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26/11/14 14:40

First Minister - Programme for Government

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP
Scottish Parliament
26 November, 2014

Presiding Officer,

It is an honour, for the first time as First Minister, to present the government's programme for the year ahead.

I pledged last week that I would be First Minister for all of Scotland.

It follows that this Programme is one for all of Scotland.

Of course, it is no secret that I support independence and want to see substantial new powers transferred to this parliament.

We will find out tomorrow if the Smith Commission will recommend proposals that meet the pre-referendum vow of the Westminster parties to deliver a powerhouse Scottish Parliament.

One thing is certain. This Parliament will use any new powers it gets wisely, to improve the lives of the people we serve.

Indeed, one early commitment I want to make today is this: if the necessary powers are transferred in good time to this Parliament, my government will bring forward legislation to extend the franchise and allow all 16 & 17 years olds to vote in the 2016 Scottish election.

Presiding Officer,

The debate about more powers will continue, and rightly so.

However, that debate is not the focus of my statement today.

Instead, the clear focus of this Programme is on how we use our existing powers fully, creatively and constructively, in the interests of all those we serve.

This is a legislative and policy programme for one year. It proposes 12 new Bills and a range of policy interventions.

It builds on strong foundations and also sets out a number of longer term priorities.

It aims to build a sense of shared endeavour about how we create a wealthier and more equal society.

And it is founded on three key priorities – participation, prosperity and fairness.

Let me start with participation.

In the last year, we have seen engagement in politics on a scale unprecedented in the recent history of these islands.

That didn’t happen because the referendum created something new, but because it spoke to something enduring - the desire to build a better country.

We need to find new ways of harnessing that democratic energy – not just in the great constitutional questions of our time, but also in the day to day decisions made by and for our communities.

I intend that my government will lead by example.

My Cabinet will hold more public discussions - meeting outside of Edinburgh more often; and in the first of what will be regular Facebook sessions, I’ll be taking questions online later this evening.

I intend that we will be an open and accessible government.

But fostering a sense of participation is about more than consulting – it’s also about handing decision-making powers back to communities.

I want to ensure that more of the money we spend is directed by communities themselves - by the individuals and organisations who know best how to harness the energy of local people.

I can therefore announce that we will establish a new Empowering Communities Fund. Encompassing our existing People & Communities Fund, it will have an additional £10m to allocate next year - more than doubling the existing resource - and be available directly to communities.

We will also take forward our manifesto commitment to establish an independent commission to examine fairer alternatives to the current council tax system. We will establish the commission in partnership with local authorities, through CoSLA, and invite all political parties to be involved in it. The commission will start its work in early 2015 and report by the Autumn.

The council tax freeze will, as promised by this government, remain in place for the duration of this parliament.

Presiding Officer,

Our commitment to empowerment, I believe, must reach every part of Scotland.

Last week, I appointed a minister with specific responsibility for islands.

Today, I can announce that we will reconvene the Island Areas Working Group to draw up an implementation plan for devolution of powers to our islands, taking account of those we hold now and any that are forthcoming as a result of the Smith process.

We will then consult on the contents of an Islands Bill to give effect to our commitments.

The government also intends to embark on a radical programme of land reform.

Scotland's land must be an asset that benefits the many, not the few.

Next week, we will publish a policy statement on land rights and responsibilities and begin consultation on a range of proposals to be included in our Land Reform Bill.

That Bill will be part of a wider programme of reform and, before its introduction, we will set out our response to all 62 of the Land Reform Review Group's recommendations.

However, it is intended that the following key proposals will be amongst those included in the Bill.

- Powers for ministers to intervene where the scale of land ownership or the conduct of a landlord is acting as a barrier to sustainable development;

- The establishment of a Scottish Land Reform Commission;

- Measures to improve the transparency and accountability of land ownership and make information on land, its value and ownership more readily available in one place;

- Action to ensure that charities holding large areas of land are under an obligation to engage with local communities; and

- the removal of business rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates. These exemptions were put in place by the Tories in 1994 to protect the interests of major landowners. Ending them will help the Government to more than treble the Scottish Land Fund – from £3m this year to £10m a year from 2016. That will help to ensure delivery of our target of having 1,000,000 acres of land in community ownership by 2020.

Presiding Officer, the Land Reform Act of 2003 was undoubtedly one of the landmark pieces of legislation of our first Parliament. However, land reform remains unfinished business. The proposals I am announcing today will take us on the next stage of that journey and be of benefit to communities across Scotland.

I want to mention one further piece of legislation that will support democratic participation - the Community Charge Debt Bill.

21 years after its abolition, this Bill will finally end collection of debts from non-payment of the poll tax. The referendum inspired tens of thousands of people to register to vote. Many of them had not voted for decades, some never before. Significant numbers had left the electoral register to avoid the poll tax, and rejoined this year to vote for the powers that would have allowed us to end the bedroom tax.

I don't want people to fear being on the electoral register because of decades-old debts from discredited legislation. This bill will help to avoid that and ensure that everyone's voice continues to be heard.

Presiding Officer,

This Government will foster a sense of democratic renewal and community empowerment. We want everyone to feel they have a part to play in creating a fairer and more prosperous country.

We know that a strong economy is essential to our success and we have much to be positive about.

The value of our international exports has grown by nearly a third and inward investment is at a 16 year high.

Our employment rate is higher than in the UK; unemployment and inactivity rates are lower; female employment is at near record levels.

That hasn’t happened by chance. The Government has worked with businesses, trade unions, colleges, universities and others to promote innovation and skills. With our enterprise agencies, we have led more than 60 overseas visits with a strong trade focus.

And in a tough economic climate, we have created the most competitive business tax regime in the UK. This year, our package of rates reliefs will help companies to the tune of £600m. The Small Business Bonus alone will help two out of every five business properties.

I can confirm today that the small business bonus will continue for the rest of this parliament and, if we are re-elected in 2016, it will continue for the entire duration of the next parliament as well.

I can also announce today an additional initiative to help small and medium sized business in the house construction sector.

In the next financial year, we will add £30m to the £100m already allocated to the Help to Buy Scheme. This additional funding will specifically support house building and purchases in smaller developments.

We will also take action to support innovation. In particular, we will establish a Scottish Business Development Bank. The Bank will work directly with small and medium enterprises, and the financial markets, to support the high growth businesses that Scotland needs.

Of course, the biggest investment we can make in Scotland’s future is in our people.

It is well understood that a strong economy is essential to a fair society. But we need to recognise that the reverse is true, too. A fair society also supports a strong economy.

Businesses are more likely to succeed if their customers and employees are happy, healthy, well-educated and well-paid.

We are one of the richest countries in the developed world. But tens of thousands are dependent on food-banks, and 1/5 of our population lives in poverty.

What’s even more shocking is that, as a result of UK welfare cuts, poverty levels in Scotland are rising again for the first time in a decade.

That is why we need significant new powers over welfare and wealth creation. However even under existing powers, we will do all we can to reverse the rise in poverty.

We will allocate more than £100m in the coming year to mitigate the consequences of welfare cuts – including £35m to ensure that nobody faces eviction as a result of the bedroom tax.

I also intend to appoint an independent adviser on poverty and inequality. The adviser will have the power to make recommendations to the Government and hold us to account – for example, by reporting publicly on any instances where Government actions risk increasing poverty, rather than reducing it.

A key priority of my government in the coming year will be to continue to tackle in-work poverty.

Almost 60% of children in poverty live in a working household.

We need to ensure that work lifts people out of poverty, rather than locking them into it.

My Government will continue to lead by example on this - we already pay the living wage to everyone who works for us or for the NHS.

And, although we can't mandate it in law, each and every relevant government contract that is let from now on will have payment of the living wage as a central priority.

In the next year, we will also step up our actions to promote the living wage across the private sector and the wider public sector.

I will convene a living wage summit with business leaders to encourage them to sign up to the living wage and consider what further support government can reasonably offer.

We will also publish statutory guidance for the wider public sector on how the living wage and other workforce matters should be taken into account in public contracts.

And, lastly, I can announce today that we will increase funding for the Poverty Alliance from £80,000 to £280,000, to allow it to scale up its work on the living wage accreditation scheme.

There are, to date, 70 companies signed up to that scheme. With this additional funding, I am setting a target for that to increase to at least 150 by the end of 2015.

We will also establish a Fair Work Convention. The Convention will prioritise the promotion of the living wage, but it will have a wider role too.

It will champion a partnership approach between Government, businesses, the trade unions, the third sector and local government.

Such an approach recognises that sustainable growth has a social dimension; that fairness supports and underpins long-term prosperity.

In support of that approach, we will develop a Scottish Business Pledge. This will invite companies to commit, for example, to extending the living wage, involving their local communities, and investing in youth training and employment.

And, in return, they will be offered a package of tailored support on skills, innovation and exports, to help them grow and prosper.

Part of the Scottish Business Pledge will be a commitment to advance gender equality.

On that front, this government is already leading by example.

Our Cabinet is one of only three in the industrialised world to have a 50:50 gender balance - a move hailed by the UN on Friday as an example for others to emulate.

Across the wider public sector, 36% of board members and 19% of board chairs are women. So there is much more still to do.

This parliament doesn't yet have the power to legislate for gender quotas. I hope that will change in the near future.

However, in the meantime, I intend to launch - early next year - a partnership for change pledge, called "50:50 by 2020". This will challenge all private, public and third sector bodies to achieve gender balance on their boards by 2020. And it will do so by demonstrating that a fair gender balance isn’t just a matter of basic equality and social justice – it also leads to better decision making and stronger businesses.

Leadership on boards is just one way to address the pay gap and shatter the glass ceiling. We now have a record number of women in work. But a pay gap still exists, underemployment is higher in women, and women are still underrepresented in senior positions and in careers such as engineering.

That’s one of the reasons we will continue our major expansion of childcare. Our focus in the coming year will be on the delivery and take-up of our pledge that, from next August, 27% of two year olds - as well as all three and four year olds - will receive 16 hours a week of childcare.

However, in this coming year, we will also start the planning work to ensure that this government, if we are re-elected, can deliver on our commitment to almost double the hours of free childcare, from 16 to 30 per week by the end of the next parliament.

A greater level of quality, affordable childcare is one of the best investments we can make in Scotland’s future. It provides parents – especially mothers – with greater opportunities for work. And it also ensures that we provide all of Scotland’s children with the best start in life.

That support for young people has to continue from infancy right through to adulthood.

Against every main measure, Scottish school education is getting better. We are well advanced in implementing Curriculum for Excellence. We have record exam results; a record number of school leavers in work, education or training; and in the last seven years we have halted our decline in the PISA international league tables.

However we need to do more - much more - to ensure that all pupils, regardless of background, have an equal opportunity to succeed.

In the next year, our Education Bill will give new rights to children who may have additional support needs. We will make it a priority to improve the educational outcomes of pupils in the most disadvantaged areas of Scotland – through initiatives such as the “Raising Attainment for All” programme, which already covers more than 150 schools.

In the next year, Education Scotland will appoint an attainment adviser in every local authority – supporting local action to improve attainment. And I can also confirm today that we will introduce a new literacy and numeracy campaign - Read, Write, Count which will benefit all children in P1-3, but with a specific focus on schools and parents in our most deprived communities.

Taken together, these measures represent a targeted approach to attainment which will help children across Scotland, particularly those in disadvantaged areas.

One of this government's proudest achievements is the restoration of free higher education. For students from the poorest households, free tuition is backed by a minimum income guarantee of £7,500. The proportion of entrants to higher education from our most deprived areas is now at its highest ever level.

But we are not yet doing well enough.

We still have a situation where the most deprived fifth of our communities supply only one seventh of our university undergraduates.

In the coming year, therefore, we will double funding for the Impact for Access Fund which encourages more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university.

However, I want us to be bolder in our aspirations.

I am setting the government - and our universities - a challenging long term target to eradicate the inequality in access to higher education.

I want us to determine now that a child born today in one of our most deprived communities will, by the time he or she leaves school, have the same chance of going to university as a child born in one of our least deprived communities.

That means we would expect at least 20% of university entrants to come from the most deprived 20% of the population.

That target will be challenging and will require concerted action over a number of years. But it is an essential part of the long term challenge to address inequality.

I will establish, in the early part of next year, a Commission on Widening Access to advise on the clear milestones we should set along the way and the practical steps we will require to take to meet that ambition.

We will also, in the next year, introduce the Higher Education Governance Bill – ensuring that the governing bodies of our universities are transparent, democratic and accountable.

And of course our work in higher education is matched by a broader commitment to lifelong learning. We have made a major investment in our college estate, and significantly increased modern apprenticeship provision. In 2007, 16,000 modern apprenticeships were available a year. This year, there will be more than 25,000.

I can confirm that from now on we will be working towards a target of 30,000 modern apprenticeships a year by 2020. We will also implement the recommendations of the Commission on Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce, to create better opportunities for young people and a stronger talent pool for our businesses.

Presiding Officer,

Without access to quality free education, I would never have had a chance to pursue my chosen career. It is therefore a personal mission of mine that other people should have the same chance.

But it’s more than a personal mission; it’s a national imperative. Our people are our greatest resource. We must ensure that everyone – regardless of gender, race or background - has the opportunity to flourish; the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Presiding Officer,

Over the next year, we will also work to protect and improve the public services which are the bedrock of any fair and prosperous society.

As a former Health Secretary – but also as a citizen of this country – I know how much the National Health Service means to everyone across our country.

In the draft budget, we increased funding for the NHS by £80m more than planned. I confirm today that we will increase the revenue budget of the NHS by more than the rate of inflation for the remainder of this parliament. And, if we are re-elected in 2016, we will ensure real terms rises in revenue budget for every year of the next parliament too.

Presiding Officer,

I challenge all parties today to match that commitment so that, regardless of who wins the next Scottish election, our NHS can plan ahead with a degree of certainty about its budget. I think this is the least it can expect from all of us across this Chamber.

Our NHS does a wonderful job. But we know that it also faces challenges.

My government will not shy away from acknowledging and addressing these challenges.

One of the biggest right now is the problem of delayed discharges.

Delayed discharges today are significantly lower than they were in 2006 but, as we saw from figures published yesterday, they are rising again.

Every patient delayed in hospital is being let down by the system.

But delayed discharges fail other patients as well.

Every bed occupied by someone who could be better cared for elsewhere is a bed not available for someone with acute care needs.

That affects the time people spend in A&E and the length of time they wait for operations.

So I can announce today that we will invest an additional £5m to tackle this issue, which will be matched by our partners in NHS Boards and local government, to make a total of £15m in extra investment.

I can also confirm that addressing delayed discharges will be a top priority for my government in the months ahead.

The Cabinet will monitor performance on a weekly basis throughout the winter period.

Over the next year, we will also focus on delivery of the long term, sustainable solution to delayed discharge, and that is health and social care integration. This latest step in our ambitious programme of public service reform is arguably the biggest change to how health and social care services are delivered since the establishment of the NHS.

Ensuring a successful transition will be a key objective for this government over the next 12 months.

We’ll also take steps to improve care provision and public health. Our Public Health Bill will strengthen our ability to reduce the attractiveness and availability of tobacco products and e-cigarettes.

The Bill will also place a duty of candour on health professionals and ensure that courts have the power to deal with the small number of cases where people relying on health or social care have suffered from ill-treatment and neglect.

In light of the Vale of Leven public inquiry report, I can also announce that we will legislate in the coming year to give the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate the power to order closure of hospital wards on the grounds of patient safety. That will ensure delivery of one of Lord McLean's key recommendations.

I also want to take this opportunity, on behalf of government and the NHS to say to all those affected how sorry I am for the failures that occurred at the Vale of Leven and the appalling loss of life that they caused.

Alongside formal care provision, Scotland also has an unsung army of unpaid carers in Scotland, many of them older people caring for adult children or spouses. Carers save our health and social services an estimated £10 billion every year and without them our formal care services could not function.

We’ve invested almost £114m a year on support for carers since we came into office – providing much needed short breaks, and offering advice and assistance to those who need it. In the coming year, we will extend that support through a Carers’ Bill. The Bill won’t just give carers support – it will also give them a say. The Bill will ensure that they are involved in the planning and delivery of the services that affect them.

We will also progress our Mental Health Bill, already introduced to parliament.

Lastly on health, I met yesterday with Gordon Aikman, who is so bravely campaigning for better care for people with Motor Neurone Disease.

One of the issues we discussed was social care charging.

I want to make clear today my expectation that no terminally ill person in the last six months of life should be charged for care.

I can also advise parliament that if new local government guidance to this effect is not adhered to, my government will not hesitate to legislate that this is the case.

We will also support safer communities. Figures published yesterday showed that crime is at a 40 year low.

We will maintain an extra 1,000 police officers in our communities and legislate to end automatic early release for serious and sexual offenders.

We will also introduce a Community Justice Bill to transfer responsibility for community justice services to the 32 community planning partnerships and, in so doing, help our efforts to further reduce reoffending.

I can also signal today that we intend to step up our action against domestic abuse.

Approximately one adult in seven reports having been a victim of domestic abuse at some point in their lives. 80% of cases reported to the police involve a male perpetrator and a female victim.

We will not have true gender equality in our country as long as so many women suffer abuse.

Last week, Police Scotland launched pilot programmes in Ayrshire and Aberdeen to strengthen women's right to request information about previous abusive behaviour of a partner. They will take a decision as soon as feasible about the roll out of this approach - known as Clare's Law - to the rest of the country.

In the coming year, we will also consult on the introduction of a new specific criminal offence of committing domestic abuse and also on legislation to tackle the issue of revenge porn.

We will also bring together leading experts to discuss how best to prevent abuse. We are determined to take concerted action on an issue that affects far, far too many people – and by doing so, we aim to change the attitudes and behaviours which cause abuse; and provide much better support for those who are victims.

Presiding Officer,

A Budget Bill, a Fatal Accidents Inquiries Bill, a Succession Bill, and a Harbours Bill will complete our legislative programme for the year ahead.

However, the final bill I want to talk about this afternoon is one that I know will command cross-party support. Current figures show that at least 55 individuals in Scotland in the last year could have been victims of human trafficking – people captured for forced labour, domestic servitude or prostitution. Our intention to introduce a Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill has commanded wide support from organisations such as Amnesty International and Migrant Help and from many MSPs, in particular Jenny Marra. The Bill will be introduced shortly and it will clarify the rights of the victims of trafficking and strengthen our ability to help victims and bring offenders to justice.

Presiding Officer, I have decided to close with that example, partly because it is an extremely important piece of legislation, but also because it demonstrates that much of this programme for government can and should command cross-party support.

We differ across this chamber in how we seek to improve Scotland – sometimes we will disagree fiercely – but we all share the same fundamental desire for a fairer and more prosperous country.

Donald Dewar said at this Parliament's opening that it was “about more than our politics and our laws. This is about who we are and how we carry ourselves”.

I hope I have given an indication today of how the Government I lead will carry itself - in a way that is open, listening, accessible and decentralising. And one with the strongest focus on growing our economy, protecting public services, tackling inequality and empowering our communities.

I commend this Programme for Government to Parliament.