First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon: “The foundations are strong. This Programme for Government sets out how we will build on them.”
First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, yesterday set out her second programme for Government which covers the policies, actions and legislation for 2015-16. Whilst the Scottish Government’s budget will be delayed until after the Chancellor’s Autumn Spending Review, Sturgeon’s speech offered the first public indication on where the SNP intend to use the country’s new powers delivered under the Scotland Bill.
This was not a radical upgrade of the Government’s current policies and Sturgeon held back election goodies which the SNP will store-up for the Holyrood elections. Instead, it was an extension and refinement of policies which are guided by her three principles in Government: prosperity, participation and fairness. Tackling the criticism the Government has faced over educational attainment, she put a new National Improvement Framework at the heart of her speech.
In contrast to the UK Government, Sturgeon stated that support for business and the economy would be about inclusive growth which sought to reduce inequality. The Fair Work Convention is central to this. It “promotes a new type of dialogue between employers, employees and trade unions, public bodies and the Scottish Government” which includes encouraging businesses to adopt fair work principles and supporting and promoting progressive change in the work place.
To keep itself in check for future tax powers, the Government is to put the Scottish Fiscal Commission on a statutory footing. The Commission will scrutinise tax forecasts and other fiscal projections prepared by the Scottish Government. The Bill will require the Commission to publish reports including an assessment of forecasts of receipts from devolved taxes.
The key measures to boost Scotland’s economy:
-Duration of the next parliament – Scottish business support
-£40m growth fund for SMEs
-New trade and investment strategy
-Innovation Hubs in London, Brussels and Dublin which will make international connections and create collaboration
-A new Manufacturing Action Plan to boost productivity including in leadership and skills, energy efficiency and the adoption of the circular economy
-A timetable for a Business Development Bank by the Autumn
-Updated Infrastructure Investment Plan alongside the draft Budget which will look at the next 10 years
The most substantive part of the First Minister’s speech was on education. The new National Improvement Framework for education will set out the Government’s vision and key priorities in Scottish Education. New national assessments will replace the variety of different assessments already used by local authorities.
The key measures:
-Expand free, high quality early learning and childcare to 1140 hours a year by 2020.
-Develop and implement a National Improvement Framework for Scottish Education which sets out our vision and priorities for Scotland’s children and their progress in learning.
-Maintain 116,000 full-time equivalent college places
-Take forward recommendations that will flow from the Commission to Widen Access to University. The Commission has been asked to provide an interim report in autumn 2015, followed by a final report in Spring 2016.
-Continuing to support research and innovation in Scotland’s universities. This includes investing £282m in core research and knowledge exchange in 2015-16.
-Strengthen links between business and academia
The Scottish Government has taken great steps to reform and stimulate the housing market in Scotland as well as guarantee the increase and improvement of social housing. It is now set to go further with rent controls and a new social housing fund, specifically for rural areas.
The key measures;
-Private Tenancies Bill to give tenants in the private rented sector increased security
-Rural Housing Fund for the direct provision of new affordable housing and upgrading of empty properties and a second smaller component providing a contribution to feasibility studies.
-£195m over the next three years to extend the Help to Buy Scotland scheme
-A planning review with a focus on increasing the delivery of high quality housing
NHS & Welfare
In a combative style, she delivered her response to the UK Government’s welfare reforms with plans for a Scottish Social Security Bill in the first year of the new parliament. She said this would make provision for how welfare policy changes would be made, whilst beginning to set out the design of the Scottish-centric safety net. The First Minister also took on a topic which the SNP have traditionally shied away from – NHS reform.
The key measures:
-New bill to set out early changes and improvement to Universal Credit
-Pledge to abolish the bedroom tax
-Plans to replace the DWP’s Work Programme and Work Choice, which is to be in place by April 2017
-Developing successor arrangements for the regulated Social Fund that provides Sure Start Maternity Grants, Cold Weather Payments and the Winter Fuel Allowance Payment.
-Trials of new models of primary care in urban and rural Scotland
-Exploring new ways of working for GPs as well as renegotiated contracts and acceleration of digital services
-Reduce the burden of Air Passenger Duty (APD) by 50% with the reduction beginning when we introduce a Scottish APD in 2018
-Fees to be abolished for employment tribunals
-Develop a Consumer and Competition Strategy for Scotland
-Outline the form and functions for a unified consumer body
-Undertake a review of police governance at national level
-‘Our Power’ will enter the market at the end of 2015 as an Ofgem licensed supplier of gas and electricity to provide lower-cost energy to the tenants and communities of its member organisations.
-£45m of Scottish Government and Lottery funding to the 17 Glasgow Games sports and winter disciplines over the next four years and £50m through sportscotland in Active Schools over the years 2015 to 2019
Bills for Introduction in 2015-16
-Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill
-Bankruptcy Consolidation Bill
-Burial and Cremation Bill
-Private Tenancies Bill
-Scottish Fiscal Commission Bill
-Scottish Elections (Dates) Bill