1. What is the Programme for Government?
The 2011-12 Programme for Government sets out the Scottish Government's (the "Government") legislative priorities for the year ahead.
The Government acknowledges that the budget of the Parliament is now subject to a number of sustained cuts over the next few years and accepts that global economic conditions will remain fragile during this period. The top priority is therefore accelerating economic recovery, boosting jobs and promoting economic security.
To achieve this aim, the Government outlines that action is required in three key areas:
- capital investment is key to economic recovery;
- securing affordable finance remains a considerable challenge and further action is needed to ensure that viable businesses have access to the funding they require to grow and support jobs; and
- to combat the uncertainty that is facing households and businesses, the Government needs to provide greater economic security and protection, as far as possible, from rising prices.
To continue to protect people and families during the economic downturn, the Government indicates that it is meeting core economic and social commitments through the delivery of a ‘Social Wage’. In achieving the 'Social Wage' the Government has:
- frozen council tax and water bills;
- delivered a ‘living wage’ and provided a minimum pay increase for the lowest earners in the public sector;
- abolished bridge-tolls and prescription charges; and
- met commitments on concessionary travel and free personal care.
The Programme sets out that the Government will invest in Scotland's young people, no matter what their background, and encourage them to fulfil their potential. To achieve this aim, the Government will guarantee all 16-19 year olds a place in education and training to help develop their employability skills and to secure employment. The following initiatives will be implemented:
- 25,000 modern apprenticeship opportunities in each year of this Parliament;
- access to higher education will be based upon ability to succeed rather than ability to pay and the Government will maintain bursary support to help young people remain engaged in college and training;
- investment in 14,500 pre-employment training opportunities which will be aligned to Scotland’s local labour markets;
- the roll-out of Activity Agreements will be completed. This is a tailored programme of supported activity and learning specifically designed to ensure the most vulnerable 16-19 year olds can progress into more formal education and training; and
- the Government will continue to fund the Educational Maintenance Allowance for young people in school and college to help support the least well-off students in Scotland.
The Government Economic Strategy (to be published shortly) will set out, in detail, the series of measures that will be taken to secure the recovery and build the foundations for long-term sustainable economic growth. The Strategy will outline how the Government plans to use £9 billion of public procurement spending to promote growth and jobs and help Scottish firms, particularly SMEs, compete effectively for contracts.
The Government proposes to introduce measures with the aim of supporting jobs in the Scottish economy, which will include the introduction of four Enterprise Areas (the selected areas are to be announced in the autumn).
The Programme notes that the Government has worked very closely with the Scottish Futures Trust, which has delivered significant savings totalling £129 million for the public sector during 2010/11.
The forthcoming Spending Review will set out how the Government will prioritise its spend on capital to deliver sustainable economic growth. Key projects include:
- the construction of the Forth Replacement Crossing which will create 3,000 jobs;
- a new housing investment programme that will include a £400 million housing investment budget for 2011-12 which will support over 15,000 jobs across Scotland; and
- a Next Generation Digital Fund to accelerate the roll out of superfast broadband across Scotland, with a particular focus on rural areas. This will promote business and employment opportunities across the country.
The Government considers that our water resource is significant and will play a vital role in Scotland achieving its long-term sustainable use targets. It will therefore bring forward legislation to develop our water resource as a tool of economic growth and an environmental asset that will significantly contribute to the transition to a low carbon economy.
Key proposals in the Bill include:
- a requirement for Ministers to develop a strategy that seeks to maximise the value of Scotland's water sector and to create a strategic co-ordination group to advise them on this strategy. All public bodies will be required to contribute to the implementation of this strategy;
- providing Scottish Water with clarity as to its powers to fully develop its assets, ensuring it is structured to enable it to develop its full potential and requiring it to facilitate the development of Scotland's water resources so as to maximise their value to Scotland;
- ensuring the management of Scotland's water environment remains cutting edge by updating legislation relating to the management of drought orders, the control of certain substances in the water environment and the management of septic tanks; and
- subject to the outcome of the World Water Forum bid, establish a time limited body to plan, manage and deliver the Forum.
4. Police & Fire reform
The Government sets out that over the last parliamentary session, 1,000 additional police officers have been recruited as part of the Government's aim of reducing crime. However, the Government concedes that reform is necessary due to budget cuts to ensure that police services are sustained into the future. The proposed legislation will establish single services for both the police and fire and rescue services.
One of the key reasons for introducing this legislation is the belief that single services will keep communities safer, with more equitable access to specialist support and national capacity when and where it is needed across Scotland. Reform will maintain and build on the success of Scotland's police and fire and rescue services, and modernise and simplify outdated structures which no longer align with the rest of the public sector.
Key proposals of the Bill include:
- creating a Scottish Police Service and a Scottish Fire & Rescue Service;
- sustaining and improving local services and strengthening links with communities by creating a strong formal relationship between each of our 32 councils and the services focused around the joint development and delivery of local services and improved partnership working with other agencies;
- enhancing national governance by ensuring clear separation between Ministers and the services; and
- these proposals will build upon and fully align with the principles set out by the Christie Commission.
The Government will publish a consultation document seeking views on how the single services will work in detail.
5. Social care
Supporting a 10 year programme of reform, the Social Care (Self-directed Support) Bill will help to underpin new, flexible models of support, placing greater control and responsibility in the hands of citizens and thereby enhancing people's independence and wellbeing.
Moving social care away from a direct delivery approach, the Bill will require local authorities to give people a range of options. This will include direct payments and taking greater control of their support package.
The Bill will:
- introduce the language and terminology of self-directed support into statute;
- provide a consistent, clear framework in law, imposing firm duties on local authorities, setting out the options available to citizens and making it clear that it is the citizen's choice as to how much control they want to have;
- widen eligibility to those who have been excluded up to this point, such as carers; and
- consolidate, modernise and clarify existing laws on direct payments.
6. Council Tax
The Government has outlined that it will keep Council Tax frozen.
Council Tax on empty homes and Housing Support Grant
Some 25,000 homes in Scotland have been empty for at least six months. To tackle this problem, the Government will bring forward legislation to help ensure that housing, and funding for housing, are used more efficiently in Scotland. The proposed bill will enable Councils to charge an additional levy on the Council Tax on long-term empty properties with the intention of helping increase the number of homes available to those who need them by encouraging owners to rent or sell their homes rather than leaving them empty.
The Bill will also abolish the Housing Support Grant, which was originally established to subsidise local authorities' housing budgets. One of the main reasons for abolishing the Housing Support Grant is that under the prudential borrowing rules, local authorities are expected only to borrow funds for housing projects when they are satisfied that they will be able to repay the borrowing from rents or other income.
The proposed Bill will also allow Councils to decide what level of discount or levy is appropriate in their area depending on local circumstances. If all Councils decide to use the new powers, it is estimated that up to £30 million per year could be raised to spend on affordable homes in Scotland.
7. Rights of Children and Young People
The Programme states that the Government’s approach to children’s rights is already firmly based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UNCRC spells out the basic human rights (civil, political, economic, social and cultural) of all children up to the age of 18. To establish in law the responsibility of the Government to have due regard to the UNCRC when carrying out its functions, the Government will consult on proposals for a Rights of Children and Young People Bill. This Bill lays the foundation for a Children’s Services Bill to follow in 2013, which will make more specific legislative provisions in relation to the delivery of children’s services.
Consultation on the Bill began on September 8.
8. Long leases
The Government intends to bring forward legislation to convert ultra-long leases to ownership implementing a report by the Scottish Law Commission (SLC). A Bill was introduced in the last Parliament but due to time pressures, it fell when Parliament was dissolved for the election. The ultra-long leases to be covered by the Bill were let for more than 175 years and have more than 100 years left to run. The legislation forms part of a programme of property law reform carried out by the SLC, including the abolition of feudal tenure which was enacted by the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000.
The Government estimates that there are around 9,000 ultra-long leases in Scotland.
Key proposals of the Bill will include:
- converting ultra-long leases to ownership;
- allowing some leasehold conditions to become real burdens in the title deeds;
- provision for compensation and additional payments to be paid to landlords;
- allowing landlords to preserve sporting rights in relation to game and fishing; and
- allowing tenants to opt out of converting to ownership, if they wish.
9. Freedom of Information
The Government supports Freedom of Information as an essential part of open democratic government and responsive public services. The Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill will propose amendments to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 intended to add strength and clarity to the Act.