Programme for Government 2019-20

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The next item of business is a statement by Nicola Sturgeon on the Scottish Government’s programme for government 2019-20. The First Minister will take questions at the end of her statement. I encourage members who wish to ask a question to press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as possible.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I begin by welcoming Sarah Boyack back to Parliament and welcoming Beatrice Wishart to Parliament. I wish them both well.

The centrepiece of the programme for government is our work to tackle the climate emergency. However, I must begin by addressing the political and constitutional emergency that is engulfing the United Kingdom. Today in the House of Commons, members of Parliament from across the political divide will seek to block the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. Given the anti-democratic move last week by Boris Johnson to shut down Parliament, it is absolutely vital that that effort succeeds.

Scottish National Party MPs will do everything possible to stop the UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal. Scotland did not vote for any form of Brexit, and having a catastrophic no-deal Brexit imposed upon us is completely and utterly unacceptable. Of course, as long as that outcome remains a risk, the Scottish Government will do all that we can to mitigate the impact on families, communities and businesses across our country. We will also work to minimise the impact on the programme for government, but clearly, if a no-deal Brexit happens, it will not be possible to remove that impact entirely.

Most important of all, we intend to offer the people of Scotland the choice of a better and more positive future as an independent nation. The Referendums (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced before the recess, is about to resume its parliamentary progress. I can confirm today that, during the passage of the bill, we will seek agreement to the transfer of power that will put the referendum beyond legal challenge. We have a clear democratic mandate to offer the choice of independence within this term of Parliament, and we intend to do so.

Of course, it now seems inevitable that there will be an early UK general election, so let me be crystal clear today: the SNP will put Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our right to choose independence at the very heart of that contest.

It is easy to feel—with good reason—that the past 12 months have been dominated by Brexit, but in Scotland, we have made important progress in creating a better and a fairer country. We have established a new social security agency, which is now providing assistance to more than 90,000 people across our country. We have made progress in closing the attainment gap in our schools and widening access to our universities. We have continued to recruit childcare workers and build or refurbish nurseries to prepare for our unprecedented expansion of early years education and childcare. World-leading domestic abuse legislation has come into force and, according to the most recent figures, our exports have grown more rapidly than those of the rest of the UK, while our unemployment rate is lower.

This year’s programme for government builds on that record. The year ahead will consolidate Scotland’s position as a leader in the battle against climate change. It will see landmark policies, which have been long in the planning, come to fruition. For example, the new national investment bank will be established, and our massive expansion of free universal early years education and childcare will be delivered. We will continue with record investment in, and reform of, health and social care, and we will take game-changing action to tackle child poverty.

This programme for government will reinforce Scotland’s place as a dynamic, open and innovative economy, and it will help us to build a fairer society—one that is defined by our concern for the rights, dignity and wellbeing of every individual. In short, while the Westminster Government shuts down, the Scottish Government is stepping up.

Earlier this year, I acknowledged that Scotland—like the rest of the world—faces a climate emergency. Shortly after, I confirmed that the Scottish Government would accept the recommendations of the UK Committee on Climate Change. We have now committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest, which is earlier than any other UK nation. Of course, Parliament will have the opportunity to pass that legislation in the autumn.

This year’s programme for government is an important part of our response to the climate emergency. It lays the foundations for a new Scottish green deal, with measures to reduce emissions, support sustainable and inclusive growth, promote wellbeing and create a fairer society.

However, although the measures that I am setting out today are significant, they should not be viewed as the sum total of our efforts. In the next 12 months, we will receive the recommendations of the infrastructure commission, publish a finalised transport strategy, complete our capital spending review, renew the national planning framework and publish an updated climate change plan. All that work is vital in ensuring that Scotland becomes a net zero emissions nation.

Last year, I set out a new infrastructure mission for Scotland to increase annual infrastructure investment by 1 per cent of gross domestic product by 2025. Tackling climate change will be central to the investment decisions that we make. One area in which we must act is transport, which is currently responsible for more than a third of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions.

I therefore announce the following actions: we will continue to support the growth in electric and ultra-low-emission car use as part of our aim to phase out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032. Scotland already has one of the most comprehensive charging networks anywhere in Europe. Last week, I announced a pioneering new partnership among the Scottish Government, Scottish Power and SSE to deliver more charging points and the electricity infrastructure to support them.

Over the next year, we will help more businesses and consumers to buy ultra-low-emission vehicles, including second-hand ones, with a further £17 million of low-carbon transport loans.

On aviation, I announce a bold aim to make the Highlands and Islands the world’s first zero-emissions aviation region, with flights and airport operations fully decarbonised. I can advise Parliament that we will trial low or zero-emissions flights during 2021—we are quite literally piloting new technology here in Scotland. We intend to decarbonise all flights between airports in Scotland by 2040.

We will also continue to electrify Scotland’s railways. Around three quarters of passenger journeys in Scotland already use electrified lines. That proportion will continue to grow. Where electrification is not practical or desirable, we will invest in battery-powered trains and explore the potential of hydrogen-powered trains. Detailed timescales for that work will be set out in the spring. However, I can confirm our overall aim. Scotland’s rail services will be decarbonised by 2035, five years ahead of the UK ambition.

Of course, the vast majority of public transport journeys in Scotland are by bus. In the past eight years, the Scottish Government has supported the purchase of almost 500 low-emission buses, but we need to do much more. We will work with the new Scottish national investment bank, the bus sector and potential investors to seek new forms of financing. By doing so, we aim to significantly increase the use of low-emission buses across Scotland.

However, if we want to encourage more people to travel by bus, we must also make it a quicker and more reliable option. I can therefore announce today a major—indeed, transformational—capital investment programme. During the next few years, we will work with councils on the design and delivery of schemes to reduce congestion through new priority routes for buses in and around our towns and cities. I can confirm that we will back that with new investment of more than £0.5 billion pounds.

Last, but by no means least on transport, we will continue to support active travel. Last year, we doubled our annual investment in cycling and walking from £40 million to £80 million. I can confirm today that that increased level of investment will be maintained. It is enabling 11 large-scale projects, the first of which, Glasgow’s south city way, will be completed next year.

Lowering emissions from transport, especially in our cities, is essential for the environment, and for our health and wellbeing. The next phase of Glasgow’s low-emission zone will start next year, and we expect low-emission zones to be in place in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. However, I also confirm today that we will consult on the further steps that we need to take now to achieve the transition to zero-emissions city centres by 2030.

As well as in transport, we will intensify our actions to reduce emissions from heating and housing, and to tackle fuel poverty. We are already investing £500 million in energy efficiency measures during the current parliamentary session. In December, we will update our energy efficiency route map, which is our energy retrofit scheme. We intend to accelerate progress towards improved energy performance certificate ratings in Scotland’s homes. We will enhance building standards to help us deliver zero and low-carbon homes and buildings. In particular, I can announce today that from 2024—a year earlier than planned for the rest of the UK—we will require all new-build homes to be heated from renewable or low-carbon sources, rather than fossil-fuel boilers.

Those steps will be accompanied by additional support from the Scottish low carbon heat fund, which will provide a minimum of £30 million for renewable heat projects, including heat pumps. We will also introduce a heat networks bill to regulate district and communal heating networks in a way that supports their growth.

All businesses, third sector organisations and individuals have a role to play in tackling climate change, but the public sector has a special responsibility to lead by example. That is why we will mobilise our £11 billion procurement budget to help to meet our climate change targets. That will include a consultation on new legislation to legally require public bodies to set out how they will use procurement budgets to meet their climate change and circular economy obligations.

I can also announce that publicly owned Scottish Water—the biggest purchaser of electricity in Scotland—will commit to becoming a net zero company by 2040. By 2030, it will aim to produce or host three times more renewable energy than it consumes.

Many of the steps to reduce emissions from transport and heating that I have outlined so far depend on a decarbonised electricity supply, so we will continue to support renewable energy. Next year we will publish an action plan for the development of hydrogen. A new offshore wind policy statement will set out our plans for that sector, including how we secure more economic and supply chain benefit from our offshore wind resources.

I know—and I understand why—many climate change campaigners and others argue that part of our response to the climate emergency should be the immediate withdrawal of support for oil and gas. However, aside from offshore licensing and regulation being reserved matters, the hard fact is that early closure of domestic production, before we are able to meet all demand from zero-carbon sources, would be likely to increase emissions, because a significant proportion of the oil that would then require to be imported has a higher carbon intensity than UK production.

However, the oil and gas sector does have a bigger role to play. I can confirm that our support for oil and gas will now be conditional on the sector’s actions to help to ensure a sustainable energy transition. As part of that, we will work with the Oil & Gas Technology Centre to help to develop renewable technologies that can be integrated with our existing oil and gas infrastructure. One of those technologies is carbon capture, utilisation and storage. Scotland has the potential to store huge quantities of carbon dioxide under the North Sea. We will work with the Scottish national investment bank to explore how we can help industry to develop that technology, and we will continue to press the UK Government to develop the UK-wide frameworks needed to make it a success. Scotland has the opportunity to become a world leader in that essential industry of the future and we must grasp that opportunity.

We will also continue our efforts to reduce waste, and to reuse and recycle materials more effectively. To encourage that further, we will introduce a circular economy bill in the coming year. Among other things, it will enable charges to be applied for items such as single-use coffee cups.

Finally, we will ensure that our land use—including our agriculture, our forestry and our peatland restoration—is consistent with progress towards a net zero economy. We will support the development of regional land use partnerships between now and 2021, we will develop an agriculture transformation programme, and we will invest an additional £5 million to increase our tree planting target from 10,000 to 12,000 hectares next year. Further detail of all that will be set out in the updated climate change plan.

Responding to climate change is not simply a moral obligation. It is also an economic and social opportunity. It provides us with an incentive to make our air cleaner, our lifestyles healthier, and our cities and landscapes even more beautiful. We will act to ensure that Scotland benefits economically from being one of the first countries in the world to move to a net zero future. The Scottish national investment bank, which will become operational next year, will invest at least £2 billion over 10 years, providing patient finance for ambitious companies and projects that can help us to achieve key national missions. I confirm that the bank’s primary mission will be to secure the transition to a net zero economy.

We will take other steps, too. Under the current growth accelerator model—which is helping to deliver the new St James centre here in Edinburgh, for example—local authorities borrow to fund the public infrastructure that is needed to encourage private investment in key projects. I can announce that over the next few months, we will work with councils to establish a new green growth accelerator. That will enable local authorities to invest in, and encourage greater private investment in, projects that reduce emissions and boost growth—in effect, a form of green city region deal. The Scottish Government will also develop and bring to market a green investment portfolio of projects worth at least £3 billion, covering areas such as heat, waste, power generation and property. We are, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best countries in the world in which to invest in low carbon or net zero projects. By promoting the green investment portfolio, we will ensure that that fact is known to investors around the world.

We are determined to ensure that the transition to net zero happens in a way that is consistent with our wider vision for a fairer, wealthier Scotland. The just transition commission will produce an interim report early next year on how the decarbonisation of our economy can reduce inequality and promote decent, fair, high-value work.

The challenge of guaranteeing good jobs is why I am also announcing that we will develop and publish a climate emergency skills action plan. The plan will build on the future skills action plan that is being published later today. To guarantee good jobs, we must ensure that people have the skills needed for new techniques in construction, energy efficiency, manufacturing and transport. Skills training—not simply for our young people but for people at all stages of their working life—is an essential part of ensuring that people are not left behind by technological change, as they too often have been in the past.

All those actions demonstrate how moving to a net zero economy is compatible with our ambitions to boost Scotland’s productivity, increase our sustainable growth rate and be the country that designs, develops and manufactures the key innovations of the future. To further support those ambitions, work will start this year on the £48 million national manufacturing institute for Scotland. The Lightweight Manufacturing Centre is already open and helping companies to secure the support and services that they need.

We will also maintain our increased funding for research and development, with the aim of doubling business investment in R and D by 2025, and we will continue to support key sectors of our economy. The programme for Government details our actions to support sectors such as food and drink, life sciences and industrial biotechnology, digital and data, and the creative industries.

In the coming months, we will launch a new tourism strategy, followed by an action plan in the new year. We are determined to support this vital sector at a time when its extraordinary recent success is presenting challenges as well as considerable opportunities. In recent years, a great boost for our tourism sector has been the reputation that Scotland has earned as a first-class host of major events. Later this month, Gleneagles will host the Solheim cup, and next year, Glasgow will host four matches for the Euro 2020 football tournament. The UEFA European championships bill will therefore form part of this year’s legislative programme. It will help to ensure the successful delivery of the games that will be hosted by Glasgow and meet the commitments that are required by the Union of European Football Associations to prohibit ticket touting and protect commercial rights during the event.

This programme recognises the vital importance of ensuring that all parts of Scotland benefit from economic growth. We will continue to support city region deals and regional growth deals. We will also support the rural economy. By the end of the year, we will publish the first ever national islands plan, and by April next year, we will have established south of Scotland enterprise.

We will also continue to deliver improved digital infrastructure to every part of our country. Our commitment to provide access to superfast broadband for every home and business in Scotland is the most ambitious of any Government in the UK, which is particularly impressive when we consider that it is largely a reserved matter. The £600 million R100 programme will take superfast broadband coverage from its current level of more than 90 per cent to 100 per cent. By the end of this year, we will have awarded the contract to deliver it.

We will work to ensure that Scotland’s economy benefits from strong international connections. We will continue to implement our export plan, recruiting new in-market specialists for our enterprise agencies, working with chambers of commerce to deliver more trade missions and encouraging experienced exporters to act as mentors for newer companies. Last year, Scotland’s goods exports increased by almost 13 per cent, and we are determined to see that figure grow even further.

I also announce that we will launch a new foreign direct investment plan to attract new investment in key sectors of our economy. The plan will enable us to offer support to start-ups specialising in technology or low-carbon industries anywhere in the world if they choose to relocate to Scotland.

We will also continue to pursue a balanced and progressive approach to taxation. We have already ensured that the majority of people in Scotland pay less income tax than elsewhere in the UK, while those who can afford to pay proportionately more. We have ensured that, across all transactions, we have the most competitive rates in the UK for non-domestic land and buildings transaction tax, helping to make Scotland a more attractive location for potential investors. For residential LBTT, 80 per cent have paid no tax at all or less than they would have done under stamp duty rates. Our relief for first-time buyers has helped almost 8,000 people in the past year.

Full details of our tax plans for the year ahead will be set out as normal as part of the budget bill process. However, I confirm that in the year ahead we will consult on and introduce legislation to give councils the power to apply a transient visitor levy, often called a tourist tax, which will enable local authorities to introduce such a levy if they consider it right in their local circumstances. That is a further example of our commitment to devolve more power to local councils across our country. Our approach to taxation is intended to encourage business investment and economic growth, and to provide us with the resources that we need to fund world-class public services.

Next August, we will deliver one of the defining commitments of the current parliamentary session: about 80,000 families in Scotland will start to benefit from our expansion of early years education and childcare. All three and four-year-olds, and all two-year-olds from poorer families, will be eligible for 30 hours a week of free early learning and childcare during the school year. That represents a total investment of more than £900 million each year in giving our children the very best start in life, and it will save parents up to £4,500 per child every year.

We will continue our work to close the attainment gap in schools and raise standards for all. We are investing more than £180 million in the attainment fund. To allow schools to plan ahead, I confirm that we will continue the fund until at least March 2022.

We will provide further support for headteachers in the year ahead, and we will start to deliver the recommendations of the independent panel on career pathways for teachers. I also announce that we will make an additional £15 million available this year to improve the experience of children who have additional support needs, and their families.

We will shortly announce the first set of schools to be built through our new £1 billion school investment programme. As the Deputy First Minister confirmed earlier, a priority of that new programme will be to work with Fife Council to rebuild Woodmill high school in Dunfermline as quickly as possible after it was so badly damaged by fire last week.

As well as investing in childcare and schools, we will continue to invest in our colleges and universities. In the next year, we aim to deliver 30,000 modern apprenticeship starts, meeting the commitment that we made in 2016. We will continue to widen access to university, building on the progress that we have seen in recent years. To support that, we will increase our investment in bursary support for eligible students in higher and further education.

The independent care review will report early next year. I have been clear, though, that we should not delay making changes now that will help to level the playing field for care-experienced young people. I am therefore announcing a further package of commitments today as a down payment on the longer-term changes that the review is likely to recommend. For example, I confirm that in the coming year we will remove dental charges for care-experienced people between the ages of 18 and 26; we will ensure access to discretionary housing payments for care-experienced young people in receipt of a qualifying benefit; we will extend entitlement to early learning and childcare provision to two-year-olds with a care-experienced parent; we will create a statutory presumption in favour of siblings in care being placed together when it is in their best interests; and, from the start of the 2020-21 academic year, we will remove the age cap of 26 for access to the care-experienced student bursary. Children and young people who grow up in the care of the state deserve to be loved and supported to reach their full potential. I am determined that we will live up to that.

Alongside our investment in education and services for young people, the programme for government provides record levels of support for our national health service. Last year, we set out a major package of investment in mental health services. We will continue to deliver better support for new mothers who experience mental health problems, and we will meet our pledge to provide an additional 800 mental health professionals by March 2022 in settings such as hospitals, general practice surgeries and prisons. The first tranche of the 350 counsellors that we committed to last year will work in our secondary schools in this school year, and I confirm that they will all be in place by this time next year.

This year, working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, we will implement our plans for a community wellbeing service across Scotland, which will be supported by £17 million of additional funding over the next two years.

That service will focus initially on people who are aged between five and 24. However, I can advise Parliament that we will also begin to consider how it can, in the future, be extended to people of all ages. That is an important investment in the wellbeing and happiness of our young people that will bring short-term and long-term benefits for our society.

We will continue to direct more resources to primary care, increase the number of GPs entering training, invest in general practice nursing, and support recruitment of more link workers, paramedics and pharmacists. By 2021, that additional investment will total £500 million a year. Over the next year, we will invest more than £100 million to implement the waiting times improvement plan. We are also continuing to invest in better facilities for elective procedures, including hip replacements. Construction will start on major new centres for elective treatment in Livingston, Inverness and Aberdeen.

We will ensure that our accident and emergency services, which have been the best performing in the UK for the past four years, continue to be world class. We have already opened major trauma centres in Aberdeen and Dundee; in the next year, work will progress on new centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In light of the situation with the new Royal hospital for sick children in Edinburgh, on which the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will provide a full statement next week, I confirm that we will establish a new body to oversee NHS infrastructure developments.

We will work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to increase the effectiveness of health and social care integration, and we will continue to fund the implementation of Frank’s law, which ensures that anyone who needs personal care has access to it without charge, regardless of their age.

Alongside those improvements to health and care services, we are taking steps to help people to live healthier lives. Two years ago, I announced an additional £20 million a year to reduce the harm that is caused by drugs in our society. The drug death statistics that were published over the summer reinforced the scale and urgency of that task. The situation that we face is a public health emergency, and our response must recognise that. I therefore announce that there will be additional investment of £10 million in each of the next two years. That extra funding will help the drug deaths task force to support new and existing projects and to test different approaches. It will also help to improve provision of opiate-substitute therapy.

A new inclusive Scotland fund will involve people who have experience of severe multiple disadvantages in developing approaches to improve outcomes and save lives.

At the moment, UK legislation prevents us from introducing the medically supervised overdose-prevention facilities that experts say would make a difference. We will continue to seek the powers that we need to take that action: I call again on the UK Government to accede to that request. We will also consult on wider reforms to drug laws so that the Scottish Parliament is ready to act when we have the power to do so.

We will take action on other public health issues. Active Scotland is promoting healthier lifestyles—for example, by increasing support for community sports hubs in deprived communities. In addition, by autumn next year, we will have made improvements to school meals. We will set maximum limits for consumption of red processed meat, increase the amount of fruit and vegetables that are served, reduce the amount of sugar that is available, and encourage use of fresh local produce.

Those actions are in line with the aspirations of the good food nation bill that will be introduced this year. Scotland’s international reputation for quality food and drink is not always reflected in our diets. The good food nation bill will provide a statutory framework for our efforts to promote healthier and more sustainable local produce.

We are continuing our work to restrict promotion and marketing of food and drink that are high in fat, sugar or salt, and we will introduce a bill on restricting food promotions in next year’s legislative programme.

In addition to our investment in education and health, we will support the cultural sector. I confirm that, having consulted and received, I think, 200 responses, we will publish our new culture strategy later this year.

Over the coming year, we will take further steps to tackle poverty in our country. Last year, we invested an estimated £1.4 billion in support for low-income households. That included almost £100 million to protect people from the impact of disgraceful UK welfare cuts.

Scotland is currently the only part of the UK to have statutory targets for reducing child poverty. I confirm that we will, in order to help to meet those targets, introduce legislation for a new Scottish child payment of £10 a week. I am very pleased to announce today that we plan to make the first payments to eligible families with children under the age of six by Christmas next year, which is ahead of the schedule that we set out before the summer recess. All eligible families with children under the age of 16 will receive payments by the end of 2022. That investment will provide more than £500 a year per child for the families who need it most. We estimate that, when it is delivered in full, the new child payment will lift 30,000 children out of poverty. Anti-poverty campaigners have described it as “a game changer”, and they are right to do so.

The child payment will, of course, be delivered by Social Security Scotland. In its first year of operation, the agency has supported more than 90,000 people through the best start grant, best start foods and the carer’s allowance supplement. I confirm that, later this month, the first funeral support payments will be made to help families on lower incomes who are struggling with funeral costs. Later this autumn, young carers will start to receive £300 a year through the young carer grant.

I can also confirm today that—assuming that we get the co-operation that we need from the UK Government—from spring next year, young people will start to receive the job start payment, which is a new payment to help around 5,000 young people with expenses such as travel costs and new clothing when they return to work after a period of unemployment. In the summer of next year, we will introduce disability assistance for children and young people.

Those are all further steps towards establishing a social security system that is based on the principles of fairness, dignity and respect—and it could not be in sharper contrast to the one that is operated by Westminster.

That basic commitment to social justice must also underpin our approach to homelessness and housing. We are in the first year of a three-year investment—totalling more than £32 million—in our rapid rehousing and housing first programmes, which will support hundreds of people in the coming year. In addition, this year we will launch a £4.5 million fund for third sector organisations that are involved in tackling homelessness, thereby enabling them to improve and, in some cases, to transform the services that they provide. Over this parliamentary session, we will invest more than £3.3 billion in affordable housing. Indeed, I can announce today that we are firmly on course to meet our target of delivering 50,000 affordable homes, including 35,000 for social rent. I am also delighted to confirm that, in December this year, we will launch a new £150 million national pilot scheme to provide first-time house buyers with up to £25,000 towards their deposits.

This programme for government also includes important measures to protect communities and strengthen human rights. We will support our Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and protect the police budget. Among other things, that support will enable police officers to spend more time in their communities through use of mobile technology.

We will provide further protection to service animals by implementing Finn’s law as part of our animal health and welfare bill, which will be introduced as part of this year’s programme. We have significantly increased capital spending to modernise our prison estate and, having last year established the victims task force, we will continue to put victims at the heart of the justice system—for example, by investing in facilities for child witnesses to give pre-recorded evidence.

We will introduce a forensic medical services bill to improve services for victims of sexual offences, which is an important part of our on-going work to ensure that those victims receive better support, and that their cases are handled more effectively by the justice and healthcare systems.

We will make other important improvements to criminal and civil law. A new hate crime bill will consolidate and update existing hate crime legislation. Indeed, the vital importance of tackling hate crimes—including those that are prompted by religious and racial hatreds—was underlined by the unacceptable sectarian disorder that took place on the streets of Govan last Friday night.

We will introduce a redress bill for survivors of in-care abuse, which will set out how financial redress can be paid to survivors of historic child abuse who were in care in Scotland.

The defamation and malicious publications bill will modernise the law in that area by balancing protection of people’s reputations with the important principle of free expression. We will also introduce a civil partnerships bill that will enable mixed-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships.

The Government will continue to take steps to strengthen human rights and promote equality. We will hold our next race equality conference early next year; we will implement key recommendations of the national advisory council on women and girls by, for example, establishing a new collaborative to promote gender equality across Scottish public life; and we will continue our work to tackle the gender pay gap.

We will also work to advance Scotland’s reputation as one of the most progressive countries in Europe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality. As part of that, I confirm that we will consult on the details of draft legislation to bring Scotland’s process of gender recognition into line with international best practice.

In addition, although legislation for it does not feature in this year’s programme, I reaffirm our commitment that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child will be incorporated into Scots law before the end of the parliamentary session.

The national task force for human rights leadership will continue its work to develop a new statutory framework for safeguarding human rights in Scotland.

As I said at the outset, we have to prepare for the possibility of Brexit. We will work with others to try to block a no-deal Brexit and to prevent Scotland from being removed from the EU, but we must plan for all eventualities. This year’s legislative programme includes two measures that are directly linked to Brexit. The rural support bill will enable us to modify elements of retained EU law that relate to the common agricultural policy, and will provide us with new powers for collection of agriculture data. Those powers will be needed if Scotland has to leave the EU, because we would seek to simplify and improve CAP legislation.

The UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill will allow the Scottish Government and Parliament to align devolved law with EU law. In particular, it will provide us with the power to keep pace with changes to regulations and standards that are subsequently made by the EU. Doing that would send a clear signal about Scotland’s desire and ability to rejoin the EU.

Alongside those crucial legislative changes, we will continue to plan for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, with a focus on ensuring continuity of medicine and food supplies, and providing reassurance and support for EU citizens.

As long as no deal remains a risk, we will do everything that we can to ensure that Scotland is as prepared as we can be. However, unlike the UK Government, we will be honest about the inability to prevent all the harm that a catastrophic no-deal Brexit would inflict.

It is worth making the point that those measures, although vital, are about mitigation and making UK Government decisions less damaging than they might otherwise be. Mitigating bad Westminster decisions should not be what this Parliament is all about—we should be focussing all our energies on the positive decisions that will secure the best future for our country. The opportunity to choose that better and more hopeful future as an independent country is one that Scotland deserves, and this Government is determined to offer it.

The programme sets out how the Government will get on with the job of building a better country. It puts people’s health, prosperity and wellbeing at its heart. By this time next year, 80,000 families will be benefiting from more than 1,000 hours of free childcare a year; we will have delivered 30,000 modern apprenticeship starts; we will be even further on the way to delivering 50,000 affordable homes; we will have introduced a further four social security payments; we will have established the Scottish national investment bank; and we will have confirmed our global leadership in the fight against climate change.

The programme sets out actions for the next 12 months that will make a difference for years to come. It details measures that can help to make our country the best in the world in which to grow up, learn, work and live. It meets the challenges of the future, while staying true to our enduring values. I commend it to Parliament.

The Presiding Officer:

We have just under an hour for the First Minister to take questions.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

I, too, welcome back MSPs to the chamber after an eventful summer for us all. I welcome back Sarah Boyack. I also welcome Beatrice Wishart, who is sitting next to the architect of her victory, Willie Rennie Mackintosh. [

Laughter

.]

Let us look at the SNP’s record this summer: half a million pounds wasted settling a bungled case with the First Minister’s predecessor; tens of millions of pounds at risk thanks to a bungled and delayed ferry contract on the Clyde; and, worst of all, families in this city asking why a state-of-the-art children’s hospital is still not open years after it was supposed to be.

In every programme for government, there are measures that can be supported. We will examine the detail rigorously and, where such measures exist, we will support them. However, the First Minister’s statement was a classic of the genre. Every September, we hear the same long list of self-congratulatory and grandiose promises. Remember the education bill that was going to transform schools? Long since binned. Remember the big plan to devolve a new raft of benefits to this Parliament? Delayed. Remember the state-owned energy company? Does anyone remember Sturgeon energy?

In total, 30 promises in previous programmes for government under this First Minister have been broken or are delayed. When that is her broken record, why should anyone believe that this latest wish list will ever be delivered?

The First Minister:

The one thing that I took out of all of that, if anyone was listening carefully, was that the Tories would not have saved shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde. That is no great surprise, is it? The Tories have never been trustworthy on shipbuilding, and they never will be.

On the education bill, the provisions of that bill are now in operation, earlier than they would have been if we had taken legislation through this Parliament. We are getting on with delivery.

It is hard not to sympathise with the Tories, as they are leaderless and adrift. However, they have published a press release today that is bizarre and includes claims that are, simply, factually wrong. It is riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations. I could go through them one by one, but I will just give some of the highlights.

In the press release, the Tories claim that we have not introduced a family law bill, but I am afraid that we have introduced a family law bill. They claim that we have not introduced drug driving offences, but we pledged that we would do that in 2019 and they will come into force next month. They claim that the attainment gap is not closing, but it is—the gap is now at a record low. They claim that the digital growth fund was delayed—their own press release actually admits that it was delivered on time, but still claims that it was delayed. They claim that a recent report on early learning and childcare reveals that the expansion is not on track, but, in fact, the report explicitly and expressly says that it is on track for two-year-olds and three and four-year-olds. They use out-of-date figures for the Scottish growth scheme, ignoring the fact that 201 companies have received £135 million of investment. Further, they then have the nerve to make a number of nonsense claims about social security. I really would have thought that the party of the rape clause and welfare cuts would have decided to keep quiet about social security.

More than anything, what is staggering is the hypocrisy of a party that has barely passed a single piece of meaningful legislation at Westminster in years and is right now trying to shut down Parliament. That hypocrisy is gobsmacking. Well, while the Tories shut down Westminster, the Scottish Government will concentrate on stepping up and delivering for the people of our country.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Burst the balloon and there is a lot of hot air there. This is the party that would sink the building of five frigates on the Clyde. It is rich for it to talk about its commitment to shipbuilding.

We do not even have to look back across the whole summer, or even the whole week, to see the SNP’s failings. This morning alone, the Scottish Government’s statistics exposed its failings on the NHS—4,000 empty nursing and midwifery posts and 500 empty consultant posts. In mental health, child and adolescent mental health services waiting times have risen again, with a third of vulnerable youngsters waiting too long for care. This summer, we learned that patients and staff, who are already putting up with the SNP’s shambolic workforce planning, will also now have to wait for the opening of the new sick kids hospital serving the east of Scotland—a hospital that was supposed to have opened in 2012. Let us talk about a programme for government. On what date will it open?

The First Minister:

On the NHS workforce, I am sure that Jackson Carlaw knows that staffing levels in the NHS have increased by more than 13,200 whole-time equivalent staff members since the SNP took office—that is a 10.4 per cent increase.

I will take no lectures on our national health service from the party of Brexit, which is currently cracking down on migration and sending a message to EU nationals, who are vital to our health and social care services, that they are not welcome in this country. Shame on the Conservatives for the damage that they are doing across the country.

On the Edinburgh sick kids hospital, it is clearly an unacceptable situation, but Jeane Freeman did what I hope that any responsible health secretary would have done and prioritised patient safety; she then took a number of actions to make sure that confidence and assurance could be given to patients who would use that hospital. I cannot remember whether Jackson Carlaw was already here when I came into the chamber, but if he was here earlier today he will have heard the health secretary give an update and say, as she has previously made known, that when the two strands of work that she instructed—first, the

NHS National Services Scotland work and, secondly, the audit of governance—report next week, she will make a further statement to the Parliament, to give certainty to patients across Edinburgh about the next steps for the hospital.

That is the responsible way to govern in these difficult situations. Again, when it comes to responsible governance, the Tories right now do not have a leg to stand on.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

The responsible thing in government would have been to make good on the commitment to open the hospital on time in 2012.

This year, the First Minister’s new batch of promises centres on climate change. Let us talk about our Government’s climate record so far. It has missed a key recycling target by 12 years, it is barely half way to meeting a target on renewable heat generation and it has met just seven of 20 international biodiversity targets. Streets in Glasgow and Edinburgh are failing to meet legal standards on clean air.

What has the First Minister been doing this summer during the climate emergency that she declared? Well, she opened the new Edinburgh airport terminal, and earlier this year she burned the equivalent of half a tonne of coal when she jet-setted to the United States to push independence. We are behind the First Minister on the need to tackle climate change, but—between book festivals—is she really going to give it a shot this time?

The First Minister:

First, we are on track to meet the recycling target. In the bizarre 30-point press release that they issued today, the Tories managed to accuse us of being 12 years behind in meeting a target that has not yet fallen due to be met. That is how ridiculous what they publish is, and that is how much they are grasping at straws.

We have set out a range of actions that we are taking. Scotland is already recognised by people who do not have the same axe to grind as Jackson Carlaw and the Tories have—that is, by international experts—as being ahead of the world when it comes to meeting our climate change targets and leading the world in the action that we are taking. What we set out today will take us even further down that road.

On Edinburgh airport, of course, some of the expansion is about the airport trying to meet its own environmental targets. Jackson Carlaw has just criticised me for visiting Edinburgh airport, but in his press release today he criticises us for not going ahead with the cut in air departure tax. Jackson Carlaw has got to decide which side of the climate change debate he is on.

The fact of the matter is that we have the most ambitious climate change targets of not just anywhere in the UK but almost anywhere in the entire world, and we have the most ambitious programme of actions to meet those targets. It is probably embarrassment that is making Jackson Carlaw’s face go a little bit red when he looks at the actions and achievements of this Government compared with the Government of his party, which is so obsessed with Brexit that it has forgotten how to do anything else.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Not my skin tone again. Listen, First Minister, at least I have a full head of my own, naturally coloured hair. [

Interruption

.]

The Presiding Officer:

All right. Order, please. [

Interruption

.] Order.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

How typical it is that the First Minister’s statement begins and ends with independence—it is literally her be-all and end-all. She has confirmed her plan to push ahead with her unnecessary and unwanted

Referendums (Scotland) Bill, and, buried in the small print, we see that the SNP’s utterly discredited white paper from 2014 is finally to be binned. She has made clear that, with no consensus across this Parliament, she—regrettably—intends to demand the power to hold a referendum on independence. Faced with that, Scottish Conservatives surely speak for the majority of Scotland when we say, “We have had enough. Just give it a rest.”

The First Minister:

Let us not gloss over the fact that, within a matter of days of the Scottish Conservative Party losing its female leader, the interim leader has managed to insult practically every woman in the country with that rather ill-advised quip at the start of his rather ill-advised rant.

When he has a bit more time, Jackson Carlaw might want to properly reflect on and digest the significant domestic policy agenda that I have just spent 40 minutes outlining to Parliament. He should also reflect on the fact that, over the past few days, we have had the revelation—I should say that I do not doubt the personal reasons that Ruth Davidson gave for her resignation, and I wish her well, as I did last week—that Ruth Davidson does not want to put up with Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party. We have had the debate re-erupt in the Conservative Party about whether it is time for the Scottish Conservative Party to become independent, yet we still have a Conservative Party that is determined to deny the right of the Scottish people to choose our own future with independence.

When I look at the chaos and the disaster that the Tories are leading the United Kingdom into, I make no apology for saying that I want Scotland to have the ability to choose a better, more hopeful and more positive and optimistic future. I want us to rejoin the family of independent nations, and I am determined that we will get that chance.

The Presiding Officer:

I encourage all members and all party leaders, including the First Minister, not to make personal quips. [

Interruption

.] I ask members to stop pointing across the chamber and to think about their own comments.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I thank the First Minister for providing advance sight of her statement. I welcome the commitments on climate change and the undertaking that tackling the climate emergency will be woven into every aspect of government. I will address politics, not personalities.

A year ago, the First Minister told us:

“Closing the attainment gap and raising standards in our schools remains the Government’s overriding mission.”—[

Official Report

, 4 September 2018; c 20.]

Today, the First Minister commits to raising standards for all and says that she will continue to deliver the attainment fund until 2022, but that is clearly not enough. This summer’s exam results show that the pass rate for highers has fallen for the fourth year running. When will the Scottish Government start to “raise standards for all”?

The First Minister:

I am absolutely certain that, if Richard Leonard studies the figures—I am sure that he will have done—he will see, as I have referred to, that the attainment gap in our schools is at a record low. There is much more work to be done, but we can see the progress that is being made as a result of the actions that we have taken and the investments through the attainment fund that are leading to that narrowing.

As far as the higher pass rates are concerned, there will be fluctuations in the exam results from year to year. If the higher pass rate went up every year, Opposition politicians would tell us that the exams were getting too easy. If we look at national 5s, we can see that there has been an increase in the pass rate—if my memory serves me correctly, there have been particularly good increases in maths and English. At higher level, there has been a good increase in sciences.

We continue to take action to reform aspects of our education system and to invest where that is needed to narrow the attainment gap and increase standards, and we will continue to do that through the range of actions that we have set out in today’s programme.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I turn to another area. Last year, we welcomed the First Minister’s commitment to adopt Labour’s long-held policy to increase the provision of mental health support in communities, including schools. However, only one fifth of the promised investment in school counselling has been released, and community services for five to 24-year-olds are still in development. New figures that were published just this morning show that the Government’s pace of change is clearly not quick enough, with more than 30 per cent of children and young people who are referred to mental health services not being seen within the 18-week target time.

Can the First Minister give assurances to families across Scotland? When will she ensure that the crisis in child and adolescent mental health services is finally addressed as a matter of national priority?

The First Minister:

It is a matter of national priority, and the actions that we set out last year are being taken forward as we said they would be. For example, as I said in my statement, the first counsellors will be working in our schools in this school year. We have reached agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on the funding to ensure that all the counsellors are in place by this time next year.

Our commitment to having additional school nurses is already being implemented, and we will be on target to meet that commitment in full.

On the introduction of new services, the community wellbeing service in particular has the potential to radically transform how children and adolescents access mental health services. Of course, that service is taking a degree of planning to implement, and we will move to its implementation over the year ahead. As I said, although the priority at this stage is the five-to-24 age group, we will also begin to explore how we can make such a service available to other age groups.

A key thing about the service is that it will not just be available for professionals to refer children to; children will be able to self-refer. That is an important way of making sure that more preventative services are available to relieve the pressure on our specialist services and that those specialist services are there for the young people who need them.

All that work is under way. I appreciate that Richard Leonard has raised issues in the past in relation to rejected referrals, on which we have also done a lot of work. We do not want any young person’s referral to be rejected unless that is for clinical reasons.

This is a significant piece of priority work; it is under way, and it will continue to gather pace in the year ahead.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

At the weekend, the First Minister wrote in a national newspaper that

“it is more important than ever that the Scottish Government continues to act in a calm, considered and consensual way.”

Is the First Minister calm about housing costs continuing to rocket beyond people’s means? Is she calm about reliance on food banks in Scotland being at an all-time high? Is she calm about public transport being run in the interests of profit, not passengers?

Given that the First Minister is calling for consensual working, I ask her to back our plans. Will she support the Mary Barbour bill to cap private sector rent rises? Will she support our plans to enshrine the right to food in law? Finally, will she support Labour plans for a publicly owned bus network and a publicly owned railway?

The First Minister:

I am not calm about the fact that right now, Tory welfare cuts, Tory austerity and the Tory Government’s Brexit obsession are driving more and more people in this country into poverty and to food banks. The difference between Richard Leonard and me is that I want to do something about that situation; I want to give people in Scotland the option of a different future—a better alternative—so that we can take control of those issues into our own hands, rather than leaving them in the control of a UK Tory Government.

I turn to the specifics that Richard Leonard raises. On the right to food, I have said that we are introducing a good food nation bill. Of course, we are open to discussion about provisions that others want to introduce. As we have done in the past, we will listen carefully to the points that are made.

On housing, we have taken action on rent levels in Scotland by introducing rent pressure areas. However, again, I am open minded about where further action could be taken, and I am happy to have constructive discussions with Labour or anybody else in the chamber. It is most important that we continue to invest in new housing to increase housing supply. In my own constituency alone, I have opened two new housing developments in the past two weeks—that is evidence of the £3.3 billion investment that we are making in affordable housing, and we will continue to take action through housing first to tackle homelessness.

We will discuss all those things with other members across the chamber. However, there is one thing that I am surprised by. I do not know whether Richard Leonard is about to ask me another question but, given the number of times over the past year that he raised—understandably and rightly—the issue of an income supplement with me at First Minister’s question time, calling on us to introduce one, I am surprised that he has not commented on the fact that we are not only introducing a child payment but accelerating payment of it, to cover children under six, to Christmas next year, which is described by poverty campaigners as game changing. Having called for that for all those months, I am surprised that he did not find it within himself to warmly welcome it.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I, too, welcome Sarah Boyack and Beatrice Wishart to the Parliament. I join with everybody who hopes that none of us will be judged on the basis of having a full head of hair.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has adopted the language of a green new deal. We first proposed that in a debate in April, and our “Scottish Green New Deal” paper was published just last week. However, the Government has not yet taken on the central idea of a change of economic system. There is still a great deal of focus on consumer choices and as-yet-unproven future technology. For example, transport emissions are going up and not down, yet the programme for government focuses on things such as electric planes and battery trains. Maybe one day those will have a role, but they will not cut transport emissions now, and freezing active travel funding at less than a 10th of the trunk roads budget will not do so either.

Greens believe in free public transport. One step that the Government could take towards that now would be providing free bus travel for young people. That would be affordable, simple and popular, especially with the taxi service of mum and dad, and would shift journeys on to public transport now. Will the First Minister dispense with vague commitments such as consulting on options and working with stakeholders and just do that now?

The First Minister:

Everything that we have proposed today on tackling climate change, for the short term, the medium term and the longer term, is important. I make no apology for some of the longer-term ambitions, which aim to ensure that Scotland is at the forefront of the technological advances that we need. That is how we will position ourselves to get the most economic benefit. We will continue to put forward plans to attract the investment that we need, to encourage behaviour change and to lead by example through the actions that we take.

Patrick Harvie said that we have frozen the active travel budget, but we have doubled it and we are maintaining it at that doubled level, so his description is slightly disingenuous.

On public transport, today we have announced a really important commitment of more than £0.5 billion to design and implement priority bus schemes.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The buses will still be expensive.

The First Minister:

I will come on to the costs in a second.

When I speak to people in my urban constituency, I find that one of the biggest barriers to people using the bus more is longer journey times, or the perception of them. If we can decrease journey times and make bus travel more reliable and quicker, we will do a lot to encourage more people on to the buses.

On the costs of bus transport, we already spend more than £200 million a year on free bus travel for around one quarter of the population, which accounts for one third of all bus journeys in Scotland. The programme for government confirms our commitment to extend free bus travel to companions with disabled children and to young carers who receive the young carers grant. We are piloting an extension to modern apprentices and reviewing options for extending public transport concessions to people under 26. We are open for discussion on all of that.

When Labour came up with the idea of free bus travel but failed to do any costing on it, we looked at the numbers and found that we are talking about in the region of £400 million over and above what we already invest. I say that not as somebody who is opposed to the idea; it is simply a statement of reality. If parties genuinely want to get into that space, that is fine, but they have to come forward with ideas about where we get that money. I signalled today that we are open-minded on all those discussions but, as I so often say in the chamber—although it is not necessarily fair to direct this comment to the Greens—it is not enough to come forward with calls for more spending; members have to come forward with ideas about how we reshape our budget to pay for those things.

The Presiding Officer:

I appreciate the detail of the programme, but I ask the First Minister to be slightly more succinct in her answers.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Indeed, Presiding Officer—the First Minister could just have said yes to my proposal, which related to young people and which would cost one or two tens of millions of pounds. That is clearly affordable if the Government has the will to do it.

The focus on techno fixes tomorrow instead of change today goes beyond transport. Things have not moved on from the first green new deal debate, when the Government was unwilling to accept that transition also means moving away from high-carbon industries. However many years the oil and gas industry has left to it, it is simply not plausible for the First Minister to use the rhetoric of the green new deal while saying that the fossil fuel industry has a bigger role to play in the future.

The First Minister even went so far as to describe carbon capture and storage as a renewable technology, which it very clearly is not. Working with the fossil fuel industry on a response to the climate emergency would be like working with the tobacco industry on a public health strategy. The First Minister wants us to accept that we cannot end the use of fossil fuels overnight, and I accept that. Does she accept that we already have far more fossil fuels in existing reserves than we can afford to use, and that exploration for ever more must come to an end?

The First Minister:

Just before we leave the subject of buses, I do not know whether Patrick Harvie heard my original answer, because he went on to focus specifically on young people, but we are looking at the options for extending public transport concessions to people who are under the age of 26. That is under consideration and we will give details of the outcome as soon as possible.

I hope that Patrick Harvie listened carefully to what I said on oil and gas. I speak to young people, in particular, all the time who ask, “Why not stop and leave it in the ground?” I have sympathy with the sentiment behind that question. However, I have not heard Patrick Harvie address the point that doing that now would risk increasing emissions because of import substitution. We must have a managed, fair and just transition, and that is what we are working towards. However, I have been explicit today about the conditionality of our support and its emphasis on the transition away from fossil fuels into low-carbon and renewable sources. In my view, that is the right way to go and, again, we are ahead of most other countries in the world in that. I do not think that it is a matter of either/or between action now and looking to develop the technologies of the future. We have to do both, and if we do so cleverly and smartly, we will reap a lot of economic benefit in the process.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

It is good to see Sarah Boyack back in the chamber, and it an absolute delight to see Beatrice Wishart sitting right beside me.

When I stood here last year, I said that mental health waiting times for young people were unacceptable. Back then, 208 young people waited more than a year. Today, one year later, that number has more than trebled to 735, and the number of suicides by young people has risen by 50 per cent.

The mental health strategy was delayed. Its funding was late. Workers remain unrecruited. Why is this Government letting down young people on mental health?

The First Minister:

Willie Rennie raises important issues, so I will address them seriously. I do not agree with his characterisation at the end of his question, but I will leave that to one side.

Long waits for child and adolescent mental health services are unacceptable. We have been making reforms and investment to tackle those long waits, and there is work still to do. In recent years, we have invested more in CAMHS staffing; in the past year, we have invested £4 million in 80 additional CAMHS staff and we are starting to see the impact of that. We are taking forward the recommendations of the children and young people’s mental health task force, with a strong focus on improving CAMHS, and I have already spoken about how we will further progress and implement the community and wellbeing service.

I do not think that it is fair to say that posts are unfilled; we have made a commitment over a period of time to increase the number of counsellors in our schools, the number of school nurses and the number of mental health professionals across different settings, and those commitments are being progressed. I have given some updates on them today and I am happy to provide more detail.

I do not underestimate the importance of the issue and we are going to stick at and deliver on the work that we are doing to make sure that the services are in the right place, so that specialist care is there for those who need it.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

The trouble is that the First Minister tells me that every year, and the numbers continue to get worse. Progress is far too late and far too slow for young people right now, and it is not just mental health in which the Government is failing: it has a sick kids hospital with no sick kids; an energy company without energy customers; west coast ferries with no passengers; Shetland ferries with no funding; school testing with no support; buses with no passengers; and Scotrail trains with no crew. The First Minister tells us that she is tackling the climate emergency, but public transport is on its knees. Her Government backs Heathrow expansion and is dumping domestic waste in England.

This Government has truly taken its eye off the ball and, as we heard today at the beginning of the First Minister’s statement, it is all really about independence. Why is the price of that being paid in communities across Scotland?

The First Minister:

I do not think that Willie Rennie does himself any credit with that long list of hyperbole and misrepresentation. Across health, education, justice, climate change and public transport, yes, like all Governments, we face challenges, but we are getting on with meeting those challenges, making the investments and delivering the reforms that are about reshaping those services and delivering, and we will continue to do that.

I make no apology.

I can sort of understand why the Tories will try to justify why Scotland should just put up with what is happening in the UK right now, with all the damage that it will bring down the track, but I do not understand why the Liberal Democrats argue for that as well. I do not believe that Scotland should be left powerless at the mercy of an increasingly right-wing Conservative Government that is prepared to do whatever damage it wants through Brexit. I want Scotland to have a better alternative to that and I am determined that Scotland will have a better alternative to that.

The Presiding Officer:

We have a very large number of members wishing to ask questions but not enough time, so please be succinct. I call Bruce Crawford, to be followed by Murdo Fraser.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I add my congratulations to the returning Sarah Boyack and to Beatrice Wishart.

I very much welcome the announcement of £500 million to help transform bus priority infrastructure and routes, which forms one of the headlines of a substantial package of climate change action in the programme for government. Will the First Minister outline how the investment will help increase the uptake of bus services and improve the health of people in our towns and cities by reducing congestion and air pollution?

The First Minister:

As I said to Patrick Harvie—and I am sure that we all experience this in our constituencies—one of the biggest barriers to people using the bus instead of cars is that they think that journeys will take longer. The investment is a capital investment. We will work with local authorities over the next year or so to design schemes in and around towns and cities to put in place priority bus routes so that we can have bus travel that is quicker and more reliable than it is now. That will help us to reduce congestion and reduce emissions in our towns and cities, which is, as Bruce Crawford rightly says, important for our health and wellbeing as well as for the environment.

We will also continue to maintain the doubled level of active travel investment to encourage people to walk and cycle more. I know that, in my constituency, that investment is delivering some really ambitious schemes that will transform cycling and walking across the city.

This is all important stuff, and it is stuff that really matters to people, who are thinking about how they make a personal contribution to tackling the climate emergency.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The First Minister mentioned the Scottish Government’s reaching 100 per cent programme to deliver superfast broadband to 100 per cent of Scottish households by 2021, and she said that the contract to deliver it will be awarded by the end of this year. However, in 2017, the Scottish Government told us that suppliers would be in place and ready to start building by early this year. Why is the programme already running one year late? By what date will Scottish householders have the superfast broadband that they are all waiting for?

The First Minister:

I am genuinely quite shocked that Murdo Fraser has the audacity to go there, given the fact that digital connectivity and telecommunications, as the Westminster minister reminded me on Twitter last week, is a reserved matter.

It is Scottish Government investment that has taken levels to more than 90 per cent, and it is Scottish Government investment that will take them to 100 per cent.

In terms of both coverage and the speeds offered, the R100 programme is way ahead of anything anywhere else in the UK. Of course we need to get value for money out of the bidders for the contract, which is why we are taking the time to get that right, but once we have delivered this and Scotland has the broadband connections that nobody else in the UK has, I will look forward to continuing this discussion with Murdo Fraser, who may or may not be in a different position by that time.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The First Minister has always been a consistent champion of gender equality. It is a real shame that, with one glib comment, Jackson Carlaw has undone all his great work to tackle the disadvantages that women still face when it comes to their health. On behalf of organisations such as endo warriors West Lothian, I ask the First Minister to demonstrate how her programme for government will do more to address women’s health inequalities.

The First Minister:

I thank Angela Constance for raising an important health issue.

The programme for government has a commitment to develop a new women’s health plan, which I know that the health secretary and the chief medical officer are very passionate about and committed to. More details of the plan will be shared with Parliament as it progresses, but it is intended to include action to ensure rapid and easily accessible postnatal contraception, reduce inequalities in health outcomes that affect women in particular—for example, in relation to endometriosis and antenatal care—and improve services for women who are undergoing the menopause. It will also look at some of the inequalities in women’s general health— cardiac services, for example, deal with one of the biggest killers in Scotland, but the interventions and medications often do not take into account the differences between men and women.

It is an important piece of work and I hope that it will be welcomed across the Parliament and that MSPs of all parties will engage closely with it.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

The First Minister rightly describes Scotland’s drug death crisis as a “public health emergency”. Page 102 of the programme for government says that the Government is “doing everything” that it can. Could the First Minister really look thousands of bereaved families in the eye and repeat that claim to them? Is Parliament doing everything that it can, because I think that we are not?

Additional funding to tackle drugs harm is welcome and well overdue, especially against a backdrop of successive real-terms cuts to alcohol and drugs partnerships funding, which has fallen by 6.3 per cent since 2014.

The First Minister could seek to legally designate a public health emergency and urgently direct the resources of our public services to tackle the crisis. That is one of the actions that Scottish Labour has been calling for. As the First Minister agrees that the drug death crisis is a public health emergency, when will she instruct the public health minister to legally recognise the crisis for what it is?

The First Minister:

I am genuinely not sure that I fully understand Monica Lennon’s point about legal designation. We are saying quite clearly that it is an emergency and the actions that we take in response are commensurate with that description.

Monica Lennon asked me whether I could look families in the eye. I regularly meet families in my constituency who have been affected in one way or another by drugs and I talk to them about what they think works well and what needs to work better. Over the summer, I visited a project in my constituency, so I know that we need to focus on the deaths crisis in particular. It is a complex issue, but that does not mean that we should not and cannot have a properly joined-up approach to it.

Two years ago, I announced additional funding for drug and alcohol services. The extra funding that I have announced today is £10 million in each of the next two years, which I know from services in my constituency will make a big difference. The drugs death task force will be instrumental in considering the existing and new approaches that could benefit from that money.

Lastly—and I think that we have the support of Labour on this—we have to do everything that we can with our powers, responsibilities and resources. However, there is a bigger issue about how effective and fit for purpose drug law is right now. We are seeing it with the debate over the facility in Glasgow that Glasgow City Council wants to establish, but there is also a more general issue.

We will continue to do everything that we can while recognising the emergency, but I hope that we can build even more consensus across the Parliament, as we need powers here in order to look at whether legislative reform can play a bigger part in the solution.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

The announced investment in improving bus services is very welcome as part of a wider package to reduce emissions across all modes of transport. Will the First Minister set out in further detail her Government’s plans for greener travel by car, rail and air?

The First Minister:

We have to take action to reduce emissions across all modes of travel. Patrick Harvie was right to say that emissions from transport, which produces about a third of our total emissions, have been increasing. On car travel, our biggest measure is to set an ambitious target of 2032 for phasing out diesel and petrol cars. We have already invested a lot in a charging network and the partnership with the power companies that we announced last week will be vital in making sure that we can accelerate that progress and that the electricity grid infrastructure is there to support the network. We are also making more money available for people to buy electric or ultra-low-emission cars.

One of the big differences was probably not particularly caught by what I said in my statement. We are extending those loans to cover second-hand low-emission cars for the first time so that people do not have to buy new ones.

On bus services, I set out in my answer to Bruce Crawford the capital investment in buses. We also need to see greater investment in low-emission buses, and there is a role for the Scottish national investment bank in that.

On air travel, we want to encourage people not to use air travel when there are better alternatives but sometimes that is not the case, so I slightly take issue with Patrick Harvie on that. It is right to focus on how we get different technology to reduce aviation emissions.

Right across the spectrum, all those actions are about reducing emissions from transport. If we do not do that, we will not meet our overall targets and that will not be acceptable to us or to anybody else.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

Scotland will soon receive just under £1.9 billion in Barnett consequentials, thanks to the UK Government’s recent announcement of extra school funding in England. Will that additional funding be used to restore teacher numbers in Scotland?

The First Minister:

Forgive me, Presiding Officer, but long and bitter experience as First Minister and health secretary before that has taught me to wait and see the colour of the Tories’ money before we start spending it. Let us just wait and see whether it is netted off against savings elsewhere and what the actual money that comes to the Scottish Government might be. At that point, we will set out how we intend to invest any money.

Of course, it will have to be seen in the context of the cuts that have been made to our budget by Tory Governments since 2010. It has also to be seen in the context that, per head of population, we already spend more on health and education than the Westminster Government. As we do with all the resources that are at our disposal, we will continue to invest them in the best way to serve the interests of people across our country.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I welcome that the poorest families, including those in Maryhill and Springburn, will receive an additional £500 per child, and that the first payments for under-sixes will be delivered by Christmas next year. Will the First Minister provide further details about the welcome acceleration of that policy commitment? Will that commitment require the co-operation of the UK Government to ensure smooth delivery so that those who most need that cash will get it as soon as possible?

The First Minister:

In relation to that, as in other aspects of our social security programme because of a range of factors, we need the co-operation of the UK Government, so we are in close contact with it and are counting on it to continue to give that co-operation.

As Aileen Campbell set out before recess, when she announced the new Scottish child payment, we required to do some further work on delivery over the summer. We have done a considerable amount of that work and are now confident that we can introduce the first tranche of the payment to children under six by Christmas next year. Applications will open in the autumn of next year, with the first payments being made before Christmas. That is a positive step.

We should remember that 60 per cent of all children who live in poverty live in a household in which there is a child aged under six, so the policy will make a huge difference. When it is fully rolled out, more than 400,000 children, which is more than a third of all children in our country, will benefit from it. It has the potential to lift 30,000 children out of poverty.

In fact, this is one of the most important things that the Government is doing, and I hope that those who have called for it, and those who have opposed it, will now get behind it because it is going to make a big difference to kids the length and breadth of Scotland.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

The Scottish children’s services coalition has shown that resources for pupils who have additional support needs have been cut by £889 per pupil since 2012. The funding that was announced today is about £75 per pupil so, no matter how welcome it is, it barely restores a tenth of those cuts. Does the First Minister understand how much those children and their families are being let down every day?

The First Minister:

I do not want to rehearse past arguments, but within a difficult financial climate, we have treated local government fairly. Education spending is going up in councils, and that is important because it also enables resources to go to children who have additional support needs.

The extra funding that I announced today is important. I recognise that Iain Gray welcomed it after a fashion, but it is vital that we continue to direct resources to young people who most need them. As we set out plans for how that investment will make a difference, I accept that Iain Gray will still argue for more investment, as he is entitled to do. However, I hope that we will get good engagement and a welcome for the difference that this money can make to young people across the country.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I welcome the significant further £1 billion of investment in our schools. Can the First Minister confirm whether the programme will deliver low-carbon, digitally enabled learning environments for the benefit of pupils in my constituency and across the country?

The First Minister:

Yes. Remember that we have already built or refurbished hundreds of schools, and this is a new £1 billion programme to build on that. Part of the objective is to ensure that schools for the future are low carbon and digitally enabled, and that they have better links to other parts of the community. The Deputy First Minister spoke earlier about the plans to co-locate Woodmill high school in Dunfermline with a new college campus. Obviously, we have to have some discussions about what is best for that school, given what has happened, but that kind of connectivity is very important to how we want to see the programme develop. We will shortly set out the list of schools that will be the first to benefit from the programme, and I hope that many members will benefit from the programme in their areas.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

Over the summer, I visited a number of drug and alcohol partnerships and services for drug users. I want to understand the progress that the First Minister and the Government are making on that, because many of our drug and alcohol partnerships are cutting funding for services and those services are closing as we speak. Does the First Minister intend to look at youth services? Last week, at the Lochee community hub in Dundee, I was told that Young Addaction is closing all services in secondary and primary schools. What action will the First Minister take now, and not after a task force?

The First Minister:

This is an important issue. I had conversations over the summer with people in different services who expressed to me the view that the £20 million that we announced two years ago has not all got to the front line. I am not criticising alcohol and drug partnerships but, clearly, that is something that we have to focus on.

I was very deliberate in what I said about the additional money that I have announced today being there to support existing services, as well as any new approaches that the drugs task force may come up with. It is important that we have that twin approach. I do not want to say too much more, because there is work to be done in discussion with some of the stakeholders about where the money is best spent. However, I acknowledge the point about existing services and recognise that we should have that very much at the front of our minds.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

Figures show that, although youth unemployment in Scotland is consistently lower than in the rest of the UK, it remains higher than unemployment in other age groups. Can the First Minister assure my younger constituents, especially those on low incomes, that the Government’s plans will aid them into work?

The First Minister:

I hope that that assurance can flow from the programme for government. We are very committed to ensuring that our employability system provides the support that people need when they need it, regardless of their age and circumstances. Building on the principles of fair start Scotland, we are developing a new approach to employability services. The aim is to support those who are furthest away from the labour market by creating a much more joined-up and flexible approach. The new job start payment will help young people in particular who have had a long period of unemployment and are trying to move into work with some of the added expense that they will incur, for example buying clothes for a new job or buying a bus pass in order to get to work. Those are all important measures to help those who need the most help to access work.

Unemployment is very low in Scotland, and youth unemployment is much lower than it was a few years ago, but we know that there are still people who need that extra help, and we are determined to ensure that they get it.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The recent rise in homelessness applications was not referenced in the programme for government. What measures will the Scottish Government take to support local authorities to meet their statutory duties to homeless people, particularly in the light of Shelter’s action against Glasgow City Council, which denied homeless people their legal rights more than 3,000 times?

I put on record my support for homelessness prevention for women, but does the First Minister think that it is time for a broader legislative duty on all local authorities and public authorities to prevent homelessness?

The First Minister:

I am always prepared to consider arguments for additional legislation. Our legislative programme this year, as in past years, will demonstrate that there is definitely a role for legislation in ensuring that public bodies are focused on the things that they need to be focused on. I am open to that discussion, and I do not have a fixed view one way or the other at this stage.

When it comes to rising homelessness applications and redesigning the services that we provide for homeless people, we do not need to wait for legislation. There is work that we are getting on with and which we will continue to do. We know that the main reason why homelessness applications are rising is down to austerity and welfare cuts, but we also know that we need a better response for people. That is why rapid rehousing and housing first are so vital.

In response to the first part of the question, I say that we work closely with local authorities to make sure that we give them the support that they need to fulfil their statutory duties, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I welcome the £20 million to tackle drug deaths, some of which, sadly, are of my constituents. Can the First Minister give any more detail? For example, will it tackle the underlying problems that lead people on to drugs, protect them from organised crime that sells them drugs and make it safer to take drugs?

The First Minister:

In short, yes. Those are all the kinds of things that we need to tackle if we are to holistically tackle the emergency situation that we face. I mentioned the new inclusive Scotland fund, which will specifically involve people with multiple deprivation and disadvantage and lived experience of some of these issues in shaping the services that people need. I hope that that gives some positive indication to John Mason. I am clear that we will want to discuss with the task forces and alcohol and drug partnerships exactly where the money would be best targeted, and we will ensure that Parliament is kept updated as those decisions are taken.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

The First Minister said last year that her Government would give victims a greater say before temporary release from prison, which is a promise that has been broken. The First Minister said last year that the Government would give criminal justice social work £100 million, which is a pledge that has been betrayed. Why should victims of crime trust a single thing that the First Minister says today?

The First Minister:

I simply do not think that that is true or borne out in reality. In the past year, we have agreed to the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill and established a victims task force, which is looking at the changes that need to be made to give victims a bigger say, which we know they want in some decisions; for example, they want a bigger say on the impact of crimes, when that is taken into account for sentencing or when decisions are taken about the release of prisoners, whether home detention curfew, early release or parole. All the things that we set out in the programme for government last year are being taken forward and we will continue to make sure of that. The victims task force helps to ensure that the victims’ voice is at the heart of all those decisions.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

I welcome the package of measures that has been announced to benefit people who are care experienced.

It may not be obvious to everyone why the extension of free dental care is so important, so could the First Minister set out how it will help young people with care experience?

The First Minister:

That is an issue that I did not immediately realise was important. As members know, I have spent a lot of time with care-experienced young people and it was not obvious to me until they set it out and explained it to me. If young people who have had disruption to their childhood have moved around a lot, have had a unsettled upbringing through no fault of theirs and have not been able to access regular dental care when they were children or young people, the impact can mean that serious dental issues will occur later in life. That can harm their confidence and blight their employment prospects and personal lives, so it is important.

As with a lot of these issues, when we stop to think about them, we realise that some quite straightforward solutions make a big difference. While we wait for the independent care review’s report, we are taking the approach that, where there are changes that become obvious and can be done now, we are getting on and doing them. That is why the additional package that I announced today is important; I hope that it will be seen as a down payment on the commitment that we have given to care-experienced young people.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Independent

I declare an interest as a parent of a child who is in receipt of disability living allowance.

I welcome the announcement of the launch of disability assistance for children and young people. Ask any parent who claims on behalf of their child and they will tell you that the application and renewal process is onerous, bureaucratic and distressing. Ahead of the launch next summer, will the Scottish Government take a different approach to application and, crucially, renewal?

The First Minister:

In short, yes. I hope that, across all the work that we have been doing on social security, there is recognition that we want to take an approach to how people interact with the system that is much more dignified and less complex and bureaucratic and which does not make people—in this case, parents—feel as if they need to jump through hoops and go through pain and torture in order to get what they are entitled to.

I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People would be happy to speak to any member about exactly how we plan to do that in the case of disability assistance for children and young people. Ensuring that dignity and ease of access are at the heart of the system is a priority, as it has been for all the benefits that we have introduced and will be for all those that we will introduce.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes the statement on the programme for government. I apologise to the seven members who could not ask their questions. I hope that there will be other opportunities.