Programme for Government 2017 to 2018: First Minister's speech

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon introduces the Programme for Government 2017 to 2018 to the Scottish Parliament.

Presiding Officer,

Over the past 10 years, this Government has expanded free childcare, removed university tuition fees for students and abolished business rates for 100,000 small businesses.

We have invested in the NHS, scrapped prescription charges and protected free personal care.

We have built social housing at a faster rate than any other part of the UK.

And we have placed Scotland firmly at the forefront of the global fight against climate change.

Today, our unemployment rate is close to a record low.

Youth unemployment is half what it was 10 years ago.

Our hospital A&E departments are the best-performing anywhere in the UK.

And crime is at a 42-year low.

And, as illustrated by yesterday's official opening of the new Queensferry Crossing, the nation's infrastructure has been transformed.

This is good progress – but it is time to take stock of our achievements, refocus our efforts and refresh our agenda.

We live in a time of unprecedented global challenge and change.

Rapid advances in technology; a moral obligation to tackle climate change; an ageing population; the impact of continued austerity and deep-seated challenges of poverty and inequality; and an apparent rise in the forces of intolerance and protectionism.

These challenges are considerable, but in each of them we must find opportunity.

This Programme for Government is our plan to seize those opportunities.

To build the kind of Scotland we all seek – an inclusive, fair, prosperous, innovative country, ready and willing to embrace the future.

It is a Programme to invest in our future and shape Scotland's destiny.

Ensuring that we have a highly educated and skilled population, able to adapt to the needs of a rapidly changing economy, is vital to our future prosperity and our wellbeing.

That is why improving education – and closing the attainment gap – is our number one priority.

As of this summer, parents of all newborn children now receive a Baby Box.

That box encapsulates an important principle – that all children, regardless of their parents' circumstances, deserve the best possible start in life.

That principle is one that will follow the Baby Box generation as they grow up.

They will be the first to benefit from our next transformation in childcare.

We have already expanded early years education and childcare, but by the time the Baby Box generation reaches nursery, we will have almost doubled the amount of free nursery education that children receive.

Over the next year, to lock in that expansion, we will guarantee a multi-year package of funding for local authorities to support the recruitment and training of staff and the delivery of new premises.

And to support private and third sector providers of childcare, we will also introduce rates relief for day nurseries.

The massive expansion of nursery education is the first strand of our transformation of Scotland's education system.

The second is school reform.

A new Education Bill will deliver the biggest and the most radical change to how our schools are run that we have seen in the lifetime of devolution.

It will give headteachers significant new powers, influence and responsibilities, formally establishing them as leaders of learning and teaching.

Our premise is a simple, but a very powerful, one: the best people to make decisions about a child's education are the people who know those children best, their teachers and parents.

Our reforms will be matched by resources. We will build on the early success of the new Pupil Equity Funding so that, over time, more of the money that funds our schools goes directly to those in our classrooms.

Of course, we know that the whole education system must work together if we are to see the kind of improvement in schools that we all want to see.

So new Regional Improvement Collaboratives will be established to provide support to teachers, including access to teams of attainment experts and subject specialists.

We will also reform the way that teachers are recruited and educated throughout their professional careers.

We will introduce new routes into teaching, to attract the highest quality graduates into priority areas and priority subjects, and broaden the pool of talent available.

These changes will be underpinned by the new standardised assessments being taken by pupils in primaries 1, 4 and 7, and the third year of secondary school, from this autumn.

These assessments will not raise standards in and of themselves – but they will help ensure that parents, teachers, policy makers and the wider public have access to high quality and reliable information about the performance of our schools.

The third strand of the transformation in education comes beyond the school years.

We are determined to open up university to all who have the talent to attend.

We will therefore take forward the recommendations of the Widening Access Commission to ensure that young people, regardless of their background, have an equal chance of going to university.

And to make sure they get the help they need, we will set out plans to reform student support based on the findings of the independent review that is due to report in the autumn.

We will also ensure that those who take vocational qualifications have the opportunities that they need.

In particular, we will continue to increase the number of modern apprenticeships to meet our objective of 30,000 a year by 2020.

Across all three strands of reform – in our nurseries, in our schools and in our colleges and universities – we are driving change.

Our clear purpose is to ensure a first-class education for all young people, no matter the disadvantages that they might face.

That is my top priority and I recommit to it today.

A good education is important for its own sake. It contributes to the health, happiness and fulfilment of all of us as individuals.

But it is also vital to building a modern, successful, dynamic economy.

Last week, I set out our vision for the economy we want to build.

To succeed, Scotland must lead change, not trail in its wake.

We must aspire to be the inventor and the manufacturer of the digital, high-tech and low-carbon innovations that will shape the future, not just a consumer of those innovations.

To support innovation, we will increase government investment in business research and development (R&D) by 70% – generating an estimated £300 million of additional R&D spending overall over the next three years.

To help businesses increase their exports, we will appoint – this autumn – a network of Trade Envoys to champion our businesses' interests in key markets overseas.

Our network of Investment Hubs – currently confirmed in London, Dublin, Brussels and Berlin – will be expanded to include Paris, maximising opportunities in France, our third biggest export market.

The support we provide on innovation and on internationalisation will be backed up by help for key growth sectors.

Scotland has the potential to be a world leader in advanced manufacturing.

We are right now investing £9 million in a new Lightweight Manufacturing Centre in Renfrewshire.

That's helping companies develop a global competitive advantage in the manufacture of lightweight, environmentally friendlier materials like titanium and carbon fibre.

The Centre is just the first step. Later this year, we will take the next step by confirming the location and key partners for the new National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland, with work starting on site in 2018 – a clear demonstration of our conviction that advanced manufacturing will be central to our modern economy.

We will also support financial technology – fintech – as a key growth sector.

Our ambition is for Edinburgh to become one of the top 10 global fintech centres. So we will invest in the establishment of FinTech Scotland, an industry-led body that will champion, nurture and grow our fintech community.

We will continue to champion clean energy. The North Sea is potentially the largest carbon storage resource anywhere in Europe.

The UK Government's withdrawal of support for key Carbon Capture and Storage initiatives risks that potential. Westminster does hold the key levers, so we will continue to press for the right policy and financial framework to be put in place.

However, we will do more than that.

I can announce today that we will provide direct Scottish Government funding for the feasibility stage of the proposed Acorn Project at St Fergus in Aberdeenshire.

Today's Programme sets out the range of actions we will take to support other highly successful growth sectors, from food and drink to tourism and life sciences – sectors which, through their determination and innovation, are securing jobs now and for the future.

However, I want to make specific mention here of creative industries – a sector that is important both for our economy and our cultural wellbeing.

We live in a golden age of film and TV production. Over the next decade, the opportunities for attracting investment to Scotland will be considerable.

We have already increased support for the screen sector, and last month I was delighted to announce that the National Film and Television School is setting up a base in Glasgow – the first of its kind outside of London.

But I can announce today that we will go further and do what those working in the sector have asked of us – in next year's budget we will provide an additional £10 million to bring screen development, production and growth funding to £20 million a year.

As well as supporting key sectors, we must support those whose ideas and ingenuity create new products, services, jobs and wealth.

The entrepreneurial spirit that forged Scotland's reputation in the past must drive our success in the future. That doesn't just mean helping young innovators start their businesses, it means helping those businesses scale up as well.

Organisations like Entrepreneurial Scotland, Elevator and Codebase are building the innovative culture and leadership ambitions of our people and our entrepreneurs.

To complement that work, we will establish and fund a new 'Unlocking Ambition Challenge'. Each year, we will offer intensive support for up to 40 of the most talented and ambitious entrepreneurs, to help them bring their ideas to market and create jobs. Candidates will be chosen and supported by established entrepreneurs who will give their time and commitment.

Across the economy, we are determined to have a supportive business environment.

To promote this we have reformed our enterprise and skills agencies.

Next month, we will establish the new Strategic Board, to be led by Nora Senior, former Chair of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. Its task will be to ensure that the £2 billion each year that we invest in enterprise and skills is delivering exactly what our economy needs to grow and succeed.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise has been successful in taking account of the needs of the north of Scotland. We will establish a new South of Scotland enterprise agency to champion the needs of that area as well.

To ensure competitive taxes for business, we will quickly take forward the Barclay review of business rates – initial steps are included in this Programme and an implementation plan will be published by the end of this year.

We will also introduce a new Planning Bill, to support the efficient delivery of the developments our communities need, including vital infrastructure.

A significant constraint faced by many businesses with growth potential is access to long-term, patient capital.

The Council of Economic Advisers has made clear the importance to our future economic success of continued infrastructure development, adequate finance for high-growth businesses and strategic investments in innovation.

We have already taken steps to improve access to finance through, for example, the establishment of the Scottish Growth Scheme.

However, if we are to succeed in raising our ambition even further, this is a challenge we must do more to address.

We believe that the time is now right to take a new approach on capital investment.

I can therefore announce today that we will begin work to establish a Scottish National Investment Bank.

Benny Higgins, Chief Executive Officer of Tesco Bank, has agreed to lead work on developing the Bank's precise remit, governance, operating model and its approach to managing financial risk – vital steps that will see this new bank up and running and providing the patient capital investment that the Scottish economy needs for the future.

Presiding Officer, alongside this commitment, we will provide the infrastructure that is needed for Scotland to be a world-leading economy.

We will complete the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, deliver the electrification of the railway between Edinburgh and Glasgow, bring on stream new and refurbished trains and continue to push ScotRail to meet the highest standards of performance.

We will also do what Conservative and Labour governments have failed to do over so many years, and identify a public body that will be able to make a robust, public sector bid for the next ScotRail franchise.

These, and many more transport plans across the country, will benefit our people and our economy.

They will be matched by infrastructure investment for the digital age.

Later this year, we will procure the latest phase of our project to deliver, by 2021, next-generation broadband to 100% of residential and business premises – an investment that will be transformational for our economy in general, and for rural Scotland in particular.

That is a significant step, however we are determined to do even more.

To encourage others to see Scotland as the place to research, design and manufacture their innovations – for us to become a laboratory for the rest of the world in the digital and low-carbon technologies we want to champion – we must also become early adopters of them. We must be bold in our ambitions – just as we have been in renewable energy.

Let me set out today one area where we intend to do just that.

The transition from petrol and diesel cars and vans to electric and other ultra low-emission vehicles is underway and it is gathering pace.

We intend to put Scotland at the forefront of that transition.

I am announcing today an ambitious new target.

Our aim is for new petrol and diesel cars and vans to be phased out in Scotland by 2032 – the end of the period covered by our new Climate Change Plan and eight years ahead of the target set by the UK Government.

As members will be aware, we don't currently hold powers over vehicle standards and taxation.

However, we can and we will take action.

Over the next few months, we will set out detailed plans to massively expand the number of electric charging points in rural, urban and domestic settings; plans to extend the Green Bus Fund and accelerate the procurement of electric or ultra low-emission vehicles in the public and private sectors; plans for pilot demonstrator projects to encourage uptake of electric vehicles among private motorists; and plans for a new Innovation Fund to encourage business and academia to develop solutions to some of our particular challenges, for example charging vehicles in areas with a high proportion of tenements.

We will also make the A9 – already a major infrastructure project – Scotland's first fully electric-enabled highway.

This is an exciting challenge and one I hope all members and the whole country will get behind.

It sends a message to the world – we look to the future with excitement, we welcome innovation and we want to lead that innovation.

This ambition will help stimulate economic activity – but it is also part of our plans to improve our environment and the quality of the air that we breathe.

In the coming year, we will introduce a new Climate Change Bill that will set even more ambitious targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that we meet our obligations under the Paris Accord.

Air pollution is a significant risk to public health – it is particularly harmful to vulnerable groups like the very young and the very old.

We have already committed to the introduction of a Low Emissions Zone in one of our cities by the end of next year and we will confirm its location shortly.

However, I can announce today that we will go further. We will work with local authorities to introduce low-emission zones in each of our four biggest cities by 2020 and in all other Air Quality Management Areas where necessary by 2023.

We will also do more to support the circular economy and reduce waste.

I can confirm today that we will design and introduce a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, as an important part of our determination to tackle litter and clean up our streets.

For the sake, not just of our environment, but of our health, we will also take further steps to support walking and cycling – active travel – by doubling the amount spent on it within Transport Scotland's budget from £40 million to £80 million a year.

And we will also introduce a new Transport Bill which will include measures to improve public transport – from provisions on smart ticketing to giving local authorities a range of options to improve local bus services.

Presiding Officer, I've spoken a lot today about measures to support the economy.

A successful economy also needs strong public services.

The quality of our schools and hospitals, the safety of our streets and communities, the supply of skills and good housing and infrastructure are just as important as rates of tax in growing our economy and attracting investment to Scotland.

Of course, our most cherished public service is the NHS. In the last 10 years, the budget of our NHS has increased by £3 billion and its workforce by around 12,000.

To equip it for the challenges ahead, we will ensure that the NHS budget continues to grow – we will deliver at least a real-terms increase in the revenue budget next year as part of our commitment to increase funding by a further £2 billion by the end of this Parliament.

We will continue to develop the NHS Workforce Plan and we will also introduce a new Safe Staffing Bill to make sure we have the right staff in the right places.

Increasing funding for the NHS is vital, but it is not enough on its own – we must also reform how it delivers care.

We have integrated health and social care, and over the next year we will take forward our Health and Social Care Delivery Plan and continue to support a shift in the balance of care and resources towards primary, community and social services. This will not always be easy but it is right and necessary.

We will also expand our focus on the prevention of ill health. Over the next year, we will deliver a refreshed framework setting out the next steps in our work to tackle alcohol misuse.

However, we must match our actions on smoking and alcohol with bold initiatives in other areas too.

In addition to our plans to tackle air pollution and boost active travel, I can announce that we will take forward a new strategy to tackle obesity, including measures to restrict the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar or salt.

In the year ahead, we will also progress the implementation of our new Mental Health Strategy with its focus on prevention, early intervention and access to services.

Part of the challenge for health services the world over is to reduce unnecessary admissions to hospital – providing more of the care that people need in their own homes or in a homely setting is key to meeting that challenge.

One of this Parliament's flagship policies – free personal care for the over-65s – was designed with precisely that purpose in mind.

But there are some people under the age of 65 who also need personal care – for example, those with early-onset dementia or conditions like motor neurone disease.

The campaign for what has become known as Frank's Law – named after Frank Kopel – advocates the extension of free personal care to the under-65s.

The Scottish Government undertook to carry out a study into the feasibility of making this change.

That study has been published today and I am pleased to announce that we will now begin work to fully implement Frank's Law.

There is one further piece of health legislation that we will introduce in the next year.

The Organ and Tissue Donation Bill will establish – with appropriate safeguards – a 'soft' opt-out system for the authorisation of organ and tissue donation, to allow even more lives to be saved by the precious gift of organ donation.

Keeping people and communities safe is one of the most important responsibilities of any government.

In Scotland today, crime is at a 42-year low. However, the nature of crime and people's expectations of the police are changing.

We will continue to ensure that our police and fire services are equipped for the challenges of the future – in particular, we will protect the frontline police budget and support the police as they modernise the way they work.

Over the next year, we will also create a new criminal offence of drug driving, which will come into force in 2019.

For some people, a period in prison – sometimes a lengthy period – is the only appropriate sentence.

However, we also know that community sentences, where appropriate, are much more effective in reducing re-offending.

Indeed, as a result of decisions we took 10 years ago to reform our justice system and more community-based alternatives to prison being available, the re-conviction rate is now at an 18-year low.

However, we must now be even bolder in our efforts to keep people out of prison and reduce re-offending further.

While sentencing is always a matter for the judiciary, I can announce today that we will extend the presumption against short-term sentences from 3 months to 12 months.

We will commence this change once the relevant provisions of the Domestic Abuse Bill are in force, to ensure proper protection for those who are victims of domestic abuse.

We will also introduce a new Management of Offenders Bill to extend the use of electronic monitoring in the community and enable the use of new technology where appropriate.

In the coming year, the Vulnerable Witnesses and Pre-Recorded Evidence Bill will also be introduced, to reduce even further the need for children and other vulnerable witnesses to give evidence live in a courtroom.

A further piece of justice legislation that we will introduce this year is the Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill.

I can confirm that this Bill will ensure that people convicted of offences related to same-sex sexual activity that is now legal will receive an automatic pardon.

The Bill will also enable those pardoned to apply to have such convictions removed from criminal records.

Above all this Bill will right a historic wrong and give justice to those who found themselves unjustly criminalised simply because of who they loved.

Ensuring justice for the victims of crime is an essential element of a fair society.

So too is delivering social justice for everyone.

Our aim is to make Scotland fairer and more equal.

Over the next year, we will continue our work to build a Scottish social security system based on dignity and respect.

The Social Security Bill will complete its passage this parliamentary year, and in the next few weeks we will confirm where the new Social Security Agency will be based.

Next summer, we will deliver the first of the new devolved benefits – an increased Carers' Allowance. The increase will be backdated to April 2018.

We will also prepare for the delivery of the new Funeral Expense Allowance and the new Best Start Grant by summer 2019.

The Best Start Grant is particularly important – it will provide additional help for low-income families at key transitions in their children's lives and help tackle child poverty.

Our Child Poverty Bill – which sets statutory targets to tackle child poverty – will also complete its parliamentary passage later this year.

We have recently established the new Poverty and Inequality Commission to advise and challenge the Government on further actions to reduce poverty, and we will now consider options to place it on a statutory footing.

Among other things, we will seek the advice of the Commission as we establish a new 'Tackling Child Poverty' Fund. The Fund will be worth £50 million over the next five years, and will enable new approaches to be piloted or scaled up in the short term.

Over the next year, we will also introduce a financial health check for low-income families and bring forward a new package of support for young carers.

Tackling poverty of course involves many different approaches.

I am extremely proud that Scotland is one of the first countries in the world to tackle so-called 'period poverty' through the current pilot scheme in Aberdeen – and I welcome the cross-party support for that approach.

We will consider further action to help women on low incomes across Scotland in light of our learning from this pilot.

However, I can confirm today that we will provide free access to sanitary products to students in schools, colleges and universities.

Some local authorities have already made this commitment in relation to schools, so we will work through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and with other partners to consider the options for delivery.

This Parliament is providing real global leadership on this issue and we should all be proud of that.

While we must take a range of actions now to tackle poverty, we should also consider options for more fundamental reform in the longer term.

One idea that is attracting interest, not just here but internationally, is that of a citizens' basic income.

Contemplating such a scheme inevitably raises a number of practical issues and questions, not least around the current powers of this Parliament – and undoubtedly there are arguments for and against.

But, as we look ahead to the next decade and beyond, it is an idea that merits deeper consideration.

I can therefore confirm that the Scottish Government will work with interested local authorities to fund research into the concept and feasibility of a citizens' basic income, to help inform Parliament's thinking for the future.

One of the most important contributors to a good quality of life of course is housing.

Good quality, warm and affordable housing is vital to ensuring a Scotland that is fair for this and future generations.

Over the next year, we will make further progress towards our target of 50,000 affordable homes by the end of this Parliament.

Our new Planning Bill will also help secure the housing development that the country needs.

We will also continue work to improve the quality of our housing stock.

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

We will also introduce new energy efficiency standards for the private rented sector to improve the quality of accommodation and help lower fuel bills for those, many of them young people, who rely on privately rented accommodation.

Scotland has a good record on housing – we are building social housing at a faster rate than any other part of the UK and we have protected social housing by removing the right to buy.

However, as Westminster austerity and welfare cuts take their toll, we are seeing worrying signs of an increase in homelessness and rough sleeping.

We are not prepared to tolerate that.

Let me restate today a conviction that I hope will unite all of us.

It is not acceptable for anyone to have to sleep rough on our streets.

We must eradicate rough sleeping.

However, in setting that national objective, we also must recognise that it requires more than just housing. Every individual has unique needs and challenges.

We will therefore establish a short life expert group to make urgent recommendations on the actions, services and legislative changes required to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation.

To support its recommendations, we will establish a new £10 million a year 'Ending Homelessness Together' Fund.

And we will invest an additional £20 million a year in alcohol and drug services, to help tackle some of the underlying problems which so often drive homelessness.

In tackling the challenges of building a fairer Scotland, national government can do a great deal – but often the best solutions are found by communities themselves.

That is why we will continue work to empower communities across Scotland.

Next year, we will launch a comprehensive review of local governance ahead of a Local Democracy Bill later in the parliament.

And we will continue to work with local authorities to ensure that at least 1% of council budgets are controlled by communities themselves.

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

We will continue to implement the 2016 Land Reform Act and shortly approve the first strategic plan of the new Land Commission. It will outline a programme of research to inform options for future change – for example, possible measures to tackle constraints on the supply and cost of land for housing, and possible tax and fiscal reforms, including the potential for some form of land value-based tax.

Scotland has a well-earned reputation as a leader in human rights, including economic, social and environmental rights.

We will therefore oppose any attempt by the UK Government to repeal the Human Rights Act or withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

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

We will take forward the actions in our 'Fairer Scotland for Disabled People' strategy, publish a new Race Equality Action Plan, progress the Gender Representation on Public Boards Bill, work with the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign to tackle LGBTQ bullying in schools, and consult on reforming the gender recognition laws.

Of course, next year is our Year of Young People.

Scotland has always taken a progressive approach to the welfare of children and young people in the criminal justice system.

The Children's Hearing system remains a jewel in the crown.

But in the Year of Young People, we will go further.

We will introduce a Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill to increase the minimum age of responsibility from 8 to 12, in line with international norms.

I can also confirm today that, while it is not our proposal and indeed it may be an issue on which parties will give their members a free vote, the Scottish Government will not oppose John Finnie's proposals to prohibit the physical punishment of children. It is worth noting that approximately 50 countries around the world, including France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland to name a few, have already successfully made this change.

Finally, over the next year we will consider how to further embed the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into policy and legislation, including the option of full incorporation into domestic law.

Of course, Brexit will provide the backdrop to much of what we do over the next year.

We are determined not to allow it to stand in the way of the ambitious Programme I am outlining today.

However, we are equally determined to protect Scotland's interests.

The UK Government's EU (Withdrawal) Bill represents a power grab. It seeks to replace EU law in devolved areas with unilateral Westminster decision making. That is simply unacceptable.

As it stands, the Scottish Government will not recommend to this Parliament that we approve the Bill.

We will continue to seek the agreement of the UK Government to amendments that will address our concerns.

However, in case that proves impossible, we are also considering the option of legislation in this Parliament to secure the necessary continuity of laws in Scotland.

We will also continue to argue the case for continued UK membership of the single market and customs union. Leaving either will have deeply damaging consequences for our economy and our wider society.

As I said in June, we will consider again the issue of a referendum on independence when the terms of Brexit are clear.

However, in the coming months we will publish a series of evidence-based papers setting out how enhanced powers for this Parliament in key policy areas will allow us to better protect our interests and fulfil our ambitions for the country. These papers will cover immigration and its importance to our economy; welfare; employment and employability; and trade.

We will seek to work with other parties and with civic Scotland to build a consensus on the powers that this Parliament needs.

Later this year, we will also publish our draft Budget Bill. The detail of our spending plans for next year will be set out then. However, there are two particular issues I want to address today.

Firstly, I can confirm that we will lift the 1% public sector pay cap.

The pay cap, while never desirable, was necessary to protect jobs and services.

However, with inflation on the rise, it is not sustainable. Our nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters deserve a fairer deal for the future. Indeed, the need to recruit the staff that our public services depend on also demands a new approach.

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

The Budget Bill process will also set income tax rates for next year.

We will always exercise the utmost responsibility in setting tax rates.

And we will not simply transfer the burden of austerity to the shoulders of those who can least afford it.

However, I am also mindful that as a minority government we must build alliances across Parliament in support of our Budget.

For all of us, it must be the interests of our public services, households and economy that drive our decisions.

We know that continued Westminster austerity, the consequences of Brexit and the impact of demographic changes will put increasing pressure on our public services and on our ability to provide the infrastructure and support that our businesses need to thrive.

So the time is right, in my view, to open a discussion about how responsible and progressive use of our tax powers could help build the kind of country we want to be – one with the highest-quality public services, well-rewarded public servants, good support for business, a strong social contract and effective policies to tackle poverty and inequality.

Ahead of the budget, we will publish a paper that will set out the current distribution of income tax liabilities in Scotland; analyse a variety of different options, including the proposals of the other parties across Parliament; explain the interaction between tax policy and the fiscal framework; and provide international comparisons.

The purpose of this paper will be to inform the discussions we will have with other parties ahead of the Budget.

I give an assurance today that the Scottish Government will go into these discussions with an open mind and with the best interests of the country as a whole as our guiding principle, and I invite other parties to do likewise.

Presiding Officer, three Bills of a more technical nature – the Damages Bill, the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax Bill and the Prescription Bill – will complete the 16 Bills that make up our legislative programme for the year ahead.

Presiding Officer, the Programme that I have set out today, the policies and the legislation, is fresh, it is bold and it is ambitious – and because of that, aspects of it undoubtedly will be controversial.

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

As we debate this Programme in the days, weeks and months ahead, members will focus on and scrutinise individual aspects of it. That is right and proper.

But I invite Parliament – and indeed the public – to also see this Programme in the round.

It is about equipping Scotland, not just for the next year, but for the next decade and beyond.

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

I commend this Programme for Government to Parliament.


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