– in the Scottish Parliament on 15th March 2023.
6. To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the rural affairs secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding how it will ensure that the needs of the rural economy are considered in its plans for the decarbonisation of transport. (S6O-02001)
I regularly engage with my ministerial colleagues, including the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, on transport matters. For example, I do that through the islands strategic group, which met last week. The Government’s ambitions for future transport investment priorities for the whole of Scotland are included in the second strategic transport projects review, which was published in December last year. They have the potential to decarbonise transport and transform the way that we travel in rural areas. The recommendations focused on active travel, bus priority and the safety and resilience of the transport network, all of which will support the rural economy.
The minister will know that our rural areas are being left behind when it comes to the decarbonisation of transport. We have a huge opportunity here and I wonder whether the cabinet secretary recognises it. We have an opportunity to connect main arterial routes such as the A75, the A77 and the A9 in an electric and hydrogen superhighway that will bring up our rural economy to the standards that we are looking at in urban areas. Does the minister accept that that investment is required?
I recognise the sentiment of Mr Whittle’s question. It is worth saying that a lot of cross-Government work is on-going on this matter. For example, only last week, as I alluded to in my first response, the islands strategic group met and, as a result of a request from me, transport will now be a standing agenda item for that group. It is important that we have a cross-Government approach to transport, particularly where there is a connection across portfolio areas.
I would also point to the fact that the convention of the Highlands and Islands will be in the Western Isles next week and, again, transport will feature on the agenda. There are undoubtedly challenges in rural Scotland that do not exist in other parts of the country.
The member makes a fair point in relation to electric vehicles. It is worth pointing out that, in Scotland, we have the most comprehensive public charging network in the United Kingdom outside of London. However, there is more that we need to do, working with our local authority partners and particularly in rural areas.
Although ferries are integral to the transport of livestock, fish and aquaculture produce throughout Shetland and for export, our interisland ferries also contribute significantly to Shetland’s carbon emissions. How will the Scottish Government assist island communities in decarbonising ferry transport while meeting their economic needs?
The member might be aware that the Deputy First Minister and I met Shetland Islands Council yesterday to discuss this very matter of the sustainability of Shetland’s interisland ferries. That work is on-going with the local authority. We absolutely need to focus on the decarbonisation of the fleet, which at the current time is, of course, the local authority’s responsibility.
The carbon neutral islands project demonstrates that Scottish islands and their economies are at the vanguard of innovation and are leading the way in the journey to net zero. Can the minister advise how the experience of delivering the carbon neutral islands objective, specifically in relation to transport, can be applied to other parts of Scotland, both rural and urban?
The carbon neutral islands project is intended to benefit all of Scotland, not only those islands that have been directly included in it, but of course that will happen through knowledge exchange and the sharing of good practice. The project is very soon to release the community climate change action plans that have been developed by island communities; those plans will be hugely important and we look forward to analysing their content and working closely with our delivery partners.