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Programme for Government
First Minister Alex Salmond launched a Programme for Government today with a pledge to pursue economic growth and reformed public services to deliver better outcomes for all of Scotland's people.
Mr Salmond announced a new pledge to provide every 16-to-19-year-old with a learning or training opportunity as part of the Government focus on job creation and economic recovery. And he confirmed that legislation to create a single police and single fire service for Scotland is among 15 new Bills to be introduced this coming year - in addition to the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill, introduced in June, which will continue to proceed through Parliament.
The Programme for Government document outlines Scottish Ministers' legislative and non-legislative priorities for the new 2011-12 Parliamentary term and comes ahead of a new Government Economic Strategy (GES) and detailed budgetary plans in the Spending Review (SR11) - both to be published later this month.
The First Minister urged the UK Government to reconsider the scale and pace of public expenditure cuts and adopt a 'plan B', citing warnings from leading economists of the risks to growth, and indeed to deficit reduction efforts, of cutting capital investment.
Mr Salmond also renewed his commitment to pursue changes to the Scotland Bill, currently proceeding through Westminster, to give MSPs greater powers to drive growth in Scotland's economy. And he reaffirmed the pledge to enable the people of Scotland to decide their constitutional future in a referendum in the second half of the Parliamentary term.
He said: "The Programme for Government, Government Economic Strategy and Spending Review set out how we will make full use of the economic levers currently devolved to the Scottish Parliament, with the aim of improving Scotland's rate of sustainable economic growth. But it is also important to reflect on the type of country and economy we want to be in the future. In May, the people of Scotland voted for change. They want this Parliament to have the control, flexibility and freedom to make the decisions that are right for Scotland."
Placing a "jobs agenda at the very heart of our Programme for Government", the First Minister added: "Our key commitment is to those young people who, as I said before, yearn to be productive. No young person should go through school only to become an unemployment statistic at the age of 16. We will not allow that in Scotland. We already have 85 per cent of school leavers going on to a positive outcome - that is, employment, education or training.
"Our 125,000 Modern Apprenticeships over five years will further build on this success. But the strength of Scottish apprenticeships is their linkage to a real job - so expanding beyond that impressive number is dependent on the labour market. That's why today I can announce the Opportunities for All initiative - a commitment that every single 16 - 19 year old in Scotland will be offered a learning or training place if they are not in already in a job, a Modern Apprenticeship or in education."
The First Minister also underlined the importance of reform of public services, saying: "In normal economic times we would use public service reform to help drive economic growth. But in the context of the unprecedented and extended real cuts being made to our budget over the coming years it becomes an even more important component of our programme. So if we are to maintain the levels of public services we all want, we need to do things smarter and better. That is why we appointed the Christie Commission, to look at ways to reform public services while also improving them. Christie recommended an emphasis on collaboration - our public services cannot operate in silos."
Official statistics published yesterday showed recorded crime in Scotland have fallen to a 35-year low, while police officer numbers remain well above the commitment to keep at least 1,000 additional officers in Scotland's communities.
Announcing plans for police and fire service reform, the First Minister said: "Communities don't care about boundaries, they want services to work together as effectively and efficiently as possible. After detailed consideration of all the evidence available, we are persuaded that a single police service and a single fire & rescue service are the right options. This is the only way to maintain the number of police officers serving all of the communities of Scotland.
"Single services will sustain and improve the delivery of local services, while giving all parts of Scotland access to national expertise and assets whenever and wherever they are needed. And single services will enhance national governance, ensuring clear separation from Ministers and the services, to ensure their continued operational independence."
The Cabinet Secretaries for Education & Lifelong Learning and for Justice will outline further details to Parliament of, respectively, the Opportunities for All pledge, and the Bill to establish a single police and single fire & rescue service for Scotland over the next week.
Other new Bills contained within the Programme for Government include legislation to:
Introduce a minimum price for alcohol to address the scourge of alcohol abuse in Scotland
Place greater control and responsibility in the hands of people provided with social care, thereby enhancing their independence and wellbeing
Develop Scotland's water resource as a tool of economic growth and an environmental asset
Ensure housing, and funding for housing, are used more efficiently, including giving councils powers to charge an additional council tax levy on long-term empty properties
Enshrine in law the requirement for the Scottish Government to have due regard to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child when exercising its responsibilities, as part of wider reform of children's services to improve life chances, including a Children's Services Bill planned for 2013