Cabinet Secretary reflects on Programme for Government (PfG)

Originally published in the Scottish Farmer on 11 September.

The First Minister has this week published the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for the year ahead. It sets out an ambitious agenda, which is unapologetically anti-poverty, pro-growth and prioritises delivering high-quality public services.

We have a renewed focus on attracting investment, driving innovation, and growing our wellbeing economy, while also putting responding to the climate crisis at the very heart of this government.

Scotland’s land and seas are vital to every aspect of our nation’s wellbeing. Protecting, nurturing, and restoring these assets and ensuring they sustain our people, businesses, and communities, now and in the future, is my priority. That is why, since becoming Cabinet Secretary, my focus has been on reforming and transforming our policies, support, and activities.

The Programme for Government restates our commitment to transforming how we support our farming and food production sectors. We will continue the Agricultural Reform Programme to produce more of our food sustainably by increasing the uptake of carbon audits, soil testing and biodiversity audits.

Securing the future of farming and crofting is a key priority. So I will introduce an Agriculture Bill to create a new rural support framework, and I will also work with stakeholders to develop a gender strategy for agriculture and with young farmers to start work to design support for new entrants.

I also want us to start to develop our approach to future farming activity. Engagement with key stakeholders will explore opportunities to increase sustainable production and markets for poultry and eggs, venison and seed potatoes.

Mindful of the ongoing cost of living pressures on everyone currently in farming and crofting, the Basic Payment Scheme and Greening payment dates will be brought forward again to September to provide farmers and crofters with financial security.

Reforms to the tenant farming sector will also be progressed, as part of the Land Reform Bill, which will seek also to improve transparency of land ownership, help ensure large scale land holdings deliver in the public interest and give communities more opportunities to own land and have more say in how land in their area is used.

Tenant farmers are hugely important to farming and food production in Scotland. They make up approximately a quarter of all Scottish farmers and manage around 20% of all agricultural land. However, the legal framework which supports tenant farming is outdated, complex, and creates barriers to innovation and investment by tenants.

Our reforms will modernise tenant farming legislation, bring forward a revised approach to rent reviews, and ensure that tenant farmers and smallholders have more flexibility and are encouraged to take forward climate change adaptation and mitigation measures.

I want to thank industry, including the Tenant Farming Advisory Forum, for working with us to co-develop the Bill proposals and to everyone who gave their views in the public consultation.

Crofting is just as important to keeping people on the land. This year, we will also develop and consult on proposals to reform crofting law, create new opportunities for new crofting entrants, encourage the active management and use of crofts and common grazings, and support rural population retention through action on non-residency.

We will also progress action with crofters to support more peatland restoration on crofting land, including the Scottish Ministers’ crofting estates, so that crofting is playing its part in helping us to cut carbon emissions and mitigate climate change.

Every year, the need to support action to address emerging climate issues for land use becomes more urgent. So I - and Cabinet colleagues - will host roundtables on water scarcity and on decarbonising rural machinery and equipment, and we will explore what more can be done to prevent and manage wildfires.

Addressing, mitigating, and adapting to climate change, and protecting and restoring nature are significant challenges, but they also create opportunities. Scotland’s rural and island industries already play a vital role, contributing around £2.6 billion a year to the Scottish economy.

Through these actions and more, I will continue our work to grow and support Scotland’s rural economies – to make them more sustainable, productive, and prosperous, to deliver on our three missions of equality, opportunity and community for all of Scotland.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands Mairi Gougeon

Published on: 12 September, 2023