The 1% cap on public sector pay rises in Scotland will be scrapped next year, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.
The Scottish government has largely stuck to a UK-wide 1% limit on pay rises that was introduced in 2013 after a two-year freeze.
But as she outlined her government’s plans for the next year, the first minister said future pay rises would be based on the cost of living.
There have been reports that the UK government is drawing up similar plans.
The pay cap has led to complaints that public sector workers have seen dramatic real-terms drops in their earnings in recent years.
Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that “nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters deserve a fairer deal for the future”.
She said: “We will, therefore, aim to secure pay rises from next year that are affordable, but which also reflect the real-life circumstances our public servants face and the contribution our public services make to the overall prosperity of our country.”
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The first minister was speaking as she told MSPs that it was time for the Scottish government to “refocus our efforts and refresh our agenda” after a decade in power.
Among her announcements was a commitment for Scotland to phase out new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032 – eight years ahead of the UK government’s target.
This would see a “massive” expansion in electric charging points, Ms Sturgeon said, with pilot projects set up to encourage uptake of electric vehicles and to make the A9 Scotland’s first fully electric-enabled road.
And low emissions zones will be created in Scotland’s four largest cities by 2020.
Ms Sturgeon again pledged to make improving the country’s education system, and in particular closing the attainment gap between the country’s wealthiest and poorest pupils, her number one priority.
To this end, she said an Education Bill would be the centrepiece of the legislative programme for the year ahead.
She insisted the bill would “deliver the most radical change to how our schools are run” since devolution, with headteachers being given “significant” new powers and new ways for people to go into a career in teaching being introduced.
Analysis by Philip Sim, BBC Scotland political reporter
The emphasis around this speech was on scale.
Nicola Sturgeon embarked on a marathon 40-minute oration, to be followed by three full days of debate. The implication being, there’s a lot to talk about.
Sixteen bills, touching on a dizzying array of different portfolios – from justice to health to transport to the environment, via the staple areas of education and the economy.
Some of the bigger headlines had come out in advance, such as the end of the 1% cap on public sector pay rises, and the Turing Law to “right the historic wrong” of men convicted of same-sex offences.
And critics were quick point out that some of the ideas were rather familiar – each of the opposition parties was convinced that at least one of their own policies had been pinched.
But that’s one of the benefits of being in government: you get to actually do things, rather than merely talk about them.
This was the programme for “the day job”, a flurry of domestic legislation designed to prove that Ms Sturgeon’s government has ambitions beyond constitutional matters.
As ever, the proof will be in the pudding of what is actually delivered – but today’s speech provides plenty for politicians and pundits to chew over.
The first minister also unveiled plans for a Scottish National Investment Bank, to deliver long term financial support for innovative industries.
And she said the time was also right to “open a discussion about how responsible and progressive use” of Holyrood’s new tax powers could “help build the kind of country we want to be”.
The first minister also announced that free personal care would be extended to those under the age of 65 who have dementia and other degenerative conditions – the so-called Frank’s Law.
Among the other proposals in the 16 pieces of legislation outlined by Ms Sturgeon were:
- A new law to ensure anyone convicted of homosexual offences in the past will now receive an automatic pardon
- The introduction of a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans
- Support for Scottish Green MSP John Finnie’s bill to ban smacking
- A new £50m fund for addressing child poverty, with the money to be available over five years
- Plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 “in line with international norms”
- A presumption against short prison sentences of less than 12 months
- A “comprehensive review” of local governance in advance of a Local Democracy Bill later in the parliament
- A new Climate Change Bill to set out “even more ambitious” targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions
The first minister told MSPs: “The programme that I have set out today and the legislation is fresh, bold and ambitious, and because of that aspects of it will undoubtedly be controversial.
“That is inevitable – indeed it is necessary. No-one has ever built a better country by always taking the easy option.”
She added: “This programme is about equipping Scotland not just for the next year, but for the next decade and beyond.
“At its heart is this ambition – to make our country the best place in the world to grow up and be educated, the best place to live, work, visit and do business, the best place to be cared for in times or sickness, need or vulnerability, and the best place to grow old.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said her party could support some of the policies set out by Ms Sturgeon, including the Frank’s Law proposals – which the Tories have campaigned for.
But Ms Davidson warned against any intention to raise taxes in Scotland, and told Ms Sturgeon that the Scottish people had put the SNP on “probation”.
Ms Davidson added: “If the Scottish government is to earn back the trust and respect of people in Scotland, which it has squandered in the last year, then it must change – and change fast.
“It must show it understands the difference between a genuine complaint and the politics of endless grievance. It must accept responsibility for all its record in Scotland – and fix the mistakes it has made.
“Given what we know of this Scottish government, we will wait to see whether today’s warm words are backed up by action before making a judgement.”
‘Closed to advice’
Scottish Labour’s interim leader Alex Rowley also welcomed some of the measures outlined in the programme, including the end of the public sector pay cap and the establishment of a national investment bank.
However he said that in other areas the government’s ears “are closed to advice, ideas and experience”.
“Carrying on with the poor education governance reforms which have been criticised by all in the sector is pure dogmatic politics,” Mr Rowley said.
The Scottish Greens said Ms Sturgeon’s programme “clearly shows the value of Green influence in parliament”.
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