THE First Minister has laid out his priorities for government to the Scottish Parliament.

In his first policy prospectus as leader of the SNP and First Minister, Humza Yousaf said that his priorities over the next three years of the parliamentary term would centre around three missions: equality, opportunity and community.

To begin, Yousaf said he would be seeking a “New Deal for Scottish Business” with urgent discussions to commence on how the government can better support businesses using policy levers such as non-domestic rates.

He also announced a significant postponement to the rollout of the Deposit Return Scheme, which was scheduled to go live in August.

The UK Government’s delay to granting the scheme an exemption from the Internal Market Act and the concerns of small businesses were cited as reasons for the rollout being pushed back to March 2024.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf faces calls to bring forward A9 dualling announcement

Yousaf added that the additional time will be used by the Scottish Government to liaise with businesses and address their concerns about the recycling scheme.

Proposals to restrict the advertising of alcohol at sporting events and public spaces would also be sent “back to the drawing board” following a public consultation which closed last month.

The First Minister also promised a further £1.3 billion investment for the Scottish Child Payment over the next three years and an aim to improve cancer outcomes via better prevention and diagnostics.

This will include expanding the Rapid Cancer Diagnostics Services in Lanarkshire and the Borders by June of this year.

As part of a plan to increase the availability of housing in remote, rural and island areas of Scotland, up to £25 million will be used to convert suitable properties into affordable homes for key workers such as doctors, nurses and care staff.

The dates for the six-month pilot for the scrapping of peak-fares on ScotRail services has also been announced.

From October this year to March 2024 peak-fares will be abolished on all ScotRail services – a move Yousaf said would help make rail travel more affordable and accessible.

More focus was placed on improving travel infrastructure with the announcement that six new ferries will be built to replace much of the country’s aging fleet (although it was later confirmed that this referred to the two delayed and overbudget vessels under construction at Fergusons in Port Glasgow and the four which are being built in Turkey). 

The charging network for electric vehicles will also be doubled to comprise at least 6000 charging points.

Additionally, the government will recommence participation in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science, and Progress in International Reading Literacy studies to increase the availability of internationally comparable data on Scotland’s educational performance.

READ MORE: David Mundell subject of new probe from Westminster standards watchdog

Scotland pulled out of the studies in 2010, with the government claiming that the cost of participation could no longer be justified.

Finally, the government will seek a fresh agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) which seeks to improve the delivery of shared priorities at a local level.

It will also introduce legislation which will give councils the ability to impose a Local Visitor Levy on overnight stays in commercially-let accommodation – a move which will help councils raise additional revenue, particularly in regions popular with tourists.

The First Minister said the announcements would deliver “a fresh start” for the country: “It is my responsibility to ensure every family in Scotland has that equality of opportunity, regardless of their background or where they live in Scotland.

“I am optimistic we can achieve that equality of opportunity, and the three missions that I have set out today, will determine the priorities of the government that I lead for the rest of this parliamentary session, and help us to achieve that.

“Together, we will be focused on the delivery, we will ensure that we have affordable, ambitious measures in place, which protect our environment, which protect business prosperity, they improve people’s well-being, and they reduce poverty.

"They will ensure the actions we take over the next three years, stand Scotland in good stead for the next decade to come. And they will use our present, very significant, strengths to deliver a fresh start for Scotland.”

The speech came just hours after the SNP’s treasurer, MSP Colin Beattie, was arrested as part of a police investigation into the party’s finances.