Parliamentary Officer's Blog 26 May 2016

The lull that typically tends to follow an election is now past and the ‘winds of change’ are blowing through Holyrood.

The First Minister’s Cabinet reshuffle last week gave us some surprises, not least because it was preceded by the resignation of our long serving Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead the evening before.

It was then announced that his role would be split in two, with the promotion and appointment of two new Cabinet Secretaries, with responsibility for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing) and Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham) respectively.

The elevation of the land reform portfolio to Cabinet Secretary level is an interesting development, as it will be Ms Cunningham who oversees the drafting and implementation of more than 40 pieces of secondary legislation that will be required to enact the recently completed Land Reform Act.

Clearly there are also key climate and environmental challenges on which the Union will engage with Ms Cunningham – flood mitigation and species reintroduction to name just two. Ms Cunningham will also have responsibility for the devolution of the Crown Estate which will impact upon a significant number of NFUS members who are Crown Estate tenants.

If the focus on the ‘rural economy’ within the new rural Cabinet Secretary’s reconstituted portfolio title isn’t suggestion enough, Mr Ewing, who has been MSP for Inverness and Nairn since the outset of the Scottish Parliament, has already outlined that he comes into office with his eyes firmly set on fostering business resilience within farming and the wider rural industry.

It is certainly encouraging that he has five years of previous ministerial roles in business, enterprise, tourism and energy already on his CV.

The Union has now met Mr Ewing, less than a week after he was appointed, and we were left in no doubt that he understands the gravity of his first job in office – to sort out the beleaguered CAP IT payments system. Mr Ewing will deliver a statement to the Scottish Parliament on the subject on Tuesday (31 May).

This is to be one of the first ministerial statements to be delivered in the new Scottish Parliament, which is a welcome hint that Scottish Government and MSPs have truly woken up to the scale and sheer importance of the issues facing our industry.

This said, the First Minister’s first legislative programme statement to the Scottish Parliament was rather thin on detail on her rural and farming priorities.

There is a commitment to deliver broadband to 100 percent of all premises across the country by 2021. A key focus is also delivering skilled employment, with a commitment to create 5,000 new apprenticeships 2020. In addition, the First Minister has pledged to legislate to establish a new and more testing target for climate emissions for 2020, that will reduce actual Scottish emissions by at least 50 per cent – a measure which may have impacts for NFUS members.

A keen eye will be kept on the new SNP Government’s delivery of its manifesto promises, the substance of which we hope will be elaborated in the coming months. Some of the key proposals included the introduction of a Good Food Nation Bill; a public procurement taskforce for the food industry; securing a better share of the red meat levy; and retention of the LFASS scheme.

As ever, the devil will be in the detail, and NFUS will be monitoring the progress of new legislation as it is introduced in the coming months.

Author: Clare Slipper

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About The Author

Clare Slipper

Clare Slipper joined NFU Scotland in 2014 as the Union’s first dedicated Parliamentary Officer. Within her role, Clare briefs politicians in the Scottish, Westminster and European parliaments on key issues impacting Scottish food producers and represents members interests in the policy-making process. Clare started her career working for a public affairs and communications agency, where she worked with clients in the renewable energy and planning sectors. She graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in Politics and Sociology in 2012.

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