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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 07 September 2021

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Programme for Government 2021-22, Programme for Government 2021-22, Urgent Question, Business Motion, Decision Time, Point of Order, Reserved Board Seats for Islanders


Programme for Government 2021-22

The next item of business is a statement by Nicola Sturgeon on the programme for government 2021-22. The First Minister’s statement will be followed by a debate, so there should be no interventions or interruptions during it.


Today, I will set out the Government’s programme for the year ahead and our priorities for the duration of the current session of Parliament as we implement the manifesto that we were resoundingly re-elected on in May and our co-operation agreement with the Scottish Green Party.

The programme addresses the key challenges that Scotland faces and it aims to shape a better future. It sets out how we will tackle the challenge of Covid and rebuild from it, address the deep-seated inequalities in our society, confront with urgency the climate emergency in a way that captures maximum economic benefit and mitigate as far as we can the damaging consequences of Brexit while offering a better alternative.

In detail, it sets out plans to invest in and reform our public services, establish a national care service, extend and increase the Scottish child payment, build more affordable houses, guarantee opportunities for young people, build an economy fit for the future and show real leadership on the climate crisis. It also reaffirms the Scottish Government’s commitment to an independence referendum.

Our democratic mandate to allow people to decide the country’s future is beyond question, and at this juncture in history it is essential that we consider the kind of country that we want to be and how best to secure it. As we emerge from the pandemic, choices fall to be made that will shape our economy and our society for decades to come. Which Parliament—Westminster or Holyrood—should make those choices? What principles will they be guided by? Those questions cannot be avoided or postponed until the die is already cast, so we intend to offer the choice. We will do so only when the Covid crisis has passed, but our aim—Covid permitting—is that it will be in the first half of this session of Parliament, before the end of 2023.

Crucially, we will ensure that the choice, when it comes, is a fully informed one. To that end, I can confirm that the Scottish Government will now restart work on the detailed prospectus that will guide the decision. The case for independence is a strong one and we will present it openly, frankly and with confidence and ambition. Building a better future for those who come after us should be the ambition of any Government.

Of course, the immediate priority of the Government is to lead Scotland out of the pandemic. We are currently experiencing a surge in cases, although we are possibly seeing an early sign that the rate of increase is beginning to slow. I will update Parliament on that in more detail tomorrow. However, we remain focused on keeping the country as safe as possible in the face of a highly uncertain situation.

We will continue to maximise uptake of vaccines across eligible groups and extend vaccination quickly in line with any advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation or the chief medical officer. We will support test and protect and will introduce a coronavirus (compensation for self-isolation) bill, which will allow health boards to focus on key services while local and national Government provide support for those who are asked to self-isolate.

We will work with businesses to ensure safe environments for workers and customers. As part of that, and to ensure that limited public resources support the most affected sectors, we will introduce a non-domestic rates Covid-19 appeals bill, to prevent inappropriate use of the provisions on material change of circumstances in non-domestic rates legislation.

We will take steps to encourage continued compliance with mitigations such as face coverings, rigorous hygiene and good ventilation. We will work with local authorities, schools, universities and colleges to put protections in place for young people and minimise disruption to education.

This week, we will seek Parliament’s approval for a targeted system of vaccine certification, as a proportionate alternative to the risk of further closure of higher-risk settings. All those measures are likely to be essential as we head into autumn and winter.

As we seek to protect against Covid in the short term, we will also prepare for recovery in the longer term. A Covid recovery bill will embed in our public services and justice system reforms that, although necessitated by the pandemic, have delivered improvements. That bill will also help to build resilience against future health threats.

We will also shortly publish our wider Covid recovery strategy, setting out the targeted actions that we will take to address the impact of the pandemic on those who are hardest hit.

An essential aspect of recovery from Covid is the reform and renewal of our public services. Our health and care services have performed magnificently in the most difficult of circumstances imaginable. They remain under severe and intense pressure. The Scottish Government will do all that we can to support those who work in health and care. We have already implemented a 4 per cent pay increase for agenda for change staff—the biggest single-year rise in the history of this Parliament, and the biggest among all four United Kingdom nations. We will continue to ensure fair and competitive pay for all who work in the national health service and, through our work to build a national care service, we will deliver national bargaining and improved pay for those who work in the care sector.

We will support implementation of the NHS recovery plan. In order to ensure that Covid-related backlogs are addressed and waiting times brought back within targets, we will substantially increase NHS capacity. In-patient and day-case capacity will increase by 10 per cent over the next 18 months and by 20 per cent over the next five years. There will be a 10 per cent increase in out-patient capacity by the end of the parliamentary session and, over the same timescale, a mix of innovation and extra capacity will deliver 90,000 more diagnostic procedures. The recovery plan will be backed by more than £1 billion of targeted investment, and I confirm today that we will increase investment in front-line health services by 20 per cent over the lifetime of this Parliament. That means that, by 2026-27, the front-line health budget will be £2.5 billion higher than it is today.

We will also increase investment in primary care by 25 per cent by the end of this parliamentary session, with half of all front-line spend invested in community health services so that more care is delivered closer to home. I also confirm that, having already removed dental charges for everyone aged under 26 since our re-election, we will abolish dental charges for all.

In the year ahead, we will invest an additional £120 million in mental health services—and we will increase direct investment in mental health services by 25 per cent over this parliamentary session and ensure that mental health commands at least 10 per cent of front-line health spending. The immediate funding will support the recovery and transformation of services, with a focus on prevention and early intervention, enable the full implementation of the national child and adolescent mental health service specification and clear historical waiting lists.

We will also invest in the modernisation of the NHS estate. Capital investment of £10 billion over the next decade will see health facilities built and refurbished across Scotland. That will include completion of the network of national treatment centres. I confirm that 1,500 additional NHS staff members will be recruited to support that network. Centres in Fife, Forth Valley and Highland will open next year. I also confirm that we will support the replacement of the Edinburgh eye pavilion.

We will improve public health, with action to cut tobacco use, tackle alcohol misuse and reduce obesity. Over the course of the parliamentary session, we will double to £100 million investment in sport and active living.

We will also address the drugs death crisis. We will do so with urgency and a deep sense of responsibility, and will be guided by lived experience. Additional funding of £250 million will be invested across the lifetime of this Parliament in supporting better outreach, treatment, rehabilitation and aftercare in every part of Scotland.

This year, our focus will be on ensuring access to same-day treatment and a wider range of treatment options. We will also provide guaranteed funding for grassroots organisations providing essential community support.

Finally, on health and care, I confirm that we will introduce, in this parliamentary year, a national care service bill. It will provide for the establishment of the new service, which we intend to be operational by the end of this parliamentary session, and implement what is arguably the most significant public service reform since the creation of the national health service.

Alongside reform, there will be investment. I confirm that we will increase funding for social care by at least £800 million—25 per cent—over the lifetime of this Parliament. We will also remove charges for non-residential care and introduce Anne’s law, giving nominated relatives or friends the same access rights to care homes as staff.

I know that the establishment of the national care service will spark much debate, and it is vital that we get the detail of it right. However, done well, as we intend, a national care service will be one of the biggest ever achievements of this Parliament—and, just like the national health service in the wake of the second world war, it will be a fitting legacy of the trauma of Covid.

This programme will also support and reform other key public services. The measures that we outline today will help our justice system recover from Covid. I confirm that we will protect Police Scotland’s resource budget for the duration of the parliamentary session and support the modernisation of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

We will upgrade the prison estate, with investment of half a billion pounds. A new community justice strategy—to be published next year and backed by new investment—will also support a substantial expansion of community justice services and help reduce re-offending.

We will improve support for victims of crime with the appointment of a victims commissioner and a new fund to support victims organisations. We will introduce a bail and release from custody bill to improve how decisions on bail are reached and better support release from custody.

Although we are proud of the reputation of Scotland’s justice system and the distinctive Scots law principles that underpin it, we will consider reforms to make it stronger still. I confirm that, this year, we will launch a public consultation on whether the not proven verdict should be abolished. We will also consult on the potential separation of the dual roles of Scotland’s law officers.

I also confirm that, in the first year of this Parliament, we will introduce the gender recognition reform bill. I understand that some have sincerely held concerns about that legislation. It is therefore worth stressing what it will do, but also what it will not do.

It will make the existing process of gender recognition less degrading, intrusive and traumatic. In other words, it will make life that bit easier for one of the most stigmatised minorities in our society, which is something that any Parliament should feel a responsibility to do.

What it will not do is remove any of the legal protections that women currently have. We should never forget that the biggest threats to women’s safety come—as has always been the case—from abusive and predatory men; from deep-seated sexism and misogyny; and, in some parts of the world, from lawmakers intent on taking away basic freedoms and removing the rights of women to control our own bodies.

That is why I also confirm that, in this parliamentary session, we will invest £100 million to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women and support the front-line organisations that do so much to help them. We will also take account of the recommendations of the working group on misogyny and criminal justice, which is due to report next year, take forward our ground-breaking women’s health plan and move to incorporate key human rights conventions into domestic law.

We will also take forward a number of measures to tackle long-standing concerns and address past injustice. We will introduce a fireworks and pyrotechnics bill to tighten the law on the sale and use of fireworks and reduce the misery that they can cause in communities. We will make legislative changes to tackle irresponsible dog ownership and we will introduce the fox control bill to strengthen the law on the use of dogs to flush foxes and other wild mammals.

Last but by no means least, we will introduce the miners pardon bill to provide a collective pardon for people who were convicted of certain offences during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. I very much hope that that will bring some closure to those who were convicted, their families and the communities that were affected.

In the year ahead and over this parliamentary session, we will continue our investment in and reform of education. We will implement the recommendations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s review of the curriculum. We will continue our work to close the poverty-related attainment gap, with further investment of £1 billion over the course of the session.

Since the election, more than £200 million has been provided to local authorities, headteachers and other partners. We will also provide funding for councils to recruit 3,500 additional teachers and 500 classroom assistants; £50 million of that funding has already been allocated to support the recruitment of all the classroom assistants and the first 1,000 teachers.

We will reduce the cost of the school day. Since the election, we have abolished music tuition charges and extended universal provision of school meals to children in primary 4. Over the course of the session, we will extend free school meals to all primary school pupils, all year round. We will also provide every child with an electronic device and a connection to get online, recognising that that is as essential to education today as jotters and pencils were in years gone by.

Support for children and young people is one of the key themes that run through this programme. One of the landmark achievements of the previous session was the expansion of free childcare provision for three and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds. In this session, we will go much further. We will extend entitlement to funded early years learning to all one and two-year-olds, starting with low-income households, and we will develop a system of wraparound childcare, offering care before and after school and during the school holidays. That will be free for families on the lowest incomes and available at an affordable cost to others. A delivery plan will be published during the coming year.

We will also keep the promise that was made in the previous parliamentary session to care-experienced young people to ensure that all young people grow up loved and supported. We will introduce a new care experience grant, which will be payable to young people with care experience between the ages of 16 and 26, and we will complete a review of the children’s hearings system.

We will do more to avoid children entering care by improving the preventative support that is available to families before they reach crisis point. A £500 million whole-family wellbeing fund will support those services over this session of the Parliament. We will also work with local authorities to introduce a minimum national allowance for foster and kinship care.

We—and I hope that this commitment is shared right across this Parliament—are determined to end child poverty. The Scottish child payment, which already benefits eligible families with children up to age six, will be extended to cover children up to age 16 by the end of next year. This year—ahead of that full roll-out—we will make bridging payments for all children who are eligible for free school meals.

In our manifesto, we committed to increase the child payment from £10 to £20 per child per week by the end of this parliamentary session. That commitment stands, and I confirm today our intention to deliver this as early within the life of this session as possible. Given the scale of the commitment, it must be considered as part of our budget process; we will set out how and exactly when the commitment will be met when we publish the budget bill—our firm intention is to do it sooner rather than later.

Of course, the Scottish child payment sits alongside the wider support that is provided to families and communities. During this parliamentary session, we will work to develop a minimum income guarantee. The aim is to ensure that, through a combination of earnings, targeted payments and services, everyone has a sufficient income to live with dignity. A cross-party steering group to guide the work has already been established, and although that work will be important for its own sake, I hope that it will also lay the foundations for the introduction of a citizens basic income when this Parliament has full powers over tax and welfare.

We will build on our investment in housing over the previous session, to further improve the availability of good-quality, affordable, energy-efficient homes. I confirm that we will invest almost £3.5 billion in this parliamentary session to progress our commitment to an additional 110,000 affordable homes across Scotland. At least 70 per cent of those homes will be for social rent.

That Scottish Government funding will support total investment of £18 billion. As well as delivering affordable homes, the investment will support up to 15,000 jobs. By the end of the year, we will publish a new strategy for the rented sector. That will include a commitment to an effective system of national rent controls and measures to strengthen tenants’ rights. We will also invest an additional £50 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, and extend the transformative housing first approach right across Scotland, to ensure that people have access to secure housing and the support needed to tackle the wider causes of homelessness.

Our support for public services, and individuals and families, must be matched by support for our economy. A fair, equal society and a strong, sustainable economy are not competing aims—they are interdependent. Businesses continue to be badly affected by the pandemic. I am hugely grateful for the efforts of thousands of companies across the country to keep workers and customers as safe as possible. Just as they are supporting our collective efforts to tackle Covid, so, too, must we support them. As we do so, we will work in partnership with business. I can confirm that we will continue to deliver the most competitive non-domestic rates framework anywhere in the UK; 100 per cent rates relief will continue for the retail, leisure, aviation and hospitality sectors for the whole of this financial year. The small business bonus, the fresh start relief and the business growth accelerator will all continue for the entire duration of this session of Parliament.

We will promote growth sectors such as space and life sciences, and support key sectors such as tourism and food and drink. As part of that, we will introduce a good food nation bill in this parliamentary year.

We will support our culture sector, recognising the enormous benefits that it brings to our economy, international reputation and wellbeing.

We will do more to support local businesses. Having already launched the Scotland loves local campaign to encourage people to do more shopping in local communities, we will now launch a £325 million place-based investment scheme to revitalise town centres.

We will also support our rural economy. In the next 12 months, we will launch a fund for rural entrepreneurs to support the relocation or creation of 2,000 new businesses. We will set out plans to support farmers, after our forced withdrawal from the European common agricultural policy, and we will consult on an agriculture bill to be introduced later in the parliamentary session. I can announce that we will double the community land fund over the course of this session of Parliament, to support further community buyouts of land and property in rural and urban areas.

We will support and promote the digital economy. Our reaching 100 per cent programme will help make superfast broadband available to every business and household in Scotland. Our connecting Scotland programme will help to connect 300,000 households who might not otherwise have the means to do so. We have opened the £25 million digital boost fund to help small and medium-sized enterprises get access to the skills and equipment that they need, and we will continue to implement the Logan review of the technology sector, for example by supporting tech scalers in five of our cities.

We will enhance our international competitiveness by implementing the vision for trade. We will strengthen ties with Nordic and central European partners by establishing Scottish Government bases in Copenhagen and Warsaw—adding to our very effective existing network of overseas hubs—and we will introduce a moveable transactions bill to make certain commercial transactions less expensive and more efficient, and enable easier access to finance.

We will do more to promote fair work across our economy. We will apply fair work first criteria to public sector funding and contracts. We will support pilots of a four-day working week, backed by a £10 million fund for participating companies, and we will develop a longer-term plan for the economy, designed to recognise and harness the vast benefits of decarbonisation. Our 10-year strategy for economic transformation will set out how we can, and will, become a net zero economy in a way that enhances prosperity, equality and wellbeing. When the strategy is published, we will also set out the criteria for a new national challenge competition. Backed by £50 million, the competition will fund projects with the greatest potential to drive and accelerate our net zero transformation. That national work will be supported by regional economic partnerships, which will be established over the coming year.

We will also implement the recommendations of the just transition commission. As an early commitment to that work, we will establish a 10-year, £500 million just transition fund for the north-east and Moray, recognising the particular challenges for the region of the transition from oil and gas to renewable and low-carbon sources of energy.

We are also determined that this generation of young people will not bear the long-term burden of the pandemic. I confirm that up to £70 million will be invested this year to support the young persons guarantee, which is intended to give all young people between 16 and 24 the guarantee of a job, a place in education or training, or a formal volunteering opportunity. That is part of a wider commitment to skills and employment across all age groups.

We will invest an additional £500 million to promote good and green jobs, address skills gaps—many of which are being caused by Brexit—and help people to retrain. That is essential to protect our economy from the severe consequences of Brexit and to achieve a net zero transition. We have already established a green jobs workforce academy, and later this month we will make the first allocations from the £100 million green jobs fund.

We will also work to secure greater benefit from the renewables and low-carbon revolution for the Scottish supply chain, for example through the current ScotWind leasing round. We will invest £200 million this year and £1 billion over the parliamentary session in the Scottish National Investment Bank, which has as one of its key missions the transition to net zero.

Over this parliamentary session, we will deliver capital investment of more than £33 billion, and in the coming year we will start work to establish a national infrastructure company to ensure that all public infrastructure investment delivers the greatest possible public good.

In summary, today’s programme aims to ensure that individuals, businesses and the country as a whole are equipped to meet the challenge of the net zero transition, and realise the benefits in the form of jobs, investment and revenue for our country.

Tackling the climate emergency is both a moral and an economic imperative. In less than two months, Glasgow will host the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26. It represents the world’s best chance—possibly the last chance—to limit global warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris agreement. The Scottish Government will do everything possible to support the success of the summit and secure a Glasgow agreement that allows us to look future generations in the eye. To support that outcome, we must lead by example, and we will. We must act fast to decarbonise heat and transport, just as we have already done for electricity.

Today, I confirm that we will invest at least £1.8 billion over the course of this parliamentary session to make homes and buildings easier and greener to heat. That will enable the decarbonisation of one million homes by 2030.

We will lead a green travel revolution. By 2024-25, at least 10 per cent of the transport budget will be dedicated to active travel. Building on the pilots that are under way, free bikes will be provided to children whose families cannot afford them. Those policies will encourage healthier lifestyles and reduce carbon emissions. They will also help our aim of 20-minute neighbourhoods, where people can live within 20 minutes of key amenities such as shops, services and green space.

One of the most valuable assets in many communities is the local library. Libraries do not only provide access to books, vital though that is; they also host a range of services that support wellbeing. The pandemic has hit libraries hard, so, to help, I am announcing a fund of £1.25 million to help to get and keep libraries open, particularly in areas of deprivation.

I am also proud to confirm that, from January, everyone in Scotland who is under 22 years of age will be eligible for free bus travel. By the end of 2023, the vast majority of diesel buses will have been removed from Scotland’s roads, and by 2030 we will have ended the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.

We have also started the process of taking ScotRail into public ownership and aim to complete that process by March. In this parliamentary session, we will make progress towards the full decarbonisation of our railways by 2035, which will include trialling the first hydrogen-powered train later this year. All those measures will reduce Scotland’s overall car use by 20 per cent by 2030 and significantly reduce transport emissions.

We will also protect Scotland’s biodiversity and natural habitats. By next autumn, we will publish a biodiversity strategy, which will be followed later in the parliamentary session by a natural environment bill. The bill will establish statutory targets for restoring and protecting nature. We will designate a new national park, and ensure that 10 per cent of Scotland’s marine environment becomes highly protected. Over the parliamentary session, we will invest £500 million in our natural economy, and restore more woodlands, peatlands, and other natural habitats. The climate crisis is inseparable from the nature and biodiversity crisis. Scotland has a duty to show leadership on both. I am determined that we will.

The Scottish Parliament must support the transformational changes that will shape the next generation. As we begin our recovery from the pandemic, the year ahead will be crucial. In the face of the challenges, our ambition must be bold.

The programme for government sets out clear plans to lead Scotland out of the greatest health crisis in a century and to transform our nation and the lives of all those who live here. We will deliver a national care service, double the Scottish child payment and invest in affordable, energy-efficient homes and green travel. We will ensure that businesses have the support and people have the skills to succeed in the low-carbon economy of the future. We will show global leadership in tackling the climate crisis and we will offer people an informed choice on Scotland’s future.

The programme addresses our current reality, but it also looks forward with confidence and ambition to a brighter future. It recognises that out of the many challenges we currently face, a better Scotland, as part of a better world, is waiting to be built—and it sets out detailed plans to deliver that.

I am proud to commend the programme for government to Parliament.