Programme for Government 2021-22: A fairer, greener Scotland?

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On Tuesday 7 September 2021, the First Minister set out the new Programme for Government for 2021-22 (known as “the PFG”), A Fairer, Greener Scotland, in a statement to the Parliament.  After the election in May 2021, this is the first PFG of the new Session.

This is also the first PFG delivered in the context of the new Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party Parliamentary Group Agreement.  While the Agreement is mentioned in the First Minister’s foreword as a “central part of the whole programme”, the only other specific mention in the document is in relation to reform of local taxation.  It is therefore not immediately clear from the PFG which areas will come under the list of “excluded matters”, though no doubt this will become apparent as individual policies and bills are brought before the Parliament.

This blog provides a summary of the PFG, and in particular picks out areas that will be of particular interest to MSPs and the Parliament over the next year. It is not a comprehensive summary.

Blogs on previous PFGs can be accessed at the following links:

For SPICe’s take on the big issues facing the Parliament in Session 6, please see our Key Issues Briefing, published in May, titled: COVID, Climate and Constitution.

The contents pop-out below will help readers navigate to specific sections and subjects they are interested in.

Main priorities and introduction

The PFG sets out the Government’s priorities for the coming year, and beyond.  As is standard, and given the long term, cross cutting nature of many policy areas, the document does not just include “new” announcements – much of the content will be familiar from previous PFGs, budget documents and other policy papers. 

Unsurprisingly the “foremost priority” is recovery from the pandemic – and a COVID Recovery Strategy is expected shortly.  But alongside this, the PFG focuses on six long-term priorities – each of which has a dedicated chapter in the document:

  1. “Caring Nation: setting out a new vision for health and social care”
  2. “Land of Opportunity: supporting young people and promoting a fairer and more equal society””
  3. “Net Zero Nation: ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change, restoring nature and enhancing our climate resilience, in a just and fair way”
  4. “An Economy that works for all of Scotland’s People and Places: putting sustainability, wellbeing and fair work at the heart of our economic transformation”
  5. “Living Better: supporting thriving, resilient and diverse communities”
  6. “Scotland in the World: championing democratic principles, at home and abroad”

As usual, the PFG also sets out the bills the Government intends to introduce in the coming year, some of which are covered below.  It also includes a section on the National Performance Framework and National Outcomes and on equality and human rights.  While this section states that the PFG is “steered by the longer term vision in the National Performance Framework”, there is no detail in the priority chapters on whether the performance information in the Framework has had any impact on the policy choices in the PFG.

Wellbeing and sustainable development

Linked to the NPF and the National Outcomes, the concepts of wellbeing and sustainable development are woven through the document.  These concepts are picked up in a variety of subject sections of the PFG, and are particularly underpinned by a commitment for a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Bill, and recognition that “we must move beyond GDP as the only measure of national progress”. Parliament may wish to monitor how these values are aligned in the promised National Strategy for Economic Transformation, and how Scottish Government budgets similarly align. 

There is a related challenge for the Scottish Parliament in how it achieves scrutiny coherence – effectively holding the Scottish Government to account on complex and linked policy areas – this is an issue highlighted by the Session Five Legacy Report from the Conveners Group, and in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee report into a Green Recovery.

Fiscal context

There is also a dedicated section on the “Fiscal Context”.  As usual the PFG notes there will be the annual budget bill, whilst confirming no major changes to the current devolved tax regime.  The PFG also mentions the forthcoming review of the Fiscal Framework (in 2022) and how the Government intends to push the UK government for greater tax powers (including full control of VAT, income tax and National Insurance), and greater fiscal flexibilities around borrowing and Scotland Reserve drawdown.  Other commitments on taxation and fiscal policy include:

  • looking into the introduction of a “new national digital sales tax, levelling the tax field between high street and online retailers”
  • looking to use “deliberative engagement”, and “working with the Scottish Green Party and COSLA” on sources of local government funding, including Council Tax, culminating in a Citizens’ Assembly on the issue.
  • a fiscal framework for local government.

Of course, throughout the PFG, a lot of commitments come with big price tags, sometimes over multiple years.  Consideration of these will no doubt be an important part of the Parliament’s budget scrutiny. 

The following sections pick out noteworthy policies and proposals across a wide range of subject areas, that will likely be of interest to MSPs. It should not be read as a comprehensive summary of the PFG.

COVID recovery and health and social care

The PFG states that:

“Recovery from COVID‑19 across all of society is the Scottish Government’s first and most pressing priority, in particular for those who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

As well as the COVID Recovery Strategy (which will be a joint undertaking, with local government), the main announcements in this area include:

  • Increasing “frontline” health spending by 20% over the next five years – providing “at least £2.5 billion in additional funding by 2026-27.”  It is not clear whether this is in cash or real terms.
  • In addition, there is a commitment to “increase primary care funding by 25%”, also over the course of this Parliament, with “half of all frontline health spend going on community health services”.  Again, it’s not clear if this is in cash or real terms, and monitoring the interaction between these two “frontline” commitments will no doubt be of interest to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.
  • As expected the PFG includes a commitment to “establish a national care service”, with a bill introduced by June 2022.  The PFG also commits to a 25% increase in “investment in social care”, again over the 5 years of this Parliament.  This increase in funding was announced on the same day the UK Government announced a new health and social care levy. Scotland is expected to receive an additional £1.1bn from the levy and the Scottish Government has said it is committed to passing on any health Barnett consequentials in full to health and social care services.
  • A number of pieces of COVID-related legislation, including a Covid Recovery Bill (see consultation here, which is currently live) and a Bill on Compensation for Self isolation, the consultation for which is also currently live.

Climate change, COP26 and Net Zero

As expected, the PFG contains a lot of information on the Government’s response to climate change.  Given the long-term nature of the current crisis, much of the information here will be familiar.  Indeed, the 2019 PFG included a “green new deal”.  Alongside existing announcements, there is a commitment to publish the first energy sector Just Transition Plan alongside the £500 million Just Transition Fund for North East Scotland and Moray, which was already announced as part of the Scottish Government-Green Agreement.  However, the PFG does not provide any more information on the fund.

On transport, there is a commitment to “…remove the majority of diesel buses from public transport by the end of 2023”.  Using the most up to date information available, 93% of buses used to provide local services in Scotland were diesel powered at 31 March 2020, with 6% diesel hybrid and just 1% fully zero emission.  There are 4,400 buses used to provide local services in Scotland, meaning that there were 4,092 diesel powered buses.  This commitment requires at least 2,046 diesel buses to be replaced by zero emission equivalents by December 2023 – roughly 76 buses a month for the next 27 months.   By comparison, the Scottish Government’s Scottish Green Bus Fund supported the purchase of 475 low-emission buses between 2011 and 2018 – many of which were diesel powered.

In addition there is a commitment that “…at least £320 million or 10% of the total transport budget goes on active travel by 2024-25” to be supported by a “Cycling Framework for Active Travel” to be published in 2022 and the development of an active freeway network, comprising local networks within towns and cities and connections between settlements and major destinations.  Governance arrangements, funding and delivery mechanisms for the active freeway network have yet to be announced.

Biodiversity and ecological emergency

The Scottish Government recognises the climate and nature crises as intrinsically linked ‘twin threats’ and states in the PFG that “significant and urgent action” is needed to restore nature. A key commitment in the PFG in relation to biodiversity is to, within a year of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in October 2021, publish a new biodiversity strategy followed by a delivery plan. The PFG also sets out a commitment, which originates from the Scottish Government- Green  Agreement, to introduce a Natural Environment Bill in Year 3 of this Parliament, including legal targets for nature restoration. This would represent a significant shift in governance for biodiversity.

On the circular economy, the  Circular Economy Bill, delayed from 2020, is now expected later in  Session 6.  On the deposit return scheme, the PFG says that the Scottish Government “remaincommitted to introducing the UK’s first national Deposit Return Scheme” and that it “will shortly provide an update to Parliament and businesses” on the outcome of the review into the scheme.

Democratic participation, including a referendum on independence

The PFG contained a number of commitments on democratic participation. Perhaps the most anticipated relating to a future referendum on independence. On that, there was no further specific detail on a second referendum. The PFG reiterated the Scottish Government’s position that it will look to secure a referendum on Scottish independence within session 6 and, if possible within the first half of the session.

The PFG also states that the Government will “Prepare to give the people of Scotland a fully informed choice on independence”. It is unclear whether this relates to work being carried out by the Scottish Government to secure a second referendum, or whether it gives an indication that Scottish Government officials will be working towards developing a white paper on independence.

It seems that Citizens’ Assemblies are to become an increasingly frequent part of Scotland’s democratic process with “an expert group” to “report by the autumn with recommendations to Ministers on institutionalising inclusive participatory democracy across Scotland’s democratic processes, including future governance and question setting for Citizens’ Assemblies.”

The PFG states that a full response to Scotland’s first Citizens’ Assembly which reported in January 2021 will be published in the autumn, but  it does appear to set out action in a number of  areas – the NHS and the environment for example – where the first Citizens’ Assembly made recommendations. The PFG also commits the Scottish Government to the use of future assemblies.

What was notable, if not surprising, in the Programme was the firm tone on the devolution settlement in the post EU era. In a time when intergovernmental relations are more crucial than ever, the language used highlights the clear gap which exists between the Scottish Government and the UK Government on the issue.

“Successive UK Governments, in particular since the EU referendum, have not only undermined the devolution settlement but are now actively re‑writing it without the consent of the people of Scotland. Devolution, by its very nature, has always been dependent on the restraint and goodwill of the UK Government of the day, but EU exit has triggered an assault on devolution not previously seen…The Scottish Government will do all we can to keep Scotland safe, and protect both devolution and our democratic rights. We were told that this is an equal partnership. But there is no evidence that Westminster wants an equal partnership – it wants to be in control.”

The economy

On economic policy, there is limited new material, but that is unsurprising, given there is a commitment to a new 10-year strategy before the end of 2021.  One point of note is the focus on “place-based” policy, although there is no detail on what this might mean in practice, yet.   

Some other issues that may be of interest to Members and committees:

  • A commitment for all Scottish Government funding to be conditional on “fair work” terms, including making the real living wage for all employees a condition of all public sector grants by summer 2022. 
  • The PFG re-iterates targets from the 2019 Trading Nation strategy to increase international exports to 25% of GDP by 2030, which should increase GDP by £3.5bn and create 17,500 jobs.  However, those figures are from 2019 and so pre-date both the pandemic and the UK leaving the EU.  It’s not clear whether these figures should now be revised.

Environment, agriculture, marine and fisheries

There are a range of commitments on agriculture, marine and fisheries – many are pre-existing commitments but there are some new issues highlighted, including some from the Scottish Government-Green Agreement:

  • a strategy for seafood to be published in 2022
  • deliver a “step change” in marine protection by delivering fisheries management measures for existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs),add to the existing MPA network by designating a “world-leading suite of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) covering at least 10% of our seas” and consult on a cap to fishing activity in inshore waters (up to three nautical miles)
  • a new agriculture policy in 2023, but with a new commitment to legislate as part of wider agricultural support reform to ensure tenant farmers and smallholders have the same access to climate change and mitigation measures
  • a new announcement that a preliminary package of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will be developed by the Government ahead of the COP26 due to be held in November in Glasgow.

School education and early learning and childcare

There is an overarching focus on children and young people, especially in chapter two of the PFG and a range of commitments.  In terms of school education and childcare the PfG sets out a number of policy actions, including:

  • Work to begin to expand funded early learning and childcare to children aged 1 and 2, starting with low‑income households within this Parliament.
  • Announcements on “wrap-around childcare”, which is intended to be free for children from low income families.  In the coming year, the Scottish Government will support a number of pilot projects and will develop a 5-year delivery plan.
  • Launch of a Race Equality and Anti‑Racism in Education Programme.
  • The Scottish Attainment Challenge will continue, with increased funding to £1 billion over the course of the current Parliament. 
  • Finally, on the COVID Recovery Strategy, while it includes a commitment to  “support the wellbeing of children and young people”, it is unclear if this will cover education recovery specifically.

Care experienced people and children’s social work reform

The Scottish Government will play an integral role in driving forward recommendations made by last year’s Independent Care Review, The Promise. The aim of The Promise is that by 2030, Scotland’s most vulnerable children and young people grow up loved, safe and respected in their childhood. The PFG contains measures taking forward areas of care reform. These include:

  • Investment of £500m over the five years of the Parliament in a new “Whole Family Wellbeing Fund”, and the ambition to invest 5% of all community-based health and social care spend in “preventative whole family support measures” by 2030. The £500m over five years will be split between 32 local authorities and so it will be interesting to see how the Wellbeing Fund evolves and whether it might eventually incorporate other existing support funds.
  • Introduction of an annual £200 Care Experience Grant, for all care experienced young people between the ages of 16 and 26, recognising that they may not have family support networks in place. The PFG states that work to design the grant is underway; details such as how it will be delivered and how it will interact with other available support such as the Care Experienced Students’ Bursary will be of interest as this work develops.

The PFG makes no mention of the inclusion of children’s social work and social care in the recently launched National Care Service consultation. The inclusion of children’s social work in the consultation was unexpected. While the Independent Review of Adult Social Care (IRASC) that led to the consultation did not consider children’s social work and social care, the NCS consultation document states that not including children’s services:

“…risks fragmenting the current system of care and assessment and further adding to complexity for services users”.  

It is unclear how the establishment of the National Care Service will impact work already underway to reform children’s social work.

Further and higher education

On further and higher education, again there are a range of policies and proposals, including:

  • The development of a Scottish Education Exchange Programme, to replace the Erasmus+ student mobility programme. The UK Government’s Turing Scheme was set up to replace Erasmus + and Scottish institutions can take part in this. Students and institutions will likely be awaiting details on how the Scottish scheme will differ from Turing.
  • Introduction of a student support package equivalent to the Living Wage over the next three years. This picks up on a programme of reforms being implemented following the 2017 Independent Review of Student Support. More information on the reforms and their implementation is available in the recent SPICe Subject Profile on Further and Higher Education in Scotland.
  • Respond to and begin implementing the Scottish Funding Council review. The review was published in June this year, and a summary of the recommendations is included in the recent SPICe Subject Profile on Further and Higher Education in Scotland. The Scottish Government response will determine whether or not the review signals the beginning of significant change.


On skills, much of the focus is on green jobs.  The National Transition Training Fund (NTTF) and Green Jobs Workforce Academy were already announced during August this year, but the NTTF is now part of a larger five-year £200 million effort, focussed on adult upskilling and retraining opportunities. The Green Skills academy will provide one way of delivery the new skills guarantee for those who work in carbon intensive industries. This will provide workers with an assessment of their transferable skills, and those with low or no skill suited for low carbon sectors will receive funding for training.

The £100 million (capital) green jobs fund over the next five years aims to help business create green employment, with the first tranche of awards to be made later this month.

Many of these initiatives aim to ensure that workers are able to develop the skills they will need to access green jobs. But questions remain as to how these green jobs are being defined and how the Government is identifying which skills will be in demand as the economy transitions to Net-Zero.

Social Security

On social security, there is still no timetable for when the remaining devolved benefits will be introduced, after Adult Disability Payment starts next year.  While there is reference made to the two benefits for winter heating, it is not entirely clear whether they’ll be introduced in 2022.  The document does highlight however that Social Security Scotland will be employing 3,500 staff by this time next year.


On the justice system, most high-profile will be a consultation on the three-verdict system and possible reform of the corroboration rule, but both of these areas are at the early, consultative stage so any legislation would only come later in the session.  Two pieces of legislation will be of parliamentary interest:

  • The Fireworks and Pyrotechnics (Scotland) Bill is the result of a consultation which the Scottish Government undertook in June 2021, which included seeking views on the creation of a new offence of carrying a pyrotechnic device in a public place without reasonable excuse or lawful authority and an extension of police powers on stop and search.  It also follows the report of an independent Fireworks Review Group which recommended tightening existing legislation to reduce the harm fireworks can cause.
  • The Miners’ Strike Pardon (Scotland) Billis the result of a review undertaken by an Independent Review Group, chaired by John Scott QC, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government to investigate and report on the impact on communities in Scotland on the policing of the miners’ strike 1984 to 1985. The Group published its final report in October 2020.  In its final report, the review group recommended that, subject to establishing suitable criteria, the Scottish Government should introduce legislation to collectively pardon those convicted for matters relating to the strike.

Equalities and human rights

On equalities and human rights, as expected, the PFG confirmed that a bill on Gender Recognition Reform will be introduced in the next year. There will also be a Consultation on a human rights bill ‘in the coming year’.

In general terms there is also a commitment to an equality and human rights based approach to the programme, “including £10 million to tackle isolation and loneliness over this parliamentary term, and £100 million over three years to support frontline services and focus on prevention of violence against women and girls from school onward.”

External affairs

Finally, on External Affairs, the PFG includes:

  • A commitment to start to increase the International Development Fund from £10 million to £15 million, although no timescale is attached.
  • A commitment to open a new Scottish Government office in Copenhagen (and strengthen the Brussels office), as well a commitment to open an office in Warsaw over the lifetime of the Parliament.
  • A commitment to “support the establishment of a Scottish Council for Global Affairs – a new think tank which will coordinate Scottish expertise and research on global issues and their impact on Scotland”.

Conclusion and look ahead to parliamentary scrutiny

The PFG traditionally marks the start of the new parliamentary year.  As the first of Session 6, this PFG contains a wide range of bills and policy initiatives to deliver the Government’s priorities.  The focus now turns to parliamentary scrutiny of both the programme in the round and the detailed policies, much of which will take place in the Parliament’s committees.  Helpfully for Parliamentary scrutiny, at the start of each main chapter, the document sets out a list of actions the Government intends to take in the next 12 months.  It might be that committees look to return to these commitments in September 2022.

SPICe Research