Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th January 2016.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

2. To ask the First Minister when she will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland. (S4F-03192)

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

The long-anticipated Aberdeen city region deal will be signed today, paving the way for the package of £250 million investment in the Aberdeenshire economy. It is good to see the north-east getting the help that it needs to support jobs. I welcome today’s deal and hope that it holds out a brighter future for both the city and the shire.

On top of that, the Scottish Government has announced extra infrastructure funding, including £200 million to increase capacity on key rail links between Aberdeen and the central belt. That work has been on the books since 2007—the entire lifetime of the current Scottish Government. I ask the First Minister to confirm that the money is new, when it is being released and when the work will be carried out.

The First Minister:

All the money that we have announced today will be available to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, to benefit those areas, over the same timescale as the city deal. To recap, a funding package of £504 million has been provided for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire today, £125 million of which is coming from the United Kingdom Government—we are very grateful for that—and £379 million of which is coming from the Scottish Government.

There are many transport projects that we want to undertake, but we must prioritise them and find the money for them. Today, we are committing the money for the improvements that will speed up rail links between the central belt and Aberdeen. I hope that Ruth Davidson will warmly, and without any equivocation, welcome that. In addition, we are announcing money for trunk road funding, including funding for the Laurencekirk junction, which has been required for a long time. We are also giving to Aberdeen certainty, which other councils do not have, about its housing investment over the next five years, and we are announcing money for housing infrastructure and additional money to help with digital connections in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. That is a good package.

I will be in Aberdeen on Monday, making further announcements about how the Scottish Government will focus on helping the oil and gas sector in particular.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

Our party is, and always has been, for healthy competition. Therefore, I am delighted to see the Scottish Government trying to outdo the UK Government today. It is important that our two Governments work together, and this is exactly the kind of partnership that I believe most people in Scotland want to see.

However, I cannot let the moment pass without raising one key point. If the First Minister had had her way, right now we would be eight weeks away from separation. I ask her to tell us, in all honesty, what situation she thinks is better for Scotland today: the one that we have, with our two Governments, with all their resource, stepping in to support the north-east at this time; or the one that she hoped for, preparing for a life outside the UK, with oil at $30 a barrel and Scotland’s finances about to be blown to pieces?

The First Minister:

There is no difficulty in answering that question. I think that this Government, this Parliament and this country having all the powers that we need to grow our economy is by far the better position for us to be in.

Given that the Prime Minister is going to be in Aberdeen today, perhaps this is a moment that I cannot let pass either. Understandably, there is a lot of focus on what the yes campaign said about oil during the referendum. However, to my deep regret, the yes campaign did not win the referendum—the no campaign won the referendum. Therefore, perhaps we should look at what the no campaign said about oil during the referendum. In February 2014, David Cameron promised a “£200 billion oil boom” if Scotland voted no. Maybe when he is in Aberdeen this afternoon he can tell us what happened to that money. [Interruption.]

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Order. I have two constituency supplementary questions.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Without knowing about the welcome additional funding from the Scottish Government, The Press and Journal today described the £250 million Aberdeen city region deal as slightly underwhelming. It amounts to only about a third of the investment that has gone into the Aberdeen western peripheral route. Does the First Minister share my view that Aberdeen deserves more from the UK Government than the £125 million that has been allocated, particularly considering that the Treasury has benefited from the more than £300,000 million of North Sea oil revenues that have flowed from Aberdeen to London?

The First Minister:

Kevin Stewart makes a very good point indeed. Nevertheless, today is a good day for the north-east of Scotland. As I have said, I welcome the city deal agreement, which is seeing the Scottish and the UK Government commit £125 million to support infrastructure and innovation in the north-east. However, I know that Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire asked for more significant investment than that, which is why the Scottish Government has decided to commit, and today confirmed, £254 million of additional support for key infrastructure in the north-east. Of course, as I have already said, that brings the total amount of Scottish Government support announced for the north-east today to £379 million. The Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities invited the UK Government to match that additional commitment, and we will continue to discuss with it increasing its contribution.

As members will be aware, earlier this week the Cabinet discussed the challenges facing the north-east. I will make further commitments to support the industry when I visit Aberdeen on Monday.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

The First Minister will be aware of the announcement made yesterday by Texas Instruments that it intends to cease production at its Greenock plant and relocate to America, Japan and Germany, with a potential loss of 365 jobs. I am sure that the First Minister will agree that that would be an undeserved fate for the highly skilled and committed workforce at the plant and, indeed, for our already fragile Inverclyde economy. A glimmer of hope of course exists, in that we still have time to attract a new owner to the plant. Will the First Minister take this opportunity to commit the Scottish Government and its agencies to playing a full role in the task force that was set up yesterday by Inverclyde Council leader, Stephen McCabe, so that we can attract a new owner to secure those jobs and address the underlying fragility of the Inverclyde economy?

The First Minister:

Yes, I will give those commitments in full. I appreciate that this will be an extremely worrying time for employees of Texas Instruments and their families. As Duncan McNeil rightly points out, Texas Instruments has made it clear that it wants to sell the plant as a going concern, to save as many of the jobs as possible. It has also made it clear that, in any event, it does not anticipate any jobs being lost until late 2017. That means that we have an important window of opportunity to work with the company to do everything that we can to help to find a buyer who will maintain jobs in Greenock.

Scottish Enterprise is fully engaged. It will work with the company to explore all possible options for supporting the business and retaining jobs. The Scottish Government will be fully engaged in that work as well. I can tell members that Fergus Ewing has today written to the leader of Inverclyde Council saying that the Scottish Government will support the task force in any way that we can and suggesting a meeting on Monday of next week. We will do everything that we can to preserve the company and the jobs in it. In that regard, the Government and our agencies will leave no stone unturned.