It has been great to work alongside our new green councillors in Edinburgh and East Lothian over the past few months as we look ahead to how we can make real change locally in the Lothian region. We have regular meetings scheduled for the months ahead and will be working together on local issues, case work and other areas.
This week I have visited the River Esk with East Lothian councillor Shona McIntosh to discuss flood defences and have met with Edinburgh Councillors to discuss the strategic future of the councillor/ MSP team.
It has been a year since we began a new chapter for our party by entering government for the first time with the Bute House Agreement.
That agreement, overwhelmingly supported by members, put Greens in government for the first time anywhere in the UK, allowing us to plan for longer-term structural changes rather than negotiating individual budgets year-on-year. Of course, there have been big challenges in those 12 months, but we have begun to make the kind of change that we have campaigned for and are building a fairer, greener country.
We have doubled the Scottish Child Payment at a time when Westminster is decimating welfare services, introduced free bus travel for under-22s and are ensuring all government contracts pay the living wage. In my role as a Minister I have banned new waste incinerators, which will save 160,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. I am currently consulting on the circular economy bill, our new national park and the biodiversity strategy.
At the end of May I launched my consultation on Scotland’s Circular Economy bill which I am proud to be taking through Parliament. These consultations set out the key proposed actions and the tools we will put in place to help people, businesses and service providers to play their part in cutting waste in our economy and capitalising on the opportunities that a circular economy presents.
The Circular Economy Bill will give us the powers to cut waste in our economy, while preserving precious resources and protecting our natural environment. One of the measures that I was proud to announce is the plan to ban companies from destroying unsold goods. We are also launching sector-specific incentives, like the £2 million fund that I recently announced for textiles.
Infrastructure for the Deposit Return scheme is now beginning to be rolled out across Scotland, and businesses of all sizes are being encouraged to act now to make sure they are ready for the scheme launching this time next year. I am delighted that earlier this year we secured £18 Million from the Scottish National Investment Bank and the Bank of Scotland to help set up the scheme.
Zero Waste Scotland estimates that the scheme will reduce emissions by an average of nearly 160,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – the equivalent of 109,000 return flights from Edinburgh to New York – while helping to cut the number of bottles and cans discarded in streets and green spaces.
In June I made a Ministerial statement to the Parliament as part of our campaign to create at least one new national park in Scotland. I outlined the path to creating the first national park for over 25 years. I also launched a consultation to find out what people want from their parks and will be following it up by giving people and community groups the chance to nominate the park that they would like to be given this status.
In July, I was delighted to announce £5 Million of funding for biodiversity projects as part of the 2022 Nature Restoration Fund. This funding round provided support to 46 projects across Scotland that are working to restore our natural environment.
Our efforts to support Ukraine were recognised in August when myself and Ross Greer received notice that we had been sanctioned by the Kremlin as a response to our advocacy for the people of Ukraine. This will do nothing to change our position and, after months of bloodshed and war, it is vital that we continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
My office team has expanded since I last wrote, with the addition of Kelly who joins us via the Inclusion Scotland internship programme. Kelly is working with my office and Gillian Mackay MSP, and joins Andrew, Cameron, Kayleigh and Chloe as part of my team.