Priorities for Government

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP outlines the Scottish Government's priorities to 2021.

Presiding Officer,

Today, I will set out the priorities that will guide this government over the next five years. They have one central ambition at their heart - to make real and lasting progress towards true equality of opportunity for all.

By the end of this term, through the action we take to improve our most life-changing public services – education, health, social care and social security – we intend to ensure that many more people get the opportunities and the support they need to fulfil their potential.

Greater equality of opportunity will make a real difference to the lives of those who suffer disadvantage; but it will do so much more than that.

It will boost our economy and enhance the quality of life of all of us. It will help to create not just a fairer nation, but one that is wealthier, healthier and happier.

Before the election I said that our manifesto was my job application - I'm pleased that it proved to be a successful one.

But it was also a comprehensive plan of action for the next five years. It is now our blueprint for delivery.

Today I will set out the overarching priorities of this government and how we will set about achieving them. I will set out our plans for the long term - but also the immediate actions we will take now to reform and transform Scotland.

Our priorities are clear:

  • we must continue to grow an economy that is strong, sustainable, fair and inclusive

  • we must put local communities more in charge of the decisions that shape their lives

  • we must use the new powers of our parliament as best we can to help grow our economy and tackle inequality.

  • we must drive forward reform of our public services to make them fit for the challenges of tomorrow as well as today

  • we must support and empower our teachers, colleges and universities to deliver an education system that gives all young people the chance to reach their potential and achieve their ambitions

We know that inequality has its roots well outside school and we must do more - much more - to tackle it at source. But we must also aim for our schools to be places where young people can overcome inequality and succeed regardless of their background.

Presiding Officer,

Whatever our differences, I firmly believe that the aspiration of this government for a wealthier, fairer and more equal Scotland is shared across the chamber.

There is no doubt that this is a parliament with the ability to be bold and progressive in how we achieve that vision.

So, I will do everything I can to harness that consensus.

We will draw on successful ideas from around the world.

And - as I indicate in some of the announcements I make today - we will also take forward good ideas from across the chamber if we believe they can help achieve our goals.

Presiding Officer,


As I have already made clear, the defining mission of this government will be education.

That is because we want every child to have a fair chance in life and we know that a good education is the foundation of that.

But we also know that ensuring equality of opportunity for young people starts well before the school years and extends far beyond the school gates.

So we will introduce a range of new policies targeted at the early years.

Within a year from now, every child born in Scotland will receive a baby box - a box of essential items to help level the playing field in the very first days of their life.

This simple but powerful idea originated in Finland and has been a huge success.

It provides practical help for parents. It also helps reduce infant mortality and improve child health - partly because it encourages early contact between new mothers and health visitors.

But the baby box does more than that.

It also symbolises the fair and equal start that we want for all children.

That is why I will be very proud to introduce it here in Scotland.

We will also use new social security powers to introduce a maternity and early years allowance to give financial support to low income parents - initially, when a child is born, then when the child starts nursery and again when they start school. This will be targeted help to reduce inequality at key stages of a young life.

Over the next two years, we will also recruit 500 more health visitors to help improve child health and wellbeing.


We will also transform childcare.

By the end of the next parliament, the availability of flexible, high quality and state funded early years education and childcare will be doubled to 30 hours a week for all 3 and 4 year olds and vulnerable two year olds.

Children eligible for extended early years provision will also benefit from free meals - like children in primaries 1-3 already do.

And, by 2018, every nursery in our most deprived areas will have an additional qualified teacher or childcare graduate.

This will be a key early step in ensuring the quality - as well as the quantity - of expanded childcare.

Presiding Officer

There is no doubt whatsoever that the expansion of childcare will be our most important infrastructure project of this parliament - it will help parents, particularly mothers, into work and it will be a transformational investment in the life chances of our children.

The support we give children in their earliest years will complement and contribute to our efforts to further improve school education.

I believe Scotland has a good education system. We have great schools and teachers. We have a new curriculum, record exam passes and more young people leaving school to go onto positive destinations.

So we will never talk down what we have.

But we are determined to do even better. It is simply not acceptable that school leavers from the most deprived 20% of areas in Scotland - if we look at Highers as just one measurement - do half as well as school leavers from the most affluent areas.

Our aim is to ensure that Scotland's education system delivers excellence for all.

Our manifesto set out a range of reforms to help us achieve that aim.

We will shortly begin discussions to develop a new, fair and transparent funding formula for schools, to ensure that resources go where they are needed most.

We will expand our Attainment Fund and invest an additional £750 million over this Parliament, specifically targeted at closing the attainment gap.

From next April, £100 million a year of that money will go direct to headteachers so that they - not councils or central government - can decide how best to use it to deliver improvements in their schools.

We will undertake work to empower teachers and parents - within a framework of national policy and inspection - to drive more of the decisions that shape the lives of their schools.

We will implement the national improvement framework, including new standardised assessments that will help inform teacher judgment.

By ensuring that we have reliable data, the improvement framework will enable us, for the first time, to accurately measure the attainment gap and set precise and transparent targets for closing it.

Presiding Officer,

The reforms we plan are substantial.

Before the summer holidays, John Swinney will publish a draft Delivery Plan, setting out more of the detail, timescales and next steps in our plans to close the attainment gap. It will build on the discussions he is already having with teachers, parents, local government and trade unions and provide the basis for further consultation.

And let me stress that point about consultation.

I want our work to close the attainment gap to be the mission, not just of this government or even this parliament, but of the country as a whole.

I want it to be guided by the best possible evidence from around the world - that's why I announced yesterday that I will establish an International Council of Education Advisers.

And I want it to be built - as far as possible - on consensus.

To that end, I can confirm today that over the next few months, we will convene a major summit on school reform and raising attainment - it will bring together all the key stakeholders in education to look at what each of us can do to help raise attainment and how collectively we drive this work forward. We will invite party leaders and education spokespeople to attend.

We will work hard to build consensus and partnership.

However, Presiding Officer, what we will not do is allow the search for consensus to result in inertia or in the lowest common denominator for action. We intend to be bold and to move forward with purpose and with pace.

We have a precious opportunity over the next five years to make real improvements for the benefit of this and future generations - we are absolutely determined to seize that opportunity.

Presiding Officer

Giving young people the best school education is about equipping them for the rest of their lives.

So we are also determined to extend the opportunities open to young people later in life.

We will deliver an additional 5,000 apprenticeships in highly skilled careers - taking the total number of apprenticeships to 30,000 by 2020.

We will work with schools to inspire more young people – boys and especially girls – into science, engineering and technology.

We will use our new powers, when we have them, to introduce a Jobs Grant to help young people aged 16 - 24 who have been unemployed for 6 months or more to move into and remain in work.

We will maintain the number of full time equivalent college places and continue to focus on the skills and training that help young people into work.

And we will widen access to university.

By 2030, we aim to ensure that 20% of Scottish domiciled university entrants will come from our 20% most deprived communities.

University education will remain free of tuition fees - front door or back door - for as long as the SNP is in government.

Presiding Officer, I know from personal experience that free tuition is essential to supporting working class young people into university.

But though it is essential, I also know it is not sufficient.

We must also break down the other barriers - the financial, cultural and institutional barriers - that mean young people from poorer backgrounds are less likely to go to university than their more affluent peers.

So over the summer, we will appoint a Commissioner for Fair Access to drive the change that will be needed in our universities and colleges and ensure that the recommendations of the Widening Access Commission are implemented in full.

The target we are setting is clear - a child born today in one of our most deprived communities must, by the time they leave school, have the same chance of getting to university as a child of the same ability from one of the most well off parts of our country.

That is a fundamental part of what I mean by a fair and equal society.

Presiding Officer,

Our young people are fundamental to our future as a country

But the ambition we're showing in education will be matched in other areas of our responsibility too.


We will protect the police budget in real terms and we will strengthen the accountability and improve the community focus of policing. We will improve how female offenders are treated – with greater use of community sentencing and support, and more use of local custody units. We will also step up our work to tackle violence against women and girls and legislate to create a new offence of domestic abuse.


We will ensure that at least 50,000 affordable homes are delivered over this parliament - including at least 35,000 for social rent. If we can go further, we will. These new houses will help to ensure that individuals and families across the country have access to good affordable homes.

But they will also deliver economic benefits. Their construction will support around 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs a year and generate around £1.8 billion in economic activity.

We will also introduce a Warm Homes Bill, making use of existing powers to tackle fuel poverty and new powers over energy efficiency.

Poverty and inequality

We will continue to take action across a range of fronts to tackle poverty and inequality.

We will shortly publish a Fairer Scotland Action Plan.

We will also implement all of the recommendations of the independent Poverty Adviser and we will commence the socio-economic duty contained in the 2010 Equalities Act.

Over the next few weeks, I will also reappoint an independent poverty advisor.

And we will bring forward early legislation for 50:50 gender balance on public boards.

During this parliament, we will assume important new responsibilities over social security. We will introduce a Social Security Bill in the first year of this parliament and start work to establish a new Scottish Social Security Agency.

We will use our new powers to put dignity and respect back at the heart of our social security system.

We will abolish the bedroom tax, we will make changes to how universal credit can be paid, extend winter fuel payments to families with severely disabled children and we will restore entitlement to housing support for 18-21 year olds in our country.

We will end the degrading DWP approach to disability assessments and ensure that disability payments are not reduced or means tested.

We will increase Carers Allowance and I can announce today that we will also consider the introduction of a Young Carers' Allowance to provide extra support for young people with significant caring responsibilities.

This is a proposal that was in the Green Party manifesto. I think it has real merit and so we will now ask our carer advisory groups for their views on how to take it forward.

Presiding Officer

Our new responsibilities will give us the chance to develop a social security system which respects the dignity of individuals as human beings. Rather than stigmatising those with disabilities, or those who cannot find work, we will value their potential and help them contribute to society.

Health and care

Let me turn now to health and care.

We will continue to take forward a major programme of investment and reform.

Over this parliament revenue spending on the NHS will rise by £500 million more than inflation. Presiding Officer, that means that, by the next election, the NHS revenue budget will be almost £2 billion higher than it is now.

However, we won't just increase what we spend.

We will also change how we spend it.

For example, there is a growing awareness of the importance of expanding mental health services.

We will put in place a ten year strategy to improve mental health and mental health services. And it will be backed by an additional £150 million of resources over five years.

Our action will include the recruitment of more mental health link workers in local communities, where they will work alongside GPs and other health professionals.

This work will be led by a new, dedicated Minister for Mental Health - a key ask of the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

We will also continue to adapt services for an ageing population. We know that the incidence of cancer, for example, is likely to increase as people live longer. So we will invest £100 million in a cancer strategy to improve survival rates and reduce inequalities.

We will invest £200 million in new elective treatment centres to meet increased demand for procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cataract removals. By increasing capacity for planned procedures, these centres will also ease pressure on emergency care.

The integration of health and social care, which took effect last month, is the most radical reform in healthcare in Scotland since the foundation of the NHS. Helping people to live independently for as long as possible requires expanded community and social care services. That's why we will support integrated health and social care partnerships with an additional £1.3 billion of investment over the next 5 years.

We will also take forward our work to transform primary care - delivering a Community Health Service, with a new GP contract, increased numbers of GPs and nurses working in the community and new, multi-disciplinary hubs.

We will also explore other initiatives to relieve the pressure on family doctors. All GP practices will have access to an enhanced pharmacist and we will examine a proposal in the Labour manifesto to extend the Minor Ailments Service to make it a universal service available in all pharmacies.

We know that better primary care, provided by a range of expert health professionals, will become ever more important in the years and decades ahead. So we are determined to make the decisions in this parliament that will ensure we have a health service fit for the needs of the next generation.

And as the way in which we deliver health care changes, we will ensure that the structures of our NHS, and the relationships between local government and the NHS, reflect those changes rather than inhibit.

Economy and tax

Presiding Officer, world-class, universal public services are part of our vision for Scotland. However those services need to be paid for and underpinned by a strong economy – just as a strong economy is enabled by world-class public services.

Supporting the economy has always been important to government - but with new powers over income tax, it will become even more so. For the first time, there will be a direct link in Scotland between the number of people in work and paying tax, and the revenues we have to invest in our public services.

We are fortunate that Scotland has strong economic foundations. For example, just yesterday the Ernst and Young report showed that 2015 was a record year for inward investment.

But we also know we face significant challenges.

My appointment of a dedicated Economy Secretary is recognition of those challenges.

The difficulties in the North Sea oil and gas sector during the last 18 months have undoubtedly slowed growth and affected levels of employment. We see evidence of that again today with the announcement from Shell. That is why the government will remain very focused in the months ahead on doing everything we can to support the oil and gas sector.

And although the productivity of our economy has improved relative to the rest of the UK, it is still a long way behind European neighbours like Germany and Sweden.

Innovation is crucial to improving productivity – that's why we are investing £120 million in new innovation centres to bring businesses and academics together to develop new ideas and products in some of the key growth sectors of the future. We will continue and expand that approach. We will launch an annual Innovation Prize, and invite the Council of Economic Advisers to propose specific actions to boost productivity through innovation.

And through the CAN-DO forum, we will do more to encourage entrepreneurship. We'll build on the success of initiatives such as the Edge Fund and Entrepreneurial Spark, and encourage even more people in Scotland to establish and grow the world-class companies of tomorrow.

Over the summer, we will also carry out an end-to-end review of the roles, responsibilities and relationships of our enterprise, development and skills agencies, covering the full functions of Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Island's Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council, to ensure that all of our public agencies are delivering the joined up support that our young people, universities, colleges and businesses need.

Scotland has had great success in attracting investment, and in helping companies to innovate, export and expand. We have real strength in depth in our universities and a record of achievement in our skills agencies. But now is not a time to rest on our laurels - it is the time to ensure that we drive greater innovation and improve our productivity.


We will also continue to invest in the infrastructure that businesses need.

Top of the list will be superfast broadband.

In 2012 just 42% of premises across Scotland had access to fibre broadband. Now, the figure is above 85%. But that's not good enough.

By 2021, we intend to reach 100% of all premises across the country. This is an investment that will improve productivity across Scotland and transform the connectivity of businesses in remote and rural areas.

We will set out our detailed timetable for achieving it over the next few months.

Rural economy

Our investment in broadband is just one of the ways in which we will boost the rural economy.

We will work to resolve the difficulties in the CAP payment system - Fergus Ewing will update Parliament on this work next week.

We will also continue to support our food and drink industry, which has achieved such great success in recent years.

We will maintain the road equivalent tariff scheme and support lifeline ferry routes and air links.

And we will continue to support smaller businesses - the lifeblood of our economy.

In next year's budget, we will extend the Small Business Bonus – which has already saved small businesses £1 billion – by increasing the relief threshold and lifting 100,000 small business properties out of business rates altogether.

Equality and fair work

Our focus on the economy goes hand in hand with our commitment to promoting equality. We will use the parliament's new tax powers fairly and progressively. We will protect those on low and middle incomes - but generate extra revenue for public services by asking higher rate taxpayers to forego a tax cut.

We will also make local tax more progressive and ask those in the most expensive houses to contribute more.

We will also continue to promote fair work. There are now 500 accredited living wage employers across the country. We will increase that to 1,000 by autumn of next year.

Over the summer, we will also publish a Labour Market Strategy, which will build on the work done by the Fair Work Convention.

And through the Scottish Business Pledge, we will encourage more companies to adopt good employment and business practices such as gender equality, the living wage and worker involvement.

Let us be very clear, in a highly competitive global marketplace, Scotland's economic success will be based on the excellence of our people and our products. We will succeed, not through low wages, but through high skills and high quality.

Low-carbon economy

Finally, in promoting sustainable growth, we will continue our transition to a low-carbon economy.

Since 1990, we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 38%. We are on course to meet our current target of a 42% reduction by 2020.

But we must be bolder. We will legislate to establish a new and more testing target for 2020 - one of reducing actual Scottish emissions by at least 50%.

We will look for support across the chamber for the bold - and sometimes controversial - actions we will need to take to meet that target.

In doing so, we will not just be living up to our moral obligations - we will also be seizing a massive economic opportunity. The low carbon and renewable energy sector already employs more than 21,500 people. A tougher target gives us even greater incentive to develop clean energy, promote energy efficiency and move to a more circular economy.

Presiding officer,

The final theme I want to talk about today is empowerment and democratic accountability.

Within this parliament, we will work constructively to improve the way in which government is held to account. I have already made proposals that seek to do just that.

Human rights and community empowerment

More broadly, we will seek to empower individuals and communities. Across our country for example, at a time when the UK government is still considering repeal of the Human Rights Act, we will take a different approach. We will work with civic Scotland to establish a set of social and economic rights for all of Scotland's citizens. By valuing and strengthening human rights, we can empower citizens and encourage better government.

And we will devolve more power to local communities.

We will work with local authorities to review their roles and responsibilities and get more powers into the hands of communities.

As a first step, over the course of the parliament, we will increase participatory budgeting across local authorities to at least one per cent of all council spending.

We will also introduce an Islands Bill to give new powers to our island communities.

And we will continue our work to get more land into community ownership and make land ownership more transparent.

The Land Reform Act, passed at the end of the last Parliament, provides a strong basis for taking our land reform agenda forward and I can confirm today that over the summer we will progress our commitment to introduce a mandatory public register of controlling interests in landowners.

Case for independence

We will also, as you would expect, continue to build the case for Scotland to become independent – a position backed by a majority of MSPs in this chamber.

Of course, we know that Scotland will only become independent if and when a majority of the people are persuaded of this case.

And we also know that our job is to govern, at all times, for all the people of our country.

That is what we will always strive to do.

As part of that, we will seek to build alliances across party boundaries. I believe that there is a clear progressive majority in this parliament. And where there is cross-party opposition to unfair or regressive Westminster policies - such as continued austerity, the renewal of Trident or attempts to undermine human and trade union rights – we will work with other parties to maximise parliament's influence and make parliaments' voice heard.

And looking ahead to the debate we will have tomorrow, defending Scotland's place in the EU is a key early priority in demonstrating that progressive majority.

Presiding Officer,

The priorities we pursue over the next five years will shape Scotland for the next generation and beyond.

The proposals I have outlined today have at their heart a faith in social justice – a belief that we will prosper as a nation, and succeed as a society, if we encourage every person's potential and respect every person's dignity.

Fairer and more prosperous nation

It is only by empowering individuals that we will achieve our shared ambition for a fairer and more prosperous nation.

The priorities I have outlined today are designed to do just that:

  • our young people must know that if they work hard, they will have a fair chance to achieve their dreams;
  • workers must be paid a decent wage for a decent day's work
  • those who rely on social security must be valued for their potential contribution to society
  • entrepreneurs and business owners must get the support they need for their businesses to grow
  • older people must be helped to live as independently as possibly
  • and all citizens must know that their rights are valued and protected, and that they will have a say in the decisions that affect them and their communities

That sense of empowerment – for individuals, for families, for communities and for our country as a whole – is what we seek to build over the next five years.

By doing so, we can make lasting progress towards true equality of opportunity for all.

I look forward to working across parliament to achieve that goal.


Email: SG Communications,

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