Next week the Scottish Government will publish its first Programme for Government of the 2021-2026 parliamentary term. Not only will it set out the Government’s legislative and policy plans for the next 12 months, but it will also set the tone for the next five years. So, what can businesses expect from the Programme for Government 2021-22?
First and foremost, we can expect a continued focus on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The First Minister was at pains during the election campaign to convince voters that she would prioritise pandemic recovery over a Scottish independence referendum, so this will undoubtedly be front and centre.
For business and industry there is unlikely to be anything groundbreaking on this front, as rates relief for many sectors has already been extended. The SNP manifesto did commit to a new Retail Strategy to bring confidence back to the sector, which has been hit hard by both the pandemic and Brexit. However, a number of Bills and strategies were already delayed before the election, so this could affect the number of new strategies we see in this Programme for Government.
Close behind pandemic recovery is Net Zero. With COP26 just around the corner and a new co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens, we can expect a laser sharp focus from the Scottish Government on what it needs to do to achieve Net Zero by 2045. The Scottish Government delayed a number of key policies that will support the drive to Net Zero, giving the Opposition cause for criticism. As such, the Programme for Government will seek to refocus efforts on this issue.
One such example is the Circular Economy Bill, which was delayed because of the pandemic. This Bill has seen a resurgence in interest from MSPs since the election, driven by the Opposition which is highly critical of the Government’s approach to the waste hierarchy. To take the heat out the Opposition’s arguments, it is likely that this year’s Programme for Government will commit to bringing forward the Bill sooner rather than later.
Other net zero related policy issues which we can expect to feature are low carbon heating and renewable energy. The Scottish Government will want to finalise its draft Heat in Buildings Strategy this year so it can begin the enormous task of decarbonising domestic heating, a process which must involve housing developers. Scotland’s Fourth National Planning Framework is also due to be published, which will give the Government scope to stretch its renewable energy targets.
Finally, the ‘Just Transition’ to a greener economy is unavoidable, not least because of the co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens and the ongoing dispute over Cambo oil field. Understandably, stakeholders in the oil and gas sector are nervous about the Scottish Government’s Net Zero target and what it means for jobs. But with the Scottish Greens now holding influence, we can expect more robust action on this issue than may otherwise have been the case.
If you are interested in receiving more information and analysis on what to expect in the Programme for Government, please contact us here.