11 Nov: Questions in Parliament

Earlier this afternoon, John Lamont MSP sought to question the Minister responsible for Sport in the Scottish Parliament on the matter of the Jim Clark Rally. Short and to the point it makes interesting reading. It also raises hope for 2015!

Q. John Lamont (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to Scottish Borders Council’s decision not to allow the Jim Clark rally to take place in 2015.

A.The Cabinet Secretary for Commonwealth Games, Sport, Equalities and Pensioners’ Rights,
Shona Robison:

The Scottish Government understands the disappointment of the organisers that the Jim Clark rally has been cancelled. The decision not to hold the rally in May 2015 is ultimately for Scottish Borders Council to make in consultation with planning partners.

The Scottish Government is doing all that it can to ensure that motorsports events, including the Jim Clark rally, can continue to take place as safely as possible in the future.

John Lamont:
I thank the cabinet secretary for her response. Everyone involved wants rallying to be as safe as it can be, following the tragic events earlier this year.

Given the announcement last week that the rally will not go ahead in 2015 as planned, does the cabinet secretary believe that there was adequate consultation between the race organisers and elected representatives before the decision was made?

Shona Robison:
I am sure that the council has not taken the decision lightly, given that it knows the strength of feeling of the organisers and the local community. It was always going to be a difficult decision to impart to the organisers and elected members. I hope that communication can be improved in the future, and I hope that the dialogue between the council and the organisers will continue, because it is important that we look at the options for ensuring that there will be a Jim Clark rally on a future date.

John Lamont:
I thank the cabinet secretary for that further helpful response. Since the announcement on Friday, the organisers of the rally have been in contact with me to say that Scottish Borders Council feels unable, while the police inquiry is on-going, to discuss the possibility of a 2015 rally and closed roads. That is despite assurances from the Minster for Transport and Veterans in June that the rally could take place in 2015 provided that it complied with the recommendations that would be made by the Scottish Government’s sports safety review team.

I understand that there is still time for a rally to be held in May 2015—that is the position of the organisers, who issued a statement to that effect this morning. Will the Scottish Government intervene to facilitate discussions between the organisers, Scottish Borders Council and the police? More specifically, will the cabinet secretary encourage the Lord Advocate to meet me and the race organisers with a view to issuing guidelines to allow the organisers and the council to proceed with planning the 2015 event?

Shona Robison:
I will deal with that last point first. I am sure that the Lord Advocate will be happy to meet John Lamont to discuss issues—albeit that he may be restricted in the elements that he can discuss, given that the Crown will receive the report from the police in due course.

The role of ministers in the Jim Clark rally is determined by the Scottish Borders Council (Jim Clark Memorial Rally) Order Confirmation Act 1996, so there is a role for ministers in monitoring the event at a high level from a public safety perspective, but Scottish Borders Council has always been the lead authority for authorising the event. The council, in discussion with its legal advisers, considered the requirement to look back at this year’s rally in order to plan next year’s rally, and came to the conclusion that it would be extremely difficult to do that while there was a live police investigation on-going, and with the possibility of there being proceedings by the Crown, depending on what the report from the police to the Crown says. I understand that difficulty. It was a difficult decision for the council to reach but, on the basis of the advice that it has received, that was the conclusion to which it came.

Going forward, in considering what can be done it will be important that communication between the council, elected members and the organisers is good. The organisers are keen to continue those discussions and I believe that the council is, too. However, we must bear in mind that there is a live police investigation that will take some time, as will any Crown proceedings that may be pursued following the report. Meanwhile, I am happy to facilitate a discussion with the Lord Advocate, if John Lamont would find that helpful.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab):
Can the cabinet secretary please provide further details of the broader review of on-road sporting events including cycling, which I understand is currently being undertaken? What impacts might that have on other summer events in 2015?

Shona Robison:
The motorsport safety review has reported its interim recommendations. It looked at, among other things, the training that is required of marshals and people involved in the organisation of events—not just the Jim Clark rally, but the rally that took place in Mull and any other events of that nature. The final report will come in at the end of the year, but it was important to get those interim findings out there, not least because the Mull rally was about to take place and important changes needed to be made that were made in time for that rally.

Organisers of any such events will want to look closely at the recommendations that we will receive by the end of the year and ensure that they plan and arrange their events in line with those recommendations.