The PFG for 2022-23 “A stronger and more resilient Scotland”, sets out the actions that the Government states it will take in the year from September 2022, and the proposed legislative programme.
This blog provides a summary of the PFG, and picks out areas that will be of particular interest to MSPs and the Parliament over the next year. It is not a comprehensive summary. It also briefly looks back at the previous PFG.
Blogs on previous PFGs can be accessed at the following links:
- 2021: Programme for Government 2021-22: A fairer, greener Scotland?
- 2020: Programme for Government 2020-21: not a normal PFG
- 2019: A Scottish Green Deal and Indyref2? A summary of the new Programme for Government
- 2018: What’s in the Programme for Government?
The contents pop-out below will help readers navigate to specific sections and subjects they are interested in.
Introduction and purpose of this PFG
The Government states in its introduction that this PFG is:
“not an exhaustive list of the actions the Scottish Government will take this year; it focuses on those immediate priorities which we believe should be driven forward with urgency in the face of current challenges.”
The introduction also refers back to the previous PFG published in September 2021, stating that it “sets out our plans for the full parliamentary term”, alongside the “Bute House Agreement” – which is the Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party Parliamentary Group Agreement.
However, it’s worth noting that the 2021 PFG set out a list of actions the Government intended to take over the 12 months from September 2021, under each chapter. The new PFG does not, however, refer back to these commitments. Nor does it include a similar list of “12 month” commitments in each chapter. Of course, as the PFG notes (and as covered in detail below), much has changed in Scotland and the world since September 2021. Nevertheless, committees may wish to scrutinise commitments made in their areas when taking evidence from Ministers.
Indeed, this is a much slimmed-down document compared to previous years – the print version is only 36 pages. The 2021 PFG was 123 pages, and the 2020 PFG was 139 pages. This again shows that this year’s PFG is very much focused on the “cost crisis” and the response, discussed in the next section.
As usual, the PFG also sets out the bills the Government intends to introduce in the coming year, some of which are covered below. And like last year, it also includes a section on the national outcomes and equalities. Like other areas of the PFG, this is much reduced on previous years.
In last year’s PFG, the Scottish Government said it was putting equality, inclusion and human rights at the heart of its approach, as it set out plans across the parliamentary term. This recognised the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, experienced by different groups of people.
This PFG includes far fewer references to equality and human rights and is lighter on the detail regarding initiatives for specific groups. As with other areas, this looks to be because the focus is on addressing the current cost crisis, though of course the current crisis, as with COVID-19, is likely to have a disproportionate impact on different groups of people. The PFG states that the Scottish Government will continue to take action to mainstream equality and human rights, to address discrimination, including racism, tackle violence against women and girls, end conversion practices and continue to develop the Human Rights Bill.
The PFG continues a focus on the climate emergency, now framed that “addressing the cost crisis is not, and should not be viewed as, separate from addressing the ongoing climate and nature crises”. To illustrate this it goes on to set out policies and proposed legislation that have been in the pipeline for some time, like the land reform bill that is currently being consulted on, the new Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan for the energy sector, and a new climate change plan.
On the National Performance Framework and the outcomes approach, the PFG confirms that the expected review of the national outcomes will begin this year. However, it seems that the previous commitment to a consultation on a Sustainable Development and Wellbeing Bill has been altered to now explore “placing duties on public bodies and local government to take account of the impact of their decisions on wellbeing and sustainable development, and the creation of a Future Generations’ Commissioner”.
The cost crisis
The main theme of the PFG is the “cost crisis”, which is the term the Government uses for what most are calling the “cost of living crisis”. It focuses on the Scottish Government’s own response and its view of how the UK Government should approach the crisis. The PFG explains that the Government uses “cost crisis” as it is wider than just the cost of living:
“The cost crisis that now confronts us encompasses the sharp increases in the cost of living, in the cost of doing business and in the costs for other organisations including in the third and public sector.”
It therefore confirms that the Government’s:
“…immediate and overriding priority in this Programme for Government is to ensure households, businesses and other organisations, as well as the public services that support them, are protected from the worst impacts of the cost crisis.”
In terms of actions already taken, the Government highlights the “£3 billion in measures that will help to mitigate the impact of the cost crisis on households.” This package was discussed in detail in a recent SPICe blog: Cost of living: Scottish Government support. In addition, for businesses, the PFG notes that there is an “existing package of financial reliefs worth over £800 million”, which includes the Small Business Bonus Scheme and “the lowest poundage in the UK for the fourth year in a row.”
However, running through the document is a consistent view that the powers available in the devolved Scottish context are “limited”, and a call for the UK Government to provide further resources and “act decisively” to tackle the crisis. The Government’s suggestions for UK Government action centre around cancelling the October energy price cap rise and introducing an expanded support package, targeted at low-income households. Wider, as well as the existing commitment to a Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, the PFG and the FM both make clear that, in the Government’s view “the current crisis highlights starkly the pressing need for independence.”
Now that a new UK Prime Minister is in post, it is expected that further announcements will be forthcoming from the UK government on the cost crisis. SPICe will cover these in detail in future publications.
Detail of further specific Scottish policy responses are discussed in more detail below, including on housing, education and social security.
The fiscal context
At the time of writing it is still not clear how changes to public spending in both this financial year and next will be formally announced and subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and what this means for the sequencing of “fiscal events” at both Westminster and Holyrood.
The key thing to note is the inter-connectedness of the UK and Scottish budget and the uncertainty around the outcome and timing of these fiscal events. The changing impact of inflation and public sector pay disputes means that what can be delivered with a finite budget is also uncertain.
The PFG does confirm that there will be an “Emergency Budget Review”, with results published within two weeks of any UK Budget. Presumably this will largely focus on immediate budget changes to get through this winter (largely focusing on in-year 2022-23 changes). There will also be a Scottish Budget for the next financial year, 2023-24.
The FM also linked the delivery of the overall PFG with the uncertain fiscal situation:
“This Programme for Government is necessarily therefore subject to the outcome of our Emergency Budget Review and our Budget for 2023-24.”
The day following the PFG’s publication, the Deputy First Minister made a statement on Public sector pay and the emergency budget review. This statement set out some of the “initial steps” that the Government is taking, especially on public sector pay deals for the current financial year. Further SPICe blogs and briefings will look into the detail of these announcements.
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. And again, readers should note that, given the focus on the “cost crisis” in the PFG, there is not as much detail in other areas as normal.
The PFG announced a planned bill to deliver a “New Deal for Tenants”. A housing bill was already expected following Scottish Government consultation on a new rented sector strategy earlier in the year. The bill is expected to be introduced later this parliamentary year.
Perhaps more unexpected was the announcement of emergency legislation to freeze rents for tenants in the social and private rented sectors until at least the end of March 2023, and a moratorium on evictions over winter.
Plans for rent control in private rented housing formed part of the Scottish Government/Scottish Green Party partnership agreement. However, legislation to implement rent controls was not expected until later this parliamentary term, following further consultation.
During Stage 2 of the Coronavirus, Recovery and Reform Bill in June 2022, the Scottish Government rejected amendments from Mercedes Villalba MSP to implement a rent freeze for private rented tenants. A key argument made by the Scottish Government at the time was that the amendments were poorly drafted and that proper consultation was needed to deliver an effective system of rent control.
It’s not clear how the rent freeze on social landlords will be implemented or for how long it will apply. Social landlords set their own rents on an annual basis, which apply from April each year. While social landlords are required by legislation to consult with their tenants on rent levels, there is no legislation governing how social landlords set their rents or the increases they can charge.
Initial reaction to the rent freeze plans has been mixed. For example, Scottish Housing News reported a positive reaction from Age Scotland and the STUC. Tenant’s union Living Rent, who campaigned for a rent freeze, also welcomed the announcement, citing an over 60% rise in rents in Scottish cities in the last ten years. Further detail on the plans is awaited. The Big Issue cites a Living Rent member as saying, “The devil will be in the detail and it is important that this rent freeze applies across the board, from purpose-built student accommodation to social housing, from rent increases starting today to rent notifications issued two months ago.”
On the other hand, private landlord representative groups have, perhaps unsurprisingly, not been supportive. For example, the Scottish Association of Landlords has accused the Scottish Government of attacking landlords, arguing that the supply of private rented accommodation will be negatively affected.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has warned that if a rent freeze continues without increased government support, there is a risk that housing associations won’t be able to build new homes or invest in their existing homes. The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government is discussing the implementation of proposals with social landlords.
Other measures to support tenants announced in the Programme for Government include a new tenants’ right campaign, widening the eligibility criteria for the Tenant Grant Fund and additional resources for Discretionary Housing Payments.
School education and early learning and childcare
The PFG confirmed that the Scottish Government intends to introduce an Education Reform Bill this year. This Bill will make provision to take forward many of the recommendations of the Muir Review, including establishing a new qualifications body to replace the SQA.
The PFG covers a number of other initiatives that had been previously announced, such as seeking to roll out further expansion of free school meals to Primary 6 and Primary 7 pupils.
The Scottish Government continues to drive forward recommendations made by the 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:
- Delivering The Promise Implementation Plan, including investment of £50 million of “Whole Family Wellbeing Funding” this year.
- Work to develop a £200 per year payment, paid for up to 10 years, for all eligible 16- to 25-year-olds with care experience as they transition towards more independent living.
- Bringing forward a Children’s Care and Justice Bill to ensure that children who come into contact with the care and justice systems are treated with trauma-informed and age-appropriate support.
Further and higher education
On further and higher education, there are limited new proposals, however there is a renewed commitment to widening access and student support, including:
- Appointing a new Widening Access Commissioner.
- Investing £349 million in 2022-23 in student support including through tuition fees, bursaries for the poorest students and care experienced students, while progressing work to increase student support in line with the Real Living Wage.
It is unclear whether the Scottish Government’s emergency legislation to freeze rents will extend to include students in purpose-built student accommodation. Purpose build student accommodation (PBSA) is excluded from the Private Residential Tenancy (PRT) regime in Scotland. This generally means that PBSA tenancies are common law tenancies, regulated by the contract between landlord and renter, rather than a specific law.
The central plank in the Scottish Government’s child poverty strategy continues to be the Scottish Child Payment. Under the PFG, changes already announced that were expected in December will now be brought in a few weeks sooner than planned. From 14 November the payment amount will increase to £25 per week and the age limit will increase to 16. Although applications for older children will open on 14 November, “people applying for the first time may […] need to wait before receiving the initial payment but can be assured that this will be backdated.”
Other new commitments include:
- to double the Fuel Insecurity Fund to £20m
- a no-interest loan scheme pilot
- an increase in the Discretionary Housing Payment budget.
In terms of social security commitments in the 2021 PFG, these have been achieved, including introduction of adult and child disability payments. However there was a delay to their commitment to provide free school meals to all primary children. Free meals are already available up to P5. The current PFG says extension to P6 and P7 will begin to be rolled out “subject to agreement with COSLA.”
For the Health portfolio, the FM announced continued support for the NHS as it recovers from the pandemic, including additional money to tackle waiting times and fund the COVID-19 Recovery Plan. The FM also announced the opening of four national treatment centres and the development of two Rapid Cancer Diagnostic Centres. There will also be a new mental health and wellbeing strategy, as well as a refresh of the suicide prevention strategy.
In relation to legislation, she reconfirmed the creation of the National Care Service, as well as the introduction of a Public Health Bill. The latter is expected to restrict promotions on unhealthy food and drink. The only surprise in terms of legislation was the announcement that a Patient Safety Commissioner Bill will be introduced. This is the response to the recommendations of the Cumberlege Review which reviewed the safety of medicines and medical devices.
Other commitments in health and social care include to:
- Deliver a £10.50 minimum wage for all adult social care staff in commissioned services, through funding of £200 million to local authorities.
- Consult on proposals to restrict alcohol advertising and promotion later this year and, subject to the outcomes of the consultation, introduce legislation within the lifetime of this parliament.
On drug use and treatment, the PFG includes an “anti-stigma plan” to address the exclusion and stigma that people who use drugs experience. Safer drug consumption facilities are still on the table, and an initial proposal, within the existing legal framework, has been shared with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for consideration.
After the Drugs Deaths Taskforce, the “National Mission” will continue work to reduce the drug deaths, increase the number of statutory funded residential rehabilitation placements by 300% by 2026, and implement the Medication Assisted Treatment Standards, and publish a cross-government Action Plan.
One of the big announcements impacting local government is the plan to introduce Local Visitor Levy (i.e. tourist tax) legislation. The PFG states this will:
“create a discretionary power for local authorities to apply a levy on overnight visitor stays in accommodation, applying in all or part of their area, to help fund relevant local activities and services”.
Tourist taxes are common across Europe; at least 18 European countries have some sort of visitor levy, with local government setting the rate in many areas. Edinburgh City Council has campaigned long and hard for the right to tax tourists, and with over 5.3 million overnight stays in 2019 alone, it is easy to see why the Council leader views the PFG announcement as “fantastic news for the city”.
Once again, the PFG talks about changing the relationship between the Scottish Government and local government. This has been a constant theme since PFG 2016-17 when the Government committed to “work with local authorities to review their roles and responsibilities”, and PFG 2017-18 which talked about decentralising power and launching “a comprehensive review of local governance”. A review was indeed launched; however, it is still ongoing after five years.
However, the end may be in sight. With echoes of the “historic” concordat of 2008, this year’s PFG commits to agreeing a “New Deal” between the Scottish Government and local government, which will support:
- Working together to achieve better outcomes for people and communities especially on national priorities including addressing poverty, inequality, and supporting the economy.
- Balancing greater flexibility over financial arrangements with improved accountability.
- Providing certainty over inputs, outcomes and assurance, alongside scope to innovate and improve services
The Resource Spending Review in May confirmed the Government was working with COSLA to agree a New Deal “in advance of the next financial year”. Therefore, we could see some proposals over the next few months.
The PFG confirms Scottish Government plans to introduce two new Bills with a criminal justice focus:
- Criminal Justice Reform Bill – including provisions seeking to abolish the not proven verdict and improve the management of sexual offence cases. It follows Scottish Government consultations on the not proven verdict and related reforms, and improving victims’ experience of the justice system.
- Police Complaints and Misconduct Handling Bill – seeking to improve the way in which complaints about the police are investigated. It follows publication of the report of an independent review and a Scottish Government consultation.
It also confirms that there will be a Bill dealing with a range of issues relating to children and young people that include, but go beyond, questions of criminal justice:
- Children’s Care and Justice Bill –follows a Scottish Government consultation which included a proposal to end the use of prisons and young offenders institutions for all children under the age of 18.
Other criminal justice related commitments in the PFG include consulting on approaches to tackling misogyny, with a view to introducing a Bill later in the parliamentary session. The report of an independent Working Group on Misogyny and Criminal Justice was published in March.
Other justice commitments include:
- A bill aimed at reforming the regulation of legal services in Scotland. This follows on from a Scottish Government consultation which proposed various options for reform. It was preceded by the “Robertson Review” which recommended a single independent regulator for all legal service providers.
- A bill aimed at improving current insolvency solutions and debt recovery processes. The Bill follows a Scottish Government review of this area and an ongoing consultation. The Social Justice and Social Security Committee recently made recommendations in this area, following on from an inquiry into low income and debt problems.
- A bill to reform both the law on trusts and the law which sets out who inherits when someone dies without leaving a will. The Bill is based on two substantial projects by the Scottish Law Commission and, in relation to inheritance law, Scottish Government consultations in 2015 and 2019. Attempts to reform inheritance law have a long history and it has previously been difficult to achieve public consensus on proposed reforms.
Food, rural affairs, and the natural environment
In these areas, mostly pre-existing commitments and work already underway are reiterated, e.g. rolling out the National Test Programme, working with crofters on legislative options, and work on the biodiversity strategy and the commitment to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.
For agriculture, the PFG references the recently published consultation on legislation to underpin a new rural policy, and also makes a new commitment that the Government will “explore capping and/or tapering base-level payments to release additional funding to meet the goals of our agricultural vision, including the urgent actions required to reach net zero emissions”.
The PFG announced that the expected legislation on grouse moor management – the Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill – will be introduced this year. The bill will “implement the recommendations of the “Werritty Review” and introduce licensing for grouse moor management to ensure that the management of driven grouse moors and related activities is undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner.” The PFG also says that the Bill “will also include provisions to ban glue traps.” This refers to a ban on the use of glue traps to catch mice and rats, in response to recommendations from the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission.
On food policy, there is a commitment to update “Catering for Change”, ” to align public procurement behind sustainable, low carbon farming and food”, and deliver the commitment from the recent Food Security and Supply Taskforce, to “Establish a dedicated Food Security Unit within the Scottish Government with a view to monitoring ongoing supply chain vulnerabilities and linking with future food security work”.
However, it is perhaps notable given the recent passage of the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act that there is no mention of implementing the provisions in that Act, neither in terms of developing a National Good Food Nation Plan, or preparing for the establishment of a statutory food commission.
Marine and fisheries
In marine and fisheries policy, the PFG mainly reiterates commitments in pre-existing policy commitments. But the PFG does announce that the Scottish Government will “start the process of developing a new National Marine Plan”. The current National Marine Plan, which provides a framework for managing marine activities in Scotland’s seas, has not been updated since 2015. It underwent a statutory review in 2021. This document is likely to play an important role in managing commitments on marine protection and addressing recent fishing industry concerns around ‘spatial squeeze’ in Scotland’s waters.
ScotRail fares are set to remain at current levels until March 2023. ScotRail fares are increased once a year, as described in a previous SPICe Spotlight post. The last increase took effect on 24 January 2022. The UK Government had previously announced that the annual fare increase for rail services managed by the Department for Transport (DfT), including cross-border operators such as LNER, Avanti West Coast and Transpennine Express, would be delayed until March 2023. Neither Transport Scotland nor the DfT has indicated the likely level of any 2023 rail fare increase, although the DfT has indicated that it will be below the July 2022 Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation for services under its management. The July RPI measure of inflation is normally used by both Governments as the basis for regulated rail fare increases.
Constitution and external affairs
With the focus on the cost crisis, this year’s PFG is lighter on the constitution side. Both the PFG and the First Minister in her statement to Parliament confirmed that if the UK Supreme Court determines that a referendum is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament (more on that available in this SPICe blog), the Scottish Government will introduce a Referendum Bill to enable an independence referendum to take place on 19 October 2023.
On the External Affairs side, the PFG once again commits to increasing annual International Development Fund to £15 million during this Parliamentary term. Following this commitment first appearing in last year’s document, the budget for the International Development Fund rose by £1.5 million to £11.5 million in the 2022-23 budget.
Other commitments in the field of External Affairs made in last year’s PFG have been met with the opening of the Scottish Government’s office in Copenhagen and the establishment of the Scottish Council on Global Affairs.
SPICe Research, September 2022