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Programme for Government 2016-17

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th September 2016.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The next item of business is a statement by the First Minister on the Scottish Government’s programme for government. The First Minister’s statement will be followed by a debate, so there should be no interventions or interruptions during the statement.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

This is a new Parliament, with new powers, operating in a new political, economic and constitutional context. The programme for government that we publish today sets out how we will use those new powers and adapt to that new context. It includes all the bills that will be introduced between now and the end of June next year. However, it recognises that government is about more than legislation. It therefore sets our legislative programme in the context of our wider ambitions and—crucially—it sets out how we will seek to protect Scotland’s interests, particularly our economic interests, in the wake of the European Union referendum.

Most important of all, the programme demonstrates how we will implement the mandate that the people of Scotland gave us in May to drive sustainable economic growth, reform education and create opportunities for all, transform our public services and empower local communities.

Four of the bills that we will introduce this year will make use of new powers that are being devolved to this Parliament. The air passenger duty bill will enable a replacement tax to be introduced from April 2018. The Government’s intention is to halve the overall level of APD by the end of this parliamentary session, to support growth and improve our connections with countries across the globe—priorities that are even more pressing as a result of the EU referendum.

The railway policing bill will prepare the way for the British Transport Police in Scotland to be integrated into Police Scotland while continuing to exercise their highly specialist railway policing functions.

The gender balance on public boards bill will use new powers to tackle an issue that I know commands considerable consensus across this chamber. Gender balance on public boards is an area in which strong progress has already been made—2015 was the first year in which more women than men were appointed to public boards in Scotland—but that progress must be maintained and built on. The bill will help to ensure that the public sector leads by example in delivering true gender equality in Scotland.

Finally, and perhaps most important, we will introduce a social security bill, which will see us take the first steps towards a distinctive Scottish social security system, based on dignity and respect. The bill will support delivery of key policy commitments: for example, an increase in carers allowance, a new best start grant for low-income parents, a new and more humane approach to disability assessments, and abolition of the bedroom tax.

The bill will be a powerful demonstration of our determination to use new powers to create the fairer Scotland that we wish to see.

Later this year, we will introduce the annual budget bill. As part of the budget process, we will set out how we will use our new income tax powers fairly and progressively.

The ability to use such new powers and responsibilities would in itself make this a landmark year for our Parliament, but we are also operating in a new context. The outcome of the EU referendum has created significant uncertainty and anxiety for individuals, businesses, organisations and communities across the country. That means that the work of the Government and the Parliament is more important than ever. We must do everything that we can to reassure our citizens, protect Scotland’s interests and retain our place in Europe.

At the end of June, Parliament provided a mandate for the Government to explore all options for retaining the benefits of EU membership. I will update members on that work in a statement tomorrow. Today, my focus is on the actions that we are taking now to support the economy, drive improvement in our public services, and create a fairer society. The people of Scotland endorsed our policy programme when they re-elected us in May. Today’s statement is about the nuts and bolts of delivery—the hard graft of turning our manifesto into reality.

I turn first to the economy. Over the next year, we will continue to focus on the four pillars of our economic strategy—investment, innovation, internationalisation and inclusive growth.

A few weeks ago, in recognition of the economic uncertainty that Brexit has created, I announced that we would invest an additional £100 million in capital projects in this financial year. Today, I am setting out the detail of the projects that that accelerated funding will support. The projects have been assessed against the criteria that we set out previously and they range from energy efficiency measures in homes and public buildings to trunk road maintenance and rail improvements, and from investment in hospitals—specifically the Golden Jubilee national hospital, Inverclyde royal hospital and Glasgow royal infirmary—to maintenance in our universities and colleges and across the police and fire estates. That investment will bring immediate economic benefits and support jobs, but it will also improve the infrastructure of our public services for years to come.

I confirm that European structural funds projects with a total value of £290 million have now been approved. With partner funding, that will mean total investment of £650 million in communities and businesses between now and 2018. In addition, in the next financial year, we will invest about £4 billion in infrastructure, which will include investment in the priorities that our infrastructure investment plan sets out.

This morning, I visited the new Boroughmuir high school, which is one of 29 new schools that I can confirm will open in this academic year as part of our schools for the future programme. Those 29 new schools will take the total number of schools that have been built or refurbished under the Government to more than 630.

Over the coming year, we will see the completion of three major transport projects—the Queensferry crossing, the Aberdeen bypass and the M8, M73 and M74 motorway project.

We will invest more than £570 million in affordable housing this year as part of our £3 billion plan to build 50,000 affordable homes—35,000 of which will be for social rent—over the parliamentary session. We will also introduce a housing bill to ensure that registered social landlords continue to be classified in a way that enables them to borrow money to invest. We will help more people into home ownership through continued support for our shared equity programmes.

Our infrastructure investment will support our transition to a low-carbon economy. We are committed to introducing a climate change bill later in the session. We met our current target of a 42 per cent reduction in emissions six years ahead of schedule, and the new bill will set the ambitious new target of a reduction of more than 50 per cent in actual Scottish emissions by 2020.

As part of the programme for government, we will publish a new climate change plan and a new energy strategy, which will together set out our low-carbon infrastructure priorities. As well as helping us to meet our climate change obligations, that will provide investors with certainty and a clear sense of direction.

We have delivered on our commitment to make energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority and, over this year and the next three years, we will support that with more than £500 million of public funding. That investment will help thousands of households and businesses, and it will deliver warmer homes alongside widespread social, economic and environmental benefits. We will also introduce a warm homes bill later in the session.

Finally on investment, let me turn to digital infrastructure. In the modern economy, good-quality digital connections are as fundamental to business success as electricity or running water. When I became First Minister in November 2014, broadband coverage across Scotland was 63 per cent. By the end of last year, it had reached 85 per cent. I can confirm today that we will invest £90 million over the next year to ensure that we reach our target of 95 per cent by the end of 2017.

Even more ambitiously, over the coming year we will publish a detailed delivery plan setting out how we will deliver our commitment to provide superfast broadband to 100 per cent of commercial and residential premises by the end of this parliamentary session—a transformational investment for all of Scotland but particularly for those living and working in our rural communities.

As well as investing in our vital infrastructure, we are stepping up our support for business in the wake of the referendum. We have set up a new business information service to provide advice and support for businesses that are worried about Brexit. We are also establishing a new post-referendum business network, bringing together the Scottish Government, the Scotland Office, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and business organisations to shape future policy and support.

We will invest £3.5 million to establish and support new innovation and investment hubs in London, Dublin and Brussels. Those hubs will play a key role in attracting investment to Scotland and in helping indigenous businesses to access new markets—objectives that are all the more important in the new circumstances that we face.

We will work to ensure that we have a competitive and fair system of business rates. From April next year, the number of businesses benefiting from the small business bonus will increase to 100,000. We also look forward to receiving the recommendations from the wider review of business rates that is currently under way and to acting on them as quickly as possible.

I am determined that we will do more to support our manufacturing base. Manufacturing employs nearly 200,000 people across our country, and it accounts for over half of our international exports and half of our research and development spend. Yesterday, I visited Alexander Dennis in Falkirk, which is one of our most successful manufacturing companies, to announce the biggest R and D grant ever awarded by Scottish Enterprise—an example of the practical help that the Government provides to companies with growth potential.

The on-going review of our enterprise and skills support will ensure that our agencies continue to support businesses in the most efficient and well-targeted way. Today, I can confirm that, over the next year, we will finalise the business case for a new national manufacturing institute—a partnership between the Government and our agencies, the University of Strathclyde and the private sector to create a manufacturing centre of excellence and a skills academy that is focused on helping companies to innovate and compete in international markets.

The difficulties that our oil and gas sector faces are well known, and we will continue to do all that we can to support a healthy future for the sector through the energy jobs task force. I am also determined that our economy will get maximum benefit from planned decommissioning. It is estimated that expenditure on decommissioning over the 10 years to 2024 will be in the region of £17 billion—two thirds of it occurring in the period after 2020. That is why Scottish Enterprise is developing a comprehensive decommissioning action plan. That will inform the range of actions and the necessary investments in capacity and infrastructure that will help to maximise the economic return to the Scottish economy.

There is one further significant economic initiative that I want to announce today as a response to the challenging economic circumstances that we face: we intend to use the strength of our balance sheet to establish a new Scottish growth scheme worth up to £0.5 billion over the next three years.

The scheme will be targeted at small and medium-sized enterprises that have significant growth or export potential but that find it difficult to access investment finance on the necessary scale. It will offer guarantees—or, where appropriate, loans—of up to £5 million per eligible business. The guarantees will appear on our balance sheet as contingent liabilities—they will not come from existing spending on public services—and they will help us to remove some of the uncertainty and share some of the risk that those high-potential businesses face when making big investment or export decisions.

The policy marks a new departure for the Scottish Government. It is an exceptional response to an exceptional economic challenge. It will require some change to the parliamentary procedures associated with approving Government guarantees. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution will discuss that with the Finance Committee and party spokespeople shortly.

The scheme will not require a single penny of investment from the United Kingdom Government. However, it will require its co-operation in agreeing the budgeting treatment of the guarantees—I hope that that support will be forthcoming. This is a half billion pound vote of confidence in Scottish business, Scottish workers and the Scottish economy. I hope that we can count on support from across the chamber to make it a reality.

Before I move on from our support for business, I want to underline our commitment to inclusive growth. Indeed, the potential for a UK Government outside the EU to resort to deregulation and a race to the bottom makes that work even more important. We will encourage more businesses to sign up to the business pledge, and we will increase the number of accredited living wage employers to 1,000 by this time next year. We will take forward our new labour market strategy and use new powers to abolish fees for employment tribunals.

Unlike the UK Government, we will work with trade unions as partners, investing in trade union modernisation and in workplace development through the Scottish union learning fund. We will also support the fair work convention in the next phase of its work. We will work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and we will establish a returners programme to help women return to work after a career break.

In short, we are determined to build an economy where everyone has a fair chance to contribute to growth and where everyone can share in the benefits of that growth.

I turn now to what I have already described as the defining mission of this Government: education. Our work to close the attainment gap starts in the early years. By the end of this parliamentary session, we will have doubled the amount of free care available to all three and four-year-olds and the most disadvantaged two-year-olds. That is a truly transformational investment that will not only benefit children and families, but provide employment opportunities for an additional 20,000 early years workers.

Over the next year, the detail of the delivery of the policy will take shape. We will publish a policy blueprint, setting out clear milestones for delivery through to 2020 and, from January, we will pilot different models for delivering the expanded provision. We will work with local authorities to deliver on our promise that, by 2018, every nursery in our most deprived communities will benefit from an additional qualified teacher or childcare graduate.

One of the effects of our early years policy, when fully implemented, will be a significant reduction in childcare costs for parents. However, I recognise that in the meantime those costs—particularly the up-front costs—can be prohibitive. That is why I am also announcing today that we will immediately examine different ways to reduce those costs through, for example, a deposit guarantee scheme. The communities secretary will set out further details in the soon-to-be published fairer Scotland action plan, which will also respond in full to the first set of recommendations from our poverty adviser.

Our work to ensure that children get the best start in their early years will be matched by our work to improve attainment in our schools. In the next year, as part of the Scottish attainment fund, we will invest an additional £150 million in our schools, targeted at overcoming the impact of deprivation. One hundred million pounds of that will come directly from our reforms to the council tax, and I can announce today that the regulations giving effect to those changes will be laid in Parliament this week.

Our additional investment will be matched by reform. Implementation of the new national improvement framework is already under way. Standardised assessments—not tests, but assessments that will inform teacher judgments—will be piloted before the end of this year and implemented across Scotland next year. We will publish the first school-by-school information on the numbers of children meeting the required curriculum for excellence levels in December. That will tell us more accurately what the extent of the attainment gap is and allow us to set clear targets for closing it.

Our reforms also involve freeing and empowering teachers to do what they do best: teach. Last week, John Swinney set out measures to reduce the unnecessary workload that teachers face. I can announce today that he will publish the governance review next week, which will look at the system changes that are required to empower schools and decentralise management. We will introduce an education bill in the second year of this parliamentary session to implement any proposals requiring legislation. In March, we will consult on a new, fair and transparent national funding formula for schools to ensure that how we fund our schools supports our ambition to achieve both excellence and equity.

As we take forward our school reforms, we will continue to work collaboratively with councils, teachers and parents. We will also take advice from our new international council of education advisers. The council met for the first time last week and expressed strong support for our direction of travel.

I have said that I want to be judged on our success in narrowing and, ultimately, closing the attainment gap. We must not tolerate a situation where some children from deprived areas do less well at school than those from affluent areas. The measures that we will implement over the next five years constitute a comprehensive approach to tackling that attainment gap. I have no doubt that they will be closely scrutinised, but I hope that they will gain widespread support.

Of course, our determination to promote opportunities for all does not stop when young people leave school. We will maintain the number of full-time equivalent college places at their current level. We will also protect free university tuition and continue our work to increase the number of modern apprenticeships and develop our young workforce. We are currently developing the implementation plan for the recommendations made by the commission on widening access to university, and over the next few weeks we will confirm the appointment of an independent widening access commissioner. I can also confirm today that, from the next academic year, care-experienced young people will be entitled to full bursaries. In addition, we will work with universities to guarantee a place for those who fulfil the minimum qualification requirements. Lastly, I can announce today that next month we will embark on a major review of student support, as promised in our manifesto. It is vital that the arrangements that we have in place support our commitment to widening access.

We understand that our work to ensure equality in education must extend well beyond the gates of our nurseries, schools, colleges and universities. That is why the new child poverty bill is arguably the most important piece of legislation that we will introduce this year. The bill will establish Scotland as the only part of the UK with statutory income targets on child poverty.

The bill will be backed by real action. For example, our new best start grant will provide financial support to low-income parents when their child is born, when their child starts nursery and, again, when their child starts school. Over the coming year, I am proud to say that we will also introduce the baby box, offering essential items such as clothing, bedding and books for all new-born babies. Our overall aim is clear: from the moment that parents receive their baby box, right through to when young adults go to college or university or into apprenticeships and jobs, supporting children and families is at the heart of this Government’s priorities. We want to ensure that every young person can fulfil their potential, because that is the only way in which Scotland can fulfil its potential.

We will also continue to invest in and reform our other key public services. Last week’s patient experience survey showed record levels of satisfaction with our national health service, which is a credit to healthcare staff across our country—today, I thank them again. It is important now that we build on that. Over this parliamentary session, we will increase resource spending in our NHS by £500 million more than inflation. We will transfer at least £250 million each year from the NHS to health and social care partnerships to build the capacity and resilience of our social care services. I am also delighted to confirm that, with effect from the start of next month, all adult social care workers will be paid the real living wage.

As we see from figures published today, there are already record numbers of staff working in our NHS, but we have plans in place to train more nurses, more doctors—including general practitioners—more paramedics and more community link workers. We will shortly publish a new national workforce plan and, later in this parliamentary session, we will legislate to enshrine safe staffing levels in law.

We are also investing to transform primary care. We are helping GPs to work in multidisciplinary teams with allied healthcare professionals such as pharmacists, community nurses and social workers. Over the next year, we will develop, in partnership with the British Medical Association, a new GP contract to support more accessible services.

In the coming year, we will also publish our new mental health strategy, supported by increased investment of £150 million over the session. We will also take forward major investments in our hospital estate. We will invest £200 million to expand the Golden Jubilee national hospital and establish five new elective treatment centres for procedures such as hip and knee replacements. Those specialised centres will provide better, quicker and safer care for patients, freeing up other hospitals to deal with emergency cases. That is another example of how we are investing now to prepare our health service for the decades ahead.

We are also investing in and reforming our justice system. We will introduce four justice bills over the next year; they will meet very different needs but they are all significant. The contract (third party rights) bill and the expenses and funding of civil litigation bill will implement recommendations from experts. The first will clarify existing common-law provisions, and the second will make civil justice fairer and more affordable and accessible.

The limitation (childhood abuse) bill will implement a recommendation from the Scottish Human Rights Commission. At present, personal injury actions can be started only within three years of the individual knowing that an injury has been sustained. As the SHRC has pointed out, that is not appropriate in relation to child abuse, where the reasons for victims often not coming forward until later in life are entirely understandable. The bill will ensure that the justice system works better for victims of such terrible crimes.

Finally, the domestic abuse bill will ensure that our law is able to deal with the true nature and severity of domestic abuse. At present, physical abuse can be prosecuted, but it is often more challenging to prosecute psychological abuse. The bill will therefore ensure that coercive and controlling behaviour can be dealt with more effectively. It will also help to shape public attitudes by explicitly acknowledging that psychological abuse is unacceptable and criminal. The bill is an important signal of our determination to tackle domestic abuse in all its forms. It will therefore make an important contribution to our aim of achieving true gender equality.

Those bills sit alongside other measures to enhance public safety. We will radically change how we deal with female offenders in Scotland. Work has already started in preparation for the construction of a smaller women’s prison on the Cornton Vale site. We will also establish community-based custody units for women offenders to help rehabilitation and reduce reoffending.

From next April, the establishment of community justice Scotland will bring new national leadership to the community justice sector, thereby ensuring that it delivers better outcomes for communities across our country.

We will also protect Police Scotland’s revenue budget in real terms, delivering an extra £100 million over the parliamentary session. Crime levels in Scotland are already at their lowest for more than 40 years. By investing in and supporting our police and by working to reduce reoffending, we will aim to ensure that the level of crime continues to fall.

The final issue that I will talk about today is community empowerment. We gain significant social and economic benefits by giving people more control over the decisions that affect them. Over the next year, we will continue to support community land purchases, working towards our target of one million acres of land in community ownership by 2020. We will also consult on how communities can benefit from the devolution of the management of Crown Estate assets to Scotland. We will introduce an islands bill to ensure that our future policies and legislation take account of the needs of our 93 island communities.

We will implement and build on the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. Secondary legislation to establish a register of controlling interest in ownership will be introduced over the next year, heralding unprecedented transparency around land ownership in Scotland. The Scottish land commission will become operational in April, and it will advise on issues relating to land ownership and provide an expert source of evidence for future reform.

Finally, we will work with local councils and communities on extending community budgeting and develop new legislation to further decentralise budgets and powers. We want Scotland to be a country where community ownership is desirable and viable and where community-led action is celebrated. I believe that this programme for government will help us to achieve that.

I turn briefly to the EU. Sixty-two per cent of those who voted in Scotland voted to remain in the EU, and that is why I am determined to pursue all options to protect our place in Europe. As I said at the outset of my statement, I will update Parliament more fully tomorrow. However, in order to ensure that all options are open to us, the programme for government makes it clear that we will consult on a draft referendum bill so that it is ready for immediate introduction if we conclude that independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland’s interests.

I said at the beginning of my statement that this is a new Parliament, with new powers, operating in a new constitutional context. We also have a new domestic political context in our national Parliament, with a social democratic Government in the mainstream of Scottish public opinion confronted by a right-wing Conservative Opposition. That means a real battle of ideas; a sense of solidarity versus the ideology of the small state; a Scottish social security system with dignity at its heart, not crude attacks on the vulnerable; and a commitment to fair work, not a deregulated race to the bottom.

The programme for government demonstrates how, with an iron focus on the business of government, we will create opportunity for all. It outlines how we will support economic growth, invest in childcare and schools, improve public services and empower our local communities. It explains how we will use our substantial mandate to deliver on our manifesto commitments. The programme for government will help to create a wealthier and fairer country, and I am proud to commend it to Parliament.

The Presiding Officer:

I thank the First Minister for her statement.