29 April 2010

(S3O-10306) A96 (Inveramsay Bridge)

6. Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress is being made to upgrade the A96 at the Inveramsay bridge. (S3O-10306)

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

We are progressing options to upgrade Inveramsay bridge with Network Rail as part of the wider priority of improving the Aberdeen to Inverness rail line. Once that work is completed, consultation on a preferred road alignment for the replacement Inveramsay bridge will take place as part of the upgrade of the A96.

Nanette Milne: I am somewhat disappointed that the minister is still not saying when we can expect to get rid of the bottleneck at Inveramsay, as promised by Alex Salmond in his 2007 election leaflet. People in Gordon expected action during this session of Parliament. With just a year to go and no road works yet in prospect, they are justifiably feeling a bit let down by the party in which they put their faith. When can we realistically expect action on the bridge? Are we looking at another broken promise?

Stewart Stevenson: The first and only action that has ever been taken to address the issue of Inveramsay bridge stems from the personal intervention of the member for Gordon. People in that constituency very much welcome the fact that we included the project in the strategic transport projects review. We have engaged in looking at the three options for road interventions. It is clear that working with Network Rail, in the context of our improving rail services for people between Aberdeen and Inverness, is likely to be the most effective way forward. We expect to get information from Network Rail on the options and the alignment. We are making the kind of progress that was never even contemplated by any previous Administration.

(S3O-10310) Domestic Aviation

5. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it supports an increase in domestic aviation between Scotland and other mainland United Kingdom airports. (S3O-10310)

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

The Scottish Government does not support an increase in domestic air services where practical and more environmentally friendly alternative forms of transport exist.

Patrick Harvie: That is encouraging. I have lost count of the number of times that the minister has told me in glowing terms of the statistics for his travel choices and his desire to reduce his reliance on domestic aviation. Why, then, is his neighbour in the ministerial tower, Jim Mather, responsible for an agency—VisitScotland—that is placing adverts in English newspapers that tell people to fly to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen for a day trip to Scotland? The adverts will either increase domestic aviation, in which case they are incompatible with the minister's previous answer, or they will not do so, in which case they are a waste of money.

Stewart Stevenson: My colleague Mr Mather is most vigorous, energetic and successful in promoting Scotland's economic development. I look with great interest at the work of High Speed Two Ltd, part of whose remit is to consider the case for extending sustainable transport—high-speed rail—to Scotland. If that key initiative is pursued, hundreds of flights per week will be taken out of domestic aviation from Scotland, to be replaced by effective, environmentally friendly means of transport. The Government is utterly committed to that; would that some others were.

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Notwithstanding the thrust of Patrick Harvie's question, will the minister examine how we can increase the number of domestic flights in and out of Wick airport, which has spare capacity? As a matter of priority, will he ask the enterprise network and his transport officials to examine how we can maximise that opportunity?

Stewart Stevenson: Wick airport is one airport where practical, more environmentally friendly options are substantially more limited, therefore it is an important part of the transport infrastructure for the far north of Scotland. I note, in particular, that take-up of the air discount scheme is lower in Caithness and the north of Scotland than elsewhere. I encourage people to register for the scheme, as that will reduce the cost of air travel and make journeys more effective. I talk regularly to the airlines that serve Wick, and we are supporting their operations. I will continue to talk to them and I have taken note of the issue that the member raises.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): Notwithstanding Patrick Harvie's views, I trust that the minister recognises the valuable contribution that Prestwick airport makes to the economy of Ayrshire, and, indeed, the equivalent contribution that I am sure airports make to other areas. I hope that the Scottish Government will continue to do everything possible, wherever and however it can, to support the development of Prestwick airport and the local jobs that rely upon it.

Stewart Stevenson: Prestwick airport is clearly an important part of the economy of the area that the member represents.

It may be appropriate to take the opportunity to thank airport operators for their substantial contribution to ensuring that transport continued to operate in a way that limited the damage that was done to transport choices recently when there was ash over the United Kingdom. They did a very good job.

22 April 2010

(S3O-10179) Concessionary Rail Travel (Fife)

9. Helen Eadie (Dunfermline East) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will intervene to ensure that the concessionary rail travel scheme in Fife is retained. (S3O-10179)

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

I understand that there are no plans to stop Fife's concessionary rail travel.

Helen Eadie: I suggest that the minister must improve communications with his colleagues in Fife, because there are certainly plans to remove the 50p travel scheme whereby those who benefit in Fife have the privilege of travelling to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee for only 50p each way. Does he share my profound concerns that Fife's old people are being hurt in a way that has never happened over the past three decades? Does he accept that every policy outcome of the Liberal Democrat and SNP administration on Fife Council has done nothing but bring harm to Fife's old people?

Stewart Stevenson: What concerns me, and should concern any member who seeks to represent Fife in any Parliament, is the grossly inaccurate misrepresentations that are seen on election addresses that are being distributed there. Even the Prime Minister's election material talks about SNP cuts to concessionary travel. If even the Prime Minister cannot get it right, let me here and now tell Labour candidates throughout Scotland that the concessionary travel scheme has been supported by the Scottish Government. We have increased support for the bus industry through the bus service operators grant to underpin the route network. The matter is absolutely safe in our hands. Margaret Curran is guilty of a similar misrepresentation. Someone who is standing on a manifesto that is inaccurate and false and who is a member of this Parliament should know better.

Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) (LD): Does the minister agree that the proposals that have been made by the administration on Fife Council provide good value not only for rail travellers but for all taxpayers in Fife?

Stewart Stevenson: I am very happy that our SNP colleagues are working with the Liberals to ensure that Fife has an effective rail concessionary travel scheme.

(S3O-10246) High-speed Rail Link

3. Gil Paterson (West of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the high-speed rail link. (S3O-10246)

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

There have been a number of discussions on that matter with the UK Government at ministerial and official levels, during which my officials and I have pressed Scotland's case for inclusion in a UK high-speed rail network.

Gil Paterson: Minister, in your discussions with the UK Government, will you remind its officials that, as part of the campaign for the Eurotunnel, Scotland was promised a direct link to Europe, which we are still waiting for? Can we learn from that experience and, when it comes to the high-speed rail link, insist that Scotland not be cheated and forgotten by London once again?

Stewart Stevenson: It was deeply disappointing that the rolling stock that was acquired at the time of the Eurotunnel to operate services from Scotland and other points north of London was never deployed and, indeed, was disposed of without ever being used for that purpose. We should learn lessons from that. However, I believe that the lesson is twofold: first, we must keep up the pressure and continue to make the case; and secondly—and more serious—we do not have to trust anything that we are told from the south.

15 April 2010

(S3O-10135) Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

19. Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government when ministers will make an announcement regarding the funding for the Aberdeen western peripheral route. (S3O-10135)

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

We expect, subject to value for money, to fund the Aberdeen western peripheral route through a privately financed non-profit-distributing contract.

Nanette Milne: The minister might be aware that numerous guesstimates of the likely cost of the AWPR are circulating in Aberdeen, put about by groups that are fundamentally opposed to the road. Will he give an assurance that accurate figures will be given to the north-east public at the earliest possible opportunity, with those figures to include the likely financial implications of the on-going objections from opponents of the road development?

Stewart Stevenson: There will be a cost if objections proceed in some of the ways that have been suggested. We will share any updates that come to hand, particularly with the two councils that are each responsible for 9.5 per cent of the funding. When we go to the market we will have to provide figures within which we expect bids to be made and, of course, those will be put into the public domain at that time.

(S3O-10074) Jarvis Rail and Fastline (Job Losses)

15. Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what representations it is making to Network Rail and other interested parties regarding recent decisions that have contributed to the loss of 1,200 jobs at Jarvis Rail and Fastline, which are in administration. (S3O-10074)

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

We deeply regret the news of the failure of Jarvis and the resulting job losses. However, the decisions that led to Jarvis going into administration are not devolved to the Scottish ministers. Scottish Government support for the railway underpins significant growth in employment, with more to come as our on-going programme is delivered. Our investment of £3.8 billion in the operation of the Scottish rail network between 2009-10 and 2013-14 also directly supports around 3,000 Network Rail employees in Scotland and many thousands more among Network Rail's contractor base.

Charlie Gordon: At least 70 of the jobs that I mentioned are based in Scotland. The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations do not apply because the companies are in administration. Will the minister ask the Scotland-based contractors to whom some of the work previously done by Jarvis employees has been diverted to consider employing those sacked Jarvis workers?

Stewart Stevenson: I have been engaged in the subject since meeting the Scottish Trades Union Congress last year. I wrote to Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation seeking assurances on renewals deferrals and seeking confirmation that the situation would not have implications for the skills base in Scotland. We will of course continue to ensure that we have skills in Scotland and that we have progress in renewals and development of the rail network. I am happy to do what the member suggests.

(S3O-10089) Glasgow Subway

12. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what recent discussions it has had with Strathclyde partnership for transport regarding the Glasgow subway. (S3O-10089)

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

I met David Fagan, the vice-chair of Strathclyde partnership for transport, and senior officials of the partnership on Tuesday, when I was given a presentation on its outline business case for modernisation of the subway. Government officials have been discussing the subject with SPT in recent months.

Pauline McNeill: The minister will be aware of the importance of Glasgow's subway system not only for the city itself but for the whole of Scotland, as 14 million passengers pass through the underground each year, and, as he outlined, he has heard about the modernisation works that SPT is planning, which will be the first since the 1970s. Does he agree that £67 million of additional investment in SPT each year, as reported in the media this week, is a price that is worth paying to deliver a modernised subway—which has cross-party support—for Scotland's largest city? Will he confirm today that he will assist the SPT modernisation scheme by bringing that £67 million forward?

Stewart Stevenson: We are in slight danger of getting ahead of ourselves. The SPT board meeting that will receive the same presentation that I received as a courtesy on Tuesday will take place tomorrow, and it is important to see what comes from that.

I acknowledge that the subway is important to people well beyond Glasgow—indeed, Tuesday's presentation included a survey of subway users that showed that 400 people from Fife travelled on the subway on a particular day. We value the subway's contribution to the transport infrastructure of Glasgow and the benefit that is derived beyond that, and we will continue to work with SPT.

Andy Kerr (East Kilbride) (Lab): In referring to the Scottish National Party's vow to boost subway services, the Deputy First Minister said:

"We want to deliver fresh ideas to build a transport system fit for the 21st century; not an antiquated out of date public transport network".

She was supported by Sandra White and John Mason, who was then leader of the SNP group on Glasgow City Council. Avoiding the word "soon", can the minister advise the chamber with regard to the on-going discussions when this Government will put in place that funding and fulfil those commitments?

Stewart Stevenson:
Let me go back to what I have just said. The board is meeting tomorrow to consider what was put in front of ministers this week.

As far as timetables and the use of the word "soon" are concerned, I need look no further than the Labour Party in Scotland's manifesto for the next election, which has just been published and in which the sole commitment to one of the most important projects for Glasgow and Edinburgh in a generation—high-speed rail—has been relegated to a wishy-washy commitment to build and submit at some time in the future a business case on the issue. This Government has convened a group of stakeholders to do the necessary work and has already submitted a business case to supplement and complement the work that has been carried out in many other places. With regard to supporting the development of infrastructure in Glasgow, Edinburgh and across Scotland, we are absolutely on the case in a way that the Labour Party has not yet dreamed of.

(S3O-10071) Caledonian MacBrayne

5. George Foulkes (Lothians) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what recent discussions ministers have had with the management of Caledonian MacBrayne and what subjects were discussed. (S3O-10071)

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

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth and I last met with the chairmen of David MacBrayne Ltd and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd in November 2009, to discuss ferry matters.

George Foulkes: Do the minister and the cabinet secretary share my concern that a publicly owned company has a tax avoidance scheme that uses a Guernsey-based subsidiary? Will the minister raise that matter with Caledonian MacBrayne and insist that it accepts full responsibility for paying employer contributions to national insurance for all its employees in the United Kingdom?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Foulkes is sometimes not entirely wise in choosing subjects. The change that was made to create Caledonian MacBrayne Crewing (Guernsey) Ltd was, of course, entirely an initiative conducted under the previous Administration for the purposes that Mr Foulkes has just described. If he has not already done so, he will receive a written answer from me very shortly that shows that the subject has not been one on which concern has been expressed until now. However, I am interested that the Labour Party has resiled from its previous decisions.

(S3O-10081) Public Transport (Fife)

4. Marilyn Livingstone (Kirkcaldy) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive, in light of its reduction in support for concessionary travel from 73.6p to 67p in the pound, which equates to a £1.3 million reduction in funding for public transport in Fife, how it will support the transport industry there. (S3O-10081)

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): I should have said that question 3 was not lodged.

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

That has taken me slightly by surprise, Presiding Officer.

The Scottish Government remains committed to supporting the bus industry, as was demonstrated by the recent agreement that was reached with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which will deliver another three years of substantial investment. The change in the reimbursement rate for the national concessionary scheme is intended to deliver the agreed principle that bus operators should be no better and no worse off as a result of the scheme. The agreement with the CPT includes an increase in the separate bus service operators grant, which is intended to help the industry to drive down fares and encourage more routes—all to the benefit of the travelling public.

Marilyn Livingstone: The minister will be aware that, for the network to be maintained, local government will have to make up the shortfall with no extra funding. That equates to £25 million in cuts throughout Scotland. Without that additional funding, Fife could see a shortfall of 25 to 30 buses. Given that other parts of the United Kingdom are continuing with the reimbursement rate of 73.6p in the pound, how can the Scottish Government justify these massive cuts to a scheme for the most vulnerable people in our communities?

Stewart Stevenson: I was not aware that the rate in England was anything remotely like 73.6p in the pound—in many cases, it is substantially less than 50p in the pound. The Labour transport spokesperson pointed to the long-term sustainability issues associated with a rate of 73.6p in the pound, and we agreed to a rate of 67p in the pound. The Confederation of Passenger Transport understands that.

When the reimbursement rate was set at its original level, a significant proportion of the money was for start-up costs. The start-up period will end with the completion of the installation of electronic ticketing, which will happen in the next few weeks. It has, therefore, been appropriate to revise the figure to meet the real costs to the bus companies. The increase of 10 per cent in the bus operators grant—which is guaranteed over the next three years—will play a key role in ensuring that we sustain the important network of bus routes across Scotland.

(S3O-10083) Derelict Land (Glasgow)

2. Mr Frank McAveety (Glasgow Shettleston) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has been approached regarding the provision of additional funding to deal with derelict land sites in Glasgow. (S3O-10083)

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

We currently allocate Glasgow £4.5 million per annum from the vacant and derelict land fund. I can confirm that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has not been approached for additional funding to deal with derelict land sites in Glasgow.

Mr McAveety: I hope that, if the cabinet secretary were to be approached by Glasgow City Council, he would welcome the opportunity, because the vacant and derelict land fund relates to an agenda that the council and the Government share, which is to do with bringing in areas that have been derelict for a long time. Does the minister accept that utilising those resources would help, given that many of the transformational regeneration areas—including the M74 extension and the Commonwealth games venue development, which are in my constituency—benefit from the vacant and derelict land fund? I hope that he is willing to listen to pleas for further funding.

Stewart Stevenson: We are always willing to discuss matters of mutual interest with local authorities and others. The vacant and derelict land fund is already contributing £13.5 million to Glasgow over the period 2008 to 2011. We are also working on urban regeneration and have, so far, contributed more than £40 million to the Clyde Gateway urban regeneration company, the town centre regeneration fund and the Clyde waterfront regeneration partnership, for which 75 per cent of the £1.46 billion in funding has come from the private sector. That is a substantial public investment, but we will, of course, continue to work with interests.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): One of the other mechanisms that are being considered to bring in additional funding for developments in Glasgow is tax increment financing, which would stake large amounts of public money on a gamble that retail units will be filled despite the fact that we see retail units lying empty as a result of the economic circumstances of the past few years. Would it not be wildly irresponsible to approve any such tax increment finance requests at this time?

Stewart Stevenson: That is among a range of ways forward that will be considered when a business case is to hand.

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