Scottish Parliament
European Committee
Official Report
Meeting 2, 1999

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Col 50 Dennis Canavan: Six people are employed in the Scottish Executive office at Scotland House. Can Owen give us an idea of how many people are employed there altogether, taking into account Scotland Europa and other employees?

Mr Kelly: It varies. People come in from Scottish Enterprise on secondment, for example. In full-time terms, Scotland Europa has roughly the same number. In terms of people who are paid for by Scottish institutions, the number is quite small. Most people in Scotland Europa represent organisations such as the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and a couple of private sector companies. They are called residents because they take space in Scotland House, which they use as their Brussels base. That was an interesting matter when we were examining other regional representations. What we set up had to be flexible and alive to the fact that we did not really know what the new ministers would want to do. In relative terms, the representation is quite small. Bavaria has, I think, 16 or 17 full-time Executive-equivalent staff based in Brussels.

Dennis Canavan: With regard to political communication and accountability, would it be true to say that Scotland House is more accountable to the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament rather than to Westminster and Whitehall?

Mr Kelly: Very much so. Its staff are part of the Scottish Executive.

The Convener: Thank you very much, Owen. At some point, we will have to explore these matters further: links with MEPs—as Maureen pointed out—use of the facilities in Brussels and use of the organisations that are resident there. As we progress and develop, we will use those links to better effect.

Fisheries (Structural Assistance)

The Convener: I wish to return to the third item on the agenda: the consultation paper on Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector. It has been sent to the Rural Affairs Committee, which will give it detailed consideration. We have been asked whether there is a wider European perspective on which we wish to comment, and whether we want to comment on broader issues. We do not want to duplicate the work of the Rural Affairs Committee, but we could consider things from a different angle.

Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): I want to make a couple of points on the wider aspects. It is self- evident that the fishery-dependent areas of Scotland—I am thinking of objective 1, or rather the new post-objective 1 programme plan for the Highlands and Islands—are those that are in receipt of the great benefits of financial instrument 

Col 51 for fisheries guidance funding. Most of the initiatives of what used to be called PESCA will, I understand, be included in the new programme and are therefore eligible measures.

When examining the economic output of fisheries and aquaculture, it is important to realise that the areas that have most to gain from funding are those that are totally dependent on fisheries as a stable part of the local economy. Therefore, the presumption should be that fishery-dependent areas are broadly accepted to receive that funding. We need look no further than the other document circulated to the committee: the Highlands and Islands special programme consultative draft plan, which came in members' post around a week ago. It includes a SWOT—strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—analysis of the Highlands and Islands. One could quote at length on the importance of the fisheries sector to many peripheral areas. I hope that that presumption will be accepted by members.

Of the two other factors that I think are important, the first is the delivery mechanism. What used to be the Scottish Office agriculture, environment and fisheries department, now the rural affairs department of the Scottish Executive, delivered FIFG. As far as the representations that I have received are concerned, that was considered to be an effective mechanism to deliver the programme: it was useful and concentrated on the strength of the argument and on the benefits of the investment in terms of economic output. As that system is working, I would like there to be an understanding that it will be continued. It is clear that the model worked well.

The only aspect that is worthy of further consideration is the integration of FIFG, the European social fund and the European regional development fund. If there is to be integration of the three—which should be achieved by the plans—it follows that if an investment is made in fisheries, whatever it may be, training and infrastructure measures will dovetail into it. If the rural affairs department is to be the lead agency, there needs to be some consideration of the best ways to implement and ensure proper integration of the different funds.

The final aspect that I want to cover is overall funding. As I understand it, current FIFG funding was 6.9 per cent of the total budget for the objective 1 programme, or around 14.7 million over six years. The new programme is to be seven years, and there are more measures, so by definition, there is less money, which is to be spread more thinly. It is therefore particularly important that the case is put that more money in this area is spent on fish use and fish-related activities. The records will illustrate that projects 

Col 52 ran out of money. There was not enough money in the pot for the number and range of imaginative projects that came forward from throughout the Highlands and Islands.

In the context of more measures and less money—because it is spread over a longer time—it is important that, within the overall confines of the Euro300 million available, some consideration is given, when the plan is drawn up, to ensuring that fisheries gains more than the current 6.9 per cent, otherwise we will achieve less with it.

Those are the points that I want to press. In the context of the committee, I think that my points on overall funding and on the way in which decisions are made are the important ones. In the past, the objective 1 programme worked pretty well.

The Convener: I wish to clarify, Tavish, that your third point was on fisheries and a greater percentage, that your second point was on the delivery mechanism, and that the first point—

Tavish Scott: The first point is just the principle that fishery-dependent areas should be those that are mostly in receipt of such funding. The economic output figures for those areas—my own part of the world is highly dependent on fisheries as an overall part of its economy—show that fisheries is the most important aspect to invest in for the future.

The Convener: Three points have been raised for the committee to consider.

Maureen Macmillan: I want to make a point about the west Highlands that is similar to the one Tavish made about his constituency. There are some fragile communities in the west Highlands which need to draw in investment from objective 1 and other programmes. We should be thinking in particular about conservation, for example of shellfish stocks. That is an issue in the northern isles as well as in the west Highlands and the western isles. We must think about whether the methods used to fish them are the best for conserving them. I am thinking about what is going on—I would hate to say a quarrel—just now between prawn creelers and prawn trawlers. That sort of thing has to be examined in terms of European funding.

Dr Winnie Ewing: I know that we have a fisheries committee, and that it will get a bit difficult to separate our function from that of the fisheries committee.

Maureen Macmillan: We do not want to get into too much detail.

Dr Ewing: The document on Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector is pretty meaningless without further information. Its easy statement about the

Col 53 "balance between exploitation and resources"

can be interpreted in certain ways which do not help the Scots but which help the Spaniards.

Ms MacDonald: Narrow nationalist, Winnie.

Dr Ewing: The Spaniards are very good at looking after the small print.

The fact is that we do not know what stage Britain is at with the multi-annual guidance programme. We need to know that before any of this makes sense. We would be entitled to ask for a note about what stage we are at with our commitment to obeying the strict rules on reduction of the fleet. Have we got there yet? I never seem to be told whether we have achieved it.

Maureen Macmillan: The statistics on the reduction of the fleet are very out of date. Perhaps it would be a good idea to ensure that we are working with statistics that are up to date.

The Convener: Those are relevant issues for the Rural Affairs Committee to consider in detail. Do we know when it will examine this issue?

Stephen Imrie: No, I have not had any feedback yet from the clerk or the convener. I just know that Alex Johnstone is aware of the document.

Dr Ewing: We have a crisis—a disease of the salmon—that will be known to any country with fishing areas. The European directive, under which the British directive was passed, provides for compensation, but for some reason ours does not. A case has just been raised in Europe to see if the payment of compensation cannot be obliged. Is that an issue for this committee or for the Rural Affairs Committee? Many of our areas are dependent on aquaculture, and we are sitting here with a crisis that this document looks as if it will not cover. That is just one crisis—there are, of course, others.

The Convener: That crisis is specifically for the attention of the Rural Affairs Committee. I propose that we write to that committee asking it to consider some of the points that have been raised today about fishery-dependent areas, the delivery mechanism and the allocation to the fisheries industry. We can ask it to look at the conservation issues raised by Maureen and some of the matters that Winnie has raised about the crisis in the industry. That is probably the best that we can do at the moment, and we can rely on the Rural Affairs Committee to go into the detail.

Bruce Crawford: I am interested in trying to learn something from these processes, but to be honest some of the gobbledegook and the cross-references in the paper are a bit lost on me. If we have a paper like this in future it might be useful to 

Col 54 be given a short synopsis—even half a page—telling us what the main issues are. That would enable me to understand more about the wider implications. At some stage I would also like to find out more about the views of the people who contribute to this process.

Understanding the outputs in the consultation process could help me learn for later. For example, I am aware that Aberdeenshire and Moray, two councils who are quite involved in this issue and have strong opinions on it, are meeting today to formulate the view that they will put into the consultation. I would like to understand some of the outcomes from that process so that I can be a bit more up to date with such issues.

The Convener: We will try to take those comments into account.

Tavish Scott: It is important that the transitional payments and the moneys that will flow through this programme into fisheries are not used to pay for things that they should not pay for. Under a previous administration, decommissioning costs came out of objective 1 funding and stopped projects happening in many areas. That should not happen with infectious salmon anaemia. It is important that we separate objective 1 funding for new projects in the Highlands and Islands from funding for issues such as ISA, because ISA is a very different issue and area of expenditure.

Ben Wallace: Chapter 8 of the consultative draft for the Highlands and Islands lists the priorities for where certain amounts of money should go, but I am concerned that—because of some the requirements of the Amsterdam Treaty on competitiveness and high levels of sustainable development—the fishing industry has been effectively left out. The priorities listed include light manufacturing, food and drink, tourism, activities based on information and communications technology, and oil and gas. As this is a draft document, do we have a role in influencing its priorities for that money? If we do not, I fear—as Tavish said—that a vast amount of the safety net money will go towards the listed priorities and leave out the fishermen. I think that we have a role in trying to include the fishermen.

Allan Wilson: I would like to pick up on the point that Tavish made. As part of the consultative process that is under way, we were written to separately about the special programme for the Highlands and Islands. There was a suggestion that that would be the subject of discussion at a future meeting. Would this be an appropriate point to determine when that discussion will take place?

The Convener: At the next meeting.

David Mundell: This is a question on a technical point and I probably should know the answer, but is a document such as this 

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Scottish Parliament 1999
Prepared 18 August 1999