Policy focus to Programme for Government – Political Affairs Manager Blog – 2 September 2020

Due to the fast-approaching Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2021, the legislative proposals in the Programme for Government from the First Minister yesterday (1 September) were slim writes Political Affairs Manager Clare Slipper.

However, the same cannot be said of the policy objectives in the document – objectives which are indicative of the government’s attempt to meet the serious economic challenges of the day head-on.

The unprecedented shock of the COVID-19 pandemic arrived just as this Scottish Government began ramping up green policies to meet the ambitious climate change target of net-zero emissions by 2045. As such, the ‘Green Recovery’ is a major theme of this Programme for Government and it is woven through all measures and policies. Agriculture and land-based industries are no exception.

This year’s Programme for Government has put some meat on the bones of the Agricultural Transformation Programme, which was announced in last year’s legislative statement, with the creation of the £10 million Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme. The Scheme will assist farmers and crofters with expenditure on equipment that will reduce emissions and improve productivity.

NFU Scotland has welcomed the capital grant funding, outlining that support for such measures chime with the principles in the Union’s ‘Steps to Change’ policy vision to drive productivity while improving the bottom line of businesses.

To sustain this progress, NFU Scotland is equally clear that the initial £10 million funding commitment must be built upon in the future to allow a more significant number of farmers and crofters to play a full part in the Green Recovery.

In addition to this capital investment, development of longer-term policies for agriculture and climate change will get underway.

Following the report of the Suckler Beef Climate Group, Scottish Government will establish arable, dairy and hill farming groups to explore climate change opportunities and challenges.

Pleasingly, the document adds that Scottish Government will work with farmer-led groups, scientific experts from SRUC and the research providers to “ensure that there is a flexible approach across regulatory regimes to maximise the benefit to the rural economy”.

Front and centre of any economic recovery is employment, and the Programme for Government sets out a range of initiatives to stimulate youth employment, training and apprenticeships. Within a £100 million Green Jobs Fund, land-based sectors will be supported to provide retraining opportunities and Modern Apprenticeships – support which will complement NFU Scotland’s ongoing positive work in this area.

Digital connectivity is also vital to economic recovery and a significant barrier for rural economies. The Programme for Government confirms that a voucher scheme will be delivered which will provide grants for alternative solutions to superfast connectivity to those who will not have full-fibre broadband by the end of the current rollout programme in December 2021.

In terms of funding, it is clear from this Programme for Government that forestry is a major priority for this government with the injection of £150 million to increase new planting, expand Scotland’s national forests and land, and tree nursery capacity over the next five years.

For a significant number of NFU Scotland members, forestry has become an increasingly important diversified income stream and the availability of increased funds for planting may allow more farmers and crofters to identify if investment in trees is the right business decision for them.

We may be moving headfirst into the Scottish Parliamentary election campaign, but it is clear that the next six months mean business for the government – in turn spelling business for NFU Scotland and our members.

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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