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Transport (Covid-19)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th April 2020.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on transport in a Covid-19 world. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I would like to provide

Parliament with an update on the measures that we are taking in relation to Scotland’s transport system as we continue to respond proactively to the challenges that are presented by the Covid-19 threat.

First, I thank the people of Scotland, who have heeded the Government’s clear advice not to travel unless it is essential. We all need to continue with that co-operation as we begin to look at any easing of restrictions. As the First Minister noted on the publication last week of our paper “COVID-19—A Framework for Decision Making”, if we all keep doing the right thing, there will be a way through, and we will find it together.

In keeping our transport network running while we have been tackling the virus, our transport workers on the front line have shown dedication, professionalism and resolve. I offer my sincere thanks to all of them. I am extremely grateful for the way in which our transport community, across all modes and types of travel, has assisted with the national effort, with companies and individuals going beyond business as usual to make sure that our transport system operates to keep key workers moving, essential goods flowing and essential journeys supported.

In the transport sector, we have received offers of assistance including offers of vans, cars, boats, aeroplanes and helicopters. That is genuinely remarkable and I thank everyone for those kind offers. We are liaising across the Scottish Government, local authorities and local resilience partners to establish where those offers of assistance can be most effectively deployed.

Since this crisis began, we have seen a consistent pattern in travel trends. The latest weekly trends summary was compiled by Transport Scotland last Tuesday, and officials will publish updated indicators this week. The most recent data shows that travel is estimated to be around one trip per person per day, which is approximately one third of normal levels, and travel has almost wholly reduced to essential trips.

Although travel by motor vehicles has continued to remain steady at 75 per cent less than normal levels, travel by active modes has continued to rise. Walking activity has increased across Scotland since the low of the first week of lockdown and the level of cycling activity last week was 35 per cent higher than the weekly average in February. Only a few people are still using public transport, with demand across all modes typically 90 to 95 per cent less than normal.

In that context, the Government’s first priority has been to ensure the stability and functionality of our transport system. On bus and rail travel, my priority has been to ensure that, for essential travel and those key workers who rely on public transport, adequate transport links are in place to allow them to continue to lead the fight against Covid-19.

We are ensuring that essential services continue to run, and we are protecting vital transport industries for the future by providing operators with significant financial support at a time when revenues are considerably reduced.

On bus travel, we are maintaining concessionary travel reimbursement and bus service operators grant payments at the levels forecast prior to the impact of Covid-19, in which we would typically spend more than £260 million every year in supporting bus services. That arrangement will be kept under review in order to best support our bus industry.

The Scottish Government has put in place temporary variations to the ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises to minimise disruption to passengers and rail employees. That will ensure that passenger services can continue to operate during this period, albeit on a reduced timetable and in accordance with physical distancing measures. Both franchisees have agreed to those temporary variations, which will be in place for a minimum of six months.

The First Minister has made clear the need to avoid all but essential travel to Scotland’s remote and island communities. In order to protect the safety and security of our islands and remote communities while supporting our ferry and aviation stakeholders to be able to continue to provide their lifeline services, we moved early to put in place restrictions on who can travel on our ferries. To ensure that essential connectivity is maintained between the islands and the mainland, we have agreed that CalMac Ferries can retain a level of service for those who live and work on our islands. To maintain air connectivity, the Scottish Government has contracted Loganair to provide services between the mainland and key island destinations until the end of April.

Those services are available to passengers with an essential need to travel to and from the islands, including national health service patients, essential workers and people returning home. Importantly, the services are also being used to move essential supplies such as blood samples and cancer treatments, as well as mail items. Feedback from islands authorities is that the services have been operating well during April, so I can announce today that I have asked Loganair to continue the flights until the end of May, which will be in addition to ferry operators continuing to maintain their essential services.

I will now touch on our support for patients and key workers in the health sector. Working across Government, Transport Scotland has helped to produce a guidance document on the transportation of Covid-19 symptomatic patients, and my officials continue to work collaboratively with NHS Scotland to co-ordinate and distribute vehicles to meet emerging demands. We have received many offers of support, but I would specifically like to mention the support from Arnold Clark, which has directly supported patient transport by providing NHS boards with access to 120 nine-seater minibuses and more than 500 hire vehicles free of charge.

Service providers have adapted their timetables to accommodate the needs of key workers. The bus and rail sectors are working with the NHS and other key stakeholders to ensure that key routes, such as those that serve medical centres and hospitals, are being prioritised, with timetables that recognise NHS shift patterns. Operators advise that they are altering routes where possible in the light of feedback from key workers.

The First Minister has today advised of guidance being published on the Scottish Government website regarding the wearing of face coverings in certain limited circumstances, such as on public transport or when shopping. The guidance is a recommendation for consideration rather than a mandatory requirement for the public. I stress that physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene are the most important and effective measures that we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Therefore, the wearing of facial coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of those other precautions. By “facial covering”, we do not mean a surgical or other medical grade mask; we mean a covering of the mouth and nose that is made of cloth or other textiles.

More broadly, my officials at Transport Scotland are currently considering how travel behaviours may change as and when Scotland moves out of the current lockdown. That work recognises that a requirement for physical distancing is likely to remain for some time to come and will have implications for how our transport system is able to operate safely and support people and businesses in Scotland.

As the First Minister set out in “COVID-19—A Framework for Decision Making”, we need to consider the new normal for transport and have a grown-up conversation about the choices that need to be made. People and businesses have a part to play in helping us to make this work.

We must be open and transparent about how transport capacity will be limited because of continued physical distancing. Initial thinking suggests that capacity on our public transport system could be reduced to between 10 and 25 per cent of previous levels, so we will need to ensure a system-wide approach to our transport network’s operation within those constraints. We need many of the measures that have helped to reduce demand, such as working from home, to continue.

An area of our transition thinking that I would like to highlight is active travel. As I mentioned, it is heartening to see an increase in the number of people who have been cycling and walking over the past few weeks, and we want those behavioural changes to endure during this public health emergency and beyond.

My officials are working with Sustrans and local authorities to help to ensure that people are able to walk, cycle and wheel safely during lockdown, including key workers who travel to work and people visiting shops for essential items or taking daily exercise. Doing that is important to support people’s health and wellbeing, and we need to provide more space for people to keep physically distancing in a safe way. Therefore, I am today writing to Scotland’s local authorities to detail a package of support to implement temporary measures so that people can be active while physically distancing, safe from traffic.

The package consists of 100 per cent funding for local authorities to put in place temporary measures, such as pop-up cycle lanes and wider walkways, through a new spaces for people fund of £10 million that will be administered by Sustrans; guidance to support local authorities on the use of existing legislation that gives them powers to quickly implement temporary road reallocation measures; and access to a range of advice and support from Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government on topics including construction, public health, equalities and communications.

I very much hope that local authorities will come forward with bold, ambitious plans to implement temporary active travel measures, following the example of cities, towns and places around the world.

Transport has a crucial role to play in the recovery of the economy and we need to be clear about what we are thinking of doing differently in the future to aid that recovery. We must be bold in our actions to reset the system to meet our climate change ambitions, reduce inequalities, improve our health and wellbeing and deliver sustainable economic growth. We are working with partners to identify issues and to understand how to support organisations through the current crisis, maintain capacity, skills and expertise, and recover swiftly.

Our key aim across all modes of transport—as demonstrated by the support package for our sectors that I have mentioned—is that our operators will be in a good position to recover when we start to open up again. We are already planning a range of actions for future recovery—supporting the resurgence of a healthy bus industry, for example, will be a vital early step. We are working now to ensure that the right conditions will be in place for Scotland’s cities and regions to recover quickly towards a cleaner and greener future, and I want the bus manufacturing sector and supply chain to lead on that approach. We must also start planning now to ensure that the low-carbon vehicle supply chain can continue to have a strong presence in supporting the global shift to low-emission transport systems.

A new rail recovery task force involving Network Rail, ScotRail, Caledonian Sleeper and Transport Scotland has been formed. In consultation with staff representatives, the group is developing a pragmatic approach to rail recovery that will take account of physical distancing and the safety of passengers and staff during a phased increase in rail service levels.

We must start planning now for the recovery of the construction industry. Transport Scotland is undertaking an exercise to explore ways in which our major transport projects could restart in the event of construction sector guidance being relaxed. Work is also under way to identify potential capital initiatives and infrastructure projects that could be progressed as part of any wider economic recovery plan, should funding become available.

I would like to conclude by looking to the future. The impact of Covid-19 will have changed our economy, our society and our use of technology. We all recognise that this new normal may have to be in place for some time. The necessary changes that lie ahead will require us to adapt how we plan, deliver and manage our transport system. Addressing the uncertainties of the future will require a concerted effort from all parts of Scottish society—national, regional and local—and we will use the available evidence, as it emerges, to inform our policy decision making.

We now have an opportunity to consider how we can sustain some of our behavioural changes, including greater home working and increased used of digital technology, both of which have been adopted rapidly during the pandemic and are impacting positively on improving air quality and reducing accidents and emissions.

We can now begin to shape the transport system that we want and need for the future by working together on shared principles, being guided by evidence and taking focused action so that we ensure that the people of Scotland can prosper in the future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues that were raised in his statement. We are already running late. That is partly due to statements being overly lengthy, but it is also due to members making statements before they ask their questions. If we are to be fair and get through everyone who wants to ask a question about the transport statement, members will have to be a bit more concise. I will allow 30 minutes for questions.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

I thank the transport secretary for providing early sight of his statement.

As the transport secretary will be aware, although flight and passenger numbers to Scottish airports including Edinburgh airport have dropped drastically, planes are still arriving, including planes from international airports and planes carrying passengers from outwith the United Kingdom on connecting flights. Unlike some other countries in Europe and elsewhere, we have so far not adopted restrictions, mass screening or quarantine measures for people entering the country.

Has the transport secretary had discussions with the UK Government on that issue? What steps has the Scottish Government taken to protect the Scottish public from inward transmission of the virus to Scotland from people returning to or entering the country? What funding has been set aside for future measures at airports to guard against health risks?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member raises a very important issue that relates to the on-going debate about air connectivity and checks at airports. I assure him that we have had direct engagement with the UK Government on the issue. A key part of that engagement concerns the fact that any change to the existing health guidance for the checks that are implemented at our airports must be consistent across the UK, otherwise it would compromise any alternative arrangements that we might put in place here in Scotland.

Our view is that, as we start to make the transition, there is a need to review the existing guidance. Work has already been undertaken in Scotland with partners in other parts of the UK to consider whether further checks need to be implemented at our airports. I assure the member that dialogue is taking place on such checks, and that we continue to engage with the UK Government on what shape those checks should take in the future.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for providing advance sight of his statement.

Today is international workers memorial day. I express my thanks to our critical transport workers, who have stepped up to the mark and have kept Scotland moving by doing everything from delivering essential goods to our supermarkets to ensuring that their fellow key workers, such as our NHS staff, are able to get to work to care for our loved ones.

Given the substantial and welcome support that was previously announced for the bus and rail sectors, does the cabinet secretary agree that the Scottish Government has missed an opportunity to follow Northern Ireland and Wales by ensuring that that support also delivered free public transport for our key workers, including NHS staff and carers?

I welcome the setting up of the new rail recovery task force to develop a pragmatic approach to rail recovery, but does the cabinet secretary agree that we need a similar process for the bus sector—not least because there are more providers and passengers in that sector—in order to ensure that we also deliver a phased increase in bus services that is safe for passengers and workers?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I echo Colin Smyth’s points about the tremendous efforts that have been made by workers right across our transport sector. As I outlined in my statement, our priority has been to make sure that we maintain, support and supplement, where necessary, travel services for those who are accessing our healthcare facilities, medical facilities and other key establishments to which public transport is critical. I am aware that a number of bus operators in Scotland have already chosen to implement free travel for NHS employees, although not for social care staff.

The rail recovery task force has been created specifically to deal with the complexities that exist around rail services. For example, the challenges with capacity in our rail services and the safety restrictions that apply to them create an additional layer of complexity for any recovery plan that needs to be put in place, which is not reflected in the same way in the bus industry. That said, we are in regular dialogue with the sector on recovery plans that could be put in place, and on what we can do to provide assistance as and when it is necessary.

The task force has been set up for rail recovery because of the specific regulatory challenges that the rail network will face in trying to address the challenges of physical distancing while increasing levels of transport. For example, the way in which we manage passengers on and off trains will be greatly complicated by social distancing, so the capacity of rail services will be greatly reduced as a result. Detailed consideration is being given to plans for how we can manage that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to open questions.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

It is clear that the new normal will have to mean safer streets where we live, with slower traffic speeds and enough room for everyone to get around on foot or by bike without fear of injury or infection, so I warmly welcome the new spaces for people support package that has just been announced. How will the cabinet secretary ensure that every council seizes the opportunity and puts appropriate measures in place as quickly as possible, including temporary measures that could become permanent features of our towns and cities in the future?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Mark Ruskell for his question. I am writing to all 32 local authorities today, setting out the package of measures that we are putting in place, and enclosing guidance. That will provide them with the advice and information that they require in order to take plans through the regulatory process at local level, which they have control over, and it will encourage them to be bold in imagining how they will take the measures forward at local level. Many of the measures will have very low costs and it will be possible to implement them quickly, should local authorities choose to do so.

I know from my engagement with a number of our major cities’ local authorities that they already have in place detailed plans that they would like to take forward. I am keen for them to make progress on that as quickly as possible.

I have no doubt that some local authorities will be more ambitious than others. I encourage all members who are in the chamber today to encourage their local authorities to participate in the programme so that we can capitalise on the benefits that can come from making greater use of the existing road space.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The Liberal Democrats are very pleased to see the fund for local authorities for temporary measures including new cycle lanes and widening of walkways. The cabinet secretary and I spoke about the subject on Thursday, so he knows that we fully support those measures.

However, is the cabinet secretary certain that local authorities have the legal powers to implement the initiatives quickly? How quickly does he envisage new cycle lanes and wider walkways being implemented? He said that some things will be done more quickly than others, but what is his view on how quickly they can be done?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Mike Rumbles is correct: we discussed the matter last Thursday as an issue that I was considering. The guidance that we are issuing to local authorities sets out the provisions in existing legislation that local authorities have to hand, whereby they can implement temporary measures very quickly. When I say that, I mean in a matter of a couple of weeks. If local authorities have plans that they are looking to implement, they can accelerate the process in order to have plans implemented very quickly, and the guidance gives them clear advice on that.

Alongside that, we are supplementing the guidance with access to expert advice from Transport Scotland, and our partners in the Scottish Government, to provide local authorities with any additional support and information that they might require in order to implement such measures, which can be taken forward in a matter of weeks, if councils are determined to do so.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary join me in encouraging local authorities to engage with third sector organisations and with groups that represent visually impaired and disabled people that have been considering innovative ways to improve active travel infrastructure? Will Transport Scotland’s advice include links that would facilitate local authorities partnering with such organisations?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I certainly encourage local authorities to engage with organisations in the third sector and those that represent the needs of people who have a visual impairment or physical disability that impairs their overall mobility. That is why wheeling must be part of the mix in any additional infrastructure that is put in place.

I expect local authorities to ensure

, as part of their engagement on the plans that they are looking to take forward, that they do not compromise the ability of people who have impaired mobility to cross roads and to use pedestrian crossing facilities. I encourage local authorities to undertake that engagement. The guidance that we provide them with will point them in the right direction to get advice and information.

Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

Scotland’s coach industry is on the verge of collapse, with coach operators and related businesses of all sizes now going out of business every day. Our coach industry is the workhorse of the Scottish tourism industry. It supports 1.8 million tourist journeys, which equates to £850 million of value to the Scottish economy, as well as providing school transport and crisis cover when other modes of travel—train or air—fail.

Coaches are also often called on to help in high-risk situations such as extreme weather. With the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of business over the coming summer, the industry now needs our support. As the cabinet secretary did not mention the coach industry in his statement, will he commit to working with the industry to ensure that it survives until 2021, when its tourist market will—I hope—recover?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

T he coach industry is able to access the provisions in the business support package that my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes, set out. The package exists to assist businesses across the country in a wide range of sectors. The coach industry is no different from other businesses in that respect.

Alongside that, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has issued guidance to advise local authorities that they should continue to pay for existing school coach contracts until the end of the summer term.

However, I say to Michelle Ballantyne that the reason why I did not directly mention the industry is that it is led on by my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, because it falls within the tourism sector. I know that Mr Ewing and his officials have been very engaged with the coach industry on the matter, and I have no doubt that they will wish to keep Parliament updated on progress around the challenges that the coach sector is facing.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The cabinet mentioned that very few journeys are being made on our road and rail networks at this time. In that light, on potential easing of the lockdown, will consideration be given—subject to appropriate risk assessments—to allowing vital road and rail repairs and maintenance to proceed, which would be timely and would provide much-needed work?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Annabelle Ewing for her question. I assure her that the existing guidance allows for essential works to be undertaken, whether they are on the trunk road network, or on the local road network and are therefore for local authorities to undertake.

Equally, where work is identified that is safety critical and essential for maintaining and sustaining services on the rail network, there is scope for that work to be undertaken.

The risk assessment processes that trunk road maintenance contractors and Network Rail have in place are about assessing such issues to ensure that only work that is viewed as essential to maintaining access to the road and rail networks is undertaken. I give Annabelle Ewing that assurance.

We will, of course, give consideration to whether there should be any change to construction guidance that would allow other construction works to be undertaken, including on major transport projects. I currently have officials reviewing all our major transport projects in order to identify changes in the guidance on construction that would allow some of them to become active again. We are monitoring the situation almost daily, and we will continue to review it as guidance on the issues moves forward.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement on speeding up the process of increasing space for walking and cycling in order to enable safe social distancing in the weeks and months to come. Will the investment be able to address the specific issues of poor surfaces on our pavements and potholes on our roads, which make walking unsafe—in particular for people with disabilities—and roads unsafe for cyclists? I welcome the fact that the process will be speedy, but will the cabinet secretary monitor the speed at which the £10 million is invested?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Local authorities already have funding to deal with potholes on our existing road network. I encourage every local authority to undertake that work if it is appropriate and essential, which is for them to decide. The fund that I have announced is not for that purpose, but is specifically for creation of temporary cycleways and walkways for members of the public, including cyclists, in order to support physical distancing in a safe way.

Many of the measures that local authorities need to implement are low-cost measures. The funding is to ensure that they have the opportunity to implement them as quickly as possible. I certainly want to see local authorities take a bold opportunity to implement plans that can make a real difference to people on their daily exercise journey or their commute, so that they can use active travel in a safe and viable way.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I welcome the additional £49.7 million that the cabinet secretary is providing to support Scotland’s ferry services, which reemphasises the Scottish Government’s commitment to our island communities. However, last week, the MV Caledonian Isles had to go to Aberdeen for repairs having again broken down, as it already has several times this year. The vessel was operating only a reduced service due to the pandemic. Had we been in a normal year, there would have been major difficulties in getting people, goods and vehicles to and from the Isle of Arran. How can the cabinet secretary reassure islanders that CalMac will be able to provide a reliable service, given those recent events?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member will be aware that the timetable that is in place for CalMac services is significantly reduced. Passenger numbers for CalMac services have dropped by around 96 per cent of what they would be at this point in any other year. There is a significant level of additional capacity in the system because of the reduced timetable and the reduced passenger numbers.

I assure the member that we consistently matters to do with reliability with CalMac to ensure that it puts the necessary measures in place and addresses any technical issues that might arise as quickly as possible in order to help improve resilience on the network. I assure him that his concerns, which he raises regularly with ministers, are well recognised and we will continue to impress them on CalMac in our engagement with them.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

To help the operators in the sector better understand what financial support is available, will the cabinet secretary agree to publish details of the level of support that is being made available to the transport sector, broken down according to rail, bus, aviation and other modes of transport?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member will be aware that we have taken swift measures to support and assist the transport sector in its different modes as it faces financial challenges Those measures change depending on the nature of the services that we are expecting of the different modes of transport. I assure the member that we will keep him updated on the costs that are associated with those interventions when we are in a position to do so.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

How has the rail system been performing during lockdown and, in particular, has rail freight been making a positive contribution?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member will recognise that the level of service and passenger load on our rail network is much lower than it would normally be. However, performance has been exceptionally good, well exceeding, at 98 per cent, the original franchise commitment of 92.5 per cent. I recognise that it is difficult to measure that figure against that of the normal franchise agreement, given the lower passenger load and the reduced services that are provided.

We have seen an overall reduction in freight as a result of a reduction in demand for construction goods and car vehicle transportation. The increase in the overall freight picture has been in foodstuffs transported to supermarkets by freight. We are seeing an increase in freight in the areas in which there is an increase in demand for services, such as the supply of foodstuffs. However, in areas in which we have seen an economic decline, such as construction, as work on many sites has come to a stop, and car sales, which have effectively stopped, we are seeing a reduction in freight. Therefore, overall, there has been a reduction in rail freight, but we are seeing increases in some of the keys areas in which we would like to see further growth.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

If we reduce capacity in our peak train services by 10 to 25 per cent, we will not provide every passenger with a seat, never mind provide social distancing space. What is the thinking on how we will provide the service capacity to get people to work with safe spaces for staff and passengers? In a city such as Edinburgh, is the danger not that we will transfer people back on to the roads, and gridlock will just get worse?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The reality is that we cannot just switch the transport system back on. While we apply social distancing, it is not possible to meet the demands that people normally expect to be able to make on our transport system. For example, while physical distancing has to be implemented, a train carriage might be able to carry only a fifth of the passengers that it would normally be expected to carry. If a train leaves Waverley station and heads to Glasgow, how do we manage the passengers who are getting on the train and the flow of passengers at different stations in between to make sure that we maintain social distancing? There are real challenges in managing the demands that may be made on our rail network, as well as the demands on our bus network. While social distancing has to be applied, buses will very often only have a quarter of the capacity that they would normally be expected to have.

We all have a part to play. The transport system simply cannot pick up all that demand while also meeting social and physical distancing requirements. While social distancing is required, businesses that can have staff work from home need to continue to do so. We have to continue to explore and consider the means by which we can reduce the need for people to travel. Greater use of active travel might be appropriate for some people, but for someone coming from West Lothian into Edinburgh, it may not be. If people simply jump into their cars, we will have gridlock because the cities will not be able to cope.

We are undertaking a significant amount of work to understand any changes that might be made to the existing restrictions that are in place, however small they may be, by assessing what impact they would have on our transport system and whether the transport system would be able to cope with demand, given the need to maintain social distancing. My officials and I are involved in a very complex piece of work on those issues, along with colleagues in health and other parts of Government. I do not for one minute want to give the impression that it will be an easy thing to resolve—it will be very challenging. We will be required to have a new normal and change our ways of working in order to meet the on-going challenges that are associated with maintaining physical distancing and its impact on the transport system.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary outline what engagement he has had with the UK Government regarding the systems that will be required at airports and other transport hubs as consideration is given to relaxing the lockdown?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We have regular discussions with the UK Government, including at a ministerial level, which I have been directly involved in. They cover a range of issues, including matters that are relevant to our aviation sector.

As I mentioned in response to Gordon Lindhurst’s question, the position is that further assessment work has been undertaken by Health Protection Scotland, which is engaging with its counterparts in other parts of the UK, to consider what further guidance might be required for any health checks that may have to be implemented at our airports. Any changes to the guidance for the current lockdown arrangements will be reviewed with regard to what extra measures might need to be put in place. I assure David Torrance that it is an area that we are considering and on which we are working with UK counterparts, because there needs to be consistency in how we take matters forward for our airports across the UK.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

In the cabinet secretary’s statement, he referred to CalMac and Loganair but did not refer to NorthLink Ferries and Pentland Ferries, which continue to deliver vital lifeline links to the northern isles and to ensure that freight is shipped to and from the islands. With passenger revenue almost non-existent, there is clearly a serious cost to those operators. What financial concerns have been raised with the cabinet secretary by the operators on those routes? How does the Scottish Government plan to respond to those concerns?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We have had engagement with Serco and Pentland Ferries to discuss the financial implications for them. We are providing them with support, given the financial challenges that they face.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Companies such as Edinburgh Coach Lines, AAA Coaches and Prentice Westwood in my constituency are unsung heroes, given that they step into difficult situations at short notice when other transport modes fail or will not do.

What further consideration will the cabinet secretary give to specific support for the coach industry to ensure that such companies not only survive the pandemic but help our communities thrive and develop resilience, given their access to vehicles and highly skilled drivers? Those companies want to help and we should do more to help them to help us.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I recognise the challenges that the coach sector is experiencing—that point was raised earlier by Michelle Ballantyne. I assure Angela Constance that my colleague Fergus Ewing and his tourism officials are engaged with the sector in looking at some of the specific challenges that it faces as a result of the marked downturn in tourism, particularly for companies that previously supported the cruise sector from which, obviously, there has been a significant drop-off in demand for support from coach services. I have no doubt that Fergus Ewing will keep the Parliament updated on any progress that is made on those matters.

As I mentioned, we have had more than 160 offers of assistance from the transport sector, ranging from helicopters and planes to boats, vans, cars and buses. If the businesses that Angela Constance made reference to wish to offer specific support to the Scottish Government in meeting some of the challenges that we face, she can pass on the information to me and I will ensure that that is followed up and that we contact the companies directly to explore those matters.

Photo of Andy Wightman Andy Wightman Green

In the cabinet secretary’s statement, he talked about working with Sustrans to ensure that people are able to travel during the lockdown. He also talked about writing to Scotland’s local authorities detailing a package of support for temporary measures. Is that support just for the lockdown or will it continue into what we all anticipate will be a transition period during which life is largely back to normal but social distancing is still required?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

They are temporary measures for the period while we still have social and physical distancing. As we know, that could be for an extended period of time and possibly many months. The intention is that the funding over the course of the next couple of months supports local authorities in implementing packages that support people to choose to make use of active travel modes while maintaining social distancing.

As we eventually move out of social distancing, some local authorities might consider the temporary infrastructure arrangements that they have put in place and choose to continue with them permanently, but that will very much be a matter for local authorities.

There is a funding regime in place with which we support active travel infrastructure and which local authorities access for that purpose. On a temporary basis, we are changing part of that fund to get funding quickly to local authorities to allow them to put infrastructure arrangements in place. That means that they could be in place for the extended period during which physical social distancing has to be maintained, which could be for many months, as I said.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I want to emphasise the point that Andy Wightman made. If we are going to spend £10 million on measures to make it easier for people to cycle and walk, we should maintain that progress. If more people are cycling—and the figures are impressive—we do not want to spend £10 million on measures that are then taken away so that things slip back. Perhaps the issue is the word “temporary”; when the cabinet secretary contacts councils, perhaps he ought to emphasise that the measures do not have to be temporary and could be permanent.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I very much welcome that position from the Conservative Party. I hope that it will continue to be the party’s position when it comes to permanent arrangements for removing road space in towns and cities across the country, because the Conservatives have not always taken such a position on the matter. I welcome what appears to be a change in tone and approach in light of recent experience.

I would like the behaviour changes that we are seeing to be maintained. However, the funding that we are making available is to assist local authorities to take action, where possible, in very short order, to support people. Should local authorities wish to consider putting in permanent infrastructure, they will have to go through a more detailed process, because of the implications of such an approach. A legal process must be gone through to put in permanent physical infrastructure of that nature.

No doubt, people will express views on that and local authorities might choose to implement measures on a permanent basis. People who have taken up cycling much more regularly might choose to continue to cycle, which would be a positive thing for us all. I am cycling much more than I have done for many years, as a result of the quieter roads and the ability to get around more readily. The increase in cycling is a positive element over the past couple of weeks, in what has been a challenging period.

The funding that I announced is to try to help local authorities to support people to walk and cycle safely while maintaining physical distance.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes questions on the statement on transport. Before we move on, I take the opportunity to remind measures—I will start again; it is just as well that I am not making a 15-minute statement. I remind members that social distancing measures are in place and ask them to observe them, including when they are entering and exiting the chamber.