29 May 2008

(S3O-3515) Fuel Costs (South of Scotland)

29th May 2008

Fuel Costs (South of Scotland)

7. Jim Hume (South of Scotland) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what assistance it will make available for drivers in the south of Scotland facing rising fuel costs. (S3O-3515)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

We are pressing the United Kingdom Government to introduce a fuel duty regulator in order to achieve a sustainable long-term solution to fuel costs for businesses and communities.

Within our devolved powers, a network of trainers to deliver safe and fuel-efficient driving to heavy goods vehicle drivers has been established, which is now delivering training commercially. Assessment from the earlier demonstration stage showed that such training would produce average savings on fuel costs of 10 per cent, which is equivalent to an annual saving of £2,170 per driver.

In addition, we are committed to establishing a network of trainers to deliver SAFED training for van drivers. For car drivers, the Energy Saving Trust continues to promote eco-driving and is developing a marketing strategy to encourage uptake. Information on eco-driving and vehicle efficiency will also be available through the regional energy saving Scotland advice networks.

Jim Hume: I thank the minister for his long answer. People in rural areas such as the south of Scotland need real action now. The Highlands and Islands, which last night's members' business debate focused on, is not the only part of the country that is affected. Vast areas of the south of Scotland are in difficulty. Have the minister's deliberations with the UK Government involved consideration of schemes such as the rural discount scheme in France, which the UK Government agreed to?

Stewart Stevenson: My colleagues in the Westminster Parliament have tabled an amendment to the UK Finance Bill, which seeks the establishment of a fuel duty regulator. I hope that it will have the whole-hearted and committed support of all members of that House who pretend to—or who perhaps do—represent Scottish interests.

(S3O-3473) Edinburgh Trams

29th May 2008

Edinburgh Trams

2. David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had recently with the City of Edinburgh Council and tie Ltd regarding the financing of the Edinburgh trams project. (S3O-3473)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

No recent discussions have taken place with the City of Edinburgh Council regarding the financing of the Edinburgh trams project other than normal discussions concerning the administration of the Scottish Government's £500 million contribution to the project.

David McLetchie: Is the minister aware that the revised estimated cost of phases 1a and 1b of the trams project is now £599 million? The Scottish Government has committed £500 million and the City of Edinburgh Council has committed £45 million, so there is a £54 million shortfall that has still to be funded. Will the minister advise us whether the Scottish National Party run council in Edinburgh is fully committed to meeting that shortfall from its resources and to building both those phases, and whether there have been discussions with the Government or any public agency on how it might be funded?

Stewart Stevenson: As David McLetchie will be aware, we committed to provide £500 million—capped at £500 million; no more than £500 million—for phase 1a. As an incentive to effective financial management, we agreed that, should our contribution to phase 1a need to be less than £500 million the change may be used for phase 1b.

There are a number of conditions to our continued support: that the City of Edinburgh Council accepts full responsibility for the project and any overruns; that the project continues to be affordable; that the cost benefit ratio continues to be above 1; and that there is no on-going subsidy from Government. None of those have changed since our original commitment.

Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): There is obviously potential for the business community to play a part in assisting financially. Will the minister agree to work with the council and tie to get funding in place from that direction, not only for phase 1a but for further tram developments in the capital?

Stewart Stevenson: I believe that the business community is very willing to engage, particularly in relation to phase 1b. It will of course be a matter for the City of Edinburgh Council, whose project it is, rather than for the Government. However, if it is felt that we can make a useful contribution to facilitating funding from the business community, we stand ready to assist.

15 May 2008

(S3O-3360) First ScotRail Franchise

15th May 2008

First ScotRail Franchise

12. Karen Whitefield (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what the cost to the public purse is of extending the ScotRail franchise. (S3O-3360)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The extension of the ScotRail franchise is expected to reduce the net cost to the public purse over the period to 2014.

Karen Whitefield: Is the minister aware that FirstGroup's ScotRail operating profits were reported as £11.4 million for 2006-07? Why, then, when extending the rail franchise, did he allow for up to £30 million of profits to be retained by FirstGroup annually before being capped? Why did he decide to move away from the Scottish National Party's pre-election commitment to consider running Scotland's railway through a not-for-profit trust, which would have ensured that all the operating surpluses were invested in our rail network?

Stewart Stevenson: It is always interesting to hear policy changes announced from the Labour benches. I will listen with interest to next week's episode.

The member is correct to point to £11.4 million of operating profits in 2006-07. I thought that the member was present when I gave evidence to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee on that very subject, in which I indicated that profits for the ScotRail franchise are rising rapidly. In consultation with external financial consultants, we estimate that profits will approach the £30 million cap that we have put in place, thus unreasonable profits will not be made by our franchisee. That is on top of the return of £70 million, regardless of performance—in other words, guaranteed—for us to invest in new railway services and new facilities throughout Scotland, including priced option 8, which provides for additional services to Shotts.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): Will the minister listen to an alternative version of that question, in which I ask him to confirm the benefit to the public purse of extending the ScotRail franchise?

Stewart Stevenson: There is substantial benefit from extending the ScotRail franchise. As a North East Scotland MSP, the member will be well aware of the improvements in rail services between Dundee and Aberdeen and between Aberdeen and Inverurie, which have created hourly services. Those improvements have put the most cost-effective parts of the long-discussed proposals for Aberdeen crossrail into operation, using money provided by the franchisee, not the Government.

(S3O-3322) Transport (Fife)

15th May 2008

Transport (Fife)

8. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what its transport priorities are for the Fife area. (S3O-3322)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Our priorities and our commitment to investing in transport links to Fife are clear through the construction of the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway; the removal of tolls on the Forth and Tay road bridges; the construction of the upper Forth crossing at Kincardine; and our decision to build the Forth replacement crossing, which is the biggest transport construction project in Scotland in modern times. We also await information about the Thornton to Levenmouth rail link.

Claire Baker: The minister will be aware that a Leven to Thornton rail link and improvements to the Redhouse interchange are high transport priorities for Fife Council. I hope that he will do all that he can to support the realisation of those projects. He may also be aware that a petition was submitted to the Parliament this week calling for improvements to the A92, particularly around Glenrothes. I am aware that there are competing priorities within Fife and a finite pot of money, but is he willing to consider the proposal for the A92 seriously and to meet me to discuss constituents' concerns about the road?

Stewart Stevenson: Claire Baker raises a number of issues. We had a useful debate on the Thornton to Levenmouth railway, in relation to which there are particular opportunities. We will consider the A92 in the context of the strategic transport projects review.

On the subject of railways, Claire Baker will be aware that the renegotiation of the ScotRail franchise has provided an additional hourly service that will run through Fife and additional trains from Markinch, and generally strengthened Fife services. We are providing substantial support to transport in Fife.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): Will the minister confirm that the first act of the Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive in 1999 was to cancel the dualling of the A92 from Glenrothes? Does he agree that the refusal of the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive and Labour Fife Council to invest in the transport infrastructure in Fife has left unrealised many projects that the various communities regard as priorities? Will he meet me to discuss how the Leven to Thornton junction railway can be progressed as a priority?

Stewart Stevenson: I apologise to Claire Baker, because I should have said to her that I will, of course, meet her to discuss any concerns that she has—as I will also, of course, meet the member for Central Fife.

I was not here in 1999, to my regret, but I am sure that Tricia Marwick is extremely well informed about the activities of the then Labour Executive. The role of this Government is to ensure that many of the areas of neglect in transport throughout Scotland are addressed.

Marilyn Livingstone (Kirkcaldy) (Lab): What plans does the Government have to upgrade the Redhouse interchange, which Claire Baker mentioned? All stakeholders in Fife agree that the interchange upgrade is of the highest priority in the social and economic regeneration of mid-Fife in particular, and Fife in general.

Stewart Stevenson: That is part of the strategic transport projects review, which is a formidable piece of work that was initiated some time ago and will report to ministers during the summer. We will see whether the Redhouse roundabout and any upgrades associated with it fall within the review or will be dealt with via the regional transport partnerships. [Interruption.]

My mobile phone was switched off when I stood up, Presiding Officer, but it seems not to be now.

We will consider the Redhouse roundabout in the context that I have just mentioned.

8 May 2008

(S3O-3236) Interisland Ferries

Interisland Ferries

8. Dave Thompson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what importance it places on small interisland ferries. (S3O-3236)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Scottish Government acknowledges the crucial role that small interisland ferry services have in ensuring that the remote communities that are served by them have access to essential goods and services and connectivity to onward destinations.

Dave Thompson: At present, the national concessionary fares scheme extends only to bus fares. Given the commitment of the Scottish Government to supporting fairer transport costs, will the minister look into the potential benefits of extending the scheme to all small interisland ferries?

Stewart Stevenson: The member will be aware that the concessionary fares scheme provides some support for ferry passengers in the Western Isles and elsewhere. We are reviewing the national scheme this year, and the issue that the member raises is one of the things that we will consider.

(S3O-3184) Air Discount Scheme

Air Discount Scheme

1. Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when it will review the operation of the air discount scheme. (S3O-3184)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): We reviewed the air discount scheme between August 2007 and January 2008. The European Commission accepted our subsequent request to continue the scheme for another three years from 1 April 2008.

Karen Gillon: Did the minister's review flag up the anomaly within the scheme that it discriminates against parents who do not live with their children on the islands and whose children are too young to travel alone to the mainland? I accept that only a very small number of parents will be in that position and that there will be a small cost to the Government. However, the issue impacts on the relationship between parent and child and the ability of some parents to fulfil their access provisions. Will the minister meet me to discuss what options are open to him to resolve the matter and enable parents in that situation to benefit from the air discount scheme when they make access visits to their children?

Stewart Stevenson: I know the member's interest in the subject and respect absolutely what she says. She touches on a real problem. There are provisions in the scheme whereby, if one parent lives on an island in one of the areas where the air discount scheme applies, that parent is entitled to buy tickets for their child. I would be happy to meet the member to discuss whether there are any practicable and affordable ways in which we can address what is an important issue for a small number of people.

Alasdair Allan (Western Isles) (SNP): I welcome the minister's comments on the matter. Does he expect the renewal of the air discount scheme to lead to an increase in the number of passengers who use Highlands and Islands airports?

Stewart Stevenson: There has been a substantial increase in the number of people who use air services to our remote and fragile communities, and there is every sign that we will continue to see growth in such traffic. That is a good indicator of the support that the Government continues to provide—as the previous Administration provided—to our remote communities, which are an important part of Scotland.

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