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.

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