23 April 2009

S3M-3938 Transport Infrastructure (West of Scotland) (Opening Speech)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 23 April 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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Transport Infrastructure
(West of Scotland)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3938, in the name of Des McNulty, on west of Scotland transport infrastructure. I call Des McNulty to speak to and move the motion. He has 11 minutes—less the time he took to walk across in front of me.

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The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I welcome the opportunity that the debate presents to highlight the importance that we in Government place on the promotion of sustainable economic growth in these difficult times. I welcome Des McNulty's broadly constructive speech, which made a fine opening to the debate. We will see where it takes us.

We have made it clear that an efficient transport system is essential for enhancing productivity and delivering faster and more sustainable economic growth across Scotland, in the west of Scotland and particularly in Glasgow. Against the backdrop of a global economic slow-down, the Government—through Transport Scotland—is driving forward the largest transport investment programme that Scotland has ever seen, with a number of vital projects.

The programme will support tens of thousands of jobs, almost all of which will be in the private sector. Our continuing investment is helping the hard-pressed construction sector now and is creating hundreds of construction jobs. Last year, Transport Scotland projects represented approximately 25 per cent of the construction market in Scotland. About 95 per cent of Transport Scotland's budget goes to the private sector.

We will continue our focus on providing sustainable, integrated and cost-effective public transport alternatives to the car. Recent short-term and long-term investment in road and rail has supported nearly 13,000 jobs.

We will invest £2.5 billion in our strategic transport networks over the next three years, which will support the economy. The programme includes a new railway between Airdrie and Bathgate that links Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Borders railway, and reluctant but now entirely committed support for the Edinburgh tram project. We have also progressed—at last—the M74 project. People can plan for as long as they like, but what matters is making projects happen. The Glasgow airport rail link, the M8 between Newhouse and Baillieston, and the upgrading of the A80 to a motorway between Stepps and Haggs will all be completed in time for 2014.

Ross Finnie: I note that the minister continues to repeat that nothing happened with the M74 under the previous Administration. Will he clarify for the Parliament's benefit whether the M74 route that has only just begun to be built is being constructed on top of the many factories that were in its road? If not, were those factories relocated by accident or were they successfully relocated by the previous Executive?

Stewart Stevenson: The one thing that I did not say was that nothing had been done. It is clear that transport projects are long term and that they cross boundaries between Administrations. I acknowledge what was done. However, there had been no engagement to deliver the project, which is now happening.

Through Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government supports Network Rail's Scottish operations and ScotRail's passenger services, which involve about 7,000 jobs. Work on the new Clackmannanshire bridge—which was started under the previous Administration and delivered under the current Administration—and on the M74 involves 2,000 construction jobs. The M74 project will employ 900 people and the Stepps to Haggs project will employ 500 people. Lots of jobs are involved, such as the 3,000 that relate to the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link and the Edinburgh trams.

Cathie Craigie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (Lab): Like the minister and other members, I welcome the start on the A80 from Stepps to Haggs. A transport model considered the long-term plan of having a station at Abronhill in Cumbernauld, which would greatly assist commuters between Cumbernauld and Glasgow. Will the minister comment on the feasibility of that proposal?

Stewart Stevenson: Not at this stage.

Through a major infrastructure programme, we are delivering significant benefits to businesses throughout Scotland.

The strategic transport projects review, which has been mentioned, is a 20-year programme. The motion requires us to consider prioritisation. We have, of course, prioritised the projects in the review over the nearly 900 other projects that are outside it. As we go through comprehensive spending reviews, we will continue that prioritisation process.

Cross-city travel in Glasgow is important, which is why we are talking to SPT about a range of improvements. We are ensuring not only that we support short-term needs but that we consider the need for termini for high-speed rail and that we do not overload other parts of the network. Much is going on.

Labour's motion presents an opportunity for a subject debate and is therefore welcome. However, I will make a point that Labour politicians in Wales and England seem to have understood but which Iain Gray's team might not have. Rhodri Morgan, the Labour First Minister for Wales, said:

"The Archangel Gabriel could not find such proposed cuts in budgets without damaging public services",

and Harriet Harman told the Scottish Trades Union Congress that

"you cannot cut your way out of recession".

The efficiency savings that are being talked about for Scotland are, in effect, cuts. Removing resource only makes our job more difficult. I hope that we will have some unanimity in the campaign to ensure that we have the tools. Only then can we here do the job.

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