Budget deal possible if Tories ‘willing to compromise’

Finance secretary Kate Forbes said opposition parties have been far more forthcoming than in previous years.

Budget deal possible if Tories ‘willing to compromise’ Getty Images

The finance secretary has said she is open to doing a budget deal with the Conservatives – if they are willing to compromise on proposals she calls “arithmetically impossible”.

On Wednesday, Kate Forbes said opposition parties had brought forward more ideas than in previous years.

The draft budget, which was announced on February 6, is due to be passed by March 5, accelerating the process compared to previous years when MSPs had several months to scrutinise spending pledges.

Former finance secretary Derek Mackay had decided to push on with Scotland’s tax and spending plans after ex-chancellor Sajid Javid delayed the UK Budget.

Before the announcement of the Scottish budget, the Tories made entreaties to the Scottish Government about a possible deal, with taxes being brought into line with the rest of the UK, increased spending for Police Scotland and a hike in funding for residential drug rehab beds.

In previous years, the Scottish Government has relied on the votes of the Scottish Greens to carry their budget over the line.

At the time of the interview, the only party which had not been in discussions with the Scottish Government was Labour, which were scheduled to start negotiations the same day.

Ms Forbes said: “I am optimistic, because I’ve got to get a deal through to get the budget through and provide that certainty.

“I’m happy to speak to any party. All the parties have been far more forthcoming with options this year, which makes a nice change.”

Pressed on whether there will be a specific deal done with the Tories, the finance secretary said: “The Tories have an interesting proposition, which is ‘cut tax, spend more’.

“It’s arithmetically impossible. But, if the Tories want to compromise, then we’re willing to speak to anybody.”

Some public services have railed against the draft budget settlement, with Police Scotland and local council umbrella body Cosla lobbying for more in funding.

Ms Forbes denied claims the Scottish Government had underfunded local authorities, saying the budget set by Westminster for Scotland had reduced in recent years.

A recent publication by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) showed funding to councils between 2013-14 and 2019-20 has dropped in real terms by £404m to £10.38bn.

It found the allocation sent from Westminster increased in real terms by £795.2m during the same period.

Conservative finance spokesman Donald Cameron said: “The Scottish Conservatives have put forward reasonable and pragmatic budget proposals which can be easily funded from the budget boost the SNP is due to receive from the UK Government.

“If Kate Forbes thinks these proposals are arithmetically impossible then she should reconsider.

“The SNP must make a choice between the Green Party’s extreme and nonsensical proposals or do a sensible deal to fund our local government, our police officers and our drugs services.”