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29 November 2018

(S5O-02632) Personal Independence Payment and Disability Living Allowance (Delivery)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the Scottish National Party Government will maintain disability benefits, not cut them; ensure that they remain universal, not means tested; and reform the disability assessment process to ensure that it works for service users and that disability assessments will be carried out by the public sector in Social Security Scotland?

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville): The member is right to point to all those commitments that the Government has made. We are committed to maintaining the level of the disability benefits that are paid to individuals and to raise it annually by at least the rate of inflation. We will also protect disability assistance by ensuring that benefits continue to be non-means tested.

We are involving people who receive those benefits in the design of our system’s process for disability benefits. I therefore know that they want to ensure that the assessments are undertaken in-house by Social Security Scotland, ensuring that the DWP and private sector agencies will no longer be involved in the assessment process.

1 November 2018

Statement: Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I welcome the rigorous checking of the Don crossing, which revealed that it is not currently fit for purpose. Opening a duff bridge would not have been a good idea under any circumstances.

In the light of Liam Kerr’s demands for a contingency plan, has the cabinet secretary had any communication from the Conservatives that suggests, as Liam Kerr seemed to, that we should be opening the bridge when it is not yet safe?

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson): I am not aware of having received anything from Liam Kerr on this matter in particular. However, if he has a particular plan, I would be more than interested to hear it.

One thing that Mr Kerr can be absolutely assured of is that we will not risk people’s safety with regard to the work that is being carried out at the bridge. We will ensure that that is carried out to the highest quality in a timely fashion. We are working with the contractor to ensure that that is the case and that the bridge will serve the community in the decades ahead.

We will not get into setting an arbitrary date that could compromise that work being carried out. I know that members might want us to set a date now, but the contractors are clear that, given the technical nature of the work, they cannot give a specific date, because a key part of the work is weather sensitive. Had that remedial work not been necessary, we would not be in this position.

As I have said, once a specific date has been provided by the contractor, we will be in a position to tell people what that date will be.

Statement: Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Annual Target Report)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): When he appeared in front of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee recently, John Gummer, the chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change, said that it would be challenging to deliver an answer for the UK—with reference to both Scotland and Wales—by March next year. Is the cabinet secretary satisfied that it was correct to jointly commission advice, and will Scotland get particular advice that will be useful for us?

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): Climate change is a global issue and it requires a cross-border response; we are probably in the right place to do that. No one country will deliver the whole solution, so the joint letter that was signed was an appropriate way to make progress. Obviously, some of our activity is influenced by the ambitions and actions of neighbours. I referenced in my statement the issue with the gas grid. For those reasons, I think that joining the UK and Welsh Governments was the right thing to do.

I have asked that the advice be available in time for the Scottish Parliament both to consider it and to complete the passage of the climate change bill before the summer recess. However, the most important thing from the point of view of the bill is that our decisions are informed by the advice of the UK Committee on Climate Change. I would not want the bill to proceed before we have that advice. The plan is to get that advice in a timely manner to allow us to take the bill forward, but let us see whether the UK Committee on Climate Change can do so in the timescale that we have asked for.

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