News In Focus
Fourteen Government bills promised as Sturgeon emphasises business support
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today set out the Scottish Government's programme for the coming parliamentary year, emphasising the need for new support for Scottish business while announcing a slate of 14 Government bills.
Ministers have prepared a £500m package of financial support over three years for private sector business investment, to boost economic growth against the uncertainty following the Brexit vote. Individual investment guarantees, and some loans, of up to £5m will be available to small and medium sized firms who would otherwise be unable to grow because of a lack of investment finance.
The scheme will be open to new and early-stage high growth potential companies, with clear export growth plans, particularly in technology-intensive sectors and businesses in emerging markets. As financial guarantees, the support will not come from existing spending plans, and will instead see the Scottish Government share some of the risk faced by small companies, when they make big investment decisions.
On the economic front, the bill programme will see, in addition to the annual Budget Bill, an Air Passenger Duty Bill, implementing newly devolved powers with the tax coming into effect in April 2018.
Also of significance for spending commitments will be the Social Security Bill, setting out the legislative framework for social security in Scotland and delivering on policy commitments. In contrast, the Child Poverty Bill will focus on targets and strategies, with a duty on ministers to publlsh an action plan and report on it annually.
The Government's social agenda will also be taken forward by a Domestic Abuse Bill, criminalising psychological abuse and modernising the justice system in its response to domestic abuse; a Housing (Amendment) Bill to ensure that registered social landlords continue to be classified as private sector bodies in relation to powers of the Scottish Housing Regulator; and a Gender Balance on Public Boards Bill which will require positive action to redress gender imbalances.
Legal reform policy will be reflected in an Expenses and Funding of Civil Litigation Bill, implementing the report by Sheriff Principal Taylor; a Limitation (Childhood Abuse) Bill, making it easier to bring an action for historic abuse – though not that sustained before the prescription cutoff date of 26 September 1964; and a Contract (Third Party Rights) Bill, implementing recommendations of the Scottish Law Commission.
Other measures include a devolution related Forestry Bill and Railway Policing Bill, an Islands Bill, strengthening islands councils and communities, and a Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, banning the use of performing wild animals in travelling circuses.
The First Minister also reaffirmed the Government's commitment to plans for childcare, improving school attainment and wider access to further and higher education.
As for a possible further independence referendum, the programme states: "In addition to these bills, we will publish for consultation a draft Referendum Bill, in order that it is ready for introduction should the Scottish Government conclude – and decide to seek Parliament’s agreement – that independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland’s interests in the wake of the EU referendum."