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I will start with a brief update on today’s Covid statistics. An additional 154 positive cases were confirmed yesterday. That represents 1.2 per cent of the people newly tested and takes our total number of cases to 20,632. The full health board breakdown is available on the Scottish Government website. However, I draw attention to the fact that 66 of today’s cases are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde. The situation there is causing us some concern. Further analysis is under way, and I will chair a meeting of the resilience committee later this afternoon to consider what action may be necessary to prevent further spread. I will provide a further update after that.
I can also confirm that a total of 264 patients are currently in hospital with Covid, which is six more than yesterday. Six people are in intensive care, which is one more than yesterday.
In the past 24 hours, no deaths were registered of patients who had tested positive for Covid. The number of deaths under that measurement remains 2,494.
Those statistics remind us that the times that we are living through are far from normal. The pandemic continues to have a profound impact on our health and wellbeing, business and the economy and, indeed, our whole way of life. That is true in Scotland and across the globe.
It follows then that this is not a normal, business-as-usual programme for government. Today’s programme is clear that suppressing Covid is our most immediate priority and will remain so for some time. That is essential for the protection of health and life and for economic and social recovery. Put simply, if Covid runs rampant again, our economy will sustain even deeper, longer lasting damage. This programme faces up to that inescapable fact.
However, we will not simply hunker down and wait for the storm to pass—we cannot afford to do that. We must end our contribution to climate change, improve biodiversity, invest in our national infrastructure, make our public services fit for the future, harness the economic and social opportunities of new technology, make homelessness history and lift children out of poverty.
Even amid the uncertainties of a global pandemic, this is a time to be ambitious, to use the disruption of Covid to rethink how we do things and to make sure that our immediate response to the virus works, not just in the short term, but also helps to shape a stronger, greener, fairer future.
We must treat the Covid challenge not as a brake on our ambitions, but as an accelerant. After all, if our response to the virus has taught us anything, it is that, when we set our minds to it, we can achieve progress more quickly than we thought possible.
The roll-out of a digital consulting system in the national health service had proceeded at a snail’s pace for years, but it was completed in less than a month after Covid struck. A new hospital was created in a matter of weeks, armies of volunteers and public sector workers made sure that the vulnerable had access to food and medicines, rough sleepers were given places to stay and unprecedented support for business was distributed quickly and effectively.
None of us would have chosen to live through a global pandemic. We will always grieve the lives that have been lost, and we will never forget our separation from loved ones. However, we are also being reminded every day of the resilience of our human spirit, the power of human compassion and the ingenuity of human intellect. We must harness all of that for the future.
The programme for government sets out plans for a stronger, more resilient and more sustainable economy, with a laser focus on creating new, good and green jobs. It guarantees opportunities for our young people, and it refuses to accept that their generation will carry the economic scars of Covid into adulthood. It strengthens and reforms public services, including our national health service, and it takes the first step on the road to a national care service.
The programme for government promotes equality and wellbeing, with decisive action on child poverty. At its heart is the new game-changing Scottish child payment. It also starts to reimagine how we can live our lives in ways and in places that prioritise health and wellbeing, recognising the benefits of that not just to individuals but to the economy.
Let me turn to the detail and, first, to the necessity of suppressing and, I hope, eliminating Covid. Although nothing can be ruled out, we want to do everything possible to keep Covid under control without another national lockdown. That means building and supporting public health infrastructure that can break the chains of transmission and keep outbreaks contained.
Working with the United Kingdom, we have already expanded testing capacity, and we will continue to do so. We will also make access to testing more accessible. Yesterday, the Scottish Ambulance Service took over the running of mobile test units, and it will continue to extend its reach. I thank the Army for its work in establishing and running the units so far.
By the end of October, 11 new walk-in testing centres will open across Scotland. Over the course of the winter, that number will rise to 22. We will ensure that decisions on who gets tested, and for what purposes, are informed by up-to-date scientific and clinical advice.
We will continue to strengthen the test and protect system. Built from the bottom up, the system harnesses the skill of Scotland’s well-established health protection teams. It is working extremely well so far, and I am very grateful to everyone involved.
However, I can announce today a significant enhancement to the test and protect system. Later this month, we will launch protect Scotland—our new proximity tracing app—which will provide an additional means of notifying and giving advice if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, even if you do not know that person and they do not know you. More information will be given at the time of the app’s launch—as well as important assurances about privacy and confidentiality—but I encourage everyone to download and use the app as soon as it becomes available.
Stopping the virus in its tracks, wherever possible, is our priority. However, we must be prepared for any second wave, if it happens. Our NHS is already restarting procedures that had to be paused, but it is also maintaining hospital and intensive care unit capacity to deal with Covid, if necessary. That includes keeping the NHS Louisa Jordan open through winter. We are replenishing stocks and strengthening supply chains to ensure that we have personal protective equipment for health and care workers, and I am pleased to say that much of that PPE is now made here in Scotland.
We are continuing to learn lessons to protect care home residents, which includes providing routine testing of care home workers. We are reducing the potential concurrent winter risk of flu by extending eligibility for the flu vaccine to everyone over the age of 55, social care workers and those who live with shielded people.
Keeping Covid under control is, of course, the responsibility of Government first and foremost, but we cannot do that alone; it requires a continued collective effort. We will succeed only if we all play our part. That is why I ask again that everyone across Scotland abides by the crucial FACTS rules. Please do the right thing and help to keep our country safe.
The health crisis has caused an economic crisis on a scale that none of us have experienced before. We have an immediate obligation to protect jobs and help businesses survive. We have already made available more than £2.3 billion of emergency funding for businesses, and we will continue to provide as much support as we can. We also welcome the scale of the UK Government’s economic interventions. However, the looming withdrawal of the furlough scheme risks a tsunami of redundancies. I am therefore calling again on the UK to follow the lead of countries such as France and Germany and extend the job retention scheme for a further 12 months—especially for the sectors hardest hit by Covid and with the longest road to recovery. Withdrawing that support while otherwise viable businesses are still unable to operate normally—in full and certain knowledge of the impact that that will have—would be unconscionable. It must not be allowed to happen.
We will take all possible action to support the economy in the short term, but this programme also lays foundations for the future. It establishes a national mission to create new high-quality green jobs. That mission is underpinned by significant investment in our national infrastructure, in securing the economic benefits of the green transition and in fully realising the potential of the tech revolution. I will set out some of those investments and supporting initiatives shortly.
Delivering on that mission, and responding to the immediate employment challenges of Covid, requires a massive focus on upskilling and reskilling the workforce. I can confirm that central to that, and to our programme, is a youth guarantee: a new partnership with Scotland’s employers, backed by £60 million of Government investment, to guarantee everyone aged 16 to 24 a job, a place in education or a place in training. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture will publish the implementation plan for the youth guarantee tomorrow, but be in no doubt now that the guarantee signals our absolute determination that youth unemployment will not be a legacy of the pandemic. We are also earmarking £10 million to help employers recruit and retain apprentices. That will include incentives to take on apprentices who have been made redundant, and I can announce that, this autumn, we will launch the national transition training fund; backed by initial funding of £25 million, it will help up to 10,000 people of all ages retrain for jobs in growth sectors. We will also double to £20 million our flexible workforce development fund, which helps employers address skills gaps, and we will establish a green jobs fund—initially worth £100 million—which I will say more about shortly.
Supporting workers to upskill and retrain is essential, but Covid has brought about fundamental shifts in how people work. Greater flexibility over working patterns is important for health and wellbeing, and many businesses see benefits to that as well. At present, our advice is of course to work from home if possible. However, we expect that when more people do return to offices, some will want to go on working from home, at least for part of the week. We will therefore set up a new centre for workplace transformation to look at how and where work takes place, and what support employees and businesses need to make that work.
The programme for government includes a range of measures to protect key sectors that have been badly affected by the pandemic, for example, tourism, the creative industries and our cultural sector—all crucial to this country’s future. But investment in infrastructure is at the core of the programme. We will increase our investment in infrastructure year on year, so that by the end of the next Parliamentary session it will be £1.5 billion higher than last year. This month we will publish our new national infrastructure investment plan—informed by the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland—which will set out the framework for £32 billion of infrastructure investment over the next five years.
Part of that investment will be in digital infrastructure. The past six months have shown that access to the online world is a modern necessity every bit as essential as access to electricity. It is through technology that many of us have continued to work, learn, access life’s essentials and stay in touch with loved ones.
Our £600 million R100 programme will make superfast broadband available to every home and business across the country. Scotland still has the only Government in the UK to have guaranteed 100 per cent access to superfast broadband. Work has already started on delivering the central and south of Scotland parts of that programme.
We have also established a voucher scheme—the most generous anywhere in the UK—to ensure that everyone in Scotland has access to superfast broadband by the end of 2021, even if the R100 installation is not scheduled to reach them until later or if they are in the hardest to reach areas.
However, better infrastructure alone will not secure the benefits of digital technology. We must also eliminate digital exclusion. During lockdown, by working with the third sector, councils and Scotland’s tech industry, we established Connecting Scotland. That scheme has provided iPads and Chromebooks with internet connections to people on low incomes. It helps tackle the causes and consequences of poverty.
The initial priority was to make provision for people shielding or at high risk of severe illness. The programme is now helping care leavers and low-income households with children. It connects families, improves employment opportunities and provides better access to health care and education.
We intend to significantly expand that programme in the coming year. I can announce that, by the end of 2021, Connecting Scotland will provide an electronic device, unlimited data, and two years of digital support and training to 50,000 people who would otherwise be without the digital access that the rest of us take for granted. This is a massive step and will help us to end the digital divide once and for all.
We have previously expressed our ambition for Scotland not simply to be a nation of users of digital technologies but to lead the way in the design and development of new technology. In recent years we have enhanced our international reputation as a centre for technology and data. However, last week’s review by Mark Logan, Skyscanner’s former chief operating officer, highlighted areas for urgent improvement. His recommendations—if implemented—will be truly transformational. This Government accepts that challenge. I confirm that we intend to implement those recommendations in full.
We will establish a network of technology incubators to mentor and train tech start-ups. We will create an ecosystem fund to help those start-ups to succeed. We will provide re-skilling opportunities for people whose employment has been affected by Covid, so that they can find new jobs in our digital industries. And we will work directly with the technology sector to deliver the Logan review’s recommendations on education, entrepreneurship and investment.
Scotland already has significant economic and academic strengths in technology and data. Building on those is crucial for our future prosperity and success. This programme is a clear signal of our determination to expand these strengths, to address our weaknesses and to fully seize the opportunities of the digital age.
Our ambitions for a digital Scotland must go hand in hand with our ambitions for a greener Scotland. In two months’ time, Scotland was due to host the 26th conference of the parties, or COP26. That gathering has been postponed, but the global challenge is more pressing than ever. Covid is, rightly, the most immediate priority that is addressed in the programme for government, but we must not forget that the global climate emergency is intensifying and that it, too, requires our urgent attention and action. In the year ahead, we will make further progress towards Scotland becoming, by 2045 at the latest, a net zero emitter, thus ending for ever our contribution to climate change.
Last year, we set out the first phase of our green new deal, based on the principle that decarbonising Scotland is both a moral obligation and a significant economic and social opportunity. It committed an additional £2 billion of investment over the next session of Parliament to help achieve the ambitions that are set out in our climate change plan.
Today, we are setting out details of how £1.6 billion of that will be invested: by supporting green jobs, reprioritising road space for public transport use, planting trees and transforming how we heat our buildings. Our overall investment in decarbonising heat—which will in itself be more than £1.5 billion over the next session of Parliament—will help us to improve energy efficiency, to reduce fuel poverty and to ensure that, in just over 20 years, heating in Scotland will no longer be a source of greenhouse gas emissions.
That transformation, driven by our responsibility to the planet, will also create and support many jobs across the country. As indicated earlier, we will also create a £100 million green jobs fund. Half of that will be dedicated to helping businesses and organisations grow to significantly increase employment in low-carbon sectors; the other half will help businesses take advantage of public and private investment in the low-carbon economy.
We will also help other industries become green. A £62 million energy transition fund will help oil and gas businesses diversify, which is of course especially important for the north-east of Scotland. In addition, I can confirm that we will invest a further £60 million to support the industrial and manufacturing sectors’ transition to net zero.
One of Scotland’s biggest industrial employers and one of its largest emitters is, of course, Grangemouth. I can therefore confirm that we will establish a Grangemouth future industry board to support a just transition at that cluster, promoting economic activity while advancing the move to a low-carbon future. We will also do much more to support the circular economy and new energy technologies such as carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen. In addition, we will significantly increase peatland restoration, investing at least £250 million over the next decade to help meet our emissions targets, and support jobs in rural and remote parts of our country areas.
I can also announce that we will launch later this month the first round of our green investment portfolio, marketing more than £1 billion of low-carbon projects to investors across the world, and, of course, the Scottish National Investment Bank will shortly open its doors for business. Capitalised to the tune of £2 billion over the next decade, its primary mission will be to drive the transition to a net zero economy. The bank will be a key source of patient finance in the years ahead; it will support the new technologies, projects and infrastructure that will put Scotland at the forefront of the transition to net zero. I can confirm that the bank is already in discussions about a range of projects for early investment, including supporting supply chains for zero-emission public transport. The Scottish National Investment Bank, which in my view is the most important economic development of this session of Parliament, will be key to creating the low-carbon, high-technology and highly skilled economy that we want and are determined to build in Scotland.
The Government will continue to do all that we can to help individuals and businesses adapt, survive and succeed. Covid has presented us with significant challenges, but those challenges are being compounded completely unnecessarily by Brexit. The UK Government’s decision not to seek an extension to the transition period, despite the economic crisis caused by Covid, will cause avoidable harm to many Scottish businesses. It is an act of self-sabotage that we simply do not understand but must nevertheless respond to.
At the same time, we also face restrictions on our ability to protect key sectors as a result of the UK’s plans to create a so-called internal market that undermines this Parliament and risks lowering standards. Nevertheless, Brexit demands that we work in partnership with business and the third and public sectors to make sure that Scotland remains an attractive location for inward investment. I can therefore announce today that we will publish before the end of this year, as an accompaniment to our export strategy, a new inward investment plan, with the express aim of creating 100,000 high-quality jobs over the next decade.
Brexit and the way in which it is being implemented immeasurably strengthen the case for Scotland becoming an independent country with the ability to shape our own destiny and contribute positively to Europe and the world. If this was a programme for government in an independent Scotland, it would not have to contemplate the damage of Brexit at all. Instead, it could set out even more far-reaching plans for an immediate extension of the job retention scheme, not a plea for another Government to do so; the greater use of borrowing powers to further stimulate our economy; transformation of our national grid to support faster development of renewables; a migration system that welcomes talent at all levels and supports people to make Scotland their home; and a universal basic income and a social security system geared wholly, not just partially, to lifting households out of poverty.
That is why we will publish, before the end of this session of Parliament, a draft bill setting out the proposed terms and timing of an independence referendum as well as the proposed question that people will be asked in that referendum. Then, at next year’s election, we will make the case for Scotland to become an independent country, and we will seek a clear endorsement of Scotland’s right to choose our own future.
The rainbows that appeared in windows across Scotland earlier this year were an expression of hope in the face of adversity. They were also a tribute to the dedication of our health and care workers. We owe them—each and every one of them—an enormous debt of gratitude, and that must be reflected in how we value and reward them. We are now in the final year of the three-year national health service agenda for change pay deal. We are already working with trade unions to agree the negotiation of a new pay award for 2021-22. As part of that, we are considering options to recognise the enormous contribution of staff during the pandemic. We also acknowledge the impact of Covid on the mental health of many front-line workers, and we will establish a mental health network, including a workforce specialist service, to provide confidential assessment and treatment for those working in the NHS.
Covid has reminded us how important it is to ensure the safety of patients. We will continue to support the work of the Scottish patient safety programme and, in response to the Baroness Cumberlege review, which was commissioned as a result of concern about mesh implants, I can announce that we will also establish a patient safety commissioner. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will set out more details next week.
Our immediate priority is of course the remobilisation of the NHS, but we will also reform access to services in light of the Covid experience, and we will expand the use of technology. Work to restart services that were paused because of Covid and to tackle the backlog of procedures is already under way. We are also expanding elective capacity through the national elective centre programme. The first of our new centres for elective surgery will open next month at the Golden Jubilee hospital. Construction will start shortly on the Highland centre; next year, it will start on new centres in Grampian and Livingston and on the second phase of the Golden Jubilee centre. A new national cancer recovery plan will be published in the autumn to drive forward recovery and improvement of those vital services, and we will prioritise prompt detection of cancers through early diagnostic centres.
Crucially, in the months ahead, we will build on the rapid expansion of digital access to care that was achieved in response to Covid. Early on in the pandemic, we quickly upscaled the use of the Near Me video consultation service. In the week before that service started, just over 300 video consultations took place across the NHS. In the last week of June, the number was 17,000. Patient satisfaction with the service was high. That shows us how quickly progress can be made. While we recognise that video consultations will not be appropriate for every patient or every situation, I can confirm that we intend to move to a position where Near Me is the default option for patient consultations. We also intend to develop the use of near me in social care.
Accident and emergency services were transformed during Covid, and we will learn from that experience. A new 24/7 service operated by NHS 24 will help patients who are not in need of immediate emergency care to access clinical assessments by phone or online before attending an A and E department.
We will support the pharmacy first initiative, which allows common ailments to be treated by community pharmacists. That is part of a wider set of reforms to community health services. Our aim is to ensure that multidisciplinary teams, in a network of community treatment and care facilities, just like the one that I visited yesterday at Sighthill, provide as much care and treatment as possible, in communities and close to home.
Covid has undoubtedly highlighted and exacerbated health inequalities, so we will promote healthier and more active lifestyles for all. We will invest £500 million over the next five years to support active travel. That will help local authorities to develop new walkways, reallocate road space and increase access to bikes. We will also implement low-emission zones in our four biggest cities to improve air quality. The first of those zones has already been established in Glasgow, and the others will be operational by early 2022.
We will work to encourage healthier eating, and we will take forward plans to tackle obesity and support healthy weight. We will continue to tackle the harms that are caused by alcohol and tobacco.
We will deliver on the key recommendations of the drug deaths task force, for example by tackling the stigma that too often prevents people from seeking treatment and by funding vital research into drug deaths in Scotland.
A central commitment in last year’s programme for government was major reform and expansion of mental health services. This year’s programme continues that journey. Again, we will build on the approaches that were adopted during the pandemic. During lockdown, the reach of the distress brief intervention programme was expanded. That provides support for people in distress who contact emergency services but who do not need emergency clinical help. Evaluations have shown that such an approach saves lives. I can therefore confirm that we will expand the distress brief interventions programme across every part of Scotland. We will also work with health boards to retain the mental health assessment centres that were established during the pandemic, and we will deliver the major expansion of mental health support for children and young people that was announced in last year’s programme for government.
So far, I have focused largely on the national health service, but the pandemic has reminded us of the vital importance of social care services, and of the extraordinary professionalism, dedication and compassion of those who work in that sector. However, it has also underlined the need for improvement and reform. I can therefore announce today the immediate establishment of a comprehensive independent review of adult social care. The review will seek the views of those with direct experience of adult social care and will make recommendations for immediate improvements. However, more fundamentally, it will examine and set out options for the creation of a national care service. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will set out more detail on that in her statement later today. However, I can confirm that we will ask the review to produce its first report by January, so that we can quickly start to act on its findings. The quality of adult social care matters deeply to us all. This is a moment to be bold and to build a service fit for the future. The national health service was born out of the tragedy of the second world war. Let us resolve that, out of the Covid crisis, we will build the lasting and positive legacy of a high-quality, national care service.
The past few months have reminded us once again that quality public services and a strong economy must go together. We will continue to invest in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and in Police Scotland. I am extremely grateful to both those emergency services for the work that they have done to help the country through the Covid crisis.
In the wider justice system, we will work with courts, the legal profession and victims’ organisations to tackle the backlog of cases that Covid has caused, and we will continue to promote and expand the use of community interventions as more effective alternatives to short-term prison sentences.
We will also progress plans to modernise the prison estate, and will prioritise replacements for HMP Barlinnie and HMP Inverness. By the end of 2022, we will have delivered a new national women’s prison and two community custody units for women, in Glasgow and Dundee, to ensure that the needs of women in our criminal justice system can be better addressed.
In this session of Parliament, we will also introduce a new domestic abuse bill that will legislate for emergency protection orders to better safeguard those who are at immediate risk of domestic abuse. That bill is one of four that we will introduce before the end of this parliamentary session. The others will be a budget bill, a bill relating to medicine and dentistry education at the University of St Andrews, and a truly landmark bill to incorporate into Scots law the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, about which I will say more later.
Seven additional bills are already before the Parliament and will continue their progress in the weeks ahead. They include: the Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Bill; the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill; the Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill; the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill; and the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. On the last of those, I know that some concerns have been raised. I give an assurance that we will listen carefully to them: the freedoms of speech and of expression are fundamental in any democracy.
I turn now to housing. We will continue to make ending homelessness a national priority, and we will provide more support for new housing. We will update the “Ending Homelessness Together: High Level Action Plan”, having learned from the approaches that were taken during the pandemic, and we will significantly scale up the housing first programme.
We will also take action to reduce the risk of people becoming homeless because of Covid-related financial pressures. In the initial stages of the pandemic, we legislated to stop people being evicted; we will extend the protection against eviction for rent arrears to March next year. However, I can announce today that we will also establish a £10 million tenant hardship loan fund to support people who are struggling to pay their rent because of the pandemic.
We will also continue to invest in new social and affordable housing. Investment in housing is also an investment in our economy, in jobs and in our communities. Before lockdown, we were on track to deliver by the end of the parliamentary session 50,000 new affordable homes, 35,000 of them for social rent. We are working with the construction sector to catch up and to hit that target as soon as possible.
That has been a £3 billion investment; we intend to expand on it. We have already committed a further £300 million of housing investment in the next financial year. That will secure much-needed homes and will support about 10,000 jobs. Later this year, we will publish a new 20-year vision for good-quality zero-carbon housing with access to community services, transport links and green space.
For social housing, we will set new standards on carbon emissions, digital infrastructure, access to outdoor space and room for home working. That vision will be based on extensive consultation. The social renewal advisory board—whose recommendations have been influential in several areas of the programme—will help to ensure that the vision reflects our experiences of the pandemic. It will also be backed by substantial new funding for the remainder of the next parliamentary session, which will be confirmed in the capital spending review later in the year.
The past few months have, because we have been able to travel less, reminded us just how important our local communities are. The concept of the 20-minute neighbourhood has attracted growing global interest in recent years. The basic idea is that people in any part of a town or city should be able to find shops, green space, public services and leisure facilities—and, ideally, work—within 20 minutes’ walk of a good affordable home. We intend to work with local authorities and others to turn that vision into a reality through our policies on transport, regeneration, housing and the environment. To support that, we will invest £275 million in community-led regeneration and town-centre revitalisation.
The pandemic has reinforced what we already knew: the quality of homes and communities impact directly on our health, happiness and wellbeing, and those impacts are unequal. With our plans in the programme for government to invest in quality housing and better neighbourhoods, we aim to transform that for the better.
As our support for housing is, the social safety net is an investment in our collective wellbeing. During Covid, we have expanded the Scottish welfare fund, increased payments for carers and provided additional support for emergency food supplies. Social Security Scotland now delivers eight benefits to people across the country. Four of those benefits are new and do not exist elsewhere in the UK, and the other four are more generous than the UK benefits that they replaced.
In November, our new social security system will reach its most significant milestone, when it starts to take applications for the new Scottish child payment. The first payments will be in the pockets of eligible families in February next year. Despite the six-month disruption by Covid, that is just two months later than was initially planned. The Scottish child payment will give eligible families £10 a week for each child, initially for children under the age of six, and then, when it is fully implemented, for children up to the age of 16. Together with support that is available through the best start grant, the Scottish child payment will be truly game changing, in our fight against child poverty.
During the winter, we will also start to make payments through the child winter heating assistance programme, which will provide £200 per child for families of severely disabled children.
Social security is part of the social contract between Government and citizen; it is an expression of our solidarity as a society. It is more important than ever to support, strengthen and invest in it: this Government will do exactly that.
The child payment—like the baby box—symbolises our determination to ensure that every child has the best start in life. This generation of children and young people has experienced a year that is unlike anything that we could have anticipated. We have a duty to ensure that the impact of the past few months does not disadvantage them in the years to come.
One of the most important pledges of this Parliament was our commitment to ensure 1,140 hours of free childcare a year for all three and four-year-olds, and for eligible two-year-olds. That commitment was on course to be delivered from August. Inevitably, Covid has delayed it, but we remain committed to delivering it in full. A firm date for completion will be agreed between the Scottish Government and local authorities before the end of this year.
In schools, closing the attainment gap remains our defining aim, but we must not underestimate the impact that the closure of schools will have had on that gap. We have already confirmed pupil equity funding of £130 million for the next financial year, and we have allocated an additional £80 million this year for recruitment of additional teachers and support staff, to help young people to catch up in their education.
We have already established a review of the awarding of Scottish Qualifications Authority qualifications, and we will ensure broader consideration of our approach to assessments and qualifications in the future.
I can also confirm that we will fund additional university places to ensure that no young person loses out on higher education as a result of the issues with this year’s qualifications. Having met our interim target, we will continue to work towards the objective of closing the gap in access to university. Our aim is that, by 2030, at least 20 per cent of university entrants will be from our 20 per cent most-deprived communities. In the more immediate term, we will work with universities and colleges to help them to deal with the substantial impact of Covid.
I also want today to renew my personal promise to children and young people with experience of care, and to recommit to full implementation of the independent care review’s recommendations. Fiona Duncan, who chaired the review, has already been appointed to lead an oversight board to hold us to account.
We will also respond to the Black Lives Matter movement and the global resistance to continued racial injustice. This programme sets out how, on health, the economy and in communities, we can better recognise and respond to the challenges that are faced by minority communities. We will also work to educate young people on our past, and on the need to challenge racial injustice in the present. We will sponsor an independent expert group to make recommendations on how to raise awareness of Scotland’s role in colonialism, slavery and historical injustice, and how that manifests itself in society today.
Finally, I can confirm that we will shortly introduce one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation in the 20-year history of devolution. We will, to the maximum extent that is possible, fully and directly incorporate into Scots law the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. That will mean that public authorities, including the Government, will be required by law to act in ways that are compatible with the convention’s requirements to recognise, respect and be accountable for the rights of children in what we do. The implications of the bill will be profound, far reaching and long lasting. It is a commitment that exemplifies the importance that the Government attaches to the rights, opportunities and future of all our young people.
That view to the future is the note that I want to end on, but first let me reflect on the past. It is less than three weeks since we commemorated the 75th anniversary of victory over Japan day and the end of world war two. One of the many impressive things about that world war two generation is the way in which, even in desperate times, they resolved to build a better world. They created institutions, from our national health service to the United Nations, that have stood the test of time and serve us to this day.
The crisis that we face today is different and in many ways less extreme, but it is without doubt the biggest challenge that our generation has faced. It would be easy to focus on nothing but Covid, and of course the effort to suppress it will occupy us for some time yet. However, we should also seize this moment to imagine and start to build a better future.
That is why the programme, as well as tackling Covid, renews our commitment to end, once and for all, Scotland’s contribution to climate change. It acknowledges the social solidarity of recent months and aspires to our becoming a more equal country. It will invest in the skills and technologies that people will need for the future. It lays plans for homes and neighbourhoods that we hope can be cherished for generations. It commits to the vision of a national care service to match the post-war national health service. Above all, it seeks to ensure that Covid will not be the defining experience of the current generation of young people, and aims instead to improve their education, enhance their life chances and guarantee their human rights.
This is a programme for government that necessarily prepares us for what might well be a difficult winter, but it also encourages us to lift our eyes, to find hope in our hearts and to plan for brighter days ahead. I commend it to the chamber.