Foreword by the First Minister
This Government has a strong record of delivering for Scotland: we have boosted economic growth and job creation, relieved students of the burden of tuition fees, protected our NHS, mitigated, as far as possible, the impact of welfare cuts, helped to reduce crime and the fear of crime, expanded childcare provision, maintained capital investment in essential infrastructure and protected the environment. These are just some of the issues that matter most to people in Scotland.
Our ambition for radical reform remains undiminished and this Programme for Government for the next year sets out the policies and legislation that will build upon all that we have achieved so far and establish a springboard to the future. It does so against a backdrop of the austerity programme being followed by the UK Government. While we only have limited powers to complete the job we will use all those we do have wisely and effectively.
Since 2007 our central purpose has been on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth. That purpose remains central. A strong, vibrant and diverse economy is essential to our national prosperity and helps to create the wealth needed to support high quality public services, such as our commitment to increase the NHS revenue budget in real terms for the remainder of this Parliament and beyond.
Economic output has recovered to surpass pre-recession levels. The number of people in employment reached record levels in 2014. Scottish businesses, large and small, are to be commended for their entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. They can be assured that there will be no reduction in our efforts to support business and enterprise.
In particular, over the next year we will introduce measures to support Small and Medium Enterprises, for example by providing £30 million of ring-fenced support for smaller developers within Help to Buy Scotland. We will also continue our support for the Small Business Bonus scheme for the remainder of this Parliament and beyond. We will introduce a new Scottish Business Pledge setting out what is expected of businesses in return for receiving support from the Scottish Government and its agencies.
Continuing to provide the environment that allows our businesses and entrepreneurs to succeed and make Scotland an attractive destination for investment is a key goal for this Government. These actions will lead to greater national prosperity. But the wellbeing of the nation depends on everyone being able to have a share in that prosperity.
Having record levels of people in work is great news. However, we all need to do more, especially for young people, and therefore we are setting a new target of 30,000 new Modern Apprenticeships every year by 2020, having already exceeded our existing target of creating 25,000 per year.
We also need to make sure that those in work get fairly rewarded. We are the first and only Government in the UK to commit to paying the Living Wage to our staff and to those in the NHS and will go further by ensuring that the staff of contractors working in our buildings will also get the Living Wage and that the Living Wage will be a key priority in all future contracts. We will take a range of measures to further promote the Living Wage across the private sector, including providing an additional £200,000 to the Poverty Alliance for work in this area. With this funding, we are setting a target to more than double the number of organisations signed up to the Living Wage Accreditation Scheme from 70 to at least 150 by the end of 2015. There is a clear economic and social rationale for this. A thriving economy depends on well-motivated, better paid workers. Our strong support for business and our measures to reduce inequality go hand in hand. Our society will be all the fairer and more successful when we end the blight of low pay.
One of the best ways that we can help people to help themselves is through giving them access to the best possible education. Our programme of reforms is helping to improve attainment in schools but there is much more to be done. Education Scotland, our national improvement and inspection agency for Education, will appoint an Attainment Advisor for each Local Authority, who will reach into every learning community in Scotland to build capacity in our schools.
Our commitment to free university education tuition remains. In addition, we want to see an increase in the number of Scots from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing higher education. A child born today in one of our most deprived communities should have no lesser chance of entering higher education than a child born in one of our least deprived. We want every child - whatever their background - to have an equal chance of attending university. Right now, those from the poorest backgrounds are significantly under-represented amongst university entrants.
We recognise this is a complex issue to address and we will therefore set up a Commission on Widening Access to advise us on critical steps and milestones. Although the primary focus is on improved access and qualification outcomes in higher education, the entire education system has a role to play and will be challenged to respond, not least by closing the attainment gap in schools. In immediate support of that response, we will double the funding available for local widening access initiatives through the Scottish Funding Council's Impact for Access Fund.
The earlier we start the better. In the coming year we will support the provision of 600 hours of childcare to over 120,000 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds. In the years ahead we want to build upon that to almost double the number of free hours to 30 hours a week of free childcare by the end of the next Parliament, and we will begin to plan for this expansion immediately. Our plans are also well advanced so that from January 2015 children in Primaries 1 to 3 will be eligible for a free school meal - up to 165,000 children guaranteed at least one nourishing meal a day, benefiting health and wellbeing and attainment.
These are the kinds of practical steps we are taking to reduce intergenerational poverty. Scotland is estimated to have the 14th highest level of output per head in the OECD. As a wealthy nation we have the resources to end the disgrace of children being born into poverty and never escaping from it. But this will need the combined focus, commitment and expertise from national and local government, as well as every public body, and from Scottish businesses and the third sector. But most of all it will need us to find new and better ways to engage with the communities and people in the deepest need. We should not pretend that we have all the answers. We don't. We want to support locally based groups across the country to be able to improve the economic, social and environmental lives of their communities. We are therefore committed to increasing the investment in direct community funding by an additional £10 million in 2015-16, so that even more communities are able to take advantage of the new powers in the Community Empowerment Bill and make a difference in tackling inequalities on their own terms.
We need to make sure we hear and understand people's views on what will make the most difference to their lives. That kind of direct, open and accessible engagement will define the Government that I lead.
All our public bodies and agencies need to respond to this agenda too. Our public service reform agenda has been focused on putting people at the centre of public service design and delivery. Our reforms to policing and to fire and rescue are examples of how we can unlock benefits in the form of more cost effective and better services for the public. Our next big phase of reform will be the integration of health and social care. The planned changes are designed to provide seamless care to adults, often in their later years, who move between the health service and local authority care. In these reforms more than any other it will be vital that the needs of the individual are paramount in the way our Health Boards and local authorities take the new arrangements forward.
We already have firm plans to hand decisions over key issues to communities. The Community Empowerment Bill will give community bodies the chance to take ownership of land and buildings and will strengthen the voice of the community in the decisions that matter to them.
In addition, we will bring forward a Land Reform Bill to drive radical and effective land reform. This will include new powers for Scottish Ministers to intervene where the scale of land ownership and management decisions are a barrier to local sustainable development. We will end the business rates exemption given to shooting and deerstalking on sporting estates. We will establish a Land Reform Commission that will enhance the national debate about the use of land and hold governments, now and in the future, to account for their land use policies. We will also ensure that charity trustees have to consider the impact on local communities of decisions on the management and use of land under their control. In addition to the Bill, other commitments will include a substantial increase in the Scottish Land Fund for the period 2016-20 and a commitment to developing dedicated resource within Government to facilitate community land ownership across the whole of Scotland. Our aim is clear. The land of Scotland should be an asset that benefits the many not the few.
I am also determined to tackle all forms of inequality. As the first female First Minister of our country I want to see a step-change in gender equality. The Scottish Government has repeatedly made the case for the Scottish Parliament to have the necessary powers to pass legislation in this area. Until that time we plan to take a number of actions including challenging all organisations to set a voluntary target for gender balance on their boards of 50:50 by 2020. We will legislate on this issue as soon as we have the powers to do so. The new Cabinet is leading by example with 50:50 gender balance.
We will also continue to support our vital public services. We will continue to protect the revenue budget of the NHS and invest additional resources to tackle delayed discharges. We will also legislate to give the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate the powers to order closure of a hospital ward on the grounds of patient safety. This will implement one of the recommendations of the Vale of Leven public inquiry report.
I am also determined that we should continue to show zero tolerance to domestic abuse. In 2015 we will bring together leading experts to review the evidence and we undertake to identify new measures that we can adopt. We will consult on changes to the law to create a specific criminal offence of committing domestic abuse. We will also begin work on the creation of a specific offence relating to so called 'revenge porn'. These measures will send the clearest possible signal that this kind of abuse has no place in Scotland.
We should pause to reflect that 2014 has been a remarkable year for Scotland on the global stage. In addition to the many other festivals and events that take place the length and breadth of Scotland every year, we had the magnificent trio of the Commonwealth Games, The Ryder Cup and the European Music Awards. Each was a triumph of organisation, creativity and teamwork. At all of these we welcomed visitors from across the world who left with memories of the warmest of Scottish welcomes. We are committed to making the most of this legacy.
The referendum itself was also acclaimed internationally for the high standard of democratic debate and engagement. It has resulted in the people of Scotland now being more engaged and committed to seeing our country change and grow than at any time. All of us have a duty to harness and encourage that sense of democratic participation - as First Minister I intend to lead by example. The Government I lead will be the most open and accessible Scotland has ever had.
One of the most enduring memories of the referendum was seeing the contribution that our young voters made to the debate. I think everyone in our country was struck by the enthusiasm and passion which we tapped into by extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds. No one can seriously doubt any longer the wisdom of giving our young people a voice in every election. I therefore pledge that if the necessary powers are transferred to the Scottish Parliament in time that this Government will bring forward legislation to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the 2016 Scottish election.
This Programme for Government sets out a call for a common national endeavour. It speaks to the values that we in Scotland all hold dear. The values of enterprise and innovation. A deep and historic belief in the value of education. The value we place in the strength of our communities and giving a helping hand to those in need.
If we each play our part it is a vision that holds the prospect of prosperity, equality and opportunity for our country and all our fellow citizens.
I commend this programme for the next year to the people of Scotland whom I pledge to serve to the best of my ability.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP
First Minister of Scotland