NICOLA Sturgeon is expected to put dual ambitions of closing the educational attainment gap and boosting the economy through infrastructure spending when she unveils her Programme for Government today.
The First Minister made reference to her proposals for the coming parliamentary session in Stirling on Friday, coinciding with an away day for her parliamentarians and the launch of a “listening exercise” on Brexit and independence.
She said it would be “based firmly” on the SNP manifesto for the May election in which the party won 63 seats, two short of a majority.
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As such, and in line with her party’s campaign promises, today’s plans are expected to increase funding to schools, with most of the money going directly to headteachers.
She is also expected to set out plans to double to 30 hours a week the amount of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds and roll out the “baby boxes” initiative giving help to parents of all newborns.
Following on from the SNP election manifesto, she is expected to bring forward legislation to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2020 and increase spending on improving and modernising the country’s infrastructure.
The First Minister unveiled £100 million of extra funding for major building projects last month in a bid to avert a slowdown following the turmoil caused by the Brexit vote in June.
She will outline her programme to MSPs after a visit to construction work at the new Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh.
Twenty nine newly built or refurbished buildings will open across Scotland this academic year as part of the £1.8 billion Schools for the Future programme announced in January, which will see 112 schools rebuilt or refurbished by 2020.
“Today we will publish our Programme for Government – an ambitious plan to improve the lives of people across Scotland,” the First Minister said.
“Education is at the heart of our plans, and I am committed to doing all I can to improve the life chances of every child and young person. Ensuring children are able to learn in new, modern, fit-for-purpose surroundings is a crucial part of this.”
She added: “These new school building projects also provide an important boost to local economies through the creation of construction jobs and apprenticeships.
“This is key to our commitment to boost the Scottish economy through infrastructure investment. Last month, I announced £100m spending on infrastructure in this financial year and later today, I’ll also outline the key priorities for my government in the year ahead. It is a strong programme that will deliver the very best for Scotland. I will set out the details of that later today.”
Speaking to her MSPs, MPs and MEPs on Friday, she said the programme would “focus firmly on the big challenges” confronting the country.
“At its heart will be measures to support our economy through the uncertainty caused by Brexit,” she said.
“As the UK Government dithers, we will outline further plans to stimulate the economy and support jobs. We will set out the next steps in our plans to improve education and close the achievement gap.
“Our school reforms will be centre stage, but they will sit alongside measures to tackle child poverty, expand early-years education and build a social security system with fairness and dignity at its heart. It will also set out how we will continue to equip our NHS for the challenges of the future.”
She added: “The latest patient experience survey, published earlier this week, shows record levels of satisfaction with our NHS, a real credit to healthcare staff across the country.” But as demand continues to rise, we cannot and we will not rest on our laurels.
“So as the NHS in England prepares for yet more strikes by junior doctors, our focus will be on expanding primary, community and social care services, building five new elective treatment centres and improving mental health care.
“Community empowerment, land reform, new measures to tackle domestic abuse and improve gender balance will also feature in a programme focused firmly on delivering for Scotland.”
Ahead of the programme being outlined, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the First Minister should make a commitment to ensuring everyone in Scotland lives in a warm home and making sure fuel poverty is reduced.
“This is a chance for Nicola Sturgeon to show the country she is serious about being a First Minister for all,” said Davidson. “People don’t want to hear more tub-thumping on independence, they want to know she is focused on the day job the SNP has neglected for so long.
Outlining her plans in Holyrood in May, Sturgeon claimed a “clear progressive majority” in Holyrood opposed to the policies of the Conservative Westminster government.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “The SNP Government today has the opportunity to lay a Programme for Government before the most powerful Scottish Parliament ever. They must not waste the opportunity to transform Scotland for the better.”