Vote on Scotland’s ‘bold and ambitious’ budget amid concerns of cuts

Finance secretary Kate Forbes's spending plans for next year come before MSPs on Thursday.

Scotland’s finance secretary Kate Forbes is urging MSPs to back her “bold and ambitious” spending plans for next year ahead of a key vote at Holyrood.

The appeal comes amid concern from opposition parties about the amount of cash the Scottish Government has allocated to local government in its 2022-23 Budget.

Local government body COSLA has said the Budget allocation for councils, more than £11bn, is a real-terms cut of £371m.

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) said the local authority settlement is a real-terms cut of around 2.5% both in day-to-day spending and taking resource and capital funding overall.

But the finance secretary said that, despite financial pressure, the Government is “continuing to treat councils fairly”.

“We are providing a real-terms increase of over five per cent to local authority budgets for the coming year – despite cuts to Scotland’s overall budget by the UK Government,” she said.

MSPs will debate the general principles of tax and spending plans in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday afternoon – the first from the SNP in partnership with the Scottish Green Party.

Scottish Tory finance spokeswoman Liz Smith claimed that Thursday’s vote was “the Greens’ big chance to show some backbone and stand up to the SNP” over what she said was a cut to councils.

“Unless they speak up and challenge the SNP over the devastating local council funding cut they have planned, the Greens will have abandoned their principles.

“It will be clearer than ever that they sold out simply for the good of the nationalist movement, and not for the good of the country.”

It follows leaked documents outlining proposed cuts to staffing and services in Glasgow in an effort to tackle a £34m funding blackhole.

The proposals, which are drawn up by council officials to be provided to all political parties, include ditching services for children with additional support needs and cutting staff numbers.

When Forbes’ budget was announced in December, local authority chiefs warned there would necessarily be cuts to essential services having suffered more than a decade of reduced funding and increasing pressure on core provision, according to spending watchdogs.

But speaking ahead of Thursday’s debate, Forbes said: “Our bold and ambitious spending plans are focused on supporting our key priorities, ensuring no one and no region is left behind.”

She said her draft budget “targets resources towards low-income households, invests in initiatives to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change and fundamentally, provides much-needed investment to bolster our economic recovery”.

She also said a “significant” pot of funding had been provided to support the next steps in the creation of a National Care Service.

The flagship policy would bring adult social care under the control of a new body which, according to a consultation launched into the initiative, could also have other functions including the control of children’s and addictions services.

But some of the major parts of developing the system have been farmed out to major consultancy firms.

Another “key priority” the budget is tackling, Forbes said, is child poverty.

The finance and economy secretary said she had pledged £197m to double the Scottish Child Payment – which is paid weekly to low-income families – from £10 to £20.

However, the Poverty and Inequality Commission has said the Government would need to quadruple the benefit from its current level to hit next year’s child poverty target.

The Budget also allocates “at least £2bn” in investments to support green jobs and work towards achieving net-zero emissions, Forbes said.

A breakdown on spending provided by Forbes shows that a sum of £594m is being spent in order to “mitigate” a number of UK Government policies, the SNP claim.

But, a UK Government source described the suggestion as “nonsensical” and said that it “merely reveals the grievance culture at the heart of the SNP”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton announced his party will vote against the Budget due to a lack of funding for social care and treatments for long Covid.

“Faced with a budget that delivers £371m in cuts to local government and an unwillingness on the part of the SNP-Green Government to deliver key Scottish Liberal Democrat demands on long Covid and social care, we have no choice but to vote against the Budget at stage one,” he said.

However, with enough votes from SNP and Green members, it is unlikely that opposition parties will have any impact on the passage of Forbes Budget Bill through Parliament.

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