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20 September 2011

A programme for Government

With the Scottish Parliament’s summer recess over, Holyrood has wasted no time in getting back to the business of legislating. The Scottish Government has set out a wide ranging Programme for Government which will see 15 pieces of legislation brought to parliament over the coming year, an ambitious level of activity for the coming twelve months.

These bills cover a wide range of topics affecting a variety of different aspects of Scottish life. They include an Agricultural Holdings bill which will implement the recommendations of the Tenant Farming Forum to encourage more landlords to let land to tenant farmers and make it easier for a new generation of farmers to inherit tenancies by including grandchildren in the definition of a near relative.

There will be a Rights of Children and Young People Bill, enshrining the principles of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into Scots law and spelling out the basic human rights that people under the age of 18 are entitled to. Additionally, a Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill will improve current FoI legislation and add strength and clarity to efforts to ensure open, democratic government and responsive public services.

There will be an Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill to revisit the important health measure which was wrongly stripped out of last session’s Alcohol Bill by opposition parties. It will ensure that it is no longer possible to purchase cheap alcohol for less than the cost of a bottle of water and have its main impact on the dirt cheap ciders and own-brand vodkas which are favoured by problem drinkers.

As with every year there will be a Scottish Budget Bill which will have to cope with the continuing cuts to Scotland’s budget being passed on as a result of the UK Treasury’s obstinate determination to slash budgets when the OECD and IMF say it should be stimulating growth in the stagnating economy.

And amongst other things, there will also be legislation to move Scotland towards single, national police and fire services. This will bring an end to the unnecessary duplication of back office functions such as payroll, IT and human resources departments and will make the police more locally accountable by giving every local councillor a role in overseeing police activity in their area where it is currently restricted to the limited numbers who sit on one of Scotland’s eight police or eight fire boards.

However, legislation is only one part of the activity that any government undertakes and the Scottish Government’s plans for the coming year are no different. We will launch a programme called “Opportunities for All”, guaranteeing every 16-19 year old in Scotland an education or training position. The economic problems we have faced have affected young people particularly severely and it is only right that they are given the opportunities they need to ensure they have the skills to face the job market with confidence.

We will also continue to push for improvements to the Scotland Bill which is currently progressing through Westminster. People in Scotland voted for a stronger bill than the current damaging proposals and Westminster cannot continue to bury its head in the sand and refuse to recognise the ambitions of people in Scotland. We have outlined six key areas where we believe progress is essential to making the Scotland Bill workable and the Scottish Government will continue to make the case for their inclusion in the Scotland Bill.

With such high levels of activity ahead, it is sure to be a busy parliamentary year ahead for the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament.

6 September 2011

One hundred days on

When the SNP took office in 2007, we were determined to hit the ground running and start work on an impressive array of tasks within our first 100 days in Government. Work was begun on abolishing the Graduate Endowment, recruiting 1,000 additional police officers and saving A&E departments from closure amongst many other things. With the first 100 days now having come and gone since we were re-elected as a majority Government in May this year, our intentions have been no different and we have again sought to use these early days of the new parliament to build momentum for the months and years ahead.

We have launched a Renewables Routemap outlining the steps Scotland needs to take to capitalise on the vast potential renewable energy offers us and meet the ambitious target we have set of generating an equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020.

We have published a plan to increase the number of Scots diagnosed in the earliest stages of cancer by 25% to improve cancer survival rates and spare more people the agony of losing a loved one to the illness. And we have started a fresh approach to involving the fishing industry more in the decisions that affect it through the launch of the Fisheries Management and Conservation Group and the Scottish Seafood Partnership.

We have done these things and numerous others in our first 100 days and we will do many, many more in the days still to come. No Government can even come close to achieving all it sets out to do in its first 100 days and nor should it. But those early days do set the tone for what is to follow. In both this new term and the 100 days that marked the start of our previous term in Government, I firmly believe that we have begun our term with energy and direction and established a solid base for our work in the months and years ahead.

Minimum pricing

Scotland’s damaging relationship with alcohol is not new to anyone or something that can be solved overnight. The impact of excessive alcohol consumption costs people in Scotland £3.56 billion every single year and places an incredible strain on our health and justice systems in these difficult economic times. Yet what is new is just how much the scale of the problem is increasing.

New figures show that people in Scotland buy 23% more alcohol than people in England and Wales, the biggest difference ever recorded in the 17 years since the figures were first measured. This works out as an additional 2.2 litres of pure alcohol per adult in Scotland sold than in England last year, at 11.8 litres compared to 9.6. It can be little coincidence that last year also saw a 3% increase in alcohol related deaths. In the last session of parliament, we sought to bring in a range of measures to address this growing problem and the costs that come with it through the Alcohol (Scotland) Act.

While this Act was passed by parliament, important measures such as a minimum price per unit for alcohol were stripped out by opposition parties. Minimum pricing is by no means a silver bullet, but studies have shown it can help to reduce alcohol consumption and that is something that is urgently needed in Scotland.

That is why the Scottish Government intends to introduce a Minimum Pricing Bill as a matter of priority this Autumn and correct the mistake that was made when opposition parties stripped it from last session’s Bill.

Stewart Stevenson
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