The saltire prize challenge committee—the independent committee that oversees the prize—has been keeping the prize criteria and competitor progress under review. It is considering options for reshaping the prize to better reflect the circumstances of the wave and tidal sectors.
Trade body Scottish Renewables is supporting the Scottish Government with the review and has convened a focus group of industry representatives and other marine energy experts to discuss revised prize options. A report with the conclusion of the group’s discussions is expected next year; it will then go to the saltire prize challenge committee for consideration and approval.
There was a time when ministers were all over the saltire prize—barely a month went by without a press release or, indeed, an invitation from the former First Minister to join him at the great hall in Edinburgh castle. However, we did not hear anything this summer or autumn, even though a decision was taken to dismantle the prize; we had to learn that from the small print on the Government’s website.
I absolutely understand the pressure that marine renewables is under. Companies are closing down or scaling back their involvement in the sector. Does it not make sense for the minister to say today that he will bring forward the money that has been put aside for the saltire prize and use it this year to protect the fledgling industry?
First, I have not put out a flurry of press releases—I have been too busy getting on with my job. Secondly, I would have thought that Liam McArthur, who has pursued these matters as a supporter of marine energy, would acknowledge that, in setting up wave energy Scotland with a £14 million budget, we have made a very solid commitment to supporting the marine sector. Thirdly, it is absolutely right to review the prize in the likelihood that, because of the criteria set, it cannot be won. That is happening. The industry is leading the recommendation about how to reshape the prize in a way that will achieve its objectives but not unduly hit the taxpayers’ pockets.
I hope that Mr McArthur and I can continue to work together to promote marine energy, in which Scotland, particularly with the European Marine Energy Centre in his constituency, is recognised as a leader and as the world’s only grid-connected, accredited testing centre of marine devices.
I acknowledge the minister’s passionate commitment to seeing marine renewables play a part in our future energy mix, but he has just conceded that the saltire prize will never be awarded. Companies are not far enough ahead in their development for that. The minister has the opportunity to use that money to help develop the industry further. The choice for the Scottish Government is whether it prefers to save the former First Minister’s reputation or, instead, to save the industry. Will he commit to use the money to save the industry?
I have always been more interested in results—in particular, the results of success in the marine sector—than in reputations. In that regard, I am delighted that Scotland is leading the way with companies such as Albatern, Nova Innovation and Atlantis Resources. Indeed, the Atlantis corporation is the architect of the world’s largest tidal array—which is currently being deployed, as Mr McArthur well knows—and whose success will give the most tremendous fillip to a sector that has had hard times, as the member well knows.
In addition, as well as the headline prize there are saltire-related activities such as the saltire prize lecture and medal, the junior saltire prize, which promotes activity and innovation among schoolchildren and students, and the saltire prize website.
Lastly, it was always anticipated that the prize would be awarded in 2017 and there has been no allocation in the existing budget in respect of meeting the cost of paying out the prize. Therefore, we have achieved all the success with none of the cost.