New Powers

In her opening remarks, the First Minister placed emphasis on the fact that her statement coincided with a new parliament with new powers at its disposal. Four new Bills in the legislative programme will see these powers used for the first time those are:

  • Railway Policing Bill – to confer railway policing power on Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.
  • Air Passenger Duty Bill– will enable a replacement tax to be introduced from April 2018, with intention of halving the overall level of APD by the end of the parliamentary session.
  • Gender Balance on Public Boards Bill – to improve gender representation in the public sector. This should build upon progress made in 2015 which was the first year in which more women than men were appointed to public boards in Scotland.
  • Social Security Bill – to create a framework for a new social security system. The Bill will see an increase in carers’ allowance, a new best start grant for low-income parents, abolition of the bedroom tax and aims to adopt a “new and more humane approach” to disability assessments.
  • The annualBudget Bill will set out the Scottish Government’s spending plans and set income tax rates.

The decision to halve APD is a contentious one. At a time of austerity and pressured budgets, it is questionable that taxes should be cut in this way. We appreciate that analysis does show tax gains in other areas of the economy, however, our members may expect this analysis to be founded on solid data. Beyond monetary concerns, we understand environmental and health charities may be mindful of the impact increased aviation traffic will have on our environment, air quality and efforts to reduce emissions. If this policy is pursued, these groups might wish to a see a concerted effort to mitigate any adverse impact on our environment.

We expect equalities charities will welcome measures to enhance gender equality through the drafting of a Gender Balance on Public Boards Bill. This builds upon progress made through the ‘50:50 BY 2020’ programme for public boards. As outlined in the ‘Economy’ section, these charities may also be supportive of efforts to tackle maternity discrimination.

The Social Security Bill will be one of the largest pieces of legislative work carried out by the Scottish Government and there appears to be broad consensus within the third sector that this should be conducted methodically, in order to produce a system that operates effectively and efficiently.

Disability charities and anti-poverty charities will welcomed the change in language away from ‘benefits’ in favour of ‘social security’, and the promises to restore dignity and respect to the new system – particularly in terms of disability assessments. Carers’ charities will want to be aware of the increase in Carers’ Allowance to the same level of Job Seekers’ Allowance and assurances that the ‘bedroom tax’ will be abolished. However, more detail as to how this will be achieved is needed, as it remains unclear whether the government will continue to utilise Discretionary Housing Payment funds – money which could be spent addressing other housing concerns.

We understand there is a concern from some of our members that social security policies are not connected to employment policies, even though many people in receipt of social security are also in work. Furthermore, it does not appear that a human rights-based approach to social security has been taken. If administered through a rights-based approach and in consultation with the third sector the Best Start Grant could provide a vital financial lifeline for low income parents at three key stages: birth, starting nursery and beginning school.

Economy

The First Minister stressed the importance of supporting the economy in the wake of uncertainty surrounding the EU Referendum result. She outlined plans to do this through the four pillars of the Scottish Government’s economic strategy – investment in people and infrastructure, innovation, internationalisation and inclusive growth. Key announcements included:

  • £100 million in capital spending is to be brought forward to improve/maintain infrastructure and boost employment.
  • £290 million of European Structural Funds were approved, which will see investment of £650 million into communities by the end of 2018.
  • Investment of £570 million (of a total £3 billion) will seek to meet the government’s target of constructing 50,000 affordable homes – 35,000 of which will be for social rent.
  • The introduction of a new Housing (Amendment) Bill will ensure registered social landlords are classified as private sector bodies, allowing them to borrow for investment. There will also be emphasis placed on the Government’s shared equity scheme to support home ownership.
  • Infrastructure investment aims to aid the transition to a low carbon economy, with energy efficiency classified as a national infrastructure priority. This will be supported with £500 million of funding over three years and backed by the introduction of a Warm Homes Bill by the end of the parliament.
  • A new Climate Change Bill will be introduced, setting the target of a 50% reduction in actual Scottish emissions by 2020.
  • Broadband connectivity should reach 95% of all properties by the end of 2017. This will be supported with £90 million of funding over the next year. Over this period, a delivery plan will be drawn up to demonstrate how 100% of all commercial and residential properties can have access to superfast broadband by 2020.
  • Following the EU Referendum, a Business Information Service and Post-Brexit Business Network (comprising the Scottish Government, Scotland Office, STUC and business leaders) has been set to “help shape policy and support”.
  • £3.5 million has been committed to establish three innovation and investment hubs in Brussels, Dublin and London to attract investment and help secure access to markets.
  • The Small Business Bonus Scheme will be extended to cover 100,000 businesses and the Government intends to act on the current review of business rates currently underway.
  • With manufacturing employing some 200,000 people, accounting for over 50% of exports and approximately 50% of R&D spending, the Government intend to set out a business plan for the establishment of a ‘Manufacturing Institute’. This will essentially be a skills academy and centre for excellence for research and development.
  • Up to 2024, oil and gas decommissioning work is valued at £17 billion – with two thirds of this coming after 2020. Scottish Enterprise have been tasked with setting up a Decommissioning Action Plan to ensure the skills base and infrastructure is in place to take advantage of this opportunity.
  • The £500 million Scottish Growth Scheme will grant access to finance and guarantees to high potential SMEs. This will be recorded on the government’s balance sheet as a liability and will not come from public spending streams. UK government cooperation is required in terms of ‘budgeting treatment’ of these guarantees.
  • The First Minister underlined her commitment to Inclusive Growth and expressed concern regarding a post-Brexit atmosphere of de-regulation. The Scottish Government aim to encourage more businesses to sign the Business Pledge and set a target of increasing the number of accredited Living Wage employers to 1,000.
  • The Labour Market Strategy will be taken forward and, using new powers, employment tribunal fees will be abolished. The Government also expressed a desire to work in partnership with trade unions and to support the next phase of work to be conducted by the Fair Work Commission.
  • The Scottish Government will work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to tackle maternity and pregnancy discrimination and will establish a ‘returners programme’ to aid women returning from a career break.
  • Scottish employment support will be delivered from spring 2017. Initially this will be provided through transitional arrangements, to support “some of the most vulnerable in society ahead of full services in 2018.”
  • The Government will develop proposals on the implementation of a new Jobs Grant for 16-24 year olds returning to work after six months unemployment. ‘Opportunities for All’ will continue – offering an appropriate place in learning or training to all 16-19 year olds. This includes investment of £14.9 million in 2016-17 in supporting post-16 transitions towards employment, including Activity Agreements, Inspiring Scotland 14-19 Fund and Community Jobs Scotland. Support will also continue for the Employability Fund – supporting 11,650 places in 2016-17.
  • For young people who have been in care, we will work with the third sector to develop a new fund, based on the example of CJS, to specifically support them into appropriate work, training or educational opportunities.

In terms of the announcement regarding the approval of structural funds, this will be viewed as welcome progress after significant delays. Many members have expressed a view that it is essential funding is allocated and maximised before the UK leaves the EU. More flexibility around, and exploration of intervention rates – particularly around existing employability programmes – would certainly be an approach our members, communities and the wider economy could benefit from.

Housing charities will welcome the government’s commitment to ensuring affordable housing targets and social rent targets are met. Following the EU referendum result, there was concern that private investment would slump, making targets unachievable. The decision to allocate £570 million towards these targets marks an important first step forward.

Efforts to tackle fuel poverty, improve energy efficiency and set more ambitious emission reduction targets is a move to be welcomed by environmental charities. However, we appreciate it is important that measures are set out to reach these goals, instead of setting arbitrary and unachievable targets.

Improving broadband connectivity is a welcome step for many charities. However, emphasis must be placed on improving Scotland’s digital skills base. To this end, many of our will welcome the government’s commitment to build on their partnership with our sector to improve skills and to allow communities the opportunity to shape the way these services are provided.
Whilst third sector organisations are aware of the need for a strong economy to underpin public finances, there does remain frustration that, in the post-Brexit period, the highly adaptable business community is receiving far more support than organisations in our sector which are heavily reliant on EU infrastructure, legislation, networks and funding.

That the ‘Post-Brexit Business Network’ will allow business and unions to “help shape policy and support” could be of some concern – given that policy decisions can have a knock-on effect. With the establishment of ‘innovation and investment hubs’ to open up communication links exclusively for business, we hope that this will allow the government to use its own diplomatic channels to champion the third sector, civil society networks, European solidarity and the other benefits of the EU that are not linked to trade and commerce. Third sector organisations have already offered to use their networks to express Scotland’s desire to maintain links with our European neighbours and sister organisation. We hope that the Scottish government will work with us to ensure our voices are heard as widely as possible.

In terms of Inclusive Growth, the third sector welcomes efforts to ensure that everyone can contribute to and benefit from the economy. However, we still believe that other forms of contribution must be considered – particularly in terms of volunteering and caring responsibilities. This should be reflected in the Government’s Labour Market Strategy.

Education

The First Minister reiterated the claim that closing the educational attainment gap would be the ‘defining mission’ of her government. This task has fallen to the Deputy First Minister – and erstwhile Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth – John Swinney MSP, signalling serious intent from the Scottish Government. Setting out plans to achieve this aim, the First Minister set out the following action points:

  • Childcare for all three and four year-olds (and the most disadvantaged two year-olds) will double by the end of the parliamentary session. This is expected to create 20,000 additional places for early years workers. A policy blueprint, with milestones up to 2020, with be produced over the next year. The piloting of delivery models will begin in January 2017.
  • The Scottish Government intends to work closely with Local Authorities to ensure that all nurseries in the most deprived areas gain an additional qualified teacher or childcare graduate.
  • Whilst the roll out of increased access to childcare should make it more affordable, the First Minister outlined plans to make care more affordable in the short term by looking at methods of support e.g. a deposit guarantee scheme. This will be explored in the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, a document which will also respond in full to the recommendations of the poverty advisor.
  • In the next year, a £150 million Attainment Fund will seek to “overcome the impact of deprivation”. £100 million of this money will come from reforms to Council Tax. Regulation giving effect to these changes will be laid before parliament this week.
  • On top of funding, the National Improvement Framework aims to help close the attainment gap. A key part of this will be the introduction of standardised assessments (the First Minister emphasised that these were not tests) to help “inform teacher judgment”. These assessments will be piloted before the end of the year and rolled out across Scotland next year.
  • The first school-by-school analysis of students and their meeting of the required levels under Curriculum for Excellence will be made available in December. The Scottish Government will use this data to more accurately assess the extent of the attainment gap and allow resources to be targeted accordingly.
  • A ‘Governance Review’ will be published next week in a bid to “empower schools and decentralise management”. John Swinney has recently announced his intention to ‘free and empower’ teachers and reduce unnecessary workload. An Education Bill will be introduced in the second year of this session to implement any proposals requiring legislation.
  • A consultation on a “fair and transparent” national funding formula for schools is to be launched in March in a bid to ensure how the Government funds schools matches their “ambition of achieving excellence and equity”. The First Minister expressed a desire to work with Councils, teachers, parents and the newly formed Council of International Advisors – who have signalled strong support for the direction of travel.
  • The number of full-time equivalent college places will be maintained at current levels and work will continue to increase the number of Modern Apprenticeships.
  • The Scottish Government will publish an implementation plan based on the recommendations of the Widening Access to University Commissioner (and will appoint a new independent Commissioner in the next few weeks).
  • In the next academic year, care experienced children will be entitled to full bursaries and the Scottish Government intends to work with universities to young people from this group are guaranteed a place in university if they meet the minimum entry requirements. A major review will be carried out in to student support to support the ambition of widening access.
  • Having suggested that tackling educational inequality extends beyond the school gate, the First Minister announced that a Child Poverty Billwould be brought forward over the next year. This will see Scotland as the only part of the UK with statutory income targets in relation to child poverty. To help tackle child poverty, a new Best Start Grant will be introduced for low income parents and will see cash payments of £600 made when a child is born (£300 for each child born thereafter), £250 when they go to nursery and another £250 when they start school. The ‘Baby Box’ will also be introduced to provide clothing, bedding and books.

Closing the educational attainment gap is a laudable ambition and the third sector supports efforts to see this realised. Many of our members will welcome the recognition that educational inequality has its roots beyond the school gate and that action to tackle child poverty is an integral part of achieving the overall aim. In this regard, we believe that the third sector has a dual role in both tackling poverty and reaching those who are disengaged from mainstream education.

The decision to offer full bursaries to care-experienced children seeking to attend university is a welcome decision, as are efforts to ensure a guaranteed place if they meet minimum entry requirements. We expect many of our members will look forward to engaging in the ‘major review’ of student support.

The new Child Poverty Bill will replace recently repealed sections of the UK Child Poverty Act 2010, ensuring that statutory income targets in relation to child poverty are maintained. Whilst this move has been welcomed by children’s charities and anti-poverty campaigners, they warn that targets alone are not enough. Policies to address the cost of school uniforms is welcome but education urge the government to look at wider education inequalities. Our members also welcome the new duty on ministers to publish a child poverty delivery plan every five years, and look forward to feeding in to these.

Health

As the former Cabinet Secretary for Health, the First Minister spoke highly of the SNP’s record on improving health and protecting the NHS. Against this backdrop, she outlined key plans for the next parliamentary session:

  • NHS resource spending will be increased by £500 million more than inflation over the course of the parliament. Each year £250 million will be transferred to from the NHS to Health and Social Care Partnerships to build capacity, resilience and services.
  • With effect from October 2016, all adult health and social care workers will receive the real living wage.
  • The Government has plans to train and recruit more doctors, nurses, GPs, Community Link Workers and Paramedics. A National Workforce Plan will soon be published and legislation will be brought forward later in the session to enshrine safe staffing levels in law.
  • In terms of primary care, GPs will be given help to work as part of multi-disciplinary teams including pharmacists, community nurses and social workers. Over the next year, a new GP contract will be agreed upon to deliver more accessible services.
  • A new Mental Health Strategy will be outlined, backed with £150 million in funding over the course of the parliament.
  • £200 million will be invested in the hospital estate to expand the Golden Jubilee and establish five new elective treatment centres for operations such as hip and knee replacements. This aims to provide a better, quicker and safer services, whilst freeing up hospitals for emergency procedures.

Whilst protection of health services and efforts to protect workforce numbers and working conditions/pay can be welcomed, many health charities might feel that emphasis is still placed on primary care services and treating the symptoms of ill-health; rather than tackling the root causes via a preventative approach.

Although there is some mention of preventative measures, health, sport and care charities may wish to see more emphasis and detail on how the Scottish Government aim to embed prevention to improve outcomes and ensure the long-term viability of health service delivery.

Mental health charities will welcome the forthcoming publication of the Scottish Government’s 10 year Mental Health Strategy, based on the principles of ‘ask once, get help fast’ and parity of esteem with physical health services.

Justice

The First Minister outlined plans to introduce four justice Bills in the next year, these are:

  • Contract (Third Party Rights) Bill – to reform current law on contracts relating to third party rights.
  • Expenses and Funding of Civil Litigation Bill – to make the civil justice system more accessible and affordable.
  • Domestic Abuse Bill – to make psychological abuse a specific offence – specifically coercion and controlling behaviour. The First Minister expressed a desire to change public attitudes towards psychological abuse.
  • Limitation (Childhood Abuse) Bill – to allow child abuse survivors’ access civil justice. This was based on a recommendation from the Scottish Human Rights Commission who pointed out that current legislation only allows an individual to bring forward a personal injury action within three years of realising an injury has been sustained. This was deemed to be impractical and unfair in terms of cases of child abuse.
  • The First Minister also outlined plans to reform how female offenders are dealt with. This new strategy will see a new small women’s prison built at Cornton Vale and the establishment of community based custody centres to aid rehabilitation and reduce re-offending. Community Justice Scotland will become operational in April 2017 and has the role of providing leadership in this arena.
  • Police Scotland’s budget will also be protected in real terms, resulting in additional funding of £100 million.

Ensuring prison system delivers real rehabilitation and reduces re-offending should be a primary aim, and our members welcome measures to achieve this. Some charities, in particular housing charities, have previously expressed concern that many leaving the justice system are unprepared for life outside and will ultimately re-offend. Some third sector organisations may feel they have a role in tackling this problem and cutting re-offending.

Human rights and children’s charities welcome the move to support and empower the victims of child abuse to seek justice in a way they were previously unable to.

Efforts to strengthen and expand domestic abuse law to encompass psychological abuse is has been commended by charities operating in this sphere.

Our members welcome the fact that the government have listened to the concerns of third sector organisations in bringing forward these pieces of legislation and believe this underpins the concept that the third sector is a valuable partner of the Scottish Government in improving legislation and empowering individuals.

Community Empowerment/Local Democracy

The First Minister expressed a view that economic and social benefits are realised when people have control over decisions that affects them. She said that she wished to move to a situation where people saw community ownership as “desirable and achievable”. To this end, she set out the following measures:

  • Government efforts to support community land purchases, with the aim of seeing one million acres of land in public ownership by 2020.
  • The introduction of secondary legislation to enhance the Land Reform Bill. This will see the publication of a register of all ‘controlling interests’ in land ownership
  • A consultation on how communities can benefit from the devolution of Crown Estate assets.
  • The Government outlined support for more decentralisation of power from city and council chambers and a desire to see more decision-making handed to local people, especially in choosing local spending priorities.
  • Legislation on Community Choices budgeting will also be brought forward. This will see the government work with local government and communities on delivery of the target of councils having at least 1% of their budget subject to Community Choices budgeting. This will be backed by the £2 million Community Choices Fund which opened for applications in June 2016 to support public authorities and community groups to build on examples of best practice.
  • In the next year the Community Empowerment Act will: “provide new rights for communities, place new duties on public sector bodies and reform community planning. This will allow communities to develop their own economies, wellbeing and environments.”
  • The introduction of an Islands Billto take account of the needs of Scotland’s 93 island communities and decentralise local authority functions, budgets and democratic oversight to local communities.
  • With new powers over the conduct of elections, in 2016-17 the Scottish Government will take forward a consultation exercise to find out what electoral reforms Scottish citizens would like to see taken forward in future legislation.

Many third sector organisations are of the firm view that strong, connected and empowered communities are best placed to tackle the challenges and deep rooted problems some of them face.

We welcome the commitment to roll out a form of participatory budgeting and look forward to contributing to its success and expansion. Many of our members will be keen to ensure this does not become a tokenistic gesture, but a meaningful first step in ensuring communities have real say in the spending decisions that impact on their communities.

In keeping with our commitment to open government and transparency, we welcome the new measures to enhance the Land Reform Bill and to support community ownership of land. Evidence shows that proximity to, and prevalence of, derelict land in a city setting correlates directly to ill health and poverty. Efforts to improve transparency around ownership and assistance to utilise such land could be an important step towards tackling a variety of social ills.

We believe our members hope that the successful roll out of community budgeting and the devolution of powers to island communities will set a precedent in proving that realcommunity empowerment works.

Human Rights

The Government reaffirmed a commitment opposing any attempt by the UK Government to repeal or replace the Human Rights Act. They also stated an ambition to:

  • Engage directly with people and communities across the whole of Scotland to set in motion a process to explore how to give further and better effect to the economic, social and cultural rights set out in United Nations and other international treaties.
  • Integrate human rights and the UN Sustainable Development Goals within the National Performance Framework, to help locate human rights at the centre of policy-making and delivery for the Government and the public sector.

In the aftermath of the EU referendum result, there is concern that an assault on – or slow erosion of – human rights may be forthcoming. We understand this will be a key concern of many disability and equalities charities. These organisations may welcome the commitment by the Scottish Government to prevent the repeal of the Human Rights Act. We further understand that a desire has been expressed that the Scottish Government continues to mirror the very best practise and standards as set by the EU, even in the event of, and aftermath of, our withdrawal from the EU.

Embedding a human rights-based approach to policy making and service delivery is a key ambition of the third sector and, whilst our members may welcome the commitment by the government to realise this, there is concern that this is not being realised in practice – this is particularly evident in the progress of the Social Security Bill.

Social Enterprise

The Scottish Government outlined plans to maintain Scotland’s world leadership in social enterprise through:

  • The publication – by the end of the 2016 – of a national, 10 year, Social Enterprise Strategy, developed in partnership with the sector.
  • The publication of an International Social Enterprise Strategy which will support an increase in the international reach, impact and trading activity of Scottish social enterprises.
  • The publication of the first three-year Social Enterprise Action Plan before the end of 2016-17, followed by two others over a 10-year period, to consider the range of mechanisms for delivery, including review of the current business support contract, support for social enterprise intermediary bodies, support for individual social entrepreneurs, and appropriate funding for individual social enterprises via grant funds or social investment.
  • From European Structural Fund, £14 million has been allocated to support social enterprises and tackle poverty.

We believe that many third sector businesses will welcome recognition of the key role they play in Scotland’s economy and strengthening Scotland communities. Efforts to support and grow the sector are to be welcomed and the sector looks forward to shaping future policy decisions and planning in this area.

EU Membership and Independence

The First Minister reiterated her desire to protect Scotland’s place in Europe and that she would explore every option to do so. However, she also stated that it may be the case that Scottish independence is the only way of achieving this.

To this end, the First Minister announced that the Scottish Government will consult on a draft Referendum Bill, to prepare for a second independence referendum should it be agreed it was the best way to protect Scotland’s interests in the EU.

In terms of maintaining Scotland’s place within the EU, from engagement with our members, we know that most broadly welcome efforts by the Scottish Government to explore all options to maintaining membership. We recognise that there are options beyond the Norway and Switzerland models and would encourage the Scottish Government to look at the Opinion put forward by the European Economic and Social Committee to the Commission which explored “variable-geometry”, which would leave the regions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar still as members. We expect some of our members will wish to contribute to this discussion.

Third sector organisations have pointed to the lack of UK involvement in the project to establish a European Pillar of Social Rights. It has been suggested that Scottish Civil Society, in conjunction with the Scottish Government may wish to contribute to the process to ensure our values and ambitions are still realised at a European level. The consultation on the European Pillar on Social Rights was circulated to SCVO’s Eurogroup some weeks ago and we will be organising a consultation event with the Scottish Government Third Sector Division and the European Economic and Social Committee in short course.

Conclusion

The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2016-17 is, by its very nature, a weighty document which covers a panoply of policy choices which the Government hopes will be enacted over the forthcoming session. In view of the scale and range of Scotland’s third sector, there is clearly much food for thought contained within it.

Despite the uncertainty caused by the decision to leave the EU and the resulting constitutional debate, there is much work to be done in terms to policies impacting on day to day lives – particularly in terms of the new Social Security Bill, Child Poverty Bill, reforms of public services and education, and ensuring human rights are embedded in policy decisions and service delivery. We believe the third sector – with its wealth of experience, expertise and networks – is a valuable partner in shaping these decisions and improving outcomes.

In view of this, SCVO will continue to engage with our members to make them aware of further policy developments, assist them to become involved in the decision making process and to be a strong advocate for our sector and its interests.

Contact

Craig Wilson
Policy Officer
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
Email: craig.wilson@scvo.org.uk
Tel: 0131 474 8031

About us

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the third sector. There are over 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 138,000 paid staff and approximately 1.3 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £4.9 billion.

SCVO works in partnership with the third sector in Scotland to advance our shared values and interests. We have over 1,600 members who range from individuals and grassroots groups, to Scotland-wide organisations and intermediary bodies.

As the only inclusive representative umbrella organisation for the sector SCVO:

  • has the largest Scotland-wide membership from the sector – our 1,600 members include charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes
  • our governance and membership structures are democratic and accountable – with an elected board and policy committee from the sector, we are managed by the sector, for the sector
  • brings together organisations and networks connecting across the whole of Scotland
  • SCVO works to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change.

Further details about SCVO can be found at www.scvo.org.uk.