Programme for Government 2020-2021: First Minister's speech 1 September 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the Programme for Government 2020 to 2021 at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh on Tuesday 1 September 2020.

This document is part of 2 collections

Presiding Officer,

I will start with a very brief update on today’s COVID statistics.

An additional 154 positive cases were confirmed yesterday.

That represents 1.2% of people newly tested, and takes our total number of cases to 20,632.

The full health board breakdown is available on the Scottish Government website.

However, I would draw attention to the fact that 66 of today’s cases are in Greater Glasgow & Clyde, and the situation there is causing us some concern.

Further analysis is underway, and I will be chairing a meeting of the Resilience Committee late this afternoon to consider what action may be necessary to prevent further spread. I will provide a further update after that.

I can also confirm that a total of 264 patients are currently in hospital with COVID. That is 6 more than yesterday.

And 6 people are in intensive care, which is 1 more than yesterday.

In the past 24 hours, though, no deaths were registered of patients who had tested positive for COVID. The number of deaths under that measurement remains 2,494.

These statistics remind us that the times we are living through are far from normal.

The pandemic continues to have a profound impact on our health and wellbeing, on business and the economy - indeed, on our whole way of life.

That is true here in Scotland, and across the globe.

It follows then that this is not a normal, business as usual, Programme for Government.

Today’s programme is clear that suppressing COVID is our most immediate priority - and it will remain so for some time.

That is essential for the protection of health and life. And for economic and social recovery.

Put simply, if COVID runs rampant again, our economy will sustain even deeper, longer lasting damage.

This Programme faces up to that inescapable fact.

However, we will not simply hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.

We can’t afford to do that.

We must end our contribution to climate change, improve biodiversity, invest in our infrastructure, make our public services fit for the future, harness the economic and social opportunities of new technology, make homelessness history, and lift children out of poverty.

So, even amidst the uncertainties of a global pandemic, this is a time to be ambitious.

To use the disruption of COVID to rethink how we do things.

To make sure our immediate response to the virus works, not just in the short term, but that it also helps shape a stronger, greener, fairer future.

We must treat the COVID challenge, not as a brake on our ambitions, but an accelerant.

After all, if our response to the virus has taught us anything, it is that we can achieve progress more quickly than we thought possible when we set our minds to it.

The roll out of a digital consulting system in the NHS had proceeded at a snail’s pace for years. It was completed in less than a month after COVID struck.

A new hospital was created in a matter of weeks.

Armies of volunteers and public sector workers made sure the vulnerable had access to food and medicines.

Rough sleepers were given places to stay.

And unprecedented support for business was distributed quickly and effectively.

None of us would have chosen to live through a global pandemic. We will always grieve the lives lost, and never forget our separation from loved ones.

But we are also being reminded, every day, of the resilience of our human spirit, the power of human compassion, and the ingenuity of human intellect.

We must harness all of that for the future.

So this Programme for Government sets out plans for a stronger, more resilient, more sustainable economy - with a laser focus on creating new, good, green jobs.

It guarantees opportunities for our young people - and refuses to accept that their generation will carry the economic scars of COVID into adulthood.

It strengthens and reforms public services, including our National Health Service.  

And it takes the first step on the road to a National Care Service.

It promotes equality and wellbeing, with decisive action on child poverty.

At the heart of this Programme is a new, game-changing Scottish Child Payment.

And it starts to reimagine how we can live our lives in ways and in places that prioritise health and wellbeing - recognising the benefits, not just to individuals, but to the economy.

Let me turn then to the detail and, firstly, to the necessity of suppressing and hopefully eliminating COVID.

While nothing can be ruled out, we want to do everything possible to keep COVID under control without another national lockdown.

The means building and supporting public health infrastructure that can break the chains of transmission and keep outbreaks contained.

Working with the UK, we have already expanded testing capacity and we will continue to do so.

We will also make access to testing more accessible.

Yesterday, the Scottish Ambulance Service took over the running of mobile test units, and will continue to extend their reach.

I want to thank the Army for their work in establishing and running these units so far.

Also, by the end of October, 11 new walk in testing centres will open across Scotland. Over the course of winter, this will rise to 22.

And we will ensure that decisions on who gets tested, and for what purposes, are informed by up to date scientific and clinical advice.

We will also continue to strengthen Test & Protect.

Built from the bottom up, this system harnesses the skill of Scotland’s well established health protection teams.

It is working extremely well so far, and I am very grateful to everyone involved.

However, I can announce today a significant enhancement to Test & Protect.

Later this month, we will launch ‘Protect Scotland’, our new proximity tracing app.

The app will provide an additional means of notifying and giving advice if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive - even if you don’t know that person and they don’t know you.

There will be more information at the time of launch - as well as important assurances about privacy and confidentiality - but I encourage everyone to download and use the app as soon as it becomes available.

Stopping the virus in its tracks wherever possible is our priority.

However, we must be prepared for any second wave if it happens.

Our NHS is already restarting procedures that had to be paused.

However, it is also maintaining hospital and ICU capacity to deal with COVID if necessary. That includes keeping the NHS Louisa Jordan open through winter.

We are also replenishing stocks and strengthening supply chains to ensure we have PPE for health and care workers. I’m pleased to say that much of that PPE is now made here in Scotland.

We are continuing to learn lessons to protect care home residents - this includes routine testing of care home workers.

And we are reducing the potential concurrent winter risk of flu, by extending eligibility for the flu vaccine to everyone over the age of 55, social care workers and those who live with ‘shielded’ people.

Keeping COVID under control is, of course, the responsibility of government, first and foremost.

But we cannot do it alone. It requires  a continued collective effort.

We will only succeed if we all play our part.

That is why I ask again that everyone across Scotland abides by the FACTS rules.

Please do the right thing. Please keep our country safe.

Presiding Officer, the health crisis has caused an economic crisis on a scale none of us have experienced before.

We have an immediate obligation to protect jobs and help businesses survive.

We have already made available more than £2.3 billion of emergency funding for businesses, and we will continue to provide as much support as we possibly can.

We also welcome the scale of the UK government’s economic interventions.

However, the looming withdrawal of the furlough scheme risks a tsunami of redundancies.

I am therefore calling again today on the UK to follow the lead of countries like France and Germany and extend the Job Retention Scheme for a further 12 months - especially for the sectors hardest hit by COVID and with the longest road to recovery.

Withdrawing this support while otherwise viable businesses are still unable to operate normally - and in full and certain knowledge of the impact it will have - would be unconscionable.

Presiding Officer, It must not happen.

We will take all possible action to support the economy in the short term.

But this Programme also lays foundations for the future.

It establishes a national mission to create new, high-quality, green jobs.

This mission is underpinned by significant investment in our national infrastructure, in securing the economic benefits of the green transition and in fully realising the potential of the tech revolution.

I’ll set out some of those investments and supporting initiatives shortly.

But delivering on this mission - and responding to the immediate employment challenges of COVID - requires a massive focus on upskilling and reskilling the workforce.

I can confirm that central to this, and indeed central to our Programme, is a Youth Guarantee.

A new partnership with Scotland’s employers - backed by £60 million of government investment - to guarantee everyone aged 16-24, a job, a place in education or a place in training.

The Economy Secretary will publish the implementation plan for the Youth Guarantee tomorrow.

But be in no doubt now - this Guarantee signals our absolute determination that youth unemployment will not be a legacy of this pandemic.

We are also earmarking £10 million to help employers recruit and retain apprentices. This will include incentives to take on apprentices who have been made redundant.

And I can announce that, this autumn, we will launch the National Transition Training Fund.

Backed by initial funding of £25 million, it will help up to 10,000 people of all ages retrain for jobs in growth sectors.

We will also double to £20 million our Flexible Workforce Development Fund, which helps employers address skills gaps.

And we will establish a Green Jobs Fund - initially worth £100m - which I will say more about shortly.

Supporting workers to upskill and retrain is essential.

But COVID has brought about fundamental shifts in how people work.

Greater flexibility over working patterns is important for health and wellbeing - and many businesses see benefits to that as well.

At present, our advice is to work from home if possible.

However we expect that when more people do return to offices, some will want to go on working from home, at least for part of the week.

We will therefore set up a new Centre for Workplace Transformation to look at how and where work takes place, and what support employees and businesses need to make this work.

The Programme for Government includes a range of measures to protect key sectors badly affected by the pandemic – for example tourism, creative industries, and our cultural sector.

But investment in infrastructure is at its core.

We will increase our investment in infrastructure year on year, so that by the end of the next Parliament it will be £1.5 billion higher than last year.

This month we will publish our new national infrastructure investment plan - informed by the Infrastructure Commission - setting out the framework for £32 billion of infrastructure investment over the next five years.

Part of that investment will be in digital infrastructure.

The last six months have shown that access to the online world is a modern necessity - every bit as essential as access to electricity.

It is through technology that many of us have continued to work, learn, access life’s essentials and stay in touch with loved ones.

Our £600 million R100 programme will make superfast broadband available to every home and every business across the country.

Scotland remains the only government in the UK to have guaranteed 100% access to superfast broadband.

Work has already started on delivering the central and south of Scotland parts of the programme.

And we have established a voucher scheme – the most generous anywhere in the UK - to ensure that everyone in Scotland has access to superfast broadband by the end of 2021, even if the R100 installation is not scheduled to reach them until later, or they are in the hardest to reach areas.

That said Presiding Officer, better infrastructure alone will not secure the benefits of digital technology.

We must also eliminate digital exclusion.

During lockdown, working with the third sector, councils and Scotland’s tech industry, we established Connecting Scotland.

It has provided iPads and Chromebooks – with internet connections - to people on low incomes.

It helps tackle the causes and consequences of poverty.

The initial priority was people shielding or at high risk of severe illness.

The programme is now helping care leavers and low income households with children.

It connects families, improves employment opportunities and provides better access to health care and education.

We intend to significantly expand the programme in the coming year.

I can announce today that, by the end of 2021, Connecting Scotland will provide an electronic device, unlimited data, and two years of digital support and training to 50,000 people who would otherwise be without digital access that the rest of us take for granted.

This is a massive step, and it will help us end the digital divide once and for all.

We have of course previously expressed our ambition for Scotland – not simply to be users of digital technologies – but to lead the way in the design and development of that new technology.

In recent years we have enhanced our international reputation as a centre for technology and data.

However last week’s review by Mark Logan, Skyscanner’s former Chief Operating Officer, highlighted areas for urgent improvement.

His recommendations - if implemented - will be truly transformational.

This Government accepts that challenge.

I can confirm that we intend to implement those recommendations in full.

We will establish a network of tech incubators to mentor and train tech start-ups.

We will create an ecosystem fund to help those start-ups succeed.

We will provide reskilling opportunities for people whose employment has been affected by COVID, so that they can find new jobs in our digital industries.

And we will work directly with the technology sector to deliver the recommendations on education, entrepreneurship and investment.  

Scotland already has significant economic and academic strengths in technology and data. Building on these is crucial for our future prosperity and success.

This Programme is a clear signal of our determination to expand these strengths, address our weaknesses, and fully seize the opportunities of the digital age.

Our ambitions for a digital Scotland must go hand in hand with our ambitions for a greener Scotland. Indeed, our obligation to create a greener Scotland.

In just two months, Scotland was due to host COP26. 

That gathering has been postponed but the global challenge is more pressing than it has ever been.

COVID is, rightly, the most immediate priority addressed in this Programme.

But we mustn’t forget that the global climate emergency is intensifying, and that it too requires our urgent attention and action.

In the year ahead, we will make further progress towards Scotland becoming, by 2045, a net-zero emitter – ending forever our contribution to climate change.

Last year we set out the first phase of our Green New Deal, based on the principle that decarbonising Scotland is both a moral obligation and a significant economic and social opportunity.

It committed an additional £2 billion of investment over the next parliament, to help achieve the ambitions set out in our Climate Change Plan.

Today, we are setting out details of how £1.6 billion of that will be invested – for example by supporting green jobs, reprioritising road space for public transport use, planting trees, and transforming how we heat our buildings.

Our overall investment in decarbonising heat - which will in itself be more than £1.5 billion over the next parliament - will help us improve energy efficiency, reduce fuel poverty, and ensure that in just over 20 years, heating in Scotland will no longer be a source of greenhouse gas emissions.

This transformation - driven by our responsibility to the planet - will also create and support many jobs across our country.

As indicated earlier, we will also create a £100 million Green Jobs Fund.

Half will be dedicated to helping businesses and organisations grow to significantly increase employment in low carbon sectors.

The other half will help businesses take advantage of public and private investment in the low carbon economy.

We will also help other industries become green.

A £62 million Energy Transition Fund will help oil and gas businesses diversify – something that is especially important for the North East of Scotland.

And I can confirm that we will invest a further £60 million to support the industrial and manufacturing sectors’ transition to net zero.

One of Scotland’s biggest industrial employers - and largest emitters – is, of course, Grangemouth.

I can confirm that we will establish a Grangemouth Future Industry Board to support a Just Transition at that cluster - promoting economic activity while advancing the move to a low-carbon future.

We will also do much more to support the circular economy, and new energy technologies such as carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen.

And we will significantly increase peatland restoration – investing at least £250 million over the next decade to help meet our emissions targets, and support jobs in rural and remote parts of our country.

I can also announce that we will launch, later this month, the first round of our Green Investment Portfolio – marketing more than £1 billion of low-carbon projects to investors across the world. 

And, of course, the Scottish National Investment Bank will shortly open its door for business.

Capitalised to the tune of £2 billion over the next decade, its primary mission will be to drive the transition to a net zero economy.

The Bank will be a key source of patient finance in the years ahead.

It will support the new technologies, projects and infrastructure that will put Scotland at the very forefront of the transition to net-zero.

I can confirm that the Bank is already in discussions about a range of projects for early investment – including supporting supply chains for zero-emission public transport.

The Scottish National Investment Bank – which in my view, the most important economic development of this Parliament - will be key to creating the low carbon, high technology and highly skilled economy we want and are determined to build in Scotland.

Presiding Officer, we will continue to do all we can to help individuals and businesses adapt, survive and succeed

COVID has presented us with significant challenges. But these are being compounded – completely unnecessarily - by Brexit.

The UK Government’s decision not to seek an extension to the transition period - despite the economic crisis caused by COVID – will cause avoidable harm to many Scottish businesses.

It is an act of self-sabotage which we simply do not understand, but must nevertheless respond to.

At the same time, we also face restrictions on our ability to protect key sectors, as a result of the UK’s plans to create a so-called internal market that undermines this parliament and risks lowering standards.

Nevertheless, Brexit demands that we work in partnership with business, the third and public sectors, to make sure Scotland remains an attractive location for inward investment.

I can therefore announce today that we will publish, before the end of this year - as an accompaniment to our Export Strategy - a new Inward Investment Plan with the express aim of creating 100,000 high quality jobs over the next decade.

Presiding Officer, Brexit – and the way in which it is being implemented – immeasurably strengthens the case for Scotland becoming an independent country, with the ability to shape our own destiny and contribute positively to Europe and the world.

If this was a programme for government in an independent Scotland, it wouldn’t have to contemplate the damage of Brexit. Instead it could set out even more far reaching plans. Plans for:

  • an immediate extension of the Job Retention Scheme - not a plea for another government to do so
  • the greater use of borrowing powers to further stimulate our economy
  • transformation of our national grid to support faster development of renewables
  • a migration system that welcomes talent at all levels and supports people to make Scotland their home
  • a Univeral Basic Income and a social security system geared wholly, not just partially, to lifting households out of poverty

That is why, before the end of this Parliament, we will publish a draft Bill, setting out the proposed terms and timing of an independence referendum, as well as the proposed question that people will be asked in that referendum.

And then at next year’s election, we will make the case for Scotland to become an independent country, and seek a clear endorsement of Scotland’s right to choose our own future.

Presiding officer, the rainbows that appeared in windows across Scotland earlier this year were an expression of hope in the face of adversity. They were also a tribute to the dedication of our health and care workers.

We owe each and every one of them an enormous debt of gratitude, and that must be reflected in how we value and reward them.

We are now in the final year of the three year NHS Agenda for Change pay deal.

We are already working with trade unions to agree the negotiation of a new pay award for 2021/22.

As part of this we are considering options to recognise the enormous contribution of staff during the pandemic.

We also acknowledge the impact of COVID on the mental health of many frontline workers and will establish a mental health network, including a new Workforce Specialist Service, to provide confidential assessment and treatment for those working in the NHS.

COVID has reminded us how important it is to ensure the safety of patients.

We will continue to support the work of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme.

And, in response to the Baroness Cumberlege review, commissioned as a result of concerns about mesh implants, I can announce today that we will also establish a Patient Safety Commissioner.

The Health Secretary will set out more details next week.

Our immediate priority is the remobilisation of the NHS - but we will also reform access to services in light of the COVID experience, and expand the use of technology.

Work to restart services paused because of COVID - and to tackle the backlog of procedures - is already underway.

We are also expanding elective capacity through the National Elective Centre programme.

The first of our new centres for elective surgery will open next month at the Golden Jubilee Hospital.

Construction will start shortly on the Highland Centre, and next year it will start on new centres in Grampian and Livingston and on the second phase of the Golden Jubilee.

A new National Cancer Recovery Plan will be published in the autumn to drive forward recovery and improvement of these vital services, and we will prioritise prompt detection of cancers through Early Diagnostic Centres.

Crucially, in the months ahead we will build on the rapid expansion of digital access to care that was achieved in response to COVID.

Early on in the pandemic, we quickly upscaled the use of the ‘Near Me’ video consultation service.

In the week before that started, just over 300 video consultations took place across our NHS. In the last week of June, the number was 17,000. Patient satisfaction with the service was also high.

That shows how quickly progress can be made.

So while we recognise that video consultations will not be appropriate for every patient or situation, I can confirm that we intend to move to the position where ‘Near Me’ is the default option for patient consultations.

We also intend to develop the use of ‘Near Me’ in social care.

Accident & Emergency Services were also transformed during COVID, and we will learn from that experience too.

A new 24/7 service operated by NHS 24, will help patients not in need of immediate emergency care, to access clinical assessments by phone or online before attending an A&E department.

We will also support the Pharmacy First initiative, which allows common ailments to be treated by community pharmacists. 

This is part of a wider set of reforms to community health services.

Our aim is to ensure that multidisciplinary teams, in a network of Community Treatment and Care Facilities like the one I visited yesterday at Sighthill, provide as much care and treatment as possible in communities and close to home.

COVID has undoubtedly highlighted and exacerbated health inequalities.

So we will promote healthier and more active lifestyles for all.

We will invest £500 million over the next five years to support active travel.

This will will help local authorities develop new walkways, reallocate road space, and increase access to bikes.

We will also implement low emission zones in our four biggest cities to improve air quality. The first of these has already been established in Glasgow, and the others will be operational by early 2022.

We will also work to encourage healthier eating, and take forward plans to tackle obesity and support healthy weight.

And we will continue to tackle the harms caused by alcohol and tobacco.

We will also deliver on the key recommendations of the Drug Deaths Taskforce – for example, by tackling the stigma that too often prevents people seeking treatment and funding vital research into drugs deaths in Scotland.

Presiding Officer

A central commitment in last year’s Programme for Government was a major reform and expansion of mental health services. This year’s programme continues that journey.

Again, we will build on the approaches adopted during the pandemic.

During lockdown, the reach of the Distress Brief Intervention Programme was expanded. This provides support for people in distress who contact emergency services, but who do not need emergency clinical help.

Evaluations have shown that this approach saves lives. I can confirm, therefore, that we will expand the Distress Brief Interventions programme across every part of Scotland.

We will also work with health boards to retain the Mental Health Assessment Centres established during the pandemic.

And we will deliver the major expansion of mental health support for children and young people announced in last year’s Programme for Government.

Presiding Officer, I have focussed largely so far on the National Health Service. But the pandemic has reminded us of the vital importance of social care services, and of the extraordinary professionalism, dedication and compassion of those who work in that sector.

However, it has also underlined the need for improvement and reform.

I can therefore announce today the immediate establishment of a comprehensive independent review of adult social care.

The review will seek the views of those with direct experience of adult social care, and make recommendations for immediate improvements.

However, more fundamentally, it will examine and set out options for the creation of a National Care Service.

The Health Secretary will set out more detail in her statement later today.

However, I can confirm that we will ask the review to produce its first report by January, so we can start to act quickly on its findings.

The quality of adult social care is something that matters deeply to us all. This is a moment to be bold and to build a service fit for the future.

The National Health Service was born out of the tragedy of World War 2.

Let us resolve that we will build out of this COVID crisis, the lasting and positive legacy of a high quality, National Care Service for all who need it.

The last few months have reminded us once again that quality public services and a strong economy must go together.

We will continue to invest in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and in Police Scotland.

I am extremely grateful to both of these emergency services for the work they have done to help the country through the COVID crisis.

In terms of the wider justice system, we will work with courts, the legal profession, and victims’ organisations to tackle the backlog of cases, that COVID has caused.

We will continue to promote and expand the use of community interventions as a more effective alternative to short term prison sentences.

And we will progress plans to modernise the prison estate, prioritising replacements for HMP Barlinnie and HMP Inverness.

By the end of 2022, we will have delivered a new national women’s prison and two community custody units for women in Glasgow and Dundee - ensuring that the needs of women in our criminal justice system are better addressed.

And we will introduce in this session of Parliament a new Domestic Abuse Bill. This will legislate for emergency protection orders to better safeguard those at immediate risk of domestic abuse.

That Bill is one of four that we will introduce before the end of this term.

The others are the Budget Bill, a Bill relating to medical and dentistry education at St Andrew’s University, and a truly landmark Bill to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law, which I will say more about later.

There are 7 additional Bills already before Parliament, which will continue their progress in the weeks ahead.

They include the Defamation and Malicious Publications Bill, the Redress for Survivors of Historical Child Abuse Bill, the Heat Networks Bill, the Forensic Medical Services Bill and the Hate Crime & Public Order Bill.

On the last of these I know concerns have been raised. I want to give an assurance that we will listen carefully. Freedom of speech and expression is fundamental in any democracy.

Presiding Officer, let me turn now to housing.

We will continue to make ending homelessness a national priority, and provide more support for new housing.

We will update the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan, learning from the approaches taken during the pandemic.

And we will significantly scale up Housing First.

We will also take action to reduce the risk of people becoming homeless because of COVID related financial pressures.

During the pandemic, we legislated to stop people being evicted.

We will extend the protection against eviction for rent arrears until March of next year.

However, I can announce today that we will also establish a £10 million Tenant Hardship Loan Fund, to support people struggling to pay their rent because of this pandemic

We will also continue to invest in new social and affordable housing.

Investment in housing is also an investment in our economy, in jobs and in our communities.

Before lockdown, we were on track to deliver to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes by the end of this parliament, 35,000 of them for social rent.

We are working with the construction sector to catch up and hit that target as soon as possible.

That has been a £3 billion investment and we intend to expand on it.

We have already committed a further £300 million of housing investment in the next financial year.  That will secure much needed new homes - and also support around 10,000 jobs.

Later this year, we will publish a new 20 year vision for good quality, zero carbon housing with access to community services, transport links and green space. 

For social housing, we will set new standards on carbon emissions, digital infrastructure, and access to outdoor space and room for home working.

This vision will be based on extensive consultation, and the Social Renewal Advisory Board – whose recommendations have been influential in several areas of this Programme  - will help ensure it reflects our experiences of the pandemic.

It will also be backed by substantial new funding for the remainder of the next parliament, which will be confirmed in the Capital Spending review later in the year.

The last few months - as we have been able to travel less - have reminded us just how important our local communities are.

The concept of what is called the 20 minute neighbourhood has attracted growing global interest in recent years.

The basic idea is that people in any part of a town or city should be able to find shops, green space, public services, leisure facilities – and ideally work – within 20 minutes’ walk of a good affordable home.

We intend to work with local authorities and others to turn that vision into reality through our policies on transport, regeneration, housing and the environment.

And to support it, we will invest £275 million in community-led regeneration and town-centre revitalisation.

The pandemic reinforced what we already know. The quality of homes and communities impact directly on our health, happiness and wellbeing - and those impacts are unequal.

The plans in this Programme for Government – to invest in quality housing and better neighbourhoods – aim to transform that for the better.

Presiding officer, like our support for housing, the social safety net is also an investment in our collective wellbeing.

During COVID we expanded the Scottish Welfare Fund, increased payments for carers, and provided additional support for emergency food supplies.

Social Security Scotland now delivers eight different benefits to people across the country.

Four of these are new - and don’t exist elsewhere in the UK - and the other four are more generous than the UK benefits they replaced.

In November, our new social security system will reach its most significant milestone, when it starts taking applications for the new Scottish Child Payment.

The first payments will be in the pockets of eligible families in February next year.

Despite the six month disruption of COVID, that is just two months later than initially planned.

The Scottish Child Payment will give eligible families £10 a week for each child, initially for those under the age of six and then when fully implemented up to age 16.

Together with support available through the Best Start Grant, the Scottish Child Payment will be truly game changing in our fight against child poverty.

During the winter we will also start making payments through the child winter heating assistance program – providing £200 per child for families of severely disabled children.

Social security is part of the social contract between government and citizen. It is an expression of our solidarity as a society.

It is more important than ever to support, strengthen and invest in it - and this government will do exactly that.

The Scottish Child Payment - like the baby box - symbolises our determination to ensure that every child has the best start in life.

This generation of children and young people have experienced a year unlike anything we could have anticipated.

We have a duty to ensure that the impact of the past few months doesn’t disadvantage them in years to come.

One of the most important pledges of this parliament was our commitment to ensure 1140 hours of free childcare a year for all 3 and 4 year olds, and eligible 2 year olds.

This commitment was on course to be delivered from August.

Inevitably, COVID  has delayed it, but we remain committed to delivering it in full.

A firm date for completion will be agreed between the Scottish Government and local authorities before the end of this year.

In schools, closing the attainment gap remains our defining aim, but we mustn’t underestimate the impact that closure of schools will have had on it.

We have already confirmed pupil equity funding of £130 million for the next financial year.

And we have allocated an additional £80 million this year for the recruitment of additional teachers and support staff to help young people catch up in their education.

We have already established a review of the awarding of SQA qualifications and we will ensure a broader consideration of our approach to assessments and qualifications in future.

I can also confirm that we will fund additional university places to ensure no young person loses out on higher education as a result of issues with this year’s qualifications.

And having already met our interim target, we will continue to work toward the objective of closing the gap in access to university.

We aim that by 2030, at least 20% of university entrants will be from our 20% most deprived communities.

In the more immediate term, we will work with our universities and colleges to help them deal with the substantial impact of COVID.

I also want today to renew my personal promise to children and young people with experience of care, and recommit to the full implementation of the independent Care Review’s recommendations.

Fiona Duncan – who chaired the review – has already been appointed to lead an oversight board to hold us to account.

We will also respond to the Black Lives Matter movement and the global resistance to continued racial injustice.

This Programme sets out how, on health, the economy and in our communities, we will better recognise and respond to the challenges faced by minority communities.

We will also work to educate young people on our past, and on the need to challenge racial injustice in the present. 

And we will sponsor an independent expert group to make recommendations on how to raise awareness of Scotland’s role in colonialism, slavery and historic injustice, and how it manifests itself in society today.

Finally, I can confirm that we will shortly introduce one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation in the 20 year history of devolution.

We will - to the maximum extent possible - fully and directly incorporate into Scots law the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This will mean public authorities - including Government - will be required by law to act in ways compatible with the Convention’s requirements to recognise, respect and be accountable for the rights of children in what we do.

The implications of this Bill will be profound, far reaching and long lasting. 

It is a commitment that exemplifies the importance this Government attaches to the rights, opportunities and future of all our young people.

Presiding Officer,

That view to the future is the note I want to end on. But first, let me reflect on the past.

It is less than three weeks since we commemorated the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, and the end of World War II.

One of the many impressive things about that World War II generation is the way in which – even in desperate times - they resolved to build a better world.

They created institutions – from our National Health Service to the United Nations - which have stood the test of time and serve us to this day.

The crisis we face today is different - and in many ways less extreme.

But it is, without doubt, the biggest challenge our generation has faced.

It would be easy to focus on nothing but COVID – and of course the effort to suppress it will occupy us for some time yet.

But we should also seize this moment to imagine and start to build a better future.

That is why this programme, as well as tackling COVID, renews our commitment to end, once and for all, Scotland’s contribution to climate change.

It acknowledges the social solidarity of recent months, and aspires to a more equal country.

It invests in the skills and technologies people will need for the future.

It lays plans for homes and neighbourhoods which we hope can be cherished for generations.

It commits to the vision of a National Care Service, to match the post-war National Health Service.

And it seeks to ensure, above all, that COVID will not be the defining experience for this current generation of young people.

It aims instead to improve their education, enhance their life chances and guarantee their human rights.

Presiding Officer

This is a Programme for Government which necessarily prepares us for what may well be a difficult winter.

It also encourages us to lift our eyes, find hope in our hearts, and plan for brighter days ahead.

I commend it to the chamber.

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