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There Is Always Wriggle Room

Initial Thoughts on the Draft Scottish Budget

budgetDerek MacKay, the Finance Secretary presented his Draft Scottish Budget to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 14th December. Like all budgets there are positives and negatives but the clue is in the word DRAFT. If changes are to be made then opposition political parties need to negotiate now if there is something they would like amended. There is always wriggle room.

Since the formation of the Scottish Parliament  supporting our services in Scotland has always been a priority. This is in contrast to any other area of the UK. Successive Scottish Governments have invested in our public services and we have in Scotland many benefits that are not available or are severely limited in the rest of the UK.

  • Free prescriptions
  • Free eye tests
  • No University Tuition fees
  • Free personal care for the elderly
  • Free bus passes
  • Baby box providing clothes and advice to every new born child
  • 16 hours a week free child care for 3 – 4 year olds and for qualifying 2 year olds
  • No tolls on any bridges or roads 

That’s just a wee selection of services we do not pay directly for in Scotland but of course we pay for through our taxes.

Health

Now you could argue, as the Tories do, that you could get rid of all these free things reducing what the public purse pays out for. And indeed this is happening across the UK. Virgin Care  has been providing health and care in England since 2006. In England it costs you £8.60 per item for your prescribed medication.

The NHS free at the point of need is still central to the health system in Scotland.

Education

You could also argue that free tuition fees for our students should be abolished as has been done in the rest of the UK. Students in England  have to pay up to  £9,250 a year. This was a system first introduced by a Labour Government set then at £1000 and which  was increased by the Tories when in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. A broken promise which still haunts the LibDems.

Travel

You could argue that some elderly people could afford to pay their bus fare but then you have to find a way of determining that and factor in the cost of administering it. You can travel the length and breadth of Scotland if you are over 60 or an eligible person with a disability  free of charge with your National Entitlement Card. This allows many to access services and to socialise who would perhaps remain at home.

The Young Scot National Entitlement Scheme helps make travel cheaper across Scotland for those aged 16-18 or  full time volunteers under 26. Residents of the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland who have a National Entitlement Card and qualify for free bus travel under the concessionary travel scheme can also get two free return ferry journeys to  mainland Scotland each year.

So if we want to have all these sweeties we do have to pay for them. And that is what a budget does. It finds ways to get money to pay for all the services we currently benefit from and do not pay directly for.

Scotland does not have a magic money tree. Scotland gets a proportion of money back from what it pays into the UK Treasury and it also has limited powers in raising money itself.

Here are some of the things Derek MacKay has announced in his DRAFT budget.

  • Lifting the 1% public sector pay cap. A 3% pay rise for NHS staff, police, teachers and others earning up £30,000.
  • £600 million to ensure every home and business will have access to superfast broadband by 2021
  • Increasing spending on the health service by over £400 million – £200 million more than inflation.
  • A  new 19p Starter Rate of Income Tax and freezing the Basic Rate
  • A new Intermediate Rate of Income Tax of 21p  and an increase in both the Higher Rate and Top Rate by 1p respectively.

For high earners in Scotland they will be paying slightly more tax than  earners in the rest of the UK. For those on low wages they will be paying less tax than earners in the rest of the UK. All in all it means that the majority of workers in Scotland will pay less in tax than if they lived elsewhere in the UK.

Missing from the DRAFT budget was any mention of extra funding for the internal ferry fleets in the Northern Isles: the fair ferry fares. For people in Orkney and Shetland this is deeply disappointing. And this is where I will again stress that this is a DRAFT budget. Not set in stone  – but with room to manoeuvre.

The MSPs representing the Northern Isles (all of them) need to work together and wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. Negotiate with Derek MacKay and get fair ferry funding into the Scottish Budget. That is why it is a DRAFT. Put the needs of the People of Orkney and Shetland first not the interests of your political party.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

 

 

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