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UK Government approach to the Scottish budget ‘completely unacceptable’, finance secretary Derek Mackay says

Derek Mackay - Image credit: Parliament TV

UK Government approach to the Scottish budget ‘completely unacceptable’, finance secretary Derek Mackay says

The UK Government approach to the Scottish budget is “completely unacceptable”, finance secretary Derek Mackay told MSPs today, as he revealed he only found out the date of the UK budget when it was announced in the news.

The UK Government gave “no prior notice” about the date of the UK budget, which showed “complete disrespect for the Scottish Parliament and our budget process”, Mackay said.

The Finance Secretary revealed he had made repeated requests for clarity about the date, including a letter to the Chancellor on 22 December, which he has not received a reply to.

He said: “The UK Government gave no prior notice before announcing their budget date, showing complete disrespect for the Scottish Parliament and our budget process.

“I received no response to our repeated calls for clarity on the budget date, including the most recent letter sent to the Chancellor just two weeks ago.

“The UK Government’s approach to the Scottish budget is completely unacceptable – the delay of over four months since their original planned date cannot be blamed on the general election and suggests a disregard for devolution and a lack of fiscal responsibility.”

Mackay said the Scottish Government “remain focused” on introducing a Scottish budget for 2020-21 at the “earliest practical opportunity”, with an announcement on the proposed date for introduction of the new Scottish budget to be made “in due course”.

Asked by Labour MSP Rhoda Grant about the effects of the delay on councils, Mackay confirmed there were “profound consequences” since the date of the UK budget, 11 March, is also the deadline for councils setting their budgets and council tax for the following year.

He said: “This is disrespectful of devolution. The UK Government, I think, know the consequences but don’t care about the consequences.

“It appears to me that the Tory UK government has given up on the union altogether in not wanting to make our established processes work.

“Having wrecked their own processes, they’re trying to wreck the Scottish Parliament’s as well, and we won’t let that happen.”

Mackay promised to engage with opposition parties, the Scottish Parliament, Finance Committee and the Scottish Fiscal Commission to take forward an “a transparent, orderly, consensual and constructive approach to give Scotland the certainty and confidence that it needs and deserves”.

He also said he would work with COSLA “to make the best of a bad situation”.

In his response, Scottish Conservative finance spokesperson Murdo Fraser suggested the delay was due to the general election, which the SNP had called for, but Mackay refuted this, noting that the budget had been ready in November and the general election had been mid-December, leaving plenty of time for a budget before March.

Mackay called for parties in the Scottish Parliament to work together, warning of a “terrible calamity” for public services, communities and people of Scotland if the Scottish budget was not passed.

He said: “Now is the year, I think like never before, that we should work together to ensure we have consensus around the Scottish budget, with responsibility following the UK Government’s irresponsibility.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie also urged other parties to bring “constructive ideas” to the budget process, but warned that despite the delay, parliament must be given time for scrutiny.

Meanwhile in Westminster, SNP shadow chancellor Alison Thewliss asked the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, to meet with Mackay and apologise.

However, the Chancellor suggested the Scottish Government should examine its own record.

He said: “It is important when it comes to productivity that the Scottish Government plays its role and it should examine its policies, especially its policies on tax and infrastructure and skills and how it has let down the Scottish people time and time again.”

In response to another question from Thewliss on the impact of Scottish councils having to set their budgets “blindfold” and whether he had given any consideration to Scotland, he added: “In the election that we just had, we talked time and time again about the need to unleash the potential of the entire United Kingdom. Of course that includes all of Scotland.

“Where Scotland has been let down time and time again is by the SNP government, which is giving Scottish people the highest taxes in the United Kingdom and the worst set of public services.”

A Treasury spokesperson said: “Nothing stops the Scottish Parliament from passing their budget before the UK budget.

“We are working with the Scottish Government as part of an agreed process to provide the information they need to prepare their budget.

 “At the spending round, we announced that the Scottish Government’s block grant will increase by £1.2 billion next year.”

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