Cost-of-living concerns dominate first FMQs after summer break
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called on new Prime Minister Liz Truss to increase funding for devolved administrations to take account of spiralling inflation.
In the first session of First Minister’s Questions since the summer recess, Sturgeon joined Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross in welcoming news that the UK Government will cap energy prices at £2,500 for two years, but said more needs to be done to deal with the cost-of-living crisis.
Adding that the freeze is “very belated”, Sturgeon said bills will still be double what they were in spring when the freeze takes effect at the start of October due to “a broken energy market and the utter incompetence of this UK Government”.
She added that it comes at a time when the Scottish Government is going to have to reassess its own spending plans for the year, as announced by Deputy First Minister John Swinney yesterday, due to the impact of inflation and the need to fund public sector pay rises.
“The purpose [of the proposed £500m of spending cuts] is so we can ensure that public sector workers get the fairest possible pay rises,” she said. “We continue to get resources to those who need them most in the cost-of-living crisis.”
Adding that the Scottish Government’s budget is “£1.7bn less than it was” when announced because of inflation, the First Minister said that “what we need to see the new Prime Minster do is increase funding for devolved administrations”.
Responding to Ross’s claim that £250m “wasted” on botched ferry contracts with Ferguson Marine Engineering could have been put to better use dealing with the cost of living, Sturgeon said she does not regret that her government signed those deals because it saved hundreds of jobs at the shipyard.
She added that she expects the two lifeline ferries for the Clyde and Hebrides routes to be delivered to a revised timetable, disputing Ross’s assertion that they may never be brought into service.
Sticking with the cost-of-living theme, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar asked the First Minister to commit to making the rent freezes and winter-eviction ban announced in her programme for government permanent.
Sturgeon said that emergency legislation would be introduced “very soon” and committed to “an ongoing review of the emergency legislation”.
“We’ve said very clearly that we intend the two proposals – the rent freeze and moratorium on evictions – to be in place until at least the end of March and we will review that regularly and, of course, we will keep open the option of extending that further depending on the wider situation,” she said.
“Because they are emergency measures they are by definition temporary – how temporary will depend on the reviews mentioned. They are intended to pave the way for longer-term reforms.”
On Sarwar’s call to reduce train fares now the government is responsible for running ScotRail, Sturgeon said doing so would require further cuts to be made elsewhere.
“We can’t raise taxes within a financial year and we can’t borrow to fund day-to-day spending,” she said.
“If we want to spend more on anything we have to find other places in our budget to take it from.”