It was great on Tuesday evening to see the brilliant work from my Highland colleague, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, coming together to secure support from cross-party colleagues to pass the Scottish Budget.
That 70 to 53 vote was a good example of grown up politics – much needed in these challenging times.
While the support from across the Holyrood chamber was welcome, I wouldn’t go as far as allowing the Lib Dems to take credit for fair ferry funding, which sees an extra £7.7 million coming to the islands. The reality is that as a minority government we aimed to offer an irresistible budget. We wanted other parties to support it.
That Lib Dem support sees a further £20 million being allocated to help disadvantaged children and young people improve their educational attainment. However, in past years we have unfortunately seen the Lib Dems prioritise the constitution and vote against fair ferry funding, although admittedly the Northern Isles MSPs did break away once. That they were unable to persuade their party to join them was not much of a reward for islanders after all their years of Lib Dem voting.
The passing of the budget means £82.7 million is coming the way of Orkney Islands Council, an additional £4.5 million on last year’s spending – an increase of 5.7%. The plans will provide the council with an increase in day-to-day revenue spending.
£90 million has also been set aside to scrap rises in Council Tax and compensate local authorities who had planned to increase charges by up to 3% – allowing hard-pressed householders to keep more of their money to spend on other essentials.
In these uncertain and challenging times, the SNP Government has offered stability with a budget that protects vital local services and supports our economy.
I know that local residents will also be delighted that we have taken the significant step of supporting local authorities to introduce the Council Tax freeze.
The agreement with the Green Party includes measures such as Pandemic Support Payments of £130 to households receiving Council Tax Reduction and two payments of £100 to families of children qualifying for free school meals. It will also see the phased introduction of free school meals to all primary school children by August 2022. There will be an £800 pay rise for public sector workers earning up to £25,000, and a 2% increase for those earning over £25,000 up to £40,000. Free bus travel will come in for under 22s.
There will be £40 million to support the green recovery, including a further £15 million for active travel, £10 million for energy efficiency, £10 million for biodiversity and £5 million for agri-environmental measures.
This budget is delivered in exceptional circumstances as we continue to battle a pandemic that has shaken our society and our economy, and as we face the harmful impacts of Brexit. It provides certainty and stability to business, support families and bolster public services, while promoting sustainable growth and creating jobs.
Stay strong folks.
This is a regular fortnightly column by Maree Todd MSP. All Highlands and Islands regional MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views.
More about political reaction to the Scottish Government Budget in The Orkney News soon.