I wrote to George Eustice and the other devolved Administrations on 4 April to request an urgent four-nations summit on the impact of rising fuel prices, which we know are putting significant strain on the food and drink industry right across the supply chain. In a meeting with the secretary of state on 20 April, he agreed to the request to hold a summit, and we had a short initial meeting last night. At that meeting, I raised a number of issues that key food and drink sectors, including seafood and agriculture, face as a consequence of rising fuel prices.
I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer and for joining me last week on a visit to Dundee Cold Stores
, where we heard about the additional strain that rising energy costs are putting on such businesses. It is expected that those rising costs will result in higher food prices and make it more difficult for the company to compete with European food producers. Therefore, I am pleased to hear about the cabinet secretary’s positive engagement with the UK Government on that matter.
The president of NFU Scotland, Martin Kennedy, has stated that, without proper support,
“we will be looking at food security concerns that we haven’t seen since World War Two.”
He urged shoppers to “vote with their feet” and support local produce to avert future food shortages.
What assurances can the cabinet secretary provide that the Scottish Government will continue to work with farmers and the wider food supply industry to ensure that they are provided with the necessary support and that the UK Government does not shirk its responsibilities in that regard?
I assure the member that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that we have security of food supply and to tackle and mitigate the effects of the significant challenges that are being experienced across the food and drink sector. I thank him for inviting me to visit Dundee Cold Stores last week. I was struck by the truly astonishing increases in energy prices that the company faces. That is happening across the piece and business are struggling—there are no two ways about it.
The powers that relate to energy markets remain reserved. The Scottish ministers have repeatedly called on the UK Government to urgently take further tangible action to support households, such as reducing VAT, considering targeted support for people on low incomes and holding four-nations discussions in an effort to develop an effective response to the increases in energy bills. The situation is frustrating when we see other countries taking action. For example, France has limited energy price rises to 4 per cent and, in Germany, rebates of €300 have been offered.
We continue to engage with the UK Government, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets and energy suppliers to look at ways of alleviating the impacts of the high energy bills that people across the country are faced with. I reiterate that we are using all the powers and resources that are available to us to support people in Scotland and protect them from the cost of living crisis.
The Scottish National Party Government can use the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament to act now to provide farmers with urgent help.
At yesterday’s meeting of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, Scott Walker of the NFUS agreed with my suggestion that a moratorium on large-scale forestry could be put in place to prevent the further removal of productive agricultural land. Can the cabinet secretary tell me and my party what the Government’s position is on implementing such a moratorium, rolling out track 1 of the test programme and temporarily suspending the ecological focus area component of the greening requirement?
This Government absolutely supports food production and we recognise how vital our food security is. That is why we established the task force. I will not pre-empt the work that will come out of that, because we will have to consider our recommendations. The task force has met three times, so far, and is due to meet again. Recommendations will come out as a result of that.
There is a need to accelerate, where possible, the actions that we can take to help build resilience within our agriculture sector. The member mentioned the roll-out of our track 1 programme, which will start imminently. We will roll out carbon audits and soil testing. All those measures are vital in helping to build resilience in our food system and we are not wasting any time in implementing them.