The Scottish Government will announce its 2023-24 Programme for Government (PfG) in parliament tomorrow. With a change in leadership, the PfG will not only outline the government’s priorities but will highlight Humza Yousaf’s key policy objectives as First Minister. Party dissent and internal investigations into SNP finances has led the First Minster to describe the past few months as “the most challenging months our party has faced”, while the Bute House Agreement has come under notable criticism from some SNP MSPs with some of its endorsed policies, including the Deposit Return Scheme and High Protected Marine Areas. In this blog, Evie Milligan discusses a preview of the 2023-24 Programme for Government.
Having delivered his “New Leadership, A Fresh Start For Scotland” speech in April, Humza Yousaf’s first PfG can be expected to centre around equality, opportunity and community. Recovery of the economy and public services will take precedence – with Humza Yousaf expected to announce a four-day working week pilot scheme for civil servants as part of a plan to deliver achievable policies without damaging the economy – as well as a strong focus on tackling poverty amid the cost crisis. The Poverty Alliance has urged the First Minister to prioritise the latter, seeking the inclusion of a minimum income guarantee, an increase in the Scottish Child Payment, a review in disability support, and a moratorium on pursuing people who cannot pay their debts to councils or public sector bodies. Independent Age have also called for a pensioner poverty strategy to be put into place as pensioner poverty numbers rise.
The Scottish Government had previously committed to the introduction of a housing bill which would include a new deal for tenants, a requirement for social landlords to have a domestic abuse policy in place and a duty on public bodies to work to prevent homelessness, and this is expected to feature in the upcoming PfG. Ahead of the statement, the Homelessness Prevention Task and Finish Group published a report on the groundwork needed to achieve the potential of homelessness prevention duties.
Tackling poverty through taxation is another focus for the Scottish Government with Humza Yousaf discussing the possibility of introducing a further income tax band on those earning between £43,622 and £125,140. Furthermore, the government remains committed to introducing a Scottish aggregates levy bill to increase the proportion of the Budget. However, the First Minister’s emphasis on progressive taxation has been met with some resistance by the business community. Sandy Begbie, chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise, has argued Scotland must cut taxes to achieve sustainable economic growth. He agreed with a recent recommendation by Sir Tom Hunter that cutting corporation tax in renewables, life sciences and AI would encourage investment while increasing the overall tax base. The New Deal for Scottish Business has been another focus as the government aims to develop a better working relationship with businesses across Scotland. The government has accepted the group’s recommendations report, which the PfG will look to progress. Concerns around education reform legislation saw the government announce a pause on the replacement of the SQA as further engagement with the sector was required before bringing forward legislation. In the 2023-24 Budget, the government committed £100.3m to education reform and further details of reform and legislation can be expected in the PfG. The government remains committed to rolling out universal free school meals for all primary school pupils with further consideration required for secondary pupils.
In an interview with the Sunday Mail ahead of the PfG, Humza Yousaf revealed the loss of four babies with his wife Nadia has made him determined to reform miscarriage services. A key pledge will be improved access to the hormone progesterone which he believes was crucial in sustaining Nadia’s pregnancy with their now four-year-old daughter Amal. The PfG will also announce new rights for women to have a detailed medical examination into a miscarriage and separate areas in hospitals for women who have suffered the loss of a baby.
Big changes are expected to be seen within environmental policy with the climate crisis and transition to net zero remaining high up on the government’s agenda. The government is set to bring forward new plans to “modernise and update the water industry” with a new national flood resilience strategy to be consulted on later this year. Other recent prominent consultations have been on Permitted Development Rights, rights to access information and on the promotion of Gaelic and Scots and are all likely to be legislated on in the coming year. A land reform bill is expected to introduce new measures regarding land ownership and will award ministers greater powers over land sales, while legislation centred on agriculture policy, human rights and on heating standards may also be expected.