29.03.12: Crown Estate
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead fielded a series of questions on devolution of the Crown Estate. Jim Eadie (SNP) asked whether Lochhead had spoken to the Secretary of State for Scotland since the Scottish Affairs Select Committee had published a report recommending that marine revenues be devolved.
Lochhead said he had written to Michael Moore; Eadie followed up by asking: “Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that it should be for the Scottish Parliament and not the Secretary of State to decide the precise scheme for devolving those functions, so that we can put the Crown Estate’s resources to work for the benefit of local people and local communities?” Lochhead said that the Scottish Government wanted “the Crown Estate to become much more accountable and democratised” but that the timetable for reform was in the UK Government’s hands.
Tavish Scott (LD) later asked the Government “what its position is on devolving the marine estate to local authorities and harbour boards?” Lochhead replied: “We have proposed a two-phase approach to its devolution. The first phase would be to devolve responsibility to the Parliament; the second phase would be wide-ranging stakeholder consultation and discussion on the most appropriate way to manage the assets.” Scott followed, saying he urged the Government “to take a one-phase approach rather than a two-phase approach.” “Businesses in my constituency do not want a tax grab by the Crown Estate in London to be replaced by a tax grab by the Scottish Government,” continued Scott. “Does he accept the argument that the decommissioning industry, which will be significant for Shetland and for Scotland in the coming years, should be helped by the marine estate powers being held locally by local authorities and harbour boards instead of being held by the Scottish Government?” Lochhead replied that it would “help” if Moore were to first devolve the Crown Estate to Scotland, making good on his campaign pledges to the people of the Highlands and Islands.
The baton was then taken up by Rob Gibson (SNP), who asked that rules governing community benefit programmes, such as the Coastal Communities Fund established to distribute up to 50 per cent of Crown Estate marine revenue to local communities, would be set by the Scottish Parliament.
Lochhead said that community benefit was an issue that would be covered in any discussions over full devolution of the Crown Estate. “As I said in answer to a previous question, I have requested a meeting with Michael Moore to discuss how we can get the Crown Estate devolved to Scotland, where it belongs, as soon as possible,” he concluded.
28.03.12: Zero waste
Waste management officials from local authorities gave evidence to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee on their progress towards Scotland’s 2020 waste targets.
The session revealed the differing levels of preparedness in different council areas, with Dumfries and Galloway Council recycling just 22 per cent of waste, while Highland Council’s recycling rate is almost 40 per cent and North Lanarkshire’s is almost 50 per cent.
Representatives highlighted the complexity of contract arrangements with private providers of waste management services, with Ian Telford, waste strategy and logistics manager for Glasgow City Council telling MSPs that the financial sustainability of their plans relied on the value and amount of recyclate produced.
Telford added that additional benefit from zero waste was held back by the lack of district heating infrastructure to make use of energy produced during the recycling process.
“Through the sustainable Glasgow programme, we are considering how we could extend the network and encapsulate that, but that is for the future. We have to align the waste resource—as we now call it—with the renewable heat and renewable energy programmes, which can bring carbon benefits,” he told the committee.
29.03.12: Local energy companies
As part of their first debate allocation since the 2011 Scottish election, the Greens put forward a motion calling for the creation of public energy companies at local authority level with a remit to invest in publicly owned renewables, lease public assets to appropriate renewable energy developers and buy energy on the wholesale market to become a domestic supplier in the local community.” The motion also expressed concern at “the growing perception that the renewables agenda is benefiting only big business, instead of serving the common good.” Opening the debate, Patrick Harvie (Green) praised the work of Aberdeen Heat and Power, a not-for-profit company set up by Aberdeen City Council a decade ago, that had reduced carbon emissions from the buildings involved by 45 per cent, and reduced fuel costs for tenants by over 50 per cent. Harvie called for support through the Renewable Energy Investment Fund to go to a more diverse range of business models, including cooperatives.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing rose to highlight the Scottish Government’s ambitious renewables targets, and the impact they will have on the economy. He said that the 500MW of locally-owned renewables included in its 2020 target would generate up to £2.4bn in local areas. Harvie intervened to say that the Government’s definition of ‘local’ included private sector firms, and that new investment should go to publicly owned developments.
Ewing said that public ownership was “the best model”, but added that local energy companies were “extremely uncomfortable territory for public sector bodies on fixed budgets”. While he said that “the current market arrangements are not perfect”, Ewing moved an amendment removing reference to public energy companies, instead calling for “public sector involvement in the renewables sector”.
Sarah Boyack (Lab) said “If we had been elected to government last summer, we would have implemented radical plans for community renewables.” Labour moved an amendment calling for a government report to Parliament on progress made.
Mary Scanlon (Con) said that “much can be gained from local energy companies”, but highlighted the failed case of Caithness Heat and Power, a £14.65m project funded by Highland Council that collapsed in 2008 after just four years in operation. Mark Griffin (Lab) highlighted the fact that “there is a growing perception that the renewable energy agenda is benefiting only big energy companies or wealthy landowners, while local people often feel that they suffer from the consequences.” The debate closed with Ewing offering to have government officials meet Harvie to discuss his proposals further; however, at decision time, the SNP amendment was passed.