Green Recovery Inquiry

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

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Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

It is fair to say that members across the Parliament both recognise and agree that the primary focus for 2021-22 must be to rebuild Scotland’s economy, and that as much of that as possible should be done in line with an ambitious and sustainable green recovery.

There is also recognition and agreement that there must be willing co-operation between the private, public and third sectors when it comes to meeting that challenge, whether that is in relation to policy making, job creation, stimulating investment and economic growth or tackling the immense challenge that is climate change.

To that end, “Eight policy packages for Scotland’s Green Recovery”, which the climate emergency response group published last July, specifically asked for careful consideration of where Government—at Westminster and Holyrood—should invest public money in order to deliver best value, and of what incentives are needed to stimulate sectors to invest in key infrastructure projects, including in our rural communities, which are so critical to the green recovery.

I suggest that the Scottish Government still has a great deal more to do in that regard, notwithstanding the infrastructure announcements that Michael Matheson made recently. Just about every green recovery witness whom we have heard from at the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, including at recent evidence sessions on the climate change plan update, has pushed us for accelerated investment in infrastructure and much greater commitment to that in the Scottish budget.

On 2 February, Chris Stark made it clear to the committee that he feels that much more action is required when it comes to delivery of projects, rather than just in their future planning. He also said that he feels that the Westminster Government is a little bit ahead of the Scottish Government when it comes to the focus on net zero projects, so he encouraged quickening of the pace.

In that respect, effective procurement is essential; the committee’s report clearly identifies it as being crucial in aligning funding with infrastructure development and capital investment. The role of the new Scottish National Investment Bank is extremely welcome, but it can succeed only if there is the willing co-operation between the private, public and third sectors, which I spoke about, and a full focus on delivering best value for money on regional and national bases.

That is why the circular economy is so important, as has been commented on significantly at committee in recent weeks. Iain Gulland, Stephen Freeland, Sarah Moyes, Andrew Midgley and Chris Stark all spoke about the need for a much more serious approach to the circular economy, which draws into question why the Scottish Government dropped its circular economy bill after heralding it as being very important. That hardly sent out the right signal—especially as the Scottish Government’s 2013 recycling target, which my colleague Maurice Golden mentioned, has not been met. I think that recycling rates are worse now than they were in 2016. The 2021 landfill ban has been delayed.

Even if we have better infrastructure in place, the green economy is also about jobs, and we need to put in place the necessary training to ensure that we have the right skills available to sustain it. I draw members’ attention to a remark that Benny Higgins made in his recent report, which was echoed by Lord Smith of Kelvin. He said that the Scottish Government has to do more to ensure that there is better engagement between business and Government on the necessary strategic thinking, and on how best to develop the skills that will be required in the coming years.

That will mean closer engagement with schools, colleges and universities, all of which—notwithstanding the very difficult period that they are currently facing—will be at the forefront of developing the basic skills that are required, many of which are very different from those that were adopted by previous generations.

Benny Higgins’s message is critical, because it picks up on the point—as the committee’s report does—that there needs to be much stronger policy coherence across portfolios, with emphasis on low-carbon projects and on the targets that are set out in the climate change plan. The committee is clear in its view that we need to do a lot more by taking an holistic approach that is at the heart of the national performance framework and the budget.

My colleagues will cover in more detail the rural and marine aspects of the recovery plan, which are extremely important, but I note that the regional land-use partnerships issue is a classic example of why there needs to be a much more holistic and integrated approach.

At committee last week, a witness from RSPB Scotland was just one who questioned why the Scottish Government has not done more on land use strategy so that agriculture, forestry and land management are seen as part of the same coherent plan. They also questioned why regional land use partnerships are being introduced only on a pilot basis.

I remind Parliament that the committee was particularly strong in its recommendation 41. The Scottish Government must do an awful lot better when it comes to proving that there is a commitment to delivery rather than just to plans. It needs to set out exactly where responsibilities lie across the sectors, and it needs much clearer and more realistic timescales when it comes to presenting the shared vision.

The Scottish Conservatives are happy to support the committee’s report, but a lot more work needs to be done, and the Scottish Government needs to accept that.