Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has urged MSPs to back her tax and spending plans for the coming year – saying these provide a “solid foundation” from Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19.
Ms Forbes called for other parties to back her draft budget as it comes before the Scottish Parliament for voting for the first time, saying the country is still in the grip of a “national emergency”.
And she insisted that in these “unprecedented times” the parliament must work together to “provide the support that our businesses, people and communities need”.
The draft budget for 2021-22, unveiled by Ms Forbes last month, promises record funding of £16 billion for the NHS in Scotland, while local authorities will also get money to freeze the council tax – with the Scottish Government seeing this as a way of helping families who have been struggling financially in the wake of the pandemic.
But councils have continued to press the government for more than the £11.6 billion local government has been allocated.
To help businesses impacted by coronavirus, Ms Forbes also said the budget would extend the 100% rates relief for some of the hardest hit sectors – including retail, hospitality, leisure, aviation and newspapers – for a further year.
With the Scottish Government not having a majority in Holyrood, ministers need to win the support of at least one other party for the budget to pass.
In recent years deals have been struck between the SNP government and the Scottish Greens but, earlier this week, their Holyrood co-leader, Patrick Harvie, said ministers must do more to help those most in need.
He said: “The recovery from Covid cannot return to the broken old system that left too many Scots on poor wages with insecure jobs.
“That’s why the Scottish Greens have called for the Scottish Government to go further in the budget to boost household incomes, whether by strengthening the social security safety net, cutting public transport costs, making homes warmer and more efficient or providing more free meals for children at school.”
Ms Forbes however insisted she had put together a “consensual budget for unprecedented times”.
Speaking ahead of Thursday’s debate, the Finance Secretary stated: “I have engaged widely to ensure we deliver not just the Scottish Government’s priorities of creating jobs, supporting our sustainable recovery while responding to the health crisis and tackling inequality, but also those raised by other parties.”
She said further changes to her spending plans may be required after UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils his Budget next week.
But she stressed the Scottish budget “delivers £1.1 billion for jobs and skills, record spending for health services, £11.6 billion for local government plus a further £259 million of non-recurring coronavirus funding, and new resources to tackle climate change”.
Ms Forbes said: “It lays a solid foundation for Scotland’s recovery and renewal and I look forward to it being supported across the chamber.”