Green Recovery Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th February 2021.

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Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

It is great that we are having this debate this afternoon, and it is vital that our response to the economic crisis and the climate emergency links into bold action to deliver a more equal society as we recover from the pandemic. That means using procurement to deliver long-term local jobs and training opportunities. The exciting energy efficiency programme that was mentioned by Claudia Beamish would be an excellent way to kick-start a green recovery because it is work that is already being done and could be ramped up significantly.

I was glad to see in the committee’s report that recognition is being given to the role of localised procurement. That has been mentioned by a few colleagues across the chamber. The key point that was made was about new procurement models being needed and the need for a fundamental shift away from an approach that involves procuring at the lowest cost to a holistic approach that takes into account the whole-life costs and benefits of investment and intervention—fiscal, social, environmental—right across the public sector. As others have said, it is a big issue for local councils, too.

In advance of the 26th conference of the parties, or COP26, we should be looking right across the public sector in relation to issues such as supplying clothing for our national health service. We need to think about procurement. What is the source of those products, how sustainable is their production and how do we support affordable, ethical products?

Food procurement is also important. We have seen a lot of progress on that in Scotland, but there is much more to be done to ensure sustainable food production that links into local businesses and public sector organisations such as the NHS and our councils. It is critical that we secure food that is locally sourced and affordable.

Another issue that nobody has mentioned today but that I think should be part of this agenda is community wealth building. Labour-led North Ayrshire Council is an excellent example of political leadership that links into public sector procurement to improve the social, environmental and economic wellbeing of a council area. Last month, the council approved proposals for a council-owned solar farm that will generate 34 per cent of its pre-Covid energy needs and will deliver a financial surplus of almost £13 million, which will be reinvested in North Ayrshire. The council is also looking at a second solar farm site and is exploring opportunities relating to wind power, hydrogen power and battery technology. Those initiatives are relevant as we look towards the 2030 targets, and they also deliver sustainable income streams.

Those are practical achievements on the ground, and they build on the community renewables and co-operatives that we have seen in our rural communities for years, generating local benefits, led by local communities. However, there is much more that can be done. The Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative is a model that should be followed across Scotland. Our school buildings have solar panels on their roofs and investment is now being made in our schools and community projects.

I am glad that the Scottish Government’s heat and buildings strategy looks at achieving net zero emissions from our buildings in Scotland. The strategy references past experience in Scotland and the importance of using positive business models to support community-led development. We now know what works and we have good examples in our local communities, but such work needs to be happening everywhere. Every local council needs to kickstart such projects. I hope that the Scottish Government’s investment will feed through to local communities so that they can deliver.

Another critical area is public transport recovery. People should be given real choices so that they can shift from using their cars to using public transport. Anyone who listens to “Good Morning Scotland” every morning will hear that we still have traffic jams in Scotland, even though people are not going to work in the same numbers. We need to kickstart public sector transport again. I note that the Welsh Labour Government has just taken its railway companies into public ownership.

Sitting alongside rail are the bus companies. Why is the Lothian Buses model not being replicated across Scotland? The Scottish Government has its bus fund, and we have the legislative competence through the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. Can we make such action part of our green recovery?

Such action will also help to deliver 20-minute neighbourhoods, which is the concept of the moment. That means remaking our town centres, investing in retail and hospitality, reusing empty buildings and creating new homes. That would represent a green recovery. Using existing buildings is hugely important to the environment.

We should all be able to support the delivery of local jobs, training, procurement and initiatives, which should be supported by Scottish Government investment. Let us get on with that, because we know that it can be done.