It was a somewhat muted Stage One debate on the Scottish Government’s Budget for the coming year. This was both as a result of the preceding statement from the First Minister, laying out the programme of consultation on the independence referendum, and a budget which has so far had very few surprises.
The headline policies include;
- More than £750m transferred from resource expenditure into the capital investment programme
- £500 million allocated to preventative spending, through three “change funds”.
- Delivery of 25,000 modern apprenticeships and fund the ‘Opportunities for All’ programme to guarantee training or learning opportunity for every 16-19 year-old.
- Workers whose pay is controlled by the Scottish Government receive the Scottish Living Wage of £7.20 per hour.
- Maintain police and teacher numbers.
The Council Tax freeze will also continue for another year. While being promoted in the Chamber by John Swinney as a budget for growth, it is by and large a case of business as usual. This point was accentuated by Ken Mcintosh who faced his first major policy speech under his new brief as Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance. In a considered speech, he expressed support for moving to preventative spending, the increased apprenticeships on offer, early intervention programmes and spending on the health service.
However, along with the other opposition parties, he rounded on the Scottish Government for cuts to housing and colleges budgets of 40% and 20% respectively. Last week’s unemployment figures were also used to argue that Ministers were not doing enough to create growth and jobs.
The Scottish Government of course countered these points, and argued that their hands continued to be tied by the UK Government and the on-going spending restrictions.
Budgets in previous years have had an element of surprise due to the SNP needing to negotiate with the other parties in order to get the Bill through Parliament. This is now no longer the case, and while John Swinney stated that it was his intention to create a Budget that could be supported by as many of the opposition parties as possible, it is unlikely that any changes made in the next month will be more than tinkering around the edges.