It is the honour of my life to lead the country I love.
I made a promise to be a First Minister who leads Scotland in the interests of all our people. I am determined to make Scotland a country where people, businesses and communities realise their full potential through opportunities and choice, while handing the next generation a country of which we can be proud.
During these challenging times, the people of Scotland need a government that is on their side. One that understands that times are tough and takes action to improve people’s lives. A government that takes the steps needed today to create a better future for all.
The Government I lead will be defined by these qualities and should be judged by the steps it takes to support a higher standard of living across the entire country, to improve the wellbeing of the people of Scotland, to grow our economy, and to support, protect and improve our public services.
Shortly after becoming First Minister, I set three missions for my government to deliver:
- Equality: Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm.
- Opportunity: Building a fair, green and growing economy.
- Community: Delivering efficient and effective public services.
These missions are the driving ambition of my government as we build a Scotland which can withstand the difficult times through which we are all living. Each mission is connected. When delivered together, they will make a real and positive difference to the lives of people across Scotland.
When we get these connections right we create opportunities, unleash potential and empower people, communities and businesses to thrive. This is why my first Programme for Government is unapologetically anti-poverty, pro-growth which is both fair and green, and focused on delivering high quality public services.
It is focused on reducing poverty and offering practical help and support, particularly to the most vulnerable in our communities. It seeks to attract investment, drive innovation and grow our wellbeing economy – playing to our strengths in areas such as data and technology, energy, financial services, food and drink, and tourism, while also seizing the new economic opportunities presented by the just transition. It puts responding to the climate crisis at the very heart of this government. It takes the critical next steps in reforming and modernising our public services, helping to tackle the aftermath of the pandemic and supporting the recovery of key public services, including our NHS and education sector.
I have been, and will continue to be, honest and open about the challenges we face. This is particularly important when it comes to how challenging the public finances are. I will continue to be frank about the need to make difficult decisions to ensure we free up resources to target support to those who are in the greatest need. While progressive tax and spending decisions will of course play a part in
our response to the financial challenges we face, we are also committed to growing the economy for a purpose – to help deliver these missions and change Scotland for the better.
Scotland is a country of many strengths, and significant steps have been taken in recent years that have made real improvements to the lives of people who live and work here. Over the last 16 years we have developed and deepened the social contract between Scotland’s government and its people. Our economy performs better than most parts of the UK, wages are higher and poverty is lower, and our public services perform strongly. We have made great strides in reducing our emissions and are taking decisive steps to address the climate and nature emergencies.
From soaring energy costs and inflation, and the UK Government’s austerity and mismanagement of the public finances, to the UK’s hard Brexit, the pandemic, and the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, many factors outwith our control are making everyday life extremely difficult for far too many people. Just as these issues have put a strain on households and businesses, they have also put a strain on government and the services we provide.
While we have strong foundations to build on, and have done much to support people during the current cost of living crisis, we know that, for too many, life is hard right now. We are living through a period of change and the challenges we face are great. With change comes opportunity and, just as we have done so before, Scotland will rise to these challenges. Through this Programme for Government we will deliver on our missions and grasp these opportunities with both hands.
Equality: Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm
Poverty is one of the greatest barriers we face in delivering greater wellbeing through each of our missions, but it is only with independence that we will have the powers required to eradicate poverty in our society.
We will continue to use our fixed Budget to reduce poverty, improve opportunities and reduce health inequalities, protecting people as far as possible from the harm inflicted by the UK Government’s austerity-driven policies and the ongoing cost of living crisis. Under my government there will be a relentless focus on reducing poverty and its causes, driven by flagship measures such as our unique Scottish Child Payment.
We are focusing our resources on tackling poverty where we can and building the foundations necessary for future generations to thrive. We will continue to tackle the cost of living crisis by prioritising an almost £3 billion spend on reducing poverty and protecting households in 2023-24.
This will mean continued investment in our game-changing Scottish Child Payment, worth £25 per child per week, and in continued provision of free bus travel for over two million people, including all young people under the age of 22. This will also mean the tripling of our Fuel Insecurity Fund to £30 million this year and offering free school meals to all pupils in primaries one to five and in special schools, saving families on average £400 per child per year.
In addition, this Programme for Government commits more support for social justice than ever before, with our spending on social security benefits forecast to increase by nearly £1 billion in 2024-25.
I want to continue the National Conversation about what the Scottish Government needs to do to tackle poverty – which began with my Anti-Poverty Summit in May. This includes further exploring how we can work with our partners to take effective action and how we can do that in a way that we can afford as a nation, supporting a strong and vibrant wellbeing economy.
I have committed to using my first Budget to expand access to high quality, funded childcare. Supporting families is not only fundamentally the right thing to do, it is critical to our missions. Affordable and accessible childcare supports employment and the economy, and secure and sustainable employment helps lift families out of poverty. Over the coming year, we will work with Local Government and other partners to develop the local infrastructure and services needed to provide childcare from nine months to the end of primary school in specific communities in six local authority areas.
We will empower parents, carers and children in those communities by designing and delivering childcare services around their needs, including testing how families can use their funded hours more flexibly, and widening access to a greater variety of provision, be it a childminder, a family centre, a nursery or an after school club.
We will also develop and test a new digital service that will help parents and carers choose and manage their childcare more effectively. In parallel, from next year, we will begin work to phase in an expanded national offer for families with two-year-olds, focused on those who will benefit most. This will build on the foundations of the existing 1140 programme, which already makes high quality early learning and childcare available to around a quarter of families with two-year olds on the lowest incomes.
Taken together, we will expand access to funded childcare for 13,000 more children and families by the end of this Parliament. These are the next key steps in our long term programme of expansion and improvement to the childcare system in Scotland.
We do not have all of the powers required to address the root causes of poverty. No one should have to choose whether to feed themselves or their children as we approach winter.
That is why my government is calling for the UK Government to legislate to put an Essentials Guarantee in place to adequately cover the cost of essentials, including food, transport energy, and to ensure that deductions, such as debt repayments to government, sanctions, or as a result of the benefit cap, can never pull support below this level.
Opportunity: Building a fair, green and growing economy
The Government I lead believes in sustainable economic growth for a purpose. We know that businesses, if supported, will help create good jobs, deliver fair wages, expand our tax base and help to provide important revenue for us to invest in tackling poverty, improving our public services and delivering Fair Work. That is the purpose at the very heart of our vision of a wellbeing economy.
When businesses succeed, Scotland succeeds. It is on the back of the success of businesses, large and small, that we will deliver a wellbeing economy where good, well-paying, sustainable jobs are created and innovation flourishes – enabling us to reduce poverty and widen the tax base that our public services rely on.
I promised the business community that my door would always be open and in my first 100 days the Scottish Government took important steps to reset this relationship, including agreeing the New Deal for Business – but this is only the start.
The business community now, rightly, expects us to deliver. That is why we are taking forward a new £15 million package of measures to unleash entrepreneurial talent from all walks of life and all parts of Scotland, helping start-ups to scale up, and putting our world-class universities at the heart of our economic future to drive innovation and create high-value jobs as a magnet for investment.
We continue to exhaust all efforts to attract global talent to come to Scotland to enhance and support our wellbeing economy, including pressing the UK Government to do more through their reserved immigration powers in areas such as piloting a rural worker visa. We will transform the support we offer small businesses and ensure their voice is heard as we develop and implement policies to transform our economy.
We are a government for the whole of Scotland, and while our missions are national in scope, they will be local in terms of delivery. We are delivering Green Freeports in Inverness and Cromarty and on the Forth, and investment zones in Glasgow and the North East. We are fully committed to dualling the A9 between Inverness and Perth and making improvements to the A96, including dualling Inverness to Nairn and the Nairn Bypass, and we will publish the review of the A96 Dualling Programme following the public engagement last year. We are progressing our Rural Delivery Plan, setting out how all parts of the Scottish Government are delivering for Scotland’s rural, coastal and island communities – with a particular focus on transport, housing, social justice, repopulation, digital connectivity and economic development.
We are seeing the devastating impacts of climate change, particularly on the world’s poorest, with increasing frequency. This is the existential threat of our times and we have a moral duty to respond to the climate and nature crises. The stakes could not be higher. We do not underestimate what this change means for daily life, particularly during these tough times. However, this is the time for climate leadership, not for playing politics while the planet burns, and my government will continue to show the leadership required.
In the year ahead, we will set out how we propose to reduce Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2040 in our draft Climate Change Plan, ensuring this journey is fair and actively tackles inequalities through our just transition planning. We will also continue to support the countries hardest hit by the climate crisis – often those that have done little or nothing to cause it – through our Climate Justice Fund, including providing £24 million to support work in Rwanda, Malawi and Zambia.
We have the people and resources to adapt and thrive, seizing the economic opportunities this transformation presents. Through a new Green Industrial Strategy we will help businesses and investors, so that the people of Scotland can share in the enormous economic opportunities of the global transition to net zero. We recognise that public sector investment alone will not be enough to respond to the challenge we face in addressing the Climate Emergency. A key focus in the year ahead will be to work across the public and private sectors to drive forward agreed recommendations from the Investor Panel on how we attract private investment for large scale infrastructure projects and use public spending more effectively to crowd in private capital.
My government will use every lever at its disposal to deliver a wellbeing economy that is fair, green and growing.
Community: Delivering efficient and effective public services
We will work to improve living standards, to reduce poverty and to support high-quality public services. The NHS, social care, schools and childcare remain our focus and we will also keep The Promise to care experienced children while continuing to support our police force and tackle crime, and deliver affordable housing and transport.
I have been clear that more needs to be done to support the social care sector, particularly when it comes to pay. We know that the recovery in health must move in parallel to improvements in the social care sector, where staff recruitment and retention have proved particularly challenging. There are over 200,000 registered workers in the social care sector and four out of five are women. Increasing pay not only helps social care staff, but will positively impact on our wider priorities on child poverty, Fair Work and post-Covid recovery in the health sector.
I pledged to make greater investment in the social care sector a top priority and to ensure the Scottish Government does what it can to tackle the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis. These jobs are as challenging as they are complex and it is right that the contribution of staff is properly recognised. This is why we are committing to provide the necessary funding in the next Budget to increase the pay of social care workers in the private, third and independent (PVI) sectors in a direct care role, and those working in the PVI sector to deliver funded early learning and childcare, to at least £12 per hour, an increase that could be worth up to £2,000 per year for those on full-time contracts.
The recovery and reform of our NHS and other vital public services remain critical to supporting our wellbeing economy and to improving the life chances of people across our country. Under my leadership we are reforming our justice system to place victims and witnesses at its heart, continuing to reduce the backlog of cases and waiting times and ensuring services effectively reduce reoffending. In education we will set out our plans to reform our education and skills bodies and put the voices of children, young people and adult learners at their core – all informed by expert and independent reviews.
We will work with senior leaders and role models to consider how we can best promote positive masculinity together, recognising that we all want to live in a fair and equal society. This work will highlight positive examples of behaviour, making a difference in the lives of everyone. It will help build better mental health and wellbeing for men and boys, encourage healthier, respectful relationships and reduce what is often known as ‘toxic masculinity’ which can impact negatively on relationships, workplaces, and society.
We know these three missions can only be delivered through a “Team Scotland” approach, defined by consensus and collaboration. Yes, the challenges are significant, but so too are the talents and resources we have to meet them.
Partnership and collaboration will define my leadership and the Scottish Government will get on with the job of working with our partners in the business community, trade unions, Local Government, and the third sector.
We have proven that partnerships can work and I look forward to building on the strong foundations provided by the progressive policy programme set out in the Bute House Agreement and continuing the partnership with the Scottish Green Party.
In my first 100 days I introduced a new approach to how we will deliver as a government, agreeing a mandate letter between myself and each member of my Cabinet which sets out the outcomes they will achieve in the months ahead – the full suite of mandate letters are available on gov.scot.
I am proud to have delivered the Verity House Agreement, resetting and redefining the relationship between the Scottish Government and Local Government, and ensuring that we are collectively focused on our shared priorities and our duties to deliver for people and communities.
Moving forward together
Scotland continues to face one of the most difficult public spending environments that this devolved Parliament has ever seen and we have been transparent about that in our Medium Term Financial Strategy. As a result, this Programme for Government is necessarily subject to the
outcome of our Budget process which concludes towards the end of this financial year.
Scotland does not yet have all the powers required to fully transform our economy and society for the better, but within the limited powers and budget available, I will continue to do everything possible to build a fair, green and growing wellbeing economy, to tackle poverty and inequality in our society, and to deliver efficient and effective public services.
It is because we lack these vital powers that I have continued to develop the case for independence since taking office. It is vital that the people of Scotland have the information they need to make an informed choice about Scotland’s future. We have published detailed papers on a range of critical issues for an independent Scotland, including the economy, constitution, and citizenship – with more to follow in the coming months.
While we make this case, we will continue to vigorously oppose steps by the UK Government to undermine or weaken the powers of Scotland’s Parliament. But to truly transform our economy, society, and public services, and to reap the benefits of Scotland’s resources for current and future generations, we need the powers of independence and to retake our place in the European Union.
This is a Programme for Government focused on what really matters to the people of Scotland – reducing poverty, delivering growth, helping to tackle climate change, and providing high quality public services.
I promised new leadership and a fresh start. I promised to collaborate and to work constructively with our partners in Local Government, business and the third sector. I promise to deliver for the people of Scotland.
First Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP
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