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This programme for government sets out a range of actions for the coming year. It also sets out a vision for the coming decade.
This Government has a record to be proud of. We have delivered better services with reduced resources; school leaver destinations are the best on record; a fifth of all school buildings have been rebuilt or refurbished; crime is at a 40-year low; we have higher employment than the rest of the United Kingdom; and national health service waiting times are among the lowest ever recorded. We have also made necessary and radical long-term reforms to police, colleges, health and social care services and our school curriculum.
The foundations are strong. This programme for government sets out how we will build on them. It outlines the legislation that the Government will introduce between now and the end of March, and also the key policies that we will pursue for the remainder of the current session of Parliament to support our economy, create a fairer society and improve our public services.
However, it does more than that. This programme for government looks beyond the current parliamentary year to the long term. It sets out how we intend to address the challenges of the future. It provides a policy platform that will inform our decisions in the spending review and budget bill and shape our agenda for the next session of Parliament. It also begins to set out how we will use—creatively and ambitiously—the limited new powers that are proposed in the Scotland Bill.
The success of our economy is essential to all our aims, so I am today setting out a bold ambition. We intend to make Scotland the best place in the UK to do business. We intend to become the real northern powerhouse—the UK location of choice for businesses that are looking to locate, expand or invest. We will do that not by a race to the bottom on costs but by a determined focus on the four pillars of our economic strategy: investment in people and infrastructure, innovation, internationalisation and inclusive growth.
We will continue to support our oil and gas industry. Our energy jobs task force has been extended for a further six months and we will prioritise key sectors where we have a competitive advantage: food and drink, life sciences, financial services, creative industries, low carbon and renewable energy industries.
The following key measures that I am announcing today will support sustainable economic growth. We will continue to provide the most competitive business rates package in the UK and, for the duration of the next session of Parliament, we will fund the small business bonus, which already supports 100,000 business premises across the country.
We will extend the operation of our four enterprise areas, which operate across 15 sites, for three years until 2020. We will also establish a fifth enterprise area at BioCity in North Lanarkshire. Companies locating in those sites will be eligible for rates relief, enhanced capital allowances, streamlined planning processes, skills and training support and help to access international markets.
We will work to strengthen Scotland’s manufacturing base, with a new manufacturing action plan to be published this autumn, and we will undertake a root-and-branch review of the planning system, with particular emphasis on increasing the delivery of high-quality housing developments. Over the next year, our enterprise agencies will work with an additional 1,000 companies to help them to grow through innovation, and we will support our innovation centres with a £1 million challenge fund.
We will intensify our support for internationalisation. The value of our international exports increased by 20 per cent in the three years from 2010. A new trade and investment strategy, to be published later this year, will set out how we will build on that success. We will establish new innovation and investment hubs, the first of which will be located in London, Brussels and Dublin. They will be up and running by summer next year and will provide places for Government, our agencies and public partners and the private sector to make international connections that will boost exports and inward investment, promote the research and innovation excellence of our businesses and universities and enhance international collaboration.
We will continue to invest in skills. We will spend £16 million this year to support the implementation of our youth employment strategy. Priorities include better careers advice in schools, higher-quality work placements, a closer relationship between schools and business and an expansion of foundation apprenticeships. We will also continue to increase the overall number of apprenticeships from 25,000 to 30,000 a year by 2020.
We will make major investments in infrastructure. Next week, the new Borders railway will be opened by the Queen. It is the longest new domestic railway line to be constructed in Britain in more than a century. Construction will also begin on dualling the A9—one of the biggest road projects of this generation. Yesterday, I announced that Ferguson’s shipyard on the Clyde is the preferred bidder for a £100 million contract for two new ferries. Over the next year, we will complete and open the new Queensferry crossing, make progress on the Aberdeen bypass and invest in rail improvements between Edinburgh and Glasgow and between Aberdeen and Inverness. We will also continue the transformation of our digital infrastructure. In every part of the country, we will deliver major projects that will provide the 21st-century infrastructure that our businesses rely on to grow, innovate and become more productive. However, as the big projects of this Parliament reach completion, we must determine our new priorities. So, alongside our draft budget for 2016-17, we will publish an updated infrastructure investment plan that will set out our plans for the next 10 years and beyond.
For many of our businesses, a real restriction on growth is a lack of access to finance, which is why we are setting up a business development bank. By the end of this year, we will have published the timetable for establishing it. However, I can announce today an additional significant initiative to provide practical assistance to businesses with the greatest potential to fuel our growth. This autumn, we will establish a new £40 million growth fund for small and medium-sized enterprises that will provide microcredit finance of up to £25,000, loans of up to £100,000 and equity investment of up to £2 million. We will also use our limited new powers to support business growth. In doing that, we will subject our devolved tax forecasts to the scrutiny of the independent Scottish Fiscal Commission. In the coming year, that body will be put on a statutory footing by the Scottish Fiscal Commission bill.
We are already consulting business and others about the new tax powers in the Scotland Bill, and we will set out our intentions in the budget bill. This autumn, we will receive the report of the independent commission on local government finance. However, I can confirm today one early commitment. The reduction of air passenger duty, which we plan to cut by 50 per cent by the end of the next session of Parliament, will begin in April 2018, when we will introduce a replacement Scottish tax—an early indication of how we will use our new powers to encourage growth and jobs.
We are also promoting inclusive growth. We agree with the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and others that greater equality is good for economic growth. Society benefits from a strong business community and businesses benefit from a fairer society. That is why we will continue to place a strong and growing emphasis on fair work. As part of that, I can announce that, as soon as we have the power to do so, we will abolish fees for employment tribunals. That is another early indication of how we will use our new powers.
I can also announce that in the coming year we will extend the duty on public authorities to publish information about the gender pay gap. That duty currently applies to public bodies with more than 150 employees. We will reduce the threshold to 20 employees.
We will also continue to promote the real living wage. The living wage makes work pay and reduces poverty. It also helps businesses to increase productivity, reduce absenteeism and improve staff retention. Last year, I set a target of having 150 living wage accredited employers by the end of 2015. There are already more than 300 such employers, so we are now working to a target of 500 by the dissolution of this Parliament and I fully expect it to be met.
Over the next six months, the fair work convention will create a new framework for the relationship between employers, employees and trade unions, public bodies and government. In particular, it will propose and promote employment practices that benefit workers and enhance productivity. Improving productivity—and ensuring that the benefits of better productivity are widely shared—is one of the key economic challenges that we face in the next decade. Fair work founded on partnership between employers, employees and government is a central part of the solution. That is why my Government will vigorously oppose the United Kingdom Government’s proposed trade union legislation, which seeks to undermine the rights of unions to fairly and reasonably represent their members. We will oppose it for a simple reason—we see trade unions as partners, not as opponents.
Fair work is just one of the ways in which we will tackle inequality. Good-quality, affordable housing is essential for people to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. Over the past decade, the rate of new house completions has been higher in Scotland than it has in England. Much of that is due to our investment. I can confirm that, by the end of March, we will not just meet but exceed our target for the present session of Parliament of delivering 30,000 affordable homes, but we intend to do more. Over the next year, we will establish a rural housing fund to better meet the needs of rural communities. The help-to-buy scheme has helped 6,500 people to buy homes and has provided support for the construction sector, including the 211 small companies that are registered for the small developers fund. I am announcing that we will invest an additional £195 million over the next three years to extend the scheme. We will set out more detail following the spending review in November.
Alongside our continued investment in affordable housing and help for home owners, we will improve conditions in the private rented sector. Our private tenancies bill will modernise a law that affects hundreds of thousands of tenants and landlords across Scotland. The bill will improve security for tenants and provide clear rights and safeguards for landlords. I can also announce that the bill will include provisions for rent controls in rent pressure areas.
Alongside action on housing, we will invest more than £100 million this year to mitigate the impact of UK Government welfare cuts. Make no mistake—we will continue to stand against a UK Government that imposes austerity on the vulnerable while preparing to spend billions renewing Trident.
We are also preparing to use our new, albeit limited, welfare powers. The new powers that are proposed in the Scotland Bill fall far short of what we would need to fully mitigate the harm caused by UK Government policies. For example, cuts to tax credits alone will reduce the incomes of more than 200,000 households in Scotland by an average of £3,000 a year.
However, we will use the new powers to help those who need it most. We will set out our detailed proposals by the end of this year, but I can give an early indication of our priorities today. I can confirm that it is our intention to introduce a Scottish social security bill in the first year of the new session of Parliament. The bill will begin to put in place the essential delivery infrastructure for a new Scottish social security system. It will also make provision for the early policy changes that we will wish to make as soon as we have the powers to do so. Those will include improvements to how the system works for disabled people and carers, and changes to universal credit to help people manage their money better. I can also confirm that the bill will make provision for the earliest possible abolition of the bedroom tax. We are also working on a replacement for the Department for Work and Pensions discredited work programme, and I can confirm that that replacement will be in place by 1 April 2017.
We will do everything that we can to mitigate welfare cuts and restore dignity to our social security system, but real and long-term progress on tackling inequality has to start in the early years of life. This new school term is the first in which two-year-olds from low income families have been eligible for 600 hours of childcare and early learning. Last year, all three and four-year-olds became eligible for 600 hours. That is an increase from 412 hours eight years ago. We are now working to improve the flexibility of that provision. We are also planning the next stage of expansion: our aim is to provide more than 1,100 hours a year by 2020. That will be a huge investment in our economy and society. It will support parents back into work and ensure that children get the best start in life.
That support in the early years will also help to improve attainment in schools. Improving school attainment is arguably the single most important objective in this programme for government. Improving it overall and closing the gap between children in our most and least deprived areas is fundamental to our aim of making Scotland fairer and more prosperous. Education in Scotland is already good and getting better. Last month, young people achieved a record number of passes at higher and advanced higher. However, despite some encouraging evidence that it might be narrowing slightly, the attainment gap is still too large. To address it, we need to be open to innovation and new practice; that is the purpose of our £100 million attainment fund.
However, we also need to have better information about attainment so that we measure progress consistently and drive change. We need to be able to see what is working and where we still need to improve. I can confirm that we will establish a new national improvement framework—a draft of it is being published today. We will introduce new national standardised assessments for pupils in primaries 1, 4 and 7, and in the third year of secondary school. The new assessments will focus on literacy and numeracy. They will be piloted next year in schools participating in the attainment challenge and then introduced in all schools in 2017.
The new national assessments, which we will develop in partnership with local government, teachers and parents, will replace the variety of different assessments already used by local authorities. They will not increase teacher workload; indeed, as a Government, we are mindful of the need to reduce bureaucracy so that teachers can focus on what they do best: helping children to learn.
The new assessments will introduce greater consistency to curriculum for excellence. They will provide reliable evidence of a child’s performance or progress, but they will not be the sole measurement. This is not about narrowing the curriculum or forcing teachers to teach to a test. It is not a return to the national testing of old. The assessments will inform, not replace, teacher judgment. They will provide robust and consistent evidence to help teachers judge whether a child is achieving the required level of curriculum for excellence.
We will publish more information about children’s progress at different levels of curriculum for excellence in primary and lower secondary school, to match the level of information available in the senior years of secondary school. We will consult on the detail and format of publication to ensure that we provide it in the appropriate context. I have no desire to see crude league tables that distort rather than enhance our understanding of children’s attainment and performance, but I am determined that we make available much more information about performance in primary and lower secondary school.
Parents need meaningful information about the progress of their children. Teachers need to know which pupils are doing well and which ones need more support; governments—local and national—need to have reliable data to inform policy; and all of us need to know whether the twin aims of raising attainment overall and closing the attainment gap are being met. That is the key. Assessing and measuring attainment is not an end in itself: the purpose is to drive improvement.
To that end, I can announce today that our funded commitment to maintain teacher numbers will continue next year. We will work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to address challenges in teacher recruitment and ensure that we get teachers to areas of greatest need. Of course, the Scottish attainment challenge—backed by the £100 million fund—is already ensuring that additional staff and resources are directed at more than 300 schools in our most deprived areas. Through the attainment challenge we will continue to identify, implement and fund best practice of what works in improving performance. I want to leave no one in any doubt. I am determined that we will demonstrate, year on year, that Scottish education is improving for all our young people and that the attainment gap is narrowing.
Raising attainment in schools is all about ensuring that our young people get the chance to reach their full potential in life. To that end, let me mention three further initiatives. First, as I set out last week, we will invest an additional £16 million a year to extend eligibility for the education maintenance allowances that allow young people from our poorest backgrounds to stay on in education. The numbers eligible will increase from 35,000 to 57,000. Secondly, in the autumn we will receive the interim report of the commission on widening access to university. That will allow us to consider what needs to be done to ensure that a child born today in one of our most deprived communities has no less a chance of going to university than a child born in one of our least deprived communities. Thirdly, as part of our drive to improve outcomes for children in care, we will right a long-standing wrong for kinship care families. I can announce today that we will fund local authorities to increase financial support for kinship carers to the same level as foster carers. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and COSLA will announce further details of that policy shortly.
Our focus on improvement in education is matched by our ambition for the national health service. Since 2007, we have employed an additional 10,000 staff in our NHS. That investment has delivered improvements. For example, 95 per cent of in-patients and day cases are now treated within 12 weeks. In 2007, the waiting time target was longer, at 18 weeks, and only 85 per cent of patients were seen within it. Hospital care is also safer today as a result of our patient safety programme, and hospital infections have been reduced by more than 80 per cent.
We are also well advanced with the integration of health and social care—perhaps the biggest reform to how care is delivered since the establishment of the NHS. I can confirm today that the process of integration will be complete by next April. Integration is already delivering improvements. Last year, in the programme for government, I identified delayed discharges as a key priority. Today, I can report that delayed discharges have fallen by almost a fifth in the past 12 months.
The next step is to ensure that our NHS develops as a genuine community health service. We know that the ageing population—to be welcomed, of course—is nevertheless increasing pressure on our hospitals and will continue to do so. We also know that delivering care at home or as close to home as possible delivers better outcomes, so we must ensure that people are admitted to hospital only when they need to be. That means we must support and transform primary care. I can announce today that, over the next year, backed by our £60 million primary care fund, we will test new models of primary care in at least 10 sites across urban and rural Scotland. We will support general practitioners to work in clusters and develop new ways of working with district nurses, health visitors, community rehabilitation teams and health improvement services, using different services such as intermediate care beds.
We intend that the good practice learned from that will be implemented across Scotland over the course of the next session of Parliament, supported by a renegotiated and fit-for-the-future GP contract. We will also develop plans over the next year to extend the Golden Jubilee model of care, which separates planned treatment from emergency care. We will also invest £100 million to improve mental health services, particularly for children and adolescents.
Lastly on health, I give a commitment that will benefit relatively small numbers of people but will do so in a life-enhancing way. Access to voice equipment is vital to anybody who is at risk of losing their voice as a result of conditions such as motor neurone disease. Gordon Aikman and MND Scotland have been campaigning for those who need voice equipment to have a statutory right to it, and I can announce today that we will bring forward an amendment to the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Bill that is currently before Parliament to provide it. We will also work with health boards over the next year to improve the quality of equipment and services available.
We will also continue to improve policing. The introduction of a single police service was the biggest public service reform for a generation. It delivered necessary efficiencies and gave all parts of Scotland access to specialist expertise and equipment, whenever and wherever it was needed. I thank all those who work in Police Scotland for their hard work in delivering that reform. I recognise, however, that the reform process presented challenges and raised concerns. We must therefore continue to learn from experience and make improvements where necessary.
Following the chief constable’s announcement last week that he will step down on 1 December, the process of appointing a new chief constable is now under way. I take the opportunity to thank Sir Stephen House for his long years of dedicated service to policing. He provided leadership at a crucial time, he helped to reduce crime to a record low and he gave real priority to tackling domestic abuse and sexual violence, and I take the opportunity to thank him for all that.
I also confirm that, following an open public appointments process, a new chair of the Scottish Police Authority will be named later this week. I can announce today that we will use the opportunity of that appointment to undertake a review of police governance at national level to ensure that early experience from the operation of the SPA and Police Scotland is acted upon to strengthen the system for the future.
We will also take steps to enhance the accountability and scrutiny of policing at a local level. For example, there will be a new requirement on the chief constable to attend local public scrutiny sessions. A local scrutiny summit, to be held later this month, will identify further ways to enhance local accountability. Local scrutiny committees, together with members of the public and the Parliament, will also have an important role to play in updating our national policing priorities.
We will also ensure implementation of any recommendations from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland’s review of call handling. I can also confirm that we will introduce a statutory code of practice on stop and search. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice will provide more detail on those matters in a statement to Parliament later this week, but my comments today underline our determination to ensure that our police service is efficient and effective and that it also commands the trust and confidence of the public.
We will strengthen the law against domestic abuse. We will introduce an abusive behaviour and sexual harm bill, which will introduce a statutory aggravation for offences that occur against a background of domestic abuse. It will also create a new offence of sharing private intimate images, which is often known as revenge porn. During the next year, we will also take the next step in our work to create a new and specific offence of domestic abuse.
We will also introduce a bill that I am sure will receive support from right across the chamber. Following widespread concern about practices at Mortonhall crematorium, Lord Bonomy’s commission made important recommendations on procedures for the cremation of infants and children. Those recommendations will be implemented as part of a burial and cremation bill, which will introduce new regulation and inspection arrangements. We believe that such measures will prevent the recurrence of practices that caused so much anguish to many parents and relatives.
In the coming year, we will also take some practical steps to improve democratic processes. Our lobbying bill will introduce a public register of lobbying activity. I also confirm that the Scottish elections (dates) bill will propose a five-year term for the Scottish Parliament after next year’s election, to prevent a clash with the United Kingdom general election in May 2020.
We also hope to secure agreement with the UK Government on a Scotland Bill that, although nowhere near as ambitious as we would like it to be, will give us some additional powers to benefit individuals, businesses, and local communities. We hope that Parliament will be able to consent to that bill by March 2016. However, let me make it clear that we will recommend consent only if the accompanying fiscal framework is also fair to Scotland.
In addition to securing more powers for the Parliament, we will transfer more power to local communities. The passing of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 was a significant step on that journey but we will go further. We will consult on legislation to give more power to our island communities. We will enact and then implement the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. We will secure devolution of the Crown estate in Scotland, and work with local communities to ensure that they benefit from that. We will invest £20 million each year in the empowering communities fund, to give community groups the investment that they need to drive local change.
I have chosen to end with the issue of community empowerment because it is an important signal of how we want to govern—now and in the future. It is almost exactly one year since the referendum, when we saw the benefits—and the sense of engagement that occurs—when people have a real say on issues that matter to them. I am determined that we harness the passion and energy that were shown in the referendum and use them to tackle the big social and economic issues of our times.
The referendum debate also revealed a deep yearning on both sides for a fairer society, as well as a more prosperous economy. This ambitious and reforming programme for government speaks to those aspirations. It sets out how this Government will work—now and in the long term—to achieve our vision for Scotland’s future. It demonstrates how enduring values—a belief in enterprise, a faith in the value of education, a commitment to fairness and solidarity, and a passion for democratic engagement—can be applied to make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous country.
I am proud to commend this programme for government to the chamber.