Reaction to the Scottish Budget

There has been a mixed response across the political spectrum to Kate Forbes’ Budget for Scotland.

There must be an election coming up.

Here are some of the main points from the Budget as set on 9th of March 2021.

  • Health: £16billion
  • Local Government: £11.6billion (includes Freeze of Council Tax: £90million)
  • Education and Skills: £3.1billion
  • Primary Health Care: £1.9billion
  • Rail and Bus: £1.6billion
  • Police: £1.3billion
  • Covid19: £869million
  • Affordable Housing: £711.6million
  • Young Person’s Guarantee: £125million
  • Green jobs Fund: £100million
  • Digital Improvements: £98.2million

The Scottish Government is a minority SNP one and so in order get the Budget through they have to secure the support of Opposition parties. This Budget was supported by the LibDems and the Scottish Greens.

For the Liberal Democrats, Orkney constituency MSP Liam McArthur, commented on the extra £120million to support mental health services, the additional £60million in education funding to help with smaller class sizes, more support to help businesses to bounce back and £5million more for agri-environment projects.

Liam McArthur said:

” I’m pleased that we’ve secured funding for a number of areas that will be important for our country’s recovery. A significant increase in investment for mental health services, for example, delivers on a key ask from the Scottish Liberal Democrats as we look to address our country’s mental health crisis.

“The additional funding for Orkney’s internal ferry services is also very welcome after years of broken promises and Orkney being short changed.  It’s vital, though, that this is not just a one-off pre-election gesture but part of a long term commitment by government that also includes addressing the urgent need for new vessels.

“Meantime, I’m glad that cross-party agreement could be reached on this budget at a time when politicians from all parties should be absolutely focused on putting the recovery first.”

Orkney SNP candidate for the islands in the May 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, Robert Leslie, has hailed the Budget as ‘a great deal for the islands’.

Robert Leslie said:

“As well as funding provided through the Local Government settlement, additional revenue funding of £32.5m has been provided to local authorities over the last 3 years. 

“The 2021-22 Budget includes £19.2m for local authority ferries, an increase of £7.7m on last year. This ensures that local authorities are fully funded to operate their internal ferry services. 

“This delivers a key ask from the Scottish Government’s local authority partners at a time of unprecedented financial pressure on the Scottish budget. 

“Of course for Orkney it facilitates the introduction of Sunday services and Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) on inter-island ferries. 

“The Scottish Government has stated that it is well aware of the growing need for local authorities to replace aging ferry fleets and infrastructure. While responsibility for funding replacement infrastructure remains with the councils, Scottish Ministers are committed to continuing engagement. 

“The passing of the budget also means £82.7 million is coming Orkney Islands Council’s way, up £4.5 million on last year – a 5.7% hike.” 

Scottish Budget Ferry Services Spending Plans

There will be an extension of free school meals to eventually cover all primary school pupils. For the Scottish Greens, Ross Greer MSP said:

“Yesterday Parliament passed a national budget which, thanks to the deal secured by Green MSPs, will deliver free school meals for all primary school pupils in Scotland.

“Many families are struggling right now but either don’t qualify for free school meals or, due to the stigma of means-testing, don’t take up that offer. Universal provision of free school meals will help family incomes, tackle child poverty, improve mental & physical health and boost attainment, just as it has done in Finland.

“All P1-P3 pupils are eligible for free school meals right now. This will be extended to P4 children in August this year, P5 in January 2022, and P6 and P7 children in August 2022. Over 200,000 more children will benefit from free school meals over the next 18 months, thanks to the Scottish Greens.

“Children’s hunger doesn’t stop when the school term ends. That is why we also secured funding to ensure that all primary and secondary children who currently qualify will get free school meals throughout the summer holidays.”

The Scottish Greens also claimed that their support had secured emergency pandemic relief payments of up to £330 for low income households. In total, 500,000 households will benefit from these payments. Every household in receipt of council tax relief will receive £130, with the 170,000 households that are eligible for free school meals receiving a further £200 payment. 

Both Labour and Conservatives voted against the Budget.

Murdo Fraser MSP, for the Tories said:

“Once again, councils are the whipping boy of a Scottish National Party budget. While the Scottish Government budget increases by an unprecedented amount, councils are seeing their resources squeezed and will have to cut local services as a result. The Scottish Conservatives want fair funding for councils, and this budget does not deliver that.

“We should perhaps not be surprised that the Greens are backing a budget that damages councils, because they have form for that. Indeed, we should not be surprised that the Greens are backing an SNP budget, because, as surely as night follows day, the Greens go the SNP way. However, I am disappointed in the Liberal Democrats. I thought that they would have more sense than to vote for an SNP budget that is damaging councils.

“For the reasons that I have outlined, this is not a budget that we can support. Despite having at its disposal unprecedented resources coming from the British Government, the SNP has not delivered on key policies to improve Scotland for all its residents and, in particular, the budget will once again damage local services, because councils will be struggling to balance their budgets while the Scottish Government sits on piles of cash. For all of those reasons, we will oppose the budget at decision time tonight.”

Labour’s finance spokesperson, Daniel Johnson MSP, found some elements in the Budget that they agreed with but also had concerns over local government funding. Daniel Johnson said:

“Local government has carried the burden of much of the economic response to Covid but, despite the sums promised in this budget, there remains a Covid funding gap that is estimated to be £518 million on top of the real-terms cuts that local government has experienced since 2013 of £937 million.

“Our economy is shattered. The simple fact is that many consumer-facing businesses will struggle to survive; despite pledges, guidance remains unclear. Funds remain slow in being delivered to the businesses that need them. I have heard first hand from bed and breakfast owners in my constituency that they have had to cash in their pensions because their applications to the discretionary fund have been declined. Despite Scottish Government promises, many funds remain underclaimed. The budget should have been about spending better as well as spending more.

“The pandemic means that no one wants the squabbling over the budget that old politics would expect, but I also strongly feel that challenging times require Opposition parties to challenge the Government. The budget will undoubtedly pass, but I ask those who support it whether the budget meets the challenge of building recovery and resilience.

“I sincerely hope that the budget does not hold back money for gimmicks or flourishes for the SNP in the coming election. If it does, we will look at how what is being spent measures up to what could have been paid for—the additional pay for social care workers, which they deserve. Care workers will certainly compare their pay packets with the budget to see whether their true worth is being valued.”

The vote on the Scottish Budget was For 70, Against 53. There were no abstentions.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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