Nicola Sturgeon Promises Reform

26 November 2014, 16:11

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that 12 bills will be brought before Holyrood in the coming year in a package of legislation that is for "all of Scotland''.


The new SNP leader promised a "radical programme'' of reform so that Scotland's land can be "an asset that benefits the many, not the few''.

An independent commission will be set up to examine fairer alternatives to the council tax while legislation is to be brought in to prevent people being pursued for old poll tax debts.

Another bill will aim to make university governing bodies more open, accountable and democratic, with Ms Sturgeon announcing the "challenging'' target of increasing the number of students from poorer backgrounds in higher education, saying at least 20% of university entrants should come from the most deprived 20% of the population.

She pledged more cash for the health service, with an additional £5 million of cash to tackle the problem of bed blocking - when patients' discharge is delayed while they wait for care services to be put in place - with cash from local health boards and councils taking this to £15 million.

At the same time, the new First Minister, who succeeded Alex Salmond as the head of the Scottish Government last week, also vowed the budget for the day-to-day running of the NHS would increase by above inflation for the rest of this parliament and the next if the SNP is returned to power in the 2016 Scottish elections.

A Carers' Bill will aim to increase support for those looking after relatives or loved ones, but will also help ensure they are involved in the planning and delivery of the services they use.

Action to reduce the availability of tobacco and e-cigarettes will be included in a Public Health Bill while the Scottish Government will also consult on creating a specific offence of domestic abuse, as well as the possibility of legislation to tackle "revenge porn'', which can see intimate photos posted online without the consent of those pictured.

She also pledged a Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill to clarify the rights of victims and strengthen the ability of the authorities to help them and bring offenders to justice.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Today I am giving an indication of how the Government I leads intends to carry itself in a way that is open, listening, accessible and decentralising.

"A government with the strongest focus on growing our economy, protecting public services and empowering our communities.

"These plans aim to build a sense of shared endeavour about how we create a wealthier and more equal society. It is founded on three key priorities - participation, prosperity and fairness.''

After being elected into the role last week, Ms Sturgeon promised to be a "First Minister for all of Scotland''.

Today, she said her programme of government was "one for all of Scotland''.

The announcement of the Scottish Government's plans for the coming year had been delayed by both the referendum and then by Mr Salmond's resignation as First Minister.

Ms Sturgeon unveiled the package the day before the Smith Commission, which was set up by the UK Government to examine further devolution in the wake of the independence vote, is due to publish its recommendations.

She said Holyrood would discover then if those would meet the pre-referendum vow of the Westminster parties to create a "powerhouse Scottish Parliament''.

But she pledged: "One thing is certain. This Parliament will use any new powers it gets wisely, to improve the lives of the people we serve.''

After 16 and 17-year-olds were given the vote in the referendum, the First Minister promised if Holyrood is given powers over Scottish elections in "good time'', her SNP administration would bring forward legislation to allow this age group to vote ahead of the 2016 Scottish election.

However, she stressed her programme for government was about "how we use our existing powers fully, creatively and constructively, in the interests of all those we serve''.

She pledged extra cash for communities, with an Empowering Communities Fund to be set up.

While this will take the place on an existing fund, Ms Sturgeon said it would have an extra £10 million next year, more than doubling its resources, and saying this cash would be "available directly to communities''.

While she said the council tax freeze that the SNP brought in would remain in place for the rest of this parliament, she said the Government would set up an independent commission to "examine fairer alternatives to the current council tax system''.

This will be set up in partnership with the local government body Cosla and is due to start work early next year, with the aim of publishing its findings in the autumn.

A Community Charge Debt Bill will be brought forward to "finally end collection of debts from non-payment of the poll tax'' 21 years after the levy was introduced by Margaret Thatcher.

Meanwhile, an Island Areas Working Group will be established to implement plans to give more power to these communities, with the Government then to consult on the contents of an Islands Bill, Ms Sturgeon said.

On land reform, Ms Sturgeon said that the bill the Government would bring forward would allow ministers to intervene "where the scale of land ownership or the conduct of a landlord is acting as a barrier to sustainable development''.

The legislation will also include the establishment of a Scottish Land Reform Commission and measures to make information on land, its value and ownership more readily available in one place.

Charities that have large areas of land would be obliged to engage with local communities while business rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates will be ended after these were brought in by the Conservatives in 1994.

Ms Sturgeon said: "The Land Reform Act of 2003 was one of the landmark pieces of legislation of our first Parliament.

"However, land reform remains unfinished business. The proposals I am announcing today will take us on the next stage of that journey and be of benefit to communities across Scotland.''