Freight Facilities Grants

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th March 2011.

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Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

3. To ask the Scottish Executive what response it has had to its invitation to submit note of interest forms for freight facilities grants for 2011-12 and to what extent it expects the fund to be over or undersubscribed. (S3O-13243)

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

We have received notes of interest from 19 eligible projects, eight of which have indicated that the planning and build of the facilities could be completed by 31 March 2012 and so could utilise the 2011-12 budget. If all of those eight projects were to be successful in their subsequent applications at the levels of support indicated, the fund would be oversubscribed by £3.75 million.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

Given that there was only one week in which to declare a note of interest, I am pleased to hear the number of applications that were made. However, given the oversubscribed nature of the grants, will the minister consider re-opening the application process?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

We are talking not of applications but of notes of interest at this stage. It is always true to say that there are many more applications for freight facilities grants than there are successful applicants. That is not because of a lack of funds in the budget line but because many applications do not come to fruition. That is for a number of reasons, which I think that Cathy Peattie recognises.

It is worth pointing out that we have had around £10 million in the budget for freight facilities grants, which is £10 million more than the United Kingdom budget for those grants, because it was cut more than five years ago. We have spent substantially more in Scotland up to this point. Many projects do not go all the way through the process.

It is unfortunate that Cathy Peattie and her colleagues voted against the £2 million that we allocated to the grant in the budget. We will persist with it nonetheless. We are anxious to see how many of the eight projects get to a level at which we can support them during the current year. Of course, what happens in future years in terms of how much will go into this funding is for future Governments to decide. We have no intention of re-opening the notes of interest process at this stage.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

The industry often sees the cost of Network Rail work as excessive and says that those costs are a big factor against any increase in rail freight connections. Given the opportunity offered by the recent devolution in the structure of Network Rail, will the minister take an early opportunity to talk to Network Rail in Scotland to get it to start to reduce its charges to more realistic rates?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I am happy to do that. Over the past week alone, I have spoken to Network Rail a number of times on the issue. As the member rightly points out, the further devolution of Network Rail functions—and it is further devolution; Network Rail Scotland was already perhaps the most devolved part of the UK network—presents a number of opportunities, not least in terms of the new First ScotRail franchise. I am happy to take up the point with Network Rail as Alasdair Morgan suggests.