'Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland' Programme for Government announced

Hannah Downey

Yesterday (Tuesday 1st September 2020) First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her Programme for Government, detailing measures that can help Scotland respond to the profound impact Coronavirus has had on our health, our economy and our society.

She said, "The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything. Like many countries around the world, we endured a lockdown that has deeply impacted our public services, our economy and our people. It's changed the way we work and socialise and called into question what we once knew as normal.

What began as a public health crisis has become a global economic crisis - growth has stalled, businesses have had to close, and there have been many job losses with the likelihood of more to come. The pandemic has also highlighted, and in many cases worsened, the inequalities in our society with those with the least before the crisis often worst affected by both the health and economic impacts.

But it has also showed us what we are capable of when we come together as a country. We came together to support those who most needed help and support, to innovate in our businesses, and protect jobs, and to redesign how we work, travel and access public services. Delivering on this Programme for Government will require the same collective effort to tackle the fundamental challenges in our society and to ensure that rather than return to business as usual, we use this moment to create the fairer, greener and wealthier country that we all want to see.

Our rural economy must also be at the forefront of our economic and environmental recovery. We will bring forward recommendations for new mechanisms of agricultural support that secure a productive sector better able to contribute towards delivering Scotland’s climate change outcomes and promote new employment opportunities."

In the new programme for government plans for rural Scotland also include a continued focus on improving digital connecitvity for rural and island communities, which will be delivered through the 'Reaching 100% (R100) Programme. The Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme has already been launched to support equal access to superfast broadband, in an investment which will help to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits for all of Scotland.

A commitment was also made to continue working to reverse depopulation in rural areas through the Population Programme and Ministerial Population Taskforce, who will work closely with partners to develop and publish a Population Strategy in early 2021. This will set out Scotland’s demographic challenge and the actions to be taken to address it, identifying which actions will fall to local partners and which to the Scottish Government. 

The document also sets out Scottish Government's intentions for the replacement of European Structural Funds post EU-exit. Rural communities across Scotland have benefitted significantly from European Structural Funds, with the current 2014-2020 programme worth over £780 million. The UK’s exit from the EU means that these areas will lose access to this vital funding, hindering the progress that has been made in supporting the economic and social wellbeing of these communities.

The UK Government has committed to replacing this support with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, although they are yet to provide clear detail on how this will work in practice. Scottish Government will therefore continue to move forward on the assumption that an appropriate allocation of the Shared Prosperity Fund will be devolved to disburse in line with their own policies and targets. 

Announcing a £2 million investment for low-carbon commitments in the National Islands Plan, the First Minister said, "Our rural and island communities have faced a particular challenge, especially as a result of lockdown and the disruption to tourism. But even before now, we know there were issues of poverty of opportunity, and a need to ensure high quality jobs to allow young people to remain in their communities. We will establish a £2 million Green Recovery Programme for our islands, opening in October 2020, to help deliver on low‑carbon related commitments in the National Islands Plan."

You can read the Programme for Government 2020-21 in full here