Programme for Government reaction: STUC, Greens, NUS, Good Food Coalition, Friends of the Earth + more


Politicians, experts, trade unions and other organisations give their view on today’s Programme for Government

THE PROGRAMME FOR GOVERNMENT, announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier today, has already provoked much reaction from civic Scotland.

Debate in the Holyrood chamber was led by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, whose warnings against further referendums and constitutional division are by now so familiar that most observers can mouth along with her.

For a wider view, CommonSpace has rounded up reaction from politicians, experts, trade unions, third sector organisations and think tanks across Scotland to provide the broadest range of opinion.

“A missed opportunity”

The Scottish Greens, upon whom the Scottish Government will almost certainly depend to pass the next budget, immediately branded the Programme for Government “a missed opportunity.”

Although the new Programme for Government highlighted recent progressive changes to income tax, the creation of a South of Scotland Enterprise Agency, and a Young Carer’s Grant – all of which were Scottish Green manifesto commitments in 2016 – and featured pledges by the First Minister to work with local authorities and communities to tackle short-term lets – a long-time campaign issue for Green MSP Andy Wightman – the Greens expressed disappointment in numerous aspects of the Scottish Government’s agenda.

Co-convener Patrick Harvie said: “The First Minister’s commitment to a strong partnership between central and local government is meaningless if she continues to refuse Cosla’s call for power to decide for themselves on issues such as a transient visitor levy.

READ MORE: Greens call for local tax reform as Scottish budget reaches final stage

“Meanwhile, the latest Household Survey shows more Scots than ever think climate change is an immediate and urgent problem, so the government needs to be much bolder in its actions. Its climate change bill is a missed opportunity, and represents a slowdown in the rate of action to reduce emissions.

“On support for the economy, we must see a rebalancing of spend away from polluting industries and toward clean infrastructure such as a warm homes and efficient buses and trains.

“Action on public transport is especially needed as the latest transport statistics show an increase in the number of vehicles on the roads while bus use continues to decline.

“Over recent years, the Greens have worked hard to do just what we said we would in the last election – pushing the government beyond its comfort zone, leading the change that Scotland needs. It’s clear that there remain many parts of the Programme for Government where we’ll need to step up that pressure for change.”

Mental health plans welcomed

Following Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement of improvements to the mental health care available to young people, NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe commented: “Improving mental health services for students has long been a campaigning priority for NUS Scotland and we welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to provide 80 counsellors for colleges and universities over the next four years, however we look forward to seeing more detail on these plans, including how they will be rolled out, where counsellors will be allocated and confirmation of whether the counsellors will be full-time equivalent or otherwise.

“There is a mental health crisis unfolding at Scotland’s colleges and universities. Figures released by NUS Scotland in July this year showed a 76 per cent rise in students trying to access counselling services, with only 60 per cent of those students going to receive support. That needs to change.”

READ MORE: Major push on Mental Health but Education criticisms unaddressed: Everything you need to know about #ScotPfM

STUC general secretary Graeme Smith added: “We support the increase in funding for mental health services. Bad employment practice is a major cause of poor mental health. We look forward to working with government and employers to ensure that the working environment reduces, rather than exacerbates, mental health problems.”

Environment – Is Scotland still a “world leader”?

Responding to the numerous updates on the Scottish Government’s environmental initiatives included in the Programme for Government, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s director Dr Richard Dixon said: “Last year’s Programme for Government was the greenest ever and this year’s was never going to be as good on the environment, but the announcements today are a mixed bag.

“There is good news on help for electric vehicles and on the continued investment in walking and cycling but it misses an opportunity to set out the joined up policies we need to deliver the transition to a zero-carbon future.”

On climate change, Dr Dixon said: “We were looking for a commitment from Nicola Sturgeon to aim higher and improve the targets in the draft climate bill. Sadly, without this Scotland cannot claim to be an international climate leader.

“It is deeply disappointing that there is continued support to prolong the climate-wrecking oil industry. Any support relating to the North Sea should be directed towards helping businesses and workers transition from high-carbon to low-carbon industries, not prolonging extraction of oil. Climate leaders are helping their nations to move beyond fossil fuels rather drilling for every last drop.

“We were looking for a commitment from Nicola Sturgeon to aim higher and improve the targets in the draft climate bill. Sadly, without this Scotland cannot claim to be an international climate leader.” Friends of the Earth Scotland director Dr Richard Dixon

“The continued commitment to reduce, and ultimately abolish, Air Departure Tax is irresponsible in the face of climate change, and will encourage more people to take unnecessary short-haul flights and further undermine national rail services.”

Student support – “more to do”

The Programme for Government also set out changes to the financial support available to care-experienced students and those from low income backgrounds, as announced earlier this year by former Scottish education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville.

Commenting on these developments, McCabe added: “The increase in funding for bursaries for care experienced students and those from the poorest backgrounds is welcome and represents the first steps toward a system of fairness, parity and clarity as set out in the independent review of student support – but there is much more to do.

READ MORE: Student representatives: “Reform failing funancial support system”

“The Government must now set out how it will move toward a system where every student receives funding tied to the real living wage as it rises. NUS Scotland has long outlined the dangers of Scotland’s rising levels of student debt and will work to ensure that increased investment is focused on non-repayable bursary.”

Support for victims “very welcome”

Responding to the newly announced £2 million in extra funding over the course of the next three years to improve access to support services for those affected by rape or sexual assault, Rape Crisis Scotland chief executive Sandy Brindley told CommonSpace: “Rape Crisis centres across Scotland are seeing unprecedented levels of demand. Funding issues mean that some have had to close their waiting list for support. The announcement today of extra funding is very welcome.

“Support after rape should be available at the point of need.” Rape Crisis Scotland chief executive Sandy Brindley

“The funding will be used to reduce waiting times for survivors seeking support after rape or abuse. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government and local authorities to develop a sustainable model of funding for rape crisis services.

“Support after rape should be available at the point of need; no one should to wait for months or not even be able to get on a waiting list in the first place.”

Education – “Trying to keep attention away”

Journalist and Education campaigner James McEnaney highlighted the lack of new policy announcements on Education, with the controversial standardised testing policy avoided all together.

He said: “For a topic that is allegedly the top priority it is striking how much wasn’t said about education. It feels as though the FM was trying to keep attention away from the standardised testing shambles and the nationwide teacher strike which looks increasingly likely. For obvious reasons, that ‘head in the sand’ approach isn’t going to hold.

“On the Headteachers’ Charter, it seems prudent to recall John Swinney’s recent humiliation over the flagship Education Bill. If such a charter does, somehow, appear down the line, however, it only reopens the same obvious question: how can the government expect to be taken seriously when it claims to be committed to school-level decision making while imposing politically-motivated standardised tests. At best the position is inconsistent and at worst it is nakedly hypocritical.”

Food – “Disappointing” that Bill plans withdrawn

The Scottish Food Coalition issued a statement saying they were “disappointed that the ambition for what it means to be a Good Food Nation seems to have diminished”, as the Programme for Government scaled back from commitment to a Good Food Nation Bill to a “programme”.

 Professor Mary Brennan, Chair of the Scottish Food Coalition, said: “It’s disappointing that despite widespread support in Parliament and in the country, ambitions for the bill have been scaled back.  There’s a world-wide recognition among business, civil society, governments and international bodies that we need to tackle food system challenges and Scotland could be leading the way.”

Following up on WWF Scotland’s call yesterday for the Scottish Government to advance on its prior commitments, Sheila George, Food and Environment Manager at WWF Scotland told CommonSpace: “Whilst we welcome Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to the Good Food Nation programme, this needs to lead to bringing forward the previously promised Good Food Nation Bill. 

“Food production is a significant contributor to climate change and wider environmental impacts; two-thirds of Scots are overweight or obese; and one tenth of children are raised in food insecurity. A Good Food Nation Bill would provide the legislative means to tackle the significant challenges of Scotland’s current food system.

“We urge the Scottish Government to outline a timeline for this Bill to be taken forward within the remainder of the current parliamentary session and look forward to working with the them, the Scottish Food Coalition and others as the programme develops.”

Economy – “await details”

The Programme for Government announced changes to business and non-domestic rates, plans for the Scottish National Investment Bank introduction, increased capital spending to rein in Scotland’s investment gap with the European average and new plans to boost exports.

Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC), general secretary Grahame Smith said: “It is welcome that the Scottish Government has announced a review of business rates in the next period. The STUC has long been concerned that public investment has been put into business subsidies that are expensive and poorly targeted, and which do little to support economic growth in communities.

“The announced review is positive but must take a broad view of business support. It must look wider than simply rates relief and consider how businesses can be supported through the development of infrastructure, and by key public institutions like Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, and Local Authorities. We must move away from an approach which sees business rates relief as the beginning and the end of our support for business. We desperately need a proper strategy that supports communities and tackles the growing crisis on our high streets.  

“The role of the Scottish National Investment Bank is important in this respect, but will require strong governance with a clear role for civic society, trade unions, and communities to ensure the success of this institution. The fair work requirements for public investment are welcome but long overdue. Without a strong focus on workplace voice they may only make a limited contribution towards improving outcomes for workers and communities.  

READ MORE: Craig Dalzell: The Programme for Government is fine, but unambitious

“The STUC is pleased to see the focus on skills, and welcomes the approach that brings together trade unions and industry on this issue. Changes in the labour market are well documented. Technological change is becoming an increasing feature of workplaces across Scotland and the need for a renewed focus on lifelong learning is clear.

“Workers need secure jobs that are well designed and allow them to use their skills to the full. Unions have a key role to play in developing responses to technological change that support fair work objectives, allow businesses to flourish, and contribute to inclusive growth in Scotland.”

Also responding to the Programme’s economic commitments, Russell Gunson, director of the non-partisan progressive think tank IPPR Scotland, said: “Today’s Programme for Government has a welcome focus on strengthening Scotland’s economy and beginning some of the preparations needed for the future challenges of ageing and automation. 

“We await the detail of pledges including those to create a Scottish National Investment Bank, new capital investment by 2025, a focus on boosting exports and a new skills plan next year, but they are all areas that IPPR Scotland have called for action on and we welcome these announcements. We now need to see a scale of ambition that matches the scale of challenges we face.

“We know that a fairer economy is a stronger economy. Scotland has a chance to lead the way across the UK to show how an inclusive economy can be delivered. We now need to match the policy announcements with practical action, so that we can deliver a fairer and stronger economy in both the short and long-term.”

Picture courtesy of Hamish Irvine

Enjoy reading CommonSpace? Click here to get our daily newsletter so you never miss a story.