3 December 2014

(S4O-03766) Raising Attainment for All Programme

6. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how the raising attainment for all programme is raising the standards of education in schools. (S4O-03766)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning (Angela Constance): Raising attainment and reducing educational inequality is a top priority for the Scottish Government, Education Scotland and all our partners. The raising attainment for all programme was launched in June this year. It involves more than 150 schools from 12 local authorities and it brings a structured approach to improvement into Scottish schools. The raising attainment for all programme will complement the other work that was announced in the programme for government, including the read, write, count campaign and the creation of attainment advisers for every local authority through Education Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the minister’s answer and the Government’s ambition. Can she explain further how the programme is going to make a difference in breaking the connection that currently exists between social deprivation and the level of educational achievement for too many pupils?

Angela Constance: Of course, poverty does not stop at the school gates. We know that poverty can undermine our efforts to make progress and Westminster policies are undeniably making the situation more challenging. However, education brings choices and opportunities. It brings routes out of poverty for children and young people and it can and should be the key to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, which can be all too real in modern-day Scotland.

The raising attainment for all programme and the other interventions that I mentioned will indeed help schools to focus relentlessly on doing everything that they can to erode that connection between deprivation and poor educational attainment.

20 November 2014

(S4O-03730) Welfare Reform (Impact Analysis)

10. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what analysis has been published of the impact of welfare reform across Scotland. (S4O-03730)

The Minister for Housing and Welfare (Margaret Burgess): The Scottish Government has published a range of analysis, reflecting significant concern about how welfare reform is impacting on people across Scotland.

That includes analysis of how women and disabled people are being disproportionately affected by the reforms; of how the number of sanctions has been increasing over time; of how food aid provision has grown over time, which is partly because of the impact of sanctions; and of how, over the six years to 2015-16, the cumulative impact of all welfare reform changes means reductions of around £6 billion in welfare expenditure in Scotland. All the analysis is available on the Scottish Government website.

Stewart Stevenson: If welfare and social policy are devolved to this place, as indeed they should be under the vow, how will the Government use that to tackle poverty and create a fairer society?

Margaret Burgess: Our proposals will focus on equipping the Scottish Parliament with the powers to create more jobs, tackle inequality and protect public services in order to create a wealthier and fairer society.

5 November 2014

(S4O-03633) Energy Efficiency (Funding)

3. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what communication it has received from the United Kingdom Government regarding the extra £100 million of funding to be available for household energy efficiency. (S4O-03633)

The Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism (Fergus Ewing): We were informed of the proposed measure on the morning of the holding of a Liberal Democrat party conference at which the announcement was made, and only after the press was informed in a release. No further information has been received from the UK Government since 7 October, despite officials’ attempts to seek such clarity on five separate occasions. Perhaps stimulated by the publication of Mr Stevenson’s question, high-level details of the amounts of proposed funding were eventually received yesterday from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the minister and congratulate myself on my success.

Is the minister aware of WWF’s report “The Economics of Climate Change Policy in the UK”, which shows that the installation of energy efficiency measures in the UK dropped in 2011 and 2012? Does he accept that that drop and the current incoherence of UK policy makes it more difficult for us to meet our insulation and fuel poverty targets?

Fergus Ewing: I do. It does not make it any easier to efficiently administer a good scheme, because we do not know what the budget is and what the conditions are. At the moment, the scheme is reserved to Westminster. Were we to have had power in this Parliament to administer the scheme ourselves, we would have been able to make a start. Now that we have the information, we will get on with it. I am pleased that we have paid out on 19,670 vouchers for households in Scotland; indeed, we spend almost 10 times as much on energy efficiency per household in Scotland as they do in England.

9 October 2014

(S4O-03594) Hybrid Ferries (Low-carbon Targets)

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how investment in hybrid ferries will contribute to meeting its low-carbon targets. (S4O-03594)

The Minister for Transport and Veterans (Keith Brown): The Scottish Government has invested more than £20 million to construct two hybrid ferries, the MV Hallaig and the MV Lochinvar. Mr Stevenson was involved in the project from its early days and cut the first steel for the MV Hallaig in January 2012.

On 29 September, the Deputy First Minister announced that a third hybrid ferry would be ordered from Ferguson Marine Engineering. Those low-emission hybrid ferries, built in Scotland, are helping to contribute to the Scottish Government’s targets on cutting climate change emissions, with initial operational experience indicating around a 28 per cent fuel saving and an associated reduction in carbon emissions.

Stewart Stevenson: The announcement of the third hybrid ferry is welcome. I was pleased to be associated with the previous initiatives.

What investment is being made in other forms of public transport in Scotland to ensure that targets on carbon emissions are met?

Keith Brown: The Scottish Government invests more than £1 billion a year in public and sustainable transport to encourage people on to public transport and active travel modes. As I announced yesterday in relation to the new ScotRail franchise, Abellio has committed to a range of carbon-saving initiatives that includes at least 3,500 additional cycle parking spaces, a sustainability innovation fund of £100,000 a year and the installation of electric car charging points in at least 50 station car parks. In addition, Stewart Stevenson will of course be aware that, since 2010, we have invested more than £10 million to support the purchase of 126 green buses.

8 October 2014

Statement: Future of Scotland’s Railways

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a statement by Keith Brown on the future of Scotland’s railways. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I welcome the substantial staff improvements and new jobs that will come with the new franchise: the living wage, trade unions on the board, 100 new apprentices and the protection of pensions and travel rights. Is it not the case that we must move ahead urgently to deliver those things for staff now, rather than have staff wait for years—perhaps forever—for new railway powers to come to the Scottish Parliament? It is simply not the time to put Scotland on hold, especially for an indeterminate period.

The Minister for Transport and Veterans (Keith Brown): Stewart Stevenson is exactly right. It strikes me that people like Mark Griffin have to try to get over the fact that they were on the winning side in the referendum. Power over these things rests at Westminster. There is no guarantee of powers—I do not know whether Mark Griffin signed the petition to make sure that we get extra powers. If we were to delay or cancel the contract, that would impact on the new trains that we are ordering, on fares, on the benefits of the new services—reduced fares would not apply—and on the enhanced benefits for staff, including there being no compulsory redundancies in the whole term of the contract and the living wage being paid to every member of staff, whether they are subcontracted or directly employed. Those are real advances for the people who serve the customers. There are also real advances for the customers themselves.

People in Scotland will be interested in the Labour Party’s opposition to this material advance for fare-paying passengers and the staff who provide the services.

6 August 2014

(S4O-03434) Commonwealth Games 2018

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): 4. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the assertion in the International Business Times about an independent Scotland’s participation in the 2018 Commonwealth games. (S4O-03434)

The Cabinet Secretary for Commonwealth Games, Sport, Equalities and Pensioners’ Rights (Shona Robison): Scotland is already a member of the Commonwealth through the United Kingdom and so already meets the essential requirements. Following a vote for independence, the Scottish Government will initiate steps to ensure Scotland’s distinct membership as swiftly as possible.

Scotland is one of only six countries to have competed in every Commonwealth games, and I look forward to seeing Scotland compete at the Gold Coast games in 2018 and at every future games.

Stewart Stevenson: I hope to join the successful team in competing in 2018. More realistically, does the cabinet secretary think that we have laid the foundations for an even bigger success in 2018—using the powers of independence, of course?

Shona Robison: We already have a fantastic world-class sporting system through the sportscotland Institute of Sport, which oversaw £50 million of investment in sporting performance in the previous funding period.

That investment led to a fantastic performance—53 medals, including 19 gold medals—at the Glasgow Commonwealth games. That will be a tough target to exceed at the Gold Coast games in 2018, but through support for our elite athletes, which will of course continue post independence, we will ensure that they continue to excel on the world sporting stage.

29 May 2014

Statement: Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests in relation to my membership of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

On objective B3-12, on “Improving driver skills”, is the minister aware that driving 10mph slower delivers 10 per cent cash savings and 10 per cent emissions savings for only a 2 to 3 per cent average speed reduction on journeys? Will the minister commission work to identify how we might develop a response to that in a Scottish context?

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Paul Wheelhouse): I know that Stewart Stevenson has a long-standing, close interest in the issue. Yes, reducing speed will have a benefit in reducing emissions through fuel-efficient driving. We are enabling people to become responsible drivers, reducing emissions, not just through speed control but through other measures such as gear selection to drive more efficiently.

We have funded the Energy Saving Trust to provide 2,000 FuelGood sessions this year. We are also continuing to examine demand to ensure that we can support as many drivers as possible.

On the specific issue about whether to commission work, I will have a discussion with Keith Brown on the matter, as it cuts across his portfolio interests. I promise to raise the issue with Mr Brown to see whether there is any possibility of examining what the impact could be on our climate emission targets.

24 April 2014

(S4O-03140) Alternatives to Superfast Broadband

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what alternative services are available for premises not covered by the superfast broadband programme. (S4O-03140)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities (Nicola Sturgeon): The digital Scotland superfast broadband programme, underpinned by £410 million of public and private sector investment, will extend access to superfast broadband infrastructure to 85 per cent of premises by 2015-16 and more than 95 per cent by 2017-18. In parallel, we have established community broadband Scotland, a £5 million initiative that is supporting the development of community-led schemes in those areas least likely to have a superfast service delivered by the main programme. More generally, ADSL and satellite broadband services are currently available to almost all premises in Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: Would independence provide the opportunity to impose a universal service obligation for broadband that would leave no areas of the country uncovered? I have a personal interest, as I am currently living in one of the remaining 5 per cent of premises.

Nicola Sturgeon: This is an important point, and Labour members might be well advised to listen to the answer. Stewart Stevenson is right to say that independence, in providing the opportunity to align policy, taxation funding and regulation, could help to deliver a more coherent overall approach to ensuring access to broadband right across the country. An extended universal service obligation for broadband could certainly play a part in that.

As Stewart Stevenson will be aware, current European Union rules require member states to set a minimum USO to all end users at an affordable price. In Scotland, if we become independent, that will operate at least at the same level as the rest of the United Kingdom, but independence offers the opportunity for us to go beyond that target.

27 March 2014

(S4O-03048) Open-source Software

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): 4. To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what consideration it has given to making greater use of open-source software. (S4O-03048)

David Stewart (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body): The corporate body is making use of a number of open-source software products in the information technology network, and we will continue to evaluate products on their merits as new requirements emerge.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the corporate body aware that jurisdictions around the world—including the European Parliament, which uses the Jahia content management system—are using more open-source software? Given the quality benefits of open scrutiny of source code, and the potential for financial savings in adopting open-source programmes, can we consider testing selected software with members with a view to rolling it out more widely if it proves to be satisfactory?

David Stewart: I know that Mr Stevenson has, after 30 years working with IT in banking services, wide experience in this area. He is right to say that open-source approaches are developed in a much more open manner by like-minded people; the programming code can be seen, and the software is generally free to use and—some people argue—more robust. It has also been argued that there are more minds available to solve any problems that arise.

To date, however, no new contracts have been awarded for open-source products. The corporate body’s procurement procedures ensure that the selection criteria are published in advance of any submission and are based on the outcomes and outputs that we need to achieve. As a result, it is open to suppliers to propose how those outcomes and outputs will be achieved, and the solution that they believe would best meet our criteria.

26 February 2014

(S4O-02929) Scotland Act 2012 (Tax Avoidance)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): 3. To ask the Scottish Government how it will tackle avoidance of the taxes devolved under the Scotland Act 2012. (S4O-02929)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth (John Swinney): I have made clear this Government’s determination to act decisively on avoidance of devolved taxes. The Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill, which is currently before Parliament, contains powers that will enable revenue Scotland to take robust action to counteract tax avoidance, and we have included anti-avoidance measures in both the devolved taxes acts that this Parliament has already passed.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the cabinet secretary aware that the latest HM Revenue and Customs figures report that the United Kingdom Government is failing to collect £35 billion in taxes through avoidance schemes, illegal tax dodging and mistaken underpayments? Given that Scotland’s share of the amount that is being lost to the UK Treasury is approximately £3.47 billion, can the minister tell us how Scotland would benefit between now and 2016 if the UK Government were to implement a general anti-avoidance rule?

John Swinney: As I made clear to Parliament in the introduction of the Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill, the bill will include a general anti-avoidance rule that is simple and more comprehensive than the corresponding provisions that the UK Government is considering. Our general anti-avoidance rule is designed to catch artificial tax-avoidance arrangements, whereas the UK approach is based on a narrow test of abuse.

Our general anti-avoidance rule will, of course, apply only to devolved taxes. If we had the ability to apply it across the full range of taxes, we could apply the ethos and approach that I have set out to consideration of wider taxation issues.

In introducing the Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill, I have made it clear that I want Parliament to consider and to test the provisions that the Government is putting in place. If there are measures that Parliament believes would strengthen the general anti-avoidance rule that we have advanced, I would be very open to considering them and to ensuring that Scotland embarks on its approach to tax collection with as robust an approach to tackling tax avoidance as possible.

5 February 2014

(S4O-02882) British Embassies (Scotland’s Interests)

6. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what it considers the role of British embassies should be in promoting Scotland’s interests. (S4O-02882)

The Minister for External Affairs and International Development (Humza Yousaf): As is set out in the concordat on international relations that forms part of the memorandum of understanding on devolution, the Scottish Government considers that United Kingdom embassies, high commissions and other missions overseas should serve the United Kingdom and all its constituent parts, which of course includes the promotion of Scotland and Scottish interests, whether they be trade and investment interests, diaspora engagement or geopolitical interests.

Stewart Stevenson: Can the minister confirm that, although any European Union embassy is available to our citizens when they are in distress, the promotion of Scottish interests is the responsibility of United Kingdom embassies alone?

Is the minister aware of any significant UK embassy activity that is aimed at promoting Scottish interests that took place on recent important Scottish days such as St Andrew’s day and Burns night?

Humza Yousaf: To be fair to British high commissions, I say that when I have travelled abroad in my ministerial role in the past year and a half, I have found they tend to hold Scotland-themed days—but those are on one day out of 365. I saw with concern the Business for Scotland article that reported that the organisation had contacted 20 UK embassies around the world, including in Paris, Berlin, Brasilia and other key Scottish markets, but not a single one had planned any function or wider form of activity to promote Scotland’s national day. It is only with independence and our own network of embassies that we will promote Scotland and the interests of our people 365 days a year.

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