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Programme for Government 2017-18: What is on the horizon

Siobhan Divers

Siobhan has spent the summer interning with newsdirect. Before going back to the University of Stirling, she has taken a look at some of the things that might be included in the upcoming Programme for Government.

Towards the end of recess, thoughts turn to the next Programme for Government. So what should we expect to be introduced, improved upon and extended in the next session of parliament?

Following the timeline established in previous years, the Programme for Government will likely be scheduled for Tuesday 5th September and will be delivered in a statement from Nicola Sturgeon to the Scottish Parliament. This will be followed by party leaders’ responses and an open debate split over two days.

What we can expect

Nicola Sturgeon, in a statement on Scotland’s Future at the end of last session, said she is planning to relaunch her government in the Autumn. It’s not clear whether this means a reshuffle or a dramatic shift in the focus of government policy, or simply business as usual – packaged in a new way. Government spokespeople had been keen to emphasise that the focus will be on “policy, not personnel”, though recent speculation in the press has suggested there could be promotions in the pipeline for some ministers, including Jeane Freeman and Mike Russell.

Potential plans under consideration include changes to local government, the economy, welfare and a new approach to air pollution and climate change.

Changes to local government could include merging council services and functions, and come on top of the Parking and Planning Bills which have already been consulted on. One further idea being considered is devolving power to the lowest possible level and using a proportion of council funding for local communities while delegating other services, including road building and maintenance, to nationwide bodies such as Transport Scotland.

The 2017 SNP Manifesto expressed concern about improving rural connectivity and getting a better deal for the fishing industry, while the Scottish Government has been actively looking for ways to improve energy efficiency both inside and outside the home. The Warm Homes Bill, included in the 2016 SNP Manifesto, was welcomed by the Greens last year as a “priority” and has the support of other organisations including the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland. This Bill will likely be mentioned in this year’s Programme for Government for introduction in the coming year. Elsewhere, Humza Yousaf indicated that a Transport Bill will be brought forward “within the current Parliament” and it is expected to include measures on smart ticketing. The Scottish Government also promised to deliver 100% superfast broadband coverage and has successfully provided more than 90% of Scotland’s businesses and homes with fibre broadband as part of the £428m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme. Proposals to provide broadband in remote areas will likely feature during the next session.

There are several other possible bills and proposed ideas which could be included in the Programme for Government. From last year’s Programme, the Housing (Amendment) Bill was never introduced and could feature this year. The Bill was expected to ensure registered social landlords continued to be classified as private sector bodies.

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill almost reached the end of Stage 1 before recess and will feature during the new session. Healthcare improvements might also feature more details on the upcoming diet and obesity strategy, while plans for a Safe and Effective Staffing Bill are also progressing.

We will of course have a Budget Bill and a new Climate Change Bill, the consultation on which closes at the end of September. Other possible developments include a possible Good Food Nation Bill and action on the public sector pay cap.

Members’ Bills will also continue to be on the legislative agenda, including Monica Lennon’s recently introduced Proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill and James Kelly’s high profile Proposed Football Act (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill. Other MSPs have recently focused on a wide range of topics including free personal care, equal protection from assault for children, football club liability, fracking and 20mph speed limits.

Other developments to look out for

Nicola Sturgeon has shelved plans for the second referendum and said in June she accepted there was not widespread support for independence before the UK leaves the EU. She highlighted that her priority, until next August at the earliest, is focusing on getting the best Brexit deal possible for Scotland but she also implied that she was interested in scheduling a second referendum before the next Holyrood election in 2021. We suspect you may hear more about this when the First Minister addresses SNP conference in October, rather than in this year’s Programme for Government. The implications of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 for the devolved nations will also occupy a significant amount of Government and Parliamentary time, not least when the Scottish Parliament is asked to vote on the Bill’s LCM.

newsdirect will be covering the Legislative Statement and subsequent developments for our clients. If you are interested in how our bespoke coverage, including comprehensive legislative tracking, can support your organisation, please get in touch with the team.

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