Straight back from the summer recess, MSPs had little chance to water their office plants and catch up with colleagues. No, no. Not when the Programme for Government is the main item of the day – with two subsequent days of debate and a series of Ministerial elaborations to follow
This is the SNP’s twelfth Programme for Government (PfG) and while there are undoubtedly important announcements contained within it, it perhaps lacks the headline grabbing policy ideas of previous year. Regardless of whether you think they were good policies, you can’t deny that scrapping tuition fees and freezing the council tax (for example) were impressive flagship policies.
This PfG has a more practical and considered feel about it; focusing on inclusive economic growth, boosting infrastructure spending, bringing focus to decarbonising the economy and making attempts to tackle social problems head on. Interestingly many of these solution seem to have been inspired by sector asks and suggestions. To pick two, big commitments to addressing serious failings in Child and Adolescent Mental Health provision have been welcomed by SAMH and commitments to incorporate the UN Convention on The Rights of the Child have been welcomed by a number of charities.
From others, there was a more muted response. The Scottish Food Coalition considered the failure to pursue a ‘Good Food Nation Bill’ a significant missed opportunity and, while there has been some progress in the past year. Shelter Scotland clearly feel more can be done in terms of looking at housing as a cross-cutting policy issue.
As always, the Programme for Government is packed with content, including 12 new Bills (see pg 25). However, there are plenty wondering where the time to introduce these will come from – particularly when Brexit and independence remain spectres at the feast and there are still 13 Government Bills from the last session for MSPs to complete.
Of specific interest to the third sector is a pledge to consult on an update to the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 to ensure trust, transparency and accountability is maintained. On top of this is a commitments to extend Freedom of Information legislation to cover all organisations providing services on behalf of the public sector – many of whom will be charities. And, in the next year, a National Volunteering Outcomes Framework will be published, setting out a vision for volunteering and to identify the key evidence and data to increase in participation.
SCVO welcomes these announcements and the Government’s willingness to look at the long term future of the charity sector. However, as SCVO’s CEO, Anna Fowlie points out we would like to see this go further.
Here is a brief rundown of some other eye-catching announcements:
Child Poverty & Social Security
- Carers Allowance supplement to begin to be paid as of next week and Young Carer Grant will begin from autumn next year.
- Funeral Expense Assistance to be introduced.
- Best Start Grant (which will benefit 50,000 families per year) was due to be introduced next summer, but will now be in place before this Christmas (if the DWP can facilitate this).
- By the end of June next year, a new income supplement will be introduced to assist parents on low income.
- Work will begin on a £12 million intensive Parental Employment Support Programme, to help parents on low incomes move into employment (late 2019).
- £2 million of funding will go in to tackle food insecurity and holiday hunger among children.
- £125 million of support for welfare mitigation and measures to help those on low incomes – an increase of more than £20 million on last year.
- Begin roll out of £3 million Financial Health Check before the end of 2018, providing low-income families and older people with help to reduce costs and maximise incomes.
- Reforms to be introduced to protect victims and support services to help families bereaved by murder.
- £2m funding will deliver support for victims of rape and sexual assault (including £1.5m to rape crisis centres). Consultation on new protective orders to bar domestic abusers from victims’ homes will be brought forward.
- An accreditation scheme for employers will be piloted to tackle gender-based violence in their workforces.
- Female Genital Mutilation Bill to strengthen the protection of women and girls from this form of gender based violence.
- Consumer Protection Bill will establish a new statutory consumer body.
- The Community Land fund will continue to support community land purchases through a £10 million per year Scottish Land Fund.
- Initial commitments made by the First Minister include create around 350 counsellors in school and providing more than 80 additional counsellors in Further and Higher Education over the next four years.
- To support the one in five women face mental health problems during their pregnancy, three tiers of support will be introduced, including to bolster third sector counselling provision.
- A Local Democracy Bill will be introduced and an Electoral Franchise Bill will secure the voting rights of EU Citizens and prisoners.
Naturally, more detail and opinion will surface in the coming days – especially as Ministers make statements to flesh out key commitments they will be responsible for. After that, we have the usual horse-trading and politicking; a process which can always see certain areas of the PfG enhanced or even removed. Rent controls and local taxation may be key areas to watch out for.
Clearly the PfG offers some positive action to address some of the big issues our society faces and the third sector should feel confident in taking credit for much of that and proud of what it has achieved.
Of course, for those organisations disappointed in the opportunities missed, it is already clear they remain undaunted and will keep pushing the agendas that matter most to them. For our part, SCVO is also here to support those endeavours and any way we can.