Thank you for your commitment to the people of Scotland by taking up your role as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands. I look forward to continuing to work together to deliver real, tangible improvements in the lives of the people of Scotland.
We, as a country, have faced incredible challenges over recent years. We are still recovering from the impact of the COVID pandemic. War continues in Europe, and the impact of Brexit and the cost of living crisis have combined to create some of the most challenging economic conditions in living memory. Alongside this we face the twin crises of climate change and nature loss, which are global threats of existential proportion.
As a Government, we must be unapologetic about supporting those who need help the most. We will collectively deliver on the promises we have made in our Policy Prospectus and use the priorities it sets out to drive our decision-making, our accountability to parliament and our engagement with partners and the people of Scotland. This will mean that we will need to make tough decisions to ensure that every pound we spend and invest is targeted in such a way that it reaches those that need it most and delivers maximum value.
Our aims as a Government
To ensure we maintain a laser focus on delivery for the people of Scotland we have set out three critical and independent missions in our policy prospectus Equality, opportunity, community: New Leadership – a fresh start for the period between now and March 2026. These will be underpinned by our refreshed National Performance Framework. These three outcomes are:
- Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm. Continuing to tackle poverty in all its forms to improve the life chances of people across Scotland.
- A fair, green and growing economy Delivering a wellbeing economy through harnessing the skills and ingenuity of our people and seizing the economic and social opportunities from meeting our net zero targets.
- Prioritising our public services. Creating, investing in, and maintaining sustainable public services, to ensure the people of Scotland can access modern, effective, and timely services when they need to.
These missions will define our work as a government. You and I have agreed an ambitious range of rural affairs, land reform and islands outcomes that you will deliver over the next three years. We also have a collective responsibility across Cabinet to deliver all of the objectives we have set out in our policy prospectus to succeed in our missions.
Having agreed this range of longer-term outcomes, I now ask you to consider what this looks like in terms of outcomes and delivery actions over the next year.
Objectives for your portfolio for 2023/24
As Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, the work of your portfolio is key to meeting these missions through creating jobs, tackling inequalities, strengthening food production and food security, and supporting repopulation and green skills development in our rural communities to boost the rural and coastal economy. In line with collective Cabinet responsibility, you will also support the DFM’s commitment to publish a Rural Delivery Plan. I welcomed our recent discussion of the priorities for your portfolio for the remainder of this parliamentary term (listed in Annex A).
Throughout all this, you should ensure you are meeting Scotland’s National Outcome on Human Rights: to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and allow all in Scotland to live free from discrimination. The common principles of Fairness, Dignity, Equality and Respect should underpin all of this work.
For this financial year we have agreed that you will deliver on the following outcomes:
Ensure that, through the publicly committed route map to transition, agriculture support is delivering increased conditions on direct payments. This will better incentivise sustainable and regenerative practice, on-farm nature restoration and climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, while supporting our producers in high-quality food production.
- paying Scottish farmers and crofters £550m to meet the published payment targets to support an economically sustainable agricultural sector which produces high quality food that can be traded internationally.
- commence payments early for the basic payment scheme and greening to support farmers and crofters through the cost crisis.
- continue to deliver the national test programme, including actions on animal health and welfare
- publish and develop new basic payment scheme and voluntary coupled support conditions to be introduced in 2025 that will support the agricultural sector towards cutting carbon emissions and farming with and for nature.
- introduce the agriculture bill to establish a framework for future rural support
- support and fund practical training for new entrants, young farmers and women
Introduce land reform legislation to further improve transparency of land ownership, help ensure large scale land holdings deliver in the public interest, and empower communities by providing more opportunities to own land and have more say in how land in their area is used.
- introduce the land reform bill, including measures to reform agricultural holdings
- ensure comprehensive compliance with the Register of Persons with a Controlled Interest in Land (RCI) ahead of criminal penalties applying from 1 April 2024.
- facilitate community land and building acquisitions across urban and rural Scotland via the £11 million Scottish Land Fund
- appoint a new Chair and two new Commissioners to the Scottish Land Commission
Create new crofting opportunities through delivery of the National Development Plan for Crofting and reformed the law, subject to agreement by parliament, to support the future of crofting.
- consult on the reform of crofting law and increase the rate of turnover of crofts and the number of new entrants to crofting
- continue to support crofters through the Crofting Agricultural Grant Scheme and the Croft House Grant.
- implement improvements to the Croft House Grant to make croft houses more energy efficient
Continue to support six Scottish islands – Hoy, Islay, Great Cumbrae, Raasay, Barra and Yell – to become carbon neutral by 2040, and share good practice and lessons learned from this work with all other Scottish islands.
- publish and begin implementation of the carbon neutral islands community climate change action plans
Publish and start to implement Scotland’s national Good Food Nation plan, which will set out the main outcomes to be achieved on food-related issues, the policies needed to do so and the measures that will be used to assess progress; and establish the Scottish Food Commission.
- consult on a draft Good Food Nation plan and take the first steps to establish a Scottish Food Commission.
- develop the role of the food security unit established in response to the report of the short-life Food Security and Supply Task Force
- publish and begin implementing the local food strategy
Publish our response to the 2023 land-based learning review, aiming to help create employment opportunities in land-based and aquaculture sectors to promote rural development and sustainable communities.
- take forward the recommendations of the land based learning review
Progress plans to create a Scottish Veterinary Service to create a more efficient and cohesive approach to animal welfare support, including career opportunities in public sector veterinary practice
Implement the recommendations of the Werritty Review to license grouse moor management and muirburn, ensuring management of grouse moors and related activities are undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner – subject to the passage of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill.
- Pass the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill and commence implementation of its measures.
Establish Scotland as an international leader in the use of technology for responsible fisheries management through the introduction of remote electronic monitoring (REM) to key parts of the fishing fleet, further enhancing our brand for world class sustainable fish.
- draft and lay legislation for the mandatory introduction of REM onboard all pelagic and scallop dredge vessels fishing in Scottish waters.
- introduce the mandatory use of REM to key fishing fleet segments in Scottish waters, ahead of the EU and rUK to protect fish stocks and the marine environment.
- publish the future catching policy for the fisheries sector
Improve our policy and regulatory framework for sustainable aquaculture in Scotland, protecting the environment and supporting a global export worth more than £1 billion to the Scottish economy.
- take forward the Scottish Government’s Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture, which sets out our long-term aspirations for Scotland’s finfish, shellfish and seaweed farming sectors, and the aquaculture supply chain.
- work with all sectors to deliver the key outcomes of the Vision to support the sustainable development of aquaculture, particularly the farmed fish sector which is worth more than £1 billion to the Scottish economy.
- guide the development of sectors which are significant contributors to our rural economy, providing well paid jobs in some of Scotland’s most fragile communities and will be an essential part of our green recovery and transition to net zero.
- commence the pilot of a new process to improve and streamline the administration of finfish aquaculture consenting.
- support SEPA’s development of a Sea Lice Risk Assessment Framework to manage the risk to wild salmonoids from sea lice.
Award up to £14 million of grant funding through the Marine Fund Scotland to support projects to deliver improved social, environmental and economic outcomes in line with our Blue Economy Vision.
- continue to press the UK Government to honour its commitment to maintain long-term funding for maritime/fisheries following Brexit, and to take responsibility for the full costs of Brexit for our marine sectors and provide a fair and appropriate share of funding to Scotland above and beyond the £14m p/a (to 24-25) currently provided for the Marine Fund Scotland.
Take steps to further protect and restore our iconic Atlantic rainforests and ancient caledonian pinewoods and implement actions to speed up woodland creation in Scotland towards 18,000 hectares per year, sequestering carbon for decades to come, delivering biodiversity gains and ensuring a reliable supply of raw material for the timber processing sector.
- hold a Scottish forestry summit to agree next steps across all sectors to deliver more woodland creation.
- implement measures in the delivery action plan to get woodland creation back on track, including investing £1m in skills and development of forestry staff and establishing Glenprosen Estate as an exemplar of woodland creation
- deliver at least 12,000 hectares of trees planted from approved schemes in 2023/24.
Maximise the power of our land and forests to help tackle climate change, protect nature and provide good green jobs, by delivering up to 110,000 hectares of restored peatland – four times the size of the Edinburgh City Council area – with 10,700 hectares in 2023-24, an increase of 40% on 2022-23
- restore 10,700 hectares of degraded peatland in 23/24.
- hold a roundtable with key stakeholders to develop an action plan on skills and capacity
- progress action with crofters to support more peatland restoration on crofting land, including the Scottish Government estate
- commence the process to ban the sale of horticultural peat for domestic use
Alongside the Deputy First Minister, you have established and co-hosted the first meeting of the Ministerial Working Group on the Rural Delivery Plan. The Group will continue to meet in the coming year, we will engage stakeholders and communities to help determine our priorities. We aim to make rapid progress on delivery of key cross-government activities for the benefit of people in our rural communities.
These priorities will not be the only areas of work to contribute but are some of the key levers we have to deliver the outcomes set out in our policy prospectus. I expect impact and improvement to be key considerations as you deliver these priorities and I expect you to bring forward suggestions for where we may achieve better outcomes if you think there are additional or alternative options. I would also like you to consider the opportunity for public service reform within your portfolio and the efficiency of the institutions and public bodies you have responsibility for to deliver better outcomes for Scotland.
Responsibility for financial sustainability
As we take action together to carefully manage the Scottish Budget to deliver these priorities, you must work within your portfolio to drive efficiency and reform, and identify measures that can be taken to create additional flexibility within the wider Budget and deliver a balanced outturn against agreed envelopes.
We must prioritise, to ensure that we use our finite resources in the most effective way. That prioritisation work is significant, but it will also be demanding, and will require us to make hard decisions. I know you will be guided by our commitment to support those who need the most help and prioritise resources to the policies and programmes which make the biggest difference to our three core missions.
Collaborative working with partners
It is important to recognise this work cannot be achieved in isolation. It requires collaboration with key partners: Local Government, business (including small businesses), communities and third sector partners, among others. I believe, as I know you do, that the participation of, and collaboration with, these key partners is essential. I ask you to continue to ensure you listen to their ideas, their views, and their lived experience, take into account potential impacts – as well as benefits - on them and put them at the centre of our work. You will also work closely with our colleagues and partners in the Scottish Green Party, to ensure a continued, positive and productive relationship via the Bute House Agreement.
Our Policy Prospectus set out our commitment to resetting important relationships. As well as resetting the relationship with business, our commitment to resetting the relationship with local authorities and working collaboratively with Local Government is central to the delivery of many of the things we have committed to achieve. I ask you to work with your colleagues to support the Deputy First Minister in building on the constructive progress already made in developing our relationship with Local Government. I would also particularly encourage you to work closely with the business community to ensure that policies and how they are delivered takes account of potential impacts on businesses and considers opportunities for businesses, especially small businesses, to benefit from our policies and spend.
Collaborative working across Cabinet
It is your responsibility to engage, timeously and appropriately, with your Cabinet colleagues and their junior Ministers as we seek to deliver on these objectives and ensure that the voice of business is heard within other policy areas. In addition to those objectives laid out above, you are also expected and required to work on cross-cutting government objectives, which will contribute to our priority outcomes. These include, but are not limited to, the transition to Net Zero; work to meet our child poverty targets; Keeping The Promise; and the incorporation of human rights treaties into Scots law, as far as possible within devolved competence. I know you will also continue to work closely with the Minister for Independence to provide the people of Scotland the information they need to make an informed choice about whether Scotland should become an independent country.
In considering what issues to bring to Cabinet, I want you to prioritise those issues which most clearly support the delivery of our three core missions and therefore most significantly engage the collective responsibility of this Government. This will ensure that Cabinet is focused on long term delivery, on the most critical issues of policy and on what matters most to the people of Scotland.
Cabinet Sub-Committees and Ministerial Working Groups also play a key role in ensuring leadership and accountability of cross cutting issues to support delivery of our three core missions. They are critical for providing a space for oversight on delivery of our commitments thereby helping us to maintain our outcomes focus. I expect all members of the Cabinet Sub-Committees to play a proactive role in them, recognising that there will be a number of challenging decisions to be taken by the Cabinet Sub-Committees in the coming months.
Planning and accountability for delivery
I ask that you ensure that thorough, evidence-based and financially assessed delivery plans are in place for these commitments, to support the ongoing and effective monitoring of progress and impact. This plan should contain baseline performance measures for each commitment and highlight which commitments you are prioritising for early implementation, alongside related timelines, dependencies and assumptions. It will be my expectation that this articulates your agreed programme for the year ahead, with outcomes which represent best value for money for the resources you have at your disposal and that they demonstrate your balanced portfolio budget. This will in turn allow the Deputy First Minister and I to ensure all portfolios deliver within our overall budget the prioritised set of outcomes we are seeking.
I have asked the Deputy First Minister to consider these plans from all portfolios and to join me in six monthly discussions with you on progress against out agreed objectives. The Deputy First Minister will be in touch separately with you around reporting arrangements as part of her role in co-ordinating cross government delivery.
I look forward to working with you to deliver on our shared ambitions for Scotland.
Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands Policy Prospectus Priorities
- Ensured that, through the publicly committed Route Map to transition, agriculture support is delivering increased conditions on Direct Payments. This will better incentivise sustainable and regenerative practice, on-farm nature restoration and climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, while supporting our producers in high-quality food production.
- Introduced Land Reform legislation to further improve transparency of land ownership, helped ensure large scale land holdings deliver in the public interest, and empowered communities by providing more opportunities to own land and have more say in how land in their area is used.
- Created new crofting opportunities through delivery of the National Development Plan for Crofting and reformed the law, subject to agreement by parliament, to support the future of crofting.
- Continued to support six Scottish Islands – Hoy, Islay, Great Cumbrae, Raasay, Barra and Yell – to become carbon neutral by 2040, and shared good practice and lessons learned from this work with all other Scottish islands.
- Published and started to implement Scotland's national Good Food Nation plan, which will set out the main outcomes to be achieved on food-related issues, the policies needed to do so and the measures that will be used to assess progress; and established the Scottish Food Commission.
- Published our response to the 2023 Land-Based Learning Review, aiming to help create employment opportunities in land-based and aquaculture sectors to promote rural development and sustainable communities.
- Implemented the recommendations of the Werritty Review to license grouse moor management and muirburn, ensuring management of grouse moors and related activities are undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner – subject to the passage of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill.
- Established Scotland as an international leader in the use of technology for responsible fisheries management through the introduction of remote electronic monitoring to key parts of the fishing fleet, further enhancing our brand for world class sustainable fish.
- Improved our policy and regulatory framework for sustainable aquaculture in Scotland, protecting the environment and supporting a global export worth more than £1 billion to the Scottish economy.
- Taken steps to further protect and restore our iconic Atlantic rainforests and ancient Caledonian pinewoods, and increased woodland creation in Scotland to 18,000 hectares per year, sequestering carbon for decades to come, delivering biodiversity gains and ensuring a reliable supply of raw material for the timber processing sector.
- Maximised the power of our land and forests to help tackle climate change, protect nature and provide good green jobs, by delivering up to 110,000 hectares of restored peatland – four times the size of the Edinburgh City Council area – with 10,700 hectares in 2023-24, an increase of 40% on 2022-23.
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