Forestry Grant Scheme

Portfolio Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament am ar 8 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Llafur

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the forestry grant scheme is fit for purpose. (S6O-03390)

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

The forestry grant scheme has consistently delivered the positive outcomes that are set out in the Scottish rural development programme. Since 2015, 85,000 hectares of new woodland have been supported, including 40,000 hectares of native woodland and 8,000 hectares through natural regeneration. The forestry grant scheme also contributes to a broad range of other priorities, including public access to woodland, rainforest restoration, priority species conservation and rural development.

Under the Scottish rural development programme, a formal evaluation of the forestry grant scheme from 2015 to 2023 is under way, and the report will be published during 2024.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Llafur

Three weeks ago, I wrote to the cabinet secretary about the revelation that the private global investment company abrdn was paid a public grant of £2.5 million from Scottish Forestry in August 2023 for planting trees in the Cairngorms, even though the company increased its shareholdings in coal and oil and gas corporations in the US by £234 million in the same year. Last week, I received a reply from the cabinet secretary in which she told me:

“Scottish Forestry does not restrict funding to companies based on their wider business interests.”

What is the moral justification for that? Does the minister think that that is right? Why is this Government so soft on corporations and so tough on everybody else?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

I am not entirely convinced that that is correct, but I will get a much fuller answer to Richard Leonard, and I am happy to meet him to talk about such issues.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Ceidwadwyr

Today, the issue is not so much whether the right tree is in the right place, but whether we have the right minister in the right place.

In February, the Minister for Energy and the Environment said that

“other sources of funding for tree planting”—[Official Report, 1 February 2024; c 9.]

would be increased to make up for the savage £32 million cut to the forestry grant scheme. What other sources of funding for new woodland creation does the Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity expect to become available? Specifically, how many additional hectares does he believe that that funding will deliver in the coming financial year?

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

The honest answer to that is that I do not know. I am answering questions on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, and I do not have the answer to that question, but we will write to the member with a suitable answer.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I seek your guidance. We are here for rural questions, but we have had not one answer other than the scripted ones. Could the cabinet secretary not have come to rural question time and then dealt with whatever she had to do following that, given that she has been seen on social media at Bute house?

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I thank Rachael Hamilton for her point. She will be aware that the content of ministerial responses and, indeed, whom the Government chooses to respond to questions are matters for the Government.