10 March 2005

S2M-2554 Infrastructure Investment Plan

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 10 March 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

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Infrastructure Investment Plan

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2554, in the name of Tom McCabe, on the infrastructure investment plan.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. I start by congratulating members of the Finance Committee and Des McNulty, the current convener, on their work over the period since the Parliament came into being in helping the Executive and the Parliament to improve the factual basis upon which we hold debates such as this. The draft budget this year improves our access to and understanding of what is going on, compared with previous budgets. That is very much to be welcomed, just as the publication of the plan is to be welcomed. It shows an appropriate and urgent focus on raising our game in relation to infrastructure in Scotland, and it enables us to debate on the basis of plans that the Executive has laid out. That is all very welcome indeed.

Before I get into the meat of the debate, however, I would like to talk to the Hibs supporter on the other side of the chamber for a moment. Unlike Mr Monteith, I am all too aware that the A90 does not stop at Aberdeen. It continues on through Peterhead to Fraserburgh. I am not the only member of Parliament who has constantly raised the need to dual the A90 north of Aberdeen. Mr Monteith's Conservative colleagues Nanette Milne and David Davidson have also called for that improvement, and I welcome that. For that matter, Nora Radcliffe also supports the dualling of that road, so it is a matter of cross-party agreement.

If Mr Monteith is going to lodge long, rambling amendments, he should at least try to get them right. Furthermore, when given the opportunity to show just a little humility he should, for once, take it.

Mr Ted Brocklebank (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): That is the pot calling the kettle black.

Stewart Stevenson: I make no claims myself—no claims whatsoever.

There is not one dual carriageway north and east of a line from Elgin to Ellon. The Tories certainly did not help us on that score; perhaps the current Administration will.

I will welcome some specific measures in "Building a Better Scotland: Infrastructure Investment Plan: Investing in the Future of Scotland" shortly. However, I can never resist an invitation to take the opportunity to be a wee bit tactical, so I invite Mr McCabe to consider the International Financial Reporting Interpretations Committee's deliberations. The committee's work is designed to ensure that countries across the globe apply similar standards, so that we can account for the activities of multinationals. Many of the new standards will apply to us from 1 January 2006. In particular—I have referred to this subject previously—IFRIC draft interpretations D12, D13 and D14 refer to how to deal with assets in a public private partnership situation.

Kilmarnock prison, which was discussed earlier today, currently appears neither on the Executive's balance sheet nor on the balance sheet of Kilmarnock Prison Services Ltd. In fact, the company's 2000 accounts show that the prison was sold to the Home Office—it meant the Scottish Executive, but in either event it was wrong. There must be more clarity in PPP arrangements. One of the reasons that we have rather sterile debates on the subject is that we do not have possession of all the facts that are necessary to promote debate. I hope that the minister will consider the issue and continue the good work of developing the way in which figures are presented to us in the Parliament.

I will be parochial for a moment and welcome very much the confirmation, on page 33 of the document, of the £6.9 million for Chalmers hospital in Banff. I also welcome the fact that there will be money to extend broadband to every community in Scotland. However, I ask the minister to what extent that applies to individuals in Scotland who are part of communities that have broadband, but are technically at the end of infrastructure that is incapable of supporting it. I have constituents who are in that position. They would very much welcome hearing from the minister that they will have support.

The figure of £107 million is given for spending on information technology infrastructure for the health service over the next three years. That is welcome, but it is a huge distance back from the £8 billion that the English and Welsh health service is investing in a patient record system. One of my enduring concerns about NHS 24 is that, although it is a welcome way forward, it makes the health service less efficient if it does not have the infrastructure with which it could operate efficiently. The same is true for the arrangements for out-of-hours services. Because they have no access to patient records, they must waste time discovering what the health service more generally already knows. That £107 million figure must, when the money is available—I hope that the minister can tell us when that might be—rise dramatically.

I am not terribly convinced that capital funding for Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd is a good investment, based on its track record so far. I hope that Oban airport remains with the private company that so effectively operates it.

I welcome the fact that there is a phase 2 in the estates review of the Scottish Prison Service. There must be new investment in the north-east of Scotland. Peterhead prison is generally acknowledged to be no longer fit for purpose.

I have covered a series of items in the document, but the one thing that is still missing is a statement of assets and liabilities. The document states:

"For accounting purposes, capital spending"

is something that is on the Government's balance sheet. It is time that we saw that balance sheet, saw what assets we have and saw whether they are working to our benefit or otherwise.


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