Swinney to set out Programme for Government and tax strategy before summer

The statement is traditionally made by the First Minister after the summer recess in September.

Katrine Bussey
Wednesday 22 May 2024 16:36 BST
First Minister John Swinney said he will publish his Programme for Government – and a revised tax strategy – before Holyrood breaks at the end of June (Andrew Milligan/PA)
First Minister John Swinney said he will publish his Programme for Government – and a revised tax strategy – before Holyrood breaks at the end of June (Andrew Milligan/PA)

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Louise Thomas

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John Swinney has promised to publish a revised tax strategy for Scots within weeks, as he told MSPs he wants to bring parties at Holyrood together “to make our country better”.

The First Minister set out his priorities for Government after taking on the top job in Scottish politics earlier this month, saying “practical steps” will be taken in each of these areas.

He also announced the Programme for Government – in which ministers set out their plans for the coming year – will take place before Holyrood breaks for its summer recess at the end of June.

The statement is traditionally made by the First Minister when Holyrood returns from recess in September.

Adding that work in his four priority areas – eradicating child poverty, growing the economy, investing in green energy to help deliver net zero, and improving public services – is already under way, Mr Swinney said Holyrood will be given the chance to debate proposed action before the end of June.

Speaking in Holyrood on Wednesday, he said his Programme for Government will be “central to a wider range of decision-making that will happen before the summer on key issues on energy, on oil and gas, on reform of the health service, and on taxation”.

The First Minister said a “revised tax strategy” together with an updated infrastructure investment plan will also be published, detailing “critical information on the challenges we face in the public finances and the actions this Government is taking to address them”.

He stressed the country faces “significant financial challenges”.

The First Minister said Brexit and the “prolonged era of austerity” imposed by the Conservatives at Westminster are taking their toll on the public finances.

He warned MSPs that the “cumulative effect of the high inflation we have experienced, austerity and Brexit” will all “have an effect on the priorities we can deliver”.

Meanwhile, with the SNP short of an overall majority at Holyrood, he said he will work with other parties to “tackle the challenges we face”, signalling his “willingness to co-operate beyond the Government with other parties to deliver for our people”.

Mr Swinney said: “I want my country to do well. I know that others in this chamber, across all parties, want Scotland to do well too.

“I offer to bring Parliament together on a shared agenda to make our country better.”

The First Minister again made plain his over-riding priority, saying he wants to “not tackle, not reduce, but eradicate child poverty”.

As part of this, and to also boost his second priority to grow the economy, he announced £16 million to help low-income families find employment.

He said the Scottish Government will expand its early adopter community projects which “deliver local childcare systems that support families with children, from nine months to the end of primary school”.

Announcing the funding, he said: “In modern Scotland, it should not be a struggle to find fair work or to raise a family.

“So for me, and for my Government, eradicating child poverty and boosting economic growth go hand-in-hand.”

John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland said Mr Swinney is “absolutely right to make ending child poverty the “single most important objective” of his Government.

But the campaigner added: “The First Minister’s commitment must be backed by concrete policies and investment on a scale well beyond what we heard today.

“Investing in childcare is essential but we need to move rapidly from pilot projects to a childcare system that leaves no parent unable to take on a job or increase their hours.”

Mary Glasgow, chief executive of the charity Children 1st, said with many children “in crisis”, increasing the Scottish child payment to £40 “would provide some immediate relief to the financial crisis many of the families we support find themselves in”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the First Minister’s statement confirms he is the “ultimate continuity candidate”.

He said: “This is not a fresh start. It is more of the same promises that the SNP will break.”

While Mr Ross said the commitment to eradicating child poverty is “commendable”, he added: “This is coming from the man who as education secretary was tasked with, and failed, to close the attainment gap completely.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the First Minister should “change the approach he has taken in the last 17 years which has left every Scottish institution weaker than he found it”.

Mr Sarwar said: “I accept there are challenges in the public finances. That makes ending incompetence, waste and financial mismanagement even more important.

“That must mean making sure we are getting value for money for every pound of taxpayers’ money that is spent.”

Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie called on the First Minister to have the “courage” to “face down” those in the SNP who challenge progressive climate action.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton asked Mr Swinney if he recognises the public want “change and need a Government that will get the basics right on education standards, violence in our classrooms, access to a GP on the first time of asking, and a dentist near you that still offers NHS care”.

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