Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has pledged that Scottish public sector workers will not have to suffer a pay freeze.
In a speech to the virtual SNP conference, Ms Forbes attacked Conservative plans to maintain public sector pay at existing levels and promised not to follow suit in Scotland.
Ms Forbes is scheduled to announce her draft tax and spending plans for 2021-22 at the end of January – weeks ahead of the UK Government Budget, which is not expected to be delivered by Chancellor Rishi Sunak until March.
In his spending review last week, Mr Sunak said he is unable to give pay rises to all those working in the public sector in England.
The massive public spending commitments needed to respond to the coronavirus crisis were also cited by the Chancellor as he cut UK spending on international aid.
Austerity will never be our answer. That’s why there will be no Tory pay freeze in Scotland.”
Kate Forbes, Finance Secretary
Speaking remotely from Dingwall, Ms Forbes attacked the UK Government’s approach, comparing it with the “austerity” economics of more than a decade ago.
She said: “In the aftermath of the 2008 crash, the Conservatives inflicted a decade of austerity, balancing the books on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable. Last week, the Chancellor’s first actions to manage our public finances was to freeze pay and cut international aid. It’s the same Conservatives, with the same ideology.”
Ms Forbes pledged there would be no public sector pay freeze in Scotland, arguing a strong economy depended on strong public services.
“That’s why austerity will never be our answer. That’s why there will be no Tory pay freeze in Scotland,” Ms Forbes declared.
Cash for digital technology
The finance secretary also announced £800,000 for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to extend its Digital Enablement Grant to reach more businesses in Scotland’s remote areas.
In total, an extra £10 million would be provided to help 2,000 small and medium enterprises across the country invest in digital technology.
The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation centre for data at Edinburgh University, will also receive £1 million to help businesses to invest in more advanced technologies such as data analytics and artificial intelligence.
The funding was announced ahead of next year’s Scottish budget, which Ms Forbes said will include a “five-year pipeline of investment in infrastructure to boost economic growth”.
She stressed this will not support “pet projects like a Boris bridge to Northern Ireland” but will instead focus on the “essential investment our economy and public services need”.
Pledge to create jobs and support society
The Finance Secretary said: “The capital spending review will provide the funding for our infrastructure plan.
“It will include almost £5 billion for inclusive economic growth, including £500 million to extend full fibre broadband to businesses and households in rural areas and £30 million to support our islands.
“It will see more than £11 billion invested in our cities, towns, villages and rural areas, including £275 million to revitalise our town centres and create vibrant neighbourhoods and nearly £2 billion on health infrastructure and equipment.”
She promised an “investment that transforms our country” and “creates jobs and supports society”, as well as seeking to tackle poverty and address the challenges of climate change.