce the level to which we borrow. However, those opportunities will arise only if we are able to exercise the control that would enable Scotland to take those decisions and to have the responsibility for doing so. Of course, we cannot do that under the current constitutional settlement and will not, if Mr Smith has his way, be able to do it in the foreseeable future.

Scotland has experienced a wasted opportunity because of the way in which our oil revenues have been mismanaged since the 1970s by UK Governments. This is the opportunity for Scotland to take control of those issues and to ensure that we have the ability to invest the wealth of Scotland to create the most secure possible future for the people of Scotland. That will arise only out of independence.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Does the cabinet secretary agree that Alistair Darling was being honest when he was interviewed on the BBC’s “Hardtalk” on 19 August and conceded that UK Governments have wasted oil revenues by not investing in an oil fund? Will the cabinet secretary note that, in that interview, Alistair Darling admitted that there was no question but that Scotland can be successfully independent?

John Swinney: Alistair Darling’s comments are an interesting departure from all that he presided over when he was a minister in the United Kingdom Government. His admission that Scotland has the ability, the capability and the resources to be independent is a welcome concession at such a late date. Given the fact that he has been part of the regime that has so wasted Scotland’s oil resources, his admission that he now sees the advantages of an oil fund is also welcome. Of course, he is not alone—many other commentators have recognised exactly the point that Mr Darling has now made—but it is welcome when we have some conversions in the arguments that our political opponents put forward.

27 June 2013

(S4O-02319) Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland

8. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how the distribution of funds from the home energy efficiency programmes for Scotland is calculated. (S4O-02319)

The Minister for Housing and Welfare (Margaret Burgess): The Scottish Government’s budget for fuel poverty and energy efficiency in 2013-14 is £79 million. The majority of that, £60 million, is being spent on council-led area-based schemes to tackle fuel poverty. Following agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, half of the £60 million was distributed among all 32 councils based on their levels of fuel poverty and the energy efficiency of their stock. The other £30 million was set aside for more ambitious projects by councils.

The remaining £19 million will be used to deliver our national affordable warmth and energy assistance schemes and provide funding to the Energy Saving Trust and others to help support the home energy Scotland hotline and advice centres to provide advice and guidance to people about the energy efficiency of their homes and the support for which they might be eligible.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the minister agree that that funding is particularly important in supporting energy efficiency in rural areas, where many houses are reliant on heating oil?

Margaret Burgess: Yes, I do. Aberdeenshire got £4.4 million of the HEEPS money. It is clear that it is a national scheme that is being delivered locally. Local authorities can determine what is required in their area. The projects in Aberdeenshire take account of the area’s rurality, which was the intention of the scheme.

19 June 2013

Statement: Budget Outturn 2012-13

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a statement by John Swinney on the 2012-13 provisional outturn.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Is the cabinet secretary aware that in 2010 it was said:

“the UK government continues to take Scotland for granted”?

That was in relation to employment. That statement was, of course, made by the gentleman who is now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Does the cabinet secretary think that it is time for that gentleman to respond to what he said in 2010 and change his capital spending plans in Scotland but especially in the UK, where unemployment—in contrast to the situation in Scotland—is rising?

John Swinney: I think that the comparative position on employment patterns north and south of the border is instructive. That is why I marshalled information to demonstrate that the different economic strategy that this Government has taken has delivered a different outcome for Scotland. To go back to my answer to Mr Hepburn’s question, the UK Government needs to understand that, without action to remedy the reductions in capital expenditure, the ability of many people in our society to recover from the economic difficulties that we face will be affected and those difficulties will be prolonged.

(S4O-02277) Arts Festivals (Regeneration Areas)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): 6. To ask the Scottish Government what assessment has been made of the contribution that local arts festivals make to communities in regeneration areas. (S4O-02277)

The Minister for External Affairs and International Development (Humza Yousaf): We are aware of the significant cultural, social and economic contribution that Scotland’s arts and culture festivals make to all our communities. That is why Creative Scotland’s creative place awards, for example, reward the hard work and imagination that contribute to the rich cultural life of a community, as well as its social and economic wellbeing.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the minister agree that arts events such as the coast festival, the launch of which I attended recently in Macduff, are vital in supporting community spirit and boosting the local economy by attracting visitors, both foreign and domestic?

Humza Yousaf: I absolutely agree. We all know that the arts and culture make a vital contribution to social and economic wellbeing. On top of that, they are a great way in which people can come together, as the member said, and share creative experiences.

I heard that the coast festival was a fantastic success, particularly the sandcastle competition and the rubber duck race. I was delighted that the festival took the opportunity in our year of natural Scotland to celebrate the beauty and creativity of the Banffshire coastal towns.

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (Lab): Given that the Leith festival benefits not just regeneration areas in Leith but the whole of Leith and Edinburgh and further afield, is it not time that the Leith festival received some funding from the national fund that is available for national festivals? Would the Leith festival at the beginning of June each year not be the ideal curtain-raiser for the great summer of festivals, which continues tonight with the launch of the film festival?

Humza Yousaf: The member makes a good point about the wider contribution and impact that festivals can make. I am not entirely sure whether the Leith festival has applied for funding, but I am more than happy to sit down with the member to explore that.

18 June 2013

(S4T-00402) VisitScotland (Website)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Does the minister feel, as I do, that it is good and useful that we can see against 1888 on the website that

“The Scottish Labour Party is formed by Keir Hardie”?

I might argue that the foundation of Celtic Football Club or the opening of Peterhead prison in my constituency, which took place in the same year, was a more important event, but the fact that the VisitScotland website mentions Keir Hardie’s formation of the Scottish Labour Party and, indeed, the foundation of the Scottish Trades Union Congress in 1897 is clear evidence that the website gathers to its bosom a wide range of interesting material.

Fergus Ewing: I think that I have listened to Mr Stevenson over a period of around 12 or 13 years, and I confess that I have often concluded that my education has not been sufficiently developed but that Mr Stevenson was helping me to put that right. I agree that his points are well made.

The main conclusion about all this is that VisitScotland is there to serve the public and to promote tourism. It is doing that by setting out some interesting dates and some interesting points in history. The information that it provides is not meant to imply any judgment or any view, and it does not. That is the point, and it is a point that a first-year law student could grasp in a nanosecond.

11 June 2013

Statement: Common Fisheries Policy Reform

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): How will the banking and borrowing of quota across adjacent years be administered in Scotland? In particular, will it be possible, after the end of a year, to borrow or bank back across to the year that has just passed?

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (Richard Lochhead): The short answer is yes. That is one of the flexibilities.

It is worth pointing out that we have always had the ability to bank and borrow quota so that the take-up of quota from year to year is balanced efficiently. The new measure is that quota can now be swapped for quota to help with the discard ban. In other words, if fishermen do not have quota for what they catch, they can surrender other quota and convert it into the quota that they need to land the catch legally without it going to fishmeal, provided that the country meets its overall quota limits and the catch is within sustainable limits. There are some new flexibilities that will be important for implementing the discard ban in Scotland.

6 June 2013

(S4O-02215) National Health Service (Digital Wards)

1. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with national health service boards regarding the future integration of digital wards. (S4O-02215)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing (Alex Neil): All boards are making progress in increasing the use of digital technologies, increasing access to information, improving efficiency and reducing reliance on paper across all clinical settings. NHS boards are committed to the provision of technology that positively improves the care that healthcare workers can provide in hospital wards and clinics. Boards are actively seeking to address that by using mobile, whiteboard and related technologies. Each NHS board has a delivery plan that outlines how that will be achieved. The Scottish Government regularly meets NHS boards to review progress and consistency with the national e-health strategy.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the cabinet secretary aware of the recent University of Edinburgh trial of home blood pressure telemonitors, which allow the general practitioner or specialist to receive and respond timeously to patient-collected data? Given that the trial suggests that there were improved health outcomes for participants, does he agree that further investment in digital infrastructure and the use of direct data feeds to GPs, especially in rural areas, may assist in reducing unnecessary deaths, particularly from stroke and heart disease, where infrequent monitoring may be an issue?

Alex Neil: I am aware of the positive results that emerged from the telescot trials and I am pleased that a growing body of evidence shows the effectiveness of supported telemonitoring in achieving clinically important outcomes in primary care settings. The fact that the trial was developed and researched in Scotland is just one reason why, in my view, Scotland is rightly held up across Europe as being in the vanguard in integrating telehealth and telecare into the delivery of services.

At a recent visit that was kindly hosted by East Ayrshire Council, I was able to see at first hand the benefits that home health monitoring brings, not only from enabling individuals to stay in their own home rather than be unnecessarily admitted to hospital, but from improving their health through better self-management. Both of those are key Government policy objectives. In that pilot, the rate of hospitalisation among those involved decreased by 70 per cent.

30 May 2013

(S4F-01423) Air Services (Highlands and Islands Airports)

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the First Minister what economic value the Scottish Government places on services from Highlands and Islands airports to hub airports with worldwide connections. (S4F-01423)

The First Minister (Alex Salmond): Maintaining capacity on services from Highland and Islands airports with worldwide connections is essential for that area’s economic development. The effect of the United Kingdom Government’s air passenger duty has been amply demonstrated by Flybe’s recent announcement of the sale of its slots at Gatwick. The chairman of Flybe, Jim French, said:

“with the absence of a regional aviation strategy and the government’s penalistic and ludicrous policy of charging Air Passenger Duty (APD) on both legs of a domestic flight, I’m afraid it’s inevitable that high frequency services from the UK’s regions will ultimately be squeezed out”.

That is a significant warning statement, and it underlines the absolute necessity for air passenger duty to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the First Minister recall that, in 2008, air services from Inverness to Heathrow were ended? In light of that, is it not important to say that

“Protecting the links from Inverness to Gatwick is now even more essential”?

Of course, those are not my words but those of the local MP, Danny Alexander, in 2008. Is it not rank hypocrisy that the local MP had one opinion in 2008 but has done nothing in government to support air services from Inverness?

The First Minister: Well, we should remember the context: Danny Alexander is a Liberal Democrat, so adopting two positions at the same time might itself be party policy. It is a rather invidious position to be in to be the Chief Secretary of the Treasury and the local member for Inverness and to be responsible for the very air passenger duty that is threatening services from Inverness while complaining about it and posing as their defender. Perhaps if we agree on devolving air passenger duty to this Parliament as a policy that benefits the Scottish economy, Danny Alexander will be relieved of the difficulty of having to be the Treasury’s man in Inverness while pretending to be Inverness’s man in the Treasury.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): Will the First Minister hold talks with the UK Government, Flybe and easyJet, which now has the flights from Inverness airport? Will he look at having a public service obligation on routes to Gatwick airport? Will he also speak to the airlines about connectivity from the islands through to Gatwick, which used to be booked through one operator and will now require to be booked through two?

The First Minister: Talks are going on between the Minister for Transport and Veterans and the airport carriers at present. The member should direct her attention to what Flybe has said and the extent of studies across Scottish airports and carriers, which are looking at the differential impact that air passenger duty is having on Scottish flights. That is the key to and source of the difficulty. I hope that the member will join the Government in calling for APD to be devolved to this Parliament so that we can produce an airport and passenger policy that benefits the Scottish economy as opposed to threatening vital services.

8 May 2013

(S4O-02086) NHS Grampian (Dentistry)

12. Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government what its plans are for the provision of dentistry in NHS Grampian. (S4O-02086)

The Minister for Public Health (Michael Matheson):

The responsibility for the overall provision of national health service general dental services in the area rests with NHS Grampian.

Richard Baker: I welcome the fact that increased numbers of patients in Grampian are registered with a dentist. What reassurance can the minister give me that there is proper monitoring of the practices that have received NHS grants to establish new surgeries to ensure that they fulfil the requirement that 80 per cent of their work is NHS treatment, and to ensure that patients who are registered with the practices are receiving check-ups and treatment at appropriate intervals? I know that those issues have already been raised with the Scottish Government.

Michael Matheson: The member referred to the Scottish dental access initiative that was developed to increase the number of dental practices that will register NHS patients, particularly in areas in which there is a lack of service. He rightly recognises that there has been a significant increase in the level of NHS dentistry that is being made available within the NHS Grampian area. It is part of the condition of that grant that a significant number of the dental practice patients are registered as NHS patients and individual boards are responsible for monitoring that.

There have been some issues with a practice in Grampian that NHS Grampian took appropriate action to address. I understand that NHS Grampian has also written to all the practices that have received support through the Scottish dental access initiative to ensure that their status remains the same and that they are delivering the services that are agreed on as part of the grant conditions.

The point about check-up rates is very important. It may be helpful if I inform the member that 83.6 per cent of patients who are registered in Grampian presented for treatment in the previous two years. That figure is higher than the Scottish average of 79.3 per cent, so it is clear that a significant number of patients in Grampian are making use of NHS dentistry services, the provision of which has significantly increased under this Government. I have no doubt that patients will continue to benefit from the increasing level of access that has been made available to them.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Is the minister aware that, 10 years ago, there were areas of Grampian in which it was impossible to register even for private dental treatment and that some of my constituents used to travel twice a year to Budapest, Amsterdam and other European cities for their treatment? Can he assure us that we will continue to see improvements in the provision of NHS dental care in the NHS Grampian area?

Michael Matheson: The member makes a good point because there were significant difficulties for patients in the NHS Grampian area who wanted to access NHS dentistry. For example, in 2007 only 59.2 per cent of children in NHS Grampian were registered with a dentist under NHS arrangements; as at 30 September 2012, that figure had reached 77.1 per cent. In 2007 only 28.9 per cent of adults in NHS Grampian were registered with a dentist under NHS arrangements; as at 30 September, 2012, that figure had reached 56 per cent.

We continue to make provision under the Scottish dental access initiative, which is available in Grampian—particularly in Aberdeenshire and in Morayshire—to target areas where there continues to be limited access so that we can ensure that those patients in NHS Grampian who wish to have access to an NHS dentist are able to do so.

25 April 2013

(S4O-02039) Cod Recovery Plan

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the Scottish Government what recent representations it has made to the European Commission regarding the cod recovery plan. (S4O-02039)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (Richard Lochhead): The Scottish Government met the European Commission as recently as 15 April to press our case for changes to the cod recovery plan and, in particular, for Scottish vessels that catch very little cod to be made exempt from limits on their days at sea. My officials will continue to discuss that issue with the Commission at every opportunity. I hope to discuss it with the commissioner when I attend the next Council of Ministers meeting in May.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the minister aware that, once again, we are likely to see the unnecessary and early closure of a number of valuable fisheries, which will threaten livelihoods in communities across Scotland? Can the minister tell the chamber what action might stem from the European Commission, in particular in delivering greater control that we might exercise over our fisheries stocks?

Richard Lochhead: The Scottish Government’s intention is to ensure that our fisheries remain open for as long as possible throughout the next year—indeed, we achieved that in 2012. However, the cod recovery plan is dysfunctional; it is made in Brussels and it is inappropriate for Scottish circumstances and Scottish waters. That is why more of these decisions have to be taken closer to home. In the meantime, we are arguing for the cod recovery plan to be much more appropriate for our circumstances and for it to be flexible. At the moment, it encourages vessels to target cod, not to avoid cod, which is counterproductive to the aims of the plan.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD): The cabinet secretary will be aware that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea scientific figures for 2012 show that the spawning stock biomass of cod in the North Sea is two and a half times larger now than it was in 2006. In the light of that, is he prepared to say that the cod recovery plan has come to the end of its useful life and that it should be abolished?

Also, when will regional management take over in the North Sea?

Richard Lochhead: I have just said that the cod recovery plan is not fit for purpose; the huge sacrifices that have been made by the Scottish fleet over the past decade or so are paying dividends, as illustrated by the statistics that Tavish Scott just read out. We have to have conservation policies in place, but the cod recovery plan is not fit for purpose. The sooner we have regionalisation, which I hope will happen as soon as possible, the sooner we will be able to have appropriate policies in place in Scottish waters.

17 April 2013

(S4O-01991) Education Systems

7. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with other Administrations regarding their education systems and the lessons that can be learned. (S4O-01991)

The Minister for Children and Young People (Aileen Campbell): We are always pleased to learn from other countries’ experience in delivering education services. Stewart Stevenson may recall that in May of last year Dr Pasi Sahlberg, the director general for the Centre for International Mobility and Co-operation in Helsinki, spoke to the Scottish Parliament on lessons from Finland on its approach to education. In December of last year, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning met Leighton Andrews, the Welsh education minister, and discussed delivery of education services in Wales. That was followed by a meeting between officials to look at the Welsh approach to delivering education.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the interaction with Finland, Wales and, I am sure, a number of other countries. Will the minister comment on the improvement partnership programme in particular and how it will improve attainment? Can she provide a guarantee that we will not see the introduction of league tables in Scotland as we have seen elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

Aileen Campbell: The improvement partnership programme is designed to facilitate schools working together either within local authorities or across local authority boundaries. The schools that are involved will learn from each other techniques and approaches that have been successful in raising attainment.

We will work closely with key stakeholders, including the Association of Directors of Education in Scot land and School Leaders Scotland, to devise the details of the scheme, including the criteria for schools that are partnering with each other. However, it is clear that crude data comparisons will not be suitable for the purpose. Each relationship will be a long-term one and it will be of mutual benefit to all the schools and departments that are involved.

Partnership will be voluntary. In direct reply to Stewart Stevenson’s point about league tables, in his speech at the University of Glasgow in March the cabinet secretary indicated that the right decision was made not to publish league tables in Scotland, and I can guarantee that that will continue.

27 March 2013

(S4O-01965) Highlands and Islands (Culture)

1. Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to directly promote, sustain and develop the unique culture of the Highlands and Islands. (S4O-01965)

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs (Fiona Hyslop):

The Scottish Government is a strong supporter of the unique culture of the Highlands and Islands. Along with our national agencies and other partners, we have been working to sustain and celebrate the heritage and cultural life of the Highlands and Islands and promote the area. We are particularly keen to support our Gaelic heritage, which is why Creative Scotland provides regular funding to Fèis Rois to support its important work in the area.

This year as we celebrate the year of natural Scotland, we have a further opportunity to spotlight, celebrate and promote the outstanding natural beauty and landscapes of the region to our people and our visitors. The programme for the year comprises more than 40 potential flagship events including the Hebridean Celtic festival in the Western Isles. In addition, Creative Scotland has provided more than £100,000 as part of the year of natural Scotland open fund to support cultural projects in the Highlands and islands. Of course, Historic Scotland is investing in a major representation of Iona abbey, 1,450 years since St Columbus first settled on Iona.

Rhoda Grant: The minister will be aware that Moray Council has cut its arts funding by 100 per cent, which will mean the closure of more than seven libraries, the loss of an arts development officer, the withdrawal of funding for museums, and an impact on the viability of 33 local arts groups in Moray. What discussions has the Scottish Government had with Moray Council to mitigate those swingeing cuts? What is the council’s statutory responsibility to the arts?

Fiona Hyslop: On the latter point, the council’s only statutory responsibility is in relation to libraries, as the member might well know. It is deeply disappointing that Moray Council has taken that step, and it is in contrast to the actions of many other local authorities. Indeed, only last week I visited East Ayrshire Council, which really embraces culture in every aspect, and Moray Council would do well to learn from the experience of East Ayrshire Council.

Moray Council is an autonomous body, as the member well knows. A flat cash financial settlement was provided for local authorities and across Scotland, and it is quite clear that many local authorities are doing what East Ayrshire Council is doing. The Scottish Government has worked hard to protect local government and cultural spend and it is deeply disappointing that councillors in Moray have done otherwise. I hope that they will revisit their decision but, at the end of the day, as I reported to the Education and Culture Committee in Parliament, national Government cannot be the funder of last resort in decisions that have been made by autonomous local authorities. Those councillors will have to face their own electorate on that.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): In addition to the cuts in Moray that Rhoda Grant has talked about, I understand that the number of principal teachers is likely to be cut. Does the cabinet secretary agree that cultural appreciation starts in schools and it is very much to be regretted if the Independent and Tory-led council in Moray makes those cuts as well?

Fiona Hyslop: Education and culture clearly go hand in hand, and the Government has provided its creative education toolkit. I reiterate the importance of music, drama and arts in our education system.

Last night I attended a fantastic performance at my local school, Linlithgow academy. The spring concert saw hundreds of youngsters performing and celebrating their creativity, arts and culture. Tribute should be paid to the principal teacher of music in that school, and to all the teachers across Scotland who keep alive the burning spirit and enthusiasm for arts and culture.

14 March 2013

(S4F-01243) Business Growth

6. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the First Minister what actions the Scottish Government will take to assist growth in the business sector. (S4F-01243)

The First Minister (Alex Salmond): The Scottish Government is supporting and will continue to support business growth and innovation to the full extent of our current powers. Support for schools, colleges, universities and skills provides business with a skilled workforce and world-class research. A total of £564 million of relief has been awarded to Scottish businesses since the introduction of the small business bonus scheme, which I believe has been a lifeline for many of our small businesses across Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: Has the First Minister noted the contrast between the growing optimism that is expressed through this week’s purchasing managers index, and international sentiment, which led to the downgrading of the United Kingdom’s credit rating? Can he indicate what that and the recent “Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland” report might have to tell us about Scotland’s prospects now and after independence?

The First Minister: We can confidently assume that the initials “AAA” will not be used by the bitter together campaign for a substantial time to come. The purchasing managers index is a helpful and welcome sign of economic recovery in Scotland. However, there are still serious problems across the economy, which is why it is important that next week focuses the mind and attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on following the consistent advice from this Government, the Welsh Administration and the Northern Irish Administration to bring about the investment, particularly the capital investment, that this economy badly needs to bring us out of the present economic conditions.

Now that one bit of the Tory-Liberal Administration is—well, I was going to be nasty, but I will not. “Better some sinners repenteth,” is what we have to say to the calls for increased capital investment by members of the coalition. Let us hope that they can carry their Tory members with them in the budget next week and that we can look for serious investment to get us out of economic recession.

13 March 2013

(S4O-01905) Local Meat and Poultry

1. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting the campaign to encourage consumers to buy local meat and poultry. (S4O-01905)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (Richard Lochhead): To build on the recent upsurge in consumer demand for locally sourced meat, which has resulted in more than 90 per cent of butcher shops recording increased sales, the Scottish Government has provided an additional £1 million to Quality Meat Scotland to fund a number of promotional activities to further strengthen the visibility and provenance that underpin the Scotch label. I urge retailers and every outlet that serves food to buy local, and I urge consumers to buy and eat local.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the additional money for Quality Meat Scotland. Does the cabinet secretary agree not only that efforts to buy local support local businesses, agriculture and the economy and cut the carbon footprint of eating at our dinner tables, but that buying Scotland’s world-renowned and responsibly sourced beef, poultry and seafood is a natural solution for dealing with mislabelled food?

Richard Lochhead: Yes, I agree with those sentiments. Buying good-quality produce from local shops certainly means a shorter supply chain and, in the case of meat at local butchers, full traceability. That can only be a good thing for a number of reasons. For example, it involves fewer food miles, and Scotch beef has a smaller carbon footprint than beef from a number of other countries throughout the world. There are a number of win-wins, so I urge people to buy local and I urge retailers to source local.

Alex Fergusson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con): Will the cabinet secretary acknowledge the effectiveness of Dumfries and Galloway’s Savour the Flavours initiative? Does he agree that that organisation provides a good example of how a local food-related network can operate? Will he give an update to Parliament on the progress of the think local initiative, which he announced last October but of which not an awful lot has been heard since?

Richard Lochhead: I commend the work of Savour the Flavours in Dumfries and Galloway. I support people being able to sample and enjoy products from their local larder, which is promoted by such local food networks. There are also benefits for local tourism.

To help to promote such initiatives throughout Scotland, the think local initiative will be launched this summer. Last autumn, I announced a number of initiatives, of which that is one, to help to promote the agenda throughout 2013 and certainly in the run-up to the major events in 2014.

6 March 2013

Statement: Basing Review

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a statement by Keith Brown on the basing review. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Is the minister aware of the bitterness that burns bright in Moray at the closure of RAF Kinloss? The minister has indicated that there will be a small increase in personnel numbers at Kinloss. In theory, that is welcome. However, is he aware that that takes no account of the P45s that are being dished out by the UK Administration with gay abandon and which will negate the effect of that increase? The bitterness remains.

The Minister for Transport and Veterans (Keith Brown): That is the background against which the decision was taken and the statement made by the UK Government. We have seen a vast number of redundancies. We are told by the MOD that there will be 5,000 more redundancies across the UK—1,000 may perhaps come from Scotland. Of course, P45s are being delivered to troops on the front line in Afghanistan. Who would have thought that a Conservative Government would have reduced itself to that?

It is absolutely the case that Scotland will lose out badly, not least because, as Stewart Stevenson has mentioned, the cuts take money out of local communities. If you reduce a base that was supposed to have 1,500 personnel to 900, you are removing a huge chunk of finance from that local community. As I said at the start of my statement, the decision will have an impact on Scotland socially and economically.

(S4O-01867) Offshore Wind

6. Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab):

To ask the Scottish Government what contribution Scotland’s offshore wind resources will make to meeting European Union renewable energy targets. (S4O-01867)

The Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism (Fergus Ewing): With over one quarter of the European offshore wind resource, Scotland is ideally placed to make a significant contribution to the European Union target of generating 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Lewis Macdonald: Does Fergus Ewing acknowledge that it is because Aberdeen has the highest concentration of offshore energy expertise anywhere in Europe that the EU wants to invest in a wind energy deployment centre in Aberdeen bay? Does he agree that it is important to send out the right signals about the priority that Scotland gives to further development of offshore wind technologies?

Fergus Ewing: As Lewis Macdonald will be aware, Scottish ministers must refrain from commenting on live applications: it would not be appropriate for me to make specific comment on any application that is before us.

However, to answer the question in a general sense, it is absolutely correct that Aberdeen possesses expertise in oil and gas, some of which can be transferred to assist in developments in the offshore wind sector. That knowledge, together with knowledge from the fishing industry about how to operate in the cruel seas around Scotland’s waters, is an essential ingredient for the success of the offshore industry. Lewis Macdonald’s point is well made.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Are the uncertainties and delays in the UK Government’s energy market reform impeding progress in our meeting the renewable energy targets?

Fergus Ewing: We are extremely concerned about what is, in effect, an investment hiatus, because there are simply no rules for the post-2017 future incentivisation of renewable energy, and of offshore wind in particular. We therefore urge the UK Government to end the uncertainty and to provide answers on EMR as quickly as possible, otherwise—the industry has warned—we risk leaking investment to Germany and France, and we risk jeopardising an industry that could contribute a great deal to Scotland and the rest of the UK.

A report by Cambridge Econometrics says that the success of offshore wind by 2030 could add nearly 1 per cent to United Kingdom gross domestic product. That is what is at stake. Therefore, we are working with the UK Government to end the uncertainty as quickly as possible.

24 January 2013

(S4O-01734) Scottish Household Survey (Volunteering)

6. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the recent Scottish household survey suggesting that up to 30 per cent of adults volunteer. (S4O-01734)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth (John Swinney): The Scottish household survey captures the percentage of adults in Scotland who volunteer in a formal way. We know that many people also volunteer in an informal way through helping friends or neighbours. In reality, the percentage of people who volunteer will be higher than the survey suggests.

Stewart Stevenson: I am delighted to hear that the figure may be even higher. In the past year, we have had very successful volunteering around the Olympic games. The 2014 Commonwealth games will soon start recruiting its team of volunteers. What lessons can Scotland learn from the volunteering practices of the Olympic games and how can that serve to encourage others to involve themselves in volunteering at community level in general?

John Swinney: On the specific point around the lessons learned from the London 2012 experience, the 2014 organising committee has worked closely with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to learn lessons from the London experience. That has flowed through into the opening of the volunteer recruitment programme for the Glasgow games in 2014, which has got off to a really good start in terms of the interest and involvement of members of the public. Clearly, we would encourage more individuals to volunteer for the Commonwealth games, which will be a tremendously exciting and dynamic opportunity for volunteering, as were the London games.

In general, of course, the Government values enormously the contribution that volunteers make to the provision of services and support to individuals in our society and recognises the significant contribution that individuals make in that regard.

Fiona McLeod (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP): I and some other members of the Scottish Parliament have volunteered to be volunteers at the Commonwealth games. Will the cabinet secretary join me in encouraging employers to help folk to attend training for being volunteers for the wonderful opportunity in 2014?

John Swinney: I certainly echo those sentiments. I can confirm that the Scottish Government has amended its staff special leave policy to allow staff to take up to five days special leave to volunteer at the games. Although it is not within my province, I understand that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body has taken a similar decision. The games are such a unique opportunity for Glasgow and the people of Scotland that a positive response from employers would be very welcome. From my experience of encountering volunteers who participated in the London games, I know that it was clearly a landmark occasion in their lives. I encourage employers to make volunteering for the Commonwealth games possible and practical for members of their staff in Scotland.

9 January 2013

(S4O-01663) National Performing Companies and Cultural Collections (Support)

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to support national performing companies and cultural collections. (S4O-01663)

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs (Fiona Hyslop):

The Scottish Government places great importance on supporting our five national performing companies and our national collections. I have managed to protect their budgets over the spending review period, keeping reductions as low as possible.

The Scottish Government’s draft 0 3-14 budget sets out support of £23.6 million for the national performing companies and £72.9 million for the cultural collections. Within that, I have managed to protect the £350,000 international touring fund to ensure that our performing companies can continue to operate abroad. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, for example, has just completed a highly successful tour of China, promoting its great music and Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: The support that the cabinet secretary indicated is welcome, but will she also indicate what provision the Government is making to support repairs and maintenance of existing cultural collections in particular?

Fiona Hyslop: Clearly, repairs and maintenance put pressure on the capital budget. The 2013-14 draft budget that has been set out includes a capital budget of £17 million, which is almost double the £8.7 million that was allocated in the 2011 spending review. Of that, £6.7 million has been allocated to the collections to support capital projects.

As part of John Swinney’s announcement on 19 December, I managed to secure a further £4 million in 2013-14 for capital projects for the national collections and performing companies. It is essential that the fabric of our national collections and the provision for them and our companies are in a state that allows us to maintain the high-quality, world-class offering that we have.

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