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Scottish Budget to be set out before UK spending revealed

Derek Mackay will publish his draft spending plans on February 6, prior to the UK Budget on March 11.

Derek Mackay January 13 2020.
Derek Mackay: UK Budget delay caused 'impossible' situation. STV

Finance secretary Derek Mackay will publish his draft Scottish Budget on February 6 – more than a month ahead of the UK Budget in March.

Chancellor Sajid Javid has promised a post-Brexit spending spree when he unveils his proposals in the House of Commons on March 11.

But the Scottish Government said the delayed UK Budget date was disrespectful to devolution, with the finance secretary revealing last week he only learned of the news through the media.

Mackay said the March date “made it impossible for us to publish our own budget after the UK Government’s without drastically restricting the time for parliamentary scrutiny”.

It means the finance secretary will publish his spending plans before knowing the final amount he is set to receive from Whitehall via the block grant, worked out through the Barnett formula.

The budget process at the Scottish Parliament normally involves months of scrutiny, but legislation requires a rates resolution to enable collection of the Scottish part of income tax has to be passed by March 31.

Scotland’s local authorities also face a legal deadline of March 11 to announce their budget plans, including the setting of council tax rates.

In a letter to Holyrood’s finance committee, Mackay proposes to publish a draft Budget Bill on the same day he sets out his plans, February 6.

The Bill would face its first vote in the Scottish Parliament in the week beginning February 24 before going through stages two and three in the first week of March.

The finance secretary said: “The UK Government’s approach to the Scottish Budget has been completely unacceptable and has shown a disregard for devolution and a lack of fiscal responsibility.

“The timing of the UK Budget made it impossible for us to publish our own budget after the UK Government’s without drastically restricting the time for parliamentary scrutiny.

“In these exceptional circumstances, created by the UK Government, it is vital we give local authorities and public services clarity on their budgets.

“That is why we have made the decision to publish our budget in February which will allow local authorities to set their budgets and council tax before the legal deadline of March 11.

“I look forward to publishing a budget that will help tackle the global climate emergency, reduce child poverty and boost the economy.”

Accusing Mackay of “faux outrage”, Scottish Conservative shadow finance secretary Murdo Fraser said: “It’s good to see the SNP government has finally accepted that it does have enough information to go ahead with a budget.

“With substantial Barnett consequentials arising from increased government spending south of the border, this is likely to be the highest overall block grant Scotland will have had from Westminster in a decade.

“The Scottish Conservatives will be setting out in due course what we would like to see happen.

“But what’s very clear is there is no justification at this time for further tax increases or even more cuts to vital public services.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “There is no risk-free way for the Scottish Government to deal with this situation, but waiting until mid-March to publish a budget would be the most damaging option.

“So, we welcome the announcement that it will be published before the UK Budget.

“But the backdrop of Tory chaos must not let us lose focus on what’s actually needed from Derek Mackay – Scotland needs a climate emergency budget which changes direction on polluting transport policies, invests in low carbon solutions and creates new jobs in green industries, while protecting local services around the country.

“Greens have been successful in recent years in achieving change in the budget process, and even with the tight timetable ahead we’ll keep working to promote positive, creative solutions to the challenges Scotland is facing.”

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