Plans to fund free bus travel for those aged 18 and under have been agreed between the SNP and the Scottish Greens as part of a deal to pass the Budget.
New finance secretary Kate Forbes tweeted she was “pleased to have reached” the £158m agreement with Green MSPs to push through the Scottish Government’s tax and spending plans.
£15m is being set aside to work to implement free bus travel for people 18 and under from next January onwards, in a similar way to the entitlement currently held by over-60s.
Forbes said: “In light of my willingness to compromise on issues identified by all parties, I hope every party can get behind the budget tomorrow and deliver for Scotland.
“This has been a joint effort and this is a budget for Scotland.”
She added this year would see the “first steps to introduce free bus travel for under 18s subject to due diligence”.
The Scottish Greens estimate widening free bus travel to those 18 and under will cost around £80m a year, meaning more money would need to be invested in the policy in next year’s budget.
Party co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “Free bus travel for young people is a transformational step towards tackling the climate emergency.
“This scheme will benefit young people starting college and families, some of whom stand to save thousands of pounds a year, and encourage whole generations of public transport users.
“Buses are the backbone of local public transport and the key to employment and training opportunities for so many of those starting out in life.
“Yet again it’s the Scottish Greens who have engaged constructively in the budget process to deliver for communities in Scotland.”
An extra £25m has also been promised for tackling fuel poverty, along with £15m of fresh investment in active travel and £5m for rail services.
In addition, an extra £95m will be put into local government funding – the amount councils body Cosla had warned would be cut from local authority core budgets under the plans originally announced by Forbes.
The agreement will further see policing receive an additional £13m in funds and a £5m boost to Police Scotland’s capital budget, with an overall uplift to the police budget of £60m.
The SNP is a minority government at Holyrood, so needs the support of opposition MSPs to pass legislation.
A vote on passing the Budget at stage one will be held on Thursday.
The Scottish Conservatives said the Greens had been “tricked” into backing the government’s plan.
Shadow finance secretary Donald Cameron said: “While some of the measures announced today are to be welcomed, this budget still falls well short of what our economy and public services need.
“It’s no wonder that the SNP has yet again tricked the Greens into supporting the budget, which is now becoming an increasingly laughable and humiliating situation for Patrick Harvie.
“There’s no commitment to free bus travel for young people, as the Greens seem to naively think, and the Green party seems to have dropped almost every other demand it previously made.”
The Tory MSP added: “Unless the SNP government commits to no further divergence from UK tax rates and adds an extra £15.4m for drug rehabilitation beds, as well as properly resourcing the capital allocation to local authorities, we cannot support this budget.”
Scottish Labour accused the Greens of “kowtowing” to Scottish ministers, while the Scottish Lib Dems accused Harvie’s party – which is pro-independence – and the SNP of “putting money aside” for an independence referendum.
Labour’s finance spokeswoman Rhoda Grant said: “By kowtowing to Kate Forbes, the Greens have given the green light to the deep cuts faced by local government and have entirely abandoned their call for an end to further infrastructure construction.
“Most galling of all is the Greens’ acceptance of a pale imitation of the call, led by Scottish Labour, for free bus travel for under 25s by supporting the SNP’s promise to merely investigate the possibility of free bus travel for those under 18, meanwhile passenger numbers on public transport are plummeting.
“Just last week, the Greens’ Ross Greer said they would not support a budget unless it was a ‘climate emergency budget’.
“If this is a climate emergency budget, then I suggest Mr Greer and his party reflect on their environmental credentials.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “This budget leaves the police with a shortfall of tens of millions of pounds and the hard-pressed service with real problems.
“Local government capital is cut by £117m from its need.
“All this is to protect the budget for an independence referendum that no one thinks is actually going to happen this year.
“Yet the Green party and the SNP are still putting money aside for it. People will be baffled by those priorities.”
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