Sturgeon Lays Out Government Plans

5 September 2017, 16:19

Nicola Sturgeon in Holyrood Debating Chamber

Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled her legislative programme for the coming year with a pledge that ministers will "refocus our efforts and refresh our agenda".

The First Minister said the SNP had recorded a number of achievements since coming to power at Holyrood 10 years ago.

Going forward, she said the programme for government would "invest in our future and shape Scotland's destiny".

Ms Sturgeon made clear that improving education and closing the achievement gap between rich and poor remained her Government's number one priority.

To help with that, she said the Scottish Government would guarantee a multi-year package of funding for councils, allowing them to invest in recruiting and training the staff needed for a planned expansion in childcare.

She also announced an Education Bill would be brought forward to "reform the way teachers are recruited and educated throughout their careers".

Ms Sturgeon said: "We will introduce new routes into teaching to attract the highest-quality graduates into priority areas and subjects."

Ms Sturgeon also pledged to set out plans to reform student support and take forward the recommendations of the Widening Access Commission.

She said the government is "determined to open up university to all who have the talent to attend".

She also said the number of modern apprenticeships would continue to increase to the 30,000 by 2020 target.

Ms Sturgeon also announced a series of measures to boost the economy.

She revealed Scotland's network of investment hubs will be expanded to include Paris - "maximising opportunities in France, our third biggest export market".

The First Minister also pledged greater investment in manufacturing, with the location and partners for a new national manufacturing institute for Scotland to be confirmed later this year and work due to start on site in 2018.

Ms Sturgeon announced the Scottish Government would provide direct funding to the feasibility stage of the proposed carbon capture and storage Acorn Project at St Fergus in Aberdeenshire.

In the creative industries, an extra £10 million will be provided to bring screen development, production and growth funding to £20 million a year.

A new "unlocking ambition challenge" will be set up to offer intensive support for up to 40 entrepreneurs each year.

The First Minister also stressed her desire for Scotland to have a "supportive environment".

As part of a range of efforts to achieve that, the government will bring forward a Planning Bill, with Ms Sturgeon saying this would "support the efficient delivery of the development our communities need, including vital infrastructure".

In order to help businesses access finance, she said work would begin to set up a new Scottish national investment bank.

The government aims to phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans across Scotland by 2032, eight years ahead of the UK Government target.

Ms Sturgeon outlined plans to "massively expand" electric charging points and set up pilot projects to encourage uptake of electric vehicles and to make the A9 Scotland's first fully electric-enabled road.

She also said an innovation fund will be set up to encourage climate change solutions such as charging vehicles in areas with a high level of tenements.

A new Climate Change Bill will be introduced in the coming year that will set out "even more ambitious" targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Ms Sturgeon said.

The government will create low emissions zones in each of the four biggest cities in Scotland by 2020, she added.

The First Minister also confirmed the introduction of a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans.

Under such schemes, customers pay a surcharge when purchasing bottles or cans which will be refunded when they return them to a shop.

Ms Sturgeon said her government would deliver at least a real-terms increase in the NHS revenue budget next year, continue to develop the NHS workforce plan and introduce a new safe staffing bill "to make sure we have the right staff in the right places".

She promised a "refreshed framework" to tackle alcohol misuse and a new strategy to tackle obesity "including measures to restrict the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar or salt".

The First Minister confirmed the government would begin work to fully implement so-called Frank's Law, that will extend free personal case to under-65s with conditions such as dementia.

The Scottish Government will legislate to create a new criminal offence of drug-driving, Ms Sturgeon announced, with this to come into force from 2019.

To help curb reoffending, she said there would in future be a presumption against prison sentences of less than 12 months.

"We know that community sentences where appropriate are much more effective in reducing reoffending," the First Minister said.

"We must now be even bolder in our efforts to keep people out of prison and reduce reoffending further."

Legislation will be brought forward to reduce the need for children and other vulnerable people to have to give evidence in court.

She announced a new law to ensure anyone convicted of homosexual offences in the past will now receive an automatic pardon.

The Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill will also allow those pardoned to have the convictions removed from their criminal records.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Above all, this bill will right a historic wrong and give justice to those who found themselves unjustly criminalised simply because of who they loved."

She also announced that moves would be made to tackle period poverty by providing free access to sanitary products for students in schools, colleges and university.

Further plans to tackle poverty include setting up a £50 million fund to tackle child poverty over the next four years and a financial health check for low-income families.

The First Minister said she would consider options to place the Poverty and Inequality Commission on a statutory footing.

She added that in the next few weeks the location of the new social security agency will be announced, with the first devolved benefit being an increased carers allowance paid from next summer, backdated to April 2018.

On tackling poverty and inequality, Ms Sturgeon said options should be considered for "more fundamental reform in the longer-term".

She confirmed the Scottish Government will work with "interested local authorities to fund research into the concept and feasibility of a citizens' basic income".

On housing, a new Warm Homes Bill will set a statutory target for the reduction of fuel poverty.

Meanwhile, a new £10 million fund to end homelessness is to be set up and a further £20 million will be invested in drug and alcohol services to address underlying problems.

Ms Sturgeon announced a "comprehensive review" of local governance in advance of a Local Democracy Bill later in the parliament.

A Crown Estates Bill will "establish a framework for the management of assets and ensure that local communities benefit from the devolution of these powers".

The First Minister said the forthcoming strategic plan of the new Land Commission would outline a programme of research to inform future change in land reform, which she said could include "possible tax and fiscal reforms, including the potential for some form of land value based tax".

Ms Sturgeon made plain her government in Edinburgh would "oppose any attempt by the UK Government to repeal the Human Rights Act or European Convention on Human Rights".

She said: "I intend to seek independent advice to help us ensure that all existing, and where appropriate, future rights guaranteed by EU law are protected in Scotland after Brexit."

Ms Sturgeon announced plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 "in line with international norms".

She said there would be no opposition from the government to Green MSP John Finnie's Private Member's Bill banning smacking children.

She added that consideration would be given to the option of fully incorporating the principles UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into domestic law.

The First Minister confirmed the government will lift the public-sector pay cap.

She said: "Our nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters deserve a fairer deal for the future.

"We will, therefore, aim to secure pay rises from next year that are affordable, but which also reflect the real-life circumstances our public servants face and the contribution our public services make to the overall prosperity of our country."

Ms Sturgeon said the time was right to "open a discussion about how responsible and progressive use of our tax powers could help build the kind of country we want to be".

Ahead of the budget, she said the government would publish a paper setting out the current distribution of income-tax liabilities in Scotland and analysis of "a variety of different options, including the proposals of the other parties across parliament".

Ms Sturgeon added: "The purpose of this paper will be to inform the discussions we will have with other parties ahead of the budget."

She insisted the government would go into these discussions "with an open mind and with the best interests of the country as a whole as our guiding principle".

Overall, the Scottish Government will bring forward 16 Bills in the coming year, Ms Sturgeon said.

She told MSPs: "The programme that I have set out today and the legislation is fresh, bold and ambitious, and because of that aspects of it will undoubtedly be controversial.

"That is inevitable - indeed it is necessary. No-one has ever built a better country by always taking the easy option."

She continued: "This programme is about equipping Scotland not just for the next year, but for the next decade and beyond.

"At its heart is this ambition - to make our country the best place in the world to grow up and be educated, the best place to live, work, visit and do business, the best place to be cared for in times or sickness, need or vulnerability, and the best place to grow old."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the government had "brought forward a programme to raise taxes and keep robbers out of the jail".

She said government had "simply got it wrong" on these issues, claiming more than a quarter of sex offenders are sentenced to less than 12 months.

She said: "We will fight to ensure the option of jail is there, otherwise the SNP's soft-touch Scotland just got a whole lot softer."

Ms Davidson also called for judges to be given the power to issue whole life sentences.

She also criticised the government's taxation plans, saying: "We will continue to argue this year that dragging Scotland down with ever more punitive taxes is not the right way.

"The First Minister is opening the door on greater tax rises today. We say stop taking ever more money from the pockets of Scotland's workers."

She praised some plans including proposals to bring forward legislation to tackle drug-driving, to introduce Frank's Law and to pardon gay and bisexual men, but accused the government of attempting to "centralise" power over education and said her party supported education reform but not a "school power grab".

The Tory leader accused the government of having a track record of "over-promising and under-delivering" and said it has been placed "on probation" by Scottish voters.

She said: "Today the First Minister comes to this chamber with 16 bills. Last year she came here with 15 and only got through four.

"The public are entitled to ask if today's 16 are in front or behind last years leftovers in the queue."

She added: "People have right to be wary of a government which for the tenth year on the trot is promising jam tomorrow.

"A government that complains about the levers that it doesn't have but seems terrified of the ones under its control."

"If the Scottish Government is to earn back the trust and respect of people in Scotland, which it has squandered in the last year, then it must change - and change fast," she continued.

"It must show it understands the difference between a genuine complaint and the politics of endless grievance.

"It must accept responsibility for all its record in Scotland and fix the mistakes it has made.

"Given what we know of this Scottish Government, we will wait to see whether today's warm words are backed up by action before making a judgement.

"But the SNP should know this - after this last year, it is on probation with people in Scotland."