Charities: Programme for Government a “missed opportunity”

Crop hungry child

Third sector reacts to the 2018 Programme for Government

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4th September 2018 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

The Scottish Government has missed an opportunity to tackle food poverty and its attendant problems.

A coalition of charities reacted with dismay at the publication of the Holyrood administration’s Programme for Government (PfG) for the year ahead.

MSPs appeared to roll back on a commitment made in 2017 to introduce a good food nation bill.

This would have been aimed at tackling Scotland’s connected food challenges, setting out measures to attack child poverty, obesity and the environmental impact of food production and waste.

Instead, this year’s PfG saw the adoption of a “Good Food Nation programme” which will consider “what legislative measures might be required to underpin our ambition”.

Campaigners in the Scottish Food Coalition – which includes Nourish Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Obesity Action Scotland, Unison, WWF Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Trussell Trust – said the Scottish Government’s commitment has been downgraded to “warms words”, which are not enough.

Real, legislative action is vital, they said, with two-thirds of people overweight or obese, and one in ten children growing up in households unable to afford enough healthy food.

Professor Mary Brennan, chair of the Scottish Food Coalition, said: “It’s disappointing that despite widespread support in parliament and in the country, ambitions for the bill have been scaled back. 

“There’s a world-wide recognition among business, civil society, governments and international bodies that we need to tackle food system challenges and Scotland could be leading the way.”

Pete Ritchie, director of Nourish Scotland, called for renewed commitments to a good food nation bill: “There’s cross-party support for an ambitious bill that would set a new direction of travel for food in Scotland. 

“The measure of a world-class food system is not how much food and drink we can export but how well we can nourish all our citizens sustainably while providing good jobs for all who work in food. 

“Scotland has all the ingredients to deliver this, and the public are behind it. We just need the political will.”

It’s disappointing that ambitions have been scaled back

The coalition’s disappointment with the PfG was mirrored across Scotland’s third sector and civil society, which called the government's plans a “mixed bag” as opposed to last year’s PfG, which contained more radical measures.

A commitment to spend an extra £250 million on mental health services was welcomed. Some £21m was announced to tackle homelessness – part of the previously announced £50m Ending Homelessness Fund which is being delivered over the next five years.

The first minister also pledged to deliver all 70 of the recommendations put forward by the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, a key ask of the charities involved.

Anna Fowlie, chief executive for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), said: “There’s plenty in the Programme for Government that will make a real difference to people in Scotland, and many priorities coming from Scotland’s third sector. There is also a very strong commitment to protecting and enshrining human rights.

“Importantly too, a commitment to work in partnership with the third sector runs throughout the programme, and SCVO looks forward to helping make that happen.”

However, there was a feeling the PfG could have gone further. Fowlie said: “But while the Scottish Government has clearly given some serious thought to the long-term future of the third sector – including how charities are regulated and how open and transparent they are – we would like to see this go even further. 

“We feel it will be critical to also explore how charities should be funded and to ensure the term "charity" is properly defined, and no longer used as a convenient label to secure financial benefit.”

One contentious area is the Scottish Government’s climate commitments – with last year’s PfG being labelled the “greenest ever”.

Friends of the Earth Scotland director Dr Richard Dixon said: “This year’s was never going to be as good on the environment, but the announcements today are a mixed bag.

“There is good news on help for electric vehicles and on the continued investment in walking and cycling but it misses an opportunity to set out the joined up policies we need to deliver the transition to a zero-carbon future.

“We were looking for a commitment from Nicola Sturgeon to aim higher and improve the targets in the draft climate bill. Sadly, without this Scotland cannot claim to be an international climate leader.”

He castigated the Scottish Government for its continued support of the “environment-wrecking” oil industry and its commitment to reduce, and ultimately abolish, the Air Departure Tax, which he called “irresponsible in the face of climate change”.

However, he welcomed measures to attack plastic pollution, including previously announced measures to ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds and to introduce a deposit return scheme, which was actually a commitment made in last year’s PfG.

Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, welcomed the inclusion of several key actions that will support better wildlife conservation measures.

“We are delighted that the government has announced a Biodiversity Challenge Fund of up to £2 million”, she said and she also welcomed a new seabird conservation strategy.

However, she was critical of the Scottish Government’s backtracking on the Good Food Nation bill, which was also an SNP manifesto pledge.

Leading animal protection charity OneKind welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitments to animal welfare.

In the full programme for government 2018/19, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP pledged to establish an Animal Welfare Commission to provide expert advice on the welfare of domesticated and wild animals in Scotland to ensure high standards of welfare are maintained after Brexit.

Libby Anderson, policy advisor to OneKind, said: “We strongly support the Scottish Government’s decision to create an Animal Welfare Commission and we look forward to the appointment of well-qualified independent experts to provide evidence-based advice based on modern scientific concepts of animal welfare. In particular, OneKind hopes this body will ensure that policy and legislation take account of the fact that animals are sentient individuals, with specific welfare needs. It is welcome that the remit includes wild animal welfare, which is often overlooked.

“Matters such as animal sentience and the live export of animals have been thrown into the spotlight due to Brexit – we’re confident that Scottish voters want to see their government take a progressive approach to these issues.”

Meanwhile, Suki Wan MSYP, chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, welcomed the intent to incorporate the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It seeks to make further progress on tackling inequality and reducing poverty

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "Last year's Programme for Government set us on a path to address the big challenges faced by Scotland and developed economies around the world and it presented a clear vision of the kind of country we want to be.

"This Programme for Government flows from that vision and builds on the progress of the last year and indeed the last decade."

She added: "It continues and accelerates the major reforms underway in our health, education and justice systems – underpinned by our new progressive system of income tax.

"It seeks to make further progress on tackling inequality and reducing poverty.

"It sets out the next steps in the operation of our new social security system.

"And it builds on our work to support Scotland's economy and encourage innovation.”