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MSPs back stage one of the Scottish Government budget

Kate Forbes and Nicola Sturgeon - Image credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images

MSPs back stage one of the Scottish Government budget

MSPs have backed stage one of the Scottish Government budget by 65 to 54 after ministers reached a last-minute deal with the Scottish Green Party.

The Scottish Greens agreed to back Scottish Government spending plans on the condition ministers provide up to £80m a year for young people across Scotland to get free bus travel from 2021, alongside an extra £95m for local authorities, £18m more for police services, £13m for frontline services and £5m for capital investments.

Ministers also agreed to provide £45m to low carbon projects, including on energy efficiency and active travel.

Under plans announced by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, there will be no changes to income tax rates in Scotland in the coming year.

Forbes announced investment of £15bn for health and care services, including a £121m funding increase for frontline services to cut waiting times and boost primary care.

She said that Scotland would continue to have “the fairest and most progressive income tax system in the UK”, with no changes to tax levels at any threshold in 2020-21.

She said: “I’m pleased that parliament has supported this budget at Stage One which will deliver certainty for vital public services, tackle the climate emergency and provide record investment for health and social care.

“This budget will now deliver free bus travel for young people, £1.8bn investment in low carbon projects, the child payment to lift children out of poverty and £15bn for health and care services.”

But Scottish Labour Local Government Spokesperson Sarah Boyack said: “Despite the SNP’s rhetoric surrounding the budget we will still see deep and continuing cuts to non-core local government revenue budgets.

“These cuts are cuts to local community facilities, libraries, sports and leisure services, recycling, our parks and green spaces - the bedrock of our communities.

“These services are vital to the health and well-being of our constituents and vital to addressing deepening inequalities and poverty. 

“Despite the spin and bluster of the SNP and the Greens, the fact remains that this budget is a cuts budget that will deeply harm our local councils and damage our vital services.”

Meanwhile Scottish Conservative shadow finance secretary Donald Cameron criticised the Scottish Greens for backing the plans, warning that co-leader Patrick Harvie had been “played like a fiddle”.

He said: “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.

“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.

“The vague suggestion of ‘reprofiling’ business rates will also set alarm bells ringing in Scotland’s business community, and is something the finance secretary will have to provide clarity on.”

COSLA’s resources spokesperson councillor Gail Macgregor said: "It is pleasing that the vital role local government plays in delivering essential services has featured so heavily in the budget negotiations this year.

“I welcome the cross-party support from all of the political parties who have recognised the vital role of local government in this year’s budget and I want to acknowledge the work of the Green party which has resulted in the Scottish Government moving in relation to our revenue settlement.

“However, councils across Scotland still face significant budget pressures because of inflation and demand which this budget doesn’t recognise. We are also left with a huge drop in our core capital budget. Councils will not be able to mitigate the impact these gaps will have on communities.”

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