We have allocated more than £1 billion to support local communities through the coronavirus pandemic. That includes over £550 million through the communities funding package, which includes more than £140 million to tackle food insecurity, £51 million to enable the continued provision of free school meals during school closures and holiday periods, and over £100 million for the third sector and community organisations.
Our 2021-22 Scottish budget includes an additional £100 million to support households through pandemic support payments, which means that low-income families could receive up to £530 additional financial support between last December and the end of the year.
The Scottish Government dashboard shows that £6.9 million of the funding in the areas that the cabinet secretary mentioned has been spent in my local authority area. What will the Government do to ensure that such funding develops in line with the positive developments that I hope we will see as we come out of the final phases of the Covid pandemic in the months ahead?
We will always seek to ensure that we learn all that we can from the support that we have put in place so that we can continue to support people during the pandemic. Our focus will be relentless on ensuring that that is the case and is what drives our recovery approach.
Covid has exposed the inequalities of our society. Recovery should therefore not be about returning to normal, as normality has failed too many. Instead, we should renew and reform our country to create a fairer, equal Scotland.
Guided by the work of the social renewal advisory board and its calls to action, my colleague Shirley-Anne Somerville and I have published our initial responses to the board’s work, and there is £25 million to take forward some of the recommended actions.
Ensuring that people and place are at the heart of the recovery will be the job of the next Government and members in the next session. I know and expect that Alasdair Allan will ensure that that will continue to be the case.
As this is my last opportunity to speak in the chamber, I would like to say a few words, which will be my final contribution in the Parliament. I am aware that I have had many final contributions of late—last night, Christine Grahame said that I had had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra. However, these are my final words. I say all this with an enormous lump in my throat as the reality of not seeking re-election to serve the constituents of Clydesdale starts to hit home. Clydesdale is, of course, the most beautiful constituency in Scotland.
When I intimated that I would not seek re-election, I said that a big part of that was about wanting to spend a bit more time with my boys, Angus and Crawford, who are growing up fast. They have never known their mum not to be a minister. When I had my youngest son, I became the first Scottish minister to take maternity leave.
Stepping back from front-line politics does not mean stepping back from my aspirations for this country and for our communities. Just as the country has relied on its communities to help to respond to the pandemic and help with our resilience, so, too, will the recovery be dependent on them—on their creativity, commitment and ingenuity. Flourishing, vibrant communities that are empowered and trusted will be central to how we reform and renew our country, with fairness and equality at its heart. It has been my privilege to serve as the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government and to get a glimpse of the glorious diversity of our communities and all the rich vibrancy that they bring. It has also been a privilege to serve in all the portfolios that I have held.
Without this descending into an Oscar-style tribute, I want to say thanks to my ministerial colleagues, the amazing group of Scottish National Party MSPs whom I have worked and campaigned alongside, and all the staff in the Parliament—the posties, the canteen staff, the clerks and everyone who keeps the Parliament ticking over. I thank my office staff in Carluke—Charlene, Euan and Jack—my long-suffering private office, and all the Government officials and special advisers who provide so much support to ministers and have done so much during this challenging year.
For now, I am looking forward to new challenges ahead, including hitting the road with my colleagues to campaign for the restoration of powers to the Scottish Parliament. I know that we do not all share that objective, but I say to all MSPs across the chamber and across the parliamentary divide whom I have worked with, chewed the fat with and had some laughs along the way with, and, indeed, to everyone: thank you for being great colleagues. All the best to you, Presiding Officer, as well. I look forward to catching up with you in South Lanarkshire sometime soon. But for me, that’s all folks. Thank you. [